Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Scrapbook Of Christmas Firsts Blog Tour


(Leafwood Publishers, October 2008)

A wonderful new gift book, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts, is available in October for Christmas giving. Today, I’ve invited the six coauthors to share their unique story of how they came together to publish this exciting book full of stories, recipes, tips for simplifying the holidays and so much more (click on bookcover to see the trailer!).

First, let me introduce Cathy Messecar, Leslie Wilson, Brenda Nixon, Trish Berg, Terra Hangen and Karen Robbins. Thank you for being here today, ladies.

Karen: Thank you for the invitation.

You are from three different areas of the country—Texas, California, and Ohio. How did you all meet?

Terra: We all six joined The Writers View, an online group for professional Christian writers. Trish and Brenda met in person in 2004 for lunch, I understand, and on 9/18/04, after reading a post Brenda sent to TWV, I sent an email to Brenda, asking if she would like to join with me and walk alongside each other, as a Barnabas group. Brenda said yes that same day, and suggested Trish too. Very quickly Cathy, Leslie and Karen joined in and our stalwart band of six was formed. Living in California, I was so happy to find 5 Barnabas writers in other states so we could bring together a wealth of different viewpoints and expertise

Brenda: Actually, We haven’t met. We’re all great colleagues and friends via the internet. Four years ago Terra and I formed a dyad to support each other as Christians who write in the secular markets. Along came Trish, Cathy, Karen, and Leslie (not necessarily in that order) and we formed a close knit bond of support, creative energy, and professional accountability.

Karen: I met Trish through an online forum called The Writers View and she invited me to join the group.

Trish: Although we belong to the same Yahoo writing group, we met one by one online. Eventually, the six of us decided that since we all write as Christians for a secular market through magazine articles and newspaper columns, we could support and encourage one another.

Leslie: Though we met virtually through The Writers View, I have been blessed to give and get hugs from Trish (at a MOPS conference), Cathy (in the area on business) and Karen (in town for a writers' conference). I can’t wait to meet Terra and Brenda face-to-face, though I feel as though I already know them!

How did you come up with the idea to do a book together?

Brenda: The book is Cathy’s brainchild. She mentioned the concept of telling stories of events that happened for the first time at Christmas and sharing holiday historical tidbits and recipes and each said, “If you need any help, let me know.” That offer morphed into each of us equally contributing and co-authoring A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts.

Trish: Yep, Cathy came up with the idea and the title, and asked us if we wanted to join her on this project. Of course, we said Yes!

Terra: Cathy mentioned the idea for a Christmas book to the group, and someone (I think it was Leslie) suggested that maybe our group could all write the book together. Cathy agreed to lead the way on the project. The earliest email I have on this is from 9/7/05, which shows that this has been a three year collaboration from idea to publication.

Karen: (Chuckling) Terra is a librarian and keeps our historical records by saving our e-mails.

Leslie: Actually, Terra, I wrote that comment (in a group e-mail) kind of tongue-in-cheek. Cathy, the ultra-sweet person she is, took my joking at face value and here we are. However, I believe God prompted the passion and ideas we all bring to the project and that He will do mighty things as a result of our collaboration!

Why did you decide on a Christmas theme?

Brenda: It was Cathy’s concept to write a book centering on Christmas.

Cathy: For several years, I’d been thinking about Christmas as a threshold to introduce Jesus to folks who aren’t familiar with him, and I love a simpler Christmas with the emphasis on family, friends and doing for others. I knew of some families who had experienced “firsts” at Christmas—reunions, losses, special surprises—and I wanted to collect those stories.

Terra: Cathy’s idea immediately resonated with me because Christmas books are “a way past watchful dragons,” as C. S. Lewis wrote. Many people won’t buy a book about being a Christian, but will buy a holiday and family fun book, thus the “past watchful dragons.” People who want to grow in their faith, and people who have no faith but celebrate Christmas will buy our book and hopefully be led to put the focus back on Christ for the holiday, and for their lives.

Leslie: Though Cathy birthed the idea, the rest of us quickly hopped on board. Not only is Christmas special to me—especially now that I have a family of my own—but also that particular holiday cries out to be simplified, to return to the meaningful aspects of celebration, and to lose some of the hype and commercialism.

Tell me a little about what is in A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts? What is your favorite part?

Cathy: I like that you can read one chapter in about 15 minutes and, with all the different suggestions, it feels like Christmas Eve. Makes you want to set up the nativity! Many of the suggestions for family activities can be adapted for any family get-together.

Karen: There are heartwarming stories about things that happened for the first time at Christmas. For instance, one of my stories is about the first Christmas with our adopted children. And the book is pretty. When I first saw the colorful pages and drawings, I fell in love with the illustrator’s work.

Brenda: I don’t have a favorite part – I love it all!

Terra: I like the way the parts are woven into a seamless whole, like a patchwork quilt, that is stronger and more beautiful than the parts.

Trish: It’s like everything you ever wanted to know about Christmas, all the best tips and recipes, and neat stories all wrapped up in this perfect little package.

Leslie: I love reading the special stories, hints, recipes—whatever—and imagining the precious family time that precipitated each moment. Plus, the book is gorgeous, beautifully printed, truly something to be proud of. And we are.

I’ve heard that the book is really a nice gift book; can you tell me a little about the format?

Cathy: Yes, it’s a hardbound book, full color interior. The layout makes it easy to read. It has a definite scrapbooky look on the interior. Different logos identify sections, such as an oilcloth-look Christmas stocking appears beside the “Stocking Stuffer Tradition” (help for connecting family members), and the “Cookie Canister” recipes are on a recipe card, and the back ground of “A Gift For You” is a gift box with bow. It’s a classy gift that they can be placed on a coffee table or in a guest bedroom during the holiday season.

Brenda: I like to describe it as a Starbuck’s sorta gift book. It’s high quality, crisp, and practical.

With six different personalities and areas of ministry, how did you manage to put this all together and still remain friends?

Karen: We pray a lot for each other and it helps that none of us have an over-inflated ego.

