Then & Now: Adoption Photos

Anna Rakeb has been home with us for nearly 7 months.

We are amazed everyday by how much we love her and how well she fits into our family, even with 4 older brothers!

Last year at this time, she was in her orphanage and looked like this.

then & now: adoption pictures

Isn’t she the sweetest??

This fall, she looks like this:

then & now: adoption photos


then & now: adoption photos

We’re so thankful that God put Anna in our family.  She is a treasure.

{You can check out our adoption story here.}



Colorful Painted Kitchen Table and Chairs

Over the past decade I have slowly left the safe harbor of beiges and black accents and embraced more color.  I find that color in my home has an energizing and happy effect.  

painted dining room table & chairs

So when my kitchen table and chairs were getting tired looking, I pulled out some spray paint and went to town.

painted dining room table & chairs

There was just too much brown in this space.

painted dining room table & chairs

So, here’s my ho-hum table and chairs before…

painting dining room chairs

painting dining room chairs

…and after!

painting dining room chairs

Now, granted, this is a. lot. of. color.

painting dining room chairs

But it can always be redone if it just isn’t working.

The last time we stained this table, it turned out too orange for my liking.  But it was so much work, that we just left it as is for several years.

painting dining room chairs

This time, I used chalk paint in Castle Gray that I found at Walmart.  I was going to use the Rustoleum brand from Home Depot, but it would have cost $40 to paint my table.  That was before buying the wax for finishing.  The Walmart bottle cost under $10, then the wax was another $5-10.  I still have some left over.

I used a simple foam brush to apply the chalk paint.  It took several coats.  After lightly distressing, I finished by brushing on the wax, then buffing it with a clean cloth when dry.

How is it holding up?

painting dining room chairs

Well, just how you’d expect for our table with a toddler and four boys doing school at this hub each and every day.  But it’s not too precious of a piece of furniture.  I will just redo it (probably another color!) when it gets too shabby looking.

As for the chairs, the boys have strong opinions about color, so I let them choose their own from my stash.  It they have to sit in these chairs for school each day, why not have some fun?

painting dining room chairs

I used Rustoleum spray paint and one can in each color was plenty.  Just took them outside on some cardboard, turned them upside down and painted that direction first, then stood them right side up and finished up.  Because they were black originally, some of the lighter colors took several coats to cover the black.  And I know these aren’t perfectly painted, but they’re working for us right now.

painted dining room chairs

I recommend choosing a spray paint that includes primer.

What do you think?  Would you ever spray paint your furniture?  Do you embrace color or are neutrals more “you”?

painted dining room chairs

I’m learning to embrace what makes a cozy home for my family, even if it does break all the conventional decorating rules.

colorful painted kitchen table & chairs


Our Adoption {Just Show Up} Story

Our adoption story really begins and ends with grace.

Through undeserved grace, God stepped into our lives when we were hopeless and needed forgiveness and made a way for us to be adopted into His family as sons and daughters.

just show up

As our family began to grow, God burdened our hearts for the needs of the fatherless. That is His heart, and He made it our heart as well.

Soon the question changed from “Why adopt?” To “Why not adopt?

So we started on the journey to find a little girl that needed a family. Before she was even born, we were seeking her.

just show up

The grace cycle was continuing.

We love because He first loved us.

We know what love is, what grace is, because of Christ.

Adoption is totally undeserved and unexpected on the part of the orphan. Our little girl couldn’t fathom how drastically her life was about to change that day we met her in an Ethiopian orphanage.

just show up

But starting the adoption journey wasn’t the end of the grace cycle.

God had burdened our hearts to adopt. That much was true. But we had no way of paying the huge financial costs on our own. This is where God’s grace shows up in amazement and splendor.


just show up

He could have plopped down $35,000 in our laps when we stepped out in obedience to His calling on our family to adopt.

But instead He mobilized hundreds of friends and family to Just Show Up.

To Just Show Up and share generously with us in many totally unexpected ways.

To Just Show Up and be God’s hands and feet in our lives during the adoption.

