Thursday, September 29, 2011

Homeschooling . . . wait, what?

Homeschooling has never been on any to-do list I created. I never dreamed of the possibility of teaching any of my children at home. I needed my "me" time and it was never a possibility.

Unfortunately, my oldest is having difficulties in school and his behaviors are escalating. In good conscience, I couldn't let him continue disrupting class and without being at school, I can't tell the teachers what was triggering his behaviors.

We jumped into homeschooling rather fast and I am still determining what curriculum we will use but the lessons we have done so far are working well. Spencer is much more relaxed and we get through the material quickly.

So, how many of you home-school? How did you decide on the curriculum? Any tips for a newbie?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

DIY: Jasmine's Space

Jasmine has been sharing the large bedroom with the boys for several months now. While it could be worse, she really needed her space away from boys and boy things. I decided that the landing at the top of the stairs was just the right amount of space for a young girl . . . with a catch.

One of the agreements I made with my parents was that I would help them get the house we are renting from them ready for other renters. That means helping update the house and clean out mom and dad's things. I knew that I was committing to a lot of work but sometimes I wonder if I'm slightly insane or something.

So, the first order of business was to empty out the space for Jasmine to use. This meant two days of organizing, packing, moving and cleaning.

I took the first picture after packing and cleaning a day. The second picture is halfway through day two and I had dug out enough to work on the closet area.

I repeated over and over to myself that it would be worth it. Jasmine would have her own space and everyone would sleep better and argue less.

Packing, packing and more packing . . . moving, sweeping, cleaning.

You can see my big helpers here cleaning the floor.

Finally, we hit a point where we had basically everything out from upstairs, everything off the walls, the closet swept and mopped and the walls ready for prepping.

In case you have never prepped walls for painting, part of that is filling in holes. It's not hard really. Grab a putty knife, slab on the wall patch and scrape off the excess.

The walls were covered with holes so this step actually took quite a long time. *sigh*

The next step I did was to paint the bottom of Jasmine's walls. Jasmine loves Tinkerbell, fairies, princesses, butterflies and any thing that is cuddly or pretty. She has a comforter that is a sky over grass with flowers so I loosely imitated the blanket. Here's the first coat of the bottom green.

The top we did in a light blue. For the paints, when Menards had the free after rebate gallons of white paint, we bought as many as we were allowed. When it came time to paint Jasmine's room, I found the colors I wanted then I picked the color at the bottom of the sample card and bought a sample of that color. When I got home, I mixed a gallon of the free-after-rebate paint with each color sample. Two gallons of paint ended up costing $5.00 after tax.

I bought a Tinkerbell boarder and it divides the room really well! The fairy stickers Jasmine enjoys tremendously and is a nice touch to finish the wall. They aren't organized like I would prefer to have them, but they are Jasmine's so I let her arrange them.

One addition the space desperately needed was a fan. In the summer, it gets stuffy in this area because of poor insulation and the lack of a duct vent.

I didn't take any pictures of the process but I cut a hole in the ceiling, ran wiring to the wall, encountered many problems in the wall getting the wire to a power source but eventually, I had the wiring ready and I hung the fan. It is the perfect size for the room and adds light where Jazzy needs it.

There are a few more details I am working on like adding a rod so Jasmine can hang clothes and finishing the painting in a couple areas but you can see by Jasmine's smile that she's a happy camper in her own space!

I'll update with more pictures once I have all the details in her room sorted out.

Garage Sale-ing with a Purpose for Kids Clothes

A while back there was a post on Money Saving Mom about how to garage sale with a purpose to save money and gather supplies with a purpose and a plan. The post was specifically about getting deals at garage sales for kids clothing. While reading the post I had slap-the-forehead moments and I wished I had thought of things years ago! I cringe to think how much money I would have saved. (If I can find the link to the awesome article, I'll add it to this article later.)

The first step is to decide how many of what your child(ren) needs. Depending on where you live, you might need more shorts than pants or vice versa. I decided that I want 10 short sleeved shirts, 10 long sleeved shirts, 5 pants, 5 shorts and church clothing. They need underwear and socks too but I'll buy those new.

Second step is to inventory what you have now. What sizes and what gender do you have in the closet already? Once you have a list, make a spreadsheet on paper or on the computer listing what you need and what you have. When you garage sale, this list is your guide to ensure you get what you need and avoid impulse buying.

