Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Move Forward in 2015

Dear friends,

Are you ready to move forward in 2015? It's been popular the past several years for bloggers to choose "one word" for the coming year.  In 2013 I chose REFRESH. I didn't do this again in 2014, but I already know what mine is for 2015: FORWARD!

My ten children and
four grandchildren on Christmas
Now that Christmas frenzy is over, I'm eager to start the new year off right. Yes, I'm definitely taking the time to have fun with my family before school starts again, but I'm also trying to be productive around the house. For now I'm mainly focusing on organizing (starting with my own bedroom and closet), paperwork, and personal goal setting.

I need to make some MAJOR progress in so many areas, but I realize that I have to take changes in small increments. I've felt stuck for so long in the ruts of my own attitudes and habits and now it's time to ditch the procrastination and MOVE FORWARD one step at a time!

Let's think a little bit more about goals!


I found this quote by Orrin Woodward recently: "A goal is planned conflict against the status quo." I'm ready for that!

I decided to set goals in several key areas of life. They are:

  • Family - nurturing and training my children
  • Health and Nutrition - diet, exercise, medical care
  • Homemaking - organization and household routines
  • Home Schooling - just one child this year!
  • Spiritual and Emotional Growth - reestablishing devotional life and getting more involved in fellowship
  • Personal and Professional Development - productivity skills, creativity, and preparing to re-enter the work force in a couple of years
For each of these areas, I wrote several goals, along with specific actions. One of my adult daughters recently posted on Facebook about goals needing to be S.M.A.R.T. That stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. When I worked on formulating my own 2015 goals in the past few days, I tried to think of that. I asked questions like, "Why do I want to do this? Is it necessary?" and "What steps do I need to take? Can I pull it off?" and "When is my deadline for each phase?" and "How often do I want to do this?" and "Why am I not already succeeding at this? What is my weak spot here?"

For example, on my Health and Nutrition page, one of my goals is consistent exercise. Here is what I wrote:
  • Exercise for muscle strength, cardio health, weight loss, joint relief.
    • Work out at the YMCA at least once a week during spring semester and twice a week during the summer. Do at least 2,500 strides on elliptical and assigned reps on at least four FitLinxx weight machines. Start swimming in April.
    • Walk or bike one mile at least once a week. (Fix bike tires and find helmet.)
    • Use exercise DVDs and resistance bands at least twice a month.
For each major goal area, I also included a list of books I already own that could help me succeed. To make this more practical, I gathered all of these books and placed them on one shelf right next to my desk.

In addition to getting insight from books and web sites, I'm also asking for help from others. My 22 year old daughter is going to help me tweak my goal list. I am talking to my other kids - especially the six who still live at home - about what they need from me and how they can cooperate with what I'm doing. I have been meeting with two different Christian counselors, one to help me with accomplishing my goals and the other to help with parenting issues. I am also planning to consult a nutritionist since I have a few medical conditions that are food sensitive.

I am using iPod apps to help me keep track of goals, schedules, and tasks. The three I use most are ToodleDo, Calendar, and Evernote.

I also think, "What can I do to increase the likelihood of following through with each goal?" One of my teenagers who has been asking for healthier home cooked meals has promised to help me plan and cook. That will be fun and keep me on track, and will also go toward my "teach my kids household skills" goals. I don't particularly like cleaning up after meals and usually put it off until just before I go to bed. I am going to try getting it down by 8 PM from now on, but I realized I'd enjoy it more and stick with the task longer if I could listen to music at the same time. That would also help me accomplish another goal of playing more Christian music to help me grow spiritually. That's why I bought an extra iPod speaker for the kitchen yesterday. I listened to Sara Groves' song "Strangely Ready" while putting away dishes after dinner. Seems like a good soundtrack for moving forward!

