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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Wisdom of Seeking Guidance (especially from your husband)

For many homeschooling families, the wife/mother assumes majority of the workload that is put into the schooling of the children.  Husbands very often do take on a few subjects or particular children, but their role is not as the primary educator of the children, or facilitator of their learning (as they get older).  I have read of a myriad of ways that husbands participate in the homeschooling of the family, but one of the most significant helps a husband can offer for the wife is an outsider's perspective and the value of his headship and leadership within the family.  Let's face it, homeschooling is not the easiest of tasks, and though the difficulties of it manifest differently for everyone, there is some struggle going on within most homeschooling moms at any given moment: "Johnny really needs to do his math, but we are running so behind I don't know how we can get to it!...The floor needs to be swept but the baby is crying and needs a diaper change...I really need to spend some one-on-one time with Jill, but I just don't know how or when we can do that without so many distractions and interruptions!"

At least, this was where I was just the other day.  Feeling overwhelmed, incapable, failing at everything, and exhausted.  Things just felt scattered, chaotic, and frantic, rather than the scheduled, predictable, joyful, and pleasant atmosphere I yearned for our house to exude.  The kids too were feeling the disorganization and acting out because of it.  In our family, the more predictable and expected the order of the day/week is, the better tempers we have.

See, majority of the home schoolers I know, myself included, go through seasons where a feeling of inadequacy is experienced, often due to the expectation of needing to do more than is truly needed.  This is the homeschooling version of "keeping up with the Jones'".  We see, hear of, or read about homeschooling families that do a million things and we imagine them doing it all perfectly and without any tension, ever; violin lessons, speak 3 languages, Chess tournaments, kids able to scrub the house top to bottom with perfection, etc.  The reality is that every family has victories and struggles, difficulties at one point or another with messy children, and must go through various trials while doing life together.  The operative word here, though, is TOGETHER.

Segue to the point of this message (did you know it's not spelled segway?  I didn't, lol).  In a marriage relationship, two people are joined together to become one, and in this holy union life is meant to be done together.  All the struggles, joys, thrills, chills, trials, and victories are meant to be experienced alongside of each other, while knowing that there will be times when leaning on the other person for stability and strength will be necessary to get through a particular season.  There is nothing shameful or weak about this!  It is the reason God provided the Body of Christ (i.e. the Church).  For one thing, each of us are blessed with particular gifts and talents that balance out and fill in the gaps of others around us.  In our marriage, Mark is the administrative one.  Administration comes dead bottom for me in my giftings.  But, my weakness cannot be balanced by his strength if I do not seek out his insight and help when needed.  Sadly, he is not a mind-reader!  In addition, though, God designed the family to run in another organized and orderly fashion, with one head, not as an ugly two-headed dragon.  The family is another earthly example of the relationship of Christ and His Bride, the Church (see Ephesians 5:22-32).  In the same way it is foolish for me to go about my life, struggling as I may be, without ever seeking the wisdom and perspective of Christ, it is equally as foolish for me to do the same without seeking the wisdom and perspective of my husband.  Ouch!

So, God has seen fit to bring me to just this point.  He has seen fit to humble me, putting so much on my plate that there is just no way I can wisely do everything while maintaining a Christ-like attitude and my overall health.  He has pushed me to my breaking point...the point where I must (gulp) ask for help.  DOUBLE GULP!  Maybe I am the only person who struggles with this, but God has been pruning me to know when it is wise for me to pull up my bootstraps and get to work, and when I really do need help to get it all done.  For a little while now, I have known this is where I am.

My husband and I had a sit down last night and ironed out solutions for some of the most immediate things that are on my plate and needing attention (i.e. home school), and I was so, so blessed by his insights and wisdom!  He brought to the table solutions that I was too close and too swamped to see, and helped to eliminate things from the list that just do not need to be happening right now.  I feel like an elephant has been lifted off of my back!  The value of his perspective just cannot be overstated.  Wives, be sure to seek out your husband's advice for things pertaining to your home schooling and overall flow of your household.  He is the head and God has ordained him with insight that cannot be explained in this world.

