(instant)joy: pipe cleaner activity

As a mom of four one thing I really, really appreciate is activities and crafts that are easy to set up and easy to do. I’m all about simple in our house! But I also really like it when I can find something that literally takes seconds to throw together to keep the little mister busy for a few minutes while I get something done.

Like last night when I was baking cupcakes for Hannah’s birthday and he kept trying to steal them because I was also in the middle of making supper and he was hungry. Definitely a good time for an instant activity!

I’ve been wanting to introduce this one to Ty ever since he was a baby, so I was really glad to dig it out.

What you need:

  •  pipe cleaners in various colours, cut in half
  • colander

What you do:

 

  • Show your toddler how the pipe cleaners fit in the holes of the colander.
  • Let them try, helping if necessary at first.
  • Once they’ve mastered it, you’re good to go!

Ty’s a pretty quick study – it took him watching me twice and me helping him once to figure out how to do this activity, but it kept him busy for a good ten minutes. Once he finished fitting pipe cleaners in, I encouraged him to take them out and do it all over again. He loved it!

And the cupcakes? Whisked away to the safety of our freezer, waiting to be devoured by a gaggle of preteen girls this weekend.

Mission: accomplished!

Stay tuned for more (instant)joy ideas coming your way soon!

 

(instant)joy: Easy Beef Dip

One of the hardest things I’ve encountered as a wife and mom is finding easy to prepare meals that everyone likes that are healthy and do not come in hot dog form.

And if I ever find one, I will share it with you. *grin*

But I have come pretty close! Allow me to share this incredibly easy, practically instant recipe I found that has become a family favourite.

(Please excuse the lack of photos today – as soon as I’m done posting this, I’m off to get it ready for us for supper tonight. I didn’t think you needed a picture of a raw hunk of beef!)

What you need:

  • slow cooker
  • beef roast appropriate to the size of your family (if you want, you could make a big one and freeze half for later)
  • dry french onion soup mix – one package
  • box beef broth (I use no sodium to make up for the french onion soup mix)
  • optional can of beef consomme (I use it if I remember to pick it up, but I don’t really miss it if I don’t)
  • water
  • buns (toasted if desired)

What you do:

  • Place roast in slow cooker 7 to 8 hours before you plan on eating supper. It can be totally frozen.
  • Pour in beef broth, beef consomme (if using), and french onion soup mix. Add enough water to cover the roast half way.
  • Cook on low for 7 hours. Turn off your slow cooker and let stand for half an hour.
  • Pull the roast apart with two forks – it should easily fall apart.
  • Strain out the onions and save the broth for au jus dipping sauce.
  • Pile beef on buns, serve with au jus on the side, along with your favourite side dishes (we love homemade fries and/or fresh veggies).

See?  Easy peasy. I love that I can throw this together in just a few minutes and go about my day while our supper is cooking. Plus, the house smells yummy all afternoon. I love that.

What is your favourite easy supper to serve your family?

Thanks(Giving) Jar

My teenager is a genius.

Yesterday Em came to me and asked me for a spare jar. When I asked her what she was planning (she’s always planning, my girl is. She’s so creative!), she told me she was going to write one thing she was thankful for on a slip of paper every day for the entire year, and read them all December 31st.
I love that. And as I mulled it over in my mind for what I could do, The Thanks(Giving) Jar* was born.
It’s simple, really. As my daughter, I’ll be writing down one thing I am thankful for every day for the year. All those little things I take for granted. Like socks. And heat. And other mundane things. But I didn’t want to leave it at that – I wanted to put my gratitude into action. So I’ve also decided to add a coin with each slip of paper and at the end of the year take that money and give it to a ministry that provides for those who don’t have all those things I tend to take for granted.

I’ll also be inviting the other members of our home to do the same – I think our kids can definitely stand to remember that we are so incredibly blessed!

I’m so excited about this! And I really hope it is something you will consider doing with your family, too!

Of course, my printer is out of ink, so I can’t print off the pretty little label I made and add it to my jar, but just as soon as I can, I will share a picture of it with you.

Even better, here are some labels for you to print for yourself, if you’d like! I included four, just in case you have other members of your family would like their own jar. You know, those siblings who refuse to share anything. Not that I would know anything about that sort of thing. *cough*

*Edited to add: I changed the name slightly after the original post went live. Sometimes it takes me a few days to really shape an idea into exactly the way I want it! Thanks for hanging in there with me!

Bacon Honey-Mustard Chicken Nachos

First of all, above all else, I am NOT a food blogger. I can’t even pretend to be.

But seriously? These nachos totally told me to write an entire post about them. I kid you not.

