Thursday, January 30, 2020

Thrifty Thursday ~ An Efficient Kitchen and a Plan

Today I am going to talk about having an efficient kitchen. Having a kitchen that works smoothly goes a long way to getting three meals and numerous snacks produced every day. When the top rack of my dishwasher died a few weeks ago, I started off washing half the dishes and washing the other half in the dishwasher. This was not efficient and was causing all kinds of "dish traffic jams" around the sink. Clean dishes and dirty dishes were getting mixed up and it was a mess. My reaction to this was to empty all of the cupboards and completely redo the layout of the kitchen. A bit of an extreme reaction, I know. BUT...There were several areas in the kitchen that were not working, and it was very much time for a change.

Washing Station

The first change was to stop using the dishwasher completely. Now we wash the dishes two to three times a day or whenever the dishpan in the sink is full. I leave the dishpan out all of the time and people place their dirty dishes in it. When it is full, I fill it with soapy water and let it soak for a few minutes. Then I put on my gloves and wash the dishes. A full dishpan takes about six minutes, if there is a stubborn dish or pan in the mix, although it can take less than that if it is mostly cups and silverware. My gloves hang over the sink to dry and the dishes dry on a towel. When you do dishes in small batches, they are easier to put away quickly. I find it easier to find two or three minutes to do a chore than finding ten minutes. It is simple, quick and there are no more dish traffic jams.

I love looking at homes on the Internet and in magazines. I love to see all of the beauty in those showcased homes, but I really wouldn't be that comfortable living in one. There is beauty in the domestic home as well. A house that is truly working for its family is going to stay tidier and be more comfortable. The gloves hanging over the sink don't bother me a bit. Their presence mean my kitchen is clean and my hands aren't chapped. 

Breakfast Area

I created a breakfast-making area right next to the sink. Everything is at arm's reach. The coffeemaker, toaster, fruit bowl and cereal jars are on the counter. The cupboard above the counter has dishes in it, and the drawer below the counter has everyone's medications and supplements. Of course, the medications would have to go up if we had little people in the house. The cutting board no longer has appliances on it, so fruit can be cut up right there and left on a plate for breakfast stragglers. The black cutting board is right next to the under the counter trash and recycling area that my husband installed this past weekend. I love it. Most of my kitchen trash is created when I am prepping meals. Now, the trash is right there, and I don't need to walk across the room dripping gross stuff. 

Baking Area

The baking area is now in a spot that used to be the disaster zone in our kitchen. It used to hold the coffee station, spices, water filter and miscellaneous "projects" such as thawing meat for dinner. Now, it is devoted to baking only.  The drawer and the cabinet below the baking area hold everything I need to make our baked goods. All of the flours and mixes are above the baking area. There are no more wasted steps to find the items I need all over the kitchen and I have enough space to whip up bread or biscuits whenever we need them.

I also switched the cabinet contents under the breakfast bar and the stove top. Now all of the pots are under the stove and all of the entertainment items (less the china which is still up high) and rarely used items are under the breakfast bar. Now, we have a large cabinet that we rarely have to go into which helps prevent things getting "lost" in the kitchen. 

There used to be a day almost every week that a few or all of us would break down and get pizza or eat crappy fast food, because the kitchen was a disaster or we just didn't feel like we had time because an item was lost in the kitchen or we forgot to follow the meal plan for the week and thaw meat. Now, I look forward to working in the kitchen, which is half the battle. The new kitchen layout has already saved us from ordering pizza or eating out this past week. That is a huge savings to our family. I can see that it will continue to save us $20+ a week, if not a bit more.

Blessings, Dawn

Friday, January 24, 2020

A Quick Week

Wow! It is Friday already and January is almost over. Some weeks just go by in a blink for me. This was one of those weeks. This felt like a prep or transitional week for us. We are preparing (bracing) for the rest of the school year. There are so many exciting and fun experiences ahead of us. There are also some dreadful and hard things to get through. All of these things require loads of planning.

