Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Soaking it All In

Last week I had the privilege of spending a few days at a conference on faith, family, and homeschooling.  The Teach Them Diligently conference.  It was so refreshing to sit and listen to speakers encourage and challenge me in my personal walk with the Lord, in my parenting, and in my homeschooling.  We could all use some encouragement from time to time, right? 

There were so many good sessions that I wanted to attend, but of course I could only chose one per hour, and that was a challenge. 

I heard from a mom of 9, in a room with a broken air conditioner and she was about 8 months pregnant!  Amy spoke on scheduling your day, and how to fit the good stuff in.  Whew, that is so hard.  I have often heard myself exclaim that there just aren't enough hours in the day.  The reality is, the Lord has given me the time I need to accomplish what He wants me to accomplish.  The challenge is for me to order my days so that the most important things are completed.  I spend plenty of time working on schedules trying to make my home run more efficiently, but I still have a long way to go before perfecting them.  I won't give up...I will continue to pray for God's guidance and wisdom, so that I can order my days well, and accomplish what He has for me!

I heard from a mother-daughter team passionate about the next generation - specifically that they know about the constitution and the roots of America.  Jenine Turner and her daughter Juliette shared a book that Juliette wrote when she was only 14 that explains the Constitution of the United States article by article in a language that children can understand.  Juliette said that the next generation MUST know what their rights are so that they will know when the rights are being taken away.  I couldn't agree more!

I heard from a father of four who has done extensive research on the question of dating vs. courting.  Nathaniel and I are fully aware that our choices for our family on this topic may make others question and judge, but we are committed to following God's call for our family despite the criticism.  That includes raising our children to follow the principles of courtship.  Mr. Gunderson said so many things that are truth about courtship.  Courtship is not an arranged marriage, like so many misunderstand it to be.  Choosing a mate is a BIG deal, though, and it is wise to seek council from family.  Just think, a girl is choosing the man under whom she will submit for the rest of her life...that is a huge decision.  (And no, it doesn't mean submission like a slave, but rather biblical submission to her husband.)  At every turn, dating focuses more on privacy, being alone together, personal space, and entertainment.  Courtship is getting to know someone in the context of family, both yours and theirs, and being open and accountable to parents.  Mr. Gunderson said so many things that were wonderful and challenging...I could go on and on about his wise words.  If you are interested in the Dating vs. courtship questions, I'd encourage you to get a copy of his book Courtship and Dating: So What's the Difference? 

I really enjoyed a session given by homeschool veteran Pam Forster...a mom who homeschooled lots of children and is now on the other side, playing with lots of grandbabies.  Her session was entitled 'What I Would Do Differently" and it was a blessing.  She was able to say, from her wisdom and experience, things that she would do differently if she knew then what she knows now.  Examples included praising her children more than she corrected them, praying MORE, trusting God MORE, and worrying less.  She gave fantastic examples and stories and I left encouraged that I could learn from her experience.  She has already walked this path I am on, and listening to her, heeding her words, will help me to make some changes now.  Just maybe I can save myself some worry.  Maybe I can alter my own bad habits, and become a parent who praises MORE than I correct.  Just as scripture says, the younger women can learn so much from the older women.  We should do more of that!

A few of the sessions I attended were given by Josh Duggar.  For those unfamiliar with that name, he is in fact the oldest son of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar of TLC's 19 Kids and Counting.  And yes, we watch lots of that show around here...good wholesome family entertainment that shows healthy family dynamics instead of children with no parental involvement (think about all those shows where there are no parents in the episodes.  Yuk!) or shows where children are disobedient and disrespectful to their parents/elders. 

But I digress.  Josh gave three powerful sessions of faith, family, and freedom.  He spoke on finding your vision, both for yourself and your family.  He encouraged us to surround ourselves and our families with other like-minded people who will constantly point us to God.  He encouraged lives of service and action, both at home, in our communities, and in the government.  He spoke about passing on the torch to our children, but first reminded us that the torch must be lit!  He encouraged us to stand firm, and hold fast to the truths we find in scripture.  Strong families are the answer to many of today's issues, and he boldly challenged us to seek God and create strong families.  He spoke of working hard.  He spoke of liberty and freedom, and unfortunately much of America doesn't even truly understand the definition of these things.  He asked how we could think that the world would honor God's design for life, when even those of us to claim to be Christians (Christ followers) are not able honoring it.  I say that oftentimes we look a little too much like the world, and we aren't different enough.  He was inspiring, challenging, encouraging.  It was good!

