Friday, December 30, 2016

My Favorite 12 Photos of 2016

I LOVE to take pictures! I LOVE to organize pictures. I LOVE to look back on pictures.
This year, in pictures, seems like such a long year because Owen was just shy of 7 months and Annabeth was just a bit over 4 years old when the year began. Now, I have a walking talking nearly 19 month old and a big girl 5 year old.

Here are my 12 Favorite (one from each month) Photos of 2016:

January 2016
This was taken mid-month at Asher's 1st Birthday Party.
I thought Owen looked so sweet with his arm around his sister. 

February 2016
They each had camo overalls that fit so we ran outside on a sunny day to make pictures.
Other than asking them to sit by the tree out back, they posed themselves.
I love that they are snuggling and smiling.  

March 2016
Easter Morning. Mark was called out so I got everyone ready for Easter Services by myself.
I loved their coordinating outfits and that they wanted to hold hands.  

April 2016
Annabeth had gone to bed first but Owen missed her too much. He was putting his little hand
under her bedroom door crying for her. She eventually put her fingers out to hold his hand.  

May 2016 
We were in Evansville, celebrating Uli Dog's 15th Birthday at Sonic.  
I am so thankful that we have had SO many years with her! She is the best dog!

June 2016
The Riley Four at Owen Merit's Bear Birthday Party. 

 July 2016
A sweet picture of my blue-eyed guys. 

August 2016
Creek stomping at Camp Lakeview with my girl. 
We were so excited to introduce our kids to the place where we met, fell in love, and 
got engaged. Lakeview has been a central part of our lives and our faith. 

 September 2016
Hanging out with Mr. O in our UofL gear.
His shirt says "Start 'em young, Raise 'em right!" 
Go Cards! 

 October 2016
This was my favorite picture of the year! 
Owen's angry face, Annabeth working diligently, a normal day at home. 

November 2016
We spent this day with my Mama and my Momaw at her house in Owensboro.
This day, and picture, became even more special after Momaw was hospitalized just a few
weeks later. I was so thankful to have had this day. I am even more thankful for the recovery that Momaw
has made. God is so good!  

December 2016
These two love to be together 99.9% of the time. They are always cuddling and playing.
I really could not ask for siblings who love each other more than they do! 

We are so thankful for the past year of our lives. We are thankful that we had time together, for our health, and most of all for another year living life for the Lord. As we look forward to 2017, we hope to praise, serve, and thank Him in all we do. Amen. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Frugal Friday 174

Happy Frugal Friday!

Here is how we saved money/spent money wisely/made extra money this week:

- Mark worked one night at his part time job.

- We had some unexpected income due to extra hours at work. All of this was added to our savings and the children's savings. It gave a nice end of year boost to those accounts.

- Saturday we stayed home due to extremely cold weather. We introduced Annabeth to Mexican Train Dominos for the first time. She received the game as a gift from the Eblings and enjoyed playing. We also had an at home movie night and watched White Christmas. I don't remember having ever seen it and both the kids loved dancing along with all of the song and dance numbers.

- Sunday we stayed home again due to the frigid temperatures and icy roadways. By evening we were all going crazy and the roads were clear so we invited Mark's parents out to dinner. We enjoyed visiting with them. The kids and I had the leftovers for lunch on Monday.

- One of my goals, again, this Christmas season was to make more gifts and to buy more gifts locally. I did not do as well as I have in year's past on this. Tuesday, the kids and I headed to Downtown Franklin to finish our shopping. One of our favorite stores was having a 50% off Christmas special and I was excited to find some good deals. The plan was going well until Annabeth found her perfect gifts for Luke/Cassidy and Matt/Jenn. I spent way more than we planned but she was so cute and serious about finding the perfect items for each family. I was not happy to overspend but am thankful that we at least did it locally.

- We generally give giftcards to Annabeth's dance teachers. This year, she decided she wanted to buy them small gifts instead. We shopped a sale at Kohl's + used a 25% off coupon. Saved: $13.60 off retail prices. We also came in $20 what I had budgeted for the giftcards. We will save that $20 to put towards their end of year gifts.