I know that there will be some ladies who read this and do not believe that their husbands are interested in participating in the home schooling endeavor.  A sure way to keep it that way is to keep him at an arms' length from it!  The more he feels invited and welcome into home schooling, the more he will become involved (most likely gradually, so be patient).  Others may not trust that their husbands will offer sound advice, or wisdom.  This may be true, but it does not remove the importance of inviting him into the schooling.  It does, though, stress the importance of your relationship with the Lord to be able to discern what is Truth and what are lies.  Dismiss that which is a lie, or harmful, and embrace every bit of wisdom and Truth that exits his mouth!  We must be wise enough to listen to and trust the leadings of our husbands, trusting wholeheartedly that the Lord is in control, no matter what.  Even if your husband is not a follower of Christ (yet) you are called to submit to him, as one submitting to Christ, because ultimately Christ is in the driver's seat.  Always remember, "The Lord watches over the ways of the righteous" (Psalm 1:6).  If all else in this earth fails, Christ is still leading you in the ways of righteousness...you just may be too close to see His perspective yet.  Be patient.  Solutions will come, whether from your husband or not.  His timing is always best.

As a Christian, my life is first and foremost meant to bring glory and honor to God.  If I am too caught up in dealing with the things of this life to fulfill this calling, then something needs to change. And, more often than not, that change will begin with me.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sunday Morning Madness

"All I wanted to do was enjoy a lovely sit-down breakfast with my family!  Why is this so difficult?"  Have these words ever crossed your mind in the morning?  I have been trying painstakingly to get into the pattern of making a nice Sunday morning breakfast for our family.  I have this vision of pancakes and eggs, orange juice, and fruit, all of us sitting down with smiles on our faces and laughing as we eat.  But, this just does not ever seem to be the picture that actually happens.  Usually, things are rushed, hair is not brushed, clothes are on backwards, the morning chores are half done, etc, etc, etc.  Although I could write this post about my conviction to be better at keeping things more orderly, or how it is so important to be diligent about time management, which are definitely true and important things, today this post is about the seasons of life.

I had a revelation this past Sunday about this very thing.  To put it bluntly, I am not in the season of in depth meals, gourmet anything, or meals that require excess attention.  More importantly, I have a very specific and special season that I am in right now, and it requires my full attention and energy.  I am in the season of the Littles.  "Littles?" you may ask.  Yes, Littles.  The season of the Littles is when children are still in a specific season of training, discipleship, and discipline that requires a LOT of hands on parenting in preparation for seasons to come.  It is a very hands on season, so when my attention is elsewhere, such as on making breakfast, it is easy for tempers to get flared and trouble to develop, because I cannot split myself in two and help gently guide while ensuring the meal gets made.  This intention to present a wonderful sit down Sunday breakfast has left us late for church on more occasion than one, and has strangled our family peace too greatly.  Something had to give!

Naturally, God was ready to help rectify the situation.  He spoke to my and my husband's hearts on this issue, clarifying that the breakfast beauty was just not meant to be; not because it is inherently sinful to make a lovely Sunday morning breakfast, but because it was distracting from the peace of the morning and hurting our overall intentions of getting to church on time (or preferably EARLY, gasp!)  Ultimately, this breakfast vision was becoming an idol, and that idol had to be torn down!

Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that it is not okay to have a nice sit down family breakfast.  There is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with making a nice meal, enjoying it, etc.  The problem comes in when frustration, short tempers, and stress come about because of everything bending around this vision of things looking a certain way, or going a certain way.  If the breakfast meal is causing more issues than it is helping, than it needs to go and something more simple needs to be figured out until a better time at a later date.

The more important focus of the morning should be for us to enjoy life and togetherness as we give glory to God who provided the day of rest (hasn't been very restful with stress first thing in the day!) A healthy meal of oatmeal or cereal with smiles, excellent time management and big picture goals being met is far more important and valuable than eating a lavish meal while everything else goes to pot!  "Better a dry crust with peace and quiet, than a house full of feasting with strife" (Proverbs 17:1).  The funny thing is, I know exactly where this intention of the "hot meal" came from.  Several years ago a good friend encouraged me to make a hot breakfast for my kids in the morning because a friend of hers had exemplified this to her.  It sure sounded good!  "My kids will really feel loved and special, and doing so will absolutely show to them my extreme love and adoration I have for them!"  At the time I was content to ensure that the kids received a breakfast of cereal or oatmeal with juice or a piece of fruit without much thought.  But, once that idea was in my head, it was hard to shake!  This is something that we must always guard against in our media-infused culture, because the Martha Stewarts and awesome homemaking blogs will present a lot of information, often GREAT, which can easily get twisted into a sinful application if we are not careful to discern its proper use in our lives.  For a time I was good about this and did not fret over my children eating a cold breakfast, but eventually that same lie came back to me, rooted in, and up came the first fruits of its growth.  Thankfully, though, God was ready for the pruning!

