Sunday, December 31, 2017

Goodbye, 2017

I am not one to wish time away. I have remained patient. But wow, I am glad to see 2017 go.

This has been a hard year for many of the people close to me. They're suffering with loss, illness, job instability, and financial concerns. They're questioning what, and when, and how, and why.

There has been beauty there, too, of course, in the form of sweet little babies, and new and rekindled friendships, and good health, and so many other provisions. Those are not taken for granted. But the consensus is that we're ready for a new start.


"Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it yet." - L.M. Montgomery

The fact that tomorrow is January 1 doesn't mean that things will be different automatically. But it does bring new promise, and new hope.

Many of us see this as a time to start over in one way or another. Last year, I shared with you how I planned to be more intentional with my screen time in 2017 by focusing on the task at hand and cutting out my digital sources of stress. You can read the specifics of how I did it here, and based on my own outcome, I urge you to consider doing the same.

That one was easy; I knew it needed to happen, and the changes yielded immediate positive results. This December, I find myself unable to choose just one or two goals for myself for 2018. It's not that I don't have ideas--it's that I have too many. And I'm not going to weigh myself down with a laundry list of things to change, all in a day, as that's a proven recipe for failure.

So, for now, while I continue to search for that area of personal growth which will enrich my own life, I'm turning my attention outward. To my family, and my friends, and my community. This year CAN be better. But it won't be better on its own. People will have to do their part.

Whether or not you're the resolution-setting type, I urge each person reading this to find at least one way that you can contribute to the place you live in the new year. No matter where you are, there are opportunities to be a helper to somebody. It may be someone you know who is going through a difficult time and just needs to sit with you and a cup of coffee and talk. It may be someone you've never met to whom you serve a meal at a soup kitchen. You might find that you can assist with an after-school program, or at the library, or in a sports league. You may stock shelves at a food bank, or donate your photography skills to the animal shelter, or invest some time playing card games with residents at a nursing home. What you choose might take you out of your comfort zone, but it could brighten someone else's day and potentially change their outlook on life. And it may bless you in ways you'd never expect.

Here we are, looking at a fresh tomorrow. Let's do our best to make it a Happy New Year. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

4 Halloween Goodies That Aren't Candy

I know, I know... part of the joy of trick-or-treating on Halloween is the candy. I am not disagreeing, here. I am not suggesting that everyone give up passing out candy--our neighborhoods would probably experience tiny riots if we did! But what I am suggesting is that while your neighbors hand out the Snickers and the Lemonheads and the Reeses and the Twizzlers, you might consider taking a non-candy route to include some of the kiddos who are out for the fun with their friends and family and who may have to hand over their full stash at the end of the evening for their own safety.


Whether we realize it or not, we probably all have friends--or children of friends--with dietary restrictions. And whether those are due to allergies, or sensitivities, or preferences, they're there. Here are five fun non-food items you can hand out to trick-or-treat-ers.

1. Glow Sticks
What kid doesn't like glow sticks (and necklaces and bracelets)? You can crack them for use right there on the spot and they can be enjoyed for the evening. They also add a layer of protection for kids walking the dusky and dark streets. You can find them at the Dollar Tree.

2. Stickers
Again, stickers are great! You can find a variety of styles and characters just about anywhere. Dollar Tree and Dollar General are my favorite places to look for them.

3. Temporary Tattoos
Check the party favor section of any general store for temporary tattoos. I know you can find a variety, from popular characters to symbols, and Pip thinks they're great.

4. Bubbles
Also available in the party favor section of general stores--including dollar stores--tiny bottles of bubbles are fun for kids of the trick or treating age.

Additional note: please do not mix your inedible goodies with your candy. Contact allergies may prevent children from even touching them if they've been in a bowl with, say, something that contains peanuts.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Favorite Sale: Gap

I visit Opry Mills Mall in Nashville, Tennessee, several times per year. I enjoy the hustle and bustle, especially around the holidays, but I also enjoy the sale and clearance prices I find in several of their stores year round. Gap Factory Outlet is one of those stores.

On my most recent trip, I found four fun leggings--a matching set for Pip and her cousin, and two additional pair of warm winter leggings for Pip--for a fraction of a fraction of their original cost. Not only were they marked WAY down, but the entire store was an additional 50% off that day (it hadn't been advertised, but I happened to come in on just the right day!). 

Even at outlet stores, I remain focused and go straight for the clearance section. (Unless you're looking for something really specific, this is the best way to make your money work for you!) These leggings were originally $16.99, $16.99, $26.99, and $26.99 for a total of $87.96. They're cute, but you have got to be kidding me.


With the markdowns on top of markdowns, and with the entire store marked down even more, I paid $6.40 plus tax for all four pair. Win! I know they'll serve us well because I've purchased Gap clothing, new and used, for the kiddo since she was born. They wash and wear nicely.


You'll see on the receipt that I paid with a Gap Credit account. I previously wrote a little about that store card (you can read about some of my Old Navy deals here), and how I used it to earn rewards and paid it off every month. Well, since making this purchase, we have paid off and closed this store account. I was resistant to doing it at first, because those rewards (however sparse) were fun, but it's been freeing. It's one less thing to keep up with and worry about!

Do you have a favorite factory or outlet store near you? What is one of the best buys you've gotten there?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Great Deals at Kroger

Although I've found myself shopping at locally owned grocery stores more and more recently--more on that later--I still stop by Kroger once or twice a week. Kroger is where I buy the majority of our gluten free luxury items like bread and waffles, and it's where I usually get the best price on lactose free milk and pre-made hummus.

My favorite part of shopping at Kroger, though, is the manager's specials. If you know where to look and what to look for, you can find some real bargains.

First, I explore the produce department.

