Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Bondage of Convenience Products

The house is quiet. Children are in bed and settling in for the night.
It is times like now when I get my "Momma time." As I sit here at my
desk, a gentle cooling breeze drifts in and gives a portion of relief
from the heat & humidity that still lingers. It doesn't dissipate the
heat, but makes it more tolerable.

My mind drifts tonight. I have so many thoughts and words locked in my
mind to get out onto the blog or some other venue. Some days they are
loud and strong. Other times they come as a soft whisper. I see the
turmoil in the world today and feel heartache for those deeply affected
by the economic and even safety challenges that they face. A part of me
wonders what words of encouragement I may have to offer. One of the
goals of my blog since it's very beginning was to offer ideas and
options to help others become less dependent on stores and more
self-reliant. I hope that in some small way it has inspired others.

I was blessed as a child. I had the resources of people around who were
happy to talk about how they survived the Great Depression and other
economic hardships. I thank the Lord each day for this. So much
knowledge was being lost due to two factors. First is the convenience
of stores and the instant gratification of being able to get what you
need from a store instead of having to make/grow it yourself. The
second factor runs closely beside the first. Our human nature to take
the easiest way out, aka being lazy. We as a society have
"convenienced" ourselves into bondage. Yes, I am using that term
again. Hear me out - it does apply.

As I have mentioned previously in my posts, whenever you take out a
loan, use a credit card, etc., you put yourself into economic bondage.
Another form of self-inflicted bondage is our dependence on public
utilities. Think that is a radical thought? Try telling your power
company that they charge too much and you want another power company to
provide your electricity. They own the poles, the cable, and the meter
that goes to your home. You are forced to use their service -
especially in areas where there is only 1 company to choose.

Being "convenienced" into bondage may seem over the top but it is very
logical. We have a generation or two of people in our nation who have
no clue how to garden, preserve their harvest, or cook foods from a
recipe instead of heating up a packaged meal. These folks have
literally, through the lack of knowledge, put themselves into a
situation where they are dependent on convenience products and
services. When economic hard times come around these families are
struggling far worse than they need to be. Not that cooking from
scratch and growing/preserving your own food will prevent the struggle.
Indeed being self-reliant isn't a free pass to avoid these challenges.
It is however a tool to help your family weather life's storms more

Recently, our family has dealt with this exact problem. My beloved is a
truck driver and paid according to the number of miles he drives each
week. He is a company driver, meaning that the company provides and
maintains the truck he drives. For 2 months, we had the challenge of
numerous truck breakdowns. Several times, the truck was in the shop for
about a week. When this happens, the company pays what they refer to as
breakdown pay. This is a small amount and doesn't cover the payroll
expenses like insurance and other payroll deductions. We have literally
had checks in the negative due to the payroll expenses being more than
the breakdown pay he received. Now, just for a moment, imagine what
would happen if you were unable to go grocery shopping for a period of 3
weeks. Would you have what you needed to feed your family? What about
your monthly bills? Would you have a way to manage those? We were
blessed. Do to being non-electric and only having 1 actual utility
(rural water) we were able to get through that part easily enough.
Grocery shopping (or the lack of) was not a real concern until after the
3rd week when I realized that I have a lot of the basics, we were not as
well stocked on the things that give more variety to the meals I could
make. I may have been content with what we have, but 2 young children
are not always on board with that. We made it through without much
problem though.

I can see now where I need to focus our pantry stores for the future.
We still have stores for several months easily in our pantry. It is the
little things that I missed and will be focusing on. This experience
has made me wonder though about all of those who are not prepared. How
do they cope with challenges that affect their income? It is giving me
a renewed feeling of needed to write more about how to prepare ourselves
and our families. I will be writing much more on this and other self
reliance topics in future posts.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Projects & Peace

Today, I got out a new project that I am going to work on for
Christmas. Joe's Grandma loved to sew and quilt. After she passed
away, I was given 2 large boxes containing quilt fabric from her home.
The fabric is a variety of everything from beautiful floral to an
assortment of children's fabrics. I have been thinking on what to do
with all of it and finally have an idea. I am making gifts for the
kids, Joe, his Mom, and his sisters for Christmas using the fabric.
Since they will likely find out I am doing this, I won't put here
exactly what I am making everyone. I just think it would be fun to give
them something using their Mom/Grandma's fabrics.