Here is a brief review of what we are doing:

We spent the months of December and January eating everything out of the freezer and overflow (emergency) pantry. Now that they are almost empty, I am moving the pantry from the basement to an upstairs closet. I am also defrosting the basement freezer. Soon, I will start restocking them. I am also slowly moving all shelf food into glass jars. It just keeps everything cleaner and safe from any pests.

Our favorite game this week:

My dishwasher is trying its hardest to die. It is so frustrating how short the life span of modern day appliances are these days. The dishwasher upper rack is no longer cleaning anything. In fact, after some experimenting, we discovered it made clean dishes on the top rack dirty. NICE...NOT. It is a cheap dishwasher and not worth calling a repair man out. There is also no money in the budget for a new one, and so far my husband hasn't been able to fix it. For now, it cleans on the bottom rack and I wash all the glasses and cups by hand instead of using the top rack. Not a huge deal really, just an inconvenience.

Anne was offered the opportunity to substitute for her teacher at two ballet classes with pay. One was a pre-ballet class with 16 five year old children! There were no curriculum or notes to teach, so she just created little games that worked on beginning dance moves. The class sounded cheerful from the waiting room. Several parents that went outside the building to watch through the windows came back in and told the parents in the lobby that she had good order of the class and that the kids loved her. Go Anne! The second class was a grade two Cecchetti class with 9 and 10 year old students. She had a curriculum to follow and found that class pretty easy to teach. She said she preferred teaching the older class, because it had an organized lesson plan.

Poor Dean just can't catch a medical break. His dentist appointment resulted in a referral to have his wisdom teeth removed. We will have to travel several hours away to have them removed because there are very few Medicaid providers in our state. This is going to be a huge challenge for him. With his sensory issues, he finds just a normal cleaning to be a major struggle. Fortunately, he will be under anesthesia for the procedure. Also, he had no cavities, and they said he is doing a great job brushing his teeth.

My students made a sail car in physical science this week. It turned out great.

Lastly, we have started a unit study on The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. I picked the book very carefully and decided to go with a very wordy graphic novel. It is thick and clearly carries the story line. I will be talking about it soon in more detail. I am so glad it is being well received by the kids. I have wanted to share this book with them for a long time and am glad I found a way that would enhance their learning.

Blessings, Dawn

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Mid-Year Update

This school year is just flying by! I can't believe it is the middle of January. When I think about where we were in September and where we are now, I am just astonished with the progress that we have made as a family. Everyone is doing so well in their own goals.

Anne ~ Anne is in her junior year of high school. She likes her coursework for the most part. She isn't a great fan of anything science-oriented unless it is nature or animal related. So she isn't thrilled with her Physical Science course, but is plugging along. She is doing about half of this course on her own and the other half as a group with her brother. English III, World History II, Sign Language III and Health are by far her favorite subjects. She will finish up Health by the end of January. 

Of course, she lives and breathes for the dance world. She has her hand in so many pots at the moment. She is preparing for a show with Adult Company in March, a Junior Company show which is also slated for March, a dance piece that time and location is still to be announced and a dance intensive in another city in February. Also, the Spring Show will be announced soon, plus she is working hard to prepare for her next Cecchetti Ballet exam in June.
Image may contain: one or more people, shoes and indoor
Anne dancing Snow during the Nutcracker
Image may contain: 2 people
Anne in the middle holding the extended pole -- working with the Adult Company on a new dance.
Anne's first experience dancing with the Adult Company last June.
She will graduate with thousands of hours of dance under her belt. It is hard to believe she has now been dancing for 13 years. 

Her Sign Language III course has turned into a private tutoring session each week, because everyone else dropped out. It was always a small class; but I think that it was just too hard for some of the other students, because the teacher is completely deaf. Anne loves the class whether she is alone or with others. She is now doing some college-level sign language, according to her teacher. I am so relieved they decided to continue the class even though she is the only one in it. The co-op told me that they see potential in her and there is a desperate need for sign language interpreters in our area, so anything they can do to encourage her is great.

Dean ~ Dean is in his senior year of high school. He started his school year off in a very hard place due to the loss of his girlfriend. His world was filled with sadness for a long time, and putting one foot in front of the other was all he could do. Thankfully, with proper medications and lots of family love and support, he is doing much, much better now. 

