Prepare Garden Beds for Winter

The days are shortening and we’re enjoying the last few golden days of fall. As the temperatures begin to drop, it’s time to prepare garden beds for winter.

Not only does a little bit of work in fall make spring gardening more pleasant, following these four simple steps will help preserve your garden soil, prevent plant diseases from spreading, and give you the satisfaction of finishing a job well.

Preserve your garden soil, prevent disease, and prepare your garden for winter with these four simple steps:

Tidy the Garden

You’ve tended your garden faithfully all summer and fall. It might be tempting to leave the garden till next spring. Don’t.

It will probably take less than an hour to get the garden beds cleared and tidied. The amazing feeling of looking out on clean beds before cuddling up near the fire to plan your spring garden makes every second totally worth it.

First, clear away dead annuals. Toss non-diseased plants onto the compost pile [You have one right? If not, fall is the perfect time to start a compost pile!] Throw away diseased plants.

Then wipe the dirt from trellises, stakes, and tools. Just to be extra certain not to spread soil-borne diseases, I usually wipe them dry with a bit of rubbing alcohol. Store till next spring.

That’s easy enough, right?

Prune Perennials

Pruning plants is one of the most daunting parts of gardening. The good news is that even if you don’t do it quite perfectly, a little pruning is almost always better for the plant than none at all.

Look in your favorite gardening guide for specifics, but there here are a few general tips:

  • Make a nice clean cut. Jagged edges make it easier for germs to enter.
  • Cut away all diseased branches. Do not throw diseased trimmings in your compost pile because you don’t want to spread the disease to other plants!
  • If you’d like really cut down the chance of disease, daub each cut edge with a bit of Elmer’s glue. It will prevent bugs and germs from entering, but the strong new growth in springtime will grow through it.

Cover Your Garden Beds

If you leave your garden bed bare all winter, it takes back-breaking work to soften the soil come spring. (Want to guess how I know?)

Garden soil does not like to be left bare. Keep it covered. Your back with thank you next spring. Mulch and cover crops are great options.

  • Mulch: I’ve used wood mulch the last couple of years and the results are amazing. The mulch breaks down and turns into rich soil. When it’s time to plant, just scoot over the mulch that’s left, and plant your seeds. The remaining mulch doubles as a weed-preventative and moisture balancer. (This free Back to Eden video makes a pretty compelling case and has much more detail. —thanks Melissa and Elissa for the recommendation!)
  • Cover crop: Cover crops aren’t just for farmers. More and more backyard gardeners are using them to restore nutrients to the soil and provide a green cover during winter. This year I’m planting winter wheat in one of my little beds as an experiment. I’m not planning to actually harvest wheat, but hope that my chickens can get some enjoyment from it.

Take Notes for Next Year

This step is the most fun. Think back over your gardens. What plants did well? What plants didn’t? Did certain plants grow really well together? How will you need to rotate crops to avoid soil disease?

Jot down your notes for next years’s garden. You may think you’ll remember that awesome tip for tomatoes till the day you die. If you’re anything like me, chances are pretty high you’ll forget by next spring.

Cuddle by the Fire and Enjoy a Job Well-Finished

Once the garden is tidied, the beds are covered, and the perennials are tended, it’s time to cuddle up by the fire with your favorite gardening book and dream about next spring.

[Full disclosure: links to products in this post are my referral links.]

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How to Make Meals for Others (When the Thought is Totally Overwhelming)

A few months ago, I stood in my kitchen feeling totally overwhelmed.

I had offered to bring a meal to a friend, but couldn’t come up with a good dinner idea. All morning I’d stewed over what to make, and still hadn’t pinned down an idea.

Something needed to change.

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the thought of bringing a meal to a friend, here are a few simple strategies that helped me.

That’s when I realized I was going about the whole thing wrong. Instead of focusing on the reason for making a meal in the first place (to bless a friend with dinner) I was stressed out because I just knew it wouldn’t be good enough.

