Saturday, December 21, 2013

Man plans his way, but God directs his steps

"The mind of man plans his way,
But the LORD directs His steps."
Proverbs 16:9

Lately, I have felt that I am being tested in the area of patience and facing disappointments. I posted previously about having to be super patient with the building of the addition to our home.  Things have just not gone according to my plans there.  We have seen a little progress recently.  In fact, we are now able to walk on the foundation of the new section of our house!  I have had thoughts of how nice it would be if things were ready in our master bedroom before baby arrives in April, but I am accepting the fact that that most likely will not be the case.

Why do I sometimes feel like a whiny toddler when things don't go my way?  I have had a few days of feeling that way in the past several weeks.  This attitude has caused me to reflect on exactly what is going on inside my heart, and how to deal with everything emotionally and practically.

I have been particularly disappointed recently because of my hopes for the way that I want to give birth to this baby growing in my belly.  My last two babies were born at home, and I absolutely preferred my experience there to my hospital births.  I was hoping for another home birth this time, but the expenses of adding onto our home, running our little farm and of course, all that goes into raising 9 growing children, led my husband to feel that it didn't make sense when the insurance wouldn't cover any part of the homebirth. I thought my only option was the hospital, but I recently discovered that there is a wonderful birthing center in South Austin.  I found out that my insurance would cover the cost of a birth center birth, and I began to get excited about this option.  While my mom was visiting for Thanksgiving, we went together for a tour of the facility, and it was so beautiful!  I was pretty much ready to plan on transferring my care there for the remainder of the pregnancy, but then we received the financial estimate from the birth center.  It turns out that the birth center isn't contracted with our insurance, so when the insurance doesn't think a service is worth a certain amount of money, and they adjust the cost and set what they will pay, if the provider chooses to bill the patient for the balance, they can do so.  This isn't such a big deal except that this amount goes above and beyond our deductible and out-of-pocket maximum, meaning any extra money we pay to the birth center will not count towards our out-of-pocket maximum, whereas at the hospital it will.  When I finally understood what this means for us, I was so frustrated and angry that I just began to cry!  I was so sure this would be cheaper than the hospital and that it would work out great for us.  While it is cheaper than the hospital, the cost we would end up paying will mean if we reach our out of pocket maximum, we will still be paying over $1000 that we wouldn't have to have paid if it had counted towards our out of pocket maximum.  This makes it very hard to decide to pay so much extra for this birth center birth rather than going the hospital route.  I was pouting about it for a whole day last week.  I reasoned to myself that my husband should view this as a gift to me.  I thought if he really wants to make me happy, he should just agree to pay this extra amount and  that would be it.  My attitude was kind of like the attitude my younger children often display when they don't get their way.

We are attempting to negotiate something with the birth center to see if they will reduce our cost, but I just have no idea what the outcome will be.  In the past week, while I have been waiting to see if I will get a discount at the birth center, we have had a few more unseen expenses added to our growing list of expenses. Today I am trying to be more adult about this and view it from the perspective that God knows exactly where this baby should be born, and I just need to rest and trust in His plan.  Maybe it will go the way I want it to.  Maybe they will work out a lower cost that Todd can live with, and I will get my way.  But there is a very good chance that I will have to go ahead and have the baby at the hospital.  If that is the case, then I am praying that I can joyfully trust that this is just where God wants our sweet one to be born.  In the long run, all that really matters is that God has blessed us once again with a new little life to join our family.  I am so humbled and grateful beyond measure.  I get to do this again!  What a privilege.  It sounds so crazy to a lot of people since I have already had 9 children, but each one is a special gift and I am so honored to be their mama.  There is nothing I would rather be doing than raising my children and teaching them at home, watching my older kids become young women and men, and just enjoying who they are all becoming.  What rich times we have!  What fun!  And, oh what the future holds!  My heart is full.

So, while I am praying still for the birth center to work out, and while I also covet the prayers of any of you who would like to pray that on my behalf, I am also praying that I will be ready to accept it if I end up needing to deliver at the hospital.  God knows best.

I think about my children and all the things they want or think they want.  At times, I need to tell them no, because I see the big picture, and I understand the circumstances surrounding everything.  I can see that what my child wants may not be the best thing for him or her.  I'm trying to see things this way; perhaps God is directing this birth to the hospital for a reason.  He is sovereign, and He knows best.  He cares for me and for this unborn child.  I may have my plans, but I am trusting fully in whatever The Lord sees fit.

I'm always learning to rest in The Lord more and more.  I truly get to the point where I feel like I'm trusting Him, and then this type of thing comes up.  May I learn to truly rely on Him.

Blessings to all, and I'll update more on this as things become more clear.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Lessons in Patience and Cultivating a Heart of Gratitude


Thanksgiving is at the top of my list of favorite holidays.  I love the time with family, the food, the warmth, and the focus on thankfulness. I love the way the house smells with all the delicious things in preparation for all the festivities.  This time of year, our family reflects on all that God has done in our lives.  It is humbling for me to think about how little I truly deserve, and yet how richly I am blessed--beyond measure!  Recently, however, I have had a slight discontent brewing in my heart which has caused me to want to reflect more on what the Lord has done in my life.  We moved to our wonderful property over 7 years ago, into the structure that was going to be our garage.  The plan was that we would live here for around 1 year, while we built our "dream home."  Then we got the idea that it would be prudent for us to be debt free, so we worked to pay off the small mortgage we had on our land, and finally reached that goal a couple of years ago. This whole process has been a hugely humbling experience for me, and I have learned much about cultivating a heart of gratitude through it all.  As I reflect on this holiday when we come together with family and friends to thank God for all He has done in our lives, I have been thinking back on everything I have learned so far and how I think it has affected our children as well.

First off, though I might have described myself several years ago as being somewhat patient person, my patience has been tested and tried so much during these years of waiting to see my "dreams" for my home and the property come to fruition.  Our previous home, which was large, and finished, and on a really nice property of 1 3/4 acres, took us 14 months to sell!  Talk about trying my patience!  I thought we would never sell that place!  The funny thing is that at the time, I couldn't wait to get out of that house and over to where we are living now.  Looking back, I see that I was living in a beautiful home that many people would have loved to have as home.  I was so focused on getting to the next place, that I could only see what was "wrong" with my really nice, beautiful home.  Now, I'm not saying that I regret our choice to move, but now I see my attitude at that time in a different light.  We still have pictures of that house on our computer and sometimes I see them scroll by when the computer is on "sleep" mode.  It was truly a beautiful place, and we really loved our neighbors there, an older couple who became like another set of grandparents to our young children.  Sometimes, we miss the beauty and blessing of where we are right now because we are so busy trying to get to the next great thing.

