Cooking, Gardening, Home and Family, Homemaking, Organization

The right tools for the job

This evening, I was in the kitchen cooking dinner and happened to look around at the beehive of activity at my house.  I had both ovens going with food for dinner.  I was using various pans and Pyrex dishes for meal prep.  There was the immersion blender for mixing milk, and the spoons made of various materials for stainless steel and non-stick pans.  After we eat, the dishes will go into the dishwasher to get clean.

My husband and son-in-law were outside with the weed-whacker, mower, and tiller in use as they cleaned up the lawn, and prepped three grow-boxes for the corn and beans to be planted tonight.  Three loads of laundry are on the clothesline drying.

Downstairs were the washer and dryer helping me complete the days laundry.  (I don’t hang underwear, socks, towels, or wash cloths on the line.)  My daughter is teaching her five boys.  Some academics.  Some cleaning skills.  And sorting as she goes.

None of this would be possible without the correct tools for the job.  No tiller would mean a full day of amending and mixing soils before we can plant.  No immersion blender could result in lumpy milk.  Doing laundry with modern appliances just doesn’t bear thinking about at all.  And without the ability to plan and the correct supplies, raising and teaching children is tough!

We don’t have the “ideal” world of years gone by in which to rear a family, but we don’t have to go plow the “back forty” with a horse and plow either.  I will take the 21st century anytime!  I will use my curriculum, my scriptures, and lots of time talking with the young ones as I use the wonderful tools at my disposal!  We are so blessed!

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

Home and Family, Homemaking, Homeschooling

Living with integrity

While talking through character study with my eldest grandson this morning, we discussed the difference between dishonesty and integrity.  At seven years old, he seemed to have a handle on dishonesty with no problem.  Stealing, lying, telling half-truths, etc. are dishonest behaviors and we shouldn’t indulge in them.  Integrity took a bit more explanation.  Not committing any of the aforementioned offenses is obviously part of living with integrity, but it goes further than that.  We talked about the need to be true to yourself and others, choosing to walk away rather than participate in activities that you know are wrong, and doing your best.  He seemed to “get it.”  And now his grandma is thinking… and thinking…

What does living with integrity mean in my life?  What does it look like?  This is what I decided living with integrity means to me:

  • Being true to myself, the Lord, and my priorities.  If I can’t get to everything on my list, I need to focus on the most important, and trust Him with the rest.
  • Trying to be wise.  If my health, time, or finances won’t stretch that far, admit it.  Walk away.  Move on.
  • Recognizing what each day allows.  Some nights I can put on a full roast chicken/mashed potatoes/biscuits/salad dinner.  Some nights we have box mac-n-cheese and bottled fruit.  Other nights we may just grab take-out.  Trying to create a masterpiece for each meal is just not reasonable.  We are either too busy, too stretched, or too much in need of “down time.”  This goes for getting dressed everyday including doing my hair and a full-face of make-up, having a spotlessly clean house, perfectly done laundry, flawlessly weeded garden, or even an articulately written post.  I need to do be content with what I can actually do at the time.
  • Allowing others the same.  I can’t expect perfection of those around me.  If I am letting go of that expectation for myself, I have to afford them the same courtesy.  Some days are just not the best.  If the children are having an off day, or are not feeling tip-top, let things go a bit.  Do a crossword for spelling.  Don’t ask for perfection in their math assignment.  Let the unmade bed go a bit longer (they may need to crawl back into it at some point).  If my husband had a crazy day at work, I need to lighten up on the “honey-do’s” and let him read the sports page, etc.
  • Honesty matters.  I can only do what I can do.  I believe what I believe.  I am not obligated to negotiate any of that to make someone else happy.
  • False modesty is akin to lying.  If you are good at something, be good at it!  I can cook a mean pot of spaghetti, and my bread is yummy!  I love assembling curriculum and helping others teach their children, and they come to my home for that, so it must be worth their time.  On the other hand, I am hopeless with a needle or playing sports.  Those are things I joy in as I watch my children participate.  My daughter, her husband, and oldest boy all knit and/or crochet.  My other children are gifted artists, athletes, and designers.  I do what I do.  They are good at so many other things!  And we all love to play with words!
  • Gratitude is vital.  I have no integrity if I refuse to see the amazing blessings and tender mercies that shower down each day!  I have a good man for a husband, loving and contributing children with great priorities, and the cutest grandchildren ever! (They really are!) 166766_10200951243442301_2055576302_n IMG_6477    I live a comfortable home, in a stunning part of the country, in a great nation, and have friends and faith to get me through the challenges of life.   Denying or letting go of any of that is a betrayal of all I know and love.

