Thursday, July 30, 2015

When Your Kid is the Bad Kid at Church


It had been another one of those nightmarish services when I wondered why on earth I had even bothered to come to church.  Not that the service itself was bad.  It was probably very good, though I honestly couldn't have told you either way because I had spent 90% of it trekking back and forth between my pew and the church nursery with a toddler I could not control to save my life.

My second-born daughter had been an angelic baby, sleeping through the night from the time she was a few days old and always easily entertained by her older sister and brightly colored toys and ceiling fans.  She was sweet and serene and easy to amuse.  God had blessed me with one of those contented, compliant children.

Or so I thought.  At about 10 or 12 months old, things began to change.  With greater mobility came a greater sense of adventure and, it seemed to me, discontent.  Though she was still a happy child, mostly, she was a poor communicator, barely talking at all before her third birthday and using only a few basic signs.  For the better part of the three years that would follow it was as if she had all the energy of five toddlers bottled up in this tiny body, and no way to express her feelings and emotions but through wild activity and loud, unexpected outbursts.  And those she expressed all the time. 

Eating out was miserable for us, to the point we just stopped trying.  Quiet small group meetings or assemblies were out of the question.  Church was particularly awful for me because my husband is both a minister and a musician, so it seemed he was always taking part in one aspect of the service or another, which meant he was almost never free to help me.  I had no family in the church and up to that point my daughter had refused to take up with anyone else in the congregation, though a few brave souls seemed to feel sorry enough for me they were trying to win her over.  The rest were scared of her.  And with good reason.

Years later, after dealing with learning struggles, we would find out my daughter was both dyslexic and struggled with an LPD, (language processing disorder,) which suddenly put all those toddler battles in a whole new light.  Her comprehension of language and instructions was poor, very poor, especially in those toddler years, and particularly in the distracting environment of a church service where there were so many other people and sights and sounds.  No wonder she struggled!  And no wonder I was so exhausted all the time in dealing with her.

But back to that particularly nightmarish church service.  Relief poured over me as I heard the dismissal prayer and I started easing back into the sanctuary, anxious to hand my darling little tornado to her daddy so I could go sit somewhere, nurse my wounds, and maybe indulge in a minute or two of adult conversation.

On my way up the center aisle I was stopped by a very elderly woman with an always-sour expression.  I don't know that she had ever spoken to me before of her own volition, which is probably a good thing, but her tone was both stern and snide.  "I once knew some people who had a little girl like that and they had her prayed for," she told me.  "The preacher laid hands on her and prayed and she never acted like that again."

Sigh.

Okay, I believe in the power of prayer.  And maybe that woman meant well.  Maybe she didn't mean to be so cold and sound so condemning and maybe that was her way of offering help and showing compassion.

(I don't really believe that, but bear with me here as I try to sound objective.)

But as an exhausted, stressed-out, encouragement-starved young mother, what I heard was, "Your kid is a brat and she needs the devil cast out of her."

Thanks for that.  Thanks for making me feel like my two-year old is demon possessed and I am a miserable, miserable mother.


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Now.  I was so hesitant to say some of the things I'm about to say because I know how easily they can be misconstrued. I never want to be perceived as condoning the bad behavior of a child during a church service.  And let me add, too, that I realize there's a world of difference between a two-year old behaving badly and an 8 or 10 or 12-year old doing so, especially when it's happening on a consistent basis.  *Except in the case of a special needs child, of course.

I will make no excuse for a mom who allows a child to cry and disrupt without any consideration for those around her.  Others have the right to come and sit and hear God's word without the distraction of my unruly child, no matter how exhausting it may be sometimes for me to intervene.

I also realize we live in a day and age when discipline is very lacking.  Sometimes even Christian parents are neglectful and lazy and hyper-sensitive about their children to the point they'll totally disregard others.

That's wrong.  And it's bad parenting.

But all of that said, I have tremendous compassion for the mom of the 'bad kid' at church, that little one with the reputation for fits and outbursts and mid-sermon meltdowns, because I was once there myself.  Until my daughter was at least five, she was so difficult to deal with so much of the time I probably left church in tears more often than I left encouraged.

So why didn't your church have a nursery program? you ask.  Wouldn't that have resolved the problem?

Now there's an issue I'm torn on.  It might have been easier for moms in the day when extended families all lived in the same area and all went to church together, so exhausted moms usually had some help from others very familiar to the children.  Those days are gone and now moms may be lucky to even live in the same community as extended family, let alone go to church with them!

I just know there were many times, probably with all of my children, I would have given anything to be able to go into a church service and listen and participate in worship without the distraction of my kids.  Sometimes I came to church feeling absolutely starved for spiritual help, so I can certainly see what a tremendous blessing a nursery program could be to a church's young mothers.

