What a Day!

Whew! It's nice to sit down. I told Billy earlier that I have barely sat down all day other than when I have been driving...and my feet are letting me know! We hit the ground running early this morning, taking Billy to work at 7:30 and then heading to the Supercenter to do our big every two week grocery shopping trip. Today's was even bigger than usual due to our bulk cooking plan for next week (which I will actually start tomorrow:)). There were a couple of things I had planned to get at the SC that we weren't able to get there...so then we ran into the Neighborhood Market to pick up those things. From there we made stop at the chicken outlet, and then finally headed home. Not for long, though....just long enough to put most of the groceries away and do a few morning chores we didn't get to before we left. Then we were off to our field trip at the police station. We expected it to last about an hour, but it ended up being about twice that long! When we left there we ran back by the house for about 5 minutes, and then raced to Sam's. We had some serious shopping to do there, and less than an hour to get it done before we had to pick up Billy at work. Needless to say, we were a few minutes late getting him. *blush*

Highlights of our day:

This morning while we were at Wal-Mart, I decided to stop and get everyone a small drink at the in-store McDonalds. As we were waiting, a lady at a nearby table said, "I just love to see people having large families!" I smiled and said thank you, and we chatted with her for a minute. It was hard not to grin at the thought of us being a *large family*....while I know that to the rest of the world we have more than the average number of children, in some homeschooling circles our family of four children would be considered *medium-sized* at best. But it was certainly encouraging and delightful to encounter that type of reaction.The police department trip was *great*. Billy and I have known Det. Deason since before we knew each other, and she was one of the true friends from Fort Smith who made the trip to Conway for our wedding. We met her back when we were both working for child protective services and she was, as she is now, the juvenile detective. It's always good to see her, and she always seems to enjoy seeing how much the kids have grown. :)
I never got an exact count, but we had somewhere around 48 people there for the tour. We've been before, but this one seemed to focus on different areas than the last one. We all crowded into the outer evidence room as Kris explained that only one officer works the inner room, and only 2 others in the entire department are cross-trained. Those officers are the only ones with access to the inner room, to limit any possibility of contaminating evidence. Then we went to the SWAT Team room. The SWAT Team coordinator spent a *long* time answering questions, and I think that we could have stayed in there all day! He did a great job of explaining what the SWAT Team does, showing the weapons, and allowing the kids to touch the body armor and handle a bunch of spent ammo that had come out of a recent practice session with the body armor. (I have to add, here, that my son, about whom Kris kept saying, "He is his daddy all over again!", was right on the front row for this part. ;-))
I was really impressed with the SWAT Team coordinator. His father and younger brother both work for FSPD as well, and his grandfather is retired from the department. His dedication and love for his work was evident. When he was telling the kids about the body armor, he explained that the vest alone weighs 40 lbs. Someone asked it it was hard to run with all that extra weight, and his reply was, "yes, it is...and that's why, when a lot of people are eating burgers and fries for lunch, I'm in the workout room working out." What a great example of discipline and commitment to excellence. The most interesting part of his presentation to me was when he was explaining what happens when the SWAT team arrives at a house in a dangerous situation. One of the kids asked how long it takes to secure a house once the SWAT team arrives on the scene. His reply? "From the time we stop the truck at the scene, it takes us about 10 seconds, and that house is mine." 10 seconds?! Wow. For most houses, it takes the team 10 seconds to "take down all the bad guys" and secure the house. If it is an especially large house, he said it might take 15 seconds. That's impressive!
The Communications Center was also really neat. At one point one of the dispatchers was showing us the computer map where they track the approximate location of 911 calls from cell phones. After she showed us the address it had located on the most recent call, Peter asked if she could find his house with it. She put in our address and we watched as it zeroed in on our house (seen as a blue square around a pink dot.) Peter was quite impressed. :-D

It's been a great day, but I am really glad to be home in my PJs!! Btw...speaking of highlights of the day...I discovered a new chocolate treat today. Have you tried the new New York Cheesecake Hershey's Kisses?? Yummmm.


Grace Alone {Thankful Thursday...Barely!}

No...not barely thankful, but barely still Thursday!

I've been reflecting since last night about the blessing of God's grace. This time three years ago, God was in the process of beginning some intense lessons with me in the area of grace. I vividly remember, during the last few months of 2004, experiencing and understanding the concept of grace in ways I never had before. Since that time, God has continued to show me in new ways how amazing His Grace really is.

Last night during choir rehearsal, we were working on the song "Grace Alone". It's a beautiful song, in words and music, but last night as we sang, it took on new meaning to me. Obviously, it applies to all of us...God's grace provided to all Christians. But I began to see the words as they specifically spoke to *me* right now...a Christian homeschooling wife and mother. The second verse seemed especially applicable to us as wives and moms. And the chorus is exactly the answer to the stress, the frustration, the insecurity, the weariness that we sometimes find in those roles. As I was sitting there singing and thinking about all of this, Lyndel stopped and did one of his mini-devotionals about God providing both the *desire* to do God's will *and* the *ability* to do God's will through His grace. (Probably a bad paraphrase...maybe someone who was there will see this and comment more accurately. :)) But what a wonderful thought...and what a challenge.

