Friday, November 30, 2007

Frugal Christmas Shopping

My December column at is up, if you'd like to check it out: The Thrifty Homeschooler Goes Christmas Shopping.
As Christians we shy away from the over-commercialism of Christmas, while at the same time desiring to fill our homes with Christmas joy. Just as the Magi brought gifts to the Christ Child, we wish to follow their example in bringing gifts to our loved ones. I have found that it is possible to have a spirit-filled holiday, complete with gift giving, on a budget.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pre-Publication Special Extended

Ecce Homo Press has extended the prepublication special for For the Love of Literature to November 27th. The release date has also changed. Orders will be shipped by December 15th to insure delivery before Christmas.

"I have no doubt For the Love of Literature will prove to be a valuable tool for new homeschoolers, veteran homeschoolers, public school teachers, librarians, private school board members, your teacher-aunt, your neighbor with the 2-year-old and the new baby, your pregnant cousin, all parents who have a love for their children, and even the niece or nephew headed to college.

Maureen calls her book a "glorified booklist" but it is way more than that. She has done a job of extensive research in putting this book together so you and your children (no matter how or where they are educated) can enjoy the ripe benefits of continuing their education through the love of literature.

On behalf of all parents who devote their lives to educating their children for life, thank you, Maureen, for all you've done and all you continue to do for us!"
-- Cay Gibson, author Christmas Mosaic

Monday, November 12, 2007

Thanksgiving Links

Here are some Thanksgiving links that you may enjoy . . .

Thanksgiving Ideas Galore -- A to Z Home's Homeschooling
Loads of links to really cool Thanksgiving websites that you can tie into
your homeschool studies: corn husk dolls, cooking with kids, travel advice, Mark Twain, and lots more.

Enchanted Learning usually has neat worksheets / outline maps / classroom crafts. My teens usually plan a few of these crafts to do with the younger children on Thanksgiving. This keeps the wee ones busy while the moms cook!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Prepublication Special: For the Love of Literature

I am so very happy to share with you the release of my new book, For the Love of Literature. The book is currently at the printer and my publisher, Ecce Homo Press, estimates that For the Love of Literature will be ready for shipping in about 3 weeks.

I should forewarn my non-Catholic readers: For the Love of Literature has a very strong Catholic ethos to it. However, I think it would be helpful to homeschoolers of all faiths.

For the Love of Literature started out as a booklet, Literature Isn't Just for Reading: Teaching Core Subjects through Real Books, to accompany my conference talk by the same name. A one-hour talk just wasn't enough. From the comments and questions I received after each talk, it was evident that homeschoolers needed more. They needed a resource they could hold in their hands and take home with them.

The original booklet was 5 by 8 and had 80 pages. It was nothing more than a glorified reading list, yet parents came to me over and over again to tell me that it was very helpful to them.

The new book is 6 by 9 and almost 300 pages. It's still a glorified reading list, but it's a pretty cool glorified reading list ... I think. It does have short chapters on such things as using your library, classical education, unit studies, Charlotte Mason, etc., but the bulk of the book is the reading list (I call them literary guides in the book). There are about 950 books listed, each with a short description, with an age recommendation, and sorted by school subject.

My publisher, Ecce Homo Press, is offering a prepublication deal for you at their website.

It's 20% off the already very reasonable price, plus another 10% off anything else you order at the website. To get your 10% discount, you need to enter the promotion code LOVELIT when you place your order. This offer is good until November 20th and is only good on Internet orders.

You could also request that your library purchase For the Love of Literature as I think this is a great resource for librarians. It gives them a real insight to what books homeschoolers like to check out of the library.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Foreign Language / Latin Flashcards

My 8th grade student is taking a Latin class. She picked up a great tip there that my 12th grade student borrowed for his Spanish class.

Here's what you do. First, pick up some colored index cards from the office supply store. You'll need blue for masculine nouns, pink for feminine nouns, yellow for neuter nouns, and white for verbs.

On the front you write the word in English. On the back, you write the word in Latin and the declinations.

My son and daughter both say it's a pretty helpful exercise.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Thrifty Homeschooler in the Blogosphere

One more post to share from Margaret Mary. She wrote a very nice review of the Thrifty Homeschooler Yahoo Group as well as said a nice thing or two about this blog. Thank you MM!
Here is the ultimate support and resource for homeschooling…or for just living a frugal lifestyle. Maureen Wittmann started the Thrifty Homeschooler Yahoo group over four years ago.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Creditors and Collection Tactics

Margaret Mary has an interesting post at her blog: Debtors Beware. She tells of how a creditor put a freeze on an acquaintance's bank account -- without prior notification. All over a simple oversight.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Math the Charlotte Mason Way

Charlotte Mason emphasized the importance of children understanding math concepts before ever doing any kind of workbook-type exercises. She liked to use manipulatives in order to help the children think through the why and how of solving word problems. She wanted them to see how math applies to real life.

Miss Mason wrote, "Mathematics depend upon the teacher rather than upon the textbook and few subjects are worse taught; chiefly because teachers have seldom time to give the inspiring ideas ... which should quicken imagination."

She felt it important to teach the concrete before the abstract, no matter the child's grade level.

We've already discussed Miss Mason's desire to teach habits, well, that applies to math too. She felt that through daily mental effort, one step at a time, a child would learn the habit of concentration. She even tied in narration to math studies.

Many of the Charlotte Mason homeschoolers I know use Math-U-See as the program uses manipulatives and it is more gentle in its approach than something like Saxon.

I strongly recommend using Miss Mason's philosophy of Real Books when teaching math. Here are two excellent websites to get you strated:
MacBeth's Opinion
Living Math

Also see my book For the Love of Literature: Teaching Core Subjects with Literature.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Go for a Walk!