I even got to meet him and chat with him for a little while afterwards.  He is absolutely genuine...a kind heart who is passionate for Christ.

Needless to say, my time at the conference was well spent.  I left excited, challenged, and encouraged.  I came home with several books to read and a notebook of notes to ponder, re-read, and pray over.  God was so good to allow me the opportunity to attend.  It was the first time the Teach Them Diligently conference had ever been held in Dallas, and I am looking forward to TTD 2015!

Monday, May 19, 2014

But there is Joy...

It's been too long again.  Much too long since I have posted here on the blog.  I've found myself in a reflective and introspective place as of late.  Lots to think about, to ponder, and to store up in my heart.  It's so easy to get bogged down in the negative...the difficult days that often seem monotonous or mundane.  Just a few minutes watching the news will tell you things are far from perfect in the world.  But for me, and for you too, we can shift our perspective with just a few simple things.  If we feel and express gratitude, even for the smallest of things, we will find joy.  Here at Hen Hollow Homestead, we seek joy!  No, life isn't perfect and it is far from a fairy tale.  But life is good...and we are thankful!

JOY in the kitchen...

JOY in shredding and freezing 10 quarts of zucchini that I purchased for less than $3.00 at the discount grocery store!

JOY in the fresh fruits and veggies I can feed my family because 
it was all affordable at the discount grocery store!

JOY in the garden...

Our grapevine is doing fabulous...we are sure to have grapes this year!

JOY is found because even though working and tending the garden is hard work, it looks like we will have plenty of squash to enjoy.  If you look closely above, we even have twins!

JOY at the signs of a bountiful zucchini harvest!

JOY as we watch the roses bloom out the front window!
(and yes, I have weeded the flower bed since this was taken!)

JOY with the family...

JOY as I watch Natalie teaching Levi to use the sewing machine!  His wife will thank her later!

JOY when Natalie makes wonderful and healthy soaps.

JOY when I find time to read books that are rooted in scripture and such an encouragement for families striving to raise disciples!  Side note:  I highly recommend this book!

JOY in artwork!

I may be considered strange for this one, but yes, there is even JOY in purging junk!  I've been cleaning out for a garage sale and anything not bolted to the floor is fair game to be priced and sold!  I LOVE IT!!

There is even JOY in the hard times...

The day before his 8th birthday, Levi fell on his head and we ended up spending the day in the ER.  He sustained a concussion, and had to have a CT scan to rule out more severe complications.  After several hours of rest in the ER, we were released bring him home and watch him closely over the next couple of weeks.  Bless his heart, he was so sad to be there since he was missing out on the family lunch and movie for his birthday.  BUT, we found JOY in knowing he was going to be okay, and we found JOY as we were able to spend time together talking and giggling.  There was NOTHING on TV that was child appropriate except for cooking shows.  Levi watched for a few minutes and then proclaimed, "I give up.  I can't watch this anymore because I am starving and I can't eat anything.  This is making it worse!"  Bless him.  BUT, he is feeling good as new now, and we are so thankful to God for His protection of our sweet boy.  Joy.

Carson's balloon release 2011

And then there is today.  Today marks my sweet Carson's 9th birthday...he was stillborn in 2005.  He is celebrating his ninth birthday with Jesus, and boy do I miss him so.  I still long to have him here with me, in my arms, sharing my home and my days.  But since he can't be here, he is in the ONLY other place I can be at peace about...Heaven.  Absolutely there is sadness and grief over all of the things I miss, the dreams shattered...but through it all, there is a JOY.  I can feel joy because my son is in the presence of Jesus.  I feel joy because he is full of joy and laughter all of the time.  I feel joy because I know that someday I will see him again...we will be together forever.  Today, as I release balloons to my nine year old son, Carson Graham, I will feel JOY because I was blessed by him...changed by him.  I am forever his mommy!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Hooray for longer days!  We need the extra hours of daylight in order to accomplish all that there is to do here at the homestead.  Not only are the days growing longer, but the to-do list is growing like crazy.  We can definitely feel spring in the air around here, and it energizes us as we tackle each day's work.

