For a Quick Reference

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Let the Holy Spirit Guide

This morning my heart ached in sadness over the deluge of negative news stories from around the globe. It's just too much for me to bear silently. I want to add a positive and uplifting voice to the clamoring, contentious noise in this world, so I'm sharing a story dear to my heart today.

It is with the humble hope of lifting your spirit and boosting your testimony that I share this truly personal narrative.

A few years ago, I was enrolled in nursing school with three young children (ages 5, 3, and 2) to care for. In addition, I was homeschooling my daughter and busy serving in a time-consuming calling in my church. It was during this time of stress, deadlines, and demanding family life that I gained a stronger testimony of the reality of the Holy Ghost and his power to influence our lives.

There are two examples I'd like to share with you that exemplify how the Holy Ghost powerfully impacted me and taught me about God's power to make up for my shortcomings.

The first example involves my attempts to learn and memorize 40 pages of textbook information each day for my Anatomy class. My professor was well-known across several campuses as being a true classroom drill sergeant,  force feeding us information at a break-neck speed and writing tests that were nearly impossible to pass. Tutors would cluck their tongue in sympathy when I told them the name of my professor.

I studied in the precious quiet hours after my children were asleep (often staying up until midnight) or before they woke up each morning. I studied 4-6 hours each day. I hung pages of notes all over my house to help me memorize- they were taped up near the kitchen sink, in my shower, on the bathroom mirror, and even tucked into my  purse to review at stoplights. I played recordings of lectures during my long 2-hour commute to campus. I even took textbooks to the park to read while pushing children on swings.

Even with all this effort, it was discouragingly difficult to retain such an influx of new information each day.

This is where the Holy Ghost stepped in. I noticed that any day I took the time to read my scriptures before studying for class, I had the Spirit with me when I studied, which cleared my mind and helped me grasp concepts much faster than normal. I also remembered information better and spent less time reviewing my notes. I could cover a huge amount of material in a shorter amount of time. This was consistent throughout the semester. It really taught me that if I served the Lord first, He would help me make up the difference.

The next example is more personal and, to me, more sacred.

Some days I would be asked to spend a few hours to serve a needy family from church, and then I'd face a difficult decision. If I chose to take time out of my tightly packed schedule to help someone else, I would lose precious study time. With almost trembling faith I would do what was needed to help the friends in need, then pray extra hard for the Lord to help me in my class work. Many times I prepared a beautiful meal to give a family in need, while my children were given cold cereal for dinner and I ran upstairs to study.

No matter how I tried to rearrange my schedule and make more time for studying, I just couldn't fit any more hours in my day. As I prepared for my first test, I realized with a heavy heart that I hadn't even read (let alone memorized) a full third of the assigned reading. As I quickly leafed through the extra 200 pages, trying to memorize key points and charts in a glance, I knew in my heart it was no use. I couldn't fit one more fact in my frazzled brain that week.

When I arrived at the testing center and received my thick packet of questions, I took a moment at my desk to offer a sincere prayer for help. I had not even looked at a third of the testing material. Even if the stars aligned in my favor and I luckily scored every question correctly in the remaining 2/3 of the test, I would still have a barely passing grade. After pleading silently for the Lord's help, I opened my test with a sigh and began.

Something miraculous happened.

Each time I read a question and pondered the multiple choice options, I felt the Spirit whisper to me which choice was true. He mentally nudged me to the correct answer. The thing that amazed me the most was that I was able to feel the Spirit guide my choices even when I had never even read the topics that were being tested. The Spirit enlightened my mind and testified of truth, guiding my response to every question. I felt awe that this could happen, and humility that the Lord saw fit to answer my prayer.

With a deep sense of gratitude, I finished my lengthy test and awaited the results.

I was amazed to learn I had scored an 'A' on my test! I truly felt like it was a tangible miracle.

I felt the Spirit guide me on all of my tests throughout the semester, helping me earn a good grade in a notoriously difficult course.

These experiences taught me to trust more fully in the Lord and realize nothing is impossible for Him to accomplish.

I also learned "I can do all things through Christ, which strengthens me" when I serve Him first and have faith. (Philippians 4:13)

I testify the Holy Ghost is real, that we can feel God's love for us through the Holy Ghost, and that he can touch your life if you seek that blessing.

