In February

February was all about embracing winter and winter activities. We skated. We skied. We went sledding. We snowshoed. We used an outdoor skating rink in addition to our normal indoor one (an entirely different experience for the kids). Although I had two amazing ideas for adventures for this month, neither of them were a go because of car issues. Next year we’re going to be all over Winterfest and the World Pond Hockey Championships! Instead, we took a winter fun day- skating, skiing, and watching the high school state championships for downhill and nordic skiing- so fun! Except now my kids want to downhill ski too- and yes, I knew that would likely be a thing.

My goals…

  • special breakfasts for Chinese New Year and Valentines Day
  • date with John
  • dates with kids
  • take the kids to the indoor rec center and the pool
  • take the kids to the nursing home and work at the food pantry
  • skate once a week
  • ski once a week
  • fall when I go skiing
  • finish catching up scrapbooks
  • take the kids to the library
  • check out a new library and thrift store
  • re-do our fireplace mantle
  • make a seed/tree plan for our farm this year
  • clean out my craft closet
  • have guests over for dinner
  • monthly family adventure

From the bookshelf…

  • The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz (amazing! I’m re-reading now.)
  • A Closer Walk by Catherine Marshall
  • Dissolving Illusions: Disease, Vaccines, and the Forgotten History by Suzanne Humphries

What is working…

I still love real food. It’s becoming routine. Occasionally I get snacky urges, but not as often now.

I tried a ski race! I first thought of doing one last week and then there was an 8K race last weekend, so I went for it. I wasn’t last (my hope!), although I was far from the best. And I beat two 10-year olds right at the end. :) I would definitely do it again.

Homeschool routine is still good, but I find myself less and less able to keep up around the house. I vaguely remember last winter and my daily afternoon time to read and knit or sew, but it is a far away land. I did that every single day last winter and I’ve not done it once this year. Instead my afternoons are spent trying to catch up on laundry or dishes but even those I’m not ever totally accomplishing. It’s the baby season- it’s just hard to do much when you have a little one. I am mourning the loss of an orderly home, time for me, finishing things on a list…and I’m happy, but there is still a sense of grieving.

My March goals…

  • fun breakfasts for St. Patricks Day and the first day of spring
  • date with John
  • dates with kids
  • take the kids to the pool, the library, and the indoor rec center
  • watch dogsledding
  • visit a maple sugar house
  • tap trees for our own maple syrup
  • learn about tree grafting and make a plan for propogating plants this year, build a misting chamber
  • skate and ski once a week
  • work on toy room organization
  • read a book by a local author
  • take the kids to the food pantry and the nursing home
  • listen to 3 homeschooling podcasts
  • make donuts with the kids
  • take the kids downhill skiing
  • monthly family adventure

What’s the best book that you’ve read lately?

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We outkicked our expectations on this one

Yeah, welcome to 1986. I know.

P1120057Our kids couldn’t figure out what all the buttons on this key could possibly be for. They were amazed…doors that automatically open, interior lights that they can turn on and off, personal fans that they can adjust, cup holders. To say they were blown away by the amenities of our new vehicle would be an understatement.

We have leather, heated seats, and this vehicle has those clip-ins for car seats so you don’t have to buckle them with the seat belt. It took us 5 days to realize that we could even play CD’s…we haven’t had a vehicle that played CD’s for 10 years. I told John that we might have gone a little too nice, that maybe it was too great a leap.

John laughed at me. “Amy, it’s a 10-year old car! It’s not like it’s brand new.” Point taken.

The kids were instantly singing its praises over the Safari van, which they never complained about- they accepted its quirks, and in fact they loved it in its time- we all did. It reinforced to me that you start with the low end and move up, so you’re always thrilled. If you look at the nicest house at the top of your price range first, nothing else is going to look very good. I guess we went the right direction on this one.

P1120058And there it is. We are officially minivan drivers. I accept it.

It led us to an interesting thought-conversation over the weekend about what point in the life-cycle of a car does it make sense to own. Clearly the greatest financial loss is at the front-end, but buying a clunker at the end of its life is cheap but could cost a lot in repairs. Does it make the most sense to buy in the middle and sell before it gets to major repair stage? What are those lines? It all depends on the vehicle because you have to have a vehicle someone wants to make it work out. How much should a vehicle cost per year? We have our thoughts, but I’d love to hear your philosophy if you have one.

Do you have a vehicle buying philosophy? Have you ever made a huge leap in vehicle or home or something else that blew you all away in terms of your expectations?

Posted in Family news | 9 Comments

The words I needed to hear

This morning, I felt compelled to open up my blog reader and one article immediately jumped out at me. It was by Crystal Paine and it was just what I needed to hear.

