Friday, August 1, 2014

Another Year of Homeschool, Another Organization Method

Since we first started our homeschooling journey in 2001, we have begun every year with a freshly organized school area. Some years that has been a desk-and-shelf combination, occasionally it's been a pair of secondhand desks, and most recently it's been a simple shelf of supplies.

This year, I fell in love with THIS rolling cart, (found via Pinterest)  and thought that having mobile supplies would be a great option for two teens who school anywhere from the living room to the back deck. I checked out Poppit, the site the original blogger purchased all her lovely color-coordinated supplies, and nearly choked when my shopping cart came to $120. That was BEFORE I added the cost of the cart itself!

Refusing to pay that much, but still wanting a pretty color-coordinated space, I started exploring pretty colors and organizational options. $75 and a trip to IKEA and the dollar store later, this is what I came up with. The dry erase boards on the wall are homemade Photoshopped images that have been in our living area for four years now. The glass frame works better than a standard dry erase board, and looks so much better than a blank white rectangle on my wall.

The cart, is the famous RASKOG kitchen cart from IKEA that has taken the blogging universe by storm. All the little pails, baskets, and containers? They're ALL from Dollar Tree!

The pails on the wooden stand, are "book-dumps". Regardless of where we school or how we organize things, piles of books tend to get "dumped" at random places around the house. Now, they can easily carry their books from room to room - and put them back again, when they're finished for the day.

In the top shelf of the cart, I placed our pens, pencils, scissors, markers, and other essentials in 13 individual metal mesh cups. Each of my teens has their own shelf below this, color-coordinated with:

* a bin for small notepads, calculators, and other necessities (including their own oversized sticky-notes!)
* two lidded sandwich-containers to hold stickers, erasers, paperclips, and other tiny essentials
* a metal pail with color-coordinating pens, mechanical pencils and gel-pens
* a single color-coordinated notebook (for scratch-paper & notetaking since most of their work is done elsewhere)
* and a can of Silly String... for their annual First Day of School lunchbreak.
The binders in the back hold their current unit of assignments and essays, to be filed in their permanent binder at the end of each unit. 

It may not be exactly like my inspiration photo, but I am SO pleased with how this turned out! I put it together for the kids while they were out visiting their grandparents, and surprised them with it already set up when they returned.

We've certainly come a long way from our school corner being a set of bookshelves piled high with play-doh, tree blocks and musical instruments!

Friday, June 20, 2014

June Garden Update

I just couldn't leave things with a sad story about my garden, when things are looking so great out there. Yes, I'm completely frustrated with the loss of my bamboo poles, but look at what I have to be thankful for!

In the NorthEast corner, the pumpkins have taken over their blue bin and are finally putting out dozens of tendrils to grow UP! The carrots are about 2" tall now, and all have that downy "fuzziness" that baby carrot tops have.

The basil, oregano & thyme are all growing extremely well, and we've already harvested  a heap of lemonbalm for tincture & tea. And our marigolds & alyssum smell so pretty as we're going in and out the door!

In the NorthWest corner, I lost two seedling melons to the pole-thieves, but the rest of them are finally about 4" tall and are starting to look hopeful. The carrots are the same 2" here as on the other side, and we can now see our nice neat rows of lettuce coming through. My peppers are starting to yellow because of ALL the rain we've had... but I have hope that they'll spring back, given a few days of dry weather. I've already counted at least a dozen blossoms, and can see the beginning swells of 8 different peppers!

In the tomato bins, things are looking wonderful. Four of the six bins are nearly tall enough to overgrow the metal cages, which are 4' high. And the plants are prolific enough it's hard to count blossoms - but I KNOW I've seen several dozen for sure!

In the SouthWest corner, my beans have tendrils running JUST higher than my head. No blossoms yet, but these are my favorite never-fail variety so I'm awaiting their purple blooms any day now.

In the SouthEast corner, the cucumbers are nearly 2' tall now, putting out dozens of tendrils and hundreds of leaves. These too are looking mildly waterlogged, so I'm hoping they spring back from all the rain... my cucumbers tend to be one of my pickier plants, but these are SO large and healthy that I'm not worried at all. And the chives have already been trimmed for several wrap-sandwiches and are growing very well also.

