Thanksgiving Homeschool

Thanksgiving

While the turkey thaws in the refrigerator, we are resting.

This is not the type of resting where one lies immobile on the couch. This is a rest that is a cessation of one thing so that we can practice another.

We are not opening our McGuffey’s, or our Ray’s, but we are still learning, learning, learning all of the time.

What sorts of things can children learn while waiting for a holiday?

They can learn to climb a tree.

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They can learn to hold still for a silly picture.

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They can do something “crafty.”

Crafty Crown

They can read a book.

Elliereading lfm

Or they can have a book read to them.

Mom reading to the little girls

They can take the time to practice some skill, like photography.

fallen leaves

Bare trees

Or…they can help cook, clean, and get ready for the big day!

Large Family Mothering Talks Turkey

TURKEY

I once thought that cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for eight people was a huge undertaking.

It’s been a long time since we had that few people to dinner. Currently there are eleven people that get fed at almost every meal, and at one point there were 15! (We’ve never had all of our children living with us at one time–there is a span of 26 years between our first child and our last child.)

Still, Thanksgiving can pose even our seasoned family logistical problems, especially since this meal demands many different and specific dishes to be prepared, and also because our family grows slightly on that day.

For one thing, just how does one keep a 22-pound turkey hot and ready to serve for that many people? How does one prepare so many different dishes for such a crowd in a normal-sized kitchen with only a limited number of cooking vessels? How does one deal with the extra refrigerator space? How does one fit such a huge meal into the food budget?

First of all, let me just say that this is where getting ahead really, really is a necessity. If you have a family of four it may just be doable to wait until Thanksgiving day to do a mega-cook of everything, but with any more than a few people to cook for, the day can become an amazing marathon that would break any triathlon athlete!

Here’s how I have dealt with some of the above problems:

Turkey:

After many years of suffering through a meal with cold, dry turkey, I finally came up with a solution that my family seems to love. I simply cook the turkey the day before using my electric roaster (if you don’t have an electric roaster and you have a large family, be sure and put this marvelous kitchen appliance on your wish list! Using the roaster makes it possible to use the oven for other things).  I then carve the turkey and refrigerate the meat.

On the day of the feast I place the cooked turkey in a large crock pot along with a generous amount of gravy. This way the turkey stays hot and “moist” when it is served.

As for the other dishes:

I try and do my baking days, even up to a week, ahead of time. I might take one day to bake a mega batch of special sweet rolls (which we will have to sample for that day’s dinner!), and another to bake a bunch of pies (our favorites are cherry and pumpkin). These I freeze and pull out and warm/defrost on the day.

lfmpies

With my oven free for the day, I can use it to bake a sweet potato dish, the green-bean casserole, and the stuffing.

I then have the stove top free for the corn and mashed potatoes.

Keeping things warm:

I have already explained how I keep the turkey warm. This year I have an extra crock pot, so I am planning on placing the mashed potatoes in it.  The other dishes will be covered with either a lid or tin foil, and then wrapped up in kitchen linens to keep in the heat until serving time. Of course, the microwave will stand ready and available as well!

Oh, and before I forget, we don’t serve our food from the table. If you look at this picture you will see why:

lfmTo put all of the food in the middle of this long dinning surface (it is ten feet) would mean endless yelling and confusion. No, we skip this part and serve everything buffet-style!

Refrigerator space:

We love to have a fresh veggie spread at our feast, but finding room for a tray in the fridge is next to impossible. This is why we prepare the tray items the day before and stick them in the fridge in ziplocs. Then it is a simple job to give a middle-ager (from eight to twelve years old) to get everything out and arrange it. The turkey can be put up in the fridge, ready to go into the crock, in ziplocs as well.

As for the budget:

This is the time of the year to stock up on turkey meat; not often we see any meat under $1 a pound any time! This makes the meal a lot more affordable, but it can still be a challenge. Feeding a large crowd on this day can cost anywhere from $50 to $100!

Of course, many of the items on our menu are ones that I keep stocked regularly in our pantry, which I try and purchase at rock-bottom prices throughout the year. Stores often over-stock seasonal items, so later in the year I find deals. For instance, this summer I found cans of pumpkin and other pie fillings for 25 cents each, with “best by” dates at least a year out! These will be used for this year’s pies, and I will be on the lookout for special deals for next year’s meal after the holidays as well.

Also, consider that this meal has the potential of turning into a number of others; turkey sandwiches, turkey soup, pumpkin pie for breakfast (I’m sure that we are not the only family that does this–it’s better than cereal!), etc.

What about all the work?

Fortunately, many people also means there are many hands to help! Even little children can perform tasks such as folding napkins, setting the table, and simple cleaning jobs. Mine are often so excited that they are more than willing to help. My older daughters love decorating and setting the table, and my young men enjoy helping with the “big stuff” like carrying frozen turkeys and carving them when they are done.

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TIP:

If you are a mom that is struggling with morning sickness, new baby, moving, etc., don’t feel badly if you need to resort to convenience this year. Go ahead and buy the rolls, the pies, etc. and spend your time relaxing and enjoying your family.

This holiday is not about being perfect, it’s about being thankful!

O give thanks unto the LORD, for he is

 

 

 

Large Family Stress Reduction: Facing it!