“Anyone can be a coward. Here’s how: You just stick with things so long as there is no danger, pain, or hurt. When anything uncomfortable or hard comes your way, a coward balks and runs.

Yes, it’s simple and easy to be a coward. But there’s little joy or fulfillment. You never get to experience the rewards of hard work. You never get the thrill of jumping outside your comfort zone. You never get to know what it’s like to punch fear in the face.”

I am this coward. I get stuck in my routines and resist change beyond my comfort level. I resist doing things at times because it would interrupt a routine I like, or at least that’s what I say, but fear is at the core of it. Fear of the unknown. Fear of doing something different. Fear of challenging my deeply held beliefs.

It’s much easier to just read my stack of books in the morning than pray and really expect God to speak to my heart. It’s laziness on my part and it assures that I will never be asked to do anything beyond what I’m comfortable with. I can read a book and pick and choose what I should do, but to pray is to open myself much more.

If evidence challenges something I believe in, my first inclination is to brush it aside or ridicule it, not to listen to the facts. I want what I have been doing or thinking to be true. A few months ago, I would have told you that the way I was eating was fine and there was no reason to change any of it, but now that I’ve been on exclusively real food for over a month, I know I’m not going back. The change was somewhat small (no packaged tortillas, pasta, chips, or sweets I don’t make myself are the main differences). Yet, being conscious in this allows me to be open to diet changes that are even more drastic.

You never know where a little adventure or break from the norm is going to take you.

This winter I committed to falling each time I go cross country skiing. Falling is never what I want to do, but I’ve done it, and I have slowly seen my confidence and ability to ski improve. Don’t get me wrong- it’s not like I’m a good skier now- I’m not! But I’m going down hills I used to avoid. Instead of snowplowing down hills to slow myself down, I’m realizing that I don’t need to (although sometimes I do!). I can ski on more trails now. Last weekend, a couple ladies invited me to ski with them. They took me on trails I hadn’t done before and I could enjoy a ski while getting to know them. I even had a small thought that I’d like to try a ski race, not because I’d be good- I’d be terrible- but because it would be fun to try it. Previously my fear of falling and going down hills kept me from imagining that’s something I would ever do.

Maybe I could even try downhill skiing. That scares me too.

Instead of resisting intrusions to my plans, I should welcome them as adventures. If something is the right thing to do, it’s right and I will never regret it, even if it’s uncomfortable. You would think that I’ve already learned this lesson- I’ve been through it so many times, but I keep having to experience it again.

I want to live courageously and truly live. The best way to do this, I’m realizing, is in the little things. Because we all know that the little things make all the difference.

Where have you found this to be true? 

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

homeschooling philosophy

Like anything, there are lots of different reasons that people homeschool and within people who do, a multitude of philosophies. Most people who homeschool do so out of a deep-seated conviction- it doesn’t matter if they are all the same one.

I was in a setting recently with various ladies, most of whom had children attending public school, but all of them had considered homeschooling. In each case, the moms felt inadequate to do the job of teaching their kids, even in younger grades. That surprised me. When they spoke more, I understood that this was a function of thinking that they had to cover all of a grade-level’s skills and information in that specific grade. Of course they felt inadequate. If you have multiple kids with multiple lists of skills and information, it would be impossible to think you could do this without it consuming your entire life.

I started there too.

I am realizing that homeschooling or education is not something you accomplish in one year. It’s a much more long-term process. If we cover everything the book says in second grade in that specific year and by the time we’re to eighth grade, my child is a mess (or I am!) and burnt out and not interested in school or learning, it doesn’t matter where they were in second grade.

Learning is something we do all the time, or at least we should. If my child learns to love reading, it doesn’t matter what their reading level is in any specific year because they are going to be lifelong readers. If my kids understand how to learn, it doesn’t matter what facts they know now, because if they need or want to know the information later, they can learn it.

My goal can’t be getting through a certain amount of material or a curriculum in a year or by a certain date (which I struggled with of late in math…I was feeling behind and I’m learning to look at this differently). That’s a recipe for disaster long-term for me and my kids. We’re all going to resent it in the end, and let’s admit that a stressed-out mommy is no fun.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t do anything. We are learning and covering material in our books. But we can’t stress about getting a certain amount done. The big picture is that I am training my children for life. I am not training them for a specific job or occupation. They are learning to learn and live and be a person within a family and community. When Micah was born and we couldn’t do our studies, that was school. We were learning to care for and love a baby and be a family. When it’s fall and we need to focus on putting up food instead of workbooks, that is school too. We are learning the cycles of nature and how we feed ourselves and care for the earth.

