Monday, July 30, 2012

Highlights from the County Fair

Last week was our county fair. It's three days of 4-H bucket calves, dirt and sweat and stinky, carnival rides, funnel cakes, mutton busting, monster trucks and tractor pulls, visiting with neighbors and friends, 100 bottles of water, 100 times saying, "Please don't stare at the toothless, tattooed and randomly pierced carnival workers, it's not nice." They stared anyway.
No matter how much work it all is or how hot the temps get, Steve and I love seeing the boys give their best efforts in showing their calves - all the while grinning from ear to ear as they run around with friends and cousins, taking it all in, filled with delight....and corn dogs and lemonade and funnel cakes.

Here are a few pics I took from the day the boys showed their calves:
Before they show their calves in the arena, they boys each go through a judges interview.  They have a set of questions to study that helps them prepare, then they are on their own, one-on-one with the judge, no parents allowed!  
Getting spiffed up is all a part of the experience!  The week before the fair we go to the Crazy House, a local western store, and the boys all pick out new shirts and jeans to wear. Surprisingly, as much as they hate to shop or could care less about what they wear, they love this!  With Charlie being sick the days before the fair, I didn't have time to take the boys in for hair cuts, so they sat patiently while I gave 'em a little trim and reviewed the questions.  
While I prepped Ben and Andrew for their interviews, George got a little help trimming up his calf, Blaze, for the show.
I was a little bit worried about what Henry would do all day while Steve and I concentrated on helping the older 3, but worry was pointless.  Henry had a great time chatting with fellow 4-Hers, sitting in random people's lawn chairs and drinking Gatorade all day.  He's such a great sport!
After they're trimmed up, the calves get a nice cool soapy bath.  Then, they're taken out into the sun to dry.
The boys take a lot of time and care brushing the calves, all the way down to the tail.  It's like spa day for the little steers. I have to admit I was a little jealous! They even get special spray on their coat that makes it nice and shiny.
Of all three calves, Blaze was definitely the most stubborn and squirrely.  That made Blake and George a perfect pair!  Here they are, all ready to enter the arena!
The judge takes some time to talk to each of the kids about their steer.  This is a great learning experience for the boys!
Leading the calves in single file is no easy task, but the boys handled it incredibly well.  They get that gift of "herding" from me, since I do it every day. (Snicker.)
The three cousins, Ben, Andrew and Ethan take a final lap around the arena before the judge announces the ribbon standings.
All of the boys received blue ribbons for the judges interview and Benedict earned Grand Champion for the confirmation category, which is the overall health and development of his calf.
Whew! What a big day! Three little Wrangler bottoms rest on the fence and chat about their experiences. Next year Henry will join them, and soon Charlie.  What wonderful memories!
Is there a better way to end the day than with 
crazy carnival rides and funnel cakes? 
I think not! 

Friday, July 27, 2012

On the Farm Friday ~ Mutton Busting

Yesterday afternoon, while sitting cross-eyed in the middle of 79 socks that were missing their mates,  the phone rang.  It was my beloved husband.  After a mushy greeting he told me to pack my bags, because he's going to whisk me away from the laundry and cow patties out of the bottom-blistering heat and take me on a cruise.

 Wait a second. I think I'm confusing that phone call with a dream I had a couple of nights ago.

So, the real phone call went something like this:
"Babe, what are you doing?"

Drinking a glass of sangria under the shade of a tree while I contemplate the miracle of water being turned into wine.

"Oh, so you're folding laundry?"


"Well, did you know that at 7:00 tonight there's a mutton-busting contest at the fair??"

 Get out! I had no idea!! Man I hate it when I'm late to the mutton busting party.

"I think the boys should go, George and Henry would have a scream of a time."

As would their mother.  Let's do it!

