Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Our First Week with Farm Animals

My first foray into homesteading was with eight tomato plants last summer. Four died - not enough sun is my guess. Two did okay (they had a little more sun than the ones that died). And two produced so well that my stakes could not hold them up.

Note to self: move garden into more direct sunlight and buy better stakes. 

This year, my plan is to expand my garden and add a few layer hens. Yep. Chickens. And I'm determined to have more success with them than I had with my tomatoes.

So I did my research all winter, and I took a class at The Lazy B Farm (a magical homestead I will tell you about later).

Then on Monday, our family of six piled into the van and headed off to purchase the brood box, supplies, and chicks. It went something like this:

Monday, 9:32am - Arrive at Tractor Supply with shopping list: pine shavings, waterer, feeder, heat lamp and bulb, medicated feed, Diatomaceous Earth (yes, that's a real thing), and probiotics. 
Monday, 9:35am - Stop to see the live chicks, just to say hi.
Monday, 9:36am - See baby ducklings. Stare longingly and move on.
Monday, 9:49am - Realize not one member of our family can live without ducks. Pick out two to take home.
Monday, 10:06am - Drive to local feed store and purchase five baby chicks. Introduce them to the ducks.
Monday, 12:28pm - Ducks try to sit on chicks. Chicks peck duck butts. Commence the pecking order battle.
Monday, 2:42pm - Realize we don't know if the ducks are male or female. Research "how to tell the sex of a duck."
Monday, 2:44pm - Mom thinks there's one boy and one girl. You don't want to know how she knows that.
Monday, 5:08pm - Everyone seems content in their new home. Kids can't stay away from the brood box and give the birdies lots of company. Mom watches the weather channel as a "wintry mix" rolls in. She is also addicted to watching the brood box.
Monday, 10:53pm - Ice on all the power lines and trees. Limbs fall onto metal roof, giving all the animals and people inside a fright.
Monday, 11:34pm - House loses power. No fire place. No wood stove. No gas heat. Chicks and ducks must stay at 90 degrees, or they will die. Mom hyperventilates. Dad says, "They'll be fine" and goes to sleep.
Monday, 11:49pm - Mom fills empty milk jugs with hot water and sets them in the brood box. Chicks huddle between the jugs for warmth.
Tuesday, 12:17am - Mom tries to sleep. Feels something crawling on arm. Grabs (what she can only imagine was) a monstrous spider and throws it across the room. Realizes she might have thrown it on baby.
Tuesday, 12:24am - Mom lays startled baby back down in bed after vigorously shaking his blankets and sheets. Baby is very confused. Mom asks forgiveness for cursing in front of baby. 
Tuesday, 1:00am, 2:00am, 3:00am, 4:00am, 5:00am, 6:00am, 7:00am, 8:00am - Empty and refill jugs with hot water. Thank God we have such a large hot water heater.
Tuesday, 8:31am - Take all six Thixtons, plus two guinea pigs, five chicks, and two ducklings next door to the grandparents' house. Thank the Lord, they have power.
Tuesday, 3:45pm - Still no power at home. Take all six Thixtons, plus two guinea pigs, five chicks, and two ducklings across town to the parents' house and settle in.
Wednesday, all day - Parents' cat stares longingly at birds and rodents. Mom threatens his life.
Thursday, 4:32pm - Finally get the call that power is restored. Take all six Thixtons, plus two guinea pigs, five chicks, and two ducklings back home.
Friday, 5:02pm - Mom warily leaves all animals in the capable hands of Dad and 10 young men from the youth group who are staying at the house for the weekend.
Saturday, 6:30am, 7:42am, 8:02am, 8:05am, 10:28am, 10:59am, 12:26pm, 1:17pm, 3:36pm, 4:29pm, 8:22pm - Mom prays that the chicks and ducks survive the weekend without her and that her house is still in tact when she returns.  She also prays the youth retreat is going well.
Sunday, 12:24pm - Mom returns home to chicks and ducks. They are alive, but miserable.
(Note to self: Chicks are clean, dry animals. Ducks are wet and and clumsy.)
Sunday, 12:32pm - Chicks and ducks get a clean brood box, and a bath.  
(Note to self: Ducks love taking a bath. Chicks, not so much.) 
Sunday, 12:51pm - Ducks get their own brood box to spare the chicks any more soggy misery. Chicks seem happy. Ducks seem clueless.
Sunday, 9:28pm - Mom thinks about the eggs that will come in the summer. Duck eggs, white eggs, dark brown eggs, light brown/pinkish eggs... wait... no blue eggs?
Sunday, 9:30pm - Mom makes plans to return to the feed store in the morning to buy more chicks.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Ladies Living Strong Launch Event (i.e. Why Community Matters)