I’m not seeing my job as covering a list of materials in a set amount of time. And for the most part, I do feel confident and adequate. I don’t worry that my kids are “behind”. Sure, I feel inadequate in myself to simply care for and love four children, because I don’t have one-on-one time with them often, but they are fine. But in schooling, I think we’re going to be okay.

Please remind me of this is three months when I feel worried that we haven’t covered a certain subject.

That being said, if I knew my kids were going to school in a certain grade, I could understand worrying that they would be on par with their peers. That makes perfect sense.

Philosophy makes all the difference. John would tell you this is yet another demonstration of my free-spiritedness shown by my long-ish hair. It’s not a causal relationship, of course. I have to admit that my friends with longer hair are all more free-spirited, so there might be something to it.

What do you think? Are ladies with long hair more free-spirited? Has your educational philosophy changed? 

Posted in Kids | 2 Comments

We bought a new vehicle and I haven’t even seen it

In fact we weren’t really even looking for one. A friend was looking for a used vehicle. She didn’t want a minivan, but she passed the option along in case we did.

While we weren’t actively looking for a vehicle, the idea was on our radar. The safari van (1998 Mazda MPV) does hold all of us and it runs despite its many quirks: windows don’t always go up immediately when you press the button, erratic heat, only being able to lock and unlock with a key (the physical locks don’t work or aren’t there), nothing that keeps it from being drivable. Oh yes and that pesky little fact that you can run out of gas when the tank shows 1/4 full, or on one cold day when it showed 1/2 full.

Every day is a gift.

However, it had an oil leak. This is a fixable problem, but with labor costs, we weren’t sure it was worth fixing. The vehicle isn’t worth all that much, so a little repair can easily be half the value of the vehicle. We haven’t fixed anything on it yet, but once you start going down that road, you can nickel and dime yourself to death on a vehicle, especially an older one. At the moment, we hadn’t lost money on it, and we weren’t sure we should do the repair. We told the mechanic to wait while we thought.

And while the safari van has served us well for 8 months, it’s not a vehicle I would take by myself on long trips. I don’t entirely trust it. I don’t worry when I’m with John, but I would never take it by myself further than 20 miles. Even our jokes about it- “every day is a gift”- tell what we really feel. We laugh, but at the core, we both believe that every day might be its last. This takes a lot of mental and emotional energy when you wonder if your vehicle is going to break down on any trip.

And that’s when my friend popped in with a potential vehicle. In the next town over. In excellent repair. A Honda Odyssey (reliable make). With snow and summer tires. Extremely low price for the miles. We know the people selling in passing and enough to know they are honest and selling something nice.

Without seeing the car, I knew it was our vehicle. Yes, me who does not like minivans. John took a peak at it the next day to see that it was in fact what we had heard. And we bought it. Without me seeing it.

I’m not buying this vehicle because I like what it looks like- I don’t even know what color it is. I don’t care. I simply need a reliable vehicle that holds 6. Done. I spent no life energy on this decision and I feel so happy about it.

We decided not to repair the safari van but sell it as-is. It would be a good buy for someone who likes to fix vehicles and can do repairs themselves, because it has great 4-wheel drive. Our mechanic thought it was totally sellable that way and in fact encouraged us to do this.

And because we bought an inexpensive minivan instead of the more expensive Highlanders or Pilots that we really want, we won’t be cash-strapped by a vehicle purchase, something we were struggling with. The inexpensive but completely practical purchase wins here! I usually believe in buying exactly what you want and waiting for that, but in this case, the cost for us is too great, so the best solution is the one with the least compromises- reliable (check!), inexpensive (check!), practical (check!), something I really want to drive (fail).

At least I know that going in. And the fact that I didn’t stress the decision makes me think I’ll be happier with it in the end. Making decisions without belaboring them has me excited about where else I can exercise this sort of freedom.

So, we don’t have the minivan yet- the sellers needed it for one more week- but we are all psyched. Now we need to dive into the world of selling vehicles (not so fun!).

Have you had to compromise on what you got for a vehicle? What did you compromise on- looks, gas mileage, what you really want to drive? Are you still happy with it?

Posted in Simplicity | 4 Comments

Baking, just for fun

It’s probably the lament of most stay-at-home moms that although they are with their kids all the time, it’s hard to get good quality time with them. It’s a function of being together all the time and there being so many household/life tasks that need accomplished.

My kids don’t go to school so I can clean and finish laundry and get bread started. I don’t have time to make phone calls or run to the fabric store apart from them. They are with  me all the time. I love this, but it doesn’t make for quality time very often.

