Cooking, Homemaking

Promises kept

It is the 8th of October!  Wow.  I am finally back at the keyboard.  It has taken four weeks for me to get to where I can get my head above water from harvest season (and family emergencies).  Yeah!  We are almost there!  November is in sight.

Our family, including the grandchildren, has bottled, dried, cooked, frozen fruits and vegetables, and stocked the food room.  We have corn, peppers (in various forms), salsa, beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, beans, squash, herbs, and other various and sundry foods prepared and ready for the coming cold weather.  Pears are next.  (I have three bushels in my kitchen calling my name.)  Then more salsa, peppers, and beans.  Apples can wait a week or two- thank heaven!   I may even put up some grape juice.

Seemingly unrelated, but not really, I was in my scriptures and came across these verses.

  • Psalms 23:5-Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies…my cup runneth over.
  • Malachi 3:10-Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there my be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

My kitchen currently “runneth over”, and we are needing to reorganize in the pantry because there is not currently “room enough to receive it” without some focused planning.

I love this time of year.  The feeling of coming together.  Planning for the Holidays.  And the end of canning season.  It always served as a great reminder to me that the Lord keeps His promises to those who are faithful, and will bless us as quickly as we can accept what He sends!

Now, back to the kitchen…

 

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Homeschooling

Treasure hunting

While I taught a workshop last Saturday, I was asked a question that has had me thinking ever since.  We were discussing curriculum, and they were looking over a few books I had pulled off my shelves, and writing down titles.  Then they asked if I preferred to order books online or purchase at second-hand stores.  Really made me think!  The answer: second-hand stores.  Why?  While they are generally cheaper, that is not the main reason.  I often find such treasures I didn’t know existed that it is worth my time to sort through the piles.  It is easy to order titles with which you are familiar from an online source (and I do from time to time), but there are books I have found while looking for something else which I now love and yet would never have known to purchase before I held them in my hand!

Here are a few of my discoveries:

  • Exploring Your World: the Adventure of Geography published by National Geographic Society.  This encyclopedic volume of geographical terms and pictures is beautiful and easy-to-use.  A must for geography study.
  • Mommy, It’s a Renoir published by Parent Child Press.  This paperback is full of ideas and activities to enhance your family’s art study- ways to study the Masters, and activities to help you appreciate what they accomplished.
  • If You’re Trying to Teach Kids to Write, You’ve Gotta Have This Book! by Marjorie Frank.  While this book was definitely written for use by a traditional classroom teacher, the hints, ideas, and other great information helped me approach the writing process from an entirely different angle!  Need help thinking outside the box?  This book does that!
  • We Had Everything But Money published by Reminisce Books.  This collection of stories and pictures from the Great Depression in America speaks to the greatness and resiliency of the American spirit.  While the Depression was a difficult and trying time, it allowed people to come together, work with what they had, and still manage to often build a happy life.
  • Milestones to American Liberty: the Foundations of the Republic by Milton Meltzer.  This volume contains beautiful artwork, copies of original documents, and the stories behind some of the most important writings in our nation’s history dealing with equality and freedom.
  • Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss.  I love the study of grammar and syntax; words are captivating for me, so this little book makes me smile every time I see the title on my shelf!  Truss picks apart the history and usage of punctuation for the English language.  While published initially in Britain, she has added information that applies to American punctuation as well. (Yes, they differ.)  Quite tongue-in-cheek, quoting classic and more contemporary pieces of the written word, and with obvious affection for the nuances of punctuation, this book is fun to read and always makes me think!

I am sure there are dozens more titles on my shelf that could be added to my list.  Maybe I will later!  But this sampling helps me recognize how much I gain when I take the time to explore the possibilities around me.

Happy hunting!