Carlotte Mason advocated daily walks, even in bad weather. One walk a week was a nature walk, where the children would collect leaves or other specimens, and draw in their nature journals. The rest of the walks were for just for fun. They'd enjoy the exercise and fresh air.

So get out today and go for a walk with the kids! It's fun, it's educational, and it's free!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Adoremus Books Discount

If you're a Catholic homeschooler, you'll be interested to know that Adoremus Books is offering 15% off of your total purchase until November 26, 2007. Just key in this coupon code: AOB117. And shipping is free for orders over $25! Feel free to pass this information onto others.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Speaking of Nature Studies

My October column, Nature Science, is up over at Catholic Mom and fits in nicely with this CM series of posts.
As this conversation between my six-year-old son and my 66-year-old father continued to unfold, I couldn’t help but smile and think, “This is homeschooling at its best.” My son’s enthusiasm for birds did not come from a science textbook, it came from the study of nature science in a relaxed home setting. Due to the birth of their new baby brother, Joe and his siblings had just spent eight weeks immersing themselves in the study of nature.

Saturday, October 06, 2007


I planned on spending a week on this Charlotte Mason primer, but it looks like I'll be going into a third week. There are so many topics to discuss.

Charlotte Mason believed that geography, like many other subjects, is best taught through living books. She would supplement with short map drills (remember: short lessons).

One way to tie geography into living books is to have your child pinpoint on a map the location of the book's plot. This is really fun with books that take place in many locations, such as Around the World in Eighty Days. You could spend a week or so drawing and studying geographical features. Perhaps get down and dirty to build relief maps. Like the Book of Centuries, there's nothing like a multi-sensory exercises to get a lesson to stick in a child's brain.

Geography is easily tied into history studies. Just as surrounding events affect people's actions, so does geography. For example, think Waterloo. Napoleon lost at Waterloo because of geography -- his French army could not withstand the harsh Russian landscape and weather.

Map work can also be tied into science. It's not just enough to know where the Alps are located, but how were they formed, what are they made of, what is the weather like?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Bible Study

Charlotte Mason encouraged reading the Bible daily. She assigned large portions to be memorized and recited each school year.

This is easily imitated in our homeschools for little to no money. We have friends who have done this in an interesting way. Every family member, Mom and Dad included, memorizes their birthday chapter in Proverbs. The entire chapter! (If you were born on the 4th, Chapter 4 would be your birthday chapter -- there are 31 chapters.) It's really fun to watch our friends recite their chapters at homeschool gatherings. They don't do boring, monotone recitations, but get quite animated. Plus, they've found themselves memorizing the other Proverbs chapters almost by ismosis, because they hear their parents and siblings practicing throughout the house.

Of course, Scripture needs to be put into context and not simply memorized. This can be done as children grow older. Just as primary school children memorize their ABC's before actually reading.

An interesting aside -- St. Thomas Aquinas memorized the entire Bible while he was locked away in a castle tower for a couple of years by his parents!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Short Lessons

Charlotte Mason advocated short lessons for a young child. Lessons would then become progressively longer as the child matures. Elementary-age children's lessons would be no longer than fifteen or twenty minutes on one particular subject before moving on to the next thing.

With my ADD children, lessons were sometimes even shorter. Ten minutes when they're little and then gradually longer as they get older. Sometimes, a few minutes on the swingset or building LEGO's were inserted in between lessons. (I'd have to use a timer, lest I forget to call them back in to work!)

The idea is to gently encourage the habit of full attention over time, while exposing them to a variety of subjects and activities.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Training of Habits

Charlotte Mason believed children could be taught to govern themselves. She encouraged the training of habits beginning in babyhood saying, "Habit is ten natures."

A mother should pick a bad habit that "vexes" her and then concentrate on replacing it with a good habit. Miss Mason recommended working on a specific habit over the course of 4 to 6 weeks, working on only one habit at a time.

Mason believed habits such as paying attention, perfect execution, obedience, honesty, even temperment, neatness, kindness, respect, recall, punctuality, gentleness, and cleanliness can be trained into a child.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Combining Living Books and Book of Centuries

As Alicia pointed out in the comments, you can also add graphics of book covers to your timeline or Book of Centuries. Alicia, in fact, does this in her homeschool and I've seen the results up close and personal. It's a terrific idea that combines the beauty of living books and a visual history lesson.

You can scan book covers, go to the publisher's website, or visit a search engine such as Google and click on the image search. Then print out the graphic and paste it to the timeline. Very cool!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Illustrating Your Timeline

The timeline can be illustrated using several resources. Pick and choose according to your child’s ability and your finances. The children should be doing the research and the choosing of illustrations, not you.

-- Draw by hand.

-- Trace from history textbook and then color.

-- Photocopy from old textbooks.

-- Cutout from magazines and old encyclopedias picked up at garage sales or thrift stores.

-- Search the Internet for free clipart. Begin with Alta Vista’s or Google's image search pages, University of Texas , and Online Saints .

-- More historical clipart sites: Historical Clipart and Pictures - Classroom Clipart, Historical People Clipart, and Portraits /Shaping of the Modern World/Brooklyn College.

-- Photocopy from Marcia Neill’s Catholic World History Timeline and Guide, available at RCHistory. Though the price is almost $90, it is a good investment if you will be doing this activity for several years with several children. Contains thousands of illustrations, including many hard-to-find Catholic pictures. Can be filled in with color pencils.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


If you prefer, you can put your historical timeline up on the wall instead of in a book. I have a long narrow hallway in my house and for years it graced a massive timeline. Then one day a friend's little child decided to tear it completely down while her mom and I chatted away sipping tea in the dining room.