As long as I am trying to do it *myself*, as Lyndel reminded us...it is "as filthy rags". I started thinking about "filthy rags"....and ended up with a rather unappetizing example. I thought about what would happen (*not* that this would *ever* happen at our house, you understand...strictly hypothetical ;-)) if one of my children were to break a *major* rule at our house and take a cup of milk into their bedroom. And then if that (hypothetical, remember) cup of milk were to be spilled by their (also hypothetical) younger sibling. And then if the two of them (again, hypothetically) were to try to clean up the resulting milk mess with a (hypothetical) towel. And then if, since the milk wasn't supposed to be in the bedroom to begin with, they decided to shove the towel under someone's bed (definitely hypothetical, since no one in this family would *ever* shove anything under a bed...another rule, you know. ;-)). *Hypothetically* that towel could stay hidden under the bed until it began to smell, and someone began to search for the smell of the odor. And by then, *smell* and *odor* would be polite words for it. It would *stink*. BAD. Not that I would *recognize* that smell, I assure you, as this would never happen at my house. But I can imagine. It would *really* stink. Yuck.

And that's what all the good stuff I try to do is to God, without grace. Not to mention that it just doesn't work.

I was standing at the kitchen sink doing dishes today thinking..."What sane person could possibly think that one person can be a helpmeet to her husband, a keeper of her home, a mother to her children, *and* homeschool three grades at once (plus a preschooler)??? It is completely impossible and there is no way it can all be done." And this song popped into my head again... and I realized...."That's true...it can't." And that is where grace comes in. He gives us the grace and the strength to do what He has planned for us to do. He provides for every need. Abundantly.

I am thankful for God's incredible, amazing, unbelievable Grace.

"Grace Alone"

Every promise we can make, every prayer and step of faith,
Every difference we will make is only by His grace.
Every mountain we will climb, every ray of hope we shine,
Every blessing left behind is only by His grace.

Grace alone which God supplies,
Strength unknown He will provide.
Christ in us, our cornerstone,
We will go forth in grace alone.

Every soul we long to reach, every heart we hope to teach,
Everywhere we share His peace is only by His grace.
Every loving word we say, every tear we wipe away,
Every sorrow turned to praise is only by His grace.

Grace alone which God supplies,
Strength unknown He will provide.
Christ in us, our cornerstone,
We will go forth in grace alone.
~Scott Wesley Brown and Jeff Nelson

To see what others are thankful for, visit Crystal, at "God is in Control".

Vision Forum Giveaway

KimC at Life In a Shoe is hosting a Vision Forum Giveaway for $150.00 in Vision Forum published products. So I spent a little bit of *unscheduled catalog shopping time* this evening pouring over my new Vision Forum catalog...which handily arrived *just in the nick of time* in today's mail! ;-) My first list....totalled $313.00, and I hadn't even gotten to the dolls or the *boy stuff*!! But I managed to trim it to $149.00. Here are the giveaway rules, followed by my abbreviated wish list. :-)

Rules as posted at Life In a Shoe:

  1. Get your new catalog - if you’re not on the mailing list, get on it now. No time to get it? Download the new 2008 Vision Forum catalog as a PDF here.
  2. Flip through the pages, oohing and aahing over all the wonderful items, new and old. Note which ones are published by Vision Forum - you’ll see a VF logo near the title of the item. Try not to drool on it; you’ll be needing your catalog for the next step.
  3. Now the fun part: Put together your own dream order of $150 or less of VF published items and post it to your blog with a link to Vision Forum and a link to this post.
  4. Leave me a comment so I’ll know you entered. One entry per household, please.
My list:

"League of Grateful Sons" dvd $20
10 Peas in a Pod book 20
The Adventure of Missionary Heroism book 24
Teach Them to Your Children book 17
Thoughts for Young Men book 8
"Rebuilding a Culture of Virtuous Boyhood" cd 10
"Jonathan Park: The Adventure Begins" audio series 25
Elsie Dinsmore book 15
"The Role of Children in the Meeting of the Church" cd 10
Total $149

For more details, visit Life in a Shoe and Vision Forum .


Another Busy Monday...

Monday already. How did that happen?? It seems like I was just typing last Monday's MPM and MM post. And here we are again. Here's the plan for this week (subject, as usual, to all manner of modification as life happens...;-))

As part of my on-going Bible study on suffering, I'm going to start working through the book of Job this week. God seems to be hitting me from all directions with things from this book, so I've decided it is time to dig a little deeper in it. I will also continue with "31 Days of Prayer for Your Children".

Must Do
***Finish Fall Clothes Swap Out. Didn't quite get finished with this last week, but this week it appears summer weather is *finally* gone, so maybe we can actually put *away* the summer clothes. I especially need to inventory who has what for this fall/winter.