His schooling has gone a bit slower than I had hoped this year, and I will be making several of his courses into half credits to get him to the finish line. That is really okay, since he will still be graduating with more credits than he needs; and the crucial ones are done or almost done. He will have all of the basic credits plus a double major in The Arts and Physical Education. In our state, the public school requires you to declare one major. Homeschoolers are not required to declare a major, but I had them follow the school system's theory of a major. Since I wasn't sure whether my students were going on to college, following to some degree the public school would provide a very well-rounded transcript and education. He still prefers to learn through family reading, individual reading, hands-on projects, workbooks and watching the occasional documentary. Writing stood out as the major problem area in the educational testing he had from a psychologist recently. His writing was average to above average for spelling, sentence structure, communicating, understanding and vocabulary. However, the process of his handwriting, actually forming the letters, was painfully slow. In fact, it was at the one percentile. No wonder he resists writing and typing whenever he can! I asked if learning to type would help him, but the psychologist said it might improve but only to the second percentile! The doctor said it was not from lack of practice but was more likely a moderate learning disability that was exacerbated by his having cerebral palsy. 
A mushroom by Dean
His favorite activity, outside of playing video games with his brother, is live action role play (LARP). He takes four hours of LARP classes a week, in addition to playing adult LARP games two to three hours a week. He hopes to go to a competition in another state in about six weeks. My husband will be taking him and camping at the site. Dean is a great role model to the younger kids and gets along great with the adults.
Image may contain: 2 people, people on stage, basketball court and outdoor

Dean is very connected with family currently and feels safest at home. He will not venture out on his own without a family member(s) being with him. Then he expects the family member(s) to do the interacting with the rest of the world while he watches. He has two friends that he texts with and sees occasionally. He also has the people at live action role play games plus three friends online that play video games with him and his older brother. Anything that may result in making a public mistake or that may be unpredictable is very stressful for him and causes intense anxiety. Things that seem simple to us, such as shopping and paying for his own purchases, are incredibly stressful for him. His recent goal has been to use a gift card at the local Subway to buy his own lunch once a week. He started off very resistant and even had a panic attack. After three weeks of practice, though, he is now buying his own lunch without difficultly. However, he says it is still very anxiety producing. Now we have added a Starbucks gift card for him to practice purchasing a coffee once a week. After a few refusals to try, he finally purchased his first coffee this week without any issues. He also accomplished walking at the mall with a friend several times recently. Unfortunately, this activity has come to a halt because of an issue with some very rowdy teens. Our mall no longer allows teens to be in the mall without a parent. We will see how long that policy lasts. We just keep stretching him slowly and steadily with the hopes that these experiences will build on each other and his acute anxiety will decrease.
Dean with his best friend.
All and all, we are in a pretty good place right now. I am thankful for progress, even when it is very slow. After all, progress is progress.

Blessings, Dawn

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Thrifty Thursday ~ Buying a Used Minivan

This may seem like a strange post for Thrifty Thursday, since I am going to talk about spending lots of money. Sometimes you need to spend money to add security and save money down the road. Our former minivan cost us several thousand dollars in the last year. It had high mileage and was obviously nearing the end of its life. We probably held on to it for too long. When the transmission began to go a few weeks ago, we knew it was at its end. We had invested enough money into a car that was pushing 200,000 miles, was 13 years old and had potentially expired air bags (they are only guaranteed by the manufacture for 10 years). We were also well aware that newer minivans had many more safety features, such as a backup camera, additional roll bars in the roof, Bluetooth for hands-free calling and alerts for if you are getting too close to a wall, etc. These extra safety features felt even more important knowing that we were on the cusp of having two brand new teen drivers in our family. Anything I can do to increase their safety on the road is high on my list of things to spend money on!

