Archives for May 2013

Family: the gritty and the good

I scrawled out the cheery ending of this post a couple days ago. But by the time I was ready to actually post it, there’d been enough rough moments and hard bits that it didn’t feel very representative of my week.  Sure, I want to be a cheerful encourager here, but I don’t want to mislead you to believe that life at the Owlhaven is all sunshine and sweetness.

Far from it.

A few brief examples:

~Three kids have colds. One of those sickies spent the entire day griping about everything.  When I gently suggested the cold might be contributing to the dismal mood with which the kid was torturing me, the kid had the nerve to ask why I blamed it on the cold. “Just trying to be charitable….” I sighed.

~The teens often beg to go to the library during the school year, but since library visits always end up with fines and lost books, I usually say no.  Knowing how much they enjoy the library, however, I resolved to turn over a new leaf this summer.   I announced that we were going to the library, expecting happy kids.  Instead TWO of the teens complained. ‘Do I have to come?’ Another asked to go to the library in the next town instead of our town, explaining that our town’s library ‘stinks’.  Never mind the fact they could order whatever they want at our library.  Obviously my plan had been to torture them, not please them.

~On the way to the library there was a near death experience when a certain young student driver almost drove our minivan into a mailbox. Why? It seems she was looking into the rear-view mirror to see what her sibs in the back of the van were talking about. Yikes.  Silly me for expecting I could use that quiet bit of road to work on my grocery list.

~Finally, at the library one of the kids managed to wander around for 25 minutes without finding ANY books to his liking. At that point we had to leave because one of the sick kids was all worn out and needed to get home. (I probably should have left her home, except it seemed cruel since she was actually EXCITED about the library.)  At that point my options were: make the sick kid stay longer to accommodate the pokey kid, or make the pokey kid leave without a book. I handed the pokey one a couple books I’d grabbed for him, which he tossed into the van disdainfully as we drove away. More ‘mom is horrible’ vibes wafted from the back of the car on the way home.

When hubby came home and we finally got kids sent to bed, (yes, it was still light, but they had books to read) I unloaded a long gripe session on him. Poor man. Followed, a few minutes later by the only thought with which I seemed to be able to cheer myself at that moment. It was— I kid you not: ‘well, at least I have some cute new clothes right now.’

Because, apparently, at that moment I was nothing if not piteously, ridiculously shallow.  Possibly also hormonal.

Hubby laughed at my silliness, and quickly added, “You also have cute grandchildren.”

Which thought made me melt into a mushy smiling puddle of gratefulness and resolve to go visit them, leaving my ungrateful  but much-loved teenagers at home to fend for themselves. Maybe, someday, they’ll miss me. Except they won’t.  At least, not until they need to be driven someplace.  Thank heavens my little girls still like me.   (OK, OK, the bigger ones do too, usually, even if they didn’t show it today.)

And now that I have showed you the grumpy side of my thoughts, I will share the just-as-true, but much more chipper thoughts that I wrote earlier this week.


One of the unexpected pleasures of having married kids, and now grandbabies, is the extended clan that our daughters have gained.  Always we as parents want our kids to have good support.  I’m just so thankful to see how both our daughters’ new families have embraced them, and now our sweet grandbabies as well.

AscherLauraErika and Israel have to travel to Georgia to visit with his family, so it doesn’t happen super often.  But they all love Erika and of course now sweet baby Ranger.  To the right is a picture of Ann, Israel’s mom, with Ranger.

Then there’s our eldest daughter Amanda and her husband Ben.  They are blessed to have Ben’s family living close by. As I think I have mentioned before, our families were homeschooling friends for years before Amanda and Ben ever became sweethearts.

With the grandbabiesThese days it brings joy to my heart to see Laura (left, above) snuggling sweet little Ascher, the grandbaby that we share, and to know that Amanda and Ben have his family’s support as well as our own.

Family:  it’s such a gift.  Also, a note of encouragement for you weary young mommas, (AND us weary mommas of teens).   Grandbabies?  They are the best thing on earth.  They make all the work so very worth it.  Aren’t these little faces just adorable??  I truly believe that God gave me grandbabies now because He understands how hard some days are for me right now and He knew I needed a taste of the joy further ahead.  His graciousness brings tears to my eyes.