***Annual Insurance/Benefits Enrollment. This is one of those chores I *dread* every year....but the time has come, and I'm trying to keep reminding myself how thankful I am that Billy *has* good insurance and benefits at the hospital, and do this with a smile! (I'm not promising anything on that smile part, but I'm trying....)

***Continue Holiday Planning. This will be ongoing until Christmas. :-) I'll try to post on my progress so far later this week.

***Bulk Cooking Plan. I posted earlier about plans for our Bulk Cooking Week next week. I need to continue working on those plans and then the kids and I will *shop* on Friday.

***Armor Planning. Still working on this. *Rolling eyes* :-D

Home Blessing
One word here...DECLUTTER!!! I had an experience this weekend that has *really* motivated me (even more than I already was) in this area. I told a friend I was coming home to throw away everything in the house that we weren't eating, wearing, or sleeping on, at that very second. Okay...so I'll keep a *bit* more than that, but I've been *drastically* motivated to take extreme measures. We are on MISSION: SORT AND TOSS this week at the Harris House. I hope our garbage collectors have eaten their Wheaties!

Train Them Up
Continuing to work on gratefulness and sibling relationships. It took me a little longer to prep what I want to do with the kids from the Mally's book (Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends) than I had intended, so I will actually start that with them this week. This is a great book, btw, and I hope to review it for the Fall Reading Challenge soon.

Menu Plan Monday
Because of our Bulk Cooking Week next week, we are working to eat from the pantry/fridge/freezer this week and not buy *any* groceries other than milk, water, and toilet paper. :-D Here's the plan (with a few carryovers from last week that we didn't get to):

*Marlboro Man's Second Favorite Sandwich/Pasta Salad
*Chimichangas and Cheesy Rice
*Cheese Tortellini, Salad, Peas, Bread Machine Bread
*Little Cheddar Meatloaves, Rice, Sesame Green Beans and Carrots
*Breakfast for Dinner

Don't forget to visit Laura for more Menu Plan Monday posts, and Tiany for Monday Meanderings !

Bulk Cooking Week Plans

Frugal cooking. I've tried to practice it ever since Billy and I got married, but sometimes I've done better than others. Recently I had really hit a spell where I was letting our grocery budget get out of hand...busy schedules, stress, health issues, and just plain old not planning had really gotten us off track. The last few weeks, I've been on a mission to *rein it back in*.

So far I've been doing these things:

***Making menus. I've always tried to do this, but had gone through a real slump on this one. Menu Plan Monday has been a big help to get me back on track with this (and a great source of new ideas!)

***Price Comparisons. Years ago I used a price book (an old standby frugal shopping idea), but I haven't really needed one in years. I know the prices of items we use at our normal store, so if I'm looking at an ad or a sale in another store, it's easy to tell if it's a good deal. Quite often, my usual store price is *lower* than the ad or sale price from another store. *But*...earlier this year we decided to get a Sam's Club membership, for the first time in years. The larger sizes at Sam's suddenly made price comparisons more difficult. Sometimes the bulk products at Sam's offer great savings...but sometimes (especially for products we ordinarily buy in generics), they are *more* expensive. Standing in the aisle at Sam's, it's hard to tell the difference. So I hop online as I'm making my list, and look up items on Sam's website (you can enter your local store and then look up any item...it will give you the price and size so that you can compare). Before I leave the house, I know where the best deal is and I can divide my list into a "Wal-Mart" list and a "Sam's" list.

***Pantry Inventory. Another thing I used to do years ago that fell by the wayside. I'm working to keep a running inventory of what is in my pantry, fridge, and freezer. We've really had a problem here with letting food go bad before it was eaten...not just bread and produce (milk never has a chance to go bad here!)....but things like bags of flour and cornmeal. *Not* a good frugal habit. I'm trying to do a better job of knowing what needs to be used soon, what I need to stock up on, and what there is to use for upcoming meals. Knowing exactly what is there especially helps during weeks like this one....I'm trying to buy as little as possible this week to save money for our bulk cooking buying next week. Also...I know what I have plenty of for bulk cooking day, and what I'll need to stock up on.

Now I'm pulling out the big guns. Next week is going to be "Bulk Cooking Week" at the Harris House. I've been working on my plan for the past week, and will fine-tune it between now and Friday (which is the Big. Shopping. Trip.) Here's the rough draft of our plan so far:

My main needs are not complete frozen meals. What works best for us right now is cooking/freezing meats to pull out for quick-fix dinners. I also need prepared-ahead lunches for Billy to take to work (I don't always do well with fixing lunches early in the morning) and for the rest of us (as fixing lunch is a *huge* interruption in the flow of our school day.) I'm planning to do enchiladas and chimichangas that I can freeze and bag and people can pull out individually to warm up for lunch (or take to work). I'm also planning to make ahead quick breads and muffins that can be used for lunches or snacks. I'm still looking for ideas for make-ahead lunches.