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This post is not about looking one’s responsibilities straight in the eye, although that is a good subject to cover!

No, this post will be all about creating a “neat” out of a mess!

In case you missed the other recent posts in this same vein, try Large family mtress reduction: streamlining, and Large family crisis reduction: getting ahead, part 1 and part 2

First, we will take a tour. Grab your coat, your purse, your umbrella, your diaper bag, and just anything else you need and come along….

Our first stop will be at a hotel lobby that is delightful, albeit a bit busy:

There is a lot of pattern here, which makes the room cozy and warm, and yet there is very little clutter. The furniture is arranged well, the surfaces are clear.

Next, we will look into a bedroom in a real home:

Although the picture is not of the highest quality, it is interesting to note how tidy things look, isn’t it? The books are neatly stacked, the tables are nearly clear, the bed is neatly made.

Here is an example of a neat child’s closet:

Don’t you want to breathe a sigh of relief when you view this photo? There is a place for everything, yet there is still room for more. Even the hangers are neatly spaced apart, and the clothes are hung according to length (you can learn more by visiting the blog this was taken from, Living Well Spending Less).

Lastly, we will visit a department store:

This photo is taken of a Fredmeyer store. It includes a sea of different aisles filled with a dizzying number of products, yet it is all very, very neat and organized.

And now we come to the end of the tour, and finally to the reason for the post!

When I was a young girl, I worked in a retail store in the shoes and men’s-wear departments. It was eye-opening to see just how quickly everything became messy, especially if there was a terrific sale going on. If men’s jeans were on sale, at the end of the night we would enter into the dressing room and find unwanted pants piled three feet high in some places! Of course, a big portion of my job was to keep things neat and tidy, because everyone knows that potential customers are turned off by chaos and mess. In fact, we were reminded to “face” the shelves and the racks on a regular basis throughout the day.

In case you don’t know what “facing” means, just read this from Wikipedia:

Facing (also known as blocking, zoning, straightening, or conditioning) is a common tool in the retail industry to create the look of a perfectly stocked store (even when it is not) by pulling all of the products on a display or shelf to the front, as well as down stacking all the canned and stacked items. It is also done to keep the store appearing neat and organized.

The workers who perform this task normally have jobs doing other things in the store such as customer service, stocking shelves, daytime cleaning, bagging and carry outs (in grocery stores), etc. In some stores, however, facing is done only by the stockers. Facing is generally done near closing time when there are fewer customers and also while the store is completely closed. In busier stores it may be done constantly.

In department stores it may be referred to as recovery, as in the store is recovering from the rush of customers that affect the model appearance the store wants to portray. Merchandise may be put in the wrong area, or customers may leave debris on the floor. Correcting these issues is a part of the recovery process.

Did you catch all of that? “Facing” keeps things “appearing neat and organized.” Retailers have always known that shoppers will come by more often, stay longer, and purchase more if stores are neat and clean. Families are just as important, if not more important, than store customers (the people we take care of are actually our “clients,” aren’t they?).

Just how does this apply to the large family home?

Well, for one thing, no matter how we try and keep a lid on clutter, large families still need a lot of “stuff” to survive each day. Minimalists may get away with keeping only one pair of shoes by the door, but maximalists (big families) need to have a number of pairs handy; in our home that currently means 11, and at one time it meant 15!

We have to have 11 glasses, 11 plates, 11 forks and spoons, for each dinner. We need 11 coats, 11 pairs of mittens, 11 caps whenever we want to go out. Our eight beds need sheets and pillowcases, blankets and pillows. There are 11 towels that are used daily for personal hygiene, 11 toothbrushes that are (hopefully) used.

So, even though it is important to get rid of unwanted items in order to simplify and create ease in cleaning and maintaining a home, mothers of many still have to find ways to deal with loads of important, even essential, items everyday in such a way that the family can still enjoy peace and comfort.

Here are some ways to keep all of the flotsam and jetsam of life in order:

How to Face Your House_ “Ease of use” means most used items in the front, on the top, etc. to keep everything from being disheveled every time someone has to rummage for something.

Things that need to be “faced”:

  • Toothbrushes and paste and other personal care items (such as brushes and combs, barrettes, make-up and perfumes, etc.)
  • Towels and linens
  • Shoes
  • Clothes
  • Books
  • Toys
  • Dishes
  • Canned and dry goods
  • Homeschool supplies

Of course, it is not just Mother who needs to keep things orderly, it is the job of the entire household. While it is wonderful to have children who automatically understand how to make things look “neat,” and I have actually had a few of those, every family has a few who were unable, or unwilling, to catch on. Just what do you do with a child (children) like this? Here are a few ideas:

  • Minimize the possible messy items for this person. Don’t allow him/her to keep four toothbrushes, or sixteen tubs of Lego’s. Be brutal and bring things to a minimum; it will mean a better relationship for the both of you!
  • Take the time and/or expense to have some cheap bins available which are clearly labeled according to their expected contents, then make sure you inspect regularly to make sure they are placed correctly (nothing more disgusting than to find a molded apple or orange in the bin of socks!).
  • Take a closet or cupboard, organize and face it, then take a picture of it, print it out, and post it inside so that a young (or old) learner will see what it should look like.
  • Take a cue from retailers and have regular “facing” times, then offer a reward for neatness!
  • Have the children do a “general” job, then go in and finesse it yourself (I do this as therapy some days–I do not consider it a sickness!).

