Thursday, April 28, 2011

On 16 year old girls

Dear Lovelies,

My gosh, you guys are adorable.  And young!  When did sixteen get so young?  Because when I was sixteen....well, anyway, boring, I hear ya.

However, just so you know, black tights are not the same thing as leggings.  No, no they're not.  I can see your whole heiny, small though it is.  (Enjoy it now girlfriend).

Trust me when I tell you, you do not want to date anyone who comes up to you while you're dressed that way.  No matter how hot they may be.


The oldest 29 year old alive.

P.S.  Where are your fathers?  My girls: Daddy will break both your legs before he lets you out of the house like that.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Giveaway Day!

I need a small favor.  In order to be eligible to apply for certain writing jobs, a blog author sometimes must have a high number of official followers.  I can see that lots and lots of you are reading (Singapore?  Germany?  Afghanistan?  Helllllllllo there), and I really appreciate it.  But if your readers don't "officially" follow, it doesn't count.  Anyway, instead of just checking in for new posts here and there, would you consider supporting me by becoming an official follower?  It's easy:  click the "Follow" button on the right hand side of your page, about 1/3 of the way down, and follow the instructions to complete the process (all you have to fill in is your email, or you can create a Google ID just for this blog).

To thank you guys for reading Chickens in My Kitchen, and being so kind to me about it, if you become a follower, or if you are already, I will enter you in a giveaway for a $10 Amazon gift card, plus a $15 donation to the charity of your choice.  Leave me a comment saying you follow, and I'll put your name in.  Simple!

I will leave the giveaway open until Sunday May 1st, and then I will let the kids pick a name from the comments and announce the winner Monday May 2nd.  Don't forget to leave a comment, so I can enter your name!

Thank you guys so much for all your kind comments on FB and link ups.  You are the best.

Love, Shannon

Friday, April 22, 2011

Small Things

A collection of little things I've been thinking.

*Raise your hand if you regularly wake up sleeping infants by checking their breathing.  You know, just in case.

*I am constantly horrified that the solution to most household problems seems to involve me getting less sleep.

*Husband recently discovered my shampoo in the shower.  Quite a step up for a man who's completely happy using a bar of soap on his head.

*The hour I have to get up in the morning to have quiet time has been creeping slowly north.  Of course, when the kids are teenagers, I'm sure I'll be bouncing out of bed at 5am each day, with four long hours to fill before they are rudely awakened by their lonely Mama.  Until then.....

*I am reminded, again, that if I don't take the time to sit and do the little things the kids want me to do now, no matter how trivial they seem, they will not come to me with their bigger interests and dramas later.

*When did we all get so busy?  It takes six months to pick a date to get together that works for everyone.  Remember when someone used to IM (ha!), and 45 minutes later all ten of us would be at Kams with a beer in our hands?!  Now it would be easier to get President Obama to Kams tomorrow than all of us.

*Sometimes, only for a second, I wish one of my kids were actually OCD, just so I'd have some help around the house.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Day in the Life-Part 2

In Part 1, I told you about a very good day. Now I'm going to show you what a very bad homeschooling day looks like at my house. I truly love homeschooling, but it asks a lot of you, as a parent.  Just like with so many things, there are doubts and anxiety.  But as I work through difficult days, both the children and I are learning patience, kindness, gentleness.....and some of us (right here!) really need it.

A Very Bad Day

Wake up late (How can I teach the children self-discipline if I don't practice it myself?!), still exhausted. Baby has had yet another bad night. Hubs is frantically frying eggs for the children and trying to empty the dishwasher with "help" from the 2 year old as I stumble downstairs. He is annoyed and rushing to get out the door for work, late. House is a total disaster; we didn't do our chores last night. I have to remind the kids three times to clear their plates; surely it is just easier to do it myself.