Home and Family, Homeschooling, Parenting

20 Years Later: Things I Would Do Again and Things I Wouldn’t

Things I would do again (and often wish I could)-

  • Read about home schooling, home schoolers, and education theory in general.  Talk to people who have been successful.  Get involved.  Learn enough to have a wide overview of my options- and then choose wisely.
  • Laugh.  A lot.  Find the humor in the hard days, the struggle, and the joy.
  • Find families that have great teens and ask how they got there.  I am so grateful to those willing to share with me.  (Great teenagers do not just fall from the sky that way.)
  • Have absolutes.  No double standards.  Your children will spot hypocrisy a mile away.  It is confusing and frustrating for them.  Help them learn what you value before the world has a chance to rewrite their value system.  Live what you preach.
  • Apologize to your children when you are wrong.  We all make mistakes.  Create learning experiences out of them so that your family can be comfortable knowing that it is okay to mess up.  The problem is being unwilling to work it out.
  • Limit screen time.  For years, our television lived in the closet.  It came out for special occasions, surgical convalescence, and holidays.  The computer was for academics.  It is easier to focus when the distractions are limited.
  • Put a stop sign on the front door.  Ignore the phone during academic hours.  Take the time you have with your children seriously and those around you will learn to as well.
  • Limit the junk.  Life is full of time-wasters, distractions, and wasteful options.  There are not enough hours in the day to waste them on things that do not build, feed, encourage, or edify.  Mere entertainment in not enough.
  • Remember – you are the model your children will follow.  You are the adult with whom they have the most contact.  You must choose to handle stress, the unexpected, the wonderful, the negative, and the shocking, with grace and control.  If you don’t, how will they learn to do so?  (I learned this a number of years into our family life by watching my children be “me”.  Not pretty!)
  • Identify the learning styles and personality types of your children.  We used the information we learned to not only “school” more effectively, but to help communication within our family.  Not everyone sees the world in the same way; recognizing the way others see it is a tremendous tool.  We learned to relate to each other better and be more patient with each other.
  • Have a schedule.  Success is much more likely if you are flexible within a framework than if you have no guidelines or expectations.  People are inherently lazy- adults and children alike.  Self-mastery comes from meeting expectations, having discipline, and consistency.  That applies to the parents as much as the children.
  • Have annual goals: Academic goals, spiritual goals, service-oriented goals, life and skill-related goals for each member of the family.
  • Begin the day with group time.  In our pjs.  With hot chocolate.  (Okay, get dressed if you must.)  But seriously, starting the academic part of the day together with an opening devotional, reading literature and history together, doing drill and memorization work as a group was such a great experience.  Sometimes it lasted for an hour; sometimes much more than that.  Having time with my children every day to discuss things, hear their thoughts and ideas, and just enjoy each other was brilliant.
  • Find a phone buddy.  Having a calm, supportive, and friendly adult to talk to on hard days helped me laugh at myself, see the humor in the struggle, and be a better mom to my kids.
  • Have my teenager’s friends in my home.  Do units in the summer with public school and home school kids.  (We did a few of these and they were SO fun.)  Bake cookies.  Host group date activities.  Feed them.  Even more fun, teach them to cook.
  • Take time for your marriage.  When the children leave home, and they eventually will, it is important to know how to spend time together as adults and communicate.  Nurture each other.

Things I would Not do again-

  • Get caught up in worrying so much.  You are the parent.  Be one.  Take the best from each idea or method you come across.  Leave the rest.  It’s your decision.
  • Spend so much on “stuff”.  I am a home school junkie.  I admit it.  If I had only found companies like Timberdoodle and books like The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer (great resource lists) I could have saved a bundle!
  • Begin without any organization.  I overspent and duplicated too much by not knowing what I already owned.  You don’t need things to be perfect, just have a framework, a few ideas, and somewhere to put things!
  • Avoid things I disliked in school.  As I stopped feeling intimidated or disinterested in things, I found I love history, and really enjoyed art.  I can think scientifically.  And my children were more willing to try as they watched me learn with them.  Home schooling has given me a second-chance at my own education.
  • Tell another parent they should be home schooling.  I love to teach people how to do what we have been able to do, but I have learned to wait until asked.  Home schooling takes commitment, time, money, and patience.  It is not for everyone!  As we support others and the choices they make, our children will learn to appreciate and celebrate the differences in people.  What a great lesson to learn!
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.