Cathy: There were no squabbles. Surely, we had differing opinions, but we knew that any of us could suggest an idea for this book and that each idea would get fair reviews from others. We actually voted on some aspects—everyone in favor say, “Aye.” If you’ve ever watched women at a Dutch treat luncheon when they divide up a meal ticket, it can be intense as they split the ticket down to the penny. As the project came together, I was in awe of my gracious coauthors, unselfish women who respect each other.

For some decisions, we did a round robin—things like book title and chapter titles and what categories to put into the book. Then, as compiler, I’d send out a list of needs to The Word Quilters, that’s what we call ourselves. For instance in a section we call “Peppermints for Little Ones” (hints for children’s activities), I’d put out a call, and the WQs sent in their hints, and then I put them into appropriate chapters.

Brenda: (Smiling) Are we still friends? Seriously, we each have our own platform, ministry, and family life, and those interests kept this project in perspective – it was important but not the only thing on our plates. No one was so enmeshed in this project that she campaigned for her own way. We never had a bitter disagreement or insistence to be “right.”

Terra: We are each other’s biggest cheerleaders.We offer support and ideas for our separate writing projects and for personal prayer requests. I love these ladies, and I have only met one of them in person. So far, Karen is the only one who has met each of us, and one day we hope to meet in person, in a circle of friendship and love.

Trish: I think we are all very flexible and forgiving. We do have a variety of personalities here, but God has worked amazing things through our little group.

Leslie: Though I have seven non-fiction projects in various stages of completion, I could not be more thankful that this is the one to reach publication first. I am truly blessed to have worked with these women, learned from them, watched as they’ve poured heart and soul into crafting a product that will impact lives for the Lord.

Where can my readers get a copy of SOCF?

Cathy: The coauthors will all have a supply, plus our publisher, Leafwood Publishers, will have plenty of copies and discounts for buying five or more. Or they can be ordered at most online stores or by your local bookstore.

Karen: And anyone who leaves a comment here can be entered in a drawing for a free book and a gift basket worth $200! For a list of its contents, check our blog, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts. And while you're there, leave another comment and increase your chances of winning!

Tell me more about your blog.

Karen: We started our blog in July and it is accumulating a wealth of information about Christmas. Each of us posts one day a week following the theme for that week. Watch for new recipes, tips, ways to simplify, stories, etc., similar to what is in our book.

Leslie: Ooh, ooh, let me answer this one. I’m probably the newest to blogging among the group, but I LOVE it. I’ve enjoyed posting and receiving comments back from readers. What an amazing adventure having an online voice can be! This blog will focus on a different theme each week—anything from tips to avoid overeating during the holidays to how to give a guest room special touches—and expand on the material in the book. I think readers will get to know the authors’ individual personalities and connect on a more personal level. Plus, they get that many more ideas, information, inspiration (!) at no additional cost.

WQs: As an added bonus for inviting us to your blog, we’d like to pass along this Christmas tidbit to you and your readers:

Enjoy a blessed Christmas this year! And thanks for inviting us to share our book, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts, with you.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Fall School Plans

We are now in our fourth week of school, and I have made some adjustments to our schooling-- which included buying Spectrum Third Grade Math for my daughter to do, as Making Math Meaningful was good-- but waaaay too complicated. There were too many pieces to pull out, too many special things I was having to buy each week to make the lessons happen. So we are using the Spectrum Math as a spine and pulling in manipulatives and games where we can. Much simpler. (The only complaint I have about this book is that it is not very durable, but for $8 for one year of curriculum what did I expect?) I am also referring to What Your Third Grader Needs To Know for additional help in teaching math concepts and would like to pull in Family Math if I can get myself organized. In truth, that probably won't happen til mid November when my speaking season slows down. Of course, by then we will be in holiday mode so... let's be honest, we won't add that til next semester! I also added Read and Understand Science for my third grader, produced by one of my favorite companies, Evan Moor. I could spend a small fortune on their products-- and have!

This fall we are delving into a study of apples and Johnny Appleseed, in preparation for our field trip to Windy Hill Apple Orchard. This is always one of the highlights of our year and I am already praying for good weather! We are using two different lapbooks from to make lapbooks about apples. Here is a list of books we will be reading-- just in case any of you want to see if your library carries any of these titles:
  • Apple Farmer Annie by Monica Wellington
  • Apples To Oregon by Deborah Hopkinson
  • The Apple Pie That Papa Baked by Lauren Thompson
  • Mr. Peabody's Apples by Madonna (I know.)
  • Apples by Gail Gibson
  • From Seed To Apple by Anita Ganeri
  • Apples by Jacqueline Farmer
  • Apples Here! by Will Hubbel
  • The Apple Pie Tree by Zoe Hall
  • Apple Cider Making Days by Ann Purmell
  • Apple Fractions by Donna Townsend
  • Up! Up! Up! It's Apple Picking Time! by Jodi Shapiro
  • Apple Harvest by Calvin Harris
  • Rain Makes Applesauce by Julian Scheer
  • The Seasons Of Arnold's Apple Tree by Gail Gibbons
  • Johnny Appleseed A Tall Tale by Steven Kellogg
  • Johnny Appleseed: The Story of A Legend by Will Moses
Of course while we are studying apples, we will make apple pie, apple crisp, caramel dip for apples, and I also want to make this. Yum! Apples are one fruit our whole family agrees on.
After we get through our study of apples, I have some fun fall books to finish out our October/November plans. I would love to make this and this. And I checked out several fall craft books for other ideas. We will also be reading/using:
  • Exploring Autumn by Sandra Markle

  • Autumnblings by Douglas Florian

  • How Many Seeds In A Pumpkin by Margaret McNamara

  • The Autumn Leaf by Carl Emerson

  • It's Pumpkin Time! by Zoe Hall

  • Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf by Lois Ehlert

  • Why Do Leaves Change Color? by Betsy Maestro
This will lead right into an in-depth study of the first thanksgiving, which we will also be making a lapbook about. I bought Evan Moor's theme pocket book for November, which includes some great reproducibles we will be using. I am very excited about how we will be spending the rest of this fall-- what we will be learning and how our days are shaping up. I am enjoying learning right alongside my kids-- and seeing the joy on their faces as they (and I) discover God's creation and the beauty contained in each season.
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Saturday, September 27, 2008

My First Try At A Visual Journal

This morning on my way to a baby shower, I stopped off at AC Moore's and bought this sketch pad. It was about $6 regular price, but the nice girl at the checkout counter scrounged around and found me a half off coupon. I chose this journal because it didn't have as many pages as some of them did. I wanted a thinner journal because I didn't know how well it would hold up. I imagine I will travel with this and it will probably have a lot of wear and tear. I would like to cover the cover with some pretty paper and maybe have it laminated? We shall see.

