Monday, February 10, 2014

Square Nails and 100-Year-Old Houses

Home improvements became a way of life when we moved into Quirky Cottage.  Anyone who has remodeled an older house knows that every project will take twice as long and cost twice as much as you think, even with a plan. The trouble lies in the surprises you uncover along the way.
Occasionally the surprises give us more respect for the old ways, along with renewed appreciation for modern tools. During one of many repairs, my master craftsman found these wonderful square nails. 

January marked the 18th anniversary of life in this house.  Instead of nine people sharing space Tetris-style, now we are four.  My youngest children have experienced the luxury of Their Own Space and a measure of privacy that my middle children could only dream of, while the older children could vaguely remember such a thing.  Those seven children gained much more than an appreciation of elbow room in this tiny cottage.  They learned deep and lasting lessons about the importance of Getting Along, and that People Are More Important Than Things.  

If you can get along with your family, you can get along with anybody. :-)

And what did I learn?  I learned that the promises of God are absolutely true.  The  "old" ways of raising children to put others first, to serve and honor one another, and to practice stewardship, stand the test of time. Now, my husband and I are enjoying the rewards of sticking to our convictions about raising our children, even when it was difficult and made more challenging by the extra inconveniences and burdens of a cranky old house, and especially when there were unhappy surprises along the way. 

So here's to you, Quirky Cottage. Thank you for sheltering my family, and for being a tool in God's Hand to teach us hard lessons and knit us together.  I guess small houses do grow tight families. ;-) 






Monday, September 2, 2013

Double-Strength Liquid Laundry Soap

Since I have been asked in person, via email, and via a blog comment (hi, Kathy!!) to share my recipe for liquid laundry soap, here it is.  

When my friend Kim shared a recipe for liquid laundry soap with me, my first thought was "where am I going to store TEN GALLONS of laundry soap?!?!"   You may recall that Quirky Cottage is small.  I may not have mentioned that it has no closets.  Ten gallons.  Seriously?

My solution is to make double-strength half-batches, so I only have to store 2 1/2 gallons at a time!   I dispense mine from a drink container with a spigot (these come in pretty colors every summer in the picnic aisle!), but empty laundry detergent bottles work just fine.  I store the remaining laundry soap in big gallon jars, which add enough charm to my laundry area that I don't mind seeing them.  

This recipe is for 5 gallons of double-strength laundry detergent.  It is a modification and compilation of two recipes given to me by friends, without any source.  Thank you, mystery recipe originator, for saving me a bundle of cash :-)!

Double-Strength Liquid Laundry Detergent

1 bar Fels Naptha soap
1 cup washing soda
1 cup borax

Grate soap and melt in saucepan with 4 cups water.  Stir over medium-low heat until completely melted.  Your kitchen will smell very clean and definitely soapy while the soap melts, so don't try doing this while you are cooking dinner.

Fill a 5-gallon bucket half-full of hot tap water.  Stir in washing soda, borax, and melted soap.  Stir thoroughly to mix well and completely dissolve powders.  Fill the bucket to the top with hot water, and stir well.  Then pour into your storage containers (if desired) and let sit overnight to thicken; it will gel.  I have used this immediately after making it, without letting it sit overnight to gel, and it worked just fine.


Stir or shake before using.  Since it gels between uses, store in small enough containers to easily shake, or something into which you can fit a stirrer.

Use 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup per large load.  If you have hard water, you may need slightly more per load.  If you have soft water, you may need less per load.  This is a no-suds cleaner, which is slightly disconcerting at first, if you are used to mounds of soapy bubbles in your washer :-).

YIELD:  5 gallons of laundry soap. 240-320 loads at 1/4 c - 1/3 c per load.

You can use any bar soap, but Fels Naptha works exceptionally well, as it is a laundry bar and stain remover.  I have used Zest, Coast, and Dial.

Fels Naptha is available in the laundry aisle of Walmart, 
and some HEBs in my area, for $1.

Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda is in the laundry aisle, about $3.15 for a 55 oz box.

20 Mule Team Borax is in the laundry aisle, about $3.50 for a 76 oz box.  

I haven't worked out the cost per batch, but I bought my borax and washing soda in May 2011, and just bought washing soda again in August 2013.  I still have 2/3 box of borax.  Plus, I use both the borax and the washing soda for other cleaning tasks occasionally.   
In 2011-2012 I did 2-3 loads daily.  Since March 2013, I do 1-2 loads daily.  Very cost effective laundry soap!!
Tips:  
Start with the smaller amount of laundry soap.  Using too much soap will leave a residue in your clothing fibers.  
If you notice grime on your agitator or on the basin of your washer above the water line,  increase the amount of laundry soap.  
This laundry soap makes a great spot remover. Check for colorfastness when using it as a pre-treatment, of course.

