Tuesday, October 29, 2013

When God Stirs Our Hearts

Fifty years after its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., the exiles began rebuilding Solomon's temple. After only 6 years -- in 530 B.C. -- their work stopped. Frustrated and intimidated by opposition all around them, the Jewish people abandoned the temple rebuilding process, and for over 10 years, construction on the Lord's house came to a standstill.

The hearts that God had stirred up to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple only 8 years earlier (Ezra 1:5had already quieted. The original excitement had turned dull; the passion and zeal for doing the Lord's work was extinguished. It would take the messages of two of God's prophets and the watchful eye of God Himself (Ezra 5:5) to encourage the Jewish people to recommit to their work.

Can you identify with the Jewish exiles? Have you experienced a stirring in your heart that you can only attribute to the Holy Spirit? Did you heed the Lord's calling? If so, have you since abandoned the work He has called you to? 

Maybe you were so overcome by frustrations and discouragements that you gave up like the Jewish exiles did. Maybe -- like the exiles -- you began to doubt that what you were doing was truly the Lord's will. Maybe you thought you had misheard Him. Maybe you even considered going back to Babylon. 

I admit that I have experienced numerous heart stirrings over the years. Some I have immediately set to work on, and others I've ignored completely. The Lord stirs us up to good works, but He doesn't force us to comply; we have to be willing. We have to be listening to hear what He wants us to do next. And sometimes we need encouragement from other Christians.

In May of 2010, God burdened my heart to start this blog. I really didn't know where He was leading me. My lack of experience in anything led me to simply record my "growth" as a wife, mom, and Christian woman, sprinkling in some encouragement to others along the way. Over the last three years, I've gone in lots of different directions with my writing, but, ultimately, I always come back to writing devotionals because that's what God has really stirred my heart to do.

I'll admit to feeling disheartened just as the Jewish people must have felt when King Artaxerxes ordered them to stop building the temple (Ezra 4:17-24), wondering if maybe God wanted me to stop writing. I've taken many blogging breaks over the years and even contemplated shutting my blog down a few times. Some days I feel like I'm just writing for me or that what I'm saying doesn't matter to anyone else. {It can be discouraging when no one comments.} But now I know not to take it personally. Because it isn't about me; it's about Him. 

If God calls us to do something, He will see it to completion -- with or without our help. The temple did get rebuilt (Ezra 6:14). The Lord saw it through. Thanks to prophets like Haggai and Zechariah the people resumed the work. And, once again, He stirred up the people's hearts (Haggai 1:14).

Whatever God has called you to, He will see you through, too. 

Is there an area in your life that the Lord is stirring up in you? What's keeping you from obeying His call? 

Or, have you abandoned "temple work" due to frustration, discouragement, or fear? 

Ask Him for whatever you need, and trust He will provide abundantly. 

If I can pray for you in any way, please comment or email me directly. I would love to help however I can.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

When You Want a Different Birth Experience

Have you had a VBAC?  

Are you curious about what a VBAC is and if it's an option for you?

Come over to Olive Plants & Cornerstones where I'm sharing my own VBAC experience.

Here's a snippet . . . 

Jillian asked me to share with you my experience having a VBAC because, well, it isn’t too common. Yet, for me, a vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC) was an answer to prayer. Despite how common a caesarean is today — 1 in 3 women will have one — it is major surgery with serious risks to you and your baby. If you’re looking for another option, read on. 
Many women who have had caesarean deliveries aren’t aware that there is an alternative to a repeat C-section. They simply believe that once you’ve had a caesarean there’s no going back. According to the American Pregnancy Association, 90% of women who have previously undergone a caesarean delivery are eligible for a vaginal birth. That means that if you have had a C-section and wish to attempt a vaginal delivery, there’s a good chance you can.

Because "once a C-section" doesn't mean "always a C-section"!

Come by and join the conversation! I'd love to answer any questions you might have about VBACs!

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

5 Strategies to Make Meal Planning a Reality

I've been meal planning for a few years now. It's just one of those things I do every Sunday as soon as the new grocery store sales ads come out because:

1) We're on a budget, so I need to see what meats and vegetables are on sale in order to plan our meals for the week; and

2) I like having a plan in place so that when Monday afternoon rolls around, I'm not scratching my head and scanning the pantry shelves trying to decide what's for supper in the midst of children and a home that need my attention. 

Having a meal plan makes life a little easier for me. 
If it doesn't for you, then DON'T do it.

