Monday, January 19, 2009

Small Spaces

I am so very thankful to have the wonderful set up we have in our home which allows me to dedicate an entire room (well two rooms really) to school. That has not always been the case, and I know that many get frustrated when they see photos of other homeschoolers' "perfect" school rooms (you know of course that they are only perfect for the photo shoot - trust me, my school room rarely looks that clean!) and wonder how to keep sanity in limited space. I have had experience with this in the past - last spring we had extended family live with us for 3 months while they were in transition between homes - and I lost use of my entire school space and office. Currently, I am briefly dealing with this again (the aforementioned septic issue the week before Christmas resulted in much ripping up of flooring, carpet and drywall - have you ever tried to find a contractor to work over Christmas break?) So I thought I would share my "down and dirty get-it-done" school space. This assumes that you have some other place in your house to store books you are not currently using (a bookshelf in a closet, basement or bedroom). I have all of my "extras" stored right now on bookshelves in the basement until the repairs are finished. I chose the books I considered most crucial for us to cover over the next few weeks. Then I cleared off one shelf on the baker's rack in my kitchen. Any bookshelf, dining room hutch or even pantry shelf works.

These are the most important items for me to access on a daily basis with the kids. The black boxes contain flashcards and writing supplies.

The books on the top shelf were already there - mostly cookbooks and prayer books and the bottoms shelf holds all my copies of the most practical and useful cooking magazine ever published. The baskets on each side contain art books (left) and nature study books (right). This is a great way to scatter books on different subjects throughout the living areas of the home. I have about 6 of these baskets in various parts of the house and school room areas - and each one has books from a different subject area. The kids can access them when they want, and I can send them to the basket to read something specific if I need to. So, while I miss my school room and am grateful we do have the space to spread out - really, this is not bad. I have everything I need in one place, and we can enjoy school in the kitchen for the next few weeks.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Talking with friends today put something heavy on my heart and mind. We were discussing some of the frustrations most home school moms experience (can't get it all done, am I doing enough? etc). I think we all think we are the only one thinking those things, we are the only one who feels on the brink of watching our house of cards collapse and it often comes as a surprise to hear others voice the very same fears hanging over us. One of these friends has always told me she made a firm commitment to herself a while back to never read blogs. Her reason - people only blog about the best of themselves, the successes. It creates a false impression of all these amazing people who have it all together - and can only lead others to wonder "where did I go wrong?" or "why can't I accomplish all that?" She is right, you can make yourself into anyone you want online - with little accountability to the accuracy of your statements (unless your good friends who see you every week follow your blog - then it is a bit harder to get away with :). So, with that in mind, I want to say - while I usually do blog about the great things in my life, and share the successes I have had, and the things that have worked for me - in no way do I intend to give the impression that I have it all together. I most certainly do not. My house is usually a mess, there are days when nothing gets accomplished, there are disasters, problems, illnesses and constant failures in my life. I guess I choose to not share many of the negatives because I do not want this blog to become a pity party for myself. When a child is sick, or the downstairs floods (week before Christmas) I don't go into it because I don't want others to read this and get the impression that I think my troubles are worse than what they are going through on that particular day. So, what I want to say here is, I encourage all of you. When you read about someone else's life, don't compare it to your own. Take what you can that is helpful, ignore what is not. If anyone sounds too perfect, remember you are only seeing a small portion of that person. And forgive me if I ever in this blog make someone feel as if they are not living up to some impossible standard. I struggle everyday with the feeling that I am just a child who is somehow playing dress up - pretending to be a grown up and wondering when I am going to get caught. That is why I so highly recommend The Quotidian Mysteries. When acedia overtakes me, and I feel as if what I am doing is not good enough, or that I will go crazy if I have to fold another load of laundry - I pick it up, and remind myself that life is all about the everyday, the mundane, the menial. That is where God is, that is where our salvation is often found, that is part of the rhythm God created to allow us to draw near to Him.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Chore Charts

Seems like there are as many methods for chore charts as there are chores to accomplish. They usually fail because of my lack of consistency or because I make it too complicated. After reading A Mother's Rule of Life again, and talking with the kids about how they would prefer to track their chores, I have decided to simplify (I am beginning to see a pattern here too, I think I am going to claim "simplify" as my buzzword for 2009). I tried the Manager's of their Chores method with little cards in a name tag that the wore around their neck - which the younger ones liked a lot. But, it was a lot of work for me, and we kept losing the cards, and my oldest found it too bothersome. I will probably use that method for big cleaning days, where I can give them a lot of jobs and not constantly be delegating, but for now, I think we are going to go back to simple lists. To help the kids with their morning routine, I have typed up each child's list and printed them off on cardstock. I am putting them into simple 5x7 frames and placing the morning routine in their bathrooms, and the evening routine in their bedrooms. I got a little fancy with the fonts, using a fun, curly font for the girls and a very masculine army font for my son, and the frames match the decor of their rooms and bathrooms. Now they have a list to remind them each morning. For meal time chores I just typed up a chart and am posting it in the kitchen.

