End of Summer Fun

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There’s nothing like the end of summer to make you really enjoy a good swim.  When you’ve started back to school already, and the days aren’t blistering hot you know those swimming days will be over way too soon.

Michelle and her family came to see us in September, and as usual we packed the time full of fun–partially because there is always such a huge list of things we’d like to do together and partially because the boys will bounce off the walls if we don’t. =D

So there was lots of swimming–three times, at least–and roller blading and playing with Legos and a visit to IKEA, a picnic, an IMAX movie on sharks (the look of wonder on the boys’ faces was just priceless.  Ian sat with his hand over his open mouth for the first 10 minutes and Liam’s mouth was open at least half that long).

What else? Well, there was some downtime and shopping–oh, yeah, Michelle and I must’ve broken a record for time spent in one Goodwill.  Haha.  Our cart was loaded with treasures, and we nearly clothed her family for the winter.

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One evening we walked the Beltline and hung out at the skatepark for awhile.  The Beltline has become one of my favorite places in the city. It’s several mile long paved path that is perfect for being active along with other Atlantans.




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A Warm Breakfast for Autumn

Mornings are telling us that fall is here for real. At our house this looks like slippers on feet and jackets at the breakfast table and faces less ready to smile.

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A warm breakfast in the belly brings its own kind of comfort and sounds like the kind of thing that would be comforting on cool fall mornings. In reality the boys are disappointed that they aren’t eating cereal and frown a little more.

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Breakfast is the most important meal of the day they say. Breakfast also happens to be that meal we get to before we’ve quite woken up. I’m trying really hard to get our days off to a healthy start and to cook things the boys enjoy.  They don’t all love oatmeal (and honestly I don’t either). It works for all of our diets, though, and foods like that are rare and worth keeping.

I tried to jazz up oatmeal a little and came up with this combination. It’s a nice fall breakfast: Oatmeal (instant) prepared, sprinkled with chia seeds,  and drizzled with maple syrup.

I convinced the boys to eat chia sees by

1) calling them sprinkles (worked for Ian and Paxton)

2) telling them that Aztec Indians used chia seeds to give them energy to run all day long. I convinced them that they would help them to grow stronger and have more endurance.  (worked for Zachary and Ian)

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I recently won a gift basket from Quaker Oats which included a huge box of maple flavored individual oatmeal packages.  The sugar content is too high for me to consider it a healthy breakfast, so I’ve mixed two packages with 1/2-1 c. of regular quick oats.

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Oatmeal topped with cinnamon, chia seeds, and maple syrup

My goals for food are:

Healthy, tasty, economical, easy, attractive

This dish pretty much covers them all.  It’s not super healthy with the oatmeal being instant (it will quickly turn to sugar in the body), but I’ll let it pass.

Toasted pecans, almonds, or coconut would be a delicious addition to this oatmeal.

Eden Village III


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Steve’s work at City of Refuge is the reason we moved to Atlanta and is such a central part of our life here.  Hopefully I can start representing it better here on the blog.  I’m not able to be at the mission much, but I’m slowly collecting pictures of the programs.

City of Refuge has so many great programs.  One of their main ministries is housing women and children.  Each of these units are an “Eden Village,” a place where everything a homeless woman needs can be provided.

Eden Village I houses mothers with children in hotel style rooms.  Eden Village II houses single women in an open dorm room.  Eden Village III is the placement center for the city of Atlanta and is featured here tonight.

There are many ministries in Atlanta serving the homeless community.  Each ministry has a unique set of focus, requirements, and maximum length of stay.  When a woman is on the streets, she can can come to the assessment center here where her needs are assessed and she is paired with a ministry that can best serve her and that has a space available.  Some places accept older children or only children up to a certain age.  Some ministries are available for helping women with psychological challenges.

When women are waiting for a space to open either at City of Refuge in Eden Villages I or II or at another ministry they can stay here in Eden Village III for up to four weeks.