Well, the mother ended up staying home with a feverish, teething baby, while the rest of the crew went to the fair and showed those lambs who's boss!!  I sent my camera with Steve (his first major blogging assignment) and wouldn't ya know he left it in his pick-up.  (Grrrr.) But, he managed to catch a couple of videos with his phone.
Henry, our scrappy 4 year old, hung on with all of his might. With the help of the rodeo clowns and a sweet little helmet, he returned to his father unscathed. Praise the Lord!
George, Mr. 110%, hung on to that lamb as if his life depended on it, and took 1st place!  Discovering your children's secret talents and hidden gifts is such a joy.  Who knew George had it in him? For a brief moment you think to yourself well, if everything else in his life from this point on is totally uphill, he'll always have mutton busting. Then, you snap out of it and furiously add golf and tennis lessons to the fall activity schedule.
I had no idea that there are competitive levels to mutton busting, but apparently this little revelation is truth, because George has now qualified for the Midwest Mutton Busting Championship in Lincoln, Nebraska. He has informed me of his belief that it is very important that we go, since everyone is counting on him.  Hmmm.  Everyone, who might everyone be exactly??

What do you think - should we go??

We're off to the fair for the day. We'll be grooming and showing our 4-H bucket calves, Billy, Blaze and Blake!


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

100 Followers Giveaway Winners Announced!!

Yay!! The time has finally arrived to announce the 
(Go ahead, do a little dance.)

If you are a winner, to receive your prize, you must do the following:
1.  Send me an e-mail with your full name and address where the prize can be sent. You must respond within 48 hours of this post, or a new winner will be drawn!!
2.  E-mail me again when you receive your prize in the mail so that I know you got it!
For the drawing, each new member was assigned a number.  Then, I asked four of my kids to each choose a number between 1 and 100, and that's how the winners were selected. Random enough? I hope so! Okay, without further ado - here are the lucky winners!!

The winner of the $25 gift card from Under Armour is:
 - Ben Warta -

The winner of the Mystic Monk Coffee & Travel Mug is: 
- Frugal in WV-

The winner of the $25 gift card to is 
- Tammi McCarthy -

The winner of the necklace from The Rusted Chain is
- Suzanne Teson -

Thank you so much, friends and strangers alike, for taking the time to follow our blog.  Your support and encouragement means so much! 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Soapatopia and Blogging Blush

For those of you who are here because of Clan Donaldson's Theme Thursday link-up, this post was written last summer, but since it was one of my favorite memories of the boys playing together, I thought I would share!!
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Happy Monday, Friends!  How was your weekend?  We spent ours mowing, swathing, working with the boys' bucket calves (the fair is this week!), swimming, searching for the laundry room floor, baking and enjoying the simple pleasure of grilled hamburgers and cold beer.

The highlight of the weekend, by far, was discovering that while I was distracted Sunday afternoon with work at the desk, the boys had created what they called their very own "Soap-a-topia."
Sunday was a scorcher, and I knew that we wouldn't have time to hit the pool before it closed. Because of the heat, I wasn't surprised when he boys decided to have a mega water fight in the yard. I was, however, surprised to discover as I headed outside to throw some burgers on the grill, that the water fight had morphed into this:
As Steve and I stood on the porch in complete stitches, the boys shouted out, "Hey, mom, we've made an old-time bath tub.  We call it our Soapatopia! Aren't you excited, mom? We won't have to shower tonight!"  Genius!

Reason # 821 why I love life unplugged - because SOAPATOPIAS happen!.  It's what kids do when sitting in the a/c on the couch eating chips and playing brain-warping video games is not an option. Go ahead, report me for depriving my kids of real fun. Don't they look like they're in pain??


Also, over the weekend, I discovered that I was nominated for the "One Lovely Blog" and the "very Inspiring Blog" awards from Jillian at Hi It's Jilly. The "rules" of the award are that I must nominate 15 other blogs for the awards, ones that I think you will love, appreciate or enjoy in some way, and I also have to share 7 random facts about myself.  Without further ado, here's my list of nominees:

 * JOYfilled Family        Martin Family Moments     

And.... rounding out the requirements...7 Random Things About Myself...

1.  I am a HUGE Jane Austen and Anne of Green Gables fan.  Books, movies all of it. If you don't already love Mr. Darcy, you will! What more can I say??

2.  Baking makes me really happy.  Cookies, pies, cakes, bread....I would bake every day if I didn't have to do the dishes or constantly pretend that I don't want to sit in a quiet spot watching Sense and Sensibility while I consume every last morsel with an oversized mug of piping hot coffee.