By the time the kitchen is clean-ish and we all are ready (no shower for me), it is 10:30. Way behind on laundry-Olivia (5) has to borrow Amelia's (3) shirt. The baby is colic-y/teething/not napping anymore as we start school. Strap him to my chest and bounce him as I teach. The 2 year old is needy and demanding attention, distracting the big girls from their work. Feel guilty that 5 year old has to practice reading in such a loud environment. Remind myself that classrooms of twenty kids can be pretty loud too.

Olivia (5) can't remember something we have been working on for weeks. 3 year old apparently doesn't recognize the alphabet anymore.

Charlotte (2) is climbing all over me during the math lesson. Baby still strapped to chest. Amelia (3) is not working. Maybe if she were at real preschool, a real teacher could convince her to do some edifying activity? As it is, she is quiet, so I ignore the fact that she isn't doing anything.

Am at the very beginning/very end of pregnancy and/or potty-training. Have to get up twice during school to throw up/pee/take someone potty/clean up a puddle.

I feel frustrated with the noise level and lack of focus, so end school. Decide to skip history CD today, send the kids to playroom for some quiet time while I make lunch.  Feel guilty for sending the kids away from me.  Shouldn't I want to be with them all the time?  Isn't that the whole point of homeschooling?!

Kids can't sit still and be quiet during read-aloud time.  Someone interrupts every three seconds. While we read, Charlotte is systematically pulling everything out of the kitchen cabinets, despite the child-locks. Olivia is in tears because it is so chaotic and hard to hear the story. Surely she would be getting a better education at school, without all these little ones running around. How can I expect her to love reading like this? Am barely hanging on until naptime.

Naptime, finally: big girls are incredibly loud; 2 year old gets woken up, screaming; cranky all the rest of the day. Two of the three girls say their tummies hurt; put out a puke bowl, just in case.

Get curriculum catalog in the mail. Realize that the prices for next year's curriculum have jumped again. Put it out of my mind. We'll make it work somehow. Vacations are overrated anyway.

Three big kids fighting all afternoon. Clearly being together all the time is not good for strong sibling relationships like all the homeschool books claim. School bus rumbles by: I think wistful thoughts about friend who sends her kids to school on that bus, hence gaining 9+ hours of silence to herself. And a clean house.

Have to ask kids repeatedly to pick up house. Despair of the character issues I see in the kids that need attention, but I am too exhausted to address them now.

Realize that the same character issues you see in the kids are yours too.  Life would have been a lot smoother if I had noticed and dealt with my own character inadequacies before I had children.

5pm: Haven't even considered dinner. Out of milk, bread, frozen pizza. Guess we'll have spaghetti. Again. Out of noodles. Curse in front of the kids. Drag all four cranky kids to the store at the worst time of day, the after-work, pre-dinner rush. I look like hell. Needless to say, we see everyone we know.

Hubs is planting/picking. Not coming home for dinner tonight. Or tomorrow. Or this weekend. All I keep thinking is that there needs to be more of me to go around.

Feel guilty that Seth will be coming home to a meal with no protein or vegetables after 16 hours in the field. Throw some hamburger on his spaghetti.

5 year old sees how cranky you are and makes you a card saying that you are the "best Mama ever". Feel guilty (again) that your exhaustion is apparent to your children. Mrs. Duggar never looks this tired. How can I cultivate a cheerful heart in my children if I don't have one myself?

Everyone to bed. Olivia asks to pray for Daddy in the field. Put the baby and the 2 year old to sleep, then snuggle with the big girls in my bed and read Little House in the Big Woods until they both fall asleep. Am grateful to have gotten a few quiet moments alone with the big kids. Daddy will move them when he gets home at midnight.

I get up to leave him a little love note about dinner and a stack of kids' pictures and schoolwork to look at as he eats.

Go to bed, pray hard for strength and grace for tomorrow. Wonder if you are doing the right thing. Wonder if there is enough of you to go around. Wonder if there is enough grace to cover all your faults and mistakes.

.........So there you have it. A very good day in Part 1, and a very bad day above. Most of our days are really good. Some are in between. Thankfully, only a couple have been this bad.