Every time an adoption fee had to be paid, God miraculously paid it in full. Right on time.

just show up
Money came in from people generously saving their spare change, slipping us $20 bills, contributing to a huge yard sale, and many more ways. And through grant organizations whose donors we have never met, but who have significantly touched our lives.

And I pray that those friends and family who were such an integral piece of the puzzle in bringing Anna Rakeb home from Ethiopia received great joy in knowing they were making a difference.

just show up

By choosing to Just Show Up, they were a part in the story God was and is writing in the life of a former orphan. Now our cherished daughter. And one day, we pray, a daughter of the King.

just show up


{Linking up our Adoption Just Show Up story at}

{Just Link Up}

Homeschool Curriculum for 7th Grade

Where has the time gone?  Seven years ago when my oldest was in kindergarten and I had two toddlers and a baby in tow, I seriously wondered how I would manage life let alone homeschool.

Fast-forward to this year, and I am amazed how well things are flowing.  Those early years are very mommy-intensive.  We are now enjoying the middle grades with more independence even in schooling.

7th Grade Homeschool Curriculum

Here are the driving forces that I consider as I choose curriculum for each child.

  • Does it fit with a Classical Education model?  I appreciate that this educational philosophy values a focus on language as well as the interrelatedness of each subject.
  • Is is mom-intensive, or does it encourage the student to take responsibility for their own learning?
  • Is it re-usable?  This is not essential, but with many siblings potentially using this curriculum in the future, I lean toward choices that I can use again and again while only purchasing once.  {Analytical Grammar is an exception}

7th Grade Homeschool Curriculum

My seventh grader has a laminated index card which he refers to each day.  He can complete subjects in any order, but they all need to be done by dinnertime.  The harder he works, the earlier he gets done.

7th Grade Homeschool Curriculum


We have used BJU Press math curriculum all the way through and I am still happy with this choice.  My only complaint is that you have to purchase the whole teacher’s manual just to get the answer keys.  That’s the only part of the teacher’s edition that I use.  These books are laid out so well that my seventh grader essentially teaches himself.  Of course, I’m always available to help.

7th grade homeschool

We purchased the student book, but he completes all his assignments on notebook paper, so we will be able to reuse this textbook again and again.  We’ve also purchased the tests and answer keys.

{one-time price for 7th grade math curriculum:  approximately $184 –> this price also includes a separate student activity manual and teacher guide that we aren’t using right now}

After having used several different spelling curricula over the years, we are finally settled on All About Spelling for all grade levels.  We love its multi-sensory style.  The review and mastery approach to AAS is what keeps this in our curriculum toolbox.

The AAS curriculum is open and go, so very practical for mom!  And it does not require the filling out of spelling worksheets ad nauseum.

Writing With Skill is an excellent program that we highly recommend.  It continues past the elementary or grammar stage Writing With Ease curriculum.  We love it because it fosters independence and initiative in my student, while setting great works of writing in front of him as models.  And this book is reusable.

Our study of grammar started with First Language Lessons in grades 1-4.  We continued with diagramming practice and Daily Grams for refreshers.  But this year I just felt like a comprehensive study of grammar was needed.

So after much research, I found Analytical Grammar.  It was on the pricey side ($95 for one student book and one teacher book).  Since the student book needs to be written in, I will have to purchase additional copies for my other children.  It is not flashy at all but rather a very basic and complete study of grammar with exercises and tests to ensure mastery.

7th grade curriculum

He spends about 10 minutes daily working on typing at

I am behind in teaching Logic to the boys.  So, all three are working through deductive reasoning skills with Mind Benders and Building Thinking Skills books.  This is in preparation for a formal study of logic in the future.

Homeschooling allows us to have the time and energy to put into individual music lessons and the practicing this requires.  We are reaping the beautiful results of years of little-by-little, minute-by-minute hard work in this area.

A complete Classical Reading list for Grades 1-8 with amazon links can be found here.  We love it!  What a great find for this school year.  The boys’ schedule allows a lot more uninterrupted reading time this year.  They are thoroughly enjoying the pleasure of digging into great books for hours each day.  And mom enjoys the quiet it brings 🙂  Little sister likes to sit and read with her brothers, too.

