Monthly Archives: July 2008

Tonight’s dinner entertainment

Today my 7 and 9 year olds completed the Junior Rangers program run for the month of July by the state park service.  I was very pleased with the quality of the programming.  They met once a week for every week in July (5 times total) for 2 1/2 times each meeting.  Each week, they had a different topic they learned about, and did learning activities and games connected to it.

The first week was an introduction to wildlife management.  The second week they did insects, the third was fishing (they made their own fishing rods out of bamboo), the third they learned about camping, and today was first aid/basic survival (they made their own first aid kits for hiking trips and a trail mix).  They learned so much very solid information!  And in such a relaxed and enjoyable environment, too – I appreciate that kind of learning.  There was so much science they learned, and fortunately, me telling them that doesn’t make the program less appealing to them.  :)  There is also an award ceremony and family campout scheduled for the night of August 2 at 7 pm, but that unfortunately won’t work for us, since our family would love to go.

Tonight at dinner they told us all about how to help someone suffering from heat stroke, hyperthermia, and how to flip over someone to their side who is unconscious.  They went on to demonstrate the method on each other while we watched.  They they used their 6 year old brother to show us how to carry someone injured.  I was so impressed at how much important information was given over clearly enough for even young kids to feel confident and comfortable with it.

Then my 13 year old daughter, who did cpr and first aid certification last year at camp, showed us how to do the Heimlich maneuver, using her 15 year old brother as her ‘dummy’.  I think that real life skills like these are important to have, and am glad my children are learning them.  And it made for an interesting dinner, too!


Recommending books on homeschooling

People sometimes ask for books that I would recommend on homeschooling.  Though I have lots of books I’ve found valuable, my book recommendations are to go to your library and read everything that you can find on homeschooling.

You’ll find things that resonate with you, and other things don’t fit you. I have found certain books helpful to me because they speak to my way of doing things. There are other widely recommended books, like The Well Trained Mind, that would a very poor fit for my family and make me neurotic.

I personally have an eclectic approach, and have gained from a variety of sources. I’ve liked Ruth Beechik, Mary Hood, Karen Andreola, Raymond and Dorothy Moore, and another married couple whose name escapes me right now (Charlotte Mason approach, I think the book was called The Wholehearted Child). I usually recommend Linda Dobson’s early years book for new homeschoolers of young kids. I like the Robinson approach as far as independent learning goes (that’s an online resource). I like the unschooling materials for a reminder that learning is natural and should be joyful.

I’ve read just about everything that’s been written on homeschooling, and come to the conclusion that there’s always someone who some book will be helpful to, even if that person isn’t me. I’ve thought alot about all that I’ve read, and crafted an individualized approach for my family based on all of my thinking and reflection.

So I hesitate to recommend any book or approach to everyone because each person needs to find what’s right for them.


The girls are home!

Today my oldest two girls returned from four weeks away at camp.  They  had a marvelous time – I’m already tired from listening to so many stories and happenings, which I’m going to continue hearing about for the next six months, I’m sure (if my experience with our oldest dd last year is any indication)! 

I don’t think camp is a necessity – in fact, I think it’s a luxury – but it has been very beneficial to my kids so far.  They’ve gained new friends from all over the country, learned to interact with people who are very different from themselves, had fun experiences that I wouldn’t provide them with (like group canoeing, caving, mountain climbing, the opportunity to act in plays, etc), and have the confidence of knowing that they can be successful in that environment. 

So all of my kids are home again, after four quiet weeks of me and just five kids at home.  It’s nice to have everyone back, but a part of me is going to miss the slower pace of our days when there were fewer people to manage.  It’s not ambivalence so much as just appreciating the opportunity I had to more intensively spend time with the younger kids, without needing to balance the needs of the older kids simultaneously.

I’ve finished all of my son’s laundry from his time at camp, and tomorrow we’ll move on to washing all of the girls’ clothes!


