Friday, July 11, 2014

World's best iced coffee recipe

I admit it. I'm a coffee snob.

I use to be a diehard Starbucks fan, but as I've learned the art of coffee (yes, it is an art) I came to realize I can make my favorites at home for a fraction of the cost and it got harder and harder to shell out $5.00 for the stuff. Besides, I like my stuff better now.

Iced coffee keeps me going through the hot summer months. I'll often make a pitcher and keep it in the fridge to sip on over a couple of days...unless my kids find it and then it's all over.

World's Best Iced Coffee

2 cups strong coffee
1/4-1/3 cup half and half (depends on how strong a coffee taste you prefer)
2-3 T sugar or your favorite sugar substitute
chocolate syrup to taste OR you can make a bit of chocolate ganache (see recipe below) for an incredibly decadent treat!

Blend all ingredients for a few seconds until frothy. 

Drizzle the inside edges of your glass with a bit of chocolate syrup or ganache. Carefully add ice and coffee.

Top with homemade whipping cream and a few chocolate shavings for an amazing summertime (or anytime!) treat!

* To make chocolate ganache, melt a handful of chocolate chips with a few drops of heavy whipping cream or butter to form a nice thick sauce to add to your coffee.

* For homemade whipping cream, beat heavy cream, powdered sugar to taste and a dash of vanilla in a mixer or Magic Bullet until stiff peaks form. You will never allow Cool Whip to pass your lips again after trying the real deal.

Iced coffee is best enjoyed with a friend. Or on the front porch. Or with a good book. 

How do you enjoy your iced coffee?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The simple secret to a clean bathroom

Cleaning the bathroom doesn't have to be an all day affair. A few simple steps in the morning will leave your bathroom fresh and company ready.

1. Swish and swipe. The Flylady coined this phrase years ago and it stuck with me. Take two minutes after you get ready to swish the toilet brush around the toilet and wipe off the counters with a clean rag. 

2. Put it away! Return items to their proper place. A counter littered with hairbrushes, make-up cases and toothpaste tubes is not at all appealing. It just take a minute to put it back where it belongs.

3. Clothes and towels - Hang 'em up, put 'em away or toss 'em in the hamper. 

4. Get it outta there. On your way out the door, return all items that belong in another room to their proper place (ie: newspaper to recycling, glasses to the kitchen, etc.).

Once a week do a more thorough, deep cleaning and in between these simple steps will keep your bathroom clean and tidy.

5 Tips for Easy Homeschool Planning

You've scoured the curriculum catalogs, stalked the on-line sites and attended every used curriculum sale within a 50 mile radius. You've found everything you need...or think you'll need, for the coming school year. Now it sits, piled high on the dining room table and you find yourself wondering - NOW WHAT?

Homeschool planning can seem an overwhelming task, but take heart! It doesn't have to be. By breaking it down into five easy steps you can plan your way to a great year!

1. Make a list of goals for each child. It doesn't have to be a long list, just a few key things you want to see improved on. Maybe for your kinder aged child your goal will be teaching them to read. Everything else will revolve around that main goal. For your fourth grader it might be to improve their mental math skills and your preteen may need to focus on working more independently. Keeping these goals in mind will help keep you focused on what's important and allow you to work in opportunities for growth in those areas.

2. Assess your child's strengths and weaknesses when making your schedule. Are they great at reading, but struggle with new math concepts? Then plan on tackling math first thing in the morning when they're feeling fresh and let them read on their own after lunch. Do they love to tackle creative projects, but don't want to sit still to get their basics done? Reward them for completing their math lesson with time to work on their own pursuits. In doing so, you're working with, rather than against, how they're naturally wired. 

3. Get your child involved! Show them what subjects you have planned for the year and get their input on what their day should look like. Obviously mom has veto power, but involving them in the planning makes them feel more responsible for accomplishing the tasks given them. It also sends the important message that you care about their ideas and how they spend their time.

