Sunday, June 12, 2011

The rising cost of middle class (and my life!)

Don't worry, this isn't a whoa-is-me or whiny post ;) We all know that the price of gas, food, and everything else is higher than it has been in the past. I'm working on keeping a positive attitude about budgeting and just felt like writing about how I'm choosing to spend the money we have, and how I'm making it stretch as far as I can! 
I feel very fortunate to be able to be a stay-at-home mom, it's been over 7 years since I brought home a paycheck. I have found other ways to contribute instead, and a few of them are resurfacing after some time off. E-bay, for starters. For awhile, I had an ebay business where I sold new and used children and maternity clothing - this was before I started homeschooling the kids. I hadn't really used ebay much in the past 2 years, but decided to give it a try and had some pretty good success selling some of the kids outgrown clothes. Enough that I could pay for the new math curriculum with the profits! The market isn't as well as it once was, I definitely could not make a profit by buying and reselling like I once did, but selling what they outgrow definitely helps!
Another old hobby that I'm returning to is couponing. The days of free Cottenelle seems to be over, but I did manage to get some free Ronzoni garden pasta this week! (if you have a Kroger, the pasta is on sale for $1 right now, and there is a $1/1 coupon to be found in the frozen section in front of Morning Star Farm products)The coupon policies at my 2 favorite stores have both changed in last month, my best guess is due to the Extreme Couponing show. I hit a few snags because of new policies, but I'm learning the new rules and will go from there. 
The way we eat has changed over the last few months, I try to get as much organic and fresh food as I can, and this is a main focus in groceries right now, while keeping within the budget. Shopping clearance has been the biggest help in cutting back my grocery bill so I can stay in budget and feel good about the food I'm bringing home. Shopping weekdays means finding more clearance items. I've also learned to freeze things for future use, so I can buy on clearance and have on hand when the items are full price at the store. I'm also enjoying the first produce from the garden - cherry tomatoes! Much thanks to my friends for helping me successfully garden this year, I've only had a few things not survive transplant! 

For now, we have been able to maintain the life that we have built without incurring further debt. There are hot meals everyday, we enjoy extra-curricular activities like dance and karate, we frequent the playground with friends, and visit local museums and go on other fun field trips. But I also realize that part of our current lifestyle includes being a home and two car owner - and this means maintenance that  most often comes when you least can afford it. We learned that this past week when the A/C in my van went out at the same time that my breaker box began to overheat. I'd like to be prepared for the future, including any surprise fixes or rising costs, so I will continue to find ways to stretch what we have and share what I find. And of course homeschooling is always an adventure that can cost little or a lot, so I'll continue to find ways to make the most without breaking the bank. 


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May 2011 Reading List

I've found that with our new routine, I'm reading to the kids more. I am happy about this :) I'm going to keep reviewing books, but not all of our selections. I'll be adding pictures of titles to the bottom of my monthly reading post as well to keep up with our log.

It's official. The kids are totally into this series now. We're able to read at a pretty fast pace, as the chapters are short. Nicholas is also able to do some of the reading outloud, so it's good practice for him and nice for me to get a break! We  finished this book a little quicker than I expected, so I've gone ahead and ordered the next two books from the library. I'm planning on using the library's down-loadable audio collection for the later books in the series as well.
I brought this home for Nicholas because he is in movie-making mode lately. I loved that the story had the kids start with script writing, which is exactly what I keep encouraging him to do. The plot was clever and showed the characters going through creative thinking, editing, problem solving, etc. It was a simple story, easy enough to breeze through in one sitting, and both kids enjoyed listening to me read aloud. 

Had I thought about it in advance, I would have read this book before going to Disney, instead of after. This book tells the story of a vacationing family with two children, each prepared for the trip with a camera that prints small stickers of the photos taken. The story didn't necessarily grab the attention of the kids, but it did get my wheels turning and am now thinking about what kind of photo opportunities and lessons I could incorporate in our next big trip, which will have us driving across country to New Mexico this fall.
This is my new favorite children's book. A story about our many moods, shown in various colors. The illustrations were added a great many years later, by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. I enjoyed this book more than the kids, I think. I just love the idea of using colors and animals to explain my varying moods. Today, for example, I'm having a "Bright Blue Day", where I can flap my wings. "Some days, of course, feel sort of Brown. Then I feel slow and low, low down."