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to speak at the launch of a local community organization.  Ladies Living Strong is an organization that inspires boldness and empowers relationships among women. It aligns women to local non profits and businesses of integrity as well as encourages connections and relationships with each other.

I love this organization for so many reasons. First of all, it is the result of years of dreaming, planning, and working by my dear friend Starr.

Starr Leger, Founder and CEO of Ladies Living Strong

I remember about two years ago when Starr brought this itty bitty infant of a dream to me and said, "What do you think?" 

I'll have to admit. I didn't get it. I didn't get the importance of relationships, of connection, of having a community to do life with.
Over the past two years, I have listened to Starr's heart for community. And I have experienced my own battles - depression and others - where my "tribe" of women was my saving grace. Now, I can say I get it. I get why we need other women. They are our mirrors. Our friends are the ones who reflect back to us who we really are. When we lose ourselves in the mundane, the busy, the stress, the kids, the career, the minivan, the laundry, the tummy bugs, life - that's when we can check the reflection of our friends and see, "You are not what you do or don't do. You are not just a compilation of success and failure. You are not only mom or wife or employee. You are strong. You are good. You are beautifully amazing. You are you. And I see you."

Women wrote lies they might believe about themselves.

The finished mirror after they wrote truths about themselves and the women around them.

The thing about friendships with women is this: they are hard to form. We all have our insecurities, our past relationships, our middle school experiences that make us wary of new women. It's hard to let down our guard and let friendship in. 

That's where Ladies Living Strong comes in.

At the launch event, there was so much life and affirmation. It was easy to connect, to start new friendship. From stations that addressed our insecurities and reminded us of our beauty, to tables where we could write our dreams for the year, to yummy yummy snacks and coffee, LLS filled us up - mind, body, and spirit.

It was really beautiful. 

And it reminded me why we need other women in our lives.

So who is your "tribe" today? Do you have one? Find a way to connect with women in your community. If you are local, head over to the LLS Event Page and plan to attend the spring event. If you're not in the greater Athens area, what can you do to start surrounding yourself with mirror friends?

Let's do this. Let's fill our "tribe" with beautiful, strong women. We need them, you and I. We need each other. 

*All the non-selfie pictures were taken by the amazing and beautiful Yvonne Niemann. She volunteered her time and talent to document the event and offer free head shots to the women in attendance. Head on over and check out her page here. 

Want to know more about LLS? Check out their website here. Or like them on facebook  to get updates on upcoming events.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Recipe Day: Hearty Vegetable Soup

I have posted this before, but it's a cold, icy day here in Georgia, and I plan on making up a big pot of this deliciousness tomorrow. Just thought I'd share the love! Enjoy! 

Have I ever mentioned how much I dislike cold weather? I'm a summertime girl, through and through. Give me flip flops and sun screen any day. But, alas, I live in Memphis. And in Memphis, we have two seasons: Summer, and Gray. Blech. Cold, overcast, dry, gray days - I loathe them.
So I have to find ways to warm up our days of cold and yuck. One of those ways is cooking. Specifically, cooking soup. Specifically specifically, cooking vegetable soup.
 (Thanks to my friend Nicki for the photo!)

