Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Gift of Adventure

It's been eight months since this whole unemployment thing began. I think the one thing I have come to appreciate the most about our current situation is learning how to appreciate the simple things. Even though things are tight, we have grown and stretched in love, creativity, and unity. We've discovered that children really are most content with just playing a game of tag with the neighborhood kids instead of running all over town. Who knew?

With that in mind, I'd resigned myself to foregoing purchasing Christmas gifts this year for the boys because I just could not justify the expense. Other things need to be paid for, and truthfully, anything we purchase will have an active child-engagement life span of approximately 5 days, at best.

I was trying to think of something low cost, preferably no-cost, to do with or for the boys. However, except for cakes, I do not have a crafty gene. So, imagine my delight when I came across a really wonderful and thoughtful idea on Facebook today! An FB friend of mine, homeschooling mommy of two precious little girls, is gifting her children with a year's worth of adventures. She's preparing a box with sealed envelopes for each adventure and objects that give clues about the adventures. I don't know how much she spent on that project, but I'm thinking of challenging myself to come up with as many free or low cost activities as possible. Hopefully, the mancubs will love it!

I'm still fleshing out my plan and brainstorming ideas, but here are my thoughts on adventures for the man tribe:


A tour of the local Mrs. Baird's Bread bakery

Attending one of the hands-on nature exploration activities at our local nature preserve

A visit to the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center

A trip to the beach

A Houston Zoo Member Morning Presentation

A trip to the Health Science Museum on a free Thursday

A tour of Lake Sheldon State Park and Environmental Learning Center

A bike ride on one of the trails at our local park

A family picnic on the hill at one of the free concert performances

A trip to one of the community water parks

Movie in the Park at our local town center

The local free Kidzfest in March

A tour of a local candy factory

A day-long excursion to Washington on the Brazos, the birth place of Texas independence

As you can tell, my boys are definite science and nature buffs. I'm also throwing in a little bit of history, food, and art in order to create a more well-rounded experience. I'm going to have to get creative with my clues, but I am definitely excited about putting it together for them. And for those of you who are worried, the grandparents have already sent their gifts, so they will have presents to open on Christmas Day!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Coming up for Air

Well, September is here, which means the new homeschool year has started at our house. This year, Caden is only taking one nap, so I am learning how to homeschool with toddler, preschooler, and school-aged children all in the same room at the same time. Basically, I hit the ground running in the morning and I don't stop until I fall into bed at night. So, needless to say, I have not had an opportunity to sit down and blog. I hope to see you all again really soon. In the meantime, duty calls, and I can't ignore them. Or can I? *giggle*

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Trimming the Fat: How I Cut My Grocery Bill in Half

I've been trying to find a way to share my strategy for slashing our monthly food budget, but haven't really had the time until now. A friend emailed me recently, asking for menu ideas to help her reduce her monthly grocery bill. Here is my reply.

When the hubby lost his job, I wanted to trim the fat on the budget. As far as groceries were concerned, I wanted to first make sure that my children were getting adequate nutrition. So, I got on and typed in our info to get free customized printouts of the exact amounts in each food group for recommended daily servings. I think for the youngest two, I had to google "daily recommended food servings" to get more specific info. At my house, we eat three meals, and two snacks (fruit and a dairy product) daily. So, I sat down with the serving sizes and actually divided it up and spread it out over 3 meals and 2 snacks a day. For example, at breakfast, I get 1 C dairy (usually milk because it's the easiest to measure), 1 oz protein (1 oz is an egg or 1 actual oz of cooked meat, or 1/4 C beans, or 1 tbsp peanut butter), and 2 oz grain (1 oz is a slice of bread. 1 C cold cereal, 1 C cooked cereal, grains, or rice), and 1/2 C fruit.

Then, the first week, I did my normal shopping which came out to $80 sans veggies (my veggies come from a CSA at $20 per week, but we won't be renewing unless the unemployment situation changes). That first week, I did all of the measurements and realized I still had 1/2 my food amount left over. So, the next week, I only had to spend about $40.

I believe in leftovers, especially now, since I have to make it count. So, when I make my menu, it includes lots of leftovers. I cook from scratch, which is very easy. When I go to the store, I only buy what's necessary to make the meals on my menu for the week. I also make sure I keep my pantry stocked with commodities and seasonings that I use regularly (ex. I always have onion, garlic, bell pepper, salt, black pepper, canned beans, and canned diced tomatoes).