I hope I am being refined through difficult days....that my rough edges are being worn away, so that I can be the mother that I would like to be.  Basically, as I pray that God will teach me patience, I hear "What do you think I'm doing right now?"

Questions?  Interested in more specific homeschooling info?  Leave it in the comments and I'll do my best to answer.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Day in the Life, Part 1

I don't know about you, but I find it completely fascinating to read about other people's day to day lives. I know that homeschooling is probably unfamiliar to a lot of people, just like it was to me before we started a couple of years ago, so I thought you might be interested in a little peek into a homeschool day at our house.

Now, in interests of fairness, I am going to tell you about two very different kinds of days. In reality, we have lots of good days, lots of just okay days, and a few really bad days. But here are the two extremes (Part 1 and Part 2- this is Part 1). (This is not an exact reporting of a real day, more like a composite of different days we've had).

*Disclaimer: I know homeschooling is not for everyone. This is just what works best for us. You know what works best for your family. If you think you are going to be offended either by a super rosy description of a day, or by a super negative description of a day, please don't read!*

A Very Good Day

Up early, long before anyone else. Peaceful dark house, sun barely making the sky gray yet. Coffee, email, quiet time, exercise. Get the proper load of laundry (as per the schedule) started. Throw French toast casserole in the oven. Plan for dinner. Head upstairs to shower just as the first kids and Hubs get up.

Back downstairs, ready to start the day (i.e. hair and make-up, dressed). Breakfast is finished and we all sit down together. Seth has time to eat with us, since the morning was so peaceful. The kids do their chore packs and get ready without being asked. I have time to braid Olivia's hair "like Laura from Little House on the Prairie" without having to rush. She asks me some tricky questions about God, and I have time to focus and think about my answers as her hair runs through my hands.

I put the baby down for his morning nap. When everyone is ready for school, I spend some quality time with the two-year old while the big girls start their workboxes (handwriting for Olivia, letter tracing for Amelia). We move through the rest of our subjects happily. In history, we are mummifying a chicken to show how the Egyptians would have made mummies. The kids are fascinated and engaged, and I know they will remember the Pharaohs for a long time.

We take a break after seat work, and Daddy calls to ask if we want to come have a picnic at the farm. Of course we do! We quickly throw together lunch for the guys in the shop and head down the road. We have a picnic on an old quilt at the farm. After we eat, Daddy reads from our read-alouds, and the kids beg for more chapters. (Feel like a spectacular mother if they are asking for more chapters from the Bible). During nap time, I listen to the big girls chatter and play pretend and love on each other. I am reminded that homeschooling gives them the opportunity to be best friends, without worrying about who is "too old" to be friends with their little sisters.

After nap time, while we fold laundry together, the oldest reads to the littler ones. An encouraging card from a friend in our homeschool group comes in the mail, reminding me that I am just the Mama these children need (group trip to the symphony next week). I print out the scope and sequence for the next grade up, and realize that Olivia has mastered most of that already. Later, we take a walk in the pasture, and one of the girls makes a connection to something we read in science.... hallelujah!

About 4:30, we stop and pick-up the house to get ready for Daddy to come home. I realize that we are making progress in working together with cheerful hearts, a character issue that we have been reinforcing little by little. Again, be grateful that homeschooling gives plenty of opportunities (and TIME) to recognize character issues and work on them together. Small sibling squabble. I gently remind the girls of how we treat each other in our family, no matter how we are feeling. They reply "Yes Ma'am" and hug it out.

Grandma stops by; we decide that she is going to go home and bring Grandpa back here for dinner. (Not stressed out-planned dinner this morning, remember? Easy to add two more). The house is peaceful (and clean!) when Hubs gets home, and the kids make a mad dash to welcome Daddy. Muddy farm boots taken off by the door. The kids watch a little TV while Seth and I share a beer and talk and finish dinner.