3.  I hate shopping, unless it's for shoes, kitchen gadgets, books or random treasures at thrift shops. This is kind of a recent thing for me. Shopping with five boys is just madness. Hell, shopping with one boy is madness.  I need someone to say, "That's pretty, Mom!" Not, "This is boring, can we go to the food court?" I'm socking all of the mall money between the mattresses and saving it for traveling (see #7).

4.  The annoying thorn in my shopping side isn't really my kids, it's trying to find things that fit, especially jeans.  If I had the time and money I would start a company that designed only jeans, and dress pants for athletes.  It's hard to find pants that fit comfortably over muscular thighs yet aren't huge around the waist.  Anyone else out there feel my pain??

5. As a result of #3 and #4 I've become a big fan of skirts and dresses.  I'm talkin' for every day wear. They are a surprisingly practical alternative to sweats.  I think that my grandmothers and June Cleaver might have been a bit smarter about every day wear than we give them credit for.  Skirts are comfy, cool in the summer, figure forgiving and look cute with the right tee and a little Tarjay accessory. (But, no thank you on the pantyhose).

6.  I love music.  In high school and college, I played the tenor saxophone, clarinet, piano and had fun singing in choirs.  I'm waiting for my boys to learn to play the guitar so that they can teach me.  

7.  Topping my bucket list these days is the dream of destination running - traveling to beautiful places and running cross country.  Right now it's Ireland (inspired by my friend Susan Flavin), New Zealand (inspired by the scenery in Lord of the Rings) and Boston (inspired by my son Ben, who keeps nagging me to take him on a historical tour of Philly, Boston and New York).

If I have nominated you for the awards listed above, please pass on the love!  Just link back to me, nominate 15 of your own, and don't forget to share 7 things about yourself, too!

Before you go - if you haven't already signed up for our fabulous giveaway - please take a moment to do so! All you have to do is become a follower (be sure to select "follow publicly" so that I know you are there!) and you're in for a chance to win! You can read more about the prizes here.

Homeschooling ~ How We Roll, Part 2

This is part two, of a three part series on our homeschool life.  If you missed part 1, "Why We Homeschool," which includes points to consider if you are exploring the idea of homeschooling, you can catch up on it here. While I am the boys' primary teacher in the classroom, my husband and I definitely work as a team on all fronts.  I don't want to sounds as though I do everything, and therefore hope that my hubby will soon write a post on a Father's contribution to the homeschool.
The summer before my Junior year in college, long before I ever thought I wanted to homeschool, I spent the summer working at the Christian sports camp, Kanakomo, in Branson, Missouri. I loved the biblical foundations used for instruction at the camp and enjoyed spending time in the Word of God studying and praying.  One of the verses that stood out to me the most that summer was:

And Jesus grew in WISDOM, STATURE and in FAVOR with God and men. ~ Luke 2:52

For the first time in my life I began to contemplate Christ as a youth, as a young, divine yet human man growing and maturing within a loving home and a challenging community.  Today, it is that very verse that has guides me in the quest for selecting the curriculum, teaching methods, activities, athletics, service work and social endeavors of our school.

The more we become like Christ, the closer we come to understanding and fulfilling God's purpose for our lives.  As a homeschooling mother, the #1 goal in developing my sons' intellectual capacities, challenging their creativity, fueling their imagination and forming their souls is so that they can obtain happiness (and freedom) in this life and the next as sons of God.

This post is not a revelation of every little thing we do in our teaching home.  You really don't need a play-by-play. There are plenty of other homeschooling blogs out there who are willing to do that, ones you can mimic if you need a prototype for your own school.  However, you should know that your classroom will be, and should be, of your own unique design and ambition. I don't have any fancy printables to share with you or mind blowing ideas of how to run a tight ship.  But I will share what I consider to be the essentials of building a successful classroom.
(Creative hands-on activities are a wonderful enrichment to our textbook lessons. Andrew builds a bridge out of Keva Planks using the architectural concept of the cantilever.)