At the same time, I don't know how kids learn to behave in church if they're never in church.  The earlier you start them in regular church services, in the singing of hymns and the preaching of God's word and in prayer with other saints, the better!

But in my situation as it was, I was doing all I knew to do.  And my daughter was still awful in church.

That's why when I come across all these articles with titles like, "How I Taught My Children to Be Good in Church", (and there are a lot of them out there with similar names,) I find myself chuckling.  Or rolling my eyes.

Let me just say that some of these are very good articles meant to share practical advice for the mom struggling with littles in church.

Others I've read, however, are written in such a smug, even self-righteous tone that they might as well say something to the effect of, "If your kids are acting badly in church, it's because you're a bad parent.  Be an awesome parent like me and your kids will be angels, too."

Sorry, but that's not helpful.  Had I stumbled across some of these when my daughter was little, I would have found them so discouraging.  Because while the same basic methods offered in these articles worked just fine for 3/4 of my kids, they were practically futile with the other 1/4.

I don't care what anybody says, all kids are not the same.  Those of us who are homeschoolers probably tout that idea more than most.  I mean, it's part of why we celebrate homeschooling: We can offer our children an education tailored specifically to them with both their strengths and weaknesses in mind, because kids grow and mature and learn at different rates.

And yet we want to assume that with the proper methods and discipline, all kids will mature and grow and learn good behavior at the same rate.

Somebody tell me how that works.

Oh wait.  It doesn't!

If kids learn to read or do their multiplication tables at different rates, isn't it reasonable to assume they may learn to sit still and listen and "be good" in church at different rates as well?



If anything helped me during the chaos of those years, it was Dr. James Dobson's book, The Strong-Willed Child.  Though my daughter's struggles had more to do with her LPD than with a strong will, I didn't know any difference at the time, and that book helped me so much to understand that all kids are not created equal.  I found real comfort in that.

Because I would look at other moms with their tiny little children sitting calmly, angelically at their sides.  Never making a peep.  Never disturbing.  Content to flip through board books or sit contentedly like a miniature adult, all while my little monster was clawing all over me and the church pew and screeching and crying and continuously plotting her escape from me if I dared look away.

The best I could tell, I did all the things the other moms did!  And this is what I got.

But Dr. Dobson helped me understand that, for whatever reason, some families are blessed with all compliant children.  Others may be blessed with all strong-willed, more difficult to mold and train ones.  Why God doles kids out the way He does is a mystery to me, but it should make us cautious how we judge other moms and dads who may very well be doing the best they can with the child God has given them.

Every mom seems to think she has at least one strong-willed child, but it just isn't true.  So often I've seen parents who thought #1 was a problem-child, until they had #2 or 3, and suddenly they realized #1 was a saint!  Like it or lump it, parenting may actually be easier for some moms because they've been given more compliant children.  That's a blessing.  However, strong-willed kids, if pointed in the right direction, often make amazing leaders and strong, determined Christians.

It's all in how you look at it.  Moms of the "bad kids" should never be envious of moms with compliant children.  Moms of compliant children shouldn't be so hard on moms of strong-willed or difficult ones.  And all of us should try to do more to help young moms we see struggling to manage children in church.  Thank God they're there!  They're trying!  And they should be commended for it.

And a final word of encouragement to you, the moms of the "bad kids" at church:  Keep your chin up, sweet Christian mama.  Don't be discouraged.  You're doing the right thing by trying to be faithful to God's house and taking those little ones with you.  God will bless your efforts, even in those times when you really wonder if all the work it takes to get to church and the wrestling and the crying and the 34 trips to the nursery are worth it.  Keep doing your best and know that God will honor it and will provide you the grace you need for every day.

Trust me.  I know this from experience.

And just in case you're wondering, that boisterous little girl who gave me such fits is now 11. Obviously I don't have her raised yet, and I can't take credit for any good I see in her.  That's God's doing.

But, truly, of all my kids, she is probably the most spiritually sensitive.  She literally grieves at times because she's a child, which she thinks limits her ability to do something for God.  She's forever going on personal "fasts" from videos or video games lest those things become more important to her than praying and reading her Bible.  She's so tender-hearted that, if I was to let her, the child would literally give away everything she owns to the less-fortunate.

I'm not saying she's perfect, but she's come a long way from those random outbursts and mid-sermon meltdowns.  A LONG way.  So long, in fact, that people who didn't know her back then don't want to believe what a difficult child she once was.

The "bad kid" wasn't really so bad after all.  And, thank heavens, maybe that means I wasn't the "bad mom" I thought myself to be either.  Or if I was, there was a merciful God always there filling in the gaps I was leaving behind.

That's how His grace works.  And I'm so thankful for it.  