Grandma and Grandpa are back for dinner. Tiny hands folded for grace. Kids actually remember to use the manners we taught them. After the kids leave the table to play, the adults sit and talk, and end up lingering over pie and coffee. Worn socks on long man legs under my table. The usual farm talk. Rough hands picking little pieces of pie out of the pan an hour later.

There is no homework, no practice to get to, no early bedtime for school tomorrow to worry about. We can say YES! to picnics with Daddy and impromptu dinners with Grandma and Grandpa. The kids have time to explore and discover and just be kids.  They have the kind of tree-climbing, hours outside, reading on a picnic blanket childhood we want for them.  Seth and I are convicted to see and work on character issues that we may have missed otherwise. We are reminded that we are responsible for training these babies into virtuous and healthy adults.

Like I said, this is not any one real day, more like a story about our good days.  (Don't ask my kids about mummifying the chicken, we haven't done it yet.  I

Now, if that was a little too Pollyanna for you and you feel like killing me, (and I bet you do), just wait for Part 2....A Very Bad Day. It's not all sunshine and roses.

Friday, April 8, 2011

New Blog Name

Hi Guys!  I changed the blog name and domain.  You should be automatically redirected, but if you're not, please head to:



Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How to Make The Best Jam Ever

This is the best (and easiest) strawberry jam I've ever made.    Making around twenty 8 oz jars took me less than one hour, from start to finish, including taking pictures and stopping to nurse the baby.  You can do this!  And it is so worth it.

Here's what you need (this will make about five 8 oz jars):

4 lbs fresh strawberries ($.99 at Aldi this week).  I like to pick containers with larger berries, because then the cutting goes faster.

1 box of instant fruit pectin (I use Ball brand, located in the baking aisle of the Walmart.  One box has enough pectin to make double this recipe)

1 1/2 cups of white sugar or Splenda

Kitchen Equipment: jars or tupperware to freeze jam in, big bowl, spoon, food processor or potato masher, knife and cutting board.  I personally like to use canning jars, because they make me feel all domestic and connected to all the farm wives in the past, but anything you have will work.  Ball canning jars are for sale everywhere, and should cost you less than $10 for 12.  They are worth the investment.  I use them for everything, from freezing and canning to flower vases and decorative jars.  (They are reusable, don't throw them away!)

Ready to make some jelly?  Here we go!

Step 1: Get your jars or containers ready.

Step 2: Rinse your strawberries.

Step 3: Cut the green tops off the berries.  I push the knife vertically into the top of the berry and cut around in a circle, instead of just chopping the top off horizontally, because that way you get any green core that may be hiding inside the berry.  (You'll want to cut out any bruised spots as well ).

Step 4: In your big bowl, mix one packet of instant fruit pectin with 1 1/2 cups of white sugar or Splenda.

Step 5: Using either a food processor or a potato masher, crush your strawberries to the consistency you like best.  If you like your jam very smooth, crush the berries into almost a puree.  We like some texture to ours, so we leave chunks (see picture).  If you use a food processor, use the pulse button instead of the regular full speed button, in order to preserve some texture.  Whether you crush them by hand or process them, I could only effectively crush about 1 lb at a time.  Any more than that was a mess.  Dump your crushed berries into a bowl or measuring cup as you work.  You should have about four cups of crushed berries when you're finished.
(Note: In the past, I have attempted to use a KitchenAid Stand Mixer to crush the berries, which worked okay, but it was an enormous mess.  I don't suggest it unless your berries are very ripe).

Step 6: Mix your crushed berries into your bowl of sugar and pectin.  Stir for three minutes, or slightly more.

Step 7: Fill your jars.  Wipe the sides and tops of any stray jam, then screw lids on.  Let them stand for about 30 minutes.  Freeze or refrigerate.  These keep in the freezer for one year (I would say longer), or the refrigerator for about three weeks.  You can expect the consistency to be thinner than a cooked jam-that is normal.  Considering that my kids eat this like soup, that works out just fine for me.

And.....voila!  You just made healthy and delicious strawberry jam!  Isn't the color just amazing?  Could that have been any easier?!  Jars of this make great gifts for a hostess or a new mom.  And I can pretty guarantee this will impress the man in your life with your banging domestic skills.

