Saturday, November 22, 2014

Birth Balls... A Comparison

April 2013
18 Months Later

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Pumpkin (Spice Latte) Coffee

Like many people, fall makes me happy!  The onset of cooler weather, bringing out the long-sleeved clothing, and shorter days are things that reinvigorate me - and help me get through the post-new-school-books drag that comes with completing the first several weeks of homeschool.

I have a page in my Pinterest list called "If It's Pumpkin, It's Fall."  There I have a number of pumpkin-themed decorative ideas and recipes.  Within that number of recipes are several pumpkin spice latte recipes.  As you know a major latte outlet has taken flack for their "PSL" and the absence of pumpkin in the same.  Well, last time I looked on my little bottle of pumpkin spice, pumpkin wasn't an ingredient!  Nonetheless, my pinned recipes for that special fall-time drink contain pumpkin.

I've tried many of the PSL recipes I've pinned, but none seemed to hit the spot.  So, I decided to try my hand at making a PSL recipe.  Well, I say "PSL," but I think I'd rather call it Pumpkin Coffee.  While I was concocting this gem, one of my children asked, "Mom!  What is that smell?"  I was pleased to exclaim, "Pumpkin!" (rather than any number of unpleasant things I'm usually forced to state in reply).

So, here it is!

Pumpkin Coffee

1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree (the kind without the extra "stuff" added)
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup vanilla (yes, 1/2 cup - I know it's a lot, but it's worth it)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp allspice
dash ground black pepper (a small dash - too much will overwhelm the overall flavor)

Mix all ingredients in a sauce pan.  Heat over medium-low heat until it just starts to bubble, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching - about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Add 2 Tbsps to 1/4 cup (depending on your taste preference) to a cup of freshly brewed coffee.  Add additional cream as desired.

Allow the remainder of your pumpkin mix to cool.  Refrigerate up to one week or freeze to use later.  The pumpkin mix does not need to be reheated when used, but it will make for a cooler cup of coffee.

Monday, July 21, 2014

NFP: The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning by Simcha Fisher

NFP works!  "Okay, this woman has five kids," you may say to yourself.  That's true, but I knew when I was going to have them!  I was also able to avoid pregnancy, calculate my fertile days, and determine when I was expecting before taking pregnancy tests!  NFP is amazing!

And so is Simcha Fisher's book, The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning.  Funny, entertaining, and informative.  Good for a rookie to NFP or for the experienced practitioner.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Record Keeping: A Lesson from an Attorney's Perspective

Often, as part of my job, I have to collect and go through clients' and opposing parties' documents.  In family law, in the written discovery phase, people often have to produce bank statements, utility bills, pay check stubs, tax returns, and a myriad of other documents - sometimes going back 10 years or more!  I've realized in the past dozen years that few parties to litigation hold on to such records or, if they do, they are produced thrown in a plastic grocery bag or dumped in boxes.  (When I worked as a secretary at a small accounting firm, one client's documents came to me flung in brown papers bags and covers in dried coffee, dog hair, and goodness knows what else.  I became physically ill.)

Now, you may not be going through litigation -  I hope you never do - but there may be other reasons for you to keep your paperwork in good order.  You may be audited by the IRS.  You may have property stolen and need to prove your possessions.  You may will die one day.  The list goes on.  Yes, these are all tragic occurrences, but one thing is clear:  you or your loved ones need to know where to find your stuff!

Daily, Weekly, and Monthly Documents
You need one container for regularly occurring documents such as utility bills, credit card and bank statements, documents needed for your annual income tax returns, monthly loan statements, insurance explanations of benefits, etc.  A great thing to use, if you have the space, is a personal filing cabinet.  With five children ever crowding my areas, I use something a bit more space-efficient.  I use accordion cases with 20 or so subdivided pockets (see picture above).  I keep one for each calendar year.  I usually purchase it in December or early January, label it on the outside with the year, and label the pockets.  Some may file by the month; I choose to file by item category (bank statements, student loan statements, medical records, car insurance, job, etc.).