- Wednesday night Annabeth had her first Company Christmas party at her dance school. She was SO excited to make crafts, play games, eat snacks, and to dance. She won a little prize and was over the moon! The dance studio also gave the students their fall pictures and a new Company shirt as Christmas gifts. I am so thankful for all of the amazing staff at Style and for their commitment to the children. Annabeth loves to dance and I credit so much of that to the wonderful training she has had there!

She was so excited about the Christmas party.
We are SO proud of her hard work in the Company this fall!

We will be taking our usual holiday break from "Frugal Fridays." I will see you back here for Frugal Friday on the first Friday of January.

Merry Christmas and Happy Savings to All! 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Why I Do(n't) Love Homeschooling

Today we will finish our 7th semester of homeschooling.

We started this journey, informally homeschooling 2 year old preschool and then each year we've become more serious, added more days, more lessons, more time in the day spent on school. If I had known then what I know now, I would have done it again! I feel so incredibly blessed that God allows us to live this life.

4 years in,  there are some things I love, and some things I don't, about homeschooling. This has been the easiest and hardest post to write, I have debated what to include, how to include it, and what will come of it. In the end, I have prayed on this and leave it here. May His Will be done.

I love...

- Spending my days with my children. I love learning with them and growing with them. I cannot imagine having Annabeth gone to school each day.

One of my favorite pictures of the kids and me.
We are all sporting UofL gear - September 2015

- How close Annabeth and Owen are as a result of being home together. The kids are 3.5 years apart so if Annabeth had gone to preschool, she would have been gone many mornings of Owen's first year and even more this year. I love having the kids together all the time.

- Being able to hand select what we teach. In Indiana*, homeschoolers have very few guidelines which means that we are allowed to incorporate our faith into all subjects and we are allowed to teach sensitive subjects in the way that we feel is best. We are also allowed to decide when it is, or will be, the right time to introduce sensitive subjects. As conservative Christians, this is very important to us.

- We are our children's #1 influences. We hope, we pray, that this means our children are seeing and learning love. We pray that our children will learn from us how to treat others with kindness and respect. We hope this means they will learn to right their wrongs and to apologize when they have failed to be kind or respectful. We also love that we will be providing our children with a view that is centered on Christ and His love.

- We are able to spend time with a variety of people. Our children interact with a variety of people on a daily basis - different ages, cultures, religious beliefs, and sexual orientations. Annabeth can play with and make conversation with almost anyone. We enjoy volunteering at our church and with another church in town. We have the time to accomplish these tasks because our school schedule is fluid.

- I love the flexibility of homeschooling. My family lives nearly three hours away and I like knowing that if we need or want to make a long weekend trip home, we can. I don't have to plan to be back for school on Monday. We can either take school with us or take a few extra days off. It also works well since Mark often has a funky work schedule. If Mark is off on Tuesday but works Saturday, we match his schedule and take the weekday off and do school on the weekend. This gives the kids alot more time with him than if they went to traditional school.

I could keep going, I love so many parts of what we do, but I also want to share that there are things I do not love. This is the part that scares me. I often hear, "Well, if it doesn't work they can always go to school" or "You chose this." Both of those statements are true but I don't feel like I have to love this journey 100% of the time.

I don't love...

- Misconceptions and rude comments. A mom at dance this fall said, "I don't like homeschooling. You could just sit home, doing nothing all day. I am worried about Annabeth's education." I don't think I would ever dare make a statement like this, even to a family member or close friend, much less a person I really didn't know. Yes, I suppose it is true, I could sit home all day, do nothing, and say I homeschool but I feel that if anyone has spent time with our children, they can see quite a bit of learning has been happening. A father of one of Annabeth's friends said to me, the day we met, "She will be a freak you know. She will be so antisocial. And weird." Well, she is a little weird but aren't we all? Comments like these, both ones directed at me or at homeschoolers in general have been so hurtful and difficult to navigate.