Over the course of the afternoon, I realized that my heart needed to change.

  • I needed to STOP worrying that my friend might think I wasn’t a good cook.
  • I needed to STOP stressing over having it look like the meal from Pinterest.
  • I needed to START seeking to serve my friend in love.

If you have ever stood in the middle of your kitchen wishing you hadn’t signed up to bring that meal because the thought it totally overwhelming, here are a few things that helped me.

Embrace the WHY

Why did you sign up to bring that meal in the first place?

Jesus serves His church with food: by making food spring from the earth & giving us of His body at the Lord’s supper. Sharing food is one way we can serve others too.

This is why we bring one another meals: to serve, to love, and to support. When serving others as we’ve been served by Jesus is the focus, a lot of the stress melts away.

Select Go-To Meals

The hard part for me isn’t actually making the meal, its’s deciding what to make in the first place. Select a handful of meals that you like to prepare, get generally good reviews, and freeze well as your go-to meals. Think back on the meals that you’ve received. Which ones did your family love the most?

Since many of our friends prefer gluten-free, two of my options cater to that. These are my meal options:

  • Creamy Spinach & Chicken Alfredo
  • GF Southwestern Chicken & Black Beans (it’s one of my favorite meals ever. Recipe coming soon!)
  • GF Lentil Rice Casserole (this one was a favorite from our law school days. I like to dress it up now by cooking it in beef broth and adding shredded beef. My kids and I still love it as a vegetarian dish too though.)
  • Lasagna

Preparing breakfast is always a challenge for me when we’re sick or have a new baby, and the breakfast foods we’ve been given were such a huge blessing. When I can, I try to include a breakfast-y food, like hearty protein barswhole wheat pumpkin muffins, or a jar of homemade granola.

Work the Go-To Meals into your Menu

I use a revolving monthly menu. It has made life SO much easier for me. Each week’s menu includes one of my go-to meals that I can easily double to bring to a new mom or sick friend.

I highly recommend working out a revolving menu, but even if you don’t have one, you can still incorporate one of your go-to meals into what you have planned for your family to eat that week.

Let Go of Perfectionism

A perfect meal for a friend includes a delicious main course, healthy green side, homemade bread of some sort, and a tasty dessert, delivered with a darling Pinterest-inspired presentation. Right?

Sometimes.

And sometimes the “perfect” meal is a simple pasta dish thrown into a foil pan with the heating instructions scrawled on the top.

The point is serving a friend. Sometimes that might mean pouring your creativity into making it beautiful. Sometimes that might mean cheerfully welcoming a toddler’s help and smiling when your last egg cracks on the floor and all hope of dessert is lost.

Go Make Those Meals

As my heart has changed, making meals for others ceased to be a cause of stress and anxiety. Many of my friends are also young moms with lots of little ones in their homes. You know what I’ve realized? They’re not expecting perfection.

Making meals for each other is simply one more way of sharing this journey of life together. So stop stressing, make a plan,and serve your sisters.

What’s your favorite meal to share with a friend? Or that a friend has shared with you? 

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A Lesson Learned from My “Martha” Project

Anticipation soared as we prepared for the children’s Ancient Egyptian party. We studied Creation through the Middle Kingdom in Egypt during their first term of history. Now it was time for a hands-on look at life in Ancient Egypt.

As one of the history teachers at their weekly classical academy, I’d been brainstorming ideas for weeks. But, the day before the party, the list of things left to prepare continued to grow.

Egyptian Party

There were books to pick up from the library, authentic snacks to gather, “apprentice” stations to prepare, activities to run through, and hours of reading left to be done. Plus, I still needed to finalize our costumes.

The hours ticked by as I hurried through my list. Midnight struck. I took a book on Ancient Egypt to bed and read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.

The next morning we were up bright and early. I rushed everyone to get ready, double-checked supplies, and made it to school just in the nick of time.