Some sites that will help and inspire:

Organizing Junkie–this one is so much fun–I salivate just looking at the photos!
Among others, here is a very interesting post from iheart Organizing that discusses taking what you already have and making it look more appealing.

Here is a Pinterest page chock-full of amazing ideas and inspiration from all over the Blogosphere!

What sites inspire you?

Large Family Stress Reduction: Streamlining

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It could be said that most of our time is spent dealing with all of our “stuff”we have to shuffle it around, polish it, maintain it, categorize it, pick it up, stow it, etc. This is only exacerbated when your family has been multiplied by love!

There are days when it seems to take forever just to pick up the rooms, not to mention being able to move things around so that a deep cleaning can occur. Children and parents alike are carrying loads of stress, and they are not getting along well, and everyone is looking around for some deep spiritual or emotional reason when it may due to a single, heinous culprit; clutter!

Clutter is not just the row of figurines on a shelf or the stack of unread mail on the counter, it is also anything we have added to our lives that actually subtracts from them. This can include:

  • Craft supplies
  • Toys
  • Complicated machines
  • Complicated schedules
  • “Bells and whistles”
  • Electronic media
  • Entertainment
  • Furnishings
  • Kitchen gadgets
  • Activities
  • People
  • Curriculum

Let’s face it; “extras” aren’t always extra. How many things do you find yourself sighing over, or stumbling over, or worrying over without thinking. Is it really necessary to keep every picture a child creates and place it on the fridge? Who says our children must have five pairs of shoes a piece? Is it really wise to try and fit 8000 square feet of furniture into a 1000 square foot house? How many grocery bags do I really need to save? How many old toothbrushes will I really use to clean around the toilet? Will my children be stunted if we are not running from one activity to the other all week long? Will the church close its doors if we are not there every single meeting? Will we cease to exist if we do not have enough i-gadgets? Will our children really go crazy if we don’t allow them to play video games?

This is what this mom of many has learned over many, many years caring for many, many people; the direct route is usually the best route, so

Keep itExamples:

  • My washing machine has a control panel with more buttons than the space shuttle, but I only use two cycles. My refrigerator also has a control panel with more neon than Las Vegas at night, but I only pay attention to what kinds of ice I want; chipped or cubed!
  • My morning routine fits nicely into a zip-bag, my wardrobe consists of six shirts and six skirts (with a few outfits for special occasions), I wear one pair of shoes in the winter, one in the summer.
  • I have four tabs that I keep track of on my browser; the others I add or subtract as necessary. I keep up with only 5-6 blogs, I keep Facebook to no more than 20 minutes a day.
  • We have four breakfast choices, lunch is sandwiches, and there are about eight different dishes that I plan for dinner, and all of these are rotated as needed (as long as these bases are covered, we are free to add something special if we want to).
  • Outside activities are very few; only the ones where we are truly contributing and learning.
  • I floundered around for years homeschooling with different methods and materials until I discovered the most direct route: Eclectic Education materials (like the McGuffey readers, Ray’s Arithmetics, and Long’s Language), “living” books, and notebooking.
  • I love beautiful things, but even these can become burdens. I keep a few choice items set out, but I tend to think that a few fabulous decorations are much better than a horde of ticky-tacky curios and momentos.

Besides pairing life down, I am also a huge fan of purging (I call this having “pitch and burn” sessions). In fact, writing this post is reminding me of all of the things I need to go through very soon…

  • Glasses and dishes–you know, the ones that are chipped, or stained, or awkward, or simply ugly!
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Our stack of dishes is too heavy for a top cabinet!
  • Shoes–the season change is a good time to go through and check the condition and sizes of shoes, then keep a list of who needs what for those spontaneous garage-sale times, etc.
  • Clothes–this also comes with the seasonal change. We pass our clothes down as much as possible, but there are times when things just wear out (or we have kept things that are awful looking in the hopes that hanging them in the closet will somehow improve them).
  • Papers–this is a big one for me, since I tend to hate detest abhor dislike going through piles of bills and the like, and filing seems like running in place.
  • Food–have you ever bought a can of lima beans thinking that somehow you would be able to sneak them into a pan of soup, but your children are too astute so that your plans are foiled, then you keep that can of lima beans in the cupboard for five years, always trying to bring it to the front so that you will be reminded to use it but push it to the side in favor of the green beans? Well, purging helps me come to grips with the fact that 1) spending money on food my family will not eat is wasteful, and 2) if I ever make a mistake and purchase something distasteful, I should have the sense to donate it before the “best by” date so that someone else can enjoy it!

In order to do a good job of purging, I have to get in the mood, so I actually have a playlist on YouTube which I have labeled “Cleanin’ Music,” which is lined up with get going tunes. I get containers and bags ready, and I even sit beforehand and write out a general plan, with assignments for all of my “volunteers”!

Some people say you can streamline in small snatches of time, but I tend to need a few days in which I dig in and don’t stop until I get to the bottom of it all (my poor husband reads the signs and finds a place to hide when I begin a deep-clean session).

It takes a lot of work to take one’s home apart and put it back in order, but the results are so astoundingly refreshing it gets me excited!