Our other major needs right now are to have snacks and desserts made ahead, and quick breakfasts for my slow mornings. I need snacks ready during school that I don't have to think about or stop and fix...another big interruption in the *flow* of things. And if I have some sort of "bite of something sweet to eat" (as my daughter says :)) for desserts, then people aren't as tempted to go buy expensive junk. ;-) But I tend to run out of time before I get that far. The snack/dessert part of my list is subject to change...I'm still working on it.

Flexibility is the word here...I had planned to cook 10 lbs. of taco meat...the kids and I love it and I was looking forward to having it made ahead seasoning and all, instead of making it out of my precooked ground beef every time. And then all of the sudden (after I started working on this plan this week), we discovered it was hurting DH's stomach and making him sick. Eek So...out *that* plan went!

Ground Beef (30 lbs.)
***Big Batch Beef Sauce (10 lbs.)--will make tacos, spaghetti, chili, etc. (@ 7 meals) (I'll post this in the recipe thread soon.)
***Seasoned Browned Beef (10 lbs.)--for other recipes (@ 8 meals)
***Hamburger patties (5 lbs.) (@ 3 meals)
***Frozen Enchiladas/chimichangas (5 lbs.)--freeze individually and bag for lunches

Chicken (15 lbs.)
***Marinated, uncooked chests (9 lbs.)--to cook later on HealthSmart grill or saute, for chicken pasta alfredo, chicken sandwiches on buns, etc.
***Cooked and shredded (6 lbs.)--for chicken salad, enchiladas, etc.

***Pancakes. We're going to make up 10 doz. pancakes and freeze a dozen in a bag...that will be ten days worth of breakfasts. we'll intersperse that with *overnight* breakfasts (13x9 breakfasts, etc.) and eggs, oatmeal, and toast.

***Peanut Butter/Chocolate Bars (jelly roll pan)
***Muffins--Cheese, Blueberry, Strawberry (2 dozen apiece)
***Banana Bread (2 loaves)
***Pumpkin Bread (2 loaves)
***Cookie Dough (Choc. chip)--18 dozen (I'll freeze this in rolls to make a dozen at a time.)
***No-Bake Cookies---3 dozen
***Pumpkin Bars (jelly roll pan)

I still need to work out the exact preparation and cooking schedule. Peter is going to be gone today, so the girls and I are going to go ahead and bake some things we already have ingredients for (probably muffins, pumpkin bread, and no-bakes). Then I'll figure the schedule for the rest. I'll post the schedule and any changes to the cooking list later this week (and maybe some pictures of our baking adventure today :-)).


Worth Reading

I have had a running list of links I've wanted to share for a *while*...and of course now that I have actually opened this post...I can't remember what all of them were. *rolling eyes* (I really need smileys!) *Anyway*....these are definitely *worth reading*:

1. "Are We Raising Daniels?" HsKubes' Haven at Home blog is a favorite of mine, and this article is excellent. It was quite convicting to me, and I think I need to read it once a week. Such a great reminder to us as homeschool moms, and as parents, that we need to constantly check our focus and direction. It is so easy to get bogged down in just trying to *get it all done* that we lose sight of the goals toward which we are headed!

2. "31 Days of Praying for Our Children" I was so glad to find this posted on a message board I frequent. What a great list of ways to pray scripturally for our children!

3. "Cheerful Frugality and the Grocery Budget" I've said before, I love Meredith's blog. She makes frugal *pretty*. She makes frugal *fun*. She takes frugal from mere penny pinching, to creative abundance. I love that. "Cheerful frugality" puts a whole new spin on things. So often, it seems that if you've been reading about frugal cooking for long...it all begins to look the same. This one goes beyond the *same old same old*. It really hit me between the eyes. "Don’t replace processed snacks with good intentions. Devote the day after grocery shopping to kitchen prep. Spin raw ingredients into family gold with a new cookie recipe, fresh bread, homemade dip with ice cold crudite." ACK. Has she been in my kitchen?? When I come home so proud that I have done *so* well at sticking to my list and staying within my budget...and there is nothing to *eat*?? Well, there *would* be, except that I haven't gotten around to *cooking* any of it yet. *blush* Okay...I'll stop raving now and just let you read the article. :-D Excellent stuff.

Okay, I know there were more, but my faulty memory strikes again. When (if??) I remember more, I'll come back and post. :)


Thankful Thursday

I just read Iris's Thankful Thursday post, and am a little sad right now to hear that she is taking an extended blogging break...which reminded me of something else I am thankful for...Iris! I'm thankful for the *push* of Thankful Thursday to remind me to stop and focus on my blessings in the midst of whatever else is going on...even when I don't feel like it (which is when I need to the most)...and I'm thankful for Iris's sweet spirit of encouragement. On more than one occasion, she has left a comment or sent an email with just the right words at just the right time...and, she has been one of the people who has made me feel most welcome in the blogging world. What a neat thing that God can use people who we have never met IRL to bless us and minister to us online in very personal ways! Iris...I'll miss you and be praying for you during your break!