Here is the first page: I made it sort of inspirational, and plan to journal some goals for myself here. If you can't tell from the photo, the picture I included is a laptop sitting by a beautiful stream. And of course, the saying goes right along with the goals.

I love the way this page turned out! If you can't tell from the photo, the second page is a bunch of doors. I cut up about five magazines so far. My old Martha Stewart Livings were the best ones to get photos from. I threw away a ton of magazines when we moved and am now regretting it! I checked at the library today because they have a swap area where people leave old magazines-- but there weren't any good ones. Anyone know where to find some for cheap? I hate to buy magazines just to cut them up!

Two things I try to do all the time--
listen for God's promptings and learn new things.

A seasonal page-- I have several more fall-ish photos I will include in my journal-- but I didn't want to get too far ahead of myself and end up with fall pages and fall be already over. I also cut out quite a bit of Christmas-themed photos, which I will look forward to including when that time comes, which will be before we know it!
I hoped you enjoyed looking at the beginnings of my visual journal. I am excited about having a journal to jot down funny things my kids say, memories of events, quotes that I love, scripture that speaks to me, insights I am getting through Bible study and conversations with friends, etc. I like that this book is truly mine-- beautiful yet individual, visually appealing yet extremely practical and usable. Please leave me a comment if you try your hand at making one!
Here are a few links I found on other visual journals:
I plan to use the Simple Woman's Daybook format from time to time, as a means of consistent documentation of what we are up to, what I am thinking of and concerned with. If nothing else, it will be a jumping off place when the well runs dry-- a way to make myself write something in the rare moments when I have nothing to say.
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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Note To Self: Start A Visual Journal Soon!

I keep this blog as much for myself as I do for anyone else. It is my place to record my thoughts, my favorites, my children's lives... the things we all want to keep, to cherish. Today as I read Ann Voskamp's blog about creating a visual journal, I was inpired to document all her links in one place so that I can come back to this post when I get ready to make one for myself. (Must buy supplies and carve out some time first.)

I absolutely love this idea-- it lines up with my life management notebook and appeals to the part of me that, as Shannon Woodward said in her note to Ann, wants to pause, to linger, to remember. A visual journal reminds me that there is managing life... and then there is savoring it. Both are important. Both are relevant. Both are necessary. My thanks to Ann for reminding me to balance my life by remembering the best parts of it-- all the little things that make up my days. And forgive me for occasionally using this blog as a personal repository of things I need-- I hope it benefits any of you who find yourselves here.
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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Impromptu Nature Study

Sometimes nature study just happens-- we stumble upon opportunities to view God's creatures up close and personal...

Like finding tadpoles in the birdbath

Can you see them? They're the black spots. (You can bet I put several books on tadpoles on hold at the library thanks to this close encounter and the many questions I couldn't answer!)

Or discovering a praying mantis... who somehow got into our house and had to be "escorted" outside.

Mr. Praying Mantis was inspected closely for a long, long time.

Here's an up close and personal shot.

And here's a final one-- I couldn't get one of him praying, though it wasn't for lack of trying... he just wasn't into posing for the camera!

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Happy Fall, Y'all!

In honor of the first day of fall--okay, so I'm a day late-- I wanted to post my fall-ish decorations. My mom totally helped me put all this together, running to the store for those little extra touches we needed and helping me arrange things just so. She did a beautiful job!

The fireplace and mantle

A centerpiece for the kitchen table

Cornucopia #1: the coffee table version

Cornucopia #2: The dining room table version

A little fall towel my mother in law brought over.

A little corner of my kitchen-- a fall cookbook on display
and an Autumn Leaves candle burning.
Ahhhhh. I love fall. Today is a blustery day,
the first truly cool day we have had.
Fall is here and we are enjoying it!
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Monday, September 22, 2008


Thanks to all of you who visit after reading the devotion today! I hope you enjoy your visit and I am certainly grateful you took the time to stop by. Today I am opening up the floor to learn from you all. I want to hear your thoughts and advice!

My question to you, based on today's devotion, is as busy women, how do you remain in God's presence? Please share your ideas-- especially creative ways you have found to not just enter into His presence amidst all the noise and distractions of life, but to remain in His presence.

I can't wait to hear what you all have to say! I know we can all learn from each other. I will try to pop back by later today to share some ideas of my own-- I can't wait to glean from you wise ladies. Fun!

ETA: Jottin Mama left a comment and reminded me of the line in this song that says, "Just to know that you are near is enough." We sang this song in church yesterday and it is one of my favorites! God of Heaven come down, indeed. Thanks for reminding me how applicable this song is to what we are talking about today, Jottin Mama! And keep those comments coming!
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Menu Plan Monday

I can't believe I am posting my menu plan two weeks in a row! I am impressing myself! Don't get used to this-- I know that I have a busy speaking schedule in Oct/Nov and will not be as consistent with meal planning-- or cooking-- as I would like!

Just keepin' it real--

Monday) Baked Chicken, Roasted Potatoes, Green beans

Tuesday) Domino's Delivers!

Wednesday) White Chili, French Bread, Fruit

Thursday) Chicken Cacciatore over penne pasta, Corn

Friday) Rosemary Chicken, Baked Sweet Potatoes with butter and cinnamon sugar, Lima Beans

Saturday) Tacos

Ok: I got so inspired, I charged ahead with more meals. I don't have these groceries yet, but I at least have them planned out and will make a grocery list later in the week, once we get low. These are not scheduled for certain days yet, just jotted down to give me an idea of what to cook when the time comes! That's half the battle for me!

