Cooking, Finances, Home and Family, Homemaking, Homeschooling, Organization

It’s summertime!

Okay.  I admit it.  Summer is NOT my favorite season of the year.  Heat is not my friend.  Pulling weeds is exhausting.  I’m not a huge fan of bugs.  Yet there is one thing that I do love about summer; it gives me a chance to regroup before the return of cold weather, canning season, and the next school year.  What do I do each summer that makes me smile?  It’s time to start making lists, so I grab a notebook and pencil, and inventory my life.

Closets get a good once-ever.  Out with the stained, ripped, ill-fitting, and simply-not-worn items (other than gardening clothes.  They don’t have to look impressive…or even respectable.  As long as they are modest, I’m good.).  I can fill in the gaps I create for minimal cost as I thrift.

Food storage is checked and straightened.  What do I have that needs to be used, or tossed? Which foods need restocking through canning, drying, sales, etc.?  Have our eating habits changed?  How does that affect what I should be storing?  I love seeing neatly faced shelves, and the knowledge that I can cook whatever strikes my fancy without an emergency shopping trip!

This is a great time to tidy, sort, and overhaul the school stuff.  Which items need to go to someone else?  What is so loved (translation: worn-out) I really ought to find an additional or replacement?  What have I not used because I forgot about it?  I also take time to move the contents of my games/learning activities shelves around.  It gives my grandchildren and others who visit a chance to rediscover old, forgotten favorites, and try new things.

I check the linen closet.  It contains not only my towels, wash clothes, and such, it is where I store the OTC meds, extra supplements, first aid and personal care products.  What needs to go on the case lot shopping list?  Having this closet stocked and things in an easy to find place before cold and flu season hits gives me great peace of mind!

As I sort, I am making mental and written lists of needs to look for as I shop, or items to add to the budget to minimize surprises later.

While this list seems overwhelming, remember it is best to eat an elephant one bite at a time!  Pick one shelf, one closet, one drawer, one category and sort that, then in a day or two, work on another one.  In a week or two, you can look back and surprise yourself with how much got done!  And don’t forget to involve the children!  They can empty shelves, take things to the trash, assist with decisions (depending on their age), and if they helped create the mess, they get to help sort it and put it away properly!  Work with one or two kids at a time, or dive in with everyone and when you’ve finished, go do something fun or eat something yummy to congratulate yourselves on a job well done!

By the time autumn rolls around, and I am ready to hunker down for the coming cold weather, the house is ready.

Happy sorting!

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Finances, Homeschooling

The wonders of a homeschool convention

June is the month when our state convention and vendor fair is held.  Each year as I teach, I am impressed by the number of new homeschoolers (affectionately referred to as newbies) in attendance.  The homeschooling movement is growing so quickly; it is such a joy to watch!  Moms learn so much as they attend the different classes, and fires are kindled (or re-kindled) over the course of the day(s).  Getting ideas from others who have taught their children successfully can remove the feeling that you must be somehow trying to “re-invent the wheel” in your homeschool.

I also grin as I watch parents make connections with others who live in their area, and expand their networks.  Having a support system is a massive help when you are working to teach your children and stay sane at the same time!  You can gather names, email addresses, and collect information about groups in your state while you are there.  What a great bonus!

Each year my daughters and I look forward to the vendor fair, and each year we find something we didn’t know existed (and now can’t do without it).  Lessons in that arena include- there is always something new around the corner that you can use to fill a gap, and there are so many things you could your spend money on, be careful.  You can overspend easily!  Even though I am a bit of a homeschool junkie, even I have experienced buyers remorse.  Not all curriculum, supplies, and games are created equal.  Saying “no” can be as wise as saying “yes!”

Take time to check out the convention in your area.  Hidden gems are waiting for you.

 

Finances, Home and Family, Homeschooling

I can have a life or write.

Life allows for many things, but not everything.  Lately the choices seem to require that I look more and more at the bottom line.  What is the cost?  What are the benefits?  Where should I spend my time?  It has taken weeks to get back to the keyboard.  Why?  Life.  Lots of life.

A few weeks ago, one of the two-year-old twins pulled a hot bowl of soup off the counter, and we spent three days making trips to the ER and burn unit in Salt Lake City.  He is on the mend, and we are so grateful that there shouldn’t be any lasting scars or other damage; but a week just got sucked away with doctor visits, medications, and grandma time for the other kids.  (I think medical black holes are some of the biggest out there!)

We have had the electrician in twice in the last couple of weeks, and have one more repair scheduled.

