Striving to create a home strong in the foundations of love, respect, and God's truths ...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

GratiTuesday - When Time Stands Still

When I was a little girl, I spent two weeks of several summers with my grandmother, who lived about eight hours away in New Hampshire.  She lived with her husband in a huge, traditional  New England home with many stories, slightly slanty floors, oodles of antiques, and wavy windows - and I loved every minute of it.  I felt quite grown up when she let me help make dinner and took me on an annual overnight trip, usually to someplace that seemed quite fancy to me.

Time has a way of flying, however, and eventually my summer jaunts to New Hampshire stopped - as I finished college and Nana sold the big house and moved back to her hometown in Pennsylvania.  This would seem convenient, only a year later I moved south, finding myself again eight hours from Nana - and the rest of my family.

I didn't mind living so far away, mostly, until my Big Girl was born.  Suddenly I realized how much I wanted to teach her to do all the things that I did as a child, to be close to multiple generations the way that I was - only those family members were far away, many in poor health.  As the children have grown and our situation has changed, we no longer make bimonthly trips to Pennsylvania, making it harder and harder to see my grandparents.

But this past week, we spent nearly a whole week there, and it was great.

My uncle, a truck driver from the midwest, realized that he would be in our home county during the same evening that we would be - and he arranged a meeting at a local truck stop.  My Little Man was quite excited to see a big truck up close and personal, and My Big Girl loved the couch in the back!

We often walked to a duck pond from my childhood home.  I loved feeding the ducks the stale bread Mom would bring along, but there aren't any duck ponds near our southern living quarters.  My Big Girl got quite the kick out of sharing some old Cheerios with these ducks.

As a kid, we visited Hershey Park and Chocolate World every summer.  We hit up Chocolate World on our way back south, and the kids loved seeing how chocolate is made just as much as I always have - and they still give out free chocolate at the end of the tour!

We spent an afternoon at the lake where Nana played as a child, and we had a blast.  Nana said when we returned that she loved that my kids could play where she had so much fun as as a little girl - and I didn't quite get it until ....

I saw them all huddled together on the couch right before we left.  The kids didn't want to leave and they were showing Nana how My Little Man's kiddie camera works.  Suddenly, looking at them there, enthralled in what they were doing, all snuggled up together, it reminded me of being just a bit older than them, curled up on the lounge chair on Nana's wide, screened porch, reading away the afternoon with Nana in her own chair nearby.

Suddenly it seemed as if time were standing still.  As if just yesterday that was me, tucked up near Nana, excitedly showing her something, feeling as if I were just the biggest stuff on the block.

Suddenly it didn't seem to matter that we're so far away.  That my kids get to see my grandparents about as often as I got to see Nana as a child.  Because the time when they are together counts, and they love them and know that they are loved in return.

So today I'm grateful that God can make time seem to stand still.  That He draws us close to Him and to each other through simple things like books and sandy beaches.  That He gives us enough time on this earth to share our stories and connect heart to heart.  I'm grateful that this life isn't about the stuff or the distance or how much time we spend texting each other or who has the biggest, baddest toys.

It's not about the mutlitude of moments, as the saying goes.  It's about the the important ones, and what we do with them.

This week, we spend some important moments with lots of family members, and for just a little bit, time stood still.

For more GratiTuesday, visit Heavenly Homemakers!

To enter my current giveaway, check it out here!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Meal Plan Monday - June 27

We're finally home from our vacation and caught up in the usual whirlwind of laundry and summertime fun.  With all that's going on as we find our way back to our routine, I'm keeping meals pretty simple - and incorporating a few things from our World Tour.  It may not be completely authentic, but it will give us some foreign flavor!

cereal and bananas
whole wheat waffles and canteloupe X2
scrambled eggs and toast
fruit smoothies and granola bars
cinnamon rolls and fruit

Lunches will be our usual assortment of sandwiches and leftovers with cut up veggies and fruit.  One day the kids and I will make Bento boxes for our lunch in honor of our Japanese study.

Whole wheat waffles (I made a double batch for supper while my husband was away, and we have some leftover for breakfasts this week.)
Nacho bar with beef, black beans, lettuce, cheese, and salsa
Grilled chicken, scalloped potatoes, salad
Chicken quesadillas, salad, applesauce
Parmesan potato soup (I know, it's summertime, but I have milk and potatoes to use, and I'm hungry for it.)
Chicken pot pie soup (Again, I know it's summer and hot outside, but my Little Man is asking for it, and it's healthy, so why not?)
Some sort of cookout, most likely burgers, corn, and beans, but whatever's on sale at the market this weekend!

