Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Planning a Mega-Family Lake Day

It's summer and that means loads of fun filled activities, right?
Logistically it's not ideal to load up my crew and take them many activities. That's not to say we NEVER venture out, but we tend to stay home (a common summer theme for many large families).
Economically, who can afford to do many vacations? Well, not many large families. Do we suffer and have a boring summer? No way!!!!!

Being large means thinking outside the box and keeping things simple. Most days we are at home playing games and splashing in a small kiddie pool eating popsicles. Occasionally, when the weather gets super hot, we have an afternoon movie day complete with popcorn and rootbeer floats. Summer is also a great time to learn a new craft or to start knitting those Christmas gifts.

The hot days are an opportunity to relax every afternoon so that after dinner we can stay up past dark and catch lightening bugs and play flashlight tag.

We are also fortunate enough to have grandparents who live on a lake and have a private dock. It's really nice because they also have a screened in building with a table and grill and also the water starts shallow at the shoreline and gradually gets deeper. This makes a great area for little ones to play.
This year I promised the kids we would pack a cooler and swim once a week. Tomorrow is a lake day.
I am trying to keep costs down and since it will cost about $20 in gas to get there and back, I must stay creative in selecting and packing food for the day. Seriously, you have to have lots of food when you are swimming, right?

Here's how a mega-family packs for a day of fun at the lake while keeping costs to a minimal.

First, a cooler is a must . We usually pack lunchmeat, etc to make sandwiches or I make PB&J sandwiches before we leave and pile them high into a cake pan. I will cut them in fourths so that the kids can snack on them throughout the day. Tomorrow we are bringing some ham and cheese so I baked up some sandwich rolls. By baking my own bread I save quite a bit plus it is much healthier.

My kids LOVE those jello and fruit cups, however they can be pricey for  so many of us and I don't want to limit how much food the kids eat. That would not be fun. We also have cousins who swim with us so I need to have plenty.
 This is where I make up my own jello cups.

I buy my jello and canned fruit from Aldis, which makes it very affordable. These plastic bowls and lids can also be re-used so it ends up costing me about $4 to make up 16 jello cups with fruit in them. the kids love them and Rose was excited to see me make them and helped me put the lids on them. These containers can also be used to make pudding cups. These cups are MUCH bigger than the little pudding cups you see in the store too.
We always like something sweet too and store bought cookies are not only expensive but loaded with junk you don not need. Tonight the big girls helped me whip up some peanut butter cookies.

I double the recipe and it makes about  60 cookies. That seems like a lot but there will be 10 kids and a few adults hanging out at the lake. Homemade cookies such as these only took about 30 minutes to make, thanks to my convection oven and cost me only a couple of dollars in ingredients.

Last year I bought soda for the lake. This year that just isn't going to happen. First off it's way too expensive and secondly it's way too sugary. This year I bought each child a tumbler cup that has a travel lid so that we can save by not using paper cups and so we could bring drinks in a cooler. Here is what I have for drinks.
My 5 gallon drink cooler was too big for a one day outing so I got these 2 gallon coolers. I put ice water in one and I make up lemonade or iced tea for the other. These are easy to carry and the perfect amount of drink. They cost me $14 each at Academy Sports but I saw them at Walmart 2 days ago for $9 each.

Aldis is also a great place to stock up on some chips or cheese sharks (think Goldfish crackers). Snacks are a big part of what makes these day trips enjoyable. I will also use a laundry basket to pack up extra diapers, sunscreen towels and a large quilt. The little ones will sometimes need quiet time on a quilt and under a shade umbrella.
So this is how we organize it all. I must also mention that the kids MUST clean their rooms and the bathrooms the evening before the lake day. I also do my best to get laundry washed and put away. Typically we get home exhausted so it helps to have the house clean and orderly. This also makes the unloading of the van easier. For dinner we eat a bowl of cereal or yogurt, and then it's bedtime. The kids are usually ready for bed after a day in the hot sun, swimming.
Like everything large families do, it only takes a little planning and day before preparations to take the whole gang out for an enjoyable day.

