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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Guide For the Year to Come

     It's like Christmas in August! I know, hardly a joke with the craft stores already putting out the Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas supplies. While I know it's necessary for those that handmake gifts and merchandise, it's hard to look at so soon! But, this post isn't about all of that. It's about...this!

     I look forward to the Farmer's Almanac every year. It's a trove of fabulous information! The Farmer's Almanac has a history of more accurate weather forecasting than the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations's Climate Prediction Center (NOAA). Don't believe me? Get your hands on last years Almanac, and do a personal comparison.
     In this almanac, you will find the best dates to set eggs, the best dates to cut your hair to either retard or encourage growth, the best dates to observe visible planets, the best dates to ask for a loan, buy a home, or get married!
     Okay, so I don't put my faith completely in the Farmer's Almanac. That would be ridiculous to me. I put my faith in Jesus Christ.  I will not argue, though, that God put the stars and planets in place for so many reasons. Before modern technology, the heavens were studied to gauge weather patterns. People knew by the stars when to plant for maximum harvest, and when to breed their herds, when to chop firewood.  I'm all for combining ancient and modern technologies.
     I'll see you all tomorrow, I'm going to browse the 2015 Farmer's Almanac for now!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

All the Coconut Stuffs

     It's all about the coconut! It must be made with coconut flour, coconut oil, and coconut butter!
All coconut, all the time!
     I adore the coconut. I didn't, but now I do. When I was a kid, I was pretty sure that putting shredded coconut in something ruined it. Gross. But now. Oh, now I can't get enough of it! It all started with someone urging me to try coconut shrimp. I'm convinced it was the sweetened, deep fried, sugary sauce covered bit of heaven that won me over. For years after that, if the coconut was toasted, I was good. Then, I sprinkled some sweetened coconut flakes in my oatmeal when we were out of brown sugar. I died! Ohmylanta it was the best thing!
     A few years later, a couple of the Zooligans were sporting some pretty bad eczema rashes. There were a few things that worked for a little while, but someone told me about coconut oil and all of these lovely concoctions one could make with it. So, I bought some. Then I bought more. Three containers of coconut oil were emptied in my house before we ever actually ate any. We've made sunscreen, insect repellent lotion bars, and eczema cream.
     Most recently, I was gifted with a few pounds of organic, unsweetened, dried shredded coconut, so of course, I made coconut butter. Some blogger or another said she puts it in her coffee. She must have a better food processor than i do, because my coconut butter is gritty. I tried it in the coffee, but I'm no cowboy. Gritty is not how I like it.  It's heaven on a piece of toast, though, and I can't wait to share some photos when we make coconut butter bites and almond butter cups.
     This coconut habit is delicious!

Do you use coconut in your home? What's your favorite way to use it?


Monday, August 18, 2014

Keeping Chickens

We have chickens!!!!!
The Girls

     One of our neighbors moved, but they were downsizing and couldn't take the chickens with them, so they offered them to us. The night before they needed to be out of the house. So, Mr. TheZoo went over with the biggest boy the next morning, and hauled the entire contraption over to the house. We've had them for a little over a month now, and we LOVE the little ladies! We have four, 3 year old Rhode Island Red's. One of them is kind of grouchy sometimes, but over all, they're great. We are going to turn our 'extra' shed into a coop and build a large run around it so that we can add a few more chickens next spring.
     I wanted to wait to add more because I'd like to be sure that we can keep them alive through the winter. I've researched backyard chicken keeping until my eyes bled. Not really. But I did read quite a bit. I'm feeling certain (nail biting) that we can do this. I think it's pretty cool that I can feed them fruit and veggie leavings, but still have something to add to my compost heap. And eggs! Oh, the eggs are incredibly tasty! 
     Do you know how many people keep backyard chickens? Millions of 'em! Chicken keepers are everywhere! There are blogs, Twitter accounts, facebook pages, and websites entirely about keeping back yard chickens. It's a world I never knew existed! Seriously, you guys, I am currently so excited about this that when I see kitchen curtains with a chicken print, or a chicken motif lace table cloth, or t-shirts printed with a chicken shouting "BAGOK!" I.MUST.HAVE.IT. I honestly never cared to have black labs adorning plates or clocks on my walls (sorry, Sadie, I love you, but not on the walls) but I could put chicken art in all the places!  
     I can't wait to show you all what we do with the new chicken coop. I'm sure it won't look anything like this , but it'll be function and, maybe cute on the outside. I'd like to find a bunch of tin chicken signs and big stars to put on the outside. 

