Home and Family

Get ready!

Every now and then, something happens which focuses my efforts as “keeper of the hearth” on something which I may not have been focused on.  This weekend it happened again.  Unexpectedly heavy rains caused flooding and mud slides in a number of communities around us.  One such community is removing mud with back hoes; another is boiling water before it can be used.  All from a few hours of rain.

As I watch the news and pray for those affected by the crazy weather, I am reminded that such things are happening all over and to varying degrees of seriousness.  What is my job in all this?  Well, prayer is necessary.  A helping hand when possible is also good.  Making sure that my family has what we would need in a similar situation is vital.  Praying for help if I haven’t done my part will be so much less effective!  We live where storms, floods, earthquakes, and other natural calamities are well with-in the range of possibilities.

How to prepare?  There are so many unknowns, that it is impossible to be truly “ready for anything,”  but there are a number of things I can do so that we are better prepared for many of them.

  • Have a few months supply of food in my home.  (Even if I only need it for a week or two, I am surrounded by people in my neighborhood that may need my help.)
  • Have water stored.  Empty 2-liter or juice bottles make easy and inexpensive storage containers.  Be sure to treat the water so that it will be usable when it is needed.  (Check with your local university extension or government office for recommended treatment instructions.)
  • Have a portable 72-hour emergency kit in case of evacuation.
  • Get to know your neighbors.  Having a good relationship with those around you can help during hard days, even if all you need is a chat over the fence.  During times of real challenge, knowing you can count on each other is worth the world!
  • Have a plan for waste disposal.  If you don’t have running water, you may not have a toilet that works, or garbage pick-up for a while.  Ick.
  • Have a source for cooking or heating.  I have a wood-burning stove and camp stoves that can double as heating and/or food preparation stations if necessary.  (DO NOT use camp stoves in an area that is not well-ventilated!)
  • Keep candles, matches, working flashlights (with extra batteries), and lanterns where you can get to them.  When the power goes out, the adventure begins!
  • Keep a supply of working tools so that if you are helping clear debris or mud, you have what you need to assist.
  • Learn to smile when things are less-than-ideal.  If things around you are tough, bring a sunny disposition and maybe even a song to the party!  Help calm the children with fingerplays and stories.  Help provide faith, and a positive attitude so that the challenge can be less-miserable.

There are a myriad of books, websites, and classes dedicated to emergency preparedness.  This list is not to be comprehensive, or to take the place of those lists which have been compiled by experts.  (If you truly want a complete list refer to them.)  It simply contains the items which came to mind this weekend as I watched the news.  While I can’t control what happens around me, I am responsible for my preparedness level so that I can be helpful rather than a hindrance when the unexpected happens.

So…where are the flashlights….?

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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

Homeschooling

Too much!

I love the feeling of being organized!  I am not always so excited about the process of getting there.  Right now I am helping someone sort, thin, and organize all of the homeschooling games, puzzles, books, and other miscellaneous stuff that seems to breed like rabbits in the closet.

How much is too much?  When do you swear off obtaining things and actually mean it?  There are so many interesting supplies available now for homeschooling that weren’t available twenty years ago.  I think we could drown in fun things before we actually teach anything!

Add to basic homeschooling- special needs and/or giftedness and you can gather enough need-specific stuff to open a store.  Or is all of that simply a rationalization that allows us to feel justified in accumulating?

Nah.  The reality is (at least for me) children need tools with which to learn.  We need tools with which to teach.

So what I really ought to do is buy stock in a company that makes storage bins, and then take them to the various home school conventions around the country.  I would make a killing!

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!

Homeschooling

Routines vs. schedules, part 2

When my children were at home, I think everyone’s favorite part of the academic day was “group time.”  We would gather for our morning devotional, pledge, and work on as much together as differing ages and such would allow.  Here is a very general outline of what it entailed.

Group time:

Poetry-No big plan.  Just pulled a book of the shelf and read one or two poems.  Sometimes they were nonsense; sometimes they were a more serious work.  Nothing morbid/too deep for early learners.  Not everyone will love poetry, but everyone should be given the chance to hear it.

History reading-A passage from whichever book we are currently using.  This was often accompanied by a book with great illustrations/photographs to help the visual learners.  Often they would color a picture as I read.  (Dover coloring books-doverpublishing.com-were great resources for this.)

Character or ethics study-We would discuss manners, courtesy, heroes, or whatever Mom felt she needed to address in a non-confrontational format.  Sometimes I would use a picture book or fable.  Sometimes we would pull things from the scriptures or history.  A VITAL part of our school day!

Drill-3×5 cards are a must for the way we schooled.  Classical education requires foundational concepts be memorized, and flashcards are one of the easiest ways to do that!  States/capitols, presidents, phonograms, Latin and Greek roots, scientific facts, you name it.  Younger children often memorize more quickly than older ones, so this can be a great time for them to shine!

Memorization work-Poetry, scriptures, music, quotes.  Fill their bucket with the words and images of those who can help them in good times or bad.  What will they sing as they watch the sunrise over the mountain for the first time?  Whose words will come to them as they face the next mountain?

