Saturday, August 29, 2009

Bloggy anniversary and GIVEAWAY!

Updated: Works for Me Wednesday is having Organization Day this week! Well, my best organization tip is definitely using my planner to track everything I need to do each day, write down my meal plans, organize my cleaning schedule and set goals for my personal growth. Enter my drawing and you might win one for yourself!

**

Today is a big day here at everydayMOM and a day you will probably want to mark on your calendar to remember year after year.

What's that? You don't have next year's calendar yet? Oh, you are in luck.

Not only is it my one-year anniversary of when I officially started blogging (oh, I know... you're asking yourself how you made it through the day without me last year), but I also finished my 2010 everydayMOM planner! So, to celebrate, I'm having a giveaway!

And oh, there is soooo much to celebrate! Like how I learned that real bloggers should never fake their own firing. And despite my strange sense of humor, people still read my blog. And think of all of the fashion advice you have given me, especially when it comes to boots. I survived several unfortunate brushes with wildlife not to mention some close calls with the weather. And I can't forget the whirlwind of change that hit me over the last year.

Seriously though, I really want to say a HUGE thank you to those of you who read my blog. I really didn't expect it to last this long. And I never knew I would enjoy writing it this much. I love getting to know those of you who leave comments and have blogs of your own, but I appreciate just knowing you are out there even if you don't leave a comment!

So, this week, I am giving away a few of my 2010 everydayMOM planners! You can enter lots of ways:

1. Just leave me a comment and tell me anything: where you live, how you found my blog, what keeps you coming back, ask me a question or just say "hello".

2. If you have used my 2009 planner, leave me a comment about what you do or don't like about it.

3. Subscribe to my blog (and then leave me a comment to let me know you did). Just use that button at the top right of the page.

4. Become a follower of my blog.

5. Send a friend to read my blog and have them mention your name in the comments.

6. Pre-order your 2010 everydayMOM planner (of course, if you win, you will get it for free anyway!). All pre-orders are at the discounted price of $15. If I can hand-deliver yours, you also save on shipping. If I need to mail it, the total will be $20 in the U.S. (that's $15, plus $5 for Priority Mail) and $25 in Canada.

I will randomly draw the name of at least one winner Friday evening. If I actually start getting more than say... 10 entries, I will give away more than one!

To check out a full preview, go to my online publisher.

Here are the important details about the planner:


Each month starts with a full calendar spread so you can see the month in one glance. This section includes space to write your goals for the month and any other notes.


The rest of the planner is in a weekly format. Each day, you have space to keep track of all the things a mom does everyday:
  • Remembers (appointments, holidays, events)
  • Plans (her priorities for the day)
  • Shines (house-cleaning goals for the day)
  • Cooks (plan out your meals for the week)
  • Grows (she sets goals for her own personal growth and development in areas like reading, Bible study or exercise)

I have improved the planner by including holidays and the month name along the right-hand side so it's easier to find your place.

The back of the planner still includes my meal chart, grocery shopping list, house-cleaning chart and ideas to add those Moments Of Meaning to the everyday.


If you need some objective reviews, click here to read what other moms had to say.

So, go ahead. Leave me a comment. You will make me feel good. And even if you already have a system to stay organized, you can always use the planner as a gift! =]

**

Check out more organizational tips on Works for Me Wednesday at We are THAT Family!


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Friday, August 28, 2009

Cinnamon and Coffee Terrine with Mexican Chocolate Ganache


A few weeks ago, when we had our ladies' game night, part of the fun was a pie-judging contest.

I was so excited that my pie was part of a four-way tie for first place!

This is really a super simple ice cream pie with a fancy name.

I made a few exceptions to the recipe:

  • I didn't use the cayenne pepper.
  • I couldn't find any cinnamon ice cream, so I used vanilla bean ice cream mixed with one teaspoon of cinnamon.
  • I made mine in a regular pie pan, rather than a loaf pan, so it would qualify as a pie. This also eliminated the tricky part of pulling the pie out of the loaf pan, detailed below.

Let me know what you think about adding in the cayenne pepper. My small group is having a Mexican night in a couple of weeks, and I'm planning to make this dessert again with the pepper!

Ganache
8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup heavy cream

Terrine
2 cinnamon graham crackers
1 pint coffee ice cream
1 quart cinnamon ice cream

To make the ganache, combine the first four ingredients in a stainless steel bowl. In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream to a boil while stirring. Remove from heat and pour over the chocolate. Mix with a wooden spoon until melted and well blended. Let cool at room temperature until spreadable and cool (at least one hour). Place in the fridge if you need the ganache to cool faster.

To make the terrine, put two layers of cling wrap lengthwise in a 9x5-inch loaf pan with several inches of overhang. Then put two layers of cling wrap widthwise, allowing five inches on each side for overlap. Let coffee ice cream sit out for 5 minutes, until softened. Spread softened coffee ice cream into the pan and put back in freezer for 15 minutes.

When the ganache is well cooled, spread it on top of the coffee layer, and place back in freezer for 15 minutes (until ganache is hardened). Soften cinnamon ice cream, and spread it on top of ganache layer. Crumble the graham crackers on top, and press lightly into ice cream. Cover with overhanging cling wrap.

Freeze for several hours before serving. Can be made three days in advance. When serving, use cling wrap to lift terrine out of pan. Slice horizontally into 8 servings.


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Inside my head

My head is bursting with thoughts this morning, none of which would make a post. So, it's time for a list.