 And running along the South edge, our second harvest of carrots were planted yesterday, and our mint has already been harvested for dinner earlier this week: vegan chocolate mint milkshakes! We can't WAIT to enjoy those again!

I am so grateful that all of our plants have weathered the storms so well, and can't wait to see what this year's harvest will be! We're praying that the squirrels share some of our tomatoes with us, but are hopeful... and ready to let the dog loose to chase them off if needs-be!

The NERVE of some people!

I could just scream this morning, because of the nerve of some people!

We have had historic storms and rainfall all this month, and I've been biting my fingernails each morning, praying that nothing in the garden is damaged. This morning, I woke up to find THIS in my melon planter.

See the five ugly holes? See a distinct lack of bamboo poles? My husband & I hunted around in case the wind did it, but they're nowhere to be seen. And with the way the soil is disturbed, (wind direction is always from the other direction in our yard!) I can tell you - the wind didn't do this, they were stolen.  Someone STOLE the 8' bamboo poles, RIGHT OUT OF MY PLANTER!

What baffles me, is HOW did they get to these? We don't have stairs to this back deck, they would have had to scale the sheer side. And WHAT are they going to DO with my poles? Vandalism runs rampant in the neighborhood, and I can only imagine the damage a handful of teens could do with these.

The police have been, and promised that if I see anyone with them, he'll come and get them back for me. He also promised he'd drive around and try to find them himself, and keep an eye out for them over the next few days. Honestly? Somehow I'm doubting I'll ever see these again. I'm PRAYING I don't see them through someone's house or car window... or worse yet, run through some teen with a mock jousting-match turned horribly wrong.

It's days like this, when the urge to move to middle-of-nowhere Colorado becomes absolutely unbearable. Seriously, who raises their kids to think this is okay? Who would ever think this IS okay? 

Friday, June 13, 2014

A new wreath!

I have been without a summertime front door wreath for awhile now, and foundering for ideas. Then the other day, I saw THIS WREATH on Pinterest & knew what my new wreath would look like!

To make this, I crocheted yarn onto of all things - a POOL NOODLE that was duct-taped into a circle! It took about an hour, and then all I did was tie large gingham bows onto one corner & poked a few daisies into the noodle.

I love how simple this one is, but I also love how easy it was to make! And because I had everything but the flowers on hand, it cost less than $2 to make!

The rest of our summertime decorations haven't changed much for the past few years, but I do have a few places that look quite different this year. On the shelves near our entry, our "beach corner" is starting to spread out a bit, and on the shoe-shelf  I FINALLY have the Willow Tree display of "our family" all together!

I fell in love with the Willow Tree figurines the year they came out, but haven't really been in a position to pick many of them up. When individual people started coming out, I began daydreaming of having a small group of figurines that signified our family. Now as we enter the house, we're greeted by this simple but happy display!

Summertime is a time for dandelion bouquets on the table, and veggies growing on the deck. NOT a time for enormously elaborate displays all about the house. It's also a time to begin working on some serious crafting... which I'll be sharing REALLY soon!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

"Politicrap" and the companies that just won't listen

I have a VERY serious rant, about political & "nonprofit" mail.

Last November, after two full years of trying to explain to my father-in-law that he cannot give away literally tens of thousands of dollars per year to various organizations, we had his mail permanently routed to our house so we could deal with his mail ourselves.

Little did we know exactly how much there actually was. To begin with, we were receiving between 5 and 11 pieces of mail PER DAY requesting money. And for six full months, for EVERY SINGLE piece of mail we received, I called the number listed, explained that they were asking for money from a vulnerable senior on a fixed income with memory issues, and asked them to stop sending mail.

Every single one of them... let me repeat that, EVERY SINGLE ONE of them apologized profusely, and promised that they would immediately take him off of their mailing lists. Nearly all of them cautioned me that it would take 6-10 weeks for his name to be completely erased due to pre-printed labels... so I labeled the envelopes, waited a full 12 weeks, and then had my husband repeat the calls to all the companies who were still sending us mail - using his Power of Attorney to demand that they stop contacting us. After he made a single call to each company, I began calling again with the new mail, this time demanding to speak to supervisors, and giving people an earful about what I thought of their continued mailings, and repeating the demand that they stop sending letters while reminding them that my husband WITH POWER OF ATTORNEY had already insist that they stop. 