I love a good vegetable soup. I make mine with beef. And lots and lots and lots of veggies. So much so, that my husband says it's too thick to be called vegetable soup. He says, technically, it's a beefy stew.
I say that there are too many vegetables to be called a "beefy" stew. Seriously, it's 85% veggies, 10% broth, and 5% ground beef. Totally not a beefy stew.

But whatever. If that's the worst of our disagreements... hahahaha... oh, never mind.

Here's the thing about this recipe: you can pretty much throw in whatever you want. I use three carrots. But maybe you really like carrots and want to use six? Do it! Want chicken instead of beef, or want to go strictly vegetarian? Cool!  Or maybe (like me) you love onion and want to throw some in there right at the beginning. Go for it! (I don't put onions in mine because I'm the only person in my house who likes them. So sad. Frowny face.)

There are a few ingredients that I think simply make the soup (oh, how I heart okra and kale!).  I will note those below. But maybe you disagree? Leave your comments below and let my tens of readers know how you make your veggie soup!

Finally, because I usually make this in the winter, I use frozen veggies. But if you're a summer soup kind of individual, by all means, make a trip to the farmer's market and get some freshness. Yum yum.

So without further ado, here's my recipe for Hearty Veggie... Beefy... Stew... Soup... Stuff:

Step 1: It's Not That "Hard" (the hard veggies)

2-3 Large, raw carrots, diced
2-3 stalks of celery, diced
1 bag frozen baby lima beans
1 bag frozen speckled butter peas
(My mama told me about these, and now they are a MUST for my veggie soup. Although I have used frozen black eyed peas in a pinch, the speckled butter beans have such great flavor and never get "mushy" like other peas do when they're cooked for too long.)
1 bag frozen corn
Salt/Pepper (Just a little, at this stage!)

Dump everything into large stock pot with a few tablespoons of olive oil (just enough to lightly coat all the veggies). Then let those babies sweat! The key here is to cook them over a low heat, completely covered, letting all that steam soften them up and sweat out the flavors.

Let these continue to sweat until soft. My "test" is: if I can easily cut through a piece of carrot with a spoon or rubber spatula, they're good to go.
Step 2: Roux the Day
Sprinkle with 2-3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour and toss until all the veggies are coated.
(I learned on the cooking channel that this is creates a "roux." It allows your soup to thicken up without the "flour-y" taste or clumps. Learn something new everyday, eh?)
For a gluten-free option, you can totally use cornstarch instead or just skip this step altogether.  No biggie.
Step 3: Oh, "Broth"er.
2 boxes of beef broth.
I love the taste that beef broth adds to the soup. My favorite thing is to use the leftover "juices" from a pot roast to make a beefy flavored broth. HOWEVER, I have also used chicken broth (canned and homemade) and vegetable stock (for my vegetarian friends). It all works!
Also, if you only have a can or two of broth? No big deal. Just add water and a little salt and let it cook down.
Whatever you use, throw it in the pot with the veggies, give it a good stir, and bring it to a low boil.
Step 4: Time to Beef Up.
1 lb. Lean Ground Beef
This is one of those "have to have's." It has to be lean beef, otherwise you'll end up with grease floating on top of your soup.
So here it is: throw the whole thing in the boiling soup, raw, and break it apart while it cooks. Yep. That's it. No "browning" the beef in a second pan. Ain't nobody got time for that. This makes really crumbly beef and also releases the "fats" into the broth, giving it even more beefy flavor. Yum! Let the soup boil until the meat is no longer pink, then reduce to a simmer.
If all you have in the fridge happens to be a fattier beef (75/25, etc.), just brown it, drain it, rinse it, and add it to the soup. It'll still work.
Also: leftover beef from a pot roast makes excellent soup.
Step 5: Let's Soften Things Up a Bit (the soft veggies)
2-3 Large Kale Leaves, chopped
2 cups potatoes, peeled and diced (This is approximately 3-4 russet potatoes or 5-6 small red potatoes.)
1 bag Frozen Okra
1 can diced tomatoes, including juices OR 2 large, fresh tomatoes, peeled, diced and smushed (like, literally, cut them up and "smush" them with your hands.
1/2 jar of spaghetti sauce
2-3 sprigs of fresh Thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried thyme)
A "Handful" of fresh parsley, chopped (If you don't have any fresh, just leave it out. Dried parsley does not do it justice.)
All of these are essential. All of them. You must have them all.
Ok. The truth is that I have made veggie soup without all of these before, and it's still pretty tasty. But each of these ingredients adds a "key" flavor that makes this soup so very scrumptious, I hate to leave any of them out.
Add them all to the simmering pot, and let it continue to simmer until the potatoes are soft. (Remember the carrot spoon test I mentioned above? Use it on the potatoes to see if they're soft enough.)
Step 5: Let's Spice it Up
Salt and Pepper to Taste. Depending on your choice of broth, tomatoes, and spaghetti sauce, you may need a little or a lot. (Homemade broth, fresh tomatoes, and homemade spaghetti sauce will probably require more salt and pepper. Boxed broth, canned tomatoes, and "Ragu" type spaghetti sauce may not require any salt, and only a little pepper. Just taste and add, taste and add. Plus, it gives you an excuse to eat some right now instead of waiting for dinner!)
Optional: If I'm just cooking for me and the Hubs, I will add a 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp of cayenne pepper. We love that little kick that gives this soup an extra little sumpin sumpin.
That's it! Super easy, super tasty, and super full of good-for-you stuff. I sprinkle a little parmesan on top and serve it with sweet cornbread muffins. 
 (Thanks, Jillian,  for the pic!)
Make yourself a pot today, and turn this cold, nasty day into something enjoyable! Or, better yet, come on over to my house. We'll eat and chat and pretend like it's 75 degrees outside. Okay? Okay. 
And as an added bonus today, here's a little printable version of the recipe! xoxo! 

