Relief for colds and sore throats

(L) Honey Lemon Ginger Tea                (R) Homemade Decongestant

Our first colds of the season are upon us.  Recently Ella said her throat was sore and her chest felt tight.  I gave her some hot water with honey and lemon juice- which is sort of our standby around here for sore throats.  Tissue for the runny noses.  And hot baths and extra sleep.  And compassion- hugs and concern.  And lots of prayers throughout our days for God to heal and bring comfort.

I did a little searching last week and found this recipe for homemade decongestant.  It has honey, lemon juice, radishes, onions and garlic.  Radishes help relieve congestion, lemons are rich in Vitamin C, and we all know honey and garlic are good for you.  I'm not sure what red onion is good for but the recipe said to put it in there so I did.  ;)  I also threw in some ginger and fresh-squeezed orange juice for good measure.  The only thing I didn't have on hand were the radishes.  After I bought some I just pureed everything in the food processor and strained it and gave Ella a couple of tablespoons.  She was a little concerned, what with the onions and radishes-- ew-- but she took 2 T of it and then said, "I actually like it!"  Then all the other kids wanted some, too- so I gave them all a taste.

Then I made some of this Honey Lemon Ginger Tea.  It's basically what I do anyway (sans the ginger)-- but I learned that a jar of this will keep for months in the fridge. (!)  I love the fact that I don't have to drizzle the honey and pour the lemon juice for each and every cup, but can just spoon it out of a jar at-the-ready in the fridge!

As we enter our second week of school, Ella is feeling much better, but Audra is now sick with a cold and Isaac is feeling under the weather, too.  I'm planning for lots of cuddle time with Audra today- I think we'll extend story time on the couch and I plan on her being in my arms or on my lap a lot more, and needing extra compassion and grace for the fussiness that accompanies sickness. 

Favorite picture books

These are two of our favorite picture books we've recently checked out from the library:

This book was new to us, but fun to read.  In Nurse Clementine, Clementine gets a nurse's outfit and a first aid kit for her birthday and then wanders around her house trying to treat everyone's "wounds".  It's pretty cute and very much what a child would do were they to get such a gift.

We used to check out If Anything Ever Goes Wrong at the Zoo when Ella was a little girl.  Then I sort of forgot about it.  So I was delighted the other day when I saw it again and we checked it out for Adelia and Audra to enjoy!  They like it just as much as Ella used to.  Whenever we gather round to read stories on the couch, everyone chooses one book and this one is always on the stack!

Happy reading!

How we planned school this year and what I learned (Part 1)

A couple of months ago I shared a little about how weary I was at the end of last year.  Basically, I felt burnt out. 

While that was going on, my caring husband stepped in to take things off my plate.  When I couldn't bear to look at my notes or prepare a thing for the fall, Mark was thinking and praying and taking notes and planning things, and then he began talking to me about his ideas and I have gradually eased back into it.


I used to work for a company that made planners for schoolchildren.  Franklin Covey bought us out and the lingo was all from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  One of those habits is: Begin with the end in mind.

When we began planning this year, we were not consciously thinking of that habit, but in essence, that is what we did.  We began with the end in mind.  In our first planning session together, Mark set aside everything else and asked questions like, "Who do we want our children to be?  What are the qualities we would like our kids to have?  What are the things we see in each of them that we could encourage?"  Because honestly, the academics are completely secondary to us.  Of course we feel a responsibility to educate them and we are doing that, but it is absolutely secondary to WHO they are as persons.  We desire to pass on to our kids a love of learning, and we want to give them an appetite for it.  We can whet their appetites by reading excellent books and discussing great ideas and allowing them the space to create and invent and think.  But our pursuit has never been and never will be the best program or the smartest kids.  Our desire- and the whole reason we're even homeschooling at all- is to create more opportunities for us to impart Jesus to them.

