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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Citrus Lane Review & Discount- September 2014

When our Citrus Lane box came last month, I completely goofed and forgot to photograph everything as I opened it. Of course, the kids had taken it all and played with it by the time I thought of it....so no August review for you. Sorry guys. 


This time, I was a good blogger and had the camera ready as soon as we broke the seal on the box. So without further ado, I give you September's Citrus Lane box review. This month, I ordered a box for a  16 month old boy (my Ezra). 

Boon Fleet Stacking Bath Toys- Price on Amazon 9.99

These are my favorite things in this month's box so I listed them first. I would have probably never bought a Boon product if it weren't for Citrus Lane but once I tried them for the first time, I was hooked. Boon makes lots of cool stuff, but are most known for bath toys. They are super high quality plastic. The only rubber duckies we have any more are Boon because they are the only ones that don't get moldy and gross. I was excited to see this product because I was just recently thinking we could use some new bath toys. These are nice heavy plastic, have holes in top to let water run through and of course, float. I really like this product. 




Happy Baby Pouch- Spinach, Mango & Pear flavor- Retail around. 2.50- Ez had just got up from his nap when our box came and he swiped the Happy Baby Pouch as soon as the box was open. I buy these anyway so they aren't super exciting to see. I mean, its nice to have one but it's a pretty cheap item so receiving one in my box doesn't save money or introduce something new.  I do like the coupons that come with it though, and Ezra is always happy to see it in there. 

I promise, he's happy. He doesn't wake up well. 




Samply sized bottle of Meyer's Clean Day Dish Soap- Retail $1 plus $1 off coupon
I was glad to get this. I usually use 7th Generation Dish Soap and it's average. I have bought Meyers cleaning products before and always liked them so I will give this a try and probably buy a full sized bottle with the coupon. 


Tea Collection Bodysuit- Retail $26.00-
They actually sent me an email this month giving me the option to customize my box and asking what size clothing article we would like (since that's pretty varying by child, I appreciate that feature). I actually went ahead and put in 6-12 months which is way too small for Ezra but I thought I'd save it for the new baby. I did this on the off chance it might be a bodysuit because I don't really care for bodysuits on older babies. I'm glad I did because that's exactly what it was. 

Now, I'll be honest. I am a cheapskate. I like a bargain and I very rarely buy expensive clothes for my kids. I would probably never pay 26 dollars for one shirt like this BUT I will say, this is a very, very high quality article of clothing. It's super thick, very soft cotton. I'm glad to have it. 

There was also a coupon for $25 dollars off a $50 purchase at www.teacollection.com.
And because I really am a cheapskate, I'll never use that coupon because I won't even spent 25 dollars. If this is something you can use, shoot me a message using that contact form in the sidebar. I'd be happy to share this with the first person that contacts me (and I'll remove this when the code is gone). 



Citrus Lane has this really cool feature called "Add to Box". Basically, each month they have select items that you can add to your box and you don't pay any additional tax or shipping. Also, they are really awesome about sending out coupon codes for 5 or 10 dollars off your purchase when you are on their mailing list. 
I kind of use this to my advantage and stack these two things. Any time I get a coupon code, I go apply it to an Add to Box Item. So this month, when I got a coupon code for 10 dollars off any purchase, I applied it to these Boon Trap Bath Appliques (8 dollars on Amazon) and I paid .56 for them. Yes. That's cents. And of course, no shipping or tax because it was an Add to Box item. 

Then...a week or so later, they sent out another coupon code for 5 dollars off any purchase.  I wasn't sure if I'd be able to add more than one item a month but decided to give it a try. I was able to add this very nice Bumkins bib and only pay 1 dollar for it. 



Last month I got a great little Skip Hop backpack for only 10 dollars with this coupon code/add to box trick. I realize this tip doesn't really help those of you deciding whether you should subscribe because it isn't a definite thing...however, I do think it's nice to know there is a potential for good deals! 