And that's it!  Our clothes smell fresh and clean, and my child with sensitive skin has had no reactions to this laundry soap.  I believe that is because without suds, it rinses completely out and doesn't leave any residue on our clothes.  

Happy Washing! 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Ten Ways to 'Earn' Money by Not Spending

Thirty years ago, when our first child was born, my husband and I made an informed decision to live on one income.  Over time, we adapted our habits and found ways to avoid spending, thus freeing up dollars to use as we chose.  If you have more time than money (as the saying goes), using your time to contribute to the household economy is a smart way to earn by not spending.  

Here are ten ways to 'earn' money by not spending it :-)

1.  Drink water.
Drinking water and eliminating flavored drinks is one of the biggest boons to our budget.  My children were not raised to expect juice, tea, soft drinks, flavored sugar drinks, and all the thousands of liquids offered instead of plain water.   Occasionally we drink teas, and I like a nice cup of coffee in the morning. But all day long, water is our thirst quencher.  Water with a squeeze of fresh lemon is a real treat!

2.  Cook and bake from scratch using real ingredients.  
Serving real foods will provide more nutrition per meal and satisfy your hunger more thoroughly while keeping your dollars in your pocketbook.  Convenience foods are expensive!  It does not take much more time to measure and mix,  or chop and cook, and the end result is not chock-full of shelf stabilizing preservatives.  Fresh fruits and vegetables are an important part of healthy eating, making idea #3 possible. 

3.  Stay healthy and avoid expensive doctor visits. 
You are what you eat.  You really are. Eventually, constantly eating food that lacks nutritive value results in a body that lacks vigorous health.  Choose to eat for life!   Pack your own lunches, and take snacks when you're out shopping to avoid spending money on fast foods. 

4.  Reduce laundry by reusing bath towels.  
Toweling off clean bodies does not dirty a towel.  Assign a towel to each family member to use and hang up to dry.  The whole family gets clean towels twice a week.  This saves extra wash loads, lowering both water and electric consumption.  The towels last longer, too!

5.  Use cleaning cloths.  
We use both purchased microfiber cloths and retired bath and dish towels for cleaning.  Paper towels are reserved for greasy or nasty messes, making a roll of paper towels last many weeks.  Another plus--my boys and my husband know which "rags" they can use for outdoor work, and never grab the hand towels out of the bathroom, or the dish towels out of the kitchen.  Any more.  

6.  Have fun at home. 
Besides the obvious savings on gasoline and all the attendant costs to going out to movies, theme parks, and family amusements, constant go-go-going takes time away from activities at home. We wanted to give our children the gift of leisure time at home, time to pursue hobbies, play board games, time to lie on the grass and watch clouds or learn constellations, time to ride bikes and climb trees, time to get lost in a book.  Free time at home makes economic sense!  Watch a movie from your home or public library and pop your own corn!

7.  Use the library!  
I am a huge fan of our local library. As long as we return our items in a timely way, books, movies, magazines, and a host of other items are free!  There are free classes and clubs, and free wi-fi. 

8.  Treasure hunt. 
Embrace clothing hand-me-downs (especially for children), and the art of sharing with friends who are the same size as you are.  My favorite thrift store can quadruple the spending power of every dollar on quality goods.   Freecycle, garage sales, and swaps are all great ways to avoid spending full price on necessary clothing and household items. 

9.  Line dry your clothes. 
There is a trade-off in convenience vs. savings when line-drying clothes, and some neighborhoods prohibit this thrifty practice.  But my wind-powered-solar-clothes-dryer has provided fresh smelling crisp clothes while saving a bundle on bills.  When the children were young, the laundry hanging time was outdoor playing time, and as they grew tall enough to reach the clothesline, we shared the job.  

10.  Make it yourself. 
We make almost all of our cleaning products, and save more than I could through coupon use.  We make our own shampoos and hair conditioners.  Cultivating hobbies that save us money and contribute to the household allows us to make gifts at a great savings, whether clothing, home decor, food specialties, or toys.  With Pinterest and crafty bloggers, you'll never run out of ideas and recipes to use for gifts!  

