Friday, September 19, 2014

A Day at Preschool Co-Op

Here's what happens when you get a bunch of young'ns together for a morning of playing, learning, and snacks. You have an awesome time! For our first day we were at  my place, and we learned about magnetism- what attracts a magnet and what doesn't. Then we told some stories and sang nursery rhymes, played tag-redlightgreenlight-duckduckgoose, and had a snack. Every other Thursday is our co-op day. One week I lead an activity and the next time it's someone else's turn. Next week Jamie is planning on picking herbs and making our own tea. Maybe you want to join us, or start your own?

p.s. shoes and uniforms aren't required.

Monday, September 15, 2014

This is what 8 in the morning looks like, around here.

We had our first really chilly morning. The kids ran outside barefoot and then came back in five minutes later for jackets and shoes. I walked in from working outside in the cool air to a warm house and the smell of coffee brewing. Sigh. Despite my denial, it really is the middle of September now. Andrew pulled up half of the summer garden (my tomatoes are still going crazy, though) and I planted some new flowers that were gifted to us. They will be beautiful when spring comes next year. I think the kids realized that the days of playing with the hose are numbered, because when Zion's feet got wet this morning she wasn't too happy about it.
While watching the kids play from the kitchen windows, I put together this pumpkin pie. It just felt right. Here's my tried and trusted, never fail recipe. It's the one I use for holidays. Pretty classic pumpkin pie flavor like Grandma made. In fact, there's a really good chance your Grandma used the same recipe. Nothing crazy or terribly exciting, just pumpkin pie. Tastes like fall. And that's how I like it.

Lu's Pumpkin Pie

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 can (12 ounce) evaporated milk
1 can (16 ounce) pumpkin
2 eggs
unbaked pie crust

To assemble:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Either use a premade pie shell (I won't tell) or make your own. I list my recipe for pie crust here. Roll it out and place, unbaked, in a 9 inch pie plate.
Next combine all the other ingredients in a large bowl and mix well, until blended. I feel like there's not much of a difference what ingredients you mix together first. Just go for it, it will turn out fine.
Pour your pumpkin mixture into the shell and bake for 15 minutes at 425. Then continue to bake the pie for 40-45 minutes or until the center is set. Let cool and serve!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Why Moms Don't "Hang Out" (and why that needs to change.)

There was an article published not too long ago (a few months maybe?) about being a Mom and having friends and finding your 'village.' The author details her desire for a community to share the burden of life with- to laugh with, to cry with, and to do the mundane things with. It makes many of us tear up when we think about it, and with good reason. It makes sense. It's good to be around people, and it's hard and isolating to be alone at home with kids all day every day. So... I want to explore why, exactly, so many of us are lonely but still won't spend time together.

Excuse #1: It's easier to stay home.
In a way, it is easier. You don't have to get anyone loaded in the car, or get dressed, or brush your teeth. You don't have to think about what your house looks like should someone walk in. I wonder, though, if you could make a pact with your friends to NOT care about any of those things? The house being messy or your wardrobe made of exclusively sweatpants. Or maybe... get dressed and brush your teeth when you wake up. Pick up the house. Do the dishes that are sitting in the sink. It might make you feel better, actually.

Excuse #2: My kids don't get along well with others.
Mine either. No one's kids 'get along' with other kids all the time. In fact sometimes my kids can be absolutely brutal. Even though it's tough, its so worth it. How else will they learn to have friends if they don't have practice? Kids hit. Moms and Dads, agree with one another to address it, get over it, and move on with your lives when they do. Communication is so important.

Excuse #3: I have too much to do.
I have a whole lot to do, too. What can you do while you're together? Maybe you can prepare freezer meals for the coming week, or bake bread, or team-clean the downstairs. Here's a broom- you sweep while I clean up the kid's lunch dishes.

Excuse #4: I don't really have any friends.
The best way to make a friend is to ask someone to come spend time with you. Ask them if they'd like to grocery shop with you, make a Target run, or just have a play date. Maybe it's an old friend you haven't talked to in a while but got along well with in the past. Chances are they're feeling the same way you are and would be thrilled to reconnect.

Excuse #5: I feel like it'd be awkward...
You'd be right- at first. Its a little unnatural to spend a lot of time with someone when you're used to being alone. The more you do it the more natural it seems. You don't have to sit and stare at each other. Plan fun activities for your kids to do together! Bake something... Make a craft... Call up that friend you've been meaning to get in touch with and invite her over for the morning.