Me with Ascher

So what about your week? What was hard? What was good? How do you succeed at finding joy when the hard parts threaten to overwhelm you?

Keeping an eye on your baby

Recently I was asked if I’d be game to review a Motorola Wireless Video Baby Monitor.    I was  tempted to keep the monitor at my house to conveniently spy on my teenagers   — no, no, of course I mean watch napping grandbabies.  😉  But serious, this thing has a TV screen, and a night vision camera you can control remotely– how fun is that?!  In the end I decided this cool gadget really needed to live at the house of one of my daughters so that it’d get regular use.  Since Amanda‘s little guy is still sleeping with them, she suggested I pass it on to Erika, whose little one just moved to his own bedroom.  Here’s what Erika has to say about this monitor:
Monitor set up over Ranger's bed

A couple weekends ago my mom gave me a Motorola Wireless Video Baby Monitor that the company had sent her to review. I was excited to set it up and see what we could see.

The video monitor is fun to have, though of course not really necessary.  🙂  Most nights I still find myself relying mainly on the old monitors just because I already have them figured out, set up where I need them, and am in the habit of using them.

It’s interesting to see all the cute positions Ranger sleeps in and what he does in the morning before he yells for us.  🙂



Some pros:

  • Easy to set up.
  • Simple to operate.CCloseup of the monitor in use
  • Has really nice night vision and video feed shows up well on the parent screen.
  • The camera piece’s LED light isn’t ridiculously bright.
  • The parent end is completely portable with a built in rechargeable battery.
  • The audio is clear and as loud as necessary.
  • Not too big so pretty easy to carry around.  The parent end is just about twice as thick as an iPhone. I was able to fit it into a skirt pocket easily though I was worried about pushing buttons.
  • Seems to be durable: I’ve already dropped each unit at least once. Though I wouldn’t suggest doing it on purpose!
  • When the battery on the parent device is running low it beeps every few seconds until you plug it in.

Some cons:

  • It bothered my husband that the two units had different power supply cords and they were not interchangeable. The cords are marked though so once you have them spread out to their different rooms it becomes less of a problem.
  • The battery on the parent device is not night-long. If you were to plug it in next to your bed it would be fine, but I was woken by it’s beeping insistence to be plugged in around 3AM. This gives it about a 5 hour battery life, I’d say. Though I didn’t time it specifically.
  • The video camera has to be hung on a wall almost directly over your baby’s bed though I guess it’s not a problem as long as you hang it well and divert the cord to where the baby can’t reach it.
  • The buttons on the parent unit do not light up. This makes it a little more
    difficult to use at night though it is fairly simple to memorize their order.

I’ve appreciated being able to see if Ranger is actually awake and in need of help settling or if he’s just moving a little and happens to cry out when he adjusts his position. I am guessing this will also be helpful when we switch Ranger out of his crib and into a bed. We’ll be able to make sure he’s actually in his bed and not falling off, playing, or generally causing mayhem. The video monitor would also be useful when first letting your baby sleep on their own. I remember when Ranger was a few months old, if he happened to sleep without me right next to him (before I went to bed or at nap-time), I would be constantly checking on him to make sure he was OK.

Having the visual confirmation that he’s OK keeps me from making unnecessary visits into his room and risking waking him up.

All in all I like using it.  It seems to be well made and I can’t complain about the design. Personally, it would be too expensive for me to justify buying, but I can easily see why someone (especially a first time parent!) might like to splurge on one for better baby surveillance.

What I’m learning while parenting

One of the things that happens while mothering many children– along with realizing just how different God made each human to be!!– is that you gradually learn better ways to do things.  I’m still a work in progress, but here are some of the most important things I’ve learned so far.