So what cool  and budget friendly things will your family be doing this summer?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Bugs

Goodness! It was a very hot Memorial Day today! It was a burning 97 degrees and we have no rain in the forecast this week. That stinks since I decided to plant a little more corn in the garden yesterday.

Devin was working his bootie off in the ER today so the kids and I did more yard work and ate a million popsicles. In fact I made 2 trips to the store to buy some:-)

Summer officially starts for us today, although school will be in session until Journee finishes up Algebra and Quinn finishes Biology. The young kids will be reading each day as well. Seriously, it's too hot to be out until dusk so why not stay busy?

This evening I was walking around picking up toys (and popsicle wrappers) when I found this hanging on the side of the house.

It appears that the larger spider ate the smaller one. Now, this spider looked to be about 5 inches across. Anyone know what it is? I have no clue and did not kill it, in the event it's a helpful spider. If ya'll tell me it's a mean, poisonous spider...I will hunt it down in the morning.
Yes, there are "helpful" spiders. I remember when I was young (guessing 12) my grandpa and I spotted a HUGE spider on the side of my parents' house and I told him to squash it. He refused, telling me what type of spider it was and that it ate poisonous spiders. I bet my grandpa would know what that ugly one there is.....ya'll let me know if you do! Right now it just looks like a carniverous spider.

I also went to feed my honey bees, the ones I took from a friends house. They are queenless and I put them in a 5 frame nuc with a frame of eggs and capped brood from the neighboring hive. They should raise a queen within a month. I decided to feed them some. Well, lookie what I found out there on a hive.

It looks like a little twig...until you look closely and see the mouth. Wait for it.........

It crawls around. It's like a tiny caterpillar. Wicked!!!! It's amazing how it is dressed to look like a twig on a tree.
So.....anyone know what this is? I will try and look it up later. I have never seen one, but it was good practice to photograph with my macro lens.
This 2 year old boy of mine is trying to kill me with a looooong slooooooww death. You see this look he has? He winks and tries to convey a super innocent look. Well, he has learned to climb the back deck rail (YES, IT"S REALLY HIGH UP!) He tries to get up and look down over the rail, and he can do it quite well. What to do?????
I am considering locking him in his room until he's 18 and in the meantime taking up a career in entomology.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Yesterday Devin and I removed some bees from the side of a friend's house. It was cool and I will post as soon as I get the pictures emailed to me. In the meantime, we have just been plain busy here.
Tuesday we took the kids to Huntsville to the Rocket Museum. That was tons of fun, especially since we met up with good friends who moved to Huntsville.
In other exciting news, I am just plain worn out from grocery shopping and house cleaning today. seriously, that baby is so heavy! He will be 8 months old tomorrow! He loves to play on the floor, thank goodness, and he has a new best friend who plays with him.

 Duke loves the soft quilt and will happily let Fletch pull and chew on him if he can only stay right there and doze off.
 WHAT???? Did you say "BACON?"
Oh, Ok then. If there's no bacon, then there's no reason to move. Carry on....
****Tomorrow I promise a better post on something....with a little more "meat". I might even throw in some bacon:-)****

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Exhaustion of Being Blessed

Exhaustion is my word for the day. Today is the day you are warned about, the day that you will be up past your eyeballs in things to do and yet NOTHING gets done. OK, let me back up a bit. I did the essentials. My kids and I did school, we learned about Africa (specifically Egypt) and how the Nile runs opposite of how you think. I cooked breakfast, reheated leftovers for lunch and made dinner, compete with dessert. Kids have been read to, played games with and given baths. I stayed extra optimistic because my dear husband has been a little less than optimistic today. Laundry was done and folded and put away. The baby has been nursed, and nursed, and nursed some more. I discovered that if I sit in the recliner still for longer than 5 minutes I fall asleep.
Despite all of this I know more than ever we will have more. More exhaustion, more demands, more meals, more stories and more games...more children. I would be tempted to say that I am ready to have "me" time. I am tired of constantly giving of myself. I am through having kids and babies and all it includes. Yes, despite all of this I know that these are treasures worth more than anything. These are blessings that have been graciously given to me. Who am I to refuse such a blessing? If I have nothing else ever in the world, I have these blessings. My children. My family.