I hope your day today is filled with joy in our Savior and moments to enjoy the beauty in your life. Look for the positive things, and you'll find the day overflowing with goodness.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Homesteading updates

As we begin to approach our two-year mark living in the country, I wanted to evaluate our progress in the homesteading goals we wrote when we first moved to the country. Here is the four-year plan we made, along with our progress report:

Year One-

-Move onto our new property. CHECK

-Give birth to our new little boy. CHECK (I didn't plan on postpartum depression, extreme sleep-deprivation, and exhaustion with this I went into 'survival mode' and ignored our homestead plans for almost a year. Now that I'm out of the "new baby" phase, I'm quickly catching up with our plans for the property. I'm on fire with progress this month!)

-Repair the house and make the necessary improvements. CHECK, CHECK, CHECK, and still more to do. (Finish remodeling the garage into two additional rooms, demolish the badly-done extension that is literally rotting away and falling off the rest of the house. Oy.)

-Start our large chicken flock, including guineas and roosters this time. CHECK and CHECK (FYI- guineas are pretty annoying. And our guinea likes to scratch off the gravel on our composition shingle roof. I'm not sure they're keepers. We are slaughtering our last guinea during our next butchering day.)

-Incubate eggs so we can perpetuate the flock sustainably, without buying chicks online. CHECK,  CHECK and CHECK.  (We prefer letting a hen hatch the eggs rather than incubating them indoors. The hens take such good care of the chicks, and greatly reduce our workload regarding chick brooding/care.)

-Begin the compost pile so we will have soil amendments for our veggie garden. CHECK (We have several piles going. It's so nice to use rich homemade compost this year in our orchard and veggie garden!)

-Fence in the garden plot. CHECK

-Plant our herb garden this year. -we're working on this one now-

-Begin vermicomposting with kitchen scraps. CHECK (Sarah LOVES searching for worms in the pasture and relocating them to our compost bin. She'll spend hours at a time happily digging in the dirt hunting for worms and carefully cradling them in her hands as she carries them to their new home.)

-Raise enough meat birds to produce the meat our family will eat this year. CHECK and CHECK

-Slaughter the birds and preserve the meat in one long weekend. CHECK (One long weekend didn't work- we do several smaller batches instead. It's much easier to process the meat on a smaller scale.)

-Participate in 4-H so our children can learn how to work with livestock. -NOPE, the meetings in our area are only on Sundays, so we won't be participating in 4-H. Boo hoo.-

-Continue studying permaculture techniques to implement in our farm design. CHECK

Year Two-

Amend the soil for garden beds. CHECK (Double digging a garden is back-breaking work, just to warn ya. But you'll LOVE the results! I love our garden bed!)

Plant one vegetable garden bed this year, 100 feet long and 4 feet wide. CHECK (I even edged our garden with large limestone blocks this year- it's lookin' good! It finally looks like a real garden instead of a random patch of pasture.)

Begin planting fruit trees for our orchard. CHECK (2 figs, 2 pomegranates, and 2 peaches are planted. We're still looking for 2 persimmons and 2 jujubes.)

Expand poultry flock to include ducks and geese, which will live in pools made in the fruit orchard area.     -Our goslings will arrive in April!-

Expand herb garden to include medicinal plants. -working on this one-

Improve the barn so it's ready for livestock.-working on this one-

Reseed the pasture so it has a healthy ecosystem of grasses. -working on this one-

Build a beehive and begin beekeeping in the pasture. NOPE (Maybe we'll get to this next year after we help friends with their bees to gain hands-on experience. And after I conquer my huge fear of flying, stinging insects. Maybe.)

Raise meat goats to keep brush and weeds under control in the pasture. (We are hoping to buy three goats this spring after we repair the pasture fences and install gates.)

And looking ahead to the next couple of years:

Year Three-
Add another vegetable garden bed, 100 feet long and 4 feet wide. 

Add domesticated grape vines to the property 
Plant native berry bushes, including blackberries and blueberries.  
Add some dairy goats or a Jersey cow so we have our own milk supply, then we can produce home made butter, cheese, cream, yogurts, kefir, etc. with farm-fresh milk. 

Year Four-
Add another vegetable garden bed, 100 feet long and 4 feet wide. 

By now I'm hoping our food production will be largely self-reliant. Unless calamities occur to set us back, we'll be using plenty of veggies from our three large garden beds, fruit from our bushes, vines and trees, eggs and meat from our chickens, milk from our large livestock (either cow or goats), and sweetener from our beehive. It is presumed that we will preserve the harvest each year with canning, dehydrating, and freezing so we won't have to buy much produce during the extremely hot or cold months of the year.

Monday, January 28, 2013

We joined in a new delightful tradition this year.

It's called:

Run, Run as Fast as You Can, I'll Blow up Your House, Little Gingerbread Man!

It's a holiday to creatively dispose of old stale gingerbread houses...with explosives.