That being said I know there are lots of people who don't meal plan because (1) they think it's too much work; (2) they like to be spontaneous; and/or (3) they don't know how. 

In a previous post, I explain how meal planning works if you fall in camp #3. If you're in camp #2, I can only say that you can meal plan and be spontaneous. I'd much prefer to have a plan in place first, and if I want to change it, then I can. 

For those of you who think it's too much work, here are 5 strategies that might help make meal planning a reality:

1. Don't think you have to plan every meal. 
I know some people plan breakfast, lunch, dinner, even snacks. I've tried that in the past, and it just didn't work for me because we eat the same things for breakfast, lunch, and snack every day or I let the kids choose among what's available. I simply make sure we have those foods on hand each week. 

2. Repetition isn't boring; it can be good. 
I like variety in my menu, but my children do not. Perhaps yours don't either? I think mine would eat spaghetti or macaroni every night if I'd fix it. We have about 10-12 meals that we all like, so I fix them frequently because my husband and I like to eat our meals in peace. Trying to convince a child to "just try it" is not conducive to peace in my opinion.

3. A master list of your family's favorite meals will save you time & lots of heartache. 
While I like to try new recipes, I do not like to be the only one who will eat them, and, as mentioned above, new recipes often lead to headache. It frustrates me to no end when my family finds the food I've prepared repulsive. So, I stick with tried and true family favorites most nights of the week. I do, however, try to take one night each week to experiment with a new recipe. 

Right now, most of our family-favorite recipes are on my Menu Plan and Pinned Recipes I've Tried boards on Pinterest and in various cookbooks I own. Simply make a list and keep it handy for meal planning.

4. A different meal idea for each night of the week can be a lifesaver. 
At our house, I rely on this schedule:

Sundays = Leftovers or Daddy cooks
Mondays = Try something new
Tuesdays = Pasta or Stir-Fry
Wednesdays = Meat-less (usually beans)
Thursdays = Mexican (usually fish tacos)
Fridays = Pizza Night
Saturdays = Dinner Out

Consider the foods your family loves, and devise a similar schedule {if it works for you! If it doesn't work, then don't do it!} For me, meal planning is so much easier when I have a schedule to rely on.

5. Find new recipes to add to your repertoire of family favorites. 
I recently made this black bean sweet potato enchilada dish, and my husband requested that we add it to the rotation. The kids agreed. So, now I have another recipe I know my family likes. If you get tired of fixing and eating the same 5 meals, then try out something new. You'll discover quickly if it's a keeper or not.

Meal planning does take a little time and effort, but the rewards are amazing. Not only will you save money by eating out less and buying what's on sale, but you'll also feel good knowing you're fixing meals your family will eat. 

I encourage you to have a meal planning day and set aside 30-45 minutes to do the following: 

(1) Make a list of your family's favorite meals.

(2) Devise a "schedule" for each night of the week.

(3) Peruse grocery store sales ads to find out what's on sale.

(4) Plan your menu for the week according to your family's favorite meals, your meal "schedule", and what's on sale. 

(5) Find 1 new recipe to try each week.

Of course, do what works for you in your present season. After having a new baby, I stopped searching sales ads for deals and relied on easy-to-fix meals. 

Overall, though, if you commit to meal planning, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Do YOU meal plan? Why or why not? If you do, what advice would you give to someone new to meal planning?

Blessings to you, homemaker, as you manage your home and take good care of the money God has blessed you with!

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Homeschooling Kindergarten: What I'm Learning (Day 35)

Homeschooling kindergarten is an adventure, especially with a toddler and a preschooler under foot. But it's also been a great source of personal growth for me, the teacher. 

 This post contains affiliate links. 

Because it's been a while since my Day 10 post on our homeschooling venture, I wanted to give you a little update and ask for your encouragement, advice, and any other words of wisdom you might be able to share with me.

As someone completely new to homeschooling, I've experienced the gamut of emotions these past 8 weeks:

From excitement in my daughter's reading progress {she's reading a few Level 1 readers on her own} to extreme frustration that she cannot seem to grasp addition to mild anxiety at having her preschool-age sister home full-time now to pure joy at all the new worlds we're exploring together through books.

I mentioned before that keeping my preschooler in Mother's Day Out was one way to preserve my sanity in the beginning stages of homeschooling. Well, God laid on my heart that it was time to bring my daughter home, and I have reluctantly complied. 

So, I want to share my struggles in hopes YOU, homeschool Mama, might have some sage advice for me.