Our store, and I assume many others, has a "reduced prices" rack. Any produce that's considered misshapen, undersize, oversize, or overripe is bagged up and placed here. These bags sell for $0.99 apiece. Sure, some of it may appear a bit questionable at times; don't buy that. But often, I find several days or a week's worth of fresh produce here for a fraction of the cost of the rest of the department.


After checking here, I walk the perimeter of the produce department, specifically checking the coolers, looking for "woohoo!" tags. These typically signify a 50% savings on pre-cut, pre-washed, and prepared produce items including fruit and veggie trays, fresh salsas, and salads.

Second, I cruise the meat department.

Meats that are marked to sell quickly are not localized, but rather spread throughout the coolers. I scan the section as I'm walking, again, looking for "woohoo!" stickers. In our store, this extends along the back wall from fresh seafood to packaged breakfast meats, with fresh and packaged beef, poultry, and pork in between. It's rare that I find nothing marked down and worth taking home to cook or freeze within the next day or two.

Third, I scope out the dairy department.

I don't find too many "woohoo!" items here that we actually eat, but I always check. Milk, yogurt, and eggs are occasionally priced to move.


Fourth, I head to the bakery and deli.

There's a special rack for marked-down baked goods--which I check for Chris--and then I check through the coolers. Hummus, salsa, specialty cheeses, and fancy lunch meats are stocked in this area, and we consume all of that. Especially when I find a deal on it.

Finally, I swing through the clearance table and aisle. 

Sometimes our store has a table set up near the self-checkout area, and other times the "Great Deal" dry goods are in the laundry detergent aisle. But either way, I stop by and see if there are any canned or boxed goods that we use, marked down.

I can be through the store in 20 minutes when I focus on these key areas, and purchase quality groceries for a fraction of their regular cost. When I get home with everything, I make my meal plan based on what fresh items I've got and what is already in the pantry.

Do you shop at more than one grocery store? I'd love to hear how you stretch your grocery budget!

Friday, October 6, 2017

10-Minute Project: Clean Out the Glovebox

Pip and I recently cleaned out the car. While she was going through the many books that had accumulated in the back seat, I organized the glove box. I knew it was a horrible jumble of useful and unimportant items before I started, because the last time I had opened it looking for a straw, I ended up spilling half the contents onto the floor and then scrambling to cram it all back in at our next stop.

To avoid such an event in the future, I put back only what I thought was necessary this time. Here's what went back in:


There were so many other things in there, though, that I had added at one point or another, thinking that they may come in handy. They didn't make it back into the glove box, but they did find a new home in a plastic baby wipe container in the trunk with our jumper cables and other emergency supplies. Although I can't reach them from the driver's seat, they're with us if we need them.


Am I missing anything? What else do you keep in your vehicle in case of an emergency?

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

My Favorite Planner

Every October, I purchase my planner for the coming calendar year. This week, for the fifth or sixth year in a row, I ordered the Orange Circle Studio 17-Month Do It All Planner. I found it on Amazon years ago, and it fits all my parameters for a book that truly keeps me organized. There are additional features that I don't use, like stickers and pages to list birthdays and important dates, but here's what I appreciate about it.

- It contains monthly overviews.

I use these for quick glances at how the month falls and to lay out long-term goals that require multiple steps. Bonus: this is a 17 month planner, so it includes August 2017 through December 2018, and you can use it following the school year or the calendar year or use all 17 months, whichever suits you best.


- Weekly views are the bulk of the book. 

There are 6 separate rows you can use to organize the schedules of different people or different areas of your life. I reevaluate what those rows will represent every four to six months, as priorities and responsibilities change. These could be assigned to individuals in your household, budgeting, meal planning, chores, work, hobbies, travel details, goals; you name it! Right now, I use the big one for my general obligations, appointments, and household responsibilities including dinner plans; one for Pip's activities; one for Chris's schedule; one for volunteer responsibilities; one for our comics business; and one for the blog.

I much prefer breaking down the days by person or area to breaking them down by time. Planners that have every 30 minutes documented may be great for some, but they stress me out.


Because you may be wondering, I'll note right here that I keep our homeschool records in a completely different place. It has evolved somewhat for second grade, but you can see my method for first grade here.

- It's small enough to tuck into any bag I'm carrying.

And it's a good thing, too, because without it, I feel rather lost.


- It's affordable. 

I ordered my 2018 planner from Amazon for less than $11. There are different fun covers and the prices vary slightly, but I don't recall ever seeing any version of this planner listed for more than $18.

Do you use a paper planner, or do you keep up with appointments and obligations digitally? What is your favorite way to stay organized?

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Make the Memories

Last year, Danu, a traditional Irish ensemble, played a concert at our local performing arts center. I entered a contest to win two tickets, and when I did, I asked my mom to come with me.

Mom loves learning about her ancestors: where they were from, what they were like, why they moved from place to place, and so on. We have Irish heritage, and I had many times heard Celtic music playing in our home. I was sure she would thoroughly enjoy the performance.

She did go with me, and the concert was incredible. I don't think I ever stopped smiling. I don't think either of us did.

When it was over, and we were talking about how wonderful the entire experience had been--how we had felt the music in our bones--Mom said something unexpected. She said, "This was a dream come true."

"Really?" I was taken aback. I knew she had had a good time. But a dream come true?

Mom answered that yes, it was. Although she appreciates the beauty of the world, she has little desire to travel far from her home. She had never expected to hear an authentic Irish band in person. And yet, here she had been, toe-tapping along with an incredible one, not 15 feet away, for nearly two hours.

