Large Family Chores: Mopping

I’ve been reading a wonderful resource lately…

Kim Brennenam’s Large Family Logistics (visit her blog here).

The book is good for me. Most is common sense and stuff I’ve heard or already knew but the key to this book is how she takes all that knowledge and brings it together into a workable solution for your family. Kim has 9 kids, homeschools, and lives on a working farm. Her similar interests means she is a woman I can glean from…especially being a woman of God who puts that above all else and wonderfully shows how to put it above all else in your own life in spite of a large family that produces daily chaos and mess. This has been sobering and refreshing for me all at the same time.

Today we are practicing one of her tips: Listening to audio books while mopping.

With six little kids 9 and under, our floors are filthy no matter how many times a day we sweep. I even try to spot mop after every meal to keep things manageable. Six little feet drag dirt, sand and grass onto the floor daily. Six little mouths miss food as it falls into puddles of stuck-on gunk on our floor.

So today we put on a story, got out six rags, made our own floor cleaner, put the baby in the play pen and set to work. The kitchen smells lemony and wonderful. While they have not perfected the art of mopping, it is MUCH cleaner than it was before and there was no complaining or grumbling…just giggling while they worked on their chore. I think I will use this tactic for other once-a-week chores!

What are we listening to today?

Ivy and Bean


A good story for Halloween and one of my children’s favorites!

How are we cleaning our floor?

  • scoop of baking soda
  • splash of vinegar
  • squirt of dish soap
  • sprinkle of essential oils: lemon and rosemary
Mix in a bowl with warm/hot water and deep clean, disinfect your floor.
Happy Mopping!

The Green Thing

A good friend from church sent me this email. I thought this pretty much sums things up. I couldn’t have said it better myself! Thank you!

 The Green Thing

In the line at the supermarket, the cashier told an older woman that she
should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the

The woman apologized to him and explained, “We didn’t have the green thing
back in my day.”

The cashier responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not
care enough to save our environment.”

He was right — our generation didn’t have the green thing in its day.

Back then, we returned milk bottles, soft drink bottles and beer bottles to
the shop. The store sent them back to the factory to be washed and
sterilised and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So
they really were recycled.

But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every department
store and office building. We walked to the grocery shop and didn’t climb
into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.

But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby’s nappies because we didn’t have the
throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling
machine burning up 240 volts — wind and solar power really did dry the
clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not
always brand-new clothing. But that old lady is right; we didn’t have the
green thing back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room.
And the TV had a small screen not a screen the size of Western Australia.

In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have
electric machines to do everything for us.

When we packaged a fragile item to send in the post, we used a wadded up old
newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn petrol just to cut the lawn.
We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we
didn’t need to go to a gym to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she’s right; we didn’t have the green thing back then.

We drank from a water fountain or tap when we were thirsty instead of using
a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water.
We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we
replaced the rasor blades in a rasor instead of throwing away the whole
rasor just because the blade was blunt.

But we didn’t have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the train, tram or a bus and kids rode their bikes to
school or walked instead of turning their Mums into a 24-hour taxi service.
We had one electric outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power
a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerised gadget to receive a
signal beamed from satellites thousands of kilometers out in space in order
to find the nearest pizza place.

But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks
were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?

Real Food Part One: Dinner and a Movie

Maybe some of you remember the $5 Food Challenge invitation?

Yesterday was the big day. I admit, I was a little worried. Because of time and money restraints I wasn’t able to go shopping until the day before.  But due to the generosity of friends and being able to go shopping at a new wonderful all local food store, Tomato Tomato, everything came together beautifully!

The Challenge ~ Can we eat a local, real food meal for less than the average value meal ($5 per person)? Do we have to sacrifice nutrient-dense healing food for processed, mass produced pretend food?

How did we do?

People attending: 20

Challenge Food Budget: $100

Actual Spent: $50.73

Per Person: $2.54

~ Dinner Menu ~

Herbed Arm Roast

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Buttered Green Beans

Smoked Bacon Swiss Chard Gratin

Fresh Baked Bread

Local Fresh Farm Milk

~ Dessert Menu ~

 Fall Apple Crisp with Fresh Whipped Cream

Locally Roasted Coffee: Columbia Sierra Nevada

~ Movie Snack ~

Local Stove Popped Popcorn

The biggest challenge was deciding how legalistic I was going to be about the whole event. Does every little thing have to be local? Does it all have to be organic? It is easy to fall into a trap in every ideology, whether religious or worldly, that one must adhere to strict rules and never fall off the path. But the biggest life lesson I am learning is that grace abounds and that allows flexibility and freedom while seeking the heart of an issue.

The heart of this challenge for me was two-fold. First I wanted to bring people together to share in food and good conversation. That is so key to what my family believes in. Second I wanted to offer up fodder for conversation on the food war front. We can only change things if we are making informed decisions. I was excited to share a film that would spur debate and critical thinking that we greatly need right now about our food industry.

