Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2011!

Here's a little update for my dear blog readers, friends, and family who are wondering what we've been up to lately.  I promise you it won't be sugar-coated and pretentious, as Christmas letters can sometimes be!

2011 was an incredibly hard year!  
Wow--I'm sighing just thinking about how to write about it without sounding like a whiner.  Moving into a fixer-upper has meant countless hours of painting, cleaning, and working on the house and yard.  Josiah has painted over 10,000 square feet by hand with a brush in the last 18 months and I painted 7 rooms this year.  Our home is looking much better as a result!  Having an infant for most of the year meant little sleep and lots of work.  When Katri got sick in February with a terrible croupy cough that ended up being Influenza A, we lost a week of sleep and it crushed my health.  Already pooped from caring for the kids and a baby, my health took a downturn and I ended up seeing my doctor for post-partum depression, discovering that my body was really low in several important nutrients and minerals.  A year after the birth, I'm finally feeling back to normal, but still have to be very vigilant about taking vitamins and getting my rest.  We had many friends going through terrible and sad things this last year: divorce, custody battles, miscarriages, church-splits, life-threatening issues with their kids, etc.  I've had a few different friends move away.  Josiah had a couple of minor fender-benders and I needed my wisdom teeth out.  Each year we spend most of October and November in a plague of sorts--this year was no exception with colds, pink eye, roseola, ear infections, and Katri's mystery rash.  The stomach flu we get every year on Jer's birthday came a month late this year, making us miss the kids' Christmas program at church.  He's glad to have finally had a sickness-free birthday though!

Every week there was a new battle/obstacle/challenge.  It is with a sigh of relief that we bid 2011 goodbye and hope for a little more rest and peace in 2012! 

An update on our family members:

Led the Youth Group for 2010 and half of 2011; He's glad to be back to being a volunteer, but not in charge of everything.
Loves to hang out with the teen boys and is great with them
Continues to work for my Dad in carpentry and furniture building
Has decided to become a football fan to bond with other guys and is now glued to the games
(He roots for the Packers!  Now that I've said that I realize he may be stoned next time he visits MN!)

Worked cleaning a law firm for a couple of hours a week for half of the year
Saved up for months and bought a Nikon dSLR--a dream come true!
Hosted 6 teen girl missionaries and a 5 Day Club which was LOTS of fun!
Helps lead a Pray n' Play group each week for mom friends and their kids.
Loves to shoot people (with a camera that is!)  I've done lots of shoots this year for friends and even some clients and shot the pics for the church photo directory.
Is loving homeschooling....most days anyway....
Started Frugal Friends, a club for friends who enjoy couponing and saving money.

A first-grader, doing My Father's World curriculum
Almost 7 years old
Loves going to AWANA
Started losing teeth this spring
Is becoming a better reader
Still loves to color and draw and do crafts
Loves playing dress-up
Our fearless girl who learned to snowboard with Daddy this winter and only took
one person out on the slopes!
Often helps Mommy clean and is super-organized and energetic!

Is in home-preschool this year
Turned 5 in November
Asked us how he could be a follower of Jesus this spring
Loves science and learning about animals
Enjoys helping Daddy in the garage and snowmobiling fast with Grandpa
Had his second round of swimming lessons and did great, even jumping off the diving board!
Our caring, sweet guy who loves babies and is always looking out for his tiny sister

Turned 3 in August
Is in home-preschool with Jer
Was potty-trained in June
Our "jumping bean" who is very bouncy and athletic
Loves Cars 2 and motorcycles and monster trucks
Always has a cheerful smile and loves to tell Mommy he loves her so, so, sooooooo, so much!
Our little sunshine boy whose hair is starting to turn brown--maybe we'll get fewer inquiries about it now!

Nicknamed KK, Kate, Katri, Kelly Belly, Kay
Is very timid and unsure of everything, from baths, to men that aren't Daddy, to loud noises, etc.
Turned 1 on Oct. 28th and had a Teapot Birthday
Loves the song "I'm a Little Teapot" so it was the inspiration for her room decor
Is a happy and laid-back little girl who loves her teddy bear and enjoys eating....all of the time!
Our latest talker (the other kids talk so much she doesn't feel the need to say much)
Still unmotivated to walk--she loves being the baby and capitalizes on it
Our sweet and serious little angel--doted upon by everyone in the family

Family Trips:

Ali learned to ride a bike without training wheels this spring and a week later Jer learned!  Justus learned to ride a bike with training wheels about a week later so we spent lots of time biking this summer!  Josiah got a cool new-to-him bike and we found a used tag-a-long and baby seat for a bike so we can put our entire brood on wheels!

In April we were able to visit our dear friends in Kansas and enjoyed our time there.  We miss them so much!  We were happy to see them again in June when they came to stay with us for a few days.  I was blessed to be able to have coffee with MoneySavingMom in Kansas, which was a huge honor!  She's my favorite blogger and has saved us thousands of dollars over the years as I've learned couponing/frugal tips from her, etc.