Pork chops and rice casserole, cooked carrots, cooked apples

Chipped Beef on Toast, black-eyed peas

Chicken pie with biscuit topping (this includes mixed vegetables, so it is a meal in one dish)

Barbecue Chicken, Wild Rice, Salad

Pork Tenderloin (see link to recipe below), Mashed Potatoes, Peas

For other menu plans, head over to Organizing Junkie!

For today's "Family Favorites" focus over at Organizing Junkie, we are supposed to share a family favorite recipe. I am sharing a link instead: a great and easy recipe for Slow Cooked Pork Tenderloin. The next time you see Pork Tenderloin on sale buy one/get one free, snatch them up and make this! It is delicious, and easy, and good enough to serve to company-- which is just the way I like my recipes!

ETA: I wrote a blog post on how menu planning-- and other time savers-- can make your Mondays run smoother. Go check it out at the Hearts at Home blog!
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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Write Away Contest Winners

I got the distinct honor and pleasure of serving as Scribbit's Write Away Contest judge this month. I had intended to write about it here but before I knew it, the time had come to submit the winners I chose. I intended to post about this yesterday because she announced the winners yesterday, but alas, the time got away from me again! And so, after much nail-biting and obsessing about picking the exact right one, I selected one winner and four runners-up. Or was it five? I just know that it was so, so hard to choose one! I mean, I actually thought judging would be fun. And it was... but it was also hard. I didn't want to pick just one winner-- I wanted to pick them all!

And so, I humbly lay down my judging crown, grateful to be relieved of my duties. Now I can go back to just being an entrant-- with a whole new understanding for how hard it is to select a winner. To judge is to know firsthand how many talented writers there are out there-- and how many deserve to win. Thanks to all of you who entered, and gave us a glimpse into your life. If you entered but didn't win, please know I wanted to choose you. I really, really did. And to the ones who did win-- congrats! Enjoy your new and improved button! Also you should definitely buy yourself some chocolate to celebrate and don't share it with anyone. I can personally recommend the dark chocolate peanut M&M's.
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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Simply Charlotte Mason Interview

I don't know where I first heard of Simply Charlotte Mason, but I do remember clicking on their website and drooling over the great products-- and spending lots of time reading the wealth of information they offer! I am so glad Sonya and Karen agreed to drop by for an interview so that you guys can "meet" them and learn about the great products they offer homeschoolers. They make an 18th century educational philosophy not just accessible, but doable in the 21st century! Their books on planning, nature study, and habits are all great resources that I highly recommend adding to your collection. If you have always been intrigued by Charlotte Mason and her philosophies, but been unsure how to implement them in your home, check out for a great way to get started.

Hi Sonya! We are so glad you joined us today! I am a huge fan of your products and the way you make the educational ideas of Charlotte Mason more accessible to 21st century moms like us. I love your books and plan to add all of them to my collection!
Can you share with us how Simply Charlotte Mason got started?

A few years ago Karen (my cohort in crime) and I noticed that more and more CMers were asking us for advice and for book recommendations for certain subjects and grades. We thought it would be easier to post that information online for everyone to access at their leisure. And while we were at it, we had an idea for an online planner that was totally different from any that we had seen available. Oh, yes, and then we had some ideas for new resources that would help make CM practical and do-able. . . .
Things just took off from there, and SCM has taken on a life of its own with the forum and teaching posts and live seminars. The best part is that now it's not just us; it's this wonderful community that has come together to share ideas and encourage each other along the way.

What was your first product and what prompted you to write it?
First we published Spelling Wisdom. I'm constantly learning more about CM methods, and when I discovered Charlotte's method of using prepared dictation for spelling I loved the idea. But I was afraid to switch from my curriculum package that promised I would cover the most frequently used words in the English language. What if I missed one of those words when I was selecting dictation passages at random? So I put together a set of dictation passages and made sure all those frequently used words were included. That way I could have the best of both worlds.

What would you say is your favorite product you have produced? (I know that's like asking you to pick a favorite child!)
You're right, that's a tough one! I think I'd have to say Laying Down the Rails: A Charlotte Mason Habits Handbook. For a long time I wanted a list of the habits Charlotte talked about and what she said about each. Now I have one!

I have found the habits book to be like eating a huge piece of dark chocolate cake-- rich and worth every bite! What has the response from readers been?
It seems like a lot of CMers wanted a list like that. And we're excited that it is proving practical and useful for more than just CMers. The need for good habits is fundamental, and Charlotte addressed that need on a basic level. If you don't get habits taken care of, you'll have a hard time being successful in anything.

Do you have a mission statement for Simply CM? If so, what is it?
We don't really have a mission statement, but we have some core principles that guide us:- Be helpful. Answer some of the questions we had when we were starting out.- Be encouraging.- Show how CM is practical and do-able.- Approach this ministry from a Biblical worldview.

I have a lot of new homeschoolers who read my blog-- what piece of advice would you give them?
Sonya's advice: Figure out which approach works best for you and your family. You have more choices than just using textbooks and workbooks and setting up a little classroom in the basement. If you don't know what the basic approaches are, here's a summary to get you started:
Karen's advice: Relax and enjoy the experience of learning with your kids. You don't have to teach them everything in one day, one week, one month, or one year. They have a lifetime to learn.

What is your biggest antidote for burnout for the homeschool mom?
Sonya's antidote: Make your curriculum your servant, not your master. Don't be afraid to take a day, a week, a month off to do something that is still educational but completely different. As Charlotte wisely observed, "Sometimes a change is as good as a break."
Karen's antidote: Again, relax and enjoy the experience of learning with your kids. Burnout occurs most frequently when we lose sight of the main goal: kids who mature into productive adults. By that I mean, they are able to confidently take their place in society. For boys, they know their responsibility to provide for a family. For girls, they know their responsibility to nurture a family. Plus, both know how to serve others through the church, in their community, and wherever else God may place them.
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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Nowhere Else On Earth

Last night as rain poured down and the light of day gave way to darkness, I turned on my Ipod in the kitchen while I made dinner. My three year old sat at the kitchen table, diligently coloring in her Strawberry Shortcake coloring book and calling out to me occasionally to admire her work. I made baked potato soup, a family favorite-- something most of them enjoy eating. I mixed up homemade yeast rolls and talked to my two older girls while I worked, explaining about cooking with yeast and hearing their thoughts on cooking and life and school and friends.

