Thursday, October 30, 2008

Almost Frugal

Here's another cool frugal blog I'm adding to the blogroll:
Almost Frugal
Go check it out.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tip Nut

I love easy tips. I'm the tip queen. I'd rather read a top-ten list of how to save on groceries than an in-depth, 5-page magazine article any day. So, when I came across TipNut.com I knew I'd found a blog worth bookmarking. I've added it to the blogroll to your left. Check out the other blogs in the sidebar -- they're definitely worth checking out.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Make Housework Fun

Admittedly, I am not the best housekeeper in the world. Being a full-time working mom (homeschooling is a full-time job you know), I struggle orderliness. One trick that we have in our house is the "five-minute tidy." I set the kitchen timer for 5 minutes and the children race around trying to see how much they can get done in 5 minutes. We keep it fun and it works wonders. We usually use the five-minute tidy just before mealtimes and when we leave the house. It is so much more pleasant to come home to a tidy house.

In the same vein, we have laundry-sorting parties. With nine family members in this house, laundry is never finished. If l made laundry a miserable job, then our family would be miserable all the time. Earlier today, I came into the living room with four loads of clean laundry and announced a sorting party. The seven kids were knee-deep in laundry and having fun. Even 3- and 5-year olds can help, the littles like to pull out the rags and socks so that the big kids can fold them.

Another trick is to have a bedroom-cleaning contest. I learned this from two teenaged sisters who used to team-babysit my children (sadly, they moved to Florida). I set the timer for 10 minutes and then whoever has the cleanest bedroom at the end of 10 minutes are the winners. I give the winners a prize to really make it worth while. I keep the prize simple such as some free time outside or extra computer time or extra dessert.

Think about how you can make housekeeping fun for the kids. Life is too short to be miserable and since housework is a necessity you may as well have a good time doing it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Sneaky Chef Works!

"Mom! This is the best lasagne ever!" That's one of the nicest things a mom can hear just after, "Mom! I love this macaroni and cheese! It's totally the best!"

I used to think I was a brilliant mother. My children ate healthy food and never complained. It surely must have been my superior mothering skills. And then came my fourth child, Mr. Picky Eater. He would go to great extremes to avoid eating anything other than pizza, pbj, and macaroni & cheese. I would find food hidden in the heating vent, under the legs of the dinner table, and inside pockets. Today, at nearly 13 he no longer hides food and even eats green food now and then.

Then came my seventh child. Mr. Extreme Picky Eater. He's six-years old, stubborn as all get out (wonder where he gets that from), and doesn't like to eat anything that even sniffs of healthy.

Enter The Sneaky Chef by Missy Shase Lapine. Have you heard about this book? It's an old idea amongst mothers -- hide healthy food in cherished foods. My mother used to put carrot puree in chocolate cakes when I was a little. Though this is not an idea I first welcomed. I want my kids to make healthy choices when they get older and I'm not sure if hiding their carrots in chocolate cake is the way to do it.

However, Mr. Extreme Picky Eater has pushed his mother her wits' end. I borrowed The Sneaky Chef from the library. I'm in love. I ended up ordering it from amazon.com because it's one I need to have on hand.

Last night I made cheese lasagne. I substituted part of the ricotta with mashed tofu. I also added orange puree to the tomato sauce. The orange puree is made by boiling carrots and sweet potatoes until soft and then pureed with a little water in the blender.

The kids loved it! They raved about it! Mr. Picky Eater and his brother Mr. Extreme Picky Eater raved about it more than anyone else. They were absolutely pleased I didn't put in chopped spinach as I usually do. It was tasty, no green, and yumcious!

I used only half of the orange puree, so today I put the remainder into our boxed macaroni & cheese. Again -- they raved about it! They exclaimed that it was totally the best ever. It gave the mac 'n cheese a sweet bite to it.

I'm hooked. As my picky eaters get older I'll let them in on my tricks. But for now, shhhh!