Off to change my little corner of the world…

You can find out more about reducing large family stress here and here.

 

5 Reasons Homemakers Should Love the Internet

Reasons Why Homemakers Should Love theThere are many good things, such as food, that can be used for all of the wrong reasons.

The Internet is one of these good, but often misused, things. If one does not exercise self discipline, it can become a catalyst for self-destruction.

However, if one has a life outside of the Net, and if one has a dire need for what the World Wide Web has to offer, then the Internet is a real boon!

And this is especially true for homemakers.

When I was a little girl, full-time homemaking was the norm, not the exception. My own paternal grandmother stayed home long after her own children were grown, baking cookies, gardening, sewing, juicing (this was in the late 60’s-early 70’s and my grandfather was convinced carrot juice would keep him healthy), and making sure there was a good meal of meat and potatoes ready when her husband returned home from a long day’s work. No one thought to accuse her of being lazy or unproductive, she was just doing her duty, and she had the knowledge and encouragement of untold generations of women to back her up.

Flash forward about 40 years or so, and now young women are coming into their own in the midst of a society that is antagonistic towards women who stay at home. It’s so hard not to feel discouraged, or alone, or simply ignorant, when it comes to homemaking.

Enter–the Internet!

Want to read more? Hop on over to Raising Homemakers where I am sharing today.

 

Raising Homemakers

How to Save Your Grocery Budget From the “Feast or Famine” Cycle

How to Save Your Food Budget From The

Challenging circumstances do happen to good, God-fearing people.

They occur to those folks whose hearts are pure before Him. These difficult seasons can be a time of training and blessing, so that God can feed us from His precious promises and clothe us in His abundant grace.

But there is also a place for careful management of what we have. In our family, after reviewing our monthly budget, we set aside a specific amount to be expended for groceries. I understand that, if I do not manage these funds well, there are no extra dollars for me to spend; I must live within these boundaries.

Without a plan or a budget there is a tendency for a family manager to drag her whole family through a “feast or famine” routine. See if you recognize it:

Since the family has been living on ramen noodle soup and bologna at the end of the month, everyone by this time is craving wholesome food. Before the money is placed into Mom’s hands, everyone is begging for the meat, fresh fruits, vegetables and special treats which have been absent from their diet over the past week or so. Even Mom’s eyes are big as she salivates over the steaks that are “on sale” in the local grocery store ads. “Wouldn’t it be fun to have some friends over for grilled salmon, after all, it is at a rock-bottom price this week!” she muses.

So she goes to the store, with a purse full of coupons, and almost spends the entire budget, filling the cart with all sorts of special items that she knows will make everyone at home very happy.

In just a few weeks, after all of the pre-made, expensive foods have been consumed, she’s back in the store again.

This time she is filling her basket up with oatmeal, potatoes, peanut butter, and baloney. The children come to the table and groan with discontent. Her hungry husband breaks the budget by charging lunch at work—which plunges the family’s finances further into the red.

Then, the next month, the whole process begins all over again.

Want to find out more? Jump on over to Free Homeschool Deals where I am sharing today.

 

Large Family Stress Reduction: Getting Ahead {Part 2}

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In my last installment in this series, Large family crisis reduction: getting ahead {part 1}, we discussed the basic ideas behind doing things ahead, or, as Don Aslett puts it, creating a “frontlog” instead of a “backlog.”

Of course there are times when even the best of plans are interrupted, and this is where faith is exercised.

LFM, Caution sign

However, if we are in the habit of keeping ahead wherever possible, we have less trouble getting back on track when things return to “normal” (whatever that means!).

Really and truly, time is one of my most precious commodities, so I am constantly looking for ways to use it more wisely. Although it can seem as though the rest of the world, you know, the people who don’t have three in diapers at the same time, has loads of extra time, everyone is subject to the same encumbrances. I have learned not to become worried or frustrated that I don’t have huge spans of time to focus on just one task. I have learned to stay ahead by snatching moments that would otherwise be lost.

For instance, I carry paper and pencil in my apron pocket and write down ideas and plans as they come to my mind, usually while I am vacuuming! I sew on buttons and patch clothes while watching movies and cuddling children (a stitch in time…). If I am waiting in the car while running errands, I catch up on my reading and writing (my favorite place to study or write is in the car). I listen to sermons while cleaning around the house, and I listen to the concerns of my older children while folding clothing. Pregnancy insomnia and nursing infants has given me hours of time to do research and write over the years. Even a doctor appointment is either a time when I can connect with a family member or catch up on something like paperwork.

When I walk through the house I wipe surfaces, pick up items on the floor, put things back where they belong, wash and switch loads of clothing. I pick up the yard while I am gathering the children in, I clean up the bathroom while I am using it, and I clean up the desktop on my computer before I shut it down.

Being at the head of the race is such a lovely feeling. Of course, I am not perfect at this, and there are areas in which I could use improvement, but the old, procrastinating person I used to be has almost disappeared (anyone else come from a family line in which procrastination is considered a virtue?).

I know what many are thinking…

“This sounds wonderful, but I am so far behind that I don’t know where to start!”

Don’t despair! Just take one step at a time and decide you are not going to give in until you are able to overcome! It can be helpful if you sit and ask yourself a few simple questions:

Is my mind cluttered with worry?