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Some of you ladies from Abbeville will recognize a few of these quilts. :)

Standing at the entrance to this room is a moving experience.  There is a sense that the women here have so little and yet they have so much.  They have little privacy, not much space, few personal belongings–much less the extra pretty things we women love.  Think of what it might be like being a mom with a child who cries at night knowing that the cries might wake a dozen other people.

These women have so much, too. After being homeless a warm, soft bed, a shower, a safe place to stay, a place to sleep where they and their children won’t be woken and asked to move, knowing they will have food to eat at the next meal, having several feet of space that is “their own,” are valued.  Even better is having hope–knowing that help is available, that they will have a chance to get back on their feet.

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I stood looking at these rooms–two single beds pushed together to create a bed big enough for a mama to share with her babies, at the neat rows of little shoes, at the boxes of diapers and the baby food jars–a mini home all a part of home shared with so many other women. and thought of all the things they don’t have that I take for granted.  It looked like so little. I said to myself, “Some woman is thankful for this tonight.”

It’s seriously convicting because who of us hasn’t dealt with discontentment that someone else can buy nice things for their house that we can’t afford or just a little jealous that someone else has their mom and sisters close by for friendship and support? Sometimes I feel like I don’t have much, but standing in that room made me feel so rich.  Even tonight I glance up and see so many things around me that these women are missing–lamps for soft lighting, rows of books, toys, throw pillows in colors that I chose because I liked them, space, a candle.   Yes we are so very, very blessed and spoiled and thankful.

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The women who sleep here are strong women who have made tough choices. Survivors.


All I have needed

Thy hand has provided.

[May] We Go Back…

This week I’ve gotten a chance to edit some pictures from this spring and early summer, so I’ll be sharing some of those tonight.  I don’t even remember what happened in May besides for these two weeks except for finishing school.  It’s crazy how memories can just leave you and it’s the times you’ve documented in pictures or words that you really remember.

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In May I had done a two week fast/cleanse.  We expected that I would be very weak, so we hired a mother’s helper.  Lucinda had been here twice before–once on a missions trip during her senior year, and once two years ago when she and another friend came for a week to study photography.

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Lucinda has such a sweet, servant heart and she brings so much CHEER, too.  She worked so hard while she was here–thoroughly cleaned our house, played with the boys, cooked lots of food for our family to eat and to freeze for later, and took care of all of us.  We loved having her with us.

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One evening she and I spent an evening out and included some time for street photography.

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I enjoyed chatting with this man for awhile.  He gave me his email address, and I sent him these images. I’ve seen him playing since and hope to connect with him again sometime.

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One of the last nights she was here we took the train into Midtown for the jazz festival.  It was a nice leisurely, evening excursion.  I was finished with the fast at that point, but so weak that I was walking super, super, super slowly.  Lucinda would run ahead and chase the boys as we walked through the park toward the festival.  Paxton tagged along trying his best to keep up with them and Steve and I strolled along previewing what it must feel like to be old and still in love. :)

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We sat surrounded by hundreds of people and listened to the music as the sun slowly sank below the horizon.  I could go to events like that just for the fun of people watching, but it’s also fun to soak in a bit of culture and have a big open space where the boys can run.

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Lucinda took the picture of the three boys.^ I love it.

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Steve is so strong for me and I love how this picture depicts how protected and safe I feel with him.



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As we walked back to the train station we passed a man sitting alone playing his own jazz.  (literally. :)) The festival was fun, but this scene seemed to fit the tunes.  I call this The Lone Jazz Player.

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The Boys’ Room: Organized

:: This post on organizing the boys’ room was mostly written months ago.  Though it may be old news and the banner’s grip to the ceiling has been overcome by mysterious gravity pulls that most certainly do not have anything to do with little boys’ pulling, ahem, the good part is that I can tell you how well this method has worked. ::

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A few weeks ago, I found a couple bins for the boys’ room.  I was sooo tickled because they were the colors I’ve been looking for and in the five dollar-ish range.  New storage was inspiration enough for me to go through the boys’ room purging some, but mostly sorting, organizing and labeling.

