Friday, December 28, 2007

Looking Back and Looking Forward

With Christmas past us for another year, it is that time for me when I think about the last year and try to set some goals for the coming. This year I seem to be more contemplative than before. Our finances have been really wearing on me the last six months and more than ever I feel compelled to become very intense about it in the coming year. But, I am also very content with homeschooling and our progress since this time last year.

Looking Back

Last year at this time I was really in a funk. Coming off of Robbie's birth and all the upheaval we had following it, I was not prepared for Christmas and a New Year. I was still concerned about Robbie and wondered what, if any, lingering problems there might be with him. I am thankful to say that except for the trip to the ER in November, we have been blessed with a very healthy and active boy.
That is dirt on his forehead, he lost his jacket while playing and his shoes are untied....

Homeschooling wasn't going extremely well - to say the least. Mary was driving me up the wall and we were constantly (it seemed) having 'battles of the wills'. I can honestly say to you now, I was having long conversations with those closes to me about the logistics of enrolling Mary following the Christmas break. And, if it wasn't for the preplanned trip with her Grandfather in February it may very well had happened. I'm glad it didn't. Instead we took the Spring to relax and have some fun. I spent time researching other methods, other people's ideas. I watched the children and started to put together some ideas in my own head about what might work for us.
In the end this year we a much more relaxed and incorporating some of Charlotte Mason's ideas and the reading list from Ambleside Online. It seems to be the right mix of structure and freedom for the children. And, they really are progressing.

Financially, considering I have tried to be really focused on it since 2005 has had a lot of up and downs this year. We started off the year with a burden of medical bills and expenses that really could have been debilitating if it had not been for insurance. Honestly, we really kicked some butt for the first half of the year. Got the medical bills paid, paid off one credit card, had an emergency fund in savings, and even managed to put money aside for our first family vacation ever. I had a rein on the expenses, even the ever-rising grocery bill. Then June/July hit... the AC went on the blink and DH didn't have time to mess with it, so paid for that to be fixed. I went on some sort of grocery hoarding bonanza and the ever rising gas prices played havoc with our budget. DH's work cut overtime and we lost a substantial amount of income each month. And, well, the last half of the year has been mainly trying to stay out of the red each month. Thankfully we are better off than this time last year in that we owe less than we did - but our monthly budget is tight and most likely going to get tighter before it gets better.

Food has been a big goal of mine this year. I really wanted to eat local and grow a bit of my own food. The drought did not help this goal of mine. I did manage to get to the farmer's markets and a few 'pick-your-own' places this summer and we ate a fair amount of fresh foods. My garden was a disaster. It was more the high heat and dry air that succeeded in literally burning the plants. I had wanted to add in some services like buying local meats, but the upfront cost was just out of our budget for the time being. But, making Robbie's baby food and having to really read labels made me focused on what we do eat. Out of making his own food came the desire to do more and more scratch cooking for us. I have reduced the family's High-fructose corn syrup intake substantially. Mary enjoys helping out in the kitchen and I love the time it takes to prepare meals. Our food isn't mainly 'local' but it is a lot less processed.

Looking Forward

I don't know what the future holds in the way of homeschooling. We always take it year by year, and I keep telling DH "next year, next year", but I am really loving it. And, it feels like we have finally found our groove. I hate the idea of entering the system, of having to adjust my life to their schedule, deal with the way they teach and so forth.

I am happy with the style we have developed and it seems to be working for us right now. I am continuing to read more about Right-Brain Learners as it appears I have more than one. I see big leaps this coming year for all the children, educationally-wise.

I want to spend more time on nature walks and doing things outside this coming year. My big project goal for us is to designed and implement some backyard upgrades so that we can become an 'official' backyard habitat. I'm assigning some of the research and design to Mary for this one. I also need to carve out more one-on-one time each day with all of them.

This seems to be the one weighing most heavily on my mind at this time. Because, it feels like the one I have gained the least with. I also feel as though the overall general economy isn't getting any better and we are so close to the cusp now that we need to have better control before we wind up over the edge.

I have put together yet another budget that I hope is one that we can stick to better. Today was payday, so it seemed like a good time to get it started. This paycheck also seemed like an 'extra' one with the way they have fallen over the last two months. I am starting out the new year with money in the savings account.

My food hoarding has got to come to an end. I did a pantry/freezer inventory that I won't even share because it is sooo very much. We have at least a six-week supply of food, minus perishables. So, this month, I have put a moratorium on grocery shopping. We are eating what we have in the house. And, I guarantee that we will be eating good. The grocery money is going to be banked. I want the EF up to $2000 this time.

At the end of this time I'll be ready to put the Master Monthly Grocery List to use. I made this up based on what we generally buy and based on the fact that I am making more and more of our foods from scratch. This should cut our running into the grocery store constantly to an end. I figured we can get the monthly average down to between $300 and $400 dollars.

I am still committed to finding more and more local sources of food as we are financially capable of. Hopefully, we will come out of this drought and local produce will be more available. I still want to grow more of our own food and will try another garden. In fact, I actually have lettuce growing out there now. I have found local milk for sale in the grocery store, and if we can get the grocery budget down enough I should have the extra dollar or so per gallon to buy it. We have tried it and it is really good.

The way I'm trying to help out financially is by making more of our own food. Finding the rawest forms of the food I can and using that. I am going to try to bake bread twice a week (Wednesday and Saturday). Pizzas on Sunday will be homemade. Soups and stews during the cold months are going to be our stand-by. The crockpot, I am foreseeing, is going to get quite a workout.

Each month I want to try making something that we normally buy. This month it is going to be ketchup. This is mainly to cut out yet another source of HFCS.

Other Areas
With homeschooling and finances (I hope) falling into place, I want to take some time to work on my 'education'. I am enjoying crocheting and would really like to teach myself more so that I can try some more difficult pieces. I also have a sewing machine that I keep meaning to use more. My sewing skills are almost non-existent and would love to take some time to focus on that.