I've been sitting here this morning trying to think "what am I *especially* thankful for this week?" It's one of those mornings that I didn't wake up *feeling* especially thankful, so I'm having to work a little harder at it. ;-) But...with a little bit of self-prodding, I've realized I'm actually thankful for quite a bit this morning...

1. I'm thankful to be missing my husband this week. :-) Last week he was on vacation and home all week, and since he has gone back to work this week, the children and I have really missed his being here all the time. I'm thankful that he's the kind of wonderful guy that we *do* enjoy having him home all the time, and that we *do* miss him when he goes back to work!

2. I'm thankful that we have a *normal* week this week. I got up Monday morning and realized that we didn't have a *single* outside commitment this week other than our normal church activities. I love those weeks! We've been so off-schedule the past few weeks, it has been *really* nice to get back on schedule (mostly ;-)) this week and just be able to putter through getting the things done that we need to do at home. We have a lot to pack into these last two days of the week, but I'm looking forward to attacking the *to do* list and getting it done.

3. I'm thankful to be getting excited about Christmas. Those who don't know me *really* well won't understand how amazing that statement is. My Christmas spirit has been in hiding for several years now, and this year has been like the freeze thawing in Narnia after all those years. I grew up with huge storybook Christmases...lots of extended family, two colossal dinners (usually within hours of each other), presents everywhere...lots of love and tradition and family togetherness. Our Christmases have been shrinking for years....as our extended family has shrunk...and that has been hard for me to get used to. Then 3 years ago, my dad died just a couple of weeks before Christmas, and ever since, we have been dealing with some sort of extended family crisis during the holidays. By last year, not only was my Christmas spirit *gone*, but I didn't really even miss it. I would have been perfectly happy to skip Christmas altogether (not an option, of course, with four young children).

But this year, as we began to discuss Christmas music for the two choirs I'm involved with, somehow that long-missing Christmas spirit began to creep back in. God has really convicted me this year that I need to "forget what is behind" and "press on toward the goal of the high calling of Jesus Christ"...and that part of that means letting go of my *what Christmas used to be* thoughts, and making Christmas a special time of celebrating God's gift to us for *our* family. I was suddenly struck the other day with the thought that someday we may very well *have* the big extended family Christmases again...but I'll be the grandmother then! In the meantime, it's time for us to make some new traditions and make it special the way things are *now*. I am thankful that God has given me excitement about this and is beginning to give me ideas about creative ways to celebrate and begin new traditions.

4. I think I've mentioned this before, but I am thankful to have a piano at home again after many years without one. Playing the piano was always a major stress-reliever for me...my family could tell by how hard I was hitting the keys what kind of mood I was in! It's been really nice recently to be able to just sit down and play, and I've even enjoyed getting into a practice routine as I work on pieces for the Children's Christmas musical. After over 10 years without a piano, it's taken me several months to feel like I am *getting my piano fingers back*, but I'm finally beginning to get there. And the kids and I are really enjoying singing around the piano as part of our school day!

To see what others are thankful for this week, or to share your own blessings, visit Iris at Sting My Heart.


Wow...Is it Monday??

I can't believe it's been almost a *month* since I've posted in Monday Meanderings...the intervening weeks have been a blur. Between more outside activities than usual, health-related issues, a long-awaited out-of-town trip, and Billy being on vacation for a week...I haven't gotten very far on the things I meant to do in the past few weeks! On the other hand, we've accomplished much I hadn't planned to. So I guess it all evens out. :) We got *really* used to having Billy home last week, so it will be a real adjustment this week with him back to work, but I'm also ready to get back into our usual routine...and looking forward to getting lots done now that our calendar is not so full of outside activities. :)

Here's the plan for this week:

Bible Study

I haven't done much with my Bible Study on Suffering in the past few weeks. I definitely want to get back to that this week. I am also starting today on a list of "31 Days of Praying for Your Children". I plan to post it in another post, but the message board post in which I found it had no credit...so I'm looking for a credit before I post. :)

Must Do

I'm almost scared to even think about this part of my list this week...there is *much* that *must* be done around here! Fortunately, the list isn't as bad as it looks, because much of it is stuff that is just part of our normal schedule, like school, or *planning* stuff, which is fun for me and doesn't require a lot of physical stamina. :) But there is plenty of other stuff to keep us out of trouble, too! ;-)

1. Back into the school routine. We need to dot every *i* and cross every *t* in school this week, as we took some time off last week for dad's vacation, and we've had a few other unplanned interruptions in the past few weeks. I also need to do some assessment and planning for the next few months of school this week...I had hoped to do that last week during vacation, but didn't get that far. *Sigh*

2. *Finish* fall clothes swap-out. This has been a real chore this year, mostly because I have really let our clothes storage situation get out of hand. I have gotten rid of a *lot* of stuff over the past week and have a big bag of stuff ready to photograph and list online to sell (I hope!) I just have to finish cleaning out the bottom of the playroom closet and that chore will be *done*...FINALLY.

