Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Voting gives us a Voice

"Do we leave our vote there, mama? Who comes to get it?"

"How does our vote get to the people at the White House?"

"Can I vote, too?"

These are just a few of the many questions my 5-year-old has been asking lately as we prepare for the Michigan primary vote. I've got a fun post about Presidents coming up later this week, but seeing as how today is voting day, here are some great links specifically about voting, elections and our leaders.

Prayer for our Leaders Coloring Page (LOVE this!)

The Democracy Project (fantastic resource and the "step inside the voting booth" tab is wonderful, too)

Electing a President (simple, straight to the point, clear explanations, followed by great activities) :)

Election Day Worksheets

A to Z Teacher: Election Theme

And of course we love the book, "Duck for President" (the charter on-demand read-aloud narrated video is much better than this version, but this will do if you don't have the book yet)

Teaching Civics with Children's Literature: Duck for President

Duck for President activities

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Embracing a Frugal Life: 8 Tips for Homeschool Families

I was recently asked advice on how to make a frugal lifestyle more practical, so I decided to share some of these tips. A lot of them may be things you already do, or intend to do, but sometimes, having the reminder to embrace these tips can be helpful.

1. Appraise your needs vs. wants
To make living on a single income work, evaluate what you need versus what you want. Assess these needs in all areas of your life. Shelter is a need, a large house with property can be categorized as a want. Transportation is a need, two or more vehicles is a want. Where can you downsize or simplify? Examine what you can go without, and implement the practical practice of it.

2. Leave the consumer lifestyle behind
We are a consumer-driven society, but the more you watch how and where you spend your money, the easier it becomes to use less of it. In her book, “Radical Homemakers” author Shannon Hayes portrays this concept in depth through interviews with various families who have reclaimed their domesticity from a consumer culture. The following is an insightful excerpt from the introduction to “Radical Homemakers”:
"Mainstream American culture views the household as a unit of consumption. By this conventional standard, the household consumes food, clothing, household technologies, repair and debt services, electricity, entertainment, health-care services, and environmental resources. In order to be a ‘successful’ unit of consumption, the household must have money. Ruth and Sanford's household was not a unit of consumption. By growing their own food, living within their means, providing much of their own health care, and relying on community, family and barter for meeting their remaining needs, their household was essentially a unit of production (just not by the standards of a market economy). Thus, their income wasn't critical to their well-being."
The book is a valuable and insightful tool to starting or improving a lifestyle not based on consumer-driven values. http://radicalhomemakers.com/

3. Pre-buy and store it
Clothes, food, books, toys for Christmas, all these are examples of things you can buy throughout the year when the price is right, instead of when the time is ideal. The bulk of your children’s clothes should be purchased in the off-seasons, when you can take advantage of the best sale prices. You’ll still be filling in the gaps here and there, but you’ll save hundreds of dollars per year. Obtain a chest freezer. Life on a single income can often fluctuate when unexpected expenses arise, so having a chest freezer stocked with essentials can get you through the months when you have to hold off on bigger grocery trips. For our family, it also means freezing fruits and vegetables from our garden and storing the venison from a successful hunting season for my husband. Being frugal also means taking advantage of resources as they are available. This means you will need to designate certain areas for storing unexpected resources. Allow yourself a craft drawer or tote, and make room for the storage of out-of-season clothes, pre-bought toys and gifts or garage sale deals.

4. Stock the car with snacks
Bottled water, raisins, crackers, juice boxes, dry cereal and pretzels are all examples of things you can keep stored in a snack tote in the car. Keep a soft cooler in a convenient location in your home so you can quickly pack things like string cheese, apples, or yogurt before you head out the door for day-trips. We like to hard-boil eggs the night before a big field trip because it’s easy for the kids to eat while traveling. This avoids unplanned trips to fast food places. Kids get cranky when they get hungry (so do adults, for that matter). When outside appointments, errands or outings inevitably run longer than planned (with kids, this is always inevitable), having some food always on hand to hold off until you get home saves you the surprising invisible expense of stopping through a drive-thru, and it’s healthier, too.

5. Make use of free materials
There are a number of books out there that show you practical ways to make the most of materials that are free. “Homeschool Your Child for Free” by LauraMaery Gold and Joan Zielinski (http://www.hsfree.com/) is a great place to start finding a wealth of resources both on and off the internet. It takes more initial work, but it saves you a fortune in supplemental curriculum for core and non-core classes. Also, good ‘ole Google finds you just about any free lesson plans you could ever need on any subject. Also, wonderful websites like Freely Educate (http://freelyeducate.com/) and the Homeschool Share (http://homeschoolshare.com/) will never let you down.

6. Arrange a toy/book/clothing swap
Our homeschool group has an annual toy/book/clothing swap, where everyone brings in items they don’t need any more and it’s up for grabs to anyone who can use them. It’s a wonderful blessing and a win-win for loosening up your clutter while obtaining new items you need for free.

