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Mega meal planning for the mega family

Meal planning


(Note: This is the first post of a three-part series. Read parts two and three here and here.)

Cooking is a job I’m OK with. Yeah, sometimes it’s challenging with the various allergies we juggle and all the other demands on my time. Sometimes I just want a break. But, for the most part, food prep for my family is not a job I hate.

Planning what to cook, on the other hand, is a chore I detest. Especially when I’m trying to think of it as my crazy day spins out of control. Knowing that, with every hour that passes, my options become more limited as I no longer have time to thaw that roast or make that slow cooker stew. I tick through the items in the freezer and/or refrigerator. What can I make with these raw ingredients? Do I have all the necessary pantry items to complete the meal? Sometimes, more often that I like to remember, the answer was no.

Ugh. All this food and I can’t think of a single meal to throw together. So we might end up eating pancakes. Or hot dogs. Again.

I’d look at the meal planning systems that other moms used. I checked out apps, computer programs, books, printable forms. None of them were intuitive for me. Every system I’ve seen tries too hard to be clever; inevitably, they don’t mesh well with the way my mind works.

I had to blaze my own trail, creating a system that made sense to me. I needed something to help me overcome my hatred of the planning aspect and the unprepared aspect of always lacking ONE thing from every recipe I wanted to create. I had to get all the planning out of the way and plan everything down to the last can of tomatoes I might need before I shopped again.

This is my system.

First, I decide how many weeks I want to shop for. I aim for a minimum of four weeks, but I prefer eight. Remember I hate the planning and it feels so freeing to just do it all at once and have it DONE!

When planning how many meals to make, I consider things like, How many times do we expect to eat out during this time? How often are we likely to have guests over for a meal? How many “extra” meals do I want to have available to bring to a family in need?

We eat nearly every meal at home. We frequently have guests, and I like to be prepared to minister to others, so I always figure extra into my food plan to accommodate this reality.

Next, I select recipes. I choose by season, mostly. Asparagus in the spring, pumpkin in the fall. Grilling in the hot months, soups, stews and baked meals in the cooler months, etc. I decide how many times we will have each meal. There are certain meals our family loves, and eats often. I plan to have these meals multiple times within my menu plan time frame.

I plan accompaniments for the recipes I choose. Spaghetti? I plan a salad and bread along with it. Marinated grilled chicken, I might serve with roasted potatoes and broccoli, or maybe red rice and a salad. Each combination is written down as a separate meal option even if the main dish is the same.

For breakfast, I list all the things that we might make.

Oatmeal, crockpot risotto, multi-grain hot cereal, German pancake, Baked oatmeal, eggs/muffins, eggs/toast.

Lunch, same thing:

Baked potatoes with toppings, hot dogs, sandwiches (egg salad, tuna, lunch meat, peanut butter & jelly, grilled cheese), leftovers.

I multiply recipes until they are enough to serve all the people consistently eating at our home on a day-to-day basis. Then I multiply that recipe by the number of times I expect to serve that meal in the time period for which I am shopping. I write the corresponding grocery list next to my menu selections.

__ pounds chicken, __ cups of rice, __ onions, __ pounds of potatoes, __ pounds of cheese, etc.

I do this for every recipe I will include in the lineup. Then I go through all the grocery list sections and compile a master shopping list. I write the items on the list in categories (meat, dairy, produce, breads, canned/boxed/dry) and then tally the number of pounds or cups of items (depending on how I will encounter if for sale at the store — i.e., I buy cheese by the pound, so I make any conversions necessary to translate recipes that call for cups of shredded cheese to pounds). Beans, rice and other dry items are generally sold by the pound, so I translate cups to pounds. Some recipes call for a certain number of cans of tomatoes, since I’m making mega amounts, I generally multiply the pounds and ounces and see whether I can buy the ingredient in a larger size to save money. (Hello, #10 can!!!) I work my way down my list of planned meals until everything is accounted for on my master list.

For breakfasts and lunches I do the same thing; but since the meals are simpler, I do the multiplication in my head and include it in the master list.

Then I consider my baking. I do a lot of baking. Including a lot of gluten-free baking. I don’t want to plan out exactly what I will bake when. The “fun” of baking for me is the ability to make what sounds good at the moment. Enter the pantry list.

I went through my pantry and listed everything that I purchase on a consistent basis. Things I would replace when I run out. My list is more extensive than some, because I maintain a whole arsenal of gluten free flours in addition to regular wheat flour. I also use a lot of different beans and a variety of grains.

I evaluated each item and figured out the approximate rate at which I use it. How long does it take me to go through a gallon of olive oil? a 25-pound bag of flour? a pint of vanilla? ten pounds of chocolate chips? The rate will vary, so I’m going for an average. Some things I didn’t know; I started dating packages when I opened them, so when I ran out, I would get a better feel for our rate of consumption. Once I had this information written down, I was able to determine how much I needed to buy to last through my shopping period. I add all these pantry items to my master shopping list.

The last categories to add to my shopping list: personal care, cleaning supplies and pet items. Again, I pay attention to how quickly we go through a tube of toothpaste, a bar of soap, a package of toilet paper, cleanser, dishwasher detergent, laundry soap, etc. I add to my list the amounts needed to get us through the shopping period.

Now I’m almost ready to go shopping. The final step is to go through the stock on hand and revise my shopping list to reflect the difference between that and what is on the shopping list already. I take my messy, handwritten, marked up notebook papers to the computer and collate all the information into a neat list that’s ready to take to the store!

