Friday, August 29, 2014

Organize For School!

     Oh, I'm sorry, did you think that title was going to be for a guide, or some kind of promise? Ha! It's more like a joke. It's something I've been saying to myself for the past month, now I have roughly two weeks until school begins, and...nope. Not all the things, anyway. I do know what classes each Zooligans will take, I have their backpacks and pencils put together. Dance shoes and instruments are accounted for and ready to go. Except for the violin mute. I have a feeling that will be my favorite school supply ever.
     I have a travel file tote. It was a fabulous tool for me last year to haul a binder, laptop, various workbooks that kiddos don't keep in their backpacks, but need during the day. It holds preschool supplies and extra paper, there is even room for whatever current crochet project I'm working on. Right now, it is still holding everything from the end of last school year, and some things that were added while people were tidying up over the summer. Ugh. The back of the van, where the file back, lunch tote, and all of the backpacks will need to go is overrun by bags of things that were supposed to be donated. I drive around to do errands and drop kiddos off and pick them up for various events, and forget that those bags are in there. I certainly remember when I grocery shop, and have to arrange the grocery over top of all the bags. Then when I unload the groceries at home and those bags are still there. Yuck.
     Lastly, I haven't even begun prepping freezer food for the school year. I usually have several breakfast casseroles and many dinners put up for the first few months, until Christmas break, when I can put up more until spring. This year, the only things I have put up are jam and bell peppers. I'm thinking that won't get us very far, and that there will be a bunch of hungry kiddos.  It's my goal to take sandwiches for lunch as few times as possible.  We will only have lunch at school twice a week, so that shouldn't be too difficult. I hope.
     There is this one surface in my house that that I keep looking at in disgust. It is cluttered with things that land there because they don't have an 'everything in it's place' home. Things that no one knows what to do with. Not even me! These are the kind of things that I m tempted to throw out. When I begin to sift through it, I find two books that need to go back to the school library (Yes, I AM embarrassed, and yes it WAS difficult to admit that!), things that visiting children have left here, things that are broken but can be fixed but haven't been, and various unfinished crochet projects. And that blasted file bag!
     I suppose I have all day to deal with that one surface. The laundry is caught up. At least for a day. I know I shouldn't say that out loud. It's an invitation for some kind of laundry disaster.

Are you completely organized for the school year? Yes? Well, stop bragging!


Thursday, August 28, 2014

What is Ylang Ylang, and Why Would You Use It?

     Ylang Ylang essential oil has become a cupboard staple at TheZoo. I had heard of this exotic flower a couple of times in the past. It was in shampoo, or something. I don't know. I probably didn't even care. Now I do, because I have been researching natural remedies for high blood pressure. Sure, I know that changes in diet and exercise are highly effective. The problem we were running into was that Mr. TheZoo did change his diet and exercise practices, but his blood pressure was not only still high, but was fluctuating enough that his medications were being changed at ever 30 day visit to try to keep it under control. All of the changing of medication types and doses was causing other problems.
     Mr.TheZoo ended up with a nasty case of edema in his legs, due to the blood pressure issues. We found out that a blend of some essential oils massaged gently on his elevated legs, used in conjunction with a diuretic (water pill), eliminated the edema inside of a week. He has nice legs again!
     While researching for Edema, I was also researching for high blood pressure. There are a few ideas out there, but since I already had the Ylang Ylang on hand, we decided to try it out. The Ylang Ylang flower is called a blessing in disguise for many health problems.