I don’t feel like I need to have intentional time with my kids constantly- that’s impossible. But sometimes, I lament that although we’re together all day every day that there are few things I really focus to do with them. We all miss out!

The way to improve most anything is to be conscious about it, and I’m really trying to make conscious efforts to do the important things with my kids. Last summer, I realized that I never played ball with my kids. It seems like one of those things that a parent is supposed to do, super basic right? So, we made it a habit of playing ball right before swimming lessons each morning. We made it an event and a habit and it worked.

You know it’s my job to overthink and make epic the most basic things.

I love my monthly dates with the kids one-on-one. I’ve been very intentional to read every morning and evening with them. The kids “help” me cook all the time, but I’m mostly just trying to get it done. And I want them to do fun baking too, so I’m making a stab at it. We talked about some things we could bake together, things a little beyond the normal cookies/brownies. Of course they knew lots of things they wanted to bake!

Bagels. Pretzels. Donuts. Marshmallows. Whoopie Pies. Maple candy. They had a great list. And I’m going to do my best to carve out time, not all at once, but little by little to do some fun baking with them this year.

We made pretzels last night and then we decided to make some dipping sauces; we even made mustard from scratch. It was fun for all of us. We sampled as we went and everyone got in on the action.

One thing I have learned is that it takes work to have fun. Fun doesn’t happen from sitting around watching. Fun takes effort and planning and intention. It’s true in so many things!

A couple weeks ago we had a snow day that we knew was coming. We were all going to be home all day and the kids were going to be stir-crazy…not exactly a surprise. The night before, I jotted down a quick list of ideas for the day: games to play, yoga video, teach Hannah to knit, play-doh. making cookies, puzzle. By having that prepared, we got up and started knocking ideas off the list, and you know, I would count it as one of my favorite days of the winter. We had fun! A little intention helped everything.

By making baking a thing, it helps me to prioritize doing it. Otherwise, I’m wrapped up in all I need to finish and clean and start and wash and fix and change. It all goes better with a little planning.

Where have you found this to be true? Any other ideas you have of fun things to bake with my kids?

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How it’s going in the life of real food

I want to tell you that switching to solely real food has me thinking clearly and feeling an amazing difference, but so far it doesn’t. It’s not a drastic shift for me (thankfully), and (also thankfully) it’s been easy so far.

By deciding I wasn’t going to eat chips or white/brown sugar, I haven’t been tempted to do so. Much easier than trying to moderate myself. At least so far. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had to exercise restraint; I am constantly conscious of what I can and cannot eat.

I was wanting those little splurges to make a difference in my thinking and I was dreaming that my brain fog would lift. I will give allowance that I also never get to sleep uninterrupted, and that could be 100% of the brain fog cause.

However, the difference I have noted is that I’m more willing to challenge myself with the thought of going more drastic. I already decided that I would put butter on pancakes and waffles instead of maple syrup, because syrup is a sugar too. Less sweets is a good thing, and I would not have entertained that idea before, or maybe it just wouldn’t have occurred to me.

Every afternoon for the past week, I have gotten the munchies mid-afternoon. A few days I ate homemade yogurt and a few days I made popcorn, and that has quelled those cravings. It’s good to note my patterns- clearly there is an issue at that time of day.

I enjoy the idea of eating whatever I want as long as I make it myself. In eating real food, if I want crackers or graham crackers, I have to make them myself. The kids begged me for cereal last week, which in our house is a few-times-a-year treat, because they said we hadn’t had it for months (true). So, I made granola.

In this system, I can’t eat crackers and graham crackers and granola all in one day because I’m not going to make them all in one day. I love the mindfulness and the treat that each thing becomes because we’ve put in the work to get it. I’m not deprived by any stretch.

It makes sure my treats are treats. The way it should be.

The most challenging part for me is lunches when we’re out of the house. Usually I would grab either bread or chips or pretzels or tortillas, but all of those options are gone (unless I made bread or tortillas myself and I don’t plan to do that). I have cobbled together random assortments and we’ve all eaten, but either I need to find new lunch ideas on the go or I need to do more planning.

One benefit is that I have not gone to the grocery store in over two weeks. John started milking again, and there hasn’t been anything I’ve needed at the store, my regular purchases being butter, milk, and chips/pretzels/tortillas.

I knew that I was likely the only one in my family focusing on real food, and that’s how it has played out too. John is mostly real food, but he’s not committed to it like me (which is fine). The kids eat whatever when they are with friends, but at home real food is all I’m cooking. They haven’t complained yet about no chips, but I’m expecting it any day.

Do you have any real food lunch ideas that you can take on the go?

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