3. Holiday Planning. We're making some changes in our family's holiday traditions this year, and I want to get a *plan* down on paper *now*. I have lots of ideas swirling around in my head, but I am afraid I'm going to *lose* them if I don't get them down in black and white (or colored Sharpie ;-)) soon. We also have birthdays to celebrate during the holidays, and we want to do something special as a family for Reformation Day this year...so I need to get my creative gears turning!

4. *SEWING MACHINE* This has been on my running to do list *forever* and this week is the week it must be *crossed off* the list! Something is wrong with my sewing machine and I have *got* to sit down and see what the problem is and get it running again or decide what to do otherwise. I have a list of sewing projects a mile high, from mending to holiday projects to home ec activities with Bay, that I have *got* to start whittling away at!

5. Plan Armor. (Jodie, if you're reading this, don't you dare laugh!) A project my son and I are working on as a possibility for the kids' DT class at church. More on this later, I'm sure. :-D

6. Homeschool group planning. We need to get the November field trips set by the 19th, and start looking at plans for early 2008. I'm also trying to get some academic fair ideas together for our board mtg. next week.

7. Watch 2 movies. I know...doesn't sound like a "must do", but for once, it is. One we have had from Netflix for a couple of weeks and haven't made time to watch...my family is going to revolt if I don't make time to watch it so that we can send it back and get to the next movie on the list! The other is an Answers in Genesis movie on loan from a friend, which we need to watch *tonight* so I can get it back to her.

8. Catch up on blog posting!! Right...that doesn't sound like a *must do*, either...but I'm stressing over the fact that I have birthday party pictures, vacation pictures, field trip pictures, and who knows what other pictures I'm forgetting that *really* need to be posted...plus a list of "Blog about..." ideas a foot long. I will feel much better once I get that at least *somewhat* caught up. Hopefully now that we are *semi-back-on-schedule*, I'll be able to start catching up.

Home Blessing

I already mentioned the playroom...when I get finished sorting the closet in there, the kids and I need to do a massive *toy purge and sort* and then we should be ready to do the *Great Furniture Swap* as we move Peter to the playroom and swap out some other furniture from one room to another.

I keep putting the dining room/school room on this list, but it keeps getting pushed to the bottom and then falling off. :-( We seem to be in a declutter/pile up stuff cycle in here that is making me crazy. I need to make some real *appreciable* progress in here this week before I lose my sanity completely. (No comments from the IRL folks there, please :-D)

This is the fun part this week...I have to decide on a final plan for refinishing the wood pieces in the living room that need to be refinished. I hadn't planned to tackle that until we had some other major projects finished (i.e. the dining room walls!!) , but our trip to the used book sale in HSV last weekend necessitated moving a *very* ugly bookcase into the living room from the playroom at bit earlier than planned...so I've got to decide on paint and process so that I can at least do that *one* piece sooner rather than later. The living room has become my *peaceful place* lately, and the jarring ugliness of that old, faded-light-blue bookcase is *really* disturbing at the moment.

Train Them Up

In addition to just getting back on track with schedule and school (I should really leave out that *just*...that will be quite a feat in itself, although I must say, they've done pretty well this morning and I think they are as ready to get back into the routine as I am!), we are starting some intensive work on the character quality of gratefulness this week. Not only does that seem an appropriate quality to be working on heading into the holiday season, but there have been recent indicators that we need to focus here for a while.

We're also going to start a Bible Study this week based on the book "Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends" by the Mally siblings. Sibling squabbles used to be pretty rare around here, but somehow over the past year or so they have invaded our home, and Mom has decided it is time to run them *out* of town completely!

We're still struggling about potty training. *Sigh* The busy-ness lately hasn't helped any. We've *really* worked at it this week. But we are nowhere near there. I vascillate between thinking that perhaps this is the *one* area (other than her size) in which her prematurity is affecting her development, and I just need to be thankful that this is the only struggle of that sort we have had and wait it out...and thinking that she is simply (as we already know) the MOST stubborn child EVER born and it is going to take every ounce of strength, patience, and brains (what little are left at this point) I have to win this battle with her. ;-) The only real hope I have in this area is that this weekend *Dad* said, "Gracie, we're done with diapers. You are a big girl and you are going to start going to the potty like a big girl. We're not buying you any more powder (she loves to be powdered when she gets her diaper changed) and you are going to be finished with diapers by the time this bag is gone." He's really gotten serious with her about it, and I'm hoping that will be what will spur her on to *get on with it*! I can't imagine the first week without buying diapers. I've bought them continuously for 9 years and 10.5 months now, with a few months here and there of buying for *two* in diapers. We are going to feel like Billy got a raise!