I never did put the timeline back up. Instead, we went with the Book of Centuries. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. I like the visibility of the wall timeline. There was all of history, from Creation to today, right there before our eyes. Plus, it reminded us, every time we walked down the hallway to the bedrooms, to keep it up-to-date. And it's more of a family affair. If you do a wall timeline, just make sure to put it up high, out of reach of little hands.

The Book of Centuries can be tailored to a specific child or unit of study. It can be held in your hand and savored. It can be saved for future posterity, moved from house to house, taken to co-op class, and doesn't require wall space in your house.

If you'd like to try a wall timeline, I have free templates to make your own at my website. Just click on Downloads and then scroll down.

Tomorrow, I'll post some ideas on what to put on your wall timeline or in your Book of Centuries.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Book of Centuries

Charlotte Mason had her students keep a Book of Centuries. This is basically an historical timeline kept in a notebook or three-ring binder. The child writes about an historical event on each page. You could also include titles of books read, pictures, names, dates, and so on.

I like to use a three-ring binder so pages can be easily moved or inserted. This keeps the pages in our Book of Centuries in chronological order. Another idea is to put your Book of Centuries’ pages into three-hole punched, plastic sheet protectors.

I have free downloadable timeline sheets and instructions to help you put together your homemade Book of Centuries at my website. Just click on the button that says Downloads and then scroll down to Timeline Book Template and Instructions.

Monday, September 17, 2007


Charlotte Mason would give her students, aged ten and up, free time each week to write whatever pleased them in their journals. While dictation and copywork are corrected by the teacher, journals are meant to be free expression. In my homeschool, I combine journaling with nature studies. The children journal about discoveries found in our woods – animals, plants, tracks, and so on. I've found nice journals cheap at the dollar store. You could also pick up extra spiral notebooks super cheap at back-to-school sales.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Nature Studies

Though Charlotte Mason loved order, she gave her students plenty of time for free play. She put a lot of importance on getting children into the out-of-doors. She wrote:
He must live hours daily in the open air . . . must look and touch and listen; must be quick to note, consciously, every peculiarity of habit or structure, in beast, bird, or insect; the manner of growth and fructification of every plant. He must be accustomed to ask why – Why does the wind blow? Why does the river flow? Why is a leaf-bud sticky? And do not hurry to answer his question for him; let him think his difficulties out so far as his small experience will carry him.

When the weather is pleasant, you’ll likely find one or more of my children reading books in the backyard. When they’re not reading, you’ll find them playing or exploring, even when the weather is quite unpleasant. This is important to a child’s complete education, perhaps as much as their book work.

To explore is to learn to observe and make hypotheses about the world God created for them. It helps create a sense of wonder, a sense of awe. Free play, not organized play but spontaneous play, promotes creativity, discovery, and inter-personal relationships.

Hey, you can't get more thrifty than, "Kids! Go outside and play!" And make sure you're out there with them! Emotions are contagious. If you love exploring and discovering, then they will too. If you stay inside, that's where the kids will want to be too.

Friday, September 14, 2007


Copywork is similar to dictation. However, instead of the text being verbally dictated it is silently read by the student. Give a child a paragraph from a favorite book and have them copy it directly from the book. Then check their work for penmanship, punctuation, capitalization, etc. This helps develop an eye for good writing. It also helps develop the habit of being detail-oriented. The child will learn to pay close attention to the minute details.

I find the DK Eyewitness books are great for copywork. Okay, they're not great literature but, hey, they do the job I need. They provide fun, yet factual snippets, which my younger children love. I let them choose a favorite topic and then we pick out an interesting paragraph.

To keep on your budget, the Eyewitness books are easily found at the library.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


In dictation, a short written piece is read out loud to the child, who then writes it word for word on his paper. He should attempt to use proper spelling and punctuation.

I simply choose a sentence or more (depending on the child’s development), read it aloud slowly, and wait for the child to write it in their notebook. We then go over the written work together, with me gently making corrections. It’s a very short, yet easy, exercise to implement. It teaches the habit of paying attention, as well as sentence structure, punctuation, spelling, and so on.

You could use pieces of great literature or nonfiction books on favorite topics. All found at the library or simply pulled off your own bookshelf.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


The first year I homeschooled, I followed Laura Berquist’s advice in Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum and used narration in teaching my young children Bible history. I would read a Bible story aloud and the children would retell the story in their own words. They would then draw a corresponding picture in their art sketchbooks. I continued to use this method in the proceeding years. The idea was to make sure my children understood the pivotal points of the story. Also, by verbalizing what they hear, children are using multiple senses to retain lessons learned through the story.

When one of my children required speech therapy, she was extensively tested to make sure there weren’t other developmental issues. She scored off the charts for reading comprehension. The teacher who administered the test was amazed this child could not only retell a story, but could recall the smallest detail. When I told the teacher of our narration lessons, she said it was the reason for my child’s extraordinary performance. Narration was something I did just three days a week for a short period of time, yet it produced outstanding results. And it's very low cost.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Living Books

Charlotte Mason (CM) enthusiasts often speak of twaddle. “Twaddle” is practically a derogatory word in CM circles. Twaddle is the opposite of a living book. It means to be dumbed-down, or a waste of time. Some might describe twaddle as “brain candy.” It’s a fleeting pleasure, but with little to no lasting, meaningful themes.

Generally speaking, textbooks and fill-in-the-blanks workbooks (there are always exceptions of course) are categorized as twaddle because they’re usually formulaic rather than thought provoking. They take the life out of the story and bring it down to the bare bones, the bare facts.