1. I've been obsessed with the story of Jaycee Dugard. OH. My. Gosh. I can't even imagine the grief of her parents, knowing that girl has been imprisoned in someone's backyard for 18 years. And then to think of HER two daughters who are going to one day realize they have been completely deprived of their lives. That story certainly gives me a whole new perspective when I am tempted to whine about the weather or having nothing "fun" to do.

2. I got a new kitchen appliance. I have never in my life had a toaster oven. Aren't you supposed to get one of those when you are single and just out of college? I am loving it! Now I can cook a frozen pizza or chicken nuggets without heating up the whole kitchen. And it makes great toast!


It's also a convection oven, so I guess I could cook a whole chicken if I wanted to. Now, if I only wanted to, I would be ready.

3. I've been trying to convince my husband that I'm actually fatter than I look. The poor guy. What can he possibly say to this? I stick out my stomach to try to demonstrate. His comment: "I'm not impressed."

4. My 4-year-old niece stayed with us the past two days. She is a riot. The kids play so well together just having that one extra person in the mix. I got to experience what it was like toting around four kids, instead of three.

My niece has some unique food preferences. She loves foods with a little zing, like salami, salsa and tomatoes. I asked her if she would like a pear, and she wasn't sure at first. But then she dipped it in some ketchup and thought it was perfect.

All three of my kids love her, but my oldest son has a special "big brother" relationship with her. Here they are at 6 a.m. yesterday, playing Princess Memory.


5. And that reminds me. It's my goal to start getting myself ready to start the day by 8 a.m. so I will be ready to begin home school on Monday. It's 8:41, and I am just getting out of bed. Maybe school should start at 10?

**

So, tell me about some of the random thoughts in your head this morning. What's on your mind?



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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Always greener on the other side

Um... I woke up yesterday morning and realized I had forgotten Rule #51 of being pregnant: NEVER choose paint colors during the first, second OR third trimester.

I learned this important rule a few years ago while watching Trading Spaces. A woman featured on the show had painted her basement a horrible shade of salmony-pink, which she selected while pregnant.

Well, I'm not sure Hildi Santo-Tomas really improved the situation. I can't remember the outcome. I only remember the important lesson about choosing colors while pregnant. Of course, I didn't remember it until AFTER I had painted our living room and dining room this week.

This is actually the fourth time I have painted this room in the eight years we have lived in this house. That's once for every child in the family. And the walls just keep getting a darker shade of green.

I do have one tiny bit of hope that I am not going to freak out once the baby is born and I see how dark my living room is. When I was buying the paint, the guy who mixed it stuck his finger in the can to make a little print on the top of the lid. He wiped off his finger on a cloth that had four other fingerprints that were almost EXACTLY the same color as mine!

"Everyone is buying green paint today," he remarked.

Hopefully, all the other people weren't painting their shutters and sheds, though. That's all I could hope.

Before I show you the "before" and "after", would you mind to go ahead and leave me a comment telling me how much you love it? I'm totally fine knowing in advance that you might be lying. I really won't be able to handle any criticism right now, so if you non-pregnant people can go ahead and tell me this is a reasonable color, I would sleep better tonight. Thanks in advance.

Before... the lovely paler shade of green:





After... The much darker shade of green.



I do LOVE having feshly painted walls. Now, if only I had enough energy to paint the rest of the house, I would!


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It's your choice

Saturday afternoon I decided to take my chances with what I knew would be a very challenging endeavor. I willingly chose that time to go to the grocery store.

Oh, I knew it would mean out-of-stock items, grumpy shoppers and long lines. But I was so giddy with the thought of my new seven-day meal plan and the simplified shopping that it promised that I floated into Meijer on the cloud of an organized grocery list.

I made it no farther than the lettuce when I saw her.

She stood out because her grey hair dangled almost to her thighs. She seemed to be wandering aimlessly from the Romain to the iceberg and back to the green leaf. Then she turned and looked me in the eyes.

"They hate me here, so I am going to shop somewhere else," she said, matter-of-factly.

"Oh, no!" I replied, trying to look sympathetic, while acting like I suddenly remembered that I needed some mangoes on the other side of produce.

I couldn't imagine what had happened that had made her feel so hated by the workers at Meijer. I really didn't want to know. But I did know one thing for sure. I better make up my mind that very second that no matter what happened during the next hour and 20 minutes, I would not let anyone dampen my happy shopping mood.

Oh, there were so many temptations. Countless sale signs sitting beneath empty shelves. An elderly man who was so excited about the price of mixes that he was blocking my way for what seemed like 10 minutes. A self-check lane that wouldn't dispense change to the man in front of me.

And her. The long-haired woman kept showing up in my path. Apparently, she had not actually gone somewhere else to shop.

She really didn't seem deranged. I felt bad that I hadn't taken the time to listen to her tale of being hurt by the workers at Meijer, but I simply knew the truth. They don't hate her.

She had made the choice to feel that way. She could have chosen a different reaction to whatever grumpy worker she had encountered. I'm sure that none of them cared enough to hate her.

Each time I saw her, I tried to give her a big smile. I don't know that it helped. But I was pretty happy for myself. I made it out of there in a good mood.

That woman actually made my shopping experience better. She challenged me to stay determined. No matter who I encountered or what was going on, I was going to smile and say something nice, rather than add to the grumpiness around me.

It was kind of fun. Fun enough to repeat next Saturday? Probably not. But a good reminder that each day my mood and my outlook depends on none other than me.


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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Encouragement changes everything

One of the things I have enjoyed most about my work-at-home job over the last few years is learning about the power of encouragement.

It's not something people get enough of. And that seems to be especially true with the stay-at-home mom crowd. We aren't in a position each day where we have an employer or a peer telling us we are doing a great job.