Some of my local, real food challenges for this dinner…

I needed butter. I wanted vitamin-rich grassfed butter. There was none to be found. So I had to settle for butter at my regular grocery store and just made sure I picked the most local vendor.

I decided to go ahead and use the spices already in my cupboard…salt, pepper, garlic, etc…and not stress about whether they were local or organic.

Price Breakdown ~

Arm Roast$17.85 (3.50 x 5.10 lbs – Range West Grass Fed Beef)

Potatoes free (neighbor’s farm)

Green Beansfree (neighbor’s farm)

2 Onions$ .96 (Spring Valley Gardens)

Swiss Chardfree (own garden)

Herbsfree (own garden)

Apples$8.74 (4.5 lbs)

8 oz Smoked Bacon Cheese$4.60 (Jisa Farmstead Cheese)

Gallon Whole Milk$6.22 (Burbach – $4 credit for bringing back bottles)

Pint Cream$2.87 (Burbach – $1 credit for bringing back the bottle)

1 lb Butter$4 1lb (Highland Dairy)

Flour –  $2 for 2lbs (Grain Place Foods)

Oats $1 for 1lb (Grain Place Foods)

Popcorn$.49 for 1/3 bag ($1.49 bag – Hilger Agri Natural)

Coffee$3.00 for 1/3 bag ($9.30 16oz – locally roasted at Midwest Custom Roasting Inc.)


After a delicious dinner that everyone felt was much more like Thanksgiving rather than a usual evening meal, we retired to the living room to watch the controversial documentary Food Inc. The first time I watched this movie I literally walked out of the theater crying. I was already much more in the know about the food industry then most people I knew yet I was still shocked by what I saw. Having studied much more extensively about food since then, watching it this time just made me very angry. My first viewing left me wanting to change and I did make small baby steps. This viewing left me with a steely resolve that I need to get this food thing figured out for my family. We had some great conversation starting points and I think most everyone left with something to think about.

It was a great night of delicious food and even greater fellowship.

And it gave me much to talk about and share here in this virtual space. So I will be picking my own brain and hashing out thoughts throughout the next couple of weeks in a Real Food Series. Be sure to check back for more discussion and how your family can start making changes.

In the meantime, watch the movie Food Inc. Start reading (your local library is a great resource) and thinking. And check out Slow Food USA and “like” them on Facebook for real-time news stories. Let’s stop pretending that our world is fine and that we don’t need to change. Let’s start taking a real look at food and get back to eating food as God intended it to be.

Want to hear about our night? Listen to my husband on a radio podcast on in-season eating over at Judy A La Carte’s radio talk show.

Take the $5 Challenge

This showed up in my email today:

I want to eat healthy, local food but I have no time, not much money and no clue how to pull it off. What can I do?” – pretty much everyone

Yes..yes…have heard this SO many times, often from my own mouth. I’ve done A LOT in the past year to actually make this a reality for our family. It isn’t easy. It takes time and thought and research and experimenting. It takes baby steps and small changes. But it can be done.

Things I do to put real (unprocessed), whole, nutritious (preferably local) food on our table:

  • Cook from scratch. Refuse to by boxed despite the temptation. Yes, there may be some questionable meals in the beginning experimenting stages but it does get better! 😉 My biscuits are now (as my hubby would affectionately say!).
  • Make my own bread. This is still touch and go for me. With the amount of work on my plate this one sometimes falls by the wayside.
  • Cook a whole chicken and then turn the bones into broth. This has saved us the most amount of money. A $6 chicken can feed our family 2-3 meals and I get about 8-10 cans (baggies) of broth out out of the deal…an extra $6-10 savings.
  • Use in season vegetables from a local farmer. We sourced one who is selling us produce for $1 per pound. Beat that supermarket!
  • Grow a garden. This one seems like a no-brainer but if you want to actually grow one and NOT waste money check out this book: Mini Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 an Acre.
  • Learn to can. Put up food in it’s season while it is the most inexpensive. Sometimes this is as simple as chopping and freezing. Or it can be elaborate as making wonderful preserves or marinara’s.
  • Buy in bulk. No, not the warehouse clubs. I’m talking take that tax refund check, run it down to your local CSA or meat farmer and buy a share when the bulk money is there. Pre-order CSA veggies to be delivered weekly. Bring home 1/2 a cow and freeze it. Order a side of pig and have bacon, chops, ribs for the whole year!
  • Learn to waste nothing. Chopping veggies? Onion, garlic, carrot, celery, and herb ends can go into a freezer baggie and be used when preparing stock. Other veggie/fruit waste can be turned back into rich soil through compost. (Who wants to buy compost?) Fat from your pig you ordered can be turned into lard and put up for the year for delicious biscuits, pie crusts, cookies and for popping popcorn. Kids don’t like bread heels? Chuck them in the freezer until you have enough to make bread pudding or dry them on the counter top and turn into bread crumbs. I even came across a lady who turned her extra chicken feet into stock!!!
  • Source Raw Milk. Still working on this one. But when we do…oh man. That same money spent on not-so-nutritious pasteurized milk can be used on super nutrient dense milk that can also be used to make cream, butter, sour cream, buttermilk, yogurt, farmer’s cheese, cottage cheese, and cream cheese. This is the largest percentage of where our grocery dollar disappears to so I am excited to try and shave in this particular area.
  • Learn to hunt. This is a new skill my husband will be taking up this fall. Permits are usually low cost and this is a self-sufficiency skill that is a lost art. Possible deer meat for a year? Maybe a turkey? This is meat you can take to the bank.
  • Eat your local weeds. Did you know purslane is a wonderful addition to salads? And it is probably growing right now in your front yard. What about dandelion omelletes? Chicory root coffee? Have fun experimenting and exploring your own back yard. Read: The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants
So I decided to take on this $5 Challenge! What is the $5 Challenge you say? Glad you asked. Most fast food value meals are $5 or under. We will be attempting to feed a dinner meal at under $5 a person using only local, real food to show that it can be done for the average family! As Slow Food USA says:
Together, we’re sending a message to our nation’s leaders that too many people live in communities where it’s harder to buy fruit than Froot Loops.”
I will be hosting a dinner party at my house on Saturday, September 17. All (in my local area) friends and family can come and partake. Please R.S.V.P. in comments or via facebook or email by September 10th. I will email you with the time and details. We will be watching the movie Food, Inc. while eating the delicious fare that my chef hubby and I will cook up. I hope much fruitful discussion can take place afterwards. Dessert and coffee will be included. I will be typing up a sheet with a break down of our dinner food costs on the front and local sources of food on the back for all who are interested and will be back here to blog about our yummy meal and discussion highlights within that next week.
And for all those who aren’t in my local area, please visit the $5 Challenge site and sign up to host your own dinner party!

Canning No-Chunks, Kid-Friendly Strawberry Jam


I’m sitting here smelling strawberries simmering down on the stove top. There is no other smell like it in the world. I can only describe it as scrumptiously heavenly. The childhood memories it evokes…grandma’s house, strawberry shortcake dolls, summer playtime, childhood foraging…is probably as strong as the deliciousness of the smell. And today it reminded me that I had taken some previous pictures of canning strawberries and forgot to post about them.

My strawberry jam is kid-friendly…by that I mean no chunks!!! You know how texture-oriented kids can be. But the best part about this jam is its versatility in my kitchen. Not only is it good on PB & J sandwiches, biscuits, or morning toast, we also use it on pancakes, in crepes, and as our natural sweetener for homemade yogurt and ice cream. The no chunks translates well to all other applications making them kid-friendly as well. So I’ve tweaked the original recipe which I swiped from the book Jams and Preserves under Classic Strawberry Jam (lovingly given to me as a gift from my mother in law) and have made it my own.

I’m not going to go into all the canning process…you can read about that in any good canning book or visit I’m just going to share the process of my recipe. And, I must note, this jam is ideally made with strawberries that are locally in season where you live…not the grocery store chain variety. But, I will sheepishly admit, mine are made with the grocery store variety due to price prohibitions. I am taking baby steps to that local, food-sustainable living thing but that is not the baby step I am on. I buy my strawberries when they are in season and go on sale for 99 cents per pound. That makes canning them economically work for me. Canning is cheaper than store bought jam and avoids that nasty high fructose corn syrup…the greater of two evils at the moment. (My cost is about $2 per pint jar. I try to buy my sugar on sale too.) And yes, I know strawberries is one of the dirty dozen yet I also can’t afford grocery store organic variety. So you work with what you have. This I will garauntee  you…it will still be the best tasting strawberry jam you’ve ever eaten! My kids won’t eat any other variety.

Now…on to making jam!

Step 1 ~ Get all your equipment ready to go.

Step 2 ~ Wash your fruit thoroughly. I use about 4-6 one pound containers.

Step 3 ~ Cut the tops off your strawberries (a steak knife works great for this), cut away any bruises, and halve or quarter. I know, I know…what a waste…use a strawberry huller! A) I don’t have one. B) I’m lazy. I put my diced strawberries straight into the pot I’m going to cook them in. One less bowl to wash. Did I mention I’m lazy?

Step 4 ~ Compost your strawberry tops (or let your little ones play garden with them!) and rinse and recycle your containers. (See…those tops didn’t go to waste. They are soil builders…yeah, soil builders!)