As a person created by God, I know it's not good for me to be alone all the time. One of the leading causes of postpartum depression is the sense of isolation you feel as a new Mom. It doesn't have to be that way. Reach out to someone... you won't be sorry. Take a look below inside a day with some of our friends. We played outside, played inside, shed a few tears, had some lunch, made some messes, cleaned them up together, and then... nap time. And who can forget the priceless conversations?

Oh, and if you scrolled all the way down here I leave you with this: 

I asked my friend Melissa to title this blog post for me. 
Here were her ideas... Laugh, everyone, they are jokes. 
And oh, if you could only read the inappropriate ones that I edited out ;)

"Community And Coffee- How I Make It Through The Day"

"If I Have Time to Watch Horse Movies- Which I Do- I Have Time to Spend Building Community"

"At the End of the Day, Why I'm Glad I Spent Time With Friends Instead of Watching Another Lifetime Movie"

"If You Don't Spend Time With People, Your Soul Will Shrivel Up and Die"

"Vegetables and Brushing My Teeth- Things I'd Rather Give Up Than Community"

"Horse Movies and Caring for My Children Properly- Things I'd Rather Give up Than Community"

"Hot Dogs and White Bread- Things I'd Rather Eat Than Give Up Community"

"If you have time to shower, shove food in your pie hole, and keep your children from playing in the street, you have time to build community"

"Why I Value Community over "Me Time""

"Why Spending Time in Community Is Ultimately More Refreshing Than "Me Time""

"Why community is ultimately more refreshing than eating an entire gallon of ice cream and watching horse movies"

"Why I choose spending time in community over being locked in my own home like a prison cage"

"Why I Choose Spending Time in Community Over Drinking Until I Pass Out Watching That Show About the Guy Who Girls Think Is Prince Harry"

"What Prioritizing Community Looks Like For Me"

"I don't get enough sleep or pay enough attention to my children, but I have found my tribe"

"Even Though I Basically Hate Everyone Around Me, I Hang Out With Them Regularly in Case I Ever Need People to Help Me Move"

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Some Exciting News... Not a Pregnancy Announcement

When you have three kids in less than three years you need to preface any important announcements with "Not a Pregnancy Announcement." But my news is still exciting! You might have noticed some extra ads on my page (sorry if that's a little annoying) but after nearly 8 months of regular blogging I finally am getting paid to do it! I kind of wondered whether or not it would ever happen, and had to resign myself to the fact that I may never get paid to write these posts. I decided whether or not it ever worked out, it wasn't wasted time because I enjoy the focus that the posts bring to my days and weeks, and it's an excellent creative outlet.

So... when I was contacted and asked to become a part of Blogher Publishing Network as one of their Family contributors, of course I said YES! I never would have made it to this milestone without the support of those who read my blog and share content with others. Here's how you can continue to show your support:

1. Share  my page with family and friends on social media! If you know of someone who would appreciate a post, share it with them! This increases traffic to my page and its the number one way you can help me out.
2. Let me know if there's an interesting topic you would like to see a blog post about. I want to write about things that interest me personally and also things that other people care about. If you have a question about how we do something or how something works practically with three kids, let me know.
3. Your comments on what I write are so encouraging. Thank you for your continued support! 

Real Life Family Photo. No photo-shop ;) It's how we roll.

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Secret to Eating Healthy Food on a Tight Budget

Aldi can be a strange place. I've been to some Aldi stores where you never know whats lurking in the dimly-lit corners, or under all of those pallets of freeze pops in the plastic tubes. Our neighborhood store is very clean and very neat. Actually, they've watched us multiply over the last five years. It's almost like family. Okay... it's nothing like family. But we see familiar faces every time we go and that's nice. They stock the store pretty well with organic products. We don't buy 100% organic, but I do make an effort. If you're gluten free they have tons of options! No one in my family has gluten intolerance, but if we did I would be stocking up because those products are so expensive elsewhere. Anyhow- I can shop the whole store in about twenty-ish minutes, which is also a benefit when you have kids with you. It takes me over an hour at Shop-Rite.

