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.


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.