4. Go with what works for YOUR FAMILY! Some families prefer a more rigid, time enforced schedule, while others function better with a general outline. You can pencil in math every morning at precisely 9:30 and history at 10:00 or you can say we will accomplish math and history before 11:00. Either approach is OK. Forget the fact that your neighbor has her kids sitting at the kitchen table doing their work promptly at 8:00 a.m. Don't kill yourself trying to make your family fit someone else's schedule.

5. Write out a tentative pencil! Know that no matter how U-MAZING your schedule looks on paper, it will not always go according to plan. In fact, it may rarely go according to plan! Flexibility and a really good eraser are a homeschool mom's BFF.

Take a deep breath mom. Homeschool planning doesn't have to be a daunting task. With a little bit of thoughtful focus, you can have a awesome year.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Chair

*** This post was recently published in the CHOIS Connection homeschool magazine's spring issue. My new column is entitled A Cup of Encouragement. You can check out the rest of the publication at

There’s a chair in my living room that everyone loves. Not because it’s beautiful, stylish or even incredibly comfortable. It’s certainly not a chair you would find in Southern Living. No, they love it because of what it represents. Friends will often call and say, “I need to come sit in your chair.” Oh, if that chair could talk, what stories it would tell. Stories of laughter shared, tears shed, encouragement given and prayers whispered.

If you drop by my house, I’ll offer you the chair. You’ll sit, feet pulled up under you and hands wrapped around a steaming mug.

That’s when the magic happens.

You may not even recognize it at first, but slowly you begin to relax, your blood pressure goes down and your heart begins to open up. The chair envelopes you like a warm hug…and you may have a hard time leaving.

The chair represents community.

Moms, we were created for community. Real face to face community. Not the on-line, Facebook connection, but the kind that allows you to look into someone’s eyes over a cup of coffee and hear what they’re not saying in a status update. Social media, while it has its place, has given us a false sense of connection. We think because we know what someone had for breakfast, or where they went on vacation that we’re connected with what’s going on in their lives. The problem is most people’s Tweets and status updates are more a reflection of the life they wish they had rather than their current reality.

Real connection takes time and sacrifice. It takes setting aside our agenda for the day and speaking into some’s life. Maybe you’re thinking, “Well that would be great, but you haven’t seen my to-do list.”  True. As homeschool moms we are Busy with a capital B. Building community takes a commitment to lay aside some of that to-do list, to decide that community is important enough to make sacrifices. Sure we can make it through life on our own. We can possibly even homeschool successfully without the support of other homeschool moms to come alongside us, but how much more rich and fulfilling it is to do life in REAL relationship with people we love.  

Who is in your “community”? Who have you spent time getting to know…real, up close and personal? Who has the Lord called you to encourage? Maybe it’s time to log off Facebook, look up from our to-do list and see who the Lord has placed in our lives for such a time as this. Gardens don’t grow without care and attention, children don’t raise themselves and community doesn’t happen by accident.

Be intentional.

Live life on purpose.

Cultivate community.

And if you’re ever in the neighborhood feel free to stop by. The chair is always available, the coffee’s always fresh and there’s always room for one more friend.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Moms make the world go 'round...or at least keep it tidy

Have you ever asked yourself what would happen if you stopped doing everything you do around the house? 

I have...often. Apparently I'm the only one in my family with the special gene that allows you to actually see when things are a mess. It's so strange. Apparently certain family members were born without that one. How does that happen? Because of that, I've often lamented, sometimes to myself and most often NOT to myself, what my family would do if I weren't here. I was sure they would eat nothing but cold cereal and eventually end up on an episode of hoarders.

The last ten days we got a real peek into just what that mom absence would look like. With back to back events, I was out of the house every day, all day. At the end of the first event I came home, unloaded a Suburban full of stuff and deposited it in the living room floor in order to make it to the next event. That was's still there. It honestly looks like a bomb went off in almost every room of my house. Some of the kids were home during those ten days and in their defense, they did SOME pulling a backyard full of four foot tall weeds. Props for that guys! And I came home at the end of the event last night to find the oldest mopping the kitchen floor, so I have to give them some credit. 

