Crossroads

This year has been emotionally hard on me. One really big reason why is I have had more days than not when I feel like homeschooling 4 kids and caring for a toddler is just not for me. The only person I have mentioned this to is Mark so this is probably going to surprise those who know me best.

I struggle nearly everyday. I am worn from it. I really feel like the 2 girls would benefit from at least a year in a formal school setting. They are so much fun to be with, but I think they both need to find some independence away from their big brothers. I would like to see them blossom into their own beings. Their brothers, bless them, hold them back a little. I know they do not realize it. They are just protective.

My oldest is also going to “officially” be in high school this next year. I would like to focus more energy on getting him situated so he can achieve his very lofty life goals. My sweet 12 year old son would stay home with me also. He struggles and over the years we have discovered the best ways to help him learn and retain information. They are very nontraditional methods so a traditional school setting really wouldn’t be in his best interest.

12419010_10208700179248078_1089787326928759216_o

Elf is turning into a bookworm. She loves books as much as her eldest brother!

What do I do? I really do not want to send the girls to public school. I am not criticizing public school at all. My oldest went to public school for 2 years and Elf went for half a year until we changed school districts. My objection is personal to our family dynamics, beliefs, and goals. These are things that each family must personally decide on. For me, public school isn’t really an option at this time. I say “at this time” because I am not so bold as to say I am 100% against it. I am open for a change of mind and heart so long as it is the right choice for US.

That leaves private school. Who has money for that though? I have searched local schools and scholarship options. I actually have one place bookmarked that we may be able to make a reality. I have yet to get in touch with the school, but I plan to. There is also online school. That would keep the girls home without having to worry about planning their school days. That doesn’t help with my wanting them to develop themselves away from their brothers though.

12188118_10208258331642164_5578335459092742164_o

Princess making a cake while Zen watches. 

I really have no idea what I am going to do. Although Mark and I are a team, this is ultimately my decision since I am the one who is home all day with the kids. I know I have my husband’s support and that does make it easier. I know that when I make a decision he will back me up. That is a good feeling. Right now though, I am torn. I am not 100% convinced either way. I am no closer to an answer than I was in October. Time is not on my side. I need to make a decision sooner rather than later.

Why am I bothering telling you all of this if I am at a loss for what I am going to do? Well, writing it all out makes it more real. I need to see how I will react once I start getting feedback, because I know there will be feedback. Also, I feel like I can’t be the only parent struggling with the decision on what type of schooling is best for their child(ren). I want others to know they aren’t alone. The struggle is real. We are all just trying to do what is best and it is OK to doubt through the process.
~Andrea

Shopping for a Family of 7

Have you ever wondered how larger families shop? I certainly can’t speak for everyone, but I know that, for us, shopping less often by buying more at the time is far more convenient. It takes less time to meal plan, write lists, make sure our pantry and freezer inventory is up-to-date, and then do one large bi-monthly shopping trip than it does to shop once a week. It is also far more cost effective because we have less opportunity for impulse buys.

I had the amazing opportunity to write a guest-post for my good friend Kristin over at Couponing to Disney on how my latest shopping trip went.
I have gotten so much positive feedback. I am thrilled my experience is helping people save time and money!

I would love for you to check it out and I pray it can benefit you also: Andrea’s Bi-Monthly Shopping Trip to Aldi: Feeding a Family of 7 (via Couponing to Disney)

12400451_10208779764477659_4138212730607260868_n

A Surprise Gift

Zen Baby got a Secret Santa gift. Unfortunately, the generous person (people?) had no clue that a dishonest person had previously bought and returned the gift. This kind person bought a gift that, once opened we discovered, was used. It was missing pieces, the stickers were already added, and one piece was actually broken. Seriously people, be cool. Don’t return stuff broken and then NOT tell the store!

Zen is 2.5 years old, for those who have lost count. He was disappointed he couldn’t play with his toy. “But WHY, Momma? I want to play!”
Two year old toddlers aren’t always reasonable. I tried telling him it was broken and I was working on getting him a new one.