We live in a two-income society, but it is possible to happily thrive on a small income.  It takes some out-of-the-box thinking, and purposeful living to change the way you think about and use money. 

My friend Holly, who is a fellow thrifty mom, blogs regularly on stretching those hard-earned dollars through couponing and gardening, and shares great thoughts and yummy recipes.  We thought it would be fun to post on the same topic, as we are all looking for ways to do the best we can with what we have.  Be sure to pop on over to WhollyHolly at http://thewhollyholly.blogspot.com/ 
and find her post on Ten Ways to Earn by not Spending!

I would love for you to share your ideas in the comments!!  

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Our Experiment with Year-Round Home Schooling

Last year, my family opted to school year-round.  Learning is our lifestyle, and school time is such a part of our routine that we decided to enjoy the flexibility of using all 365 days of the year for life and learning.  I wrote about my kids' request , and we "officially" started our school year on the local public school's Back-To-School Day.  The kids decided to count the "school" days, and here we are, back to the beginning of school again :-).

Was it a success?  

YES!  Our experiment in year-round schooling worked so well, we will continue.   In case you are considering a year-round schedule, I'll share our discoveries.  

How many school days did our 3-4 day school week actually total during our experiment year?  

Typically a school year equals 180 days of classroom instruction.    Anyone who has ever sat in a classroom knows that a class hour is not 60 minutes.  (Remember, I have high schoolers now).  Classes let out 10 minutes early to allow students to get to the next class at the top of the hour, so a class hour equals 50 minutes.  180 days of 50 minutes of class equals 9000 minutes, or 150 clock hours of instruction (in theory).
Of course, none of the above calculations subtracts minutes for classroom announcements, taking attendance, daydreaming, and finishing one's work and waiting...waiting for the bell to ring.

We tallied 160 days of school, not including field trips and other learning activities during free time.    So, we definitely had plenty of school days and accomplished more schooling than in our previous nine-month years. 

What are the benefits of year-round schooling?

The major benefit for our family was Freedom.  We felt free to take a day off whenever necessary to attend to Important Events.  In spite of an emergency week-long hospital stay for my dear husband and numerous doctor appointments afterward, my previously unknown chronic spinal condition rearing its head and demanding attention and a lot of rehabilitative time, and preparations for my daughter's wonderful wedding, our educational habit kept us plodding along all year, reducing stress. 

Another benefit is that with consistent learning, my children are breezing through introductory review sections in their math texts.  Spelling improved constantly and is still improving.  Can we say READING??!!  Wow, my daughter discovered a new genre of books and is soaking them up like a sponge, happy happy.  Our science and history gained momentum that has not lagged.  Retention or Recall of information is a definite plus.  

Flexibility in subjects was another unforeseen benefit. Some weeks, my children would focus in depth on history or science, even math, doing much more than one lesson per day.  They had time to take on a big writing project and devote an entire week to it, before returning to the regular multi-subject day. Without artificial time boxes for subjects, my children spent whatever time necessary each day to work in their subject areas, stopping at logical transitions within the subject.  I've seen more self-motivated learning because of this freedom and I LIKE IT. 

One tip for lesson planning in high school, whether you school 9 months or 12:  let each subject's lessons track separately.  Then, if your child gets on a roll, getting "ahead" in one subject won't "mess up" an every-subject-on-one-grid lesson plan. Been there.  Abandoned that.  

Any draw-backs to year-round home schooling?

I can think of one.  Having three months to browse curriculum and plan for the coming 9 months is a bonus.  If you are brand new to home learning and teaching, you may need the summer months to read, to research, to learn and to prepare for this life of learning.  Some people wear themselves out during a nine-month year and need to recharge for three months.  We have had years like that!  But, the flexibility of adapting our lesson plans in response to emergencies, physical challenges, and just plain fun (planning a wedding), turned out to be much more effective for us as we progressed through the year.  We worked hard and stayed on-task when it was a school day, and when it was not, we could completely focus on other work or fun. 
  
Our year of school was quite enjoyable and stress-free from an education angle.  That was good, since life presented more than the usual allotment of challenges ;-).   When I had a houseful of many young children, and summers full of ministering to neighborhood children, year-round school may not have worked as well.  In this new season of family, it is a good fit!  