Dehydrating bananas

Today we successfully my latest experiment – dehydrated bananas!  I often see bananas at a significantly reduced price, but they are usually at the perfect stage to eat.  When I buy a large amount, it means that either I have to get busy baking or everyone gets busy eating!

I’ve often wondered if dehydrating bananas would be a feasible option to take advantage of the cheap prices when I find them, and yesterday decided to stop wondering. :)  I sliced them lengthwise instead of in little circles, because it was quicker for me, slicing each banana into four slices.  I put them (maybe 10 or 12 bananas, didn’t count) into the electric dehydrator and let it run until they were finished.

I was very pleasantly surprised today by the results – they were delicious!  Some were a little too crunchy, and we all agreed we like them slightly leathery best.  They make a great snack, and are very compact, so it would be easy to pack them away into glass jars to keep them fresh in the pantry (if I could keep my kids away from them!). 

My only problem with this is that it seems like a lot of electricity is used to dry fruits when using an electric dehydrator.  So today I did some research on how to build a solar dehydrator.  I’m quite interested in making one, but decided that first we should build a solar oven that’s suitable for cooking with.  I like the idea of having a cooking source that is free, dependable, and not dependent on supply and demand, as a backup to my gas stove and electric oven.  Several years ago we made one as a family project and it wasn’t successful. This time there are a couple of things I would do differently, and one is to make it out of wood instead of cardboard just for the sturdiness factor.

I got some wood from the work crew doing demolition down the block – the guy was happy to give it to me, saying that it saved him from having to take it to the dump,  and even offered to carry it home for me, but I told him I could manage it fine. They had lots of wood but I was only looking for something light and in good condition.  I don’t know if it’s enough wood for the entire oven, but it’s a start.  Then I happened to bump into the new owner of the home that is doing extensive renovations, who told me about all the work they’re doing.  She mentioned that they’re getting rid of two newish windows because they’re replacing all of them, and I asked if I could have one of the windows and both of the frames for our solar oven and dehydrator project (the glass for the oven lid and the screens for the dehydrator trays).  She said she’d be glad for us to use them since they wouldn’t need them.

Life is never boring, is it?  There’s always something more to learn about and do!


New chore chart

It’s that time of year again, when I pull out some paper and a pen and start making up our schedules for the coming year.  You might think that entering our ninth year of homeschooling, that our schedule is all worked out and doesn’t change much.  But you’d be wrong. :)

Every year I reevaluate.  This includes, what I feel is important for them to learn, what’s been been working for each child and what could use improvement, how to keep the house running as smoothly as possible with as little possible unnecessary stress on my part, etc.  I look at what’s working and put more of that in, look at what wasn’t as effective as I wanted and take that out.

Today I finished the yearly chore schedule, set to begin in a few days, in August.  It is written out for through the end of July, and will go on the fridge tomorrow.  I won’t make another chore chart for a year.  What I did last year was break the jobs up into more frequent changes from child to child, because I was concerned that they might feel overwhelmed.  For example, one child would do the dishes for the day.  We do laundry three times a week, and each day, a different child would do that laundry.  We clean the bathrooms three times a week, and each time a different pair of children was responsible for one of the bathrooms, with all the bathrooms rotated so each team cleaned every bathroom once a week.

Well, I’ve decided that this has required too much of my energy to monitor.  And it’s annoying when someone tells me that so and so didn’t wash all of their dishes and left it for them, and they shouldn’t have to do it.  Or something along those lines.

So my new plan is this:  jobs will rotate monthly for most of the kids, twice a month for the 6 and 7 year olds.  I seriously considered making each job a year long commitment, but it seemed too long to me, and this feels like the right balance for this year.  I include only the chores that I think need to be regularly done to keep the house running smoothly, but there are jobs like nightly cleanups, which aren’t listed because we all do them together before dinner.