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Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Guide to Nature Hiking with Kids



So what's the difference between a nature hike and a nature walk?  

Some will try to argue that a hike is more strenuous than a mere walk, but I'm curious where the threshold between the two really lies and at exactly what point a stroll crosses from one to the other.  I'm pretty sure nobody really knows.

And some will argue that a walk is on paved ground while a hike covers grass or dirt.  But nobody talks about going for a hike on the beach, but lots of people talk about hiking the Great Wall of China.

So I'm confused.

But it doesn't matter.  The two words mean pretty much the same thing, so whatever you choose to call it, a trek through the great outdoors is a wonderful thing for you and your kids!  

Why?  Here are a few quick reasons:

It's great exercise for the entire family.

This is one of those "duh-isms" you wouldn't think needs mentioning, but when I hear about the unbelievable amounts of money some people spend on gym memberships when there are thousands of miles' worth of FREE hiking trails in the U.S., I can't help but think some people need the reminder!

Kids, (and usually their parents, too!) spend too much time indoors.

Adults are great at griping about kids not spending enough time outside, even while they are as hooked to screens and cushions and air conditioning as the kids are.  Fresh air and sunlight are wonderful for both our bodies and our spirits and heading outside for a little hike is great for the overall health and happiness of both children and adults.

It makes for some great family time.

I think we would all agree families need to spend more time doing things together and less time running in different directions.  What better way to do that than in the quiet and solitude of a nature trail?

The entire family can learn about nature.

There's no end to the interesting terrain, plants, and wildlife you will encounter on a nature hike.  No matter how many hours my family has spent foraging through the woods, we still come across things we've never seen before.  There is incredible wonder in God's creation and the whole family can learn so much just by partaking in it.



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But we live in the city!  How can we go on nature hikes?

While many metropolitan areas have remarkable inner-city parks systems, I realize that's not the case everywhere, and a day spent nature hiking may require some travel, but you likely won't have to go significantly far from home.  I'm fortunate enough to live 10 minutes from Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, so nature hikes are a couple-of-times-a-week activity for us, but no matter where you live, with some planning you may very well be able to go hiking at least once a month.

Click here for an amazing list of hiking trails, state-by-state.  More than likely, there are some near you!

But I have small kids!  

Believe me, I know hiking with small children isn't exactly ideal, but on our family excursions we often encounter determined hikers barreling on with their kids in tow, so it can be done.  Baby slings and backpack carriers are great for hiking with babies, (when we had littles, we picked up a backpack carrier at a yard sale,) but many trails are stroller-friendly, too.  Obviously the more all-terrain your stroller, the greater your options, but many parks and nature reserves have wheelchair, (and thus stroller,) accessible trails.

Click here for a state-by-state list of wheelchair/stroller accessible trails.  Also don't hesitate to ask at your local park about gravel or crushed stone paths that may be very passable with a stroller or even a pull-wagon.  Our favorite hiking spot has many out-of-the-way trails that are actually old access roads now closed off to vehicle traffic.  These are great for an easy hike.



Of course, with small kids, (and with bigger ones!) you need to be prepared.  Insect repellent is a must.  (We keep a can of OFF in our van, though if you prefer a more natural repellent, here is a list of homemade bug spray recipes.  One of our sons was a mosquito-magnet when he was a toddler and he would have awful reactions to every. single. bite.  I think I tried every bug spray or lotion known to man, with no success.  Several reviews I found online suggested Avon's Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Lotion with Sunscreen for kids and I was finally able to get my son some relief.  It's also DEET-free.  (Many people complain about it's awful blue color, but it worked!  You may want to try it for a child with particularly sensitive skin.)

Light-colored clothing makes it easier to see any ticks that may find their way to you.  And good shoes are a must for the entire family.

Take plenty of water along.  My own kids are so well-trained they go to the fridge and grab bottles of water on their own before we leave the house.  Just make sure you have plenty to keep you and your kids hydrated, particularly if it's a very hot day.

Bring along snacks, especially for little ones, though the whole family may appreciate some cheese and crackers or fresh fruit after the good workout of a hike.

Keep a cell phone with you.  I love using the pedometer app on mine, but you never know when there might be an emergency and you find yourself in need of a phone.  Granted, a signal may be hard to come by in some rural areas, but we've been stunned before to be out in the middle of nowhere and still find ourselves with cell service!

*Incidentally, a few years ago I was out hiking alone with my four kids when the short "loop" I thought we were travelling seemed to be taking us further and further into the woods.  My sense of direction told me something wasn't right.  I finally sat down and between my GPS and the park's website, I discovered we had accidentally crossed onto a strenuous 8-mile trail!  Obviously we turned around and went back, but my kids were small and wearing out quickly and I can't imagine what I would have done if we had gone much further.  Especially if you don't have a good sense of direction, a smartphone could be a God-send while hiking!