Menu Plan Monday

I've really been working on this area lately...our menu planning, food budget, new recipes, etc. I'll be posting more on that as I have time. I have lots of new recipes to post *sometime*. :-) In the meantime, here's the plan for this week's menu:

*Gnocchi with Sauce, salad, green beans, breadsticks
*Potato Soup, Salad, Cheese Bread
*Taco Salad
*Marlboro Man's Second Favorite Sandwich (found this this week and decided it had to go on the menu, as it sounds like something Billy would *love*!), pasta salad
*Breaded Chicken, macaroni and cheese, Asian carrots

*13x9 Hashbrown Breakfast Bars
*Overnight Dutch Puff
*Chimichangas and Mexi-Rice
*Taco Soup, corn muffins

*Toast, Oatmeal, Eggs
*Raisin Toast
*English Muffins

*Cheesy Rice, Fruit
*Potato Soup (leftover)
*Loaded Tater Tots, Fruit
*Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup
*Ham, Cheese, and Carrot Stick dippers

*Applesauce and Cinnamon Crisps
*Pumpkin Bars
*Crispy Cheese Crisps

Whew! Lots going on this week! To see what others are doing and cooking this week, visit Orgjunkie's Menu Plan Monday and Tiany's Monday Meanderings.


LIke a Broken Record....

Okay, so maybe that isn't the best title. I guess something sounding like a broken record tends to have a negative connotation. But do you know that feeling when you just keep hearing the *same* message *over* and *over* and *OVER* again, everywhere you turn? And you finally realize that God *really* must want you to get this? This morning's sermon was one of those times. A *hit right between the eyes* event.

This time last year, the message I kept hearing everywhere I turned was this: "There are no surprises to God. God is not surprised or taken off guard by the circumstances you find yourself in. He has a plan for everything that happens in your life and in your family...a plan for good and not for evil, a plan to give you a future and a hope." Come to think of it...Bro. Kent said almost those very words again this morning! I needed them (desperately) a year ago, and I needed to be reminded of them today.

The message I keep running into (like a brick wall!) everywhere lately is this: "God owes us no explanation...for anything. When we begin to see our circumstances (or those of someone we love) as unfair, we must realize that what we all *deserve* is death. God created us; He has, in His infinite mercy and grace, provided a way for salvation for us. We will *never* understand all the ways of God. He is sovereign, He is all-wise and all-knowing, and we are not. But whether we understand or not, God is good, and His ways are perfect."

I guess it shouldn't have surprised me when this theme appeared yet again this morning, this time in Bro. Kent's sermon. Here are some of my notes:

John 12:37ff

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts." Isa. 55:8-9

We simply *are not able* to understand all there is to understand about God in our finite mind. Our decisions are to be made based on God's Word alone...not on our own experience or understanding.

God reveals that unbelief involves willful rejection of obvious truth.

We will always will to sin, apart from Christ--even the good things that we do apart from Him are sinful, because they are done with wrong motive.

Free will of man vs. Divine Decree...Gen. 50:20~ God didn't *make* them sin, but He meant what they did for good as part of His plan. Rom. 8:28

Just as in Joseph's case in Gen. 50, someone can sin against me grievously, they are fully responsible for that sin and God will hold them accountable for it. BUT...God is not caught off guard by it, He is not taken by surprise, He *will* use it for His purpose, He *allowed* it as part of His plan for my life. We do not understand how this is...that God does not cause them to sin, and yet the act they commit has been part of God's plan from before the beginning of time...but it points to the infinite greatness of God and His glory.

When we start to accuse God of being unfair, we had better watch out...we are on dangerous ground. Paul...Rom. 9..."So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. Who will say to me then, Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will? On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles."

The question we need to remember..."Who are we to question God?"

We deserve...the entire human race...God's wrath. But in His infinite mercy He has chosen to save some. Is it fair? It isn't *fair* that any of us are saved...we all deserve death and hell.

He is perfect in His wisdom and I am not.

He is God, and I am not.

Much to meditate on this week...

What a Friend

Ever have a flashback while singing a certain song? I often find myself singing a song and reflecting back on times that God used that particular song in my life, or remembering a special *event* from the past connected to that song. (I will always remember singing "We've Come This Far By Faith" as the first choir anthem after we helped begin a new church over 20 years ago, and I can't sing "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" without remembering commitment services at BMA camp all the summers of my youth.) But occasionally, I will hear or sing a song and feel as though I've literally gone back in time as the the thoughts and emotions from the past come flooding back.

This morning was one of those times. We began to sing a hymn, and I went from simply singing in the worship service, to being transported back in time. The problem was...I wasn't sure *what* time. I knew I suddenly felt a rush of emotions sweeping over me, remembering God using this hymn very powerfully at a difficult time in my life, but I couldn't place *when*. I vaguely remembered singing it in choir not long after my dad died....but I knew that was not the situation I was thinking of. Then suddenly, as we began to sing the third verse, it all came back. Not quite a year ago, during one of the most difficult Sunday mornings of my life. As we sang "Even when my heart is breaking, He, my comfort, helps my soul," I remembered tears streaming down my face as I struggled to choke the words out through my quivering chin and breaking voice. I remembered clinging to those words like a lifeline that day and through difficult days following.

