Archives for March 2009

Garden: Starting seeds indoors

Starting your own seeds indoors is the best way to get an economical start on a garden.  One of these days my husband will be putting up a post with all the details, but I wanted to give a brief answer to those of you who are eager to get going.   Our last frost date is somewhere around mid May, so we try to plant indoors by the first week in April.   Unless you have an extremely sunny south facing room, your seeds will probably do best if you start them under lights.  The good news is that you don’t need some special greenhouse light.  A simple flourescent shop light suspended over a shelf in your garage will work great.  Start with good potting soil-John likes the kind with Miracle-Gro in it.  You can start seeds in yogurt cups or black plastic seed starting trays, or even toilet paper tubes cut in half.   Just make sure your containers have drainage holes in the bottom, and a tray underneath to hold a little water.  Plant seeds as deep as the seed packet recommends.  Keep pots slightly moist but don’t over-water, or the roots of the little plants will rot.  The soil should feel damp but not drenched.

That should be enough info to get you started.   Keep an eye on my husband’s blog for more details in the next week or two.  And feel free to ask questions wither here or on his blog– he’ll be able to answer better than I!

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A Sane Woman’s Guide: one more giveaway

Just to prove that perfectly moderately sane women sometimes go a little insane, I submit today’s to-do list– the part that actually got completed (with major help from kids).

–Went to the bank, post office and Home Depot with 5 kids. Returned one item and picked up 15 other items that were all in different corners of the store, many of which required color/style selection, much to the dismay of the bored children (who all had BEGGED to come along, I might add in my defense).

–Fixed two broken closet door latches, and sternly warned children to treat the new hardware more gently.

–Installed a new rod for our shower. Was shocked at how smoothly it slides compared to our old one.

–Supervised an 11 year old as he fertilized the lawn (It would have been easier to do myself, but he knows how to do it now!)

–Primed a double-car garage. We’ve lived here since 1993 and finally decided to paint it– my husband was thrilled to come home and discover this had been done, mostly by our 14 and 17 year old sons.

–Threw out 6 ancient dust-covered houseplants — with only a small pang of regret. It will be soo nice not to have to water plants on that high shelf any more.

–Rinsed out and bleached several hundred plastic seed starter packets. This job was done by my 11 and 13 year old daughters, once I got them set up. Hubby was equally thrilled to see this done, since it is TIME to start our tomato plants!

–I’ve got lots more to do tomorrow– spring fever seems to have bitten my to-do list. However after a week and a day of spring break, I think we’d better also get some math and reading done tomorrow.

How about you? What’s on your to-do list? Anyone who shares an item or two in comments below will be automatically entered into a drawing to win a copy of my book A Sane Woman’s Guide to Raising a Large Family. I’ll be selecting a random winner on Friday morning!

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In case you’re wondering about my paint

After days of paint-angst, during which I trialed no fewer than 7 shades of paint, I finally picked my color– a pale yellow called ‘Chanterelle’ which I found in the Wal-Mart paint collection.  My wonderful brother in law painted the whole great room/kitchen while we were on vacation, in exchange for my husband’s assistance on a future project of his.  Here are a few pictures.  The 3 pictures that show the various portions of the room are pretty accurate, color-wise.

The picture that looks the brightest yellow isn’t the true color.  I just included it to show how we redid our plant shelf.  Before painting I had a wild tangle of live philodendron-type plants that were a beast to water.  I decided to get rid of them, and instead used some silk plants that I bought to help decorate for my daughter’s wedding reception.  My husband strung rope light in behind the plants to accent them.

The spiky things in the floral vase are actually trimmings from some poplar trees, spray-painted silver.  And the ferny plant in the basket was actually a rather forlorn-looking silk tree earlier today.  I cut the best-looking branches off, discared the main trunk, and stuck the good bits into a basket.   It makes a perfectly lovely looking ‘potted’ plant.  My mother gave me the vase a few years ago, but other than that, the entire shelf full of decor was around $30, and came mostly from thrift stores.  A very fun makeover.


Some eternal perspective from Shaun Groves

Cheap knitting needles, aka the oddest brainstorm ever

As you guessed by the previous post, we were playing at the beach this week.  The week included a bit more rain than usual.  After we’d gone through a variety of books and board games, I found myself thinking of crafts.  Knitting would be fun, I decided.  Except knitting needles at $4 a set for half a dozen kids–yikes, that’d be $24 — for something I already had at home.  And then we’d need to buy yarn too.

I decided that we ought to stop by the lumber yard.  Maybe wooden dowels would be cheaper.  My husband and boys could whittle the ends to a point– bingo, two crafts for the price of one.  On the way to the lumber yard, though, we stopped at the dollar store.  In the kitchen aisle, I spotted 4-packs of wooden spoons and had an epiphany.  Why not whittle spoons to a point for knitting needles?  (About now, y’all can see why I am such a  trial to my dear husband, can’t you?)

I bought four 4-packs of knitting needles spoons, which, if this worked, would net me 8 sets of knitting needles for a mere $4.   I was immensely pleased.   Outside in the van (while I ran in to the grocery store for milk) my hubby got to whittling.  By the time I got back out, he had one slightly lumpy ‘needle’ — and a cut thumb.   But the pain had inspired him.   Our next stop was back at the dollar store, where we bought one of those foot-long ‘jumbo’ pencils– with an attached pencil sharpener.   The sharpener was the perfect tool to put just the right point on our spoons/knitting needles.  The plan was to cut the spoon end off, leaving enough of the spoon for a small flare at the end of the needle.   That proved to be a hassle using only a pocket knife.   So we opted to leave most of the needle/spoons intact, at least til John had access to his power tools back at home.  But we discovered they worked fine with the spoon still on.