Do you have a chicken coop? Did you go fancy, or sensible?


Friday, August 15, 2014

Excruciating Summer Break

     It's the tail end of summer here at TheZoo. Finally! I don't remember another summer as a Mom that I have been as giddy about the school year beginning. Ever.  We educate our kids at home, so what's the difference? I'm with all these precious little angels all day long, every. single. day. What difference does it make to me when summer ends and school begins? The Zooligans have the 'misfortune' to have schoolwork over the summer. It isn't a full curriculum, it's usually something that they showed they needed extra work on during the previous school year, or something to prepare them for what's coming in the next school year. Or it's something that we just didn't finish during the typical school year schedule. These activities take about 20 minutes of their day each morning. That's it. Just 20 minutes.
     Usually summers here have some kind of structure. We aren't scheduled to the 15 minutes or anything. We just have something happening in general most days. You get up in the morning and take care of morning routines. Breakfast, chores, school work. Then, we all know what is happening for the day. Grocery shopping, heading to a cool, shady swimming hole, painting a bedroom, games and music, or a free day setting the timer to take turns between the computer or riding bicycles with neighbor friends. Maybe there is a VBS week at a local church, or a parade to watch. Something.
     Last summer was over scheduled. I actually researched and wrote down all of the summer day camp dates that I could find in our local area, and coordinated them on a calendar. The kiddos were being carted to camps every other week all summer long. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Problem was, summer nights are rather long. It is light as day round here until 10 pm most of the summer. Mr. TheZoo and I would be outside working on one project or another and realizing that we weren't going to get the troupes into bed until at least 11. Ugh. and they needed to be up, fed, and ready for camp to begin at 9 a.m. Most of the camps were only about two hours long, then they'd be exhausted and ready to eat lunch. Chores were more of a challenge than ever, and so was any schoolwork. Then it was dinner time, and outdoor project time, and we would do it all over again. I spent all summer exhausted and anxious. Gah!
     This year, I had another, equally brilliant idea. Ha! We would have a completely UNstructured summer! No vacations, no scheduled trips, only two of the biggers had any sort of camp to go to. We'd be at home all summer long, just takin' it easy livin' the good life. Yeah. That's just how it happened, too. People slept until whenever.  The kids that slept until after 10 a.m. were not the ones that I ever suspected would. Kids fixed themselves breakfast at all different times, so they were ready for lunch at all different times. I spent a large portion of each day finding kiddos to come back and do their chores, do their school work, do their chores correctly, put away their shoes, put away their pencils, put away their toys, put away their games.
     The biggest, most annoying, and hardest part of this unstructured summer, was teaching neighbor kids to resolve conflict. My own children know how I teach, and i know (for the most part) how they learn and how they respond to correction. There have been neighbor kids around here that don't seem to comprehend correction. They tattle, and not on my kids! They are tattling to me about other neighbor kids! I've witnessed that Mr. TheZoo and I are the only adults that check on the kids, that help them resolve conflict, and that assist when there is crying. Wow, talk about a punch in the gut! I spent weeks grousing about providing free daycare and snacks to ungrateful parents all over the neighborhood. How rude! Their kids are at my house eight hours a day! The only feedback I had was one mom concerned that I was being mean to one of her daughters because I told her she shouldn't be shoving her sister. What?!?!!? Then I learned things over the summer. One mom was just diagnosed with cancer and was having heart problems. Another family was back and forth over getting divorced. Another family has a parent going to school and working full time, spending many hours away from his family. Someone else was new to the neighborhood and was trying desperately to find employment.
     I became upset with myself for choosing not to give grace until I knew about these families' circumstances. Why did I wait until I felt like they deserved grace? No one deserves grace. Grace is grace because it is given when it isn't deserved.
     Now that summer is nearly at an end, you'll hear most of the kids that congregate around our house saying things like "I gave her/him wise counsel, but they aren't making a good choice!" Unfortunately, for many of the kids, it's still hoping to see someone 'get in trouble', but they are no longer rushing to me with a story about how terrible someone is being. They are also learning to say "Please don't shout, and be respectful with your words." It's difficult to be spiteful and ugly when saying that mouthful. It has diffused several disagreements, and the couple of kiddos that 'don't have to listen to you!' are now listening.
     I don't think I'm some kind of fantastic miracle come to save the neighborhood's kids and make them perfect. That's ridiculous. I am glad that I was able to be around for some kids who were desperate for someone to be there. I am glad that I learned something about grace, because I received a lot of it during those first 8 weeks of summer when I was complaining about the responsibility for these kids that aren't mine being thrust on me.
     This unstructured summer has been challenging. It's probably been the most challenging summer ever in my parenting years.  I don't expect next summer to be any less challenging. But I do expect to be prepared.  Sure, with more snacks on hand, and a few structured outdoor activities. I'm not about to set up a tent revival or a neighborhood VBS, but I think we can do some of those fun Pinterest summer things. If nothing else, I'll have some Pinterest fails to post about! I expect to begin preparing myself with prayer, preparing my heart to love someone else's kids, whether I know their circumstances or not, and prepared to give away the abundance of grace that's been given to me.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