So, the above picture is the fruits of my first effort. I did a craig's list search for garage sales in Lincoln that advertised children's clothing. Then I did a search in the Lincoln Journal Star for the same thing. I looked at a map of Lincoln and decided which garage sales I would visit and which I would skip. Basically, I looked for several sales in the same area to maximize my time and efforts.

I didn't stop at all the sales I looked up and not every garage sale I stopped at had anything worth while but I did find some amazing deals. I found one garage sale with size 6 girl's clothing. I checked the Excel sheet and I needed all things in girl's size 6! These were name brand clothes so the asking price was higher than I would normally prefer. In the article I found, it talked about the fact that there isn't anything wrong with asking people to take a lower price.

I grabbed the 5 shirts that were the right size and the total sticker price was $7.75. I pulled out $6.00 cash and gathered my courage. I asked if the gal would take $6.00 for all. After she did the math in her head she said yes! So, 5 shirts marked of my list for $1.20 a shirt. I'm not a label snob or anything but these shirts are high quality material. They aren't going to rip easily like the shirts I find at Walmart and might last long enough that I can resell them once Jazzy has outgrown them!

After many strike outs I found a garage sale where clothes were marked .25 each! The girl's clothes were size 10 which I didn't have and there were boy long sleeved shirts sized 5 and 6 which I needed for Scotty. I grabbed everything that wasn't stained. I spotted some shoes that were $1.00 a pair and thought of my nieces. All told, I spent $7.00 at that garage sale and I basically have Jasmine's wardrobe when she is 10.

I spent a total of $13.00 and walked away with 19 shirts, 5 pants and 2 pairs of shoes. That's .50 a piece of clothing on average! When I consider that I would have paid at least $3.00 each at Walmart, I saved over $65.00 by garage sale-ing with a purpose.


My mom and I spotted a great deal on plums at the store and we went a little crazy. At least, I'm sure that's what the check out girl thought. She gave us a funny look. :)

Mom and I spent a lot of time cutting out pits and creating freezer bags full of plums. I decided that I wanted to make jam so guess what I pulled out first? Yup. My handy-dandy juicer. Have I mentioned how much I love my juicer?

After grinding up two colander's worth, I realized I needed to be somewhere. I grabbed my freezer bags and measured out the correct amounts for a batch of jam and poured it into the freezer bags. I labeled them and threw them in the freezer. When I am in a jam mood again all I have to do is dump the jam in the jam pot and add the pectin. Viola!

Did you notice that I have my bag hanging inside a blender jar? It's a trick I learned online (probably from Money Saving Mom) to prevent the bag from collapsing or spilling while you are trying to fill it. Put the bag in a jar, bowl, cup or anything else that the bag's zipper will fit over and it stays open while you are pouring. (Make sure you take out the blade if you use the mixer.) I am just in awe of how smart people can be!

Laundry Soap Follow Up

While I'm on the subject of laundry, here's an update on the laundry soap I made. This morning whenI started my one load of laundry a day, I shook the laundry soap bottle that I reuse with the liquid laundry soap and realized there were only a couple of drops left in the bottle. I opened the 5 gallon bucket I filled with detergent and realized it was almost gone.

I find myself waning nostalgic about it. I made the first batch in June and this is the third time I have filled up the big jug with detergent. I expect it to last through October which is fantastic. These huge jugs of laundry detergent cost $10.00+ at the store even when you purchase the generic brands so filling it 3 times for $3.00 has saved me at least $27.00 for these last 4 months.

I also have to be completely honest with you . . . I've been using much more detergent that I actually need in each load because I wanted to use up the liquid and start using the powder version of this laundry soap.

Instead of 1 cup (I use the measuring cup that came with the jug), I have been using a cup and extra. If I weren't impatient, I think this batch would have lasted at least 6 months.

Think about that for a moment. $3.00 for 6 months of laundry. Isn't that incredible?

Add to that the fact that I didn't buy 3 jugs of laundry soap and use up plastic containers makes me feel glowy about how "green" I can be when I try.

Now that I'm down to my last jug of liquid soap, it's time to make the dry version. I'll post on that process here soon.