Annual Documents and Important Papers
I keep important papers in a fire-proof safe.  Another good place to store important documents is in a safe-deposit box.  The types of documents I consider for this category include income tax returns, life insurance policies, wills, birth certificates, Social Security cards, deeds, and titles.  With respect to wills (including a Last Will and Testament, a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, and a Living Will), copies of those documents should be retained by both the testator and any executors, trustees, and/or guardians, along with the Probate Court for safekeeping of your original Last Will and Testament and copies to your medical care providers of the DPAHC and Living Will.

How Long Should You Keep Documents?
I will defer to the IRS website for how long you should keep documents such as tax returns and supporting documents.  (I have retained scanned copies of my tax returns since I began filing taxes when I was a teenager.  Having those documents came in VERY handy when I applied to take my state's bar exam - they ask for EVERYTHING on those applications!)

With regard to utility bills, you really only need to keep those until you receive the next month's bill and can verify that your payment was properly credited from the previous month.  I choose to keep mine a bit longer.

Bank statements should probably be retained for at least 1 to 3 years, if they are not used as supporting documents on your income tax returns.  If you have made large purchases using bank accounts, you should keep those records longer.  Ditto for credit card statements except for any statements showing you have paid off a credit card.  You may want to keep those records indefinitely, or at least long enough to ensure the account is permanently closed and there are no remaining balances and no one else with access to those accounts.

Now, if you are embroiled in litigation and your documents may be or have been requested, heed your attorney's advice!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

What's in a Name?

I began homeschooling my children when Casey was 4.  In those early days of homeschooling I worried about so many things.  Am I doing it right?  Am I making a huge mistake?  What if I miss something?  Those were the big questions.

I also struggled with the idea of loss of identity.  When I was in elementary school, we had a school song.  In high school, there was a mascot.  What would my homeschoolers identify with?  I wanted a name for my school so I joined and opened discussions about it on various homeschooling boards.  I found that most people just used their last name paired with School, or more often, Academy.  I didn't want that.  My children have a last name by which they are identified.  "Last Name Academy" wasn't cutting it for me.  So my quest began for a school name.

After thinking, wrangling, researching, and having ideas shot down - by my husband, friends, and online communities - I settled on a name:

Gratia Plena Academia

It was perfect for us.  Do you know what "gratia plena" means?  It means full of grace.  For my non-Catholic friends, it is the beginning of the Hail Mary prayer.  "Ave Maria, gratia plena...." Hail Mary, full of grace!  (When the angel appears to Mary to tell her she will be the mother of Christ, the angel greets her with those words.)

I've always loved the word "grace," the name Grace, the quality of grace.  Being graceful - not being clumsy - is a quality I long to possess.  Being in a state of grace is a place I constantly strive to be.  And what better example of grace and motherhood and as a teacher could I hope to find than Mary?

My school's name is a constant reminder to strive to be so worthy - so full of grace - as to be chosen for amazing things!  My school's name is a prayer for understanding, guidance, and protection.  And the face of my school is the Mother of mothers.  Yes, I chose the right name!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Old Year, New Year

We are coming up on the end of the school year.  At least, it feels that way.  However, if you look at a few of our school books, you might think it's only November.  (Okay, that's an exaggeration, but we are a bit behind where I would like to be.)  I suppose that's normal.  I am homeschooling my children after all - and it's not always in textbooks that I find lessons for my children to learn.  

It's spring and beautiful and I want to do something other than stay inside!  I want to go to the park.  I want to have picnic lunches on a mountain and read about the artists we are studying.  I want to go geocaching.  I want to go camping and teach my daughters to build a fire and have my son show me how to build a shelter with sticks and leaves.  And, sometimes, the schoolbooks are left behind.

So, April is here and time to catch up.  It's time for me to peruse the textbooks and decide what we need to get through and what we can live without.  While I school year-round, there comes a time when I say, " Enough is enough," and I put the old books away.

The only thing that gets me through the stress of the springtime catch-up and the end of another school year is planning for the next year.  I order books.  I excitedly open the boxes when they are delivered.  I proudly show my kids their new books - to which the older kids groan and run away and the younger kids look through the books with me and ask when they can get started.  I plan for the following year.

I plan for the following year meticulously.  I know what I want to teach and when.  I build in holidays and field trips.  I include movies and experiments and projects.  I draft my own music and artist studies.  I create Excel spreadsheets and calendars.  I have my plans spiral bound at the local office supply store.  And by early October of that new school year, my plans are shot because life and fun and adventure happened!  I still have my plan, but it's only a dream by Christmas.