I do not have a set menu plan or grocery list. Sorry. That is probably my next step. I did stop buying organic products this month because this is now going into month 4 and things are looking lean. If I don't have to buy commodities, I average $30-$40. If I do have to buy commodities, it's about $60-$70. This past week was $90 because I needed more commodities (sugar, flour, olive oil, etc) and I bought two loaf pans so I can start baking my own bread.

Here is an example of some things I cook:
-stir fry with whatever vegetables I have on hand and sausage or chicken
-spaghetti (again, I have resulted to buying the cheap metallic tasting Hunt's @ 99 cents per can and I add vegetables)
-baked chicken (we eat the chicken for 2 days and then I make soup and we eat for 2 more days)
-beans (usually from scratch. Canned is for the lunch soups)

Those are my staples. It's usually very little meat (expensive) and lots of grains and veggies.

This week's example:
Breakfast: (rotation)
Oatmeal/Grits/Pancakes (could do more if Andrew could eat eggs)
Milk/Orange Juice from concentrate

Home made fruit salad

2 veggies (so far, salad and sauteed zucchini or squash from the CSA box)

Red beans and rice
2 veggies from the CSA box
Tonight, I'm adding cornbread for variety

So, that's the whole week's menu. Spaghetti and Beans all week. But, we are in a different financial situation. You probably just need to do 2-3 nights of the same meal.

Anyway, lots of info. If you need more, let me know. Any suggestions from my readers would also be greatly appreciated.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bread and Meat, Let's Eat!

As a teacher, I used to love attending make and take workshops. I liked walking away with something tangible I could use in my classroom the very next day. In the same way, I really enjoy attending home school workshops, mom's meetings, and reading materials on home schooling. There is so much information and I'm finally starting to bring those ideas into my home to bless my family.

After attending this year's Texas Home School Coalition's home school conference, I couldn't wait to implement some of the ideas I gleaned from Sally Clarkson's workshop (Whole-Hearted Child philosophy). The easiest thing to start with was feasting. See, feasting is about more than the food. You can serve cold cereal or filet mignon, but the focus is on setting a mood that encourages connecting and sharing ideas.

So, with a loose understanding of Sally Clarkson's concepts, this is what I've done so far in my home at dinner time:

1. The table is set for every meal with silverware and napkins.

2. I light a candle (just a basic jar candle. Right now, the scent is pumpkin spice).

3. I set the mood with a variety of different types of music. Currently, thanks to Pandora and my Vivaldi station, the boys are learning about classical music and loving it. They always ask to see the album cover and try to pick out the instruments.

4. I loosely focus on proper table and conversation etiquette.

5. Here is the important part. I casually introduce a variety of conversation topics, from current events, asking them about their day, telling them about mine, conversations about God, sharing something from a conversation I had or something I read, or whatever crosses my mind. Then, I wait. This gives them time to process the information, formulate a thought, and share what they think about the topic. Sometimes, they think of something totally different to talk about and that is okay because they are thinking. That's the whole entire point of the feast! To connect and think critically about ideas that shape their world.

6. And finally, I finish with funny poetry and a quick bible lesson. Right now, we are reading The New Kid on the Block, by Jack Prelutzky. This is great because in order to truly appreciate the poems, I have to stop and give quick definitions of vocabulary words and explanations on some of the concepts. Of course, once they understand the context, then the poems are even funnier. Little boy giggles are the best! Then, I follow up with a daily devotion from Devotions for Little Boys and Girls, by Joan C. Webb. These are quick, interactive, and lead to lots of discussion.

Here is how I know this is working. In the beginning, there was some resistance because with change, there is always that period of discomfort. However, I stayed the course because I knew that just like vegetables, this would be good for them. Now, after about two weeks, my boys are no longer gobbling down their food and asking for more because their little tummies haven't had enough time to register the fullness. Instead, they are feasting on ideas and lingering at the table. They are engaged in the music and they are NOT playing with their food. Most of all, if I forget to do any of the things I mentioned above, they are quick to remind me. I would strongly suggest coming up with your own daily feast traditions. We always ate every meal together at the table, but Sally Clarkson's feast idea has taken our mealtimes to another level of bonding. I'm interested in hearing about your bonding traditions in your homes.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Plans for the New Year...I Think

Well, my summer vacation is coming to an end, and I think I might possibly be ready to start the new year. I have to say that it is with much anxiety that I am starting this year. This is the first time ever in the three year history of the The Wicks Christian Academy that I am surrendering our home school journey to the Lord. I have to admit that I have not...and it's been very painful.