– bathrooms (clean three – I clean mine) – one child will do this all month, three times a week

– laundry (wash, hang outside, bring it in when it’s dry) – one child for the month, three times a week

– dishes – this is a pretty intensive job because we eat three home cooked meals daily and don’t use disposable dishes, so I’m only making it a two week commitment, meaning two kids a month share this job

So these four jobs are rotated between the oldest four (9.5, 12, 13, 15), scheduled so that each child has one job each month (this doesn’t include cleaning their rooms, which every child is supposed to do each morning).  Obviously some months will be easier for one than another, but that’s okay, since everyone will rotate evenly through all the jobs so they’ll each get their easier months.

– sweep (living room and kitchen once a day, dining room after each meal) – this is for the 6 and 7 year olds – they will share this job, each doing it for two weeks.

– clear table after meals – this job goes to the child doing the sweeping for the two week duration.  I saw last year that sometimes the person clearing the table swept the crumbs onto the floor and made more work for the person sweeping, so now one person will do both and we’ll eliminate that potential conflict.

– Set table – this is a two week job that alternates between the 6 and 7 year olds on the weeks they aren’t doing the sweep/clear table combo.

Part of assigning chores to kids is teaching them how to do the job right.  I don’t expect them to know how to do their jobs.  My 6 year old is really not good at sweeping.  I think he likes to act like he can’t do it so he won’t have to do it.  Guess what?  I tell him he’s going to learn to do it well because if he can’t do it well, it shows he needs lots of practice.  Said with love, of course.  :)

Teaching the jobs can be time intensive at first, but it’s crucial to spend the time upfront clarifying your expectations and showing them how to do it.  On Friday my 9 year old was baking bread, and I thought to myself that people who tell me how ‘lucky’ I am that my kids are so helpful and competent should have seen what my kitchen looked like.  It was a disaster, with flour covering the counters, floors, some of the dishes in the cabinets above, and my son.  Sometimes even I can hardly believe how big a mess a child who doesn’t yet know how to do something can make.  But it’s all part of the learning process, and if you aren’t willing to let them do a job badly, they’ll never learn to do it well.

So that’s the new chore chart.  Don’t think my kids greeted my comments about the change in how we’ll be doing chores this year with shrieks of delight.  They didn’t, particularly the 7 and 9 year olds.  (The two older girls will be back from camp tomorrow so they don’t yet know the fun that awaits them.  :))  It takes a lot of thought to figure out a system that will be fair and effective, and I’m glad to have this done.  Now I can move on to finishing up their yearly academic schedules, which I’m in the middle of.


Engine trouble with the van

I mentioned that the van broke down a few evenings ago after overheating.  I was hoping it was a hole in a pipe from the radiator, since it was the same symptoms as a different van we owned a number of years ago, and the repair for that was just $80.  The next morning my husband was able to get it to the mechanic, who said it was the head gasket (in the engine).  That’s the kind of phrase that makes your heart sink to hear it – we had a blown head gasket with a small car we owned five years ago, and we sold it for scrap rather than put the money into repairing it.  

The initial repair estimate was for $1200.  I wasn’t exactly happy to hear that, but I was very grateful that it happened exactly when it did, not a day earlier (when I was in PA) or later (when we’d be in NJ) , not even a half hour later when my husband would have been stranded on the highway in a thunderstorm at midnight.  It could have been so, so much worse if it had happened in any of these scenarios.  Now it was just annoying and expensive.

A day later, we got the new estimate.  $1900.  And I still felt grateful, even though this is a serious bill for us.  It will end up being more by the time we’re done, because we asked him to check the status of the pipes or whatever else is in the engine area, and if advisable, we’ll have them replaced at the same time.  It might not seem like such a frugal thing for the queen of frugality (that’s me :)) to do, but I think it will be a good decision.

To fix the head gasket, which is a small and inexpensive part, they have to take apart the entire engine, and then put it back together.  That’s what makes it so expensive.   And I don’t want to have to do this again for some other little part that could break and require similar effort to repair.  So we’ll do what we can now to make it sure everything is running perfectly.