Monday, February 9, 2015

5 Ways to Change the Tone of Your Home

In high school, I was in a "vocal ensemble." That's a fancy word for a small group of singers who sang off key less often than the rest of the high school chorus. We traveled for competitions and sang for most of the school's "cantata's." Yes, sir'ee. We were something else.

I totally had in my mind that the vocal ensemble would be the launchpad for my future singing career. I would be on a VH1 special one day, talking about the wonderful experience I had during my "high school career" and how music saved me in a tumultuous time in my life (you know, like the time I got a zit two days before prom).

Don't pretend like you didn't want to be famous too, Judgy McJudgerson.


There's one performance that particularly stands out in my mind, not for its perfect timing or on-point harmony, but because it could have been the single most embarrassing moment of my "high school career."

It was an a cappella number. (Wince. Yes, we were mostly an a cappella group. It's amazing I wasn't more popular in high school.) The director (a hottie senior) would hit a note on the piano, walk over to the front of the stage, and count down the beginning of the song. In rehearsal, we rocked our version of Swing Low Sweet Chariot (rocked it, I say). But at the performance - a school-day assembly which all of my peers were forced to attend - our director walked over to the piano, hit the wrong key, walked back to the front of the stage, and counted down the beginning of the song.

Right off the bat, everyone in the room knew something was off. I stared at the alto section. They stared right back at me, as if to say, "What the heck are we supposed to do?" The director's ears started turning red. The audience of our peers shifted in their seats and hid their smirks and snickers behind their hands (because high schoolers are mature like that). The further we went into the number, the more complex it became, and the more obvious it was that we were in the wrong key. It was a train wreck, and everyone knew it.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity of torture, the director held up his hands, stopped the song, turned to the audience, and laughed. It was the exact move needed to change the atmosphere of the room. Everyone let out a sigh of relief and laughed right along with him.

He shrugged on his way back to the piano and said, "These things happen. Let's try again."