Going back to Luke 2:52 - if you consider that verse in light of educating your children, it reveals to us that Jesus grew physically, intellectually and emotionally or relationally.  So, each year, I ask myself, and the boys, "What can we do this year to grow and thrive in wisdom, stature and favor with God and men?"

Wisdom: Core studies, of course, but also practical application of the knowledge through hands on activities, field trips, experiments and personal inventions.  Art, music and cultural studies are also important, and of course our religious studies, which include prayer, scripture memorization, following the liturgical calendar and celebrating special feast days (See my blog list for helpful websites).

Stature:  Physical exercise and athletics (the boys choose), healthy eating and good hygiene habits. I love to get them in the kitchen and let them help prepare meals and snacks. They can help menu plan and grocery shop (more school - they just don't know they're learning! We call it "life-skills".)

Favor with God and Men:  Nurturing relationships within the home comes first, and homeschooling presents plenty of opportunities to work on cooperation, generosity, forgiveness, humility, patience, etc. Of course the boys also have ample opportunities to engage in healthy relationships with others outside of the home through athletics, music lessons, cooperative classes and church organizations.
(The famous Diet Coke and Menthos experiment! So much fun!)

I love it when the boys contribute to designing the plans for the year!  They have so many creative and wonderful ideas to share, which often reveal characteristics of the personality that I wouldn't get to see if they went to public or private school. Each child shares his desires when it comes to sports, 4-H projects, independent reading, science labs, field trips and chore schedules.  Offering their own unique suggestions helps them to feel like they play a sincere role within their education/formation.

The question that I receive the most with regards to "How we do it" is about scheduling.  Every year is different for us, because every child's needs, learning levels and activities are different.  Last year I had a newborn on my hip, so the boys had to be flexible with feedings and diaper changes.  But, nevertheless, you do fall into a rhythm that just seems to work.

The 3 C's of Our Classroom:
A focus on commitment, curriculum and consistency helps me to manage the daily modes of our homeschool environment.

Commitment = You have to be committed 100%, there's really no in-between.  Your kids are counting on you whether they realize it or not. Considering public or private schools for your children only if homeschooling doesn't "work out" with the expectation that the teacher will fill in all of the gaps that occurred due to your lack of planning and/or implementation is unreasonable.  I'm just being honest here, not critical.  You can fall in love with the idea and ideals of homeschooling, but at the end of the day you still have to be the one who puts them into practice.

Curriculum = There are so many incredible choices out there.  Take some time to study the programs, ask questions and consider the needs and abilities of your children. Then, jump in and follow the lesson plans that come with the curriculum.  If it's not working, or you are not pleased with one or two subjects, don't be afraid to try something else.  There are a lot of teaching ideas online, and it can be overwhelming.  Choose a few things and use them well.  Sometimes less is more.

Consistency = The greatest ground is gained in academics, attitude and efforts from the kids, when you are consistent.  The school day has to be woven into daily life, kind of like an appointment.  Some families are able to do bits here and there throughout the day, but for me with that approach it's too difficult to keep the boys focused.  We try to keep the morning blocked off just for school. So, am I a fan of schedules? You bet.  But, that's not to say that I can't be flexible.  You just have to know yourself and your abilities as a teacher, then decide how flexible you want to be.
(We love to take every opportunity possible to move school outdoors!)

What about all the other "stuff" that has to get done?
You've probably heard it said that if you want to get anything done, give the job to the busiest person.  To some degree this is very true.  My busiest semester in college was filled with 22 credit hours, part time work, marathon training and music rehearsals.  Somehow there was still time for friends and volunteer work. You might be surprised how much you can accomplish with just a little re-arranging and adjustments to your normal routine.

When you know that as a mom you will only have a certain amount of time each week to squeeze in doctors' appointments and grocery runs, to read a good book, exercise, catch up on e-mails or socialize with friends, your chore and school time will become very efficient.  If you have older children, they can certainly help out with chores, and I'm a big fan of chore charts and rewards at the end of the week for their contributions to the family through care of the home (small rewards such as popcorn and movie night, a special dessert, a field trip, camping out etc.).  When kids share in the responsibility of the home and the school, it is a boost to their self-esteem and character formation.