I was perusing Pinterest for meal planning inspiration today, specifically for chicken dishes. I saw this yummy looking dish while on Six Sisters’ Stuff, and knew immediately I had to try it.

I was only a wee bit disappointed when I realized it wasn’t a nacho dish. For some reason, when I saw the photo, I started craving nachos. Maybe it’s all that gooey, yummy cheese. And bacon.

I heart cheese. And bacon.

So, I thought, why not make it my own recipe and turn it into Bacon Honey-Mustard Chicken Nachos!

I altered this recipe only slightly, so all credit goes to Six Sisters’ Stuff. Like I said. Not a food blogger.

1. Season 3 to 4 chicken breasts with seasoning salt (mine is MSG-free) and brown 3 to 5 minutes per side in a tablespoon(ish) of hot oil in a frying pan. (I like to flatten mine first so they’re fairly uniform in thickness. Plus, it’s a great way to get out any pent up aggression after being cooped up in the house for 10 days during the coldest Christmas break ever.) Place in a baking dish.

Clearly I am also not a food photographer. Tastes better than it looks!

2. Mix up 1/4 cup mustard, 1/3 cup of honey, 2 tbsp of plain, non-fat yogurt (Greek is best – it’s so thick and creamy!), 1/2 tbsp onion powder. Pour over chicken breasts and bake at 350F for 20 to 25 mins, or until chicken is cooked through.

3. Meanwhile, cook up 6 pieces of bacon via your favourite method. I prefer grilling mine on my new Griddler, or on a broiling rack in the oven so all the fat more or less drains away. But you can fry yours if you prefer. Make sure your bacon is nice and crispy because you want to crumble it up later.

Let’s see that bacon again. Yum.
It helps if you have a 22 month old sneaking cheese while you work.

4. Grate 2 cups of cheddar/colby cheese. (I like to use a mixture of Old Cheddar and Mozzarella.) Set aside.

5. After chicken is done in the oven, let it cool for a few minutes and then chop or shred it up. (I’m a shred kind of gal. Also, I only ended up using one of the chicken breasts for us, you could use more if you prefer meatier nachos. My hubby loves sandwiches, so we just set aside the rest for him. Come to think of it, you could totally take some chicken, some bacon, put it on a toasted bun, top it with some cheese, lettuce and tomato… yum. Or be healthy and make a salad with greens, tomatoes, and more bacon. Bacon can so be healthy!)

6. Place a whole bunch of nachos in a baking dish (that’s an actual measurement. I learned it in Home Ec.) and top with the chicken, crumbled bacon, and shredded cheese. Bake at 450F until the cheese melts and is bubbly. (You probably could do this step under the broiler, but I never do because I, um, tend to burn my food under the broiler. And set ovens on fire.)

7. Serve with your favourite nacho sides and enjoy!

They’ve got a bit of a sweet tang to balance out the smokey savory of the bacon. I can’t wait to finish them off!

Thank you, Six Sisters’ for the inspiration!

7 Tips For Creating Your Personalized Cleaning Routine

Ahhhh.

I am reveling in some much needed peace and quiet right now. The older kiddos have been at school all day, the toddler is napping, and even though my hubs is home today thanks to that darn windchill and our car not starting (it’s minus 50 Celsius with the windchill in Saskatchewan today. Don’t even try to imagine how cold that is!), I’ve actually had a few moments all to myself.

I took a nap. It was lovely.

Of course, I did manage to get my house back to rights beforehand. What is it about six people being home for two weeks straight during the coldest Christmas holiday ever that makes housework futile? Oh, wait. I think I just answered my question!

Just before Christmas, I nailed down a cleaning routine that actually works for me. I’ve tried to conform to other cleaning schedules for years, and I just haven’t been able to make it work. But then I wised up and decided to just do it my way. And it worked! My house is actually (usually) clean again!

I know I’m not alone, so here are my tips to help you make your own cleaning schedule – one that you will actually do!

1. Commit to making your home a haven.  No amount of planning is going to help if you aren’t first committed to following through with it. I personally believe that God has called me to be home for this season not just to look after our kids, but to also create a place that is safe and inviting for them to return to at the end of their day. A place they want to be in. But I didn’t always feel this way – I could really resent having to do housework if I let myself! Having this change in my attitude has really helped me look at keeping our home as a daily gift for my family. And for me, too.

2. Make a list of all the things you want done daily. Then weekly. Then monthly. And finally seasonally. If you know you aren’t going to dust every single day, then don’t put it on your daily list!