This is very important. When we are worried, we are prone to confusion and fretting, which leads to anger and destructive behavior. If we don’t know the Savior, we have every reason to be fretful, because we don’t have a God who is near and dear and able to overcome every obstacle in and through us. If we do know the Savior and we are still worrying, we need to get back onto the side of faith, believing that God is working each and every circumstance for our good! (Romans 8:28) Remember, faith pleases God!

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

Hebrews 11:6

Every mother of many children experiences numerous trials, ranging from paying the bills to having clean underwear, but only the foolish ones try and carry the whole load. Prudent mega-moms learn early-on to cast their cares on the Lord:

Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.

1 Peter 5:7

If you can cast your anxiety on the Lord, then your mind will be freed up so that you can plan and work ahead, otherwise you will run around in circles “like a chicken with her head cut off”, and will eventually run out of steam and give in to chaos.

When my own children were so tiny that they could not help there were very few I could reach out to, and it seemed as though relatives were the worst, since their helping hands came with wagging tongues. But I always had Jesus, and learning to roll everything onto His broad shoulders made my load lighter and my life brighter. Subsequently, many have marveled at how joy-filled I am! My mind is clear to work on tomorrow because I don’t fear it, I look forward to the blessings God will bring to me, even through the trials!

Am I inventing distractions to keep me from taking care of unpleasant tasks?

This is not just a question for mothers of many, it is something top-ranking businessmen ask themselves regularly. It is human nature; we run to take care of things that are fun or feed us, we run from those things that are simply no fun at all, such as cleaning out the freezer or going through old bills (it is amazing just how many ways I can keep myself busy so that I can keep from even looking at that ominous stack of papers in the office).

One dear woman decided that housework caused her stress and depression, but shopping made her feel good, so whenever it was time to do a sink of dishes or wash some clothing, she went shopping instead! She would feel so good at the store; everything was so neat, the people were all so friendly, and she enjoyed finding “bargains.” Unfortunately, when she returned home with her purchases, she was faced with a filthy kitchen and a pile of dirty clothing, so she would throw her bags somewhere in the corner and go out for dinner. This continued until her home was unlivable, her daughter was taken away, and her husband divorced her.

She is not the only one that has suffered in this way. Some of us get “activity-itis” and go all over the community helping others to avoid helping at home, or maybe we read novels or go surfing online for hours at a time. It takes more than soft hands and a warm heart to be a good mother; it takes self-discipline and self-sacrifice when no one is looking. How many times have I drug my sick, pregnant body out of bed to make sure my children had something to eat, that their clothing was clean and they knew there was security and love in the house? Except for the day after my babies were born, there have probably been only two days on record which I spent in bed while the household waking up. In fact, sleeping in makes me feel ill!

I had to learn many years ago that work is a good thing. Instead of avoiding it, I relish it! Did you know that it is the people who keep busy with work that last the longest and have the fewest illnesses? It is a blessing that I have a strong body, food that gives me energy, and many loved ones to care for! Those who live only for themselves are the ones to be pitied–every moment of my life is spent in wonderful PURPOSE!

Work is a good thing!

 

But here is a little trick; don’t try and do everything yourself! We moms of many also have an extra ingredient other women don’t; TEAMWORK!

For instance, I had collected all of the memories of our family for the last 32 years into one huge plastic storage bucket, but it was barely organized. I recently spent one whole day going through the photos and arranging them in piles. The next day I handed a stack of photos to each of my oldest daughters and asked them to put them into books I had been saving for just such an application. Voila! Within a few hours I had four full photo albums ready and waiting for a trip down memory lane!

Just think about the potentials! Need the bathroom free of extra bottles of shampoo, etc.? Just have a boy in the family gather all of the bottles up and consolidate them by combining all of the half-used bottles together, and then placing the resulting full bottles in the bathrooms around the house. Even little children can gather up all of the shoes and match them so that you can easily separate the ones you want to keep from the ones you want to get rid of. Around here we find that folding laundry or getting the kitchen clean is a wonderful time to strike up some funny or interesting conversation, or even to practice our singing and harmonizing! (When the children were little we would clean while we sang words like, “Help Your Mama” adapted to familiar tunes such as the Beach Boys’ “Help me, Rhonda.”)

Here is another sneaky tip; when children are at least attempting to help, they are not running around and getting into trouble! When tiny ones are whining (or screaming) around the house, I have them “wash” a few dishes, or hand them spray bottles of water and a rags and have them spray and wipe things. If the boys don’t work well together but egg each other on, I separate them. If there are children who try to sneak off, I put them in the center of the room or train them to sit next to me while they fold a few washcloths or wipe down some muddy shoes. I am not afraid to use some positive (or negative) reinforcement. I make sure my children know that work is pleasant as well as important by working along-side them with a good attitude.

Remember that list of tasks I try to go through each night to get prepared for the next day? Why not have the children help? Have them put bowls upside-down on the table with spoons along-side for breakfast, or make orange juice and put it in the fridge, set out their clothing, set up the coffee, etc. Older children can get used to helping with meal planning, iron clothing, organize closets, make a short list for the store. Middle children can cut up vegetables and fruit to have in the refrigerator for meals and snacks, or they can bake cookies or even write thank-you notes. Smaller children can run errands around the house for the others, such as fetching shoes or putting away books and other items.