7. Make use of your library
For homeschoolers, this is a no-brainer, but your local library truly is a vast, unending resource to utilize. Let your librarian know you are homeschooling and ask about the availability of online inner library loan, which opens up the availability of resources to any and all surrounding libraries through the use of your own.

8. Be grateful for what you have
In the book, “Home Schooling on a Shoe String” authors Melissa Morgan and Judith Waite Allee point out the importance of recognizing your riches: “When Susan compared her husband’s childhood to her own, she saw that there was little difference in their economic status. Puzzled, she wondered, ‘How come he thinks he grew up in a poor family and I don’t?’ Part of the answer, she realized, was that her family always gave to the poor. If you give to the poor, how can you be poor? Feeling rich does not necessarily mean having your pockets full of money. Sometimes it is simply the result of counting your blessings—maintaining a grateful perspective which keeps financial stress from ballooning out of proportion.”
Check out “Home Schooling on a Shoe String” for a treasure of further tips and ideas for making the most of free and low-cost solutions to home education.

Simple habits make a huge difference. Before you know it, living a purposeful and frugal lifestyle will not only be possible, it will be part of the adventure!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

"My Promise, My Faith" Project

My daughter just earned a special pin in Girl Scouts that we worked on at home, called, "My Promise, My Faith". One of the neatest aspects of it was, that it was a project that she could present and share at both her AWANA club and at Girl Scouts.
The award called for us to choose one line from the Girl Scout Law, then to find a story or song from our faith with the same ideas. (We loved this idea!) It also called for us to find a woman in our faith community to discuss it with, and to make something out of what she had learned.

The Girl Scout Promise:
On my honor, I will try
To serve God and my country
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout Law.

The Girl Scout Law:
I will do my best to be
honest and fair,
friendly and helpful,
considerate and caring,
courageous and strong, and
responsible for what I say and do,
and to
respect myself and others,
respect authority,
use resources wisely,
make the world a better place and
be a sister to every Girl Scout.

The Girl Scout Promise is something the daisies all memorized just a few weeks in, and throughout this year they learn the law line-by-line as they follow the stories of various flower characters in their daisy book. Since she had already learned the first 3 lines of the law, we started at the top and chose to use HONEST & FAIR for her project.

We looked up the definitions for Honest and Fair in the dictionary, and my daughter copied them out with her best handwriting. Then we looked up Bible verses that covered the same and gave extremely similar, Biblical definitions, which I wrote out on index cards for her. (Honest: Leviticus 19:11, Fair: Leviticus 19:15)
She drew a picture of Lupe, the flower from her daisy book that portrays the lessons of honesty and fairness. Then we also found printables of the Bible story of Ananias and Sapphira.
We also read additional books- biographies from our Value-Series... The Story of Cochise, Truth and Trust & The Story of Nellie Bly, Fairness. She drew pictures of them, too. Loved getting the extra opportunity for those additional historical profiles in for a relevant tie-in.
She presented it to her AWANA leaders and small group. Then the following week she shared it with her Girl Scout Troop at award night and got her My Promise, My Faith Year-1 Pin along with her other badges.
What an awesome opportunity for her to work on a cross-curricular project which she could present at both her weekly clubs. We plan to hold onto it as one of her year-end displays for our homeschool group's End-of-the-Year Showcase, as well.

"Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." -Deuteronomy 11:19

Elderberry Syrup: a wonder for wellness

My friend Melissa just wrote up a great piece about the benefits of elderberry syrup. She mentions me in it because I needed another batch for our most recent round of sickness last month. It's totally true, I swear by it now. It works WONDERS to ease the symptoms of bad colds and flus. I can't believe the difference it makes in just a 24 hour period when it comes to turning my kids around. Start it right at the onset of symptoms. Elderberry syrup folks---a true wonder for wellness!! Its natural antioxidants truly make a difference. We just do two teaspoons, per kid, twice a day as soon as they start coming down sick. They LOVE the taste of it, too! http://grandrapidsnaturalliving.com/how-to-make-elderberry-syrup/

Caterpillars in the Snow

Wow, what a kooky winter we are having here in the Mitten state!! We've only had about 3 snowfalls all season! We're taking full advantage of sledding opportunities with each short round of winter, but I think the unusual temperatures and overall lack of snow has more than just humans scratching their heads. The bugs are puzzled too! Back in January, the kids and I found a little caterpillar crawling along our back porch, wondering where to go next! "He must be confused," the kids concluded... to be honest, so am I! :)
Ironically, my friend Lori just recently shared this great link with me for fun caterpillar activities and cute snacks--just what we need to get by as we wait for the real spring to start in a few more weeks! Very Hungry Caterpillar activities

Also, you can check out the unit study I made last year on butterflies: Awesome Butterfly Moments.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Week in Review: Valentines & Chainsaw Mishaps--never a dull moment!