Finally, after the 14 months of trying to sell the house, we sold it and had to be out in 3 weeks! The garage-house on our 20-acre property wasn't quite finished yet, but we had to get out of the house we had sold.  The kids and I went to stay with my dad in Florida for 2 weeks while Todd and his dad finished some things here that needed to be done before the house could be considered "livable, i.e., put in at least 1 working toilet, air conditioning (September in Texas is hot hot hot!), and a bath tub (no shower yet) in one of the bathrooms.  When the kids and I returned from Florida, we moved into our little place, which really wasn't finished yet, and the real adventure began.  Our former house was over 3500 square feet, and this house is under 2000 square feet, with very little storage space.  Here, also, began the real lessons in thankfulness, patience, and cultivating a heart of contentment in my own life and the lives of our children.

At first, we had no kitchen, adding a microwave shortly after we moved in, and putting in the fridge and oven/stove as well.  The cabinets and counter tops were not in yet, either, which meant we had no sink in the kitchen.  We washed our dishes outside in a large plastic tub I purchased at Walmart. I decided to start teaching the children from the Prairie Primer, which focuses on lessons around the Little House on the Prairie books!  I felt like I was a pioneer woman.  The funny thing is, as difficult as this was, especially with 6 young children, I began to see the benefits, at least in my own heart, to living this way.  I was learning valuable lessons about what is truly necessary to live and even thrive.  I learned that having to wait on things, even the things that we in America consider "necessary" or "standard" in a home, was helping me to appreciate every little luxury as they were added to our home.  It was 2 months before we finally got our kitchen sink installed, mostly because the counter tops kept being broken by the workers as they tried to install them.  Once we got our counters, sink and dishwasher in the kitchen, I felt like a QUEEN!  What an impression that made on me!  These are "basics" to us here, but honestly we did fine without them for such a short time, and when I did finally get them "back" in my life, I was humbled and grateful for such a simple, common comfort.  Even now, 7 years later, I often thank God for my kitchen, sink, and of course, especially the dishwasher!  We didn't get around to installing the tiles in the downstairs bathroom, which was the only working tub for a while, until several months after we moved into the house.  There were always other pressing matters, and it just didn't top the list.  Baths were fine, though, similar to my feeling when I finally had a dishwasher again, I was thrilled to take my first shower in our little house!  I can think of many other things like this that have been slowly added and for which I am so much more thankful than if I had not had to live without them for a while.

Besides these kinds of basic luxuries, we had moved into a place that was totally unfinished inside. The walls were not primed or painted, there was no trim or baseboards, no carpet anywhere, and the floor in the downstairs rooms was basic concrete, polished a little so it wasn't quite as rough as a driveway, but still pretty rough.  These little things bothered me a lot.  I was living in a house that was definitely not "nice" or "pretty" like my old house was.  I knew these little things would eventually get done, but we had to move along slowly because Todd was doing all the work to save money, and of course, he does have a paying job!  The house was built cash, so we felt every little expense.  Over time, we have added trim, door frames, baseboards in most places (though there are still places that don't have baseboards!), etc.  I have come to realize that though it can be a little humbling to not have everything finished perfectly, these things aren't necessary.  There is an appearance we feel we need to put on, mostly for others, and it can become such that we feel we "need" it for ourselves as well.  For me, I have had to think often about why this would be important to me, why it's ok to not have everything instantly, and to learn to wait.  When we painted, I felt so happy.  Every little "appearance" thing we add does make me really appreciative, but I know for me deep inside that these are little vanities.  There is nothing wrong with wanting them or having them, but they certainly aren't necessary, and definitely aren't important.  I have struggled with the idea that as a wife I am to create a "haven" for my family, especially for my husband.  Sometimes, I have felt that is hard to do in this little garage-house.  I am still learning that the "haven" is in the atmosphere I create, not in how outwardly beautiful (or sometimes, neat and organized) things are, but mostly in how I set the tone.  How do I treat my children?  How am I relating to my husband?  I create the "haven" in the heart of the home, the love and warmth from within, the life that radiates from my heart to the heart of those for whom I am trying to create that "haven."

Todd and I have always enjoyed entertaining, and having people in our home.  When we moved into our little "diamond in the rough" as we sometimes call our place, I found that more humbling to do.  Todd was really good at keeping the flow of people coming in and out of our home.  This wasn't always what I wanted, as I was humbled by the way things were/are in our home.  We live in a very unconventional way, and it was challenging for me to have people over to our home especially at first, when we didn't have the same things in terms of luxury or appearance that others we know possess. It sounds so awful to put it that way, when I look at those words on the page.  It's all in the thinking of what I have or don't have in comparison to what others have.  We have chosen to live here and we have a beautiful property, lots of space for the children to grow and play.  I can get wrapped in the vanity of still comparing this to what most of my friends have in their homes.  So ugly.

What I have learned about this over the years is that what truly matters are the people inside this house, and how we welcome and love those who set foot in this place.  We bought 20 acres, and have been building from the ground up, everything from the water, septic, driveway, etc.  We have dreamed mostly of blessing our family through this, and blessing all those who walk through our door.  Whether we have painted walls, trim, beautiful decorations, or unfinished, roughness in the home, with dirty little fingerprints everywhere that I just can't seem to keep up with, what truly matters is how we make people feel when they are here.  This includes our own children.  I don't want them remembering that all I cared about was how our house looked to others or how nice things were here.  I want them to have a happy place to live, where there is laughter and love and where the little messes that come with simply living are just ok sometimes.  I want them to feel that this house, big or small, furnished in luxury or furnished with items that are a little beat up from all the life here, is the place they really want to be.  I want people who come here to feel that this is a happy place, where they are loved and accepted, and where we care about them and not about impressing them.

We have reached the point where we are ready to build, the money is there to begin the addition to our home, and we have started the process.  This is where I have felt a heart of discontent creeping back up in me.  We started the foundation two months ago, and due mainly to the very, very wet weather we have had in Austin this fall, we have made pretty slow progress.  I find myself at times looking out that back door at what will someday be more living space for our family, complaining. Why aren't the workers here when it's dry and sunny?  How long is this going to take?  Wow, I thought it was messy here before, but now with all this dirt and new mud from the construction....! Grumble, grumble, gripe, gripe, gripe.  What is my problem?  I am looking at what will eventually be a really nice addition to an already wonderful place we have to live.  I have so much compared to so many, and I can't wait a couple more months to see even more blessing added to my life? So, again I am humbled, and again I learn.  This is the art of learning contentment.  The art of looking at the blessing already realized instead of focusing on what I may not have (yet or ever).  I have learned most importantly that this is an exercise, an ongoing discipline.  I may never arrive at the perfect place of contentment, but I must daily choose to cultivate a heart of thankfulness.