If our kids are brilliant and excelling academically and yet consistently unkind to their siblings, then our focus is wrong.  And, while I don't think academics IS our focus around here, we did notice over the summer that I was saying this more than anything else: "Please speak kindly to each other." (Or some variation on that general theme.)  (Which is why we very intentionally prepared our new memory work this year: we're laying down the foundations of who we are (our family ways) and more importantly, why (because God says so in His Word)).

So when we planned for our year, we backed way up and asked those questions about who we want to be, about the gifts we see God has given each of our children and how we can encourage those, and about the weak areas, too-- how can we grow there?  How can we be purposeful and intentional in those areas?  God has entrusted these precious five to us for this relatively short season of their lives, and our purpose while they're with us is to teach them His ways, and we want to be diligent in the pursuit of that.

I'm not aware of anywhere in the Bible where it says we must teach our children Latin or Shakespeare or Grammar or Math or any of the other myriad of subjects we may teach.  But all over Scripture we are told to teach our children to love God and to love our neighbor.  So we're in the business of that.  That doesn't mean we won't teach the other subjects, it just means that they will be secondary in our home to the pursuit of loving God and loving one another.

First day of school

We just wrapped up our first day of school.  We're easing into it this year, so we aren't doing every single subject this first week, but this is what today looked like:

We woke the kids up at 7:45.  (This is the first time we've done this.  Every other school year we've let them all sleep until they wake and then we begin school-- which just meant that some days we were starting breakfast really late.)   This way we can maximize our morning time, which is when we do most of our work.

Breakfast was at 8:30, and Mark had asked the kids to do three things by the time they came to breakfast:
-make your beds
-get dressed
-have a 10-minute devotional time

We hope our kids will have a habit of spending time with Jesus before they leave our home, so we're providing a morning time for them to have devotions this year.

For the little girls (5 and 4):
I set out a basket in the living room containing children's Bibles along with some paper and colored pencils, and we showed them their "spots" on the couches last night and talked about sitting quietly and looking through the Bibles or coloring during that time.

For the older kids (11, 8 and 8):
They each took their Bibles and found a spot to read or pray.  Toward the end of that time I heard Ella singing some hymns from our bedroom (where she'd settled herself) and it so delighted me to hear that early on in our day.  :)  Isaac told me later he'd read the first chapter of Genesis, the first chapter of Matthew, and three Psalms.  Fabulous!  Isaias read the words to some hymns and then prayed.

I nestled in on the couch next to Audra with my Bible during that time, but ended up hearing all about every.single.picture she was looking at, which was perfectly fine with me.  :)  It was a sweet time.

I made pumpkin chocolate-chip muffins for breakfast-, and we also had bacon and hot cocoa (with whipped cream).  I set the table last night and had made some paper place mats for each of the kids, so they were excited to see those and they all ended up hanging their place mats on their walls after breakfast.  :)

Ella's place mat, now on her wall.

During breakfast we read from Hurlbut's and did narrations.  This is the way I've been doing narrations: I've assigned each child a colored bead and then I shake them in my hand and draw one.  For example, Ella's color is pink, so if I draw the pink bead, she begins narrations until I tell her to stop.  Then I draw another bead, and work my way through all five.  Sometimes I switch it up and have them draw a picture or make a little booklet of the Bible story we've read that day, or act it out- but those types of narrations take longer, so most of the time we just do a verbal narration using the beads for "turns".

I keep this by our table for easy narrations.  (Toothpick in a ball of playdough to hold the beads when we're not using them.)
We played some classical music while we did after-breakfast chores, and then the plan was that I would do storytime with the little girls on the couch while the older three finished up their chores.  But Ella, Isaac and Isaias all zipped through their chores so that they could be there, too, so we all gathered on the couch and read picture books from our latest trip to the library.

Then the older three headed to the table to do some math.  They're all doing Rod & Staff this year.  Mark and I decided to limit math time to 20 minutes.  This is to keep their lessons short and to keep their attention focused.  (I'm hoping this will limit the dawdling and doodling and staring off into space during math time.  So this year it's: "Here is your work.  You have 20 minutes to complete this lesson." - and it's their responsibility to be attentive and complete it in the time allotted.

