Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Afternoon Tea - Teaching Moments

I love the "Write Upon My Heart" series by Keepers of the Faith.  The series is made up of 18 books.  Each title is a month-long character study that trains a child in how to develop that trait.  They contain Bible stories or other inspirational examples that demonstrate that book's character trait.  One part of the book that we enjoy is the daily journal section. 

Each afternoon, while Little Man is resting, I make a pot of tea for Little Miss and I.  We have our Afternoon Tea while we read or talk about the character trait we are focusing upon.  This month, we started the study on Charity.  We are enjoying these times.  As we have our tea, we talk about the day.  With Charity being the focus this month, we talk about events during the day that demonstrate where Little Miss had shown Charity towards others.  I have been careful to express to her that true charity is not to be done and boasted about.  For now, we talk about how I observed her showing charity only to help her to understand what charity is.  One of the questions that her daily journal asks her to consider is times in the day when she chose not to show charity towards another.  I have been so pleased to see her really take time to not only recognize it, but to also be able to consider why she didn't show charity.  One example that she gave was particularly insightful for a child her age.  She was able to relate the situation to me and felt disappointed that she hadn't handled the situation differently.  I didn't have to guide her in it at all.

I am already seeing with this first booklet that this series will be a great program for both Little Miss and I.  We are studying it together.  As I read the inspirational readings to her and we discuss how they apply to us today, I am learning as much as she is.  Afternoon Tea is becoming a favorite time of day.  We are able to relax and really talk with each other without distraction.  It is amazing to listen to her and realize that she is only going to be 6 in a few weeks.  The depth of thought that she puts in to our conversations is more like talking to an older child.  She is very much a kid and enjoys playing just like any other kid her age.  She has another depth to her personality however.  Blame it on having an older Momma (I had her when I was 43 yrs old) or on being the big sister to a brother with special needs.  It is still a joy to witness the many facets to our Little Miss.

I still remember last year when she and I talked over a cup of tea.  She asked if Pastor Mike and Miss Juli had any little kids at home.  I explained that their 2 sons were all grown now and in college.  She thought about that for a moment and became concerned that Miss Juli didn't have any little ones to take care of.  I told her about Miss Juli's job at a day care center looking after little babies while their parents were at their own jobs.  Little Miss thought for a bit and replied that she believed that God blessed Miss Juli to be able to look after those other babies so she won't be lonely while her boys are at college.  In that one conversation, Little Miss recognized that Miss Juli might be lonely with her sons away at college and had been concerned for her.  She recognized that Miss Juli does have a special blessing/gift when it comes to little ones and that the blessing is a gift from God.  For a then 5 yr old, to recognize so much and be so aware of others is amazing to me.  Such is our Little Miss.  She is very much a little girl who enjoys having fun and being a kid.  Yet, she shows us glimpses of the little girl who is beginning to develop an awareness and compassion towards others.

Our Afternoon Tea is a time we both treasure.  Tomorrow, I think I will have her help me to make the buttermilk scones for our tea.  It has been a little while since we made them together.  I know from having older children who are now grown that this time will pass by quickly.  With all of the changes that happen through the years, I am hoping that our Afternoon Tea will be a tradition that we can keep.  It is a time to take a break from the day and just enjoy being together.  It is a quiet time to talk of things that are important to us.  It can be a time of gentle teaching.  Mostly, it is a time for our "Momma-Daughter time" as Little Miss calls it.  All I know for sure is that it is building a bond between us that I treasure.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Little Miss

I am so proud of my Little Miss.   This year, she has been doing the Keepers of the Faith's program for girls, called Keepers at Home.  The program is for girls age 7-14.  Little Miss does the younger version of the program, called Little Keepers at Home, for girls age 4-6 years old.  We only found out about the younger girls program last year.  Little Miss has one more year until she advances to the older girls program. 

Over the past few months, she has been working harder on the skills.  At the holidays, she made gifts using decoupage and earned the award pin for that.  She also helped in making 3 kinds of cookies to earn a cookie baking award.  In academics, she earned the ABC's badge which includes naming, writing, and knowing the sounds of the letters.  That one was basic, but we did all of the phonetic sounds, including long and short vowels.  One part that she struggled with most was phonetics.  She could tell you the letter sounds, but sounding out a word was totally different.  Now that she is able to do that much better, I am counting it as completed. 

There is so much value to the Keepers program.  It is based on Biblical teachings.  While learning skills, the children are learning character traits at the same time.  Most of the skills or academic achievements are ones that require time to complete.  There are a few that are more quickly earned, such as the decoupage award.  Many however require the children to work on a project for several days or more.  For the older girls, there is a quilting award.  They have to make a small quilt to earn it.  That takes a lot of time and work.  Yet, the lessons in diligence and patience are priceless. 