I have been thinking on the holidays and have already completed making a
couple of gifts. I started earlier this year and have been doing a
little each week to get them done. I am now working on the needlework
and sewing projects. Luckily, I have the treadle to make it easier this
time. It is fun to start cutting out fabric for the kids' clothing and
add a bit here and there for the holiday sewing. I am sewing enough in
the evenings that even alert Little Miss Abbie hasn't taken notice of
what I am making. I am saving fabric bits and pieces to add to the
handwork I am doing. I am noticing each year that my hands don't
tolerate my doing needlework as long as I used to do at a time. It
makes me think about the day that may come when I am no longer able to
do the hand stitching and needlework. As I sit and work on the delicate
looking thread crochet or other hand sewing, my hands are burning at
times with pain. I can overlook it though when I think of the joy the
finished piece will bring to the one receiving it. I know full well
that my "season" to be able to do this may be approaching it's end. So,
I continue for as long as I am able to make what I can so that I may be
able to share them with others. I am giving a piece of myself and my
heart in each one. It brings me joy to do this and so I will continue
as long as the Lord allows me to do so.

This year, I am feeling a totally different attitude about the
holidays. When I was a kid, I loved seeing my Dad's excitement towards
Christmas. Each Thanksgiving seemed to be the launch of Christmas
decorating in full force. He would get out the strings of outdoor
lights and meticulously inspect them and often have to untangle them in
preparation for putting them on the house. When time came to put up the
tree, Dad was in his element. He always played Mahalia Jackson's
Christmas album and would sing along as he strung tree lights,
decorated, or would place the silvery tinsel onto the tree one strand at
a time. Dad made the holidays fun for me more than anything else.
Christmas wasn't about the gifts for me, even as a kid. It was all
about the joy I saw in Dad during that time of year. Sometime after I
graduated high school and left home, the joy in Christmas left me. I
tried to fake it for years for the family's sake, but I just never felt
it inside. Something in me had died and had gone cold. Christmas was
now just another day in my heart. No matter how much I tried to do to
bring back that joy, it was not within reach. This year, someone has
flipped the switch and I am feeling the anticipation and joy again. I
am truly excited to be making things to give this year. Not that I
didn't enjoy giving in the past. This time though, the joy in the
giving is running deeper. It can only be that the Lord has touched my
heart and spirit somehow. Only He can bring about this feeling. I am
so grateful to have it again. After so long with feeling dead inside at
the holidays, I am finally at peace and able to look forward to them
again. I am still missing my Dad but am able to finally, after all
these years, begin to smile again when I think of him and the holidays.

I love you Dad and I still feel each and every day the gaping hole you
left in my heart when you died. I miss you. You were the one source of
strength in my life that I could count on in my youth and young adult
years. You taught me much that has since turned out to be life lessons
that prepared me for a relationship with the Lord. You were tough, but
always tried to be fair. You never gave an inch if you felt you were
right and taught me to lean on your knowledge and experience. You
taught me to be strong, even when others were against what you believed
was the right thing to do. You made me think about why I believed
something of doctrine and be able to defend it through scripture. Thank
you Dad for all of this and more that you did for us. And thank you
Lord for giving me a measure of peace as I make the shift from leaning
on my Dad, to feeling adrift without him, to learning to lean on You.

I am looking forward to the holidays again. I have much to be grateful
for and to celebrate with family and friends.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Where Do We Start?

Recently, I learned that to many who go off-grid my husband and I are
considered to be extreme in how we manage it. I am often asked what
someone should consider when thinking about or preparing to make the
switch to a rural off-grid lifestyle. Here is what I would say to them.

You need to consider first and foremost just how "off grid" you want to
go. If married, does your spouse share in the same dream? That is very
important! If you and your spouse are not in agreement, you are
borrowing a lot of trouble later on. Do you want to simply use
alternative energy instead of a power company, yet keep your lifestyle
and home basically the same as it is now? Do you want to scale back and
use only the essential electrical appliances? Do you want to go all out
and eliminate electricity all together? Or are you somewhere in between
any of the above? The answers will determine just how much preparation
and financial resources you will need.

We took the leap and simply got rid of all electrical usage. I will be
honest in saying that in many ways it was much easier than expected. We
found that using electricity is simply a habit. We found other ways to
do the things we really wanted to keep doing. It took a year, but I
found an old treadle sewing machine that someone had in storage. Much
cleaning, oiling, and adjusting later and a cost of $50, I now have a
sewing machine again. We found someone willing to trade old fashioned
hand tools for our rechargeable drill set. Oil lamps provide our
lighting. We bartered our electric range for a propane one and some old
equipment that needed much work from our shed was bartered for a propane

In looking back, I see many things that made the transition easier for
us. The first was getting out of debt. We had only medical bills to
pay off yet. The mortgage was already paid off and we didn't have a car
note or credit card. We pay everything either by money order or cash.
The second thing was that we gathered knowledge and utilized what we
already knew. I was blessed to grow up having a Dad and Grandma (his
mother) who were always willing to tell me storied about how they lived
during the Great Depression. We also had Amish neighbors who I loved to
watch and occasionally when I would go buy eggs or would go with Dad to
visit, I would talk to Katie (the mom) about the Amish way of doing
things. Between the 3 of them, I was taught much simply by observing
and listening. Later on, I would study the old ways in books to learn
more details that I either hadn't yet learned or had forgotten.