For the most part, what we do is pretty thankless. In fact, many of our attempts at being a good mom are met with whining or temper tantrums.

It's always been amazing to me to see how far a little encouragement goes. Point out someone's positive qualities and suddenly she starts seeing herself as someone who can be successful. Believe in someone, and soon she will start believing in herself.

Well, over the past few months since I have been working a lot less, this is probably the thing I have missed most.... not only encouraging others but being encouraged for something other than my ability to make a mighty fine frozen pizza.

To be honest, the past few weeks have been a little discouraging. I think this is due in large part to the fact that my nesting instinct is starting to kick in. I tried to explain this to a friend who was surprised to hear I wasn't feeling "together" or "self-confident", which was more the impression he had, I think.

"I just feel fragile."

Little things that normally would bounce right off of me make me want to run and hide under the covers. I feel like I have to expend all of my extra energy to grow and protect the little one inside of me, as well as those around me, leaving very little for myself.

I have been amazed, though at how God has been sending people my way to offer just what I have needed: encouargement.

For example, a friend I haven't seen in five years popped back into my life and my encounter with her was such a blessing. She truly has the gift of encouragement. Without even knowing how I was feeling, she started pointing out to me my positive qualities, which were exactly the same areas where I was feeling defeated.

A few days later, we went out to dinner with some friends who simply listened and then helped me see the truth in some negative statements that had been made.

And then a couple of days ago, while we were on a playdate with some friends from the boys' school, we bumped into a friend I hadn't seen in about three years! The kids and I were all feeling pretty sentimental about the fact the boys wouldn't be joining their friends in a few days for the first day of school. But my old friend, who has been a home school mom for a while now, out of the blue started rattling off encouragement about the life ahead of us.

For the past few days I have been re-reading a book I have probably read 10 times, Encouragement Changes Everything by John Maxwell. The book is a mixture of Bible verses, quotes and short stories. I hope to quote some of them on my blog from time to time.

Here's one that I have been thinking about the past few days:

There are three types of people in the world today. There are "well-poisoners," who discourage you and stomp on your creativity and tell you what you can't do.

There are "lawn-mowers," people who are well-intentioned but self-absorbed; they tend to their own needs, mow their own lawns, and never leave their yards to help another person.

Finally, there are "life-enhancers," people who reach out to enrich the lives of others, to lift them up and inspire them.

We need to be life-enhancers and we need to surround ourselves with life-enhancers.

~ Walt Disney

How about you? Are you feeling encouraged? Or have you let yourself be affected by a well-poisoner or a lawn-mower? Have you thought about who you can encourage this week?



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Sunday, August 23, 2009

What's for dinner this week... and the next... and the next...

OK. That's it. I've had enough.

I can't possibly be a good mom, tote around a growing baby in my tummy, keep the house clean, home school the kids, stay on top of the laundry, write my blog, tell myself jokes, take naps AND still be expected to come up with what we are having for dinner every single day around here.

I'll admit it. I have completely stopped using my VERY OWN meal planning sheet that I created and then try to sell to other people in my everydayMOM planner.

But you know what? I got that thing out, and it was pretty darned helpful, I must admit.

I would love to say that after watching Julie and Julia I was inspired to create some truly gourmet dinners for our family. But actually, I'm striving for bland.

I decided that instead of planning out a whole month's worth of menus, we are going to eat the same exact thing every week. That's right. Every Monday, for example, we are having taco salad. Fridays are home-made pizza.

Same goes for lunches. If it's Tuesday, you better believe we are having chicken nuggets, pumpkin muffins and corn.

We are going to try this for one month until everyone in this family knows that Thursday is pot roast. And maybe, just maybe, if I can master seven lunches and seven dinners without ever wondering what we are going to eat next, we can start having something else once in a while.

So, speak now, my dear family, or hold your peace for one month. Here's what's for lunch and dinner (don't laugh!):

Sunday
Lunch: BLTs, fruit, yogurt
Dinner: Sloppy Joe sandwiches, chips, green beans

Monday
Lunch: Pizza, carrots and applesauce
Dinner: Taco salad, refried beans

Tuesday
Lunch: chicken nuggets, pumpkin muffins, corn
Dinner: Chicken in the crock pot, rice and steamed broccoli (I have a feeling my husband will have to work late on Tuesdays.)

Wednesday
Lunch: Sandwich wraps (tortilla with cream cheese, ham, cheese and whatever else you like... lettuce, avocado wrapped up and then sliced), fruit, cottage cheese
Dinner: Pasta with marinara or al fredo sauce, (grilled zucchini and tomatoes for me), garlic bread

Thursday
Lunch: Tomato soup, crackers, grilled cheese
Dinner: Pot roast in crock pot with potatoes and carrots, rolls

Friday
Lunch: Plain pasta, bagels with cream cheese, veggies
Dinner: Homemade pizza, salad

Saturday
Lunch: Hamburgers on grill or fish sticks, cantaloupe, baked beans
Dinner: Biscuits and gravy (I love breakfast for dinner!)
fruit

Snacks:
apples, pears, mandarin oranges, grapes, bananas
carrots, green pepper, cucumber slices
cheese sticks, vanilla yogurt with mix-ins
bagels, English muffins, Nutrigrain bars

There you have it. That's what's for dinner. And lunch. And snack.

Whew. Now I don't have to think.

Please feel free to send me your ideas for next month. We might need a new rotation!




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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Hey, you will be me someday and I will be your mom

Dear Moms of the Boys Hanging Out at Starbucks on Friday Night,

I'm sure that if we got to know each other we would find we have a lot in common. We might even be friends.