In looking over some new curriculum choices for next year, I found a great list of stories that incorporate math, like "Mooove Over!", a skip counting book about a pushy cow. I found it to be funny and so did the kids. Short, sweet, laughable. I plan on reading it a few more times before our borrowing time is up, just trying to get the idea of counting by 2's familiar to Sydney. I was also able to find a dvd picture book copy of Two of Everything at the library. A clever folktale that also helps illustrate the idea of doubling.

Caillou, the famous whiny kid from PBS, has a new series of books and toys out called the "Ecology Club". This story explains composting in its very basic form, comparing it to magic as it interests Caillou. We also read the book "Every Drop Counts" from the series. Gardening and composting are family interests right now, so this series got my attention. The books are printed on 100% recycled paper using soy ink, just an interesting tid bit. I found some activities to coordinate with the series here.

I know there is much debate over where to start in the Chronicles of Narnia series, by publication date or by story order, but I decided to go with the suggestion of a friend and start with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. My original plan was to use a website's free audio to listen to the whole series, but for now we are reading a paperback that I have had stashed away. I think we may bounce back and forth between reading some novels in the series and using the audio for others. I've promised the kids we can watch the movies after we read each book as well, although Nic has already seen them.



Sunday, May 8, 2011

Routine vs. Schedule : preparing for a new school year

I was wandering around the forums on secular homeschooling and found a great thread that spoke of routines and the desire to have a schedule for the original poster's homeschooling day. The replies were encouraging, offered much support, and much to my surprise even offered up the difference in a routine vs. a schedule and why a routine is much more likely to work. 
I usually find myself using the words interchangeably, something like this, "I made another schedule and it all worked out on paper but in real life I failed." Or, "If we could just stick to the routine then the school work would get finished and I wouldn't have panic attacks just thinking about next school year." Next Year is this thing that dangles over my head right now, the thing that scares me to my core because NEXT YEAR of course, I send in official paperwork stating that I am homeschooling not one but TWO children. SO here I am, attempting to make a plan so that I can rest easy. 
As one poster pointed out, a routine is something that becomes a habit, whereas a schedule is a point of time when something needs to be done. So, blocking out our day around meal times (which is super common I'm learning) is more of a routine and not a schedule, and its more likely that it will be successful. I'm reading that a routine can also include days for different routines, like playgroups, field trips, dr. appointments, etc. I'm liking the term "routine" more and more! 
Our school year won't be ending this summer, instead I've decided to go the year-round route and simply transition in August to the next grade levels. I would like to implement some new routines between now and then as well as try out some new curriculum options as well. I'm starting simply, with breakfast first followed by chores and then reading on the couch as a family. At least now I feel like I'm actually helping myself out, instead of setting myself up for failure! 


April 2011 Reading List

Junie B. Jones is in first grade in this book, we went ahead and read out of order because it was about an Easter egg hunt. Sydney really got a kick out of this one, I could hear her laughing on the night that daddy read a chapter for bedtime - one of the characters called another kid a "springy little lamb" and she was all over it!! 

This book had to come home from the library with us, AGAIN. It's clever and witty, and makes all of us laugh with twisted humor as we read aloud on the couch. Without peanut butter on our fingers of course ;)

This was a listen on cd experience that Nicholas and I enjoyed together, with Sydney occasionally listening in while playing on the computer. I was unfamiliar with this classic and didn't realize how dark of a story it actually is. I liked that this version of the story had pages of information about London at the time it was written, lots of good history to read before we even jumped into the story. Listening to stories on cd has been hot or miss here, but it's worth it to me to keep trying. 

To prepare for the science fair, Sydney and I read a few books about the transformation of caterpillars into butterflies. One of my favorites is from a childhood series of mine, a Just Ask book. One book used to come in the mail each month and I remember how excited I would get when it arrived!

Nic and I have picked back up in our Harry Potter reading. We are currently on Chapter 26 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (book 4). Our interest was re-sparked by visiting the Hogsmeade village and Hogwarts Castle in Universal Studios, Florida. We both used our souvenir money to buy wands from Ollivanders as well :) 


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Life Lessons: Time Management for dummies

     Do you ever have days where you feel like the White Rabbit? "We're late! We're late! We're very very late!!" says the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. Yeah, that white rabbit. Not the Easter Bunny. 
     These days I find myself contemplating time and how I spend it. A typical day consists of us leaving the house at some point with me saying how we're running late, spending chunks of time in the car because we live in the middle of nowhere, most likely eating out because I wasn't prepared or forgot something in our haste, and then feeling frustrated that I haven't taught the kids the things I wanted to on any given day. I could use a hand in the time-management department, obviously. 
     I've been making small changes, trying to bring our thermos's when we leave the house for example, in hopes that small changes become habits for us all. Having cool water and a cannister of grapes got us from today's activity to home without complaints of thirst or anyone actually dying of hunger. Only being 11 minutes from home also helped -  the kids didn't even have time to annoy each other on such a short drive :) 


Friday, April 1, 2011

March 2011 Reading List

Sometimes you get what you want. And sometimes you don't! How true. Such a simple story with a big message. I think I'll find myself saying this phrase instead of the standard "Life isn't fair" that has already been beaten to death and lost it's meaning to my children. 

