Thursday, December 15, 2011

Decisions, Decisions, part 2

Back to the decision-making process we were talking about two days ago, once I've analyzed my motives to make sure I'm not making a decision for the wrong reasons, it's time to move forward. Here's what I do:

1) Pray . . . unfortunately I don't always do this first, but obviously this is the right place to start. I pray not just that I'll make the right decision, but also that my thought process will be clear, that I'll hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, and that people will give me good advice.

2) Begin with the end in mind. What is my goal in raising these kids we've been given to nurture and love? I've touched on this in my 100 things posts (which I really will get back to at some point). It's easy to get so caught up in the daily chores of parenting that we forget the end goal, which for me is to raise kids who turn into adults who love Jesus and serve others with the gifts they've been given. And I'd like them to well-rounded in the process and have good priorities and values for their lives. As I make decisions about various things along the way, I want all my decisions to contribute to, or at least not detract from, that end goal.

3) Leave margin. This is a hard one in our culture. Kids need to play, to get outside, to be creative, to explore the world and discover their place in it. And all those things take time. Lots of it. If we fill their schedule so full that they don't have downtime, they will miss out on all of those things that are so important for their development. Sometimes margin means cutting out weekend activities (other than church, of course). Can you even imagine that? If you can't, maybe it's time to consider it as a possibility. Sometimes it means scaling back on those things you've always done. Sometimes it means scheduling a family vacation even though you don't have enough money for your dream vacation--just do something simple.

4) Consider the whole family. Sometimes a child needs to sacrifice an activity they want to do because it's not good for the rest of the family. Sometimes a child needs to sacrifice their daily nap so you can go to an older child's activity. It's good for kids to learn to think of others as well as themselves, so what looks like a sacrifice may turn out to be just what that child needed--a chance to serve their family.

5) Do the best you can, and then let it go. Once you've weighed all the factors, make a decision and then don't keep second-guessing it. Don't keep beating yourself up because you had to make a tough call and your child is trying to make you feel guilty about it. They'll get over it, and you will too, and down the road maybe a different decision will be the best one. Just because you are opting out of ballet for this semester does not mean you'll never do it again, it just means you're not doing it this semester. Rest in the knowledge that you made the best decision you could.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

Before the baby is born you wonder if you've chosen the right doctor. And then you wonder if you should get vaccines (you should), and which ones, and when. And when to start solids, and which sleeping-through-the-night method to try. And which organic foods are worth the money. And then you wonder if you're sending them to school at the right time and for the right number of days. And then you wonder if you should hold them back before starting kindergarten. And which school you should send them to. And then you wonder if you should start an instrument, and which one, and when. And you wonder which soccer league is really the best for your child. And then you wonder if the friends your child has chosen are okay, and what you should do about it if they aren't. And then you have to help them make the decision about which college to attend. Sometimes it seems like parenting is one long string of decisions, and they seem to get harder and harder.

Every time I face one of these decisions, it seems like I have to remind myself of how to go about this decision-making process. So in the interests of reminding myself and maybe helping someone else along the way, here is part one of a two-part series on how to make these tough parenting decisions. Here is how not to make decisions.

1) Do not make your decisions out of fear. One of the most common commands in the Bible is "do not fear." As believers, we know that God is always with us, working all things for our good. So there's really no reason to fear. One area I often see fear as a decision motivator is in the choice of schooling. I think there are a lot of good reasons to homeschool, but sometimes I run across people who are homeschooling because they are afraid of the big bad public schools or afraid their child won't be able to function in that setting (without giving them the chance to try it). Sometimes we also make decisions because we're afraid about the money involved. It's important to be prudent, of course, but we also need to trust God to provide if we think we're supposed to do something.

2) We shouldn't make a decision for our kids because of our own reputation or needs. If I for some reason decide I need to have my child quit soccer in the middle of the season and it makes me look bad or irresponsible or harsh, so be it. My needs should not come before my child's needs.

3) We should not decide things for our children based on our preferences or as a way to fix our own past. If you always wished you could have a picture with Santa Claus but your 3-year-old is terrified of him, don't make the poor child sit on Santa's lap. If you really hate listening to beginner violin but your child is dying to try it out and gentle persuasion methods aren't working, get over your own preferences.

4) Decisions shouldn't be based on habit. So you've had all your children start piano lessons at age 4. If your fifth child has other issues that make it seem like that's not a good call, break the tradition. Or if your child has always played baseball but suddenly hates it, don't make them keep playing just because you're always the coach and that's the sport you like.