     The plant originates in South East Asia, but is now grown in many tropical countries. The plant can be either a vine or a tree, and prefers volcanic and sandy soils. The flower has a gentle, delicate scent that has been highly prized in perfumes for centuries. There are many uses for the ylang ylang oil. It has a 'sedative' property, which really means that it is relaxing. It is good for some, ahhh, intimate issues. You can look that up on your own. I won't be getting into that on this blog. We like Ylang Ylang for lowering blood pressure.
     We mix about ten drops of the essential oil with some coconut oil, and Mr.TheZoo puts it on his feet at night, and in the morning. We just started last night, and I'm excited to come back and tell you all if there is a significant difference in his blood pressure in the next two weeks. We are hoping to eliminate his medications, or at least get down to only one.
     Another DoTerra representative posted this handy visual.
You can visit the website listed on the visual to order oils and get more information, or you can ask me! I signed up to buy my oils at a discounted price, not to build a business. Not because I don't believe in the oils, but because I have said "yes" to my maximum number of commitments.  I am happy to answer your questions, and I am happy to order oils for you. I won't turn down the opportunity to sign up new distributors, but likely I refer you to the amazing and highly knowledgeable distributor that set me up. Or, I can just order a bottle of Ylang Ylang for you. If you want it for the intimate reasons, don't tell me. Just let me think you want it for stress or high blood pressure, 'K?  


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Getting Ready For School

     School is due to begin for TheZoo in about three weeks! It's time for us to shift our sleep shedule, sharpen the pencils, adjust the back packs, and not get sick! Inevitably someone picks ups a cold during the first few days of school, then we spend the rest of the fall passing it around. Now that half of the Zooligans are big kids, it's become easier to keep most germs from spreading to the entire family, but we still have a few littles that leave a trail of virus wherever they go.
     It is my preference to rely on essential oils and herbal remedies for typical maladies. We make cough syrup with honey and lemon, we drink apple cider vinegar cocktails, and this year, we'll be making cough drops using a recipe from The Nerdy Farmwife.  Check out the rest of her blog. She has a list of cold and flue remedies, including Sambucol, an elderberry extract. I'm looking forward to using both items this year.
     Having more older children means that our education schedule is little busier. The younger kiddos can complete their home education in two hours a day, often less. The bigger kiddos, however, have more complex work, requiring at least four hours besides any dance, music, sports practices, or club activities they might have. While they aren't over taxing their schedule, it is a major change from from these long, almost lazy, dog days of summer. The school work I required from them this year was minimal, and designed to continue into the school year. It hasn't exactly been taxing. Just about 20 minutes at the start of each day.
     While I am always looking forward to the next thing, always ready for a change, I'm not ready to let go of summer. I recall feeling similarly last year. Autumn has long been my favorite month. I have always been ready for the cooling of outdoor temps, the donning of sweaters, and the crunching of leaves. Lately, however, summer has been taking over Autumns place in my heart. My children run and play outside, we stay up late around a fire in the back yard pit, or we play board games and Skip Bo far too late into the night. A couple of kiddos find a series on Net Flix that they'd like to watch, but want me to vet it for them, so we end up watching together, discussing that evening's episode in detail. Those activities will need to come to an end to make way for the things that happen the rest of the year. We will still do some of those lovely things, sometimes, but they will be scheduled weeks ahead rather than spontaneous. While spontaneity and board games aren't exactly my groove, the Zooligans enjoy both, and I relish their joy!
     Maybe I'll just schedule those game and movie nights on my own calendar, and offer them 'spontaneously' on that evening. Hopefully we all will have been taking our Sambucol and have a big batch of home made herbal cough drops on hand.

Happy Start of School to you all, and what are your favorite natural cold and flu remedies?