1.   Toddler training doesn’t have to mean endless face-offs. I learned this one from my sweet mother-in-law.  In the early years of parenting, John and I felt like we had to say a big loud no every time a one or two year old crossed a line or touched something they shouldn’t.  Certainly we need to train kids to know the boundaries, and different parents approach limit-setting in different ways.  But I remember being amazed at how easily my mother in law could direct even a stubborn little one away from a ‘no-no’ by tickling, playing chase, or offering them something even more fun. The end result is still the same:  they didn’t get to do the ‘no-no.’ But I see now that gentler direction is better for heart-connection.  And heart connection ultimately is what makes kids want to please you.

2. Addressing with what’s going on in the heart is much, much more important than simply stopping  misbehavior by giving a consequence. In the early hurry-scurry years of parenting many little ones, I think I was often too bossy, too concerned with outward appearances, and didn’t spend enough time checking in with my kids’ hearts, both during times of difficulty, and in everyday moments.  Every kid is different, and without communication, it’s easy to misunderstand what’s going on in their hearts.  Talking through feelings (even when it is inconvenient) will build communication skills that benefit folks on into adulthood.

3. Nurture kids’ passions whenever you can.  Sometimes passions are not readily evident, but when you see something your kids really love, encourage them as much as possible.  Sometimes that means buying a drum set when you’re not sure you can handle the noise.  Other times it means driving kids to activities when it feels easier to stay home.

4. Do more of what makes you feel like a good mom. Some days may feel very long, but parenthood overall goes by so very fast.  At the end of the day, I’m going to feel best about time I’ve spent with my kids: playing games, taking them for walks, reading stories, and working and playing together outdoors.  Treasure those tiny moments of joy together, because soon they really will be all grown up!

What wisdom have you learned over the years?  I’d love it if you’d add your thoughts below.


More mothering ideas:

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Because of Jesus we have hope

You restore the wasted years
You build the broken walls
Your love replaces fear
Ohh, Your mercy makes us whole

Adopted, healed and lifted

I am not the same
I’m a new creation
I am not the same anymore
I am not ashamed
I will not be shaken
I am not the same anymore

I bow before Your cross
This broken life made new
Amazed at all You are
And who I am in You

Adopted, healed and lifted
Forgiven, found and rescued

I am not the same
I’m a new creation
I am not the same anymore
I am not ashamed
I will not be shaken
I am not the same anymore

You have overcome
It is finished, it is done
Now my heart is finally free
Every chain undone
By the power of the Son
Risen Savior, reigning King
Forevermore, You reign
Forevermore, You reign

Moveable chicken house

Check out the moveable chicken house that John designed and built for our chickens!  It has wheels at one end so that it can be moved around each day.  There’s a built-in feeder, a roost, and four nesting boxes, and the structure is big enough to house half a dozen chickens.  You can see construction details at John’s blog.

Chicken house

Fray check

Dissecting a frog for biology classThere’s something about May that’s just overwhelming.  Birthdays and end-of-school activities, and graduations and parties to celebrate graduations. Yard work and gardening and getting things straightened up for the parts of the celebrating that will be happening here. Focused

School needs to wind down and be done soon– we love our summers!– but some kids have several weeks of work still. (We finally got those frogs dissected today– hooray!) I’m uneasily aware I’m supposed to be writing a book in here somewhere.  And church camp is coming, involving (again) planning meals for 80-100 folks for 5 days straight.

I am awash in things to do and places to go.

When my kids ask to do this or that or the other thing on top of all the must-do’s, I doubt I can fit one more thing.  And yet, one of the kids asking for special stuff is turning 15 next week, and another is turning 11 the week after that.  Birthdays are big around here.  We’ll need to shoehorn just a bit more in.  Somehow.

Flying on the new swingI find that when life leaves me frayed around the edges, I’ve got to remember to eat right and sleep as much as I can.  I need to pray and be in the Word. I need to get John’s opinion about activities I’m thinking about adding, and heed his advice if he thinks something doesn’t fit right now.

I also need to take a few minutes each morning to transfer the swirl of stuff from my head to my to-do list.  Something about a written list makes it easier to see what’s truly important and what’s wishful fluff.  (Do I really need to get the driveaway edge weeded before the birthday party this weekend?  Nope.  Nobody but me cares a bit about it.)  That list helps me remember my true priorities in life.

