Board Books for Little Ones

It is never too early to start reading to your children. Not only are you helping to expand their imaginations and vocabulary, but the quality time spent with them is invaluable….

You can read the rest of a book review I recently had the honor of writing for Twiniversity HERE.

Celebrating Successes

The sunshine and warm weather reminds me that summer is coming soon.  Adventure awaits.  Outdoor fun, trips to the farmer’s market, family vacation, and more is just ahead.  But we’re not there just yet.  These are the days that tend to drag on and on.  The days that we all get a little extra grumpy and impatient.  The days that can sometimes be exhausting and overwhelming trying to get “caught up,” if that’s actually even a real thing. 

These are the days that we’re finishing up our schoolwork, but we’re not quite there yet.  I’m overwhelmed thinking about all of the school things we still “need to get done,” often forgetting to remember all that we’ve accomplished.  So today, I chose to sit down and focus on how far my kids have come this year.  

They have become such great readers and are rarely without a book in hand, even reading their Bibles together occasionally, which makes me so incredibly proud.

They’ve each learned new skills and conquered new educational milestones.  My oldest is especially proud of her new found knowledge of both cursive and multiplication this year.

They’ve become much more brave than they were a year ago.

They’ve worked hard, even together at times.

And of course had quite a bit of fun along the way.

All while becoming even closer friends.

Yes, there are most definitely days that I feel like we haven’t done what I had planned for us to get done that day in school, days where they all seem to be arguing nonstop, days that I’m not sure any of them were listening to a word I said.  But they are growing.  They are learning.  Some of those moments are small steps and some are giant leaps.  So I’m trying to remind myself to focus on the big picture, focus on all of the amazing things in each of their lives, and try not to be a glass-half-empty kind of mom in the seasons of life that it can be challenging.  I’m so proud of my kiddos!

Try it. They just might like it!

So as a general rule, we try to keep healthy foods in our home and teach our kids healthy eating habits.  So many parents I talk to have issues getting their kids to eat veggies.  I get it.  Honestly, I remember when I was a kid having vegetables for a meal that I thought were absolutely disgusting.  But still, they’re one of the most nutrient rich foods you can get into your bodies, so as a mom, I’m going to encourage a menu full of them as much as possible.  

I’m personally not a fan of “sneaking them in” my kids food.  I’d prefer to teach them healthy eating choices that can stick with them throughout their lives.  But I do try to make an effort to make them as enticing as possible.  Sometimes that means making it fun, like when we slice up veggies into thin fry-like pieces and let the kids wrap them in lunch meat.  Sometimes it means just cooking it in a different way.  I remember eating a lot of steamed veggies growing up, often from a frozen bag, and let me just say that isn’t my favorite way to eat most veggies.  Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes for convenience sake, I’ll pull out a can of green beans and warm it up, but whenever time allows, I love to start with fresh veggies.

In the summer, one of our family’s favorite things to do is head to a local farmer’s market and grab plenty of farm fresh vegetables.  As an added bonus, when your kids help pick out the food you eat, they’re often more likely to try it.  I’m hoping to be able to figure out the time to get a garden started this year to involve them even more in the process.  We’ll see.  

One of our favorite veggie sides around here is, believe it or not, broccoli.  But this is not your typical broccoli dish.  This is the most amazing one ever!  It’s roasted, which in our home, has revolutionized how we cook veggies.  They have a unique taste and texture when roasted and so much flavor.  I’m betting if you try some tonight, your kids might actually enjoy it.  Mine usually ask for seconds.  And the babies absolutely love it!  Inspired by this recipe a few years ago, here is how we make it around here.  

First, chop up the broccoli (we use about two lbs) into bite-sized pieces.  It cooks faster and makes it easier for littles to eat too.  Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Next, drizzle 4-5 Tbsp of olive oil over it.  Broccoli tends to soak up oil quickly, so start with less and add a little more if needed, but stir first to make sure most of it is coated lightly.

Now, I’m normally particular about things, but sometimes that doesn’t mean in my cooking.  Please forgive me for the lack of exact amounts.  I put about 1 tsp of sea salt and 1/2 tsp of fresh ground black pepper and 2 tsp of minced garlic and then sprinkle this deliciousness across the top of my bowl.

Stir well and lay in a flat layer on a cookie sheet.  I line mine with foil for easy cleanup.

Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes until its just starting to turn a crispy brown.

When you pull it out of the oven, drizzle a small amount more of olive oil over it and spray a little lemon juice over it.  Yes, I’ve been known to keep a spray bottle of lemon juice in my refrigerator for such an occasion.

Serve and enjoy!  I’d love to hear what you think if you try this for your family.