Little Miss is starting to work on a new academic award.  She has to read 10 books and in her handbook record the titles and what it was about.  She is also learning to make her own note cards using scrapbook and rubber stamping supplies.  It is so much fun to watch her progress.

I am very proud of my Little Miss.  She is an awesome big sister to Little Man.  Having an autistic brother, she often has to be patient and wait her turn.  This is especially true when he is doing his own homeschooling and needing my constant help during the TEACCH sessions.  She is understanding though.  The time spent doing her Little Keepers activities are some of our Momma/Daughter special moments.  She loves our times when it is just her and I.  I love those times too.  It gives us the chance to connect in a way that is special to the two of us. 

Our Little Miss is becoming such a special young lady.  I know the Lord has much planned for her.  She has such a tender heart and is very loving.  She is a joy and a blessing to all who know her.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

No Refrigeration? No Problem!

Have you ever given thought to what you would do if you suddenly lost
power and had no refrigerator or freezer for an extended amount of
time? Nearly everyone has experienced a power outage. Even us who live
off-grid can experience them. Shocking, huh? For us, having a power
outage takes on a new meaning.

No matter what your power source, if you use a refrigerator or freezer
there is a chance that you will be without power at one time or
another. In our state, severe thunderstorms or ice storms are typical
reasons for power outages. I have written about it before, but the
message still needs to be shared. If you had a storm knock out power
for a week, what would happen to your food supplies in the refrigerator
and freezer?
If you are like so many people seem to be, you will suffer a complete
loss of all foods you were unable to consume during the outage. That
isn't necessary though.

We have been off-grid for about 4 years now. At first, we had no
refrigeration for about 2-3 weeks. We were lucky that we went off-grid
in the winter and were able to utilize the outdoor temps and water to
keep our perishables cold. In summer months, that isn't an option. So
what do you do? First, we got a propane refrigerator through a barter.
We had some old equipment that we couldn't use and traded it to a guy
who liked to tinker and repair stuff. In return, he gave us the propane
refrigerator. The refrigerator worked well. A single small tank, like
the bubble tanks used for propane grills will run the refrigerator for
about 2 weeks. We are finding a downside to it however. The old
refrigerator isn't as efficient as a new one would be. This brought
about a bit of reevaluating. I will address that at the end of this post.

One of the main ideas that I use to help avoid the need for
refrigeration is to home can everything. Vegetables, fruit, sauces,
soups, stews, meats, and broths. I look at all my meal planning around
the idea that if I make too much, can I jar it up for another day's
meal. Often, I will plan to make extras just for that purpose. I found
a long time ago that it takes little more time to make a triple sized
batch than a single batch. The jar sizes that I use are pints and
quarts. The pint size is perfect for Joe to take on the truck for his
meals. The quarts work well for the 2 kids and I. When Joe is home, if
I use a home canned item for a meal, I simply open up a quart and pint
of the meal and mix them together.

The second idea that I follow is to try and cook in such a way that
there are no leftovers. If I make a food that cannot be home canned in
jars, then I make only enough for that meal. This eliminates the need
for refrigerating leftovers. If a small amount is left over, but not
enough for a meal, then it is set aside for one of 2 purposes. If the
meal did not contain meat or other items that cannot be composted then
it can be added to your compost bin. If it does contain meat, then it
is added to our dog's dish.

Another way to cut back on refrigeration is to limit your store bought
condiments. Instead of buying large bottles of salad dressings, learn
to make them yourself. You can adapt the recipe to fit your family's
needs. If a recipe makes a pint jar of dressing, you can often cut the
recipe in half and make a 1/2 pint instead. This would give you 1 cup
of dressing which would be plenty for a family meal without having too
much extra. You can purchase the large #10 cans of ketchup from a
grocery store or a membership warehouse store such as Sam's Club. Take
that ketchup and repackage it into 1/2 pint sized jars. A single can
will give most families a year's supply of ketchup. We use ketchup very
seldom, so a large bottle is a waste in our refrigerator. Another
option we have used is to buy the small single serving packets like you
find in fast food stores. You can purchase mustard, relish, and other
items in these little packets also. Be aware that some items sold in
those little packets will need refrigeration and may not work for this

Our family is blessed with lactose intolerance issues of varying
degrees. With that in mind, we are making the switch to using almond
milk. One of the blessings in this is that I am able to buy a case of
12 cartons (1 quart each) and store it on a pantry shelf. It doesn't
need refrigerated until you are ready to drink it or are storing an
opened carton. The only other milk that we use is powdered milk that I
use in baking or for making a homemade hot cocoa mix. Because the
powdered milk is only used in baking or a cocoa mix, I don't have to
refrigerate it at all.