(Click here for part 2: Mega shopping for the mega family.)


Filed under Food, Home

Haircuts and the passage of time

Noah's first haircut, June 2007

Almost since the beginning, I’ve given all the haircuts in the family. No, I’m not a trained hair stylist — I started out of necessity. Occasionally, I have an “off” day and the results are less than stellar. But for the most part, I do an OK job. No one runs away crying at the horrible hair of my kids or husband.

While this started out as a cost saving measure, it has transitioned into something so much more.

A baby in our family usually gets his first haircut by age two. For girls, I do little more than trim the ends to even them up. Boys take a bit more work. That first haircut is an exercise in patience — both for me and the child. I need help from my husband to hold their head while I’m making cuts, because they cannot understand the notion of sitting still for five seconds. It’s always bittersweet to see those baby locks fall away. I pick up a clipping to save. To remember the sweet curls,Noah's first haircut, June 2007 the baby-fine softness of their hair. Then there is that moment when they look in the mirror after the haircut and stare with no recognition of who they are. 🙂

As the babies turn into toddlers, they do much better at sitting. Some get frightened at the noise the clipper makes. All are curious. The hair changes. Gradually. A bit darker maybe, fuller, less fine.

Grade school kids just want the haircuts done, often opting to have it all buzzed off. I notice when they haven’t been doing an adequate job of washing their hair, and I instruct them. We have one-on-one time to chat about how they are doing, or other things that might be important to them at the time. Now the hair is full and strong, and they have settled into their own hair color. The hair changes. Almost imperceptibly. Growing thicker, coarser.

During the teen years, the hair changes dramatically. Hair that once was straight now is curly. Coarse hair turns fine. Limp, fine hair now has a ton of body. It’s interesting, what hormones do to hair. Yep, those bodies are changing. Hair is greasier. Again I give reminders about personal hygiene as we have our haircut chats. They also have more of an opinion on how they want their hair to look. Style. I try to accommodate, but I have no training. I learned on the job and my methods are primitive, to say the least. Sometimes mom doesn’t cut it (haha, pun not intended, I saw it after I wrote the sentence) anymore, and they seek out someone more experienced and professional to do the job. I’m fine with this. Less work for me. Right? But there is a twinge of sadness, as I see them begin the separation process toward independence. And I miss the chats we used to have as I cut. While I recognize this as normal, healthy and good, there is a part of me that longs for them to stay little and cuddlable.

As adults, sometimes a mom haircut is preferred because they recognize the cost savings to them. Their hair is mature now, as they are. Settled into their true color and style. Just as they are. We again chat. Sometimes this is the only alone time we have in a week or more. I no longer need to remind them of personal hygiene. They get it now.

As I cut hair year after year, every six weeks or so, I watch time pass by. I reflect on the changes that I have seen represented in the fallen hair on my bathroom floor.

And I’ve seen the process continue into adulthood as I’ve cut Don’s hair. When I first started, he was younger than our oldest child is now. He had very thick, slightly wavy, coarse hair. It took a LOT of pruning to make it lay nicely. Over the years I’ve notice a bit less in the dust pan at sweep-up time. I’ve noticed a little gray, a bit of receding at the temples. A little more gray. Finer hair again. Time goes on. I am hit with the realization that we are getting older. How did this happen? Weren’t we just married a couple of years ago? I don’t feel any different.

I remember all the hair on the floor. I remember the changes. The changes represented there encompass several lifetimes.

What changes will the future hold? Eventually all the kids will grow up and leave. No more haircuts, no more chats. But, Lord willing, Don and I will grow old together. I won’t necessarily feel it, but I’ll see it in the hair on the bathroom floor.

Hair clippings on floor

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Filed under Children, Home, Odds and ends

Welcome to Urgent Care — Oh, you again?

Back to zeroEvery family has accidents and injuries. Big families tend to have greater numbers of accidents, due to the simple and obvious fact that they have a greater number of people. Our family is no exception.

But sometimes the number of urgent care visits becomes ridiculous. When I’ve made more than one trip per day, or gone twice in one week for the same kid, something needs to be done.

This past year we had a particularly rough season. There was a large gash on the head that required about ten stitches, a broken ankle, and several smaller things that I’ve apparently blocked from my memory. Seems that every time the kids went out to play, someone was getting hurt.

This had to stop!

Often, the accidents resulted from carelessness or just plain stupidity. We lectured, pleaded, instructed, made rules, enforced rules, yelled, prayed, etc. The kids just would not use reasonable caution, or learn to effectively calculate risk.*

Somehow, out of my frustration, I came up with an idea.

I’m not even sure how the idea came to be. Don thinks he mentioned something in passing about OSHA standards. I can’t remember. All I know is that one day, after yet another injury, I looked at a small chalkboard in my kitchen and decided.

I grabbed my chalk and wrote a big 0 (ZERO), and labeled the board “Accident Free Days”.

For weeks, it seems, we were stuck in the single digits, frequently returning to zero. It was discouraging.

But about 6-8 weeks in, something changed. The kids did NOT want to go back to zero, so they started being more careful — willingly. We moved into double digits.

When we hit 30 days, we decided it was time for a celebration. A whole month accident free! Amazing. We went to In-N-Out Burger to celebrate.

As with any method that we employ to train or teach our children, there is always a period of refinement as we discover unintended consequences. First, we had to define “accident”, because we have some future lawyers in the family who sometimes didn’t want to admit we needed to go back to zero days…. We came to define accident as any incident that requires medical attention significantly above the Band-Aid level, or that is likely to leave a mark or bruise lasting more than a few days. If they cry and carry on, it is clearly more serious, and requires us to go back to zero.