Living books on the other hand are just that – living. They awaken a child's imagination through their God-given curiosity, and sense of wonder, in a manner that is savored and enjoyed. Living books are not condescending in their tone and take education out of the classroom, making it a part of everyday life.

How is teaching through living books thrifty? You can use your library! Workbooks need to be purchased as they are consumables. Textbooks are sometimes available through public libraries, but rarely and they can't be checked out for an entire school year.

I've written on using your library on this blog before and will continue to do so in the future. If you're not using your public library to its fullest potential, start HERE.

(For more on this topic also see my book, For the Love of Literature: Teaching Core Subjects with Literature.)

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Thriftiness of Charlotte Mason

A Charlotte Mason education is indeed very thrifty. Nature studies, copywork, dictation, training of habits, etc., can all be done for little to no money. Over the next week, I'll post on all these great CM ideas and how you can implement them in your home while saving on the budget.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

More On Laminating

Thrifty Homeschooler member Traci writes:
I often just get laminated sheets of construction paper or other paper. That way if later I need them for something else I can just write on them with a permanent marker and they are ready to go. Anything laminated can also be written on with a wipe off marker, so I do this for my kids calendars as well and that way I can reuse them.

I know of several homeschoolers who like to laminate worksheets to use with wipe-off markers. As long as you have copyright permission, this is a great thrifty tip. You can re-use the same page over and over with multiple children, or even with one child who needs repetition.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Recipe: Homemade Refried Beans

Here is my simple recipe for refried beans for days when you're in a hurry:

1 teaspoon corn oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 dash Tabasco sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in skillet. Saute the onions until clear. Add the garlic, beans and spices and saute until heated through. Remove from heat and mash with a potato masher until smooth. If the beans are too thick, you can thin them out with a little bit of picante sauce.

If you want to make a bean dip, only drain one can of the black beans and add the liquid from the other can to the pot.

Pinto beans will also work and are the traditional bean, but I like the black beans.

If you have time, here is a thriftier choice made with dry beans:

When I make refried beans with dry beans, I make a LOT at once and freeze them.

Note: Refried doesn't mean to fry twice. The prefix "re" in Spanish means thoroughly or very. Authentic refried beans use lard or bacon drippings.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Making Homemade Broth

The following are more guidelines than recipes. Substitute away with what you have on hand or in your garden. It really isn't that hard to make broth -- throw a bunch of stuff in a pot with water, boil it to death, and delicious broth is created.

Simple Broth
I hate to throw anything away, so I often make my own homemade broth from leftovers and the discards of cut-up vegetables from other dishes. I keep them in the freezer for the next time a recipe calls for broth or stock. Besides, homemade broth tastes tons better than bouillon cubes and water. The following recipes are just a base, use whatever veggies, herbs, and bones you have and improvise. The best stock comes from the freshest ingredients.

Vegetable Broth
2 large leeks
2 large celery stalks, including leaves, halved
1 large onion, cut into chunks
3 large carrots, quartered
2 garlic cloves
salt to taste
1/2 Ib. green beans, cut in half
3 quarts cold water
1/2 cup firmly packed fresh parsley sprigs
3 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 tsp. dry)
1 bay leaf
8 peppercorns

Cut roots off leaks; remove and discard coarse outer leaves. Split lengthwise and clean well. Add vegetables, garlic, and water to stockpot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and skim any foam from the surface. Add parsley, thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Cover and simmer at least one hour, but longer is better. Strain broth and discard veggies. Season to taste with salt. Cool uncovered in sink or cooler surrounded by ice. (I do it this way so I don't heat up my fridge and spoil my other food.) Cover and store in fridge for up to 4 days or freeze up to 6 months. Makes 10 cups.

Beef Broth
3 to 4 Ibs. beef bones
2 quarts cold water
2 large onions, halved
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, halved
1 stalk celery with leaves, halved
3 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 tsp. dry)
1 bay leaf
6 peppercorns

Preheat oven to 400. Place bones in roasting pan and bake for 30 minutes, turning once. (This part is optional) Discard fat. Transfer bones and remaining ingredients to a large stockpot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for about 4 hours. Skim the foam off the top. Strain the stock. Cool uncovered in sink or cooler surrounded by ice. Store in fridge for 4 days or in freezer for 3 months. To de-fat the stock, place in fridge until the fat hardens on the surface, then remove and discard.

Chicken Broth
3 Ibs. chicken backs, necks, and/or wings
3 quarts of water
1 onion, quartered
2 stalks of celery with leaves, cut up
2 large carrots, quartered
2 tsp. fresh parsley
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh Thyme (or 1 tsp. dry)
8 peppercorns
salt to taste

In a large stockpot bring all of the ingredients to a boil. Reduce and simmer, partially covered for at least 1 hour, longer is better. Skim the foam off the top. Remove chicken and strain stock. (The chicken meat can be used in chicken salad.) Cool uncovered in the pot in sink or cooler immersed in ice. To de-fat the stock, refrigerate until the fat hardens on the surface, then remove and discard. Store in fridge for 4 days or in freezer for 3 months.

Fish Broth
2 to 3 fish bones and/or fish heads, well rinsed, cut into 4-inch pieces.
1/4 cup dry white wine (optional)
1/4 cup fresh parsley
2 celery stalks with leaves, quartered
4 fresh thyme sprigs (or 1 tsp. dry)
1 medium onion, quartered
1 bay leaf
1 large carrot, halved
6 whole peppercorns
1 lemon slice
salt to taste
2 quarts water

Combine fish, celery, onion, carrot, and lemon in stockpot. Add enough water to cover. Stir in wine. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Skim off any residue. Add parsley, thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Simmer 30 minutes, skimming surface as necessary. Strain broth. Season with salt to taste. Cool uncovered in sink or cooler surrounded by ice. Cover and store in fridge up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month. Makes 6 cups.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Free Laminating for Educators

Office Max is offering free laminating for teachers, including home teachers, on Thursdays through September 13th. Laminating is great for timelines, school ID's, and so much more.