So the extra things on my to do list are pushed back for another day. The quilts, the scarves, the organized house they can all wait.
If I could stop time and lock up these days into a bottle I would. These days where we don't HAVE to go anywhere. These days when we can play, we are all together and the biggest decision amongst us all is which movie to watch. I look back on all of the days I did not appreciate it enough. Those days when I only had toddlers at home were special days that flew in a flash. I am sure I spent too much time focusing on things that in hindsight were not as important as the time spent with my babies. I am wiser, more mature now. I only want to soak up the days, even if they are crazy at times.
We are always busy. We are also always very blessed. Even though I am exhausted to the point of sleeping in the big easy chair when I sit down, I know I am very, very happy.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Crud, Oh Crud!

How much laziness can one body keep and for how long?
It seems this head crud moved into my chest and became chest crud. Now I feel like, well, crud!
I literally wasted an entire day yesterday with 2 naps and still did not get any energy back. At least, not enough to accomplish anything other than feeding the kids and caring for their basic needs. I suppose some days are just like that.
This morning I was hoping to jump out of bed and feel 100% better, since I did go to bed at 9pm lastnight. Let's just say I felt better than yesterday. I have only had one nap so far too, so it's getting better.

I have decided that we need to really strap down if we are going to get the basement finished this year, so....time to look back over the budget and see what's going on. I must re-do the food budget too and add to it some room for snacks and lunches this summer. We are not taking any vacations this year, but we intend to spend one day a week at the lake. I will pack a cooler of food those days and I already purchased 2 water coolers that hold 2 gallons of liquid each. I can take cold water and maybe lemonade or tea in the other. Most summers we take along a 12 pack or 2 of soda, but I decided that a once a week trip warrants water and tea.
I also revamped my master grocery lists. I keep it in the pantry and highlight items we need, as we need them. This keeps me from having to make out long lists every time I go to Costcos or Sams.
I suppose I could revisit my master dinner list as well. I have been intending to add a couple of new recipes to the list. I  cannot make a weekly menu and stick to it. I only cook what sounds good to me at the time, so.......I just keep a well stocked pantry and freezer and also a list of what I have available to cook. I am thinking that the grill should be fired up this week because kabobs sound good:-)
I also made up more pancake mixes for the freezer. Whew! I grind my soft wheat and add the dry ingredients for pancakes together, each in a gallon sized bag. I store them in the freezer since it is fresh wheat and use them as I need in the mornings. I only add the eggs, oil, honey and milk. Breakfast is super easy for this crew when it's pancakes with my "convenience" package.
So here's to turning a non-productive weekend into a slightly productive day. Here's hoping I feel myself by morning because I am no good sick.

Oh! I must also update you all on the adoption! The first weekend in June we will attend the IMPACT training that is required....then we are set! It's hard to believe that we are less than a month away from having ALL of our requirements finished! YAY!

Friday, May 13, 2011

New Bees

Last week I had 4 new bee packages arrive. 2 are from a guy in Illinois, David Burns. The other 2 were from Georgia and they are Russian bees. Russians are a bit different versus their Italian counterparts but I am hoping they prove to be hardy and mite resistant.

First thing is to pick the packages up from the post office and then gear your helpers up into their bee suits. My three youngest girls wanted to help today.

 The packages calm down a bit if you spray them with some sugar water, so that was the job for Rose. She was the best bee sprayer ever!

Now take the top off and remove the can which contains syrup that the bees eat during shipment.

