Sep 5, 2015

Weekend Links

Courtesy of Neelam Dutta and Wikipedia Commons.
In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page. A very short post this week...We've been struggling with sickness in our house.

* A parenting challenge for Christian parents. (Hint: It involves the book of Proverbs.)

* One prostitute explains why Amnesty International's idea to legalize the sex trade is such a bad idea.

* People often think of dogs and llamas as good animals to protect other animals on the homestead. But did you know donkeys are superb protectors? I've seen photos showing a donkey tossing a mountain lion around, then stomping on it! Wow! 

* Did your lettuce bolt (go to seed) early this year? Here's an interesting article about lettuces that resist bolting in warm weather.

Sep 3, 2015

A Simple Lesson in Following Directions (With a Free Printable!)

When I was in the fifth grade, my teacher handed the class an assignment I never forgot. It was a single mimeographed sheet of paper (some of you may remember those!) that looked long and daunting. The teacher told us to read the directions and get on with the assignment. Then she sat at her desk, appearing unapproachable. (She was good at that.)

Many of us sighed or grumbled, but still, I did as I was told...and discovered there was no real work to do! You see, at the top of the page, it said to read all the directions FIRST...and if you did that, when you got to the end of the page, the directions said to turn the paper in to the teacher. That was it! Many students failed to read all the directions first, and ended up sweating through the crazy questions...but, like me, I'm sure they never forgot the lesson!

This year, I wanted to do something similar with my fourth grader. (Don't homeschool? No worries! You can still give your child this "extra" homework assignment.) When she pulled it out of her assignment folder she sighed. "Do I have to do more math today?" she said. (Math is her least favorite subject, so the idea of doing extra work was not something she was excited about.) "Yep," I said, and left the room.

A few minutes later, she came up to me with a grin on her face. She'd learned the lesson: Always follow the directions! An important lesson for any student.

You can download my "Following Directions" worksheet from Google Docs.

Sep 1, 2015

How Color Coding Makes Housework Easier

It's no secret that organization makes homemaking easier. However, when you're living in a tiny house, organization is the difference between absolute chaos and reasonably contented living. So I've been doing a lot of thinking (and some research) on how best to live with children in our tiny house motor home. One wonderful resource is a series of YouTube videos by the Norton family. If you think there's no way you could live full time in an RV with your family, you must watch these videos. The Nortons live with six children in their RV! (They even home school in this environment.) And while I don't have six little blessings, there's a lot I can learn from the Nortons. And even if you don't live in a tiny house, I'm betting you can glean some great ideas from them, too.
My favorite Norton idea is to use color coding to simplify housework. It is revolutionary - and I'm not exaggerating! Mrs. Norton specifically uses color coding in the kitchen, but I think this is a trick that works well for other parts of the house, too. Here's how:

In the Kitchen

Give every person in the family a plate and bowl in their own special color. For example, Mom might have a red bowl and plate; Dad uses blue; and child #1 uses green. If I recall correctly, in the Norton tiny house RV, each family member has only one plate and bowl. If you're not living in a tiny space, you might consider giving each family member two or three. The beauty is that now you know who's put their dishes away (or not!), and who's deposited their plates in the dishwasher. And there's no way children can claim they've put away or washed their dishes when they haven't. Brilliant! I think you could easily turn this into an easy way for children to learn to wash their own dishes, too.

You may wonder if you're going to have to buy a different set of dishes for each member of the family, and give the extras away (since most dish sets contain at least four plates and bowls in a single color). The answer is no. Instead of buying a box of dishes, you'll want to shop somewhere that sells dishes and bowls individually. This could be an import store, The Dollar Tree, or even a thrift store. (My favorite dishes came from St. Vincent DePaul's.) Or, you might consider a set of Feista Ware, which sometimes is designed to have every dish be a different color. (Similar to this.)

Now you want to do the same thing with glasses and cups, giving each family member one in his or her own color. This way, nobody looses track of which glass is theirs (leading them to grab a fresh one, which results in a pile of glasses in the sink). If you don't want to use plastic glasses, consider using stainless steel travel mugs with colored plastic on the outside. Or, you could use colored rubber bands to individualize each clear glass. I challenge you to limit each family member to a single glass; they are easy to hand wash! For those who drink coffee, tea, or another hot drink, you might consider also assigning each person one cup or mug.

If you wanted to, you can even take color coding one step further and get utensils in each family member's color.

So, following this plan, you've:

#1. Reduced the number of dishes that need washing (saving on water and energy).
#2. Ensured that everybody takes responsibility for their own dishes/cups.
#3. Limited the amount of space used in your kitchen cabinets.

In the Bathroom

Another way you can implement color coding in your home is with bath towels. One problem many families have is that people get confused about which towel is theirs - which leads them to grab a fresh towel from the linen closet, rather than use a towel that's hanging up. This causes a lot of extra laundry, which not only eats up Mom's time, but adds expense to the budget by devouring extra water and electricity.