Soon, we discovered an unintended consequence, which turned out to be a huge blessing.

A seemingly unrelated problem was driving us crazy: certain of our children, drama queens that they are, would overly exaggerate the (minor) injuries they received, in a ploy for extra sympathy, or perhaps in an attempt to get a sibling in trouble. When this particular child (OK, I admit it’s one child in particular) learned that this would take us back to zero, we had almost no more complaining and carrying on. There was the self-interest in keeping the whole family on track, and also the peer pressure of knowing that if you are the one to deliberately take the family back to zero, you might feel some heat from irritated siblings.

This brings me to the next adjustment we had to make: How to handle the one child (developmentally delayed) who got ANGRY at the child who was injured, or even if he THOUGHT a sibling was injured. He so did not want to go to zero that he created a huge problem.

We decided this: If a child gets injured, everyone needs to respond to the hurting child with love and care, and make sure his needs are taken care of. IF one does NOT respond properly, they miss out on the next “reward” time that comes, regardless of whether we go back to zero or not.

It’s a little unconventional, but it’s working for us. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box for creative solutions to the problems you face as a family. No matter what the size.

As of today, we’re at 119 accident-free days. 🙂

*Just to be clear: We don’t want our children to be paralyzed by fear, and afraid to take risks — very few worthwhile activities are completely risk-free. We want them to learn to make wise decisions based on a careful evaluation of the risks and benefits associated with the choices they are considering.


Filed under Children, Home

26 Keys To a Joyous Marriage

This week, Don and I celebrate our 26th anniversary.

September 24, 1988

September 24, 1988

In honor of our marriage, I offer the following list of marriage-building ideas. These are things that I think have contributed to the health of our marriage. I’m far more deeply in love with Don now than I ever dreamed possible on the day we wed.

This list is not intended to be exhaustive. Or even prescriptive. In it, I am reflecting on our marriage. This does not take into account situations with which I have no experience; such as abuse.

Our wedding invitation included a quote from Ecclesiastes 4:12: “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” As a metaphor for the Christian marriage relationship, it is apt; the third strand is the Lord. There have been a number of times when our cord was severely frayed, but that third strand has held us together!

Big Bear, CA; September 2012

Big Bear, CA; September 2012

An ideal marriage can be symbolized by an equilateral triangle. The top point is God. The husband and wife start on the bottom two points. Ideally, they are moving toward God (i.e., along the sides of the triangle). As they move closer to God, they are also moving closer to each other.

Marriage is hard work. But such rewarding, worthwhile work.

Here, in no particular order, is the list:

  1. Never, never, never go to bed angry.
  2. Pray together every day.
  3. Forgive readily – even if your spouse doesn’t ask for forgiveness.
  4. Apologize quickly – even if your spouse refuses to see where they are to blame.
  5. Practice humility.
  6. Set aside regular time to feed your relationship (date night).
  7. Practice gratefulness.
  8. Find common interests (other than just the kids).
  9. Work to see life from the other person’s perspective.
  10. Hold yourself to the highest possible standard. Hold your spouse to the lowest standard.
  11. Give each other space to learn and grow independently as a person.
  12. Do something unexpected.
  13. Seduce each other; don’t ever let the fire go cold.
  14. Practice random acts of kindness.
  15. Kiss often. Tender, long and slow.
  16. Take the time, frequently, to meet each other’s physical needs.
  17. When tempted to be irritated about an annoying habit, consider how you would feel if your spouse was gone. Is it really worth complaining about?
  18. Regularly remind yourself why you fell in love in the first place.
  19. Don’t be surprised when your spouse screws up. They are a sinner just like you.
  20. Turn off the TV (or other glowing screen) and communicate…. Share hopes and dreams. Not just facts.
  21. Set goals together.
  22. Be willing to compromise.
  23. It’s more important to show love than to be right.
  24. Don’t criticize…. Be an encourager.
  25. Don’t be surprised that marriage takes work. Anything worth having is worth working for.
  26. Decide together that divorce is not an option.

We sometimes hear of couples who split up after years of marriage, saying something like “He isn’t the same person he was when I married him.” Why on earth would you expect him to be the same person? He has grown and changed just like you (we hope!) have done. Embrace the change. Grow together!

Don’t ever think “it can’t/won’t happen to us”. It can. Having a mindset of invincibility just means you are less likely to work for the precious thing that is a good marriage. Don’t try to imitate anyone else. Consider your own spouse. His/her personality, etc. Do what suits your marriage. It’s OK to be different from everyone else.

Christina and Don, 1986


Christina and Don, 2010



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Hawaiian Grilled Chicken and Coconut Rice

Hawaiian Grilled Chicken

I cook a lot. Food-related tasks probably take more of my time than anything else I do. From planning and shopping, to cooking, it’s a big job. I’m always looking for ways to streamline the process. (More on how I streamline the menu planning, shopping and meal prep in a later post.)

Seeking recipes that are quick and easy to put together is an ongoing process for me. Finding recipes that are budget friendly — without sacrificing taste or resorting to using sub-par ingredients or methods — adds to the challenge. I especially seek prep-ahead crowd-pleasers that facilitate hospitality, rather than stifle it. This is a lesson I learned early on…. It’s no fun for anyone when the hostess spends the entire time in the kitchen, cooking, and barely has time to interact with guests. I want meals that can be mostly ready before guests arrive.

