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.
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.
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.
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.