My struggles

1. Finding a good math curriculum. When I originally set out to create our kindergarten curriculum, I went frugal. Unfortunately, nothing I'm doing seems to be working, to the point that on Monday, my daughter had a meltdown because she just does not understand addition. Oh, my! How will I ever teach her algebra?!

To fix this problem, I decided (1) to put a hold on our math studies for a little while and focus on other areas and (2) to order all the math curriculum I could find. Well, that's exaggerating a little, but I did break down and buy Saxon K as well as Life of Fred, Volume 1 {Apples}.

I'll keep you posted on our progress or lack thereof. Advice?? What's your favorite math curriculum? How have you taught addition?

2. As I mentioned above, we've brought my ants-in-her-pants three-year-old home full-time. That means I need something(s) to keep her engaged while we do school. Cora is VERY sharp and also eager to learn, but she's also a typical preschooler and only wants to do fun stuff like her do-a-dot paints. She wants me to teach her, but since Kate is still so dependent on me in her learning, I really don't know how or when to work with just Cora. 

Advice?? What have you found works for you? What do you do with your preschoolers? 

My Discoveries 

1. I LOVE lesson planning. However, finding adequate time to plan and prepare each week's lesson is a challenge. Right now, I plan on Sundays during nap time and that's working. I love finding books, pictures, Youtube videos, and library resources to supplement learning. I love watching my girls devour all of it. 

Yesterday, we watched several scenes from Babes in Toyland and The Nutcracker Suite on Youtube to talk about how music affects our mood and makes us want to move. My girls pirouetted and twirled all over the living room, trying to imitate the ballerinas. It was simply precious. 

2. My preschooler is learning alongside her kindergarten sister. We do most of our lessons together {calendar work, Bible, some phonics, science, geography, history, music, and art}, and while Cora is up and moving most of the time, I never sense she's learning anything, but she's picking up letter sounds and talking about Aborigines and it's amazing!

3. Don't force what's not working. Initially I was very discouraged when Kate gave up on math. I tried lots of different approaches to teaching her but none worked. She was frustrated, and I was frustrated. So, instead of forcing her to keep doing something that was causing her great distress, I have decided to take a break from math for awhile. That's the beauty of homeschooling: I can stop and move on to something else until she's ready to come back to it.

Homeschooling our girls is hard work. I'm learning so much each day, mostly that I need the Lord to help me through it. But also that there are so many experienced and wise homeschooling veterans out there who freely offer encouragement and advice. If you have any for me, I'm listening :)

What advice on math & homeschooling preschoolers do you have for me? 

How is YOUR school year going?

Blessings to you,

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Birthday Party for Bookworms {for Children}

On Saturday we celebrated our older two daughters' birthdays with a Book Birthday Party. I really wasn't sure how this theme would come together because I am NOT creative or arts & crafty, but I was determined to give it a go because (1) my girls LOVE books and (2) I was hoping for fewer toys.  

I think it went rather well. Here are a few pictures from our day:

The Decorations

Basically, I stacked books, tied a bow around them, and added a balloon on top. Then, I set some pictures of the birthday girls together against the stacks, surrounding the books with rice krispie treat "book worms."

The Cake

This is just one of the TWO cakes my parents made, the other being a pretty cool castle complete with all the princesses. We were going for an open book here in case you couldn't tell :)

Party Fun!

The girls wanted their friends to come dressed as their favorite book characters. Here's our Cora dressed as Angelina Ballerina. Too bad her eyes were closed & you can't see her cute tail :)  

Our nieces Lacey and Ellie dressed up as American Girls, and our Kate was Fancy Nancy. We also had a Tinker Bell (Peter Pan), Joshua & Caleb (the Bible), and Dorothy (The Wizard of Oz).



In addition to the pinata, which we have every year because they're just so much fun, I wanted to play a game in keeping with the book theme. I present the Book Scavenger Hunt

Basically, I created cards with a clue on one side and a picture of the book on the other. The clues were lines from famous children's books. As the children figured out the book, they had to find it (we hid the clues in a circle around the house since my clues didn't give a hint as to the next clue's location). 

I think the scavenger hunt was a hit! The children were able to figure out all of the books, and they enjoyed searching for the next clue.

Party Favors

Since it was a "book" party, I wanted everyone to leave with a book. I scoured Goodwill's bookshelves for weeks looking for good condition Little Golden Books for each child to take home. 

This was a Pinterest find: Bags of gummy worms labeled "Book Worms."