Our four-year-old grandson has been in and out of evaluations and other appointments.  We now know that we have an additional grandson with Sensory Perception Disorder and he also has auditory processing challenges.  Goody.  More therapy and evals coming in the near future.  It will be wonderful to be given the tools so that we can better help him as he grows.

Military trainings are not scheduled around families.  Just sayin’.

I got the flu. Ugh. Okay. Not the H1N1 crud that is going around right now, but I got pretty sick.  In some ways, it was nice to be forced to take a few days and rest.

Our plumbing sprung a leak.  And then another.  We are now in the process of having entire house replumbed.  In the end it will wonderful; right now it is a bit chaotic.

What have I learned?

  • Setting a New Year’s resolution about being calm and letting go is easier said than done.
  • School day disruptions are not the end of the world, but things will run more smoothly the more closely life can resemble whatever “normal” is.  Keep good habits going as you can.  Also, having an in-home library, and lots of hands-on activities is a real blessing!
  • Prayer is a wonderful thing!
  • Music is a gift.  I can listen as clean, think, or hide.  And I can watch the joy in my eldest grandson’s face as we work on his piano together.
  • I am blessed with an incredible network of people who are willing to jump in and help me keep my head above water.  I am so grateful!
  • All of the $$$ skills we learned as a young family are indispensable!  As we pay for plumbing, and other unexpected expenses, it so great to know that I can dust off my copy of The Complete Tightwad Gazette and channel my inner tightwad.  We can do this!
  • Thank heaven for food storage, and the tools/skills to use it!
  • When you buy an older home with lots of “character”, repairs are in your future!
  • The Lord is faithful.  Our family is returning to health.  We found a plumber who will do the job, and is willing to work with us.  My home is still a refuge from the storm.  And I can be happy as life goes on around me.

Can I have a nap now?  And then I will work on more writing…life allowing.

Finances, Homeschooling

Differences in curriculum

Confession: I am homeschool catalog junkie.  As a mom, I created our curriculum each year.  With very limited funds, we used what I could find second-hand or on major markdown, create myself, borrow from the library, and request from Grandma and Grandpa as gifts.  No apologies for what we did.  It worked well.  All my children went to college.  They were offered multiple scholarships, and both daughters graduated with honors.  (My sons have not completed their university educations, but are both at the top of their class and thriving!)  Each of them are contributing adults in the communities in which they live.  I wouldn’t change them for the world!

Now they are beginning their own families, and I am the Grandma.  More catalogs come in the mail than when my children were younger; there are so many more choices now.  I love it!  The games, curriculum options, and diversity of ideas is exciting!  As I watch my grandchildren grow, and work with other moms on curriculum planning, I am discovering these things all over again!  One reality I find most interesting and fascinating to explore is each child needs different things, and any budget can be effective with proper planning and focus.  There is no single perfect curriculum which is ideal for everyone.

Here is a sample of what I have learned.  In our home, we have spelling curriculum from Christian Liberty Press, Rod and Staff Publishers, and a copy of McGuffey’s Eclectic Spelling Book.  While all three are not strictly necessary, there are strengths for each one.  I used the McGuffey…Speller for my children.  It covered K-12, cost me $10, and was effective.  The other two series we have acquired for my grandsons.  Some copies were found second-hand; some we purchased new. I love the Christian Liberty Press books for J, my second grandson who is 5.  He is a dually-exceptional learner and does extremely well with consistent formats and review in logical steps.  Rod and Staff is what the 7 year-old is using.  He is highly gifted and loves that handwriting practice (currently cursive), critical thinking, and spelling are combined in one lesson.  We skip the minimal review sections, test orally, and move on to the next lesson as soon as he is ready.  He is currently in book 3, but will be moving into book 4 shortly.  If we were simply testing his spelling ability he would be in book 5, but because each lesson requires he understand and be able to use each word properly, and encourages a bit of thought, we backed up a bit.

As I expand the companies with which I am familiar, the need to understand how your children learn, and to have a budget seems more and more crucial.  If you have the need and/or desire, you can create your own plan for minimal expense and give your children the chance to soar.  If you are not comfortable creating your own plan, you can look into the myriad of options out there to meet the needs of your child.  There are strengths, weaknesses, and biases in each written curriculum.  World-views differ.  Some focus on traditional learners, while others are better suited for advanced and gifted learners who tend to require less practice, more information, and are able to infer connections differently than their peers.  Many are book and seat-work based, or you can find one which leans heavily on computer-use, or is focused on tactile learning.  If you hunt, the selections are seemingly endless.