10347701_10208648922286686_5182197623170969956_n

Here is a recent picture of Zen. He is getting so big! 

 

I tried to figure out where the toy came from. I still am not sure.
Zen just kept pointing to the box and asking hopefully “I play with that?”
I felt so badly.

During one of my Goggle searches for the mystery toy I discovered Kohl’s has something similar enough that Zen would love. Even better, the item was on clearance. Top it off with the fact I have had Kohl’s Merchandise Credit sitting in my wallet for some time now and nothing important to spend it on.

Off to Kohl’s I went. I quickly found the toy. It was originally priced at $69.99. The website had it listed at $28 (for those wondering, it isn’t on the website anymore. My guess is they sold out).
The store had a clearance sticker price on it for $34.99. I went to the register and hopefully asked if they price match to their site. For the record, they do not. Darn. Oh well.

IMG_20151230_133014

Original price and clearance sticker price. 

The cashier rang it up and it came up at $27.99! One penny cheaper than online! Yay! Yes, a penny matters to me and I was thrilled! I also had a coupon for 15% off. This took $4.20 off the sale price. My total, after tax, was $25.60. Not bad considering retail value is $69.99. However, I was not done. I still had my Merchandise Credit to use. That took an additional $22.25 off my total. Out of pocket I paid an amazing $3.35! Can you believe that?

IMG_20151231_102241

Zen doesn’t have the original toy, but he has a pretty awesome substitute and he is thrilled with it! So what did I buy? I got him the Vtech Go!Go! Smart Wheels Ultimate Amazement Park Playset. The set we got is a Kohl’s exclusive and included an extra 15 pieces of track! Here it is:

IMG_20151230_133117

Pretty cool! Especially since I paid a whopping $3.35 for it! I am going to write another post about putting it together (I grumbled a lot more than I thought I would) and reviewing it. No, I am not being compensated in any way. I just want to review it on my own accord for those who are interested in it. You can get this set, without the extra 15 pieces, at other stores. It looks like the smaller set retails for $59.99, but a quick Google search tells me all the big stores also have this on post-holiday clearance!

Zen knows this is not really from me. It is a special gift from a Secret Santa; someone with a kind and generous heart who just wanted to put a smile on my baby’s face. That person is amazing and we send them our thanks and love.

~Andrea

Morning Madness

It is not even 8:30 and I need a do-over. I am trying to get the kids ready for their yearly physicals and it is sleeting and snowing at the same time. Really? Well, OK Mother Nature must be in quite the mood. I have 4 wheel drive though so I will manage.

Well, maybe not. Bug just dumped the pancake mix all over the counter, and between the counter and fridge. Princess spilled the coconut milk on the table. Zen decided he is a big boy and can pour his own cereal. The entire 32 ounce box into a baby bowl and the bowl was on the floor. It is a race between me and Sunny Day on who can get to the cereal first. I win, thank goodness, and she gets put away so we can clean. I sit on the floor and start picking up the cereal and Bug trips and dumps his dustpan of pancake mix and crumbs onto my head. I had already showered.

So I walked away. Sometimes we just need to. Sometimes we need to step back and breathe; in my case I write.

It will be OK. My kids are amazing and funny and do not usually dump things on my head. It could be worse. I know this way too well. So, I will breathe and move forward.

~Andrea

Untitled

Big Life Changes

*UPDATE* This opportunity didn’t work out for many reasons and Mark decided to move on to a different job. He is happily employed at a large, widely known company whose main operations are local. Thank you for continued prayers and support as we journey through life! 

I have been holding on to a piece of information for over 2 weeks. While some suspect the secret, or even sort of know what it is, only some people are in on the details of this secret. These people are so close to me. They have been a constant support during both good and bad times. These people are not fair weather friends. These people are hard core “walk through the hurricane holding our hands” kind of friends. They have our trust and know our secret. The time has come for me to let the rest of the world in on this news.