This is how the journey has progressed:
Stage one: "Why me, Lord?"
Stage two: "What do you expect me to do with all of this?"
Stage three: "I give up! I can't take it anymore! YOU do it because I quit!"

So, finally, I am right where He wants me, surrendering my white-knuckled grip on my babies, their future, and my carefully crafted Ivy League worthy educational plans.

I asked, "What should I do?"

He said, "Raymond Moore, Charlotte Mason, Whole-Hearted Child" all sixty or so times I petitioned his doorstep.

Of course, I then hastily replied, "Um, no. That's not what I'm looking for. I'll come back tomorrow." Silly me.

Time has proven that my all-knowing God is right. So, here are my plans.

I am taking the ages and stages in Raymond Moore's Home Grown Kids and exposing them to everything that I might have missed or haven't gotten to in those stages. This will involve lots of hands on learning: baking, telling time in every day life, astronomy, charting the moon, digging in the earth, going out into the community, nature journals, great literature, service projects, wood-working, and life-skills development (including how to fix a faulty appliance as needed, and so much more. If I learn how to add documents and pictures, I'll post the charts I created based on this information.

Then I'm mixing it with Charlotte Mason's principles of short lessons, lots of time in nature, narration, dictation, light copy work, excellent literary works, habits formation (my favorite aspect of the philosophy), and relevant assignments.

Finally, I'll season it with Whole-Hearted Child's (Clay and Sally Clarkson) belief in learning, love, and joy being an on-going combined organic concept everyday in the life of a family.

This is new for me. I am throwing out the expensive curriculum I purchased last year, while keeping some of the great books to incorporate in God's plan for my home school. When I have done all that he is currently directing me to do, then I will go back up to the mountain top and ask for the next set of instructions. At the end of the day, he is the Master Teacher of the The Wicks Christian Academy, not me. Please pray for my obedience to what I know is His will for our home school journey.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sometimes, a Little Drama is Necessary

During quiet time today, I could hear Stephen kicking his headboard. So, I walked stealthily upstairs and swung open the door. He sat straight up and pointed across the room at Andrew, who was peeking over the top of his book. I focused in on Stephen and whispered, "I am the mommy. I can see and hear everything in this house. God gives all mommies the ability to figure things out when it comes to their children." His beautiful cinnamon-colored eyes grew wide with awe. I followed with a pregnant pause, directed him to lay down with just my finger, and then stared him down until the door was closed. Exit Mama, stage left.

Church Training Update

We have been church training for about two and half weeks now with some improvement. The first week was interesting. Unfortunately, I had several appointments and a home school conference, so it was very inconsistent. So, what can I tell you? You get out of a thing what you put into it. Needless to say, that Sunday morning, Caden played quietly for all of eight minutes of his daddy's sermon before letting me know he had had enough. Now, we had only worked up to eight minutes by the end of that week, so he actually did well, considering the amount of coaching and training he'd received. What did I learn? Consistency is key! Side note: The other two behaved very well, because they are old enough to understand that the doughnut refreshment during after church fellowship is contingent upon good behavior.

Week Two: Mama was on it like white on rice! We practiced everyday, building up to eleven minutes of quiet play time on my lap. Of course, the first few minutes involve lots of kicking and screaming, but he settles down and gets with the agenda. So, how did church go? Well, I could actually hear most of the sermon for the first time in three years! I only expect good behavior during the sermon. During congregational singing and prayer time, everybody is up on their feet singing, clapping, or praying, so that's his favorite time of the whole service. He fussed for the first 8 minutes of the sermon, but then calmed down and sat for the last 11 minutes, or so. Which, again, reflects the training. He was up to 11 minutes of home practice, so that's all he was able to give me on Sunday. I was also smart! I moved to the back row, which gives him room and makes me less tense about worrying about if eyes are on the pastor's wife and her loud offspring!

I'll keep you posted on any future developments.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Champion Water Maker of the World!!!

This Texas heat can sap the strength out of you, especially in the midst of the longest drought in our state's recorded weather history. Saturday afternoon, Andrew and his friend ran into the kitchen, filling the room with the smell of sun baked boy sweat, and immediately asked for water. Whipping the pitcher of cold filtered water out of the refrigerator, I quickly poured each a glass. With one gulp, the water was gone, leaving behind satisfied smiles.

With a wide grin, Andrew's friend said, "That was some good water!"

Andrew replied, "My mom makes the best water in the world. She could win a water-making contest!"