In that moment, I was grateful that I had won the tickets, and that we had gone to the show. But I was also struck--hard--by the fact that I hadn't made plans to take my mom to the concert sooner. I hadn't planned to go otherwise. Which means I wouldn't have taken Mom to that show. And we wouldn't have heard that Irish folk music together without leaving our little city. And we would have missed this opportunity to fulfill one of her dreams, perhaps without even realizing it. All because I casually decided not to buy tickets which, in hindsight, weren't even very expensive.

I say all this to encourage you to take every opportunity you've got to make memories with the people you love.

You can learn more about the band that we both adored so much by visiting their website.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Baked September

Although today is the first day of autumn, and yesterday it was 100 degrees in our little patch of western Kentucky, our family has embraced the rhythm of fall for several weeks now. Spontaneous travel is done for at least a while, and Pip and I have found our way back to many school year activities. Chris is back in the studio full time, and we're starting to talk about Halloween and birthdays and the holidays beyond.

This dinner happened by accident. It was a concoction of reduced-price veggies and a manager's special kielbasa (read: items that better be used today). It turned out to be a balanced marriage of fresh summer flavors and comforting cool-weather foods. It was so easy. And inexpensive. And pretty. And all it left was a single dish plus a cutting board and knife to clean.


I layered the following ingredients in a 9x13 glass baking dish, covered with foil, and baked at 400 degrees for 50 minutes. 

2 large potatoes, cubed
3 small zucchinis, sliced
3 medium carrots, sliced
1 1/2 cups mushroom caps and stems
1 kielbasa, sliced
1/2 a purple onion, sliced in rings
drizzle of olive oil
generous sprinkle of Italian seasoning
light sprinkle of kosher salt

I called it "Baked September" because it felt like a bridge between summer and fall, much like our September seems to be. I offered a salad and some sliced tomatoes on the side, but no one took me up on it. We all just got second helpings of this instead.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Don't Toss Those Plastic Lids

Every day, I make efforts to throw away as little as possible. If something can be re-purposed or recycled, I'd much rather do that than send it to the landfill.

I have recently found a useful destination for plastic lids!


West Broadway Elementary School in Madisonville, Ky, collects plastic lids of all kinds. When they have enough of them, those lids are shipped to a company that turns them into fixtures of the students' choice for the school; I have visited recently and I've seen a bench and a trash can created from their efforts. 

You do not have to have a child in school there to contribute to their collection. They would appreciate your contribution. They take plastic lids from all kinds of bottles and jars, including but not limited to milk, juice, water, and peanut butter. Call the office at 270-825-6036 for details.

This leads me to think that other schools and organizations in other places do the same thing. No matter where you're located, please consider finding a place that will reuse those lids!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

5 Reasons I Adore Our Center for the Arts

The Fall 2017 Season at the Glema Mahr Center for the Arts--a beautiful performing arts venue in Madisonville, Kentucky--has been announced. There are eleven scheduled performances, and it's a great season lineup!

There's so much more to the Glema than one sees in the brochure, though. In addition to the amazing talents that are brought to our little city, here are five reasons I adore the Glema.


- They support community theater.
Twice a year, the Glema hosts community productions. In recent years, one has been a musical and one has not; there have been comedies, dramas, and dinner theater settings. And, not only do we get great theater, but we also get the fun of recognizing some of the performers.

- They host local high school productions.
I remember staging high school drama club productions in the gym, in the cafeteria, and in the lobby. We certainly made memories to last a lifetime, but the year we got into that auditorium... well, I can't speak for the audience, but for those of us on stage, it was magical. I've had the pleasure of attending the last few high school productions here, and I've been impressed by the dedication of the students and the quality of their performances.

Along those same lines, the Glema is also utilized by a variety of local organizations for band and choral concerts, dance recitals, graduations, presentations, conferences, workshops, and more.

- Education is a priority.
Periodically throughout the school year, daytime shows geared for young audiences are available for school groups to attend. In the past couple of years, these have included a variety of subjects from a bright and cheerful version of Alice in Wonderland to a heart-wrenching rendition of John Henry, and from a modern dance spectacle to Julius Caesar. These events are open to homeschooling families as well, and admission is less than a typical evening performance. I have shared how we utilize the fine arts center in our homeschool before; if you're interested, you can read that here.

Their Summer Arts Academy allows students ages kindergarten through high school--along with their peers--to learn more about many aspects of the stage, from auditions and rehearsals to choreography, costuming, and performance. Their time on campus--two weeks for middle and high school students and one week for elementary school students--culminates with a full stage production that is free and open to the public. The cost of the day camp is affordable, and tuition assistance is available.

- Ticket prices are affordable.
After living in bigger cities like Nashville and Atlanta, I was bowled over when I saw ticket prices for some of the shows at the Glema. Five dollars? Really?! Of course, admission to some performances is more (I think I've seen up to $40 myself), but there are many shows in the $5-$20 range, and discounts are frequently available for children, students, seniors, and groups. Side note: I know I've said it before, but I think tickets to a live performance make a great, clutter-free gift that comes with bonus memories to last a lifetime.

- It's not just for performing arts.
There's an expansive gallery in the front of the building that is open during their regular business hours. There is no permanent collection, but rather a rotating display. Sometimes the artists are local--including an annual student show sponsored by a local civic organization--and sometimes they're not. Admission is free.

Honestly, I could go on and on. I love this place. My family frequents the Glema, and if you're in the area, I encourage you to check out all that this beautiful facility and its wonderful people have to offer. If you're not sure where to start, visit their website--or, better yet, stop by the box office--to learn more about the Fall 2017 lineup!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Podcast: Classics for Kids


Last week, I was introduced to Classics for Kids, a service of Cincinnati Public Radio. A fellow homeschooling mom shared the link with me and said she was using it to teach her kiddos about composers this year. I said I would look it up, and I am sure glad that I did!

One composer is featured each month. There are four 6-minute episodes about that composer, each rich in information and set to samples of his music.