This is one such meal. We can make it year-round here in sunny Southern California. It’s ideal for a hot summer day, because it keeps the heat of cooking out of the house. If I’m serving this to guests, I usually make a big green salad to accompany it, simply because I can make that ahead and it holds up well. I regularly serve it with broccoli or zucchini if it’s just our family.

[recipe title=”Hawaiian Grilled Chicken” servings=12 difficulty=”easy”]

  • 3 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs (This is very important! Do NOT use chicken breasts. They will not yield the same moist, tender result.)
  • 2 cups low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 cups water
  • 1½ cups brown sugar
  • 1 bunch of green onions, chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped white onion
  • ½ tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 (13.5oz) can coconut milk

Remove visible fat from chicken thighs. Mix the rest of the ingredients together and combine with chicken thighs in a large bowl. Marinate chicken for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Grill chicken for 5-7 minutes per side (or until done) at a low heat so that the marinade does not burn.

Garnish with chopped green onion, if desired.

Serve with Coconut Rice.

[recipe title=”Coconut Rice” difficulty=”easy”]

  • 1 (13.5) oz can coconut milk
  • 1¼ cups water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1½ cups uncooked rice (I use Calrose rice. The original recipe called for Jasmine rice.)

In a saucepan, combine first four ingredients. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir in rice. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 18-20 minutes, until rice is tender.

When I make this for our family, I use 6 pounds of chicken, but use the same amount of marinade. From my experience, I think you could halve the marinade and still use 3 pounds of chicken.

Everyone loves this, so there aren’t usually any leftovers. The few times that there were, I found that the chicken reheated well, whether refrigerated or frozen.

For the rice: I have a wonderful rice cooker. I usually just adjust the amounts to fit the volume of my rice cooker and walk away. I have made it on the stove top a few times, and it works well that way too.

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Hands-full Homeschooling (2014 Edition)


Our homeschooling journey has always been hard, and full of obstacles. I don’t think there has been a year yet that hasn’t been interrupted by a major life event. The morning sickness of early pregnancy, the birth of a new baby, many toddlers and preschoolers needing my attention, health challenges and more.

Last year, it was Stephen’s in-home ABA therapy. Three or four days per week, we had therapists in our home, requiring at least my partial attention. And often my full attention. I’ve spent a lot of time feeling like a failure in the education department, but this past year that changed. Not only did I feel as though we had failed to achieve our goals, I also felt as though we had lost our joy. The joy of learning.

The kids were not enjoying their lessons. I was not enjoying teaching, I was not enjoying being the taskmaster, trying to keep them on track, checking off the boxes that proved they were learning something. But it was my job. So I kept going, hating every moment of it.

We finished the school year at the end of May. Not all the planned coursework was completed, but I declared that we were done. (A teacher’s prerogative, right? After all, I NEVER remember completing a textbook when I was a kid in school.) After a few weeks where I deliberately did not think about school related things AT ALL, I began the dreaded task of pondering and planning for the upcoming school year. And I started praying.

The thought of a repeat of last year was repulsive to me. I did not think I could cope. I once again considered other educational options. Private school was immediately ruled out due to the cost. Public and charter schools have their own sets of logistical issues that made me conclude they are still a less-than-great choice for our family.

So, I’m back to square one. Homeschooling and hating it. I needed something new. Different from what I have done before. Something that works with our limitations, not against them. I continued praying for answers.

I stumbled on a book called Ignite the Fire written by a fellow mom of many ( It’s inexpensive, and it looked promising, so I bought it. I read. I looked at the “other people who purchased this also bought” section on I noticed a book called Teaching From Rest. It had a lot of great reviews. I went to the author’s website to read a bit more, and learned of a giveaway (on another blog) for the book I was considering, along with some companion audio files.

I decided to wait on purchasing the book, and instead entered the drawing. I prayed that if this was something that would be beneficial, God would direct me through the outcome. Three days later I learned I had won! I read some more. And I began to sense God directing me. Answering my desperate prayer for wisdom and guidance.

About two weeks later, through a series of seemingly random circumstances, I was put in touch with another mom who teaches her kids through a method she calls “delight-directed learning”. She offered to send me her notes for classes she has taught on the Delight-Directed method of learning, and articles she has written. I gratefully accepted, and continued reading. (She gave me permission to share her materials with others — just ask, and I will email them to you.)

I felt that all of these things would not likely come together by coincidence — that it was God’s way of directing my steps.

Don and I had been talking off and on about plans for the coming school year. I had all these random thoughts and ideas for change, but I lacked a concrete plan. I was starting to feel the pressure, with the start of school just a few weeks away. Every thing we considered seemed to have some major drawback. After almost 20 years of homeschooling, I know my own and my children’s weaknesses, strengths, shortcomings and passions pretty well. I wanted to work with the strengths and passions while safeguarding against our shortcomings. Most of all, I wanted to rekindle a LOVE for learning. A JOY in learning. DELIGHT in learning. We continued to pray together for wisdom and direction.

Gradually a plan began to form. For the first time in years, I’m actually excited about starting school. I think we will have fun. It won’t be total drudgery. Last week, when we presented the new plan to the kids, they were excited too!

What is the plan, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you, and then ask for your help.

After our desire to teach our children to love Jesus, and to build godly character in their lives, one of our highest priorities is to teach our kids how to teach themselves. How to figure out how they best learn. How to WANT to learn. How to search out and find information that they need and how to think logically and form conclusions based on what they learn. With this in mind we have developed a sort of checklist/guideline that our kids will use this year.