A hive of busy bees is much better than a cave full of people who are mind-numbed by entertainment or disgusted with their surroundings. Teaching children to help us get ahead and stay ahead will reap dividends, not only in the “now,” but even after our children are long grown and have their own lives.

Large Family Stress Reduction: Getting Ahead {Part 1}

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Are you constantly feeling like you are chasing one disaster after another, as if you are endlessly “running behind”? I know exactly what you mean…

If you’ve never lived in a large family, it is probably hard to understand just how “dynamic” life can be! I grew up with only one sister, so things were fairly sedate and quiet in my home, although there were still crises and challenges.

But when there are loads of people who interact, especially when these people are tiny, there seems to be one crisis after another, some days with no lull time in-between. Sometimes it can feel so overwhelming that mothers simply give up and give in!

One dear woman wrote to me and explained the deplorable situation she was living in; her children had been snatched away at one time due to her lack of coping skills and her house and family were in such horrible disarray that basic human needs were going unmet. After her children had been returned, she was still unable to handle everyday living, choosing instead to lie in bed and hide from her responsibilities.

I don’t believe this dear sister started out as a rotten homemaker. She had the same ambitions we all have; she wanted to have a clean, peaceful, orderly home in which everyone’s needs were met and love flowed freely. Her steps into the dark abyss were taken slowly and steadily so that they all began to snowball. All of her “undones” began to work on her mind until she was actually physically ill at the thought of her many burdens, which left her without energy to tackle even one of them successfully.

To be sure, she felt as though she was chasing an unobtainable dream, always running behind, always thwarted, until she was unable to keep up and fell helpless in the dust.

Life as the mother of many people has its challenges, but they do not have to be overwhelming. If we can keep certain keys in mind, we will finally be able to live productive, joyful, loving lives, no matter what circumstances we live under. These keys are:

Faith

and

Getting Ahead

Faith: At the end of the day, the difference between a woman who is haggard and overcome and the woman who is hopeful and ready for life is one thing: believing in a God who is there and who wants to bless His children. There is no way to overemphasize this one principle. Our natures are dark, but God sent His Son, before we even cared to love God, He loved us. This is the secret of joy, of living near the pulse of the Maker; believing He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him, of those who rely on Him and believe in Jesus. Our reliance in faith makes all the difference, from the ways we respond to our children to the ways we keep our kitchens clean. There is so much to share here, but I fear that it would take a lifetime to explain it adequately, and there are others who have done a much better job than I ever could…

Getting Ahead: Finally we come to the heart of this post. Being unprepared has been the cause of much evil in the world. It is one thing to be overcome by the unforeseen, it is another to live without prudence so that even simple events of life become crises. Getting ahead means planning and preparing in advance. It means that I don’t have to run to the store every morning for breakfast food. It means that I am not constantly digging through piles of unwashed or unfolded laundry to find a work shirt for my husband. It means that I am not spending two hours looking for a pencil when it is time to homeschool my children. Of course, there are times when people are ill and the laundry piles up, but there are ways to keep from being totally overcome even in these times. Getting ahead means

Think ahead

When you think ahead, you are putting your mind in gear and planning for contingencies.

For instance, I keep an inventory of objects that will be needed in case of minor injury or minor illness. This means that I have two small plastic cases filled with items for bandaging wounds, dealing with splinters and stingers and the like. I also have a small cache of remedies and devices for the minor aches and pains that come with living life on planet earth.

I don’t purchase many “convenience foods,” but I try and keep a pantry stocked with raw materials which can be used to form frugal and delicious meals such as meats, flour, vegetables and spices. In this way I am rarely caught off-guard when it comes to food preparation. I also keep a running list of possible meal combinations based on what I have accumulated, always attempting to use perishable items first.

I have a plastic crate in an upstairs closet in which I store school supplies. I purchase these at discounted prices during the back to school sales in late summer and then portion them out during the rest of the year. Included are pens, pencils, erasers, crayons, glue, scissors, chalk, wipe-off markers, markers, rulers, paper clips, index cards, etc.

Before I start a new project, I sit with a plain piece of paper and draw a sort of map of the whole idea, complete with notes and assignments. Having a plan on paper has saved my sanity many times, since I need to have a mind and heart free enough to pay attention to the people in my life and the issues they are experiencing without being otherwise distracted. I have found that, if I don’t have a written, concrete plan, my mind becomes so full of other things that I forget and lose all of my hard work! On the other hand, it is so refreshing to pull out a notebook and find my plans written plainly so that all I have to do is implement them!

Doing things ahead means having things in place before the “crunch” times.

What are “crunch” times? How about Church day, having a new baby, taking a trip, having guests over, when Daddy arrives home, holidays, and dinner time? Any and all of these situations don’t have to become stress-filled. Although one cannot totally eliminate challenges, they can be reduced.

One way I do this is by thinking about tomorrow the night before; I ask myself, “How many things can I accomplish before bedtime that will bless me when I awaken in the morning?”

Here are some that I can think of:

  • Clean the kitchen
  • Vacuum the floors
  • Pick up the bedrooms
  • Fold and put the laundry away
  • Set out the clothes for the next day
  • Plan the next-day’s meals, set out breakfast, prepare “lunch packs”
  • Fill up the coffee maker so that it will automatically start in the morning
  • Plan homeschooling for the next day

What are some that you can think of?