If you want to sign up for Citrus Lane and would like 50% off your first box, please consider using my referral link here! It helps both of us! You get half off your first box and I get a referral credit which helps me keep doing these reviews! If you'd just like to try the discounted box, you are able to choose the monthly subscription option and cancel at anytime. However, they have a GREAT referral program, so if you sign up and share your own referral link on social media, you have the potential to get your future boxes discounted or even free! I love this program!



Monday, September 15, 2014

The Accidental Homeschooler

I've received a few emails lately asking where I've been. First, I'd like that to say, thanks for asking. It tickles me still that anyone would want to come read these ramblings of mine.

Second, I'd like to tell you a story.



In April, after the Tornado, I started to feel an overwhelming desire to homeschool my boys. I kind of chalked it up as a natural response to the loss of their best friends. I felt a similar desire to keep them near after the Sandy Hook tragedy. This was different though. It wouldn't go away.

I talked to their dad. I talked to Jeremiah. I talked to my friends that homeschool. And I talked myself right out of it.

I wasn't ready. They needed school. I couldn't do it. I'm too busy. Too unorganized. Too impatient.

But the feeling.....it just didn't go away.

Sometime in July, I messaged my friend Debbie. I asked her to pray about me homeschooling my kids. She did, and she responded to me, "I feel like God is saying He is going to make a way..."
I chalked this up to "at some point in the future" and went on with our public school plans.
We bought the supply list. Gammy came and got the boys new tennis shoes and backpacks and lunch boxes. We were prepared. Excited even.

Two days before school started, I was running errands and getting ready for class orientation that night when I received a phone call. It was the transportation department head for Vilonia Public School district returning my call from almost a week before.  I had agreed to let the kids ride the school bus home in the afternoons. They'd never ridden the bus before and were really excited about it. But when the lady called me back to answer my questions about the bus route and heard my address, she paused.

"That's not in our district," she said.



Of course, I assumed, there was a mistake. They registered us. I'd called before we even moved. I was told Vilonia Elementary so as soon as summer registration opened, I took their information and our proof of address up to the school. They were in classes. We bought the supply list! We bought Ninja Turtle lunch boxes! What did she mean....not in the district?

We weren't in the district. The assistant super intendant called me from her personal line and apologized. They'd made a mistake. And I'd missed the deadline to file for an exception. Even though we live only 6 miles from Vilonia Elementary, we are in a rare pocket of country addresses zoned for Mayflower schools. A 30 minute drive one way on country roads.

I felt sick. How could I drive my kids that far and back twice a day every day? I'd be in the car two hours a day. And the bus picked up at our house at 6:40 in the morning! I barely slept. I kept praying, asking God what to do.
And I kept hearing the same thing.

Homeschool.



I argued. Yes, with God.
It's kind of something I've been known to do now and again.

I told Him all the reasons why I couldn't. But I kept hearing the same thing.

Homeschool.

I got mad. Frustrated. Why had I called about the darn bus? Why didn't I just pick them up like I always had? Then no one would have known! Why did that lady have to call me back. Just a few more days and they would have started. But I kept coming back to it.

Homeschool.

By morning, I was frustrated and tired. I woke up, went to my computer and typed in "Homeschool in Arkansas". That day, Friday, was the deadline to turn in the Intent to Homeschool form for the 2014-2015 school year. Of course it was.

I called my friend and we prayed. And then I called the boys' dad and I asked him to trust me because I felt like this was what God wanted. He gave his blessing.



And without a plan, without even giving myself time to change my mind, I turned in the form.

It's been about a month since then and as is usually is when God is leading you to something, I've found that we were made for this life.  Homeschool is more fun, more rewarding, more totally worth it than I could have ever imagined.

My kids are so....smart!  I've always known that. They get good grades. They test well. Their teachers have always loved them. But I was prepared for just how smart they are. They are so curious, just soaking in everything I put in front of them. They want to dig deeper. They catch on so fast. They already know so much.

Just in the last month, I've watched their imaginations take off in a way they never have. They are reading for fun. For fun! My kids! They are inquisitive. It feels like the possibilities are endless on what we can learn together.