Items like eggs are used rather quickly. If you are lucky enough to buy
farm fresh eggs, or raise your own chickens, you are doubly blessed.
You do not need a refrigerator for them at all as long as they are used
within a week from gathering. A trick that the Amish use to give eggs a
longer shelf life in their pantry was to dip the eggs in melted
paraffin. They understood that by sealing the eggs in the paraffin, air
could not penetrate through the shell and thus spoil the eggs. Katie
could store eggs this way in her pantry up to 3 months without losing
them to spoilage. Her pantry was in an unheated room, thus stayed very
cool. A root cellar would serve the same purpose. The option that I am
using is to substitute the flax seed meal/water mixture for eggs in my
baking. This keeps the amount of eggs that I need down to a minimum. I
often will hard boils a dozen eggs at a time to be used in egg salad,
deviled eggs, or just plain. By doing this, it cuts down on the
likelihood of spoilage.

When they had fresh milk or items that needed to be chilled, Katie kept
them in the spring house. This was a small shed with a water tough on
one end. A pump run by a large windmill would pump water from their
well up into the trough. The water circulated through the trough and
filtered back down into the well. This gave them a ready supply of
fresh icy cold water. In the trough were kept canning jars filled with
milk. On a shelf just above the trough were containers of fresh cheeses
and butter. She never stored her eggs in there since she sold what her
family didn't need. When we first went off-grid, we used a similar
method to keep our perishables cold. We set up a shipping crate in a
shaded & protected corner next to the house. Inside the crate was
placed a large cooler and an 18-gallon capacity tote. In the cooler was
placed the milk, freezer baggies of lunch meats & cheeses, a jar of
mayo, and a bottle of ranch dressing. We filled the tote with cold
water and placed the end of the water hose under the lid to keep the lid
slightly opened. In the plastic tote were placed items like a bottle of
ketchup, relish, eggs, and other items that didn't need to be kept as
cold as the milk. A lid was placed on the tote. I placed a scrap sheet
of plywood on top of the shipping crate and placed firewood on top to
keep critters from taking the lid off. I kept a good check on the water
temperature in the cooler and simply ran more water into the cooler any
time the water needed to be made colder. Quite often, I had the problem
of having to thaw the milk out a bit to be able to pour it! The point
is, in a pinch this method works beautifully.

This leaves only a small handful of items that need refrigeration.
Among them are butter, cheese, quart of almond milk, bottled water in
the summer months, salad fixings, and any small jars of condiments that
we may have. With only these few things, we are considering the option
of only having a small propane refrigerator similar to that used in a
camping trailer. A refrigerator of that size would easily meet our
needs. Yet, the best part is that should we run out of propane the food
loss would be extremely minimal. I am looking into other options to use
in place of butter that do not require refrigeration for storage other
than once the packaging is opened. At the most, our food loss would
cost under $25 if the refrigerator were full.

I know that there are other ways to cut back the usage of
refrigeration. This gives you an idea of how we are doing it. It comes
down to a point of changing your way of thinking. Learning home food
preservation techniques is a great start. Portion control in food
preparation is a good way to begin also. I try to note how much my
family eats and cook accordingly.

Take a good look into your own refrigerator. When you clean it out,
what percentage of the food is tossed out? What do you store in there
that could easily be repackaged into smaller quantities? Are there
leftovers from a meal that indicate that a reduction in the recipe
quantity may be needed? What are possibly home canning those leftovers
for another meal? If you take a hard and honest look, you can always
find a way to lessen the amount of food stored in your refrigerator or
freezer. Who knows? You may even find a way to downsize!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Kitchen Pantry Progress

I finally got the heaviest of the work done in the kitchen pantry. We
have a room set off of the kitchen where the pantry is located. Over
the past couple of days, I have been thoroughly clearing out what
didn't belong in that room. It is done now and I love the results. The
room looks much larger.

I cleared out an alcove to allow 2 small metal shelving units to be
placed in there. These, along with 2 bookcases that sit directly across
from the alcove, will provide pantry space for my daughter's family.
Their pantry area is in the entrance portion to the larger pantry area
that I am using for my family.

In the space where the small metal shelving was located, had my
son-in-law set up a heavy duty shelving unit. I am going to set up a
second large unit tomorrow. When I am able to get to a store again, I
am going to buy 2 more shelving units to add to the pantry space. This
will give us 1 set of shelves for store bought canned & packaged foods,
1 set for bulk foods, 1 set for health food store items, 1 set for home
canned foods, and the last set for non-food items like paper goods,
toiletries and cleaning supplies.

With the way it is being set up, I am easily able to see at a glance
what we have and what we will be needing to stock up on. I like having
it all separated out like this. For me, it is much more convenient and
efficient. I only have to look at one set of shelving to plan out the
health food store shopping list. The same in regards to the other
grocery shopping or buying supplies.