We have got to keep up with decluttering the house. We are here for the long-term and really need to use the space the best way we can. Even if that means putting some of our books and homeschooling supplies in storage when we are not using them. That is so hard for me as I like having something handy at any given time. Decluttering the children's supply of clothing is something I need to work on. Every season I say I am going to limit how much we keep, yet it seems to multiply constantly and is almost out of control. Their clothing is everywhere.

I am looking forward to 2008 in a way I haven't looked forward to a New Year since 2004. I'm ready for it.



Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

and a Merry Christmas to me since their big gift is outside!

I hope everyone enjoys their day and like Mary says "it isn't about the gifts but spending time with the family"


Thursday, December 20, 2007

We have heat and what a story

Yesterday afternoon our heat was fixed and the house was able to start warming back up. It has for me been a very stressful few days. Like most homeschooling families we are a one income family and finances are always stretched. This time of year is so much worse than other times. Plus, we have had other expenses recently while DH's pay was basically cut about 4 months ago. I was already riding the edge before this ever happened.

We have a particular company that we have used to come in and do work on our HVAC and electricity when we are faced with issues that DH cannot handle himself. We are a long-time customer. When the heat went out DH had me call them and we really thought they would do us right. They did come out within a couple of hours to assess the situation. Then went into a spill about how the whole system needed to be replaced. That the part was hard to find and even harder to do the work on. Our system was old and is going to die soon anyway. I had them talk to DH on the phone. DH kept asking what the fix was, what it entailed (DH understands HVAC systems as they are not much different than what he works on) but the guy kept going on into the salesman pitch. They wanted $4500 to replace our whole heating/air unit and basically refused to fix what we already own.

I spent Tuesday on the phone with my dad, with DH trying to figure out our options. Finally DH's contacts came through for us. There is this whole web of people that always use their skills to do sidework and barter their skills. DH is a part of it. Anyway an HVAC guy came to his attention and they talked. This guy basically told us that our HVAC company was blowing smoke about the difficulty of the fix. He could buy the part the very next morning (not three to four days later) and install it in 2 hours, not 2 days.

He stuck to his word. Yesterday afternoon he came over, spent a couple of hours and turned our heat on. The cost to us was less than $1000. I asked him what the life expectancy of the system was and he agreed that it had some age on it, but with the parts we have already replaced in the last couple of years we should be okay. The system needs to have maintenance work done on it during the Spring, and at that time it can be checked out to make sure that the last major part (compressor) we haven't replaced is still good.

Both my dad and my FIL made the same good point during our discussions; "no one every fixes anything anymore. They just run out and buy new." Service workers generally don't have the skills to fix alot of things, they just learn how to install. Our system is about 11 years old, there is no way that it should HAVE to be replaced.

Well this company has lost itself a customer. I don't appreciate being held over a barrel and as a previous customer having 5% added to our bill as an 'emergency' charge.

There were blessings. DH's parents opened their doors to us and feed us while we waited. I stayed there with the kids while DH stayed home overnight to take care of the dogs. He did fine using our space heaters in the family room. My dad did a $500 favor for another family member and offered us the same amount. DH's sister also called and wanted to help us out with a gift amount. I just really wish that we didn't have to be in this situation - that others felt the need to give us gifts to get the heat back on. We could have worked it out, but this makes it easier. And it is a blessing.

Today, I've got to unpack our bags, wash some clothes and make sure we have everything we need for this weekend. Then pack them back up. Hi Ho Hi Ho off to work I go.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Tis' the Season!

I haven't stopped blogging there is just a lot going on. Trying to get ready for Christmas as we are leaving Friday for our first family Christmas function and also birthdays. Today Emily is Three!!! I will write more about that later and share pictures.

Right now we are living at my in-law's house because our heat went out and it is COLD, and we are trying to get it fixed without having to rob a bank. Hopefully by this afternoon we will have heat again. But, it just puts me that much further behind on holiday stuff.

Hope everyone is having a good week.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

I have an 8-year-old

Mary's birthday was Thursday. Every year I am again amazed at how quickly it seems to go. There is no possible way that it has been eight years since I had her.

I think she had a really great birthday even if we did spend most of the day schlepping around in the car shopping for her new bicycle. My mom wanted to buy her a new bike as her birthday present and we decided that she needed to pick it out. This errand was supposed to be done last week, but mom didn't come up because of the nasty virus in our house. So it became a last minute trek. Six stores later we came out with a bicycle very close to what Mary had described wanting before we ever began - and within the price range we were willing to spend. She now has a 'freestyle' bike - pegs, free spinning front wheel and only hand brakes. And, while I thought we might only find this in a 'boy' styling we actually found one that is black & hot pink with butterflies. Nothing could fit Mary better. It only took her about 45 secs to transition from coaster brakes to hand brakes and she has been off and riding every minute that she can.

This year was the year that Mary left toys behind. The pre-teen transition is starting. Her aunt gave her some choices for a birthday present and Mary chose the night out getting her hair and nails done. Her other gifts included an MP3 player and an IDog I bought from her cousin, two new pairs of jeans and, a 'Scene It - Jr' game and pair of turquoise earrings from her grandparents. Her siblings and a friend gave her in total 3 more webkinz, the only "toys" she got. I list all this out because it is just a big signal of changes I see her going through and I am not quite sure I am ready for her to grow up so quickly.

We have really spent the last few days racing around doing birthday stuff. This weekend I have to transition to finishing up Christmas since by this time next week we will be doing Christmas with my family and returning on the 23rd for Christmas here. I also need to make sure that I have all of Emily's birthday items ready to go as her birthday is this coming Wednesday. Is it any wonder we take off this month from schooling.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The weather is too nice to blog

This record-breaking 'heat' spell for December has hit at just the right time for us. We finished our Fall Quarter last week, so are totally enjoying the 70-degree days with no guilt. It just means that we are not on the computer much and by the time we get inside the girls are antsy to do their computer time.