Another problem area is keeping track of receipts and expenses for the family bank account and my personal credit union account. I recently bought a pretty flip lid box for my desk (fits behind my laptop) to hold receipts so they won't overflow my wallet. I can download transactions from my credit union's web site into a spreadsheet. Tonight I had the computer sort this list by payee, and then I took my pile of receipts (six weeks' worth, including a lot of Christmas ones) and sorted them by payee into piles on my floor. That made it a lot easier to match them up than doing it by date. Then I just had to itemize the expenses into categories on my spreadsheet. However, what would make this a lot less arduous is becoming disciplined enough to take 20 minutes every week instead of letting it pile up and forgetting what I bought. (It's not always clear from the receipts.) I need to schedule a time for that, but I also have to get over the emotional block of not wanting to deal with finances. It's not so hard once I get going with it.

Then there is home schooling my nine year old. I've been dabbling lately with a workshop approach to math instead of relying solely on her (frustrating) workbook.  The goal is not to "finish the book" but to build and maintain sustainable fluency in the key skills. Doing the work hands-on and orally seems to work best for her. I'll be reading more on this next week, and gathering my supplemental materials. While I was organizing my bookshelves, I found a book with fun paper math manipulative pieces to punch out. Works for me!

That's enough about my goals!  Here are a few web sites to help you get going with yours!

I'm planning to attend a free "New Eyes for a New Year" webinar by Lisa Grace Byrne at noon on New Year's Day. It's about self-care for "More Calm, More Clarity, More Vitality in 2015." Join me?  (P.S. I had already signed up for this workshop since I get her e-mails, but then I found this guest post on Simple Homeschool, which I also receive by e-mail: How Small Shifts Can Lead to Big Impact.  Be sure to read it, especially if you can't watch the webinar! Here is how her article starts... "All around us there are messages about the New Year — new possibilities, new opportunities for change, ways to set your resolutions and meet them! Do you feel like you already missed the boat? For years if I didn’t wrap up all my new year’s dreams, goals and action plans in a pretty little bow right when the clock struck midnight New Year’s Eve … I might as well just can my ideas and settle back into life as-is. And when I did think about what kind of growth and change I wanted in the new year, I bought into the idea that either I had to go for massive change or give up shifting direction at all."  So true!  Lisa goes on to explain how it's the little things that often make a big difference - especially since they are doable for busy moms!

Oh! One last link that I found after I posted this article: Stay Focusd is a Google Chrome extension that can block out web sites for a specific period of time so you can focus on work. Give it a try!


This post is part of my Get It Done series. The other entries so far are:

Moving forward,

Virginia Knowles

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Why Do I Blog?

Dear friends,

Why do I blog?

I know that to some people, blogging seems like a waste of time. I can't imagine not blogging. 

I wrote down these ideas quite a while back and just now found them again. Here's why I blog.
  • Creative expression is therapeutic to me.
  • People say my words are encouraging and practical.
  • It helps friends and family get to know me better.
  • It preserves family memories.
  • I feel like I have an important God-given mission and message.
  • My blog posts are multi-purpose, since I incorporate them into my e-magazine and family letters.
  • It's a good place to put my photos into a life context.
  • I love nature photography and this is a good place to showcase my best pictures.
  • I can post excerpts of my books, which are no longer in print.
  • This is a way to start compiling my own memoir, Pilgrimage & Jubilee.
  • I can collect poetry, mine and others.
  • I can feature worthy causes and organizations.
  • I can record instructions and recipes I want to use later.
  • I can help equip other moms with homemaking and parenting skills I have acquired in the past 30 years.
  • I can participate in the on-going conversation in the blogging community.
  • I contribute to link parties.
  • I can make a comment on someone's blog with a link for more information.
  • My blogs are a quick way to link to answers to commonly asked questions.
  • Writing helps me to process life as I read my own perspective later.
  • The blogs can be read via readers like BlogLovin or by e-mail subscription.
  • A lot of people visit from Google searches!
  • I never know which post will make a big difference in someone's life.
  • My blogs are an accomplishment that brings me great joy and satisfaction.