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

When a Blessing Isn't

     It's a negative title, I know. You thought about a blessing that wasn't, though, didn't you? Someone set out to do something fantastic for you, but it sort of wasn't fantastic in the end. It ended up being more work for you to right whatever it was. It happens. Some people steal the blessing by saying things that are supposed to be helpful, you know, for when that person wants to 'bless' someone else. But, you just come off sounding like a lame jerk. I said you, like "you all", as if I'm actually assuming you have done that, when really, I mean me. I've done that. Please tell me you've done that. Just so I can know that I haven't been a jerk in specifically that fashion all by myself. That isn't the kind of blessing that isn't that I wanted to share about, though.
     I'm talking about the kind of Blessing That Isn't only because we didn't say "No, thank-you." It's okay to say no when someone wants to do something for you. Trust me. I didn't used to ask people for help at all. I couldn't appear weak. I was a divorced single mom. Then I was a newly wed with a new baby on the way. Then I was the work full time, have four children and a husband whose full time work was even more hours than my own. Then, I was the stay at home mom with masses of children, a single income, a house that was beginning to fall apart and bust at the seams, and a hubby who worked even more hours than before, if that is even humanly possible. All that to say, I needed help. Some people gave me just the kind of help I needed.  Folks came to my house and did loads of yard work, and not only cleaned my house, but painted walls, cleaned blinds, and put great sofas from Craig's List in my living room because my folks were coming out of state to visit us at the birth of our little number 5. Another group found that I was in need of storing items that I needed to be able to get to throughout the year, so they built a shed in the back yard for me. That outbuilding may be more solid than the house! Those are just two examples of Blessings that were fantastic! One of the blessings that wasn't? When I was expecting little number 2, people gave us baby clothes by the truckload. No, this isn't an exaggeration. At first, I was able to wash and fold and sort clothes into sizes and store them in the closet. Then in boxes around the nursery. Then in the crib. The baby wasn't here yet, and the crib was full, and a mountain was forming in the middle. Soon, the mountain of clothes in that crib was at least as high as my head. And my baby was due to arrive in two weeks time. And I sat on the floor in the nursery and cried.
     What was I going to do with all of these clothes? I had far more than I would ever be able to use. These clothes were given to me by people that were proud that their lovely baby things were going to see good use again. They loved junior in that outfit! These pajamas were gifts from dear relatives! These clothes were the bain of my existence. I already had more than enough clothing stored from infant to size 5. This crib full of clothes was this * * close to being my undoing. WHERE was I going to put my child?!?!?!? Of course, I know there were plenty of places to put my child, but at approximately 45 months gestation during one of the hottest weeks in July I had experience yet in the PNW, it was a devastating problem. I had no room left for storage, we don't have garbage service contracts out where we live, we haul our own. Was i going to have to pay money to have all of these clothes removed from my house? You might think that simply loading up a truck and donating the stuff would be good, BUT. That was a big but. Ready for it? So much of the clothing was junk. Broken zippers, lost buttons, rips, tears, ugly stains, used by a dozen babies and washed 10, 000 times, pilled until the pills were all the fabric left. Yes, people actually give clothes like that to other people. To use. With pride! I don't even know. So that meant that I would have to sort through every last thread of clothing, to find what was usable and what wasn't. Hours and hours of sorting. Then hauling. Just, no!
     What I did instead was to go out and buy several large, plastic storage totes. I threw all of the clothing into the totes and stored them in the garage. Then, I had little number 3. A girl. 2 was a boy. It happened again with the clothing. Then, little number 4, another boy. Little number 5, another boy. Little number 6, another boy. Guess when I went through the original jumble of clothing in the plastic tubs? When Little number 5 came along. I finally dug through all of those clothes. Roughly 50% of the clothing was unusable. I'm not talking about taste or preference, here. I'm talking about unusable. Do you know how many totes that was? Four. Four huge plastic totes FULL of clothing that was unusable. Of the Four totes of clothing that was usable, I saved about one tote to use. I now had all of my totes labelled and organized for future reference, and I still do. I go out to the shed twice a year for the totes. It looks like a clothing shop stock room in the house for about a week while I sort through who out grew what, what can pass down, and what needs to be packed away for next year.
    PLEASE be aware when you are gifting, or blessing someone with something, that it is clean and functional. This is for real. And for heaven's sake, if you have cats, make for sure there isn't a cat poop in the bag with the clothes. I'm not even kidding.
     Call this a PSA, if you want. We have absolutely been blessed with the donation of clothing items for our children. Our kids have been better clothed by donation than what we would have been able to do new. Keep giving the clothes! Just please be sure they are something that you would be truly glad to receive yourself. Did I say that enough times? You are welcome, new mothers of the world. Carry on.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Controlled Chaos