I’ve had a lot of inner peace about this whole thing.  No blaming anyone, or annoyance that I won’t have a vehicle for a week (that’s how long fixing it is estimated to take), or that now I have to spend money on this when I’m trying so hard to save in other areas, things that I’d all be usually feeling and working hard to reframe mentally.  I have a deep sense of it being a blessing, that I’m being tested financially with my van and this repair bill than with our health or something more directly affecting the kids.  It hasn’t been something I’ve thought about intellectually to convince myself of, it’s just something I instinctively feel.  Maybe because it coincided with my son coming home, and I feel so, so fortunate to have such a wonderful young man in our family.  So I’ve been thanking G-d for His kindness to us in this situation with a strong feeling of gratitude for all the blessings. 

Here’s another little blessing:  I bought a very well used double jogger on Monday, just two days before the van broke.  My husband thought it was unnecessary, but I told him that it would make walking with the kids much easier.  And now, just in time, I have a stroller that will enable me to comfortably get out with the kids, when usually the only option would be driving. Isn’t that perfect?


Allowances and teaching kids money management

Some people feel that in order to teach children money management, they need to give them money in the form of allowance to manage.  I disagree.

I think teaching kids money management skills are very important – but I don’t pay my kids for the chores around the house.  I feel very strongly that a family is a team, and a team works together to accomplish their goals.  One of my goals is a reasonably functional home, and I expect every child to do what he’s asked to do without any complaining or negativity.  I’ve never paid them any kind of allowance, and I doubt that I ever will.

But how do my kids learn to manage money?  They earn it.  You might think that a six or seven year old can’t do much, which is true.  But then again, they don’t need very much!  And when you open your eyes, you’ll see small opportunities for them here and there.

I’ve always supported my kids ideas initiative in making money.  When my 7 year old son wanted to sell muffins in front of our house to passerbys, I helped him buy the ingredients (which he reimbursed me for after his sale).  When he was 9 and wanted to rake yards, I loaned him the money for a rake and jumbo garbage bags.  When he was 11 and wanted to mow yards, I took him to buy a used mower and loaned him money again.  This has meant time and energy on my part, but I’ve considered it well spent because it empowers a child, instead of keeping him dependent on my wallet. 

All of my kids started their own savings accounts when they were young.  They started it with cash that they received as gifts – kids savings accounts have very low initial balance requirements.  The first bank they started with required $25 (so they had to save their money for a while at home), but their current bank requires just $1 to get started.  When we went to the bank make deposit (sometimes just loose change), they counted their own money, and filled in their own deposit slips from the age of 6 or 7.  I would stand next to them at the teller window, but they would give their money to the teller and do the interaction.  The bank tellers always said how glad they were to see such young kids learning to be responsible – one told me he didn’t know how to fill out a deposit slip until he was 18!

I’ve always encouraged them to save their money, telling them that if they save now, they’ll have it later when they have a bigger and more meaningful goal that will provide them with much more satisfaction.  I don’t define what a meaningful goal is – it’s their choice later on.  When one daughter was 11, she had an opportunity to go on a 3 day dog sledding trip.  It was $600, and we told her that if she was willing to pay for half of the cost, we would pay for the other half.  She excitedly agreed, and still feels that it was worth every penny spent.  It was a once in a lifetime experience that she’ll have special memories from for the rest of her life, that she was able to have because she consistently saved her money and it was there for something she really wanted, when she wanted it.

Recently, someone gave us some toys (I posted about it) that weren’t suitable for us.  Some of those toys were somewhat haphazardly treated Barbies.  The 6, 7, and 9 year olds organized all the toys that we got, and then brushed the Barbies’ hair and dressed them.  After doing this, they looked quite nice, and I mentioned that we could offer them for sale on Craig’s List, and it would be a good deal for everyone all around – the buyer could get a bunch of dolls in good condition cheaply, my kids could make a little money on them, the original owners got them out of the way, and the landfills would be a little less crowded. 