That's me, ladies and gentlemen: Champion Water Maker of the World!

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Blessings of Unemployment

We are now almost three months into this unemployment thing. However, I have found more to be grateful for in all of this than I have to be worried about. Here are just a few of those things, in no particular order:

1. Plenty of opportunity to introduce my husband to my home school friends.

2. We learned that we can live on less than half of my husband's former salary. This is great news! Prior to the lay-off, we were living with an attitude of scarcity. Now, we truly see how much abundance we had then and now. We laugh at all of the arguments we used to have and look forward to accomplishing our dreams.

3. I slashed my grocery bill in half while still eating mostly organic foods. My kids are well-fed and content, and they are sleeping so much better at night! THIS is one thing that will definitely continue.

4. There is no place like home. Seriously. I didn't realize how much running around we did until we were forced to spend more time at home. The kids are calmer. They are connecting more with kids in the neighborhood, as well as with each other. They are becoming more creative in their play. They fight less. We are socializing with our neighbors more. The chores are getting done. I have time to bake and connect with my kids over more than just lessons. Overall, we just feel more grounded.

5. The boys are getting to spend so much time with their dad. It's been very good for my husband and the boys. I think they are going to miss him terribly when he goes back to work.

6. We were able to go on a two week long vacation to Virginia to visit my family. We even drove all the way there and back without feeling exhausted. It was one of the best vacations ever for the Wicks family.

7. My husband and I have not spent this much time together since our college days. We get on each others nerves quite often because we are not used to seeing each other all day, every day like this! Yet, even that has been a blessing. It's been eye-opening to see how much we both have really changed since our courtship days. We have more than enough time to work out our differences. We also have a new appreciation and respect for each other as individuals and as a unit. It's been awesome to have this time with him.

8. My husband got to attend an entire two day home school conference with me. This has never happened in the three years of our homeschooling journey. It was nice to talk with the other most important person in our children's lives and reflect on the classes we chose to take. We walked away with a plan of action and we are on the same page.

9. I have more ME time! I can take a nap when I need to. I can go to the gym. I can just walk out the door and catch my breath without having to worry about my children setting the house or each other on fire. I am cherishing every moment of this extended ME time, because I know it will be greatly reduced once he returns to work.

These are just a handful of the things I find every day to be thankful for. I don't want to sugarcoat this. We never forget that unemployment looms over our heads like a gray cloud. This is not easy. Yet, God has provided in so many different ways, even down to free Astros ticket so we could get away as a family for a few hours. I know He's got our back and that knowledge is what I am most grateful for and it makes it so much easier to endure.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Oh, It's On, Now! (or, how to tell when it's time to teach church etiquette)

So, to put it mildly, church with my three darlings was a very interesting experience. Where shall we start? Caden (1) conducted a one-baby protest movement against listening to his daddy's sermon. This involved kicking, screaming, crying, and throwing toys and juice cups. For the sake of others, it ended with a long walk outside in the hotel lobby and hallway. Round one goes to baby. Stephen (3) recently graduated to full-time pull-up free status (even at night). Unfortunately, he has come to realize that when a recently potty-trained three year old says he needs to potty, grown ups stop everything to help make that happen, even if the three year old in question has already gone to the potty fifteen minutes prior to the current claim. So, while I was occupied with wrestling with the one year old, Stephen made a game of seeing how many times he could get the other grownups to take him to the restroom. Finally, not to be left out, Andrew (7) seemed to believe his chair was a jungle gym. Every time I turned around the boy was sitting backwards, hanging off, or basically trying to do everything except sit in the chair properly.

So, I have come to a conclusion: It is time to roll out the big guns. It is time to revisit for some, and start for others, the Wicks family church training sessions. This is not an original concept. I have read about different versions of this on several Christian parenting websites. Here is my battle strategy:

1. Church training will occur daily at 10:30 am, which is about the time my husband starts the sermon on Sunday mornings.

2. Since The House of Prayer meets in a hotel meeting room, I will line up individual kitchen table chairs to make the experience as similar as possible to the real thing.

3. I will go over the rules. When we are listening to the sermon, our ears are open and our mouths are closed. We are looking at the speaker. We can play quietly with ONE toy or write. We MUST stay seated.

4. Then, I will turn to whatever recorded sermon is on TV and we will watch it for 30 minutes. All the while, I plan to compliment good behavior and redirect as necessary.

5. For the baby, if he cries, I will put my fingers to my lips and say, "Shhh" every time. If he tries to get up or resists, I will very gently press down to keep him in place on my lap.