Collectively, our boys ages 4-11 do the following: mow the grass and trim, take out the trash, clean their room, make their beds, put away laundry, set the table, clean up the dishes, empty dishwasher, sweep the floor, detail the family vehicle (as best they can), wipe down bathroom sinks daily, sweep out garage, keep play room tidy, play with Charlie while mom tends to other business.....they really can do so much! The chores are spread out throughout the day, shared among them all and are considered a part of our normal routine, so a very small percentage of the day is dedicated to chores.
(Henry, listening to recorded stories on the Mac while I teach the older boys.)

The juggling act:Teaching several grades at once:
1. We always begin the school day in the same way, with prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance and reading of the saint for the day.  Then, depending on our work load, I will review map skills, Spanish/French/Latin vocabulary and any current events or weather news.  All grades participate in this.

2.  Then, the older kids typically have assignments that they can work on on their own, while I work with the younger ones.  This might include handwriting, poetry memorization, textbook reading (science and history), or math tutorials on the computer. Their lessons are written on the white board before class begins, so they know what to do.

3.  When it is time to work with the older ones, whomever I'm not instructing may teach something simple to the younger ones (tangrams, letter/number recognition etc.) read to them, or practice their instruments.

4.  We usually being school at 8:30, and take a 20 minute mid-morning break for recess.  Recess has to be filled with physical activity, because for boys especially, it helps their mental focus, motivation to learn and allows them to get all of their crazy bugs out before entering back into the classroom. I use the recess time to grab another cup of coffee, prepare for science labs, grade papers, photocopy tests or set out a few hands on activities for the little ones to work on/play with.

5.  Our school day typically ends around 12:30 p.m.  Afternoon time is dedicated to quiet reading, unfinished work, art and/or music practice.  Typically, this is only an hour or so.
(Salt dough relief maps ~ part of our study on geographical landforms)

Many families choose, for a variety of reasons, to homeschool year round.  While there are many benefits to that approach, it does not fit our family lifestyle.  I like to have a concentrated time to accomplish the year's curriculum goals, then spend the summer "unschooling." Gardening, farming, raising 4-H animals, cooking, crafting and traveling are all educational, without being quite so scheduled or desk-oriented.  You will quickly see that one of the fruits of homeschooling is that your eyes, heart and mind are open to the possibility of everything being a teaching opportunity, whether it's grocery shopping, going to the dentist or volunteering in the community.

I will write more on the positive benefits and fruits of homeschooling in Part 3 of this series.  I would love to hear from you! If you would like to share your thoughts and experiences on homeschooling, please leave a comment!

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Prayer for Our Friends in Colorado

Every day, for the past few weeks, the people of Colorado have been on my heart.  Between the fires and last week's devastating shooting, I wonder how much longer they can bear the weight of such heavy crosses. 
The mystery of suffering is terribly profound.  I remember a wise priest telling me once that God, in his Wisdom and Love, has given each one of us the freedom to choose, a free will. After His Son, Jesus, it is the greatest gift He has given to us.  The individual who made the decision to inflict the movie patrons with suffering and death had the freedom to make that choice.  The heart cries out, "Where are you, Lord? Why is this happening?" His greatest response is through us, you and me. When exercise our own free will in a way that chooses a response of  love, support, help and prayer for our brothers and sisters who are suffering in any way, our choice is far more strong and effective than that of the one who sought suffering and death for others. 

I found this prayer online for those who are enduring suffering of any kind.  And, I am going to be praying it this week for all of the people in Colorado who have been affected by the tragedy of the fires and the shootings.  I cannot leave my family to go and help with my hands, but I can help with my heart, through prayer - prayers for strength, healing and a renewed hope in the promises of Christ.  Will you join me?

For those who suffer, and those who cry this night, give them repose, Lord; A pause in their burdens. Let there be minutes where they experience peace, joy, hope and love. Love them, Lord, when others cannot. Hold them, Lord, when we fail with human arms. Hear their prayers and give them the ability to hear You back in whatever language they best understand. AMEN.