I think the final lesson I have learned is a simple one.  I know we as parents all should know this. Yet, I am reminded that Todd and I are the models of contentment and gratefulness in our children's lives.  If I am not content with the many, many blessings that I have in my life, I am modeling to my children to be dissatisfied and ungrateful for what they have.  In our home right now, 8 of our 9 children share a large room, kind of like a bunk house.  There is a girls' closet and boys' closet, and each child has his or her own bed and a place to keep their personal things.  I always laugh when people ask me if we have a big house and how many bedrooms we have (since we have 9 children, we must have a 10-bedroom house, right?).  Is this perfect or ideal?  Maybe not.  Is this what all their friends have?  Well, probably not.  Is this going to damage them for life? Most definitely not!  In fact, I think it is teaching them valuable lessons.  They are learning to live with others in harmony, respect others' things and space, be considerate of others, and so much more.  When they compare themselves to their friends, they are learning to focus on what they do have rather than on what they don't.  We share with our kids that we don't have to live this way, but that we have chosen it in order to be financially free, and also because the trappings of this world aren't really what's necessary in life to be happy.  We wanted the land and space, and we have chosen this lifestyle for ourselves.

I'm not writing this to make anyone feel that they need to live the way we have been living or choose what we have chosen in order to have a grateful heart.  What we are doing isn't "better" than what someone else is doing.  That's the point. We are all different.  I am reflecting on what I have learned, and I hope it blesses you wherever you are in your walk in life.  The universal truth in this post is that this world is fleeting and what really matters has nothing to do with all the material things in our lives such as our homes, the contents therein, the cars we drive, the gadgets we own, etc.  What matters in life is relationship, knowing our LORD and being satisfied in Him. When all the things of this world fade, what will remain is how we lived our lives, how we treated those with whom we came in contact, and how we reflected the Lord through it all.  I am so thankful today that I can say that I have learned so much from some difficult choices and some humbling experiences.

I love that today, we will make thankfulness the centerpiece of our day, as we gather, share the special meal, and remember what the LORD has done for us.

May your Thanksgiving be BLESSED!

I will give thanks to you, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
Pslam 9:1

Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth!  Serve the LORD with gladness.  Come into His presence with joyful singing!  Know that the LORD, He is God!  It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.  Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise!  Give thanks to Him; bless His name!  For the LORD is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations.
Psalm 100

Friday, November 22, 2013

Of Loss and the Love God

I was a very blessed mama in that I hadn't experienced the pain of miscarriage with any of my 9 pregnancies.  I always knew that it was a very common occurrence, and that it could happen with any pregnancy.  Honestly, I think I thought it would happen almost every time, especially as I have gotten older.  In April 2013, I found out I was expecting our 10th baby.  I was so excited, as the older I get, the more I feel the reality that my childbearing years are quickly drawing to a close.  I am acutely aware that I may never carry another child in my womb again. So I was thrilled to see a positive pregnancy test that day in April.  I honestly wasn't too worried about losing the baby to miscarriage this time.  I was busy with my bustling household of growing children, homeschooling, helping with the animals on our farm, and spending time with my husband.

Things seemed to be going well for the first trimester.  I went in for a pregnancy confirmation with my OB at 9 weeks, and I even got to see our little one's heart beating away, very strong.  I was at peace.

Shortly after the 9-week visit with my OB, I did actually begin to feel that something wasn't right.  I felt like my belly wasn't growing as quickly as it should be at that stage for my 10th pregnancy.  I have a Doppler fetal heart rate monitor, with which I had been able to hear Hezekiah's heartbeat at 10 weeks.  So, at around 10 weeks, I decided to try and find baby #10's heartbeat.  I was aware that it was kind of early to be able to hear the heartbeat, but I tried anyway, remembering that I had found it with a little patience during the same time in my pregnancy with Hezi.  This time, I tried for a really long time, and all I heard was static or my own heartbeat.  I mentioned it to Todd, and he reassured me that it was really early and I shouldn't worry.  I waited a week and tried again, thinking that surely this time I would hear it, since I was a whole week further along.  After searching longer and harder this time, I was discouraged by the sounds of static and again just my own heartbeat.  I began to feel that something was definitely wrong.  By this time, the children knew that I was expecting, and they were beginning to tell people.  They all get so excited about a new baby in the family.

Right around 11 weeks, we had a field day at our house for a homeschool group in which we have been involved for years.  While we were introducing families to new members of the group, Enoch excitedly announced that we not only had the 9 children present but were going to have #10 in December.  I had a strange feeling about announcing the pregnancy to so many people.  I just had that gut feeling that something was wrong.

That weekend I kept trying to find the heartbeat to just reassure myself that all was ok.  I never found it.  On Sunday, June 2nd, while we were at church, I started to spot just a tiny bit.  I felt so sick and shaky.  I had never spotted with any of my previous 9 pregnancies.  I just knew in my heart that the baby had passed away.  We decided to head right to the hospital.  Someone from our church took our kids home for us after the service, which was a blessing.

I kept trying to think positive thoughts, like spotting is pretty common in pregnancy, and I wasn't really bleeding.  Maybe it was nothing serious, and we would find out the baby was just fine.  Deep inside, though, I knew our baby was dead.  A couple hours later, I was told that everything seemed to be fine, and we could go home and follow up with my OB the next day.  I insisted upon having an ultrasound while we were there.  They wheeled me back, and I had a very detached ultrasound tech coldly measure a bunch of things, all the while telling me nothing.  I could see what I knew was the form of our baby, still and lifeless, no familiar little heart beating as I had seen so many other times in ultrasound rooms.  The tech wasn't supposed to say anything, but I wished she could tell me everything was fine.  I knew for sure then that it wasn't all fine, but we still had to wait for the doctor to come tell us.  To me, the doctor was cold and unfeeling, not even saying he was sorry for our loss.  I cried on Todd's shoulder, and we waited to be released.  The nurse who discharged me was the only sympathetic person in that whole experience at the hospital.  She was very sweet, and looked at us saying, "You're still young!  You can have more babies in the future!"  Todd and I kind of chuckled and thought, "You have no idea!" Still, our loss was very real to us.  A child would now be missing for our family, and I felt that ache I know so many women have felt--women I have known and tried to comfort when I knew really nothing of what they were feeling.  Now I did know.  Even though it was our 10th child, it was still very difficult for me.  We went home to wait for the miscarriage to happen.  I had had what they call a "missed miscarriage."  My baby had died around 9 weeks (must have been right after I had seen the ultrasound) but my body was holding onto the baby.  We decided against having a D&C, hoping everything would happen naturally.  I also really wanted to have something to bury, as odd as that might sound.  This was my baby, a little sibling of my children, and I didn't want him or her to just be thrown away in a hospital.