When the day came for the electricity to be turned off, it happened
faster than we had planned on and our ducks were not yet all in a row.
We were calm however. We knew what needed to be done and simply rolled
up our sleeves and dealt with it. There was very little change for me.
I had already begun doing things the old way, just to see whether I
could actually do it and what alterations would need to be made to make
the process more efficient. In the 3 years since, I have never once
looked back and wished we had done it differently and stayed on the
power grid. With the current prices continuing to rise for electricity
and other utilities, we are even more determined to remain off-grid.

Some of the issues that you have to consider if thinking about taking
the leap that we did are food preservation, shelter, water, light, privy
issues, and income resources. Food preservation is huge for the
off-grid household. Whether you home can, freeze, dehydrate, or root
cellar, you need a plan and knowledge on how to preserve using those
methods, how to store the preserved food to optimize the shelf life, and
how to use those foods. Shelter is essential. Some choose to use a
camper or trailer on their land until a cabin can be built or a mobile
home can be set up. Whatever the choice, you have to be willing to live
in it for a long time just in case the building of your cabin takes
longer than expected. Water from a well or cistern is an important
issue unless you have another healthy water source available. Some
families find that having to haul water in a portable tank each week is
a bothersome and expensive undertaking when you consider fuel costs and
the time you spend doing it. Lighting can be one of you easier
decisions. We started out using candles for some lighting but quickly
found they were not efficient or cost effective. Buying oil lamps was
our choice, but instead of buying lamp oil we buy kerosene which costs
1/3 less than the lamp oil. We are now looking ahead for our home that
we are planning to build. Lehman's sells lights that use propane or
natural gas. The lights are similar, if not the same, as the old
fashioned gas lights that were used prior to electricity. These will
become our primary source of lighting, but we will always have oil lamps
to use as a secondary source. The privy was an interesting situation to
come about. We already had a working toilet in the home, but it needed
the inner parts replaced. Poor Joe spent many hours trying to take a
rusted bolt out so that he could fix the toilet. After much
frustration, we watched as he carried the toilet out of the house and
declared it "fixed." Thus came about our using an outhouse. We now
have an indoor toilet again, but it is simply a camping style one I
bought at Bass Pro Shops last winter. I am preparing to build a small
cabinet to put the bucket portion in. This will make a much more stable
toilet for Micah when he starts potty training.

In all of these areas, you need to consider what is legal according to
the codes of your location. In some areas, an outhouse is not allowed
for example. Any time you spend learning the code requirements will be
less headache and trouble for you later if something goes wrong. You
can find the codes online or in a book at the library.

Overall, we have done well. Not everything has gone as smoothly as we
would have liked, but we have learned and grown through the process. I
have learned to take life a lot easier. Keeping it simple is always
better for me in this lifestyle. I am still learning each day how to do
things more efficiently. I am also learning that the more simplistic my
lifestyle becomes, the more peace I am finding in my soul. I have
really learned to take a hard look at what the Lord says we need instead
of what society believes we need.

The 3 key issues to remember when planning to go off-grid or "back to
the land" is to educate yourself, get out of debt, and learn to live as
far below your means as possible.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sewing for the Family & Home

There is so much information online about being prepared in case of
natural or other disasters, including the current economic mess our
nation is facing. Stocking up on food, garden seed, herb seeds, water,
cash in case you cannot get to a bank, being out of debt, the list goes
on and on. There is one area that I rarely have seen your family in the economic hard times.

There has been a returning to the basics in so many areas of our lives
lately and the old style home crafts are not being overlooked. Women
are learning to be frugal in making their household products and more.
In our Grandmothers' time, they didn't go to the store and spend a
percentage of their budget on cleaning products. Instead, they made
their own. The homemade cleaners were every bit as effective as what we
can find in the stores today, but were without the heavy chemicals.
Today, you can find numerous websites with recipes for making your own
cleaners, soaps, fabric softeners, mouthwash, and much more. I used to
make them on a regular basis, but like many today, I started going for
the convenience of buying instead of making my own. I have started
making my cleaners again. Most contain the same ingredients: water,
baking soda, and other ingredients that most people carry in their
pantry at home. The only store-bought cleaners/chemicals that I have to
buy are borax, ammonia, and a cheap dollar store bottle of liquid dish
soap. I do have a recipe for homemade liquid dish soap but it still
requires buying a liquid soap base. I am currently looking for a
homemade version that I can make myself. There are 2 areas though that
really hang people up when you suggest that they learn them:
Crochet/Knitting and Sewing.