Step 5 ~ Dice up (with skin on) into 1/4 inch pieces 2 granny smith apples. This creates natural pectin. Have you seen the price of pectin? Outrageous. With kids we always have apples on hand. You can make your own pectin which I’d like to try some year…not this year. You can also use rhubarb if you have it available. It is the in-season fruit to use but I never have it on hand.

Step 6 ~ Add a splash or two of lemon juice (acidity helps with preservation) and simmer the whole thing over medium heat for about 20 minutes…or until berries collapse. Take the opportunity to clean your kitchen while inhaling this oh so yummy aroma. Or blog like I am. You know…whatever.

Step 7 ~ Blend your berries in a blender, food processor or with an immersion wand. Just a quick blend will do. This helps further mix that apple in with the berries and obliterates the chunks making it kid-friendly.

Step 8 ~ As you add it back to your pot, measure it. Then add 1 and 2/3 cup sugar for ever 2  cups of strawberry liquid gold. You don’t have to be super precise with this part. Ball park it.

Step 9 ~ Simmer again for 15-20 minutes. Skim off the scum. This helps the jelly to be clear, not cloudy. I don’t know if this is kosher or not but, yes, it is okay to lick the scum spoon. It tastes heavenly and why let a good thing go to waste?

Step 10~ After about 15 minutes check temperature with a thermometer. If it is just at 220 (setting point) then you are ready to can. You can do the gel method test but I’ve never been good at this and ended up way over-cooking my jam so I just stick with a concrete temp. Allow to cool on stove top about 10 minutes and skim again.

Step 11 ~ Ladle into jars with a canning funnel. Make sure to wipe rims clean and check for air bubbles. Lid jars with new lids…learned this the hard way! Although, I’ll be checking out these new reusable canning lids soon! If you have a jar that is only half full then allow that one to cool instead of canning and use first (refrigerate).

Step 12 ~ Water bath can in boiling water for 10-15 minutes (start timer after your water comes back to boil when putting jars into the water).

Step 13 ~ Turn off heat and allow to sit for 10 minutes or so. Take out with canning tongs and move to cooling rack. Allow to completely cool before putting away. Remember to check for proper sealing. If one didn’t seal right, just stick that one in the fridge and use first.

This makes between 2-4 pints.

Step 14 ~ Enjoy for lunch on fresh homemade bread and stirred into plain yogurt. Use again on biscuits at dinner because it was so good that you thought that making breakfast for dinner was a good idea. Plus, you were too tired after canning to think of a clever dinner.

Gardening Woes

May I just say that I suck at growing cilantro.

I don’t mean to sound harsh, but there are no other words to describe it. This is the third year we’ve tried growing this supposedly easy-to-grow herb. The first year it died within the first month. I thought, ‘too much shade…more sun next year.’ The second year it bolted too soon and died within the first month. Too much sun? This year I tried it in two different spots. I planted one in a container with rich dirt. The second I planted among the other herbs in full sun with compost worked into the existing soil.

Results: bolted and died.


My other plants? Doing fabulous. the thyme next to the cilantro in the container is thriving and so is the endive on it’s other side. The basil and parsley in the ground…nice and bushy.

How is it that I can’t seem to get this one plant right? I’m up for anyone’s advice.

You Are What You Eat

They say you are what you eat.

We joke about it with witty quips about not wanting to live till 100 if it means cutting out all the fun stuff.

Until you see it literally staring you in the face.

I first noticed it when I made a quiche out of the lovely free fresh farm eggs we received the other day. It’s not like, in my head, I didn’t know they were better. I had occassionally splurged on some cage free eggs at the store. Yes, they were a bit deeper in color than regular eggs. But even a store cage free egg can have many meanings and not necessarily mean a chicken free to eat its natural vegetation. Which is why I couldn’t justify paying triple the store price for a very small, almost impercievable difference. (Watch a video from the Cornucopia Institute here.)

But this…

Oh these eggs were beautiful. All shades of brown, some light, some dark…no bland uniformity here. The yolks were fat and plump and this deep golden butter yellow. They made me happy to be making dinner instead of dreading it. And the quiches…oh my. What a rich golden color it came out. They looked (and tasted) like I had added all this cheese. Nope. Just a small sprinkling of parmesan and mozzerella in one and a smidgen of feta in the other. Not a drop of cheddar. But the taste…oh the taste was divine. Even my kids, who are not huge quiche fans (they are skeptical of anything that is not a scrambled egg), loved these eggs.

So I decided to capture the difference on camera. I wish you could’ve seen it in person. I actually think the picture shows the store-bought eggs reflecting the color of the fresh eggs. But even so you can tell the difference. My kids noticed it. They said they wanted the yellow eggs. They were sure I had screwed up making the other eggs despite them being the same eggs they have eaten for years.

“Did you put cheese in these eggs?” asks Gabe, my cheese lover.