As I waited to miscarry our baby, I wondered what I had done wrong.  Had it been dragging our new dairy goat to the shed every morning and struggling to get her on the stand?  Was it the running I had been continuing to do even after I found out I was expecting?  Maybe I hadn't eaten the right things.  Maybe I didn't get enough sleep. Had something I'd done or not done killed my baby?  Those feelings of guilt were unlike anything I had ever felt before.  I cried a lot, but I was ok a lot, too.  It was definitely an emotional roller coaster.

We had planned a trip that week to go to Dallas to see my niece graduate from high school.  I had bought a cheesy shirt that said, "Baby on board" to wear so we could announce the pregnancy to the family when we arrived in Dallas.  The shirt arrived in the mail the day after I started spotting.  I dreaded going to Dallas and having the miscarriage happen there.  I just wanted to stay home.

We left that Tuesday for Dallas, and I still hadn't started to even have any cramping.  During this time, also, Todd's beloved grandmother was nearing the end of her life in Pittsburgh, PA.  We heard upon arriving that she had stopped eating and was no longer conscious.  Everything seemed so sad.  Getting there and being around family, however, was just what I needed.  Everyone was so wonderfully supportive and loving.  Todd's sister, who had experienced a miscarriage with her second baby (who was due just a month after our first child), was such an encouragement and comfort to me.  I was so glad to be there surrounded by our wonderful, loving family. Instead of the dread I had previously felt, I was relieved and blessed to be there.

All day Tuesday passed, as well as all day Wednesday. I didn't even have the slightest cramp.  As sad as I was for our loss, I began to just hope and pray that my body would begin to work to get the baby out so I could move on with my life.  I knew I could be waiting for a while.  The doctors had said it was ok to wait for my body to take care of things, but I really didn't want it to go on and on.

Early Thursday morning, June 6th, I began severe cramping and heavy bleeding.  I desperately wanted to find the baby as the miscarriage progressed, so as morbid as it sounds, I searched for it.  I was bleeding so heavily I wasn't sure I would be able to find the baby.  I began to panic in the middle of that night as I seemed to be bleeding quite a bit.  We thought about going to the hospital, but waited to see what  would happen.  Todd's mother came in around 6 am to tell us that his grandma had passed away around the same time I had started bleeding that morning.  It was devastating, but I could imagine in my mind sweet Grandma Beighey holding our little one on her lap in heaven.  What a comforting picture that was to me.

All that day, I felt like I was in labor, with contractions coming every few minutes, back pain, and leg pain.  I was able to rest and lie down, even sleep as most of the day went by.  The graduation was Thursday evening, however, and I began to think I wasn't going be able to be there.  That would have been a huge disappointment to me.  Miraculously, just about an hour before we were supposed to be ready to leave the cramping let up a lot, and I felt ok enough to get up, bathe and get ready to go.  I was so thankful to The Lord that I hadn't had to miss out on this special event.  I could really see the hand of God in everything.  I was sad but thankful and blessing The Lord through it all.

My bleeding started to really lessen by Friday. I was disappointed that I hadn't gotten to see the baby, but I had accepted that perhaps God didn't want me to.  Maybe it would have been too upsetting.  I was glad to be able to begin to move on a little.

We returned home Saturday, and the worst of the cramping and bleeding was over.  Looking back, it was such a blessing to have had the miscarriage happen in Dallas where I had lots of support and help.  Todd had to fly to Pittsburgh very early Sunday morning for his grandmother's funeral.  I thought about how awful it would have been if I had had the miscarriage while he was gone.

Todd came back Tuesday evening.  The miscarriage seemed to be pretty much over.  Two days later was Todd's birthday.  That morning, right after he left for work, the baby passed out of my body.  Since I had mostly stopped bleeding, it was unmistakable. I was floored by the goodness of The Lord in granting me this desire to have my baby to bury properly and be remembered.  We had a little funeral that evening.  Though it was Todd's birthday, and really not the most uplifting thing to do on his birthday, it was such a blessing to be able to gather the children, read scripture and pray together. We buried our baby on our property and we plan to plant a tree over the place where he or she is buried. Doing this, we were able to give everyone some closure.  We named our baby Shai Jordan Erdner.  Shai means "gift."  I don't think all of the children really felt the loss until we held our little funeral for their baby brother or sister that they would never meet this side of heaven.  We all cried together, and some of the children cried quite a bit.  Poor little Enoch cried for probably 2 hours after the funeral.

A couple of weeks later, I went to a movie and dessert with Nina and a friend and her mom as a reward for the girls timing a lot during the speech and debate regional competition in May.  While we were eating our dessert, we began talking about the miscarriage, and my friend mentioned a book she had read entitled Heaven is for Real.  She said I should read it because it would encourage me.  There was mention of a miscarried baby being seen in heaven by a little boy who was given a vision of heaven (his older sister, miscarried before he was conceived).  Nina looked at me and said, "I wonder if the baby would have looked like you, Mom."  Then she cried for about 10 minutes.  A little girl missing the sibling she wouldn't get to know on earth.  I cried with her.

I kind of forgot about the book until August, when Todd and I got to visit some dear friends as we traveled to Oregon for a few days.  As I shared with my friend about our miscarriage, she ran and got a book and said, "You have to read this!"  It was the same book my other friend had mentioned to me.  I began reading that evening and finished it on the plane ride home.  It was an amazing book.  I loved reading about the sister of the little boy who had been miscarried before he was conceived.  She introduced herself to the boy and said she had no name because her parents hadn't given her one since she was miscarried early in the pregnancy.  I was so happy we had chosen a name for our baby.

Just a few days later, I found out I was pregnant again!  I was so surprised and incredibly humbled and blessed.  I had not expected that The Lord would bless us with another baby so soon after our loss.  I have to admit that these first few months of pregnancy it has been extremely difficult not to worry.  I really am not a worrier, but I couldn't help but worry about everything.  I wasn't feeling too sick, was something wrong?  Was my belly growing fast enough?  Would I find the heartbeat this time width my Doppler?  What if I couldn't?