You can print out the coupon HERE.

Staples and other office/copy stores offer to match competitors' coupons if you don't have an Office Max close by.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Preserving Herbs

My friend Linda S. writes:

I found this web site on how to preserve herbs and thought you might be interested in is as simple as I had hoped it would be!
Harvesting and Preserving Herbs for the Home Gardener

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Dangerous Book for Boys

I've been wanting to get The Dangerous Book for Boys for my son's 9th birthday. But a new hardcover at $25 is a whole lot of money. Fortunately, while shopping at Sam's Club, I found it markeddcown to $14.87.

I think this was the best $14.87 I ever spent. Birthday Boy and his brothers absolutely love this book. They've had their noses in it all day.

I checked to read the reviews and they have it for $14.95.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Library Book Search

Have your library privileges been suspended due to lost or unreturned books? Are huge library fines looming over your head? Get up from your computer right now, gather the kids, and do a library book search.

If your library has a website where you can check your personal account, then go to it and print it out. Get a box, basket, or bag to hold all of the books that you find. As you find books, cross them off of your printout. Looking at the remaining titles will hopefully spark the memories of your children and they will remember where they last left the lost book.

Search the car, under the beds, on the bookshelves. Assign a different room to different children, perhaps having them work in teams.

One advantage to a library book search is that the house gets tidy in the process. I always say that if something is missing, all we have to do is tidy up and it's sure to show up. As the kids pull out all the stuff from under the couch in their search for books, have them put that stuff away in their proper places. As they search the car, have them throw out all the trash and bring in all the items that don't belong there. As they look under their beds they can take an extra 60 seconds to feather dust the cobwebs away.

If you recall leaving books at someone else's home, give them a call right away and arrange to get the books back to the library.

Now, once you've collected all the books, take them right to the car. If you really can't drive to the library at this very second, then leave the books right on the driver's seat so that you don't forget to return them next car trip. Books left in the car for weeks build up just as many fines as books lost in the house!

The library is an awesome resource for homeschoolers so do your best to keep library books in check and library privileges intact!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Getting the Most Out of Your Library

My monthly column is up at Catholic Mom, click HERE to check it out!
“I’m sorry Mrs. Wittmann, as of the new year, you can have no more than fifty books checked out at one time,” the librarian told me apologetically.“Oh no! I’ve got forty Cinderella books on hold for a unit study the kids and I are working on. And I’ve probably got twenty books out on the Civil War, and then there are the books we check out just for fun. This is terrible!” I exclaimed, breaking out in a cold sweat, totally forgetting about the ten or so “real” math books sitting at home.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Composting Unit Study

My weekly column is a unit study on composting. Just in time for spring!
If you've never composted or if you live in an urban area, I encourage you to still be open to introducing composting to your homeschool studies. Composting can be a wonderful addition to your science studies, in a very natural way. Both the novice and the urbanite can pull it off. This unit study introduces all the resources necessary for success.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Food Routes

From my friend Linda S.

Hi! I thought this was so cool and that you might like it...

If you go to the web site, and click on FOOD ROUTES, you can put in your zip code or state and find farmers markets, u-pick (raspberries in Fowlerville in August), and other things...neat.

Happy eating...Linda

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Other Thrifty Homeschooling Blogs

I've added some more thrifty homeschooling blogs to the sidebar for your perusal.

If you know of any others I should add, please leave them in the comments. Thanks!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Saving At the Grocery Store

I have a monthly column at Catholic Mom. April's column is on slashing your grocery bill.
If you are an average American family, you can cut your grocery bill in half – through baby steps.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Educators Discounts for Homeschoolers

I have a weekly homeschool column at Catholic Exchange. This week's column is on getting educators' discounts for your homeschool. Go check it out.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Homeschool Blog Awards

The 2006 Homeschool Blog Awards are up and running. You have until Friday (Apr. 13) to vote. They have a Thrifty Homeschool category, so especially make sure to check out those blogs. I'm really happy to see this category!!!

I've been terribly negligent of this Thrifty Homeschooler blog. I guess I better get on the ball so I can be nominated next year!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Split Pea Soup Recipe

Thrifty homeschool member Margaret Mary has a split pea soup recipe over at her blog. Go check it out. Very thrifty and yummy too!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Free English Worksheets

Here's a useful website with free English worksheets to print out: UsingEnglish.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Tex-Mex Casserole

Super Easy Tex-Mex Casserole

2 c. cooked rice, brown or white
1 1/2 c. salsa
1 tsp. chili powder
15-oz. can black beans, undrained
1 c. frozen corn
tortilla chips
8 oz. Colby jack cheese, shredded, separated

Preheat oven to 350.

Spray casserole dish with Pam.

Combine the first 5 ingredients and 1/2 of the cheese, in the casserole dish. Top with crunched up tortilla chips and remaining cheese.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Refried Bean Soup

My friend Colleen gave this recipe to me years ago and I still make it. Sometimes, I have homemade refried beans and broth in the freezer and will use that. I'll post recipes for the beans and broth over the next week.

If I use this recipe as my main course, I double it.

Refried Bean Soup

2 tsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 tsp. minced garlic
1 can (14-1/2 ounces) vegetable or chicken broth
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) Mexican style stewed tomatoes
1 can (16 ounces) fat-free refried beans
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a 4 1/2 quart Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Saute onion and pepper until tender.