What Scares You?

Today's journal prompt for my personal writing exercises is "What scares you?"
I am scared of many things. Most of them are really not a big deal, some of them are irrational and can be dismissed fairly easily, but the fear that hangs on, the one that I am always at battle with, is that depression will finally consume me. There are many hints, tips, exercises, dietary changes, and spiritual truths that are helpful in dealing with the depression that occurs in my life from time to time. What I'm really scared of is that I won't ever be able to fully face the depression. I will never know if I can find a way to strike it fully from my life, or if I will be able to carry it with me, working through it successfully, watching for it's approach, becoming familiar with it's invading presence, and trapping it before it becomes fully grown. I am pleased to report that I am surrounded by people that are willing to listen, help, pray, or whatever it is that is required when needed.  It's my hope that anyone battling the same dragon is flanked by a similar army.

What scares you?

In thinking of scary things, the typical ones come to mind. Spiders, snakes, heights, falling, port-a-potties. These things are unpleasant to deal with. In general, I think we all hope that we won’t have to deal with these things from day to day. The items in this list, though, are all tangible. Maybe falling isn’t tangible, but what happens at the end certainly is!  The fears that seem to follow me around are the ones that can’t be faced physically. They can’t be ignored as long as they are unseen. They can’t be held in the hand in an exercise to banish the anxiety and emotion attached to them. They are the kind of fears that creep around like shadows. They ebb and wane with time. They are ninjas that attack when least expected. The moments seem random, the triggers aren’t always the same.
I am afraid that I may never face down a dragon. That I will never head out on the hunt, traipsing through lands of every kind. That I will not see the jungles and deserts, packed seaside cities, and aromatic, bustling bazaars. I’m scared that I will miss the journey to the dragon’s lair. Then, the thrill of finding it. The place where the dragon lives. Where it sleeps and rejuvenates for it’s next fire breathing attack. That moment where the journey to the lair ends, the travels where the dragon has followed and destroyed my path, forcing me to go another way. The thrill of knowing that it is right in front of me, and I could maybe do something about it’s unwanted attention.
There is anxiety in choosing the correct weapon. A sword to make the dragon bleed, or a bludgeon, to beat it to death, hitting it over and over, exhausting myself in the attempt to bash every wrong thing out of it. Will I choose to fight fire with fire, giving the dragon a taste of it’s own medicine, scorching it’s armor-like scales, while it barely feels the heat and redoubles it’s own efforts until I am done, cooked, unable to continue fighting?  Will I choose to stare down the troublesome beast? Perhaps looking at it intently will inspire the dragon to back down, as if it’s realization that I know it is there, with malicious intent will cause it to cower and stop ruining me. What if I engage the marauder in dialogue, convincing it that it’s presence in my life is overwhelming and unhelpful. Or maybe, completely defeated, I will join forces with the dragon, harnessing it’s energy and turning the dragon’s head to kinder deeds. Maybe I will never make the journey at all, and miss my chance to choose dragon’s method of defeat.