Here is what the 7yo's morning list contains:
Wash face and hands (hang up cloth)
Brush hair (put away brush)
Get dressed and put pajamas away
Quick room tidy – books, toys, clothing, garbage
Make bed
Take dirty laundry downstairs – sort
Brush teeth after breakfast (put cap on paste)

And here is a look at the crocodile hunters list (9)
Wash face and hands (hang up cloth)
Brush hair (put away brush)
Get dressed and put pajamas away
Quick room tidy–books, toys, clothing
Make bed
Feed dogs
Put compost out (return bucket)
Take dirty clothes to laundry – sort
Brush teeth after breakfast (put cap on paste)

Everything except brushing teeth is to be accomplished before coming to breakfast. Then they each have a responsibility for the meal - setting the table, clearing, loading the dishwasher etc. They have a similar before bed routine. If anyone else has any great ideas for improving upon this procedure, let me know - this is the simplest method we have tried, and I am hoping that it will make for better enforcement and consistency on my part.

52 Books - week 2

I have added a list in the sidebar where I am going to keep a tally of my book list this year as I read them. A quick update - I am still working my way through Acedia and Me (not a quick read, but a very good book). As I pace myself through that one, I decided last week I needed a little lighter reading to go along with it, so I decided to pick up This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti. I read this back in highschool, and since the common theme that seems to be guiding my book selections at present is prayer, I thought it might be a nice change of pace to enjoy a fictional look at the topic. While the theology is certainly not spot on (I am pretty sure the angels are not sitting there hoping I pray so they have the strength to fly), it is an engaging read, and it does bring forth the importance of prayer. I think the beauty of this book is the reminder that there is indeed an unseen war being waged all the time around us, and we must constantly be vigilant, aware that the demons are always trying to lead us astray and we are in a battle for our souls.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Overheard at breakfast

How many 4 year olds are well versed on Dr. Who? This morning at breakfast, the queen (4) had an argument with crocodile hunter (9) and the little princess (7) over whether or not the great Doctor was real or not. She insisted he is, though the jelly bean monster is not!

And on a completely unrelated note - enjoy these amazing photos from the Tarpon Springs Theophany celebration. There is something incredibly moving about the photo at water level of all the boys in the water, one arm reaching triumphantly up into the air with the cross. HT to Monica for the link.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Simple Solutions

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. One issue I have had this past year has been making sure the bills got paid. I am the one responsible in our house for financial data - I enter everything into Quick*n and I write the checks to pay the bills. This is not because I am particularly skilled at it (because believe me, I am not) it is just the way responsibilities were divided up in our household when we got married. I try to be very careful, and I typically pay a bill the day it arrives, so I don't forget. Occasionally, I set one aside to deal with another day. This past year, during crazy weeks I just stacked them up and paid them weekly, after things settled down. The result was, I lost a phone bill in a stack of papers and was charged a late fee, I did not notice one month that we never received a bill for the credit card I use for online purchases (turns out, a bill is just a "courtesy" and they don't really care if it shows up in your mailbox 2 months after the due date - which is what actually happened!). So, a simple solution (so simple I am sure others have done this already, but it only just occurred to me)- I created a master calendar page with each bill listed on it's due date. I am putting it into a plastic sleeve, and it will be in my binder, with a copy posted next to my calendar. Now, when I check my calendar, I will be reminded that a bill is coming due, and I can be sure that it arrives, and that I don't forget to pay it. I think I will use a highlighter each month, and just highlight each payment when I make it, then I can look back and know nothing has been missed. Nothing annoys me more than paying an extra $5-10 to the electric company because I did not send the payment in immediately! This would also be a great way to help budget - you could fill in the average amount for each of the utilities, house payment etc - and that would give a big picture of fixed expenses each month. And yes, I know, I could have much of this electronically drafted and then I would not have that problem, but I am not a big fan of electronic drafts, and I am still fighting the pressure to "bank online". So, I am going to continue the archaic methods of actually physically writing my own checks, and yes, licking my own envelopes (well, I will say I do prefer the self-adhesive envelopes), and yes even using stamps (which I wish were NOT just glorified and very expensive stickers)!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Making a dollar stretch

Not my usual topic around here, but I wanted to share something I discovered this past week. It is one of those things I wonder why I never asked about before, so I thought maybe others had never tried this either. I was shopping at S*m's Club - I try to do my monthly bulk shopping there - and was stocking up on meat. Now, I have always noticed the prices in the meat section, they give a price for the product, then they give a case price. It never occurred to me before to ask about getting a case. I guess I just figured it was too much meat? Well, a package of 20-22 chicken legs ran about $12. If you get a case, that same quantity of chicken legs cost about $6. A case was only 6 packages, so I got 125 chicken legs for $33! Now, I realize that is a lot of food - I am fortunate to have a deep freezer in my garage to store excess meat (it is currently stocked with lots of venison). However, for those without that storage capacity - find a friend and split the case. My mother and sister each bought one package of legs from me, then I split the other 4 packages into groups of 8-10 chicken legs and froze them that way. I also bought a whole pork loin (the really big piece, not the smaller tenderloins) and cut it into single serving pork "steaks." The one pork loin (which I think ran about $15) gave me enough boneless pork chops to freeze for 4 meals (I freeze these in a ziploc bag with a marinade of honey, ketchup, bbq sauce and apple jelly). So, for those of you trying to find a little extra give in the grocery budget - think bigger - quantities that is!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