3. Divide your weekly list into daily tasks. We have seven days in a week to get all our work done, so let’s use them! Determine if you are an all or nothing kind of gal, who likes to get all those weekly chores done in one big cleaning spree, or if you’d rather spread them out throughout the week. Decide which days you will do your weekly tasks, and try to group similar items together. For instance, I take Mondays to wash floors and dust, Tuesdays to deep clean the bathrooms, Wednesdays to clean the kitchen, Thursdays to tackle the living room/family room, and Fridays to do all my banking, meal planning, etc.

4. Divide your monthly list into weekly tasks. Each month has at least four weeks, so plan what monthly chores you will do in week one, week two, week three, and week four. Again, group similar items together. And keep your list for each week small, three to four jobs maximum!

5. Determine which months you will do your seasonal jobs, like cleaning the oven, flipping mattresses, etc. Write them in your calendar.

6. Find a system for keeping track of your chores that works for you. Some people (myself included) have a household binder with their sheets inserted into page protectors. Others like to schedule them into Google calendar or their smartphones. I’m sure if you look hard enough, you could probably even find an app for that! As techy as I am, when it comes to my to-do lists, I still prefer pen and paper. Especially if I can cross something off. That’s so satisfying!

7. Enlist your kids’ help. And your spouse’s. Whenever and wherever. Enough said.

The first few weeks are always a lot more work when you first start out, but once you get through them, your house will seem to clean itself. Or at least the work will get done that much sooner!

What tips do you have for making cleaning routines easier?

 

On #mothergood

I’ve been thinking some more on this whole concept of mothergood. So much so, I want to declare it a movement. Even if it’s just me moving.

When I think about what it means to mothergood, it’s more than just being supermom. In fact, it’s NOT being supermom at all. It’s not about having the perfect home or perfect kids. Rather, it is about finding joy in being a mom, about serving our families in the way God has equipped us to without worrying about what others are doing and if we measure up to those standards, about raising our kids to be followers and lovers of Jesus.

If I could, I’d take all the books and articles and pins that make us moms feel less than, that make us feel like we are failing because we aren’t doing all those things someone else says we should do, and I would toss them out with last week’s leftovers that no one wanted even when they were fresh. I’m tired of striving to do, when God has called us to be.

Be women who love Him with all our hearts and souls and minds. And when we don’t, be women who come to Him with repentance.

Be mothers who love our kids with the kind of love He offers us – unconditional, just, true. The kind of love that offers itself even in moments of incredible trial, that drives us to our knees in prayer and praise when we really just want to give up.

Be women less concerned with what the world tells us and more with what God tells us. Women with eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, the One who died while we were still sinners because of His great love for us.

We mothergood when we follow the One who is good. When we say no to the joy stealers and yes to the Joy-Giver.

Our kids won’t be perfect, but then neither will we. But the glory we will bring Him will cover over our failings like nothing else.

I want to mothergood.

The 5 Love Languages of Children

Last year was a tough year.

Not that anything overly bad happened – on the surface, in fact, our live looked pretty blessed. We had a healthy baby, we were settling in to our lesser finances a little more comfortably, and our marriage was strong.

But last winter we suddenly found ourselves struggling with one of our children. It was hard and it was often ugly and by the end of most days we were exhausted and depleted and unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Through much prayer we were able to get through the worst of it. But as my head cleared in the aftermath, I realized that as parents we had a long way to go in repairing our family dynamic, not just with our one child, but with all of our kids.

I love our kids. I happen to think they are fantastic, smart, funny, kind, and pretty great. They’re my favourite kids by far. And I thought I was doing a good enough job letting them know they were loved, until I started to see patterns of behaviour that indicated otherwise.

It was extremely good timing that I received The 5 Love Languages of Children to review. I had heard of the book before, so I was eager to read it.

It was eye-opening to say the least.

To know that each of my children have their own love languages, their own ways of needing to be shown love has indeed been life-changing. Not because I had to do anything drastically different in how I love my kids, but because it has caused me to pay more attention, to be more intentional in filling up my kids’ love tanks in ways that are meaningful to them.

One responds best to hugs and other affectionate touch. One responds best to encouraging and affirming words. And yet another to being helped and spending quality time.

I had become lazy in my parenting, I will admit, trying a one-sized-fits-all approach to four very different children. Understanding why that wasn’t working and making small changes has made all the difference.

There is less fighting, less stress, and more willingness to cooperate and listen. And not just from the kids, but from me as well.

Not only that, but it has helped me better understand my own love language and that of my husband’s, making me more understanding and patient on the days that I feel like being anything but.

And that is a very good thing.

This book has been provided courtesy of Northfield Publishers and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. for my honest review.  Available at your favourite bookseller, including Amazon.ca.