I am so glad to have this project near completion. It has been
something that I have wanted to do for a long time. The overall layout
is one that we have talked about doing for some time. Living in a small
home, you have to be clever about finding storage solutions. When done,
the pantry will have shelving that runs in a U shape. It will run along
2 walls with a 3rd side being a row of shelving that will be free
standing. Once done, I will try to post pictures.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Reworking the Pantry

The past couple of days, I have been slowly reworking our pantry.
Reorganizing wasn't enough. It needed a complete do over. So, that has
been my pet project. I began with being brutal. Too much was being
stored in that pantry area. Much of the excess was stuff that had no
need to be stored in the pantry at all.

The first task was cleaning out an alcove type area. This was where a
chest freezer had once been set up. For some reason, that alcove has
always been turned into a catch-all. I finally got it completely
cleared out today. In that area, I am placing 2 small metal shelving
units that we had been using in the main area of the pantry. These will
fit well in that alcove with room for buckets to be stacked on one
side. Directly across from the alcove are 2 bookcases. These are in
the entrance to our pantry area. My eldest daughter & her family are
living with us at this time. They eat completely different types of
foods than we do. The metal shelves and these bookcases will become
their pantry.

In the main pantry area, I am setting up 2 heavy duty shelving units.
These are rated to hold 200 lbs per shelf. My flats of canned goods
will easily be stored on these shelves. There is already a large metal
shelving unit similar to one you may see in a shop that is used for some
of my home canned goods. Once I am able to replace it with better
shelving, that will be used in a storage shed or other area.

I was really surprised to find that you can buy metal shelving at Kmart
that is rated at 250 lbs per shelf. I bought one of these to use for
the homeschooling supplies. I bought it mainly for holding the totes
and curriculum that the kids are currently using. The shelves are a
wire shelving. Overall, I love the unit. I am planning to buy more of
them to add to the pantry and other areas.

Currently, the way I have my pantry planned is to have one area for
store bought canned goods. Flats of canned vegetables, #10 cans of
tomato sauce, and other items will be kept in one shelving unit. A
heavy duty shelving unit will contain the buckets and gallon jars of
items like sugar, rice, flour, and other grains. One or 2 shelving
units will contain the home canned foods. These will be divided into
sections: meats, vegetables, fruits, and a special section for home
canned meals for my beloved to take on the truck. My goal is to keep a
ready supply of home canned meals so that he can "shop" in the pantry
for the meals he wants to take with him each week. A lighter weight
shelving unit will be stocked with paper goods, toiletries, etc.

When stocking up the pantry, I always looks for sales or great deals.
One of my favorite stores in our area is Wholesale Market. I am able to
buy the cans of vegetables for a low cost. I usually will pay about $60
for 12 flats (a dozen cans) of the various vegetables. This is cheaper
than even Walmart!

Dollar Tree is another favorite store that I go to. For those
unfamiliar, Dollar Tree is a chain of stores that sells everything for
$1 each. At Dollar Tree, I buy the clear shoe boxes with lids or
baskets to store my pantry items in. A fast way to stock up is to buy a
basket or container and fill it with a basic toiletry item. One example
would be toothpaste. Get a basket or clear shoebox with lid and fill it
with about 12 tubes of toothpaste. For $13 you have just bought about a
year's supply of toothpaste and a container to store it in. Next time
you go to the Dollar Tree, pick another basic toiletry item and do the
same thing. In no time at all, you will have stocked up a year's supply
of toiletries in your pantry. At the dollar store, I buy beloved's
small foil bread pans that his cooker uses for making his dinners on the
truck. I buy a 3-pack of pans for $1 each. For about $20, I am able to
buy enough pans to give him 2 cooked meals a day. I strongly suggest
that if you decide to buy a bulk, make sure you get a container to store
it in also. This will save a lot of frustration later on.

The herbs and spices that I cook with are far cheaper at a health food
store than a regular grocery store. Of course growing your own is the
best, but there are many herbs and spices that we cannot grow. Check
for a Whole Foods or other larger health food store that has bulk food
bins and bulk spices. A good example of the savings is that I buy Sea
Salt from a bulk bin for about 65 cents per pound. This is a great
price for our area. Another example from the spices & herbs would be
parsley which I can buy in a small sized deli container for about 33
cents. Don't let the $12 per pound scare you from buying dried leafy
herbs. A pound of those dried herbs is a large bag's worth. The amount
that you would typically buy is far less than that.

