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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Planning to Keep Christ in Christmas

As we enter into what is termed the holiday season, our family has already begun to prepare our hearts and hands for the upcoming celebration of Christ the King's birth. I often have foud in years past that as much as I want to accomplish special activities and ministries that by the time December rolls in, we are way busier than I anticipated. So, this year we began preparing in October. Here are some ideas we are implementing this year and hoping to repeat from years past:
http://www.titus2.com/moody-family-series.html For our fellow homeschooling families you'll be happy to know the family in the series homeschools and its a nice added benefit. Or maybe some classic Winter in the Big Woods Little House books.
2. Practicing Christmas Carols now to sing around the neighborhood one evening in December. This has been a fun addition to our bedtime routing and the kids have already enjoyed practicing for grandparents.
3. Daddy and Mommy have begun to look for special Christmas eve gifts--- these are typically a book or audio series that we feel will help draw their little hearts towards a deeper relationship with Christ.
4. Christmas Kid Craft Day-- Last year we were invited to another homeschooling family's home for a craft morning. Each mom prepared a holiday craft and then all the kids rotated from mom and room making each craft. This was a delightful morning of fellowship and making treasured keepsakes. We hope to do this again as a yearly event.
5. Making Christmas treats-- last year we just did awana and some Sunday school teachers, but this year we are hoping to bring some along caroling and also to fire stations and perhaps other service workers who don't get off Christmas Eve. We are planning now what to make, how much, and hoping to begin preparing a nice meaningful note that shares the love of Christ with those in our community.
6. Going to look at Christmas lights and also putting together a mysterious first prize basket with some goodies and a reason for the season book to anonymously leave at a home with an amazing light display. We are hoping to begin assembling this soon so that we have it on hand as we begin driving around to see lights. This way if we decide to go at the last minute, we are all set.
7. The kids have been making bracelets to sell for a missions project. We want them to remember others especially other children in the world who don't have nearly as much as we do. I'm glad we began this early on as it does take a good deal of time for little fingers
8. We have also begun working on some homemade gifts for relatives. We are trying to train the children that it is more blessed to give and also to work on the gift as well. We want them to give something that is truly from them that they can be excited about. It's also led to them thinking and praying for our very special extended family.
9. Reading the story of Christ's birth. Here we are on a past Christmas morning, but this year we hope to do a special unit study on Christmas carols and the time of Christ's birth.
10. My husband and I have also begun carefully selecting the four gifts each family member will receive. We do 3 gifts that represent the three that the wise men gave Jesus and one more to represent the ultimate gift-- Christ Jesus Himself. This has become such a meaningful part of our celebrations in remembering the true meaning of the season. It also curbs the gimmies for the most part and makes our Christmas morning more about spending time together and reflecting on why we celebrate Christmas day.
We'd love to hear your family's special traditions and ways that you prepare to celebrate Christ this Christmas!