The rain beat down steadily outside, but we were warm and dry inside. Music played softly in the background, a soundtrack to our lives. And then this song came on. I stood at the stove, stirring my pot of soup, listening to the words of the song, to Carly singing so beautifully about her children and knowing exactly what inspired those words. I stood there thinking how blessed, how truly blessed, I am. And I knew with certainty and conviction there truly was nowhere else on earth I would rather be at that moment than there, in that kitchen, with these children, stirring soup and feeling really, really happy. A lot of people think that it is in the big stuff of life-- the vacations, the holidays, the monumental moments-- that we find happiness. But the older I get, the more I don't think so. I have found that it is in the simplest of moments that we can find the greatest joys. I don't think I will ever forget that moment-- that feeling-- as long as I live. And yet, it was a moment of nothing special. And everything wonderful.
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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Buckeye Brownies From Gooseberry Patch

I just received a link to a free recipe from Gooseberry Patch for Buckeye Brownies. Yum! I can't wait to try these and I thought you all might like to try them too!

Oh, and if you'd like a free cookbook from Gooseberry Patch and Sunmaid Raisins, just click on this link to get yours!
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Monday, September 15, 2008

More... And Less

With the first official week of school under our belts, I am seeing what of my plans worked, and what didn't. I have come to the conclusion that we need to do more in some areas and less in others. For instance, the classes that my kids are taking are pretty involved, which means that they will have homework and also supplemental stuff I can do with them at home. This means that some of the things I was going to do at home are most definitely going to get pushed to the side. So, this weekend I put some things back on the shelf-- among those items was A Child's Geography. I love, love, love this curriculum and can't say enough about it or its author. But after assessing where we are and the ages of my kids, I just don't think this is the year to do it. I am thinking next year will be a better fit.

We are continuing with our manners study and enjoying it. We learned last week that instead of saying "I can't do it!" we need to say instead, "I'll try!" Just today my daughter said that to me when she was tackling something difficult and it just warmed my heart. I saw that moment when she wanted to say she couldn't do it, and I watched her intentionally switch her mindset by verbalizing the words, "I'll try" instead. What a great attitude for us all to have. When the kids are screaming and we want to run from the house, instead of saying, "I can't do this another minute!" we can just say simply, "I will try." When your marriage is going badly and you don't think you can possibly stay married, you don't say "I can't be married to this person!" you say, "I'll try." You get the idea.

We are also continuing with Leading Little Ones To God. This simple little devotion is so sweet and gentle, and explains pretty deep concepts to children in an understandable way. Today we talked about Samuel and how he heard from God and responded, "Speak Lord for I am listening." We talked about how that is how we should always respond when God speaks to us. We are also continuing to learn about the people in the First Biographies book. This week we are reading through Listening To Crickets, a book about Rachel Carson. I am enjoying this easy, natural way to get acquainted with these people by reading the biography in the book and then choosing a picture book or two to expand on them with. I also search the web for any other links or info about them. So far, it's been easy to find resources.

One little addition I made that I hadn't planned on was because of a book we checked out from the library that is part of a series of books about the lives of well-known children's authors. Last week we read Nature! Wild and Wonderful by and about the writer Laurence Pringle. My kids asked to check out some of his books after reading about him. So, we checked out a stack of them and are now planning to work our way through all the books in the series "Meet the Author"-- first reading the book about the author and then checking out books by them. As a writer myself, I am loving this! Plus we have read some excellent books that I would never have known about otherwise.

The only other thing that has emerged this week is that I don't have enough for my third grader to do. I only had Learning Language Arts Through Literature, Bible Stories to Read, and Making Math Meaningful for her to do as daily independent work. This takes her just minutes a day to whiz through!! So, I am now requiring her to do a page in a Scholastic third grade math workbook-type book I just had on my shelf and I just ordered her "Read and Understand Science." She just needs more to do to keep her busy and productive. Otherwise she gets bored and starts asking to go to her friends' houses or watch tv. I also need to start her reading independently in assigned books-- but she typically does this at night, right beside me in my bed while I also read. So, I don't really require that for "school" even though it's still learning.

And so, that's my summary of our schooling adventures so far-- just like with cooking, sometimes you just need a little more of something or a little less. And sometimes you need both.
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Menu Plan Monday/Weekend In Review

Hi all-- thought I would post a menu since I haven't in awhile and I am not really feeling creative enough to post anything else. Partly because I am tired from a busy, but productive weekend. And partly because I have had bloggers' block. Hopefully it's a temporary thing. I have been pouring a lot into my other writing efforts lately, which is what I think has caused me to be a bit lacking here on the blogging front. Bear with me, I don't think it will last long. I certainly hope not!

This weekend was good. I spent Saturday writing most of the day away. Saturday night Curt and I had date night. We went to dinner at a local family-style restaurant, a place where most of the clientele is 65 and over. It was quaint and not our usual dating destination. After dinner, we headed to Michael's, Bed, Bath and Beyond, Target, Dick's (Curt went there while I was in Michael's, as he is allergic to Michael's), and Barnes and Noble! An odd night, but a good one. Curt was on a quest to figure out something to do with our master bathroom color scheme (we found nothing we liked) and I needed some things for school this week. I am hoping to work on our first lapbook and needed some supplies from Michael's-- cardstock, glue, etc.-- to be able to make it. It didn't really matter what we did as long as we were together and away from the kids. We talked and no one asked us for anything, inserted their opinions or interrupted us. Date night is a good idea.

Yesterday I had a super busy, but fun, Sunday. We went to church, came home, had a few hours to eat lunch, make out a menu plan and grocery list and plan school for the week. Then it was time to head back to church to volunteer for an event. I do not usually volunteer at church, but since this was a one-time-only thing and we had nothing else going on, I thought, why not? I am not really in a stage of life where I can commit to ongoing jobs, but from time to time, I like to pitch in where I can. I volunteered to do food set up and to serve. It was fun to meet some new people and see friends. Then I dashed out of there to meet a friend for a movie. After the movie, I stopped off at the grocery store and did my grocery shopping for the week. By this time, I was so tired but I was determined to get those groceries! I knew I would be glad I did once it was over.