Plus, the pinata was full of candy and treats that the kids bagged up and took home

All in all, the Book Birthday Party was a hit in my book! The beauty was that the girls received only BOOKS -- aside from a few fun toys from sweet grandparents.

Still, we had a fun day with family & friends, sharing our love of books. I hope this post inspires you to consider hosting a Book Birthday Party, too!

Have you ever found a party theme that really worked for your kids? What was it?

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Friday, October 11, 2013

5 Fun Fall Activities for Preschoolers

One of "My Most Popular Posts" right now is "10 Fun Fall Crafts for Toddlers." That seems appropriate, yet all of images from that 2011 post have disappeared due to Pinterest's changes. Here's a 2013 update!

These activities are all FRUGAL, FUN, & KID-FRIENDLY. I hope you'll try a few out with your kiddos!

1. Fall Nature Canvas

We actually made this one in September, but we keep replenishing our leaves as the old ones shrivel up. You need a foam board, straight pins, a shirt or paint to cover your board, and leaves. The girls painted the board yellow (washable paint). Then, we went on a Nature Walk and gathered pretty leaves that they stuck on the board with pins. 

This craft is super simple but really adds a touch of Fall to the house! Plus, we used it as a learning opportunity and looked up our leaves in the tree guide. Now the girls know what trees are around our house.

2. Easy Popcorn Balls

I can't remember what prompted us to make popcorn balls (a book??), but when I found this super EASY recipe, we had to do it. The girls enjoyed melting the butter and marshmallow, and they REALLY loved adding sprinkles at the end. Our Fall popcorn balls look more like Christmas ones since they used green and red sprinkles, but they were FUN and DELICIOUS.

3. Crunchy Fall Leaf Pictures

Photo Credit

We haven't done this one since 2011 :) so I think we'll revisit it next week since the leaves here are getting pretty crunchy. These pictures also make lovely Fall decorations for your home. Plus, the girls love to see their handiwork on display. A word of advice: If you do this activity inside, put a baking sheet underneath the paper to catch all that leaf confetti. It makes a MESS! But the finished products are beautiful.

4. A Thankful Tree

Photo Credit

We have made a Thankful Tree for the past two years. Unfortunately, I can't find my pictures to share ours with you, but both most closely resembled Emily Rose's (pictured above). We gathered sticks and tree limbs from the yard and fit them into a 1/2 gallon glass milk jug. Then, I cut out paper leaves {here's a template} which we placed beside the Thankful Tree. 

During our morning devotionals, we would each share a blessing, and I would write it on a leaf {one per person} with the date and each girls' name on the back. The girls string the leaves with yarn, and I tie them to the tree. I keep the leaves so each year for beautiful memories. The girls look forward to adding leaves and it's a perfect opportunity to praise God for all His sweet gifts!

5. Finger-Painted Pumpkins

Photo Credit
Our girls are still too young to cut out pumpkins, but I really want them to participate in the decorating. My mom blessed us with three pumpkins -- one for each girl -- so we're going to have a go at this idea {thanks, Pinterest!}. 

Basically, you apply painter's tape to your pumpkin and use an X-acto knife to cut out the image you want. Then, your child finger paints to her hearts' content over the painter's tape (and anywhere else). Once the paint dries, you remove the tape to reveal your picture! I think the girls will love making their own pictures and getting to paint their pumpkins.

Those are just 5 simple Fall activities you can do with your little ones (and even your big kids). For more fun Fall ideas, check out my Fall Recipes, Fall Decor, & Fall Crafts for Kids boards on Pinterest.

Happy Fall, ya'll!

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

6 Steps to Help You Grow in Love for Your Family

Do you struggle to really love your husband & children?
Do you want to love your family more but feel you can't?
I've mentioned before that one of my daily prayers is that the Lord will teach me how to love my husband and children more like He loves them. While it's easy to lay the blame on my introverted-perfectionist qualities, the truth is, shortcomings and personality quirks aside, I often neglect to show the little people -- and even the big one -- in my life how much I love them like I should. And I need to.

This post is about the steps I'm taking right now to love my family more deeply. If you could use help in this area, I hope you'll keep reading.

You may be blessed with a gigantic heart for your people. If so, thank God for that blessing because a desire to love and spend time with your family is so important.

But for those of us whose natural inclination is not one of nurturing and showering love on our husbands and offspring, then don't feel guilty. According to Titus 2:4, loving our husbands and children is something that must be taught to us by older Christian women. That sounds to me like we aren't all born with a natural bent to love our families in the way God intends. We need instruction.