Monday, October 20, 2008

4-H Benefits Homeschooling

If you don't already belong, consider joining 4-H. Until recently, we were city rats. Yet we participated in 4-H for many years. It is a lot more than farm animals and crops (which we'll be getting into more now that we're in the country).

At previous years. county fairs, my children have come home with loads of ribbons for canning, quilting, creative writing, and a variety of shooting sports.

One moment that sticks out in my mind was when we found out our 13-year old son won the Judge's Choice for creative writing. I'm so sentimental that I started to cry. You see, my son was required to write a book (yes a book!) for his history co-op that year. He did a terrific job so I encouraged him to enter it as an independent 4-H project at the fair. As a result, he got a blue ribbon, Best of Show (fictional writing), and Judge's Choice (creative writing). In addition to his ribbons, he received a gift certificate to a local bookstore. That encouraged him to lengthen the story to a full blown book. He even checked the Children's Writers Market Guide out from the library to find publishers who publish historical fiction and to get the writers' guidelines for submissions. This is a child, who until he was 12 absolutely hated to write!

My oldest three children have all had creative writing entries and all got blue ribbons (hope you don't mind me bragging). The best part though was that the judges gave the children lots of good tips on improving their writing in addition to praising their efforts. For some reason, children take these things more seriously from people other than their parents.

If you do join 4-H, the cost is minimal. For our club, the fee is $5 per family (which pays for the newsletter) and then $1.50 per child. Sometimes there are activity fees for craft projects, but they do their best to keep it inexpensive. (One bonus is a discount to the county fair.) And it may not take much extra work on your part as you can enter projects that you are already doing independently in your homeschool. Your children may become more enthused about school projects if they know that they will go on display and that they can earn a ribbon and even a little money.

Another advantage of 4-H for us has been the organized group projects. For example, my five oldest children belong to the archery club. Once a week, during spring and summer, I drive them to the leader's home where they learn archery skills and get to practice with several of their homeschool friends (most of the children in our 4-H club are homeschoolers).

The children have also signed up for glass etching, model building, and knitting. In the past I've led canning projects, which is way fun - I love passing this tradition on to a new generation.

Other projects that you may be interested in include sewing, art, crocheting, clowning, performance arts, leadership skills, animals, crops, and more, more, more.

This year, the children are really looking forward to showing goats. Now that'll be a new experience for us all!

If you are not sure about how to find a 4-H club in your area, try asking others in your homeschool group or search the Internet. You can also try calling your county fairgrounds or extension office.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Coupon Code: The Teaching Company

The Teaching Company has a new coupon code good through October 30th. It's a great deal -- $25 off of orders over $150.00 plus free shipping. They have a lot of titles, including high school sets, for up to 70% off. The coupon code is HPHL and it's good on the internet, phone, or mail.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Buying More Stuff Hurts Marriages

Sell off your clutter and save your marriage. From the Washington Times.
Clutter does not a happy couple make. That's right, household junk is not just an eyesore, but also, it turns out, a source of marital strife. "More than eight in ten couples view these items lying around the house as a source of tension in their relationship," says Jose Mallabo, spokesman for Kijiji.com, an online marketplace that recently conducted a survey of couples and their - superfluous - household items.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tips on Saving at the Grocery Store

In this economy it's important to keep a close eye on the food budget. I myself have recently let my food budget explode. With my move to the new house I've allowed myself to slip into my old bad habits using the excuse that I'm too busy getting settled in. It really isn't anything more than laziness on my part. But I'm recommitting myself to getting the grocery bills back under control.

If you'd like to join me, study my previous posts on saving money at the grocery store. Scroll down and start with Tip #1 (you may have to click on Older Posts) and then move your way up.

If you have any tips I missed, please leave a comment here so all of us can learn together.

Homeschool Blog Award Nominations

The 2008 Homeschool Blog Awards are now taking nominations. Go and nominate your favorite homeschooling blogs! You have until October 24th but don't procrastinate too long.