7th grade curriculum

7th grade curriculum

In addition to these grade-level choices, my boys are all learning these subjects together.

We add in all sorts of other learning topics and experiences as needed to round out our year.  Never a dull moment over here, but I’m very blessed and thankful to be able to invest my energy and time into my kids in this way.

{Check out my other homeschool posts here}



Nevermore Fall Raven Wreath Tutorial

Nevermore Fall Raven Wreath Tutorial @
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
            Only this and nothing more.”
The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe
Nevermore Fall Raven Wreath Tutuorial
This fall raven wreath is simple to make and it uses mainly up cycled or found pieces.
Nevermore Fall Raven Wreath Tutuorial
 What you’ll need:
Round frame without the glass
Orange spray paint
Glue gun
Fabric scrap for hanging
Raven (I found mine at the Dollarama) –> I did cut off its legs, so you might want a wire cutter for this part
Nevermore Fall Raven Wreath Tutuorial
Simply spray your frame, glue on the branch, glue on the raven, attach the fabric scrap and you’re done!  See, it’s so easy.
Nevermore Fall Raven Wreath Tutuorial

I have had several of these in my shop, and they always sell fast!

One satisfied customer wrote:

“This is by far my absolute favorite fall home decoration; it is displayed prominently in our family room. I love the modern, yet vintage feel it has… I get compliments on this all the time — I *love* it. Thank you!!”

Nevermore Fall Raven Wreath Tutuorial
Nevermore Fall Raven Wreath Tutuorial
 Nevermore Fall Raven Wreath Tutorial @
Nevermore Fall Raven Wreath Tutorial @
Have you ever made a wreath out of an up cycled frame?  What is your favorite fall door decoration?
Linking up here:

selling on etsy {my craft room}

Welcome to a little tour of the space I use for crafting.

etsy series - my craft room @

I am so very thankful for this room because in the past all of my creative pursuits were done at the kitchen table or counters, which wasn’t too convenient with homeschooling and general household chores thrown in the mix.

If your handmade items are smallish (like jewelry), you can probably get away with crafting in your living spaces and not making too much of a mess.

But if you can swing it, I would highly recommend carving out a corner of a spare bedroom, a place in the basement, a counter in the garage, or a shed in the yard for your crafting hobby.  My productivity level greatly increased by having a dedicated space for my hobby-turned-business.

No worries if you don’t have a craft room!  Like I said, I ran my etsy shop for several years from a small home office space and just made do with my situation.

selling on etsy {my craft room}

The room is a great size with laminate flooring, which makes it easy to sweep up.

My hubby built me this awesome work table that measures 8 feet by 4 feet and 3 feet tall.

selling on etsy {my craft room}

He covered the top with leftover laminate flooring which has been a great work surface.

selling on etsy {my craft room}

The sides have great sturdy storage for supplies.

selling on etsy {my craft room}

selling on etsy {my craft room}

selling on etsy {my craft room}

This room is not “beautiful” but rather very practical!  The beauty lies in the fact that I can create at my leisure and close the door to my mess.  This room is not connected to my house, so the creative mess and piles that might exist out here don’t have to bring a cluttered feel into my home.   selling on etsy {my craft room}

selling on etsy {my craft room}

My sewing machine is at a desk in front of the windows.  Storage of all my raw crafting materials and stock waiting to be up cycled is around the perimeter of the room.

selling on etsy {my craft room}

I would love for this room to be beautiful, but it’s too much of a work horse right now.

selling on etsy {my craft room}

So there you have it.  This is my happy place, where my introverted self loves to recharge from being with my little people all day.

Where do you craft?