Crochet & Knitting are two home crafts of old that are making a major
come back among those wanting to be less reliant on stores. While it
provides a way to make clothing and other items for your family, it can
generate a little extra income also. Blankets, winter gear, socks, and
much more are made with crochet & knitting. One item in particular that
can be knitted or crocheted is dish cloths/wash cloths. These simple and
fast to make items make great items to sell at craft bazaars. One
things that makes them very appealing is that they are inexpensive to
make so you can sell them for very little and still turn a profit.

Sewing for the family & home is a hobby to some, but a lost art to many.
One of the things I often suggest to women who ask what skills they
should learn before making the leap from urban dwelling to a more
homestead life is that of sewing. I am taking it a step further and
suggesting that there be a consideration for an Amish way of thinking.
In the Amish society, the women sew all or most of the clothing their
family wears. Sound daunting? It doesn't have to be. The one thing
that they do right is to limit the number of patterns that they use.
They have basic pant, vest, and shirt patterns for the boys & men,
usually a button front shirt and broadfall pants. The girls and women
wear a specific style of dress, a slip, and for some they also sew
underclothing for their family. By limiting the number of styles that
they make and not following the trend of changing styles each season,
the women are able to master the construction of the clothing. I am not
saying all should dress as the Amish. I am only giving this as a
illustration. How many of us who do sew clothing have a tendency to
gather many styles, yet we readily admit that we ourselves have a single
favorite style that we wear the most. Instead of buying many styles of
patterns, why not buy the style you and your family enjoys most and use
fabric selection as a way to make it dressy or not. Even the most basic
of dress patterns can look very relaxed in one fabric, but be made very
nice for an evening out just by using a different style of fabric. I
have seen within the Mennonite & Amish communities that a cape dress in
a plain solid colored cloth used by the Old Order Amish can look very
different just by using a poly-cotton blend floral fabric in bright
colors like some Mennonite women wear. It is the same pattern, but the
fabric selection alone makes a huge difference in the finished dress.
Such as it is with all sewing. A very functional work pant can be made
to look like a dress pant depending on the material used. With this in
mind, I am sorting through my patterns. I am picking out only one for
each clothing item (pant, shirt, dress, etc) for my family. To make the
patterns last longer, I am getting newsprint from the newspaper office
where they sell end rolls very cheaply. I'll trace the patterns onto
the newsprint in the size I need to use as my working copy. If it is a
pattern that I will be using a lot, I will take it to Mardel's Christian
Book store where I can laminate the pieces very cheaply. This will make
a very sturdy pattern to work from that won't tear or fray. The
original pattern will be filed away. I am blessed in that Abbie's and
my patterns all come in a wide range of sizes in a single packet. For
Abbie, her dress pattern contains sizes 4-12. If the pattern comes in
more than one size range, buy it on sale and get one of each size
range. This will assure that when your child out grows the pattern and
you need the next size range, you won't find the pattern no longer in print.

Choosing patterns for the home can be done in a similar way. Choose one
packet for the kitchen/dining room items and vary it with fabric.
Often, you may find a curtain pattern in the packet that with
alterations to the length & width, can be used in other rooms of the
home. Bedding and other linens are the same. Choose one pattern that
can be used to serve as many of your needs as possible. If it is a
pattern that is a single size, such as a pattern for a quilt, consider
backing the pattern with iron-on lightweight fusible interfacing to make
the pattern more sturdy for lots of uses.

The next question of course is the storage of the patterns that have
been backed or laminated. Use a long container like those that roll
under a bed, or use clothespins to hold the pattern pieces together on a
hanger. You can also put a small hole through the pieces to hang them
with safety pins onto a hanger.

What this all comes down to is being just one more way that we can be
good stewards of our resources and talents. We can also build our
confidence and skill in making the clothing and household items, whether
sewn, crocheted, or knitted, and become proficient enough to sell items
that we make. One extra blessing in building our skill be narrowing our
focus to a few styles is that as we become more experienced in making
the items, we will work more quickly and have time to focus on our
family and our faith.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Freedom from the Trap

What a time of enlightenment the last few days have been. After getting
tired of people on Facebook being rude, I considered closing my
account. After prayer, getting my husband's counsel, and praying some
more, I altered my decision slightly. Instead of closing it, I am
weeding down the friends list. The list will consist of mainly family
members, church family, and a few close friends I have from a trucker's
wife group that I have been a part of for nearly 6 years.

Within 2 days of making that choice, the Lord blessed me greatly. I ran
out of airtime on my prepaid cell phone, which is my only phone and the
only method I have to access the Internet from home. It was frustrating
to not have contact with my beloved Joe, but in the 2 days I was without
phone service my eyes were opened. You see, I have a nasty habit. If I
get a text message, I feel compelled to have to read and reply if
necessary as soon as I receive the message. I didn't ever want to turn
off the phone's sound unless at the library or church in case Joe tried
to reach me. So, like a slave running to it's master, I would stop
everything to deal with messages. I rarely get a phone call. Joe is
about the only person who ever calls me. It seems that everyone wants
to communicate through text.