To see my latest giveaway, go here!

For more Meal Plan Monday, visit OrgJunkie!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Saving Money: Photo Shoots

When my children were babies, we had their pictures taken every month for the first year and every few months after that.  We loved watching how much they changed as they grew, and with great coupons available, we got great deals.

Now that the children are older, that's not the case.  They move more, are more expressive, and those generic studio poses just aren't as exciting.  While there are still coupons available, seeing our four- and six-year-old being so still doesn't seem natural.

While browsing friends' Facebook pictures, I realized that a young friend of mine takes great photographs.  Even better, she has wonderful editing skills and good equipment.  Upon further investigation, I found out that this was a hobby for her and a field that she was interested in exploring further.

My friend and I worked together to come up with a plan for a photography session.  Since she has little experience with formal portrait sessions, her rates are more than reasonable - about 15% of what I would pay for a similar session at a professional studio.

In the end, Noelle Hayward Photography was born.  From our hour-long photo shoot, I received a CD with over 50 awesome images of my son AND the copyright license to print them to my heart's content.  Noelle's shingle is now out and she's willing to give others a great deal on photos - at a great price.

If you're wanting professional-grade photos but can't afford the studio fees, be sure to check out high school and college students with great equipment.  Investigate local photography classes for students who show promise, and watch the Facebook photos your friends post - you never know when you'll strike gold.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

GratiTuesday - My Mother-in-Law

This past week we had issues.  I was feeling decidedly under the weather, and with the weather outside being unseasonably gorgeous, we all wanted to be outside.

I figured we'd change our plans and the kids would play independently - which they love to do - when my mother-in-law called unexpectedly and asked to visit.

While at our house, she asked if she could take the kids home with her to play for the afternoon.  The kids love visiting their grandparents.  I wasn't up to hardcore kid play and a from-scratch dinner, so it was truly a win-win situation for our little family - and a complete surprise.

So this week, I'm grateful for family.  I'm grateful for the flexibility to hold off on tasks when I can't get them done and for a family who'd rather I feel better than live dust-free.  I'm grateful for husbands who eat boxed beans and rice without complaining and for children who are happy spending time with family.  I'm grateful for a mother-in-law who's willing to change her plans at the last minute and help me out when I'm not up to par.  

For more GratiTuesday, visit Heavenly Homemakers!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

"Growing Up Amish" by Ira Wagler

Growing Up Amish tells the story of Ira Wagler's early years.  Wagler was born into an Old Order Amish family but felt pulled into the English world from a young age.  Over the course of a decade, Wagler left the church several times, only to return when the guilt of leaving became too much.  This book tells the tale of how he came to make his final decision and the events that affected him along the way.

Wagler's story is fascinating.  I read the entire thing in one sitting because I couldn't wait to find out what would happen next.  His writing style flows well and is easy to read, and he has definitely mastered the art of putting a cliffhanger sentence at the end of each chapter.  Amish customs are explained in a way that makes the story easy to understand when explanations are necessary - without turning the book into a how-to about Amish life.

My only complaint about this book is that it ended too soon.  While the point of the book is to show how and why Wagler chose as he did, it ended without discussing the repercussions of his ultimate choice - something that I feel would have made it stronger.  Some of Wagler's major life decisions since that time also reflect an indomitable will and creative spirit.  Showing how his background affected these choices would have added something special, and this could surely have been done without getting overly personal.

If you have always wanted to know more about the Amish, you will definitely learn more about their trials and their faith from this book.  Wagler's struggle is, of course, well laid out, so you will not get the rosy picture presented in many Amish culture books.  Because this has such a distinct point of view, it may not make the best first introduction to the Amish faith, but it resonates with anyone who has ever struggled to belong or has more than a passing familiarity with the Amish.

I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

DIY Father's Day T-Shirts

With Father's Day rapidly approaching, it's time to be making your gifts!  Here's what we did last year for Daddy (we can't share this year's project since the big day isn't here yet - we don't want him getting wind of our plans!)