I think about that hottie senior director sometimes. Not because he was a hottie, but because of the way he gracefully handled that train wreck of a performance. He recognized it was beyond repair, threw some humor on it, and hit the "do-over" button. I think about him because, sometimes in our home, I need to follow his example.

One of the most important realities of being "mom" is that we set the tone for our home.

We hit the first note and count down the beginning of everyone's day. 

If we get off key - if we huff and puff through our housework, if we respond too quickly to our kids or too slowly to our husbands, if we let frustration or busyness or inconvenience affect our moods - the whole ensemble of family members tends to follow suit. 

But sometimes we forget, right? 

I know I do. 

And before we know it, everything is off key, and everyone in the room knows it. 

When that happens, we have to pull a hottie senior director move. (Um... You know what I mean.)

We have to stop everything, laugh a little, and say, "These things happen. Let's try again."

Sometimes that's a lot harder than it sounds though. 

So when we find ourselves in need of a quick attitude adjustment, here's a few things we can do to slow that roll and turn it around:

1. Take a break. When my toddler decides to throw one of her ear-piercing tantrums in the middle of the kitchen floor because I won't let her play in the trash, the only thing that seems to stop her in her tracks is to remove her from the room altogether. I sweep her flailing limp body into my arms, and walk right outside. Doesn't matter the weather or time of day. We take a couple minutes to talk about the bird in the tree or the car going down the road. She forgets about the trash and the reason for her tantrum, and we walk back inside. This principle works for us mamas too.  I'm not saying you should stop making dinner and go take a 45-minute luxurious bath. But take 3-5 minutes, remove yourself from the current situation, and regroup. Step outside. Sit down and slowly sip a cup of coffee. Drink some water. If your kids are old enough, tell them "mommy needs a time out. Don't bother me unless it's an emergency." If they aren't old enough to do that, plop them down in front of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse while you do a few yoga stretches. Again, I'm not talking about a 2-hour break here, just a few minutes to slow down, pay attention to your breathing, remember what you're grateful for.

2. Pray. We can't do this parenting thing on our own. At least, we can't do it well. Prayer gives us a higher perspective. It reminds us that we are called to build our homes, not required to. We are blessed with screaming toddlers and dirty houses and the dinnertime rush. Prayer realigns our vision and reminds us that we are not alone in our struggles. If you feel too stressed or overwhelmed to pray, ask your kiddos to pray for you. It amazes me how perceptive they are and how they know exactly what to say when they lay their little hands on my head and ask god to "help mommy have a happy heart."

3. Do a mirror check. Sometimes when I'm focused and hard at work on my daily to-do list, I glance in the mirror and feel surprised at who I see staring back at me. She has a furrowed brow, a clenched jaw, and a scowl that would frighten most small children. What is that facial expression saying to my family? So I take 30 seconds to intentionally change it. I relax the muscles in my forehead, unclench my jaw, take a deep breath, and smile. If it's in the middle of a really stressful moment, it will totally feel fake. That's okay. Research tells us that the act of smiling itself can actually "lift our mood". Bonus: It's a lot prettier to look at in the mirror.

4. Have a dance party. Here's where humor comes into play. Often, by the time I realize I need an attitude adjustment, my whole family has already been affected by my tone.  By this point, we all need a reset button. So have everyone stop what they're doing, and take 2 minutes to do something totally out of the ordinary and fun. Turn the music on and dance. Go jump on the trampoline. Run around the back yard screaming at the top of your lungs. If nothing else, you'll give the neighbors something to gossip about.

5. Fake it 'til you make it. Sometimes steps 1-4 don't work. I'm just sayin'. Sometimes life throws us a curve ball that a 3-minute coffee break can't fix. But when that happens, we have to ask: What can I do to make things better right now?  Often, you can't change the people or circumstances you're dealing with, but you can choose how you respond to them. You can choose to smile (see number 3), to soften your tone, to laugh. I'm not saying that you push down all emotion and pretend life is peachy all the time. Things can get really difficult, even painful, at times. But during the morning rush, or while you're helping your kids with homework - this is not the time to work through those things. This is the time to choose joy, and watch the tone of your home change with you.