In the 2 days that I had no phone service, I made a great deal of
progress. The first day, I canned up 4 dozen jars of meals using
ingredients that we already had in the pantry. These will be great for
Joe to take on the truck as well as make quick meals for the kids & I
here at home. I was able to get bread baked for ourselves and some to
share with a neighbor. The second day, I completely finished arranging
the homeschool room turning our front room into a study area. I
rearranged the furniture and assembled 2 bookcases to add to the room
for storing school supplies. While the kids were napping that day, I
also got the mowing done in our yards. This all is in addition to
homeschooling Abigail and doing therapy with Micah.

Today, I am going to buy more airtime for the phone. I am really
missing talking to my beloved. I was still able to receive text
messages, but couldn't reply or make/receive calls. While I am out, I
am going to be at the library and will be shutting off the text
notifications for nearly everyone on my friends list. The only ones
that I will continue to receive is the ones from Joe and a couple of
people who write only a daily uplifting note that is edifying and
encouragement to me spiritually. This will eliminate the overwhelming
amount of texts that I was receiving daily.

I learned that unless you carefully consider how you use the cell phone,
it can become a trap. If you did not have the cell phone (or Internet)
for a few days, how much more productive would you be in your day? I
have come to realize just how much I was failing in my having good
stewardship over the time that I have each day. When I see just how
much I was able to accomplish each day it is humbling as well as
convicting. I am so grateful for the blessing of this lesson.

I have been talking much of removing the clutter from our home and my
life. As I get each room done, I am seeing that each is not only easier
to maintain, but I have more time to do other things. I am not feeling
like a slave to my home in that I am having to spend so much time with
cleaning that I have little time for enjoying the day. I am realizing
just how badly we were becoming caught in the trap of having more than
was necessary.

The peace and simplicity of the study room is a good example for me of
how the rest of the home will feel to our family once it is all
completed. I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Next is
completing the children's room and then the pantry/storage area. I
should have it all done within 2 weeks. What a relief & blessing. Our
home definitely has more in it than my dream of having a sparsely
furnished home like those you see at museums, but it would be considered
sparsely furnished by worldly standards. Our home does reflect however
that we put great emphasis on the family and our children's education.

The greatest blessing in all of this? As I am removing the clutter, I
find that I not only have more time with to enjoy the kids but I have
more time in the day to spend in reading the Bible. I am finding as I
study the Lord's Words that the more I read, the more I realize I have
yet to learn. I am getting past the basics and am starting to see more
of the "meat" of what the Lord is trying to teach us through scripture.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Autumn Gardening

After a very hot and dry summer, we are finally getting a bit of
relief. There have been thunderstorms almost nightly for the past few
nights. It is a welcome thing. Humidity is higher now, but that will
pass soon enough.

There has been a lot of talk on various blogs and on facebook about
families especially in the drought areas planting autumn gardens. If
you are blessed to live in an area where you have a late frost, you can
grow for autumn harvest nearly anything that you typically plant in the
spring. It may take a bit more protecting of the plants if your summer
temps are still extremely hot, but you CAN grow a garden in late summer/
early autumn.

I have a surplus of seed left from spring. I am planting this week a
few things that are more costly to buy in the produce dept. The main
thing being winter squash. Butternut squash is one of our favorites. I
use it both as a squash and as a substitute for pumpkin in pies. The
kids love it especially. If planted on Saturday, August 13th, the
squash would be ready to use in pies for Thanksgiving. One tip to help
speed up the germination process - soak large seeds overnight in warm
water. The softened seeds will sprout much faster. I remember my Dad
cutting down the germination time in half by using this method. He did
it with any large seeds that he wanted to sprout faster, peas, beans,
corn, etc. Inoculated seeds (ones that have been dusted with a
treatment against various plant issues like mold) cannot be soaked
without losing the inoculate.

You can also plant root crops such as beets, carrots, and parsnips.
Salad greens can be planted anytime after the excessive heat has
passed. If you have a way to protect the greens from the heat, you can
try growing it in the heat of summer but I find it bolts too fast and
you do not enjoy a harvest. All of your faster growing vegetables like
green beans, peas, sugar peas, and waxed beans can be grown easily
before frost if planted now. We are blessed in that our first hard
frost usually occurs about mid-December.

If you want a year round crop of salad greens, consider building a cold
frame. You can leave it opened during the warm weather but once frost
or cool nights becomes a concern, you lower the lid to turn it into a
greenhouse of sorts. The easiest way to make a cold frame is to build a
box with bales of straw or wood. Fill about 2/3s full with good soil.
Plant your seeds and place an old window over it. The straw will help
to insulate the soil in the winter as the windows will provide the heat
for the soil. My Dad build one out of wood that had side walls on a
slant so that the lid was slanted towards the sun. The lid was on a
hinge at the back. He would prop the lid open on days when the
temperature inside the cold frame could get too hot for the plants.