I can’t live each day with full excellence or perfection.  There is too much about me and my life that is human or challenging.  But “til I die I will not remove mine integrity from me.”  (Job 27:5)

Cooking, Homeschooling

Using the newpaper to the fullest

I recognize that newspaper subscriptions are not as common as they were before the advent of the internet, smart phones, and other new technologies.  Such a shame.  We used the newspaper in so many different ways as I was teaching my own children, and I still use it as I work with young people today.  Here are just a few ways it can supplement your academics:

Discovery learners (explanation in my post on Feb. 26, 2013)

  • Have them identify letters and numbers from the large print.
  • Cut apart the lettering in the headlines.  Have them create their spelling words, or simply assemble familiar words from the letters.
  • Look for the pictures which accompany the stories.  Cut out various pictures which can then be categorized into different emotions.  If you use images from throughout the paper, you may be surprised at the variety of feelings caught on film.
  • Give each child a length of print and have them look for the most commonly used letters.  Make a graph or a chart with tally marks.  Look at other print media.  Do your findings match there as well?
  • Later discovery learners can look for the most important or persuasive words in an article.  Why did the journalist choose those words?  Which other words could they have chosen?
  • Put together a family newspaper.  Have your children play reporter/journalist.  Call extended family members and gather information about each person, then try and write articles that are informative and interesting.
  • Find the weather report and track what is forecasted as well as the actual weather happenings.  How are they the same?  Different?  What other information is included with the forecast?
  • Many papers offer an educational page or insert each week.  Look for them.  They often have games, and activities to make your studies more interesting.  Can’t find one? Call your local paper and ask.

Analysis learners- many of these will work for application learners as well (explanation in my post on Feb. 27, 2013)

  • Give your teen an amount of “money” to invest.  Have them choose stocks to purchase, and then follow the stock prices in the economy section to see how well they did.  Watch the stocks for two months or more to get a clearer picture of what happens with the stock market.  Graph the results.
  • Have your youth clip coupons and use the ads to put together menus and the shopping list for the week.  Go to the store and see how well they can stay within the family budget.
  • Have your student copy a sentence or two from an article of their choice.  Have them diagram it.
  • Look for recipes that feature foods your family likes or would like to try.  Organize them into a three-ring binder.  As you make them, make a note of which ones you enjoyed, what worked well, what might be a way to “tweak” them, or just toss the ones which you wouldn’t make again.  (Often the recipes in the paper are taken from the latest cookbooks.)
  • Look for unfamiliar words to use in a vocabulary list.
  • Read an article looking for a specific part of speech.  Circle or underline the nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, prepositions, etc.
  • Cut out or copy a comic strip.  Put white out over the text in the thought bubbles/spoken words.  Have your students write their own text.
  • Read the editorials together.  Do you agree?  Disagree?  Why?  Can you find a flaw in the argument?  (We did this daily for years.  My entire family became much more competent at putting a well-worded argument together, and were able to discuss current events intelligently with those around them.)
  • The local section of the paper often lists upcoming events.  Plan a field trip as a family.
  • Track your favorite sport or team.  Learn to analyze stats, memorize players and their numbers, or look for the ways injuries, weather, playing fields, or fatigue affect the game.

Application learners (explanation in my post on Feb. 28, 2013)

  • Use the classified ads to look for jobs requiring different levels of education.  Using the salaries listed, have them look for housing, food, transportation, and other living expenses to put a budget together for a month or more.  (You will have to provide utility costs.  Those aren’t in the classifieds.)
  • Keep a notebook of clipped articles dealing with a current event or social issue important to your family.  Watch for changes as time passes, or look for the various biases of different reporters.  After you have taken time to examine the issue more fully, write a letter to the editor explaining where you stand and why.
  • Keep reading the editorials together.  Consider having your young adult write a paper on an issue which they find concerning.  How does it affect them as they move into adulthood?  How might change be accomplished?  What roadblocks would need to be overcome?
  • Look for recent quotations or famous sayings to put in their quote/penmanship books.  Why did they choose what they chose?
  • Do the crosswords puzzle, or at least attempt it.

The newspaper is not as popular as it once was and yet it can assist us in the most challenging part of home schooling- using different media in order to avoid academics from becoming mundane.  It can enlighten, challenge, and shed light on a considerable number of items in our lives.  This list is just the beginning.  Take a minute and spend time in your local paper, and see how many different ways you can use it in your own home!

Home and Family, Homemaking, Organization

Spring cleaning

Its that time of year again.  The tulips and daffodils are poking out of the ground, the trees are budding, and everyone is ready to get outside and shake off the cobwebs of winter.  Just remember- your house could use a good airing too!  We don’t need to go the extremes of a century ago, (they dismantled and cleaned even some of the furniture) but it is a good idea to clear some things out, and make sure you have a house that will make the coming-and-goings of warmer weather simpler.