I am so thankful. I am thankful at the support I have and the opportunities. And I'm thankful that when I tell God no, sometimes He just says yes and that is that.

Because if He listened to me, I wouldn't be a homeschooler. And although I joke that I came across this option on accident, it wasn't. Nothing really is. I was made for this, and He knows that. Because He made me.








Monday, August 11, 2014

Declaration.


Asher accepted Christ about a week before a tornado changed our lives back in April. It was perfect timing, because when I had to tell him that we'd lost his best friend, I could assure him they'd be together again in heaven.

He started asking to be baptized soon after, but we wanted to make sure he REALLY understood. He was so devastated when he missed the last baptism, and I felt so sad to discourage him at all. But I had to know it was HIS decision, HIS declaration. I wasn't even sure today that we were going to let him. I wasn't sure if he was ready. But when I stepped in the water tonight thinking I'd just be photographing other peoples children declaring their love for Jesus, our children's pastor approached me and recounted the conversation they'd had this afternoon. He got it.

So last night, in the hands of his dad, his stepdad, and our beloved friend (his pastor), my precious Asher told the world that he has decided to follow Jesus. 

Thank you, God, for letting me keep him for eternity.









And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
Matthew 18: 2-4

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Again.


I’ve always been a big fan of Julia Child. After watching the movie Julie & Julia back in 2008, I felt so intrigued by her that I spent hours researching her life. She became, in my mind, this paragon of womanhood: an adventurer, an adoring wife, the kind of lady that followed her dreams even when they weren’t popular

  I think of her often in my kitchen. Her cookbooks, full of tasks way over my head, sit untouched on my shelves, a romantic reminder of her wisdom. “Never apologize,” she would say on her cooking show when she made a mistake. And I remind myself of this when over-salt supper.  

One of Julia’s bits of wisdom has embedded deeper in me than the rest, though. I’ve carried it far from the kitchen and into everything that I do. In an episode of The French Chef, as she prepared to flip a pan of potato pancakes, she said in passing “You must muster up the courage of your conviction.” It seems almost silly when applied to flipping mash. But chew on it for a moment.  

You must muster up the courage of your conviction.  

Have you been there? Have you ever believed in something so fully that it forced you into a crossroads?  The choice between what is right and what is easy is usually much murkier than you would expect. Especially when the other way holds promises of ease and comfort and your conviction requires a divergence from what you once may have even planned.  

I’ve been there. It came in our marriage in the form of a vasectomy that we just couldn’t go through with. The conviction came in the form of God saying He didn’t want us to close the door on another child. Our sixth child.   
When you have a lot of kids, people feel at liberty to share their lofty opinions on your family.  Basic etiquette and the pre-school rule, “If you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all, go out the window. Even for well-mannered me, it gets a little old.  When seventy-year-old men stop me in the grocery store and ask, “Don’t you know what causes that?” I’m incredibly tempted to just say, “Well, I’ve narrowed it down to a couple of things,” and then leave them to ponder it. 

 But I don’t. Because I’m a good Christian woman, I forgive them for their accidental rudeness and simply respond, “My children are my greatest blessing.” 
If I’m feeling extra Southern, I might even throw in, “Bless your heart.” 

Even when I am sure in the belief of a big family, it’s hard to diverge. When I hear a dozen comments every time I leave the house that I have SO many kids, TOO many kids, I can’t help but feel the crush of cultural expectations. People begin to translate large family size as irresponsibility. People start using terms like “more kids than she can handle” and “socially selfish”. They make comments about finances and sex lives and all sorts of things that don’t concern them.  

When I took the pregnancy test a few weeks ago that told me a tiny life was forming deep inside of me, I cried. I fell heavy into my husband’s arms and devoured his reassurances that this was exactly what God wanted for us. I believed him in my heart, but my brain needed to catch up. I asked him not to share the news until I could do what I needed to do. I had to muster up the courage of my convictions.  