But what about the weather?

Being able to exercise in a temperature-controlled environment is a big reason so many people opt for gym memberships rather than regular hiking.  In torrential rain, excessive heat, or snow, that exercise venue is still available, which can be of particular benefit to those living in areas of the country that get a lot of rain or have long winters.

But the weather doesn't have to be sunny and cloud-free with a perfect temperature of 77 degrees for you to get out and enjoy a great hike!  While I understand we have to be careful, particularly with smaller kids who may be more prone to heat exhaustion or illness, we also should never use less-than-ideal weather as an excuse for not getting out and enjoying nature.

In excessive heat, (something we've dealt with a lot this summer,) try to do your hiking early in the morning or late in the evening when temperatures are cooler.  Go on shorter hikes if necessary, stop for breaks more often, and of course take plenty of water along.

While I don't recommend hiking in a downpour, a slight drizzle or a chance of showers doesn't mean your hiking trip should be cancelled, especially if it's a comfortably warm day!  Keep rain ponchos in your vehicle and stay tuned to weather reports if things are looking questionable.

I don't recommend hiking with children in ice and snow or extreme cold either, but cool or even cold weather shouldn't be a deterrent for an outdoor trek either.  Warm jackets and coats, clothes, and hats can keep the cold at bay for a brisk walk.  Just beware of over-heating!  As in hot weather, keep your hikes short and remember to keep kids well-hydrated, though they're not likely to feel as thirsty in cold weather as in hot.  Remember cold air alone doesn't make kids sick.  Also, the warm air inside our homes during the winter is often far more likely to make us sick than the cold air outside.

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So need more suggestions for great hiking trails for you and your family?

Here's a list of the Top 10 Family-Friendly Hikes in the U.S. Parks.  Kentucky's own Mammoth Cave National Park made this list, and if you've never been there, it is amazing.  While there are plenty of hiking trails there above ground, the most fascinating ones are below it.  Mammoth Cave boasts the longest known cave system in the world, offering you the opportunity to explore nature underground, which can't be done just anywhere.

Fodor's Travel considers these the 10 Most Beautiful Hikes in the U.S..  Kentucky's Red River Gorge is among them.

Here you'll find 10 Great Hikes for Families in National Parks.  I would love to take EVERY. ONE.  And here are Great American Hikes: 20 Top Trails Across the USA.  There may be one close to you!

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There are plenty of ways to get exercise and spend time with your family, but I don't know that many of them have all the benefits of hiking in the great outdoors!  If it's not a custom in your family, why not start hiking together today?

Do you take your children hiking?  If so, where do you go and 
what items do you consider essential for the trip?




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Thursday, July 16, 2015

20 Ways to Reuse Plastic Shopping Bags

20 Ways to Reuse Plastic Shopping Bags


I love reusable shopping bags.  Really.  But I can't carry 35 of them into the grocery store with me when I go on one of those big, I-need-absolutely-EVERYTHING sort of grocery trips.

I also love paper bags, but not every grocery store even offers them.

So of course that means I end up with A LOT of plastic grocery bags around this house.  You probably do, too!  And while many stores have recycling bins where you can drop off extra bags, there are also so many ways I can reuse those bags around my home and elsewhere.

So if you have plastic grocery bags coming out of your ears like I do, (not literally maybe, but close enough sometimes!) here are a few ideas for putting those bags to use.

*If storing the bags seems like a hassle, you can buy cloth storage/dispenser bags or wire dispensers to hang inside a cabinet or in a utility room.  Most of these will easily hold 30 or more bags.

Trash can liners

You mean you're still paying for bags to line the small garbage cans around your house? Umm...why?  I realize not all plastic grocery bags are an attractive color, (my local store's bags are a pretty ugly brown,) but, hey, they're free!  I reserve white bags for my trashcans when I can, but, honestly, they're for TRASH, so in the end the color really doesn't matter.

I stuff empty cookie butter jars with bags and keep them in both of my bathrooms and my van.
Empty tissue boxes make a great, (and CHEAP!) container for bags, too.

Travel garbage bags

Keeping a few bags in my van is always a good idea for collecting drink cups, napkins, paper, moldy leftover lasagna...  (Totally kidding there!  Kind of.)  Having those bags on hand for clean up can be very convenient, particularly on longer trips or any time people will be eating and drinking in the vehicle.

Car sickness bags

Thank heavens we haven't had this problem in a while, but two of our children had occasional car sickness issues when they were younger and I wish so much I had thought of this then.  Whipping out a plastic bag in those emergencies could have saved us all a lot of time and stress.  And nausea of our own when it was time for cleanup!