I continue, each new day, to wake up, pretend the dragon isn’t out there, and go on with my day. I pretend to be confident. I might even feel motivated, as though the dragon doesn’t really exist. I begin projects, I accomplish minor goals, maybe a major one here and there, then it shows up again, covering the accomplishments and victories with it’s magical cloak of invisibility. I can’t see the good things any more, only the fog of the dragon. It covers my mind, my limbs. It creeps into my muscles, and bones, causing me to feel weak and brittle. I am sluggish. I am apathetic. I am stagnant.
I am afraid that I will succomb to the dragon. That I will stand, without struggle, as it burns up every right thing around me. As it throws it’s invisibility magic over me. As it drags me into it’s fog to become a part of it, to hunt down someone else and become their fear.
I am afraid that I will never begin the hunt for the dragon.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Paved With Good Intentions

A while back, I started another blog. It was my intention to share more about Jesus, the lessons I learn, and less about kids and motherhood.

I wrote one post. I haven't been able to write another post there, or here, since then. I've been afraid. Have you read the comments on blog posts and articles of just about anyone? People can be vicious!

There is also the inescapable truth that family life and Jesus are intertwined for me right now. They go together, and for this season in my family, they are meant to.

I learn things about Jesus, but in turn, I learn things about how I respond to him. I learn about how my responses to Jesus effect my family.

So, there will be no separate blog, for now.  This one will be a crazy mish-mash of the things I learn that work well, and those that don't. There will be recipes and links to amazing healthy living posts from other blogs. There will be praises to Jesus, and kid stories. And questions. Loads of those. I have a lot to learn!

While my blogging 'career' has been paved with good intentions, I've found that sort of road crumbles easily. And my children are older. And I have a Youngest. That's new and different for us!

There is always transformation going on, someplace, in someone. I hope to see it and share it with you, here.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Who's Raising Your Kids?

I bet you think this is going to be another one of those Mommy Wars blog posts, where moms bash each other about staying home to raise kids or to go to work and put the kids in day care.

Nope. This isn't about that.
It's about something even more controversial. It's about the church.

I've been a mom for 17 years. I've been in the church almost since birth. My parents have held both paid and volunteer positions at church buildings and/or for other church related events. I have held many positions for church events. Guess what most of those positions have been, in the past 17 years.

Most of you guessed nursery care or Sunday School, right? You're right. That's where I've always been. You don't see me in church service? That's because we're teaching Sunday School! You don't see us at small groups? That's because we are always down the hall taking care of our kids. Or because we stopped going because we were neither contributing to or taking anything away from small group meetings.

Guess what our ministry is right now? Our kids.

Now, let me pose a question.  Is it considered a free hour of babysitting to send our kids to Sunday School on Sunday mornings while we listen, for that hour, to someone sharing something they have learned on an adult level?

I guess that could be the same attitude as considering public school to be free babysitting for six hours a day.  Ooooh, I totally felt many of you shoot the hate right through the computer screen.

Here's where I am with this idea of Sunday School and me not teaching it.