What about you? Do you have any "tricks" to change the tone of your home? How do you "choose joy" in the midst of daily chaos? Let us know in comments below!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Mama with the Manna

Ten days ago, I sat down and wrote what would become my first "official" post on this blog. It was about How to Maintain a Peaceful Home. The following seven days were some of the busiest we have had in a very long time. We fed over 40 people in three days, which meant that when I actually "published" that post on Monday morning, my kitchen looked like this:

And because the few spare minutes I had in the week were spent preparing for two speaking engagements (one for me and one for my husband), my laundry pile ended up looking like this:

Then while I spent Monday playing catch-up and simultaneously advertising the new blog via social media, my cloth diaper pail sat like this:

And you know what? That's life right now.

It's the reality of having kids - whether you have one or four of them - there's always something left to do. Another load of laundry. Another sticky spot on the floor. Another pile of dishes in the sink. Mismatched socks. Lost shoes. Dust bunnies. Dust monsters. Homework. Dinner prep. Finger prints. Unidentifiable goo. 

Always something. 

Something left undone. 

Something that will have to wait one more day. 


And it used to really bother me. It still can now, if I let it. All the piles and incomplete tasks can leave me feeling a little hopeless. When I wake up to a never-ending to-do list, and go to bed with same list still undone, it can feel like failure. 

But it's in those moments we mamas have to remember the principle of "enough."

As a Christian, I use the term "Sabbath."

I love the story of how the Sabbath was given to God's people. The Israelites were wandering the desert with Moses - hungry, tired, with a forty-year journey ahead. They woke up to a never-ending desert, and went to bed with the same desert still stretched out before them.

Then God sent manna. The Bible says it was like bread or grain. It came fresh every morning, raining from the sky. The people were to go out and gather just enough for one day. Just enough to sustain their families and fill their bellies. On the sixth day of the week, they were to gather twice as much so that on the seventh day, they could rest. 

There were some who didn't obey. They took more than they needed. 

I think I understand them. I think I am one of them. 

I see that mama, the one who pulled her children away from the only home they had ever known, where they were slaves, yes, but their bellies were always full, and they never had to worry about their next meal. She brought them into the desert to follow a man who claimed to hear from God. And for the first time, when her children's tummies rumbled, she had nothing to give them. No means to provide for them. So when the manna came, she swore she would never again hear her children complain of hunger. She would work a little harder. She would gather a little more. She would store it away for the day when the manna stopped. Then they would have enough. 

But the next morning, when she and the other mamas started to prepare breakfast, all the manna they had gathered reeked. It was filled with worms, and the smell filled the whole camp. 

So she learned to trust. She had to. She learned to know when enough was enough and to believe the Lord when He said there would be more tomorrow. 

And when the sixth day came, there was more than enough for that day. Covering the same amount of ground, she gathered twice as much. There was enough left over for a day of rest - a gift from her Creator, who had seen her never-ending work in Egypt. For one day each week, He would say to her, "You have done enough."

That's why I love the principle of "enough." The Sabbath. Manna. God gives me - gives us - grace enough for each day. New, fresh mercies every morning. I do what I must to sustain my family, to fill their bellies and their hearts and their minds. I love them with my words, my actions, my service to them and to our home. And at the end of the day, when there is still so much left to do, I hear God say to me: "Enough."

You have cooked enough. You have cleaned enough. You have loved enough.

You are enough.


And trust that tomorrow, there will be enough.


What about you? Could you use a little "Sabbath" in your life? In what areas do you need to remember to trust God for "enough"?  Tell us below, in the comments!


Sunday, February 1, 2015

10 Unlikely Ways to Make a Peaceful Home

I remember sitting in a small group a few years ago, and I heard another mama utter these words: "I just can't go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink."

I remember my head dropping and my heart sinking as I pictured the pile of after-dinner dishes (and after-breakfast-and-lunch dishes) (and after-last-night's-dinner dishes too) that were "soaking" in my sink and on my kitchen counters.