Our weekend was nothing special. I tried to clean and organize some, got a lot done when DH took the girls to a Christmas parade during Robbie's nap time. Still trying to get the toys somewhat organized in the play area. Don't want to spend any money this time of year - so just working out how to re-purpose what we already have in the house.

Monday we walked over to the park for some outside playtime. It is always a nice walk over, but the way back is almost all uphill - and the whining, oi vey. I am really starting to enjoy going to the park again. With Robbie walking and climbing, I can kind of let him go and explore. Mary is such a good big sister, she has become his shadow - teaching him how to climb up the slide, and sliding down with him.

When we came home Mary fixed lunch for all of us - whatever frozen foods she could stick on the cookie sheet in the oven. Yes, we are healthy. Then the girls headed back outside for a little gross motor skill work with the spare lumber and nails I gave them last week. They were building boats for the Little People and testing out how they floated.

Today we needed to go to the grocery store and to buy a birthday present for one of Katie's friends. DH had taken the car with Robbie's car seat in it (we are trying to switch vehicles around so he doesn't have to drive the older car with bad gas mileage to work anymore) and that is the one car seat I don't have a spare for. So, we walked. It is a mile each way, good exercise and we spent the time practicing some Christmas carols. Which seemed really weird given the weather.

On the way home Mary noticed that some high schoolers had left trash in the entrance to our neighborhood from their lunch. Our neighborhood is across from the high school and seniors can leave campus for lunch. So she asked to go back up there to pick up the trash while I fixed lunch. I thought it was a wonderful thing for her to do. I am glad that she cares about the environment.
Tomorrow my mom is coming up to celebrate Mary's birthday with us on Thursday. We've got some errands to run first thing and then do a very quick clean-up job on the house before she gets here. In the evening Mary is going out with her aunt to have her hair and nails done as a birthday gift. She is sooo excited. What a girly, little tomboy she is.

What a great beginning to our three-week holiday it has been.


Friday, December 07, 2007

We're Alive

We are still here and kicking, just not with much energy. Everyone seems to be recovering, although the two little ones just keep dragging on with parts of the illness. On Wednesday I thought we were really on the uptick, so we went to Mary's piano class. I am so glad we did, as her teacher moved her up to the next level in this class. She was so proud of herself, and rightly so. This fall she has put a lot of effort into her piano practice.

While she was at practice I had to go to the grocery store and spend what little money we had left after Christmas shopping. While just four days before I had shopped for the two weeks, being sick we had depleted our 'sick' supplies and the little ones had used almost all of their two week diaper/wipe supplies in those four days.

One of the exciting things we found at the store is a local source for milk!!! I have not written about it much, but I am still trying to reduce the distance our food travels to our table. I won't ever be a local purist, but every little bit counts. I really thought that milk would be an area I would not have very much control over. I was so happy to find that there are some grocery stores in the area selling milk from a dairy farm in Hillsborough, a small town about 40 miles away. The price is decent; a bit more expensive than the store brand, but cheaper than organic. And, they even come in those old skool glass reusable quart and half-gallon bottles. I bought a quart to see how it stands up, and I will admit there is a slightly better, fresher taste to it.

Unfortunately, our wellness did not last and Thursday morning both Emily and Robbie woke up sick again. Which meant we had to cancel gymnastics for us as I could not find anyone available to drive the two big ones there. We did get our mantle all decorated...
I think it ended up very nice. My MIL stopped by in the afternoon to bring dinner to us and dropped off the angles that she had gotten the girls somewhere. They add very nicely to our lone Christmas display. Last night we enjoyed our first fire of the season in the fireplace.

I think we will have another day at home. No where we need to go and the little ones still seem out of sorts this morning. Our school semester is over as of today. Mary finished both her reader and math book earlier this week. In January she will move up a level for both of those. We will spend the next few weeks just reading books that we have out from the library.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Sick Days

This weekend we were invaded by a stomach bug that just wants to stretch out its stay forever. Slowly moving through each of us and lasting for several days. We have hung the quarantine sign and have holed up. Our gourmet meals consisting of gatorade, saltines and those lucky ones who can have chicken noodle soup.

Now it is Tuesday and I am so ready to be done with this. The kids have decided that free range through Noggin and the video drawer is starting to become quite boring. The whining, must admit by all of us, is getting louder. Must think of something special to celebrate once we are at least 85% again.



Friday, November 30, 2007

Another Week Down

Where does our time go? Every morning we are up with good intentions of getting so much done, and then suddenly it is dinnertime. But we made it through another week, surviving the week of zero balance in our bank account with no major troubles.

Monday it was cloudy, foggy, cold and rainy. A great day to stay inside and read a lot. We finished the first book in The Spiderwick Chronicle series. Mary has become so interested in this series that she insisted we make a trip to the library on Tuesday.

Thankfully, Tuesday was beautiful and warmish so we walked, Mary and Katie rode their scooters. We stopped and looked at the leaves, picking out several prime candidates to add to our leaf collection. At the library we joined several other families in just picking a big stack of picture books and finding a quiet corner to read in. I love our library. It isn't just some place to stop in and pick up books. You can stay and put your feet up, explore, engage and just enjoy. Alas, Emily went off to her own corner for, as she puts it "some privacy please", it was time to grab our load of books and go home before someone started following us around with a can of air freshener.

On the way home we came across some discarded branches from someone's Christmas tree. Deciding that we could make a great display on our mantle with them, we picked them up and brought home. So far, they are still sitting on our front porch. I got the mantle mostly cleared off, but need to dust -- and just have not gotten there yet.

Wednesday was Mary's piano lesson. This week they got two sheets of Christmas music to practice. She has almost nailed Jolly Old St. Nicholas, and is working on We Wish You a Merry Christmas and Jingle Bells - which both require two-hands simultaneously. But, she is practicing without any pushing by me - so it is good!!