It isn't because I don't like kids. Okay, I kind of have a problem with liking some kids. It's totally true. I do love kids. It's been a learned thing. I mean, c'mon. Kids are loud and messy and always need all sorts of attention. They jump around and ask a lot of questions.

Let me be clear. I love my own kids like a momma bear. It's other people's kids that I need to make an effort at loving. And I've done it! I mean, God gave the Holy Spirit to guide me and remind me. He gave me the capacity to love children. Even the tough ones.

Maybe you have trusted me to to love your kids while I taught Sunday School.  Let me ask you another question. Did you think I was going to teach them every lesson about God and the Holy Spirit, Jesus, love, wisdom, etc. that they need to learn all while in Sunday School for about and hour each week?  No? Okay, good, because I didn't.

Here's what I DID do. I loved your kids.  I had a lesson plan to work through, you know, because it is, after all, Sunday School. I used it as a guide to keep things moving along and to reign in the chaos that grows inside a large group of like-aged kiddos.  When your kids had questions, or testimonies or...other..stories to tell, I listened. I told them about Jesus' unconditional love. I told them about being respectful, and being a good friend. I told them about making wise choices. I told them about how much I love Jesus, and how sometimes I, too, make unwise choices and how Jesus loves me anyway.

I bet you tell that to your little pun'kins all the time. How many times do you think they actually hear you? After a while, I bet your voice sounds like white noise to them. They've heard your sound, your tone, your phrasing so many times, they can probably tell you what you are going to say.  This is good. It means you are being consistent, and you mean what you are teaching.

It also means that children might hear the exact same thing from someone else just one time and they will suddenly grasp it. They might even be excited about it, sharing with you this amazing bit of wisdom that they learned from such-and-such fantastic person.

And then we are exasperated because it's what we've been hoping to get them to understand for their entire lives thus far!

Wait. Exasperated? We've been hoping they'd learn it, then we're irritated when they learn it from someone else?

Yeah. We are. Why?

So, I'm not teaching Sunday School any more. Not forever, just for now. It's not because I don't love kids anymore. It's because I have kids in every Sunday School class age bracket. It's because my kids need to hear YOUR voice. They need to hear from other people that love Jesus, and love them.

Are you part of a church that has baby dedications?  So far, every church I've been part of does.  Part of that dedication ceremony involves the parents asking the congregation to come along side the family and being purposeful about helping them to raise the child with a biblical world view, to teach them to love Jesus and to be an honorable, virtuous person.

How many of us are doing that? Do we just smile at the cute babies and then shake our heads when a youngster appears to be headed straight for hell in a handbasket, clucking our tongues about how their parents should really be laying down the law and making a better effort?

Are we really coming alongside parents and being another example of someone that is trustworthy and Godly? Are we ready to help out with mentoring biblical values? I'm not talking about offering to babysit (although I really wouldn't mind, and you can message me if you feel so moved...). I'm talking about taking someone else's kid to a ballgame, or out for a burger.  I'm talking about people who don't have kids or who's kids are grown up.

You still have something to offer in your church community. It doesn't have to be all about singing on the worship team or keeping the church kitchen clean!  There are relationships to be had with some amazing young people, and YOU could be one of the people in their lives that guides them to greatness!

Talk to a parent. Ask them how they would feel about you spending time with their child. Tell them why you want to do it. Tell them your life verse and explain that you want to share with their kid some testimony in your life about the tremendous transformational power of Jesus Christ.  Let them know that it is your intent to be involved in their kids life as someone who longs for their soul to be forever in the Kingdom of God. Even if it's just to meet up a few times a year for a Dairy Queen treat.

And I'm not speaking only to those that aren't already involved with kids.  Families...I'm talking to you, too. Make a list of men and women that you would like to see mentoring your kids, then ask! See if you can get five people to join you on this journey of raising awesome children of God!

I've contacted some ladies to come along side us with my teen daughter, and we are compiling lists for the other kiddos, too.

Make your list, contact people, tell me how it goes!