Here's what I buy at Aldi in my perfect world. Sometimes I buy other things there that I don't prefer just because I can't make another stop that day. Another important thing to remember is that you can eat healthier by starting with the most basic ingredients you can find. Rather than buying something prepackaged, I make it. I can do this because I'm at home and have the time to do it. We aren't earning as much income since I stay at home, but I do my best to make up the difference by preparing/growing as much of our food myself as I can.

Cheese- Shredded Cheese (Mozzarella and Cheddar); Cheese Sticks; I'm not crazy about their sliced cheese but sometimes I buy it.
MILK. Like, 3+ gallons at a time.
Eggs, unless I am stocked with fresh from my in-law's chickens.
Yogurt (regular or organic)
Sour Cream
Cream Cheese
Half and Half
Butter (sometimes regular, sometimes organic)
*Disclaimer- If we removed dairy from our diet I'm actually not quite sure my kids would be eating. They don't do much meat, but they make up for that in cheese products. Kind of scary.*

Organic Grass-fed ground beef. It was on sale for a little over $3 a pound this week! Awesome. I stocked up.
Turkey Bacon
Veggie Burgers (not meat, but I put it in that category)
The rest of my meat I try to get from the butcher shop (Joe's). We don't eat a ton, so one stop there lasts us a while.

Ok, here's where things get tricky. They do have organic produce now, which is amazing. In the past few years things have changed in this area a lot. I get 99% of the vegetables and fruit we eat from farm stands and our garden. I try to preserve what I can for the winter. But when that runs out, we shop Aldi and I have been happy with what we've gotten. Also, who can resist strawberries in August for 99 cents a quart? Not us. Or those little oranges? Or pineapples? Yeah, we buy all those there.

Frozen Food:
POPSICLES. I make the kid's popsicles in these little silicone molds, But I have a popsicle addiction that I spend the big $$ on ;)
Ice Cream- I prefer to wait and go to ShopRite and shop whatever is on sale there, but if I'm at Aldi and need ice cream, we have purchased it and its been fine.
Frozen Potatoes
Frozen Steamable Veggies (for quick dinners)

Pastas have been the same quality as the grocery store
Flour- I bake and I'm not a 'flour snob,' so store brand works.
Nuts- Any nuts they sell have been excellent! I think I've tried all the varieties. We have a big container of trail mix made up in the cabinet at any given time.
Chicken Broth- They offer organic chicken broth much cheaper than other stores
Snack food- Pretzels, tortilla chips, etc have all been good.
Breads: My husband makes demands for white bread, and their basic white is terrible! But their Italian white is OK, he says. I like their large pan wheat bread. Bagels are as good as the other stores. They don't sell bread flour here, so I need to go elsewhere to buy bread for my bread machine. I make our pizza dough and Italian loaves using the bread machine.
Coffee- Fair trade dark roast coffee! We love it! Other's don't... so, that's your preference. But it's only $3.99.
Specials- Right now they carry La Croix seltzer water in 15 packs. Seltzer is my favorite drink in the world. I used to go to Shop Rite some weeks JUST to stock up on cans of seltzer water. When I saw it in Aldi last week I thought, "Wow. That's convenient." And then I bought more groceries at Aldi because I didn't NEED to make the trip to Shop-Rite.

What do you buy at Aldi? What have you purchased that isn't great?

Friday, September 5, 2014

My Favorite Farm Stand in Elmer and a Quart of Pickled Peppers

I've driven by a whole bunch of times. Have you? If you're from the Elmer area and reading, you might know who it belongs to. Maybe they're friend of yours? Its just a little stand on a back road in the middle of no where on Lower Mill Road. They call it, "Sonshine Acres" or something along those lines (I might have butchered the name). Whatever my garden lacked this year, I found there. Even fresh eggs! It's really been a money saver. And there's never a line to wait in before you put your cash in the little wooden lock-box. Oh, and its the kind of place you can pull up next to, leave your car running, and not get all your kids out. My kind of place. So whoever it is that has been so kind to share what you have grown, thank you! (If you know who this is, pass my thank you along, please :)
So anyhow, I found these jalapenos- enough to make a quart of pickled peppers- for only $1. That's a deal! Andrew loves them on his nightly 9pm nachos, on eggs, on.... pretty much anything. So I can afford to feed his jalapeno addiction by stopping by my farm stand when I'm visiting my parent's house, since its right around the corner. Here's how you make them:

You need:
-About 4 cups of chopped jalapeno peppers
-2 cups of vinegar
-1 clove of garlic
-1 cup water

Heat the vinegar, water, and clove of garlic in a small saucepan until it begins to simmer, but is not completely boiling.
While the vinegar mixture heats, chop the jalapenos into 1/4 inch thick slices. I don't remove the seeds, but if you do they won't be quite so hot.
Place chopped peppers in a quart jar, or two pint jars, and fill with the hot liquid. Add lids and let cool on the counter, then refrigerate. These keep for quite a while, just in case you don't consume them quite as liberally as my husband and I do.
You can hot water bath can these, process 20 minutes for pints.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

How We Make 900 Square Feet Work for our Family of Five

In a culture where the average square footage of a house is 2600 square feet, we have found our rhythm in a 900 square foot remodeled brick home with two adults and three kids. There have been changes made- walls knocked down, doors put up, and porches enclosed. Guess what? It works for us- really well! It might not look like a page in the latest issue of Better Homes and Gardens, but its full of the people and things that I love. Yes- you can make a mess at the table, we can wipe it off. Sure- you can dig in the front yard, just grab the stool and wash your hands at the sink when you come in. Why not- I will let you dump all your toys in the middle of the living room, but clean them up before you move onto the next thing please. We are able to live the life we want on the budget we have by keeping things simple, relaxed, and ... not perfect- by Martha Stewart's standards, that is.

Here are some rules I try to stick by that help things to not feel cluttered in our space:

1. Only keep what your family needs. For example, I don't allow myself to have "two" of most things. Rather than lots of choices, I value quality and simplicity. So instead of using all different colored and sized plates, I have eight white large plates, eight small white plates, eight white bowls, and twelve multipurpose clear glass mugs (for cool drinks and coffee/hot tea). The kids get three plates each and some little tumblers like these for snacks. They each have two drink cups with lids. These are all easily accessible and fit into one cabinet. I got sick of all of the cups and plates falling all over me as I used to have to hunt for them. And hint: I made sure the cabinet that all of my commonly-used dishes are in is right above the dishwasher for easily unloading.

2. We all have clutter, some of us just hide it better than others! I have little kids and that means little pieces, tons of 'stuff,' and frequent messes. When I look around my house, it stresses me out to see all the pieces laying everywhere. I have things arranged so that we utilize six different baskets in the living room where we keep a lot of the kid's toys. There really isn't a rhyme or reason to the baskets, they are just there so I can quickly have all of the toys picked up and put away out of sight when I need them to be. Same goes for closets. I go through periods where my closets are very neat. Right now at the end of summer, they really need a good reorganizing. But for the time being- out of sight out of mind. I close that closet door and the mess temporarily disappears. We function so much better when closets are tidy, but when you're in survival mode, just closing the door works too.

3. Less is More. This applies to possessions, furniture, and decorations. I like to decorate with things we actually use- I have pretty pots because I hang them on a pot rack, and that's one of the only 'decorations' in the kitchen. I let Evie's leather moccasins sit on the dresser because I think they're beautiful. I hung up a floppy summer hat on her wall because it's cute AND it is easily accessible when she needs to wear it. We don't have a whole lot laying around. My mind is more at ease when things are simple. Also, SO much easier to clean and keep clean. I can go around and tidy my whole house in about 15 minutes. That's not a deep clean, but it looks neat for guests in about 15 minutes. I really value that!

4. Yard sale and Thrift. I can keep less laying around because I know if I really need to replace something or buy an item, I can get it for relatively cheap second hand. I would say on average I save 90% off store prices by buying gently used items. Some of my favorite yard sale and thrift finds have been things like kitchen wares (I got a vintage food mill this summer because I enjoy canning and making tomato sauce), kids clothes (those beautiful baby moccasins- those were a yard sale find), toys (the Noah's Ark boat pictured below), baskets for storage, and furniture.

5. Stay bright, light, and cheery. No dark colors on walls, heavy window coverings, or bad lighting. To me, small spaces are best served with quality light fixtures and lots of windows. I've made the mistake of going bold and dark in the house when we first moved in, and eventually changed over to either off white or this light light gray color for every room. Makes everything flow nicely.

These are pictures of my house on Saturday afternoon during nap time. This is pretty typically the way it looks when the kids aren't up and playing.

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