One very important aspect of the pantry is that I am going to write up
and maintain an inventory of what I have stored. Food and non-food
items will be recorded and kept track of. This will go far in helping
me to keep the pantry built up as it should be. It is also going to
allow me to see at a glance where I need to focus more. I will be able
to better plan my shopping trips. If I know that I will be near a
Dollar Tree, I can check the inventory and see what I can stock up on
while there.

If you have never planned an inventory for your pantry, start off the
easy way. Save all of your shopping receipts for a month. Today, most
stores provide an itemized receipt that lists each item purchased. Use
these to write up a listing of what you purchase in a month's time.
Track how many of each item that you needed. This will give you a
baseline to start with. Separate the items into categories to make them
easier. Picture a grocery store in your mind. Write up your inventory
the same way the store's isles similarly. Group dairy together, grains,
baking supplies, vegetables, fresh produce, etc.

Once you have the basics written down, write the amount of each item you
purchased in a month's time. You can then multiply it by the number of
months you want to stock up for. In example, if you purchase a 24-roll
pack of toilet paper that lasts 1 month, you would need 6 of those
24-roll packs for a 6 month supply. This goes for anything from food
items to toiletries. Be sure to consider diapers, sanitary supplies,
and any other special items.

It all takes time to get set up. I won't deny that. But in the end,
the effort is very worth the time spent. In the past, there have been
the odd times when I think that my pantry is very well supplied, only to
find that I am lacking an important item at a most inopportune time.
For the homesteading family or those wanting to live a rural lifestyle,
being well stocked is essential. One classic reason for a well stocked
pantry - our old car. Our car was a 1994 model. It had been through 3
owners before us. We were blessed to be given the car at a time when we
needed it. Well, last Christmas Eve, the timing belt pulley gave out.
We had to save up the money to get it taken to a shop and be fixed at a
cost of just over $400.00 total. Exactly a week later, while out with
Little Miss and my grandson, the driver's side front wheel broke. I
felt the steering get loose while on a railroad track and accelerated to
get the car off the tracks. Just as I got the car over the tracks, the
wheel broke. When the car stopped, I checked and the wheel was facing
sideways while the car was facing forward. There was also a bad oil
leak from the oil pan possibly being damaged when the wheel broke. This
has left us without a vehicle for over a month now. Once our tax refund
arrives, we will be buying another (newer) used vehicle. Now, here is
the question. If something like this happened to your family, would you
have a pantry stocked well enough to get through? We have been very
blessed. The pantry basics were well stocked. I have made a couple of
trips to a nearby town to refill the propane tanks. A neighbor drove me
in town and while there, we stopped to buy a few groceries. Each time,
the amount of groceries purchased was minimal and mainly items that are
perishable. It was mostly a shopping trip to add to our supplies in
case I didn't get to town again for a while.

This experience, though it was much easier to manage than it could have
been, has taught me a few things. I am now stocked on flax seed meal.
Mixing 1 Tablespoon of flax seed meal to 3 Tablespoons of water and
letting it set for a few minutes gives you a substitute for 1 egg in a
recipe. It is also very healthy for you! I am also stocked on powdered
milk for emergencies. After we get the new-to-us vehicle, I will be
contacting the health food store and placing an order for cases of
almond milk. We are able to buy it at a very good price in those
cartons that can be stored on a pantry shelf without refrigeration. The
cost is slightly higher per gallon than the gallon jugs of cow's milk
that requires refrigeration.

There are several areas where I can see a need for improvement. My
supplies were based on a family of four. With my eldest daughter's
family here, that number has doubled. Unfortunately, the pantry
supplies were not doubled before the car troubles came about. That is
another lesson learned. My supplies were used in half the time I had
planned for. Now, I am basing even the non-food items on the household
of eight instead of our family of four. It was a great learning
experience. This little hiccup in life gave me the opportunity to see
where I need to plan better or more efficiently. Reworking the pantry
to fit our family household better is going to be a huge benefit for us all.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Contradiction of My Life

Some nights you just have to laugh at yourself. Tonight, I am typing
this on my little netbook at the kitchen table. The kitchen wood stove
is warm with the sounds of wood crackling as it's gentle heat surrounds
me. It is quiet. The little ones are asleep. The kids currently share
a bedroom until we are able to remodel the back bedrooms for later this
year. Little Miss sleeps on the top bunk surrounded by her stuffed
animals, including a special teddy bear that her Daddy got her from
"Build-a-Bear". Little Man sleeps on the bottom bunk. It is still
strange to see him in such a large bed. He goes to bed with his I-pod
and watches cartoons until he can fall asleep. Yes, he uses an I-pod.
Do you begin to see the contradiction? If you read my blogs very often,
I am sure you are beginning to.