     Do you know that folks actually believe that large families must run like a military post? They do! I have been asked countless times about my complicated scheduling for chores, school, grocery shopping, church, laundry, and errand running.  I find myself wondering if everyone is so regulated, and how did I miss this? When was the Mommy Scheduling Class, and how did I miss it when I was signing up for all of those birthing classes?
     Another Mom of Many Blessings announced once to a crowded room that a large family must be run with precision or else everything will be chaotic, no discipline at all! All I can imagine, is that this mom was blessed some kiddos that truly value precision.  I have a couple of kiddos that do. I also have a few that don't.
     There is, even at TheZoo, a place for precision. When Mr.TheZoo does a tune up on one of the vehicles. When we have math lessons, when someone is practicing an instrument, when anyone is cleaning the toilet (please, always insist on precision with this one). Our towels must be folded the correct way so that they will fit where they are stored. Only so many articles of clothing per person will fit in a closet, and please keep your backpacks free of loose paper.
     Then, there is life. It tends to be a bit messy. Learning to handle emotions isn't a precision lesson, it's chaotic. Dealing with other people's emotions is chaotic. Laundry is chaotic! There are guidelines that we use for most of life around here, for example, 'Be respectful, even if you don't feel like it.' It's a great piece of advice for anyone at any point in their life. Is it precision? Not really. There are going to be times when we blow it and we raise our voice, or accuse in anger, or vent irrationally. Maybe that person wasn't being respectful, even when they didn't feel like it. What about the rest of us? Are we realizing that sometimes we feel similarly, and that the out of control person might just need to be heard for a moment? It isn't fair, it isn't controlled, it doesn't look good, it just is.  So, the shouty person gets heard, they are acknowledged, and then we work it out. This is time consuming. It's calm, it's loving, it's gentle, it's corrective, and it's healing.  This means that whatever was on the docket before the outburst is either scrapped, or pushed back. Everything else down the line for the rest of the minutes of the day have to change. I then must decide which things get done, and which ones wait for tomorrow. If I held a precision calendar with every last thing marked out with no room for interruption, for correction, for moments of "I need a hug and a story", then all would would have to show at the end of my Mommy years would be a bunch of calendars with completed check lists.
     Deciding what needs to be on the calendar, then shuffling those things around from time to time require that I write it all in pencil, and that it gets erased and re-written. It's messy. Sometimes things fall behind, but hopefully they are the things that don't have much impact on whether someone is getting my undivided attention while they are growing up. So folks can judge me today on the state of my windows, but I'd rather have doggy nose smudges on my windows than children who feel unloved.
     If you have managed to live a precision life with a large family, and still have time for gentle discipline, please continue to do so without judgement from me. I'm not throwing stones at you. I'm saying that it doesn't work here. I have a rebellious nature. I balk at lists that I make for myself! I have learned to keep myself organized as the primary educator for our children, and have learned to put major tasks on my schedule so they the time doesn't get away from us, but the daily activities are in my head. We do what we do daily, why do we need a checklist? Someone asked me for my weekly and monthly food plans. They first asked how to feed a large family inexpensively, and were looking for some quick meals. I answered the questions with some ideas that are in my head. I don't have them written down. Weekly and monthly food plans? I used to make menus, shop off of them, and never waiver. It's rather time consuming! Did I save money that way? Only if I researched sales ads and coupons first, then made my menus based on those, AND shopped at three or for different grocers to get all of the ingredients. I saved a fair amount of grocery money. I spent quite a bit of money on fuel for the vehicle, and the time It took to research, create a menu, create the grocery lists for each store, stop and shop at each one, and then be able to execute the plan was vexing. Now, I have a good idea of what tend to eat on a weekly basis, and I purchase those items. We do change things up, but for the most part, I have a fair idea of what we will be spending each week at the grocery store. I know for certain when prices go up or down on particular items, or if I shop in another store, whether their price is high or low. It isn't precision because it isn't engraved in a life planner, but it's routine. It's what we do. I can send my newly minted adult daughter to the store with a verbal list, and she knows what to get and whether it's a good price. She has come home and said to me, the brand we usually get wasn't on sale, and I know it usually costs less, but this brand was a better deal today. Not precision, but she made an executive decision, one that she knew I would make for the family, all on her own. She wasn't forging ahead, eyes on her toes, rules etched in stone, unwavering toward her goal. She was forging ahead, eyes taking in things around here, guidelines etched in her mind, helping her family toward the goal of grocery getting, and aiding her family in a second goal of money saving. She has learned to be savvy. I like a savvy girl. She learned that because she's had to embrace a little chaos. That girl can make a quick decision in the even that a sibling gets hurt, or spills something, or is out of control for some reason.
     At TheZoo, we don't create chaos to come up with teachable moments. There are enough children here that chaos of some kind is inevitable. If our household ran like a well oiled machine at all times, then no one would ever have to leave the house barefoot, or in unmatched shoes, learning for themselves that it is, in fact, worthwhile to put your matched pair of shoes on the rack next to the front door for next time. Or to put your socks in the hamper when removed from your feet, otherwise they won't emerge from the wash clean and matched and ready to use again. Instead, they will lay outside next to the trampoline, soaked with morning dew, or under your bed growing some kind of mold creature, or in the back of your closet, never to be seen again, until you cry that you have no socks to wear. Chaos happens. We won't stamp it out by insisting on precision instead, but we can teach through the chaos.
     That said, I will be trying my hand at a "Life Planner" this year. One kiddo going to college, but living at home, Five school age children from 7th grade to K, and one pre-K kiddo leaves me thinking that if I don't get precise about some things, it won't just be controlled, teachable chaotic moments, but it'll be a big ol' nasty, tangled up mess. Moms, if you are precision people, I may seek you out to cry about how long it takes to write everything into this planner, and I may ask you to help me when I feel the urge to rip out check lists because I don't WANT to clean the trap on the washing machine again! I admit, there's a place for you precision folk. Please admit there's a place for us chaotic folk, too. If nothing else, we provide you some comic relief form time to time, eh?