After piano my MIL came by and picked up Mary and Katie to take them shopping for new Sunday dresses. I wished her luck, as I have looked and there isn't much out there for girls. She did find something for Katie, but Mary is difficult. Her size is really popular and the dresses are, well, yucky. It required a second trip on Thursday with just Mary to find something that was okay.

The timing was good, though. Mary had been invited to a special Manners Class taught be a friend of ours. It was a holiday party/manners class for her two daughters and we didn't have to pay the full fee, only having to chip in for the room rental and dinner. Last night Mary went downtown to one of the 'nicer' restaurants, which happened to be on the 28th floor of the building (apparently that was a big deal). Where they had a four-course meal and got tips on nice table manners. This was one of those dress-up occasions and Mary had just the right dress.

The best part was when she got home and we snuggled and she shared what they had to eat, talked about the bathroom and how it had all these perfumes and warm finger towels. She explained how one talks with mouth in their mouth and when your elbows can rest on the table.

Today is errand day. Our bank account has been refreshed and we are heading to Aldis to pick up supplies for the month. I received my new book The Last Child in the Woods yesterday so I am going to curl up with that as much as I am allowed. I already know that I will be writing about this book and encouraging anybody to find a copy of it.



Monday, November 26, 2007

A room to cook in

DH and I are actually stunned by how well the kitchen remodel went over the weekend. We knew doing anything would be an improvement. But, we didn't realize the we could actually do it as well as we did.

The old kitchen, looking its best a couple of years ago...
Old stove, cracked and peeling formica countertop, crappy too-small faucet and paneling. The kitchen is small. And, we cannot do much about that without a major remodeling job. But, when we bought the house nine-and-a-half years ago it was with the intention of doing something with the kitchen. Two years ago we did do the floors, but stopped there for awhile.

Well, we finally did the rest. Receiving the free new-old stove was the push we needed. This is the kitchen, almost done. After Christmas we will tackle re-painting the cabinets (I hate the cream color as it shows every bit of dirt, grime and fingerprints).

As you can see we are still cleaning up the grout residue. That will take a couple of days to clear up as it cures. As a celebration last night we got in there and made chocolate chip cookies. They tasted so good coming out of this kitchen.



Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving Projects

We've had a wonderful Thanksgiving and I hope everyone else has also. The weather could not have been anymore perfect on Thursday. The girls got a lot of playing outside time with their older cousins, I had plenty of help chasing Robbie around and keeping him out of things. My MIL, as also, put on a gut-busting spread of food. And FIL and I bonded over a discussion of how children are raised and educated today, and the disservice that we are doing to them and our society. If nothing else I am actually starting to sense that we have a homeschool supporter in that house.

Friday was project day for us. I am not a shopper, at all, and avoid stores on black Friday like the plague. I did have to make a trip to the Home Improvement Store, but even there it wasn't as bad as it could have been. By 9pm when I made the last trip there for the day, it was almost empty.

We were tackling the kitchen countertops this weekend.
Step one was to remove everything from the countertops, including the sink. We even removed the counters to get to the ugly, space consuming backsplash. While most of the kitchen is built with real, and nice, wood. The counters are thick particle board.

While the sink was out I remembered the new faucet I had bought four years ago on a super discount. So we are going to replace that also while the sink is out.
We measured and tried to figure out the best way to lay the tiles in our non-square house.

The big girls headed over to their sleepover party around 4:30, so I decided to round up the little ones and go back to the in-laws for round two. This would give DH some time to work uninterrupted. After we ate, I called to see how it was going, "Slowly". So, DH's brother decided to come over and help. Boy did they get a lot done in short time.

I brought the kids back for their bedtime and was sent out to pick up the last box of tile that they needed.

Today, we just need to grout. Put the sink back together. And, even more amazing DH and his brother talked and decided that this afternoon BIL will come back over to do the backsplash with DH. I didn't think I would get the backsplash done this year. This will leave me with just having to sand and paint the cabinets this winter.

Then it is time to begin thinking about our next project????
- chimney liner needs replacing
- kids bathroom needs a overhaul, including the subflooring (this needs everything - new counter, new sinks - etc.)
- The office/playroom needs to be repainted and new flooring.
- Convert the garage into some type of room (we are going to need a new bedroom at sometime)
- Screen in part of the back deck

At least this will be next year's project.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Feeling Unmotivated

We have hit a period of major non-motivation in this house. Excitement, thrilling lessons all of it has hit a "blah". It is no good when even the mommy can't get motivated. We were going to go for a walk today to look at the wonderful fall color we still have, but amazements of amazements we awoke to cold and wet weather. It didn't help the mood.

The fact that we made it to the arts & crafts store to pick up our display board for the Geography Fair was the big accomplishment of the day. The rest of the day, I feel as though I have spent referring and getting Robbie out of places he shouldn't be.

I even went to lay down on the sofa this afternoon and had three girls land on top of me. Wonderful, yes - until the fussing and personal space invasion that was bound to happen. Honestly 4pm and the public school kids home didn't come soon enough for me.

Tomorrow we stay home all day... I'm going to pull out the paints, some manipulatives and turn on the classic music - see where that takes us. We need a change from the status quo.


Friday, November 16, 2007

American Indian Heritage Education Day

The presentation and exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of History today was excellent! I ended up being able to take only Mary and Katie. When Emily woke up this morning she was spouting forth great gobs of nasal stuff, and I figured that no one would appreciate having her around. But, it was important to me that we didn't miss this, as this week we had already postponed a nature walk and missed Mary's piano class and soccer practice. So, Grandma saved us by coming over and watching the two little ones.

We started with a "Dance and Drum Exhibition". Who knew that NC has the largest population of Native Peoples east of the Mississippi?

The pictures are slightly blurry as my batteries were going dead and I didn't want to use the flash too much.

Everyone came out for the opening.

This is a grass stomping dance. This dance was done my teenage boys to flatten the grasses for meetings or gatherings.

This little boy was just awesome.