The method of education you choose does not need to be dictated by your pocketbook.  Classical education supplies can be purchased in curriculum sets for hundreds of dollars or you can gather your own for much less.   Whether you lean towards child-led learning, Charlotte Mason, or some other method, you can teach for pennies or spend a ton on curriculum and fun stuff.  It is more important that you understand how your children learn, what their gifts are, and purchase (or create) from there.  Teaching your own just gets more and more exciting as time goes by!

My favorite catalogs are Timberdoodle, Veritas Press, Dover Publishing, and Critical Thinking Company.  What are yours?

Finances, Home and Family, Organization

Look at things differently!

“The true economy of housekeeping is gathering up the fragments so nothing is lost.”  Mrs. Lydia Childs  The American Frugal Housewife

One of the challenges of the 21st century is the seeming need for two incomes and the ever-increasing need for there to be a full-time parent in the home. This challenge can be met; it just requires some careful budgeting and a willingness to look at things a bit differently.

One strategy we used to stretch what we had was to live by the adage:

Use it up. Wear it out.
Make it do or do without.

There are so many items we regularly toss into the garbage/recycling which could meet some of our needs if we look more closely at them.  Consider the following:

  • Cereal bag liners are made from restaurant grade wax paper.  Anything you would use wax paper (or sometimes plastic wrap) is free in your cereal box.
  • The bottom 2 inches of a milk jug makes a handy plunger saucer.  When it needs replacing, you can easily find another one!
  • Old calendars often have artwork that can be framed (second-hand frames, of course) and mounted in your home.
  • Shoe boxes make great storage for pictures, and your children’s treasures.
  • Old cotton t-shirts make some of the best cleaning rags you will ever find.
  • You can make magazine holders from cereal boxes.
  • Yard sale season is almost upon us.  Start your list, pray about it, and off you go!
  • Second hand sweaters can be unraveled for yarn if you knit.
  • Save a nice pair of jeans or two and a couple shirts for each child to wear in public.  They don’t need a closet full of new clothes.  Just a few to look presentable in as you are out and about.  They can wear their favorite, old, possibly holey clothes at home.. Change out of public wear when you get back from errands, etc.
  • Cheap shampoo makes some of the best bathroom cleaner.  It is made to cut through the oil in our hair, so bathtub rings, tacky sinks, and even ring-around-the-collar is no match!  Add baking or washing soda if you want something a tad more abrasive.
  • Want to redecorate?  Remove everything from a room or two.  Reintroduce things to new places.  Group like items as you decorate to make focal points.  You can get a new room or two without spending a dime.
  • Open-ended toys are often the best.  Wooden blocks (look for a shop or cabinet maker locally.  They make have scraps you can use to create your own set).  Legos.  Dolls (make your own clothes, furniture, etc.).  Balls and other sports equipment.  Child-friendly cleaning and cooking tools.
  • Apple and orange boxes from your local grocery make great storage boxed for your children clothes that are too small (and waiting for the next child), or too big (and waiting for them to grow).
  • Go to the park, or local nature walk area for lunch.  Take a picnic you all helped create.  Have a great day as a family without entrance fees, or expensive souvenirs.  Take lots of pictures!
  • Visit a second-hand store to purchase board games and puzzles.  Use them for fun family nights.  Pop some popcorn, make a batch of cookies, or some hot chocolate, and enjoy time with each other.  Invite your children’s friends, and get to know them as well.  No electronics needed!
  • Books are great things to find second-hand.  Great information, stories, and craft ideas for pennies on the dollar.  Cook books for your scratch cooking adventures.  Enjoy!
  • Gather perennials starts from friends to landscape your yard.  If you offer to help with yard work, you can often glean great plants for free.
  • Use cardboard egg cartons for planting your tender vegetable starts.  Each cup hold one of two seeds.  By the time they are big enough to plant outside, the egg carton cups come apart easily.
  • Plant those things which give back.  Fruit trees, berry bushes, grape vines, etc. are fun to use for landscaping, change with each season, and feed your family.  Win!
  • Reuse old headboards, ladders, and such for decorative trellising.  They are sturdy, add visual interest, and it keeps them out of the landfill.
  • Keep things clean.  Order and organization helps you make better use of what you have, and can make staying home a more pleasant alternative to shopping.  If your kitchen is clean, you are more likely to be able to cook in it.  If your family room is orderly, it invites people to use it.  This is a co-operative effort for the entire family.
  • Learning about interior decorating, the up-coming fashions, make-up and hair, and other creative outlets gives you the ability to save money without feeling as though you are decades behind everyone else.  Find what you love, and use it!

There are thousands of ways to reuse things, or find them at a discount so that you don’t need to go purchase new at high prices.  Second-hand shopping and yard sales can provide great finds for cheap.  Google thrift, tightwad, reuse, or cheap for a lifetime of ideas of ways to save money, and still provide what your family needs.  Make saving money a family adventure rather than feeling deprived because of your budget.  Attitude and creativity make all the difference!