This time, I tried to find the heartbeat right at about 9 weeks, which is extremely early.  I searched for a while, and just when I was thinking it was just too early, there it was! Thank you, Lord!  Very faint, but most definitely the baby's little rapid heart beat.  I checked again several days later and couldn't find it.  I worried and cried and begged The Lord to spare this baby.  When I tried again later that night, I easily found it.  I felt like my baby had been resurrected!  It was a strange experience, and I don't really know what happened, but I know God has given us a gift that He can freely choose to take away at any time, even later in the pregnancy, as I've seen happen before to several women I know.  After that day of panic, I have resolved to just lay this baby at the Lord's feet, fully trusting Him for the outcome. He is so good.

I am just about 18 weeks pregnant, with this 11th baby, and I am feeling wonderful.  The children are so excited. It is such a blessing and an honor to be carrying another little one.  I am older, and these childbearing years are soon fleeting away, but I am trusting fully in His plan for me and my family.  I can't wait to see what He has in store for us.  I have seen such LOVE in the midst of the LOSS that we experienced this past summer.  I have a very real and loving God who has made Himself so very present and so very gentle and caring with me at such a time of pain and grieving.  How blessed I am to know Him!  And I know with full confidence that I will see our precious missing baby #10, baby Shai Jordan, someday when I get to heaven!  How wonderful will that be!

"The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD."  Job 1:21

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Incomparable Jedidiah

The Incomparable Jedidiah

Recently, an adult we see regularly told my oldest son that he didn't like our 3-year-old son, Jedidiah.  Todd and I weren't there at the time, and Jed was being his usual, rather loud self.  So this person went on to tell David that he usually loves all children, but he just doesn't like Jed, and "that was saying a lot."  Well, when we got home later that evening, David shared with us what this person had told him about his younger brother.  Needless to say, as this little boy's momma, I was none too pleased for many reasons.  One of which is, I'm not really sure what my 13-year-old son was expected to do with this person's declaration of dislike for his little brother.  Of course, I was also just a bit peeved that someone would voice something like that regarding a young child who actually likes him.  Jed had greeted me earlier laughing about how funny the person was who apparently doesn't care much for him.

Interestingly enough, I was already in the process of writing a blog post all about our little boy Jedidiah.  He is a unique blessing.  He is a "handful"--loud, electric, and truly just as lovable as he can be.  I am not one to ever say I dislike any child.  But the remark made by this person recently made me remember something that I hope and pray I still remember when my kids have grown up and grown out of much of their childlike ways.  We should remember to have grace with other moms (parents) and we should have grace with children who are still learning how to navigate life and how they should behave.  I am seriously looking into designing and creating custom t-shirts for my little boys, particularly our little Jed, that say "In Training" on the front and have the verse "Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it" (Prov 22:6) on the back. I'm dead serious.  I need about 7-8 of them so he can wear them every day to remind both myself and others that this is a little child, that he needs both my diligent attention and my grace as he learns.  Grace.  Grace.  That is something that can be very lacking at times when we believing parents are looking at one another and one another's children.  The following is the post I was originally going to put up on my blog about Jed.  He is truly a delight, and I think everyone should be blessed with a sweet little boy like him, though he is a bit of work to handle and train.  I wouldn't trade his personality for the world!
                           * * *                               * * *                                * * *                      * * *
Every family should have a child like you!  That is something I tell each of my children all the time!!  :) It's true!  They are each such a wonderful blessing in their own special way.  It seems each child has such an individual personality.  I thought I had seen it all in the first seven, and then we had our precious Jedidiah.  
Looking back, I never realized how relatively calm the other children had been as babies and toddlers.  I never had to deal with a truly precocious child until we were blessed with Jed.  From the beginning, I never even know what he would turn out to be like.

Jedidiah was a very easy going baby.  This was a child who could sleep anywhere, be held by just about anyone, and be dragged from one event to be next without any sign of fussiness.  For example, I flew to Miami with baby Jed for a weekend with my mom and sisters when Jed was 6 months old.  He was exclusively breastfed. We had tickets to see a musical.  The day before the production we called to make sure I could bring the baby with us, and were told that the baby would need a $72 ticket!!  My brother-in-law bravely volunteered to keep Jed with his three kids for the few hours of the production.  I left baby food for him to try with Jed if necessary, but was sure he wouldn't take it as he had never tasted solids before.  Jed was perfect the whole time we were gone, and then after we picked him up, he slept soundly in hingsis stroller as my mom, sisters and I ate dinner in a rather loud restaurant.  "What a calm and easy going baby," we all thought.  Jedidiah was always smiley, happy, and he slept amazingly well.  He was definitely one of my easiest infants in the whole bunch!

Even Jedidiah's birth was my most peaceful.  After desiring a home birth ever since my 4th pregnancy, Todd agreed that we could have baby #8 at home.  After a relatively less painful labor, I was able to give birth to Jed peacefully in a warm birthing pool in our bedroom!  Beautiful and amazing!!!  The whole family was present for the birth of the new baby.  He  was born in the evening, so the lighting was perfect.  Everyone watched the birth (in the murky water, it wasn't too graphic), and then Todd took the children all downstairs for dinner that we had frozen ahead of time and he had taken out to thaw earlier during my relatively easy-going labor.  I'm serious, it almost doesn't sound true, but it was just that perfect!!  Fast forward a year, and all of a sudden, my easy going baby transformed into a super busy, super precocious bundle of energy!  I often laugh at how God waited until baby #8 to give us such an active little boy.

When Jed began to walk, his world exploded into a million possible things and places to explore, many of which, in his mind, are best explored by dumping things onto the ground.  When Jed turned 1 and began to walk, we had a gate to keep him from walking upstairs.  When it broke (due to heavy traffic in the house of course), however, we never replaced it because he learned how to safely go up and down the stairs.  Of course, the drawback to having no gate is that now Jed the toddler was able to sneak quietly upstairs and suddenly be into something before we detected he was even gone!  My babies #6 and #7 never really got into trouble like Jed did, so I had to remember if it ever got suddenly quiet, Jed was probably dumping something on the floor (let's see...the little rocks that go in his sister's fish tank, math counting chips, earrings belonging to older sisters, dental flossers, nail polish left on a desk by an older sister--that one got "painted" onto the floor, the entire train set, Legos, etc, etc, etc). One Sunday morning before church, I emerged from the bathroom to find that Jed had emptied the contents of an entire box of cereal, along with nearly 1/2 gallon of milk onto the floor.  Breakfast, anyone??  I could write a whole book full of the antics of Jed, but for now, I just want to give you a glimpse of this little boy's personality.  