Last month, SIX FULL MONTHS after we started having his mail forwarded, this is what one month of mail looks like. All bills and typical sales-ads have been removed, this is JUST the religious & political mail.

That's 30 pieces of mail; nearly one for every day of the month. Every single one of them, requesting his money.

By the numbers, these are the companies that have refused our repeated requests to stop harassing an elderly VULNERABLE ADULT, AFTER being told of his memory issues, and that he's living on a fixed income not able to donate to ANYONE ever again due to the 5-Year Lookback Law... AND after each and every one of these has REPEATEDLY promised me they will NOT be sending any more mail in his name. 

The political groups that do not honor their promises are: 
* Republican Leadership - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $30.
* NCPSSM - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $12.
* Aaron Miller for Congress - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $25. 
* Dave Hann for Senate - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $10. 
* Torrey Westrom for Congress - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $25. 
* Mike McFadden for Senate - sent 2 letters, asking for at LEAST $50 total. 
And bringing up the wall-of-shame for political mail was
* Rand Paul... a senator from KENTUCKY - sent 3 letters, asking for at LEAST $150 total! 

In religious groups, this is who refused to honor their promises: 
* Wycliffe - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $25. 
* Navigators - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $20.
* Life Outreach International - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $27. 
* Open Doors - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $25. 
* Biblica - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $10. 
* Chosen People International - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $15. 
* International Fellowship of Christians & Jews - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $17. 
* FRC Action - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $25. 
* One Hope - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $50. 
*  Focus on the Family - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $9.95. 
* American Family Association -sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $35. 
* Hillsdale College - sent 2 letters, asking for at LEAST $35. 
* Campus Crusade for Christ - sent 2 letters, asking for at LEAST $50 total. 
* ACLJ - sent 2 letters, asking for at LEAST $90 total. 
And bringing up the shameful practice of failing to deliver on their promise to stop exploiting the elderly was
* Billy Graham - who sent 3 letters all asking for money... while not suggesting a specific amount. 

I have heard people say that these mailings are random. My response to that is, baloney. I have not EVER received mail from ANY of these associations. And even while all this was coming in for my father-in-law, we STILL never received a single piece from any of these companies, in our own name. 

Shame on you. Shame on you ALL. Your practices of preying on the elderly and vulnerable, ESPECIALLY after being TOLD an individual is a legally defined vulnerable adult, disgusts me.

I only pray that those who read this, take note of these groups and refuse to support them, as they obviously do not honor their own word. Perhaps if enough people were to take note, they would be forced to honor their own word and not exploit the helpless.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Egypt: When Study Becomes a Party

Every once in awhile, you just need to have fun for no reason at all. As my daughter is finishing her sophomore year of homeschooling, she had to study Egypt for one final time before graduation.

Being rather feminine and softhearted, she has a hard time with the concept of mummies. Every time we visit a museum with mummies, she will refuse to enter their room. But we HAD to study them before graduation, so the question was HOW do we do it without needlessly horrifying her?

Enter Pinterest, and the neverending homeschool options of those who have gone before us. We found a Youtube clip of a little boy mummifying a Barbie doll, and decided to turn her studies into one giant "Let's Mummify Barbie" party. When all was said and done, the party ended up covering 11 different assignments, and was a ton of fun to put together.

On our front door, which was flanked by giant potted ferns, was a cartouche spelling out "WELCOME" in hieroglyphics.

Once you entered the living room, a sun-shelter had been altered with gold curtain sheers and tiebacks, to look like a desert oasis tent complete with ferns, reclining cushions, (body pillows) and a low table.

The ceiling of the tent was hung with glass globes holding tealights, and a paper chandelier that took an entire afternoon to make, but was well worth the effort.

To one side of the doorway, we placed a diorama of the Nile River that my daughter painstakingly put together, and an infographic about Hatshepsut; one of the lesser-known female Pharaohs.

The vases were made by spray-painting tea bottles; first in aqua paint, then in gold glitter paint! Every time you looked at them, they appeared to be shimmering.

To the other side of the doorway, was "Cleopatra's Beauty Station.