In order to reach the voting part of the awards, a blog must be nominated at least 3 times so don't rely on someone else to nominate your favorite blog. And I hope that you'll nominate The Thrifty Homeschooler Blog as there is a Thrifty Homeschooler category. Yeah!

The rules are all laid out at the website. You just fill in the little box at the end of the post (linked above) and write something like:
Best Thrifty Homeschooler
http://thriftyhomeschooler.blogspot.com/
The Thrifty Homeschooler

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Free Gluten Free Recipes


Since it's Celiac Awareness Month I thought I'd share a gluten-free cookbook that can be read online for free:

You Won't Believe It's Gluten Free!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Free Preschool Printables

This is a commercial site but they have lots of free printables for the 4- to 6-year-old set. Click on Download Center.

Recovering the Food Budget

After going back to work part time, Margaret Mary found her grocery budget explode. Just as I suggested in my earlier post about the cost of working outside the home. Well, MM has grabbed hold of the food budget reins and she's reeling them in. See her post on recovering the food budget to hear how she's doing it and to join her in the quest.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Downsize: Think Big

If you have a huge debt hanging over your head, then you have to get beyond saving pennies on household items. Especially, with the current financial crisis sweeping through the country we need to think big!

Can you downsize your home? Your cars? Sell your vacation cottage or recreational boat or vehicle?

I met a homeschooler some years ago who lived in my sister's neighborhood. A neighborhood where the houses start at $400,000. Her husband just lost his job and they were in bad shape financially. They lived in a beautiful home and drove brand-new SUV's . . . and lived from month to month. They were drowning in consumer debt. Just one month without an income put them into dire straits. The mom was putting the kids in public school and getting a job herself. It broke my heart.

You need to ask where you would be tomorrow if your main wage-earner lost his or her job. Do you have savings set aside? I recommend at least 3 to 6 months of living expenses in liquid savings. This saved us years ago when my husband decided to quit his job and start his own business.

To accomplish this, you may have to downsize your home or your car. Can you live in a smaller house? In a lesser neighborhood? (No need to concern yourself with school districts - we're homeschoolers.)

Can you downsize your car, or get rid of the second car altogether? I know several homeschooling families who work around one family car.

What are some other big items that you should be avoiding?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Art Appreciation

Art is another subject where Charlotte Mason presented a living education. She taught art appreciation picture study by introducing children to the works of great artists one at a time using narration. Music appreciation was taught similarily, listening to the works of great composers one at a time.

I would love to fill my home with original masterpieces for the children to study, but it isn't possible. The art budget at our house doesn't even have room for cheap reproductions. But I have found an inexpensive way to introduce my children to great works of art.

Using your computer, you can download famous paintings and save them to your wallpaper. (See CGFA- A Virtual Art Museum for example.) Then every time your children sit down at the computer they are introduced to great art. Change the wallpaper every week. Or get wild and change it everyday. Feature the same artist (or era or subject matter) for several weeks in a row. Make sure to point out the name of the artist and the name of the picture.

Another idea is to print a painting on your color printer. Have the children cut out the picture and put it on a magnet sheet (from the craft store). Now you have fancy kitchen magnets. Every time the kids go to the fridge for a drink or snack, they are introduced to great art. Or have the printouts laminated - my littles like to carry them around like trading cards.

Kids love getting mail. Ask Grandma and Grandpa to send art postcards Ask out-of-town family members or friends to do the same. Not only will your children be introduced to great art, they are reminded of their loved ones.

Some exercises to do with your Internet or postcard art:
Play Concentration - you need two of each work to do this. Turn the cards upside down on a table and have the children take turns looking for matches, turning over just two cards at a time.
Groupings - have the children group together works of art by artist, era, or subject matter.
Recreate by Memory - show a child a masterpiece for a few minutes and then take it away. Then they are to try to draw the picture from memory using their crayons, colored pencils, or markers. (A twist on CM's narration.)
Develop Descriptive Abilities - Have your child choose a work of art, without showing you. They are then to describe the art in such a way that you can reproduce it on a piece of paper with only their verbal instructions. This is a favorite exercise at my house. Try it. I guarantee you'll get a laugh out of the first several tries!
Look for Symbolism Used in Art - I tried but could not find a dictionary of Christian art symbolism on the Internet, but you can look for books such as Signs and Symbols in Christian Art by George Wells Ferguson (Oxford University Press) at the library.