Sure, your kids are older than mine. But you might be my age. Or maybe just a little older. Or maybe even younger. Who knows!

I'm sure you would understand what it's like. You know, it's hard when you are raising kids to make time for yourself. One day, you wake up and you realize you haven't been to a movie in, oh, about three years. Well, a movie-made-for-adults-that-you-attend-with-your-girlfriends kind of movie. Madagascar 2 doesn't count.

So, you gather up a few friends who aren't too busy chasing after their own families on a Friday night, you dig out a pseudo-stylish outfit and head to the movies. You can't believe the tickets are now $9.75. Weren't they $7 the last time you attended a show that WASN'T the matinee?!?

And the popcorn?! Wow! You just spent $8 for a small popcorn and a small Sprite. But it was worth it. Because you didn't have to share with three people under the age of 8.

You laughed. You cried. You joked with your friends.

And to make the evening complete, you walked over to Starbucks.

That's where your boys and their friends were hanging out. Taking up all of the tables. Blocking the door, actually.

That's probably a good thing. Think of all the other places they could be! You were probably sitting at home relieved to know they were ONLY at Starbucks.

But really? Did they have to tell us we were old? Did they have to continue to remind us of our age when we couldn't find a seat and had to walk back out of the coffee shop and through their standing crowd?

They looked like good kids. But really. I think if you, one of my new friends, had heard them taunting us, you would have wanted to know.

I realize that I will be the mom of those kids someday. The ones in high school. The ones who need a safe place to hang out with their friends on Friday night.

And I've already warned mine.

"If you ever see a mom who is going to a movie with her mom friends and you tell her she looks old, you are grounded! For life."

Oh, and by the way... if your boys are a little older by then and my kids happen to tell them they look old, please call me. I want to know.

Love from your new best friend,


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Can we go around again?

For those of you with older children, or those who live in a smaller town or anyone who basically isn't as overprotective as I am, this post might seem a little ridiculous.

But now that all three of my kids can ride their bikes beautifully with no training wheels, and now that within a week of all of them suddenly developing the desire and ability to ride long distances my stomach grew too large to get on a bike at all, I started to realize I needed a new game plan.

I don't let my kids play in our front yard unless I am with them. But the almost-9-year-old is getting really responsible. And I figured out they could ride all the way around our extra long block without ever crossing the street.

We talked about it. And I gave them all the rules. "You HAVE to stay together. And you have to come RIGHT back. NO stopping." But, believe it or not, they weren't quite sure if they were ready for the freedom yet.

A friend of mine lives on the opposite side of the block from me. Her two kids were born within one week of my two oldest.

"Just to let you know... I'm thinking of letting the boys ride around the block by themselves," I told her. "So if you see them. Don't be alarmed."

She seemed to gasp.

"Really?!?"

I wasn't sure what she thought. But Friday evening her two kids showed up at my front door with a delivery for us.

We hadn't tried the unsupervised ride around the block yet. They actually beat us to it. We asked the kids if all five of them would like to go around a few more times.

Capable Dad stood outside on our end watching them while the other kids' dad stood outside on their end. I guess they were e-mailing each other from Blackberry to iPhone the progress report.

Then, the other dad e-mailed us this:

video

Now if only we could set up a video camera outside each house to broadcast the progress when the other family isn't home.

So, I would love to hear what boundaries you have for your children. Are your kids old enough that you trust them to go to the park or ride their bikes around the neighborhood without a parent? At what age did you start?


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Friday, August 21, 2009

Almost ready

I sort of waited until the last minute to order some of my home school curriculum. The last box is expected to arrive today.

This is what we will be learning this year in first and third grade:

In Bible, we're going to start with these little studies I found that I'm really excited about:
Choosing Kindness
Choosing Obedience
Choosing Responsibility
Choosing Thankfulness
and Choosing Self-Control

We'll also be reading through The Child's Story Bible. I love how this Bible presents the material in a storybook form. We are planning to start at creation and work our way through the Old Testament since that will correspond to my first grader's history lessons.



We are using Saxon Math. The workbooks aren't that exciting, but this is the curriculum my boys used in school and they both like it. Plus, I understand how it is presented, which will make it easier for me.

My first grader will be doing Math 2, which is the second grade curriculum. My third grader is doing Math 3.

Next is phonics. Once again, we are using Saxon. For those of you who know how much my third grader disliked Saxon Phonics, you are probably wondering WHY I decided to torture myself.

My two boys' brains are wired as differently as night and day. Where the right brainer needs the big picture, my first grader's left brain loves details. He wants to understand the minutiae of how everything works. I think he's going to love Saxon. If he doesn't, we'll toss it!

In third grade, we are going to try Spelling Workout. This is one of the most difficult subjects for my third grader, so I will be supplementing with some other ideas to help him with his spelling.

We're using the Shurley English and Grammar curriculum. Same reason: We used it before and like it. So, we'll try it!



Both boys will be going through The Story of The World in history. The first grader will be starting at the beginning of time and studying ancient Egypt and working his way through China. I bought also bought this book on CD, so he can do the read-aloud portion on his own.

The third grader is ready the Middle Ages. He will be immersed in knights, castles and supplementing his learning with stories about King Arthur, Robin Hood and a class at our co-op. He also has the book both in printed form and on CD.

If you are like me, and never learned much about history, especially ancient history, I highly recommend Story of the World in book form or CD to get caught up in a very entertaining way! We also have a huge workbook of fun activities that go along with the reading.

In Geography, we will be Cantering the Country and learning all of the state capitals in song. I also bought some Map Skills books, which I think will be really fun.