I came home at 10:30 and Curt helped me unload the car and put away the groceries. I went to bed exhausted, but happy. Happy that I have a week's worth of groceries in the house. Happy that I know that our meals are already thought through. Happy that we have a ready supply of things like toilet paper and paper towels in the house. (It doesn't take much to make me happy, obviously.)

Anyway, here's my menu plan. Hope it inspires you to make some menu plans of your own!
Monday) Individual English Muffin Pizzas, Sliced Apples
Tuesday) Loaded Baked Potato Soup, fruit, homemade bread
Wednesday) French Dip Sandwiches, baby carrots with ranch dressing, roasted potatoes
Thursday) Scrambled Eggs, Hashbrowns, Bacon, Coffeecake
Friday) Homemade Chicken Pot Pie
Saturday) Texas Two Step Chicken (recipe on back of Pace Picante sauce) over yellow rice, steamed broccoli
Note: Please notice that I did not schedule meals for breakfast and lunch. These are two areas I need to do better in! Breakfast is usually just cold cereal, granola bars, or toast and maybe some fruit-- whatever you can get on your own! Lunch is leftovers, sandwiches, sometimes we have macaroni and cheese (if my daughter agrees to make it) or heated up ravioli in a can. I will occasionally make pasta and pour marinara over it, or cook a frozen pizza or some hot dogs-- but never anything complicated. Another thing I do for lunches is buy a bag salad and cut up deli meat to make a chef salad for me and whatever child is in the mood for salad... but mostly we eat a lot of pb&j. And that's just the reality of my life. But I want to do better, really, I do.
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Friday, September 12, 2008

Autumn Inspiration

Warm Pie, Happy Home has posted her "Part Two" to her decorating post for Fall.

Enjoy this one--- it's a feast for the eyes!
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Welcome Relief

The phone call last night was welcomed after a busy week of schooling and running. With the rainy weather we have been having and the threat of more rain on the way, our church homeschool group decided to reschedule the park day/"Not Back To School" party for later in the month.

While the kids were counting the days til the party, this mom was tired! I was craving a "jammie day." I needed a day to be at home and putter-- to make a decent meal and do some household chores. To have time to actually read some emails instead of just scan them. To read out loud to my kids after a few days of dashing about.

And so, instead of a day spent with other moms and kids (which would have been fun), we are spending time getting our schoolwork for the week wrapped up. I have pulled out a stack of library books we checked out this week but haven't read yet. The kids have opened their new whiteboards to draw on while we read. If we have time, we might practice some folds and start that sample lapbook I have been wanting to make. I made beef tips in the crockpot, so we will smell them cooking all day. Tonight I will serve them over rice, with green beans, homemade rolls, and a strawberry/banana fruit salad on the side. I just bought chocolate chips, so my daughter and I might make blondies for dessert this afternoon. I might even convince Curt to stop by the store on the way home and pick up some ice cream to serve on top-- and maybe a bottle of wine for he and I to enjoy with our dinner.

We did make an unscheduled trip to the gas station this morning to fill up our car with gas, thanks to the news reports that gas prices are expected to rise due to Hurricane Ike. But other than that, we will stay put. Sometimes a cancelled event is a welcome relief. We needed a day to slow down, to catch our breath, and to focus on home, and the people who live here.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle...

In CBS today, Patty, our teaching director read a quote to illustrate how all of us, as moms and grandmas, are leaders. (We were studying the Israelite leaders this week.) She wanted to point out that the decisions a leader makes affect the people they are leading, as was the case of the Israelite kings-- whose decisions ultimately led the people into exile.

I loved the quote she read so much that I asked her for it. Thankfully, she had a copy she could hand me right there. So I get to share it with you all! I hope it reminds all you moms out there that what you are doing every day is VERY important!!

Addressing the subject of mothers over 100 years ago, GK Chesterton said:
"The daily operations surrounded her with very young children, who needed to be taught not so much anything but everything. Babies need not be taught a trade, but to be introduced to a world. To put the matter shortly, a woman is generally shut up in a house with a human being at the time when he asks all the questions that there are, and some that there aren't... Our race has thought it worthwhile to cast this burden on women in order to keep common sense in the world... But when people begin to talk about this domestic duty as not merely difficult but trivial and dreary, I simply give up the question... How can it be an (important) career to tell other people's children about mathematics, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe?... A woman's function is laborious... not because it is minute, but because it is gigantic. I will pity mothers for the hugeness of their task; I will never pity them for its smallness."
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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

In The Swing Of Things

We have had a week of getting into the swing of things. Getting in the groove of a new year, even though some people have been schooling for weeks. We, um, haven't. I felt really bad about this last week-- like really guilty-- that I haven't been on the ball enough to start back when my friend Tamery spoke up at our CBS core group and admitted to everyone in the room that she hadn't started back either... and didn't know when she was going to! Well, that just put some wind back in my sails right then and there. I wasn't the only one!

Why is it that just knowing that we aren't the only ones can make us feel better about things?

So, if you haven't started school yet, don't feel bad about it. Cause there are others who haven't. So, you are not alone. I hope this helps someone else out there.

But I did start school this week. (I stopped making excuses, ha ha!) We have had a good time learning about manners and Neil Armstrong's journey to the moon. This afternoon I am even planning to show them the video of his landing that I found on They both now know that he said, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." (This beats the blank stares I got when I first told them we were going to learn about him.) He went from "Who's that?" to "Oh, I know him!" Which is totally my goal in going through our book of Great Men and Women Every Child Should Know... or whatever that book is called.

We read a great book about Neil Armstrong that was very inspiring called "One Giant Leap." The book said that Neil had a neighbor with a homemade telescope who let him go up on his roof and learn about the stars. This sparked Neil's love affair with space and helped shape his destiny. It made me want to write a devotion about how we can be that kind of influence in children's lives just by sharing things we love with them-- they don't even have to be our children-- but all the better if they are!