Basic items you may find useful include vinegar, cheap shampoo, baking soda, your favorite essential oils (we love grapefruit and eucalyptus),  a good non-toxic  cleaner,  cleaning rags, garbage bags, music you like to listen to,  boxes or bags for donations to charity, and a feeling of abundance.  (If you can recognize the multitude of blessings you have, you will think more clearly and be more objective about what you truly ought to keep and what is excess.)   This project is not just for Mom.  Get the entire family involved.  Little ones can refold and sort linens, use a whisk broom, help carry smaller items as you clear, or wipe down lower surfaces.  Once they can read labels easily, allow them to organize things by size, color, or type.  (No toxic substances should be handled by young children.)  Bigger kids can learn to scrub (even in the corners), clear, and sort.  Everyone in a family should be a participant in maintaining a clean and tidy home!

Start in the room that needs the least amount of work.  (If your bathroom needs a good scrub, and a few shelves straightened, start there.)  The more quickly you have one room sparkling, the more motivation you will have to keep going. Do the next area that is not too bad, and so forth.  If you can do a drawer or two, or a closet, or room a day, you will get done fairly quickly without being chained inside when the weather is good. Set some goals, and get to it!

In the bathroom, use the vinegar (with essential oils added if you desire) on shiny surfaces and tile.  Buff glass dry with crumpled newspaper; use cotton rags for anything else.  Cheap shampoo is great for anywhere body oils collect.  Clean your tub, your combs and brushes, even ring-around-the-collar with it.  If you need something with just a bit of a gentle abrasive, baking soda is your friend.  It also is a great deodorizer.  Pour about half a cup down your drains followed by a cup or two of vinegar.  Stand back and watch the action!  The foaming will help clear your pipes, and freshen them. Polish the hardware.  If your toilet bowl needs a good soak, use good quality denture tablets.  Let them sit overnight, swish in the morning, and most stains under the waterline will be gone.  Sort your linens.  Clear and wipe down any shelves or cabinets.  Check your medications for expiration dates.  As you finish, take a minute to enjoy what you have done!

Clear out one cabinet or closet as a time.  Touch each item long enough to decide if you need/want it.  Does it fit?  Do you use it?  Do you hate it, but it was a gift?  Keep the good.  Donate the unnecessary.  Toss/recycle the trash.  Have a day when you gather the toys, games, and other playthings.  Mend the boxes.  Do you have all the pieces?  Put all the Legos/blocks/toy soldiers in their own container.  Doll stuff needs a central home.  Are there games you just never play?  Puzzles you have never put together?  Schedule a time to do so, or donate it!

As you dust, take EVERYTHING off the surface.  Clean it.  Then put back your favorite things.  Only re-place those things that add to the look of the room or serve a purpose.  If you had too much on there to begin, don’t put it all back!  What would look better somewhere else in your house?  What items need a nice box or basket to be stored neatly?  What do you no longer need, or which items are not adding anything to your life?  Donate them.

As you clean, have a box or basket for items you need, but they belong somewhere else.  Whatever lives in a different room, put in the box.  Don’t leave where you are currently cleaning; you may never finish the job.

Paperwork can be the most time-consuming and frustrating part of any organization project.  If you have file folder, a sturdy box, a recycling bin, and a way to shred or burn anything with personal information, you can take an afternoon and just plow through it.  This may be the one area where family help is not a good idea.  Put a system together for paperwork, finances, etc. so that it can be maintained.  I have five file drawers where all of my household, school-related, financial, or personal paper lives.  Give your older children and teens a box of their own.  Help them create a system for papers, certificates, pay stubs, letters, etc.

Your children can, and should, help you go through their rooms.  What do they no longer need?  What have they stashed under their beds, or in their drawers?  Clear it out.  Sort it.  Put back what really matters.  Help them share in the excitement of having created a clean, organized, fun place to be; help them learn to share their excess with others who need what we take for granted.

If money is tight,  take not needed (but still nice) clothing, toys, or other household items to a consignment shop for resale, or box them up and hold a yard sale this summer.  If you talk with your extended family, neighbors, or friends you will often have enough to create a good-sized, therefore better attended, sale.  (Just be sure to have a system to keep track of how much money goes to each family.)

We do not need to have a professionally decorated house, or a lot of money in order to live in a pleasant, inviting space.  Clean it up.  Clear it out. You can fashion a refuge from the outside world where people want to be with a little elbow grease and lots of love.  Happy cleaning!

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.