“Mom, how come those eggs don’t look right?”

“Mom, can I have the yellow eggs, not the sick ones?”

Out of the mouths of babes…but very smart babes!

So, what makes the difference in color? And is it nutritionally superior?

Check out these stats for yourself.

Mother Earth News did a study with fourteen farms and compared it to the  U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs. They found that the pasture-fed, free range chickens had these qualities compared to conventional store-bought eggs ~

  • 1⁄3 less cholesterol
  • 1⁄4 less saturated fat
  • 2⁄3 more vitamin A
  • 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
  • 3 times more vitamin E
  • 7 times more beta carotene.

A side by side average looks like this:

                                  SuperMarket Egg          Pastured Egg

Vitamin E                        .97                                     3.73

Vitamin A                       487                                  791.86

Beta Carotene                10                                      79.03

Omega 3                          .22                                        .66

Cholesterol                    423                                      277

Saturated Fat               3.1g                                      2.4g

That’s some good eating!

The Simple Pleasures

holy experience

Well, hello there again family and friends!

I started writing a post on how our experiment into the simple life went. After a few days of sitting on it and realizing how negative it sounded (still may post it), I decided to first come back with a pictorial spread of the simple pleasures we enjoyed without technology at our beck and call.  Some of these things we may have ended up doing anyway, but I truly believe most of them were realized because of the time that opened up when sacrificing keeping up with the technological Jones’!

These pictures sum up the beauty and success of the experiment for me!

247) The kids using their imaginations.

248) peace and quiet in the house.

249) my music: the birds outside, children laughing in the yard

250) journaling…by hand!

251) sketching

252) new apple blossoms (already gone as I type)

254) spring rains

255) walking in the rain!

256) making homemade whipped cream…and enjoying it on french toast with the first in season strawberries…

257) and on my coffee!

258) freshly picked Lilacs from my mother-in-laws house perfuming my dining room

259) the time to read a new issue of Victoria magazine

260) time to finally organize and pair down the dishes (Does anyone else enjoy taking pictures of their cupboards? I must be crazy!)

261) making fresh buttermilk dressing

262) and enjoying it with the first chives of the garden!

263) making fresh baked bread every week again…

264) and slicing it for sandwich bread…no high fructose corn syrup here!

265) making and canning fresh strawberry jam

266) eating said jam on toast and PB&J’s and in yogurt and – sometimes – just by the spooonful!

267) learning how to make yogurt and succeeding (after many failed attempts)

268) making homemade sour cream

269) showing and making homemade peanut butter with the kids out of – get this! – JUST PEANUTS! Take that you partially hydrogenated oil and hidden sugar!

270) figuring out how to use my tortilla press and making scratch tortillas

271) reading a back issue of Mary Jane’s Farmgirl magazine and getting re-inspired with its recipes.

272) making my own Farmgirl Budget Mix!

273) rigging a clothesline between the apple trees

274) using wooden clothespin just like my mom used to

275) letting laundry become my new favorite chore

276) watching freshly clean diapers blowing in the breeze as I’m doing the dishes

277) the naturally starched (and extra sanitizing) job of the sun

278) finishing the garden

279) Lilah digging up the pumpkin seeds and bringing them into me all excited-like

280) replanting the pumpkin seeds

281) my bouquets of violets and “fire flowers” (what my kids call dandelions) that look absolutely stunning on the dinner table

282) hearing my sister retell how her daughter was disappointed to not get to pick dandelions for her mom because their lawn is chemically treated and feeling very thankful I turned down the chem-lawn man!

Living Simply ~ The Challenge

If any of you read our Learning Room post on Henry David Thoreau, then you know that this study spurred something in our family. Living simply and sustainably has been a goal of ours for quite some time. We would love nothing more then to buy some land, grow and preserve our own food, and move a step back from what society says is normal and healthy. And, to a point, we are doing just that through planning and saving for land within our budget, learning how to garden and starting the process of preserving our own food, ridding our life of unneeded chemicals and cleaning naturally, cloth diapering and breastfeeding our children, ridding ourselves of a microwave, etc.

But how close are we really to that goal? How enmeshed into society and current culture are we still? How many technological doodads do we have that suck away our time through – what the professionals call – screentime?

We have this beautiful huge widescreen T.V. (not of our own choosing) that only has basic cable on it. No MTV/reality show theatrics of inappropriate nature go before our children’s eyes. No commercials between Nick Jr., Disney, or Noggin cartoons to entice our children’s desire. Only wholesome PBS, educational shows that teach while they entertain. We have no current Wii system to contend with, not even a Play Station. Our kids are not allowed to run whatever games they want on the computer and the their educational computer games and for-fun Nintendo Mario games are limited within boundaries. We avoid normal T.V. primetime hours (7-9ish) as a family because even basic channels are too risqué for what we want our children to be absorbing, even subconsciously while playing beside us while mom and dad have downtime.