If we did it again, we’d have used a little sandpaper to get the needles smoother.  Lacking that, we rubbed a dab of vegetable oil, and then a candle all over the needles, which made the yarn slide much more smoothly.  And the longer we handled them, the better the needles got.  The kids had fun knitting, and we were delighted not to have spent much money on needles.   I was even more delighted with our idea after seeing bamboo needles for $12 at Walmart.  Except, of course, you can’t stir soup with theirs.   🙂

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Scenes from yesterday

Click on pictures to see them individually.   Click again to enlarge.

Parenting: Hard Stuff

Parenting a strong-willed child is challenging work, even more so when a child comes into your family later in life. Parents have to be the boundary, the wall, showing children clearly what is right and wrong. But within the wall there must be a heart. Eventually, as maturity comes, our children will do right because (by God’s grace) they have decided to take our teaching into their own hearts. But teaching is not likely to ‘stick’ unless kids care about us.

Children who come to a family as infants usually fall in love with their parents quickly and naturally.  But with older kids, building that bond takes time. So in the midst of teaching the rules of the house, we are also trying to bind hearts together.  That balance can feel like a walk on a tightrope, especially when kids don’t particularly WANT to obey.  We have to set limits.   And yet we must also show kids over and over again that we care about them, even when they are resisting the rules, pummeling our wall, and along with it, our hearts.

Journey Mama wrote a touching post about pretending to fall into a creek as a child. For attention, she said. She wondered how people would feel if she died. Her writing made me remember a story my sister told of hiding in the bathroom for an hour as a child, wondering how long it would take for someone to come looking for her. No one did. I have to confess, when my sister told me the story I thought she was being overly dramatic. If she had CALLED, my mom would have come, said my practical brain.

But hiding in a bathroom or ‘falling’ into a creek hoping to be missed speaks to a longing we all have–that wanting to feel valued, to know that you are utterly priceless to someone.

As a human, I can’t ever affirm my kids perfectly– heck, on crazy days I struggle to do it even to a small degree.  It is darned hard in the busyness of life to really LOOK people in the eye, to make them know just how precious they are. It is doubly hard when 80% of the hassle in your day is coming from the kid most in need of affirmation.  I take great comfort in knowing that God loves my kids more than I do, and that He, unlike me, is a perfect parent.

But, wow, I want to be the best I can be for all my kids.   I want to be a cheerleader for all of them, even the ones who are fighting me tooth and nail, bucking rules, pummeling my heart with their fists.

Come to think of it, maybe all that pummeling is just another way of hiding in a bathroom or falling in a creek. They’re asking me if they’re important, if they’re valuable no matter what. And I am praying that somehow I’ll let them know, even in the midst of holding out standards, insisting on respect, enforcing rules, that they ARE precious to me.

Otherwise I wouldn’t be trying so hard.

Have you taken the online RealAge test?

After you read this from the New York Times, you might not want to.  Turns out the testers sell your answers to drug companies.

Parenting: follow-through

(Breaking news: Look what’s IN STOCK on!!)


My youngest daughter turned 4 in November. She’s a sweet little girl, but she isn’t above using her status as ‘baby’ (and my related softheartedness towards her) to conveniently ‘forget’ work, or to do small disobedient things. I’ve had the nagging realization for awhile that I need to get more serious about insisting that she obey every time. But it wasn’t until the last few weeks that I really buckled down and committed to making it happen.

Yesterday I asked her to fold two pair of pants and put them on her dresser. After an initial whine and an ‘accidental’ dropping of one pair, she got a firm grip on both pairs and (I hoped) headed off to obey. A moment or two later she was back, so quickly that I feared she’d just tossed the pants on the floor. She SAID she’d done it, but she’s been known to answer questions less than truthfully before. I knew I ought to go peek to verify that the work had been done.

I wrestled with my own laziness for a moment. Going to check on her work would interrupt mine. Honestly, would it really matter that hugely if the clothing was on the floor instead of on the dresser? My conscience was quick to remind, however– it wasn’t about pants, it was about developing character traits that would serve my daughter her whole life.

I sighed and went to look. She trotted cheerily with me– a good sign. Usually if a kid hasn’t done a job, she’ll scurry ahead of me to hastily make the job right. To my surprise, not only were the pants on the dresser, they were also folded with precision– a beautifully done job. As I hugged her and praised her to high heaven, she glowed, and I got the joy of relishing her success along with her.

Inspecting my kids’ work doesn’t only give me the chance to correct wrong, it also gives me the golden opportunity to praise the very good that I so much want to see and encourage in their lives. I tend to forget that part of the equation, but seeing the glow on her little face made me determined to remember it more often.

What is a garden worth?

As we gear up for the start of gardening season, I was interested in the following post at In it they detailed the amount of financial savings from a 1600 square foot garden. What about you? Gonna have a garden this year? Tell me about it below. You might also enjoy checking out my husband’s blog. Recently, along with showing pictures of our bathroom remodel, he’s been talking about our garden plans for the year. If you’re wondering how to set up a garden quickly and easily, you may be interested in creating some easy raised beds. And here are some of my gardening posts from last year.

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