A solution is to buy each family member two towels and two washcloths in their own color. Now everybody knows which towel is theirs and there is no more wasting time and money washing towels that don't really need cleaning.

What About Guests?

You may wonder how to deal with dishes and towels for guests. Here are some ideas:

* Keep one set of dishes just for times when you have guests. (Lots of us already have "nicer dishes" for guests, anyway. Just keep them.)

* Entertain casually, using paper plates and cups.

* Add to your existing color coded dishes by buying some extra dishes in yet more different colors. When you have guests, every single person will have a different color plate. It makes for a fun, cohesive dinner set.

* Keep a set of towels just for guests. I recommend using white (because they are so easy to distinguish from your family's colored towels, and because they are easy to clean with bleach.)

Easy peasy! What other ways can you think of to use color coding to make housework easier?

Aug 29, 2015

Weekend Links

In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.

* "Boy used skills taught by father to survive night alone in woods." If your children are ever in a wilderness environment, please teach them basic survival skills like shelter and fire!

* 4th graders and their families can get into National parks FREE!

* Another freebie! Seven Critical Thinking Ebooks for kids of all ages.

* And more free stuff! $240 worth of curriculum, free for a limited time.

* Grass fed beef vs. conventional. Consumer Reports says conventional contains more bacteria.

* Oh, and you might be buying horse or beaver meat and not even know it!

* An oil that's much worse for you than sugar. (Some of us have been saying this for a while now!)

Aug 28, 2015

Making (Slow) Progress on Our New Homestead

Do you remember how sloooow time went when you were a kid looking forward to Christmas? That's how I feel, waiting for us to get moved to our new homestead. So I cling to the progress we have made. So far, we've:

* Purchased a shipping container to use first as a storage unit, then (once we have a house and aren't living in our tiny house motor home) as a shop for my hubby. It took forever to find one in our price range. (Don't believe the news stories that say shipping containers are plentiful and cheap! For most of the country, this isn't true. We were happy, however, that our container is one of the few not from China. Ours is from Japan and was used to ship motorcycles here. That made my hubby smile.) So, the shipping container is delivered and placed on top of a moisture barrier and blocks. Yay!

*  Got the shipping container insulated. We looked into buying a shipping container (or maybe a refrigerated truck) that was already insulated, but it was less expensive for us to add the insulation ourselves. We looked at many ways to accomplish insulation, and finally decided it made the most sense to hire a pro to spray foam into it. A bonus: This method uses up less space than other methods of insulation, so there's more room to store things. (Wondering why we bothered to insulate the shipping container? Because without it, changes in
temperature would cause weeping inside the container - which would lead to moldy books, papers, fabrics, photos...and a ruined piano.)

* Started packing and moving things into storage. For years, my husband used a small cargo trailer for storage, so everything he had in there is now in the shipping container. I've also started packing up the one room in our house that needs some repairs...and my husband has transferred those boxes into the container, too. (Incidentally, hubby says we have only two types of boxes: Books and fragile. So funny because it's so true!)

The past couple of weeks, I've paused in packing because it was just too much for me to start homeschool and pack, too. I will get back to it this weekend. Once the room is clear, we'll repair it. Then we can fix up the rest of the house - mostly paint, I hope.

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...

Aug 26, 2015

9 Back to School Lunch Hacks

Whether your kids go away to school or they home school with you, a little planning - and a few tricks! - make giving them healthy lunches a whole lot easier.

1. As much as possible, prep on the weekends. Sandwiches are usually best made the day of, but many other things can be prepared and refrigerated ahead of time, including: chopped veggies, chopped fruit, things like cracker and cheese that need portioning out and bagging.

2. Make a salad more fun by putting it on a kebab! Cherry tomatoes, olives, pieces of cheese, pieces of deli meat, and baby spinach or lettuce are perfect.

3. Portion things out yourself. It's almost always less expensive to buy in bulk and package in inexpensive bags, rather than buying boxes full of portion-sized bags.

4. Add a little air. Bagging up something that might turn into crumbs, like chips, cookies, or pretzels? Take a tip from food packagers and add air to the bag. This works best if you're packing lunch the evening before school or the morning the child will be eating the lunch.

5. Give them last night's leftovers. Not only will it save you time, but it will help prevent waste.

6. Bake lunch items like muffins ahead of time and freeze them. Pop them into your child's lunch the evening or morning before they will be eaten and they'll be thawed by lunch time.

7. No-brown sliced apples are easier than you think. Simply slice up the apple, holding the pieces carefully together, then wrap a rubber band around the apple. (The slices don't brown because they aren't exposed to air.)