What would you add to this list?

You might also like this post from a few years ago: On Mommy Blogging: Image, Identity, Authenticity and Freedom

Come visit all my blogs at:

God bless!

Virginia Knowles

Monday, December 1, 2014

From Autumn to Advent

Dear friends,

Thanksgiving is over, and Christmas is coming! We're transitioning from the Autumn season of pilgrims and pumpkins to our celebration of Advent with Jesus and the manger. 

There are a lot of helpful links in this post. Please click on them if you like pretty pictures and practical ideas! You can open them in a new tab and look at them when you're done with this post.

For starters, you can see our Thanksgiving pictures here: Happy Thanksgiving from My Home to Yours!

After Thanksgiving dinner, we laid towels on our air hockey table to use it as extra space to dry our china plates. I just haven't gotten around to putting them back yet, though I did at least stack them. I kind of like the way the light reflects off of the pile! It takes so much effort to put them in the high cabinet over the refrigrator that I might just leave them down in a more out of the way place a few weeks until we use them again at Christmas. 

On Black Friday, I started a little bit of Christmas shopping for my family. I didn't get up that early, and I only went to Target and Walmart. That was quite enough for me, especially since I took a few kids along! With ten children and four grandchildren, I've still got a long way to go on buying presents. Whenever I get something, I put it in a bin in my bedroom so I can find it easily later. When there is a lot more, I'll start sorting it into bags for each person.

On Saturday morning, I made our first scrapple of the year, using the blender to mix leftover turkey and stuffing with chicken broth and cornmeal. Then I cooked the mush to a stiff consistency, chilled it in loaf pans overnight, sliced it and fried it in my electric skillet. Yum! It's a favorite family heritage recipe for me!

On Saturday, we also started putting away the autumn decorations...

And getting out the Christmas decorations!

Daddy got out the Christmas decoration bins
from our storage unit for us.

"Something old...

Something new...

On a little stand outside the front door

Something borrowed... 

(Actually, I inherited this from my mom.)

Something blue..."

Our mailbox used to be an ugly black.
You can see its springtime transformation here:

Not-So-Extreme Makeover: The Front of Our House

Something broken 
and fixed again, too...
The base of our lighted Christmas star came off,
so I had to rig a way to attach it to the tree.
I used a paper clip, a green rubber pen grip,
and a rubber band colored green with a
permanent marker.
Yup, it worked!
The tree still isn't fully decorated.
Just the lights are on.
I honestly don't have the patience
for much else right now.

In the middle of all the cooking and decorating on Saturday, we took the time to stop and see some of our homeless friends near a bus stop about a mile from our house. Many of them live in the woods, and some have physical and psychiatric disabilities. We brought them oranges, blankets, tarps, a backpack, huge zip-top plastic storage bags for keeping their bedding dry on rainy days, and lots of warm clothes, including new underwear and socks. These dear people are so worth it to me. And what is Christmas, but for giving to those who really need it? You can read more about ministry to the homeless here: What Love Looks Like: Reaching Out to the Homeless.  For the record, there is a lot that is screwed up in my own life. My point is not to make myself look good, but to extend the same kind of mercy I have needed and received from God and others.

These fleece blankets were on sale
for $1.88 each at Old Time Pottery,
so my friend Charlotte asked me to pick up
ten of them for her to donate
to the homeless here in the Casselberry area.
These blankets aren't as thick
as the fuzzy ones at Deals for $5,
but they still make a good extra layer of warmth.
When I bought these on Sunday, there was another
lady with a cart full of them, too. She's giving them
to homeless people who live in downtown Orlando. :-)

Yesterday was the First Sunday of Advent at Lake Baldwin Church (a small Presbyterian congregation), so our liturgy was full of carols, Scripture readings, and prayers for the Christmas season. You can see more here: Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee (Strength in Hymn: Advent)

This morning, we got out our box of Christmas books and filled our basket in the living room. See: My Favorite Christmas Books.