Jed is super intelligent, and has an amazing memory.  Having teenagers in the house, this can lead to some interesting things coming out of his mouth!  Sometimes he comes up with the funniest things to say.  I love to hear his sweet little boy voice, often chiming into conversations with words used by people much older than he is.  It's fun when he voices some of the thoughts running through his busy brain.  One time as we were on the way to Dallas to see the grandparents, we were stuck in a huge traffic delay.  After driving 3 hours and not even making it halfway there, Jed piped up with, "Hey, everyone!  In opposite world, we are already at Mammy and Granddaddy's house!!!" He also has informed me that when he is big and tall and can drive, he is going to take me out to dinner with him.  My heart melted big time over that one.  So sweet. He asks people questions that are blunt-not necessarily rude-but just funny.  For example, he will ask people when they are going to die.  Recently, a woman we had just met told Jed that he looked like Abby.  He looked at her like she was crazy and said, "No...I'm a BOY! And my name is Jed--idiah!" These things are not what makes him such a handful, but sometimes the verbal stuff can be humbling as well.  I never know what he will say to someone or ask them. He is not the least bit shy, so it's all fair game.  Of course, he is only 3, so most of the time he is just talking about little things, but I always have to find out what he has just told someone when they start laughing after he has shared something with them.  Many times it's things like, "Hey, I just burped!" or he will have sung them some lines from a song he learned from an older sibling (nothing horrible, but not "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star").  

I often tell people that Jed has an electric charge that you can actually sense radiating from his little body when you are near to him.  He is wiggly all the time, smiling a mischievous smile.  Many times he hasn't even done anything wrong (yet), but his face tells you he is either thinking about it or he already has!  

One last and maybe surprising highlight about Jed is that he is my most affectionate child by far.   Most active and "wild"...most loving.  I get tons of kisses from little Jed.  I can say with certainty that I am kissed more by my little Jed each day than I am by all of my other children combined.  I may have gotten more kisses from him in one day that I usually get in a month from some of the other children.  Jed will grab my hands and kiss them.  He will bend down and kiss my ankle or my foot.  He always squeezes super tight when he hugs.  His hugs and kisses can brighten up any day, and he just seems to know when I need some of his sweet love.  Precious boy.

The funny thing is, as exasperating and exhausting as it can sometimes be to parent my little Jedidiah, I wouldn't trade it for the world.  He is so full of LIFE! He reminds me of the kind of joy and abandon with which I want to live my life.  Jed can go from being unhappy and crying to giggling and laughing in a split second.  Most of his existence, though, is spent with that mischievous smile on his precious little face.  He dances through life, and his arms and legs are in constant motion.  The only time this child is still (or mostly still) is when he is asleep.

This more "difficult" child, maybe the child who isn't so "likeable" to those who don't really know him, the child parents of other young children don't want their child to be around because of what he might do or say...this child is a precious, sweet child with a heart as big as the whole world.  His eyes light up with mischief, yes, but there is JOY and LIFE that is contagious.  Jedidiah is a blessing from God.  He keeps me humble.  He keeps me on my knees.  This child I would never trade for an easier child.  My little Jed is going to grow up and change the world.  Someday, his training will be over, and he will be polite, strong, bold, with a big heart and an attitude that is ready for anything.  But I do I enjoy him now, and I hope everyone around him can have the grace to see in all the bits of "electricity" how wonderful he truly is.  

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day! Celebrate!

Today is a day to celebrate!  Celebrate your mother, celebrate being a mother, and celebrate those who are mothers, even if you are not.  It's not a day to feel sad and sorry.  I know that this day can be hard for some people.  Maybe your mother wasn't there for you.  Maybe she was abusive to you.  Maybe on this day, you long to be a mother and your dreams haven't yet been fulfilled.  Those are terribly difficult things to face on a day like today when we celebrate and honor mothers.  I want to encourage everyone out there today to celebrate.  For those of us who are mothers, celebrate without guilt.  For those of us who haven't yet become mothers, focus on those around you who are mothers and celebrate them!  For those whose mothers were absent or abusive in some way, maybe today would be a good day to celebrate the life that they gave YOU, which may be the only gift they gave to you. I know that can be hard, but today try to do that.  It may lift your spirit.  Today could be a day for you to celebrate a wonderful mother in your life who is not your own mother, but who has invested in you in some way and has been like a mother to you.

I felt compelled to write this today, because over the last several years, I have noticed a trend on this day in which people want to focus on the negative.  I have sat through several sermons delivered on Mother's Day focusing on those whose mothers were abusive or absent and how we need to forgive those mothers.  While this is true, can we save that talk for another day?  Can we encourage everyone to celebrate God's invention of the mother?  In its ideal form, the form that God intends, it is a beautiful reflection of HIM!  Can we find the good and the worthy and that which mirrors the heart of God and celebrate *that* today?   I pray that today across country, instead of guilt, sorrow, or self-pity, there will be celebrating.  The negative talk can wait for another day.  There is no need for those who are blessed with being mothers to be made to feel guilty because there are others out there who desperately want to be mothers and haven't realized that dream.  We do mourn with these women, but today it's okay to celebrate and be celebrated.  

I recently read an article that spoke of not being the "Hallmark" mom, not being the perfect mom.  Well, of course, none of us are that perfect mom, but it's ok to let your children celebrate you, to let them tell you how wonderful you are, even though you aren't perfect.  It really doesn't matter if this day was created by a card company.  What's wrong with a day set aside to celebrate mothers?  In this day and age, mothers are rarely revered and exalted.  Many times, mothers are told they could or should be doing something "more important." Today, let's remind them they are doing the *most* important thing, and that it is God Himself who has called them to that place!

I felt today I needed to write a word of encouragement to really celebrate this day.  No guilt. No sadness. Think on the positive side.  I don't mean to come across as insensitive to those for whom this day may be difficult.  My intention is to encourage everyone today to find the mother who reflects the heart of God in your life and celebrate her.  It is to encourage the moms out there who deeply feel all their inadequacies and failures to bask in the love and attention of the dear ones in their lives and allow themselves to be celebrated! 