Monday, October 28, 2013


As I began typing this post thats been floating around my head for a month now, this song came on Pandora and since it fit so perfectly, I had to share the lyrics to Everything. "And you play it coy But it's kinda cute Oh when you smile at me You know exactly what you do Baby don't pretend That you don't know it's true 'Cause you can see it When I look at you And in this crazy life And through these crazy times It's you, it's you You make me sing You're every line You're every word You're everything You're a carousel You're a wishing well And you light me up When you ring my bell You're a mystery You're from outer space You're every minute of my every day And I can't believe That I'm your man And I get to kiss you baby Just because I can Whatever comes our way We'll see it through And you know That's what our love can do" Oh my goodness, have seen our share and then some of craziness. The issue of adoption has been floating around my facebook page and as big of an advocate as we are, we still have not adopted. So, lets go back a good twelve years to when Matt and I first met. I had been told I would very likely never have kids. So, in our dating years we prayed about it and felt that we would just adopt. I never felt like I needed to have my own birth children to be a mom and while I know that need is strong for some woman, for us, it wasn't the be all end all way to grow our family. Shortly after we were married I got pregnant right away. We knew I had a short time frame to try to have children so we had just decided to see what happened. And a baby happened right away-- we were elated. However, just a few weeks later I got very very sick and a trip to the ER showed us we had lost the baby. I was devestated-- really I stayed in bed for days almost as much for the emotional pain as the physical. I was grieving the baby but also what seemed like a door closing. After I got better, I took a new job and a few months later, we were expecting again. That baby is our oldest. Shortly thereafter came our daughter. Then a few years later, our second son. Then I began to get really funny. I assumed that our child bearing years were over and we began to talk about adoption again. I had another miscarriage and then thought I was having another one and it turned out that despite the odds, we were expecting. If you knew us last year, you know it was a really rocky road, but even if you're just tuning in, you can see the header at the top of the blog and know that we have our four babies. Right before we had the baby the doctors came in and basically said, look we very rarely tell people under 30 to get their tubes tied, but its pretty bad. Matt and I prayed and just felt a peace about a tubal procedure. Our very words were-- this is not the only way we can grow our family. And with that peace, we had the baby and simultaneously closed that door. I actually am going to end it there as it was a devastating choice for me, but here we are again. We know the need and are beg. to prepare our home to either add more family or sell. We are beg. to up our research and preparing to just get ready to adopt. This current season, we aren't ready. We just have a lot of recovering emotionally and as a family from the last delivery. We need to do several renovations around the house. And I know all this-- I'm telling it all to you. But, there are those days when I am so so tired of waiting. I see others fast track their adoption journey. I see others wait months or make it happen in what seems like over night. And here we are. Waiting. I get tired of waiting. I began to pray about it. The Lord showed me this verse (at first I think I was a little smart mouthed about it and may have reminded the Lord of course I know that verse... everyone does-- sheesh...). But God really just I dont know, broke it down for me. "Isaiah 40:31 King James Version (KJV) 31 But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." If I was getting weary, than I wasn't waiting upon the Lord. And if I was waiting upon the Lord, than I shouldn't be growing weary. Its so simple, but exactly what I needed. I am waiting, but not waiting upon the Lord. So, thats what we will do. We are going to have a slow journey and I am at peace with that, but when I struggle again, this is the verse I'll come to. Matt and I have seen our fair share of waiting-- I always say we could hash it out with Moses who I always think of when it comes to waiting. So my friend, if you too are waiting for something, deep breaths... give it to the Lord. Lean on Him.