I'm just home schooling my nine year old daughter this year, and we're taking the month of December for our Advent Adventure unit study. Books, crafts, cooking, music, Bible, Christmas around the world and throughout history... And yes, we'll keep up with our math, too.

A booklet I made for my family years ago.

My favorite posts on Christmas with kids!

This afternoon, we took a trip to Leu Gardens to enjoy the Leu House museum decorated for Christmas, as well as the rest of the extensive gardens... I'll try not to compare my house and garden to theirs!

Lots of botany for a science field trip, right? 

 You can see the rest of my photos here: Christmastime at Leu Gardens.

I've still got a whole lot of organizing to do in the house to transition from Autumn to Advent, including sorting out more of our warmer clothes. (We're in Florida, so this process is delayed a bit.) Then there are still the regular piles of laundry and paperwork and everything else! It may be the Christmas season, but we still have to live our daily lives.

At least we can do it listening to Christmas music!  Celine Dion has a good reminder for us: Don't Save It All for Christmas Day.

Don't get so busy that you miss
Giving just a little kiss to the ones you love
Don't even wait a little while
To give them a little smile
A little is enough

How many people are crying
People are dying...
How many people are asking for love

Don't save it all for Christmas Day
Find a way to give a little love everyday
Don't save it all for Christmas Day
Find your way
Cause holidays have come and gone
But love lives on
If you give on

How could you wait another minute
A hug is warmer when you're in it
And Baby that's a fact
And saying "I love you's" always better
Seasons, reasons, they don't matter
So don't hold back
How many people in this world
So needful in this world
How many people are praying for love

Don't save it all for Christmas Day
Find a way to give a little love everyday
Don't save it all for Christmas Day
Find your way
Cause holidays have come and gone
But love lives on
If you give on

Let all the children know
Everywhere that they go
Their whole life long
Let them know love

Don't save it all for Christmas Day
Find a way to give a little love everyday
Don't save it all for Christmas Day
Find your way
Cause holidays have come and gone
But love lives on
If you give on

What does your family like to do in December? Do you have special traditions?

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

Thursday, November 27, 2014

With Thanksgiving!

"Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him 
and praise his name."

Psalm 100:4

Whole psalm with nature photos:

Our family celebration in photos:
Happy Thanksgiving from My Home to Yours!

Grace and peace,

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My Cottage Dreams (Why Not Now?)

Dear friends,

I have cottage dreams. There. I've said in public what I've been thinking in private and sharing with a few friends for quite some time: I want to live in a cozy little cottage some day.

It started several months ago with a vintage Emilie Loring novel, Where Beauty Dwells, that I brought home from my mother's house after she passed away last year. The main character is a young woman named Diane who lives in a New England cottage she inherited from her parents. The family had been wealthy but lost their fortune, and this is all Diane and her handicapped sister Merry have left after their parents' death. She's not only guarding this precious legacy with her life, but she's making the most of it with creative beauty and order while caring for her sister. 

Ever since I read Where Beauty Dwells, the country cottage life has appealed to me. Now I love to browse through magazines like Cottage Style and books like Karla Dornacher's Love in Every Room: The Heartbeat of the Home.

I've got my reasons for this fascination.

My house now
First, maybe it's because I live in a suburban ranch style home with the younger six of my 10 children, most of whom tend to be a bit messy. I am an aesthetic at heart, a very visual mama, but I tend to tolerate too much clutter. I get overwhelmed trying to get them to clean up after themselves, so I give up. My mantra is, "I will not curate your clutter," but I still do keep either trying to ignore it or shuffling their stuff around. I've always been a bit messy myself. I know that seems like a contradiction to my love for beauty, but that's my life. It didn't help that I spent the better part of 20 years either pregnant, nursing a baby, or both - and my homemaking habits suffered for it. Well, my youngest is nine already, and I don't have that excuse anymore. 