Travel laundry bags

I'll admit to being a little obsessive about it, but when we're traveling, my dirty clothes CANNOT touch clean ones.  We often carry large mesh or canvas laundry bags with us, but when space is tight, that may not be an option.  If we have to keep dirty laundry in our suitcases, having plastic grocery bags on hand to keep it separate makes a germaphobe like me feel a whole lot better.

Vehicle seat covers

When you have small kids, you never know what messes they'll get into!  Should your kids find their way into wet sand or mud or should the whole family get caught in a downpour, plastic bags across the seats may help spare the upholstery or leather.

Dirty diaper disposal bag

Sometimes you find yourself in a place where you don't feel comfortable trashing a dirty diaper.  But putting it back in your diaper bag can be dangerous, too!  You can purchase little rolls of plastic bags to contain dirty diapers until you can dispose of them, but grocery bags work just as well.  Tuck a few in your diaper bag for on-the-go.

Baby laundry bags

Because you want to tuck a soiled onesie in your diaper bag alongside pacifiers and sippy cups, right?  Umm...WRONG.  Carry plastic grocery bags for keeping dirty baby clothes separate from everything else in your bag.

Textured painting "sponges"

Did you know you can do this?  Paint sponges for creating textures can be pretty pricey, but a wad of plastic bags will provide a very similar effect at no cost.  I've done this twice and been very pleased with the results.  Choose two paints close in shade.  In the pic below, I used white over a khaki color.  Could I do it over, I would have chosen two colors just one or two shades apart or added white to the the khaki paint to lighten it just slightly.  The contrast is a little more than I wanted, though it has worked well in my kids' seascape-themed bathroom.  Guests have even thought my bathroom was papered rather than painted!

After you've painted the walls in the first color, lightly dip a wad of bags in the second color, dab off the excess on newspaper, (or more plastic grocery bags,) and tap away at the walls to get the desired effect.  The bags do become saturated with paint quickly, so you may go through 10-12 bags in even a small room.  The effect doesn't have to be perfect or uniform, so this technique is incredibly easy and takes very little extra time.  Plus you can just throw away your "sponges" when you're done with them!

It's a little hard to tell it in my little picture here, but the textured
effect is perfect for this bathroom.  And it was SO easy to do.

Wet paint brush/roller covers

This is one of the most wonderful painting tricks I've ever discovered!  As I mentioned during my whole bathroom vanity makeover, cleaning paint brushes and rollers every time you have to take a break in a painting project can get really old, really fast.  So long as you intend to come back to the project within a day or so, simply wrap the brushes or rollers in plastic wrap or, even better, plastic grocery bags!  When you unwrap them, they'll be moist and ready to go again.  And it works for little brushes, too, when there's an interruption in a school or art project.

Cheap shipping/packing material

Why pay for packing peanuts when rolled or bunched plastic bags easily serve the same purpose?  I'm obviously not the first one of to think of this because many of the things I order from Amazon or eBay now come cushioned in...you guessed it!  Plastic grocery bags!

Packing/moving material

Protect glassware and china during a move by wrapping in layers of plastic bags and cushioning with bags in-between.  Slip items with multiple parts or trays of loose items in individual bags to make the unpacking and organizing easier.

Shoe/boot shaping for storage

My boots are precious to me, so I DO NOT throw them in the back of my closet or toss them in a bin for the summer.  Granted, I could pay a small fortune for fancy boot shapers, but stuffing my boots with plastic grocery bags for storage seems to work pretty well.  And it's cheap!

Pet waste bags

I always have a bag in hand when I clean the cat's litter box.  And if you walk your dog in one of those neighborhoods or parks that requires pet cleanup along the way, put a couple of bags in your pocket before setting out.  They work well as both gloves and disposal bags.

Place mats for messy projects

And speaking of school or art projects...I like to cover my entire table for most of these, but a plastic grocery bag adds a sufficient layer of protection to my table when we're using less dangerous items like washable paint, school glue, or glitter.  Simply flatten the bag for a smaller project, cut along a side and bottom seam for a larger one, or even make a mat of several bags together.  Then any excess glue, paint, glitter, etc., can be wrapped up and thrown away!



Kitchen scrap bucket liner

I remember my grandma always using a round metal pan for containing scraps while she cooked.  I generally use a plastic bowl instead, but lining it with a plastic bag makes clean up a breeze!

"Mess-catcher" for opening packaged meats

If you buy plastic-wrapped meats like pork loin or turkey, then you know what a nasty process it can be to open those packages.  Rather than dousing your counter top with salmonella, try slipping the package into a double-layer of plastic grocery bags before slicing the wrap open, then transfer the meat to a cutting board or roasting pan and throw the liquid mess away.

Freezer bags

I use zippered freezer bags often, but sometimes pre-bagged items like bread or tortillas need an extra layer of protection from freezer burn and plastic grocery bags are the perfect solution.  Add an outside label with masking tape and a marker.