I do make other more simple veggie dishes too.  Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when including vegetables in your meals.  Roasting is a great option for many, but even something like this simple sweet potato side that we make can keep it interesting and I’m telling you, your kids and family will like it better than mushy lima beans.  All I do with this is peel and dice a few sweet potatoes, heat up some coconut oil in a skillet, add the potatoes and sprinkle just cinnamon all over them, then cook up for maybe 15-20 minutes and it’s like a dessert.  Healthy doesn’t have to be gross.  Try it for yourself.

Consider It Pure Joy

So the past few weeks have been a little extra crazy at our house.  My husband is in the Reserve, and he had a two week training to report to, so that means two weeks with me flying solo.  Now, I am a full-time stay at home mom of six littles, so I am well aware of the daily needs of our family and home.  And to be honest, I do most of it because I’m the one home more.  But I also know that parenting really takes two, especially when there are six kids in the home.  And I also know that everything always goes haywire when he’s gone for military.  I’m not kidding.  I’d bet that other military spouses would back me up on that one.  Things that were working perfectly for the last year break the day he leaves, kids turn into insomniac creatures you don’t recognize, technology quits working, kids start puking, you name it.  Haywire.

This time, I’m not sure it could’ve been much crazier though.  The day after he left, I took the kids out for a drive and to go grab some french fries.  We occasionally do this, as it’s a “break for mom” trip, gets us all out of the house, and the kids are thrilled to get a little “treat” along with it too.  As I’m driving, the van starts acting strange.  Haywire, you might say.  I just didn’t feel right about it at all, so I turned around after a few minutes of driving and went back home, fry-less.  My poor kids were bummed, but could tell something wasn’t normal with the van, so I think they understood.  My super-awesome-helpful dad came and got our vehicle and took it to his mechanic to check it out.  There was definitely an issue that needed to be addressed, so they were keeping our van, our only mode of transportation and assistance in “break for mom” trips, for the rest of the week.  So two weeks with husband gone, one of them with no transportation.  

After all of those days, we get our van back.  Hallelujah!  What do we do with our new found freedom?  We take a “break for mom” trip, of course.  It’s been a long week!  As I’m pulling into the place to order some fries, the power steering on the van goes out.  This is not a good feeling.  I’m a little freaked out, but since we’ve made it this far, I’m determined to finish the trip.  We order the fries and as we’re waiting for them, the temperature gauge starts to go up on the van.  Not good!  I am slightly panicked at this point, but it’s me, flying solo with six kids with really no back up plan.  The car starts to jerk and dies a couple times.  Again, more haywire.  But I have to get my kids home!  So I start down the road, then the temperature gauge goes all the way up…. I know better.  I turned immediately into the next place I could.  A gas station.  

My poor van…

Now I have to be honest, I was unbelievably overwhelmed.  I had a vehicle that was not going anywhere anytime soon, a van FULL of kids, and a husband out of the state.  And anyone I could think of to give me a ride at that moment surely couldn’t fit SEVEN extra people in their vehicle!  So I called my husband crying, just because I didn’t know what else to do.  Poor guy.  He immediately called some amazing friends of ours who had a van large enough for all of us and were so kind and helpful that it made the whole situation so much less stressful.  So thankful for them!  Bonus, my kids adore them, so it was an extra fun adventure and at one point in the day, my oldest even remarked that it was the “best day ever!”  Kids can be great for providing perspective sometimes.

The van sadly made its return on a tow truck, where my super-awesome-helpful dad was able to fix the totally unrelated new broken pieces and get us back to driving again.  

And this was just one of quite a few crazy adventures that I endured over those two weeks.  

Things broke….

Kids that are NEVER sick were sick literally the entire two weeks…

Now I could sit here and tell you that I was so happy and joyful during all of this, but that is totally not true.  I could pick out all of the positives through the crazy, how my kids joyfully ate fries and played “I Spy” while we were stuck at the gas station waiting for a ride, how we were able to get groceries and food at just the right time before we ran out, how the repairs weren’t nearly as bad as I was expecting, but that’s not what I felt I learned the most from in all of this.  

Over and over, these past few weeks, the Lord has continued to bring to my attention these verses, which I’ll be honest, I really struggle with sometimes:

James 1:2-4 says,
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Consider it pure joy?!  Are you serious?  How can I be joyful that all of these frustrating, stressful things are happening? And yes, I know, these are small trials compared to many others, but still trials.  I often feel like considering it pure joy after my trials are over or if I can somehow avoid the trial altogether.  But to be joyful while facing them is a challenge for me.  I believe that the answer is found in the “why” though.  It’s not that you’re thrilled things are tough, but that you begin to see those tough moments as an opportunity for growth.  That you can and should become stronger in your faith because of those trials.  In my crazy past few weeks, some moments I’ve stopped to notice God work through the situations and some moments I’ve not handled well at all.  I’m grateful for the grace of God and how patient He is with me in those moments.  So my challenge to myself is to see my struggles, whether it be stresses about a vehicle, my house, my kids, whatever it is, as opportunity to rely more on God and grow in my faith.  For that I can be joyful!