Now I may still have several years before I'm an empty nester and I do love all of my children dearly, but I keep telling myself, "Hang on, sweetie. Someday you'll be able to set something down and expect it to still be there when you come back, and you'll be able to clean a room and have it stay that way." I have visions of a tidy little cottage with everything in order. If it's small, maybe that means it will be more manageable for me and that I'll be more selective in my collection of stuff. Even now, when I'm thinking of buying something for the house, if I don't absolutely need it right now for raising my kids, it has to pass this simple test: "Will this fit in at my dream cottage?" Maybe I'll be able to focus more and live in sweet simplicity. Practically speaking, less space would also mean less money on utilities, property taxes, etc. Yes, a pretty little cottage would do quite nicely, I believe.

Another reason that cottage life appeals to me is that it seems so quaint and wholesome. I'm a bit nostalgic, and I love my inherited antiques and other vintage pretties like quilts, china, books, and lace doilies. I associate those more with cottages than my own house for some reason. I love flowers and trees, butterflies, and birds, so my cottage will need a sweet little garden with a white picket fence and just the right mix of sunlight and shade. I can see myself as an old lady, merrily puttering around, tending this and that, cutting fresh blossoms for the table, and sitting down for a cup of hot chocolate with family or friends.

The third appeal of cottage life is just the cozy factor. A cottage is small and intimate. I like quiet. I don't mind being in an enclosed space all by myself so I can either rewind or concentrate. I love the pretty rose colored rocker recliner in my bedroom, which I bought at Salvation Army. It's right next to my bookcases and my desk. I'm glad I have a lock on the door for when I want solitude or I have work to do. Yes, I do love people, too. I love hospitality. I love to teach and do public speaking. I can easily work a crowd of strangers. So I'm not shy. I just need to be by myself to recharge every day. Maybe that's a function of being a mother of 10? I think of the serenity of a cottage lifestyle. I like that.
So that's my cottage dream, but I don't want to wait 10 or 15 years until my last child moves out. I must think of ways I can weave the threads of my dreams into my life right now. It doesn't require owning a real country cottage. I can take the three reasons above and live out their essence in my current suburban ranch style home.

Let's take a look at them.

Tidy: I decided a couple of weeks ago that I can't count on my kids to keep the house as clean as I want it, even if they consistently do the chores on my chart. My youngest daughter loves to tidy up the public areas without being asked, but other than that, I can't wait on them to take the initiative. Even if they did, there are certain things I like to organize my own way. If it's gonna happen, I've got to make it so. I divvied up the main public rooms in the house as well as the master bedroom, put them in alphabetical order (bathroom, computer room, dining room, kitchen, living room, master bedroom - which by coincidence are the easily remembered initial sequences of BCD-KLM.) So each day, I go to that room and start organizing or deep cleaning. I may not get everything done, but at least attempt one chunk of it, like sorting the DVD shelf or spot cleaning the floor. I also try to make sure the kitchen is in halfway decent order every night - wiping down the counters, making sure all the food is put away, etc. I'm hoping I can keep up this momentum and resolve, because living in a tidy home is good for all of us right now, not just me in the future.

Pretty: I already have a lot of lovely things around the house, and for variety, I decorate for the seasons of autumn, Christmas, and spring/summer

The key to beauty, though, is keeping the house tidy (see above) and the garden weeded so I can truly appreciate the pretty stuff without the visual detraction of mess. I don't have to hold onto things that I don't love to look at or that don't serve a practical purposes. Big plastic bins are great for storing stuff out of sight, but in the more decorative areas of the home, I prefer beautiful baskets. They definitely fit my ideal cottage style.

One of mom's gardens
Outside, I try to keep my flower garden in good shape, not only because it brings me joy when I walk out my door, but also in honor of my mother, who was quite the green thumb. I always like to have a decorative flag outside, too, and fortunately I inherited a lot of them from her.

Cozy and Quiet: Our moderately large house is a given right now. We don't live in a mansion, but when our tenth child was born, we converted our garage into permanent living space, including a large fifth bedroom. With six kids still here, it's not feasible to downsize our living space just yet. 