In a time when so many of my neighbors have lost their gardens to the
drought and excessive heat, autumn gardens are becoming a necessity. I
know families who depend greatly on their gardens to feed their family
through the winter. Even those who do not garden are feeling the sting
of higher costs in the stores. I am so grateful to the Lord for the
blessing of having the land to be able to garden. While I may not be
able to manage a large one on my own with Joe on the truck, I am able to
manage a smaller one. I am learning quickly that it is a matter of
being choosy about what to plant. Certain vegetables will give you a
large harvest with few plants. These are what I am going to start
focusing my planting on.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Keepers of the Faith program

I just love this program!  More importantly, Abbie is loving it too.  For those unfamiliar with it, the Keepers program is an activity program similar to scouting, but is based on Biblical values.  There are 2 programs within Keepers of the Faith.  The girls' program is Keepers at Home and the boys' program is called Contenders for the Faith.  It began as a program for children 7-16 yrs of age.  There was a desire for younger siblings to be able to participate also along with their older siblings.  This brought about the Little Keepers at Home and the Little Contenders for the Faith programs for children age 4-6 yrs.  The program can be done as a family, a church youth group, a homeschool group, or a club.  There are no registration fees or dues to pay.  Once you get the materials, a manual for the children and the parents/leaders manual, you can use the program without having to answer to a national organization.  The only costs beyond the manuals are the individual awards (badges) that the children can earn and any supplies needed to complete the requirements for each award.  You can read more about the Keepers program at their website.

The first thing we did when we got Abbie's Little Keepers manual and the parents/leaders manual was to have them spiral bound.  If you plan to use them on a regular basis, I strongly suggest this.  I bought a length of broadcloth fabric to use to make Abbie a little banner to pin her awards onto.  Joe and I are big into having a way for a child to see their achievements and progress in a method that is motivating to the child.  An awards banner is something that Abbie will enjoy.  I am planning that we will give her the awards she earns in a special way.  Saving the awards until Joe is home so that he can be the one to give them to her.  It is also another way to have Joe very involved in her schooling.

We are using the Little Keepers program as a part of Abbie's Life Skills education.  It also covers academics and Biblical teachings.  Even at this young age, Abbie will be memorizing Bible verses, learning to pray for others over an extended time, do compassionate service towards others, learning children's Sunday School songs, handcrafts and art using various mediums from painting to mosaics to needlework, cooking & baking, cleaning, gardening, saving money, and about various animals & wildlife.  It is meant to be a well rounded education presented in a way that gives the child time with each activity or skill to learn and develop it.  In many of the areas of things like personal hygiene, cleaning, and even the more spiritual development of Bible reading, verse memorization, and daily prayers the child  is developing a habit that will serve them well in their lifetime.

Abbie is finding so much to enjoy in this program.  We are able to tie into it her schooling.  Learning about butterflies, for example, will meet requirements for one of the academic awards as well as being used as a science project for school.  To meet the requirements for the award, she has to find and identify 3 different butterflies and learn about their habitat and what they eat.  To extend it to be a science project, we can take it further to include a butterfly life cycle, the difference between a butterfly and moth, and if possible the migration as with monarch butterflies.

What excites me beyond the Biblical views of the program is that it falls right in line with the Charlotte Mason method of teaching.  Ms Mason believed that in teaching a child a life skill or handicraft, instead of giving them "busy work" just to keep them occupied, you should teach them things that require the child to take time and care. It teaches them the important skill of perseverance and in completing a project over time.  Today, we live in a society with a "microwave attitude" expecting even our handicrafts & projects to be done quickly.  We have lost the self discipline of taking time to complete these things.  Children are taught crafts that are done in minutes.  They don't learn patience this way.  Through this program, Abbie will do some crafts that are a bit faster to complete, such as decoupage, but the one she chose to do first is to learn how to do simple embroidery.  She is anxious to learn to sew. 

If you are looking for an alternative for your children to teach them Biblical values and character traits, you may want to look into the Keepers of the Faith programs.  Whether you work towards the awards or not, the activities in this program are wholesome and of value.  They will become an important addition to your child's education.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Answers to Your Questions

It would seem that my previous blogs on purging our home of all excess and clutter has hit a nerve with some of the readers of my blog.  I am still receiving emails and comments on this topic.  Thank you!  It is so good to know that my blog brings about so much thought in others.  I have had so many asking similar questions that I will attempt to answer them here.