We printed various photos of Cleopatra's eyes, and each girl had their own eyeliner pencil to try and recreate the effect. To wash up afterwards, there was a homemade Dead Sea mud and honey mask, with the washcloths carefully tied and arranged in a pyramid.

Each girl went home with a bottle of homemade honey body wash, and a jar of homemade milk bath... so they could bath in milk and honey "just like Cleopatra".

Another quick craft and take-home that they did, was to use hieroglyphic rubber stamps, to stamp their names onto actual Egyptian papyrus sheets.

Who knew... even sells papyrus!

For snacking, the girls reclined at the table and tried date-balls, Egyptian-style lemonade, and hibiscus tea along with fruit kebabs, cheese & vegetables with hummus, and cupcakes with Toblerone "Pyramids" on top.

The Egyptian lemonade was very well-received, while the hibiscus tea was deemed "weird and not yukky, but not great."

The girls loved mummifying Barbie. They went through the steps preparing her body for interment, and decided that the best way to remove her brain was NOT to pull then out through her nose - but to remove her head, and pull them out through her neck.

They made intestines, a stomach, and a pancreas out of play-doh to stuff into canopic (painted film canisters) jars, wrapped her tightly with linen strips, and tossed her unceremoniously into the "golden sarcophagus" my daughter had created.

The girls also mummified each other, with rolls of toilet-paper, and then begged me to wrap them into an enormous four-headed mummy... all while laughing uproariously.

Bedtime didn't happen until around 1am, and all four girls were exhausted at church the next day, but somehow I have a feeling this is one school project none of them are likely to forget anytime soon.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Small Space Container Gardening

I hear people all the time saying, "Oh, if only I had a bigger yard, I could plant a garden! Well I have an 8'x16' deck, and I garden. And when people hear how MUCH I garden, their jaw drops. Let me take you for a walk around my space.

As you walk out the door, in the NorthEast corner, I have a row of heirloom Little Finger carrots and 8 heirloom Omaha pumpkins. The pumpkins, when they come up, will be supported by slings made from worn-out tee shirts and while they won't win any prizes for size, (they average 3-5 pounds each) these come highly recommended for pies! In front of that, are my herbs: two types of basil, oregano, 3 lemonbalm plants, lemon thyme, sage, marigolds, and alyssum.

The blue bins last about 5 years before cracking and needing replacing, and I find them at Target for about $5 during end-of-season sales. The orange planter is one I've had for over 10 years now, and the three black bins are actually cement-mixing tubs from the hardware store that cost about $10 each. Mine have held up through more than 20 Minnesota winters, and are still going strong!

Across from the first area, in the NorthWest corner I have heirloom Early Silver Line melons in the blue bin, (these too will have "slings" once the melons arrive) more carrots in the orange planter, and the cement bins hold mesclun leaf lettuces and heirloom Santa Fe hot peppers. The lettuce will be replanted twice before the weather gets too cold, so we'll actually get multiple harvests of salad greens.

Running down the West side, are six 18-gallon Sterilite storage-bins. Each bin holds two tomato plants, so I've got 6 heirloom Purple Bumble Bee cherry, 6 heirloom Vorlon tomato plants.

In the SouthWest corner, tucked behind my vintage bistro table, are heirloom Purple Podded pole-beans, more pots for carrots, (they will be stagger-planted next week, so we have at LEAST two carrot-harvests) and our chocolate mint in the strawberry pots.

And in the SouthEast corner are heirloom Dragon's Egg cucumbers, and chive.

All of my fruits & vegetables are grown from heirloom organic seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds. My herbs are transplanted from family & friends, and purchased locally. 

It may be a small space, but I'm always surprised at how large our harvests are! Last year we were giving away hot peppers and lettuce, and we NEVER ran out of herbs! I'm still trying to find a way of keeping the squirrels from running off with all our tomatoes and cucumbers, but we've got a few ideas this year.

I look at our garden, and I am constantly reminded
that I CAN have what I want, even if it's a vegetable garden in a neighborhood with toxic soil. It's not about what I DON'T have, it's about how creative I can get with what I DO have that counts!

Here I am, trailersteading in a major urban area, with an organic container garden oasis just outside my dining room door. If I can do it here, just think of what YOU can do with YOUR space!