Additionally, the website has a printable worksheet about each composer; multiple ways to look up composers (alphabetically, by country, by period, or on a timeline); several online games such as note naming, rhythm matching, and music composition; lesson plans and resources for more information; and loads more.

This is an engaging--and free--resource if you want to introduce classical music into your home or homeschool. Pip really enjoys it, and I do too!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Homeschooling Second Grade

At long last, I have gathered up the basic materials Pip and I are going to use this year for second grade. For fall, anyway. As always, we'll re-evaluate as we go. There are some online resources we'll utilize, too, but here's the core of our education bookshelf.


- First Steps in Music Theory, Improve Your Theory!, and Improve Your Aural! to accompany music lessons
- Liberty's Kids DVD, The American Revolution for Kids, and Professor Noggin's American Revolution game
- Learning Language Arts Through Literature, The Red Book
- 13 Artists Children Should Know
- Singapore Math Primary Mathematics 1B (to be followed by 2A)
- Science in the Ancient World
- Handbook of Nature Study

Here's a closer look at the Learning Language Arts Through Literature curriculum; it utilizes a handful of its own readers and then an array of other children's books.


In addition to what we do at home, and our once-a-week co-op, Pip will sing in a children's choir, continue music lessons, and stay in gymnastics class. We've also found out that our local 4-H chapter, previously open to 4th-12th graders, is offering a new club for younger students, so we're going to check that out.

Second grade is looking like a lot of fun!

Friday, August 18, 2017

It's About Time

I used to arrive on time for things. Early, even. I knew that if I was cutting it close on time, I would be frazzled, no matter where I was going. I valued my time, and I assumed everyone else did, too. The old adage that "if you're on time, you're late," resonated heavily with me.

Then, I became a mom, and along with my new role I became perpetually late. Whether it was a result of not getting enough sleep, or underestimating how long it would take to get a baby/then toddler/then child ready to get out the door, or seemingly urgent things that occurred right as we were trying to leave the house, it became a daily struggle. 

From the beginning, I had the luxury of working from home, and I have always had the pleasure of educating at home, so it's not like we were rolling into school or jobs late. But story time at the library, play dates, classes, birthday parties, you name it: late, late, late, late, late.

Despite the stress that lateness caused me, I never got that groove back. Even now, almost eight years into my parenthood journey, Pip and I arrive nearly everywhere squealing in sideways, at the last minute. Or two minutes late. Or more. It stresses me out every time. Rushing into her gymnastics class as the students are already starting their warm-up equals stress. Running to the car to head to co-op when I know the announcements are already starting equals stress. Knowing we might miss a game or activity because we didn't get ourselves together in time to be present at the beginning of a party equals stress.


Well, we recently and accidentally arrived at one of our commitments early. It was not lost on me how calm we both were and how much we enjoyed the event. So the next day, I decided we'd shoot for early arrival for another commitment. We made it, and it was great. And so we did it again. And again. Our calm, easy arrivals were setting the tone for our entire experience. And it was wonderfully pleasant.

I don't know why I'm just realizing this now, after so many years, but being early is worth it to me. I am determined to arrive early, going forward, as often as is possible. Not only will that lend itself to calmer days for us now, but I hope it will instill in Pip the same respect for time--hers and other people's--that I felt as a teen and a young adult, and that I'm rediscovering now.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Easy Summer Veggie (and Sausage) Dinner

Fresh zucchini and squash are abundant in our region right now, and I was gifted some of this delicious produce this week. Tossed together with a few items I had in my kitchen already, they made an easy and hearty meal!


First I washed, sliced, and quartered one large zucchini and one large squash and spread them in a glass 9x13 baking dish. I washed and cubed a couple of medium potatoes and added them to the mix. I sliced a precooked kielbasa and scattered it over the top. Then I drizzled the entire dish with olive oil and sprinkled with kosher salt and an Italian herb seasoning mix. I covered with foil and baked at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Next time I will wait to add the sausage at the last 15 or 20 minutes, as it plumped up a little more than I would have preferred. But the house smelled great while it was cooking, and it tasted wonderful! We'll enjoy this simple one-dish dinner again.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Supporting a Grieving Friend

Last week, someone very dear to me passed from this earth. The outpouring of love from family, friends, and our community was comforting in the moment, and even more special when I stepped back to recall all the ways that people had stepped in to take care of us.

There are meaningful and powerful things you can do to support your friends and loved ones through a loss. Here are a few that I saw in action in recent days. (I'm going to say "friend" but please exchange that word for "family member," "colleague," or anyone else you may support through the loss of a loved one.)



- Bring drinks.
We live in Kentucky, where it is customary to bring food to the family. It's a wonderfully generous thing to do, because friends and relatives may be coming from near and far, and no one really wants to be preparing meals during that time. But meals--and time spent together--require beverages. Whether that's bottled water, canned drinks, gallons of tea, or something stronger, drinks--and the cups to go with them--can be very useful, especially for a large family.

- Offer child care.
The kids are experiencing a loss, too. But they're still kids and they need to be able to play. Providing a safe place for the children, whether it's in the same house or elsewhere, gives the adults time to make arrangements, or just take a breather during which they're responsible for no one else. Providing an optional child care area during visitation and/or the memorial service also helps the adults, who want to focus on their own time of reflection and who may need to greet the guests coming to share their in their grief and show their support.

- Do the "work."
Whether it's transporting out of towners to and from the airport or cleaning up the kitchen during and after a family meal, these are tasks that must be managed. If you can handle them and free up the family for other things, even if that's just spending time together, it's a gift.