In August Josiah took the 3 oldest kids to MN to spend a week with his family.  They had a wonderful time and I did too--a week of quiet spent enjoying my baby and painting the kids' rooms.

In March we gained a new nephew Jedediah!  He was born on the mission field in Honduras, and we got to meet them in July when my brother and his wife came back to WY for an extended visit.  We have enjoyed getting to know him and he makes a wonderful photography model!  He doesn't have his aunt wrapped around his little finger....not at all!

In November I was able to attend a Beth Moore conference with my mom and sis-in-law Anna.  It was a fun girls-getaway even if it was only a couple of days.

We had a special Christmas with my family at the cabin in the mountains that my Grandpa C. built 40 years ago.  It's a place that holds tons of neat family memories for me, so it was fun to share one last Christmas there before it the estate is settled and it is sold.

It was so cool to play music with my brother, hubby, and mom on Christmas Eve. 
(I play piano a little bit and Josiah plays guitar)

We played lots of Scum, Boggle, and some Aggravation in the evenings at the cabin.

Josiah's parents, sister Kianna, and her boyfriend Karl, from Canada, will be spending a few days here with us for New Year's.  We are excited to see them.

In spite of the trials we have encountered in the last year, we are truly blessed.  God has been with us each step of the way, providing what we need and teaching us many things.  We are so thankful for the precious people in our lives who make the difficult days bearable.  Whether it's a kind word on facebook, or this blog, a phone call, a chat over coffee, a listening ear when we've had a rough day, an offer to pray, or a helping hand, we are grateful for all of you and pray that you and your families would be strong in the Lord.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Annual Gift-O-Rama Post--2011 Edition!

I'm sorry to say that I don't have pictures of the gifts this year!  It's getting harder and harder to make sure that the pics are hidden from the kids and that they won't see them while I'm blogging or when my hubby reads my blog, so I'll be explaining the gifts we're giving to the kids instead of showing them.  So, you'll have to be satisfied with this funny pic of little Katri.

I'm writing about the gifts we are giving with the intention of inspiring my readers and giving you ideas for your own kids, not to flaunt our wealth/posessions.  I want to be sensitive to those who may read this blog and come from a variety of countries/situations/cultures, etc.  While some of my friends spend 7 times more on each kid than we do, I'm still very aware that compared to most people in the world, we have SO MUCH!

Here is what our kids are getting this year:

Combined gift for the boys:
The DVD Cars 2
(I confess I love Cars almost as much as my kids!  I snagged this with a 30% off coupon.)

Little treats for their stockings:
GIANT lollipops, some little racecar candy doodads, chocolate gold coins, and shark fruit snacks.  We'll probably throw an orange in there too!


A little Holly Shiftwell car for her stocking
A little stuffed dog in her stocking
6 new dress-up outfits that I found for $3-$5 each after Halloween (bride, princess of the sea, midnight butterfly, ballerina, bumble bee fairy, )  After I purchased these, unbenownst to Ali, she told me she wanted new dress-ups for Christmas!  Yay!  My kids play with dress-ups every day, and that is the #1 thing Ali's friends want to play with when they come over!
Jessie and Bullseye Pajamas (Cyber Monday sale, 50% off with free shipping!)


A little Finn McMissile car in his stocking
8 new Hot Wheels cars
(These were on a Black Friday deal for $5--Don't you love it when you ask your kid for gift ideas and they ask for something inexpensive?)
A cowboy costume (from the same after-Halloween clearance where I got Ali's stuff)
A little motorcycle toy from the thrift store
Buzz Lightyear pajamas (same sale where I bought Ali's PJs)


A little Lightning McQueen car in his stocking
8 new Hot Wheels cars
(Justy loves to copy Jer, so by getting them the same toys, it will help with fighting/jealousy stuff on Christmas Day!)
A superman costume
A Tow-Mater toy from the thrift store
Lightning McQueen toy (the main thing he wanted)


A pink Nalgene sippy cup (we now have one for each kid, in their own color!  They're still my all-time favorites!)
Some little pink racecars for babies (since she loves to copy her big brothers, I knew she would want their Hot Wheels cars--so now she'll have some baby-safe ones of her own.)
A pretty crocheted hat (A friend made her a soft little winter hat from chenille yarn with a pink crocheted flower on it.)
A package of baby snacks for her stocking
2 of the cutest little dress-up outfits I've ever seen!  A little pink cowgirl outfit and a pirate princess dress (size 2T) purchased from the same after-Halloween clearance as the other kids'.