In Science, both boys will be studying Exploring Creation with Astronomy this year. I'm excited about all of the hands-on science projects in our curriculum. If we have time, I'm going to be introducing my first grader to the animal kingdom, but he also will be getting a class on that in his co-op on Fridays.

Finally, we have some great literature selections, Spanish via Rosetta Stone's computer program, handwriting and hopefully typing. (I haven't found any software yet that works on the Mac.)

The boys will be going to a home school gym class at the park district, an art class at co-op, karate and Awana.

So, that's my plan for now. I know every home school mom has different preferences, but this is where we will begin. If we don't like something, we can always take another path!

The boys are starting to get excited about all we are going to learn, and so am I!



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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

back to school... or not

For the past few weeks, it seems like everywhere I go I hear moms saying, "I can't WAIT to send these KIDS back to SCHOOL!"

By the end of summer, everyone is kind of craving a routine again. We all need some regular interaction with our peers. We need structure. And a place we have to be at a certain time each day.

Even though my kids will be doing school at home, I'm starting, just a little tiny bit to feel that way. Let's face it. I love summer, and I'm not ready to start our routine. But I can kind of, sort of, maybe a little bit see how it's going to be good. =]

However, there's another type of comment that has really got me thinking lately:

"I can't WAIT to send these KIDS back to SCHOOL... BECAUSE THEY ARE DRIVING ME CRAZY!"

I can completely sympathize. The kids are getting on each other's nerves. They are fighting. They are arguing. They are complaining. Ah, yes... They are whining.

And it would be kind of nice to shove them out the door and send them somewhere else where I don't have to listen to them for six hours a day.

But for the first time in my kids' short school career, I am facing the reality that I'm going to have to deal with it! And you know what, I'm kind of glad.

Many of these negative attributes go deeper than just a need for structure. They are heart issues that aren't going to go away on their own. And certainly a teacher with 14, 24, or 30 other students to deal with on a daily basis, isn't going to be focusing a lot of her time on reforming the character of MY kid!

I would never, ever have chosen this path of home school for myself and my children. I don't know if it's permanent or temporary. I don't know what the year will look like.

But I'm thankful that I will have this opportunity to spend with them. I'm hoping we can make some progress not only in academic subjects, but in the areas that really matter. The heart. Attitude. And Character.


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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My services here are no longer required (aka the Chuck E. Cheese Chore system)

Last week, a sweet friend of mine invited me and my kids to every stay-at-home mom's most dreaded destination.

You know: A rock star rat. Hordes of children running frantically from one video game to another. A counter with all the plastic junk your child can afford with the tickets he has earned.

Chuck E. Cheese.

Actually, we were overjoyed by the invitation! We had been wanting to get together with this family for a few weeks and we were honored to get to celebrate their youngest daughter's birthday. And if a quiet little 5-year-old who has to compete with two older sisters and one older brother for attention on this planet wants to go to Chuck E. Cheese for her birthday, let me tell you: I will BE THERE!

I have a special place in my heart for fourth borns. I also had two older sisters and an older brother and lived most of my childhood in complete silence because I didn't think anyone could actually hear me talking over all of the commotion in our house. But my life growing up with imaginary friends is a topic for another day!

Anyway. We were excited to take a break from the sun for the afternoon and hang out at Chuck E. Cheese.

My children ran around in a frenzy trying to play video games as quickly as possible and gather as many tickets as their little sweaty hands could hold. After what seemed like several hours, they stuffed their tickets in The Muncher so they could be presented their little "receipt" showing how many points they had earned.

When they arrived back at my table with the reward for their efforts, I could barely contain my shock.

"You earned 59 points and all you got was a twisty straw and a piece of Laffy Taffy?!?"

"Ummm. Ummm. I mean... Wow! That's great, honey! A new twisty straw!"

They didn't seem the slightest bit disappointed that their hard work playing video games had resulted in such small prizes.

So, this week when the dumb weather man said it was going to storm all day and we canceled the awesome plans we had with friends and then it didn't rain at all, I remembered Chuck and the way he had enticed my children with his tickets and the promise of fabulous rewards that turned out to be cheap plastic toys.

I told my kids we were going to have Chuck E. Cheese Cleaning Day!

I went into my office and quickly created a spreadsheet with every chore I could imagine.

With a big "Woo Hoo!" and a lot of fanfare, I produced this massive chart of all of the deep cleaning we needed to do for the day. Oh, this wasn't their normal list of chores. We're talking windows, mopping, vacuuming, putting away baskets of laundry and cleaning the basement.

For each chore, I assigned a certain number of tickets they would earn for successful completion. Most of the chores were only worth one ticket. Only the really strenuous jobs like mopping and vacuuming were worth two or three tickets.

Then, I set the value of their rewards.

I was cunning. I dangled THE MOST valued prize of all in our home: Playing one hour of Crash Bandicoot on our old X-Box. This is something that only their dad lets them do on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Mom pretty much never says yes to Crash, so this was a major reward.

They also could earn time playing the Wii, a bike ride or a trip to the park. (A-hem. Sorry to say you already know what they were working toward.)

The price for an hour of Crash was 15 tickets.

They started cleaning like crazy, and they were still going at it several hours later. My main job was to follow them around, confirming they had completed the job properly and handing out tickets.

The 8-year-old finished around lunchtime. The 6-year-old had one more chore to complete after lunch. And even the 4-year-old got a second wind around 5 p.m. and earned three more tickets after she saw her brothers playing video games late in the afternoon.

They were amazing. And they proved that they can pretty much do all of the household cleaning around here without my assistance.