How We Bake our Bread

We have been baking this recipe for almost a year now and its something that at first was too dense and then broke a part all the time and wasn't actually great for sandwiches, and then, I went back, tweaked some things, and voila! We have been enjoying and loving this version for months and months! It is kid approved, husband approved, sugar free, and could easily be made dairy free as the only dairy product I used was butter, so you could substitute your butter substitute of choice in and Im sure it would still taste great. Its also a very forgiving bread-- trust me, I am always making this with several things going on and it just kind of goes and flows with us. So, lets begin shall we? You will need for the whole process 6 cups of wheat flour, 6 cups of warm water (split 5 and 1 for different stages) a whole stick of butter (split 6 and 2 tbs for various steps), 4 and a half tsp of yeast, about a 1/4 cup of honey-- dont stress yourself over measuring out the honey-- its sticky and its better to eyeball it as it cant hurt one way or the other, 1 cup of flaxseed (golden, ground, etc.-- Ive used it all and they all work) and 6-7 cups of bread flour.
Start with 6 cups of wheat flour. Measure it out in one big measuring bowl.
Place the dough hook on your mixer. If you dont have a dough hook, place dough in a big, I mean BIG mixing bowl and get a nice big spoon and roll up your sleeves. You got this...
Add in the flax and start mixing (if you want to omit the flax, you can and it will still be okay).
Now add in 5 warm cups of water. Keep mixing. Even with the mixer I still need to get a spoon and give it all a good stir. Once its all soaked, let it sit.
While that soaks, move onto your sponge.
First, I begin to warm my honey up. In warmer months or when it hasn't been in the fridge, I can skip this step, but alas, its getting chillier so I just heat it on the stove till its pourable.
Now, get that last cup of warm water. Add your 4 and a half tsp. of active yeast-- not instant yeast-- please don't use that! Just regular yeast. Now add a nice dollop of honey and gently stir. Now.... walk away. Do something else. We actually read our devotions and really God is so cool-- here was where we were at in 1 Corinthians-- 7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Isn't that cool? Love how God works and orchestrates our school days and all our waking moments when we submit them to Him! So after breakfast was cleaned up and the baby was down for his nap, I went back and checked on our sponge.
If my sponge mixture was at the 1 cup line before, it was now at the 2-- almost 2 and a half. If you do this on an especially humid day it will really foam! Now its time to melt 6 tbs of butter.
While that melts, add a dollop of honey into your flour mixture.
Add your butter and sponge mixture and start mixing. Get your bread flour out.
I add one cup at a time and slowly mix it in. If you add it to fast or too much at once youll get flour all over the place. Up in the mixer, around the dough hook-- trust me, I've learned the hard way. Normally when 4-5 cups are in, I stop the mixer. I take the bowl off and then sprinkle a good amount across the top. If you ever over add flour, you would just add a teeny bit of water or start kneading and it will all kind of balance out. Its fixable so no worries.
Now its time to roll up your sleeves and get to kneading. A big shout out to my 8 year old who tested out his photog skills as I was up to my knuckles in dough, so if you see both of my hands in a picture, then the credit is due him! I think he did a great job!
I know when you knead your bread, they always reccomend a time but thats just not right. You knead till its smooth and elasticky. Not too sticky and not to dry-- just right. If you keep going it will get stickier and then you have to keep adding in flour, so when it feels smooth and transportable, movie it to a well buttered bowl.
It never takes one set time for your bread to rise-- various temps. of your home will make it go faster or slower. Just stay close and keep an eye on it. I taught an art lesson on drawing pumpkins...
then I fed the baby, did some more school work, showed a serviceman where a certain problem was, and then came back and saw my dough was about to overflow! So, i floured my surface again, buttered my bread loaves, and brought the bowl over.
I always do two of my big bread pans and one small loaf pan (you can see the bread pans here: http://www.amazon.com/Wilton-Aluminum-2-Inch-Long-Loaf/dp/B00024WNOU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1383013779&sr=8-1&keywords=wilson+bread+pans) -- the smaller pan gets cubed and set aside afterwards for our baked french toast-- yum yum. You could do five or six small loaf plans, but the bigger ones are so much easier and plus, less end pieces.
So just dump your dough onto the table.
i cut off a chunk for our smaller loaf.
Roll it out and then roll it up-- I was a little too fast here, so my son missed the rolling out picture. You want to make sure your table and rolling pin are nicely floured. So, here we go with the larger loaves.
Cut your giant dough ball in half.
Roll each half (or quarter) into a nice rectangle the length of your pan. Roll it up and them place the tube into its pan.
Then cover the loaves and let the dough rise again.
After an hour at least, pre heat your oven to 350 degree. Bake the loaves for 40 minutes. Prepare to have the overwhelmingly intoxicating smell of bread infuse your home. MMMMmmmmmm.
At exactly 40 minutes your bread is done. Take it out and then tap it out of the pans. Turn it back right side up and smother the tops with butter. This keeps the tops from getting crusty. Allow to sit for a good few hours before cutting the bread. This allows it to firm up. I finished the bread at two and other than the piece I cut for the picture, I have yet to finish cutting it and its the evening now (I will do so after I'm done this).
Get a good bread knife-- this helps you to get nice even pieces.
Once cut, I place it in big ziploc bags. It freezes very nicely and I normally put at least one bag in the freezer in hopes that we won't need it to the next week. The rest I keep in the fridge-- there are no preservatives, so you need to keeep it cold or frozen to keep it from going bad as it does have a shorter pantry life than store bread. Now, enjoy!
"Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst."

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Places to Play in PA: Great Wolf Lodge Poconos