- Being home with my kids all day. Let me be honest, there are days when I would LOVE for my children to go somewhere for three hours. I make the mistake of getting on Facebook during the day and I see other moms crafting or at Target or getting Starbucks with a friend. I cannot do those things, I am running a school and my students never leave. I sometimes envy my friends who work. I miss the luxury of time away from my children and I miss having adult time. I work hard to remind myself that God calls all of us to live different lives and that I need to be happy living mine.

- It is sometimes lonely. In order to get school done, we have to stay home quite a bit of the time. That means I sometimes go days and only see Mark and the children. As for the larger homeschool community, people who homeschool do so for a wide variety of reasons. We belong to a homeschool group and I am not sure any of the families in that group homeschool for the same reasons that we do or in the same way that we do. Even though we all fall under the same umbrella, we are quite different. Homeschooling is emotional and personal for families - people like to feel like they are doing it the best, right way for their family and want you to jump on board. It is a totally different day-to-day life than sending our children to school and it's sometimes difficult to talk to those parents. In the last year, I have noticed a big shift in friendships with some families who have children in school. We have lost touch and have a harder time getting the children together to play. I miss those friendships.

- My job is is not seen as a job and many ask when I will ever return to work. Family members and friends who work talk about their jobs, good parts and bad parts, and while they all work in various fields there is a general understanding of a good or bad day at the office. Teaching homeschool is my job and I rarely feel like other adults are interested in my work. As someone who has always loved working hard for a reward, good grades in school or a better paycheck at work, it is difficult for me to work in a job where there is not a tangible reward and definitely in a job that is not thought highly of by other adults. I think many wonder why I don't just send the children to school so that I can return to work. Mark works a full-time job and a part-time job so that we are able to not only live our daily lives but also make investments in our children's college savings. Me staying home, potentially for another 17 years, is a financial burden however it is one, for the moment, that we are willing to bear as we answer God's call for our family.

I share this post in an effort to be honest and transparent. While I often share the joys of homeschooling, this lifestyle does come with sacrifices which I also felt needed to be shared. Ultimately, God planned for me to be Mark's wife and our children's mother. He has entrusted them to my care and it is my duty to seek His will for their education.

*In Indiana, all parents are legally responsible for their children's schooling. All children in Indiana must attend school 180 days beginning at the very latest at age 7. These are the only guidelines that homeschoolers in Indiana must follow. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Frugal Friday 173

Happy Frugal Friday!

Here is how we saved money/spent money wisely/made extra money this week:

- Mark worked one night at his part time job.

- Saturday morning we treated Mark's parents to breakfast at our church. It was the sixth time we have enjoyed Breakfast with Jesus and Santa with them. Annabeth is afraid of people in costumes so we ate our pancake breakfast and did not see Jesus or Santa. The kids did love running and up and down the Sunday School wing though!

- Saturday night Mark and I had our first date since May! We had dinner out at The Bonefish Grill. Thank you to Mark's mom for babysitting and to Uncle John for the gift card (from last Christmas - we finally had the chance to use it).

- Sunday afternoon we gave Owen his first haircut. We had planned to take him to a professional but I kept getting teary eyed just thinking about it. In the end, I was glad that we did it at home and that I was able to take pictures and save his sweet baby curls for his baby book.

- Sunday evening we had dinner at home and enjoyed watching the Indiana Bicentennial Celebration on PBS.

- We ordered some Christmas gifts online and did in-store-pick-up at Walmart. This really didn't save any time but we did save $20 with the online prices and earned $1.05 back using Ebates.

- Tuesday we had SNOW! The kids were so excited and we went out a couple of different times to play. Snowy days are some of the days I love homeschooling the most! I remember sitting in school as a kid, watching the snow come down, and being completely unable to focus because all I wanted to do was run outside in the snow. I am so thankful that our kids can spend snowy days outside!

 Posing with our new, little wooden snowman.
Luke and Cassidy made these for everyone this year and I think ours so cute!
 This snow was little ice pellets - Owen wasn't too sure what to think.
This girl loves anything outdoors! I think she would live outdoors if she could!
This was our first trip out that day, it had just started, by the end of the day we ended up with
two to three inches to play in.