This woman was dancing a 'healing' dance. The emcee commented that historically the dress was made from buckskin and deer hooves, but now they make it with cloth and metal. The metal on the skirt are tin from the tops of chewing tobacco - flattened and then rolled up and individually sewn onto the skirt. The skirt, alone, weighs more than 25 pounds.

After the presentation we walked around and looked at some of the exhibits and talked with several of the artists. Mary was very interested in all the different styles of clay pot making. She learned that it can take 5-6 weeks to see a pot completed. The Cherokees use wooden paddles to imprint the clay pots, with different stylings representing different meanings.

The intricate bead work was so precise. Hundreds and thousands of hours in individual pieces of clothing. One artist quipped that I should just think about the time it would take if they still had to make their beads or use shells and quills.

We were also able to see the Lost Colony Exhibit as part of the day. I had already planned to take the girls as a follow-up to our trip this past September, so this was bonus that we could do it all at once.
The entrance to this exhibit was made to look like the wharfs of London, where the colonists would have picked up some last minute food for travel.
Mmmm, fresh lobster...

The next part of the exhibit did not allow photos. This area was set aside for prints and maps that John Smith made of his travels. Not only in the Americas, but also the Caribbean. I never realized how many pictures he did of animals, fish, birds and vegetation. These pictures introduced people of England to bananas, Frigate Birds, Grouper, Loggerhead Turtles...and the list goes on and on. I've already called my mom to tell her that we have to go back to this exhibit when I can enjoy it without being hurried.

Next was a model of a native village, or representation of what one around Roanoke Island would have looked.

Dinner anyone?

We missed the corn grinding, boo. But did enjoy the peace and quiet of it being later in the day and most of the school groups had already left.

The next room covered information about the Elizabethan Era and the Lost Colony Theater.

A chance to play dress-up.
Aren't those costumes exquisite? These pieces are now even more treasured. These are the costumes that are worn in the outdoor drama - The Lost Colony. On September 11 (yes, apparently a very bad day) of this year part of the theater on Roanoke Island burned - including the costume shop. With it costumes that were designed and made as far back as the 1930s. These costumes had just been loaned to the museum for this exhibit and were saved because of that.
What???? Stop trying to take my picture.

On the way out we also stopped to watch a man work on the dugout canoe. Well, he was putting out the embers for the day. But, did take some time to explain the process to Mary. We are thinking that we have some good logs in the backyard to try to make a miniature.

It was a really good afternoon.



Robbie Follow-up

We've stuck close to home since Wednesday. Robbie is doing much better, although still sleeping a bit more than normal. I think that is more a result of the cold. His fever broke during the day on Wednesday and has been nothing but normal since then.

I did take him to the doctor Wednesday as a follow-up. He showed no residual affects from the seizure and was happy as a clam. Still no visible signs of an illness other than a clear, runny nose. Unfortunately the doctor did mention that his high fever could have been an affect from the immunizations he received just the week before. Which makes me worry even more about what the vaccinations could be doing to him. Is he going to be the one I always worry about medically??

The good news is that it is unlikely, not improbable, but unlikely that he will have another seizure.

The weather has changed. It has gotten cold. Good cuddling weather. We have been devouring "Where the Sidewalk Ends", by Shel Silverstein. The girls are enjoying the fun poetry. Katie is all about writing and copying this week. She found an old phonics sticker book that has the different word-families with picture definitions and has been copying a page per day after we read them. I printed off a hundreds chart for Katie who is still struggling with getting her 'teen numbers' in the right order. She and Mary laid down on the floor and went over the chart together. It is so wonderful to watch them work together.

Mary and I are reading about Alexander the Great for history this week. She has also been spending a lot of time playing with manipulatives and the multiplication tables. She is back on her 'Sims' kick, this time with Sim Safari.

We need to get cracking on our presentation for the Geography Fair. It is only a couple of weeks away. This weekend I've got to go pick up the board - maybe that will help motivate us.

Today we are going to the NC Museum of History for a hands-on Native American exhibit and to see the new Lost Colony Exhibit. This should be fun and I am so glad Robbie is feeling better so we can make it.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Scare of my life

Robbie has had a cold since Sunday. Nothing to bad, just under the weather.

At 1:00 this morning he woke me up. I don't even remember what sound it was that he was making that woke me up. As I got closer to his room it dawned on me that he was making a really odd sound. I enter the room and could feel the heat coming off of him. And, this was with a dose of Ibueprofen before he went to bed. He was having a seizure! I have never had to deal with one of these before.

I woke DH up and he held him until it was over while I got a washcloth and we started trying to cool him off. The seizure stopped but it took Robbie so long to cry and respond to us in any sort of way we decided to make a trip to the ER. I called a neighbor mom, someone who would understand why i was calling at nearly 1:30 am to come over and sit with the other three.

Robbie's fever was 105 at the ER. They gave him several meds to bring the fever down and checked him out for pneumonia or any other type of infection. Thankfully they got it all under control and he has no infections, so just a viral cold. We came home two hours later, with Robbie and directions to double the fever reducer dose I was giving him.

This episode had to take several months off my life. I'm going to try to stay close to home today.



Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Kitchen Renovations

About six months ago we had a friend give us the old stove from her own kitchen renovation. In our house old is relative. Our stove/oven was original to the house, 40 years old. Her stove/oven, a much newer 12 years old. If we stay here long enough we will buy a new stove sometime, but the price was right on this one.

It has been sitting in the garage since last spring waiting on a free weekend. Well, last week the element in the old oven blew in spectacular fashion, and so it was finally this weekend that we could install the new one.

Our existing stove was a drop-in, hard-wired and about three-inches narrower than the new slide-in model.

Old stove removed, then we had to wire the new outlet to plug the stove into.

The nasty hole that was left. Yes we have paneling in the kitchen. Who put dark paneling in a kitchen???

DH trimming away the countertop. Not to worried about aesthetics here as the countertop will be addressed in phase 2 over the Thanksgiving holidays.