And with the husks left on, corn on the cob keeps perfectly in the freezer when wrapped in 2-3 layers of bags.

Freezer organizers

If the foods in your freezer aren't well-organized, smaller items can fall to the bottom or be pushed to the back where they are lost forever.  (Or at least lost until you clean out the freezer...which for some people might as well be forever!)  Plastic grocery bags can be perfect for keeping smaller foods separate.  I shred all my own cheese and freeze it in 2-cup portions, and I like to grill chicken in large batches and divide it into freezer bags for salads and soups.  Keeping those small bags of cheese and chicken in separate plastic bags makes it easier to keep up with them, especially in our chest freezer.

Foot covers for snow play

Even "waterproof" boots don't always keep feet dry, and wet feet make for COLD feet.  Slip a plastic grocery bag over your kids' socked feet before putting on their boots and sending them out to play in the snow.  Tuck the tops of the bags under snow pants or long underwear and nobody in the neighborhood will know the difference!  (Incidentally, many of the older generation did the same thing with bread bags.)

Protective door/floor mats 

Granted, it won't likely get your entryway on the cover of Southern Living, but it might spare your carpet!   Make a simple mat of plastic grocery bags and duct or masking tape and use it as a temporary protective rug to keep water, sand, or mud out of your carpet.  Headed to the beach or a muddy lakeside?  Do the same in the floorboard of your vehicle.

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So do you have any brilliant uses for some of the plastic grocery bags that are so easy to accumulate?  If so, please share!  No matter how many bags I use, I'm always collecting more!




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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Sane Woman's Guide to Tackling Clutter

School's out and I have been tackling clutter with a vengeance!  My methods aren't anything unique or ingenious, but they're effective when I really put them into action.



"Clutter breeds at my house.  Seriously.  Or maybe we carry its spores on our skin and clothes and they drop off in all sorts of random places around my home and then spring to life while we’re sleeping.


All I know is that clutter multiplies in my house.  It’s always been a problem for me, and I’ve spent years looking for a miracle cure, all to no avail.  Sadly, there is no organization wand I can wave to make clutter disappear and no clutter spray that will kill clutter on my counter top for up to 6 weeks.
Oh, if only…
No, there is only one real way to handle clutter, and that is with a slow, ruthless, systematic approach..."

I'm sharing this week at Hip Homeschool Moms.  Click HERE to read more.






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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Grilled Summer Vegetable Medley


I've been known to fire up the gas grill even in frigid temperatures and falling snow, but when summer weather is in full swing, you better believe I'm all for outdoor cooking!

I especially love the meals I can do almost entirely on the grill, like steaks or chops or even hamburgers, with grilled baked potatoes and maybe a salad with lettuce fresh from our container garden.

And this little grilled vegetable medley is my FAVORITE.  I can actually make a meal of it alone, and yet it is so quick and simple to throw together.

You'll need a disposable metal pan.



You can use a vegetable grill pan of course, but every one I've ever owned was a pain in the neck to clean, so I usually opt for the pans you can toss when you're done.  Lining your grill grate with a couple layers of aluminum foil will work, too, though if you're clumsy like me, the pan does a better job containing the veggies so you aren't hurling them all over your deck when you try to stir.

You can really use whatever mix of fresh vegetables you prefer.  I will use whatever I have on hand, but my favorites are broccoli, red bell pepper, carrots, onion, radishes, and sugar snap peas.

Cut your vegetables into nice, bite-sized pieces and place them in a disposable metal pan.


Are those colors gorgeous or what?

I piled more in this pan than I actually recommend.  I think it's easier to get the vegetables to the perfect crisp-tender, lightly-charred stage when they're in a single layer, but I wanted MORE.  I probably should have used two pans for this many.  The recipe below makes enough for a thick single layer in a 9 x 13 pan.

Stir in about 2 Tablespoons minced garlic.




Yes, you can use garlic powder, but don't stoop to that level.  Please.  And I realize some people will quibble with me using jarred garlic rather than fresh.  Sorry about that, but I have yet to find a garlic press I didn't hate cleaning.  I'm lazy that way.  So I buy the MASSIVE jar of minced garlic.  Because we use A LOT of garlic in this house.

Which probably explains why don't have any vampires around here.  Or friends either, now that I think about it...

Just kidding.

Drizzle your vegetables with 2 Tablespoons olive oil, then dot with 2 Tablespoons butter.  You can do olive oil OR butter and not both, of course, but there is something fabulous in the blending of butter and olive oil flavor, so I really recommend using both.  You can even use coconut oil if you're one of those coconut-oil-is-the-secret-to-total-health people.  I'm more of a bleh-it-tastes-like-coconut person myself.  But whatever.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Stir your vegetables until the garlic and olive oil are mixed in well.  The butter will melt and be distributed as you cook.