But, despite the careful monitoring, our kids are still being pulled along by technology. All Gabe can think about is the next Mario fix. It permeates his thoughts, his conversation, his school work. And the younger kids find themselves in front of the television beyond what is actually healthy for them, even if it is in the name of education, often in the form of a babysitter while mom is busy with the older students. Adam has found himself sucked into the time-wasting, gossipy, self-promoting, witty comments of Facebook. And I…well, even I have been pulled along in despite of myself. More of my hours have been spent on well-meaning educational research (a link leading to a link leading to a link…you know how it goes) then actually implementing the wonderful educational tools right under my nose. And how many times have I done the, “Uhuh, that’s nice dear” routine as a kid was seeking my attention and I was too caught up in what was happening on the computer screen? How many of my hours could have been spent playing with them, reading to them…things I long to do but never “seem” to have time for?

So, our plan: to give up on technology and ALL screentime for a full month. That means no T.V., no computer, no video games, and Adam will give up his cell phone. We will use the month to get back in touch with what’s really important ~ spending time together as a family, playing together, reading together, rediscovering hobbies, and working on developing good character traits and work habits.

Our purpose is not to condemn others who watch T.V. or use Facebook or the Internet (all useful tools when used properly), rather it is a reflective look at ourselves. What motivates our actions? What draws us to this screentime? What is the condition of our hearts? Isn’t that what the Lord desires most in us ~ our hearts? I think we are so busy filling our lives up with things and escapism entertainment that we never even pause to consider the condition of our heart. So I will take this time to journal ~ old-fashioned pen and paper journaling ~ how we do end up spending our time and how this project affects us. I think we may be very surprised at the answers we find. The obvious will be the time gain and quality gain of family life. But I have a sneaking suspicion that it will be harder on us adults then we think it will be. There will be times of silence that will force us to deal with ourselves. No distractions means no excuses.

So for one month, starting tomorrow ~ Monday, April 19th ~ until 4 weeks from today ~ Monday, May 17th ~ we will give up on technology and take a step back to a simpler time. This means no emails. I will try and set up appointments and playdates in advance, but if you really need to get a hold of us, you can always call my cell (our only home phone connection that we will be disconnecting in July and reverting back to good ol phone jacks) or you’ll just have to drop by. Remember when people used to do that? I will post again here on the 17th. Until then the blogosphere will have to go on without me. Adam officially took down his Facebook site and will only be using the computer to type a story if it’s due for the Reader/El Perico magazine, otherwise it will be powered down. Since we are using this time as a school break/get-the-gardening-in, even I will be off the computer for everything including journaling and researching. My research will have to take place with a physical trip to the library and my journaling with have to be done with a trusty pen and notebook! And we will be monitoring our OPPD bill to find out just how wasteful our normal technological habits are concerning electricity.

Feel free to leave your comments here (will check back one more time this evening before powering down and then again in a month and will respond to all) about what your thoughts are. And, if any of you feel even slightly brave, I challenge you also to take the challenge with us and report back in a month how it affected your life – for positive or negative!

Now, let the games begin!

The Learning Room – Part II: Henry David Thoreau

April 5th – 11th

We did a study  on Henry David Thoreau this week. I know, not something young elementary students usually study. Not even something I studied in high school! But I just found a fantastic kids book on it and it just fit in naturally after talking about John James Audubon. Both were from around the same time period (about 50 years difference) and both were pioneers in the naturalist/environmentalist movement for their times. I’m sure the kids won’t retain that much from their study but for me, personally, it was very eye opening. I have never read Walden before, though I have wanted to for years after I found out he was one of the first to move out of society into that – what we would call these days – sustainable lifestyle. He purposefully led a simple life. And it is to this movement that Adam and I feel drawn to. I will continue to read his book, even though we are technically done with him this week. Adam and I have proposed a little experiment to the kids based off this study (you will find out more details in an upcoming post!).

Lily’s biggest (and somewhat profound) question to his lifestyle was: “If he chose to live simply and wanted more free time then how did building his own house get that because then he just did a lot of work and had to cook and find his own food which is more work? How did he have free time?” Which I thought was a wonderful question that we should all contemplate on. What is real, purposeful work? And is that enjoyment in itself? And do our modern conveniences create more free time or put us in a continuous, perpetual cycle of bondage with respect to time and time management? Anyway, I digress. On to the work we did this week.


  • Read Henry David’s House edited by Steven Schnur (edited by is the important part here, as this book is all from Thoreau’s original writings about building his house by Walden Pond!)
  • Gabe and Lily did narrations (oral and picture to go with) on Thoreau.
  • Gabe independently read A Man Named Thoreau by Robert Burleigh


  • Read chapter 5 of Charlotte’s Web, which the kids are really enjoying…especially the goose who repeats everything. They think she is hilarious! We would have read more of this but kids being slow to pick up and tidy at night has earned some lost privileges.
  • Listened to the audio of Ivy & Bean Break the Fossil Record by Annie Barrows. (These are just so delightful to listen to…the kids love them and so do I!)
  • Read more of the Peter Rabbit series.