You will not believe what they said at the end of the day.

"Mom, can we have Chuck E. Cheese Cleaning Day again tomorrow?!?"

I'm hoping I will be out of a job soon.

Hey, it Works for Me! For more great ideas that work for moms, check out Works For Me Wednesday!



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Monday, August 17, 2009

everydayKIDS!

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I have been working on a version of my everydayMOM planner for kids. I decided that my boys needed a good place to keep track of their school assignments everyday, as well as anywhere they need to be.

I finished the planner and my first two copies arrived in the mail today! I ordered one for each of my boys, who are 8 and 6 years old.


I've already been busy writing in birthdays, holidays and appointments, as well as karate class, gym class, co-op and other places they will need to be this fall. They ask me every morning what day it is and what is on the agenda for the day, so I'm hoping this will help.

This first planner, which is sort of my test model, goes from August 2009 to December 2010.

The inside pages look like this:


They have a spot to write down anywhere they "gotta go". The next section is for school assignments, since we are doing school at home this year.

I also created a section where I am going to give them "points" or maybe stars in the following areas:
Attitude
Timeliness (in finishing work)
Respect
Kindness

I'm planning to use this section to let them "earn" special privileges, like watching a movie or playing Wii.

The weekly layout also includes a space to write a memory verse for the week.

You can check out a preview of the everydayKIDS planner at my online storefront. If you want to order, let me know. I can place several orders at once to save on shipping charges.

So, I'm curious. Am I the only mom on the planet who thinks her children need their own planner? If you are a home school mom, do you already have a system that you like? Do you have any feedback for me?

If you aren't a home school mom, would something like this interest you if it had different categories, such as chores and homework?



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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Got game?


I feel so immensely blessed that I get to volunteer for a position at my church that is so much fun for me.

I don't mind to serve in children's ministry or hand out bulletins or greet people when they arrive.

But I get so excited when I get to help plan an event to get women together for an evening to be encouraged in their faith, grow in their relationships with God and others, and have fun!

And I especially love this volunteer position when it involves color-coordinated table cloths and a theme. Oh, how I love a theme!

I decided to start posting some of the details of our women's ministry events to help other people who might be needing an idea or some inspiration.

Last night, we had our last event of our first "ministry year", so we decided to do something that was just FUN! The first thing that came to mind was a game night. It started as a little seed planted in our brains, but grew into a full-blown theme with a color scheme, party favors, team cheers and even a devotional!

The hardest part was actually coming up with a name. After more than an hour of brainstorming, my co-coordinator, Lara, and I settled on "Girlfriends, Get Your Game On: NOT Your Ordinary Game Night."

We decided to keep most of the details of the evening a secret during all of our promotions of the event.

We played my favorite game, Cranium. But instead of just moving pawns around the game board, we decided to assign the women to teams beforehand and ask them to come dressed not only in a team color, but to create a team identity matching the categories in the game.

We bought tablecloths and paper goods to match the four team colors.



We weren't sure if the women would get on board and come dressed in their assigned colors since we really didn't tell them the details of what would be happening. But the women came through with flying colors!

The Data Heads dressed in red and brought calculators as their "signature item."




The Creative Cats wore blue and decorated their faces to look like cats.


The Word Worms brought a couple of word worms of their own. And they did a cheer in which they spelled their team name wrong and then corrected themselves.



Very creative! ... and funny!



I was the captain of the green team, the Star Performers. We glammed ourselves up with wigs, boas, beads, rings and musical instruments.


Some of us... OK, maybe just ONE of us, even took the color scheme all the way down to her toes. I'm actually starting to really like this nail polish!


We had our own mascot, Barbie with a Brittney Spears wig. This 40-year-old Barbie could use a little glam, too!



We asked the teams to come up with a cheer, chant or song to describe their team. The green team did a little song and dance to the tune of "So long, farewell..." from The Sound of Music.



We dance.

We sing.

We wear a lot of green.

Do-do-do-do-do. Do-do-do-do-do-do.

We're Star Performers.

Don't mess with our team.

Do-do-do-do-do. Do-do-do-do-do-do.

So long. Farewell.

Go green. Go green. Go green!

With about 25 women in attendance, actually playing Cranium was a bit of a challenge. But the women did their best to pay attention, and it was a lot of fun!

We gave a prize basket full of summertime goodies to the team that won the game (hooray for yellow!), and the team with the most team spirit (go green!!).

For our food, we had a pie-judging contest. We asked everyone to bring a pie, but to think creatively. So, "pie" could include anything from blueberry, apple or peach to pizza pie, taco pie or ice cream pie. The bake-off winner was awarded a cookbook for her prize.



Finally, Lara put together an amazing devotional using Cranium as her inspiration. She talked about how each of us is made in the image of God. Even if we don't feel like we are creative, good with words, a star performer or someone who understands data, God has all of those qualities. And since we were created in His image, so do we!

For example, maybe we aren't great with words in terms of writing or spelling, but we might have the gift of encouraging others with our words. She gave lots of other great examples.

Most of the women who attended our event said they had a lot of fun last night. But I'm not sure they could have had as much fun as we did planning it!

For more Women's Ministry ideas, check out:

Sharing Our Secrets

Shades of Blue



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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Counting days

"How many more days, Mom?"

That seems to be the question everyday. How many more days?

Well... it's been 23 weeks, and we have 119 days to go.

I hate counting down the days of my life like this, but I just can't seem to stop. For each day I add to the expired days pile, I seem to lose a little more energy and a few more brain cells. For each day on the days to go side, something new begins to hurt and I feel a little extra weight on my body.

