A Plan for What's Left of September

I’m working on plans right now.  Not in the typical homeschool mama scheduling sort of way, but as a sort of crisis management plan.

My issues are:

  • This summer, I was diagnosed with another autoimmune disease and some problems with my brain (nothing fatal, but apparently some form of epilepsy that is happening quite often each day).  I was also diagnosed with some issues with my blood and stomach, and some deficiencies, but those are the two biggies.
  • I need to find a new balance for homeschooling and properly parenting five children.
  • I need to find a balance for writing four columns that I rely on increasingly more to pay the bills.
  • I need to get my house in some sort of working order.  I have never been much of a housekeeper but when I am sick or overextended I get messier, and this summer was a whole lot of both of those.
  • I desperately want to get my book (A Magical Childhood) finished and published, in one form or another.  I know it’s not the best timing but it never has been and I don’t want to die someday with it 90% finished on my computer somewhere, having spent my whole life putting it off until that “right time.”
  • We had planned to move Victoria to the attic and move Anna into her room and Jack into Anna’s room, since Victoria was going off to art school.  She’s back home but all the kids want to move things around anyway and it was half done, so we’re working really hard to finish all that relocating.  That means major work right now in clearing the rest of the attic, getting it painted and prepped, getting other rooms painted and prepped and on and on.
  • It is fall, and that means a whole lot of work around here.  In-town homesteading is part of how we get by on next to nothing, and that means some major effort in the harvest season.  It doesn’t matter if my brain is short circuiting and Fiona is hanging onto my skirt when my kitchen is full of 4 bushels of free apples, 2 bushels of wild pears and a basket of acorns all needing to be processed and my garden is exploding with stuff to harvest, freeze, dry, dig and pluck.  That’s not even getting into the elderberries to turn into flu-fighting syrup and the others that need to be picked at the county park and the walnuts and the grapes and the plums and the pumpkins….

I have been feeling overwhelmed and overextended.  Truth be told, I have also been having a little bit of a pity party for myself.  I wish that I had more friends nearby.  I wish that I had help with the kids or the house or something, outside of Daryl and the kids themselves.  I wish I had any family alive, other than some long-lost (wonderful) cousins and a grandma and aunt in Ohio.  I wish I had a tribe.

I wish I had a girlfriend who’d come over and drink wine with me.

I had paid to have someone come and help with the house and that didn’t work out.  That person isn’t in a place to help me right now, and I need to just accept that and save myself instead.

So September is my month to save myself, migraines and seizures and clingy toddlers and messy house and all.

September is my month to get back in a homeschool schedule, to knock out that fall work, to take baby steps when I need to and monster steps when I can.

My goal is just to breathe, push, breathe, push, just like having a baby.  Sometimes you just need to keep on going, cuz it’s not going to get better until you get it done.  🙂

Wish me luck!

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Our Winter Schedule

I like to keep a seasonal schedule to help keep myself on track in terms of homeschooling, meals, housework and so on. I am not any good at all with rigid structure, but a loose schedule helps immensely with a family of our size and with all the pans I always have in the fire.

Each day has a general theme in terms of food, activities and homeschooling focus. We are free to deviate from it, but it helps to keep things running more smoothly to have it as a general guideline.

Here’s our winter schedule, which I have posted above my desk.

Each day has a theme next to it, and the lunch is listed under it (kids make it when they can).  The dinner (or dinner theme) is listed at the end of the line.  I also list what area to clean and what HS area to focus on, plus anything unique to the day.  Along the side you can see what we have to do every day, chore-wise (dishes, laundry, pets, tidying) and at the bottom is the HS/personal stuff we do every day.

The schedule is very loose, like if we’re snowed in for Friday field trips we can still walk up to the library uptown (our whole town is like 8 blocks wide, so “uptown” is a relative term!).

And in case you’re interested, here was the fall schedule. I loved having it to refer to all during autumn.  I found that it made things just seem easier.

Since I cook from scratch and we have a lot of dietary needs in our house (various members are gluten free, dairy free and vegetarian, not to mention general tastes), it really helps me to have a general weekly meal rotation for the seasons.