How do you determine what to keep and what to get rid of?  Aren't you concerned you will need the things later? 
In making the choices, I take 2 things into consideration.  First, do we use that item on a regular basis?  For me, this means has it been used within the past month.  Second, is it a seasonal item (winter gear that still fits), tools, or a irreplaceable sentimental item (family photos, etc) that you will need or use?    Items that are not used on a regular basis becomes the first things to go.  It is really easy for me to box up surplus cookware, books, craft supplies, and other items that we have no need for.  The tough part is fighting the part of me that can rationalize the reasons to keep just about anything.  :-)        By looking at how long it has been since the items were used, I can feel comfortable with the idea that it won't be missed.  Seasonal items, tools, and things like family pictures or other irreplaceable things are rarely purged from the home.  This doesn't mean that I don't scale back on them.  One example being pictures of my older children.  I saved out a few, but gave the rest to one of the kids to share with the others.

How do you manage things like homeschool supplies?  This is right up there with the idea of getting rid of books.  Again, I look at whether I still see a need for keeping the item.  I recently purged the kids' book collection of all the books that they had outgrown or were in bad shape.  The ones that were in good shape were given to another child.  Damaged ones that could not be repaired were tossed out.  I did the same with Abbie's preschool materials that I won't be using for Micah.  If you have homeschool materials that others may be able to use, contact your local homeschool group and donate the materials to them.  There may be families who can use the materials.  You can also go online and find a curriculum website where you can post what you have to sell.  Many homeschool families will buy their curriculum through these websites or ebay.

How do you keep the clutter down when you have hobbies (scrapbooking, sewing, crafts, etc) that can be a source of clutter?  This is a weak area for me.  It is so easy to allow your hobbies' supplies to take over.  The only answer that I have for this is to limit your purchases to what you need for a current project.  Once you have completed that one, then buy for the next project.  If it is something that you use quite regularly and you see it on sale, limit your purchase to what you can easily store in a predetermined space.  For me, it is going to be a tote bag.  I also limit my crafting to usable things like crocheted dishcloths, wearables, clothing that is needed, etc.   This helps to keep the supplies under control. 

What do you do when your husband is not too happy with what you get rid of?  Yikes!  That would be a sticky place to be in.  When I first started doing this for the first time, I was constantly worried about accidentally tossing out something Joe would not be happy about.  I have learned since that he trusts me to recognize what is of value to him.  We talk about it often enough and I know my husband well enough that I am confident in my ability to make a good decision.  I strongly recommend that you sit down and talk to your spouse and learn what are the items that they would not want you to discard.  You may find that you are in total agreement.  You may also find that you have to compromise what YOU want to show love and respect to them by keeping things that they value.  For example, I remember my Dad loved to keep old magazines.  He would read them over and over.  My Mom hated seeing the tall stack of magazines on the end table.  She often would throw out all but the current issues.  It made her happy, but often upset Dad and caused contention.  Pick your battles.  The bottom line is that you are showing respect and love.  Remember, your spouse has to put up with YOUR collections too.  The main point is that you have to have good communication.  Once Joe realized that I understood what was important to him, he trusts my judgment in purging the home of excess when he is out on the truck for so long.

One of the benefits that I am seeing now with the decluttering is that Abbie is catching on.  She comes up to me with toys and books that she no longer plays with or reads and asks if we can give them to another kid who doesn't have any.  She never does this with Micah's things, but hers alone.  She is learning at a young age the blessing of donating what we no longer need to charity or a family in need.  This past few weeks, she has gone through all of her toys and boxed up some to take to a charity.  She kept less that 25% of her toys and books.  Everything else is gone.  She is really happy about it.  She doesn't miss the toys & books.  She is happy and content with what she kept.  She takes better care of what she has now. 

Purging the home is never a quick and easy task.  Every little bit you do will make a difference.  It is a process, not something done in a day or two.  Once you have purged the home, you may realize a few months later that you have more to donate or get rid of.  It is done step by step.  It never is "finished" after just a day or two.  Keep the goal in mind and you will achieve it.  Just be sure to have a rule in place about the amount you bring in or purchase after you are done purging the excess.  Otherwise, all of your work will soon be for naught when youhave new clutter to deal with.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

My Homeschool & Autism Blog

I wasn't sure if I had posted this here yet, but I have a blog that is mostly about homeschooling and life with an autistic child. If you are so inclined, you can find it at:



Wednesday, August 3, 2011

When is Failure a Failure?

Our state is in a drought again this year. Most all of the neighbors
around us have lost their gardens, just as we did. The hot temperatures
and lack of rain was devastating on the plants. In our garden, the
squash grew and bloomed wonderfully, only to lose their blooms and not
produce any squash. The tomatoes were attacked by a strange looking
wood beetle that took a small bite out of the still growing green
tomatoes, making them rot on the vine. Even the onion patch suffered.
Was this a failure? Depends on your perspective.