Almost done...

New stove in. I was so excited over the added storage area - giggling and all about someplace to actually store the pizza pan and cookie sheets. It is the little things for me. The kids were excited that there is an oven light and that they can actually watch the food bake.

The added cooking space is great. Yesterday we baked muffins and could fit both muffin tins in at the same time. I have two large burners so no more cooking dinner in shifts, or trying to cook something on too small of a burner.

We have been cleaning sawdust off of everything. It is amazing where that stuff will settle.

In a week-and-a-half we will be tiling the countertop and backsplash. Good-bye 30 yr old laminate and paneling. After the Christmas holidays I will be attacking the cabinets with paint. No more white kitchen cabinets!!!



Friday, November 09, 2007

What great idea

Someone linked this page on using Bubble Wrap to insulate windows on the Frugal Village board I visit often.

These sounds like such a great frugal idea to help with the heat loss we experience. Our bedrooms are all on the North-East corner of the house, and they will get cold in the winter. During the day I can keep the heat down at 62/64 degrees since we only use two rooms, but some nights last winter it seemed as if the heater ran all night just to keep the house at 67 degrees. I already use heavy winter curtains and shades, but feel like I need more.

With our limited budget this is something we can afford to do. If I hadn't been giving the kids the bubble wrap we have gotten recently to play with I could probably do this for free. Oh well, I'm shopping today and will pick up a roll.



Train Ride

DH heard about an organization in a nearby small town that does train rides on weekends. Just a little mile or two-mile loop. But, enough for the kids to really enjoy a TRAIN RIDE. My goodness, you would have thought that Santa had come early this year when DH mentioned he wanted to take the kids on this.

Saturday, after the soccer game, I headed out to do a little shopping for Christmas (each paycheck I'm picking up one or two items to spread out the pain). On my way back from dropping the gifts at my in-laws house, DH calls to let me know that there is a 4:00 ride. I am so not excited about this. I am worn out from stores and shopping and calculating prices in my head. So, he tells me that if I can just bring the van home he will take ALL of them. Yes, 4 children on the train ride. A completely empty house for me!! Hear the angels sing.

Everyone was a little chilled by the time they came home - but had a great time. I got a nap, and some reading and fixed dinner. It was great for everyone.



Thursday, November 08, 2007

More Thoughts

I re-read my last post and to me it really felt like I was so stressed and anxious about the future. And, I am in some ways...but, in others I am not. There is a part of me that actually feels that a recession that makes the majority of consumers in our culture re-examine the important things in life is a good thing. What makes me the most angry about the whole thing are the economist who are so unattached to 'normal' life that they can go on and on about how things are not that bad.

I pulled back out my copy of Crunchy Cons, by Rod Dreher, for a little bedtime reading last night. And, again I came across a passage I had underlined in an earlier reading that just makes so much sense:

"The tragic flaw of Western economics is that it is based on exploiting and encouraging greed and envy. Schumacher gave the devil his due, though, admitting that these "are not accidental features, but the very cause of its expansionist success." Why a tragic flaw? Because an economy grown from these poisonous seeds is bound to destroy the community of which it is a part.
Our liberty and prosperity have made us feeble, because the things we've forgotten to conserve in the rush to riches were the very virtues necessary to build a stable society. Does anyone really believe that we can grow our way out of our problem? Is another tax cut, gimmicky educational scheme, or entitlement reform - or whatever glorious program the Republican Party promises will call down the New Jerusalem - going to save marriages, restore children to their parents, heal the land, renew the commonweal? Come on."

If people could really see beyond the media and government cover-up of what is going on in our economy. If people (and I am using a very broad sense of people here as I do know there are those who get it) could accept that our culture is sitting at a crossroads and we need to decide which path we are going to tread. Then I believe that our culture and economy and people (worldwide) could come through with so much more. In the late '70s, during the last energy crisis, President Jimmy Carter stood up and basically told the nation that WE needed to take responsibility and change our ways. Unfortunately, that wasn't what the nation wanted to hear then and I am guessing that there are people who don't want to acknowledge that it is up to us. Not the Government, not the United Nations and really not even big business.

Other people in the world march and demand changes on so much less. They are willing to stand up against the threat of death for what they believe. And, by and large, our countrymen and women won't even vote with their wallet. Instead, we shrug our shoulders and believe we can't do anything about it.

I chose not to work. I could probably walk out the door today and find a full-time job doubling our income. But with that comes a lot of other expenses and a loss of our family unity. So instead I work at finding how I can affect changes and save money within our household. The gas prices have gone up obscenely. Since I can't make the oil producers and refineries change their prices I have to look in other ways to save. I only drive three days a week if I can help it and combine errands while I am already out for activities, this is hard because we live in suburbia with non-existent public transportation and limited sidewalks. We've started getting exercise walking to the grocery store, dollar store, and library (each about a mile each way). I've scouted out a new dentist I want to try that is also in walking distance. These walks have been wonderfully refreshing and a great joy with the children. It stops being about the errand we are running, but more about the journey to get there.

I could go hog wild with Christmas and birthdays. But, I like the challenge of only giving the children a few things. Instead I am looking for tradition/activity ideas to give them instead. Memories to hang on to. And, I am not a 'holiday' person so this is hard for me. But I feel that it is more important than any sort of singing Elmo I could buy.

Not working, limited driving and avoiding consumerism are financial considerations, but the results of doing them really take us back to the center of life. Imagine if only 50% of our population jumped off the hamster wheel of 'life' to explore other options.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Sometimes I wish I was an Ostrich

Lately I've been watching the oil prices climb and the stock market recede. It pulls me and sucks me in like having to rubberneck when you pass those highway accidents. I tell myself that really we are talking about Wall Street not Main Street and try to move on with my day. Then I hit the grocery store and my jaw drops at the rising prices on the food - and there is the link. It is quite spectacular watching gas prices climb at a rate of 10c to 15c per gallon each and every day.