The Bay of Fundy

bay of fundy 10We enjoyed getting away to White Head Island in the Bay of Fundy.  The rugged beauty of this secluded destination is just perfect.  And having family there gives us the best reason for a visit.

bay of fundy 1

Time seems to stand still as life ebbs and flows with the tides and ferry schedule.

bay of fundy 2

bay of fundy 3


There are beaches that dazzle the eyes with beautiful shades of rocks.

bay of fundy 4

Who knew ordinary beach rocks could be so pretty?  The water brings out their deep and varied hues.

bay of fundy 5

Then there is the large sandy beach that requires a hike or a good vehicle to discover.

bay of fundy 6

The lighthouse is pretty even at low tide.


bay of fundy 7

white head

If you know a local, you could go pick periwinkles!

bay of fundy 8

Or help spread dulse (edible seaweed) for the family business.

bay of fundy 9

Ahh, the simple island life with the sea-salty air and the ferry’s fog horn is just how we remembered it last year.

white head 2



Homeschool Curriculum Combined Subjects {Grades 7, 6, 5 & 2}

Fresh start.  Sharpened pencils.  New year — bring it on!

Today I’m sharing our homeschool plan for the year.  I’ve never done this before.  Why in the world would I want to?

I think it comes down to encouragement & inspiration –> you can do this!

I can’t tell you how many homeschool blogs I visited in the early years when I just wanted a sneak peak into another family to see how they did it.  What about the toddlers?  How does first grade look?  What about when the kids enter middle school?  How do you educate multiple kids on multiple levels?

So, I’m sharing our plan, not because it’s the best plan ever, but just for plain encouragement if you’re another mom in the trenches.  Just to share ideas and curriculum choices that I think will work for us in this season at this time with these kids.

So, without further ado… our mostly classically-inspired yet eclectic homeschool curriculum for 2015-2016.

Homeschool Curriculum Combined Subjects

Combined Subjects

This is how I keep my sanity.  This year we will have kids in grades 7, 6, 5 & 2.  Did I also mention that we have a new adorable sister in the mix?!

Combining subjects brings more order from the potential chaos and streamlines the day.  Since we {mostly} follow a Classical Education model, I know that subjects like history and science don’t have to be taught “on grade level.”  My kids will get these subjects at least three times in their educational careers, each time at a deeper and more age-appropriate level.

For example, we all studied The Early Church & Middle Ages for history last year.  My first grader got a taste for it (grammar stage).  He will study it again in upper elementary at a deeper level (logic stage), then again in High school (rhetoric stage).  We gain more than we lose by having everyone “on the same page” in these subjects.


This is a new concept for me, but it looks like a great way to get all the little extras covered without going crazy!  Check out this helpful discussion.  Looping basically helps you navigate the frequency of subjects that don’t need to be taught daily.

So, we will be combining and looping the following group subjects this year:

Homeschool Curriculum Combined Subjects

{This post contains affiliate links.  Please see my disclosure policy.}

Mystery of History –>  We are studying Volume III: The Renaissance, Reformation, and Growth of Nations.  We will listen to the lessons, add information to our timelines, work on related mapping exercises, and read additionally from The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia.  My 5th, 6th & 7th graders will complete outlining and summary writing several times a week from their outside reading.  Their personal reading lists will include titles that correspond to our history study.


Homeschool Curriculum Combined Subjects

Science –> For several years now we have used God’s Design science curriculum. Written for use in grades 1-8, your students will have an opportunity to circle through once in lower elementary and again in upper elementary and middle school.  Great for including multiple ages together.  This year we’ll be studying “God’s Design for Chemistry & Ecology.”


French –> Since we started our homeschooling journey in the bilingual province of New Brunswick, we purchased The Easy French by Great Commission Languages and studied the Junior level several years ago.  This year all four of the boys will work through Level 1 together.  We will work on French daily (not looped).

Bible –>  Our morning loop will alternate between the following:

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing

Herein Is Love, Volume 2: Exodus

The Westminster Shorter Catechism

Daily Life at the Time of Jesus

Daily Scripture memory review using this system.

Fine Arts –> this is the subject matter that usually slips through the cracks!

Music:  All of my kids take private music lessons, but I hope to incorporate a study of composers and music styles alongside history for context.

Homeschool Curriculum Combined Subjects

Art:  I have found the Deep Space Sparkle blog to be my go-to source for great art lessons.  We have gotten comfortable with many different mediums and techniques, but I do need to be more consistent with art this year.  I would love your input!  Any other great art resources that you have used?