Thankfully, we got a new date to count toward: Dec. 3. That will most likely be the day I will schedule my C-Section. It's the earliest my doctor will possibly deliver the baby since that puts me at 39 weeks. I like that date because it has some numeric elements that will make it easy for me to remember: 12-03-09. 12-3=9. See?

We have so many other important dates to look forward to before then though:
The first day of school
Two children's birthdays in September
One more in November
My parent's 50th wedding anniversary
Our wedding anniversary
Thanksgiving

And today!!

What are some of the dates that you are counting down to in your life?





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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Seeing double

Monday was a big day for us.

It was the day my oldest son completed his Vision Therapy sessions for the summer. We have been going to the eye doctor from 9 to 10 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday this entire summer. On days off, we do about 30 minutes of homework.

I have been meaning to write a post about Vision Therapy for the past few months. My husband and I had never heard of Vision Therapy until about a year ago, so I thought it might be helpful to other parents to know what it is, what the sessions are like and whether it helped.

I was skeptical of the idea of Vision Therapy when my son's eye doctor mentioned it during his routine eye exam going into first grade. Not all eye doctors offer Vision Therapy, and we just happened to choose one who specializes in it.

The eye doctor asked me if my son had any troubles with copy work, spelling, handwriting or grew tired easily while reading.

"Hmmmm," I thought. "Well, yes, yes, yes and yes."

But at the time, we weren't ready for the expense and time commitment that the therapy would require.

Almost a year later, when my son was struggling with these same issues in second grade, we took him to a reading specialist for an evaluation. The teacher said that his reading was well above his grade level. However, she did notice that he was "moving his eyes funny" when he looked at the paper. She tried several different colored overlays, but nothing seemed to help.

The final nudge I got to try Vision Therapy came this spring when I attended several sessions at the home school conference on how to identify learning struggles. My oldest son is uniquely intelligent in many ways that just blow my mind. But other simple things (such as spelling and writing) seem to drain him of all of his energy.

This speaker mentioned that many times kids with these struggles actually have an issue with their eyes. The eye muscles aren't working properly together, which also is called eye "teaming" or "binocularity".

Those were the same terms the eye doctor had used to describe what was happening with my son's eyes! As I read about this problem, I found more sources that confirmed that many children have an issue with their eye muscles that might be causing all sorts of problems in school, but it is never identified.

So, we decided it was time to give it a try.

Vision Therapy consisted of 21, one-hour sessions. (In some cases, medical insurance will pay for the therapy, but so far, we haven't been so lucky.)

During the sessions, my son worked with a therapist on a combination of computer programs and other types of exercises that helped strengthen his eye muscles, improve his visual memory, and increase his ability to focus.

Many of the exercises we did at home involved holding two objects in front of him at varying lengths. He had to focus hard on the first object until he saw two of the object in the background. At first, he could only hold his focus for less than a minute. By the end of the sessions, he could hold his gaze for as long as six minutes.



Some of the activities seemed really silly. One was called pursuit reading. He had to read a book while walking around the room and moving the book in circles.



I asked the therapist if she would also like him to stand on his head and do cartwheels while reading, but she said, "no". =]

So, did Vision Therapy help? We really don't know at this point.

The doctor said that the therapy is sort of like riding a bike. Once he has trained his eyes, they will always work better together.

However, we are supposed to continue his eye-strengthening activities several times a week. For how long? Well, I guess it's like lifting weights. The more he does it, the better his eyes will work.

Have you had any experience with Vision Therapy? I would love to hear if it worked for anyone else!



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Sunday, August 9, 2009

22 weeks and 3 days

I keep thinking that now that I'm more than halfway through my pregnancy I should update my tummy photo again.

So, this morning, my daughter took some pictures of me using Photo Booth on my laptop. My husband took the camera with him to New Zealand and then took approximately zero photos the whole week. I guess the inside of his hotel room and the warehouse where he spent the week weren't feeling very photogenic.

Turns out, neither was I! To make matters worse, Photo Booth has the same remarkably low photographic quality of a real photo booth.

I have been feeling especially prego -- like my stomach has really popped out the past couple of weeks. And yet, people still express surprise when I tell them I'm halfway through my pregnancy. So, I thought the photo would definitely prove my point. "Can't you SEE how big my stomach is?!?"

But with each photo we took, even the kids agreed that my rear end looked really pregnant, but maybe I should stick out my tummy a little more. I think my upper arm also seems to be carrying quite a bit of baby weight.

My kids were so cute telling me to stand more sideways and adjusting the computer screen to try to improve the size of my stomach in the photo. But only my backside continued to get larger with each adjustment.

I can assure you that my doctor, midwife and the super specialist doctor who does ultrasounds on women who have "high-risk pregnancies" all agree that the baby is exactly the right size and my tummy measures exactly the right size. And yet, I just don't stick out that much.

So, for the record, here I am at 22 weeks and 3 days ...


I'll spare you the more sideways view in which my tummy and behind were exactly proportional. I'm definitely enjoying not being hugely pregnant... yet, at least. And I do soooo appreciate people telling me that I look good.

But I feel like I'm constantly trying to explain myself. When I tell people I'm pregnant, they often react with surprise (which I think is normal). Then, they ask the natural question, "How far along are you?"

"Well... I'm sort of, well, like... I'm not really that far, just maybe around 20 weeks or something... sort of half way... but I don't know... who's really counting..."

It's funny. I actually had a few meaningful things I was planning to write when I sat down here, but I've completely forgotten what they are.

So, Happy Sunday night! I'll be back later!


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Friday, August 7, 2009

Capable dad

A few years ago, my husband had a very eye-opening experience.