Several families gathered to enjoy the cold weather and sip hot apple cider while we watched the spectacle unfold.

Here is part of the lineup waiting to be demolished:

The boys and men carefully filled each house with explosives.

Some people chose to use M80's, others opted for bigger explosives with more spectacular effects.

Check it out:

The spectators kept a safe distance away while waiting in excitement for each new explosion.

After each demolition, the kids would squeal and swarm to the ruined house, eager to see the rubble. 

During the festivities, children played all over the property and roasted marshmallows.

Nathan and I tried to sneak a picture together, but it turned out totally blurry. I kept it anyway, since we have so few pictures together.

To end the day of fun, there was a polar dip in the frigid swimming pool. 

True, we may live in Texas, but it was COLD that day. 

The water must have been in the 30's. (Okay, you Alaskan relatives- mock me all you want. Our 'polar dip' is probably a steamy hot tub compared to your arctic dips midst ice-filled water. It's all relative.)

It made me shiver just watching people jump in the cold water and gasp in shock. 

Most people dipped in once, squealed in astonishment, and ran for a towel.

Not Sarah. She LOVED the cold water.

She relishes cold weather.

Today was her favorite day of the year.

While almost everyone else gasped and spluttered in the cold water, she laughed and luxuriously swam laps.

She climbed out into the brisk air and dove into the pool over and over again with delight.

She stayed in the pool way longer than anyone else, not even shivering when other kids lips turned blue.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

Dear Unwelcome Guest-

You arrived at my home unexpectedly several days ago after an absence of a year. I'll gladly confess, I am thankful you've been away so long.

I am normally happy to welcome friends into my home, but you make my heart quiver in fear. It doesn't make much difference that we've known each other for a long time. 

I'll grudgingly admit you have taught me a lot over the years.

You have taught me true humility as you've brought me to my knees in tears, begging Heavenly Father to take you away from my life.

You have taught me patience as I've realized during each visit that there isn't much I can do to send you on your merry way and leave me alone.

You have taught me to deeply appreciate the precious gift of healthy body as you've effectively crippled mine, stolen my vision and warped my ability to think.

You created within me a deeper desire to use my body to improve the world, encourage the people around me, reach out to others and serve my family more...because I can't do ANYTHING other than writhe in pain for hours on end when you hover over me. In my mind, I picture you rubbing your hands together in glee and laughing maniacally as you watch me suffer.

Even though I am honestly thankful for the things you've taught me, I still don't want you to visit. You aren't very considerate- you monopolize my life each time you stop by.

Unfortunately you never stop for a quick like to settle in for long afternoons together. 

You force me to ignore my family and bring all  my daily productivity to a grinding halt.

I feel so helplessly chained and trapped by you.

Why are we friends? 

I can't help it. 

I'm powerless to end our acquaintance no matter how much I loathe you. 

You are my hated ailment of migraines. 

You've kept me under your thumb for several days now. Please leave. 

Most sincerely,

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How not to install tile

Our newly-tiled shower

When we purchased this house last year, we found lots of interesting hidden details.

Let's revisit the memory of when we scrubbed the shower for the first time, shall we?

The tiles literally popped out and disappeared into the wall space one by one, leaving behind black holes in their wake.  

We were left with a row of gaping holes in the middle of our shower.

Evidently the previous builder didn't believe in doing a job correctly.

The tile was mounted on just dry wall.

And evidently the previous owners didn't believe in using caulk.

Of COURSE it rotted away.

(Unfortunately I couldn't find any old pictures of our nasty shower to share. Just imagine it the most horrible, moldy drywall you can, mkay?)

So we learned how to rebuild walls and install tile this year.

Let me rephrase that.

We learned how NOT to install tile this year.

We learned all the wrong ways to do the job, through classic trial-and-error.

Let me explain.

We thought we had a brilliant plan. 

We purchased assorted surplus tile in an attempt to save money.

All the tile cost us only $20 instead of hundreds. 

I was going for a mosaic kind of look with several shades of natural-looking tile.

In my head it look so great.

But then our problems began.

Inexperienced DIY-er that I was, I didn't realize tile isn't true to its measurements.

You can buy 6 inch tiles, but it's not TRULY 6 inches square.

This meant all of our mismatched tile were slightly different sizes and slightly different widths. 

Which made tiling the shower a nightmare. Or a comedy, depending how you look at it.

We spent hundreds of hours shaving off edges of tile to make them fit.


It would have been way better to just buy new tile that all matched.

We COULD have done the tiling all in one weekend if we had matching tile, but no, that's not the way it worked for us.

Our desire to save some money cost us in big time in labor later.