Jesus! what a Friend for sinners!
Jesus! Lover of my soul;
Friends may fail me, foes assail me,
He, my Savior, makes me whole.


Hallelujah! what a Savior!
Hallelujah! what a Friend!
Saving, helping, keeping, loving,
He is with me to the end.

Jesus! what a Strength in weakness!
Let me hide myself in Him.
Tempted, tried, and sometimes failing,
He, my Strength, my victory wins.


Jesus! what a Help in sorrow!
While the billows over me roll,
Even when my heart is breaking,
He, my Comfort, helps my soul.


Jesus! what a Guide and Keeper!
While the tempest still is high,
Storms about me, night overtakes me,
He, my Pilot, hears my cry.


Jesus! I do now receive Him,
More than all in Him I find.
He hath granted me forgiveness,
I am His, and He is mine.


~J. Wilbur Chapman

I learned to love *hymn stories* from my dad. The words of a beloved hymn can certainly stand alone, but how much more meaningful are the words to "It is Well With My Soul" knowing that they were penned as Horatio G. Spafford was crossing the ocean at the exact spot where his four daughters perished at sea? After singing this song this morning, I decided to look up the story behind it. When J. Wilbur Chapman wrote this song in 1910, he was no stranger to sorrow. His mother died when he was 13. He lost his first wife just a month after the birth of their first child. His second wife, and mother of four more children, died three years before the writing of this song. In 1909, Chapman took a stand that made him quite unpopular in some circles, demanding that all missionaries who doubted the inerrancy of Scripture be recalled home at once. He apparently experienced a series of failures in his otherwise incredible evangelistic career during 1909 and 1910, and endured serious health problems from 1902 until his death in 1918 (although he continued to preach throughout those years.)

What an amazing blessing to be reminded that no matter what storm we are experiencing, Jesus is truly our Comfort, our Guide, our Keeper, and our Pilot, and to know that "More than all" in Him we will find.


Thankful Thursday...on Friday :)

I didn't get to sit down and post this yesterday, but I composed it in my head while washing dishes yesterday, if that counts! I missed TT last week, and I didn't want to miss two weeks in a row!

The past couple of weeks have been a roller coaster here...some really hard days, but some really good ones and some special encouragement as well. There has been much to be thankful for during this time, so I'll just share a few random thoughts:

1. A long-anticipated trip to see Billy's parents in Hot Springs Village. More on our trip in another post (or two or three :)), but we so needed a break to get away as a family, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to do that. I'm thankful for the time to visit with his mom and dad and nephew, for a safe trip there and back with no van trouble, for the peace and beauty of the drive and their location, and for a time of rest (mentally, at least :)) and refreshment.

2. A date with Billy!! While we were in HSV, Billy's parents kept the kids so that we could go out for a few hours on Saturday afternoon. We had planned to go on the weekend of the AAUW's annual used book sale, and friends drove down to meet us for the sale and lunch. We rarely get to go out without the kids (this was our second *date* in over 6 months), so that was a treat. It was also a treat to get to spend some *grown up time* with our friends.

3. New books from the booksale! Have I mentioned that I *love* getting good deals on good used books?? We got 74 books at the book sale for $10.00...more on *that* in a separate post, too. :)

4. Christmas music!! Wednesday night we had *two* Christmas music previews...for the children's choir for which I play the piano, and for the adult choir, in which I sing. :) Christmas has been rough here for the past few years since my dad died, but this year I am suddenly excited about it again. I am *especially* excited about the music we are doing in both choirs (even though I *did* do my share of fussing about the fact that when I agreed to play for the Children's Choir the plan was that we weren't *doing* a Christmas musical...I'm getting over it. :))

5. Billy's vacation this week. It is just always good to have him at home, and we've gotten really spoiled this week. I'm *really* not looking forward to his going back to work next week (but I am really glad that he has a job to go back to, don't get me wrong!) We have really gotten a lot done this week on the house, and also had some time to just *veg* together. It's been nice.

6. My children's love of nature. This will get a post of its own, too, but we got to take a nature hike while we were in HSV...we've been planning it for a while and they were so excited about it. It was such a treat to see their delight in God's creation...all four of them calling out "Mom...Dad...come look! Check this out!" and ooh-ing and ahh-ing over a perfect pine-cone, an exquisite tiny mushroom, a particularly unique rock, or a simple little flower.

7. I know I'm leaving out something from my *kitchen sink list* from yesterday...I'll probably think of it as soon as I hit post. :) Anyway, I'm also glad to be able to participate in Thankful Thursday, and thankful for Iris's encouragement and friendship. She and Thankful Thursday are such blessings! Visit her at Sting My Heart for more Thankful Thursdays.