Sure, I want to write useful stuff so you folks will keep coming to visit me here. I need to get kids to the orthodontist and keep food in the cupboard and honor various outside commitments in my life. But even more than that, I want to treasure life with my kids.  I want to take them on walks, chat in the car while erranding, stop unexpectedly for an ice cream cone, and take pictures of them swinging up to the sky.

I want to savor this life, even in the middle of the craycray. Because childhood flies by– life flies by — and I choose to be the kind of mama who really truly, deep in my bones, treasures the people in life who are most precious to me.  Even when life is busy.


GF Cauliflower “Mac” and Cheese

If you adore mac and cheese as much as I do, you just might like this gluten free version. The cheese-delivery vehicle is cauliflower instead of pasta, but still contains all the cheesy goodness you crave.
Skillet "Mac" and Cheese

Serves 6

Prep Time: 30 minutes


  • Cauliflower1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 2 T. butter
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 of a medium white or yellow onion, finely diced
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced


MashedPreheat oven to 425 degrees. Steam cauliflower florets until tender, about 10-15 minutes.

While cauliflower steams, melt butter in a heavy skillet and sautee onion and garlic for a few minutes, until onion is soft.

Add cream, 3/4 of the shredded cheddar, 3/4 of the Monterey Jack, cream cheese, and stir until cheese is melted and ingredients are well combined. Remove from heat.

ServingDrain liquid from steamed cauliflower, mash slightly with a potato masher, and add to cheese mixture.

Stir cauliflower and cheese mixture together. Salt and pepper to taste.

Pour into a 2-3 quart casserole  (or leave in the skillet if you are using cast iron).  Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top and bake until cheese is brown and bubbly, about 15 minutes. Enjoy!



GF Cauliflower “Mac” and Cheese

GF Cauliflower “Mac” and Cheese


  • 1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 2 T. butter
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 of a medium white or yellow onion, finely diced
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Steam cauliflower florets until tender, about 10-15 minutes.
  2. While cauliflower steams, melt butter in a heavy skillet and sautee onion and garlic for a few minutes, until onion is soft.
  3. Add cream, 3/4 of the shredded cheddar, 3/4 of the Monterey Jack, cream cheese, and stir until cheese is melted and ingredients are well combined. Remove from heat.
  4. Drain liquid from steamed cauliflower, mash slightly with a potato masher, and add to cheese mixture.
  5. Stir cauliflower and cheese mixture together. Salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Pour into a 2-3 quart casserole (or leave in the skillet if you are using cast iron). Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top and bake until cheese is brown and bubbly, about 15 minutes.
  7. Enjoy!

97 more family friendly recipes



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How we added shade to our patio

Patio CoverLately we’ve been having all our grown kids over for lunch on Sunday after church. Sometimes we eat outside, and now that the weather is getting warm, I’ve been reminded of just how hot our little back patio and deck area can be on a sunny day.

Our long-term hope is to someday cover the patio and deck with a roof, and perhaps even convert it to a sun-room/dining room. But the budget isn’t there at the moment, and so John and I have been noodling around some affordable temporary solutions.  After pinning a couple dozen patio ideas on Pinterest, we decided to add a couple posts to the end of our deck, and string some shadecloth on wire in a way that would allow us to open and close the cover as needed.  This video was very helpful, and goes into details about the hardware and wire needed for this project.

Here’s the space before we got going. The patio and deck combined are about 28 feet long, so it’s an ideal place to set up tables when we have a bunch of people over for a visit.  But as you can see from this picture taken midday, there’s almost no shade.
Patio with deck extension

Our patio needs shade!Here’s another picture taken from the yard looking into the patio area, complete with laundry hanging in the sun to dry. You may also see the volleyball net in the upper yard, and the new posts  lying on the deck.  Those 4×6 by 12 foot posts were the beginning of the framework that John built to support one end of the shadecloth support system.