While the older kids did math, I sat with the little girls in the living room and did 20 minutes of school with them.  We put stickers on a big letter A and Adelia and I practiced forming A's.  First we traced a sandpaper letter A and then formed A's on a rice tray, and then she wrote a couple.) 

Adelia is definitely behind Audra in these types of things, though she's a full year older.  Audra has been writing her name (and all sorts of other things) for well over a year but Adelia struggles to make one legible letter- and gives up easily and with frustration.  Generally she's quite too busy to sit still and work on anything for longer than 2 seconds, so that's part of it.  But I can tell it bothers her and I know she lacks confidence, so we're working on her letters, one by one- and with lots of encouragement.

some of our memory work pages
Then we all began memory work.  Instead of the memory work box we've done for several years, each of the kids now have their own memory work binder.  Each binder has a "review" tab, containing all of the things we've memorized over the years, as well as the new stuff we're memorizing.  The binders were a big hit.  The kids were amazed to see all they've memorized, and it's nice for the older three to be able to read along with me as we do so, and Adelia and Audra just felt pretty special that they had binders just like the big kids.  :)

memory work: catechism

Are you familiar with the Clarkson's Our 24 Family Ways?  Mark and I used that as a springboard to make our own family ways.  We used many of theirs but tweaked it a bit- adding some different verses, omitting a few and adding some of our own.  So we're introducing these week by week and discussing them.  We'll memorize verses to go with them for our new memory work this year.

We then worked on a little history- introduced the ancients and did a little reading about the Egyptians, and the kids all chose books from our history book bin on Egypt and looked at them for awhile, and then we were done for the day.

It was just after 11 when we finished so we played games: UNO, Apples to Apples, and a few of the kids started a game of Risk.

Next week we'll add in copywork, dictation, written narrations, science, picture study, poetry, some Shakespeare, notebooking, and geography. (And maybe a few other things that I'm forgetting at the moment.)

It was a wonderfully peaceful day, and I am thankful. Oh, and BONUS: I got all the ingredients for beef stew in the crockpot by 1:00, so we'll have yummy stew later tonight for dinner. 

Not super tasty-looking when it's all uncooked, but give it 5 hours and it will look good!

Ella ran out to the garden to get me some of her carrots for our stew, and she came in exclaiming that this carrot was "fair-worthy" so I took a picture.  :)

I wonder how many times I have looked up verses in the Bible about the tongue and copied them down in the pages of my journal and prayed those verses over my own mouth?  Just-- a lot.

These are the verses I am currently praying:

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.  -Psalm 19:14

A wise man's heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction.  -Proverbs 16:23

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. -Proverbs 16:24

For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.  But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.  -Matthew 12:34b-36

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. -Ephesians 4:29

Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.  -Psalm 141:3

I desire to have a mind that thinks beyond any particular moment of irritation and turns to GOD, and chooses His ways.  I want to allow the Holy Spirit to guide my words; to make them pleasant, gentle, encouraging and life-giving.  I want to actually think before I speak, yet I am so quick to rush into my sinful reaction and not give any pause, and spill out harshness or criticism.  Ugh.  I am thankful that He does not leave me to myself. 

Here's another verse:

May my lips overflow with praise, for you teach me your decrees. -Psalm 119:171

What might it be like to have my lips overflow with praise?  And- do you see here that God teaches us His law and THUS we are able to have our lips overflow with praise?  May I have lips that overflow with praise; may I be diligent to take in His Word and out of that good-- stored up-- my lips can do so.

Show me your ways, O LORD. 
Teach me your paths; 
guide me in your truths and teach me, 
for you are God my Savior, 
and my hope is in you all day long.  -Psalm 25:4-5

Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.  -Psalm 86:11


I know fall isn't *officially* here- and the weather around these parts is decidedly more summer (except for the nights and early mornings) but I decided this morning that I'm officially declaring it fall and decorating accordingly.  Here's what I've done:

-The kids and I made this cute fall banner the other day and I hung it this morning.  I love it because it is fallish but also schoolish.  :)  So that's perfect since we're going to start school sometime this year.  *grin*


-I'm making a yarn wreath to hang on the window frame above the mantel.  I've never done this before and I have no idea what I'm doing but I'm giving it a go.  I'm envisioning something like this (scroll down to see the finished wreath) but I didn't exactly start with a round wreath.  Mine was definitely more flat.  So... we'll see how it turns out.