A handy dandy laundry tip

Here’s the thing. I do laundry because I have to. So when I go shopping, I try really, really hard to stay away from things that require extra care, like hand-washing. Or ironing. I think I may dislike ironing more than the actual laundry.

But sometimes a girl sees the cutest little top or the most comfy linen pants and all that cuteness trumps the self-imposed laundry rules. Am I right?

The part I find the toughest about hand-washing is the wringing out. Sure, you can use a towel, but that just makes more laundry. Ugh!

Awhile ago, I had an epiphany while using my new salad spinner.

Oh, yes, I’m going there.

Why not use the spinner to wring my shirt out? And you know what? It worked like a charm!

(This probably works best if you have a spinner that sits inside a bowl that will collect the water for you, unlike the cheap one I had in my university days. That one would have had water everywhere.)

I actually do the soaking in the container as well. Once the soaking is done, dump the water, and spin the spinner. It may take a few turns to get all the water wrung out, and I do find that heavier fabrics require me to squeeze a the excess water out by hand afterward. But it still works wonderfully!

So there you go. Easiest laundry tip ever.

Linking up with Inspire Me Monday and Works For Me Wednesday.

This ministry of motherhood

You want to know something funny?

As I was typing the title for this post, my only-have-had-one-cup-of-coffee fingers kept typing “mothergood” instead of motherhood.

And there’s the whole point of this post.

I’m breaking my break for a moment because I feel like I have finally stumbled upon something good. This morning as I was praying and feeling sorry for myself over my lack of purpose (or, rather, my feeling of a lack of purpose), I finally got it. Back in January I shared that once summer holidays hit, I would officially be finished babysitting and that I felt God was calling me to not work for this next season. Back in January, I was really excited about that.

In June, when the repairs around the house started mounting up, I felt a lot less excited about that.

Not only my lack of excitement, but my need for doing something big in my own eyes for God, has led me to this place of discontentment. But this morning, He redirected my focus.

This morning as I was pleading with Him to clarify my calling, He clarified it by reminding me what He has already called me to.

Motherhood.

This world will have us believe, lovelies, that this is not enough. That its not enough to raise our kids to His glory, to be content building a home. That we must also pursue bigger and better things, otherwise we lose who we are.

It is in this pursuit of bigger and better that I have lost who I am.

So I am on a mission. I am driven to get out of this place of reluctantly accepting my calling of motherhood and instead find joy and passion in it. I am driven to find out how I can serve our God and my family authentically, without trying to become someone I think I should be. Because let’s face it. How many times do we resolve to be “better” moms, only to try to live up to someone else’s definition of what that is?

This is for Him. All for Him. Because there is a reason and purpose for Him calling me to this ministry and it is high time I started to view it as just that.

I want to mother good.

I feel like Mary Quite Contrary

I feel the need to preface this post with the statement “I am not a gardener.”

My green thumb is pretty black. I have lost the war to multitudes of gophers, moles, mice, birds, and unknown bugs. The fact I have a plant in my kitchen that has somehow managed to survive six years of neglect is no small miracle, let me tell you.

But I love planting things and watching them grow. It gives me no small thrill when my perennials actually come back in the Spring, despite my ignorance. Maybe my thumb is a little greener than I realized.

I have a flower bed in our front yard that I usually fill with hardy annuals that a busy mama can’t do much harm to. Not to mention that can handle being trampled by toddler feet. But after the third neighbor in a row moved in next door displaying a gift for landscaping I hold in awe, I decided to tackle my garden with an actual plan this year.

Which is funny, because I’m usually a planner. Why have I not thought to do this before?

Because I don’t have any idea what I am doing, I used the power of Google and Pinterest to help me. And you know what I discovered? bhg.com (Home of Better Homes and Gardens) has a nifty little planner that not only helps you figure out the best plants to put in based on your climate and the area your garden is in, it even plots them out for you.

Sometimes, I just love the Internet.

While some of the plants they suggested weren’t available where I live (thank you long winters short summers climate), I did manage to pick up some pretty perennials to plant in my shady flower bed. And I love how finished it is beginning to look by my front door now! (I totally forgot to take a photo on the weekend, and when I went to do it this morning, the sun was directly behind me and all you could see was my crazy-haven’t-done-my-hair-yet shadow. I thought I’d spare you that image.)

Now let’s pretend the horrible weed garden in my backyard is really filled with wild flowers and grasses native to my area and call it a day.

I’m curious – are you a gardener? What are your favourite resources to use? Or are you just naturally gifted and if you are, can you please come landscape my yard for me?