Every week or two they will choose an area to study. Some examples of areas they might choose:

  • historical figure (biography/autobiography)
  • war
  • period of history
  • invention
  • animal
  • fish
  • bird
  • reptile
  • plant
  • mineral
  • anything in our physical world
  • an item (tractor, book, food, tool)
  • a process (canning, printing, crochet, embalming, sharing one’s faith, flying a plane)

Sometimes the student will select their own subject, and sometimes we will select, or will allow them to select within a predetermined category.

  • Read books pertaining to subject (from our own bookshelves, search library catalog online and request book, or find a Kindle book)
  • Read Wikipedia article (if applicable); follow relevant links
  • Select 5-20 vocabulary words (depending on grade level and subject matter)
  • Define the words
  • Spell the words
  • Plan and do a project (build something, investigate something, take something apart, bake or cook something, create something).
  • Watch video or listen to audio (Amazon Prime video, YouTube)
  • Blog about what they’ve learned.

Incorporate as many of the following subjects as they can:

  • Language Arts
  • History/Geography
  • Math
  • Science
  • Foreign Language
  • Art
  • Music

We bought tablet computers for each kid. We have set up a semi-public blog on our family’s website. Each kid will be able to share their learning in their own section of the blog. Using speech to text, this should be doable (not too tedious and time-consuming) even for the younger ones.

We will invite friends and family to comment/critique blog posts. Correcting spelling, grammar, factual errors, etc.

Once a month we will host a giveaway drawing for those who comment with helpful feedback. “Helpful” is kind of vague, but we’re looking for something deeper than “Nice post.” Ask a question about something that wasn’t entirely clear, or point out something that you think they should have included. Gently correct grammatical and spelling errors, or suggest better wording. If you learned something, say so! Get the idea?

Our kids are welcomed and encouraged to post constructive comments on siblings’ work, which will make them also eligible for a prize.

By making this semi-public we hope to motivate them to see the point of good writing and research. We hope that they will enjoy the interaction with family and friends. We hope that by allowing them to study things that are interesting to them and guiding them through the process that their interests will broaden.

We hope that by inviting others to help critique, it will help them to not just brush it off (“mom is ALWAYS after me about something”), and will also help them to learn to take criticism. Learning to discern whether the criticism is legitimate, and to accept — and be changed by — the criticism that is valid.

So, if you are interested in following along with our kids’ blogs as they learn this year, and if you would be willing to provide feedback to them, please either comment on this post or send me email privately and I’ll get you the info you need. We would be SO grateful for the help.

Coming up soon for one kid is a science experiment to observe the difference between the bacterial growth rate of raw milk left at room temperature, vs. milk that is refrigerated.


Filed under Children, Home

The Art of Hospitality

Welcome mat

I grew up in a social family. We like people. A lot. As kids, we knew our friends were always welcome at our house. We regularly had neighbors, friends, and family over for a visit or to share a meal with us. After we moved to a house with a built-in pool when I was 9 years old, the action increased. Now our house was, more than ever, “the place to be”.

Yes, there were times reserved for just our immediate family, but generally speaking our home was open to others. When I got married and settled into a home of my own, it felt only natural to invite people over.

Only it wasn’t natural. It was hard. It was a lot of work. It was awkward. And I sometimes got the impression that my friends were not very comfortable in my home.

I’d had the experience of being in someone’s home and feeling uncomfortable the entire time. But in other homes, I felt welcome and at ease. My mom had made it seem so effortless. She was always looking out for the needs of others, often at extra expense and inconvenience.

I’m a thinker — one of my favorite Bible verses is in Luke 3 where we are told, “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” So, I followed Mary’s example. I pondered. What made the difference between a home that was welcoming, and one that was not? How did my mom manage? What was I doing, or NOT doing, that was counterproductive to hospitality?

I considered the homes I’d been in where I had felt welcome. What was the common denominator? I read, thought, discussed with friends, and thought some more.

And I keep inviting people over and trying to work out my difficulties. I’ve come up with some things that I believe stand in the way of true hospitality:

Clutter – If I have too much “stuff”, there is no room in my life for people. All my time is eaten up with maintaining the stuff. There are two possible fixes for this. The best fix, in my opinion, is to get rid of clutter and excess stuff. Give it away! I still am prone to having too much, so enter the second fix: Simply don’t let it stop you from inviting people in. Yes, they will see the real you. The messy. Oh well. This is actually a KEY to helping people relax in your home. Especially if children are involved.

Selfishness – Hospitality involves giving. Often sacrificially. If you really don’t want to give, or if you want to keep the best only for yourself, it won’t work out well. Folks will be able to tell.

Ineffective home management – If you don’t have some sort of basic system for keeping your home reasonably clean and neat (NOT PERFECT!!!), the idea of having people in will feel very stressful. If you know you will have to scrub toilets and floors and wash a mountain of dishes, you will not be likely to extend a last minute invitation to someone needing comfort or friendship.

Uptight about having everything perfect – If your home is decently clean and you just can’t bring yourself to have people over because you still have dirty windows or cobwebs here and there, you are probably too self-absorbed. Most people won’t even notice. They are coming to see you, not your house. (For the record, my house is NEVER perfect. There are always flaws. I’m getting better at rolling with that.) I’ve observed that, in a home that is too perfect, I feel extremely uncomfortable. It is unnatural and I begin to feel inferior. Until I realize I’m comparing my known everyday reality to their “Realtor-ready” perfection. Apples and oranges.