So what is this information that I hold? It involves my entire family but mostly it is about my husband.
**Drum roll**

Mark accepted a new position with a different company! I will not give details about who he will be working for because I feel that would not be beneficial to him. I will say that it is a better job. It doesn’t bring us back to where we were, not really even close, but it is a very positive step forward and upward with potential for growth and a future. It is a new career path that will use past skills in a new way. He will be challenged; something he is very excited about. He is a very smart guy so the challenge is welcome.

A tid bit from his letter accepting his new job.

A tid bit from his letter accepting his new job.

I am very excited. I am also cautiously optimistic. I have been burned too many times over the past year and a half to be full fledged optimistic. What makes me most excited is this run down:

~In all the years I have known Mark he has always worked an unusual schedule. It was unpredictable and ever changing.
This job is a 5 day a week job without constant changes. I know what to expect.
~In all the years I have known Mark 40 hours a week was a pipe dream. 60 was the norm and often more than that. Even now he works 45 so that we can pay bills (minimum wage is NOT livable income for a family).
This is a 40 hour a week job. Period.
~He has never had weekends off.
He will have weekends off, except every other Saturday will be a half day, but those weeks he gets a half day during the week. This is huge for us and really exciting as we have swim meets, martial arts tournaments, boy scout events, volunteer hours, and church on the weekends. He can finally be a part of it all.
~He has always had to sacrifice family time for his job.
He no longer has to sacrifice family time for his job.

We are so excited but I would be lying if I said there wasn’t some fear. I so desperately want this to be everything we are hoping for it to be. On paper it sounds and looks perfect. Will the reality be the same? I sure hope so. I really feel like Mark deserves it. He is a hard worker. He is a fast learner. He is a likable guy. He is loyal. If hard work alone indicated wealth he would be a millionaire easily. Too bad that isn’t always the case.

So we are embarking on a new journey. Pray and hope for us please, especially for Mark! Thank you to everyone who has been there for us. Most of you don’t know us, but you have helped us. Kind words, support, love, and friendships. You have let me see glimmers of who you are. One kind word has meant a thousand to us. You are not forgotten to us. We pray for all of you and value your lives. Thank you for sticking by us. We are not out of the woods but we can see the sun. The darkest depths seem to be behind us. I hope you stick around and watch all of this unfold.

IMG_20150219_111856

Peace and love
~Andrea

**Mark is into his first week. He is learning a lot and very busy. YAY!

Swim Life

The smell of chlorine never completely washes away when you are a swimmer. I have 3 children on the local YMCA swim team and one who takes swim lessons. We are at the pool at least 5 days a week. We have swim meets once a month until summer when it changes to once a week for 6 weeks.
The kids shower at the YMCA immediately following swim practice. It doesn’t matter. The smell of pool follows us home. This has become our lives. We are a swim family. We talk about seed times and strokes. The terms dry land practice, pool deck, drag, and flip turns are common words for us. We say things like “Fly fast” and “Breast is best.” Speedo and TYR are favorite brands.
Ask me what I think about goggles and I will immediately tell you to order bungees. They are by far worth every last cent. I will tell you what brands to avoid and to not let price scare you. Sometimes they cost more for a very good reason; they are better. I have had moms whose children are in swim lessons come up to me and asked me to help get goggles on their child. I have fixed more goggles than I can remember. Goggles are our “go to” accessory, or so it seems.
Each child has a preference for swim cap material; latex, rubber, silicone. I know the tricks of getting each strand of hair under the cap. I can whip a cap onto a head so fast it is a blur of motion.
Swim suits litter our bathroom. Towel bars are for jammers and hooks are for suits. Towels get slug over the shower bar. We have backpacks for swim only. They are each filled with extra goggles, caps, suits, swim team shirts, water bottles, and all the shower items needed. Yes, I bought 4 of every shower item so each bag would always be stocked.
We miss events because “Sorry but we have swim.” We have been late because “Sorry, swim went over.” Dinner is often after 8 because, well, we were at the pool. I do not think we can manage a conversation without some version of the word “swim.”