Some of the benefits of this system are:

  • Weekly shopping lists are easy to compile since they don’t change that much during one season.
  • Meals are centered around seasonal foods, which are cheaper and fresher. In the winter, that means a lot of root vegetables and dried beans.  I also rely on the foods we put up earlier in the year.
  • It’s easier for me to quickly make suppers, since it’s rather routine.
  • Having a general theme instead of a specific meal plan lets me shop the sales and account for extras we have to use up. For instance, stir fries can include just about any vegetables and proteins.  Mexican can mean anything from burrito bowls to enchiladas to tostadas.  Baked potato night usually involves a horde of possible toppings, including any leftovers that sound like good toppers.  And obviously soup night leaves thousands of possibilities.  🙂
  • The meal themes are loose enough to still allow for variety. “Use it up day” lets me make use of things in the pantry and fridge, so foods aren’t wasted and I need to buy less.  Feast night on Sunday allows us to have a little fun and satisfy our cravings.
  • The general meals are incredibly frugal. With a family of 7 and our budget (and my insistence on still buying healthy, whole foods and lots of organics), this saves me a ton of money.  On Saturday nights, we have the comfort food from my childhood — cabbage, potatoes and carrots.  We just boil it up in a pot and top it with butter and salt.  A lot of families survived on that type of food five nights a week or more in the past, and while it’s not a favorite for any of my kids it gives me a night off of cooking (Daryl takes care of it).  Other meals in our rotation are heavily reliant on affordable staples like rice and beans.
  • Having this system lets it become routine to do prep work. For instance, knowing that Monday night is always Mexican night, I automatically put some black beans in the pressure cooker to soak overnight.
  • The kids know what to expect, which they like.
  • I don’t have to panic at 5 p.m. about what’s for supper. That’s the biggest plus for me!

The same holds true for the homeschooling routine and the chore routines. They are loose, but they allow for a little bit of predictability and just enough structure.  It is too easy for me to feel overwhelmed at everything that needs to be done in the house or all the things I “should” be doing with the kids, but if I can look and see that today is a day to focus on poetry, making the day magical and cleaning bedrooms, I can handle that!

Winter is actually our calmest season. We don’t have any work to do in the gardens and all of the harvests have been put up.  It’s too soon for starting seeds, the snow keeps us from going too far from home, and there are not many activities even offered this time of year.

In Homeschooling Through the Seasons I talked about the possible winter homeschool environments:

Winter is an ideal time for slowing down and doing longer projects. You can introduce lots more read-alouds of both fun fiction and history, science and other educational subjects. Winter sports can include ice skating, skiing and playing in the snow, but can also incorporate more inside activities like Wii fitness games, yoga and using mini trampolines. Homemaking skills can be part of the learning, teaching kids skills like bread making and knitting (if you don’t know how to do these, this is a perfect excuse to learn along with them!). Computers can play a bigger part in homeschooling this time of year, using educational sites like Khan Academy, online curricula such as the free ACS chemistry curriculum and educational online games. This is also an ideal time to use educational videos from Netflix or the library. The Christmas season offers its own challenges and opportunities. Homeschoolers are lucky that we can take full advantage of the season without having to squeeze in the same schedule as usual. Many homeschoolers cut back on the traditional lessons during December and let Christmas (from baking to budgeting to religious education) be a main part of homeschooling.

Today, however, our routine is off a bit because we’re deviating by traveling to Sioux Falls to pick up Victoria from the airport.  She’s back from a fantastic week and a half with friends in Oregon so we get to bring her home.

What do you think of the new hair?

I swear Fiona is more of a fan than she’s letting on there!  😉

And now I’m off to tidy the bedroom and grab some poetry books for the car……

 

 

Homesteading 101

We’ve been so busy “putting things up” the past few months, and we have one more big push to do now — pumpkins — before we’re nearly done for the year.

Daryl picked up 19 pumpkins from our local farm family source for $5 today.  Daryl told Mr. H that we needed one jack-o-lantern pumpkin and 9 pie pumpkins and Mr. H told him, “How about you take as many as you want for five dollars?”.  After Thursday, all the ones left over are going over the fence to the cows, after all.  🙂

We have 5 gallons of hard apple cider brewing on the kitchen counter right now and 18 pie pumpkins waiting on the lawn to become pumpkin puree tomorrow.

Oh yes, and Mr. H had a couple of extra flats of tomatoes and another big box of peppers he threw in cheap, so we need to prep those tomorrow too…

It is a lot of work, but I honestly really love this time of year and this work we do as a family together.

Over this growing season, we’ve canned, dried, frozen, foraged and otherwise “put up”:

  • applesauce
  • apple juice
  • hard cider
  • apple pie filling
  • chopped apples
  • green, yellow, red and purple pepper strips
  • roasted onions
  • shredded zucchini
  • wild elderberries
  • elderberry honey syrup (anti-flu medicine)
  • pears in light syrup
  • peaches in light syrup
  • roasted pumpkin seeds
  • simple roasted tomato sauce
  • rhubarb
  • refrigerator pickles
  • traditional pickles (various recipes)
  • corn (frozen and canned)
  • cattail stalks
  • cattail pollen (used as a flour and incredibly high in vitamins and Omega-3 fats)
  • acorn flour
  • mulberries
  • black raspberries
  • raspberries
  • triple berry sauce
  • mulberry fruit leather
  • dandelion syrup
  • tomatoes
  • roasted corn salsa
  • easy fresh salsa
  • fresh tomato bisque
  • grape juice
  • grape jelly
  • milkweed pods (when tiny, they can be cooked like breaded and/or sauteed and the insides are like melted mozarella cheese)
  • walnuts
  • various other wild berries (gooseberries, etc.)
  • whatever I’ve forgotten!  🙂