We had some nice highlights through last week, including our homeschool group's valentine party and my daughter's badge award night for Girl Scouts. I was definitely treading the wheel, but we made it through the week and got a lot accomplished. It ended in a horrible scare, but through God's grace we are okay and continue to feel full hearts of gratitude for the journey God has us on.


Our homeschool group had a valentine exchange party and later that evening at Girl Scouts the girls all got their badges they've been earning. My husband came too, it was a great night. My daughter gave a special presentation for her "My Promise, My Faith" pin, which she had been working on for weeks and presented at AWANA as well. Afterward, we went out to celebrate as a family to the place of her choice-- she picked Big Boy, so we went out for milkshakes. It was a great family night. We were super proud of our girl, and her brother was too, he gave her a big hug and said, "good job, sister!!" :)


...what? giant blanket forts aren't what take up your mid-week mid-afternoons?? well, if not, they should be. ;)

More school, outdoor play (ha! capturing some oh-so-typical "non-harmonious" sibling moments, "MOM!!! She threw snow at me after I threw snow at her!!" Imagine that! LOL!), some "carschooling" (I made the best cd, I'll post about it soon), some free playtime with fellow homeschool friends, and finished up some errands.

Co-op day, our weekly homeschool learning cooperative. My daughter's friend came home with us after, for a quiet afternoon of play and to spend the night. We had mac & cheese with snap peas for lunch and then did pizza, popcorn and a movie.

Saturday morning I went to a wonderful sale of homeschool curriculum and enjoyed a moms time coffee day afterward.
Then, on Sunday, we had a horrible scare with my husband, involving a chainsaw accident that sent us to the E.R. for more stitches then I can count---it clipped his face and they had to sew his lip back together, EEK!! BUT all things considered we were VERY fortunate and blessed, it could have been so worse, we are very thankful for God's protection and that things weren't worse. Praise God!!! And we are so blessed, too, to have friends who literally carry us through such times with prayer. It was scary! He is currently needing to "eat" through a straw, but it will be healed up in no time and he should regain full feeling again. He's doing great for a guy who took a chainsaw to the face! Geez!!

So, here we go into another week, eh? Counting our blessings along the way!!!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Soy-Free Menus

One of my daughter's best friends has a number of food allergies, which include Gluten, Dairy, Soy and Red Food Dye. We don't mind accommodating these allergies at all when we have their family over for dinner, or invite their daughter to have playdates or sleepovers. We'll even pick them up a few groceries when we can, every couple of months. Once you start shopping, it's not actually too terribly difficult to make adjustments. The biggest difficulty, I find, is that most of the dairy-free options opt for soy, so finding dairy-free AND soy-free isn't always a cinch. But there is still a ton of things available, and, an ever-growing market of labels boasting "gluten-free". I have a few friends whose children have food allergies, but more so, I have friends who hear the menus I'll plan for my daughter's friend and seem to think this is some "above-and-beyond" thing I am doing. It's really not. Thought I would share some simple examples of the menu items, hopefully in an effort to raise awareness that it's not as difficult as people think.

Dinner: Venison meatloaf made with gluten-free bread crumbs, mashed potatoes made with almond milk & gluten-free gravy, mixed veggies and gluten-free toast. (Also, Earth Balance now makes a dairy-free soy-free butter spread)

All-natural fruit Popsicles (Edy's Fruit Bars) and dairy-free/soy-free chocolate chips.

Hot Cocoa: I melted dairy-free soy-free chocolate chips in a saucepan and mixed it with warm almond milk. :)

Breakfast: Eggs, sausage, fruit, American fried potatoes, gluten-free toast.

Fruit Smoothies!

Other snacks: gluten-free chips & Chex cereal.
Really any meat, fruits, vegetables... she's not allergic to eggs, it opens it up quite a bit. Not many cereals, (but some!) not traditional pizza or pasta--but specialty ones. Pot roast is a go, chicken & potatoes are a go, the list goes on and on! Once you find the right substitutes (ex: almond milk), it's easier then you think to make it work. And, I'm excited to learn that Daiya has a new dairy-free soy-free shredded cheese in cheddar and mozzarella flavors that melts, which will make the treat of pizza all the easier! Hope this post is a blessing to you or someone you know!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Impression 5 Science Center makes lasting impact

Our homeschool group had a fabulous field trip to the Impression 5 Science Center last week. They have a special Magic School Bus Weather exhibit that was a huge hit with my kids, along with their other great exhibits and areas, like the water room, nature, body systems and the light room where the kids could freeze their shadows. We spent the entire day-- it was filled with fun, hands-on education. They also lined up some workshops for our group on the 5 senses, magnets, and static electricity. It was definitely worth the trip, there was a ton of stuff for every age to explore together. Two very big thumbs up!

^laughing out loud. e, I love you so much. excellent.