Grill your vegetables with the lid closed for 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are tender and showing a light char.




Sprinkle with grated parmesan.  


Adding the parmesan is entirely optional, but why wouldn't you want to?  A hefty sprinkling of cracked black pepper makes it all the better.  But, then again, I put parmesan and cracked black pepper on EVERYTHING.  I even carry it in my purse.  No kidding.  My family thinks I'm weird.  


We generally eat this as a side dish, but add sliced grilled chicken or steak, and you have a fabulous meal.  

Especially this time of year, when good and fresh vegetables are so readily available, this dish is one of my absolute favorites.  And it's pretty guilt-free, too; a side dish filled with vitamins and healthy fats, yet hearty and tasty enough for a meal all by itself!  

So fire up the grill and ENJOY!  






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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Distinctly Kentucky: A Trip to My Old Kentucky Home


Poet Jesse Stuart said, "If these United States can be called a body, then Kentucky can be called its heart."

Geographically speaking, Kansans may have a little something to say about that, but Stuart was a man in love with Kentucky.

And I understand his sentiment.  I love it here, too, though our commonwealth certainly has its issues and don't even get me started on the political system here.

But Kentucky is unique in that it has had to create its own identity in many ways.  The south thinks we're too northern and the north thinks we're too southern, and so Kentucky sits tightly wedged between the two, sometimes a little unsure where it fits itself.

Some Kentuckians, mostly more hip Louisvillians, will try to tell you we're midwestern, which certainly separates us from the northeast, (because no true Kentuckian wants to claim that,) and yet it doesn't clearly identify us as northerners either, which they know would be terribly offensive to most of their fellow Kentuckians.  Because the overwhelming majority in Kentucky will tell you we're southern, which should be obvious considering we're south of the Mason-Dixon line.  Not to mention Kentucky was once a part of Virginia, and of course no one ever questions the 'southernness" of the Old Dominion.

But then there was our wishy-washedness during that little event called the Civil War, where Kentucky tried to stay neutral, which did nothing but divide it from within and earn it the distrust and dislike of both sides.

The south has never fully forgiven us.

The north never wanted to claim us anyway.

And so we sit between the two.  Southern, but not deep south.  One tributary away from Ohio and Indiana and all other things northern.

Just...Kentucky.

My roots run deep here, extending into the mountains and hollows of southeastern Kentucky, where apparently I've had family since this nation was in its infancy.  My parents moved from there to the big city, then later just south to the knobs region, where it's not mountainous and not flat, but somewhere in between.  But they never left Kentucky, except for a time courtesy the U.S. Army.  I left for a while, but came back as quickly as I could.  And I love calling Kentucky home.

Obviously the name of my blog reflects my love for this place and its people, but I will confess I've second-guessed the name selection at least a dozen times and seriously considered changing it more often than that.  But it's been my Hawaii-born, Texas-raised husband who has encouraged me again and again to keep the name.

And I've followed his advice, even as I write about faith and homeschooling and homemaking and lots of other things that don't necessarily have much to do with Kentucky.

But from time to time I have to share something or someplace that is distinct to our beautiful commonwealth.  Because I love it here.  And I love sharing some of the things I love.

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My mother-in-law came in from Texas for a few days last month.  (Actually, they now live just barely over the line in Louisiana.  And I mean barely.  So barely, in fact, that they still tell everyone they're from Texas.  Although that has as much to do with Texas pride as it has to do with the fact they live right at the state line, but I digress.)

We were still hard at work finishing up our school year during her visit, but I wanted to be sure we included at least one field trip while she was in.  It might have been nice to go strawberry picking, but the strawberries weren't in yet.  I really wanted to go somewhere within an hour's drive, someplace distinctly Kentucky.


My Old Kentucky Home State Park was the obvious choice.

It's in Bardstown, Kentucky, which honestly has to be one of the prettiest little towns in all of America.  And it's not just me who thinks so.  Bardstown has been named multiple times among the prettiest small towns in the country by various magazines and travel sites.  It is truly lovely, about 40 miles south of Louisville, and just 15-20 minutes off I-65 if you're ever passing through Kentucky and decide to stop.


Federal Hill was the plantation home of Judge John Rowan, one of Kentucky's earliest Secretaries of State, member of both houses of the U.S. Congress, and representative in the Kentucky assembly.  He was also a distant cousin of songwriter Stephen Foster, who wrote some of the most recognizable American music ever composed, like "Camptown Races", "Oh! Susanna," and "Beautiful Dreamer". Tradition says he wrote the song, "My Old Kentucky Home",  after a visit to Federal Hill in 1852.  It became Kentucky's state song in 1928.