Add the garlic, broth, and stewed tomatoes. Stir. Raise the heat to high. Stir in the refried beans and the cumin. Stir well. Cover and let the soup come to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and stir occasionally for 5 to 7 minutes or until ready to serve.

Variation: Add a can of black and/or kidney beans.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Cheese Enchiladas with Green Sauce

This recipe has way too much fat and is labor intensive, but it is so delicious that I still make every once in a while. Even my green-hating children like this dish. (Don't tell your kids it's green because of the spinach!)

I got this recipe originally from Betty Crocker's Vegetarian Cooking (long OOP), but as usual I've made adjustments. This serves 6, so double if you have a large family.

10-ounce fresh spinach (about 6 cups) or a 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained.
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 cup veggie or chicken broth
1 4-ounce can diced green chilies, drained
1 3/4 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

Cheese Filling
2 cups grated mild cheddar cheese
2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese (pepper cheese if you like spicy)
1/2 c. sour cream
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley (I prefer fresh, but dry is okay)
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

8 6-inch corn or wheat tortillas

Preheat oven to 375

First mix together the ingredients for the cheese filling.

Next make the sauce:
Wash spinach, cover and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain, pat dry, and chop. (If you use frozen, cook spinach according to package instructions and drain well)

Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add flour and stir mixture 2 minutes; be careful not to brown. Gradually whisk in milk and
broth. Simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in spinach, chilis, cumin, and red pepper.

Now prepare your enchiladas:
Spray rectangular baking dish with Pam.

Heat the tortillas in an ungreased skillet for about 30 seconds so they don't crack when you roll your enchiladas. Cover with a tea towell so they don't dry out.

Dip each tortilla into the green sauce, making sure both sides are completely covered. Spoon about 1/4 c. of the cheese filling onto each tortilla. Roll the tortilla around the filling. Place seam side down the baking dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas.

Bake until cheese melts and enchiladas are heated through, about 25 minutes.

You could garnish with fresh cilantro, lime wedges, or green onions.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Lenten Meals Around the World

Suburban Banshee over at Aliens in this World is posting tons of Lenten recipes from around the world. Very cool! You could tie in your Lenten meals with your social studies. I love homeschooling!

Vegetable Oven Omelet

My friend Linda has chickens and so always has an abundance of eggs at her house. This recipe is for her.

I love omelets, but I never make them. Too much of a pain when you have children. Instead, I make my omelets in the oven.

Vegetable Oven Omelet
1 c. shredded pepper jack cheese (4 oz.)
3 c. of your favorite veggies, chopped
2 med. tomatoes, chopped
3 c. shredded Cheddar cheese (8 oz.)
2 c. milk
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
8 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 and spray a large casserole dish with Pam. Layer the first 4 ingredients, in the order listed, in the casserole.

Beat milk, flour, salt, and eggs until frothy. Pour over cheese.

Bake uncovered until eggs are set, about 45 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes, then cut and serve.

(For a smaller family, click HERE for a similar recipe that uses half the ingredients.)

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Spaghetti Primavera

I seem to be on an Italian kick here.

I first got this recipe many years ago from one of those little Pillsbury cookbooks you find in the check out lane at the grocery store. I've altered it just slightly.

My favorite veggies for this dish are red bell peppers, broccoli, zucchini, and carrots.

Spaghetti Primavera
12-oz. pkg. spaghetti
1 garlic clove, minced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
6 c. of your favorite veggies (or what you have leftover in the fridge)
1 c. milk (if you don't care about fat then use 1/2 and 1/2)
1/2 c. butter
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning to taste
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese, separated
2 med. tomatoes, cut into wedges (peeled, if you're picky)

While your spaghetti is boiling, saute the garlic in a large skillet with the olive oil. Add your veggies and saute until they're tender crisp, about 5 to 10 minutes.

In a small saucepan combine the milk, butter, and spices. Heat until butter melts and remove from heat. Stir in 1/4 c. of the Parmesan, saving the 1/4 c. for later.

In a large serving bowl, combine the cooked pasta and sauce. Gently fold in the vegetables. Garnish with the tomato wedges and top off with the remaining Parmesan.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Another favorite classic Italian dish at my house is Risotto. This is a rice dish made with Arborio (or more simply, medium grain rice). It is a more time-consuming recipe than most rice dishes. Instead of just dumping the water and rice into a pot and forgetting about it for 20 minutes, you gradually add broth as it's absorbed by the rice. Even though you do have to watch it for 20 min., it is very easy to make and the you end up with a nice creamy dish.

Like Frittata, this dish is versatile and you can easily substitute ingredients, but you always use Parmesan cheese.

Here is a very basic recipe for risotto.

Here is a recipe for Risotto Primavera. (Personally, I leave out the icky peas.)

If all you have in your pantry is long grain rice, it'll still work but the medium or short grain is better. I've never tried it with brown rice.

UPDATE: I tried it with brown rice. DON'T do it. It was a total failure. The brown rice takes too long to absorb the liquid so it evaporates before it cooks the rice.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Have It Your Way Frittata

My family loves Frittata. If you haven't had this Italian egg dish before, its kind like an oven omelet. My favorite is spinach with Swiss cheese and the runner up is broccoli with cheddar cheese.

The recipe I use can be found HERE. I cut this out from USA Magazine years and years ago and used it so often that it finally fell apart. This is a very basic recipe that you can modify to your tastes.

Going Vegetarian

One way to save money on your grocery bill, in addition to improving your health, is to cut back on meat consumption.

Also, during this time of Lent, many people abstain from meat for spiritual reasons.

Over the next month, I plan to post a vegetarian recipe each day to help those of you who need a little help going meatless.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Homeschool Pringle Challenge

From my inbox:

For immediate release!! Share with all homeschoolers you know!!