SO- did I tell you it took us months to do this job? (Closer to a  year would be more accurate.)

We'd work on it for hours and get only a couple rows of tile installed. 

So then we'd give up for a couple weeks and work on other, more rewarding, projects someplace else in the house.

In the meantime, my bedroom floor was full of tiles and tools. 

It looked pretty awful, even when the tiles were stacked neatly in rows.

We had to force ourselves to work on this beastly project. 

After months and months of work, we finally finished!

YAY! (insert exuberant happy dance right here)

I can't tell you how spoiled I feel having a usable shower in the master bathroom.

I feel like a queen, isn't that funny?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Glimpses of Christmas

In a super-quick nutshell, here was our Christmas.

We decorated gingerbread cookies together with friends for FHE.

We ate and ate until we were filled with sugary, spicy goodness.

I simply LOVE gingerbread!

We baked lots of other yummy treats and drove all over the county delivering them to our friends and caroling.

The kids and I sewed dozens of fabric bags to use for gift-wrapping this year. They loved helping with this project!

I made calligraphy gifts for our extended family this year.

We spent lots of time keeping Diego away from the gifts under the tree.

On Christmas Eve we enjoyed a wonderful new tradition, but that's a post all by itself. 

Suffice it to say, we were reminded of our bounteous blessings and filled with gratitude while we served less-fortunate people. Details will come later next week. Maybe. If I remember to type it up.

Not to be displaced on Christmas Eve, Saffron insisted on spending the night in his usual spot on the couch. 

He nuzzled in next to a stocking and looked like a gift on Christmas morning. 

Nathan designed and built a rotating star projector for the kids. It's such a neat nightlight!

I sewed a Hogwarts fort and put it in our library spot for a reading tent. 

The kids were so surprised when they woke up and saw it! 

Daniel's favorite gift was a bug-catching kit with a book on how to care for common bug pets.

Sarah's favorite gift was a knitting loom with lots of brightly-colored yarn.

Matthew's favorite gift was a cool Phineus and Ferb wristwatch.

My favorite gift was a MP3 player. Now I can listen to podcasts while I clean! 

Nathan's favorite gift was a new Nexus 7 to use during his train ride every day.

Now he reads scriptures and reviews Russian flashcards during the commute.

And we were blessed with a Texas miracle- an inch of snow!

Our kids danced in the fat falling flakes, made snow angels, and enjoyed a lively snow fight. 

Then they cried because their mittened fingers were too cold and numb. 

So I fed them all hot cocoa and steaming German pancakes and they were happy. 

The end.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

20 Ways to Honor the Sabbath as a Family

Here is another list of activities we choose to do to honor the Sabbath Day:

1- Take dinner to an elderly friend or someone who lives alone. This one is easy- just prepare an extra plate of whatever you are already cooking that day and share it. We did this for a neighbor every week for almost a year and really loved the friendships we developed this way. I would always sit and chat with our neighbor for several minutes before leaving, since nourishing the soul is just as important as providing a nutritious meal.

2- Write letters to missionaries or relatives.

3- Write thank you cards to mail this week. We write cards thanking our teachers from church, our neighbors who served us, our school teachers or the bus driver. It's such a great way to train us in the habit of noticing the ways we are blessed from other people.

4- Read church magazines together as a family.

5- Listen to General Conference talks or CES firesides.

6- Play dough scripturenary. We write scriptural nouns on slips of paper and divide into teams. Each team draws a random slip of paper from the bowl and tries to sculpt that noun with play dough while his team guesses the word. It's a really fun game! Some suggested words could be: Noah's ark, lion's den, angel, sword, fig tree, fish, sheep, dove, temple, Bible, sling, armor of God, etc.

7- Make a treat to share with neighbors or friends. This is a great way to introduce yourself to new people in your area.

8- Use dinner time to discuss what everyone learned in church that day. 

9- Read family journals together. My children love to cuddle with me while I read the pages of my journal, sharing stories from when I was a child.

10- Read ancestral journals together. I love to tell stories from our pioneer ancestors. It really helps us feel connected to our forefathers and provides real examples to strengthen our own character.

11- Make up fictitious stories together. We sit in a circle and begin a story. Each person gets to say 5 sentences to contribute to the plot, then the person to the right gets a turn to add to the story. This goes around the circle with each person adding plot twists or details. It sure makes for interesting narratives!

12- Take a walk or bike ride together as a family. 

13- "Adopt" a grandparent in your area and visit them on Sundays. We are blessed with a talented Texan Grandma who invites our kids over to paint and knit with her. Our kids look forward to this very much and always beg to go to Nana Precious' home.