I’m still afraid. I harbor the same fear all moms have. Will I be enough for them? Even on the best day I am outweighed by the pile of laundry next to the washing machine. There are miserable moments when I just want to lie down with the two teething toddlers and cry with them. The cycle of “cook and clean” in this house would overwhelm anyone. And sometimes I get frustrated that there isn’t more time for me to be just a woman. Because, underneath all of these children, that’s all I am 

But I’m a woman standing on a solid foundation. I am a woman with the voice of God in her ear saying, “This is what I made you for.”

 I am a woman emboldened by the courage of her convictions.   I look at each of my four sons and my step-daughter and I feel that courage grow. When I serve them dinner, hold a cool rag to a fevered head, pray them back to sleep after a nightmare, I hear God tell me that I am worthy of the task. When they play, and laugh and interact with each other, when they are passionate about something, excited to learn, I see the opportunities God has given me to influence the future. And when I mess up and fail them, I am reminded of an amazing grace, and I thank Him even more then for allowing me to be their mother.  

 Psalms 127:4-5 says “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, sare the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them…”  

I cannot tell you exactly why I feel so strongly about having a large family. I just do. And even though I sometimes question myself, and surely other people question me, I know this to be absolutely true:  I will never regret my kids. Individually, each of my children is worth the weight of motherhood. Each of them has changed me and I feel confident that with their hearts and the foundation they are being given, they will change the world.  Together, they are my prize at the end of the day. They each make up the threads of this incredibly vibrant and beautiful tapestry that is our family. 
So it is with the utmost courage and pride, I announce to you that our family is growing again. This child will be exactly who he or she is meant to be, and I am so blessed that it is meant to be mine.   

We welcome you with open arms, wee one. I cannot wait to know you.   
  



 
  
  

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Citrus Lane Review


Guys, I love mail. It is a great sadness to me that people don't often write real letters anymore. Sure, we can order all kinds of things online but there's no surprise to it. Sure, it's nice for something anticipated to arrive. But there's something really awesome about a surprise in the mailbox. 


I recently restarted our Citrus Lane subscription. 

I LOVE Citrus Lane.             

We kept a subscription for a while then cancelled it when we moved.            

 You can pay monthly or save by buying several months at a time. This would be a great gift for an expecting mom or for a child's birthday because they get to go on opening it every month with lots of surprises coming in the mail! Each month, a box arrives in your mailbox full of naturally themed goodies. Usually, the value of the box is around 45-50 dollars. The boxes include high quality products tailored the the age and gender of your child. 

This box was for Ezra, my 14 month old son. 

It included:

A plum stage 4 food pouch. (Retail: around 1.75)

I usually buy these anyway, so when Ez saw this, he lunged and asked me to open it right away. Obviously, he approved. 


Plan Toys wooden camera: (Retail: 15.00)

Being a photographer, I was tickled by this toy. I adore play cameras and my kids are so used to me taking photos, they they always love play cameras too. The quality of this toy is superb. 


Ezra knew just what to do with it. He held it up and said "chee". 



Counting in the Garden Board Book (13.46 on Amazon)

Very cute board book. Just the right size for little hands, nice matte pages, and lovely illustrations.


Also included (I didn't get a photo before the packaging was ripped off) was a Oogaa Silicone Bowl (Retail 8.99). When I first opened it I thought "Meh, it's just a bowl". This is the reason I really like Citrus Lane though. This has become my favorite thing in the whole box. Being silicone, you can put it in the microwave, toaster oven, oven, freezer, and in front of your baby. It won't break. It won't leach chemicals into baby's food. Ezra is just learning to use spoons and we've been on an oatmeal (or "Oat Lunch" and he calls it) kick since this bowl came in. I can prepare the oatmeal in it, then stick it in the freezer to cool it off, then give it to him to eat. It doesn't slide around on his tray and if he throws it on the floor, I know it won't break. I totally love this little product that I NEVER would have bought on my own. 



There was also a little sample tube of Purlisse sunblock and coupon codes for all of the items included in the box. 



The total retail value for this box was 40 dollars. I actually used a coupon code they had going for the 4th of July and only paid SEVEN dollars for it. 