We bought tickets for the home tour.  I've been on the tour several times and I still learn something new every time I go.



Is that not an amazing house?

They don't allow photography inside the house, but it is beautiful inside with a large central hallway and staircase, period decor, and 13-foot ceilings.  Most of the furnishings inside are actual possessions of the Rowan family and original to the house, which is pretty rare for a historic home like this.  There's a gorgeous bookcase with the original rippled glass panes in the doors filled with Judge Rowan's law books and other very old volumes.  There's also a gorgeous pianoforte with mother-of-pearl keys, and a rare baby bed built for the Rowan's twins.  The family's white china and silver set grace the table in the dining room.

My son nearly threw himself down on a lovely settee, a favorite napping spot of President Andrew Jackson on his visits to Federal Hill.  Thank heavens I caught him in time, (my son, not President Jackson,) before he plopped down like it was his couch at home and promptly caused our poor tour guide a heart attack.  The Rowans were pretty important people in commonwealth business and politics, so they entertained other presidents like John Quincy Adams, James Monroe, and Martin Van Buren, as well as men like Henry Clay, Aaron Burr, and one of my kids' favorite revolutionary heroes, the Marquis de Lafayette.

And let me add that I've been for the Christmas tour as well and it was lovely, too.  They decorate the house for Christmas and in the evenings give candlelight tours of the home.  We went during the day, but after the tour they served cookies and hot cider in the kitchen behind the house, which of course was one of my children's favorite parts of the visit.

After this tour we walked down to Judge Rowan's law office.  (Or at least a reproduction of it.)



I forced the kids to sit for a pic.



There's no escaping mom and the camera.

They had fun cranking the old well.




There was a well on each side of the house.  One of them was the source of a cholera outbreak that took place in the midst of a family get-together there at Federal Hill in the summer of 1833.  Eight family members died within a 24-hour period.

And you thought some of your family get-togethers were stressful!

We walked around the back portion of the house which includes the kitchen and smokehouse and is the oldest part of the home there at Federal Hill.  The lovely white doors there open into the carriage house.


The home is actually 2 1/2 stories high and I remember when the tour included a visit to the top floor.  Fire code now limits the tour to the first two stories.  Originally the house was three stories tall with a ballroom on the third floor, but a lightning strike and subsequent fire damaged the house in 1839 and the third story was redesigned and later served as storage and a children's playroom. 

I guess it's okay for kids to be hit by lightning, but not ball guests.

But I digress again.




We strolled through the garden...



And due to a temporary lapse of reason...


I didn't take nearly as many pictures of it as I should have.



But isn't this carriage house the prettiest spot EVER?  This is where I want to do all my writing.  And reading.  But on a nice, comfortable sofa and not that metal bench.  Maybe something like the one Andrew Jackson liked to nap on.  Except less old.  And less expensive.  And less lumpy.

Check out the sundial in the garden.  And, no, it wasn't original to the house.


Can you read that?  Obviously the sun was shining bright on My Old Kentucky Home.

And...wow...the odor of corn mash was STRONG the day we visited.  If you've never smelled it before, prepare yourself, because Bardstown sits in the midst of multiple bourbon distilleries and sometimes that distinct odor, a mix of sour and sweet, wafts through the air with the breeze.  The time of year, the weather, and whichever way the wind is blowing will all affect it, but it was pretty intense that day.  I hadn't smelled it that strong since I was a kid and we used to go fishing in a creek that ran alongside a Jim Beam rackhouse.  Yow!  It'll curl your nose hairs.  I can only imagine what that stuff does to the human liver.

Stephen Foster could probably tell you.  There's a statue of him on the property, near the family cemetery.  And, no, Stephen Foster isn't buried there.


And I don't really know that bourbon was his poison of choice, though apparently he did have problems with alcohol.  His life was pretty tragic actually.  Though many of the songs he wrote were very popular even during his lifetime, he saw little financial gain from their success and, abandoned by his wife and daughter, he died in poverty when he was just 37.  

Doesn't sound like a happy story, huh?

But Bardstown plays host to an amazing outdoor musical, The Stephen Foster Story, which I highly recommend if you're in the area.  We didn't get to go on this trip, (it was May and the show only runs June-August,) but we took our daughter and a friend for her 13th birthday and LOVED it.  It is filled with tunes written by Stephen Foster and you might be surprised how many of them you recognize.  Rain moves the show indoors to a local high school theater, which wound up being the case the night we went, but the venue amplified the singing of the cast in such an amazing way I didn't feel like we missed out on anything, though I had looked forward to seeing it in an outdoor amphitheater.  We hope to see the show again this summer.

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So there you go; A perfect day at My Old Kentucky Home, and a delightful visit to a place that is distinctly Kentucky.  




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