For more on this subject, be sure to be on the look out for Large family crisis reduction: getting ahead, part 2, in which we will discuss just how to begin to plan and do…

 

7 Back-Doors to Learning For Tired Moms

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Let’s face it; there are times when formal learning is just not possible (or desirable).

Such as…when mom is experiencing debilitating morning sickness, or the whole house is recovering from the flu, or the family is experiencing a move or just a time of waiting or even boredom and burnout.

After 26 years I can testify that homeschooling is the most intense, efficient method for teaching children, so it’s OK to take a break now-and-then and pursue and apply the tools of learning in unconventional and fun ways without even a hint of guilt!

Here is a short list of possibilities:

1. Reading aloud.

I think that the most loving, sweetest learning times I have ever experienced with my children were those that were spent reading books aloud. There really is nothing else like it that I can think of. Reading aloud connects not only our minds, but our hearts together as we experience a rich, narrative feast.

I am currently reading Bound for Oregon to my little girls, and not only is the story itself informative and instructive in English grammar and composition, but the text gives us reasons to ask questions and answer them, such as what exactly does an ox look like? What is a yoke? Where is the Kaw river? What does Devil’s Gate look like? How is butter made? What is cholera? etc.

Besides, this is one of those learning activities that can be enjoyed almost anytime or anywhere, such as while sitting in the car, or snuggling under the covers early in the morning or late at night. I used to love to put my children down for naps and sit in a rocker close enough so that everyone could hear my voice while I read to them from a cherished novel and nursed the baby.

2. Discussion.

Here is another one that will work even in the worst of circumstances; while driving somewhere, while working on a family project, or even while waiting for a doctor’s appointment. Children learn a lot when adults talk to them, and when they are allowed to ask questions, even hard questions, and parents take the time to give thoughtful answers.

Sometimes it’s even more instructive to turn the tables by asking pointed questions and then listening to what the children have to say!

3. Maps.

Looking for a way to spend a rainy afternoon? Why not pull out some maps and atlases, spread them out on the floor, and talk about them? Even old road maps that have been won from a thrift store safari can yield hours of learning fun (such as the ones that often fall out of older issues of National Geographic magazine).

Maps as a backdoor to learning

To take this activity even further, how about passing out some paper and drawing utensils and either copying a map or creating your own maps of places that are either real or pretend? One year my children and I all took an hour or so each day to work on free-hand drawings of the entire United States–this was the perfect way to get us intimately acquainted with our own country. While everyone is busy drawing you could be listening to a Librovox recording of a historical novel, such as Fifty Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin.

4. Movies.

Sometimes there just isn’t any energy to do much else but watch a good movie, but, if you are careful, you can turn a good flick into a huge octopus of learning, with arms reaching out into almost every other discipline.

So, fix up some popcorn, get all cozy on the couch, and play a film you own, have borrowed from the library, or are able to view on the Internet.

Ways to plug in more learning:

  • Have the children narrate the movie back to you.
  • Discuss the plot, the concepts, the fallacies or inaccuracies, the character development, the cinematography, cost of production, filming method, etc.
  • Research key figures/events/concepts by using maps, encyclopedias and other reference books, or the Internet.
  • Get out blank sheets of paper, or notebooking pages, some drawing materials, and create lovely notebooking pages about the movie or the subject of the movie.

I like to think that there are “empty calorie” movies, and there are “nutrient rich” movies. We don’t waste our time with the former, but we do purposely enjoy the latter! I also tend to think that, while they capture the attention of young children more readily, animated movies do not teach as well as movies with more realism.

Most of the films we have found that spurred us on to further learning were ones like these (we like the older versions of some of these best):

To Kill a Mockingbird

Ten Commandments

El Cid

Quo Vadis

Ben Hur

The Fall of the Roman Empire

Pride and Prejudice

Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier

The Taming of the Shrew

Little Women

Johnny Tremain

Old Yeller

Spartacus

Lawrence of Arabia

The Young Victoria

The Guns of Navaronne

Amazing Grace

The Agony and the Ecstasy

The Man From La mancha

Inn of the Sixth Happiness

Drive Through History

List of Disney Movies (you can find a lot of old, family-friendly history films here based on novels that can be read aloud for further enjoyment)

5. Library books.

We live in an area with a wonderful library system where loads of materials help us in almost every area of study. Here are two ways that I have used this resource in times of fatigue, distress, or just to add a bit of variety to our week:

a. First, we eat breakfast and clean the house, then I take the kids to the library, turn them loose and tell them they can each only borrow three books. Meanwhile, head through the shelves and pick out ten or so titles that I think they will be intrigued by. Then I check everything out and head for home, where the children will be busy for hours learning all sorts of amazing things! All I need do then is to prepare lunch and sit and  listen while they compete for my attention to share with me what they have been discovering. One or more of the children may suggest something he/she wants to write about or create, at which time I gladly oblige them (within reason) and marvel at the learning taking place!

b. I do essentially the same thing, only I put reserve books online by using sites like Goodreads as a reference, and when they are delivered to my local branch, I pick them up and hand them out to my children like presents at Christmas. I then follow the same procedure outlined in “a” above and have a great time!