Living nearly non-electric, it is pretty much a contradiction that we
have a netbook, our son has an I-pod, and both our children have Leap
Pad and V tech educational toys that require numerous batteries. The
belief is that if you live off-grid or primarily without electricity as
we do, then you have no modern technology in your home. The only modern
technology that we do not have consists only of the TV, video games, and
electric lighting & appliances. We use cell phones which can be charged
using a very small solar power system that we have set up.

We have plans to build our own wind power system this spring. With the
amount of wind we get daily, we should be able to produce enough for our
needs. It will give me the ability to charge up my netbook while using
it. I will even be able to charge and use it during the night, which I
cannot do currently. In truth, most of the time when my netbook is
charging I am at a library or when driving in a vehicle using a power
inverter plugged into the 12-volt cigarette lighter outlet.

Tonight, as I sit here typing this blog, I am typing on the netbook with
an oil lamp providing my light. How is that for a contradiction? Such
is the way it goes. While living our off-grid life, we do have minimal
technology but only what we feel is necessary.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tofu Nuggets

Here is a favorite recipe that is very easy to make and the kids love
them. The original recipe contained egg, but I use a flax seed meal and
water mixture instead to make this recipe vegan. You can make it
completely gluten-free by using gluten-free cracker or bread crumbs.

Tofu Nuggets

cubed extra firm tofu
1 Tbsp flax seed meal
3 Tbsp water
bread crumbs or the gluten-free equivalent
garlic salt, to taste
paprika, to taste
pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 350*F.

You will need 3 shallow dishes. In the first place a bit of flour. In
the second, mix together the flax seed meal and water. Set aside to
rest for a few minutes. In the third, mix together bread crumbs, garlic
salt, paprika, and pepper to taste. If you want, you could simply use
seasoned bread crumbs for this instead.

Dredge the cubed tofu in flour, then in the flax seed meal mixture, and
lastly the seasoned bread crumbs. Place on a rack in a baking sheet.
Bake at 350*F for 15-20 minutes or until crisp.

My kids love these for dipping into applesauce, ranch-type dressing, or
even yogurt.

Craft Show Jitters

I feel so out of touch. Years ago, I used to make crafts to sell at the
local craft shows and bazaars. I lived on the west coast back then and
the market there was very different from where I am now. I used to make
items that were specialty types and fetched a very nice price. Some
antique teddy bears that I would sew, dressed in reproduction fabrics,
would easily sell for $40 per bear. Living in rural Oklahoma and with
the current economy as it is, those bears would never sell at that price.

I am at a loss. I want to sell at the craft show that is going to take
place the day of the county's volunteer fire departments' chili cook-off
in June. The cook-off is an annual event, but this year is being made
into a much larger gathering. The craft show is only one of the new
events taking place in conjunction with the cook-off. The problem is
deciding on what to make and how much to charge per item. I haven't had
opportunity to attend any of the local craft shows in the past. I have
no idea what sells in our area. Unfortunately, there are no craft shows
that I am aware of taking place prior to this one that would still give
me time to make enough items to sell. So, what to do?

I am going to make items that, if not sold, would make nice gifts or
could be used in my own home. Crocheted dishcloths are a good start. I
have been wanting to make fabric or crocheted shopping bags. This will
be another option for me. There is one pattern that I have had for many
years of making a very light and simple drawstring tote for produce.
This bag is made of a very sheer fabric with a satin ribbon closure.
For those who don't like using plastic, it is a nice option. I am
wanting to focus the crafts around the conservation or "green" theme.
Not to be trendy, but because this is something that I believe in also.
I practice conservation as much as I can. To me, it is simply
exercising good stewardship over our resources. When I do end up using
plastic bags, I always save them for other purposes. Joe uses then as
trash bags on the truck quite a lot. I am also looking at the idea of
using them in place of yarn in some of my crocheting. I think the term
is called "plarn", which is what you get when you cut the plastic
shopping bags into strips and crochet them into a useful item.

As the time gets closer, I am sure that I will have more ideas. It is
just a bit unnerving at this point to realize just how out of touch I am
with the current crafting trends.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Blessings With Little Man

On Sunday, my beloved was helping the little ones paint Valentines to
give to others. They loved it. It was so fun to watch as he helped
them. I am so besotted with that man! After they were done, the
paintings were hung up to dry to be signed later.

One painting that Little Man did was a large red heart for his Daddy. I
drew the heart for him on his art paper. Using a round foam dauber,
like those used for stenciling, he pounced the paint onto the drawn
outline. At first, I use the hand-over-hand technique to show him what
to do. I then release his hand and he continued pouncing paint on the
outline. Next, he paints the inside of the heart. He is very
meticulous and fills in the area completely.