Remove the queen cage which is near the syrup can. There are bees clinging to her cage but she is safe inside with a few nurse bees.
Have the younger keepers check to see if she seems fine and to tell you the color of her mark. This year the "mark" on the queens is white. I have my queens marked so I can not only find her quickly, but can determine if she gets replaced by her colony, etc.
Dump the bees in, add the frames and queen cage (with the candy-side cork removed)  and close it up!
The Russians bees were placed in an apiary of their own, far from my Italians. I do not wish for them to cross breed so I am keeping them in different yards. This apiary is actually near my drive so it's convenient for me to glance and observe when we leave to go somewhere.
I expected my russians to be a darker color, but here they are on the Queen cage just before I put her in the hive.

Here you see the Queen with the white mark on her back.
When I checked on the hives 3 days later, the Russian Queens were not yet out, although the candy entrance was eaten. I had to release them and hope they are accepted. I will check on them Monday and see if they are laying eggs yet. Here's hoping for a successful season. We are still in nectar flow and I am also hoping for a surplus of honey to extract, but like all things agriculture.......don't count your chickens until they hatch!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Country Life: 10 things

So besides having colds....we are all doing well. Colds always seem to be harder for me and therefore I have been not blogging, but rather taking hot baths and going to bed early. Today I got a wonderful steroid shot in the bootie and I seem to feel better. So I walked around with little Rosie and snapped some pictures. Today was a summery-type day. It was hot and humid! So I will start with my list of what goes on in the country here:

1. The cicadas are back! This is the 13 year cycle and they are loud and everywhere. We found this little guy and snapped his picture before letting him go. Here's a fact: They eat these in the Congo. I point this out because my dear nephew Logan is headed to that area in Africa this summer for a 2 year stint as a missionary. Yum, yum Logan!!!! :-)

2. Although this picture is not the best, it is one of my Tulip Poplar Trees. Folks, if you live here then this is most likely where the bees get their nectar for your local honey. Love on these trees, hug them They are valuable. Note the yellow blossoms...

3. The peach trees are looking good so far! I have spent hours thinning them and was quite pleased that they were not eaten up by little caterpillars. My plums and apples were.......
4. These little toads are EVERYWHERE!!! Today the girls each brought a dozen or so to the house and we released them closer to the house. Hopefully they found cover before and hens took notice! These guys are sure cute.

5. We bought a HUGE mailbox! In fact Rose and Zeb thought it was a play house. I am sure the neighbors up the road will hate this box but I am tired of running to pick up small parcels at the post office. I would say the mail carrier can fit most anything in this box.

6. Fletcher loves the dogs and his sisters. I do not like the dogs on my quilts, but since they are sweet enough to let the baby chew and pull on them I will let it slide:-) Note that the dogs don't look very happy. They know they are the lowly dog and must put up with baby pulling...or else they live a hard life outside. Good doggies!

7. Cicadas are back! Yes, I know I already said this but look at this guy!!!! He was molting when the girls brought him in....ewwww. I watched him emerge and we took him back out. Yum, yum Logan!!!!! Maybe I can mail you some ketchup, yeah...bet they are better dipped in ketchup!

8. On down the property the little girls have built a fort with scraps they find. Cool. I would say this is the best type of play for a kid and nothing beats fresh air and imagination!

9. Privet and honeysuckle are blooming everywhere right now. The combination of hot, humid temperatures and the blooms from these plants means a sweet smelling air! There is nothing sweeter than this folks!

 (Okay, for some it means allergies!....haha. You really need to find some local honey!)

10. Cicadas shells are fun to gather, at least Rose thought so. I actually like this picture because I LOVE those curls around her face. She did not get that from me. My hair is straight and flat. I would say that if I looked as cute as her I would run around in a swimsuit collecting cicada shells all day too.

Tomorrow I WILL FEEL BETTER!!!!!! I have a couple bee keeping pictures to share.....you don't want to miss that, right?
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