- In anticipation of some very cold days, Thursday's high was only 14 degrees, we checked out books and movies from our church library and the public library. 

- We stayed home most of the week. It was SO cold and getting in and out of the car requires so much work when they cannot have coats in the car seat, need coats to walk inside, get hot with the coats inside so they take them off, then need to put them back on to walk to the car, and then back off for the car seat. Yes, staying home sounds just fine! 

We are looking forward to a special Christmas celebration today and some more holiday themed fun this weekend. I am so grateful for our little life and to celebrate each day with my family.

Happy Savings to All! 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

6 Ways to Help a Homeschool Family

Here is the second, of three, homeschool specific posts on the blog this month.

This week I want to introduce six ways to help a homeschool family in your life.

1. Pray.
Please pray for the homeschool family in your life. Pray that they would continue to seek God's wisdom in the training of their children. Pray that the parents are able to meet all of the needs of their children. If your own heart is hardened to homeschooling, please consider praying that God would soften it.

2. Ask Questions, Seek to Understand
Maybe you went to brick-and-mortar schools and also sent your children to them. Maybe you have never known a homeschooler and do not understand part, or all, of homeschooling. Ask questions!

3. Give Educational Gifts
Homeschool families are 100% financially responsible for their children's education. We do not have grants or vouchers* to help cover the cost of schoolbooks, building our own libraries, or for school supplies. We LOVE when our family gifts our children art supplies, books, and puzzles. We have been really blessed as our families have helped supply our schoolroom through creative giving to the kids on their birthdays and Christmas.

4. Give Experiences
A lot of learning, for all children, happens outside of the classroom thus the giving of experiences are great gifts! Mark's parents enjoy taking our children to the zoo and to musicals. My parents love going to museums and parks with our children. We love taking field trips with the kids' cousins. We are so thankful for each of these gifts!

5. Offer to Watch the Children
This would be a huge blessing for any parent but especially for a full-time-stay-at-home-homeschooling parent. While my friends' children attend school for hours each day, my children are home full time with me. I spend at least 84 waking hours with my children each week. That is a lot of hours - the hours of two full time jobs! That means some time off would be a great gift!

6. Share your gifts and talents by teaching
Just as any classroom teacher, or any school for that matter, cannot meet all the needs of their students homeschool families are the same way. For example, Annabeth has been asking to learn to crochet, a skill that I do not know how to do. We will be asking her Nana to help her learn when she is a bit older. In that same way, I enjoy watching Mark teach the children to build things, to use tools, and nature skills. We enjoy watching the grandparents share their stories and knowledge with our children as well. We welcome all teachers in our home!

Annabeth loves to bake and cook! 
She has enjoyed baking with me at home and has also enjoyed baking and cooking with her grandparents. 

We are so thankful for our families who have been so supportive of our homeschooling journey.

*Our state government, as well as it seems the national government, is discussing giving homeschoolers vouchers. The vast majority of homeschoolers, including our family, do not want government funds. Government funds will mean government oversight. One of the many reasons we love to homeschool is that we, in Indiana at least, have the freedom to choose how, what, and when to teach our children all subjects. Our family is so thankful for this freedom. We also understand, that not wanting vouchers, means we will continue to fund our homeschool 100% on our own and we are prepared to do so in order to protect our Homeschool Freedom. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Frugal Friday 172

Happy Frugal Friday!

Here is how we saved money/spent money wisely/made extra money this week:

- Mark worked a ton of overtime and one shift at his part time job.

- On Saturday, Annabeth and I enjoyed Gregory Hancock Dance Company's production of The Nutcracker. We were able to get tickets at a special, discounted price for homeschool families. We enjoyed the show with some friends from our homeschool group and saved $30 off regular admission.

- Sunday afternoon, Luke and Cassidy hosted the family for lunch. We had make-your-own tortilla pizzas which they grilled on the grill. We had not made them that way before and we enjoyed them!