-I went out to the back garden early this morning and picked all of our gourds and whatever pumpkins I hoped Mark wouldn't notice were missing and decorated our window box.


That might be all.  I tried to convince the kids to make me a scarecrow:
 "Kids! {excited voice}  I have a great idea!  You can all make a SCARECROW!!"

And they all just stared at me like I'd gone bonkers.

I think it might be a little outside of their realm of something they want to tackle on their own.  Or maybe it's just that I'd interrupted their imaginary game and now just isn't the right time.  I'll go with that and try again another day.

Happy FALL!

Our chore system [Part 2]

You know all those household jobs that don't need to be done on a daily or even weekly basis but it would be nice if they got done once in awhile?  Things like wiping the oven door or dusting the baseboards?

(If those items happen to be on your weekly cleaning list, you're all kinds of amazing.  I don't even have a weekly cleaning list.  Basically, we clean Before People Come Over and occasionally in-between those times.  And we do quite a bit of daily tidying up.  But that's it.)

Anyway.  Then there are the areas of our home (maybe yours, too?) that just need a whole lot more help than others.  I've tried to zero on some of those areas and break them into quick little jobs, like: pick up three things from the bathroom floor and restock TP in the bathrooms.

This year I created a chore jar to account for all of those types of jobs.


The jar itself needs a name.  Mark and I spent probably an hour one evening trying to come up with one, and laughing all the while at all the silly names we came up with, things like: Helper Hub.  Teamwork Tub.  Jar o' Joy.  But we haven't settled on anything we actually want to call it.  (Any and all suggestions welcome.)

Twice a week, the kids will draw a job out and do it.  Most of the jobs will only take a couple of minutes.  So, while these jobs are in addition to their regular chores, they're quick- and they're only doing it twice a week.  AND- the best part?  There are "jobs" in there that aren't really jobs at all, but fun things, too.  Tucked in there right beside the slips of paper saying find three pencils to sharpen, check for cobwebs, and sweep the front porch is one that says go choose a snack from the snack bin.

Here are just a few of the other non-jobs:

Go for a swing outside
Help the person who drew right before you with their job
Eat a chocolate chip
Read a picture book to the younger girls
Go say hello to the chickens

The kids know there are some surprise non-jobs in the jar, although they don't know just what they are, which makes them eager to draw-- seriously. they LOVE this!-- in the anticipation that they'll draw one of the fun slips of paper.  And now those little random jobs are getting done occasionally.   (I also have blank slips of paper tucked into the jar so that I can keep adding as I think of new fun things or see things that need to be done.)

Why NOT make chore-time fun?

NOT back-to-school activities

Everyone seems to be heading back to school this week.

Not us, though.

We're drying fruit.  (That's school, right?  The girls are helping.)

I *heart* those half-gallon Ball jars
Our bounty: mostly apples and prunes, but some bananas, blueberries and pears in the small jars
my early morning helper
Audra, my early-morning helper yesterday
Adelia and Ella, my early-morning helpers this morning
I have several boxes of (free-to-us) apples and prunes sitting on my kitchen floor ---oh, and in my fridge, too, and in my mom's fridge!--- so our trusty dehydrator is hard at work.


Mark has a hard time seeing any food go to waste, so as he's out delivering mail on his route, and walking through peoples' yards all day, he sees apples lying on the ground, and he knows the people who live there, obviously- so he'll ask them: "Are you going to use these apples?" and well, they aren't. So we've gone out to his route to pick some and my mom and brother-in-law have prune trees, so we've got plenty of fruit!