One Load of Laundry a Day

Laundry is a necessary evil in life -unless you're happy walking around in clothes that bend instead of hang. As appealing that option is some days, my darling hubby can't stand smudges, smears, spots or anything on his clothes. (Boy did he get a nasty wake-up call being married to messy me!)

So, I was inspired by a post on Money Making Mom a while ago where she talked about her desire to follow an organization guru's advice and wash 1 load of laundry a day. I decided to try it and I'm thrilled with the results!
  1. I don't feel overwhelmed thinking about laundry anymore. I used to dread the thought because it was so much work washing, drying, folding and putting away 6 loads of laundry in one day. Most of the time I would get the laundry washed and dried but not put away so the clothes sat in baskets for weeks until I couldn't tell which baskets held clean clothes and which held dirty clothes so I'd take them ALL back downstairs for a wash. Now, I don't always get the clothes put away the same day as when I wash them but it's only 1 basket so I take care of it the next day without dread.
  2. The kids and hubby are happier. They can find clean clothes every day. I am happier because we haven't had a mom-I-don't-have-any-clean-underwear conversation in weeks.
  3. Dirty clothes don't pile up on floors. Every morning or two I pour all of the dirty clothes hampers into one basket and carry the dirty clothes downstairs so I have something to wash each day. We avoid the carpet of clothes my boys like to create and I stay a happier camper.
All in all, this works for us. I am so glad Crystal at Money Saving Mom blogged about the idea!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Menards Freebies 9/26

All items are free after mail-in-rebate. There are limits on how many you can buy and receive a rebate so make sure to read the fine print at the store.

Most of the sales are the same from last week. My parents were at Menards and found another deal of wall triangle brackets free after rebate.

Stain away pen: $1.50
Lifetime Ultra Caulk: $3.50 -free after rebate
Bayco Extension Cord Lock: $0.79 -free after rebate
Spot Chomp Stain Remover 13.2 oz. : $4.00 -free after rebate
Mini Storage Bin 4" x 3.25" x 5": $0.50 -free after rebate
14" Plastic Mud Pan: $4.50 -free after rebate
Broadloom Mat 18" x 24": $1.50 -free after rebate
Moldex Deep Stain Remover 32 oz.: 10.00 -Free after rebate
Utility Mat 23" x 35": $5.00 -Free after rebate
Empire Poly Rafter Square: $2.50 -Free after rebate

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Apple Butter Tutorial

I discovered a large box of cut and peeled apples in the freezer so of course I had to make Apple Butter! For those of you not familiar with Apple Butter, it is similar to Apple Sauce but spiced to have a rich flavor. It is also thickened making it a great spread for bread, bagels, English muffins or anything else you spread on. I do know people that pour a bowl and eat it like apple sauce as well. I have thrown a few spoonfuls in oatmeal to give add flavor. In other words, Apple Butter is yummy and versatile!

First, I ran all the apples through my juicer then poured the pulp back into the juice. I love my juicer!

After the mushed apples were ready, I grabbed my canning pot, filled it with water and the quart-sized jars I planned to use and turned the burner to high to start a boil.

I could have started the pot before I did anything with the apples but I didn't think about it at first. Always start your canning pot early in the canning process. You need around 20 minutes for the water to come to a boil and sterilize the jars. Sterile jars are important to prevent bacteria from living and multiplying in your food.

Once I had the water on the stove and heating up, I measured the apple mash. I had 24 cups! That's a lot of apple. I poured the mash into a large pot and added spices.

For spices I added nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. The rule of thumb is 1/2 tsp of each for every 4 cups of apple. You can alter this ratio to your taste. This particular ratio gives a nice spicy flavor but if you prefer a more mild apple butter, you can reduce the spices.

When I called my mom and asked for the recipe for her apple butter, she told me to add 1 cup of sugar for every cup of apple. 24 cups of sugar? That's way too much! I decided to take a risk and half the amount of sugar she said. That was still 12 cups of sugar but I felt better about that than 24 cups. I grabbed a #10 can of sugar from food storage and basically used the whole thing.

After I added the sugar I turned the burner up to high and brought the mixture to a boil. The boiling is for a couple reasons. First, the heat helps the sugar caramelize and thicken the apple butter. Second, it helps kill any bad things you don't want in your food.