In the '90s I was particularly outspoken about the economic crisis we, as a culture were setting ourselves up for. Yet, most found me to be on the level with the Brickyard Preacher (the dude that would hang out at my college yelling for us to repent or burn in hell). But the dot com crash came and went, then the 9/11 fallout - and the world didn't stop spinning. Spend more money, buy more stuff. A philosophy I really detest, by the way.

Today, there is something else happening. And, I have to scream about it - yell about it. Because I'm tired of thinking about it. They tell us there is "no recession, no chance for depression." And those that speak these words do so from a yearly income of 6-figures. I challenge one of them to come live on less then $60K a year.

These last two years, especially 2007, have been horrifically pinching for the working middle class. Some seem to float through it with almost no effects - until you look at their credit card bills. Others, and I want to put myself here, are really trying to make it on our yearly income. We've decided that we don't want credit card debt, so we are not using them. Everything runs through our checking account. And, there just never seems to be enough. I'm working at finding the holes that money is slipping through now so I can fill them. But, I don't have high hopes for 2008. I'm just wondering what it is going to be to break our financial backs.

Not all our changes are for financial reasons. I've been convicted over the last couple of years to become more and more anti-consumer. We are burning the world at our feet over our wants and desires. This week at the doctor's when I was asked the standard question over whether or not I think Robbie has been exposed to lead, for the first time I had to stop and think about my answer. We have city water, our house doesn't have lead paint - but we have a pile of toys made in who-knows-where. And, I just don't know anymore.

Christmas is knocking at our door, and with it two birthdays just a couple weeks before - we have a small budget this year. The kids are getting three presents each, period. I've asked the family to pool their money for the kids into one large outdoor present. I refuse to go bankrupt for a holiday.

To pay for Christmas and DH's gas to and from work I've decided it is time to eat from our stockpile. This is my comfort place. Money in the bank for me against a disaster, but it is time to pull our resources in and cut way, way back on our outgoing money. We have enough food to eat well for a month, and nutritiously for three or four.

If you think I'm coming from left field think about the recent big news stories over this year:
~ rising gas prices (DH alone is spending $300/month to just go to work)
~ tainted, well everything, coming from China (and probably a lot of other emerging countries in which our corporations are pinching more and more for the bigger profits)
~ major drought here in the southeast (my garden was a dismal failure and I struggled to get good quality from the local farmer's markets all season)
~ Staple foods rising in prices in the range of 20%-30% over periods of a couple of months (convenience foods have remained relatively stable in pricing because they have so little 'real' food in them - this isn't a good omen for where our diet is heading)
~ National deficit rising by billions of dollars so that we can send that same money all over the world in forms of aid (or in my thinking bribery)
~ Foreclosures and bankruptcies all over the place because people were convinced that they deserved and could afford more, more , more and bigger, bigger, bigger

So, like I said I wish I was an ostrich and could stick my head in the sand and let this all kind of roll over. But, there is another part of me that thinks that what our culture needs is more interaction with our neighbors, more local living, more dependency on each other and more grace given. I don't know what the future holds but I'm going to try my best.


Friday, November 02, 2007

Latest Creation

No not him...although he is the latest model.

The hat! I crocheted that over the last couple of nights. I followed the directions to make it Mary-size, but it was still too small. Looks pretty good on him, though.

He fell asleep after finishing his lunch, so the girls figured they better cover him up to keep warm.



Must blog...Something

I've been taking a semi-voluntary sabbatical from the computer this week. A lot has been going on, but not much I can share here...and not too much school-wise. We've managed to do the basics this week, or at least Tuesday through Thursday. Monday, the big girls were at my friend's house until 3 and got home just in time to change and go back out with my SIL to a Halloween party. As far as today, I will be happy to finish off the week with the basics. We can get back to everything else next week.

I have gotten the video camera working!!! Which means the girls have been in hog heaven outside filming themselves. I've been giving them pointers like to make sure they don't move the camera around really fast, to keep it pointed at what they are filming and to make sure they stop recording between shots. We have about 15 minutes of ground shots right now and a few minutes of what I am calling 'scootercam' (Mary riding her scooter with the camera taping.) I am excited about adding this tool to our homeschool. It will give both the girls an outlet to share their passions.

Our Halloween was great. A friend came over with her children and we all went around the neighborhood about 6pm. Emily tried so hard to keep up with everyone. When we came back Mary decided that she wanted to be the one to hand out candy, so she and daddy set up chairs and pumpkins at the end of the driveway. I think she had more fun visiting with everyone than actually trick-or-treating.

With Halloween over, now our eyes turn to the Christmas holiday. DH stopped by our local grocery store on the way home last night and they already have their Christmas tree, decorations and are playing seasonal music. Katie started asking yesterday when she could go see Santa. I am not ready for it yet this year...

The kids want eggs...must go.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Crazy Weekends

I guess I am just one of those wacky people, but our weekends are always much more stressful than our weeks. I look forward to Mondays. Sundays are downright painful for me now. This weekend was just exciting, fun-filled and exhausting.

After my last post on Thursday, I have even more wonderfully sad milestones to note. Emily, after many, many months of semi-potty training and taking breaks from the process. Has decided that she wants to be BIG, "like Katie". This means that she will now wear underwear, something she absolutely and emphatically refused just a few weeks ago. She knows the process and will wear undies - hopefully, soon she will put the two together. But we are getting there. And, yes she isn't a baby no more - as she tells me.

And, speaking of the baby, sniff sniff. The baby is walking. The end of last week he started taking a few stumbling steps. Saturday as I sat on the sofa I kept hearing him laughing in the hallway. Robbie has this wonderful deep tummy giggle. I get up to check on him, and there he is... taking a step and laughing, taking another step and laughing. By last night he was taking five to eight steps between DH and I. And, he will hold on to one of my hands and just walk and walk.