I love the fact that even 6 year-old Alex knows how to ID wild asparagus and he can’t pass by walnuts in the park without gathering them up in his shirt to bring home.  🙂

I get a kick out of teaching my kids how to do things like baking, canning, gardening and preserving the harvest. Most people used to think of these skills as those of our parents and grandparents, but I grew up with different role models.

My mother was a single mom who put herself through doctoral school and became a professor and then a prison psychologist.  Her mother was a teacher, then a principal, and eventually the dean of education at an Ohio university.  After retirement, she opened an educational resource center and ran that for over twenty years (she’s nearly 90 and just sold it and retired a few years ago).  Her mother was a factory worker.

My mom was actually a phenomenally terrible cook.  Not a single woman in my life seemed to know how to sew, garden, can, cook, bake or anything else remotely domestic.  Even normal jobs related to the keeping of a home were missing from my upbringing, since we moved at least once a year, rented wherever we lived and didn’t even own furniture.

Since my mother hid me from my father until after his death, I grew up not knowing anybody on my father’s side of the family.  I have been told that my grandfather loved to garden and my grandmother may have known all of the skills I missed out on from my mother’s side, but they were all dead before I found them.

So I had to teach myself.  I’ve become a regular pro at some of it (cooking and gardening, especially), and I’m still working on a few of those domestic skills (like using a sewing machine and keeping my house tidy).

I do love knowing these skills, though, and I love that my kids are growing up learning them.  They can choose to become deans of education and know how to grow an organic garden and pressure cook twenty-five quarts of back yard salsa. 🙂

Maria Montessori actually advised that the middle school years should focus on teaching homesteading skills instead of academics, for many reasons.  We loosely follow that during the middle school years, since it seems to suit the tween years so well, developmentally.  (Montessori taught that the high school years should see a refocus on academics, along with real-world work opportunities in the form of internships and volunteer work that provides helpful experience for later careers.)

I recently wrote up 10 Homesteading Skills Every Child Should Learn, and I pointed out some of the reasons it’s so good for kids to learn homesteading skills:

  • They have skills that can save them a lot of money when they’re on their own, since they won’t have to hire others to do them.
  • They are able to be self-sufficient and don’t have to rely on other people to help them or take care of them.
  • They are able to help their neighbors and communities. They can pass on their skills and use their knowledge to help others. Homesteading practices tend to help the environment, too.
  • They have the skills needed to not just survive but thrive even in difficult financial times.
  • They are prepared for emergencies and challenges.
  • They have what they need for financial freedom and are equipped to live comfortably within their means.
  • They have added pride and the sense of accomplishment that comes from “doing it yourself” and doing it well.

I’m still working on teaching a few of the top ten list to the kids (and myself!). I put links to lessons for each category in the article, like free woodworking pages and sites that help teach kids to sew.

If you’re interested in teaching your kids homesteading skills, I also have all my favorite stuff pinned on Pinterest to boards like:

You can see all my Pinterest boards here(BTW, if you’re on Pinterest too, leave a comment and let me know!)

Daryl also focuses on some homesteading skills like making applesauce, using wild foods, foraging with kids and “putting up” foods in his cooking with kids column and his urban foraging column.

I honestly think that teaching our kids homesteading skills is one of the most important parts of their education. It gives them so many advantages in life, and sneaks in plenty of science, math and other subjects along the way.

I also just find that it greatly improves our quality of life, and gives us some pretty neat memories together — and really good food.  🙂

My Filing Card To-Do System

My filing card to do systemThis is the filing card system I’ve been using lately for my to-do lists.

I have a crazy amount of things I have to do on an ongoing basis, and I couldn’t find a program, list or app that would work for me until I started doing my cards again.

I made it up years ago and later lost the box. I found it recently and have been using it again.

The system is kind of cool.  I adapted it from the book that inspired FlyLady (something about Sidetracked Home Executives?).

The cards are color coded for daily (yellow), weekly (orange), monthly or seasonal (white) and personal (pink — not chores but stuff like writing, mothering, personal stuff to remember) and you have all 12 months and numbered days, so you move things to the next day, week or month in the box as you complete it.

I just have SO MUCH I have to do every day to keep everything going regarding laundry, meals, kids, HS, work, housekeeping, etc.  I never make it through all the cards I have filed for that day, but it does help me do a lot more than I would otherwise.