- Be there.
Whether this is in person, as a phone call, with a handwritten card, through a note on social media, or via a text message, let your friend know that you're thinking about them, or praying for them, or honoring the memory of their loved one in some way. If the memorial service is open to the public, and you feel compelled to attend, do. And if not, that's ok, too. But, somehow, let your friend know that you acknowledge their loss. It's there whether you discuss it or not, and a kind word can mean so much.

- Follow up.
The loss in my family is too new, so this one hasn't happened, yet. But I know it's going to be important in the coming weeks and months. After the flurry of activity has calmed, when the out of town friends and family have returned home and the house is quieter than it was before, reach out. Give your friend a call or send them a text to let them know you're thinking about them. Stop by to say hello. Invite your friend to coffee, or a meal, or an event. Don't be upset if they decline your first invitation, or your second. Don't be pushy, but keep asking. Remember that although the service may be behind them, the lack of this person in their life is ever present.

We all experience loss at some point. Holding each other up during such a time is a wonderful way to show our friends how important they are to us.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

One Year Later

Today it's been exactly one year since my first blog post. It was about making the outside of our rental house feel more like home, while spending as little as possible. You can view that full post hereTo mark this occasion, I want to share a few things that I have learned over the past year.

1. Roses of Sharon enjoy morning sunlight. They also seem to prefer being together over being scattered around the yard.

Here's what they looked like last spring, immediately following relocation, and what they look like now after a year together on the east end of our house.





2. Sometimes it's better to let things go.

I had originally attempted to give purpose to a funny little 10'x10' raised bed in the middle of the back yard--that's where the dollar store seed packets were utilized last spring--but when a huge rain washed its somewhat rotten wooden beams out of place, we just razed the entire bed and now Pip has a wide open space in which to play. Because of its placement, that bed always looked weird to me. Although I was hesitant to tear it down at first, I now much prefer that area open.

3. Forsythia are hearty.

Here's a comparison of new growth last year, right after they had been pruned and pulled from another yard, and this year, where they've enjoyed afternoon sun on the west end of our house.They didn't bloom this year, but I'm hopeful for next spring.
























4. I did not inherit my grandfather's green thumb.

With the exception of one knock out rose, nothing else has thrived--or even survived--in our yard. Although there have been times that was a little discouraging--like when I had to dig up three dead holly bushes and a withered lilac--it also has given me permission to further simplify the lawn. I have realized that I'd rather have nothing (besides grass) than have things that look sad or strangely placed.

5. This lawn is a work in progress.

My desire to make the front of the house more welcoming--to up its curb appeal--is not to impress others. It's so that when I come home, it brings me joy. It still doesn't feel as cheerful as I would like; the front of the house is sparse. But there's no rule that it has to be done in a day, or even a year. With a budget of practically zero, I am content to let things unfold as they may.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Homeschool Planning: Second Grade

Ever since our co-op hosted its annual book sale in May, I've had next year's plans on my mind. I know there are plenty of wonderful boxed home learning sets out there that cover multiple subjects, but I am not drawn to that idea, for now, anyway. So, one day last week, while Pip was feeling under the weather and enjoying a Netflix movie marathon, I sat with her and pulled up the list of Kentucky requirements, added some subjects that are important to us, and made and a list of some of my top curriculum ideas for each.

Here's a look at my list (yes, it's written on unused pages of my very favorite planner):


During the 4-movie saga devoted to the adventures of Lilo and Stitch, I explored Amazon.com, Thriftbooks.com, Christianbook.com, eBay, and other online sellers. I googled the DVD series that Chris suggested for history, and found multiple online resources to tie into that. I emailed Pip's music teacher to find out if she would be willing to incorporate one or more pieces from the American Revolution era into her fall music lessons. I texted local homeschooling friends to find out if any of these were items I could borrow instead of buy. I got my thoughts sorted out, bookmarked websites, and ordered books (some new, some used).

At this time, here's what we're looking at for second grade:
- Learning Language Arts Through Literature, The Red Book by Debbie Strayer
- Singapore Math, Level 2
- Science in the Ancient World by Dr. Jay L. Wile (I've replaced the Apologia book listed because I was able to borrow this one from a friend and take a look and it appears to be right up our alley)
- Liberty's Kids DVDs, supplemented with The American Revolution for Kids: A History with 21 Activities and the Cross and Quill Media website; I also found Professor Noggin's American Revolution card game
- Kentucky Puzzles: Bluegrass Brainteasers for Ages 6 to 106 by Evelyn B. Christensen
- Ordinary People Change the World book series by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
- The Usborne Famous Artists Sticker Book, 13 Artists Children Should Know 
- The Usborne Classical Music Sticker Book, Improve Your Aural! listening skills workbook, Improve Your Theory workbook, First Steps in Music Theory book, and home assignments from Pip's harp instructor
- American Sign Language (ASL) we'll continue learning from videos or online (we took a short class together at our local library this spring and we loved it!), and although my Spanish is rusty, I'll be able to incorporate vocabulary and conversation as desired

Regularly scheduled away-from-home activities will include music lessons, homeschool co-op, children's choir, and gymnastics. We'll also make semi-regular visits to art museums, zoos, and school day and evening performances at two of our favorite regional performing arts centers.

Now that it's all recorded, it looks like a lot! Not everything will be every day. And as always, we'll tweak things to make sure she's getting the most out of the time invested in each subject.

Although we'll continue learning over the summer--why stop?--I'm excited about what our second grade year will hold!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Salvage Grocery Stores

If you're following this blog, I'm assuming that you are on the lookout for ways to stretch a dollar. There are plenty of options for managing your grocery budget, but one way I present to you today is to shop at a salvage grocery store. (Yes, that's a thing. Google it!)

Like a thrift store, you never know what is going to be in stock; depending how far away it is, it may not be worth your drive. But if you have a salvage grocery near you, I recommend checking it out, at least two or three times over the course of weeks or months, as it will change regularly.