How do you fit your home school around your life?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Summer Rewards for Kids

With the arrival of summer, many families begin reading programs and summer training routines, complete with new checksheets and a ton of fresh motivation. This post is not about the dozens of free programs for earning books and pizzas and Tshirts. This post is for all you mamas looking for simple, inexpensive, and free REWARDS for whatever tasks or habits you are currently teaching your children! As long as they are part of a plan and not a bribe, rewards can be a handy training tool. Just as adults are often motivated by a paycheck, children can be motivated by a reward for a job well done.

We used a lot of systems over the years, but one of the most fun was earning tokens, points, or tickets for each job completed, and then "buying" rewards.


In order to avoid breaking the bank, I collected ideas for privileges to earn, rather than things. As a big family in a small house, we did not need more stuff! Earning privileges and small useful items (that would have been purchased anyway) helped us keep the gimme monster at bay, while developing some good work habits.


These are some of the privileges our children enjoyed earning, and ideas that you can use anytime as a reward.

--choose the movie for Family Movie Night (choosing from movies already on our shelves!)

--pick out one box of cereal at the store (choosing within mom's criterion) for family breakfast.
[unless you LIKE sugar-crazed kids, set some boundaries]

--play a board game with Mom

--sit at the head of the table for lunch

--stay up X minutes later than bedtime

--go with Mom or Dad for the grocery trip

--choose the dessert for Sunday

--lead the mealtime blessing

--Mom rag-roll your hair
[having their very thick, extremely long hair tediously rolled in rag rollers was something my girls loved, and I didn't often take time to do. It was a major award ;-) !]

--extra playtime outside after _(meal)_____.

--choose the bedtime story.

--one day off from a hard job
[We don't call those regular home cleaning tasks "chores" at our house. At our house, those tasks are everybody-who-lives-in-the-house work, and we call them Jobs. Jobs are a Good Thing.]

--Mom polish your nails

--have bubbles in your bath

--30 minutes on the computer

--take a walk with Mom

--play a card game with Dad

--choose the kind of juice for breakfast

--make the juice! (from frozen concentrate)

--bake cookies with Mom for everyone

--play a board game with Mom/Dad

--choose the menu for your favorite dinner one night

--wrestle with Dad

--family picnic at the State Park
[this was an opportunity for the kids to pool their tickets :-) Nice lessons!]

--one hour on the phone

--play chess with Mom

--go along with Dad to run errands

--one day off from all jobs

--30 video game minutes

--extra read aloud with Mom

--trip to the library

--have a friend spend the night

--fishing trip with Dad

--choose the music to listen to in the car

--sleep in the tent
[with young ones, the tent was inside...they loved this]

--make a sheet tent, and leave it up all day

--have a backyard picnic for lunch/dinner

--have friends over to play

We did also include some rewards that cost money instead of time, such as fancy pencils, fancy erasers, art supplies, trips to the pizza place, movies in the theater, trips to the pool, etc.

Then, once a week on "payday," my kids would trade in tickets for privilege coupons. They had fun using math in the real world, as they counted and added and subtracted and planned their goals.

I had fun, too, randomly and occasionally awarding extra tickets for work above-and-beyond, for good attitudes, for being at the breakfast table on time, for coming the first time I called, for taking initiative, for putting others first, and other small pleasantries.

It all added up to a workable system for keeping the house clean (enough) and having fun rewarding ourselves for it. Since the rewards also prompted us to spend time together one-on-one, on the kids' choice of activity, these rewards were win-win-win: happy kids, happy mom, clean house :-)!

Please share your ideas for no-cost rewards in the comments!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Inevitable, Irrelevant Question

When we were a family with young children, part of our travel time to Big Events included a review of good manners at our destination. Now that my youngest children are 13 and 16, we are way past the need to discuss proper etiquette unless there will be a dozen forks in the place setting. But, there is one inevitable question we still review. It is the fallback conversation starter that most adults use to start a conversation with any child of school age:


Perhaps you have asked this question of a home schooled child, and then watched in surprise as he turned a questioning eye towards his mother. Public school students are accustomed to being categorized by grade level, but for a home school student, that's often a question with multiple answers! "Do you want the grade level I'm working in for math? Or the higher level literature I'm finishing. Perhaps you mean my college level composition skill?" Since that sort of reply would be disrespectful, we remind our children that people may ask, and that "you are in 8th grade, and you are in 10th."