After his painting was dry, I wrote "I Love You Daddy" on it. He
watched closely and I then placed the fine-tipped marker I was using
into his hand. I again used the hand over hand technique to begin
guiding him to write his name. Little Man has never been taught to
write letters up to this point. I was focusing on getting him used to
handling paint brushes and watercolor markers first by doing free form
coloring and painting. As we wrote the first 3 of 5 letters in his
name, he was very receptive. Then, I felt him take more control of the
marker and I gently held his hand just enough to prevent him from
dropping the marker. He lowered his hand slightly, about a half height
of the letters I guided him in writing, and very carefully wrote the
final 2 letters of his name. There was no guiding from my hand in what
to do. He wrote the letters correctly and very clear. What a precious
blessing! I had no idea that he knew how and what to write. He has
never written his name with guidance before, so this was all entirely new.

As with many other times in our life, I see so much of the Lord's
blessing and promise in our son. Little Man, who will be 4 yrs old in a
couple of months, still does many behaviors of a child about 12-18
months of age, yet we see these glimpses of higher levels of
intelligence. The Lord has plans for our son. In recent weeks, we have
witnessed a greater awareness of the world around him. He shows
excitement when Daddy comes home from the road each week and is upset
when he leaves out again. He gets bored and cranky if his sister is
homeschooling and I don't have tasks for him to do also. I am now
having to get preschool tasks for him to work on at the same time. He
is seeming to crave the activity.

I am learning daily that routine and structure are vital for him. On
days that we are less structured, he can become frustrated more easily.
The routine is good for us all. The trick however is in establishing a
good routine without becoming so tied to it that he doesn't learn to
cope with changes.

I'm so proud of Little Miss. As we watched her brother playing with
their Daddy, she cheered him on and gave me a big hug. She delighted in
his excitement. I explained to her that each time she plays with her
brother, she is teaching him how to play. It is in part due to her
playing with him that he is now initiating play with others. The joy
that her brother shows as he plays with their Daddy was in part due to
her being such a great big sister. She is teaching him to have fun and
how to show love through her actions towards him. She actually became
teary-eyed and told me that "God is helping him so much." I just love
it that she recognizes God's hand in this as well.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Reorganized Our Homeschool

Seems like I am always reorganizing something or other in our home.
Must be the "type A" area of my personality. I am always looking for
something more efficient. Well, I think I have stumbled onto something

Another Mom emailed to me how she organizes the assignments for her 6
children that she homeschools. My first thought was this had to be
good. I admire any Mom who takes on the challenge of homeschooling a
large family. She assured me that her method, though time consuming to
set up, was a blessing in her family. I gave her method a little test
and am thrilled with the results. Interested? Here is what I did.

For each child, you will need the following supplies:

* A file crate that holds hanging files
* Hanging files
* Manila file folders
* 4 x 6 Index Cards

The first step is to place a hanging file in the crate for each week
that you homeschool. In our state, schools are in session 5 days a week
for 40 weeks, so I would have 45 hanging files since we do academics 4
days a week. Number the hanging files 1-45.

Next, place into each hanging file a manila folder for each day that you
homeschool. Since we do academics 4 days per week, so there are 4 file
folders in each hanging file. You can either label the file folders
according to the days you homeschool or simply label as day 1, day 2,
etc. for each week.

That is the initial prep work to get your files ready. Now it is time
to get the assignments planned. Because she has so many children to
homeschool, she takes a couple of weeks to do this part. I found that I
can do Little Miss' lesson plans in about 2 hours for each month if the
kids are asleep or otherwise occupied.

She recommended tearing pages out of their workbooks. I found that in
the way Little Miss' workbooks are planned out, that she will work on
one side of the page one day and then the remaining side the next day.
This is fine, just be sure to transfer the sheet to the next folder at
the end of each day. She places the workbook pages, printed out
worksheets, lapbook items, etc., into each day's folders. In her lesson
planner, she records each assignment given.

For textbooks, reading assignments, or other assignments that cannot be
torn from a workbook, she uses index cards. On the card, write the book
or subject name, pages to be read, and any assignment for that subject.
i.e. in a History textbook she may assign a set of pages to be read one
day, assign that the chapter questions/vocabulary be done the next day,
and an outline be done another day.

For a lapbook, you would place the components (mini book, vocabulary
list, paper for drawing a picture or a report to be added, etc) into the
file folders for each day. This way, you are providing all of the
paper-based components for the lapbook with instructions, if needed, for
each part. In our family, since we do academics mainly 4 days per week,
the finishing or assembly of the lapbook would be on day 5.

As with the worksheets, she records each day's assignments into a lesson
planner for her own records. This part takes the most time but once
done, your child's entire school year is planned out. She mentioned
that there are times when they have had an extra busy weekend and having
the lessons pre-planned was a blessing. On Monday, she simply pulled
out the file for each child and they were ready to go.