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Her sentiment: I’m pretty sure that if I find the perfect organizational system, we’ll finally be able to keep the boys’ room neat.

His input: Good luck with that.

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We keep things pretty simple when it comes to toys. Sometimes I see pictures of 20 or more bins of toys in children’s rooms. It looks like a fun place to play for sure, but that is so not going to happen here. There are sooooooo many toys available these days and they all look like soooo much fun.  You would think if children had a lot of variety they would play for hours. Surprisingly, having lots of toys doesn’t necessarily mean that children will be happy with their toys for longer.

I have learned that, as in so many other areas of life, less is more.  My philosophy is that having a simple collection of well loved toys keeps children busy and happy, encourages learning, and develops their imagination. If they get bored with their toys–which happens almost never–they can draw or play outside or take a bath or help me with what I’m doing.

When I tally toys, I realize that we still have a LOT. I’m not even sure I should consider this as keeping it simple.  Our toy list looks something like this:

Our toy collection:

In their room~

1 collection of Legos

1 bin of trains

1 bin of trucks and tractors and machines

a playmat with a road system

In the living room~

1 box of blocks

1 bin of animals

a basket of miscellaneous items


In the hall closet~

Play Dough

board games and puzzles

An art box with a collection of crayons, colored pencils, 1 box of markers, paint, chalk, scissors, glue, stickers, paper

In the attic for occasional rotations out~

Lincoln logs


large trucks they don’t play with when they’re out all the time

We also have~

bath toys

outdoor toys

Probably a few other toys I’m not remembering

So why, why, why if don’t have a myriad of toys do we have a mess all the time? You know that saying,

A place for


and everything

in its place?

Whenever I have a problem area where mess just happens and then has babies and multiplies, it’s because the things do not have a place of belonging!

I’ve noticed this all over the house, and I’m trying to–slowly–designate a home for everything.  If it doesn’t belong anywhere then I need to consider whether or not I should keep it.

Oooookay.  Deep breath.  I got a little side tracked there.  So I was going to tell you how I refreshed the boys’ toy system in their room.  I’m SO excited about this because their room has not been despairingly messy for awhile.


When I was looking over their room, I realized that their magazines and activity books and notebooks were always in a mess.  I decided to use a few magazine organizers to see if that would do the trick. (Spoiler alert: it did!)  

At least a year ago I had gotten a few rolls of wrapping paper for $1 a piece at IKEA. Originally I had been planning to cover cardboard boxes to use in these storage cubbies, but surprise, I’d never managed to find three boxes that fit into this space.  The magazine organizers were an odd collection that were busy and non-cohesive. Covering them made them work for the room and made me just giddy with happiness. I love the owl print! 

Wrapping one of the boxes with Ian who wanted to be with me. Like WITH me.  :)

Is this what they mean by attachment parenting? ;)

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So clean and streamlined and in fun colors.  This makes me wish I’d have a before shot, so you could see the difference.

The box of trucks~

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The box of trains~

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I don’t recommend these bins. One of the handles is already pulled off after a few weeks of gentle use.

A cutie pie enjoying the magazines~

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Magazines, Notebooks, Activity books~

The boys all hate coloring, :'( so I got rid of all coloring books that don’t at least have dot-to-dots or something else they consider fun.

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I’ve also learned that labeling is KEY to keeping a spot organized. Whenever I have labeled bins they stay categorized for months longer than when I’ve assumed people would remember which things go into which bins. These labels were some I had downloaded from Better Homes and Gardens and added my own text–very simple.  I also covered them with contact paper and hot glued them to the boxes, so I have hopes that they will last.

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I love his expression. :) C Smucker Photograpy  l DIY organize kids rooms-17

What’s great about organizing is how it makes the toys seem new again.  The boys have looked and looked through these magazines since the re-do. 