I am still having trouble getting pictures to upload here, but hopefully soon my IT guy will be able to help me figure out what the problem is.  Until then, I'll just share some of the fun with words.

We have been working on...

...preparing and planting the garden.  So far we have onions, beets, cauliflower, lettuce, three kinds of tomatoes, zucchini squash, yellow squash, black-eyed peas, green beans, okra, jalapenos, banana peppers, and green and red bell peppers.  Crazy as it may sound, I still have more to get planted!  We are praying for a bountiful harvest this year so we can continue canning and storing up for the off-season to cut the grocery bills down.  Pray for that with us?

...raising two new batches of chickens.  We have six babies in the brooder box, chirping and napping and eating and growing!  We also have 31 pullets that we have just put out to the pasture.  They are adjusting well to all of the green grass and open space.  Come summer we should have plenty of eggs to eat and even more to sell.  Interested in Hen Hollow Homestead eggs?

...adding a section of fence in the yard, and also putting in a gate directly from the yard to the garden.  That gate has been in for three days, and has already proven itself so valuable.

...watching Dottie, our broody mama chicken, sit on her eggs, and anticipating the day when even more new chicks hatch right here on the farm!  Less than a month from now, we will witness the miracle of birth, chicken style!

...clearing out underbrush and trimming trees.  This is HARD labor, and we COULD NOT do it without the help of my dad on his awesome tractor.  Things are already looking more tidy, though we have a long way to go.

...dealing with poison ivy, again!  See above, as all of the tree trimming and clearing of the underbrush inevitably gives Nathaniel and the kids a case of poison ivy.  Ugh!  (Thankfully, I seem to be immune! :)

...working in the flower beds, pulling weeds, planting flowers, turning the soil.  They still look rough, but someday I hope our efforts pay off!

Some other things on our list include...

...rain barrels.  We have the supplies, but haven't had time to get them put together.

...a cucumber tepee for the garden.

...hanging a tire swing in the tree outside the yard.

...continuing to trim trees and clear underbrush.

...build a pole barn/garden shed so I can store all of my gardening tools and supplies closer to the garden!

...filling in some bare spots in the backyard with fresh grass seed.  Having two dogs has taken a toll on our poor backyard, so we are going to give it a rest and some fresh grass seed.  Hopefully we can patch up all of the bare spots!

As spring is here, I have also been in the mood to clean out and organize inside of the house as well.  I open all of the window blinds and let the sun shine in while I work!  I've been clearing out drawers and closets in hopes of a garage sale with my sister soon.  A little extra cash would come in really handy right about now, with all of the projects we have on the list!

What about you?  What have you been up to?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Slowing Down

We stay home...a LOT.  We don't run from here to there, and we aren't involved with lots and lots of activities.  I like it this way.  It is good for my soul and my family to be home, to be calm, to live slowly and intentionally.

There are many who think we are NUTS.  The fact that there are often weeks we don't leave home for 3-4 days in a row leads people to think we are crazy, that we have lost our minds, that we must be weird.

I say it's not true.  

We simply like simple.  

I logged in to read one of my all time favorite authors and bloggers, and she had a beautiful post about just this today.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


As I have continued thinking about what is truly important, I keep hearing a word in my mind.  It is as though a voice keeps whispering to me...less.  I've thought about it, and I think it is an accurate representation of my mind and my heart right now.  I want less.  What?  Don't I live in America, the land of MORE, MORE, MORE?  Have I lost it?  Quite possibly, the answer is yes.

You see, I want less.

I want less stuff because I am sick and tired of the mess around me.  When you have too much stuff, you spend all of your time cleaning it up, trying to find a place for it, dusting it, organizing it, laundering it,  etc.  So yes, I want less of that...less mess, less time spent cleaning, organizing, ironing, laundering, or honestly just stepping over all of the stuff that clutters my home.

I want less worry.  I don't want my days consumed with worry and what-ifs.  I want to live in the moment, making the most out of every minute God gives me.  To do that, I need less worry and more trust in Him.  I really struggle with this, and unfortunately I am seeing it really come out in one of the kids also.  I'm trying, and I am getting better, but I still have a long way to go.  That worry monster is a beast, I tell ya.

I want less debt.  I don't like owing people money.  It hangs over my head, always taunting me and making me feel as though I need to justify every penny I spend lest others think I am being frivolous.  I just don't like it.  Honestly, I don't want less debt, I want NO debt!