If you're interested in signing up, if you click here and use my referral link, you will receive 50% off your first box and I'll receive a credit to my account and be able to continue doing these reviews for you! You can cancel at anytime, and you can also refer friends and receive credits off your future purchases through Citrus Lane. 

Tell me, do you have a CL subscription? What is your favorite product you've received to date? 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The first day: A dreadlock story.

Years ago, when I was growing my second son, I stopped brushing my hair.

It wasn't really an intentional thing. I was exhausted. I had barely transitioned into motherhood when I found out I was pregnant again. I spent my awake hours chasing a toddling one year old. I threw up every morning and every afternoon and occasionally in the night. My make-up collected dust and my hair went from the shower into a style reminiscent of a ratty ball on the back of my head.

It was a rough few months.

One afternoon, I was sitting in the play area of the mall in Knoxville, TN, a place I always felt distinctly young and plain and inadequate next to all of the other moms. And then she walked in. A mother with a baby in a wrap and dreadlocks down to her waist.

I was in shock. Up until that point, I had never met another mom in real life (meaning not on the internet) that was into wraps and cloth diapers. And this mom radiated confidence. She was like me, I thought, but she didn't brush her hair and it was cool.



When I was in high school, I loved dreadlocks. I talked about getting them but then I graduated, became a mother, started pursuing photography. It became, in my mind, a missed oppourtunity. Then I met the mom in the mall.
I have never been fancy. I always lean to the natural. And I really hate fooling with hair. It dawned on me that dreadlocks would actually be really awesome for me.  I started to research. All of the misconceptions I'd had were resolved. I stumbled upon Sara Janssen's blog, and began following her dreadlocks story. I was in love. This was the hair I was made for.
But then I started to talk about it. To friends and family. "Oh no," they said, "You don't want to do that to your hair."
I was worried about what people would think. Worried that their opinions might limit me.

So I didn't do it.


It's been nearly 8 years since my chat with the dreadie momma in the mall. I've forgotten her name but every time I meet a woman with dreads, I am alight with interest and I remember her. I've followed bloggers, and YouTubers and anyone with a public dread journey with a longing in my heart.


A hairstyle is only an unimportant detail of a person's life. This hair, dreadlocks, is just something I like. But it does not define me. Nothing that you see on the outside defines me.  My hair holds the same power to tell you who I am as my old van, or my favorite, worn-down shoes, or my goodwill jeans. I buy the things I like and clothe this temporary body with them. And you should do the same. None of it really matters in the end. My value lies in Christ, who has such affection for me and my unkempt hair that he pulled on skin, became a man and pursued me all the way to the grave.


It's because of Him that I don't really want to strive for this world's version of beautiful. See, when my eyes are on Him, I feel the boldness to be exactly who He made me to be. I have a purpose. I am custom made. When I go to the play area now, I no longer notice my differences as inadequacies. I am ok with being the only woman without a manicure. I don't see what I'm lacking. Because I am sure that God made me to be the sort of woman who grows things. Things like vegetables and flowers and beautiful children, but not nice fingernails.


I want to be the woman described in 1 Peter 3: a woman made beautiful by the unfading beauty of a gentle spirit, not by the work she puts into her external appearance. I want someone to know me and think I'm lovely. Not because what they see but because when they know me, they will see my God.
I like dreadlocks because they say to the world that I don't care to fit in it's box. Because my Jesus didn't. Because sometimes following Him makes people shake their head. Sometimes it makes them judge you. Sometimes they may even hate you even though they've never taken the time you see your lovely heart.



Today my friend Ari came and started the process of putting my hair into this crazy, wonderful, natural hairstyle. It's my kind of beautiful. I'm happy to be able to share this journey with you. Today is the first day of my dreadlocks, but it isn't the beginning of their story. Their story started years ago really.






(I'd just like to add my Ari is amazing at this. I am very tough headed but it really didn't hurt at all. She is very, very reasonable in her pricing and is totally passionate about helping chicks like me fulfill the dread dream. If you'd like her info to take the plunge yourself or to maintain dreads you already have, shoot me a message using the contact form in the sidebar and I'll get you in contact with her.)