Here is the picture I promised of Mary's gappy smile. The next tooth is already wiggling and if I could get her to eat a candy apple she will have a bigger hole there.

It has been a big week for us - first lost tooth, potty training and first steps.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

The best part of my days

are spent watching the kids play. Sometimes together and sometimes apart. I am sitting here late tonight looking over an entire Little People village. A place Emily has spent the greater part of her day. It is a great and wonderful gift I have received to be here with her, and the rest, each and every day to watch them grow, change and make sense of the world they live in.

It isn't just watching Emily in her pretend play, it also their outside play, the plays, shows and dances they perform. Each child at their own stage of development - each giving me a precious insight to themselves.

Too soon children are asked to grow up, put away their childhood and become little adults. Homeschooling protects that childhood just a little bit longer. Learning and play cannot, and should not, be removed from each other.

We were reminded today of how short childhood is and how quickly the children are growing. Mary has hit another milestone today - she lost her first baby tooth. This has been a much awaited event for her, but oh too quickly for me. I'm sad and excited, much more so than I imagined I would feel about a simple tooth. I'll post pictures tomorrow.


More days like today

I am loving the gray, drizzly, cooler weather. After six straight months I was tired of the sun, and I think the local weatherpeople were getting a little concerned about their jobs. Not much to forecast when it is sunny & hot every single day...

DH took one of his days off today. Getting to that time of the year where they start hounding him to use some of days off. Since he is in the house I've been pushed aside by the children...not complaining. He took the big girls to gymnastics, allowing me to stay home and waste time on the computer.

I've got Caribbean-style black bean soup in the crockpot for dinner tonight. Hoping to bake a loaf of bread this afternoon to go with it. And, laundry is getting washed and dried.

I've also been online trying to find some solution to my camcorder problem. I ordered what Sony told me to order - and surprise, surprise it doesn't fit. Nope, same type that I could have bought at the half-dozen local stores I went shopping before talking to Sony. My last gasp effort before giving up and trying to buy another new-used camera on Ebay, is to post a wanted for the cable on Freecycle. I'll see if anything comes of it.

Time to empty the dishwasher while I have no 'helpers'.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rainy Wednesday

We were rained out of the "Native Life" classes Mary and Katie were to attend today. We badly, badly need the rain and will make-up the class later.

We didn't make it to Piano class either, as there was a very nasty thunderstorm banging around at the time we needed to go. The kids made the best of the situation:

We've also painted - mainly paper plates to look like pumpkins. I wish I could have taken pictures of that, but my girls decided that painting is an "au natural" activity. Especially after participating in a mud fight outside shortly before.

We are living up to the blog title today.



Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tuesday at home

We got to stay home today!!! Yeah

So, we were able to play catch up on some work and projects we have not been able to get to with all our running around. Kitchen chemistry was the big deal today. It was Mary's project, but everyone was excited to watch the litmus testing. Last week we read the chapter on acids and bases in our chemistry text, but never got a chance to do our experiment. This experiment was particularly interesting for me, as I did a science fair project on household acids and bases when I was in the 3rd grade.

I found the set of red and blue litmus at the local school supply store to be inexpensive and we used clean baby food jars to hold seven different substances found around the house.

Katie is still enjoying using her new math book. She asks to do math every day.

Mary is beginning multiplication in her math book. Today it was so nice she took it outside where it was "quieter".


Our Homeschool Today

I checked in at Denim Jumper today and someone was asking for pictures of our 'homeschool'.

We've been homeschooling 'officially' for two years. But, my collection of homeschool materials dates back to even before I was born. My mother was an elementary school teacher turned media coordinator. My home was always filled with books (free reading and research), games, art supplies and manipulatives, and I have just continued this style of decorating.

We don't have a particular homeschool area - we just do 'school' wherever it seems right at the time. I have tried to corral most of my materials in certain areas, but I consider everything in our house a resource - including the kid's toys.

Once I saw the request I took pictures of what it looks like at this time - halfway through our day. I wish I could say that it is generally cleaner, or more organized. But, I won't lie to you. What it looks like today is actually better than normal. But, this works for us. And, we are too busy having fun to worry about clutter normally.

We split the den so that the back half is our office/homeschool storage area. Here are the two desktop computers. The larger desk is also my home office.

Another view showing the bookshelves and the 'quiet' area (the desk in the back corner). With all of us in a little space, we need somewhere a person can go to work in quiet.

The 'quiet' desk and our calendar. The desk also serves as the weekly stacking area. What we are currently working on is kept here.

This bookshelf stores this year's books. It also holds the vast majority of our school supplies, arts & crafts supplies and science stuff.

This unit holds a lot of the board books for the younger set. The baskets hold math and phonics manipulatives and games.

Our kitchen table. The number two spot in the house to find us working. The family room-kitchen-eating area is basically one room, and where we spend the majority of our indoor time.

The Family Room...this is homeschool central for us. The sofa is almost constantly in use. This bookshelf holds a lot of children's books that my mom gave me from her years in 1st and 2nd grade classrooms. These are books that don't fit in the girls' room. I also have some reference books and general workbooks/coloring books for when the children want those. This is also the home of our music library. There is another bookshelf on the other side of the room which holds my books (household, cookbooks, general reads), games, puzzles and various preschool materials.

The girls like to hang their stories, pictures and other things they find interesting on this wall. My Robbie being all cute and having his lunch while I run around and take pictures.

Our coffee table in the family room. This adjustable-height, folding table was bought specifically for this purpose. Marker and crayon easily come off this surface. There is the old, beat-up laptop that I use when children take over the office computers.

I think of this area as our 'prechool'. The younger ones spend a lot of their time here. They can draw at the coffee table, play with their toys. Puzzles and games are kept in the corner.

That is generally it - although other areas of our house are just as important to our schooling - the kitchen for chemistry and home economics, the garage for big projects and the great outdoors for nature studies and general running around.


A family of six living and learning. You might catch us outside in the mud or working on crafts. We always seem to be on the go, come on and join us.