We have a place in our region called Crofton Country Cupboard. It is where I purchase many of our gluten free snacks and other prepared foods without breaking the bank. The people who operate the store are super nice; they have an amazing deli in the other side of the location and their fresh bread--although we can't eat it--makes the entire place smell wonderful.

Here are the spoils of a recent visit.


This is a lot of food, and the majority of it is gluten free. I don't know how much I would have paid for it at a regular store, but I can tell you that it would have been a lot more than the $37.41 I paid that day!

My rules for shopping at such a store are as follows:
1. Find out before going if they accept cash only, and take your own bags or boxes.
2. Don't take a list, because you never know what's going to be there.
3. Do walk every aisle, both sides, to see everything in stock.
4. Don't buy cans that are bulging or bags that are open (although slightly dented cans and torn boxes are fine),
5. Do check expiration dates before purchasing.
6. Don't buy things just because they're cheap--only buy if your family will actually eat them.
7. Don't get discouraged if you don't find a cart full of good things. There's always next time.

If you have a good salvage grocery near you, I would like to hear about it!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Mid-Year Goal Check

As we ushered in the new year, I shared with you how my primary goal for 2017 was to make my screen time more meaningful and more productive. My intention was to examine my new habits a month or two later, to ensure I was doing what needed to be done to achieve this. Month after month, I've guiltily recognized that I haven't gotten where I wanted to be. But now, six months later, I'm reluctantly taking a hard look at my screen time management.


I'll begin by saying that I took some big strides in January, starting with unsubscribing from emails that no longer interested me. My inbox is very manageable now. Knowing that anything I receive is likely pertinent, either for work or volunteerism or personal life, I can check it a few times throughout the day, deal with the issue at hand, and be done with it. Anything I receive that is not pertinent, I delete. If it's a newsletter or update from a company I don't need, I unsubscribe before deleting.

I got my Facebook feed cleaned up, too. Nearly everything I see now is fun and uplifting and informative of events in my community and region. As I mentioned in my New Year's post, I know that's not what everyone wants out of their social media accounts, but that's exactly what I want from them. And I am a happier person for having crafted it to that purpose.

Now, the hard part. Not only am I still at my computer more minutes per day than I'd like to admit, but that time is also not as productive as it could be and I know it. Part of this can certainly be attributed to personal and professional changes occurring during this season, like ending commitments to some organizations and taking on new responsibilities for others, but I cannot allow change--which is inevitable--to stop me from managing my time better. If anything, recent changes require me to be a better steward of my time.

So here's the encouraging news. In recent weeks, I have followed Chris's lead of waking up early (I'm not talking about before sunrise, here, but significantly earlier than I was waking up), getting coffee, and jumping straight into the "thinking stuff" while Pip is still asleep. The amount of time I have varies, but here's how it goes, now, when I start up my computer in the morning:

- Turn on a podcast.
- Open email. File messages that need no action and immediately handle messages that require action. This includes paying bills that need to be paid for which I've received an electronic notice. Pause the podcast when I need to focus on what I'm writing. Close email.
- Open Facebook. Check notifications for items I want to share or to which I want to respond. Pause the podcast when I need to focus on what I'm writing. Take a couple of minutes--maybe five minutes--and scroll through my news feed to view photos and plans for upcoming events in the area. Close Facebook.
- Open our online store page. Create shipping labels as needed. Close the store page.
- Open eBay or any other buying or selling sites with which I have current business and handle business as needed. Close eBay.
- Open Blogger. Achieve whatever items I have on my agenda for that day (writing, editing, reading comments, etc). Close Blogger.

Now I'm offline, except for listening to the podcast or Pandora while completing any outstanding paperwork I have in my "to-do" file. Then I open Photoshop and start retouching photos or flatting comics pages, whichever I'm working on, and chip away at my current project. By this time I've usually had two cups of coffee and started on a glass of water. I've moved away from my desk a couple of times to put laundry in the washer or dryer, make the bed, or tidy up whatever may have been left out the night before.

Most importantly, when Pip wakes up, I am easily able to stop what I'm doing and focus on her. If I didn't get through all the items that I was planning, it's no problem, because with my set order of operations, I know exactly where to pick up later when I have some free moments.

It's still a work in progress, but I am much happier with this new morning routine than I was with the old. Later in the day continues to be a struggle, as I still find myself scrolling and reading and liking and commenting more than I need to be. But I'm getting there. And I have set a new goal going forward to maintain that focus of the morning each time I sit down at my desk.

How often do you set new goals for yourself in your personal or professional life? How often do you evaluate your progress?

Thursday, June 1, 2017

2017 VBS Schedule - Madisonville, Ky

Many area churches are offering Vacation Bible School during the months of June and July. Here are the programs of which I'm currently aware, in calendar order. Updated 6/4/2017


Please call the church directly if you have questions about a specific program. And if you know about another VBS in town, please comment with the information and I'll confirm it and add it to the list!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Hopkins County Summer Meals Follow Up

A few days ago, I shared the details of the Hopkins County School System's 2017 Summer Meals Program. It sounds like it's going to be a wonderful thing for the students in our county. You can read more about that here: 2017 Hopkins County Summer Food Service Program.

It got me thinking, though, about all the other meals that are not covered by this program, and how families who rely on school breakfasts and lunches, even with this opportunity, might struggle during the summer months. Not everyone will have transportation--or flexibility from work--to take their children to every location. Not to mention the non-student family members who are not eligible for said meals.



Today, let me present a round-up of additional programs in our county providing assistance for our neighbors. Not all of these are for everyone--some are specifically for children, for example--so I urge you to learn the details of the programs before assuming they're open to everyone. (Clicking any of these links will open a new window and take you to the website or Facebook page for that organization.)