Here's the thing. They just don't see things through a mom's eyes. They can't...they're not moms. They are incredibly willing to help and do anything I ask of them, they just don't always see the need on their own. They don't have the same "mom standards" I have. My boys know I mean business when I tell them to "mom clean" their room. They know it's about to get serious!

One unintentional outcome of my little unofficial mom experiment is that I realized how much I love being home and doing all those little things that I so often complain about. It was nice to wake up this morning, sip my coffee and work on putting things back in order. There's peace in order. I know that, but I had been missing out on the peace that getting things in order can bring because I was so worked up about the fact that no one else saw the needs that were so obvious to me. My frustration caused me to miss out on the blessing.

So today I'm "piddling". The washer and dryer are humming along, the kitchen's clean (or was ten minutes ago when I came upstairs), things are getting put away, we're packing up our oldest to leave for two months and we're slowly working our way back to normal....I'm discovering I really, really like normal.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Texas in our rear view mirror

As I type this we’re somewhere in New Mexico. We’ve spent the last two weeks roadtrippin’ it from Idaho to Texas and back, logging 2,745 miles with about a 1,100 more to go. We’ve stopped at 87 rest stops, found all but 11 states on the license plate game (anyone from Hawaii?), eaten copious amounts of BBQ, been bitten by 168 mosquitoes, caught crawdads with a stick and cheap bacon, gone fishin’, watched kids learn to drive the golf cart (a rite of passage in our family) and learn to drive the farm truck (another rite of passage), celebrated my dad's 65th birthday with more BBQ (of course!), spent time catching up with awesome  friends and hung out on the family farm unplugging from life. 

It has been an amazing, exhausting gift of a trip. While it was good to come back and visit, ultimately it helped me realize that we aren’t a part of life there anymore. Seeing family and friends was a balm for my soul…just what I needed to be able to finally let go and accept that Idaho is home. 

We’ve left Texas in our rear view mirror, but it will always be in our hearts. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The masks we wear

"I grew up thinking that revealing the worst parts of me, especially in church, would be unacceptable. If grace is real, how could I ever feel that? The places that hold grace should be the safest places to unveil our humanity. 
But they usually aren't. The gospel of grace fights every piece of pride in us. When God gives us grace, he is also taking something from us. He takes our control. So many of us don't live in grace even though we may have grown up singing about it since birth." Jennie Allen - Anything
Sometimes I think growing up as a Christian can bring with it it's own kind of bondage. The bondage of "being good" or keeping everything shiny on the outside, regardless of what the inside looks like. We become a Pharisee. Don't misunderstand. I am incredibly thankful for having had the opportunity to grow up the way I did, but I have to wonder how much the "good girl" image got in the way of what God really wanted to do in my life. 

We hear about what Jesus did for us on the cross so often that the enormity of what he did seems to fade. 

We sing about amazing grace so much that we fail to grasp just how amazing it truly is.

Church, the very place we should be able to be real with one another is the very place we wear our shiniest masks. The place where grace should abound in greatest quantity is the very place we believe we will feel the most shame. Is it really so, or has the enemy simply caused us to believe a lie, whispered repeatedly in our ears over the years? Looking back, I'm not sure the church I grew up in would have been a safe place to unveil my true share the truth of my sinful humanity. I don't think it was a place where grace abounded. Or maybe it was just me. I wasn't at a place to take off that shiny mask. It was just easier to keep buffing out the smudges than to take it off completely....there was far too much at stake. The lie is that everyone else is walking around mask free and you're the only one with something to hide. The truth is we're all sinful and in need of forgiveness every single day. 

Thankfully, my masks have come off. I wish I could say I've given up control, but I'm still a work in progress. I've stopped believing the lies that were whispered in my ear and embraced the freedom that comes from being who God created me to be. Yes, there is still sin, but there is also grace. There always has been. Somewhere along the way we were lulled into believing our sin outweighed the grace. And another mask falls to the ground.

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