The short story for those who don't want to read all of this. Always buy used and always do your best to pay cash.
So, we decided to buy a relatively new mini van...just four years old with low mileage. However, we made the commitment to buy it for cash and not to take on any debt. Fortunately, we had a small inheritance from my father, which we spent a good portion of last year to buy a used car for my husband to replace his 19 year old car. After much deliberation, we decided to spend the rest of our inheritance to purchase a used (but as new as we could get for cash) minivan. Now, if we hadn't had the inheritance, we would have had to buy something much cheaper, older and probably not even a minivan -- or even gone to sharing one car for a year or so. We have gone down to one car before for months on end. We even went through a spell once when our one car did not fit our entire family and we had little ones at the time. That was an interesting period. However, this time we were blessed with this pocket of money. So, we set out to spend it as wisely as we could.

Why we chose a minivan ~ Several people have asked why we purchased a minivan when our kids are practically grown up.
  • We love to travel and traveling by car is always cheaper than other forms of travel. We have six family members including grandma and often take the dog with us as well.
  • Our children are not likely to leave home immediately due to special needs and the cost of living in our area. It is just hard to launch into complete independent adulthood around here.
  • When I return to work in the next year or so, I will most likely be providing in-home childcare, and a minivan will be useful to my job.
  • We cart lots of teens around. My kids have lots of friends who visit us frequently, and I often end up carting around four to five teens on the weekend.
We did tons of research and decided that a KIA Sedona was the best fit for our family. They are very affordable (next to their competitors), have a 5 Star Safety Rating, affordable maintenance outlook, and plenty of bells and whistles. 

Consequently, this is what we bought! A 2016 KIA Sedona with back-up camera. It even came with an eighth seat if we want to put it into the middle row. It drives so smoothly. I am sure anything would drive smoothly after my former minivan that was shaking violently at every light, plus and the transmission was slipping when you least expected it. What a relief to teach my kids to drive with a reliable vehicle!
One funny aside. During the haggling process over price at the dealership, an elderly man came up  to me while the car dealer had stepped away. He told me he was enjoying watching me haggle. He said it was a lost art and I was doing a great job. Now, I really don't enjoy haggling, but I hate paying an unfair price even more. My husband doesn't haggle. He is given the price and he pays it. We knew going in that, if we wanted a fair price and something we could afford, I would be in charge of the purse strings and haggling. I did a bit of research on getting a fair deal from a dealership before going in to buy both used cars that we purchased in the past year. I knew what were fair charges and what were up charges that I could insist that the dealer make disappear. I was honest about other minivans that I could go and see and that I fully understood that it was January and that this was a minivan, so they were going to have trouble moving it. Minivans aren't super popular right now. My husband said it looked like the salesperson's eyes were going to pop out a few times. But I just remained honest, patient, steady and true to our bottom line. In the end, we got very close to what we wanted to pay.

Speaking of teens driving -- in our state, teens are required to have six hours of driving instruction from a professional driving instructor before they can get their learner's permit and practice with their parents. Now, I could have picked the free way and gone through the school system. However, I heard many horror stories from my kids' friends. They told about being forced to drive on the highway in the first two hours behind the wheel even though they were shaking and crying! They told stories about other teens arriving to take their lesson high on drugs and the instructor not noticing (at least not right away). The more I listened, the more I knew this was not the way for us. I am more than happy to spend money when safety is involved and there is nothing more important for my teens to be learning right now than how to drive safely for a lifetime. I am investing in their lives and all the other lives they meet on the road. So, we decided to go with a private driving academy, which isn't cheap. However, the instructor teaches only one student at a time, welcomes parents to ride along so parents can learn techniques to teach their kids later, tailors the lessons to each individual teen instead of scrolling through a check list, and is happy to work with special needs.

Anne started her lessons first. She is ready to move on with driving lessons. Dean would rather wait a few more months. He tends to prefer to see how it goes for a sibling before he will try  something out. It has been a fantastic experience for Anne! We may even decide to do a few extra lessons once she has her learner's permit. The instructor is calm and has really put Anne at ease. I am learning a lot from the back seat. I didn't expect to learn much of anything. I have a completely clean driving record and consider myself a law abiding, good driver. However, I am learning each time.
We had wanted to replace the roof on our home with the remaining amount of our inheritance, but having two safe vehicles was more important. The roof can wait for now. We are abundantly blessed.