Every time I plan, I always say that next year will be different.  It never is, but I still plan, and we still get behind.  Why?  It is because I homeschool and homeschooling isn't always about the textbooks!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Cubbies, Cubbies, Cubbies

Nothing says simple storage options to me like cubbies.  They're my home, that is!  

These are the cubbies at my front door.  My home doesn't have a mud room and the closets are a bit small, so we keep the kids' coats (and gloves and hats and scarves) in cubbies.  Each of the four older kids have their own cubby.  I have yet to decide where to put the baby's little outdoor duds.  I keep a basket on top for my purse and keys.

 Here are the cubbies I use for clean laundry.  Generally, the I wash all of the children's clothes on Monday and they fold and put away their things on Tuesday.  Sometimes, however, some of their things get washed at other times.  To simplify getting stray clothing items to the children, I just put them in their laundry cubbies.  on Tuesdays, when they fold their clothes, they also know to check their laundry cubbies.  Yes, the tiny girl has a laundry cubby (I actually store her bibs there as my laundry area is closer to her high chair than her clothes drawers).

Speaking of the tiny girl, I have cubbies in my bedroom for her diapers and other diaper-changing necessities.  We converted the changing table to a dresser for the big girls years ago, so we just change diapers on our (appropriately covered) bed.

In the kids' rooms, we have... cubbies!  A few years ago, I decided that I was through spending (what seemed like) hours putting little bitty clothes on little bitty hangers.  Ugh!  All the kids' clothes are folded now.  I do hang my girls' church dresses; otherwise, everything is folded.  Not only do I not have to contend with little bitty hangers, but the kids are perfectly capable of folding their own laundry and putting it away.  By the way, the cubbies in the closets are the IKEA Trofast system.

Finally, no homeschooling room would be complete without supplies cubbies.  Here are mine - excuse the mess.  We use our homeschool cubbies a lot!

Monday, January 27, 2014

10 Rules for Homeschooling Correctly

If you're new to homeschooling - or if you're and old hand at it - there are some rules you should know (if you don't know them already).  

1)  Socialize your child.  Obviously, you haven't considered this because you have made the decision to homeschool and, as everyone knows, homeschooled children are unsocialized.  

2)  Lessons and activities are a must!  Since your child is missing out on being socialized through public school, you must accomplish this task with lessons - piano lessons, oboe lessons, guitar lessons, voice lessons, acting lessons - and activities - ballet, gymnastics, soccer, basketball, basket weaving, art classes.  A minimum of five per child is required.

3) Have 15 children.  This will help with the socialization, although it won't be as complete as in public school, but it's a start.  This will also lower the lessons and activities requirement... to four per child.  (I only have five children and I'm 40; I'm failing this requirement, I'm sure.  My homeschooling permit may be revoked.)

4)  The homeschooling mom should wear the uniform.  Uniform?  Yes.  Straight denim skirt, white t-shirt (preferably man's cut, not a cute, fitted cut), white or pastel trimmed ankle-length athletic socks, and white Reeboks (the ones from the 80s are ideal).

5)  The homeschooling children should wear the uniform.  Uniform?  Yes.  Pajamas.

6)  You can't eat unless you practice extreme couponing and/or raise all of your own meat, wheat, and produce.  Everyone who homeschools does either one or both... trust me.  Not only will either activity ensure you, your husband, and your unsocialized 15 children do not starve, but extreme couponing will count as math and growing food will count as science.  

7)  Cancel cable or satellite service.  Television is evil.  No one who homeschools watches television - ever!

8)  Subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, or some service providing hours of watchable education.  Everyone who homeschools watches documentaries - always!

9)  Every trip out of the house is a field trip.  Grocery store... field trip!  Movie theatre... field trip!  Power company to pay the electricity bill... field trip!   And while you're in the car, you have the option of carschooling.  That's homeschool in the car.  More CDs and workbooks, less hovering.  Carschooling counts as homeschool.  Field trips count as homeschool!  All waking hours count as homeschool!  Yay!

10)  All homeschooled children are gifted, so your child must be gifted, too.  That's why you're homeschooling, right?  