We love it though. The kids jabber about practice and what was hard and what was easy and what number they were during practice (first to go is always fastest so this is important) and what their goals are.
I am a fixture on the sidelines and I talk with other parents. Our conversations are diverse, but swim always trickles back in; “Are you going to this month’s meet?” “Did you see the video Coach made?” “Did your kid get a qualifying area time?” We are a swim family. We cheer for each other’s kids, we know when people are sick, we know who is struggling with what, and we know who has beaten their best. We support each other. It doesn’t matter that I want my kid to be faster than your kid, in the end we are a team.

This is our life, swim life, and we wouldn’t change it for anything.

IMG_20150206_172824

Bug, C-Dog, Elf waiting for swim practice to start.

~Andrea

Chicken with Black Beans, Tomato, and Spinach including Bonus Fajitas Seasoning Recipes

My kids can be seriously amazing for my self-esteem. At the same time they can be a bit too blunt. After trying yet another “mom creation” I got “There isn’t anything you have ever made I haven’t liked!”
Aw! Thanks guys!
“Wait, don’t forget about that one recipe. That one was gross.”
Then they go on to discuss said gross recipe until I have to remind them 99% of the time I succeed. Hahaha. It is all well meaning and I love that they are honest.

That all said here is what we ate last night. I very literally opened my cabinets and thought “Hm….I think I will try this” and proceeded to pull things out.
I am sharing this because it was wonderfully simple and everyone liked it. I was able to make it ahead and so the boys just popped it in the oven for me while I ran to pick Mark up from work. Make ahead meals are vital to us since we have swim team 5 nights a week and we are never home before 7:30. Some nights it is even later. OK, enough chatter, here you go!

Baked Chicken with Black Beans, Tomato, and Spinach (served 7)

Ingredients:

3 chicken breasts cut into tender-sized pieces
Fajita seasoning**
1 can diced tomato (use fresh if you have it, but I had canned at this time)
2 cans black beans (don’t forget to rinse these!)
2 packages fresh baby spinach
Red pepper flakes (optional)
Sea salt and pepper

  1. Place chicken in a baking dish and coat pieces with fajita seasoning. Add just a bit of water (1/2 cup at most). Bake at 350 degrees for about 20-25 minutes or until done.
  2. Put tomato, black beans, and spinach into a large skillet, cover. Cook on medium until spinach is wilted. (I literally covered and walked away as it cooked. I only stirred once).
  3. When the bean mixture is done add salt and pepper and red pepper flakes to taste.
  4. Place the bean mixture into a clean baking dish and add the cooked chicken to the top. Cover and place in fridge for later.
    OR
    Place bean mixture in a serving dish and add cooked chicken. Enjoy!
  5. When you are ready to re-heat the dish, place in a cold oven (this prevents the glass dish from cracking), turn oven to 350 degrees and heat for about 20 minutes or until hot.

    Chicken with Black Beans,  Tomato, and Spinach

    Chicken with Black Beans, Tomato, and Spinach

I served this with brown rice and grits (for Elf who is allergic to rice). I used 2 cups of dry rice for our family of 7. This meal was just the right size. There was enough for everyone. There were not leftovers, but we do not like left overs so this is perfect for us.

**I make my own fajita seasoning. It is so good. I store it in a small mason jar. Here is the recipe:

  • 2 ½ Tbs. Paprika
  • 2 Tbs. Pink Himalayan Salt
  • 2 Tbs. Garlic Powder
  • 1 Tbs. Pepper
  • 1 Tbs. Onion Powder
  • 1 Tbs. Cayenne
  • 1 Tbs. Dried Oregano
  • 1 Tbs. Dried Thyme
  • 1 Tbs. Cumin

    *I imagine you could make this vegetarian with tofu or some other substitute. If you do so please let me know how it turned out! We cannot do tofu (Elf is allergic), but I have friends who can and do and this would be helpful knowledge.

    ~Andrea