Individual Subjects {coming soon!}

  • Seventh Grade
  • Sixth Grade
  • Fifth Grade
  • Second Grade

How do you manage multiple levels in your home school?  Share your favorite combined subjects and curriculum in the comments.

selling on etsy {what to sell}

etsy series - what to sell @

With several years of experience as an etsy shop owner and over 1600 sales, I hope to inspire and encourage you to take the plunge and open your own shop if you’ve ever thought about it.  I know that I played with the idea in my mind for several months before jumping in.  Sometimes you just need a little nudge.  Consider yourself nudged 🙂

With the first post in this series I shared a few insights that I’ve learned as an etsy shop owner.

Today let’s explore what you can sell on etsy.

selling on etsy

Basic Categories:  Vintage, Handmade, or Supplies

Everything you sell must fit into one of these three categories.  Vintage is anything 20 years old or older.  You can sell it as-is.  This is a great category to sell in if you love estate sales and thrift stores.  Approximately 25 percent of my shop listings right now are in the vintage category.

selling on etsy

Handmade items include anything you make from scratch or alter in any way.  About 75 percent of my listings are up cycled handmade items.

Many times I start with an item from a thrift store or yard sale and give it a new use…

selling on etsy


Or maybe just a new coat of paint.

selling on etsy

selling on etsy

One last option is to sell craft supplies.  These can be new and not handmade by you.

selling on etsy

Custom/Made-to-Order or In-Stock

In the last post I mentioned the “magic number” of 100 –> meaning, if you stock your shop with at least 100 items, you will most likely see an average of one sale a day.  So, imagine the traffic if you can get to 200 items.  Or 300.  I would love to reach 400-500, but I only have enough time in the week to keep it hovering at around 300.

However, if you can branch out to custom work instead of in-stock items only, you will greatly increase the amount of items you can list.

For example, when I made my first few sets of painted mason jars, I created a listing for my in-stock jars.

selling on etsy

When they sold out, I was able to re-list without having to make new jars.  This keeps inventory low, allows you to create only when the money is in the bank, and enhances your storefront.

custom shabby chic frame set


Listings are 20 cents each for four months.  If they don’t sell during that time, they expire, but you can re-list for another 20 cents.  Keep reading to find out how to get some free listings!

Consider the Cost

Setting up an etsy shop is free.  There is no monthly cost.

selling on etsy

To start stocking your shop, you will pay 20 cents per listing.

When the item sells, etsy will charge you 3.5% of the selling price.

If your buyer checks out with Paypal, they will get their cut too.

And don’t forget about filing with your state and paying taxes on your earnings.

It all adds up and can be a bit discouraging for me at times to see all the fees, but owning at etsy shop is still worth it.  I have a nice little income on the side that can be used to help our family with unexpected expenses or to support some of my favorite charities!  What could you do with a little extra money in the budget?


Now, don’t forget –> your etsy shop is not a yard sale!  Don’t undervalue and underprice your hard work.

selling on etsy


You can find lots of formulas online for this, so I won’t get technical, but you should price your wares at double the wholesale rate.  Meaning, if you sold your items to a brick and mortar shop that wanted to resell your pieces, you should be able to chop your listing price in half, sell to the brick & mortar people, and still come out with profit.  It that’s not working for you, then your price is too low.

What goes into pricing?  Your supplies, your time, and your fees.  Then a profit.  Then double it.

Whew!  That was a lot of information.  But I hope it was helpful.

The next post in this series will show you a behind-the-scenes view of my etsy workroom.  I will try to clean it up a bit before I give a tour!  

{Are you ready to sell on etsy?  If you open a shop using my link, we will both get 40 free listings. Send me an email at abbybanks99 at gmail dot com for that special link!}

Adoption Update: Home 3 months

It has been harder than we could have imagined.


It has cost much.


It has been an emotional roller coaster.


It has stretched us.


It has opened our eyes to the least of these.


It has increased our faith.


It has shown us how big our God is.


And it has been so very worth it all.



{Our special thanks to Keri McLaughlin Photography for these precious photos!}