A Place for Zero proved to be entertaining for both kids, which kind of surprised me but in a good way. Zero doesn't know where he belongs, he feel useless and is unsure of where he fits in. Count Infinity helps him find his place if addition, but he still thinks that there is something else out there for him. He tromps off to the castle to see Kind Multiplus and asks to be multiplied. He finds a new use for himself, but still looks for more. In simply standing next to another number, he sees how big he can really be. He can change a 1 to a 10! Great book about both math and belonging. 

I liked this book so much that I'm putting it on my Amazon shopping list. It combines art with math, giving kids a sample of several famous artworks while asking them to count. Creating several combinations to add to the same number was not as easy at it looked from first glance, as Nic can attest to. This author is a new favorite of mine and I'd like to have all of his math books on hand for the kids!

I really enjoyed reading this one aloud. The repetition was fun and also kind of a tongue twister. The artwork was also really vibrant and I would definitely consider framing some of the pages, if this weren't a library copy. 

The Magic Tree House is a series, but we started on #2, The Knight at Dawn. During last months bookclub we heard all about #1 and it reminded me that I had this book, purchased a couple of years ago and left to collect dust on the bookshelf. Nicholas had said that he wasn't interested, that he had read one of these books back in public school days. I know they are beneath his grade level now, but it made for a fun read-aloud book for both kids. The sentences are simple and the story is short with just enough new vocabulary and educational stuff thrown in to make it appealing to both kids. We have the next 2 books in the series on reserve at the local library, and I'll try to just stick to the order from here on out.

Here is our current chapter book. This story is told from the viewpoint of a 10 year old boy, a fictional character named James, who is onboard The Beagle with Mr.Charles Darwin. Nic seems to enjoy listening, but Sydney insists that she doesn't like this one. She still listens though, just while she plays with puzzles on the floor, and jumps up for an opportunity to see the pictures. I like that the story is told from a child's perspective but deals with true events. 

On more book related news, both kids participated in what I am deeming the "Book Report Club". Nic and I worked on writing an actual report for one of his club penguin books, and this helped IMMENSELY with his confidence in speaking in front of others. His report was short and sweet, much like his book choice, and he also added a picture to help explain his book. I was really proud of him!! Sydney made a Fancy Nancy picture to go along with her report on Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy. Once we were there at the meeting she decided to "read" her book to the group. She has the whole thing memorized because she chooses it as her bedtime story so often! I thought they both did great and I'm planning on going back for more meetings. Great practice for speaking in groups, I think that's a pretty good life skill :) 


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Making Our House Feel Like HOME

This is not my house.

This is also not my house. 
(picture from Pottery Barn catalog)

But I could picture myself living this way. Peaceful. Calm. Organized. I'm not asking for a showroom of perfection. Far from it! I want my fridge to have my children's art hanging from it, I even welcome the window paint drawings on the backdoor. I want a house that feels like HOME. One that welcomes me in and makes me feel as ease. I just want a place I can sit back and read in comfortably, and not first have to hunt down the book I was reading, finding it 20 minutes later after digging through various "piles" around the house. I want to be able to find what I am looking for within a shorter amount of time that I plan on using said item. 

My first step was to join in the "project simplify" on Simple Mom, as I've mentioned before. I'm working on hot spot #3 currently, the kids' toys and clothes. I've already tackled the papers around the house and the Master Closet. I'm like a little tornado, just quietly whirling about the house, making messes as I organize. 
Living in the middle of the project makes me want to run away. I don't like the uneasiness I feel when I see these unfinished projects, and I am tempted to throw everything back into a closet, have a cleared table and declare it a losing battle. But I won't. I will keep plugging away. I will donate more boxes of "stuff" than I ever expected, and I will remember to be mindful in my future purchases. I will fill my home with things that I love, and not just things that were on sale and "would do for now". It's getting there, I just need to keep plugging away.