I posted for them, about 13 or 14 Barbies with accessories for $20, and after a week and a half, someone emailed about coming to see them.  At breakfast, I asked the kids how they felt it would be fair to give out the money for the Barbies.  They agreed that we should split it 4 ways – equal amounts for the three of them and me (that was their idea, not mine, because they said I did the work of posting it :)).  And that’s what we did.  Do you think they learned something about the value of money?  Do you think they learned to see value in things that others didn’t see?  You bet. 

The next upcoming opportunity for them will be their entries in the state fair.  When you see the small dollar amounts of the premiums (prize money), you’d think that it could never add up to much, especially since you can’t win first place in everything.  But when you have a number of exhibits, it adds up.  My two older daughters each earned about $100 two years ago in the state fair, and about $50 from the county fair right before it.  I don’t think I’d encourage them to participate soley for the purpose of making money – the fun is in participating and seeing your exhibits displayed.  The prize money is a nice side bonus.  But once they have the money, I’ll again encourage them to put it in a savings account after giving ten percent to charity. 

So true to my motto of empowering my kids, I’ve registered them for the fair at their request.  I’ll help them find recipes if they want help, buy them the ingredients for the baked goods (we’ll only enter the sections for baking, food preservation, and garden – in the past my girls did much more and it was a huge amount of organizing for me to get them in the right place at the right time for the various exhibit categories).  I’ll help them out in the kitchen with baking if they want, and we’ll have a nice time together doing it.  I’ll drive them to the fair, pick up their entry tags, help them affix them to their entries – but I will not give them money.  And they will have an opportunity to manage their own money.

I could go into details to tell you how effective this approach has been, since with my older kids it’s very obvious.  They are light years ahead of their peers.  But I won’t.  I’ll just continue to stand by my way of doing things, of helping my children earn their own money and learning to manage it. 


Living without air conditioning – is it possible?

Since we originally planned to drive to pick up our son from NJ, my husband rearranged his work schedule to accomodate that, and though we couldn’t pick him up because of the van breaking down, we spent the day at home getting some small organizing projects done. 

One thing we did that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time is remove the window a/c units from the kids’ bedrooms (we don’t have one in our room).   The units were old, dirty, and didn’t work well, in addition to blocking any air from circulating when the other windows were open.  We rarely used them because of that, but somehow I resisted actually removing them because I kept thinking we might need them and then regret not having them.  As soon as they were out, and I mean immediately, the air started flowing in and cooling off the rooms.  The airflow pattern for that entire floor is now much better, and combined with their ceiling fans on hot nights they already have, it’s much cooler in their rooms.  (The morning after we took out the units, two of the kids complained about being cold in the night – and that was after a day of 95 degree heat!)

We also took out the window unit for the main floor last week.  That has been wonderful – we finally have a cross breeze!  It has been comfortable in the house this last week, though we’ve had weather in the high 90s (and the humidity is yuck!), though I guess that’s relative to what you’re used to.  If we needed it to always be 72 degrees, this would feel way too hot.  No one would mind if it were cooler, but unlike last year, when the kids were continually complaining if we didn’t put the a/c on when it was this hot outside, so far no one has said anything about it being too hot inside. 

I’ve also been doing lots of canning, which supposedly heats the house up a lot and is a bad thing to do when it’s hot outside.  I’m sooooo grateful to my husband for putting in a high quality exhaust van in the kitchen that vents to the outside when we redid the kitchen this winter.  It was a huge amount of work, and it’s not the kind of thing that someone looks at and is impressed by; it’s the kind of thing no one thinks about.  But this is another big factor in the house staying much cooler this year – the cooking heat is exhausted right out, instead of being recirculated around with the old vent hood we had.  Last year I would feel sweat tricking down my face any time I cooked in the summer, and could only manage the heat by cooking in the evenings, and that was with the a/c ON! 