Literature reading-Picture books.  Chapter books.  Great literature is sometimes best shared as a family.  Some books we read for fun (see blog on our favorite read-aloud books).  Some we read as part of our academic studies-and for fun.  If your children have a hard time sitting still as you read, try allowing them to color, or build with legos, or dance.  If they are kinesthetic, they will learn more that way!

Hands-on activities-If you are going to make a mess, you may as well involve everyone!  Try to have something for each child to do so that they can all contribute.

Whatever Mom wants to throw into the mix-The above list is in no way comprehensive.  Add life skills, other academics, or whatever you feel would benefit your own children.  After all, you are the Mom!

Once group time was over, everyone needed to finish their individual lists.  I have included the subjects I assigned for each level.  (For more information on learning levels, check the archives on this blog.)

Individual work for discovery learners:

Penmanship/copy work

Oral narration

Basic grammar study

Spelling

Hands-on math and science

Science collections

Reading-with Mom or individually

Learning games

Art or music

Scripture study

History, math or science bio

Chores with an older helper

Individual work for analysis learners:

Penmanship book with quotes or poetry

Narration

Outlining

Hands-on activities

Reading for history, science, literature, etc.

Grammar study

Logic study

Vocabulary/syntax study

Current events

Mathematics

Art or music

Scripture study

Latin or other language study

Chores

Individual work for application learners:

Upper level mathematics

Continuing logic study

Writing, writing, and more writing

Reading, reading, and more reading

Prep for the SAT/ACT

Great literature

Primary source history

Real-life experience

Chores

Home and Family, Homeschooling

Routines vs. schedules

“How did you schedule your day?” seems to be a burning question for many people, and is asked often whenever I teach at a convention or support group, or check my email.

Rule #1- I didn’t have a schedule.  I had a routine.  Having a schedule sounds too much like a public school (9:00- math, 9:30-reading, etc.), and set me up for failure.  That didn’t mean my days were a free-for-all.  I chose to be in charge, rather than the clock calling the shots.

Here is how things often looked when I had four kids at home.  This is a very general idea, and does not take into account appointments or classes that did work on a schedule.  You get the idea.

8:00-9:00: Everyone up and tidying bedrooms (Getting dressed was often optional.  I do some of my best work in my pajamas!).

Breakfast together around 9:30.

Group time for the family came next.  This included our morning devotional, pledge, and any academic studies we could do as a group.  This time together might take as few as 30 minutes, or could last for two to three hours.  It varied by the day and was generally influenced by whether or not a great discussion was started.  (Beware of allowing a “need” to keep to a schedule interfere with addressing those things your children are interested in delving into in greater detail.  If you need to adjust some of your curriculum for a new, burning interest-by all means, adjust!)

Individual school lists were started when group time was over.  Anything on their lists not covered during our time as a group needed to be completed by them individually.  Each child had their own list.  Some would finish before lunch, some after-depending on their ages, and how motivated they were that day.  It was also often determined by how long we took during group time.

School time was scheduled four days a week.  (We would study history two days, and science the other two.  Other subjects were done each day.)We found you could cover a great deal of ground in four good solid days of studies.  I could then use the other days to shop, deal with doctor appointments, work on gardening, canning or other food preservation projects, sort, or catch up on whatever else I needed to do.

That was the daily routine-most of the time.  Some days called for something else.  Wednesday mornings were story time at the local library. Friday was our shopping day.  Sunday involved church, family time, and a complete change of pace.

I found that this routine worked well for us because life is full of changes, twists, turns, and unplanned events.  Having a routine helped to allow for those changes without feeling derailed.  On days when the kids were sick, we read more books and watched a bit more educational television. When it was just too lovely outside to remain indoors, we packed a picnic lunch and had a day of nature study, or worked on the garden, or went to the zoo.  First snowfall of the season?  Time to brush off the shovels, build a snowman, and then learn to make cocoa.  Learning to be flexible helped us accomplish the highest priorities, and still retain a bit of sanity.  Too much rigidity can be maddening!

If life threw a major curve-ball, we tried incorporate it into what we are doing.  As I have schooled my own over the last two decades, we faced unemployment, heart surgeries, military deployments, moves, miscarriages, and other real life events.  When they happened, we went through them as a family.  No job?  We all found ways to save money and contribute (economics and life skills).  Child in the hospital?  We studied the heart, and learned about convalescent care (biology and health).  Grandma and Grandpa moving into a new home allowed us to serve, and to work on our organizational skills.  Remember- life’s challenges are opportunities to show your children how to keep going in spite of what is happening around you.  They are not an excuse to fall apart or derail family goals.  Major emergencies (heart attacks, appendicitis, etc.) may require we drop and run, and then regroup in a few days.  If you can view all of these things as learning experiences and preparation for life, it can enhance your time with your children, rather than overwhelming you.

And on those days when it is all just too much, give yourself permission to break out the games,  bake cookies, and enjoy the day!