Daddy’s white t-shirts, white sheets, ribbon, and eye shadow transformed fifteen adorable students into fifteen adorable ancient Egyptians. Brightly painted collars, headbands & “gold” armbands (that we’d made in previous weeks) completed our costumes.

After “mummifying” apples with their awesome science teacher, the students trooped outside to eat snacks, just like the ancient Egyptians would have.

The weather was perfectly gorgeous, but getting the students to sit still was like trying to keep a toddler’s play area tidied. Their seemingly endless energy fed off one another, as my energy reserves started slipping. To preserve strength, I narrowed in on the projects to get through.

I still wore a smile, but my focus had shifted from blessing the students with a fun-filled “first-hand” look into life in ancient Egypt (and how that knowledge helps put stories from the Bible into their historical context) to just making it through the day without crashing.

The smile was there. The delight and enthusiasm were gone.

Hands-On Ancient Egyptian Activities

Instead of responding to hiccups in my plans with grace, I silently wished can’t they just sit still in a circle for five minutes? 

I lost sight of the fact that they’re still little. We’ll be traveling through ancient Egypt several more times before they graduate. If all they remember from our day is that ancient Egyptians wore white and that learning about them is fun, it’ll be all right.

I forgot and I was frustrated.

As the morning wore on and my weariness grew, the real lesson of the day crystalized: instead of bustling around “distracted with much serving” like Martha, I need to pause “to sit at the feet of Jesus”, like Mary. (Luke 10:38-42)

The busier the day, the more I need to lean on Him. When my strength fails, He has promised to give His, if I’ll just look to Jesus and ask.

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(Once I remembered to look up, the day ended joyfully, full of fun–and funny–memories.) 

Use Responsive Sayings to Enhance Your Homeschool

Children have incredible memories. They soak up new information like fresh sponges. As a homeschool mom, one of my goals is to channel that valuable ability toward the true, the good, and the beautiful.

One very simple way to do this is to use responsive sayings to easily learn Proverbs, short Scripture verses, helpful life lessons, and beautiful similes.

Looking for a fun & simple way to teach your children Proverbs, short Scriptures, and helpful life lessons? Try these responsive sayings for homeschool:

What are responsive sayings? They’re sayings where the parent (or teacher) says the first part, and the children answer back with the second part. For example,

Parent/teacher: Encourage one another,
Students: and build each other up!

We were first introduced to the idea of using responsive sayings from our friends who started the weekly academy the children attend.

Although responsive sayings are even more fun in a group [any local friends looking for a wonderful weekly academy, let me know!], my kids love them so much that they’ve begged me to start using them at home too.

If you’re looking for a simple way to incorporate more memory into your school day, try using responsive sayings. Here are a few to get you started.

(The teacher/parent part is in bold.)

Responsive Sayings for Homeschool: Proverbs

“Be not wise
in thine own eyes:
fear the Lord
and depart from evil.”

“He that hath no rule over his own spirit…
is like a city that is broken down and without walls.”

Go to the ant, thou sluggard…
consider her ways, and be wise.”

Responsive Sayings for Homeschool: other Scriptures

Obedience….
is better than sacrifice!

Encourage one another
and build each other up!

“His candle shineth on my head...
and by his light I go through darkness.”

Love… God!
Love… your neighbor!
Who is your neighbor?… all other people!

Our help is in the name of Yahweh
who made heaven and earth!

Responsive Sayings for Homeschool: Life Lessons

Leave it
better than you found it.

Loose lips
sink ships.

Gentlemen…
ladies first!
Ladies…
don’t keep the gentlemen waiting!

Listen first…
Then answer.

Use Responsive Sayings to Enhance YOUR Homeschool

Not only do little children love belting out their answers, responsive sayings take advantage of your children’s ability to memorize quickly and help fill their minds with good things.