Friday, July 20, 2012

On The Farm Friday ~ Summer's Slipping By

Does anyone else feel like summer is slipping by?? Yesterday I sat down to clean up some of my photo files and came across these snapshots of Charlie that I took on a lovely day back in May.  The weather was beginning to really warm up, and with Charlie loving to explore everything outdoors, I let him roam through dirt and sand, mud and grass.  Then, into the sink for a scrub!
Savoring these photos made me pull back from life for a moment.  I remember when the summers seemed just right - not too fast, not too slow. Bathing babies meant taking my time, playing with tub toys in a mound of bubbles, combing their curls and singing them songs....not rushing through because there's still so much to do before bedtime and four other little hearts who need my attention too.  
The days slip by so quickly around here.  There's only one reason for that - we're all a bit too busy.  Between baseball games, preparing livestock for the fair, swimming lessons, wrestling camp, and the general craziness of work on the farm, the summer is melting all too quickly into fall.
A wise woman once told me that busy is simply an acronym for Burdened Under Satan's Yolk.  Ouch. That's not where I want to be. So, today I'm freeing myself from the busy and holding on to the living.  I know it won't be easy, there are things that have to get done. But, I'm at least going to slow things down a bit, open my eyes to all the life that is passing by, and rein in the rest of summer.  Doesn't that sound good....want to join me??

I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Freedom From Fighting ~ Wishing I Had a Peace Pipe

I've been asked recently by several people how we keep peace in our home, foster a spirit of brotherhood among the boys,  handle fighting and what rules we've established in our home to manage disagreements.  (That's assuming we actually do all of those things!)

What tough questions.  You know, everyone's kids fight, argue, wrestle and agitate each other.  And, all the bickering can really wear a parent down. In my mind, there's only one thing to do: Get to the root of the problem/habit/issue and dig deep into your arsenal of instructions, because that's just what kids need - good, sound, clear instruction. I've tried nearly everything save letting my kids smoke the peace pipe - ear plugs, locking them outside and bribery topping the efforts.  All have failed, miserably.
Why do our kiddos need guidance in family relationships? Why doesn't just screaming over the chaos, "Hey kids, shape up or I'll tell your dad when he gets home!" Or, "If you guys fight one more time I'll you'll never see another Oreo for the rest of your life!" work?  Because, threats, bribery and strange consequences are short term.  Character forming guidance and age appropriate consequences are long term, but you have to be dedicated to the cause or you will be left with no other choice than to simply "put up with it."

If you have scoured the internet, checked out multiple books on parenting from the library, called every relative who raised half-way normal adults or listened to hours of cd's on how to survive the terrible two's, then we are perfect company!

I am a HUGE fan of Dr. Ray Guarendi.  He's a clinical psychologist and the father of 10 children who knows a thing or two about parenting.  He offers solid, sensible advice with a side of humor, which makes me feel like no matter how heated the arguments under my roof become, my life as a mommy is not going up in flames.  In the intro to his book, Discipline That Lasts a Lifetime, he says:

Discipline forms the very foundation of morals and character.  It is teaching done at the hands of a parent, the most loving, gentle hands most children will ever learn from.  Discipline now, and your children won't be disciplined later by the world - by people who don't love them with a fraction of your love.  Discipline is a most durable form of love.  It lasts a lifetime.

Discipline is not synonomous with punishemnt.  Discipline is responding to your children's behavior with loving concern and guidance within a set of boundaries that will help them to make better choices in the future. The wise doctor also says that,

If a parent doesn't teach qualitites such as self-control, respect for others, consideration, and ability to follow rules then the teaching task is thrust upon others: a teacher, employer, landlord, army sergeant, police officer, judge.  Who of these has the emotional attachment to your child that you do? Who will forgive and forget as many times as you will?

Our response as parents to that reality is to recognize that we have a very short amount of time with our children before they fly out the door and into the real world. Wouldn't it be nice if those years were somewhat harmonious??  I will share with you some of the approaches and philosophies we take toward the specific topic of fighting between siblings in our home.  I'm NOT claiming to be an expert here, or that my boys have been magically cured of their temptations to throw fists, tattle and tease, but they are the points from which we discipline when outbursts arise, and when applied consistently, are pretty successful.