I was attending the Discovery Toys convention in California, and we decided to take the whole family to San Francisco for an additional week after the "work" portion of the trip was done. He ended up flying to California a few days after me with our three children, who were 1, 3 and 5 years old at the time.

He couldn't believe how many remarks people made about why a MAN would be flying alone across the country with three children. People reacted with sympathy, concern, sometimes suspicion and an abundance of offers to help him along the way.

That same summer, he needed to make a quick trip to the store and decided to take the two boys in the bike trailer to pick up some groceries. He bumped into a friend who couldn't contain his surprise that not only had my husband taken our two children to the store BY HIMSELF, but he had done it with a bike trailer!

This friend had two children about the same ages as our boys, but had not yet been "permitted" by his wife to go anywhere alone with both of them.

The last straw for my husband came on several different occasions when people asked him if he was "babysitting" for our kids.

"I'm not babysitting!" he would tell me later. "They are MY children!"

That is when my husband started joking that he was going to start a web site for Capable Dads like himself. Surely, there were other men on the planet who could actually care for their OWN children!

My husband has a very dry sense of humor and he loves to tease me. I have a tendency to come up with grand ideas that I am convinced are going to impact the world. These ideas usually include a web site, marketing material and a significant investment of my time.

So, with quite a bit of sarcasm, his new venture, "The Capable Dad" was born. Well, actually, it wasn't exactly "born" but more like a figment of his imagination since nothing ever came of it. Still, I thought it was brilliant, and probably would have at least printed some letter head and business cards if it had been my idea.

When I started my blog last year, CapableDad decided to get on board with his own contribution to the blogging world. At first, he was going to call it everydayHusband, but come on! He's so much more than just the spouse of the everydayMOM, don't ya' think?

I insisted he name his blog CapableDad. And now he blesses me at least twice a year with a post.

I really don't even know what he's talking about with his most recent update. All I can say is that he has been in New Zealand too long and maybe the absence of kangaroos, the 17-hour time change and the lack of parenting responsibility has started to play with his mind.

The funny thing is, that even without any effort whatsoever on his part and only semi-annual posts, he will probably end up being a highly successful blogger while I will eventually drive off all of my readers with my weird sense of humor.

He is one of those people who excels at whatever he tries. Well, at least at whatever backyard game or unregulated sport that he tries. Whether it's "corn hole", miniature golf, darts, bowling, wiffle ball, freeze tag or horseshoes, he will usually be highly competitive his first time out of the gate.

He also has a way of endearing himself to people. I always joke with him that HE is the favorite child in MY family because my parents love him so much.

So, there you have it. He's definitely a CapableDad. I just thought I should give you a little background since he actually updated his blog. He rarely leaves me any comments, but as he always says, he is my "biggest fan".




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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Is my head a giant magnet or something?

During our vacation last week, my husband let me take over his Blackberry during our long drive to southern Indiana.

This was great because it kept him from trying to respond to his work e-mail while he was driving. It also allowed me to write funny answers to his e-mail even though people didn't know it was me answering.

On Friday, an e-mail came through from his co-worker.

"How do you feel about going to New Zealand this week?"

Heh, heh, heh, I thought. Here's my chance!

I thought about insisting that I wouldn't go to New Zealand unless my entire family could go along on an all-expense paid vacation to a luxury resort. But then I realized my plan probably wouldn't work, and I really didn't feel like making a 15-hour flight with the three kids anyway.

So, we got home Sunday night, and on Monday, CapableDad caught the first flight to New Zealand.

I don't know much about this place, but it seems like it might be about as far as one can travel, not including maybe South Africa or Antarctica. I mean, the time difference is 17 hours, so that makes it seem pretty darned far.

I found out that it does not have a population of kangaroos, as one might expect on an island so close to Australia. I posted on my Facebook page that I hoped my husband was seeing lots of kangaroos in New Zealand, and someone let me know that the country is actually only known for its huge herds of sheep.

I don't know about you, but I don't think this is fair! New Zealand seems like a great place for kangaroos, ostriches and maybe an emu or two. I think someone should put some in a boat and take them over there.

When Daddy is away on business trips, the kids and I have a tradition of going to Blockbuster to rent some movies. The kids also think all four of us should have a slumber party either on the sleeper sofa or in our king-sized bed.

Well, last night my oldest son came sulking into my bedroom, asking if he could sleep in my bed for the night. The highlight of my husband's work trips for me is that I get to sleep diagonally, so I never, ever give into these requests from my children.

But my 8-year-old said he was just feeling so alone, and he doesn't get to be near me as much as he would like.

He put on his super sad puppy dog eyes, and I finally relented.

"OK. But you have to stay on your side of the bed and you can't talk."

He agreed.

Throughout the night, I kept waking up to push him back over to his side of the bed. This would cause him to wake up and then he would have some deep question he needed to ask me right then.

"NO TALKING!" I reminded him.

Early this morning, I felt a heavy weight on top of my head. Sure enough, he was trying to sleep with his head on top of mine. I kept inching away from him, and his head kept following me until I was out of room on the pillow.

I'm pretty sure I have a giant mommy magnet in my brain that pulls him from the opposite side of the king-sized bed all the way over to the other edge and right on top of my pillow.

This morning, he just happened to mention that it was much cooler sleeping in my room. I guess his top bunk has been way too hot this summer.

A-ha! And I fell for the trick about how he just wanted to be near his mommy!

I'm sure a few more will be trying to squeeze their way into a sleep-over tonight. And I will just tell you right now, it's not going to happen. Not for all the kangaroos in New Zealand!




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