Once you have a nice rolling boil in the apple butter and in canning pot, using canning jar tongs pull out a jar of filled with boiling water. Have a second pot of water filled with the tops and rings on the stove and pour the boiling water from the jar onto the lids and rings.

See the handy-dandy magnet? Those things are totally worth the money. If you want to can, buy one. It makes pulling the lids and rings out of the hot water easier than pie! Wait, so far pie has eluded my abilities -yes, the crusts have been coming out really gross -so think of something easier than making pie and it's even easier than that!
Now that we have the easier-than-that dilemma figured out, the next step is filling the jars with apple butter. I used wide mouth jars and a ladle to fill the jars. If you have regular width jars, a canning funnel makes pouring much easier.

When you fill the jars, make sure to leave at least an inch at the top empty. If you don't (like I forgot to) the apple butter can expand and pour out the top during the water bath or cooling.

In the picture to the right, I'm cleaning off the threads and tops of the jars. No matter what you are canning, make sure that the top and threads are clean so the jars will seal properly. Use a clean, damp rag.

See how high I filled the jars? I should have filled just to the point where the jar narrows instead of half way up the neck of the jar. Lesson learned.

Next step: grab the lids and rings from the small pot you poured hot water in and place them on the jars. They will be hot so I recommend using hot pads or a towel to twist the rings on. Tighten the rings down until they are snug.

Once you have the lids on, put the jars in the boiling water ('cause you left the water boiling, right?)

Depending on the size of you canning pot, you might be able to do a few jars at a time or lots of jars at a time. I think I use a standard canning pot which holds 7 quart sized jars. This turned out to be perfect for this batch of apple butter. I did 6 quarts and made 2 pints of apple butter to sell at the Seward Farmer's Market.

Let the jars boil for about 30 minutes. This gives the heat plenty of time to kill off any remaining germs and create the right vacuum for sealing.

Once your timer beeps, pull out the jars and place them on a towel on your counter. Almost immediately, you'll hear some popping. The pop is the vacuum doing it's thing and sealing the jars properly. Let the jars sit for a couple hours then press down on each lid. If your lids are sealed, they won't pop again. Unsealed jars will make a popping noise when you press down in the middle of the lid.

Here is one of the completed jars of apple butter. If you look closely, you can see a little apple butter pooled at the base of the jar and a mud-slide looking texture on the side of the jar. This is one of the jars I over filled. Crazy enough, the lid still sealed so I cleaned up the jar and put it in my pantry. Another one of the jars did not seal properly so I placed it in the fridge to eat.

An open jar will last a month or two in the fridge without any problems. When you see anything growing in the apple butter, it's time to throw it out. In my house, it doesn't last long enough to go bad.

So . . . there's apple butter! I'm buying at least 1 bushel of apples from a local farmer here soon and making apple sauce and apple juice. The process is similar and I'll post how that goes in a week or two.

Did you know you can make pear butter, peach butter or most anything you want? What flavor do you want to try?

Batch Baking and Corn Dog Muffins

I did another batch baking session and made banana bread and corn dog muffins. Unfortunately the banana bread came out on the rubbery side but the kids gobbled down the corn dog muffins.

I didn't do anything special for the corn dog muffins. I used a regular corn muffin mix, poured it into the mini loaf pans, cut the hot dogs in half then placed one dog on top of the batter. While cooking the dog drops into the batter and cooks in the middle of the loaf.

The one change I would make is pouring honey on top of the muffins before cooking. The corn dog mix is fine but I like the extra pizazz honey brings to a dish.

I made several loaves and what we didn't eat I let cool on a wire rack fully then placed about 8 in each freezer bag. When I pulled these bad boys out of the freezer to serve another meal, I microwaved for 1 minute and served. The reheat tasted just as good as the original.

At the bottom of the picture to the right you can see how the corn dogs look when they are done. Yea!

My mom had an idea when she saw these. She suggested cutting the hot dogs into 1/4"-1/2" bite sized pieces and using mini loaf pans. I will try a pan of those in my next corn dog cooking session.

Have you made any fun dishes today?

Mendards Deals

Menards has several free-after-rebate items this week. There are limits on how many you can buy and receive a rebate so make sure to read the fine print at the store.