- Annabeth and I made roll-out sugar cookies over the weekend. We took some to our neighbor as a thank you for babysitting Owen while we went to The Nutcracker and we took the rest to Luke and Cassidy's. Annabeth made the cookies (almost) all by herself. I double checked measurements and helped roll out the dough. I also put the pans in and out of the oven - I am not quite sure I am ready for her to do that alone! We used up ingredients we had on hand and did not purchase anything to make them.

- At the end of Thanksgiving Weekend, we tried Kroger's ClickList for the first time. This was quite handy as we came back in town from a weekend away. We liked that we could make the list online and edit it. We also liked that it tracked exactly how much we had spent which made it easy to budget. I did our usual grocery shopping trip this week and spent $30 less by shopping in store and this trip included paper goods and diapers! I was able to compare prices across brands better and found some great special markdowns which I would not have gotten shopping online.

- Monday evening we went to the Trafalgar Library and enjoyed the Silly Safari Reindeer Reserve. Annabeth especially enjoyed seeing a live owl and both kids petted the reindeer. I love finding FREE holiday events like this one!

- Tuesday morning the kids made a reindeer craft, using items that we had on hand, as we talked about all of the animals that we had seen at the Reindeer Show.

- The past two weeks have been very stressful as Mark has been working non-stop, like 100+ hours nonstop. I treated myself to Starbucks, thanks to a gift card, on Wednesday. Sometimes, I think it is important to do things for me too.

- I gave myself a haircut this week. I was going to just trim up the ends but ended up chopping off 4-5 inches. Mark said, "Wow! I can't believe you did that yourself." Saved: $50+

The kids and I had a good but busy week at home. Mark had an insanely busy week at work and we ask for your prayers that a big case will soon be solved. Amen.

Happy Savings to All!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Please Do(n't) Ask our Homeschooler...

We are four years into our homeschool journey and loving (most days) of it! :)

Mark was grew up attending private school and I attended Montessori/private/public schools. Mark's brother grew up in private schools and my sister went to public/charter schools. We didn't grow up with any homeschooled friends and very few of our friends are homeschooling their own children. 

I have noticed, maybe because of the above, that people tend to not ask Annabeth about school. As I kid I felt like every family gathering began with my grandparents and aunts asking me "How is school going?" 

So, in case you are wondering how, when, or what to ask our homeschooler here are some suggestions:

Please DO Ask:

- How is school going?
- What are you working on?
- What is your favorite subject?
- Have you done any fun projects lately?
- Do you have any art projects you would like to show me?
- Have you read any good books lately?
- Would you like to read together?
- Did you have a nice fall break? 
- Are you looking forward to Christmas break?

These last two really hit home over the weekend, we had lunch with Mark's family. Four members of his immediate family work in schools and they were all discussing their holiday break schedule. No one asked us ours. They may not have realized that we do keep a set schedule but Annabeth noticed. She said on the drive home, "Mama no one asked me when my Christmas day will be. Kati telled me hers" Her schedule, her breaks, are just as important to her as any other child. Our non-school days are VERY different than our school days and she certainly looks forward to the breaks!

Please DO NOT Ask:

- Do you wish you were in school?
- Don't you want to go school?
- A giant math question or to read a book on the spot. Just like all children, she may or may not want to "perform" in the moment. If you do ask a question like this, please be ready to help her find the answer or help read the book if she needs that. Failing to help her will make her feel like she has failed. 

Annabeth has never been to a brick-and-mortar school for class and thus has never asked to go to school that way. Her school is our schoolroom and to her school is how we do it. 

From the parent/teacher perspective, I wish people would ask me questions too. Like all teachers, I am always accessing how I am teaching and how Annabeth is learning. I read educational journals, homeschool magazines, and love to look at curriculum and science catalogs. I am always on Pinterest or other idea pages looking for new and exciting ideas to use in our classroom. I glean lots of great ideas through discussions with other homeschool parents but also from classroom teachers. I often ask my friend Rose and brother-in-law Luke, who both teach at brick-and-mortar schools for ideas or help when I need it. 