For students to design and test a container for shipping a single Pringles™ potato chip, via the US Postal Service. The participating homeschools will be matched up via this web page. Students will exchange packages with homeschools somewhere in the United States. Upon arrival the packages will be evaluated and scored using the format in the scoring section.

To engineer the package to have the smallest volume and smallest mass that will protect the chip so that it arrives at its destination undamaged.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Grocery Tip #17: Go to the Store Early Morning

If possible, I try to get to the grocery store in the early morning. One, it's not too crowded at that time. Two, often times there are loads of 40% off deals waiting for me. Produce, bakery goods, and meat close to their expiration date are marked down to sell fast and make room for the day's fresh items. This is true for discount clubs like Sam's too.

With my brood, food goes fast so if I buy something on the verge of expiration it's no big deal. If it doesn't look like it'll get eaten that day or next, there is always the freezer. And over-ripe fruit makes great fruit leather!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Refunds on Tainted Peanut Butter

There are refund options if you have the tainted peanut butter on your shelf. Read HERE for more information.

As of Feb. 16, ConAgra Foods has authorized retailers to accept returns of open or unopened jars of Peter Pan Peanut Butter or Great Value Peanut Butter marked with a product code beginning with 2111 for a full refund. You should return your peanut butter to the store where you bought it.

Or you can send your Peter Pan Peanut Butter or Great Value Peanut Butter lid or label with the product code beginning with 2111 to ConAgra Foods along with your name and mailing address for a full refund. That mailing address is ConAgra Foods, P.O. Box 3768, Omaha, NE 68103.

Peanut Butter Recall

From Thrifty Homeschool member Heather:

Some tainted peanut butter is being blamed for a nationwide outbreak of salmonella.The Food and Drug Administration is warning people not to eat certain jars of Peter Pan or Great Value (Wal mart brand) peanut butter. Those jars have a product code on the lid that begins with the number "2111." The peanut butter is produced by ConAgra Foods.Federal health officials said the outbreak has sickened 288 in 39 states, including Pennsylvania.If you have the peanut butter, send lids
from the jar, your name and address to: ConAgra Foods, P.O. Box 3768, Omaha, NE 68103.For more information, call 1-866-344-6970.

They are saying to throw out all questionable jars. The cases have risen to over 300. This is totally crazy that such a thing has happened. Please be safe.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Bishop on Poverty

What's So Great about Being Poor?
by Bishop Emil Wcela
If being poor and hungry is so much to be desired, why do our parishes collect and distribute food, or provide clothes from their thrift shops, or help with rent payments?

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Recipe: Faux Lil' Smokies

From Thrifty Homeschooler Member Sarah:

Our favorite to have at any party is little smokies. Instead of using the true little smokies I use cut up hot dogs. In a slow cooker I mix together 1 bottle barbecue sauce (I use a sweet hickory flavor but you can use whatever kind you would like.) To this I add 1 jelly jar (usually grape but have used blackberry when no grape in the house.) add 2 packages of cut up hot dogs (20 hot dogs total). Leave on low.

Recipe: Chili Cheese Dip

From Thrifty Homeschool member Michelle:

Here's an easy one:

Chili Cheese Dip
1 block of cream cheese (8 oz)
1 can Hormel chili, any flavor or about 1 cup of homemade chili
Salsa (use the chili can and fill it about 3/4 full of salsa..about 1 cup)
1 cup of shredded cheese, whatever type you like
tortilla chips or corn chips

In a deep dish pie plate (I use my glass one), layer cream cheese, chili, salsa and top with cheese. Bake in a 350 degree oven until bubbly. Serve with chips! Yummy, easy, quick and relatively inexpensive!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Recipe: Avocado Black Bean Dip

My friend Julie makes the most awesome avocado dip whenever we have a get together. Everyone loves it! And avocados are on sale for $1 this week.

I don't exactly have Julie's recipe, but here's how I make it:

Avocado Black Bean Dip

2 avocados, mashed
1 tsp. lime or lemon juice
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen or fresh corn
1 jalapeno (2 if you really like spicy), chopped
1 can chopped tomatoes, drained well
salt, pepper, and cumin to taste

Mix it all up and enjoy!

Recipe: Hot Chicken Wings

From a Thrifty Homeschooler member:

My family's favorite Super Bowl recipe is hot chicken wings.

1 large pack of wings
1 tbsp. butter
1 medium size bottle of hot sauce (I use Frank's)

Cut the wings at the joints, throw out the tips. Line a large shallow pan with foil and lightly coat with oil. Put the butter and all the hot sauce in a pot and heat just till the butter melts. Put the wings on the pan; skin side up, brush on sauce, then flip them over, brush sauce on backs. Put the wings in oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Take the wings out, pour off the fat, turn the wings over, coat the skin side again. Back into the oven for 30 minutes. Take out, pour off the fat, put wings into a dish, coating with sauce as you put them in. Serve with Marie's blue cheese salad dressing and celery sticks. The wings come out crispy on the outside, moist on the inside, hot and delicious.

I hope those who choose to try my recipe enjoy it as much as my family and friends do. Bon Appetite.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Super Snacks For the Super Bowl

The theme of my grocery store's ads this week is The Big Game. They have loads of snack makings on sale, such as avocados, cheese, and salsa. But they're also advertising party platters that cost a bundle. For example they have a Mexican layered dip for $11.99 that I could make for a quarter of that price.

So, for the rest of the week, I'll be posting easy, inexpensive, snacks for your Super Bowl Party. If you have a favorite to share, leave it in the comments and I'll bring up here.