Language Arts

  • Gabe – learned about how to use quotation marks; cursive copywork; poetry reading; picture study; creative writing story
  • Lily – phonics practice; manuscript copywork; picture study; poetry reading; creative writing (wrote a wonderful story this week!); reading practice; more review of sentences and punctuation

Latin – Gabe

  • New words: amicus, specto, natura.
  • Reviewed flashcards.


  • Gabe – Math U See chapter 21 – multiplying with double digits, place value notation.
  • Lily – started her new Kumon workbook: Easy Telling Time (which she is very excited about)


  • Worked in the craft room making thumbprint art and decorating a wooden birdhouse.

The smell of clean

What does clean smell like?

To me it smells like fresh cut lemons and the scent of newly fresh spring air breezing through open windows.

That is what I want my kitchen to smell like everytime I clean it. And, ppsstt,  I have the secret: Palmolive dish soap (the cheap, old-fashioned $1 green bottle), lemon oil, rosemary oil, water and a spray bottle.  When mixed together, this wonderful concoction cleans, deoderizes, and sanitizes all kitchen/bathroom surfaces. It is my all-time favorite all-purpose cleaner. The Palmolive cuts through grease and food particles, the oils act as an antibacterial/antimicrobial agent, the water and spray bottle dilutes and spreads the cleaning agents to a large surface area.

I made a fresh batch today and cleaned up after lunch and just stood there inhaling clean.

So easy to make. Just put a few drops of Palmolive soap into a spray bottle, add about 10 drops of essential lemon oil and 5 drops of essential rosemary oil, fill spray bottle with water and shake. Easy as pie! Less then a minute to whip up and you won’t find greener or cheaper cleaning than this (a small bottle of essential oil will last you a whole year of cleaning)!

Try it today! You’ll be glad you did.

The cost of food today…

Received this link to my email through Food Reading the comments reminds me a lot of our own household debates on eating healthy. Go check it out for yourself:

Why a Salad Costs More Than a Big Mac

Some comments I found particularly telling:

From mythago ~

…poverty and obesity are strongly correlated in the US.

If you don’t think so, try being extremely poor for a while (no, not “I don’t have enough to buy BioShock2 till next month” poor). When you have $10 for groceries, you pick your calories based on what’s going to fill you up for the least amount of money – you don’t blow that $10 on a box of organic frisee salad.

That’s especially true when the pinnacle of your local grocery choices is a crappy, out-of-date Safeway, and your most likely options are tiny, overpriced ‘convenience’ stores.

From mizmoose ~

To echo what others have said, Yeah, eating healthy is for people who have money.

I feel lucky when I can get frozen vegetables on sale cheap (& I try to stock up) but fresh fruits and vegetables have become more rare. Meat, when I can get it, is cheap cuts and/or big chunks on sale. Fish is unlikely; maybe shrimp once or twice a year if it’s frozen, on sale and I have a few dollars extra. Nuts are right outta the ball park, except for cheap peanut butter, which we all know is high fat & high sugar. Cheese is store brand. Milk is powdered, bought in bulk and used sparingly — can’t waste money on something that could go bad. Rice and pasta also bought in bulk, along with potatoes and onions.

On the one hand, having no money means I’m not eating in restaurants so I know what I’m eating. On the other hand, I ate far healthier when I could afford fresh vegetables, fish, low-fat cheeses and the like.

From WordTipping ~

Why is it that people view a Big Mac as a cheap meal? Eating a “Value Meal” twice a day is incredibly expensive and twice the cost of buying food that I actually have to prepare and cook…not boxed stuff.

So much for us trying to eat organic anytime soon! Every time we try, we break the bank. Not that we’re giving up the goal of sustainability, but it will really have to come back to doing all the back-breaking work ourselves in our own backyard! And, as we’ve experienced so far, is still not necessarily cheaper…but, OH the taste!

A Dryer Sheet Anyone!!!

I simply must tell you all about the latest discovery in our house. As anyone with toddlers know, sharing doesn’t come easy. At school time, for the toddlers, that means sharing a dry-erase eraser to wipe down the Kumon letter and number flashcards (which can be found here). I’d heard a tip a while back about using recycled dryer sheets. Who doesn’t have plenty of these?

So yesterday we tried it…and LOVED it! My kids thought it was magic. The same chemistry that pulls electricity from your clothing, pulls the dry-erase right off the board/flashcard/book. And – what my kids thought was the coolest part – when you lift up the cloth, NO marker is anywhere to be seen. Not only did this satisfy all the kids attention spans for a while, it also eased up on the fighting over the eraser. Now they just fight over who has what letter!