The YMCA provides free lunches for kids throughout the summer in Hopkins County. No proof of need requested. Locations vary day to day; contact the Y for details. 270-821-9622

Breaking Bread serves a hot meal one Saturday per month at their location at 275 West Center Street in Madisonville. This event is open to all ages, and attendees are sent home with additional grocery items. No proof of need requested. Breaking Bread: (270) 635-0444 or (270) 836-5822 or (270) 635-0627.

Christian Food Bank of Hopkins County (Facebook link here)
The website states "If you don’t have anything to eat and lack resources to obtain food, you qualify for assistance." Please, please visit the food bank instead of going hungry. For more information, including the hours they're open, you can call them at (270) 825-8296.

Local churches' Vacation Bible School programs
Throughout the city of Madisonville and the county, churches will be hosting Vacation Bible Schools in June and July. Many of these programs offer snack or meal times along with their games, crafts, and lessons. Watch the blog for a round up of VBS dates and locations later this week!

Do you know of another organization that is providing meals or groceries to our neighbors in Hopkins County? I'd love to hear about it!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

2017 Hopkins County Summer Food Service Program

My heart is a little broken writing this. But I know it's out there; I know it's all around the country and right down the street. When school is out for holidays or summer vacation, there are children in Hopkins County who do not know where their next meal is coming from.

There are many things that our local public schools provide to their students. Not the least of these is the availability of consistent breakfasts and lunches. Some schools also send "backpack blessings"--backpacks loaded with easy to prepare snacks and meals--home with students on Friday afternoons. But what do these children do when school is out for weeks or months?



Now my heart is swelling. Because the Hopkins County School system is, this year, offering meals to students throughout summer break!

This statement is directly from the Hopkins County Schools website:


"Hopkins County Schools is participating in the Summer Food Service Program. Meals will be provided to all children without charge and are the same for all children regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability, and there will be no discrimination in the course of the meal service. Meals will be provided, at a first come, first serve basis..."


A full schedule of the times and places that meals and snacks will be provided can be found here on the SurfKyNews site. Not every location will have meals every day, but this is a great step!!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Summer Fun: AMC Theatres

Looking for some summer fun out of the sun? AMC Theatres offers a summer kids' movie series! Shows are Monday and Wednesday mornings at 10am, from June 5 to August 2. For $4, you get admission to a movie and a kids' snack pack. These are not first-run films, but they're still fun!


Besides being a great diversion for rainy or exceptionally hot summer days, taking a few friends to see a movie your child loves could be an affordable way to celebrate a birthday or other milestone.

This program is available at select locations in 37 states. Visit AMCtheatres.com to see if one of them is near you!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Favorite Sale: thriftbooks


I don't know how my house of bibliophiles made it to 2017 without knowing about Thriftbooks.com. Well, Chris may have known about it, but I sure didn't! A homeschooling friend of mine told me about it a couple of weeks ago, and this morning I checked it out.

Although many of the children's books are listed for more than I would pay at McKay Books, my favorite used book store, I found an activity book for our upcoming homeschool year for $4 that was about $13 on Amazon. I also found a research book Chris had been looking for priced at 1/5 of the Amazon list price. (Let me stop right here to say that I still like and use Amazon all the time!)

Here's a link for you to check it out. It includes a 15% discount for you, if you've never ordered from them before, that is good through June 5.
Shop Now!

If you find something great, I would love to hear about it!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Slow Cooker BBQ Pork

It seems like many people think to use their slow cookers during the cooler months. They do make great cold-weather foods like soups, stews, roasts, you name it. But I like to utilize my slow cooker during the warmer months, too, because it doesn't heat up the kitchen!

One of our current favorites--and it's SO EASY--is pork barbecue. Here's what I'm going to do today.


























Place approximately 2 lbs of pork loin boneless country style ribs into the slow cooker with 1/2 cup water.

Cook on low for 5 hours.

Pour off the water and fat, then cover the meat with Sweet Baby Ray's Sweet 'n Spicy sauce. (You can substitute your favorite sauce, of course. This is one that my whole family agrees on; it's not too hot, and it's gluten free.)

Cook on low for one more hour.

Shred the meat with a fork and serve however you prefer to eat BBQ! We go bun-less, and I like to serve it with pineapple and chips. It makes for a quick, light meal. It makes great leftovers for lunches, too.

Enjoy!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Donating Blood

I understand why so few of us donate blood. It takes time. We might be turned away due to health or history. It's not at the top of anyone's list of fun things to do.

Few of us expect to need a transfusion, but when you or your loved one needs blood due to an accident or medical emergency, the gratitude felt for the people who donated, never knowing whose life it might save, is immeasurable. 

I know, because I had this experience in the fall of 2015. Chris suddenly started feeling very bad, and we thought he had food poisoning. By the time we realized it was much more severe, he had to be transported to our local hospital by ambulance, and from there, transferred to a larger hospital that could perform an emergency surgery immediately. By that point, he had already lost a substantial amount of blood due to a Dieulafoy's lesion (as it was described to me, an ulcer that formed on an artery in his stomach wall). Thankfully, the surgeon was able to stop the bleeding quickly.

Chris recovered beautifully, and we are grateful for the emergency staff, the surgical team, and the nurses and doctors that made up his post-surgical care team. He now has a local GI specialist and we know to keep an eye on these things. I drive him a little bonkers, probably, but any time he has any discomfort with his stomach, I am immediately questioning him about what it feels like, what he has eaten, if he's had too much coffee recently, and on and on.

What does this have to do with donating blood? Well, following surgery, Chris needed to replenish his blood supply, and not just a little bit. When all was said and done, he required nine units of blood. NINE. I don't know how much he started with, but I can tell you that this was a LOT. Nine people, at some point in the days or weeks or months prior to his hospitalization, donated blood so that my husband and Pip's dad could survive this unforeseen and horrific medical emergency.