First, here's that Layered Mexican Dip Recipe:
8 oz. sour cream
1 c. colby/jack cheese, shredded
Green onions, chopped
Black olives, chopped
Tomatoes, chopped
Bean dip
Guacamole dip
Lettuce, shredded
Tortilla chips for dipping

Reserve 1 heaping tablespoon sour cream for garnish, mixing remainder with 1/2 package taco seasoning. Layer in plate in this order: bean dip on the bottom, guacamole, sour cream mixture, salsa, lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, green onion, black olives; top with dollop of plain sour cream. Dip from outer edge to center.

There are about a million versions of this dip. You could google "Layered Mexican Dip" or just make up your own, using your favorite items.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Labels and Blogger

Blogger has a new feature: Labels.

If you look to the sidebar, you'll see a list of labels. For example, if you click on "Canning," then all of my posts on the topic of canning will pop up.

Pretty neat!

Should make this blog much more user friendly and helpful for you.

Friday, January 26, 2007

About: Frugal Living: Plastic Bags

Whoda ever thunk to use plastic bags to make bathroom mats. For real! Go here to find useful ways to re-use your plastic grocery bags.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Kiss More, Earn More, and Live More

I heard on the radio this evening about a study which shows that men who kiss their wives goodbye every morning live 5 years longer and earn 20% more in wages. So, ladies, don't let your husband leave for work without first getting your kiss!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Stretching the Icing

If you use the store bought cake frosting, whip it up a couple of minutes with your mixer. It'll double in size and go twice as far. Plus, it'll be lighter and fluffier. And, hey, if you're on a diet, it's a good thing as you'll use half the icing and take in half the calories!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Emergency Kitchen Substitutions

Do you ever find yourself all geared up and ready to make a favorite recipe but then discover you're staring at an empty container of a needed ingredient? Ugh. You don't want to run out to the store right now. So what do you do?

Find out here: Emergency Kitchen Substitutions by Debora Taylor-Hough

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Free Book Swap

I received this tip from a Thrifty Homeschooler member:

This is such a cool website. I am going to use it for school. You list your books to give away...just using the ISBN number on the back of the book...and give it away for free...and you get points to get your own choice of books for free. Only cost is cheap book shipping. I think it is an AWESOME idea. Just thought I would share it with you all.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Buying, Selling, and Trading Gift Cards

Did you get a gift card for Christmas? Perhaps you received a Best Buy card, but what you really wanted was Sams. Or, maybe, you'd like to pick up a gift card to a favorite store for a discount. Or sell your card for cash. If any of this pertains to you, then you've got to read this article: Exchange That Funky Gift Card.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Homeschooling and Libraries Interview

My interview with world famous librarian and author Adrienne Furness is running at her blog: Homeschooling and Libraries. It's a seven parter.

Low Cal and Low Cost

Given my New Year's resolution to get my weight under control, I was thrilled to find this website: Healthy Hillbilly Housewife: Low-Calorie, Low-Cost, Family Friendly Food for Folks with More Brains than Bucks.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Calculating Interests Costs and More

Thrifty Homeschooler member Kathy Jo sends the following tip:

Have you ever heard of the website It is a great site to get all kinds of financial information. I found the calculators section to be very helpful. This section offers topics like "how much home can you afford?," "renting vs. buying," "auto payment calculator," "pay-down debt advisor," "calculate the real cost of your debt," and many more. I really like the credit card calculator: just enter the balance of the credit card, interest rate, and monthly payment, and see exactly how long it will take to pay that card off.

Hope this helps for the "Keeping it Frugal in 2007"!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Portal for Free Online Printables

My friend Yvonne sends the following email:

I thought you'd appreciate this weblink for your thrifty homeschooler. It will take a while to look at everything available, but what a wonderful resource for everyday! Just be certain to notify your readers to take the time to read the important copyright information, first.

Printables Online: Everything Fit to Print

Thanks Yvonne!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Pet Costs

I read recently the average cost of raising a medium-size dog to the age of eleven is $6,400. Something to seriously consider before assuming a new pet.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy Anniversary Carnival of Homeschooling!

The Carnival of Homeschooling is celebrating its one-year anniversary. Considering the immense popularity of the Carnival, I'm surprised that it's only been one year.

Why Homeschool has put together an awesome anniversary edition of the Carnival: Week 53. Make sure to check it out. Fun, fun, fun.

Re-Use Tip: Old Washing Machine Barrels

Thrifty Homeschooler list member Jessica sends the following tip:

We bought an old washing machine barrel from a used furniture store for 5 dollars. We set it on an old tire rim we owned. Now it is our outdoor fire pit. The little drain holes on the sides allow the "glow" of the fire to shine out, too. It really was a great purchase. You don't have to set it on anything either. You can just put it directly on some dirt. We have used it for several years and we have had some good times. We put our swing by it so we can all curl up in a blanket by it. We roast marshmallows, wieners, etc., on the fire. The kids beg us to light it all fall and winter. My husband likes to light it on Friday nights and listen to the high school football game on the radio. Sometimes we put the kids to bed and then go outside and enjoy the fire by ourselves. We have fun when we have company over to visit by our fire too. You don't have to worry about it breaking like those expensive chiminias. It is not as pretty, but it still looks good and serves its purpose well. We haven't gotten to enjoy it much this year b/c it has been so warm. But we are all looking forward to it.

PS-when you buy one don't let the seller know what you are using it for (if it is from a store) Or they might "catch on" and jack up that price.

Thank you Jessica for the tip!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year

I've added some new thrifty websites and blogs to the sidebar. I hope they will help you have a thrifty 2007:

Thrifty Mommy

Dollar Stretcher

Frugal Mom

Frugal Times