Today was our first day at Monday's Artists. They had a great time and came home talking about how Beethoven's music made them feel. Moonlight Sonata made them feel sad but Ode to Joy made them feel happy. Having a conversation with my first and third grader about classical music?? Now that was money well spent!

We have had a great week so far. Tomorrow is our second week of Community Bible Study. Friday we have a "Not Back To School" party at the park with the moms from our church who homeschool. That should be fun! We assembled little goodie bags the other night for each child that contain some fun back to school items-- pencils, glue sticks, little notebooks, etc. Oh, and fruit snacks and gum, which was my contribution. Because my kids are all about the candy and would be ever so disappointed if there wasn't something in that bag to rot their teeth.

Well, that's all for now! Must go get some things done while baby is sleeping and the others are quiet.
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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Excuses, Excuses

I have a devotion running (no pun intended) today on making excuses... this particular devotion is about how I made excuses for why I couldn't run for years-- and I do mean years. I can remember when I was in the 8th grade (y'all it's painful to admit, but that was a long time ago), I decided that I just wasn't created to run. (This was after I decided I was going to be the next great cross country runner at my junior high-- that's middle school to all you young whippersnappers-- and took off down the road after school one day to "train." I didn't get very far before I decided that I wasn't born to run.)

Hence the very clever title/throwback to a Bruce Springsteen song combo that I worked into today's devotion. Because sometimes you just have to have a little fun when you are writing-- even if your humor only makes you laugh. At yourself.

While we are on the subject of excuses, let me just admit here that I don't only make excuses about exercising. I make excuses for why I don't get myself off the computer and read out loud to my kids. I make excuses for why I don't spend as much time praying, reading my Bible, and worshiping as I know I should. I make excuses for why I made my family frozen pizzas instead of a well-balanced meal last night. I make excuses for why I bought that Peanut Butter Twix bar at the Walgreens yesterday when heaven knows I don't need it. (But it was on sale. For 40 cents. That's like the price of a candy bar when I was growing up. So, in a fit of nostalgia, I just had to.)

See? Excuses.

What excuses are you making today? I hope that some of you will share some here... because surely I am not alone. And if you don't leave a comment there just won't be any excuse for it.
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Monday, September 08, 2008


I have a post on scheduling up today at Heart of the Matter online! Go here to check it out!

Speaking of scheduling, today was our first day of school. And I used the exact method to get ready for our day that I detail in this post. Last night Curt took the kids out to run a few errands and I spent some blissfully quiet moments at home getting things ready. I wrote out their assignments in their notebooks so that when they got up, we were ready. They enjoyed our manners study as we practiced the six "S's" of introducing ourselves: Stand up, Smile, See their eyes, Shake their hand, Say your name, Speak their name back to them. They had a great time practicing on me and each other.

We did have our share of weeping and moaning and general complaining when I told them to get their work done. It's hard to get adjusted to hard work after a summer of loafing around. One child (who shall remain nameless) did have to go sit on their bed for thirty minutes for having a bad attitude. I told this child that the next time it would be one hour on their bed, adding more time each time. One time was all it took, thankfully. I didn't want to drag that out all day, but I would have to get the point across. I will be glad when we get back into a routine and everyone knows what to do and when/how to do it. Transitions are rough.

All in all, our day went relatively smoothly and we got everything done that I wanted except we didn't take a walk-- oh well, we will try again tomorrow. And now the baby is napping and I am using the quiet time to get some writing done while the other two watch some educational tv or read or rest. (The older three are at school.)

I hope that all of you are having a great Monday! It feels good to be getting back in the swing of school-- and I am hoping that we have a great first week!
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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sunday Morning

I have been remiss in posting these last few days, and for that I apologize. I especially wish that rather negative post about solicitations would not have been what sat at the top of my blog for several days-- because I hate confrontations and uncomfortable situations. And I don't like negative stuff on my blog. I would much rather everyone be happy! On a good note, the person who contacted my blogroll wrote and apologized-- and even offered to say something about it here. I thought that was nice. I just urged him to ask first in the future. Just as good blogging etiquette. Perhaps others would not care about such things, but I did. Do.

And so I just thought I would pop in and say... something. Anything to put something new at the top of this blog. We are headed to church soon, and then our kids have auditions for a play and I have plans with a friend (a rescheduling of plans that didn't happen on Thursday evening). So, that means there won't be much time for posting! I hope you all have a wonderful Sunday-- See you back here on Monday!

ETA: And in the meantime, you can enjoy reading these great posts that inspired me!

The benefits of having a "Focus room" in your cleaning schedule. (I want to try this!):

Salvaging those bad days through gratitude:

Our older ones aren't too old to be read picture books! Here is a list of great books to read to big kids:

Some great questions for moms to ask themselves everyday-- how can we inspire learning if we aren't inspired learners??
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Friday, September 05, 2008

An Apology

I dislike being solicited. I dislike door-to-door salespeople putting me on the spot. I avoid any call I think is a telemarketer intruding on my day. But unfortunately it's hard to avoid some of this type of stuff online. I am finding out this morning that many of you who have blogs posted in my sidebar have been contacted by a group called Experience Project asking you to submit your blogs to their online community. I am very sorry that you were contacted and that they used my name. Yes, they did contact me and at one point, I did sign up for this community-- but I very quickly deleted it when their widget made my margins mess up. I have not been involved with them since that time, nor do I know much about who they are or what their purpose is.

My sidebar is my own personal Google Reader. These blogs are the blogs I read faithfully and believe in. Many, many of these blogs are the blogs of my personal friends. I don't want my friends contacted with promotional stuff any more than I would send a door-to-door salesman to my friends' doors. No matter how good the product is, none of us likes a hard sell. I have written to the two people in charge of Experience Project and let them know that I do not want them to contact any of you all in the future and certainly not to tout me as one of their satisfied customers. I am not saying I don't like EP, I am saying I don't know much at all about them. And it scares me when something or someone I am unfamiliar with starts purporting that I endorse them.