Friday, August 22, 2014

Having Big Kids

     I have some big kids, now! I have an 18 yo, a 13 yo, 11yo, 9 yo, 7 yo, 5yo, and 4 yo.
There were months, years, even, that I couldn't see far enough ahead to have an idea what this might be like. Everyone is potty trained. No diaper bags, no strollers, no infant paraphernalia hanging out in the vehicles or the around the house. No crib. It's a bit surreal.
     There was some celebration when we were finished with our diaper bag. I would have burned it in the fire pit if it hadn't been a super sturdy, wipe-able vinyl material! We seemed to slip naturally into this new life. The life where all the people sleep through the night for the most part. The life where everyone is capable of fastening and unfastening their own safety belts in the van. The life where everyone can pedal a bike of some kind. The life where everyone can wipe their own bottom!
     I would be lying if I told you that this life is easier. It's a different challenge. It's another kind of difficult. Before, it was about always being physically tired. I was pregnant with toddlers underfoot forEVER! While I wouldn't trade those years for anything at all ever, I can't say it was easy. It was so hard! I was exhausted all of the time! There are months and months where I'm not even sure what I looked or smelled like. I lived in a hazy existence for a while. For many days, it seemed like my best was changing the diapers in time, feeding the hungry mouths, reading a few story books and soothing little ones to sleep. Years of this. I'm not even exaggerating! I've been parenting for 18 years. I have had littles for 18 years! My littlest is still just 4. I haven't been out of the world of sleep deprivation very long!
     There are five school aged kiddos this school year. One university aged, and one just shy of her first year of school. Everyone is learning to read and write. They all have assigned chores. We just graduated another to the "7Up Club". We have different bedtime for the different age groups. When a kid reaches 7 years old, they are occasionally included in a special evening staying up with older kids. We might have a family movie night or a game night, or sit around the fire pit in the back yard late after the younger siblings are in bed. 7Up Nights.  One of our best family traditions ever. We put it in place when the second child, who is 5 years younger than our oldest, wanted to stay up with his sister. We knew that Sis needed some time with us without the little brother calling us away or interrupting, so we instituted 7 Up nights. The oldest girl was seven (nearly eight) when we told the 2 yo he had to be 7 to stay up sometimes. It stuck.  Now, it's three short years from being obsolete. After the youngest turns seven, no more littles will be praying for months to fly by so they can join in 7Up Nights.
     I'm glad the Zooligans are growing up, maturing, character building and all those things they should be doing. It gladdens me to note when they are growing into pretty great people. It's amazing to see them change and get taller! It's also a little bit sad to see them get closer to being grown ups, and ready to move on to the next part of their life.
     May I remember that my little Zooligans are a gift, and that 18 years isn't nearly as long as the first three years make it seem.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Learning To Walk