It's a scarry truth: Your kids and mine were born with SUPER EGOS.  It's how they survive.  Without their wailing and tears, we would never know that they are hungry or poopy or gassy or teething as infants.  But, as they continue to grow and mature, we must show them how to look beyond themselves and consider the needs and feelings of others. So, if you're interested, here are my top thoughts on harmonizing the home:

First, and most importantly, you have to keep your cool.  I know, it's hard not to enter into their fights without frustration, and I fail at this weekly, but try to take a deep breathe before you head into battle.  If you lose your cool, it's never too late to apologize.  I'm sorry for losing my temper with all of you.  While I will not allow disrespectful behavior in our home, yelling at others is also not acceptable.  Please forgive me.

Iron sharpens iron as one brother sharpens another. ~ Proverbs 27:17

Secondly, each child should be given an opportunity to speak calmly about their feelings toward the situation that they are involved in.  You become a moderator of sorts - helping them to work things out together, instead of stomping off angrily with steam piping out their ears only to come back for round two minutes later.

Thirdly, during your time as "moderator" it is essential that when you are correcting a child that you help them to think about how their actions make others feel.  This will truly help them practice healthy dialog within disagreements as they grow into adulthood. You can model this for them by saying such things as:
Because I love you, I can no longer allow you to behave this way.
Yelling is disrespectful and it makes me feel sad when I hear you say such things.
I love all of you and it hurts me very much when I see that you have made someone I love cry.
If someone hurt you the way that you hurt them, what could they do to show you that they are sorry? Do you think you could do that for them?

Fourth, if a serious wrongdoing has taken place, a hurt imposed out of spite, jealousy or aggravation, the child in the wrong must be punished, must apologize to the one whom they have injured, and after having been given time to cool down, must be spoken to - short and simple - about self control and following the code of conduct within the home, which includes respect for others, and for yourself.  Separation of the offender from the rest of the crew in a space where there is nothing to do (even books to read) or to play with for at least 30 minutes typically helps the child see that it's better to try and get along than to sit in a boring room all alone.

A note on punishments - we have found it best if the punishment for serious faults is one of service to either the family or to the injured person.  That way, the child makes a connection between love, service and family and puts effort into strengthening those bonds instead of tearing them down. For example, for the family the offender can weed the garden, clean out the car, or some other task that will better the family environment. For a injured person we will often ask the offender to make their brother's bed, take over one of their chores, serve them supper mealtime and take care of his dishes etc., all being for about one week.  If the child is too young to handle these responsibilities, or to remember to do them, you must find something else concrete for them to do.  For instance, if our four year old, Henry, hurts someone he is sent to his room for 15 minutes to be alone, then at supper time I will help him serve the brother he has hurt and say kindly, "I am sorry I have hurt you today, please forgive me."  Mealtime is also a great opportunity to go around the table an have each child say something positive about everyone else as individuals.

Let brotherly love continue. ~Hebrews 13:1

Fifth, forming those character qualities of loyalty, empathy, generosity, self control and patience in your children requires due diligence.  Little sayings throughout the day, repeated over and over can be helpful reminders (annoying for the older ones, the Mr. "Know-It-All's" but they'll get over it) and over time will eventually begin to stick.  We often use the phrases, be the kind of friend you want to have or our house is a place of peace,  and all for one and one for all!  If the boys are simply squabbling over insincere things, I use the "Love a Logic" approach: "Feel free to fight as long as I can't hear you"or "That's sad.  I'd really love for you to be in our home, but since you prefer to disrupt the peace, you may leave."  They have to go behind a closed door or outside away from others to work things out.

Finally, be sure to set up very specific places where squabbling is completely unacceptable. One of those places for us is the dinner table.  Our home is very small and the kitchen is the narrowest part of the house, and it's where I spend a lot of time.  The boys know that it's a serious felony to bring bad business to my table or my kitchen.  Offenders are not allowed to have snacks, treats or any special culinary item for the day. Serious misbehavior during dinner means they leave, and are not allowed to finish supper.  That may sound like cruel and unusual punishment, but so is having to listen to their selfish bickering.
A little note on disciplining boys: boys especially need help channeling their aggression.  For our crew, physical activity such as playing sports, adventure seeking outdoors or wrestling in the living room really helps manage the friction between siblings. 