I'm sure that if you put your mind to it, you could come up with more ideas.
The children in Charlotte Mason's schools had Picture Study every term from age 6 upwards. Between the age of 6 and 15 a child had studied reproductions of pictures by some thirty of the world's famous artists. Why Picture Study? In order that children may be put in touch with the contribution that each famous artist has made to the world's store of all that is beautiful and worthwhile. Just as Literature introduces us to the thought of the greatest writers, so Picture Study opens the gates to the ideas of the famous artists.
-- Karen Andreola


For more on teaching art appreciation through real books see my book, For the Love of Literature: Teaching Core Subjects with Literature.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Homeschool Tracker

Free homeschool record keeping.

You can also purchase the Cadillac version, but I think the freebie version is good enough.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Stay-at-Home Vs. Work Outside the Home

Back in the day when I only had 3 or 4 children, my husband mentioned one day that things sure would be easier financially if I was still working outside the home. Now, my darling husband was only jesting, but I knew that I had to nip the thought in the bud. I didn't want it to fester and grow into an actual desire. So I sat him down, grab a piece of paper and pencil, and let the mathematician in me go at it.

I wrote down the income that I would likely receive (I was in human resource management, so I made pretty good money). Then I started subtracting all of expenses of working outside of the home.

If finances are getting you down and you are thinking of throwing in the towel on homeschooling, so that you can bring more money into your home, please, please do this exercise. Even if it is just a bad homeschooling day, which happens to the best us, and military school is looking quite attractive for your brood. Sit down and write out how much money it costs to have both parents working, then compare it to the non-monetary rewards of being home with your children.

The first expense I figured in was taxes. My income would have put us into a higher tax bracket and so our tax burden would increase. Then I would have had to buy a car that was actually dependable and could get me to work each day. And there would be private school tuition. Sorry, but I'm one of those people who believes our Christianity should permeate every part of our everyday lives, including our school subjects, and "free" public schools don't offer that. The littles would require daycare and the bigs would need after-school care.

Those are all major expenses. But there are a zillion smaller expenses that add up pretty quickly to significant numbers. First is food. If I am working outside the home, I don't have time to make homemade meals, it'll be prepackaged, prefab fare for my family. And no time to pack lunches for Rob, myself, and the kiddies. It would be McDonalds and cafeteria food for the lot of us. And no time to comparison shop, plan menus, or hit the thrift stores so the food budget explodes.

Speaking of comparison shopping, I wouldn't have time to do so for other items such as clothes so the overall budget has to be expanded. Since I would be working in an office, a whole new wardrobe would be called for. My homeschool uniform of sweats and a T-shirt isn't going to cut it. Of course I can't throw my brand new business suits into the washing machine, so dry cleaning is added to the budget. Then there are pantyhose! I'm torture on pantyhose, so that alone would put my expenses over the top. Oh, and of course I'll need a couple of nice jewelry pieces and new shoes to go with my new suits.

Don't forget all those office collections for birthdays, anniversaries, and for employees who are leaving for better jobs (and we're supposed to buy them a present?). And you can't turn your boss down when he wants to sell you Girl Scout cookies for his sweet little girl, lest you want to be passed over at promotion time.

Most importantly, we must consider the cost to our children's souls. Personally, my number one motivation in homeschooling is to get these children of mine to Heaven. They are gifts from God Himself, and I am going to do my best to raise them for His Kingdom. I am not saying that homeschooling is a cure all, but it sure does make things easier in the purity of heart department.

Finally, let us remember the Scripture:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
-- Matthew 6:19-20.