Uptight about “stuff” getting damaged – I’ve had my share of unruly kid visitors in my home. I’ve had stuff damaged. I know it is a real risk with hospitality. Stuff will get destroyed. It’s stressful. We don’t have room in the budget for randomly replacing stuff that people break. Not to mention that we have kids already living in our house that do an excellent job of breaking stuff. I remind myself that it is ONLY stuff. Stuff can be replaced. People are more important than stuff. They are eternal souls that I have the opportunity to impact with my words, actions and attitudes.

Insecurity – If I am not confident in who I am and where the Lord has me in my life, I have a hard time inviting others in, because it always carries the risk of judgment. I cannot control the impressions and opinions that others form of me and my family when they see my home and how we function and interact. It’s a vulnerable place. And it’s often humbling. Especially if you have kids.

Comparison – This kind of goes along with insecurity. But I had to find my own way with hospitality. Don’t try to copy another person. If will be fake and others will notice. Learn from others, yes! But there is a difference. I regularly notice and learn from the hospitality of others. If I compare myself to my mom, or try to mimic her, for example, I will be discontent and lose my joy. My mom and I are very different people. We do things in our own unique way. Neither way is inferior. They are just different. I need to be me.

Tips to developing hospitality

JUST DO IT! It will get easier. Don’t give up. When you bomb (and you will), learn from it and keep going. We all have failures, embarrassing moments, regrets and times we have put our foot in our mouth! Don’t let it stop you. Have people over often. It’s easier to maintain a home to be ready for company than to “stress clean” only occasionally for a big event. Invite people you are comfortable with, at first. Close family, best friends, etc. Invite feedback. But don’t stop there. Challenge yourself to invite those you don’t know well, people you are uncomfortable around, or even people you dislike. (Yes, I really said that — see Romans 12:20.)

As a Christian, I don’t consider hospitality to be optional. There are a variety of passages in the Bible that address the topic. From outright commands (see, for example, 1 Peter 4:9, Hebrews 13:2), to examples of hospitality shown (2 Kings 4:8-10, Proverbs 31:20, Luke 14:12-14, Acts 16:15, Acts 16:34, 1 Timothy 5:10).

Hospitality is NOT the same as “entertaining”. Hospitality serves others. “Entertaining” serves only oneself. Hospitality is important. It contributes to the needs of the saints (Romans 12:13). It enables us to be God’s hands and feet (Matthew 10:40-42, Matthew 25:34-40).

How can one practice hospitality if inviting people in to your home is impossible? I’ve never been in that situation, so I don’t have many ideas; but one that that comes to mind is to bring a meal to someone in need. Even if it is a grocery-store rotisserie chicken or a “Hot and Ready” pizza. Call someone who you think might be lonely or hurting. Pray and ask God to show you the needs of others around you. I think there are some things in that list I can improve on.

I’m really preaching to myself here. “Do not be weary in well doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” (Galatians 6:9) I am still learning. I still blow it, but I’m pretty stubborn and hard-headed, and I’m determined to keep at it.

If you were a victim of one of my early attempts at hospitality, I apologize. And I thank you for helping me learn. Please come visit again.

I’d like to finish off with a story of amazing hospitality that was offered to our family. In 2008, my husband’s parents were celebrating 60 years of marriage. We wanted to bring the whole family (at that time we had ten kids) to visit. We started planning. We booked airfare and arranged for rental cars.

But we were stumped by accommodations while we were there. My in-laws had a small house. No way was there room for all of us there. Most (all?) hotels have a five-person limit per room. That meant three rooms each night for a week. Not only was that costly, but we would have to divide the family into three groups every night. Not fun, not to mention that there would be minor children alone in at least one of the rooms.

I looked into campgrounds and other creative accommodations (like VRBO), but since my in-laws lived in a non-touristy small town in North Carolina, there did not appear to be anything like that near by. So, I did what any self respecting “big family” mom would do, I started networking. I turned to an email group I’d been a part of for years. A group specifically for moms of big families. I asked if there was anyone in living in that area who had suggestions for where to stay.

Within a day or two, I received a response from a mom who lived in the same small town as my in-laws. She extended an invitation for our ENTIRE FAMILY TO STAY WITH THEM FOR THE WEEK! We did not know each other at all. We had never met or corresponded before. And yet, they invited a family of TWELVE to stay in their house for an entire week. We considered this offer, almost disbelieving that it was for real. I talked to the mom on the phone and she assured me that it was a genuine offer and her husband was all for it as well. We accepted.

We arrived at their house exhausted. We’d taken a red-eye flight and, naturally, no one slept. The first thing I noticed was welcoming smiles on the faces of the our hosts. They had written a “Welcome” message on the chalkboard in their kitchen. They immediately offered us something to drink. The parents had a large master bedroom suite that they vacated during that week so that we could all sleep together. There were blow up mattresses, sleeping bags, portable crib for the youngest one. The bathroom had a large stack of towels and designer soaps and washes. They gave us free access to their washer and dryer. They cooked for us. They welcomed us into their work and play. They engaged us in conversation. They expressed an interest in getting to know us. Their kids welcomed our kids and shared their things with them. And they served us lots and lots of coffee.

I’m sure it helped that we had similar lifestyles. They had six kids. They home schooled. But the welcoming presence and attitude extended way beyond those things that we had in common. They had truly worked hard on, and perfected, that ART of hospitality.

And I believe that what it really is. An art. A beautiful expression of the creator God in us.