Homemade fruit leather
Homemade fruit leather
God has been so generous to us this season- our garden was more productive than ever, and we've been able to put up so much food, and we keep getting more from others, too.  A couple of weeks ago my aunt and uncle offered us green beans from their garden, and so we went out and picked and after canning it all we ended up with 16 quarts of beans.  Then this weekend they called again and had extra corn, so we got nearly 50 ears of corn, and my aunt had already done the work of husking it all.  What a gift!  So now we have corn in the freezer, too.

Corn for the [exceedingly grateful] chickens!
I do hope to post more about school soon.  And next up is the "Part 2" of our chore system.

Oh, and: comments are back on.  In order to try the no-comment thing I have to remember to turn off the comments on each post, which I kept forgetting.  So nevermind that.

Hope you have a great day!

Excerpts from Andi Ashworth's book Real Love for Real Life: The Art and Work of Caring, (italics my own):

     We also normalize frantic lifestyles when we don't need to. Whether we take a job that requires a long commute, sign our children up for too many extracurricular activities, or take on more projects and commitments than we can handle, our decisions have long-range consequences that we need to consider. Even when we are the ones who made the series of choices that got us into our schedule crunch, we often feel that our schedule controls us. We yield to the pattern of continual intensity without offering any resistance. We have a growing realization that overcommitment and overwork are destructive, but in general, we don't seem to change.
     And as we give in to the standards society sets for us, we gradually internalize what our culture values: efficiency, speed, control, and quantity over quality. In this paradigm, caregiving seems very much out of place. Caring does not "maximize" our time. Its richest rewards are not tangible. It's results are not quantitative. Caregiving needs are unpredictable, and sometimes meeting them is a slow process.
And this one:
     When we live in light of the gospel, we view time and people from the perspective of eternity. Even the small things we do to show people they matter can make a difference. We make our offerings, not knowing if our efforts will even be noticed, but knowing that each person matters supremely to God, and he notices. We live by faith, not by sight, entrusting the outcomes to God and knowing that we're participating in his work of caring for the people he loves.
And this one:
     Busyness sends out a message to people that you don't have the time for them. The state of being frantic, overextended, and distracted drives people away rather than drawing them in and inviting them to the refuge of your company. No one is comfortable coming to someone when they feel like an interruption. This fear of interrupting feeds into the isolating trend of our culture where no one wants to be a bother to anyone else.
     In a world that so often values speed, efficiency, and change over continuity and relationship, we are challenged on a daily basis to consider what matters most. God invites us to resist the tangled webs of busyness that imprison us and make it impossible to respond in love to the people around us. If we want our lives to reflect the truth that people matter, we must live intentionally toward that end. If we really believe that people are important and that caring for each other is at the heart of our call to follow Jesus, we must thoughtfully and intentionally offer people something more.

Pickled vegetables

It's quite possible I'm done canning for the season.   Now we just have to make room somewhere for all of those jars!  I'm going to check my records, but at last count we canned well over 100 jars this year.  That's a whole lot more than I've ever done, and I'm so thankful.

I may actually do some more green beans, but... so far we've just been trying to eat them fresh.  My favorite way to eat green beans is to saute them in butter and garlic with chopped pecans, with a slosh of balsamic vinegar.  Seriously YUMMY.

Now we've moved on to drying fruit.  Mark got some free apples and I was SO mightily done with canning applesauce that we decided to dry them instead.  So we've got lots of dried apples now.  Then someone gave him some prunes, so we're drying those, too- and bananas and blueberries and whatever else we find to throw in the dehydrator.  More prunes are coming from Mark's brother and my mom, so next we'll tackle some homemade fruit leather.  Free, healthy snacks for the kids, I figure! 

Last night I made this recipe for pickled vegetables.  We used carrots, green beans, and cucumbers from our garden, and threw in some peppers and red onions and garlic and the spices and vinegar.  It's in the fridge for snacking, but I have no idea how long that will last in the fridge, so if you know, do tell.  :)  They're very tasty, and it's a good way to eat fresh veggies-- and they look so pretty and colorful in the jar, don't they?   Even my non-veggie lover was eating them!

Pickled vegetables