Every spring when strawberries are in season, I try to freeze enough to last all year.  I haven't succeeded yet.

And just for fun, a price breakdown:
Strawberries $4
Pectin $2.32/2 since you only use one packet: $1.16
Sugar: about $.25

So the price per batch is $5.41, for five 8 oz jars, or about $1.08/jar, which comes out to about $.13/oz.    The regular price of 12 oz of Smucker's Strawberry Jam at Walmart is $1.99, or $.16/oz.  (Price would be much higher at our tiny town grocery store).  This is a huge win-win: not only is your jam healthier, made with in-season fruit, and WAY more delicious than store jam, it is cheaper too!  If you live out in the boonies like me, it is also a nice to bonus to have to have jars all ready to go in the freezer, because we inevitably use the end of our jelly just before weekend guests come, and then have nothing to serve with toast.

Happy Jelly-Making!

Printable (this recipe is right on the box of pectin, if you'd rather save paper):
Here's what you need (this will make about five 8 oz jars):
4 lbs fresh strawberries
1 box of instant fruit pectin
1 1/2 cups of white sugar or Splenda

Step 1:  Get your jars or containers ready.
Step 2:  Rinse your strawberries.
Step 3:  Cut the green tops off the berries.  (You'll want to cut out any bruised spots as well )
Step 4:  In your big bowl, mix one packet of instant fruit pectin with 1 1/2 cups of white sugar or Splenda.
Step 5:  Using either a food processor or a potato masher, crush your strawberries to the consistency you like best.  Dump your crushed berries into a bowl or measuring cup as you work.  You should have about four cups of crushed berries when you're finished.
Step 6:  Mix your crushed berries into your bowl of sugar and pectin.  Stir for three minutes, or slightly more.
Step 7:  Fill your jars.  Wipe the sides and tops of any stray jam, then screw lids on.  Let them stand for about 30 minutes.  Freeze or refrigerate.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Anatomy of a Frugal Failure

Follow with me here as I explain EXACTLY how to save money by shopping around for the best deals.

Realize that Amelia needs new Crocs for the summer; somehow, out of the twenty pairs we own, none are her size.

Remember reading about a great deal on a money-saving blog, can't remember which one. Google it.

Find the deal-Zulily-$14-and they have the color she wants, orange. Score! Get all the way to end of checkout and realize that with shipping and taxes, they cost almost the same as regular price ($22 v $24) at any website. Maybe there is a coupon code. Retailmenot. No codes.

Surely I can do better than that. Go to several other websites to see if they have orange Crocs for a good price. All prices on orange are the same ($24). Search coupon codes for each site to find the best deals, including shipping. If you sign-up for emails from Crocs, they will send you a code for 20% off. Done.

Call Amelia over to the computer to ask which of the two shades of orange she prefers. She then notices the only other pair of shoes that come in orange, a pair of sandals, full-price, of course ($34). She really likes those better. I think they are a lot cuter too. Hmm. Maybe she can wear them as dress shoes and for church as well, thereby saving money by only needing one pair of summer shoes.

So: $34-20% off = $27.20 + shipping

Not too bad, for a pair of shoes that should really count as TWO pairs, since she can wear them for play and church.

In the midst of this, Olivia hears us online shopping (the only kind we do out here in the country), and comes over. I remember that she also needs new Crocs for this summer. She spots the same pair of sandals, loves them too. No interest in the $24 pair. Of course. I was planning on buying her generics whenever I saw them cheap (Dollar Store, $5). But wait! It says down there that if you buy two pairs of shoes from Crocs, you get free shipping! Second pair into the cart.

So $34 x 2 = $68

$68-20% off coupon = $54.40

$54.40 (actually spent) - $22 (price of original deal considered) - $5 (price planned on for Olivia's shoes) = $27.40

And that's how today is the day in which I lost $27.40 by shopping around for the best price.