Oh!  A bonus requirement:  All homeschoolers must make a chicken mummy.  You have a contractual obligation as a homeschooling parent to make a chicken mummy.  Here's mine (completed in my second year of homeschooling - whew!  I got it out of the way early!):

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Goal and Project Planning Worksheet

I've made a new form!  It's a Goal and Project Planning Worksheet (I bet you couldn't have guessed that from the title of this blog entry).

Just some background...

I have a lot of unfinished projects I need to tackle.  Putting them on my To Do List for the past year and a half hasn't worked for me.  I thought if I made a sheet to break down my project/goal, then I might be able to tackle the project with more zeal... or in the least, detail what I want to do and see if I get around to it!

I made the sheet first, then I looked for similar sheets online.  So far, I haven't seen anything like mine.  I hope it works for me.  I hope it may work for you, too!

So, without any further ado... here it is!!!

Goal and Planning Worksheet link.  (For ease of printing, it is black & white, but I used a pretty font!)

Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas Isn't Over!

I want to scream it!  CHRISTMAS ISN'T OVER!!!  I don't.  I remain calm and know that my tree will stay up until Epiphany.  

A decorated tree clutters my living room.  My life feels a little out of whack.  The manger scene is taking up valuable space and the Christmas lights are starting to get on my nerves.  I would like to "get my house back" but it is still Christmas.  Not to mention, I have several children who will already be heartbroken on January 6th ... or 7th, 8th, 9th... when I finally take down the decorations.

So, my decorations remain - and I'm making the effort to make sure the Christmas spirit remains for a little while longer, too.  It is, after all, still Christmas!

You see, Christmas BEGINS on December 25th (or if you want to fudge a little, Christmas Eve).  In my home, on Christmas Eve, the Advent decorations are joined by the Christmas decorations - the tree goes up, the decorations come out of their boxes, and the lights are hung.  "Advent?" you may ask.  Yes, the period of time when our hearts are preparing for the birth of Christ.  "But I thought Christmas begins at Thanksgiving - or the day after."  Nope!  That's when everyone thinks - and the retailers want you to believe - Christmas begins, but it doesn't.  I mean, think about the word:  Christmas.  What's the first syllable?  Christ.  And the second syllable?  Mas.  You can't have a mass for Christ without his birth, and that's what Christmas is.  It is a celebration (a Mass) of Christ's birth.  That time after Thanksgiving (roughly speaking) and before Christmas is Advent.  Say it with me...  A d v e n t.  

Advent begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas.  That day my Advent decorations go up.  There aren't many - an Advent calendar, an Advent wreath with its candles and greenery, the manger...but without baby Jesus (he hasn't been born yet...remember... Christmas?).  That's all.  Compared to my neighbor's homes, it looks like we aren't even celebrating Christmas at that time.  Guess why?  It's because we're not!  We are celebrating... A d v e n t.

It's after Christmas Day now.  No, my tree didn't go down on the 26th, nor will it go down on January 1.  Why?  It is still Christmas then.  

There are Twelve Days of Christmas!  (There's a song about it, you know.)  TWELVE.  After, not before, Christmas!  They begin on December 25, last until Twelfth Night, and then the next day is Epiphany.  (Some celebrate Twelfth Night the night of Epiphany.)  "Wait!  What is this Epiphany stuff?"  Oh, come on!  You know what an epiphany is; it's when you have a sudden realization.  The light comes on.  The shoe drops.  Something finally hits you.  Well, the Wise Men aren't standing at that manger on Christmas Day... or before Christmas Day for that matter.  It takes them a while to make their journeys from their respective realms to witness that the King of Kings has been born.  Once they get to their destination, thanks to the star, they see for themselves that the Son of God has arrived.  While they are bestowing their gifts on the precious babe, internally, they are saying, "A-ha!"  That, my friends, is an epiphany.  January 6th is the day we celebrate the Epiphany - when the world knew that Christ was born.  

On January 6th, we know Christ was born and we can pack away our Christmas niceties.  So, this year, leave your decorations up for just a few more days...keep the Christmas spirit and the joy of Christ's birth in your home for a little while longer.  And next year, wait... revel in the joy of a child who will be born soon.  The anticipation is something wonderful!  

...Besides, you already know it's going to be a boy!