Oh, and if anyone knows of a great deal on a big reliable van, let me know.  We just found out more is in need of repair on ours. Considering it joy!

Adding Twins to Our Family

I was recently asked to write for Twiniversity about our life with twins.  My sweet little girls are almost 18 months old now, but you can read HERE a little about when we added them to our already big family.

Finding a Routine that Works for You

As you would probably imagine with a large family, there is a lot of structure to our daily lives.  Yes, at times, it’s more like controlled chaos, but still some kind of routine is necessary if for no other reason but mom’s sanity.  I know that having all the meal planners and house cleaning schedules and extra detailed planners works for many moms, but I am just simply not one of them.  I do like lists, but our lives need to be a little more flexible than that.  If a baby is teething and fussy all day, or I forgot to get a much needed item at the grocery store, or Daddy has to stay late at work, our schedule rolls right along with it.  So, like a lot of other things we try to do around here, I schedule “with grace.”

This is something I’ve had to learn over the course of having a few kids, to be honest.  I remember with my first, I would freak out if I didn’t get her down for a nap at just the right moment or if meals weren’t at the same exact time every day.  But when you have a houseful, you learn to relax with the little things and focus on the bigger things that actually matter.  And I personally feel like I’m in some ways a better example for my kids, being a little more flexible when life happens.  

With all of that said, though, I still believe that kids do well with a routine… at least I know mine do.  So we’ve found something that works for us.  We may not start our breakfast or school time at the exact same minute each day, but it is around the same time and each child knows what is going to happen next.  Assuming they don’t forget.  That happens too, probably more often in my house than you’d ever imagine.  

If you aren’t a planner by nature, but feel a little more structure would help your family, maybe something a little more relaxed like how we’ve set up our daily routine would work better for you?  You can still put in time frames if it works for you. Or maybe you prefer bullet points.  If you want to try out a daily routine, I’d suggest you start with the things in your schedule that aren’t flexible (i.e. sports practice,  school pick up time, etc…) and then fill in around it as best you can.  If something takes less or more time than expected, then just proceed with the next thing on the list when you’re done.  Here’s what mine looks like currently….

With six kids in the house, four of which are homeschooled, you can imagine that I need to keep things organized so I don’t forget what needs to be done.  But believe me, there are days that they take forever eating a meal or doing their morning chores, or whatever it may be and we just keep moving through our day.  Occasionally I do need to sit down and rework it if my timing is way off or if something big in our days have changed, like recently my youngest son quitting naps.  

Sort of…

For me, it’s been freeing to be able to still have some kind of structure in our house without worrying about perfection, which just isn’t real life.  I believe I’m actually more productive most of the time by having some kind of plan written out too.  I just have this routine stuck on my refrigerator and a basic wall calendar for other notable events.  For me, keeping a structure, while keeping it simple, has been a good fit for us.  

Kids are truly amazing, but kids are very much still learning; and sometimes how they get things done may not be in the same way or in the same time as we would do things.  Providing a framework and helping them to succeed by having a plan is important, but having grace in the process I believe is as well.  Are you a planner?  I’d love to hear planning tips you’ve found that work for you!

How do I do it all?

I get asked often, by friends, family, and even sometimes complete strangers, “How do you do it all?”  I’m sure the thought of meals and laundry and school and everything else for so many kids seems completely overwhelming to most.  Honestly, it can be some days.

Here’s my secret:  I don’t.  We live in a world where everyone sees the best moments of our life, but rarely sees the real part of it.  Yes, my kids are very well behaved in public, but that’s definitely not always the case at home.  Who wants to see a picture on social media of my kids arguing?  Of course you’ll see the ones with them smiling and playing together.  Those are real moments too.  My house is almost always picked up, but rarely truly clean.  It’s my reality right now, and I’m ok with that.  So, now that you know I don’t “do it all,” here are are a few things that do help me to accomplish whatever it is I actually do in my home.