I knew I would never be like her. I would never, ever be the type of housewife who could maintain a spotless kitchen. Or a spotless anything, for that matter.

Years later, as I sit here writing this post, I realize that statement is probably true. My house will never be spotless. But as I sit here writing this post, I do have an empty sink and a dishwasher full of clean dishes. And while nothing is ever spotless, most areas are peaceful.

My floors may not be mopped daily, but they are swept so that babies aren't eating dust bunnies and they are "spot mopped" to keep little bare feet from stepping in sticky spots. My bathroom isn't cleaned daily, but there are clean towels in place and a counter and toilet that get wiped down after the morning rush. My bedroom hasn't been vacuumed in ages, but the bed is made, the dirty clothes are off the floor, and the shoes are put away.

I know now what I didn't know then: In our home and schedule, nothing will be perfect. But everything can be peaceful. 

Tweet: In our home and schedule, nothing will be perfect. But everything can be peaceful.

And as I think about the difference between the housewife I was then and the homemaker I am today, I realize there are a few things that have slowly and steadily brought peace and changed the way our home functions: 

1. Be the first one up in the mornings. I know, I know. This is a hard one. Believe me, this was the hardest transition for me to make, but there's a reason it's the first thing on the list. Getting up even 20 minutes before my kiddos has been the number one best thing I have done to maintain peace in our home. Since our home is so small, I can't accomplish a whole lot during those early morning hours without waking up the whole family. But what I can do is go to the bathroom alone, brush my teeth, and drink a cup of coffee without reheating it six times. Often, that's the ONLY time in my day I can do those things, and I quickly became addicted to it. I check the calendar. Plan my day. Make sure clothes are laid out for the kids. And start breakfast. Then there's the added benefit of greeting my family with a smile and a hug when they come bleary-eyed padding out of their rooms. That's so much better than the usual, "Give mommy a minute to start the coffee before you ask me for anything, and no, I don't know what's for breakfast."

2. Plan to be ready 30 minutes before you have to be ready. I am a stress shouter. It's true. The more stressful the situation is, the louder my voice gets. When we are running late, a simple "go brush your hair" can quickly escalate into a "IF YOU DON'T STOP CRYING ABOUT THESE TANGLES, I'M GOING TO CUT THEM OUT!" Oy. I have tried many things to keep myself from stress shouting, including snapping my wrist with a rubber band and putting a quarter in a jar. Nothing has helped. So the solution that Husband came up with? Eliminate the stress. Okay, okay. I know we can't REALLY eliminate stress. Things happen. Shoes get misplaced. Gum finds hair. Diapers explode. Stressful things happen. But the difference here is this: have I allowed time for them? It generally takes our family about an hour to get out the door if everyone is showered and clothes are clean. Add a couple hours if everyone needs showers and I have no idea what anyone is going to wear. So if we need to walk out the door at 3:00pm, I calculate all of our times based on being ready at 2:30pm. And guess what? We have NEVER been completely ready 30 minutes early. There's ALWAYS something that slows down the process, even if it's just slow movers. But in the midst of the stress, I am not shouting because I know we have allowed time for it. Lost a shoe? Everyone stop and help look. Diaper explosion? Just change the baby's outfit (and my shirt). Slow mover? Take a minute to help her get dressed. You can't love in a hurry. So start just 30 minutes earlier than you have to, and make some room for love in the process.

Tweet: You can't love in a hurry. So start just 30 minutes earlier than you have to, and make some room for love in the process.

3. Make the bed and take out the trash. Or, ya know, have Husband make the bed and take out the trash. My husband works several jobs outside the home so that I can work inside the home full time. That's why I don't ask a whole lot of him in terms of daily chores. But two things he always does for me: make the bed in the morning and take out the trash in the evening. Both things give me some much needed "white space" in my home, a place where my eyes can land and see something in order. It's a momentary mental break from the messes that may take over other areas at any given time. But there's also a practical reason: my bed is my all-purpose surface. I sort dirty clothes, fold clean clothes, sew up holy clothes, snuggle for homework reading, nurse the baby, and allow my introverted child some alone time - all on my bed. If the bed doesn't get made, all those activities move to another place in the house and, usually, cause chaos in that space.