I like it better than my apps or written lists because once I write the cards up I don’t have to keep doing the work of writing/typing up the lists every day and I can easily move them to the day or month I’ll next need to deal with them. A lot of apps either repeat the same things every day or you have to enter them new. This works for all the things I have to do twice a week, every Monday, once a season, etc.

And I like the pretty colors. 😉

Next up — I’m going to make up homeschooling cards to stock in it too. It’s getting very hard to keep up with all of the kids and all of the subjects, and I think this system will work well for making sure we get to the things I want to get to.

Maybe I’ll just give each of the kids his or her own box, with chore cards too….

I’ll keep you updated!

 

Interior Design & the Science of Cast Iron

We were in a thrift store last week and Victoria and I spotted the perfect design book to describe my decorating style…

And in order to make this homeschool related…

On a related homemaking note, here’s the science behind seasoning a cast iron pan!  Do you know which oil will produce the safest, healthiest, hardest, most nonstick finish — and why???  Handy AND educational!  🙂

Unplugged Project: Donating for Dollars

 

This week’s unplugged theme was junk, trash, donate and it was perfect timing.

We are a family of packrats, some of us more than others.  We have too much stuff and I have been trying to purge for quite some time.  I’ve been making progress, but it’s tricky when you have 4 little kids (and one big hubby) who are prone to saying things like But I love my broken hand claw thingee! and (I’m not making this up) You can’t toss my empty Molly Hatchet record cover from college.  It’s a memory!

Sigh.  Good thing they’re all so fabulous in other ways.  😉

But….

I seized upon this challenge and the upcoming holidays and told the kids that I would give them one dollar for each shopping bag they filled with stuff they donated.

It had to be their own stuff, and we had to clear it before the stuff left the house.  I didn’t want any expensive family heirlooms ending up at the thrift store, just in case we had any expensive family heirlooms hiding under the bed or something.

I gave them another, bigger bag and told them it was for joint possessions.  They could donate things that belonged to all of them as long as they all agreed, and they’d each get a dollar if they filled the bag.

Lastly, I told them I’d give them a dollar for each shopping bag filled with trash.  I don’t want them donating things that nobody would really want like ripped up old art projects or broken toys.

Anna and Jack did an excellent job.  Anna is very good at purging, so much so that she hurt Victoria’s feelings by wanting to toss an illustrated letter Victoria wrote her to cheer her up when she was 5.  🙂  I rescued it for a keepsake.

Victoria organized.  Bless her heart, she’s trying.  It’ll take a while before she makes a fortune for any thrift store, but she did nearly fill a bag with trash and that’s progress.

I told the kids that this project goes all week, so they have 5 more days to fill the back of the van with donations.  Here’s hoping they’re rich by Saturday! 

My clean team

Yesterday the kids spent a long time outside since the weather had warmed up a bit. At one point I saw Annalee outside shoveling the drive and otherwise I figured the kids were just making snowmen and playing. I was busy with the baby and a new mystery novel so I really didn’t pay much attention.

Later Victoria came in and asked me to come see something outside. I figured she made a snow sculpture or something. I followed her out and she opened up both my car doors to reveal a completely cleaned out car!

We only use my little car when I take the kids on road trips to Tiffany’s and such, so it mostly sits buried in snow. There had been tons of stuff left in it from our last trip (ten hours round trip with 4 kids means lots of little stuff!) and I kept meaning to clean it out when the days warmed up.

It turns out she went out to find a coloring book, noticed some things that needed to be thrown away and then just kept going! She got every single scrap, every broken crayon, every toy, everything! All that was left was the road atlas on the seat!

I told her she knows the way to my heart. LOL

She spent about 2 hours outside doing this just to make me happy, bless her heart. And Victoria enjoys cleaning about as much as I do, which is slightly less than a root canal. 🙂

Then last night I started organizing Jack and Anna’s room. Jack came in, asked what I was doing, found out I was cleaning and offered to help. He stayed with me and helped sort legos, find pieces and otherwise clean what had been a very messy room.

Annalee also asked me yesterday if it would be okay if she made Victoria’s bed to make it pretty for her! I said sure and she carefully made it as pretty as she could and then asked me to help with the finishing touches. She is also the only child in the free world who actually asks if she can clean the toilet!

These are little things perhaps but I am so proud of the kids for volunteering to do all of these things, completely on their own! I have always been a messy person and it’s a constant struggle for me to not only get the house under control but to manage to teach my kids how to be better at it than I am.

I really want my kids to not only become good at keeping a house, but to enjoy doing it. I’ve been getting much better at that myself and we’re all starting to really pull together as a team and find what things we each like to do to help out. I’m beginning to feel there is hope for us all. 🙂