So what's the problem? Why is loving the people we have prayed and labored for so difficult? 

Because we are human, born with a selfish heart and a desire, first & foremost, to please ourselves. Again, we could lay the blame on Adam and Eve, but the truth is we have a choice. 

I want to love my family the way God intended, so I need to figure out what's keeping me from growing in that area. 

What can I do to love my family better?

1. Think & pray.    
There are obvious obstacles to loving our people like lack of sleep, physical illness, exhaustion, etc.but there may also be areas that aren't so transparent like a simple need for quiet. Humbly ask God to show you the places you might not see

Remember His promises to you:

Consider WHY you aren't giving more of yourself to your family. You might ask: 

"What specifically hinders me from loving my husband & children more?"

2. Then, make a list.  
I'm a list-maker, but you do what works for you. Just write down what is getting in your way. Identify exactly what the Lord lays on your heart, regardless of how horrible it might sound. {Trust me. You can't lie to God.}

Here's my list of obstacles to loving my family:
  1. The distractions of technology
  2. A need for quiet time alone 
  3. The chores & duties of running a household
  4. Lack of energy
  5. A selfish need for more "me time"
{God revealed that last one to me, and that's the real crux of my problem.}

With your list, you need to figure out how you can best arm yourself to circumvent these roadblocks to loving your family.
Next you will need to . . .

3. Create Action Steps.  
If I've learned anything about goal-setting and follow-through, it's that you will never accomplish anything without a realistic, spelled-out plan in place.

"What can I do to circumvent these roadblocks and better love my family?"

For each hindrance that you list, identify specific actions you can take to avoid that roadblock. {Ultimately, we want to get rid of the roadblocks, but for now, let's try to find ways to deal with them.}

 For example . . .

     1. The distractions of technology

What can I do?
Restrict my time online {easier said than done}

  • By not getting online or texting during school hours
  • By only using electronic devices during designated quiet times, nap times, and/or bedtime
  • By committing to spend time with my husband first, before going online at night
  • By having a plan in place before I go online as to what I need to do {this one minimizes all those rabbit trails}
Then move on to the next thing on your list . . .

     2. A need for quiet time alone

 What can I do?
Allot short "quiet times" throughout the day for everyone, plus be consistent in keeping "rest time" part of the daily routing

  • By creating a morning "room time" after school when girls can play in their rooms for 15-20 minutes while I recharge alone
  • By making "nap/quiet times" a consistent time each day {For example, from 1:00-3:00 everyone is resting quietly in their beds with a book, crayons, dolls, etc.}
  • By myself using nap/quiet times to rest, write, read, pray, and recharge {i.e. No chores!}
You get the idea. Create a plan for how you will deal with those nasty encumbrances that keep you from loving your family as fully as you can. Spell it out. Be specific. Denote any and everything that will help you achieve your ultimate goal. Then, . . .

  4. Commit Your Work to the Lord.  
If we truly expect to grow in love for our children and husbands, then we have to commit our plans to the Lord. If we are faithful, He promises to give us success.

5. Get to Work! 
It's helpful for me to keep my action plan nearby in my homemaking binder, so throughout the day, I can check my progress (or lack thereof) and get back on track if need be. 

Sometimes I may have to stop and pray, asking God to help me refrain from getting on my phone during an off-time or working during quiet time. Sometimes He'll use my kids to remind me that I'm breaking one of my own rules. Discipline is hard! But if we want to learn to love our families more fully, then we have to be willing to be refined. That means work!

6. Give Yourself Grace!  
You will stumble. You will make mistakes. You will still lose it with your children. You will wonder if it's possible to love your family even more than you do right now. But it is. They are worth it and so are you, so don't give up! Just grit your teeth and persevere. You will see results soon enough!

Don't forget that this is about growing in love for your family and not about getting it perfect.
Ask God to give you grace & strength to persevere.  

Ultimately, our goal is to love like Christ, but that won't happen over night. God has to furrow, cultivate, and plow through our hearts, exposing our sinfulness and bringing us to repentance. 

He is faithful. In the past 5 years, I have witnessed firsthand how God has grown my love for my husband and children exponentially. There is still much more work to be done in me, but it's so encouraging to see progress. And I know He will work as powerfully in you if you will let Him.

What keeps YOU from loving your family wholly and completely? What are you doing about those obstacles? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Praying God's blessings on you,

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