The sayings above are just a small sampling. Start with one or two at a time and keep adding. The children learn them so quickly you’ll have to dig up more of your own soon!

Do you use responsive sayings with your children? What are some other good ones? 

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11 Books Worth Reading (Summer Reading Recap)

“Reading more” was one of my goals for this summer. When life gets busy, reading is usually one of the first things I drop. But there are just too many wonderful books out there to not devote a few minutes each day to reading.

Though I’ll likely never zoom through four books a week like some amazing folks do, I did make it through eleven books this summer that were worth the effort.

Books Worth Reading

  1. I’m No Angel: Winsome and humble. That’s the spirit of this beautiful autobiographic tale of a young Christian wife who made it to one of the most coveted runways ever as a Victoria Secret Angel model… and gave it all up to be a Proverbs 31 wife.
  2. The Five Love LanguagesI don’t like books that put people in boxes or encourage us to make excuses for sinful behavior. The Five Love Languages did neither. If we don’t speak the love language of our spouse (or child, sibling, friend, etc) it is easy to think that we’re obeying the command to “love one another”, but not demonstrating it in ways that are as meaningful as we think.
  3. Little Princes: This is the gripping autobiography of a young man who decided he was going to spend his life savings on a trip round the world. In order to ease his conscience (and stop his friends from shaking their heads in disapproval) he started his trek with a short stint at an orphanage in Nepal. Little did he know he would come to care about these children and battle greedy child-traffickers, overwhelmed officials, war-ravaged cities, and a dangerous trip along goat paths for their sakes.
  4. Lessons at Blackberry Inn: With the clear goal of inspiring readers to imitation, Karen Andreola paints a beautiful image of a homeschool family. It’s set in the country during the Great Depression. At times it was overly sentimental, but laid a compelling case for the art of gentle learning. (Plus, I love books that honor happy marriages!)
  5. Mara: Daughter of the Nile & The Golden Goblet*: This year, we’re studying Creation to the Fall of the Roman Empire. I thought these novels might be fun read-alouds to highlight life in ancient Egypt, but were too complex. I sure loved them though! Nothing like getting your history lesson in the form of a fast-paced novel!
  6. Toward a Truly Free Market: Joshua read this book with some guys from church, and highly recommended it. I was a bit leery about beginning a dense book on economics, but found it totally worth the effort. The author offers a fresh and compelling view of economic theory. If you’re worried about the direction our economy is headed, I highly recommend Toward a Truly Free Market.
  7. Fresh Eggs Daily: A fun and simple read, this beautifully illustrated book is a great guide to caring for chickens naturally. It’s filled with great facts like “planting mint near the coop helps repel mice” and what weeds and table scraps are good for chickens.
  8. The Art of War: One of those classics I had never got around to reading. Which is silly since it’s super short and so universally loved (and Librivox has a great free audio recording of it.)
  9. Fat Chance: Beathing the Odds against Suger, Processed Foods, Obsity, and Disease: Obesity is an ever growing problem in the modern world and we must stop saying it’s just a self-discipline issue, because it isn’t. This book is an excellent look at how our bodies deal with extra fat, the biochemical causes of obesity, why diets rarely work, and how to increase our (and our children’s) chances for healthy lifestyles.
  10. Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: ‘m blessed with a very happy marriage, but there’s always room to make it even better, right? This book is filled with simple “secrets” that highly happy couple practice, and all marriages can incorporate.
  11. The Eagle of the Ninth*: Another historically-based novel that was a bit too mature for the kids, but was a fascinating tale about life in Roman Britain. It’s amazing how a story gives feeling and life to the dry facts of ancient times.

On the Bookshelf this Fall

What’s on your bookshelf? 

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[Full disclosure: Links to products in this post are my referral links.]

(Another reason I didn’t think these were appropriate for my children is that I want to wait to introduce false gods to them till they are mature enough to appreciate the wonderful truth that these false gods were conquered by Christ.)

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