It’s  mentally very freeing to me to have taken these units out, and find that not only can we live without them, we’re quite comfortable!   I feel more in touch with the weather outside, and I especially like keeping my kids appreciation for things high.  Life will be easier for them not only now, but when the get older because they are happy with what they have and don’t have high material expectations, and I encourage that by consciously not unnecessarily raising the bar. 


My son is home from camp!

Thursday night my newly turned 15 year old son returned from 3.5 weeks at a sleep away camp.  It is sooo nice to have him back home again!  The four kids who were awake (the baby had just gone to sleep before he came in) were so excited to greet him, and I couldn’t do more than say ‘hi’ to him for the first hour, they were so busy chattering to him about everything!

We were supposed to drive up to NJ to pick him up from his camp bus at noon, but at midnight the night before, my husband (who was already supposed to be home) called to tell me that our van broke down.  We were both very grateful that it didn’t happen the day before that, when I was out the entire day with the kids in PA, a hundred miles away.  But it still was a challenge since it’s our only vehicle, and we had no way to pick our son up!

The next morning I got busy on the phone, trying to figure out what our alternatives were.  I was able to get a message to my son that we would be late and not to worry.  My husband had a coworker who very generously offered the use of his car to us.  I don’t know how people are so giving!  We thought we would take him up on his offer, but then asked a sister in law living in NY if she could get him on her lunch break, and send him home on a bus from her area.  She very generously agreed, though it meant suddenly taking the time off from work and squeezing a lot of extra driving into her day. 

So it was late at night when he got into our city, but he’s finally home, and I’m loving having him around again.


Reframing lack of appreciation

Today I made a meal for someone who had a baby somewhat recently.  For me, it was a day of one thing after another, very tight time scheduling all around, but I managed to make a nice meal for her family of 9.  And I was very glad to get her the meal at the time she needed it.  It meant readjusting the playdate time of three kids and the grandchild-grandparent outing for another because I couldn’t be where I was planning to be for them on time, and my baby being totally off his usual sleep schedule,  but I was glad to be able to do it. 

When I went to drop dinner off at their home, the family was standing outside the yard  I pulled into the driveway.  I saw the husband climbing into his van, so I asked the mother if she could ask one of her older kids (who were standing a few feet away) to take the box that had the pans of food in it out of my van, thinking it would be the quickest thing (like about thirty seconds), and because my baby was sleeping I didn’t want to have to stop and get out.  (Have you ever noticed the effect turning off the engine has on a sleeping baby?  Mine all wake up.)

In response, she told me to move my van so her husband could get out.  And then went back to her discussion with whoever was there, along with all of her kids.  I was a little taken aback, but I parked, got out, took out the food (waking up my baby), and gave her the box with all the pans. 

She took it, hardly paying more attention to me than a fly.  I guess she was too busy to say ‘thank you’.  From the time I drove into the driveway and to when I pulled out, I was there less than three minutes, and I drove away feeling unhappy to have gone to all the effort and then be treated like a nuisance. 

If you’ve ever made a meal for someone, you know how it is.  You usually make something nicer than what you make for your own family.  You spend the time, money, and effort to do something nice and you want to have some recognition, even if it’s just a verbal thanks.  I’ve made many meals for people, but I’ve never had a response like this, and I was feeling bothered to be treated as I was.

But I try not to enjoy stewing in my own juices, so I started thinking about how to mentally change my focus.  That meant thinking about why was I willing to make a meal for her in the first place?  Because I thought she was so busy that it would take some pressure off of her.  And I accomplished that.  In fact, if she was so distracted or focused on something/someone else that she couldn’t show any recognition or appreciation to me, then it was the perfect time to give her a meal and make her evening easier.  That was a sign that she needed that meal even more than I thought!

That thought really saved me from processing about this interaction, and I’m so grateful that I was able to mentally detach myself enough to think about her needs.  I want to be a person of joy and positivity, and it’s hard to be that kind of person if I let little things like this drag me down.

Isn’t it wonderful how many opportunities we have every single day for character growth?!?