I am excited to be a teacher and I love being able to teach my children at home! A friend asked me this fall "but what else do you do?" Well, I full time teach and I full time run my home - that is about all I have time for! Homeschooling is my job so please feel free to ask me how work is going! :) 

Overall, my goal is that our family and friends would be as excited about what we do for school as they would be if Annabeth attended a school where they would visit for Grandparent's Day or Donuts with Dad or the Spring Music Concert. While our decision to homeschool is a personal one, I love to share our lives with you! We want everyone we love to be part of our journey as well! 

The Country School by Winslow Homer
This painting hung in my Grandma and Grandpa Chico's living room
and I was thankful to have it after they entered the Life Eternal. It now hangs in our schoolroom.  
Mark and I are so thankful for our parents and grandparents and their role in our education!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Customizable Wreaths: Reviews and Reccomendations

A few weeks ago, I was checking my "to buy for Christmas" list and as always one of the last people I had to shop for was my Momaw. She has everything and I find her so difficult to buy for. Then, my friend Hillary shared a beautiful wreath on her Facebook page. I clicked on the wreath makers page Customizable Wreaths and found the perfect wreath for Momaw's new beach themed porch!

I contacted the wreath maker, tweaked the above design, and in less than 2 weeks I had a perfect wreath in my hands! Monica worked so quickly and contacted me several times during the process to let me know that my order was started and when it would be completed. She also was very accommodating as for as time and place of location to meet so I could pick up the wreath. I was so pleased that she was early to meet me. I was so excited to meet her - she is so sweet!

I am love with so many of her designs and look forward to ordering from Monica again! Please visit her Facebook page to place your order and to support her small business!

Monica has a great selection of team spirit wreaths!
I loved this Notre Dame one since 
we are HUGE Notre Dame fans (thanks to Great Uncle John @ ND)

Look how beautiful this wreath is for the Christmas Season! 

And of course, I have to share, her Thin Blue Line Wreaths! 
Our LEO Family loves these too! 

**Disclaimer: I purchased my wreath with my own money. I was not asked to write nor was I compensated for this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own**

Friday, December 2, 2016

Frugal Friday 171

Happy Frugal Friday!

Here is how we saved money/spent money wisely/made extra money this week:

- I did a tiny bit of Black Friday shopping online. I was able to get Annabeth's new black jazz shoes 20% off  + FREE shipping and I did our usual Black Friday deal of 100 photo cards from Sam's Club for $15.

- I completed a Shutterfly photo book that we will give as a Christmas gift. I combined a free book (thank you Pampers Rewards!) and 50% off photo books offer to save more than $50 on this book! Woohoo!

- While in Evansville for Thanksgiving Weekend, we received a bag of hand-me-downs for Annabeth from her friend India. My sister also passed along some items to me. Thank you all!

- I found out Monday that we have a family baby shower this month. I purchased our gift from Babies R Us on Cyber Monday. The gift was 50% off + FREE shipping + 6% cashback through Ebates!

- Tuesday evening we enjoyed an open house for our friend Kirby Cochran hosted by Emmanuel Church in Greenwood and Indiana Donor Network. Kirby is an organ donor recipient and will be in the Rose Parade this New Year's Day. We look forward to watching the parade to celebrate Kirby and his donor Tracey. The kids loved dancing to the music and the cookies.

- After the open house, we drove around looking at Christmas lights. I don't think that Annabeth remembered doing that in past years and Owen was saying "Oooo!!"

- Mark came home for lunch or took his lunch four days this week. The kids and I had all of our meals at home this week. We are working hard to put money back in savings after, unexpectedly, having to buy the new washer last week.

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day and were able to celebrate with both sides of my family. We were blessed enough to spend the whole weekend with my family and I am so thankful for all of the precious moments that we have to share.

We celebrated Thanksgiving Dinner at my Aunt Jackie and Uncle Jeff's house.
The kids enjoyed playing on a toy tractor from my Great Grandpa Louie's house! 

Happy Savings to All!