I want less comparison.  I want to feel confident in who I am, and I want to stop comparing myself to others.  I want to stop comparing myself to women on TV, in magazines, and at the mall.  I want to stop comparing my car to the ones others drive, and my clothes to the ones I see others wear.  I want to stop comparing my kids and their accomplishments with other children around me...are they where they should be in school, am I a bad mother because we don't do all of the extra-curricular stuff out there, am I robbing them of something because we homeschool and spend our days at home together?  I don't want all of that to become my measuring stick, and I surely don't want all of that to be the measure by which Natalie or Levi compare themselves.  It starts with me.  So yes, I want less comparison and more contentment.

What I have decided is that less is really more Less stuff, and in turn less time spent managing that stuff, means more time to spend on the important things, like hanging out with my children reading a good book or playing games.   Less worry means more dependance on God, and He has promised to provide all that I need.  Less debt means more money freed up for generosity and giving and helping those around me, along with less stress wondering how we will make it through the end of the month.  Less comparison means more contentment, more rest, more freedom to be me.

The bottom line is that less of me leads to more of HIM.  That is all the reason I need to seek a life of less.


** Check back soon for more happenings at the homestead.  I promise to share some pictures around the farm soon!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

What's Really Important

Last week I sat down several times to write a lengthy update on what we have been up to around here.  I hate that it has been so long since I have updated here on the blog, and I am hoping to do better in 2014.  I tried several times to write up the post, complete with probably 30 pictures to share, but each time I ended up walking away from the computer frustrated because I could not get the pictures to upload correctly.

Now, as I sit to try to write again, I am convinced that my words be completely different from the original plan.  So much seems to be happening all around me, some good and some not so good.  I find myself whispering prayers for so much these days.  Moment by moment, God is stirring my heart to focus more and and more on what is really important.  Not what is urgent, not what is immediate, but what is important.

Precious friends are preparing for their 12 year old daughter to undergo surgery tomorrow for a brain mass.  My heart aches for what they must be feeling right now.  How I wish I could make it all go away, and make everything right in their world again.  But I cannot.  I must focus my thoughts and energies into what I can do...praying for them, encouraging them, and giving thanks to God for each and every blessing.  Every smile, every giggle, every breath is a reason for thanksgiving.

Just weeks ago, a home less than a mile from us exploded.  Literally, when looking at the site, it was reduced to a pile of rubble, unrecognizable as a home.  Sadly, the woman inside lost her life in the explosion.  Devastating for the family.  As the blast rattled our home, I uttered a prayer for whoever was going to be affected by it, and also a prayer of thanks that we were safe.   Last week, our neighbors next door lost their home in a fire.  It is a total loss.  And as I stood watching the emergency responders come to battle the blaze, I whispered prayers for safety.  Their safety and ours.

It feels like every day I hear of friends and neighbors who are struggling.  Some are facing physical struggles, financial challenges, family battles, while others are in an all-out spiritual war with Satan and his evil ways.  I often wonder if things are truly getting worse, or if it is simply because I am older and more aware of the struggle around me. 

We face our own challenges here at on the homestead, and in our family.  We do the best we can, take one day at a time, and are learning to cling to Jesus, the giver of hope.  We've had our own fire this year, and thankfully, the loss was minimal.  We have financial challenges just like most people.  We even battle Satan, fighting for our family and our children.  No one is immune to these things, but each handles them differently.

In 2014, I am choosing to focus on what is important.  Having the latest and greatest *insert item here - clothes, cars, electronic gadgets, etc*?  Not important.  Giving thanks?  Yes, please.  Keeping a perfectly clean home?  Nice but not necessary.  Filling my children with love and scripture?  Absolutely.  Finishing the to-do list by dinner every day?  Not gonna happen.  Making prayer as much a part of my day as breathing?  A goal to work towards.

So today, I'm praying for the battles around me.  I am praying for health and safety, both for my family and others.  And I am giving thanks for the blessing of today.  I am choosing JOY!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Picture Review of September Happenings

Finally I am making time to update here again.  It seems to always be on the list of things to do, but I never make it that far!  We have lots to share with you about the last month, including some fun pictures, and some not-so-fun pictures.