With Little Miss, I took the plan a step further. In her work tote, I
placed pocket portfolios for each day. In the evening, I place the next
day's schoolwork into that day's portfolio. When she works on her
assignments, she moves the completed work into the other pocket of the
portfolio. When the worksheets/assignments pocket is empty, she knows
her work is done for the day. If I really wanted to, I could place a
week's worth of assignments into the portfolios. Then, her entire week
is prepped and ready for her. She would just take out the current day's
portfolio and complete the work inside. Having the work for each day in
it's own portfolio makes it easier to stay organized for when I grade
the work. I grade her papers twice a week. Without having each day's
work separated into its own portfolio, I would be sorting them from a
stack and possibly end up missing a paper or two.

I only prepared a month's worth of assignments using this method. I
wanted to give it a test before getting it all planned out and possibly
finding that it didn't fit into our routine as well as her family's.
After trying it out, I am thrilled with the results. Yes, it does take
a lot of time and effort to plan it all out, but it was worth every
moment spent. I am already seeing the benefits to this method. When
planting season arrives, or during other busy times on our homestead,
having the lessons already planned out and made ready will take some of
the stress off. I will be able to devote more time to the other tasks.

I have been asked why we only homeschool 4 days per week. The answer is
a simple one. We homeschool year round. We don't take the long school
breaks or vacations. The children have their days off from school on
Sundays or when Daddy is home from the road. Rarely do we homeschool
when he is home as we want to have as much family time as possible. I
like to reserve one day each week as an activity day, which is usually
on Fridays. Friday happens to be a payday, so errands are often run on
that day. While out running errands, we often stop at a library so that
Little Miss and Little Man can play educational games on the computer
for a little while. I also use that time to gather more books for
them. Little Miss is doing the Keepers of the Faith program for girls
ages 4-6 called "Little Keepers at Home". It is activity based and
focuses on not only academics, but on life skills and character traits
that are based on Biblical ideals. If we are not out running errands,
she has Fridays to work on her Little Keepers activities. As previously
mentioned, we can also use that day for assembling any lapbook that we
may have worked on that week. When you factor in that our homeschool
year is 45 weeks long and include the bonus days, we end up doing some
form of schoolwork 225 days per year instead of the 180 the state requires.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Journey to Self-Reliance

Last December, I mentioned that I was going to be doing something new
this year. After much urging from others (and a LOT of prayer on my
part) I am writing a book about our Journey to Self-Reliance. I have
been finding that in the writing process, I am getting very critical of
my writings. For example, I have rewritten a chapter 3 times now in an
effort to make it flow better.

Writing this book has been very interesting for me. I have never
thought of myself as a writer, though I love to write. My beloved
talked me into starting this blog a few years ago. I never imagined
that I would have people who regularly follow or read my writings. It
is humbling. In writing our story towards a more plain and simple
lifestyle, I find myself thinking back to those moments when things fit
easily. There have been trials along the way, but we weather them.
With our faith in the Lord, we find a strength to continue our dreams
and goals.

The journey hasn't always been a planned path. We have had surprises
along the way. Things that we thought would go well were more trial
than expected. Some events were a complete surprise that turned out to
be a blessing. Through it all, our family is being strengthened. Our
lifestyle, which is admittedly different than what most in society would
consider, has been a blessing to our family. By removing the
unnecessary excess from our lives, we have more time to focus on what is
most important to us.

There have been other blessings that we have gained. We are learning to
depend more on our faith to guide us. Homesteading or so-called self
reliant living is a true exercise in faith. It takes faith to plant a
garden and expect a harvest when your work is done. It takes faith to
let go of what society thinks is essential and live happily on far less.

In writing the book, I am enjoying the times of reflection on where our
lifestyle has taken us thus far. It amazes me at times. Who would have
ever guessed that my "techno-geek" husband would be enjoying the lack of
technology. Granted, he has a lot of gadgets and technology in the
company truck that he drives. At home, he enjoys the break from it.

For me, the gadgets that I used to enjoy have been replaced with the
non-electric versions. Whether we have wind power or not, I will still
be using these same tools. I no longer miss the kitchen appliances. I
do get a kick from finding hand-cranked versions or antique kitchen
tools and gadgets. I have found over the past few years that there is
very little that I cannot do without the electrical appliances. So far
the only thing I have not been able to do is limited to 2 things - make
a smoothie without a blender and make meringue without a mixer. Once I
get a hand-cranked butter churn, that will change however.

The book is coming along. Having a limited amount of time on the
computer each evening is making the writing process take longer. While
that may not have been something I would have liked initially, I am
finding that the extended time is giving me more opportunities to write
better and be more reflective in my writings. The book is becoming a
journey of it's own. I can't wait to see how the finished book turns out.