Filed under Home, Odds and ends

Giving gifts that last a lifetime

For a long time, I bought into the concept of acquiring, upgrading and maintaining things/possessions for my family. House, car, furnishings, books (my one weakness), toys, clothes, stuff, stuff, stuff. After all, these things are real. Tangible. They last. Unlike activities and experiences which are fleeting and then forgotten. Or are they?

I’m coming to a different perspective. Stuff requires work. It soon owns us. It (mostly) does not give us joy and fulfillment. It’s just stuff. Experiences are where it’s at. This is challenging for me.

A few days ago, I took James and Noah to Six Flags Magic Mountain. We had participated in their Read to Succeed program (details at end of post) so our cost for the trip was only time and gas to get there. This is my kind of deal. I love frugal, inexpensive, thrifty, cheap and FREE. We had a fun day experiencing the various attractions. During a slow moment, when we were having a snack, the boys noticed a sign for a carnival type attraction. A hit the button with a large hammer, try to ring the bell type attraction. A $5 per play attraction!

FIVE DOLLARS!!! That, to me, is crazy. I know, it’s an amusement park. I should expect such ridiculous prices, but I just can’t get over it. But I saw that, since this was in a kiddie section of the park, the sign said every play was guaranteed a prize. The display of prizes was there. Stuffed animals, capes, etc. Nothing worth $5, believe me.

I was just about to say, “Let’s move on,” when a strange thought entered my head. While the capes other prizes were certainly not worth $5, the EXPERIENCE for my boys of ringing the bell and scoring a cape, would very well be worth $5. Well worth it. I opened my wallet and handed each boy 5 bucks.

They took the money and excitedly ran over to take their turn ringing the bell. They each scored a batman cape. The capes are nothing significant. I’ve made them much nicer capes myself in the past, but they will never forget this experience. This is the kind of thing kids remember and tell their own kids about.

I know.

When I was a small child, my dad worked in a grocery store. One day I accompanied him to the store where he worked. I don’t know the reason he had to stop by, but he wasn’t working. Outside the store there was a small merry-go-round ride. The kind you feed a quarter and it runs for 3 minutes. My dad stopped for the 3 minutes. He splurged the quarter. He let me ride. I was over the moon with happiness. And I have never forgotten it. Most toys I had as a kid are long gone, but that 25 cents was well spent on a pleasant memory for me.

I’m learning. I’m slowly learning to alter my sense of value to include the intangible aspects. Those of joy, excitement, pleasure, gratitude and other human emotions that are the stuff of memories. Memories last. They bring comfort and joy LONG after any money has been spent to obtain them.

The Read to Succeed program is open to teachers for their students, and home school parents for their kids:

Register at the Read to Succeed website.

Keep a log of books/hours your students read.

When they have read 6 or more hours, enter the hours read under each student’s name in the student section.

The deadline for updating your students’ records is usually in March.

Tickets are mailed a month or two later, and are good for about 10 weeks in the summer months.

Home school parents get a FREE ticket along with the students.


Filed under Children, Home

The importance of teaching children to work

I believe in teaching my kids to work, and to do things for themselves. Each has daily jobs they are responsible for, and they have developed many amazing skills. I also believe strongly in helping them learn to serve others.

Abby, bottle-feeding a baby goat

Abby, bottle-feeding a baby goat

This began out of necessity, and probably was influenced by my own childhood experiences with work. I had five children before the oldest was six years old. Life was busy. I got the basics done: food, dishes, laundry. I seldom had time or energy left to do things like washing windows or sweeping floors.

Enter the idea of allowing my oldest to “help” me. No, she did not do an expert job of sweeping at age five. But she was willing; and with a few pointers, she did the job at least halfway … which, by my reckoning, was better than not at all. The thing is, she loved it! She thrived on helping mommy. She began to learn to work with joy. And her skills improved. I have tried to start my children working when they are still toddlers. Nothing major, just “let’s clean up the toys,” and then make it fun.

By age 2 or 3, they can help me stuff the washer with dirty laundry or switch the freshly washed clothes to the dryer. They pull the wheeled hampers to the laundry room. This is fun for them.

Yes, it is a bit more effort for me initially, but fast forward a few years and I’ll tell you what they are capable of:

All kids are responsible for making their own bed, maintaining basic hygiene, keeping their drawers neat, putting dirty laundry in a hamper, and a few other basic tasks.

Stephen, age 4, daily gathers the dirty laundry and brings it to the laundry room for sorting. He helps with switching the laundry from the washer to the dryer. He helps put away his own clothes in his drawers. He helps fold wash cloths and dish towels. Takes his dishes to the sink after meals. Cleans up toys he has taken out. I do have to remind him to do most of these things. But he is learning.

Landen, age 4-going-on-5, daily empties all the wastebaskets from around the house into the main trashcan in the kitchen. He helps put away his own clothes in his drawers. He helps fold wash cloths and dish towels. Takes his dishes to the sink after meals. Cleans up toys he has taken out. He also needs reminding to do most of these things. But he is learning.

Noah, age 8, vacuums the main living areas and a bedroom (on a rotation) every day. He is responsible for folding and putting away all his own laundry. He folds smaller towels, napkins, wash clothes. He collects eggs and does other small jobs involving the animals. He sweeps the floors and even washes them on occasion. He is usually a willing helper.

James, age 11, is responsible for washing the milking related dishes and tools twice daily after the goats are milked. He unloads the dishwasher in the morning and loads it back up with dirty dishes after breakfast. He is responsible for folding and putting away all his own laundry plus the folding and putting away of underwear and socks for everyone in the family. He is the second-call substitute milker when Isaac is not available. He cheerfully volunteers for “new and novel” jobs, but is less than enthusiastic about his regularly assigned tasks. But we are working together on the character quality of diligence and the integrity of hard work when it goes unnoticed and unappreciated. This is life.