Levi and I have been working with pattern blocks during his math time.  He likes to have free-play time with the blocks much more than he enjoys the lessons I am trying to teach him with them.  Once we complete the required work, I let him go to town with the blocks, creating all sorts of fun 'artwork'.  Here are a few of his masterpieces:

As we continue the journey towards eating fewer and fewer carbs, I have been able to get creative in the kitchen.  The first picture is my no-carb version of broccoli-rice casserole.  Instead of using rice, I 'riced' a head of cauliflower instead.  Then used grilled chicken and fresh broccoli, topping it all off with some cheese while it was baking.  It was a winner for sure...the kids even enjoyed it.  Truly, it tastes so close to the real thing, only this meal is guilt free!

This next picture shows my new substitute for pasta...broccoli slaw!  I just buy the bags of broccoli slaw, found in the salad section of the grocery store, and sautee it in a skillet with 1/4 cup of water.  We put spaghetti sauce with meat over it and it is delicious!  I cannot say that it tastes just like the real thing, but it was definitely delicious.  

Let me know if you try either of these recipes...I'd love to know what you think!

Also in the kitchen, we decided to welcome fall by making some homemade applesauce.  I bought apples and we washed, peeled, and chopped them.  The kids helped with all of the prep work, and we had a great time together in the kitchen.  Then we just tossed it into the crockpot with lots of cinnamon and a tiny bit of Splenda, and let it cook on low all day.  The house smelled wonderful, and the tasty treat at the end of the day was divine! We liked it so much in fact, that the next week I bought 20 more pounds of apples and we have made 2 more pots full of applesauce.  They cook down LOTS so don't worry if your crockpot looks full, you won't have much left over.  I was hoping with 20 pounds of apples that I would have enough to can some away for the winter, but sadly (or not) it has all been enjoyed.  Such a simple treat, and we know for sure what is in the food we are eating!  It's a win!

Sorry, no pictures of the finished product, but trust me when I say that it was delicious.  To top it off, the chickens enjoyed the leftover peel as a treat!  We sprinkle the top of the applesauce with my homemade grain-free 'granola' (only nuts, unsweetened coconut, ground flax, and a bit of maple syrup) and it is a wonderful dessert.  Tastes like apple-crisp...yes, it does!

In other news, we had a fire here on the homestead.  One afternoon as the kids and I were finishing school and chores, we noticed firetrucks coming through the gate into the pasture...OUR pasture.  I dashed outside in time to see the pasture covered in flames.  Talk about scary!  We had no idea there was a problem, and are so thankful that someone driving by called in the fire.  The volunteer fire department here is wonderful, and they were able to get the fire out quickly, but the pasture was charred.  From what we can tell, someone flicked out a cigarette while driving by, and it blew into our fence-line where it ignited the fire that quickly spread over the pasture.  Thankfully, the chickens all survived the ordeal and were only stressed out for a couple of days.  Stress causes the hens to stop laying eggs, so we were glad to see them laying again within a few days.  Needless to say, that was a frightening ordeal.  I am already a bit paranoid of fire, so this certainly didn't help that, but I was able to sleep that night, which is big for me.  I guess it was a stark realization that I am not in control, so I simply turned it over to God and slept well.  Here are some pictures of our pasture...

The Lord controlled the fire that day.  As you can see, the fire went up to the tree line, but not into the trees and underbrush that we have.  That would have been disastrous.  We also look for the blessing of the fire, and as the grass regrows there, it will be thicker and greener and more healthy than what burned.  A blessing for our chickens as they range and forage out there this winter.

This year Levi's literature centers around the Little House books...specifically the Little House in the Big Woods.  We love these books, and have all read them through, but we are enjoying reading through this one again with Levi.  Today we made homemade butter, just like Laura and Mary would have made.  We had a great time, it didn't take very long, and boy was it delicious!  I may never buy store-bought butter again!  Knowing now that I can make my own so easily, and know exactly what ingredients are in it (creme and a little salt), why would I ever buy the store butter again?

Levi reading Little House in the Big Woods

When we made the butter I had to get creative.  You typically ise a marble inside to help beat the creme, but I didn't have any marbles.  They say necessity is the mother of invention, and that is so true around here.  I just washed up a couple of Levi's legos and tossed them in.  They did the trick!

First taste...

Thumbs up!  It was tasty!

That's all I have time for today...Levi is wondering what we are having for lunch, so I need to get off the computer.  I'll update more soon as we continue to enjoy life here on the homestead!