To all mothers out there, I shout with joy: HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!!!  Enjoy YOUR day! This doesn't happen very often!  Be blessed today!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Tater Tot Casserole: A Step-by-Step Freezer Cooking Recipe

If you are looking for a meal that will get your kids to eat some vegetables, this one is for you!  This recipe is very kid friendly, and extremely easy to make in bulk.   I make the "easy" version, which uses canned soup, but you can also actually make this recipe with homemade soup base instead of canned, if you prefer (see recipe below).  Tater tot casserole is a great meal that is full of vegetables for the kids, and they just love it!  It freezes very well, too, so if you cook several batches at a time, you can freeze them and eat later whenever you need a meal that is ready to pull out of the freezer and go! The recipe and step-by-step guide here is for a batch of 6 9x13 pans.  We are getting to the point where our family can eat two pans of this in one sitting, so if I make 6, we will most likely get 3 dinners out of it, with a little left over for lunches.

Tater Tot Casserole (x6)
6 pounds Ground Beef (I always use ground turkey)
1 1/2 cups Onion,  chopped
3 cloves Garlic, minced
6 10 3/4-oz cans Cream of Mushroom Soup
6 cups frozen Peas and Carrots
6 15-oz cans Sweet Corn
6 cups Shredded Cheddar Cheese
192 oz. Tater Tots, frozen (or 6 32-oz bags of tater tots)

Brown the ground beef or turkey together with the onions and garlic. 

Drain corn. Thaw peas and carrots.

In a large bowl (I usually use one of my large stockpile because I don't have a bowl big enough to mix all of the ingredients in), mix together ground beef or turkey, vegetables, and soup.  

Ladle evenly into 6 gallon-sized freezer bags or directly into 9x13 foil pans.

[When I was making this latest batch, I was taking three trays to a friend of mine and I was planning to freeze the rest.  I took a ladle and ladled a scoop into each of three foil pans, then each of three gallon-sized freezer bags, and then repeated until it was evenly distributed among the 3 pans and 3 freezer bags.]

Place 1 cup cheddar cheese in each of 6 quart-sized freezer bags.  Leave the tater tots in the bag in the freezer until you are ready to thaw and cook this meal.  [When I took this to my friend, I just assembled it completely and paced the tater tots on top as well.  You can freeze it like this.  I've done this before, and when I want to cook it, I either take it out and thaw overnight in the fridge, or I take it out, preheat the oven, and bake covered for about 1-1/2 hours then uncovered for 1/2 hour more or until hot and bubbly and tater tots are golden.]

Freezing and cooking directions:
Place all three bags (ground beef mixture, cheese, and tater tots) together inside a 2-gallon freezer bag (if you can't find a 2-gallon bag, you can use a small plastic bag to keep it all together and then label the top.  If you freeze in the 9X13 pan, you can sprinkle the cheese on top first, then wrap with heavy duty foil and freeze.  Keep the tater tots near the pan in the freezer or place the pan together with the frozen tater tots in a plastic bag together, label and then freeze.

To serve: Thaw ground beef mixture and cheese.  Pour ground beef mixture into a 9X13 pan.  Sprinkle cheese over the top.  Top with enough tater tots to cover the casserole.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until cheese is melted and tater tots are golden brown.

If you freeze this in the trays, you can just defrost in the fridge and bake at 350 as directed above.  Or you can bake from frozen covered for about 1 1/2 hours, then uncovered for 30 more minutes until bubbly around the edges and browned and crispy (tater tots) on top.

Comments: You can vary the vegetables as desired.  Add a can of green beans or any other fresh or frozen vegetables you desire.

NOTE: For a more natural soup base, here is a recipe for homemade cream of "mushroom" soup, if you are inclined to make your own instead of using canned:

You can freeze in these "can-sized portions and then thaw and add to any recipe that calls for canned cream of "whatever"  (you can add different ingredients to make cream of mushroom, chicken, celery, etc.) soup.  

Cream of "Whatever" Soup
Makes equivalent of one "can"
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 small onion, diced
1/2 cup main ingredient, diced
1/4 cup butter or substitute
1/4 cup flour or substitute
1 cup milk or substitute
3/4 cup broth

Cream of Whatever Soup Base Table

Cream of Whatever Main Ingredient Table

Saute garlic, onion and main ingredient (mushrooms, chicken, celery, etc.) and set aside. Melt butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour. Cook for about 2 minutes. Add “milk” and broth. Add sauteed garlic, onion and main ingredient. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, stirring regularly, until it reaches desired consistency (about 10-15 minutes). Season to taste with salt and pepper and use as you would a can of condensed Cream of Something Soup in any recipe. If I make it ahead of time, I pour the soup into a pint canning jar and refrigerate it for up to four days.

Freezing Directions:
You can freeze these in batches in pint or quart size bags or use as you would a can of condensed Cream of Something Soup in any recipe and freeze that dish. A great way to keep “cans” at-the-ready for your CrockPot recipes is to make a quadruple batch and bag each “can” serving in a pint-sized freezer bag. Place those bags in a gallon freezer bag, label and freeze. When you need a “can” of condensed soup, pull out a bag, thaw, and drop it in your crock or use in whatever recipe calls for it!
Servings: 1 “can,” about 1.5 cups

Author/Source for Cream of Whatever Soup:
Kristi @

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Bulk cooking: Step by Step Veggie Stuffed Shells

First off, I'm very sad because all of my photos for this step-by-step recipe were accidentally erased from my phone.  So I will walk through this recipe without photos.  I plan to post another recipe and step-by-step guide soon.

This recipe was one I wasn't really sure the whole family would end up liking.  It has no meat, which was attractive to me, but it also meant that there were veggies instead (also attractive to me, but usually not to the children).  There is some yummy cheese in it, though, and the veggies are hidden inside.  Of course, the spaghetti sauce is over everything, so the actual veggie content is well-masked.  (Mwahhahaha!!!)  I decided I would make 6 meals' worth and hope they liked it!!  I enlisted the help of my 11-year-old daughter, who thought stuffing each shell was super fun, and we got things rolling.

Each recipe is supposed to feed 4-6, but we had enough for our whole family, sometimes with leftovers, and I made 6 meals' worth (plus some extra which I divided up among all the bags.  The day I made this, we ate it for dinner and then froze 5 meals' worth.

Veggie-Stuffed Shells*
144 Jumbo Pasta Shells (I always make more just in case)
84 oz. Chicken Broth
3 cups Carrots, shredded
6 cups Potatoes, diced
6 cups Onions, chopped
12 cups Cottage Cheese (I use fat free)
6 cups Mozzarella Cheese, shredded (use part-skim for lower fat)
12 Eggs
4 cups Parmesan Cheese, grated
4 T Italian Seasoning
24 cups Spaghetti Sauce (optional recipe below)

When I make something in bulk like this, I either chop everything the night before or in the morning.  Then when I'm going to assemble, it's already done and saves me time.  