In my season with the Littles, though, a lavish breakfast is more trouble than it is worth, as much as I enjoy blessing my family in this way.  The truth is, though, that we are not yet in the season when breakfasts like this will be served, because it is low on the priority list compared to the other character traits we are working to instill into our children (such as diligence, efficiency, and time management in their morning chores).  In this season, cereal, oatmeal, toast with peanut butter, etc. is just fine for the majority of days to allow for the training which will prepare and allow for the season of lavish breakfasts and meals to come.  This is the vision for our family!  There will come a day where my children will have been trained sufficiently in doing their chores that I will not have to be alongside of them in the mornings. There will come a day when my children will have been trained in the kitchen to make a great meal without me having to be in there with them.  Today is just not that day; and in this truth, I have great peace, because the cold breakfasts and quick fix meals of today are giving way to the more enjoyable and valuable fruits of tomorrow.  "Let us not grow tired in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up" (Galatians 6:9).  Now, that is a promise worth believing!

Friday, May 4, 2012

What's For Dinner?

"What's for dinner?"...the question that every mother dreads.  You look at the clock, and it is already 5:30 pm.  Looks like another pasta night, or night of eating out.  Too many nights like this will inevitably bring on the stress, stretch the wallet, and bring reasons to hide the scale.  But, dinner does not have to be a thing of dread.  When planned in advance, dinners can be a predictable and enjoyable part of the day!  All it takes is a little initiative.

There are so many different ways to meal plan.  There is the Once a Month cooking method, where you cook an entire month's meals in the course of a day, or a few days.  There is the method of rolling foods, where you bake something like a chicken one night, and then make chicken tacos, the next night, chicken noodle soup the next night, etc.  And then, there is meal planning mostly separate meals, but planning in advance so that you know what you will be making that night AT LEAST in the morning and know that you already bought the ingredients on your weekly grocery trip (right?  No more running to the store every day for missing items!)  You, your husband, and your children will all be thrilled with the predictability of your planning, and you will enjoy the blessings of a new routine that will encourage harmony in the family and peace in the home.

First, you want to determine if there are any known foods that you need to refrain from bringing into the home (food allergies, sensitivities, etc.).  Make sure to plan your meals to avoid these items, making substitutions where necessary.  Second, you need to choose which type of meal planning you wish to follow and then make your plan according to that style.  I like to do a combination of the three, making larger quantities of some things, knowing I will use the leftovers in the next day's meals (for instance, if I am making Black Bean soup one night, I will make extra black beans for tacos or black bean burgers another night, that way I only have to cook the black beans one time...yes, we use dried, not canned beans, since they are MUCH cheaper!)  Third, get familiar with the recipes you already have on hand and categorize them (there is again a variety of ways to do this, but I grouped mine into something like stews/soups, lasagnas/pastas, pizza, burgers, one-pot meals/casserole, chili, etc. since I found I had a lot of recipes in these categories, but you could also do something like bean meals, meat meals, chicken meals, etc.)

Once you have your recipes organized into some grouping, begin taking out or noting the ones you know are tried and true for your family.  Start with these.  If our family just loves pasta, see what other kinds of variations you can come up with: different sauces, add some different vegetables, mix in some squash or beans, etc.  If your family enjoys meat, grain, and veggies all separated out, determine a rotation for different meats/grains/veggies to keep things new.  Try to keep your weekly night's meals fairly similar, such as Monday is Soup Night, Tuesday is Lasagna Night, Wednesday is Casserole Night, Thursday is Meatloaf Night, Friday is Pizza Night, Saturday is Burger Night, and Sunday is Musko Night (everything MUST GO!...i.e., Leftover night, but it sounds better as Musko, doesn't it?)  There are so many variations to all of these groupings that any style of eating can fit within it (even vegan!)  I recommend including inexpensive food options in your meal plans to help stretch your budget.  The BEST items for this are legumes!  Lentils and beans are super cheap and help to stretch a meal.  They are nutritionally dense, so having these as the heart of the meal a few nights a week will absolutely reduce your spending.  Always make sure to have a vegetable of some kind in your meal, whether in the dish itself, or as a side.  These can be fresh, frozen or canned (in water, no or low sodium).  If you are not the biggest veggie fan, now is the time to train your palate to appreciate these super healthy and good for you foods!  They do NOT have to taste like dog food...at all!