Each time we try something and it doesn't go as planned, we have
opportunity to learn. Like other areas in our lives, the gardens
provided the promise of good things, yet became a tough challenge.
Because of the lack of enough water and the extreme heat, the plants
failed to completely grown and produce. We could look at it as a
complete failure, focusing on the loss of money, seeds, and other
resources. It wasn't a true failure though. We learned something from

We are going to relocate the garden from the large area behind the house
to a different area where the garden will have a lot of morning and
early afternoon sun. In the hottest time of day, the garden will have
some shade to prevent the plants from getting burnt out from the heat.
Yes, most garden plants like full sun, but they will only be shaded in
the mid-late afternoon. The morning and early afternoon sun will be
more than ample for the garden to grow properly. The garden will be
planted in large boxes made from pallets as well as the shipping crates
we have. This will eliminate much of the weeding while still giving a
good harvest. It is slightly higher maintenance in that you have to
water the plants more often, but the benefits are worth it.

So, when is a failure a failure? The moment that things don't work out
as planned and you don't accept the opportunity to change and improve
yourself. When you stop picking yourself up, trying to find the reasons
things didn't go well, and working to eliminate the obstacles, then you
have failed.

In the self-sufficiency lifestyle, there is no room for falling down and
not picking yourself back up again. It is through our perceived
failures and challenges that we learn the most and are able to move past
them. We learn to find a better way to accomplish our goals. Nothing
is a total waste as long as we are able to gain knowledge from it. We
have to take a step back at times, looking at the situation with
realistic eyes and not those of a dreamer. Figure out where we made an
error and how to avoid that mistake again.

It is much like life in general. We all make mistakes or life hands us
a situation that knocks us down. Do we stay down? No! We stand up,
dust ourselves off and try again. We make adjustments wherever needed
and give it another go. Over time, we see the improvements. It is much
like our life in our faith. We make mistakes and commit a sin. The
Lord helps up stand back up on our feet. We acknowledge Him in our life
and if necessary, ask the Lord to help us to see where we made the
error. If we want to avoid that mistake again, we pray and ask
forgiveness then do our best to learn from that situation so we won't
repeat it.

Maybe the hardest lesson of all is this - how to have less of a
"self-reliant" life and more of a "God-reliant" life. In this way,
learning to depend less on our own knowledge and efforts while learning
to give credit to the Lord in all things. We need to realize that the
Lord is the one who blesses our efforts. What we gain is a gift from
Him. Not something that we did without the Lord's blessing and can be
prideful in, taking all credit unto ourselves.


The Excitement Builds

On Tuesday, the UPS delivery truck stopped at the house. The delivery
was Miss Abbie's school books for the upcoming term. It was so sweet to
see her reaction. I told her that it was her school books and she
became all giddy and excited. As I opened the box, she stood right
beside me to catch a peek. As I removed each book and workbook, I told
her what they were. The expressions on her face were like a kid on
Christmas morning. She took the materials for each subject over to her
Daddy to look at. We had been talking about the curriculum, but this
was his first chance to see it for himself. Joe glanced through the
materials and is happy with them. He showed to Abbie the first couple
of lessons in her Reader, helping her to read the words on the pages.

I have been going through the materials more thoroughly and am
thrilled. Rod & Staff's 1st Grade curriculum consists of a strong focus
on the 3 R's. The Reading course includes readers, reading workbooks,
phonics workbooks, and printing practice workbooks. The Arithmetic
course includes the textbook, workbooks, and supplemental worksheets.
The writing course is referred to as Penmanship and has a textbook with
corresponding workbooks. The premise behind the 3-Rs focus is that if a
child does not understand these basics, then all other subjects can fail
too. A child must have a strong foundation on which to build up their
knowledge. I am going to add interactive center activities in history
and science. Life skills and Bible are additional subjects we will be
working on.

I am so happy that Joe was here to be able to look through Abbie's
school materials. It means a lot to have him be a big part in her
schooling. She is such a Daddy's girl and gets excited about things he
is excited about. Seeing him take her aside and start out by giving her
little previews of her lessons was a wonderful moment. His enthusiasm
washed over her and she caught on. I may even move up her first day of
schooling to next Monday instead of the end of this month. This will
allow me to get her started while she is still excited about the new
materials. She is really chomping at the bit to try them out.

I have everything to make her School Cone, based on the German tradition
of the Schultute. The large paper cone is decorated and filled with
school supplies and a treat to give the child a fun experience on their
first day of school. In Germany, the tradition was to give it to a
child beginning 1st grade as a way to help keep them from being nervous
about their first day of school.

I am making Abbie's school cone slightly different than the ones I found
online. I am using poster board covered with fabric to form the cone.
The fabric extends 8 inches above the top edge of the cone. The cone is
filled with school supplies and a little treat. The extra fabric at the
top of the cone is then gathered and tied shut with a ribbon.

It is such a blessing to watch Abbie get so excited about
homeschooling. She truly is eager to get started. I feel so humbled
and privileged to be able to teach her at home. Watching as she learns
new things and sharing in her excitement is a joy.