Assembly Directions:
Cook pasta shells for half the recommended time.  Do not overcook (the pasta will be softened when the frozen dish is thawed and baked later).  Drain. IMMEDIATELY spread in a single layer over cooling racks, waxed paper,nor even just paper towels to cool and drain completely.  If you leave the shells in the pot for too long after draining. especially large quantities of shells, they will stick together and break when you try to separate them for filling.  I might know this from experience... Maybe... :)

Meanwhile, heat the chicken broth to boiling in a large saucepan (I have really HUGE stock pots I use for this kind of thing, and I actually also mix together in the large stock pots because they are the only thing the entire recipe can fit in).  Here is a picture of one of my huge pots full of one of my bulk recipes:

Stir in carrots, potatoes, and onions. Cook for 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender-crisp (again, because you are freezing this, you don't want things to get soft or they will be mushy when they are thawed).  Drain well.

Mix all the ingredients except shells together in a large bowl (or a giant stock pot, which is what I do).  Fill each shell with about 2 T. of cheese mixture (this was my 11-year-old's job).  If you have any extra cheese, fill any extra shells you may have boiled, or you can freeze it for later recipes (great for lasagna).

Place shells in rigid freezer container OR you can fit about 24 in a gallon-size freezer bag.  I use the freezer bags so I can lay them flat in the freezer (next recipe I will post a photo of the bags stacked in my freezer).  This is a lot more space-saving.

Freezing and Cooking Directions:
Package the shells and sauce in separate bags or rigid freezer containers.  Tape the bags or containers together or place them in a 2-gallon freezer bag.  Label and freeze.  If you don't use homemade sauce, you can just purchase your jars of sauce and label them to keep in your pantry.  The last time I made this, I just used jars, and it was super convenient.  I had all 6 jars and saved them to use with the recipe.

To serve:  TWO OPTIONS
1. Thaw. Place shells in a 9x13 casserole dish,  cover with sauce.  Bake covered at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until hot and bubbly.  Serve with crusty garlic bread and a salad.  


2. Super easy method!!  I recently discovered this, and it is so easy I wanna do a happy dance!  Take bag of shells out of the freezer, and thaw only slightly to separate shells enough to fit in crock pot.  Place frozen shells in crock pot, cover with sauce, and cook on high about 3 hours or on low 6-8 hours.  If you would like, you can add a can of French-style green beans before covering with sauce.  I've done this before, and the kids loved it.

Marie's Spaghetti Sauce (for 6 recipes, this is easy to double and freeze for 12 meals!!)
3 lb. Ground beef (optional--I used meatless sauce)
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups Onion, chopped
36 oz. Tomato Paste
36 oz. Water
90 oz. Stewed Tomatoes (any of the following seasonings:pasta style, basil, garlic and onion, or oregano style)
3 t. Basil
2 T. Oregano

I wish I could post the adorable pictures of my kids' reaction to this recipe.  They LOVED it!!  It is yummy and healthy!  I hope your family tries it and enjoys!  I just used up the last of my frozen shells, so it's time to make a new batch!  This time I will do a photo journal and just post the pictures.

*This recipe is from a friend of mine, Marie Cole's, cookbook, Freezer Pleasers.  She and a close friend had a freezer cooking business, but they are no longer doing that, and the book is no longer available.  I use it all the time, though, so I will share recipes here on my blog.  Thanks, Marie!!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Menu Planning 101

This may seem pretty basic indeed, but for me it took several years and adding many, many babies to my family to realize how helpful it is to plan a simple menu for at least a week at a time.  I've shared before how just a one conversation with my husband about what was important to him began a revolution in how I plan and cook meals for our family.  The next big step for me was planning a menu for all three meals per day and snacks too for a week or more at a time.

I personally like to plan meals for at least two weeks at a time.  This way, I can shop for non-perishables ahead of time and then I can also look to the menu with confidence when thinking about the week.  I have a nice little magnetized dry-erase menu (pictured above) on my fridge, and every week I write in breakfast, lunch and dinner so that everyone in the family can see what is for each meal.  They still do come and ask me "what's for dinner, breakfast, lunch....?" But the menu is there so everyone can see it.  I like having a menu plan because it also helps the children to see what the items I have bought are for.  Last year I stopped buying packaged and processed snacks to have in the house.  They were for the most part not that healthful, plus they cost quite a bit of money when you add things up.  So the fruits and vegetables we have in abundance in our kitchen are for the taking whenever anyone may need a snack.  Other than that, most items are for a specific meal, and the children have learned (for the most part) to leave those things in the pantry, fridge or freezer.  

Here are some tips that may help you in planning your own menu:
  • Make a list of your family's favorite meals.  These are the things they like so much that repeating them once a week or so won't bother them.  Include lunches and breakfasts as well as dinners.
  • Make a list of easy meals you can throw together fairly quickly.
  • Refer to your list of meals you may have in your freezer ready to be used (if any)
  • Pull out a blank calendar, or even just make a list down a page with each date and then B, L, and D down the page so you can fill in what you will have for each meal of the day.  If you prefer, at least just plan your dinners.  I really do like to have each meal planned.  I think in general it helps make the house run more smoothly, and it keeps us from needing to resort to fast food or pizza so much.  :)
  • Fill in the favorite meals a few times in the month or over your two week period for which you are planning. Try to have your schedule for the time period for which you are planning nearby, so you can plan a simple meal or plan to take something out of the freezer on days when you may not have as much time.  If you want to make several times a recipe, plan to do that a few times throughout the month on days when you have more time to spend in the kitchen.
  • If you want to try new recipes, plan these according to your schedule (easy or complicated)
  • Either post the month's menu plan in a spot where your family can see it, or at least post a week at a time.
  • Use your menu to plan your weekly shopping trip!  If you have a plan, you will be a lot less likely to have to run to the store many times throughout the week, so you will save money in the long run, and you will have what you need for all the meals for a week or two so you can be flexible!
  • BE FLEXIBLE!!  This is a theme in the life of a homeschooling mom (or any mom really, for that matter)!  The menu is your tool to help you not panic when it comes to meal times in your home.  If you have a plan and have shopped for at least a week's worth of meals, then you can flex as necessary and switch things around as life shifts and throws its curves at you!  
"She is like merchant ships; 
She brings her food from afar.
She rises also while it is still night
And gives food to her household 
And portions to her maidens..."
Proverbs 31:14-15