     I bought myself one of those step tracker thingers. I chose the fitbit brand because it can track a bunch of things besides steps, and because you can have friends that you encourage and compete with. I chose to use one because of accountability.  I live in a remote area, away from most of the people in my life that would walk with me, or meet me on a walk. I needed something to marry my motivation and get me moving. Aside from hiring a muscle-y person to physically drag me out the door, this was the best option. Its was pretty spendy for me, but I am convinced that I WILL get my money's worth with this gadget!
     At first I walked around a lake at a local park, near where I was dropping kids off at VBS in the mornings. I was alone, and the mornings were still cool. It was fabulous! Then the week of VBS was over. What reason would I have to drive the 30 minutes into town? Just to walk around the lake? I couldn't justify spending the gas money to do that every day. So, at a neighbors' suggestion, I began walking up a road in our area. It has a rise before you get to the dead end. It doesn't look like much of an incline when you drive up to it, but when you are walking it, wow! That little rise becomes a mountain! My first climb was crazy. I thought I would pass out! I was short of breath, my chest hurt, my head was pounding, but I pushed on. I knew if I stopped, the walk would end right there.
     I walked every day for two weeks. I was getting in a minimum of three miles of 'purposefully leaving the house to participate in physical activity' walking. Some days I made it five miles. Then, I didn't walk one morning because I didn't feel well, but I walked the next few days. Then I didn't walk a day because I was too tired, then because I was too busy. Pretty soon a week went by when I didn't walk. Mr. TheZoo tried to encourage me by walking with me, but the best time for him is directly after dinner. I just can't huff and puff up a hill with  a belly full of just chewed food! It's painful!
     I'm still walking, and I'm still using my FitBit to track my steps. I need to see numbers quantifying my movement through the day. I need to know when I've fallen short so that I am re-determined to make my goal the next day. I am learning that I need to stretch a bit before walking, that I need to hydrate, that I need to eat after I walk, rather than before, that I need to wear the appropriate shoes. I need to remember that walking is good for me, and the change it causes in me is good for my family. I don't mean the inevitable weight loss, though that is a major bonus. I mean the extra energy a body gains when it becomes used to a certain amount of physical activity. I am beginning to see a small in energy and feeling alert.  I'm hoping that somehow walking will help to be less forgetful, too!
     Learning to work in the walking each day is challenging, and it isn't even the rainy season, yet!


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Guide For the Year to Come

     It's like Christmas in August! I know, hardly a joke with the craft stores already putting out the Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas supplies. While I know it's necessary for those that handmake gifts and merchandise, it's hard to look at so soon! But, this post isn't about all of that. It's about...this!

     I look forward to the Farmer's Almanac every year. It's a trove of fabulous information! The Farmer's Almanac has a history of more accurate weather forecasting than the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations's Climate Prediction Center (NOAA). Don't believe me? Get your hands on last years Almanac, and do a personal comparison.
     In this almanac, you will find the best dates to set eggs, the best dates to cut your hair to either retard or encourage growth, the best dates to observe visible planets, the best dates to ask for a loan, buy a home, or get married!
     Okay, so I don't put my faith completely in the Farmer's Almanac. That would be ridiculous to me. I put my faith in Jesus Christ.  I will not argue, though, that God put the stars and planets in place for so many reasons. Before modern technology, the heavens were studied to gauge weather patterns. People knew by the stars when to plant for maximum harvest, and when to breed their herds, when to chop firewood.  I'm all for combining ancient and modern technologies.
     I'll see you all tomorrow, I'm going to browse the 2015 Farmer's Almanac for now!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

All the Coconut Stuffs

     It's all about the coconut! It must be made with coconut flour, coconut oil, and coconut butter!
All coconut, all the time!
     I adore the coconut. I didn't, but now I do. When I was a kid, I was pretty sure that putting shredded coconut in something ruined it. Gross. But now. Oh, now I can't get enough of it! It all started with someone urging me to try coconut shrimp. I'm convinced it was the sweetened, deep fried, sugary sauce covered bit of heaven that won me over. For years after that, if the coconut was toasted, I was good. Then, I sprinkled some sweetened coconut flakes in my oatmeal when we were out of brown sugar. I died! Ohmylanta it was the best thing!
     A few years later, a couple of the Zooligans were sporting some pretty bad eczema rashes. There were a few things that worked for a little while, but someone told me about coconut oil and all of these lovely concoctions one could make with it. So, I bought some. Then I bought more. Three containers of coconut oil were emptied in my house before we ever actually ate any. We've made sunscreen, insect repellent lotion bars, and eczema cream.
     Most recently, I was gifted with a few pounds of organic, unsweetened, dried shredded coconut, so of course, I made coconut butter. Some blogger or another said she puts it in her coffee. She must have a better food processor than i do, because my coconut butter is gritty. I tried it in the coffee, but I'm no cowboy. Gritty is not how I like it.  It's heaven on a piece of toast, though, and I can't wait to share some photos when we make coconut butter bites and almond butter cups.
     This coconut habit is delicious!

Do you use coconut in your home? What's your favorite way to use it?


Monday, August 18, 2014

Keeping Chickens

We have chickens!!!!!
The Girls

     One of our neighbors moved, but they were downsizing and couldn't take the chickens with them, so they offered them to us. The night before they needed to be out of the house. So, Mr. TheZoo went over with the biggest boy the next morning, and hauled the entire contraption over to the house. We've had them for a little over a month now, and we LOVE the little ladies! We have four, 3 year old Rhode Island Red's. One of them is kind of grouchy sometimes, but over all, they're great. We are going to turn our 'extra' shed into a coop and build a large run around it so that we can add a few more chickens next spring.
     I wanted to wait to add more because I'd like to be sure that we can keep them alive through the winter. I've researched backyard chicken keeping until my eyes bled. Not really. But I did read quite a bit. I'm feeling certain (nail biting) that we can do this. I think it's pretty cool that I can feed them fruit and veggie leavings, but still have something to add to my compost heap. And eggs! Oh, the eggs are incredibly tasty! 
     Do you know how many people keep backyard chickens? Millions of 'em! Chicken keepers are everywhere! There are blogs, Twitter accounts, facebook pages, and websites entirely about keeping back yard chickens. It's a world I never knew existed! Seriously, you guys, I am currently so excited about this that when I see kitchen curtains with a chicken print, or a chicken motif lace table cloth, or t-shirts printed with a chicken shouting "BAGOK!" I.MUST.HAVE.IT. I honestly never cared to have black labs adorning plates or clocks on my walls (sorry, Sadie, I love you, but not on the walls) but I could put chicken art in all the places!  
     I can't wait to show you all what we do with the new chicken coop. I'm sure it won't look anything like this , but it'll be function and, maybe cute on the outside. I'd like to find a bunch of tin chicken signs and big stars to put on the outside. 

Do you have a chicken coop? Did you go fancy, or sensible?


Friday, August 15, 2014

Excruciating Summer Break

     It's the tail end of summer here at TheZoo. Finally! I don't remember another summer as a Mom that I have been as giddy about the school year beginning. Ever.  We educate our kids at home, so what's the difference? I'm with all these precious little angels all day long, every. single. day. What difference does it make to me when summer ends and school begins? The Zooligans have the 'misfortune' to have schoolwork over the summer. It isn't a full curriculum, it's usually something that they showed they needed extra work on during the previous school year, or something to prepare them for what's coming in the next school year. Or it's something that we just didn't finish during the typical school year schedule. These activities take about 20 minutes of their day each morning. That's it. Just 20 minutes.
     Usually summers here have some kind of structure. We aren't scheduled to the 15 minutes or anything. We just have something happening in general most days. You get up in the morning and take care of morning routines. Breakfast, chores, school work. Then, we all know what is happening for the day. Grocery shopping, heading to a cool, shady swimming hole, painting a bedroom, games and music, or a free day setting the timer to take turns between the computer or riding bicycles with neighbor friends. Maybe there is a VBS week at a local church, or a parade to watch. Something.
     Last summer was over scheduled. I actually researched and wrote down all of the summer day camp dates that I could find in our local area, and coordinated them on a calendar. The kiddos were being carted to camps every other week all summer long. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Problem was, summer nights are rather long. It is light as day round here until 10 pm most of the summer. Mr. TheZoo and I would be outside working on one project or another and realizing that we weren't going to get the troupes into bed until at least 11. Ugh. and they needed to be up, fed, and ready for camp to begin at 9 a.m. Most of the camps were only about two hours long, then they'd be exhausted and ready to eat lunch. Chores were more of a challenge than ever, and so was any schoolwork. Then it was dinner time, and outdoor project time, and we would do it all over again. I spent all summer exhausted and anxious. Gah!
     This year, I had another, equally brilliant idea. Ha! We would have a completely UNstructured summer! No vacations, no scheduled trips, only two of the biggers had any sort of camp to go to. We'd be at home all summer long, just takin' it easy livin' the good life. Yeah. That's just how it happened, too. People slept until whenever.  The kids that slept until after 10 a.m. were not the ones that I ever suspected would. Kids fixed themselves breakfast at all different times, so they were ready for lunch at all different times. I spent a large portion of each day finding kiddos to come back and do their chores, do their school work, do their chores correctly, put away their shoes, put away their pencils, put away their toys, put away their games.
     The biggest, most annoying, and hardest part of this unstructured summer, was teaching neighbor kids to resolve conflict. My own children know how I teach, and i know (for the most part) how they learn and how they respond to correction. There have been neighbor kids around here that don't seem to comprehend correction. They tattle, and not on my kids! They are tattling to me about other neighbor kids! I've witnessed that Mr. TheZoo and I are the only adults that check on the kids, that help them resolve conflict, and that assist when there is crying. Wow, talk about a punch in the gut! I spent weeks grousing about providing free daycare and snacks to ungrateful parents all over the neighborhood. How rude! Their kids are at my house eight hours a day! The only feedback I had was one mom concerned that I was being mean to one of her daughters because I told her she shouldn't be shoving her sister. What?!?!!? Then I learned things over the summer. One mom was just diagnosed with cancer and was having heart problems. Another family was back and forth over getting divorced. Another family has a parent going to school and working full time, spending many hours away from his family. Someone else was new to the neighborhood and was trying desperately to find employment.
     I became upset with myself for choosing not to give grace until I knew about these families' circumstances. Why did I wait until I felt like they deserved grace? No one deserves grace. Grace is grace because it is given when it isn't deserved.
     Now that summer is nearly at an end, you'll hear most of the kids that congregate around our house saying things like "I gave her/him wise counsel, but they aren't making a good choice!" Unfortunately, for many of the kids, it's still hoping to see someone 'get in trouble', but they are no longer rushing to me with a story about how terrible someone is being. They are also learning to say "Please don't shout, and be respectful with your words." It's difficult to be spiteful and ugly when saying that mouthful. It has diffused several disagreements, and the couple of kiddos that 'don't have to listen to you!' are now listening.
     I don't think I'm some kind of fantastic miracle come to save the neighborhood's kids and make them perfect. That's ridiculous. I am glad that I was able to be around for some kids who were desperate for someone to be there. I am glad that I learned something about grace, because I received a lot of it during those first 8 weeks of summer when I was complaining about the responsibility for these kids that aren't mine being thrust on me.
     This unstructured summer has been challenging. It's probably been the most challenging summer ever in my parenting years.  I don't expect next summer to be any less challenging. But I do expect to be prepared.  Sure, with more snacks on hand, and a few structured outdoor activities. I'm not about to set up a tent revival or a neighborhood VBS, but I think we can do some of those fun Pinterest summer things. If nothing else, I'll have some Pinterest fails to post about! I expect to begin preparing myself with prayer, preparing my heart to love someone else's kids, whether I know their circumstances or not, and prepared to give away the abundance of grace that's been given to me.