So, I'll start tomorrow and I'll see if it works this time. I learned of this method after having Stephen, my extremely loud and highly verbal child. I started his training while pregnant with Caden, but then I had to go on bed rest, so I did not get to see how well it works long term. Of course, by the time I returned to church, I had two little ones to train and I just haven't had the time to get back to it. So, it will be interesting to see how my training sessions go. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Making Memories on the Porch

I wanted to take a minute to capture a very special moment for all time. Since I did not think to take a picture, I thought the next best thing would be to write about it as a blog post.

Today, the Wicks family enjoyed a scrumptious dinner of store-bought fried chicken, yeast rolls, and homemade fruit salad, with iced green tea on our front porch. Yes, I said it...the front porch. We have a wonderful, yet completely ignored and unused front porch. Since the house faces east, our covered front porch really is a great place to greet the sun in the morning and catch a cool breeze in the evening. In the chaos of everyday living, I often plan to sit on that porch and read a great novel or hang out with my husband, but never get to actually do it.

So, today, I thought, "Why not make a memory?" With this in mind, I made a quick trip to the local Wal-mart (best grocery store-bought fried chicken ever) and came home and whipped up the light dinner. I threw in the card table, since our little decorative table is too flimsy to survive a dinner with little boys, and a high chair for the baby, and we were in business.

It was quick. It was simple. It was relaxed. It felt so right. I'm thinking this should be a summer staple, a new tradition for the Wicks family.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Our Daily Bread

So, the love of my life came home today, looked me in the eye, and apologized for being let go from his job. Can you say, "unprepared?" I have to admit that I am still numb from the shock of it all and I am not looking forward to the return of feeling tomorrow. There are so many questions that I don't even know how to begin to answer at this time. We have not told the boys. We actually don't know what to say to them.

I am reminded of this Sunday's sermon, preached by my husband, "Our Daily Bread." In a nutshell, he dealt with trusting the Lord instead of ourselves for our daily provision. I have recently started sharing tips on living our lives as a witness for Christ during the service. Wouldn't you know? The topic this week was releasing everything about yourself and your life to God, just letting go, and allowing Him to love you. The thought is, if you let Him shower you with his amazing love, it can't help but overflow and splash on your circumstances and all those around you. But we have to first let it all go so that we can make room for Him to do that.

So I'm trusting God. I told Him that I felt He could've chosen a less painful way to make us literally put our money where our mouth is, but I know that none of this is a surprise to Him. I'm trusting Him and giving this entire situation to Him and I will allow Him to love me as I learn to really love and depend on Him during all of this.

Please pray for my family. My goal is to bring the joy. To be the soft spot my husband needs to turn to if it gets to be too much. To be the smile my children see when they worry about their well-being.

In addition to my usual posts on my boys, homeschooling, and their crazy antics, I will also talk about the lessons I'm learning as we go through what I prayerfully hope to be a very short time of unemployment for my husband.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Moments in Boyland

After a wonderful family outing to Kita, our favorite local sushi restaurant, we all trampled into the house. The oldest two boys were sent up to their room to change into their pajamas while I put the baby to bed and my husband took care of the dog.

Not even ten seconds after entering their room, Stephen let out an ear-piercing scream and all I heard from Andrew is, "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to do it!" I swept poor Caden up off the changing table and into my arms, and ran as fast I could, with Chip not too far behind me. Entering the room, I skidded to a halt, quickly assessing the situation: blood pouring out of Stephen's mouth, down his beautiful plaid shirt, and onto the cream carpet. His brother standing there bug-eyed with fear (I don't think he's ever seen that much blood in real life). Blankets and throw pillows on the floor (not sure how that happened in less than ten seconds).

And then, everything came back into focus and the yelling began (I am not a perfect work). In the midst of the chaos, we learned that Andrew and Stephen were playing ninjas or some must-involve-bodily-contact boy game, when Andrew accidentally kicked Stephen in the mouth. Hence the wild-banshee screaming and blood. Lifting a quick prayer to Jesus for my baby's pearly whites, I cleaned him up, rinsed him out, and discovered a tiny gash on his tongue (salt water, store-brand mouthwash, and prayer work wonders). I haven't been that relieved in a long time...

Lessons learned by all:
Andrew: You really should pay attention to the disclaimer, "Do not try this at home"
Stephen: ALWAYS protect the face!
Mom and Dad: It usually looks worse than it really is.