Abigail, age 12 (soon to be 13), makes breakfast for herself and her siblings every day. She, along with Naomi, makes lunch and helps make dinner most days. She folds and puts away her own laundry. She is also responsible for washing the eggs that Noah collects from our chickens daily, and for feeding our baby goats their bottles. She helps watch her younger brother and nephew. Sometimes she gives them their baths. She takes a turn making our family’s bread approximately every 10-14 days. Abby is wonderfully capable.

Naomi, age 14, is responsible for keeping our 3 bathrooms clean. She folds and puts away her own laundry. She, along with Abby, makes lunch and dinner most days. She feeds the baby goats and is the stand-in for milking the goats when Isaac, the regular milker, is not available. She helps watch her younger brother and nephew. Sometimes she gives them their baths. She takes a turn making our family’s bread approximately every 10-14 days. Naomi is able to able to manage the house reasonably well in my absence.

Isaac, age 16, milks the goats twice a day. He cares for all the animals morning and night. (That’s a big job, with 30-odd chickens, baby chicks, 7 goats, a half dozen cats, several kittens, a dog, a turtle and sometimes a pig and/or turkey) He folds and puts away his own laundry. He helps with “fix it” and maintenance jobs around the house and property. He wipes the kitchen table after meals. He takes a turn making our family’s bread approximately every 10-14 days. He helps watch his younger brother and nephew, giving baths if needed.

Daniel, age 21, works outside the home on a regular basis, so he no longer has regular chores. Instead, he does projects, such as “build a play kitchen for the little kids,” “build an enclosure for the buck,” “install this new light fixture”, “paint the house.” Pretty much any job I throw at him, he can do it.

Robert, age 22, is developmentally disabled, and will live with us indefinitely. He is responsible for washing dishes and cleaning up the kitchen after lunch and dinner. This means he is responsible for washing dishes, loading the dishwasher, wiping the table, sweeping the floor, cleaning the microwave and stove counters, and drying and putting away dishes. He empties the kitchen trash and recycle bin when needed. He takes the trash to the street each week for pickup. He is responsible for folding and putting away his own laundry. He also does all the outside watering of garden, trees and landscaping.

Each of the older kids babysits as needed. Each one is capable of filling in for another sibling if they are sick or for some other reason unable to do their jobs.

Why work? We are designed to work. The sense of accomplishment is healthy. Rather than having a sense of entitlement, I want my kids to be willing and able to work hard to reach their goals. They have a much greater appreciation for things that they must work for. “Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by labour shall increase.” (Prov. 13:11)

A few things about how to teach a child to work: First of all, work with them when they are young. As they get older, teach with this pattern:

  • I do, you watch
  • I do, you help
  • You do, I help
  • You do, I watch

Spend as long as necessary on each step. You may have to go back to a previous step if things aren’t going well. But once they get it, you can be confident that the job will get done properly. But remember: you can’t expect what you won’t inspect. Frequent checkups are really important, at least until you’re sure that the child won’t try to skip out on jobs. (And every child tries it! and some kids never stop trying!!!)

My husband says be sure to mention the balance between work and play. It may seem as though all we do is work, as you consider the many jobs that my kids do. Play is important too. I think that our society places a higher priority on play for kids, so it is not something that I feel needs a lot of explaining or focus. Here are a couple of tips:

  • Use timers. Hurry to beat the timer, and then set the timer for play as well.
  • Find ways to make the work fun. Almost anything can be turned into a game, with a little creativity.

All this work helps to develop the ability to serve others. This has been a goal of mine for many years. There is always someone who needs a helping hand. What better way could there be to share the love of Christ, than to serve? Since I’m confident that my older kids know how to work, I feel secure in sending them to help those in our church and community who have needs. It is an absolute JOY for me to hear back how blessed others are by the work that my kids do. This has had the unexpected benefit of leading to paying work for my all my teenage and young adult kids. Their initiative and hard work are noticed and valued by others. Time will tell, but I expect that this will carry over into their adult lives.

If you are interested in encouraging your kids to serve, let me give you a few ideas of how our kids get involved helping others.

James helps hand out bulletins at church.

He helps our elderly friend “Ms. Pat” get her special chair set up before the church service, and fixes her coffee for her.

Abby babysits during a midweek Bible study so a busy mom can actually participate.

Naomi sings on the worship team at church.

Robert, Isaac, Daniel (and some of my adult children who no longer live at home) volunteer whenever someone needs help moving.

We try to always attend work days at church.

We put the word out that we are willing to be available when an elderly person needs something heavy moved, or to reach something that is high (even changing a light bulb).

We try to listen when we hear people talking about things that are broken that need fixing or things they have not been able to find the time to do or are unable to do for some reason.

I try to always bring a meal to a family going through a tough situation, or after a baby is born.

Daniel (and some of the others in past years) volunteers to help with Awana at a local church.

The older kids help with VBS.

Daniel and Isaac volunteer at Camp Julian Oaks (a camp for kids in the foster care system).

Most of these things are minor. They don’t take much effort or even tremendous skill — just TIME — and, usually, just a little bit of time.

What are some ways in which you have been blessed by others? Have friends or strangers ever served you in a time of need?

What are ways in which you or your family have been able to serve others in your church or community?

Please share your experiences and ideas. It will help our family to improve.


Filed under Children, Home