I have help.  I may have a lot more messes with so many little ones around, but that also means I have a lot more hands to help.  Starting while they’re young, I’ve tried to instill some sense of responsibility in my kids.  My four oldest, including my three year old, have job cards with their tasks to be done after breakfast each morning, including simple things such as making their beds and picking up toys, but also things like sweeping the kitchen floor and emptying the dishwasher, with each task assigned according to the child’s abilities.  And of course, when my husband isn’t working, he’s a great help with things too.  I may do well keeping up with the mountain of laundry most of the time, but I’m awful at keeping the sink free of dishes.  He’s the absolute best at helping out with that!


I make compromises I’m comfortable with.  For me, messes all over the place all the time make me crazy, so we try to enforce the “clean up your mess before you make a new one” rule around our house; but I’m way more relaxed when it comes to something like mopping the floors.  Sadly, not sure I remember when I did that last.  Most days, lunch is served on a disposable plate.  I hate to be wasteful, but it saves my sanity a little with the dishes and also makes it easier for the kids to help with cleanup.  It’s what works for us in this season of life.  I believe that letting a few little things be done with less than perfection helps you accomplish more of what really matters.

I’ve got plenty of Jesus… and coffee.  I probably should’ve mentioned this one first, because for me, it’s the most important.  I cannot get through my crazy days with the enormous responsibility I have of teaching and raising up my children, among other things, without my faith.  There is a noticeable difference in my days when I don’t start my day with some Jesus… and continue it with Him.  He brings a peace to my home and myself that nothing else can, as well as countless times the strength I need to get through the bumpy moments.  Coffee is of less importance, as you would imagine, but still… it helps!  Besides keeping me warm in the winter, it’s one of few things that are just for me so I do cherish it… even if I sometimes have to dump and refill it because I don’t often get to sit and drink it while it’s still hot.

Paleo Chili your Kids will Love

A few years ago after some medical issues with my now five year old, our family switched to a (mostly) Paleo diet.  For those of you not familiar with that lifestyle, it’s basically just eating meat, fruits and veggies, and some nuts.  We don’t do dairy, legumes, or grains.  If you can’t read the ingredients, it doesn’t go in the grocery cart.  We’re not crazy strict because honestly, we couldn’t afford to be with the size of our family.  And the husband and I have slacked off and had way too many “treats” lately, but are trying to get a little more on track these days. We’re hoping to teach our kids to have a better relationship with food than we do, seeing food as fuel.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t be delicious either.

Tonight’s dinner was my own personal chili recipe I came up with.  It’s not too spicy, so a couple of my kids really like it.  I served it on baked sweet potatoes, and for the ones who wanted a little cheese, added some shreds of Kerrygold on it for them.  The babies and the picky three year old just ate sweet potatoes pretty much.  Our house rule is to try a bite.  I don’t make different meals for everyone, but I do try to be sensitive to foods they might not like and adjust if needed.

Case in point:  chili next to the sweet potatoes “in case it might be too spicy.”

Here’s the recipe if you’d like to try it out:

3 lbs beef (I use about 2 lbs of ground beef and 1 lb of stew meat.  Any combination works fine.)

1 medium onion diced

1 green pepper diced

1 red pepper diced

1/2 c canned pumpkin

1 can of original Rotel

1 can of diced tomatoes

2 1/2 Tbsp chili powder

1 1/2 Tbsp cumin

1 Tbsp garlic powder

1 Tbsp basil

1 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp cayenne

Brown beef and drain.  Throw all ingredients into crockpot and stir.  Cook on low 3-4 hrs.

I think it was a hit!

Full of Blessings and Boogers

Our life is so full!  Unbelievably full of blessings… six beautiful healthy children I have the opportunity to raise and teach and spend my days with, a fun-loving, hard-working husband of over twelve years, a home and yard more than large enough for us all to live and enjoy life together, and countless other moments, days, and gifts with which God has so richly blessed us.

At the same time, our life is full of boogers… with a house full of little ones, I do mean that quite literally.  Seriously moms, you know what I mean.  It’s a constant struggle in my house to get all the kids to remember to grab a tissue when they need one.  And I’m also, of course, referring to the not always fabulous, real parts of life.  The days when you just feel like a hamster spinning in a wheel, working so hard to keep it all together, but it seems like nothing is actually getting accomplished.  The days that you were a total grumpy mom and just now realized why your kids were acting the way they were.  The days that you are counting the minutes until bedtime because you just aren’t sure you can deal with one more sibling argument, crying little one, or complaint about the food you cooked for dinner.

Its real life.  Full of both great moments and tough moments, and everything in between.  I sure don’t have it all figured out, but I know the One who does and continue to seek His wisdom, and to be honest, quite often fumble along the way.  My hope is that by sharing our family’s triumphs and real life moments, I will be able to encourage other parents out there to see that they’re not alone, that life can be amazing even on the crazy days, and hopefully see how full their own life is and can be.


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