6. Internet.

This is almost a no-brainer, except that sometimes we need to be careful to have an actual beginning, and perhaps even an end, to what we want to investigate or explore (always with adult supervision or accountability). It is best to have some subject to enjoy that has come up in questions, such as why trees turn different colors in the fall. Then we can plug the question into a search engine and follow the trail wherever it leads! Sometimes we end up at a video game, a science video, or even a coloring or notebooking page. I find that it is best to put a limit on time spent; such as deciding we will all stop in time for lunch.

Some places to use as starting points:

Discovery Kids

Kids’ Answers

History in the Classroom

Church History For Kids

7. Board games

If you have been feeling as though you are a torturer forcing your children to keep their noses to the grindstone by endless nagging, there is nothing like throwing a fun-filled game day into the mix to help everyone reconnect on a level that is relaxed and simply fun!

There are so many different ways that children learn when they play board games. Games such as Chutes and Ladders, Sorry, and checkers teach concepts to younger children, while older children enjoy more challenging games such as Scrabble, Monopoly, and Yahtzee. One game that has become a favorite in our family is Apples to Apples, which is great for language arts development, but also touches other areas such as science and history.

Or…you could make your own game up. Lately we have been playing around and learning math concepts with dominoes, dice, play money, and a hundreds board (the money and hundreds board can be printed for free on the Donna Young site).

Tools for creating games

This may be hard to believe for some, but these unconventional learning methods tend to yield more fruit than textbook learning!

Herein is the spirit of what Charlotte Mason meant when she said,

Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.

 

What are some of the back doors to learning you enjoy?

How to Kick the Trends and Get Pretty!

How to Kick the Trends and Get Pretty

To be a slave or to be free; that is the question.

Whether ’tis nobler to run out and buy whatever is on the rack at the mall, or to break out and dress the way one wishes.

As for me, I tired of the tyranny long ago. To date I have never bought one pair of low-rider jeans, not even from the thrift store.

I don’t care who in Hollywood is wearing what; I wear what fits me, and what looks “cute” to me, and I have tried to dress my eleven girls the same.

Selling clothing is a lot like selling cars; both will last a number of years if taken care of decently, and true innovations are only brought out every few years, so there wouldn’t be a great motivation for folks to purchase new if their current car or coat were in good shape, would there?

So…manufacturers change things like lines and color in order to convince us that their goods are indeed “new and improved!” and by-and-large people fall for the hype and dump their old coats and cars in favor of new ones.

Which is terrific for our family, since we don’t have money for the latest and greatest, anyway. This means my husband was able to find the car of his dreams–a Park Avenue in great shape and with low miles–for a song. It’s lines are sleek and lovely, and its gas mileage is wonderful, but there is no sticker shock, which means our family of now only 11 has some pocket change left over to go to the thrift store outlet (yes, our thrift stores have “outlets” where you can purchase clothes by the pound–amazing provision!) and spend pennies for the things that we like, whether they are “in” or not.

We don’t buy items that we find in magazines, and we don’t look for famous makers–we look for things that we think princesses and heroines might wear, whatever it is that brings out our natural attractiveness without making us look like vamps.

Instead of the flashy or trendy, we go for classic, understated beauty.

Beautifully modest Eliana

Beautifully modest Faith

Beautifully modest Lorilee

Beautifully modest Patience

Beautifully modest Sarah

Here are some ways you can break free, too:

Stand in the mirror.

Look at your shape, your color, your size. With modesty in mind, what sorts of things do you need to enhance or downplay? Do you look better in tailored outfits, or less form-fitting ones?

Think about your idea of “pretty.”

When you were a little girl, before you started being careful to “fit in,” what did you consider beautiful? What did you consider over-the-top or ugly? What sorts of things make you smile when others wear them, even in old movies or portrayals of times past?

Look into your closet.

Be absolutely and totally honest with yourself, and no fair thinking of the price tags of your clothing. What really inspires you or makes you feel special? What do you own that you wear because you feel you are going to fit in with others, even though you don’t feel completely comfortable in it? Put the clothing you feel pretty in to one side and take a good, long look at it. What does this say about you? Can you gain a better direction as to what to spend your money on by being honest as to what inspires you and feeds your noble, womanly self?

Plan a thrift shopping trip.

What we find while we are shopping is that people are constantly donating the pretty things that they are afraid are too special or nice to wear around home, and so we buy them at prices so cheap we can wear them every day!

We look for separates that are nice, then pair them with accessories that bring the outfit together, such as sweaters and jackets, scarves, shoes, belts and purses. The little girls, especially, like to dress up with all of the scarves we have collected (many for just a few pennies each!).

And we’re not even afraid of “special care” items–if they only cost us 25 cents, what do we lose if we launder them and they don’t come out quite right?

Beautiful Olivia wading

Our daughter attended some college classes this last year, and did she ever make a fashion statement! Instead of wearing jeans and t-shirts, she wore classy, long skirts with sweater tops. Amazingly, her other classmates did not make fun of her for her off-beat choices, but continually complimented her. By the end of the semester the other girls were wearing skirts, too!

When you think about it, there is something special about a woman who knows who she is, and who is not afraid of being herself.

Why not donate or sell your trendy clothes and start something new to you, something that may get others talking, and thinking, so that they can get free, too?

Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Luke 12:27