Ok, sorry to do this here but I was getting a lot of private emails from you all asking what this was all about and this is a time-saving method to just post a disclaimer right here where the trouble all started!!

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming...
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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Yesterday's Devotion

Wow! The comments on yesterday's post from devotion subscribers who stopped by were pretty amazing! If you didn't check it out yesterday, you should really click on the comments and read everyone's stories. They inspired me to actively listen for God's promptings. I hope they inspire you, too!

We had an incredibly busy day yesterday-- the kind where you lay in bed and *try* to map out your day before you even put your feet on the floor. It was just that complicated to get everyone where they needed to be, when they needed to be there. With two of mine still going half days opposite each other due to some construction delays, that means three separate schedules for school, plus the three at home. Add to that one that needed to go to the bank, one that had an ortho appt, one that had a haircut appt, and a few necessary errands, and you had the makings of a crazy day! Curt actually helped me out quite a bit... and I don't know how I could have done it without him. It is rare that he is available to help like that, but it was a gift.

Today we start CBS (Community Bible Study). I am excited to see old friends and dig back into the Word on a more regular, in-depth basis. While I did study the life of Paul on my own this summer, it wasn't nearly as fulfilling as studying with other women who challenge and encourage me to dig deeper and live a more committed Christian life. I am so excited to be going back! Tonight I am meeting with my friend Melissa-- one of those people you tell yourself you want to get together with, but never seem to find the time. Well tonight we are making the time! I can't wait to have some great conversation over dinner and get to know this lovely woman better.

Whatever you find yourself doing today, I hope you have a wonderful Thursday! And I hope to see you back here tomorrow!
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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A P31 Devotion Day!

Today I have a P31 devotion running, so welcome to all of you who stop by after reading! This devotion was a fun one to write, as it is something that happened to me and just flowed out of the experience. I love it when that happens!

Today I would love to ask the question of you all-- has something like what I shared ever happened to you? Did you obey God's prompting immediately or did you resist like I did, giving God a hundred reasons why the idea might make a fool of you? When you did it, were you surprised, as I was, to discover that what you did blessed the person as much as it did?

What silly, insignificant thing is God nudging you to do today? It might be no big deal to you, but it might be a huge deal to the recipient. Maybe today is the day you will do it... let us know if you do so we can celebrate with you!
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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

All Falled Up

Y'all, it's September!

And you know what that means, don't you?

It's fall, y'all!

Time to get out the colored leaves, bright orange pumpkins and cinnamon spice candles. I get excited just thinking about it! This post I found over at Kelli's House inspired me to ready my house, which was a good thing because...

Last night after we got home from dinner with my now 16 yo son (how did that happen?), I found an email in my inbox that said that our church's homeschool group had nowhere to meet tonight. I went to Curt and asked him what he thought about offering to host it here.

Remember now that we just moved in in July. And we are renovating this house that was built in 1982... and looks it. And also, we would need to meet in the dining/living room area-- the place in the house where we have stashed stuff we didn't want to deal with. Now granted, there isn't much left in there, but still.

I wanted to have new countertops before we had guests. I wanted all the rooms to be painted before we had guests. I wanted the old carpets ripped out and replaced with gleaming hardwoods before we had guests... but considering that we are paying for all of this with cash as we have it (six kids, one income, you do the math), that could be quite some time before I get my house "guest ready." Curt was all for having the ladies here-- he loves to have people over and, being male, cares less about the details than I do. He just likes the people here, who cares about the little touches we women try to add? As I told him why I was hesitant, he pretty much told me to get over myself and swing our doors open wide.

So I wrote back and said I would host. And I sort of thought someone else would also offer and then I would be off the hook. But no one did except me-- so we are having it here tonight! And I am getting over myself! I think it's good, because honestly, without this impetus, I would have probably kept waiting on my house to be perfect. And that's not what God asks of us. He doesn't command hospitality only if your house is house beautiful-- I can't find that part in the Bible, search as I might. He just says, open your doors, put out some food, and smile at those who come through your doors. Offer a haven, a place to put their feet up.

And hope they don't notice the places where the stripped wallpaper pulled off the paint down to the drywall.
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Monday, September 01, 2008

The Labor Day Report

I'm still here.

We just had a busy Labor Day weekend.

Saturday was a writing day for me, spent with an old friend who also needed to get some writing done.

Saturday night when I got home, Curt popped popcorn for us and we watched a movie together. We have had a rough week marriage-wise, so the time to just sit together peacefully was welcomed.

Sunday we went to church, then came home and I went out to the grocery to get ingredients to bake my friend Shari a cake. I asked her what kind of cake I could make for her and I expected her to say some sort of chocolate cake, like most women. Instead she said "orange." What? I have never baked an orange cake in my life! So, I ended up making a cake out of my Cake Doctor cookbook called "Fresh Orange Cake." I have to say, it turned out delicious! I was very pleased and Shari said I can bake her birthday cake every year! We took the cake up to her on Saturday night and spent an enjoyable evening with her and her husband, trying Thai food for the first time. (We had a sitter so it was an adults-only evening, which was nice.)

Monday was the day I signed up to volunteer at Matthews Alive (a local street fair/festival) at the Matthews Playhouse booth. I spent two hours handing out information about the playhouse, answering questions, and catching up with some of the other board members I haven't seen in quite awhile. Curt joined me later and we walked around a bit after the volunteer shift ended. (His parents had taken the younger kids for the afternoon and our olders were at home.) I bought a very pretty necklace at one of the vendors, so that made me happy. We got home, I did some school planning, then the sitter came (for the second time) so we could take our oldest out to celebrate his 16th birthday. All he wanted to do was go out to eat at the Japanese steakhouse "without all the little kids." So we met my parents there and had a nice quiet evening and were able to focus on just him. He wouldn't let me photograph any part of the experience, however, so you will just have to take my word for it that it happened.

This weekend was a blessing, an answer to prayer. Yes, it was busy and hectic at times, but I loved how it turned out. I am glad to have had a long weekend together-- we needed the extra day and could actually use a few more! But I will take what I can get and focus on being grateful for all that I have.
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