One of the most successful disciplines I've used with regards to aggression is to have my child do 20 jumping jacks, 20 push ups, and 20 sit-ups while chanting, "I will not (name infraction) throw Lincoln Logs at my brother's head ever again."  Usually the boys end up giggling, forgiving and moving on from the injury.

If all approaches toward them fail, perhaps the best approach is to realize that they just need you. You present to them.  Not you talking to them and browsing Pinterest at the same time, or doing some other activity that keeps you from making eye contact or being fully attentive. We have to be careful that all our time with our children is NOT spent correcting.  To "catch 'em doing good" and praise them for it, you have to BE PRESENT. You may not feel like doing fun things with them, or handing out treats when they've been stomping on your nerves all day, but announcing "Hey, it sounds like we're all having a bad day - let's make it better and go to the pool or get ice cream or play a game together" can really help everyone switch tracks.

Remember, as parents, no matter what we say to our children, if we do not model it to them first by our own example, they will struggle to follow our verbal instructions.  Of course Steve and I have our own disagreements.  The temptation to throw things, yell and stomp around hasn't lost it's childhood charm, but thankfully, grace (and wine) has stepped in to help us practice to the best of our ability what we preach. Here's to many years of a home filled with peace and harmony (with a side of wine)!!

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Coconut Creme Pie ~ A Little Slice of Love

Last weekend my dad was traveling in our neck of the woods on business and we were so blessed to have him stay with us for a couple of days.  When family comes into town, I completely lose my senses in the kitchen.  I love to serve up yummy comfort food (with a side of veggies, which are optional, of course!), and a tasty beverage to top it off.
My mom is an amazing cook, and taught me and my sister the secrets of great baking when we were young. In my kitchen, nothing is more fun than making my loved ones their favorite treats and seeing them enjoy every bite.  For my dad, nothing is better than a cool slice of coconut creme pie.  This is my all time favorite recipe!

For the Crust...
Don't go and buy the store bought kind! This recipe is simple and turns out golden and flaky every time!
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup Butter Flavored Crisco (no substitutions!)
4 1/2 tablespoons ice water

Sift together flour and salt in a large bowl.  Cut in Crisco.  Blend with pastry blender or fork until mixture has the texture of coarse crumbs.  Sprinkle water evenly over flour mixture, one tablespoon at a time, and blend until ingredients are moist and the dough can be shaped into a ball.  Divide dough into two equal portions. Shape into flattened disks. The dough can then be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated until ready to use, or rolled out for a double crust pie, or two single crust pies immediately.

For this single crust pie, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface until it is 1/8" thick.  Be sure to flour your rolling pin and hands, too! Lay dough evenly across the pie plate, cutting off any excess and crimp edges.  Poke with tines of a fork across bottom and sides (make lots of pokes!) and bake for 20 - 25 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 425 degrees, until crust is golden brown.

For the Filling...
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 egg yolks, beaten
3 cups milk (whole milk works best)
1 1/2 tablespoons butter (the real thing!)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup flaked coconut

Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a heavy saucepan: stir well.  Combine egg yolks and milk; gradually stir into sugar mixture.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils.  Boil 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat; stir in butter, vanilla and coconut.  Immediately pour into your beautiful pastry shell.  Cover filling with wax paper.  Let cool for 30 minutes; then chill in fridge until firm.

For the Topping...
1/4 - 1/2 cup coconut  
Spread evenly on a baking sheet and place in a 250 degree oven and stir every 1-2 minutes until toasted golden.

1 1/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar (increase if you like a sweeter whipped cream)
Beat whipping cream until foamy, then gradually add the powdered sugar.  Continue to beat until soft peaks form.  Spread whipped cream over the chilled pie filling and sprinkle with toasted coconut.  Return to refrigerator to chill until ready to serve.