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!

Advertisements
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.

Cooking, Finances, Gardening, Home and Family, Homemaking, Organization, Parenting

Learning life’s grammar

(Just a note- this post is awfully close to a rant.)

I looked up the word “grammar” in the dictionary recently, and one of the definitions is the “basic or beginning principles of a subject.”  It is generally paired with language, but everything in life has a grammar to learn.  With that definition in mind, I started thinking about the following:

  • Life is based on eternal, unchanging rules. We will be happier when we serve, smile, and learn to love people.  There are absolutes.  Dishonesty is wrong.  End of story.  Giving of yourself brings blessings to you ten-fold.  Family is the basic unit of society and deserves the best we can give it.  God is good.  Talk to Him.  He will help!
  • Parenting is a challenge.  Your children are NOT simply blank slates to write on at your will. Take time and read about how children grow, and what is reasonable to expect.  Personalities differ.  Learn about them.  Everyone has their own set of gifts and challenges.  Go to those who seem to know what they are doing, and learn from them.  Being a parent is so much more fun when you aren’t trying to “reinvent the wheel” and you can relax a bit!
  • Learn how to get organized.  Read books.  Search online.  Talk with people.  Chaos is unnecessary and makes everything harder.  Things don’t have to be in cute, designer, matching containers where everything color-co-ordinates!  Just learn how to put things together, and have a system that makes sense to you.  When you learn the basics of how to organize your space, time, and resources, you can move through life more smoothly.
  • Everyone needs to learn how to cook.  Not just how to read a recipe (although that is a good thing too), but why what happens in the kitchen happens.  Most whole grains cook up similarly.  Which are exchangeable?  A white sauce, gravies, and many other pan sauces start with a roux. What about a “skeleton recipe” for muffins, bread, soups, or casseroles?  When you know the basics of what is involved, you can mix-and-match what you have to make something new.  Which foods can you freeze and want to eat again when they are thawed?  We won’t all be gourmet chefs but we can all learn how to feed ourselves and our families without poisoning someone, or depending on pre-made, processed food.
  • Cleaning can be much simpler and cheaper if you understand which cleaners can be used for multiple applications, and which cannot.  We use an all-purpose organic cleaner, vinegar, citrus, shampoo, baking/washing soda, and peppermint oil to clean.  Just a few things will leave my house looking great and smelling fresh.
  • You get one body in this life.  What are the basic rules of health and nutrition to keep it running smoothly?  How much sleep does your body need?  How are your eating habits?  Is exercise a foreign concept?  Health challenges come to everyone but we can choose to make the best of whatever comes our way.
  • Keep a budget.  Know the basic rules of finances and make them your friends.  We have to learn to live with them.  Remember: $3 income – $2 expenses= happiness; $5 income -$6 expenses= misery.
  • Growing your own food is a boon to your health and your budget…unless you buy all the newest gadgets, pay for premium seed in the tiny packets, and haven’t learned when, where, and how to put things in the ground.  You can grow your own starts but if you plant them outside too soon, you’ll need to grow your own starts twice.  Some plants don’t handle the cold well.  Others need to go in before the threat of frost is past.  Peas and spinach prefer cool weather, and will bolt or die off in the heat.  You don’t need the latest and greatest of everything to begin; just borrow a couple of books from the library, find out how things work best in your area, and start digging!
  • Don’t try to teach your children advanced skills without building a foundation.  If they don’t know their times tables, algebra will be frustrating!  In that same light, they need to learn how to compromise and problem-solve before you send them out into the workplace to get a job, or go to college.

There is so much “grammar” we never learned at school.  Today is a great day to start!

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?

Cooking, Finances, Homemaking

What’s for dinner?

One of the hardest tasks in any given week for me is meal planning.  Most of our meals require scratch cooking and so thought is required.  This would be easier if cost were no object.  Steak, salmon, etc. are quick, simple, and yummy, but the budget calls for more time thinking and a bit more creativity.  So we plan.

What’s for dinner tonight?  Pinto beans cooked in ham stock (home-bottled), rice (with a bit of the same stock), corn bread, apple slices, veggie strips, and, if I can locate it in the freezer, a bit of ham.  Cost?  Pennies.  But it is one of our families favorite meals.

What else is on tap in the coming days?

Leftover turkey (the freezer again) with homemade gravy, mashed potatoes (an easy way to use up the final bit of last autumn’s harvest),  garden corn and peas (love that freezer!), and some kind of bread with apple butter (home bottled).

Homemade fish sticks for fish tacos.  Served with tortillas, shredded lettuce and cabbage, tomatoes, cucumber, taco sauce, sour cream, and just a bit of grated cheese.

Baked ziti (using home bottled tomatoes), salad, and bread.  Another favorite!

Sandwiches with crock-pot beef (save the broth when the meat is done, add a bit of soup base, and you have au jus for dipping), and fresh veg.

One night will be a “fend for yourself” dinner.  That’s the night we pull all the leftovers out of the fridge, and each assemble a plate from whatever is there.  Sometime lots of one or two things; sometimes just bits of this and that.  This meal often happens the night before I do the big monthly shop.  It is a great way to use up some left-overs, make room in the refrigerator, and it reminds me what I need to use creatively in the next day or so.

We generally plan our meals a week-ish in advance.  Planning any further ahead doesn’t seem to work at our house.  Food is something that connects with our emotions as well as feeds our bodies, so often we adjust to accommodate what we “feel like eating.”  I work off of the Pantry Principle, so the cupboards are stocked with most of what I need at any given time.  I shop for sales and mark-downs in order to replenish what we use.  (My favorite books for learning about the Pantry Principle are Beating the High Cost of Eating by Barbara Salsbury, and The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzyn.)

Other favorite meals include spaghetti and meatballs (with homemade sauce), enchilladas, salads, grilled cheese or quesadillas with fruit (and soup if it is cold), tuna casserole, chili, bbq chicken sandwiches, alfredo pasta with chicken, sloppy joes, meatloaf, and meal-in-ones (bread dough rolled as if for cinnamon rolls and filled with meat and a bunch of cheese.  YUM!).  Whatever meal we are serving includes lots of fruit and/or vegetables-sometimes fresh, sometimes bottled- so that out entire family develops the habit of eating more than just a protein and a starch.

The menus change with the seasons.  Spring is the time for strawberry shortcake, and clearing the cellar to make room for the up-coming growing season’s harvest.  In a few months, we’ll eat more things utilizing fresh garden produce and less meat.  In the middle of winter, we eat more meat and/or homemade soups with less fresh veg.  It is the most economical way to feed the family, and ensures that we are eating things when they are at the peak of the season for the best flavor.  The best of both worlds!

What’s for dinner at your house?

 

 

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