Lifetime Ultra Caulk: $3.50 -free after rebate
Bayco Extension Cord Lock: $0.79 -free after rebate
Spot Chomp Stain Remover 13.2 oz. : $4.00 -free after rebate
Mini Storage Bin 4" x 3.25" x 5": $0.50 -free after rebate
14" Plastic Mud Pan: $4.50 -free after rebate
Broadloom Mat 18" x 24": $1.50 -free after rebate
Moldex Deep Stain Remover 32 oz.: 10.00 -Free after rebate
Utility Mat 23" x 35": $5.00 -Free after rebate
Empire Poly Rafter Square: $2.50 -Free after rebate

There are many other great deals like 100 count sanitary hand wipes that are Buy One Get One Free for $3.28 and 300 count matches for $0.99.

I'm a little excited about the 14" Mud Pan. I'm going to go see what the quality of the item is. If the plastic is thick enough I might pick a couple up to use as planters next spring. :)

Did you find any great deals this week? Please share!

Getting Organized: Day 2

Yesterday I made it a big priority to laminate my chore charts. After Jazzy woke up and the boys were out the door to school, I dug around in the closet and located my laminating machine. Jasmine helped me laminate the sheets then I found my coil binding machine and added the edge to keep the pages together. Looks pretty snazzy, no?

I woke up with John again this morning to get an early start on my day. I enjoyed morning prayer with John then personal scripture study. I decided I might as well start at the beginning of the Bible again since I'm not as familiar with the Old Testament as I'd like to be.

It's 5:45 in the morning and I have 2 things knocked off my list. (The most important in my humble opinion.) After posting about 1 more topic, I'm off to Critique Circle to give my opinions to another writer.

Monday, September 19, 2011

On the Blog Again: Getting Organized

It's time for me to get organized. A big fan of Money Saving Mom, I admire how she sets goals every week. She challenges herself to exercise, bless others, clean and more. I admire how she breaks her goals down into manageable chunks and holds herself accountable.

In an effort to do similarly, I decided I would get up with hubby at way too early this morning and think out everything I want to accomplish this week. I then wrote it all out on this white board in 2 shakes of a rabbit's tail.

Oh wait, it wasn't actually that easy. I wish I were that good! I first started with a piece of paper and wrote out ideas for things I wanted to get done like harvest the last of the grapes, juice/bottle the grapes, finish the yellow room, etc. As I was doing that, it dawned on me that I have things I want to do every day and I better include those in the weekly schedule. So, I made another list and wrote down things that are basic upkeep.

  • Pray -Cause we gotta pray just to make it today
  • Scripture Study -To feast upon the words of Christ
  • Exercise -To keep my body healthy enough to do the things I want to accomplish
  • Dishes -I'm a happier person when my dishes are clean
  • 1 Load of Laundry -So I don't spend 10 hours on Saturday trying to get all the clothes clean
  • 1 Critique - at Critique Circle to earn credits for others to critique my stories
  • Blog Post -so I regularly post here
  • Call 1 Friend -to maintain my friendships
While I'm sure there are many other good things to do each day, these are most important to me. So, I had a list of miscellaneous tasks, a list of things to do daily and I already have a chore chart so I slapped them together in Word in tables for each day. I have extra lines on each day so I can add items as I think of them.

Yea! I'm done! I printed them out and I grabbed my trusty laminator. Or, I would have had it been where it was supposed to be. When I cleaned out the yellow room to tear it apart, I moved everything upstairs in the closet in the room that is now Jasmine's. I'm not about to go up and wake her with my rummaging so the lamination is on hold until the kiddos wake up.

I didn't want to throw myself off my goal of getting organized though so I searched for this spare whiteboard, scrubbed it with a magic eraser (those things are awesome!) and wrote in the days of the week. Well, I started but put the days too far apart so I erased the days and started over which was OK because it's a white board. (Yes, I am encouraging you to use a whiteboard.)

I've made this story way too long already. Time to get to the point. I have every day written, my daily tasks first, the room I will deep clean each day under that, any items from the calendar under that then bigger, various tasks along the bottom. As I think of things, I can add or erase tasks as needed. After taking the picture above I added Sharing Time to the Sunday column since I am planning the lesson and Laminate Chore Charts to the bottom misc. tasks.

This is my plan for getting organized. What will you or do you do to organize your life?