52 Books Update

Not sure how often I will post about my books, since I doubt you all want to read about every book, but I will post the occasional update. I re-read A Mother's Rule of Life last week, and spent several hours making notes and creating a new rule for myself and a new plan for chores and the rest. I am looking forward to implementing it this week, and hope it will help us to get back on track for the new year in contrast to the chaos of the past few months! If you are not familiar with this book, it is a wonderful guide to putting some organization into your life. Pierlot approaches it from a spiritual perspective, rather than a strict "scheduling" perspective, using the monastic concept of a "rule," which is a prescribed way of living within a monastic community. Orthodox Christians should have a prayer rule as a part of Orthodox living - a set plan of prayer for each day. This rule is often created with the guidance of a spiritual father, and goes beyond the idea of rules to live by in a legalistic sense, rather creating a framework of accountability for the Christian life. With this in mind, Pierlot guides the reader through the five areas of a mother's life - prayer, person, partner, parent, provider - asking the reader to prayerfully consider what she needs to do within those areas to accomplish God's calling for her. Putting all of those areas together, one is left with a basic outline for the day - not necessarily with strict times, but with an order to the day. It is a very doable concept, and much more natural than a rigorous daily schedule.
After finishing A Mother's Rule of Life, I moved on to Acedia & Me, by Kathleen Norris. Norris is a poet and the author of one of my favorite little books, The Quotidian Mysteries, and Acedia & Me is a deeper exploration of the topics she touched on in QM. I am enjoying this book a great deal, and imagine I will spend several weeks on it. In the mean time I also intend to re-read The Quotidian Mysteries.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A New Year

While I am not a big fan of the new year's resolutions concept - there is something to be said for starting a new year with fresh goals. So, here are just a few of my goals, along with the steps I am taking to actually achieve them. I think that is why I hate resolutions - usually it is just a list of things we should do - which is pointless unless you have a plan to make it happen!

1. Get in shape - I definitely am finding it harder to lose those last few "baby pounds" after this last baby. My goal is to lose 5 pounds by March, and more importantly drop several inches off the waistline. To achieve this goal - I canceled my C*rves membership (which I have not used in 5 months) and found a gym that provides childcare and a little more flexibility in hours. I think that if I plan to go early a few times a week, it might work well, since the early morning hours are not productive school time with the baby up. Then, we can be back home for the morning nap and not have to head out in the afternoon when the 4 year old needs her nap.

2. Daily personal prayer time - I have been pitifully inconsistent in doing my own personal prayers. My husband has really encouraged me recently to establish a consistent morning wake time, and stick to it no matter what. I am slowly working myself back to getting up at 6:30 (going to need another few weeks to manage it, I am doing it in increments of time :). As I become better at getting up, I am going to be reclaiming that early time before the kids are up (I know, how lucky can you get - my kids would all sleep til 8 every morning if I let them) and using it for prayer.

3. Organize my sewing room - my poor patient husband shares his home office with my sewing desk. Which means, when he needs to do paperwork or be on the computer, he is usually surrounded by piles of fabric, pattern pieces and the occasional pin that he steps on. My motivation for this one also comes from having to empty the office this week to have the carpets replaced (we had an unfortunate septic back up issue the week before Christmas which resulted in most of the floors and some wall board having to be ripped up downstairs). Since I have to clear the room this week anyway, I am planning to sort everything as I remove it, get rid of the excess junk, and only return to the room the things that have a home!

4. Read a book a week (average!) - I was about to make a list of books to read this year when I ran across this challenge. I used to read 2-3 books a week, but seems these days if it isn't school related or reading aloud to the kids I don't read it! So, I am stepping up to the challenge. I will be posting about the books I read (though I won't bore you with ALL of them!), and I am starting with A Mother's Rule of Life (yes, re-reads count, I checked the rules :). To accomplish this goal - two changes will be happening. First, TV off! I normally do that during Lent, so this year I am just going to get a head start (it's easier to do for Lent if you haven't already seen the first 4 episodes of some new show you get hooked on anyway!). Second, I am setting aside a 30 minute time slot each day to read no matter what. No, I have not decided when it will be yet, but I am working on it (part of why I need to re-read Mother's Rule of Life).

So there is my start. I would encourage each of you to think about the changes you want to make, then make a plan for how to accomplish those changes.