Happy New School Year!

August 1st, 2016

This is always an exciting time of year.  Planning is complete, new books have been purchased, and the new school schedule/routine is in the final tweaking stage.  Ready or not, our first day of school begins in about nine hours!  This year is going to be very different for our family.  Half of our school-age children will be at home and half will be in school.  Our girls have been home now for a year and a half.  They’ve come so incredibly far over the past 18 months.  They’ve learned to speak English, they’ve adjusted to a new culture, food, and family, they’ve made friends, and they completed a year of homeschooling.  But the fact is, they’re now 6, 6, and 8 and they have no prior education and the past year has been very difficult.  Books and methods that have worked with my other children have not been successful with the girls.  None of them are reading yet, despite trying very hard (Mom and children!) and the longer they’re home the more overwhelmed I get while realizing just how much they’ve missed by not being in a family for the last several years of their life.  As a result, we decided to put the girls in school for a year.  At the end of this school year we will re-evaluate.  The ultimate goal is to bring them back home.  We’re a homeschooling family but right now, this year, we’re calling in reinforcements!  We live out in the country.  Our local public elementary school is in the middle of farm land and peach orchards.  There are less than 250 students in the entire school and they have wonderful intervention specialists that can help us identify where the girls need special help and can get them started with the right tools for success. To be quite honest, I also had a bit of a revelation a few months ago when trying to decide what would be best for the girls for the coming school year.  I’ve never been able to just be their mom.

My other five children have been with me since birth.  I was able to nurse them, sing to them, help them crawl, walk, and talk.  We had fun at the park while casually learning to count and sing their ABCs. I rocked them to sleep and watched them blossom from a baby, to a toddler, to a school age child.  When our girls came home last year after a long adoption process and grueling waiting period we went into survival mode.  We went from four children to seven overnight.  Our daughters didn’t speak a word of English and were coming out of some very traumatic life experiences.  Josh and I were playing the roles of teacher, counselor, referee, nurse, chef, chauffeur, disciplinarian, oh, and parents.  Right around the time that the girls became pretty fluent in English we began our new school year.  They loved having Mommy as their teacher and they soaked up everything I was pouring in.  However, there was so much that simply wasn’t clicking.  I was treating them as if they were on a preschool/kindergarten level but the reality was they really weren’t even there yet.  I began to see that they were missing a solid foundation.  My stress level began to rise as I put pressure on myself to start building that foundation from scratch at a much older age than usual.  My relationship with the girls became strained.  You see, I fell in love with my biological children a day at a time from the moment they were born.  It’s pretty easy to love a tiny little newborn that grew in your belly for nine months.  It’s a pretty different story when you bring three little strangers into your home and family.  Three little strangers, whose pictures you’ve clung to for three years, faces you’ve prayed over and imagined what life would be like when they’re finally home.  Well let me tell you what its like when they finally come home.  It’s hard.  Homeschooling is hard.  Parenting is hard.  Homeschooling and parenting three new strangers who are now living in your home, part of your family, and call you Mommy is hard.  I love my daughters more than life itself but love is an action, not a feeling.  The emotional love often doesn’t come until later, sometimes even years later.  I’m just being honest and real.  So when I began to struggle with feeling loving toward my girls I suddenly realized that I have yet to just be their mom.  After lots of prayer and researching our options we decided upon our local elementary school.  For the first time since I met my daughters, I am going to just be their mom.  Their education will be in the hands of three sweet, qualified ladies just down the street Monday through Friday from 8-2.  I look forward to getting to know my girls on a new level without the pressure of also being their teacher.  We will paint fingernails and have makeover slumber parties.  We’ll go shopping for new clothes and watch chick flicks together.  I kind of feel like I’m going to be the mom of four daughters for the very first time.  We’re all pretty excited.

Well this post evolved into something completely different than I originally intended so I’ll have to write about what we’re doing in our homeschool this year in another post.  However, I want to end with this:  I absolutely love having a large family.  I love adoption and I love our unique family.  As crazy as it is sounds, there’s already talk around here about “the next one” and sweet baby Charlie is only six weeks old!  I always said I wanted nine children so maybe there is one more baby or child that’s meant to be in our family.  Only time will tell.

Food Budget Reform

June 3rd, 2016

Many years ago I had the privilege of meeting Mary Ostyn from Owl Haven, at a Created  for Care retreat.  She’s a lovely lady, fellow adoptive mom, and mother of ten.  I read her book A Sane Woman’s Guide To Raising a Large Family while we were in Africa getting ready to bring the girls home.  I had been eye-balling her money-saving cookbook for years but never took the plunge until recently when I received an email from a friend who is expecting baby number seven just a couple of months behind me.  She wanted to know if I’d be interested in purchasing the book and then we could go through it together and bounce ideas off of each other while seeing how much money we could save applying Mary’s advice and recipes from her book.  I jumped on it and immediately ordered Family Feasts for $75 a Week. Ironically, it’s currently out of stock on Amazon, but check back soon because it’s worth every penny.  If you’re anything like me, you see a book like this and think, I could probably find a few new recipes but can she really say anything about saving money on groceries that I haven’t already heard before or don’t do?  Well those were my thoughts as I clicked “buy now.”  Boy was I wrong!  I was incredibly impressed with the many suggestions and tips she shares in the first several chapters.  I’m not going to give it all away because I really want you to buy the book but I will share my progress and results as I put her advice into practice.  I’m always super curious about other people’s spending habits, certain areas of their budget, etc but am rarely brave (or crazy) enough to ask.  As a result, I’m going to assume you’re probably just as curious as me so I’m going to be completely transparent and share all of the nitty-gritty details with you along the way.

Here are some facts about our food and budget up until now:

We are a family of 9, soon to be 10.

We have been spending an average of $1200-$1500 per month on food.  The majority of that total is spent at the grocery store but about $200 of it is usually made up of Dunkin Donuts coffee, Sonic Happy Hour, and an occasional restaurant trip with the family (like once every month or two because let’s face it, feeding nine people at a restaurant is ridiculously expensive when we can eat the same quality food at home for 1/10 of the price).

I go to the store way too often.  Many weeks I will do my big shopping trip on Monday or Tuesday and then return to somewhere like Walmart or Aldi later in the week for more bread, milk, or maybe a treat like ice cream or a bottle of wine.  This bad habit has sabotaged my grocery budget for years. YEARS!

We have been purchasing four large $5 pizzas from Little Caesar’s every Friday night for the past 15 months.  Friday night became pizza night when the girls came home and it’s something easy and relatively cheap that we all looked forward to at the end of each week.  However, we can eat much better than Little Caesar’s pizza and for less than $20 and some change if we just plan ahead and cook at home.  For example, tomorrow night is Friday and I’m trying out Mary’s recipes for Orange Chicken and fried rice.  The whole family loves Chinese food but this meal will cost us around $7 instead of the $30+ we would pay for our favorite local Chinese take-out.

We have all been eating too much.  Mary points out in her book, the importance of portion size with regards to meat or the main dish.  My adopted daughters have experienced true hunger in their lives and they know what it’s like to eat one crappy meal per day or only be given a very small amount of food so we’ve been very careful to make sure food is no longer a source of insecurity for them.  As a result however, they’ve been eating man-size portions for the past year.  It’s amazing that none of them have become overweight as a result.  We also have three sons and two of them are 12 and 13 so they naturally could eat enough for a small army in their current pubescent state.  All that to say, we have all been eating far more than healthy portions particularly at dinner time.

Here’s the plan:

I am now planning our menu to include every single breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, and potential treat or dessert.  I take inventory of the food already in our fridge, freezer, and pantries and then make my grocery list accordingly.  Using the Price Notebook that Mary taught me how to create in her book, I then create my grocery list according to where I can find the items I need for the best price.  My two main grocery stores are Aldi and Sam’s Club.  They both provide great prices on the things I purchase most often but I was amazed at the price differences I found when creating my Price Notebook.  There are quite a few items I can buy significantly cheaper at Aldi vs. Sam’s and the other way around!  For example, cheddar cheese is $.21/ounce at Aldi and only $.15/ounce at Sam’s.  That’s a big difference when you factor in that our family goes through 3-4 lbs of cheddar per week!  Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are $2.29/lb at Aldi and only $1.88/lb at Sam’s!  Butter and milk are also cheaper at Sam’s.  However, eggs are $1.29 per dozen at Sam’s while Aldi has eggs for only $.89 per dozen!  Cream cheese, deli meat, and bagels are all significantly cheaper at Aldi vs. Sam’s.  This is where the Price Notebook has already begun to save me money.

Family Feasts

I really appreciate that Mary touches on the issue of food quality in her book.  She addresses organic produce and good quality meat and dairy.  Basically, she is certain that even if you choose to buy all organic for your family, there are still ways you can save money on groceries.  I like to buy organic fruits and veggies that are on the dirty dozen list.  I also like to purchase two whole organic chickens once a month from Costco and use the carcasses to make and can about 14 quarts of organic, rich bone broth that I can use throughout the month.  We buy raw milk from a local farmer but also drink conventional milk when the weekly raw milk (which is $7/gallon) runs out.  We make the best choices we can for our family in the season we’re in right now.  After a long, expensive adoption, selling our home, and continuing to work hard to get out of debt, we’re in a season of financial recovery.  As a result, I’m thankful for the eggs that are $.89/dozen instead of the organic eggs we were buying at Costco for $3.75/dozen (which is a great deal on organic eggs!).

Part of my menu planning and the making of my grocery list includes being realistic about the quantity that we need to feed our family.  I’m working hard to use less meat and more beans and veggies in our main dishes.  I’m also making sure I buy enough eggs, bread, bagels, and milk to get us through the week without having to make any extra, budget-busting trips back to the store.  Today I shopped at Sam’s and Aldi for the next week’s worth of food.  Here’s whats on the menu and how much I spent:

**All of these items are homemade.  I don’t typically buy boxed, pre-packed, or highly processed foods when I can easily make it from scratch for less and with better quality ingredients.**


blueberry muffins, pancakes, eggs with biscuits and gravy, raisin bran muffins, bagels and cream cheese, banana bread

(I will double or triple the muffins and banana bread recipes in order to put some in the freezer for when baby Charlie arrives in a couple of weeks)


Grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, quesadillas, deviled eggs and fruit, macaroni and cheese, leftovers


String cheese or cheese cubes, apples with peanut butter, fruit salad, smoothies/protein shakes, rice krispie treats, banana pudding, peanut butter fudge, homemade granola bars


Chicken, broccoli, and rice casserole, salad, and bread

Quick Beef Stroganoff, salad, and bread

Orange Chicken and Fried Rice

Chili Corn Pone Pie (I doubled this and put one in the freezer)

Creamy Salsa Chicken (I will double this and freeze the extra), Spanish Rice, and guacamole

Cheddar Spinach Quiche and marinated tomato and cucumber salad


I bought an extra 3 lbs of ground beef and 7 lbs of chicken so I could go ahead and cook, season, and freeze it for post-baby convenience.  I also bought an extra three dozen eggs and two pounds of ground sausage so I could make and freeze two large breakfast casseroles.

Here’s a picture of today’s haul from Sam’s and Aldi as well as a picture of my receipts in case you’re curious how it all adds up.  I was spending an average of $300-$375 per week in previous months.  My grand total today was $192.59 with almost an entire extra week’s worth of meat and pre-cooked meals going in the freezer for after baby arrives. I’m very happy with this week’s grocery trip.  I’ll be 37 weeks tomorrow so I’m trying to get ahead of the game and make sure we don’t slip into a convenience food black hole when I go into labor and come home from the hospital.  So far, so good!

This was a very long post, otherwise I’d link to some of my favorite recipes that I listed in this week’s menu.  I will try to do that in the coming weeks’ posts.  Please let me know if you have any questions or money saving tips of your own.  There’s so much more to say, but this will be an ongoing series of posts so I’ll get to more of that later.

June 1 groceries


These breakfast casseroles are now in my freezer for easy breakfast options when Charlie arrives in a couple of weeks.

These breakfast casseroles are now in my freezer for easy breakfast options when Charlie arrives in a couple of weeks.


You should be able to zoom in on these receipts if you'd like a breakdown of what I got for $192.

You should be able to zoom in on these receipts if you’d like a breakdown of what I got for $192.


I look forward to seeing how much money I can save on food this month.  I love a good challenge!



How Morning Time and Reading Aloud Saved Our Homeschool

February 26th, 2016

We’re coming up on the one year anniversary of bringing our daughters home and I’ve been reflecting on what we’ve accomplished, how our family is different, and all that the girls have learned and experienced over the past 12 months.


Without a doubt, morning time and reading aloud saved our homeschool over the past year.


When our girls came home in March of 2015 they knew no English and we knew no Lingala or Swahili.  We had several adoptive families of older children tell us that the girls would be fluent in English after about four months home.  Not only did we have a hard time believing that, but four months seemed an awfully long ways away on Day 1.  We survived day by day and often hour by hour.  There were major fits and meltdowns during those first 10-14 days but then we turned a corner.  The girls began to communicate with simple, new words, we spent a great deal of time playing outside, and we began to develop a new routine. I came up with a Morning Time schedule and reading aloud was a huge part of that.  Surprisingly, the girls’ attention spans grew quickly.  The girls were 7, 5, and 5 when they came home. Our other children were 12, 10, 7, and 6 months at that time.  We go to a liturgical church and our children worship alongside us so it didn’t take the girls long before they were sitting quietly next to us for an hour and a half on Sunday mornings.  We also have family worship at night where we sing, work on the catechism, and read scripture together.  All of these things played a role in helping the girls, including Baby Annie, learn to sit and be attentive for lengthy periods of time.


I didn’t have any instructions on how to incorporate our new, non-English-speaking children into our homeschool.  I had grandiose ideas of beginning a kindergarten-type teaching plan with them and having Eliana caught up to “her age/grade level”  in no time. Boy was I delusional.  It didn’t take long to realize none of my girls were even capable of holding a pencil let alone trace a letter or draw a circle.  I was stumped…until a little voice in my head reminded me to stick with what I know.  Reading and recitation. I made a few little lists of goals and began chipping away.  Before I knew it we were settled comfortably into our new Morning Time routine.  On a normal day our morning time went something like this:



Bible read aloud (We are working our way through a “Read the Bible in a Year” plan.)

Hymn Memorization (We wanted to teach the girls our service hymns so they could begin to participate more in our Sunday morning worship services even though they couldn’t read yet.)

Poetry or Shakespeare

Read Aloud-Chapter Book


Here’s a list of some of the books we’ve read aloud over the past year:


Little House in the Big Woods

Little House on the Prairie

Farmer Boy

On the Banks of Plum Creek

On the Shores of Silver Lake

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Magician’s Nephew

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Where the Red Fern Grows


Paddle to the Sea

Beatrix Potter

Winnie the Pooh

A Child’s Garden of Verses

Dr. Suess (a variety, of course)

…and far too many pictures books to list.  A few of these were audio books we listened to on road trips but most were simply read aloud for about an hour a day during morning time.


What we witnessed in our daughters was an intensely growing love for good books and great stories.  Their vocabulary increased daily, they begged for one more chapter, they wanted to do “more school,” and we began to grow together as a family.  After Morning Time, the boys would go off and begin their other subjects independently while the girls and I would move to the kitchen for “Table Time.”  This is where I taught them songs to help them learn more necessities like the days of the week, months of the year, and how to count to 20.  It was amazing how quickly they could memorize new things, as if I should’ve been surprised by that.  Several years in Classical Conversations allowed me to see just how much our children were capable of in the realm of memorization and recitation.  Friends who went a month or so without seeing our family were always amazed at the progress each passing week and month produced.  Sure enough, by the four month mark the girls were fluent in English for everyday conversation and communication.  We still struggle with pronouns and prepositions but there’s almost nothing they don’t understand.


What surprised me more than anything and has left me feeling the most inadequate and ill-equipped are the large gaps in their education that I don’t realize are there until they make comments about how “we live on the moon” or ask questions like, “Mommy, are elephants real?”  I have completely taken for granted the vast amount of information our children acquire simply by being in our home and in our family from birth.  I’ve never been a “big box curriculum” kinda girl, but I’m seriously thinking about going in that direction in the fall for the girls simply to cover a lot of ground without having to do all of my own planning. Either that or I’ll finally take the bull by the horns and dive into Ambleside Online once and for all and simply continue on our read-lots-and-lots-of-books path.  The past year has helped me to see just how rich an education one can obtain simply through great literature; whether it be a classic or a well-written picture book.


One of my all-time favorite podcasts is from Quiddity (the Circe Institute’s podcast) where Sarah Mackenzie interviews Andrew Kern on the topic of Teaching From Rest.  I’ve listened to it at least a dozen times and it encourages and inspires me more and more each time.  As we move gracefully through each day I remind myself that each one of my children are souls to be nurtured, not products to be measured.  When I feel like I’m not moving fast enough with the girls’ education or I feel the urge to help them catch up quicker, I then ask myself, “Catch up to whom??”  We homeschool for many reasons but the one that sticks out to me most in our current season of life is that we have the ability to meet our children where they are individually.  Would you be surprised if I told you all seven of our children are very different from one another?  Of course not, because they’re all individual people.  I’ve enjoyed the slower pace of life that we’ve taken over the past year and I hope this post can serve as a help for other homeschool families in the process of adopting, especially if you’re bringing home school-age children and plan to continue homeschooling.  It’s a beautiful thing to be able to watch each and every new discovery and revelation through their eyes.


Even something as simple as seeing their first change of seasons has been incredibly miraculous and mystifying.  I never thought about the fact that my daughters had never witnessed nor experienced fall, winter, and spring before.  Living on the equator they had one season:  Summer.  There was summer in the rainy season and summer in the dry season.  It was so fun and organic to answer questions about why the trees were all “dying” as the leaves turned and fell to the ground leaving barren branches and cold days.  I’m so excited to experience their first spring with them as these seemingly dead trees slowly come to life again in the next month or so.  We’re going to plant a garden and get new chickens and have all kinds of accidental science lessons. Adoption and homeschooling can both be hard roads to travel at times but the rewards far exceed any and all of my hope-filled expectations.  On the hardest days I remind myself that His mercies are new every morning and on the best days I get beautiful glimpses of what our home and family will look like in five, ten, and fifteen years as we continue on the path set before us.  We are in pursuit of simplicity and love, all for His glory.

The whole gang

The whole gang

We LOVE Little House

We LOVE Little House


Annie's favorite book is Mrs. Wow Never Wanted a Cow.

Annie’s favorite book is Mrs. Wow Never Wanted a Cow.

Everyone loves reading to Annie.

Everyone loves reading to Annie.

Charlie Michael is our newest little bookworm and will arrive sometime this summer.

Charlie Michael is our newest little bookworm and will arrive sometime this summer.

Last but not least, my blog will be getting a much-needed makeover very soon and I will no longer be “Made To Organize.” I think it’s about time those banner pictures were updated, don’t you??  New domain reveal coming soon!



Our Beautiful New Reality

September 4th, 2015

I’ve been blogging in my mind for weeks now.  About a month and a half ago I began to feel myself coming out of the fog.  It was a familiar place in which I lived for about four months after the girls came home.  You see, we packed up and sold our house of almost ten years less than a month before our girls came home.  We downsized from our 2,000 square foot brick ranch to a mobile home.  We have some dear friends who have a large farm and are letting us live in a double wide on their property rent-free while we get out of debt.  Our adoption put enormous financial stress on us over the past three years and we have a lot of debt to pay off.  Most of it was accumulated before we began our adoption, but needless to say, nothing got paid off over the last three years and then we acquired more during our trip to bring the girls home.  It was all worth it and now we’re excited to be walking in our beautiful new reality.  We have seven children in a three bedroom mobile home out in the country and we’re absolutely loving it. All of our neighbors are our best friends.  The kids have acres and acres of woods to explore and trails to hike.  We can see every star in the sky on clear nights and we’re purposefully living a peace-filled simplified life.  Downsizing our home while upsizing our family has forced us to purge and get super organized.  Every room in the house presents an organizational challenge and its been fun figuring out ways to utilize every nook and cranny.  Josh put my clothesline up and Annie went back into her cloth diapers a few months ago.  I suppose that was the first sign that I was coming out of the fog.  I began to make bread again and put meals in the freezer.  I started hanging clothes out to dry just because I enjoy it.  The kids and I make regular trips to places like Target and Costco without any drama, if you don’t count the stares and sometimes inappropriate remarks and questions.  I find myself forgetting that I have seven children and that seven children is far from the norm. Annie is a year old and began walking at 11 months; our earliest walker by far.  She is still our sweet little sunshine.  I can’t even count how many times a day the big kids tell her how cute she is and how much they love her. I decided to try a new schedule for this school year.  Six weeks on, one week off, repeat.  The first six weeks leads us up to our beach trip next week.  We’ve had an excellent first six weeks.  Here’s a glimpse into our day: The kids wake up by 8am, make their beds, get dressed, and come to the table for breakfast.  We start school around 9am with Morning Time.  Morning Time consists of Bible reading (we’re currently doing a “read through the Bible in a year” plan), Shakespeare, poetry, some memory work, and whatever read aloud chapter book we’re in at the moment.  We read Little House on the Prairie in August and all of the kids wanted to keep going with the series so now we’re half way through Farmer Boy.  It’s such a joy to hear the girls ask for one more chapter.  Their understanding of English after just five months home is astonishing to say the least.  They’re doing exceptionally well.  In August they learned the days of the week, months of the year, counting to 20, and are now working on recognizing the letters of the alphabet and numbers 1-20.  Eliana is working hard on learning to read.  She is basically at a kindergarten level and the twins (5 1/2) are at a preschool level with basic coloring skills but no ability to trace letters on a page or hold a pencil well.  It’s so very different teaching children who are school age but so far from being ready for age-appropriate tasks.  It’s also a great relief to know that classical education will work all of that out in time and we don’t have to rush to “catch up” to anyone.  I’m so thankful I can stay home and educate our children.  It’s hard to believe I have two middle schoolers this year.  Joshua is in 7th grade and is doing Omnibus online through Veritas Press.  Jesse is in 6th grade and is completing his last year of Classical Conversations’ Foundations program (at home).  He is basically reviewing all three cycles this year and will join Joshua in Omnibus next year.  Owen is in 3rd grade and continuing on in Classical Conversations.  It’s amazing to hear him recalling all of this cycle’s memory work already.  He’s been hearing and learning CC memory work since he was two.  What a joy to see my big boys progress into the logic and rhetoric phases of learning after building this incredible foundation through CC.  Joshua and Jesse are also taking an IEW writing class once a week and that’s going really well also. The boys are all still enjoying and excelling with Teaching Textbooks math and Phonetic Zoo Spelling. I’m going to start Michael Clay Thompson’s Grammar program with Jesse, Owen, and Eliana soon, if I can ever remember to order it!  I also want to get the first volume of Story of the World so we can add that to our Morning Time routine.  After Morning Time the boys separate to do their independent work and I move to the dining room table with the girls.  We work on learning a variety of new things as well as handwriting for Eliana, coloring, cutting, play-doh, preschool crafts, etc.  I look so forward to fall and the holidays.  I truly began to feel like I would never actually have a Thanksgiving or Christmas with all of my children on the same continent, let alone in the same house.  We are so incredibly blessed and are doing our very best to live our life simply, with joy and gratitude, and always for His glory. So, that sums it up for now.  All of the pictures we’ve taken over the past five months are on my phone so I’ll need to transfer them onto the computer so I can post some pictures.  Everyone has grown this summer–water and sunshine does it every time!  :)