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 We used to store our Legos in a big bin.  Every afternoon there would be this constant digging and digging and digging  for that one certain piece. (The sound is especially delightful when you’ve had a frazzling morning and are excited for quiet hour) I had seen other people organizing Legos by color, so I decided to try that method.

[May I interrupt this organizing conversation to say that Legos are the BEST toys for boys?!  We love them.  Seth, one of the guys who works with Steve, gave the boys a HUGE collection that he had as a boy.  The boys have played with them for countless hours. If you're ever looking for a gift for a nephew or little friend--let Legos be your go to.  The boys have gotten several sets since then as gifts and they are always the most excited ever.]   2013 July-48

From ^^^ to  this:

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Let me just say, so MUCH better. They can find specific pieces so much more easily now.

Yes, it is still a constant struggle to stay on top of picking up Legos.  In some ways they dread putting them away more because they can’t just dump them all into one big space.  On the other hand I will often designate certain colors to certain boys (Ian, you pick up blue Legos, Paxton pick up red Legos….) which helps keep them focused on a task vs. the job looking overwhelming.

The box slides under the bed when in storage:

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The Legos have been organized like this for months. The whole Lego situation was hugely improved, but I still kept finding strays here and there and in random toy containers.  Finally I realized that because it took so much effort to pull out the box, open the lid, and drop in a Lego when picking up toys they were just getting dropped into any old box.  I can even understand that.

Soooo… we set a cup on Zachary’s desk to catch the strays.  I think this is working, too.  I had told them to be sure to empty it before they start playing with Legos, but I doubt that’s being kept up with.  Still, emptying the cup now and then is no big deal!

[Since writing this I realized that adding the job of organizing the Lego box should be added to the boys' weekly chore list to stay on top of the stray pieces that get left on the bottom of the box instead of in their cups.  When they do that job, they can first empty the Lego cup that holds stray pieces.  Sa-weet.]

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A bin for stray toys who don’t have their own category~ C Smucker Photograpy  l DIY organize kids rooms-48

Now for the school and closet end of the room.

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Instead of a dresser we keep the boys’ pajamas and undies in the bathroom, and all the rest of their clothes get hung in the closet.  Because we homeschool (no uniforms/school clothes) and don’t need to wear dressy clothes to church, their clothes are categorized very simply–stay-at-home clothes and going-away-clothes. The clothes for staying at home are clothes that can get muddy and the jeans might have holes in the knees. :)

It is Zachary’s job to put away all the hanging clothes.  We’re working on developing neat habits. :) Ian can put away his staying-at-home clothes and shoes and socks.

We also keep a box in the closet for clothes that have been outgrown but are still in good condition to pass down to the next brother.  When it gets too full (as pictured) :) I take the clothing boxes out of storage and divvy them up.

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Zachary’s school area.  At the beginning of the year we worked up here all the time. The last few weeks we’ve been working on school downstairs, but everything still gets stored here in their room.  (See: this was written before the 2013-14 year was over)

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C Smucker Photography l DIY organize kids rooms homeschool

These printable morning and evening routine charts {link} are from I Heart Organizing.  I adjusted them a little in Photoshop to fit our schedule.

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 After a few weeks of the new clean up, their room has stayed nicely organized.  They clean up their room every afternoon as part of their afternoon chores, but it is never a disaster.  I’m quite happy with how it’s been working!

Every day the boys do a light room clean up during afternoon chore time.  On Thursdays their room is a bigger job when clean areas that might get missed such as under the bed.

::Update.  Yes!!!  Small selection of toys + specific toy bins + labels + routine clean up is still working.   They are little boys and their room is not neat all the time, but neither has it hit disaster zone.  I continuously purge toys that don’t get played with and they really do not miss them.  Overall I feel like this organization has been a win.  They do a big clean up once a week, and I lightly re-organize their closet every few weeks. I am super happy with how manageable this has become for them.::


An Atlanta family's story: learning to love God and others


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