Since Daddy needs t-shirts and he's very particular about the ones that he likes, we decided to try making some to meet his specifications.  :-)

First, we bought shirts in good, paintable colors:  charcoal gray and forest green.

Then, I drew the words I wanted on each shirt in solid, block letters with a piece of light-colored chalk.  My Big Girl at 5 was able to handle painting her own words.  (I expected them to be pretty messy, but she did amazingly well.  I guess I didn't give her enough credit!)

I mixed one part acrylic paint with one part fabric medium.  Using a stiff-bristled brush, scrub the paint into the fabric.  (It's a good idea to put an old cookie sheet or piece of cardboard inside the shirt and masking tape it tight to hold it in place before painting.)

When my Big Girl had finished with her words and I had painted my Little Man's, it was time to do their hands.  We used a contrasting color and dipped one hand at a time into the paint, stamped it on the shirt, and then wiped it clean before doing the next one.

My Little Man's hands made a heart, while my Big Girl's just showed the size of her hands.

After drying for several hours, I pressed the shirts with a light iron and then washed them with some salt in cold water.  That sets the paint so it won't fade or wash away.

Voila!  Personalized shirts for Daddy in just a few hours!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

GratiTuesday - Just Past the End

School ended on Friday for our Princess.  She finished kindergarten on a very high note, with awards ceremonies and picnics and parties galore that last week.  The events just kept comin', and we all stayed very busy.

But today was Monday.  With no school.  No other activities.  Nowhere we had to be.

Starting tomorrow, we'll be in our summertime routine, with playgroups and field trips and all sorts of summer stuff.

Today, though, we just enjoyed being together - at home.

God gave us a beautiful, sunny, clear day with low temperatures and humidity, and we took advantage of it.

Buckets and the hose called to the kids.  It's amazing what they can do with a few cups of water.

Despite the fabulous play set that my Wonderful Husband and my dad built the kids, their favorite place to play is under it.  Today, as per my Little Man's construction tendencies, they made "cement" in their buckets.

Good thing they don't like to get dirty.

When I wasn't looking directly at the kids - which I was, often - or my book, my view tended to be something like this ...

because I was looking from right here!  My Wonderful Husband got the hammock put up recently, and we've all been enjoying the views - and the downtime.

So, today, I'm grateful for happy children and water buckets.  I'm grateful for siblings who want to play together and are content to turn the most basic of playthings into the grandest of creations.  I'm grateful for blue skies and sturdy hammocks and good stories.  I'm grateful for the "newness" of togetherness and activities that summertime brings, but for now, I'm grateful that we're just past the end of the craziness and that God has built in this break for us.  That He gives us time simply to 'be' before we have to begin anything new.

Join us for more GratiTuesday over at Heavenly Homemakers!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Menu Plan Monday - June 13, 2011

Summer vacation has begun!  We're looking forward to some time in the pool this week, as well as a field trip to a museum and some extra baking for the freezer with the forecasted cooler-than-normal temps, so it's going to be a doozy!

Cereal and fruit X2
Yogurt parfaits with fruit and homemade granola
Scrambled eggs and toast
Amish baked oatmeal and fruit X2

Lunches will be our usual assortment of leftovers, sliced veggies, and sandwiches ....

Appelfpannkuchen for our unit about Germany - recipe from Emeril's Around the World kids' cookbook - more about this unit coming later today
Dinner out for our field trip
Grilled chicken, grilled new potatoes, baked corn
Grilled brats, leftover corn, carmelized peppers and onions, salad
Leaving for vacation!  The rest of our meals this week will be on the road.  :-)

I'm planning to make these things to take along with us:

And for my dad for Father's Day, so that he has some quick and healthy breakfasts and lunches in the freezer (sshhh, don't tell him!):
Chicken enchiladas
Rice and bean burritos

The kids and I make an ice cream cake for my husband for Father's Day every year.  I'll post the recipe for that when we return from our trip!

For more Menu Plan Monday, visit OrgJunkie!

PS - Enter here to win a copy of Kristen Heitzmann's newest work, Indelible.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Monkey See, Monkey Do ... Banana Cream Pie

Tuesday was our anniversary, and the kids were very excited about the whole thing.  My Wonderful Husband had recently asked for a banana cream pie, and we decided to surprise him with one after dinner that night.