However, the master bedroom can be the privacy-loving prototype of my cozy dream cottage. There I can surround myself with the things I lovethat are just mine: quilts, a needlepoint pillow, books, paintings, vintage photos, my own nature photography, stained glass, silk flower arrangements, crafts my kids have made, my desk with the wooden hutch, and my beloved computer. I can be more vigilant keeping my own space just the way I want it - especially if I can convince the kids to stop leaving their stuff in my territory. My bedroom can be my cozy and quiet "cottage" retreat for now.

So there we have it. Cottage dreams meet present reality.

What are you dreaming for the future?
What can you do now to make it happen?

Love in Every Home by Karla Dornacher

P.S. #1: I've been meaning to write this post for a while, but I've just been enjoying my friend Amber's dreamy Facebook thread which started with a photo of a gorgeous ivy covered cottage. I pulled up a treasure trove of cottage photos on Google Images. Give it a try. But you may want to be sure you have some time on your hands to get lost in Cottage Land.  The photo at the top of this post is of a cottage at Hedgebrook, a retreat near Seattle for women who are writers. That's another dream, attending a writer's retreat in a place of beautiful solitude, but that'll have to wait until the kids are grown and gone, if I even have any travel money left by then!

P.S. #2: Related posts you might enjoy:

Beauty and Order at Home:

Room by room:

P.S. #3: Oh, it's well past midnight, and I've got to get my house ready for about 20 people coming for Thanksgiving in 36 hours! I guess I'm glad I don't have a cottage right now.

Love to you all!
Virginia Knowles

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Resilience (Big Words)


That's what my 17 year old son called me the other day, and I told him I had to be that way with 10 children.  Some of my kids are grown and gone, but I still have six at home, including three teens. Oy! I don't always pull off resilience, but I certainly try. I appreciated his kind words of affirmation.

I was thinking of that in the morning when I woke up to the news that one of our toilets was overflowing. "I. Am. Resilient."

What is resilience? One definition for this context is: 
"the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties."

Can you bounce back or roll with the punch?

Can you adapt to changing circumstances and still thrive?

Can you solve problems with confidence?

Can you be tender, yet tough?

Can you withstand opposition with grace?

Can you stick with a necessary task when you find it's more complicated or "impossible" than you expected?

Can you cope with stress in healthy, positive ways?

Can you remain hopeful and overcome a sense of despair?

Can you learn from your hard experiences so you'll function better the next time you face something else?

That's resilience!

Not there yet?

You can learn. You can practice. I assure you that life will grant you plenty of opportunities if you are alert enough to recognize them.

You can be proactive and educate yourself on brainstorming, problem solving, stress management, communication skills, practical life skills, assertiveness, and more.

I have a long way to go. I want to get better. That's one way that This Mom Grows Up.

Check out these very helpful and practical links:

A little musical soundtrack for this? I love this song: "Thrive" by Casting Crowns  - "It's time for us to more than just survive. We were made to thrive."

About the photos: 

The picture at the top of this post is of a 89 foot tall bald cypress tree called "Lady Liberty" which has been growing at Big Tree Park in Longwood, Florida for around 2,000 years. Impressed by the size and age? It's 3,500 year old companion tree, The Senator, pictured below in 2008, grew to a height of 160 feet tall before a hurricane in the 1920s reduced it to 126 feet. Sadly, arson destroyed the tree in 2012, and now only its charred shell remains. Still, that's quite some resilience to survive that long through storm and flood and all the other challenges it faced. Not only that, a few select artists were commissioned to salvage the wood and create a legacy. I've seen some of these masterpieces at art shows. Check out this FB page: A Matter of Woodwork. Beauty from the ashes!

This post is the 5th in my Big Words series. The others are:

See also: Treasures in Jars of Clay

Grace and peace,
and resilience, of course!

Virginia Knowles