And where to store these little treasures? Why, in a empty, recycled tissue box of course!

Have a fun day everyone. May your day be filled with a little bit of ordinary magic!

Saturday’s Movie Night

With Saturday being our usual library day, the kids are excited to watch whatever new videos they picked right away. This practice has naturally turned our Saturday nights into movie nights. It is the one night where I try to stop what I’m doing (i.e. housekeeping) to just sit and spend time with them doing something together as a family.

Since Adam is working, we make this a light dinner night – pizza and popcorn. When I’m feeling really inspired then I will go to the trouble of making homemade dough, but most Saturdays find us making the cheating pizza (tortilla shells spread w/a bit of pasta sauce, sprinkled with cheese and baked at 425 for about 8 minutes).  The final touch is stove-popped popcorn, a tradition started a few years ago when we found a recipe in the back of The Popcorn Book during one of our homeschool studies. Adam and I tried it, loved it and threw every bag of chemically enhanced microwave popcorn in the trash. We haven’t looked back since!

So here is our famous stove-top popcorn recipe (after much fiddling for just the right pop!):

  1. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat (a 7 on our dial) with enough veg/canola oil to cover bottom of pan (about 2-3 T).
  2. Place 2 kernals in oil to heat along with oil. You will know oil is hot enough when both kernals pop.
  3. Cover bottom of pan with single layer of kernals (about 1/2 cup) and cover with lid.
  4. Use pot holders to hold on to pan and, every once in a while, shake the pan to cover kernals with oil and allow popping corn to rise to surface.
  5. When you hear popping slowing down almost to a stop, pull pot off heat and place lid in sink, quickly pour popcorn into large bowl.
  6. Salt to taste.

There is nothing like the taste of freshly popped popcorn! With all the warnings coming out about how bad microwave popcorn is for you, I am glad my family made the switch! And now with our microwave broken – with no plans to buy a new one – it will be a necessity…a happy necessity! Enjoy your weekend dear readers!

I didn’t know…

Last night for Advent we read a story I have been meaning to get to for a long while…An Early American Christmas by Tomie dePaola.  We are in the middle of studying early American History so when I spotted this little gem at the library I snapped it up.  I meant to do it as a history study but time ran out and it has been sitting there on our shelf while we are busy preparing for Christmas.  I finally got it down and decided to read it during our evening meal.  After many false starts and warnings about paying attention (there may have been a threat or two about not getting to do the Advent calendar) we got on with the story, and what a story it was!

I have always loved Tomie’s books, especially his own children’s autobiography (which inspired me to go out to buy each child their own box of 64 count real crayola crayons).  This one was no exception.  His author’s note is at the beginning instead of the end and helps to set the stage for the story of how the colonists might have celebrated this special time of year.  The story was simple, the illustrations wonderful, but even better it was filled with tidbits of information we never knew before.  Like the bayberry bush.

Summer Bayberry

Winter Bayberry

Now I have heard of bayberry candles…I think I may have even smelled them at one point.  I’m sure they smelled spicy with evergreen undertones.  But I always assumed it was a candle scented like a bayberry (having no idea what a bayberry was).  But did you know that bayberries can make wax?!?!  Reading this book immediately sent me on a computer hunt.  What is a bayberry?  How does it grow?  Can I grow it?  Can you get real, authentic bayberry candles?  Can I make my own?  I feel another project bubbling under the skin.  I know, I know…trying to slow down.  This will have to be a project for next winter.  But I feel it will play into my winter reading of garden catalogs!  How fun to grow and make your own bayberry candles.  What a new and fun concept to add to my growing list of sustainable skills to know!

Authentic Bayberry Candles

Towards the end of the book, when Christmas is finally brimming, the kids were intrigued by making your own ornaments out of dough.  This made me remember just having seen such a recipe in Susan Branch’s wonderful book Christmas From the Heart of the Home!  If you haven’t read this book I would highly recommend it!  It will instantly transport you into the Christmas season no matter how much like scrooge you feel.

We set to making dough, which the kids loved doing.  The recipe is absolutely simple and the kids loved squishing, mushing, and using all the cookie cutters.  My only warning is to anyone with dry winter hands.  Wear Gloves!!!  The cup of salt the recipe calls for works it’s way into any little nicks on the hand and stings like needles for hours, as Lily and I both came to find out later!  Today we spent the afternoon painting them – interesting to say the least (will put pictures up tomorrow).  Then tonight we will bake and put a clear sealer on the top.  The kids are so excited to be making their own.  Lily even said that painting these was better than getting a gift!  All in all, I’d say this little Christmas book led to some wonderful rabbit trails for us.  May it do the same for you!