Generally speaking, I like to make things from scratch, but it's always helpful to have a few shortcut-ready items around the house.  I never cheat on real piecrust, but on the graham cracker kind ... I can't tell the difference between the from-scratch and ready-made varieties.  With a pudding base, that makes this a perfect pie for kids to make!

I showed my Big Girl how to hold a knife and slice a banana.  (Before you panic, this was a special table/butter knife designed for kids that had absolutely no sharp edges or serrated pieces anywhere.  She couldn't have cut herself unless she fell off the roof and landed on it.)  She was so proud of herself for learning how to do this!  One banana is usually enough to cover the bottom crust, but if you like lots of 'naners, do another!

Next, my Little Man used a short-handled whisk to stir up the pudding.  We used your basic sugar-free banana cream flavor.  He loves doing this!

Tip for making pudding with younger children:  Put the pudding mix and milk in a small, lightweight bowl with a tighth-sealing lid.  While standing over a non-carpeted floor, allow them to dance and shake the container.  You'll soon have pudding, and they'll have helped without the stress of trying to keep it in the bowl!

After the pudding begins to thicken, I poured it gently over the bananas and we chilled it for a few minutes before moving on.

My Big Girl then smoothed on some whipped cream, and voila!  You've got fresh-tasting banana cream pie without the fuss - and it's kid-friendly to boot.  With knives, wire tools, and mounds of fluffy white goodness, what kid wouldn't want to help make this??

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"Money Secrets of the Amish" by Lorilee Craker

Lorilee Craker was your typical Michigan soccer mom until the recession hit - and it hit her family.  During a period of Extreme Thrift, as she calls it, she learned that the Amish were thriving financially despite the poor economy, and she determined to learn their secrets.  This book details what she learned and how she's applying it in her own family.

Craker's writing style is simple and humorous.  She sketches word pictures in your mind that are just plain funny and adds asides to point them out.  While I feared that a money book would be monotonous and boring, this book was anything but - I couldn't wait to finish it!  As a girl who grew up in a frugal farming family and in an Amish area, I felt that many of the tips Craker shared were basic, but they were explained well.  The examples she told of her Englischer friends using these tips detail how we can make these work in our lives, even in a more secular society.  Really, who wouldn't want to know how a farmer with 14 children is able to bank $400,000?

The best part of this book is that it's not meant to be a quick-fix-then-forget-about it-solution to your current money issues, but a way of life that's honoring to both God and His creation.  That message stands out in each chapter.  Need to get your family on board with that idea, too?  Read Chapter 7 - Craker plans for everything.

For anyone wanting to simplify their lifestyle and focus on what is really important in life, Money Secrets of the Amish is a must-read.

I received this book free from BookSneeze in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

GratiTuesday - A Short Walk

Eight years ago today, on a rainy day in Ferguson Valley, I went for a little walk with my dad.  It looked something like this ...

and ended here ...

It wasn't very long before we had moved to make room for this gift ...

and then only 25 months later,

we had a pair.

Since then, there have been times when we feel like this ...

and others when it seems like life has thrown a few sweet potatoes our way ...

but, as God promises, He is working all things together for our good.

Now, we're more like this ...

and like this, and that keeps us pretty busy.  We're okay with that.

(But this past weekend, to celebrate this eight-year anniversary, my husband surprised me with a child-free weekend at the beach.  I'm okay with that, too.)

So today, I'm grateful for my husband, who still looks for little ways to surprise me.  I'm grateful for eight years with him and all that it's brought us.  I'm grateful for the time that we still have - may it be lots and lots more eights - and all that those years will bring, good times and not-so-good, because we grow closer together through it all.  I'm grateful for that little walk I went on eight years ago that so changed my life - I can't imagine life without my Wonderful Husband beside me.

For more GratiTuesday, visit Heavenly Homemakers!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Menu Plan Monday - June 6, 2011

We've been away away for the past two weekends, and so we've missed the produce stand at the local flea market.  Without this source of fresh, inexpensive produce, I've decided to avoid buying any produce this week and use what I can find left in the pantry and freezer.  I'll tuck aside any extra money I can save for food on an upcoming trip.  :-)

cereal and bananas (fruit already on hand)
yogurt parfaits with homemade granola and blueberries
applesauce bread X 2
scrambled eggs and toast X2
pancakes, fruit, and whipped cream

Lunches will be our usual sandwiches and leftovers.