Blessings, Dawn

Friday, January 10, 2020

Exploring an MRE ~ Meal Ready to Eat

We are wrapping up our study of the Vietnam War today. I decided to only spend a week on the Vietnam War, because my crew gets war weary real fast. We are not at all war history enthusiasts around here. So we have read a few books, watched a short documentary and today will be watching Good Morning,Vietnam. I think this film has just enough war scenes to get the point across and is interesting enough in other ways to keep them focused. It is rated R, but they are 16 and 17, so I decided it was watchable, as long as I am sitting with them.

For a hands-on learning experience, we decided to explore and taste a military MRE (Meal Ready to Eat). I bought an MRE from a military supply post. While most combat individuals during Vietnam had C-rations rather than the more modern MRE, this was as close as we could get to a meal that a soldier in the field would have eaten. (A C-ration is a prepared and canned wet combat ration intended to be eaten by military land forces when freshly prepared food is not available in a field kitchen or mess hall.)  
Image result for what did a vietnam war meal ready to eat look like
This is what a C-ration looked like during the Vietnam War.
We opened up the MRE and were very impressed with how many things were inside the square bag. It contained the following:
  • energy bar
  • bread (a hard cracker shaped like bread)
  • chocolate/hazelnut spread
  • hot sauce
  • salt
  • sugar
  • creamer
  • toilet paper
  • wet wipe for hands
  • matches
  • coffee
  • electrolyte grape drink
  • nuts and raisin
  • a sturdy plastic spoon
  • main course of spicy vegetable and sausage crumble noodles, and
  • a chemical bag stove to warm everything up.
It is important to note that water was not provided so to truly be able to enjoy the whole meal, soldiers would need a water source plus purifying pills for that source.

My husband served in the military for more than 10 years and thought that the MRE we had was better than he remembered. We were not convinced and made lots of jokes about how he is known to eat just about anything. This is what Dean thought of the taste of the energy bar.
The kids and I were amazed by the chemical stove. With just a bit of water added, the stove bag got very hot. It was hot enough to warm the main course and coffee and still be steaming for about 20 minutes.

We liked the nuts and raisins the best. Everyone thought the main course tasted like Spaghetti O's, which isn't a favorite around here but was at least recognizable. (I somehow missed getting a photo of the main course.)

The coffee brought back memories of that song by Pete Seeger, Gee, I Wanna Go Home. The grape drink wasn't much better. It was in fact, blue and tasted just like a frozen electrolyte popsicle.

Dear Husband taught Dean how to use paper matches and light them with ease.

It was a good hands-on way of being able to relate to how the combat soldiers were able to eat during the Vietnam War.

Blessings, Dawn

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Thrifty Thursday ~ Throwing a Party for Pennies

We had our annual New Year's Day party last week. I thought I would share how we create a fun party for less than five dollars a person. In fact, this party cost $4.20 a person. We had 15 people, including ourselves. Now, if you are looking for amazing decor, you probably want to move on. We did not focus on that this time and I only took about six photos. I was way more busy playing hostess than photographer. Also, I knew upfront that this needed to be a budget-friendly party and that we were inviting people that were just happy to be with us and didn't need amazing decor and frivolity.
Anne wore a dress that was from the 1920's and gifted to her from an aunt. 
My daughter really wanted a 1920's theme for the party. She researched popular party styles of the early 20's (before the wild parties represented in the book and movies, The Great Gatsby). She said group game nights and dinner parties were all the rage. Now, it just so happens that we were gifted an organic turkey, and our family doesn't really care much for turkey, plus we love games. This sounded like a real possibility for our party.

We decided on a full dinner with turkey and all the usual trimmings. We then decided to play two group games. We also found lots of 1920's jazz music on YouTube to play in the background.