Some of my favorite books on this subject are:

The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzyn

Living More With Less by Doris Longacre

Money Secrets of the Amish by Lorilee Craker

A Simple Choice by Deborah Taylor-Hough

Beating the High Cost of Eating by Barbara Salsbury

How to Survive Without a Salary by Charles Long

Finances, Gardening

Favorite gardening books

We are finally getting a taste of spring!  Warmer days, cool nights, sunshine, and buds on the tips of trees.  Time to think about the garden!

In our home, we sit down and talk about what each person would like to eat, preserve, or try during the coming growing season.  Once we have our list made, and our garden planned and drawn on graph paper, it is time to inventory our seeds and decide what new thing we will be trying.  Some years we try a new variety of vegetable.  Some years we experiment with a different growing method.  But each year many things remain the same.  We always plant peas, and corn, and tomatoes, and cucumbers.  We always work as a family.  The weeds always seem to get a bit beyond us by late August.  And we always eat well!

The amount of food that is produced from just a few seeds can be worth some thought!  We have a large garden plot and plant around two dozen different kinds of veg, but even if you have just a bit of space, you can eat well with a few tomatoes plants, one cucumber, some lettuce, a squash, and a couple pepper plants. You can even share a packet of seeds with a friend or neighbor, and split the cost if you only need a small amount.

Not sure how or where to start?  Here are some of my favorite books.  They cover a variety of options for gardening.  Enjoy!

1001 Hints & Tips for Your Garden published by Reader’s Digest

The 12-Month Gardener  by Jeff Ashton

Carrots Love Tomatoes and Roses Love Garlic by Louise Riotte

Great Garden Companions by Sally Jean Cunningham

Gardening When It Counts by Steve Solomon

Garden Smarts by Shelley Goldbloom

The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control by Barbara W. Ellis and Fern Marshall Bradley

Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardens    Suzanne Ashworth

Crops in Pots by Bob Purnell

Cooking, Finances, Home and Family, Homemaking

Broth- a wonder food!

My house smells heavenly this morning.  There is beef broth simmering away in my Crock Pot. (It is being created from the trimmings of the beef we bottled yesterday.)  Broth is so simple to make, and has so many uses!  And all this from the bits and pieces that would otherwise be thrown out.

I use my Crock Pot when I make broth.  I can leave it on the counter overnight or when I am out and around during the day with no worries.  Broth needs time to develop flavor, so it will cook on low for 12-24 hours.  Once the flavor is well-developed, strain the broth off into a pitcher or large bowl, and chill it overnight in order for the fat to rise to the top and solidify.  When it is chilled, skim off the fat layer and use it, or bottle/freeze it for later.  I have dozens of bottles of various flavors in our food room just waiting for use.

Basic broth

Place bones, fat, skin, or any part of the meat you don’t intend to eat in to a Crock Pot.  Add onion, celery, carrots, bay leaves, peppercorns, and turnips (if the meat is beef) to the crock.  Fill with water.  Turn the Crock Pot on low and let it cook.  (You can use the peels, leaves, or trimmed ends from any of the vegetables for broth.  Just ensure they are clean, and throw them in.)  I have made broth from chicken, turkey, beef, ham, and fish.  You can also make it from vegetables.

If you find you don’t have adequate trimmings to fill your Crock Pot one-third full, freeze them.  When you have gathered enough for a batch, thaw them and you’re in business!

We add broth to grains such as rice and cracked wheat when we cook it for dinner.  (We used ham broth last week when we made pinto beans and rice for dinner.  There was no meat, but it tasted like there was! Yummy!)  You can use it for gravies, sauces, soups, or risotto.  I also use it for braising meat.  It is inexpensive to make, and is so versatile.

My husband has a rice/vermicelli side dish recipe that is fantastic and uses whichever broth goes with the meat you are serving.  This recipe feeds 8-10 people.  Feel free to cut it in half.

1/2 stick butter

2 cups vermicelli, broken into 1/2 inch pieces

3 cups rice

2 quarts broth

2-3 teaspoons soup base

Melt butter in 4-6 stock pot, or large pan.  Add rice and brown until very light brown.  Add vermicelli and continue browning until pasta is a toasted.  In a separate pan, combine broth and soup base until heated.  Add enough broth to cover the rice/vermicelli mixture to the stock pot when browning is completed and boil until liquid can no longer be seen (a glass lid is perfect for this if you have one).  Take off heat, and allow the grains to continue to absorb the remaining liquid-about 20 minutes.  Serve hot.