As usual, I blessed my friends with a morning off from mom-duty to shop or wrap gifts or just enjoy a morning of peace.  I threw a "Birthday Party for Jesus" and had 8 kids total here; we made Christmas suncatchers and celebrated the Savior's birth.  We packed hats for the homeless and decorated a tree for a friend in need.  It was really fun! 

I made 5 different kinds of muffins to take to our retired neighbors next-door who regularly snow-blow our walk and are always so sweet to us.  With the leftovers I was able to put together some muffin packages for friends who blessed us with goodies this year.  I made a couple of fruit baskets from Bountiful Basket produce to thank a special Sunday School Teacher and another nice neighbor.

Last year most of my gifts were hand-made and very creative.  This year I kept things really simple and didn't touch my sewing machine....not even once!  This is one of the ways I'm keeping Christmas simple this year!

If you blogged about your kids' gifts this year, I'd love to read your posts to get ideas.  Share your links in the comments!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Simplifying Christmas

It seems everyone is trying to simplify Christmas these days!  Everyone out there understands that this time of year can get really crazy, and people start frantically trying to find some balance and some peace in the midst of it all.  I don't claim to be an expert in this area by any means!  I've already taken part in a ladies' cookie exchange/ornament swap and have hosted a Birthday Party for Jesus for 8 kids in my home.  The next few weeks we'll be hosting the annual family Christmas party and an Ugly Christmas Sweater party, as well as taking part in a kid's program at church, a coffee house night at church, a ladies' Christmas Tea, going up to a family cabin in the mountains to celebrate Christmas with my family, and hosting Josiah's folks for a few days at New Year's. 

We stay very busy in December!  But it's all fun stuff that we love doing!

Here's how I'm staying sane:


This week I cut the kids' clothing down to 4 outfits a piece and loaded all their dress-ups and all but 5 toys each out to the shed.  They don't need to have so many toys out at once and it will make the new toys they receive at Christmas that much more special if toys are a little scarce before the celebrating begins!  The clothing I cut down to simplify laundry.  If I wash one load in the morning and one at night, we'll have plenty of clothing, even accounting for spills and accidents.  (Katri has so many cute clothes and is so messy she didn't get her outfits cut down!)

Saying No

I'm exercising the "no" word a lot!  In one week's time I had 3 different people approach me with 3 different ministry opportunities.  The week prior I had 2 ladies asking me to take on 2 different home businesses!  Yikes!  Yes, I like making money as much as the next person.  Yes, I would love to mentor young women and start a Bible study for them.  Yes, I would love to be on the missions/outreach team.  Yes, I would enjoy serving the poor on the deacon/deaconess board.  But....even if I have talents in those areas, I'm not called to those things at this season in my life.  Someday, I will have the time to do more of those things.  But for now, my family is the main ministry I'm called to.  So, taking some time to carefully think about something before committing to it is really important for me to do in trying to keep life as simple as it can be.  I used to be shocked that people continually asked me to do things endlessly, no matter how busy I already was.  I'm done being surprised by it--I've just accepted that in this life, you will always be presented with more things to do than you can humanly do--you just have to learn to say no!  Sometimes saying no can make you pretty unpopular, but I'd rather be unpopular than over-booked and stressed!

Limited Gift Giving

We cut out giving gifts to siblings, cousins, and friends this year.  In September I mailed a letter to various friends and relatives who usually give us gifts letting them know that we will not be giving gifts this year.  We found it frustrating to have so little money to work with because we had so many to buy for.  It's hard to get someone something they will truly love if you only have $5 to work with.  Plus, I have really been aware the last few years of how wrong it seems to give to the rich when the poor have nothing.  So, instead of putting money towards gifts our relatives don't need anyway, we'll be seeking to give more to those who are without food and clothing and the gospel.  It is such a huge load off my mind that I don't have to agonize over what to get people this year!

All Done at Once

I did my shopping all at once.  Black Friday and Cyber Monday were my big shopping days and I got my kids, hubby, and parents done all at once.  Now, I just need to wrap it all!  A friend of mine and I are planning to wrap gifts together sometime--a chore is more fun if you do it with a friend!

School's Out!

I'm taking most of the month off of school.  A wise homeschooling friend told me to do this a couple of years ago and I have found it to be EXCELLENT advice.  Ali is ahead in her work thanks to starting first grade work in Kindergarten last year and we have plenty of weeks in the spring semester to keep on top of the boys' stuff.  So, last week's water lesson was our last MFW lesson for the year.  We're doing review work this week and then we'll be done until we start up again in early January!  Ali will continue to read 15 minutes a day for Book-it and we'll play learning games and continue to practice the alphabet, but we'll be mostly focused on hospitality, social events, service projects, church stuff, etc. the rest of the month.