Friday, July 11, 2014

The World's Best Fried Potatoes

It's a good thing I love to cook because this house has a lot of mouths to feed. I believe in real food whenever possible. Although it is definitely hard to take the plunge and leave convenience foods in the dust, I know it can be done. Because my table seats eight and it is almost always full, and the plates on it hold from-scratch meals 90% of the time. 

I am not superwoman. I am actually just a frazzled, mildly overstretched mother like many of you. And if I can feed my family real food, you can too. Really. 


One of the tricks to putting a real meal on the table is keeping versatile staples that don't spoil quickly. You can always, always, always find red potatoes in my house. Red Potatoes are surprisingly healthy, relatively cheap, and can be used with just about any meal. They can be grilled, mashed (I always leave the skin on), or roasted.

The most common way for me to cook them, though, is to fry them. Now don't assume I've just ruined the health benefits. Hear me out. 




Fried red potatoes (or "spicy little potatoes" as my Asher calls them) are kind of my plan B. If I forgot to defrost something, or forgot to start the crock-pot, or forgot to stop at the grocery store on the way home (I told you, I'm frazzled), I can throw a meal together in less than 30 minutes with red potatoes and whatever is in the fridge or freezer. Usually, some baked fish and saut√©ed veggies will accompany these for dinner. Or maybe they will be topped with easy over eggs and served alongside fresh fruit. Or they might be rolled into whole-wheat tortillas with scrambled eggs and cheese, or else baked into a frittata. Really….you can scrounge up a meal without convenience foods. And if it has potatoes in it, even a family with four small boys, a couple of visiting teenagers and a hungry husband won't complain. Ask me how I know.


I've had several friends attempt fried potatoes in their own home, and quite a few of them have told me that theirs didn't turn out the same. Here's why:


I'm a firm believer that these things are a must if you really want the world's best fried potatoes. Otherwise, they may just be average. First, you need a cast iron pan. You can read my feelings on cast iron here. When you are using well seasoned cast iron, hardly any oil is necessary. See, I told you this wasn't an unhealthy recipe. Next, the oil I DO use is very important. I cook primarily with coconut oil. You can get a 54 oz jar on Amazon for around 20 dollars here: Nutiva Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, 54-Ounce Jar. If you have a membership to somewhere like Sam's or Costco, you can check with them. I buy my jars there for about 16 dollars each. I know this may seem steep for oil if you aren't used to buying it, but it lasts a good while and it is totally worth it. Check out this link for the health benefits of coconut oil. And lastly, I only use kosher salt and course ground (or fresh ground) pepper. I don't have a lot list of why you should use these. You just should. Because they taste exponentially better.
Also, on fried potatoes, I used granulated garlic. I'm a big fan of using fresh garlic, but for this purpose, the granulated is better because it won't burn or add extra moisture while you are trying to get crispy potatoes. Go with granulated on this one.


Another important part of making your fried potatoes a success is to get them cut into fairly small pieces. Big chunks just don't cook through as quickly, and they are better this way.

So here is the "official" recipe, the best I can do it. I usually don't measure things, but I did for the purpose of telling you how to do this. However, you may want to taste and add more seasoning if you life things spicy. We do. I usually put more seasoning than this but I toned it down for the sake of this recipe.



The World's Best Easy Fried Potatoes

5-6 medium red potatoes (diced)
2 T. Coconut oil
1/2 T. Kosher salt
1/2 T. Course Ground Pepper
1/2 T. Granulated Garlic

Heat cast iron pan over medium heat.
Melt the coconut oil in a well-seasoned cast iron pan (if you feel like you need more oil, add it a little at a time. If you put too much in, your potatoes won't get crispy).
Once the pan is hot, put the potatoes in.
Evenly sprinkle on the salt, pepper and garlic.
Stir every few minutes to keep them from sticking.
They will be cook through in about 20-25 minutes. You can keep cooking them to get them crispier, but just watch them and make sure they don't burn.

Turn off the heat and serve.