5) Here's the hard one: don't decide things based on what so-and-so is doing. Maybe their kids are very spiritually advanced and they keep them in "big church" every week. That doesn't mean you need to do the same thing--your kids may be better off in Sunday school. Or maybe your first child had always done sports, but child number two isn't interested in or good at sports. Let them pick their own activity. Or maybe you talk to the parents of your kids' friends and realize they have their kids in sports and music and art classes. Don't let that make you feel like you better do all those to keep up or foster the friendship even though your schedule is already overloaded. Make your decisions based on your child and your family.

6) And finally, don't make your decisions based on emotion and stress. Give yourself time to think things out and pray. And above all, don't worry about every decision as if it's a life-or-death thing for your children. Parents can do everything right and end up with troubled children, and parents can do a lot of things wrong and end up with amazing children. In the end, it isn't up to us. God has a plan for each child, and our job is to try to work with what he's doing and pray that our children will do the same. Sometimes we'll get it right, and sometimes we'll get it wrong, but we mustn't let these decisions freak us out along the way. Sometimes our kids will do the right thing and sometimes they won't, but we can't make those decisions for them.

Up tomorrow (or maybe Thursday): How TO make these decisions.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Aldi Menus, Take 2

This is one of those weeks were I need to be on top of the meal planning, and probably you do too, so here's another list of Aldi recipes with a grocery list. Enjoy!

Cranberry chicken and mashed potatoes and green beans
Three cheese chicken penne pasta bake and salad
Chinese casserole and a salad
Hamburger soup (crock pot) and rolls
Breakfast dinner (pancakes and eggs, add some bacon if you want)
Throw in ingredients for chili and a few frozen pizzas to get you through the weekend.

Grocery list:
bbq sauce
soy sauce
salad dressing
whole-berry cranberry sauce
pancake mix
chicken breasts
2 lb. ground beef
frozen veggies
spaghetti sauce
1 can diced tomatoes
parmesan cheese
penne pasta
fresh spinach
salad ingredients
green beans
rolls, or ingredients for homemade bread
cream cheese
mozzarella cheese
cheddar cheese
onion soup mix
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of mushroom soup

Cranberry chicken: place chicken breasts (either bone-in or boneless) in a 9x13 pan. Mix 1 can whole-berry cranberry sauce, 1 pkg. of onion soup mix, and 1 c of bbq sauce. Pour on top and bake at 350 until done (bone-in breasts will take longer than boneless).

Three Cheese Chicken Penne Pasta Bake: 1 1/2 c. multigrain penne pasta, uncooked
1 pkg. (9 oz) fresh spinach leaves
1 lb. boneless chicken breasts, cooked and cut into bite-size pieces
1 jar (14 1/2 oz) spaghetti sauce
1 can (14 1/2 oz) diced tomatoes, drained
2 oz. Neufchatel Cheese, cubed (could also use cream cheese)
1 c. (I used a little more) part skim Mozzarella cheese
2 T. parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 375.
Cook pasta, adding spinach to boiling water for last 1 minute.
Put chicken in a pan and add sauce and tomatoes; bring to boil and simmer 3 min. or until chicken is done.
Stir in Neufchatel cheese.
Drain pasta mixture; return to pan.
Stir in chicken mixture and mozzarella and spoon into 2-qt. baking dish. Bake 20 min., then sprinkle with remaining cheeses and bake an additional 3 minutes.

Chinese Casserole
1 lb. ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 can cream of mushroom soup (I use cream of celery because we don’t like mushrooms)
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 ½ c water
1 c dry (uncooked) rice
¼ c soy sauce
Pepper to taste
Chinese noodles and slivered almonds, optional

Brown the ground beef with the onion. Place in a 2 qt casserole, then mix in remaining ingredients. Cover and bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Remove cover, stir, and continue baking for 30 more minutes with the cover off. Sprinkle with Chinese noodles and slivered almonds during the final few minutes.