The Dinner ~ The number one rule is use what you have.
  • I used our own dishes. We had exactly 15 Corelle dinner plates that are our everyday plates and 15 punch glasses. I had to borrow a bit of flatware from my Mother to have enough for everyone to have a full place setting. 
  • We used that gifted turkey, which didn't cost us a thing and made a wonderful filling meal.
  • I made cranberry sauce from frozen cranberries that were sitting in the freezer.
  • I shopped the after-Christmas sales and got two frozen name brand pies for $5 total.
  • We bought pre-made mashed potatoes, pies and stuffing for time management.
  • I used my own linens mixed with dollar store gold tablecloths for the table settings.
  • We DID NOT serve any alcohol. We don't drink it anyway and the cost is exorbitant.
Our menu included: turkey, boxed stuffing, cucumbers with dip, rolls, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, Key Lime pie, Ice Cream pie and clear punch (ginger ale, lemon lime soda and white grape juice).

We struggled with having enough chairs. We ended up using our outdoor chairs, the piano bench and two folding chairs. Like I said, this was about having friends over to ring in the new year, not about creating a show stopper. 

After a lovely meal, we started the games. We played many rounds of Bingo. I didn't get a single picture because I was the bingo caller. We had prizes from my Mother's and my own gift boxes. I am sure we aren't the only ones that keep a box of brand new items just in case we are invited to a party or event and need something quickly. We also had a selection of candy from the Dollar Store. Our prizes consisted of candy, multi-gum packs, lotion, candles, post card books, a few travel games, an ornament and Pringle chips. I was surprised how much everyone was into this game. Even the adults were very serious about winning. We played until everyone won and we were out of prizes.

We also played a Skittles tournament. The winners received a box of Skittles. You can see that, for comfort's sake, Anne had ditched the dress for a onesie pajama by then.
It was a great afternoon filled with fun and friendship. I got several texts afterward thanking me for the wonderful food and fellowship. It just goes to show you don't need a ton of money to have a wonderful time. 

We could have saved even more money by making everything from scratch or having a hot chocolate bar with light snacks instead of a full meal. 

Blessings, Dawn

Friday, January 3, 2020

Looking Back ~ Looking Forward

We had a lovely Christmas break. Well, in reality we only took Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day off this year. We are in a nice school groove right now and no one felt or feels the need to stop. So we continued and it felt good. We still felt like we were on break because there were no dance or out-of-the-home classes. We read for an hour or more every day as a family and knocked out several books. We watched movies at home and even went to one in the theater. Anne built a 1000 piece puzzle. She has missed puzzles and really enjoyed having the time to do one. We may even squeeze in one more before the crazy really starts up again. Dean spent more time drawing and exercising outside in our crazy warm weather. Oh, and the Christmas Eve service at church was gorgeous. I wish I had taken a picture. We also hosted our 3rd annual New Year's Day party with great success (which I will talk about next Thursday). It was a lovely pause in our usual busy lives.
Our silly dog ate three pieces!
One evening we decided to do a dance photo shoot with our city's holiday light display. The temperature was in the low 50's, so we grabbed our chance. Anne created a bit of a stir downtown with several tourists requesting dance moves be performed. Our city is famous for its street performers, and I think some of them thought she was one of the street performers.

Now it is January...a new month, new year and new decade. There is so much hope in a fresh start. This decade promises great changes in our family. All of our children will grow into adults and be in their late 20's and 30's by the time this decade ends. That is an amazing thought for me! I have been a mother of minors for three decades...every minute of my adult life thus far. No wonder my urge to start a preschool is so strong. Change is hard, but it can also be beautiful and exciting. I look forward to seeing how this next chapter in my life plays out. However, we aren't there yet. There are two lovely teens to graduate and tons of work to do on their journey to adulthood. Our January goals are as follows:
Learning about Gravitational Attraction
  • My husband is taking over all physics experiments. I just can't bring up the energy for physics. It is my least favorite science. I am doing the reading material and worksheets with the kids and he is doing the experiments. It is going so much better.
  • Continue reading for an hour or more as a family each day. We are enjoying biographies, government books, literature and a few science books. It is a nice mix.
  • Watch a movie for literature, history or science once a week.
  • Fill out paperwork for Dean's homeschool graduation this spring!!
  • