Thursday 25 April 2013

5 Reasons to Attend a Homeschooling Conference

Every year I really look forward to attending our provincial homeschooling conference.  This was true before I ever met Andrew and only had a desire to homeschool "one day".  And I am sure it will continue to be true when, Lord willing, I am still homeschooling fifteen years from now!

With that in mind, I wanted to encourage you to consider attending one this year - whether you are homeschooling or not! It always surprises me when I hear of homeschooling parents who "just don't go" to their local homeschooling conference, as they are such wonderful opportunities.  Here are five reasons why:

Arizona Home Education Convention
 1. It is wise to consider alternatives to the public system, so you can make an educated decision.

If you don't have school aged children, this is a great opportunity to consider alternatives to sending them to public or private school.  Then, if you still choose to do either, at least you will have considered all the options and made what you believe to be the best choice. You won't simply be following tradition, or acting on false ideas about homeschooling.

2. It's a great place to connect with other homeschooling families.

We all have something to learn, and it can be great to meet other families to see what they are doing and find creative solutions you may not have considered.  Likewise, you might be the one who lends a helping hand, or a listening ear to a family you meet.  You don't know what effect your conversations will have, and you could make friendships that last a lifetime! 

3. You can find encouragement in your Christian walk.

Our homeschooling conference brings in great Christian speakers, and I always come away from the conference having grown in my faith.  I have listened to talks on creation, understanding how you're demonstrating Christianity to the world, and overall been challenged to have a more biblical worldview.  I truly believe any Christian would find encouragement at our local homeschooling conference, and I am sure that is true for many others. For many parents, homeschooling is part of having a biblical worldview, and any parent will benefit by being inspired to be more involved in the life of their child.

4. To support homeschooling in your area.

It just might be a conversation you have with the family who is considering homeschooling, that shows them it can be done, and inspires them to try!  I've heard numerous stories about people who began homeschooling because of a conference they went to.  Also, by attending the conference you add yourself to the number of people who show that homeschooling is important to them, which sends an important message to politicians and bureaucrats.

5. To remember the reasons why you homeschool.

Sometimes the challenges can overwhelm the bigger picture, and it's good to step back and remember your convictions.  Attending a conference is a great way to get a yearly charge-up and a fresh perspective as you start a new year of homeschooling!  You will meet great people who are also excited, be able to check out new curriculum, and hear inspiring speakers.

I'd love to hear the reasons why you like going to a homeschooling conference. Leave a comment to encourage others as well! 

If you're here in Ontario, the OCHEC Convention (Ontario Christian Home Educator's Connection)  is happening NEXT WEEKEND.  You can register at the door, and we'd love to see you if you're there!  This conference holds a soft spot for us, because it's where we first met!  But that is a story for another post...

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Linked up at A Mama's Story, The Modest Mom, What Joy Is Mine,  Growing Home, Above Rubies,  Deep Roots At Home, Raising Homemakers, We Are That Family, Walking Redeemed, Graced Simplicity, Raising Mighty Arrows

Monday 22 April 2013

4 Last-Minute Throw-Together Meals!

It is my blessing and privilege to provide yummy and nutritious meals for my husband and son morning, noon and night!  This is even true when it's 5 o'clock and I don't know what I'm making for dinner!  At that point I'm glad to have some meals in my repertoire which I know I can throw together quickly, have the ingredients on hand for, and will taste good too!  Here are four of my our favourites!

Photo credit: Tuna Casserole, Pasta & Meatsauce
Grilled Cheese, Chicken & Rice

Gourmet Grilled Cheese

Andrew makes me light up whenever I make grilled cheese because he is always so complimentary, and they don't take much effort at all!   

Thinly slice some apples (you can leave the skin on, or peel them) and onions, and saute them over med-low in a bit of butter.  While they soften, butter the outside of the bread slices and slice the cheese.  Assemble each sandwich in this order: bottom slice of bread (buttered on the outside), cheese, some of the sauteed apples and onions, and a few more slices of cheese just to make it stick to the top slice of bread.  Top with a last piece of bread, butter side out.  Place in a frying pan over medium heat, and be careful that they don't burn.  Flip once.  Serve and ENJOY! :)

Chicken, Broccoli and Rice

This is basically what it sounds like!  I learned this from my mother-in-law and I'm pretty sure it is one of her go-to meals too!  

Saute some garlic and onion in a little oil.  This gets things smelling like dinner's cooking! :)  Add the chicken (bone-in drumsticks or thighs), put on the lid, and leave for about twenty minutes - turning the chicken occasionally.  At any point add some spices generously.  I usually do curry, cumin, cayenne, salt and pepper, but you can mix it up however you want.   Chop up some broccoli, and a few minutes before the chicken is finished, put the broccoli in the pot, and a thin layer of water on the bottom.  Cover and after a few minutes, check that the broccoli is cooked and the chicken is done!  Serve with brown rice, and be sure to get the saucy stuff out of the bottom of the pot!

Spaghetti and Meatsauce

I didn't promise creativity here - just nourishment with some taste-bud delight!  

We usually have ground beef in the freezer, and it can be easily thawed.  Then you just have to toss a can of tomato sauce into the browned beef and cook some pasta.  If you have time, saute some onion and garlic in the pot before adding the meat, and add some spinach at the end.  Serve with a salad!

Tuna Casserole

I made this for dinner last night.  We were throwing a frisbee at the park, I was sure it was after 6pm, and I didn't know what I was going to make for dinner!  I gave Andrew some options, and this is what he chose!  It's a recipe I got from my mom, and is originally from The Essential Cancer Treatment Nutrition Guide and Cookbook.

Saute some green onions and mushrooms in 2 tbsp butter until soft. (If you don't have onions or mushrooms, just melt the butter).  Add 2 tbsp flour and mix.  Slowly add in 1 cup of chicken broth and one cup of milk, mixing as you pour to get rid of the flour lumps.  Bring to a boil and stir constantly for a couple minutes to thicken.  Stir in 4oz cream cheese, 1 can drained tuna, and 1 cup frozen peas.  Cook for a couple more minutes, until everything is warm!  Serve with cooked egg noodles, or in a pinch, any pasta!  We seem to always eat it at this point, but you could put it in a casserole pan, top with bread crumbs and cheese, and bake until the top is nice and golden brown.

What are your last minute meals?  I could use some new ones :)

Happy eating,
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Linked up at A Mama's Story, The Modest Mom, What Joy Is Mine,  Growing Home, Above Rubies,  Deep Roots At Home, Raising Homemakers, We Are That Family, Walking Redeemed, Graced Simplicity, Raising Mighty Arrows

Friday 19 April 2013

Saving Money in Your Baby's First Year

photo source
There are articles all over the internet telling you how much it costs to have a baby, and most of them don't give very low figures.  One source states that the average US citizen can expect to spend $12,000  in their baby's first year, and $12,500 in the second.  I'm not sure if articles like these are meant to discourage people from having babies (which would be silly, since we are in a population decline), but that's what seems to be happening.  One of the most common reasons people give for not having children is that they "cannot afford them". 

We want to be a light in all this darkness and tell you that a baby doesn't have to be as expensive as "they" tell you.  Our little guy is now 15 months old, so we've just come out of that 1st year, and thought we'd share some of our money saving tips for your first year with a baby!
  • Firstly, get over the idea that you need all the stuff they say you need, and especially that you need to get the COOLEST stuff.  It's not true.  Ask some wise moms you respect what items they say are the "must-haves"
  • Don't be afraid to ask around for stuff you can borrow.  Many parents are happy to lend out those big ticket (and normally more expensive) items, which are usually only used for a short time.  Baby swings, exersaucers, jolly jumpers, play pens, etc.
  • When people offer you secondhand items for free - take them!  I've heard numerous moms tell me how they were surprised who came out of the woodwork with items for their baby and I've experienced it myself.  People know that babies can be costly (but again, don't have to be), and are generally more than happy to help out!  The cycle continues when you remember all the people who blessed you and and pass on some of your used items to another new mom.
  • Buy secondhand.  This tip obviously extends beyond the first year, but especially since babies grow so quickly, most of their clothes and other items haven't been used for very long.  You can find plenty of baby clothes and toys in secondhand stores, and they are usually our first stop.  We also like to use E-Bay and Kijiji, especially for bigger items like car seats or highchairs.
  • Breastfeed.  Free except for the cost of the extra calories for you for the first 6-9 months!  Plus wonderful bonding time and really lovely once you get over those difficult first few weeks. 
  • Make your own baby food.  Just puree up some steamed vegetables, soup, or whatever you're having for dinner, and freeze in ice cube trays.  Pop out and put in a plastic bag and you've got meals galore - for dollars less than you would pay for jarred baby food.  Plus it's healthier, easy, and you know what is in it.
  • Plan for mom to stay home! This will not only cut costs in daycare, but also food, and possibly vehicle expenses.  And the non-financial gains are immense.
  • Use cloth diapers.  We intended to do this, but for reasons I won't get into, didn't.  However, we can tell you that disposable diapers were our biggest cost throughout the year.  We did try not to buy them unless they were on sale, and you can bring the cost down significantly that way.
(Maybe you're still thinking "Well yes - a BABY isn't that expensive - but what about when they're older?  I'll have to pay for sports leagues, and birthday parties, and new clothes ... and college!"  Great question! Check out these two fantastic posts by women who can speak from experience to that issue: The Expense of Children & We Couldn't Afford Children.)

Have your baby's cost more or less than you imagined they would?

What are YOUR tips for saving money in the first year? 

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Tuesday 16 April 2013

Does God Care About Blog Design?

"You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty." (Ex 28:2)
This verse has been rolling around in my head ever since I read it a couple months ago.  It had been a bit hard slogging through that section of Exodus, and I wasn't too excited about Chapter 28 "Garments of the Priests".  But my perspective changed quickly after reading verse 2, quoted above.  God didn't come up with the requirements for the priestly garments because He wanted to be particular for no good reason, He cared (and cares) about beauty and glory.

I've thought about that verse numerous times since then when getting dressed, setting the table, wrapping presents, and doing other tasks which we may be tempted to think God doesn't care about.  I believe it is good to make things lovely, and that God delights when we attempt to create beautiful things for HIS glory.  When I try to dress beautifully it should not be for vanity's sake, but to please my husband and to be a picture of femininity and modesty which the Lord delights in.  When I set the table nicely, I am not trying to be a picture of the perfect housewife, but to take pleasure in my role as keeper of the home, and to create a haven of peace for my family and others who enter our home.  When I wrap a present I do not try to select the most expensive wrapping to impress the recipient, but I want to show them that I care enough to make their gift look lovely.    In all things, we should not strive for beauty as an end, but as a means of glorifying God.

So, today, as we reveal our new blog design - I want to say that Yes!  God does care.  Our prayer for this blog has always been that God would use it to encourage His people, in as large or small a capacity as He sees fit, and we hope that this new design will be one way God draws people to seek what truth we have to share.


Highlights of our New Design

  • You can now connect with us through any or all of the five social networking options at the top left-hand.  There you'll be able to easily see new posts, and also find resources which support our vision to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ.
  • The drop-down menu above makes it easy for you to find posts on topics which interest you.  As we are a new blog, we don't have posts in all the categories up yet, but those are topics which you can expect to see content on in the future.
  • Popular Posts is always the section I check out first when I head to a new blog, and so we wanted it to be easily available to you - over there in the left-hand column.
  • One aspect we are really excited about, is to introduce you to our two sponsors, Monticello Soap Company and Polkadots.  Both of these businesses are run by lovely ladies (one a stay-at-home mom and one a homeschooling graduate), and we are so happy to be able to support them in this way! You can read more about their companies and how we met them on Our Sponsors page.  We really hope you'll check them out and show them some love - whether by liking their Facebook page, sending an encouraging comment, sharing about them or buying one of their quality products!

We are so thankful to Heather Rae of An Original Belle, who created the design for us.  She was great to work with and did an amazing job of taking the vision we had and making it into a beautiful and cohesive look.  We highly recommend her!

Friday 12 April 2013

You CAN Dress Modestly...With Style!

L to R: Weekend Away, So Happy Together, Holly Jolly,
Can't Stop, Won't Stop
, Hostess, White Winter Hymnal, Ray of Light.
All photos by Adam Quirk for What I Wore

Jessica Quirk has been posting pictures of her outfits since 2008 on her blog, What I Wore.  She has attended events like New York Fashion Week, and been featured in magazines like Glamour, and yet her outfits often display a modesty which would befit any Christian woman.

Many people believe dressing modestly automatically means looking frumpy and out-of-date - but that is not the case!  What I Wore is the only fashion blog I read regularly, and, although occasionally her skirt hemlines get a little short for my liking, she by and large wears outfits that I would wear - and looks great doing it!

The principles a Christian woman should keep in mind when it comes to dress are modesty, femininity, and dressing to please her husband, or if she is still under the authority of her father - wearing outfits which her parents see as appropriate.   Our primary goal should not be to look stylish - but to be a ambassador of Jesus Christ.  I like how Jasmine Baucham puts it:
Flesh-and-blood examples of outward beauty like Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn may inspire us to carry ourselves with a little more dignity, but what should really raise our chins and straighten our backs is to know that we are perfectly, matchlessly loved by Christ. (Joyfully at Home blog)
So here are some tips for looking both stylish and modest, all of which you can see in action in the above photo:
  • Brighten up your outfit with a bold statement piece. Wear a big necklace, a vintage brooch, a colourful coat, or a cute hat.
  • Layer, layer, layer.  Throw a belt over a sweater to cinch the waist, wear a button-up or a striped sweater over a chambray or denim shirt, keep warm with tights under a skirt. 
  • Wear long tops over jeans.  Cozy knit cardigans, shift style dresses, and flowy tunics all look great over jeans.
  • Look for a long black maxi dress.  I have the same dress as pictured above, and it is a SUPER great piece. It can double as a skirt when you layer a shirt overtop, and easily goes from casual to fancy!
  • Throw on a scarf.  One of the easiest ways to take a blah outfit to cute is to wrap a bright, lightweight scarf around your neck. There are great tutorials for various ways to do this on Pinterest, and you can usually find scarves at thrift shops for a few dollars.

    Tuesday 9 April 2013

    Should We Bring the Bible into the Argument?

    Photo credit

    We as Christians sometimes shy away from using Scripture in discussions about social and political issues, for fear that we may be seen as foolish, irrational, or "bible thumpers".  However, we need to ask ourselves if what is behind these fears is a belief that the Bible doesn't speak to the current political and social issues of our day!  The Bible is the word of the true and living God, and the fact that it is not accepted by many people in our culture does not negate its truth or applicability.

    Rick Phillips has written a great article at Reformation 21, which I'd encourage you to read.  In it he states that Christians would do better to be more "militantly biblical" than to shy away from using biblical arguments in their discussions.   This needs to be done with gentleness and love, remembering that the message of the Bible is one of hope and redemption - for individuals and for nations.

    This quote, from the above article, shows us the dangerous ground North American nations are treading on as we remove the Bible and Christianity from more and more areas of the culture:
    It is precisely because the Bible has been excluded from public discourse that our nation is so aggressively pursuing a debauchery like that of the ancient Canaanites and is suffering a societal breakdown of, well, biblical proportions.  The only way to reverse this trend is to reassert the Bible's validity for both private and public moral standards.

    In our Sunday School class yesterday, an interesting contrast was shown.  Alexis de Tocqueville, in his "Democracy in America", stated that in the 1800s before someone was allowed to serve on jury duty in the Unites States, they had to acknowledge a belief that Jesus was raised from the dead. You can see how far we've fallen when you consider that in 2005, a jury's decision on a rape and murder trial was thrown out because it was discovered that they considered Bible verses when discussing their decision.

    There is often much compelling evidence to support the stances of Scripture, and we can use that as well.  But we must be sure that we are not making Scripture a secondary, or lesser supporting argument.

    So today we want to encourage you to be bold.  Know what the Bible says regarding the political and social issues of our time, especially the topics that come up often in your circles, and then don't be afraid to share how those truths shape your thinking!

    According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. (Philippians 1:20)

    Friday 5 April 2013

    Will You Make a Difference in the Lives of the Poor?

    I have always known that as Christians we are supposed to care for people who are hungry, poor, sick, widowed.... but until recently that knowledge didn't have much effect on my life.  I had this idea that I only had to help if someone crossed my path. I'm not that likely to encounter those struggling with poverty, persecution, untreated illness, hunger, or war - so thinking this way, even subconsciously, was a pretty easy way out.  However, Jesus says:
    Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me." (Matthew 25:34-36)
    Photo from Compassion Intl.
    Take in these numbers for a moment.  Try and picture the actual number of people represented by these numbers:
    • 26, 575 children die EVERY DAY of largely preventable causes related to their poverty.
    • 9 MILLION people die each year due to hunger or related causes.
    • Many underdeveloped countries have unemployment rates as high as 75%!
    • Approx 2 million CHILDREN are part of the growing commercial sex trade.
    • In 2010 there were 42 different conflicts being waged around the world.
      (All references from The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns, 2010)
    Are these numbers upsetting?  They should be!  We should be moved to love and compassion for those involved.  We should be outraged at those who perpetrate crimes that are involved in causing this suffering.  This is a horrendous tragedy and certainly worth more than a passing thought every now and again.   By now you're probably thinking: "I want to help - but how!?". 

    First things first - get past the idea that just because you are one person you can't do anything.  One of the best things about the book The Hole in Our Gospel was reading about all the different people who made a difference simply by doing SOMETHING.  Don't let the scope of the problem paralyze you.

    Secondly, consider what resources you have to give in these three areas: Time, Talent, and Treasure.  Don't just think of talent as something like "writing" or "singing", but all the life experiences that make up you - where you live, struggles you've gone through in the past, passions you have - those are all things that you can use in the fight against poverty.

    Photo from Compassion Intl.
    Thirdly,  I'm going to try and get your creative juices flowing by sharing some ideas our friends have implemented, and some we are planning to implement to help others in need and make ourselves and others more aware of the issues.
    • Get the word out in your social circle:
      • Write a blog post about the issues of poverty, health, or injustice. 
      • Share a post someone else has written. (Like this one!)
      • Start a "Simple Club" of friends to encourage and swap ideas about how to cut costs in your own life to help in the lives of others. 
    • Hang a world map up in your living room. 
      • Mark on the map where Christians are imprisoned.  Learn about the countries they are in and the laws which led to their persecution.  Pray for them.
      • When you hear about a natural disaster, look up where the country/city is on the map.  Pray for the people in that area.
      • If you sponsor a child, mark down on the map where they are from. Learn about their country, including the challenges their nation faces.  Write them letters and tell them about what you're doing.
    • Live more simply:
      • Eat rice and beans for a week for dinner.  Talk as a family about what it was like. Donate the money you save to an organization that helps those in poverty.
      • Set aside a certain percentage of your income to give to a charitable organization each month.
      • Sponsor a child through World Vision, Compassion, or another reputable organization.
    So how will you use your time, treasure or talent?!  

    If you've read this far, it would be great if you shared just one idea in the comments - and that can be your first step to inspiring others to do something too!

    If this blog post inspires five people to give of their time, talent or treasure to help in the fight against poverty - and they each in turn inspire five people - and that happens five more times - that would mean over 15,000 people doing something new to help those in need!!


    Monday 1 April 2013

    Keeping Eternity Stamped On Our Eyeballs

    A few weeks ago our pastor gave a wonderful sermon on 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, and it made me think that we could all use a little reminder that, as Christians, this world isn't our home - and we need to pray, as Jonathan Edwards did "Lord, stamp eternity on my eyeballs!". 

    But in light of all our day to day duties, whatever they may be, it can be easy to lose focus and get caught up in the hear and now - as if this is all there is.   However, when we remember to take a step back and look at our world and our relationships through the lens of eternity - life can take on a whole different focus.
    • Suddenly an argument with a non-Christian friend isn't about winning, it's about showing Christ's love to an eternal soul.
    • Dealing with a child who has lied isn't just a moral issue, it's an opportunity to explain their need for a saviour.
    • Loving your spouse isn't something you do just because you feel like it, but because you are demonstrating eternal principles about the relationship between Christ and the Church.

    The list goes on and on.  It is easy to see how dealing with joy, and even moreso, dealing with sorrow, takes on a different perspective in the light of eternity.  That is what Paul is saying in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:
    Therefore, we do not lose heart.  Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.  For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
    Our pastor provided a list of scripture passages he recommended we should learn and meditate on to keep our focus on eternity:
    • 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
    • 1 Corinthians 15:35-58
    • 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
    • 2 Timothy 4:8
    • Revelation (the whole book)
    • Revelation, chapters 20-22

    Charles Spurgeon said: "I think we do not go to Heaven often enough".  As young people, it is easy to forget that there is an end to our life here on earth, but often our older brothers and sisters in Christ have a greater longing for Heaven, and we can learn from them.  God created us for such a time as this, and we need to use our time on earth well.  We need to have an eternal perspective so that we do not waste the time we have been given.

    Some of you might be reading this and thinking either you've done too much bad to go to heaven, or you've done too much good to go to hell.   We ALL deserve hell, and every one of us will be there unless we repent of our sins and put our trust in Jesus Christ, who is God and came to earth as a man.   He lived a perfect life and died a horrible death having done nothing wrong.  He did this so that all who believe in Him can live forever with God because all the bad that they've done in this life, Jesus took the penalty for, and now God sees them as perfect. (This truth is woven throughout Scripture, and one place you can see it is Romans 5:6-11If you don't have a Bible, you can pick one up at any bookstore, and probably any used bookstore for just a few dollars.  We'd be happy to point you to other passages or resources which can help you better understand the amazing thing Christ did for you.)

    Lastly, I wanted to share with you a song I really love.  It is based on the above passage in Corinthians and really conveys a heaven-ward focus, especially in the midst of hard times.  For all who trust in Christ, we know that the pain that we've been feeling, can't compare to the joy that's coming.