I am hoping to do a Christmas is coming post and so to set the stage for that, last year we asked several relatives that instead of buying our family toys, clothes, etc., that they get us great wolf lodge gift cards! It turned out to be one of the best things we have ever received because unlike a thing, it was valuable family time. We used our gift cards coupled with a homeschool deal (HOMEM was the key phrase to get discounted rooms during the week) and we only paid for three meals outside of the lodge and the snacks that we brought along. It was a perfect two day getaway. I do think a one night stay is absolutely perfect for us at this point-- all that water play tires you out and when you're that tired, you need your own bed! The wonderful thing is that you get two days to play at the water park with a one nights stay! We got lunch on our way to the lodge and then arrived around 2. Our room was ready so we went there, changed into our swimsuits, and then went to the water park where we stayed till a little after 7. Our family is just a tad crazy about water rides! We went to a local Red Robin for dinner and then had a late night snack of popcorn. Because of the homeschool deal we upgraded to a Kids Cabin Room which was perfect as it had 3 kids beds. The lodge also provided a packing play free of charge for the baby.
The kids loved the "special" room and had a lot of fun in their cabin for three! The next morning, we went and dined at their breakfast buffet.
They make made to order omelets and I went with a spinach, tomato, and swiss cheese concoction! Yum! We also ate way more french toast sticks then I'd care to admit, but it was a special trip, so we slacked off on our clean eating ways just a bit. We did pack some sandwiches and healthy snacks for a light lunch that we ate at before going in the water park at lunch time. However, after breakfast, we embarked on MagiQuest.
Here is what Ill prepare you for: Magi Quest takes a long time-- about 4-6 hours. The first hour will be spent figuring out what to do and completing the first task. If you have little kids who can't read, I'd advise skipping this as they're enthusiasm won't take you past the first few hours. It is a lot-- I mean A LOT of walking all over the hallways, stairs, and many frequent rides in the elevator. It is a lot of fun and is a fun family activity. We did the boys versus the girls (and baby in his Moby) and Im happy to say the girls won by a landslide (however, the boys had a very tired four year old who was quested out by the end!). We bought two wands and any time we return we will just have to pay for new games to be uploaded onto the wands. At this point I am pretty sure we burned every single extra calorie from the breakfast buffet and then some-- Im nt exaggerating when I say its a lot of moving around!
We packed our room up, ate our light lunch, and then headed back into the water park. Where we played till almost 8! Here are my tips for the water park: when you first enter, you can get colored wristbands for your kids that correlate with which rides they can go on. Getting them measured and fitted with a band then will save you time at each ride from having your child measured. Smaller children cannot do all of the rides, so take a look and see and plan accordingly. Right after the baby would nurse and was happy, I'd do rides with the older two or three (or sometimes just one) and then my husband would switch with me. Sometimes he would take older children on rides and the baby, 4 year old, and I would hang out in the 1 foot pool-- we loved it! They also provide life vests there and I'd advise using theirs as it's one less thing to pack and take home. None of the pools were deeper than 5 feet and many were only three feet deep-- it's very kid friendly. The life guards are AMAZING! By far the safest water park I have ever been too! They are constantly scanning the water, checking heights and bands, and going over the rules. It was fantastic! At one point my daughter cut her elbow in the wave pool and they quickly bandaged her up and yet another time she flipped off her tube coming off a slide and immediately a guard was in there assisting her! They really do a fantastic job keeping everyone safe! If you plan to stay late at the waterpark after you have checked out, they provide showers by the deeper pool (and there are bathing suit dryers in there as well!).
Everyone from our 5 month old to our Daddy had a wonderful time!
So why should YOU visit Great Wolf Lodge: no chance of sunburn while at the water park!Thats a huge plus right there. No matter the weather, your plans won't be ruined!
When we went a little over two years ago, a huge ice storm was raging outside but inside we were swimming! That was pretty cool! Great Wolf lodge is also a wonderful family resort. Some guy with a baby did come up to me and say wouldn't it be great if they had babysitting and I (actually thought up a clever reply instantly) said, "well, that would defeat the point of a family vacation!" Unless your kids are older and you have two, you will not do the rides all together. You have to be okay with that-- and it really is about having fun together, you just might not do everything at the exact same time in the water park. The Lodge also does amazing decorations and fun cutesy things all year long! They have characters, story times, and really, it will dazzle your children! If you don't want to, you can stay at the lodge and never leave! They have places to eat, a spa, a bowling alley, magi-quest-- its pretty cool! Its a lot of fun that can be done close by and in a smaller time frame. We unanimously have decided that we'd like to make this a yearly tradition-- and maybe we'll see you there! To check out more about the GWL, visit their website www.greatwolf.com/poconos/waterpark And, if you've been and would like to add your thoughts, please do!