With this plan in hand, sit and figure out what ingredients you have in the house, and what you will need to buy.  The more week's you plan for in advance, the cheaper your groceries will be in total.  You will pay less for a larger amount than you will by buying smaller amounts more frequently.  The only items that will not work great for this is your perishables, so you will want to plan for weekly purchase for some of these to keep them fresh (to help with ensuring great produce usage, keep your meals rotating with produce spoilage in mind...see my post on this topic here).  Of course, if you grow some of your produce, you will definitely have fresh and cheap produce on hand as needed, too =0)  Now, armed with a grocery list, head to your local store and buy the ingredients you will need for your planned meals.  You no longer will be making decisions about ingredients on the fly, which will ultimately lead to lowered spending for foods.

Once you have a week's plan figured out, you could take the initiative and plan out a rotation of foods for the entire month, or for two weeks, or just stick with one week at a time (this is a great way to start).  As you become more and more familiar with and accustomed to planning your meals, you can expand your plan as desired.  At this point, I have slowly progressed to a four week rotation with each night of the week containing a meal from a focused grouping of foods.  Ours goes: Sunday night is Pizza or Pasta Night, Monday night is Soup or Stew Night, Tuesday night is Lasagna Night, Wednesday night is Burger Night, Thursday night is Chili Night, Friday night is One-Pot/Casserole Night, and Saturday night is leftovers.  I have also planned a rotation for breakfasts and lunches.  In this season with everything being a bit off with Zach, though, this plan is not really followed, but it is an anchor to which I can return when needing a meal idea in a pinch.  I hope this gives you some guidance and ideas to get you started in your meal planning journey!

I am sorry this is sooooo blurry, but my computer which contains the file is broken right now, so the best I could do was to snap a picture.  I will update it when I can with a clearer picture, if not the original file!  I still hope it helps =0)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Before they rot...

When we first began eating a vegetarian diet several years ago, I did a lot of research to learn more about vegetables and how to properly use/store them.  Although our diet has changed repeatedly since then, I did for a long time have pieces of paper on my refrigerator with the information I am about to share with you.  You see, I did not grow up with a great understanding of vegetables.  My mom was excellent about encouraging us to eat our vegetables and such, but I did not really understand what made vegetables and fruits tick.  Why did certain items seem to last forever, while others seemed to rot overnight?  It was a baffling thing to me, so I set out to do some research about how to best protect our produce so that it could be well enjoyed over the course of the week, or more.

I stumbled upon an article in Vegetarian Times years ago, which addressed this very issue.  It was from this article that I wrote down the information on my pieces of paper which were gracing our fridge for years.  Here, in a short summary, is the information provided in that article:

  1. Many fruits and vegetables are "gas-releasers" which means that they expel ethylene, which ripens produce faster.  For this reason, gas-releasers must be carefully placed around other produce if you want to avoid spoilage.
  2. Some produce needs to be refrigerated to keep it fresh longer, and some really needs to be kept out of the fridge.  Gas-releasing foods that need to be refrigerated include apples, apricots, canteloupe, figs, and honeydew.  Gas-releasing foods that need to be out in the open include avocados, bananas, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, and tomatoes.
  3. Foods that need to be kept away from the gas-releasers include ripe bananas, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce and other leafy greens, parsley, peas, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes, and watermelon.  
  4. Plan your meals using your produce according to the spoilage of the produce.  Use the fastest spoilers first and then move onto the slower spoilers throughout the week.  Here is the list of spoilage:

A working meal plan is the most helpful way to effectively make sure that you use your produce and don't let it go to waste.  This is most annoying when it is delicious and wholesome organic goodness, so be sure to take care of your produce to have it available for nutritious eating.  Please comment below, or ask questions as needed...always welcome!  =0)

Question of the Day:  What is your favorite vegetable and how do you like to prepare it?  Me?  I LOVE salads with flax oil, apple cider vinegar, a pinch of salt, twist of pepper, and whatever vegetables on top I can find.  Sounds delicious...I think I will go make that right now =0)