Grab it and Growl (Whatever You can Find)
Chicken parmesan and noodles with spinach
Meatball subs in homemade rolls with Guilty Good Green Beans and applesauce
Hamburgers, steamed carrots and broccoli
Mac'n'cheese and cucumbers
Chicken fajitias with grilled chicken and carmelized peppers and onions, rice

For extras, and to celebrate the end of the school year:
ice cream sandwiches (see pic above)

For more Menu Plan Mondays, visit OrgJunkie!

Check out my latest giveaway here!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Quick and Healthy Stir Fry

This stir fry is something that our whole family enjoys.  With whole grain rice and lots of veggies, it's very healthy and low in fat.  My Little Man, who is not yet a Chinese food fan, can eat this and not be overwhelmed by strong flavors (that's his bowl in the picture - mine had more in it!).  Best of all, it comes together very quickly.

1/2 - 1 lb. lean meat - chicken or steak, cut into strips or bite-sized pieces
4 c. prepared whole grain rice
2 bags of Birds' Eye Steamfresh Asian medley veggies
a few tablespoons of teriyaki sauce
dash of olive oil

1.  Prepare rice according to package directions.
2.  Cook the meat in a hot pan with just a dash of olive oil.  Stir until cooked through, then sprinkle liberally with teriyaki sauce.  Reduce heat and cover.
3.  While the meat is working, pop one bag of veggies in the microwave at a time to steam.  (While I usually prefer to prep my own veggies, I tried these once after stumbling upon an amazing sale - and they're really good!  Now, when the price drops, I stock up - and when life gets crazy and I need a veggie for dinner, I have a variety of quick options.)  Leave closed until ready to serve.
4.  Add rice to the meat and toss to add a light coating of teriyaki to the veggies.
5.  To serve, add some rice to each plate and spoon meat and veggies overtop.  Voila!

We like to serve this with egg rolls - yum!

**Be sure to check out my latest giveaway!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"Indelible" by Kristen Heitzmann - and a GIVEAWAY!

Trevor McDaniel is a former Olympian who risked his life to save a toddler from a mountain lion - and gained an unlikely admirer in the process.  A prodigious artist, Natalie deals with her eidetic mind the best way she knows how - even though it puts her life in danger - and is the toddler's aunt.  Trevor and Natalie see sparks when thrown together - but will things change when Natalie suddenly is given care of her still-recovering nephew?  When pictures of children in danger from across the nation begin showing up in Trevor's mailbox - and then mysterious dangers show up in Redford - can police chief Jonah Westfall piece together the connection to Trevor before a child - or someone Trevor loves - ends up dead?

Indelible is a fantastic suspense that explores the mysteries of the mind while surviving real life in the physical world.  Heitzmann draws the reader in and keeps them engaged through an ever-expanding cast of characters, each with a curious role in the plot.  Indelible follows Indivisible, another book set in Redford, but is not a typical sequel.  Both books could be read independently with no problems, but because the character set overlaps, a depth is added to the story that would be difficult to add otherwise.

Heitzmann writes from the perspective of both admirer and Trevor, demon and archangel.  She explores perspective in an interesting way - are things ever what they seem?  Is anyone absolutely anything?  Can people be black and white?  How much of a role do circumstances play in what we become, and how can we overcome them?

I've read many of Heitzmann's other books, and I've loved them all.  Indelible did not disappoint.  Once begun, I could not put it down - and so I highly recommend this book and look forward to the next.

Shall we see more of Redford?  I hope so.

*I received a free copy of Indelible from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

Want to read an excerpt of Indelible?  Find one here.  For other information or to order this book, click here.

Giveaway News ...

I have an extra copy of Indelible that I'll send out to someone ready delve into the minds of Trevor, Natalie, and their nemesis.  Want to win it?  Here's what you do.  You can earn one entry into the drawing for each step below; please leave a separate comment telling me what you've done.  The drawing will close on Tuesday, June 29th.

1.  Rate this review.  
2.  Become a follower of A Nest in the Rocks and leave a comment saying you've done so.
3.  Share about this giveaway on Facebook.

Books won can be mailed to addresses within the United States only.  I'm sorry for any inconvenience.

**  My Big Helper chose a comment number for this giveaway, and she chose #3.  Congratulations, Tonya!