Miscellaneous Little Things

I'm buying cookies for the Children's program instead of making them.  I'm having pizza delivered to a friend who is struggling with physical pain instead of making her a home-cooked meal.  I'm using cute 25 cent Christmas gift bags for the cousin ornaments instead of wrapping them.  I'm borrowing a Christmas dress for Ali from a friend instead of loading kids up for a 4-hour trip to a town 30 miles away to shop for one.  I'm making simple meals that we love that don't take any thought: pizza, nachos, tacos, spaghetti, mac n' cheese, elk roast in the crockpot, etc.

In doing these things, I feel like I'm going to make it through the busy Christmas season in one piece!  There are a lot of things I could still cut out, but the things we're involved in which I've mentioned above are enjoyable and worthwhile to us.  It's true I don't have to send out Christmas cards every year, but I love to do so and think it maintains a connection with friends and family that we aren't able to see very often.  I don't have to decorate the house and host parties but I love doing so and it energizes me.  

Ultimately, simplifying Christmas isn't about following someone else's guidelines or do's and don'ts.  It's about doing what works best for your life, your family, and your situation.  You may find that simplifying Christmas for your family means not decorating, but instead visiting a nursing home a few times to sing Christmas carols.  You may like to buy gifts for everyone you know, but dislike going to or hosting parties.  Or you may decide to continue school through most of the month but not be involved in a church program.  Do what works for you!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments section!  How are you trying to simplify Christmas for your family this year?

We got this tree last year for $5 (after-Christmas clearance)
to give to someone who can't afford a Christmas tree. 
Keep that in mind when you see the sales in January! 
They make a wonderful, cheerful gift for someone
who may need some cheering up during Christmastime!

My Father's World--The Letter W (Water)

Last week we studied the letter W and water.

I decided to be very brave or very crazy (take your pick!) and set up the little pool in my kitchen.

I put an old comforter under it to catch any water they would slosh out and told them to be very careful!  The 3 oldests were really good--it wasn't until wild lil' Kate joined the party that all the splashing happened!

After awhile I dumped all of the duplo blocks into the pool to wash them.  They play with them for a few hours every single day and I figured they could use some cleaning.  The kids loved playing with them in water!

My friend Camilla says that if the time it takes you to clean up the mess is less than the time they spent making it, it's worth it!  They spent about 90 minutes in the pool and it only took about 10 total for the set up/clean up!  Because it was in my kitchen, I just used the spray hose from the sink to fill it, and had the kids scoop water into a 5 gallon bucket to drain it.  After dumping just 4 or 5 bucket loads it was done!

We learned all about how water is a liquid and takes on the shape of the container it is in.  We made a solid/liquid/gas graph and listed things in each category.  We observed water in solid form (ice) and as a vapor--steam boiling on the stove.

We did an experiment to see if oil, salt, and food coloring dissolved in water.

We did our binder pages--making raindrops with the blue water and a dropper.
Our key words were, "Jesus gives my spirit living water to drink."
We talked a lot about how Jesus is the living water and read verses from the Bible relating to the theme, as the curriculum has us do every week. 

Ali got really fired up about this week's lesson and went nuts making "W" books.  She made 3 folded books with her art paper, illustrating all the words she could think of that start with W.  I was so proud of her for taking initiative and creatively adding to our lesson.  Some of the words she drew were:  whining, win, way, waffles, water, why, wood, worm, which, wig, etc.

One day I made bathtime extra fun for the kids by adding dishsoap and food coloring to their bath.  They really enjoyed that!

The highlight of the week for the boys was reading some shark books I had picked up at a used book store at the beginning of the school year that they didn't know about.  Sharks are one of their favorite things!  We read other books about ocean life too.

Whale crackers were the perfect snack for W week!
We also had waffles a few different breakfasts last week, partly because of the W theme, but also because we were out of cereal and there haven't been any great cereal sales lately!

We did our usual letter coloring page and together we colored pages to make a water cycle booklet,
thanks to the links my friend Kristin pointed us to on her wonderful homeschooling blog.

The kids were proud to share with Daddy what "evaporation, condensation, and precipitation" mean.  Turns out that evening we got some frozen precipitation too!

I tried to take the older 2 kids to the swimming pool one evening as we haven't been there in a while and they love going.  We were in our suits, walking out on the pool floor, just staring at that inviting, huge, steamy hot tub when the life guard appeared and said they weren't open the usual hours that week.  BUMMER!  So, I went ahead and took the 3 kids on Sunday afternoon when they were open and we had our fill of swimming, splashing, and hot tubbing.  Ali is getting to be a strong swimmer and almost worked up the courage to jump off the diving board by herself with no life jacket.  Jer loves the deep pool now and can sorta-swim but he is reckless and tries to swim in water over his head when he can't quite stay up.  So, keeping my two little boys from drowning was a full-time job!  I'm glad our town has low-cost, high-quality swim lessons year round for preschoolers!  In March I'm going to sign the boys up for the preschool swimming class again.

What things have you done to study Water in homeschooling?

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