4. Use the One Touch Rule. I have a bad habit of just tossing items into a room. If I find a towel in the living room? Just toss it in the bathroom and hang it up later. Random sock? Toss it in the bedroom, in the general direction of the dirty clothes basket. Kid's toy? Stand in the playroom doorway and toss. The problem with this method is that, very quickly, every room in the house is littered with items I plan to "put away later." So our rule? If you touch it, put it away. It takes a little discipline, and a few eye rolls (mostly from me), but the outcome is palpable.

5. Recruit the kids. With a few exceptions, I don't pick up toys or clothes that belong to my oldest two kiddos. They are eight and five and old enough to clean up after themselves. If they leave a mess in their rooms when they leave for school, it stays there until they get home and clean it up. They also have daily chores they do when they get home from school. Usually, it only takes them about 30 minutes, and it allows all of us more time for the fun stuff. Who loves a fun mom? We do!

6. Do small clean-ups at transition times. On days when the kids are home all day, the messes can pile up quickly. Toys, dress up, shoes, clothes, crafts, Legos, lunch dishes, baby dolls... Oh my! Then we have to end the day with a HUGE hours-long cleanup time. So instead, we do cleanups during transitions. If they're playing in the playroom and want to go outside? Sure! Just pick up the playroom first. When they come in from outside asking for snack? No problem! Go put away the outside toys while I get it ready. Want to paint after snack time? Absolutely! Clean up your snack so we have table space for painting. I like the kids to be kids; so I don't do the whole "one toy at a time" thing. But we do use the "one space at a time" rule. When we get ready to leave one space or activity for another one, do a quick 5-minute clean up. Easy peasy.

7. Empty the dishwasher every morning. Then fill it up with dirty dishes throughout the day. Turn it on before bed. Repeat daily. Thank you, flylady, for this little tidbit. No dirty dishes in the sink at bedtime! Score!

8. Put down the phone. Oh, man. This point could have an entire post unto itself. I'm in the middle of reading Hands Free Mama by Rachel May Stafford, and it is rocking my world. If you haven't read it, go now. Get it. Thanks to this book, and a few other factors, I have recently instituted a phone-free time from the hours of 3:00pm to 7:30pm (the time the kids get home from school and the time they go to bed). This has made a HUGE impact in how our afternoons feel. Trust me on this. Do it for a week. Or even for a day. Pick a block of time to put down the phone or computer or what-have-you, and just be present. It's addicting, I promise.

9. Work during your productive time. We all have a peak time of day, a time when we can get the most done in the least amount of time. For me, it's mid-morning. Usually about 9am to noon. And what I have realized is that if it doesn't get done during that time, it most likely won't get done. Or it will get done, but it will take me a lot longer, and I'll hate it the whole time. Find your best time: early morning, late night, mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and plan your day around that time. If my priority today is to fold all the clean clothes, I do it during that time. If my plan is to hang with friends (an activity that, while enjoyable, saps this introvert's energy), I schedule it during that time.  Trip to the park? Mid morning. I even try to get dinner started in the morning by prepping my food or starting the crock pot. If I waste those hours, I know that day will be a wasted day.

10. Let it go. But not like Elsa. Like a peaceful homemaker. Know that nothing will be perfect. Seeking perfection in any one area of our lives can cause us to neglect other areas. A perfect house could mean a crabby mama. Aim for peace, not perfection. And let go of anything that doesn't contribute to that peace.

If these tips can help an Unlikely Homesteader like myself, I'm confident they can aid you in your journey too! 

What do you do to maintain a peaceful home? Is there something I left off the list? Let us know, below in the comments!