14- Dramatize scripture stories together. Dress up for your character and consider filming the production to enjoy again another day for a family  movie night.

15- Plan and carry out a family service project. 

16- Plan the FHE lesson for this week.

17- Select a talent you'd like to develop. Set goals for learning the new skill.

18- Listen to reverent classical music all day to invite the Spirit in your home and enrich the soul.

19- Have an object lesson contest in your family. Pick one or two items around the house- any tool or item works- and have everyone come up with a story about how that item can illustrate a gospel principle.

20- Write in a family journal or help younger children write in their personal journals.  Help them reflect on their week and record what is important to them.

You can see even more Sabbath activity suggestions here.

What works in your family? Please share your ideas with us!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Pointillism Painting

7 kids + 1 huge canvas + 500,000 fingerprints = Pure awesomeness

Have you ever heard of Destination Imagination?


Well, let me tell you.

It's a creative academic competition for kids around the globe.

I coach a team comprised of various home schooled friends and church friends.

"Coaching" is a generous word to use. 

Sometimes it's more like trying to quell uncontrollable chaos.

Sometimes it gets pretty crazy. That's when I pull out our Mighty Pipe of Power.

No one can talk unless they wield the Pipe of Power. 

(It's really just an old piece of PVC pipe that was left over from one of our projects.)

The kids actually really love this thing. I should spray paint it gold or something so it looks more impressive.

Anyway, back on track. 

I train the children how to think outside the box and creatively solve challenges as a team. 

Then I tell them to invent a  unique piece of kinetic art and build it. 

Then they are asked to write a play that incorporates the kinetic art and an invisible character.

They are on their own to write the script, but they get more points if they also write a song to fit in the story.

Then we ask them to build their own costumes (thank goodness both girls know how to sew!).

And they must make their own backdrops and scenery.

And don't forget, the more creative they are, the more points they'll score. 

Parents and coaches are NOT allowed to touch any of it.

The kids make it up and build it on their own.

I personally love this program: it encourages all the creative thinking that public school squelches.

When public school says 2+2=4, 

Destination Imagination says otherwise.

2+2= 22 or a ballerina tutu or the Star Wars robot R2D2 or any variety of answers.

It's very fun! 

I love seeing their minds work.

Well, during Christmas vacation we invited our team over to work on one of their backdrops.

They decided to paint this one with the pointillism approach, to rack up more creativity points.

They worked for  hours, carefully placing paint one dot at a time.

While they painted, we laughed, told jokes and wrote songs for the script. 

When it was finished, they stepped back and had a moment of silence. 

The painting looked so impressive.

 They were so proud of their work!  

They envisioned it, they created it, they loved it.

I'll post pictures later of the finished project.

Until the competition, it's a bit top secret.

The regional competition is in 6 weeks, so coaching will be taking up more and more of my time as we enter the home stretch.

Just in case you wondered what we're up to.

We still need to design and build our kinetic art. 

And build a unicorn out of cardboard and cans. 

And sew a costume for Death.

And teach the kids how to face paint for their stage makeup.

And paint a village.

And not go insane before it's all over.

Wish us luck!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Sound of Silence

Anyone there?

(Crickets chirp in the silence.)

I thought so. 

I know. 

I haven't been here for ages.

I don't blame you for leaving for greener pastures.

Good news!  I'm finally emerging from my black hole.

I hear you asking, "What happened?"

During the Christmas break, I made a rule for myself of zero blogging. 

I wanted to soak up every minute of having my children home from school.

We really enjoyed our vacation time together.

After school started again, we all caught the influenza virus. 

This year the virus is really nasty.

The virus loved our accommodations and wanted to move in to stay.

We spent a lot of time cuddled under blankets or playing quiet games like chess.

After I spent 5 long days sick in bed, the pile on dirty laundry was big enough to rival Mount Everest.

Depressing, eh what?

Nathan came home from work and stayed up until 2 am conquering our laundry for me. 

He also deep cleaned the kitchen while I slept in a feverish stupor.

He's such an angel!

We are finally -FINALLY!- getting better.

I'm slowly returning to normal.

Now I'll begin the task of catching up on here.

There's so much to update:

Our new Christmas traditions that encourage our children to make a positive difference in the world,

Several project updates (like the Hogwarts reading fort I made for our kids for Christmas),

Our bathroom renovation updates
 (the shower is DONE DONE DONE!!! I'm totally doing my happy dance over this one!),

new quilts in the works for our boys bedroom,

and our batch of 100 new chicks arriving in the mail.

I'll start updating right away. 

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy your day!