Hamburger Soup
1 lb. lean ground beef, browned
2 potatoes, diced
2 stalks celery, sliced
salt and pepper
1-2 onions, diced
1 bag frozen mixed veggies
1 can condensed tomato soup
1 1/4 c water

Toss it in a crock pot and cook for a few hours. If it doesn't look like enough liquid, add either a can of tomato juice or another can of tomato soup and some more water. I know I've made this recipe before, but the liquid amount is looking off to me. This would also be good with beer or red wine as part of the liquid.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Birthday Cake for a King

I know many people who make a birthday cake for Jesus on or around Christmas. While I've always liked the idea, I've never done it because I prefer cookies to cake, and there are always plenty of those around. But this year I'm going to make one. Keri has a wonderful tradition I'm going to adopt for our family.

Each year she sets out a jar, and anytime someone in the family does something kind for someone else, a birthday candle goes into the jar. When Christmas Eve arrives, the birthday candles in the jar are put on Jesus' birthday cake.
The girls were delighted last night because when I came home from the store with the birthday candles and introduced the idea, they had just cleaned their room without being asked and I told them that definitely counted as doing something kind for Mom. Instant success!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas Joy

Apparently the Christmas rush is starting to get to me, because I have missed a few days of posting lately. It's easy to let that happen in December. I keep finding myself tempted to get stressed out about all the seasonal activities added onto our already overloaded schedule. And yet I love Christmas, and I want to do it all. It's not that I feel guilty if I don't get to enjoy my favorite holiday traditions: going to the singalong Messiah, driving around looking at lights and drinking hot chocolate, finishing up all my homemade Christmas gifts for friends and family, having the girls' friends over to decorate cookies, baking with the kids, making Christmas ornaments. . . . I feel deprived if I don't get to do all those things.

This article discusses the possibility of enjoying Christmas the secular holiday and having a separate "Jesus Day" rather than trying to mix the two. I think in the end that probably just looks like enjoying both the gift-giving and more secular aspects of Christmas and the Advent meditation rather than pushing the secular stuff away. In other words, I think that's what I do. I love Christmas movies and Frank Sinatra singing "White Christmas." I love the mall decorations and buying a new ornament each year. But I don't let that overshadow Advent readings, nativity sets, and church services. I like the idea that even people who deny the existence of God unknowingly get in on the celebration of Jesus' birth. As the Creator, he certainly deserves a big to-do over his birthday.

As Christmas approaches, I find the to-do list getting longer and my patience getting shorter. And yet the one gift I want to give my children this Christmas (and every day) is a cheerful mother. And so I'm going to remind myself when my time and temper are getting short to take a breath and give them the kind of Christmas I want them to be able to look back on with happy memories. Not so packed full of activities that we're all left breathless, but full of fun. Full of music and baking and quiet moments reading about Jesus' birth around the tree. Full of traditions and warmth and laughter. Full of friends and family. And most of all, full of Jesus.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Shameless Plug

You know all that jewelry I've been working on during my 45 minute art class each day? Well, you can see it all and ooh and aah and maybe buy something if you come to downtown Wheaton this Saturday between 10 and 5. I'll be with about eight or ten other crafters in the basement of an office at 117 Wesley. That's across from the parking lot that's behind Eggclectic and the Wheaton Theater, just west of Main on Wesley.
Here's what I have for sale, and you can place an order for bracelets or any particular thing you're looking for.

Crafters will be donating a portion of their proceeds to Restoration Gateway, helping orphans in Uganda, so you'll be supporting a good cause while you get some Christmas shopping done.

For more info, go to

Grab a friend and come on down to see us! 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas Crafties

Tis the season when I start buying craft supplies for projects I'll never get to. Somehow the Christmas spirit just brings out the crafty urge in me. So, for those of you who have the same urge, here is a post all about cute Christmas crafties.

Here is my favorite homemade ornament. It's easy, cute, good for little people, and uses materials you already have.

To make this little sheep you start with a manilla folder. Cut it into a sheep shape and paint the head and feet black. Then wrap the whole thing in sheep-colored yarn (white or grey or maybe black). Tie a little red ribbon around his neck and add a bell if you want to be fancy.

For those of you with babies or toddlers, here are two handprint ornaments I've done.

The top one is made of craft foam. If you can get the child to spread their thumb apart from the rest of their fingers when you do their handprint, you can cut it into a mitten shape. The bottom one is made of wood. I'm not sure where you can get those now--they didn't have them at Joann's when I was there this week.

And here's my old standby of the last few years.
These are at Joann's right now for 50 cents each. It's fun to see the progression of coloring skills as the child gets older, and I love having each year's school pictures on the tree.

What are your favorite homemade ornaments? Share them in the comments section!