Recently my daughter wondered aloud "why do people want to know? Does it matter?!" She had noticed that in home school circles, she is generally asked how old she is, instead of her grade. Grade level is only a function of age, and generally has little to do with skill and intelligence, unless learning challenges interfere with someone's ability to progress through the work. For us mastery-minded educators, grade level can be so irrelevant that we forget about it...until Great-Aunt Gertrude asks. And what if you school year-round? What checkpoints do you use to advance to the next grade? If your child's skill levels span several grades, how do you decide on a grade level?

It's easy, really. People are just being friendly, especially at family gatherings. The Inevitable, Irrelevant Question is more about social skills than education. So clue your kids in to their grade level, and practice conversation skills. Then they can lay to rest the other burning question: "What About Socialization?"


Friday, August 31, 2012

Back to School!!


We could not wait to get back to school!!
So, we did not.
After years of home schooling with a traditional start date of The Day After Labor Day, this year we jumped the gun and started with all the local public schools. Actually, for us, it wasn't a "start." At the children's request, last year we started schooling year-round.
What? The children ASKED to be in school ALL YEAR? Yes. Yes, they did.
Because home schooling is our lifestyle, the 3-month break from routine in the summer was just too long, and they rightly reasoned that if we took smaller breaks throughout the year, we could cover more ground with less stress: inevitable interruptions could be taken care of without worry over "getting behind", then we would return to our regularly scheduled program ;-). And so, for us, "back to school" meant picking up where we left off!

Every school year brings changes, so we are making small adjustments to the routine to fit this year's books and goals, but the power of good habits has already kicked in. By Day 4, we were up earlier, starting earlier, finishing lessons earlier, and even getting more housekeeping done than we were doing for the last month or so. The break was nice.
But ahhhhh.... our familiar routine is as comfortable as a favorite pair of jeans.

It has NOT always been this easy ;-). Since I am often asked what our schedule looks like, what my planner looks like, and in general, how we home school, I will share those processes here, in the hope that it may prove helpful.
But first the disclaimer: this is not THE way to plan, or to home school. Your home will not magically transform into a smoothly running educational machine by using these ideas. This is only Food for Thought.
(It is pretty good food, though, seasoned with 28 years of home schooling 7 kids, but each family is unique, so adapt other people's ideas before you adopt them. Especially mine. LOL!)

Let's start with schedules. We are surrounded by schedules in our society. Each of us has overlapping circles of sports schedules, meeting schedules, bus schedules, work schedules, TV schedules, class schedules, everything is clocked in and out and runs on time. Well...in theory, anyway. Have you ever been on your way to an appointment and been stalled by traffic? As the clock ticks, the tension builds, stress enters and before long, your well-timed trip is completely undone. And so are you.
Living on the clock invites stress.

Instead, create a routine. Thoughtfully consider the flow of your day: what do you plan to do when you wake up?
My family has a morning routine to follow before breakfast, and because there are 7 things we do at about 7 a.m., we've nicknamed them the "Morning 7s." We get up and get ready for the day before breakfast, therefore no one need disappear into his room to get ready when it is time for schoolwork.

What will you do after breakfast?
In our home, everyone knows that "after breakfast, we do school." Breakfast time includes our Bible discussion at the table, while we are all gathered there, and kitchen cleanup after the meal. Then, we hit the books!

Which school subjects will you work on in the morning, and which subjects in the afternoon?
Generally, we work on The Three Rs in the morning, and everything else in the afternoon.

Where in your routine will you do housekeeping, before or after school?
We quickly tidy the house during Morning 7s (it's one of the seven) and clean after school....right before playtime! Free time is a GREAT carrot. Plus, if we cleaned in the morning, by the end of the day, who could tell? ;-).

What happens after supper?
After supper cleanup, my family RELAXES. We do watch TV and movies, but we also play games, play instruments, or pull out crafts and books.

What is your routine for bedtime?
Once upon a time, our evening had a bath schedule. Nine people. One bathroom. You can do the math. ;-)
These days, each of us looks ahead to prepare anything needed for tomorrow.

Once you have a general idea of the parts in your day, establish some time anchors. Mealtimes make great anchors around here, because we always eat breakfast, lunch, snack, and supper. Pretty much always! Deciding a time for mealtimes gives some structure to the day without enslaving you to a minute-by-minute plan with no allowance for sick children, "training opportunities," mishaps, and all else that detours your plan.

If you have children in your house, you are going to have interruptions. If you have a rigid schedule, you are going to have stress. Simplify your day with a workable routine, and let your daily activities slip into place with as little stress as possible.

"Back to School" may be our favorite thing about home schooling. ;-).