8. Consider letting the kids pack their lunch. Let the children pick which items go in their lunch box the night before. (Don't think they'll make healthy choices? Let them only choose from certain foods.) You'll probably have to supervise to make sure it gets done! Kids are more likely to eat their food if they have a hand in preparing/choosing it - and it this encourages independence, too. For more tips on making this work, visit Coffee Cups and Crayons.

9. Notes or jokes are an addition to the lunch box most kids will look forward to. Bible verses are excellent, too!

Aug 24, 2015

Healthy Dinner Strategies for Busy Moms

If you're a mom with kids at home, you're busy. And many of us find ourselves even busier (and more tired!) than usual once the school year starts. That makes feeding our families healthy food a real challenge. And while modern moms have more unhealthy food options than ever - we also have more options when it comes to feeding our families healthy, quick meals.

Crock Pots

I have a love/hate relationship with my crock pot. I love that I can throw some ingredients into it in the morning and have a healthy dinner ready for my family by evening - no matter how busy I am. And if I plan ahead just a little, I can even prep the ingredients ahead of time, toss them into the freezer, and literally spend less than a minute making dinner on weekdays.

What I don't care for is the somewhat bland flavor many crock pot recipes have. Fortunately, there are fixes for that; click here to learn how to pump up the flavor of crock pot foods. Another not so great part of crock pot cooking is that so many recipes you find online are contain processed food (condensed soup, Ranch mixes, and so on). Sometimes you can easily substitute homemade versions of those processed foods, other times not. Happily, though, you can turn your favorite non-crock pot recipes into recipes you can use in a slow cooker. Also, check out this blog for healthy crock pot recipes...and my Pinterest Slow Cooker board, too.

Freezer Cooking

You may have seen blog posts showing ambitious moms cooking and freezing 30 days worth of meals in one weekend. If you can do that, good for you! I can never seem to get my act together to make this many freezer meals. But that doesn't mean freezer cooking isn't for me.

Courtesy of Elin B and Wikipedia Commons.
The easiest way to start freezer cooking is to double meals and freeze the extras. An even easier way is to simply cook up, say, all the ground beef soon after bringing it home from the store. Freeze it and you've just cut at least 10 minutes off each meal you prepare with it later in the month.

Other ideas include starting modestly by cooking and freezing a week's worth of dinners on a Saturday. Premeditated Leftovers also has ideas on spending just 30 minutes each day to fill your freezer with cooked food. For freezer-appropriate recipes and guidelines for beginners, be sure to check out my Freezer Cooking Pinterest board.

Pressure Cookers

For some reason, pressure cookers aren't mainstream in the United States. I really have no idea why, because they are such a quick, easy way to produce a healthy meal. For example, you can cook a moist, delicious whole chicken in just half an hour! Unsoaked black beans? 24 minutes. (If you soak them first, they take just 6 minutes.) Brown rice? 20 minutes. And you can cook whole meals, too, usually for 20-30 minutes. And unlike stove top cooking, pressure cooking takes less work on your part. You just stick in the ingredients, watch for the pressure to reach the right level, and then set the timer. In short, cooking time is cut by 1/3, saves 70 - 90% in energy, and retains 90% of the vitamins in your food! (Source.)

One word of caution, though: Don't confuse pressure cookers with pressure canners. Pressure canners are designed specifically for home canning. Sometimes they are appropriate for cooking, too, but not always. Pressure cookers are designed specifically for cooking. Do NOT use them for canning! I use my Presto canner as a pressure cooker; my only complaint is that because it has such a large capacity, it's difficult to get into the sink for cleaning. On the other hand electronic pressure cookers are favored by many because you don't have to tend to them at all: Just put the food in, turn them on, and walk away.

Not sure where to begin with pressure cooking? Check out my Pinterest Pressure Cooker board!

Which One Is Right For You?

Personally, I don't know what I'd do without all of these strategies! When my family grows tired of crock pot food, I can pop something in the pressure cooker. If I'm too tired for that at the end of the day, I can pull something out of the freezer. You see, having all these options available to me means I don't have to be hyper organized. And that is a very good thing!

Aug 22, 2015

Weekend Links

In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.

* Car seats recalled.

* Onsies recalled because snaps come off and pose a choking hazard.

 * Looking for healthy, whole food or Paleo crock pot recipes to get you through back to school season? Check out my Pinterest crock pot recipe board!

* This week, I threw my kids a school supply scavenger hunt. They LOVED it! I used the clue cards here - slightly modified, since there was no big prize at the end.

* I  had a few picture books, a timer, some paint, and labeler tape I wanted to buy on Amazon for school. Original cost was over $80, even though I bought used books. But once I applied my Swagbucks gift was just over $30! Score! If you want to learn more about Swagbucks, please click here.

* How to destroy a child's love of learning.

* We vaccinated our kids, but this is disturbing: Maine Can Vaccinate Children Over Mother Wishes 

* Australian doctors are successfully treating peanut allergies with probiotics.