After we left the hospital, I decided I wanted to donate blood in order to give back. I had never done so before, and the idea made me slightly nauseated. But I was so thankful that the supply was there for him when he needed it that I was determined.

The first time I donated, I didn't do great. I got dizzy and a bit weak. The sweet women running the drive knew what to do for me, and I was fine, of course. It turns out that although I was mentally prepared, I hadn't done everything I could to be ready, physically. They recommended that, next time, I be sure to eat a good meal and drink plenty of water in the hours prior to donating.

The second time, I followed their suggestions, and it didn't go much smoother. I was only able to give what they referred to as a "baby bag." I asked if it would even be useful. Yes, I was assured, it could literally be used for a baby who needed blood. Thinking about an infant needing blood--and the thought of being the parent of said infant--reinforced my resolve.

I haven't given up. I'm sure the third time will be better.

I am clearly not the best at donating blood, but I am trying. I sincerely ask anyone who is reading this to at least consider finding out how to donate where you live and if you are eligible. You never know whose life it might save: it could be a stranger you never meet, or it could be someone you love dearly. Like I said before, few of us expect to need a transfusion. I hope you never do. But if or when the need arises, having the resources available could make all the difference in the outcome.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Favorite Sale: Kohl's

Let me start by saying that I am not a big Kohl's shopper. I like the store just fine, and I have heard from people who have found amazing bargains there. I just don't make my way over to any of their locations very often.

However, they recently mailed me a coupon for $10 off any purchase of $10 or more. Game on.

I went into the Clarksville, Tennessee, store yesterday. I had my coupon and a short list of things I would like to find, if the price was right. I wasn't particularly pleased with the selection or prices of any of the items from my list, so I scoured the outer edges of the store, looking for the clearance sections of each department. I was determined to find some way to sensibly spend this $10 rather than lose it.

Then I found the clearance bedding and remembered that we could, in fact, use a new set of sheets. Never would I pay the original price of $109.99, but this set for $32.99 with an additional $10 off? Yes I will, thank you very much!





















That's right, down from $109.99 to $32.99. And I was able to apply that $10 coupon. These very nice, 100% cotton sheets were only $22.99 plus tax! That's less than a pair of pillowcases from the same collection normally run.


I felt like a champion when I left the store with my "Total Saved: $87.00" receipt!


What's the best buy you've gotten at Kohl's?

Friday, May 5, 2017

Recycling Clothes at H&M

I've been going through our clothes this week, trading sweaters and coats for tanks and shorts. Along the way I have encountered more than a few items that are in too poor of condition to share along (please don't donate worn out/torn/stained clothes to charities), but I was pained to think of just throwing them in the garbage and sending them to a landfill.
Enter H&M's garment collecting initiative! Not only will they dispose of these garments responsibly, but at the H&M store in Nashville's Opry Mills Mall, at least, they give you a discount on your purchase if you bring in clothes to recycle. Garments can be any brand, and in any condition. There's more info and a store locator on their website!

Their fashionable clothing is pretty affordable, generally, and their clearance prices are often big bargains! And they're well-made, too. I found a "size 2-4Y" dress from there--at a thrift store, so I assume it had already been previously worn--for Pip when she was two years old. It was her favorite because it was so soft, and she wore it as a dress that summer, and the following summer. The next summer and the next, it was a tunic. Then it became a shirt. I am not even kidding; at age 7 1/2, that kid is still wearing that shirt!!

So, bag up your worn out garments and head to your nearest H&M!

Monday, May 1, 2017

May is Celiac Awareness Month


May is Celiac Awareness Month, and this is a subject close to my heart.

Pip was diagnosed with Celiac Disease--an autoimmune disorder triggered by ingesting gluten protein--just after she turned five. This was after more than two years of stomach aches that were ignored and glossed over, because she was still playing and growing and learning. There were no other glaring outward symptoms. I knew something was not right, but the list of short-term dietary changes I made didn't seem to make a difference for her. Two pediatricians looked at her and her charts and said, "let's wait and see." A third doc in a third city heard what I was saying, ordered some tests, and found the markers in the blood work. A pediatric GI confirmed the diagnosis.

The first month--which happened to be right at the winter holiday season--was really hard. Pip was frustrated when she didn't get to eat the same dessert or snack as everyone else. I didn't know how to make anything gluten free that tasted good, and I certainly didn't yet know which packaged GF products were the most palatable. I read every label. I asked every host what was in every dish. We practically stopped going out to eat due to fear of cross-contamination.

Over time, things got easier. I found a variety of foods and meals that were gluten free that Pip--and our whole family--enjoyed. I started packing her a lunchbox every time we left the house. I quickly realized how fortunate we were that this disorder is managed entirely by diet, no medication required. As long as we're vigilant and she's not ingesting gluten, she's healthy. At seven and a half years old, she's her own advocate, making sure that any new foods--and all foods served outside our home--are safe for her. She's a champ about it, too. She'll even ask me, when she's about to eat something new to her, "Mom, are you sure this is gluten free?"

Now, she's growing like a weed. She's a ball of constant energy. Where a little virus used to take her out for more than a week due to an already-taxed immune system, she's generally quite healthy.

As I said, May is Celiac Awareness Month. I've learned a lot about Celiac out of necessity in the past two and a half years, and the damage it does to your insides is not worth going undiagnosed. There are many potential outward symptoms, and people are affected in different ways. If you suspect that you or someone you love has Celiac Disease, please request the blood test to rule it out (or to indicate that further testing is needed). Although I'm glad we caught it when we did, I wish we had done it sooner.


A great resource for more information--before and after diagnosis--is Celiac.org.