John mounted the two posts in concrete at the end of the deck, and then bolted them to the deck framing.  Then he sandwiched the two posts between two 2×6’s, and added some decorative pieces across the tops of the 2×6 cross-members.

Then it was time to string three long wire cables from there to the fascia of the house just above the gutters.  Since John’s post-and-beam framework is taller than the gutter area of the house, the cable angles upward from the gutter area to the new bean, which causes the cover to hang just above the gutters, not in them.

Wire on which we suspended the shadeclothHere’s a closeup view of the wire cable.  We secured the loop at the ends of the wire by pounding ferrels with a hammer and added turnbuckles on one end of each cable so that we could make the cable nice and tight.  (Again, check this video for hardware details.) I ordered this 24ft x12ft shadecloth from  the Greenhouse Mega-Store.  It comes with reinforced edges and grommets every couple feet around the edges.  Overwhelmed by fabric!

What it doesn’t have is a way to attach the center of the shade cloth to the center wire.  We knew we didn’t want to simply rest the shade cloth on top of the wire, as we were afraid the wind and the weight of the fabric would wear it out.  I also had to fold over the middle of the shade cloth to narrow the width from 12 feet to 10 feet, which was the proper width for our patio, then sew it down so it would stay put.  You don’t know fun til you’ve tried to keep 24 feet of fabric straight in your sewing machine, sewing lines as straight as possible, trying not to break needles or thread too often.

Loops in the reinforcing tape into which we threaded keychains.

A trip to the fabric store produced some sturdy polyester reinforcing ‘tape’.  Tape is a misnomer– I actually had to sew it down the whole 24 foot length of the fabric  (down the center where the fabric was triple-layered) folding over bits of reinforcing tape every couple feet so we could hook in key rings.

Shade4To the left you can see how I sewed down the reinforcing tape and made loops where the key rings could hook in, and to the right you can see how the key rings looped onto the cable.  Key rings also got threaded into every grommet on the long sides of the shade cloth.  We threaded the key rings onto both side cables.  Then it was time to hook the ends of the cables to the eye bolts that were attached to the framework at the end of the deck.


On most of the connections we used carabiner clips, but one cable ended up being too long, so we opted not to use a snap clip there. Instead John opened the end of the eye bolt just enough to thread the cable into the eye, then screwed the eye bolt back tight against the beam.Shade6

We also hooked the key rings at the corners of the shade cloth into the loops at the ends of the cables to keep the corners of the shade cloth from sliding down the wire to the center of the patio.

Finally below you can see the finished shade stretched out over the patio.  It is not deep shade– if we need to replace it in the future, I’ll probably opt for 80% shade cloth instead of 60%.  But it cools the patio down beautifully and is a welcome relief from the blazing noon sun.

Shadecloth at noon

Above is a picture taken around 110:30 AM today, and you can see that the picnic table and the patio walls are already in the shade.  The shade gets deeper as the sun rises in the sky, covering the whole wood deck by 1PM or so.  You can see the swings that John also mounted on the framework. Now we can sit and visit while also swinging little children in the shade.  Fun!

Later in the afternoon

To the right is a photo taken in late afternoon.  By this point the house shades the patio, but the sunshade continues to provide deck shade, as well as some shade in the rocks where we usually have other seating.  It even keeps sun off those house windows, which should keep the house cooler.

Still on my list is to reseal the deck.  I’d also like to sew some cushions for our wire and our wicker patio seating, probably something yellow and bright green to tie in with the house paint and with our bright green doors.  I’m also thinking about adding some more potted plants back here.  Altogether with wood and wire and shade cloth, the whole project cost us about $350.  We’re thrilled with the way the shade makes the patio a nicer place to be, even in warm weather.



 Shade-loving cat

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We’re the lillies of the field
Covered by the sun
We’re the sparrows of the air
Lifted by His love

Staples winner

The winner of the ARC notebook is commenter #78, Chantel.

We’re having a busy weekend here. A picnic with all my siblings today was great fun– the weather was perfect, and the cousins (and all the grownups!) had great fun hanging out.  In the past few days John and I also finished a new shadecloth cover for our back patio.  I’ll show it to you next week!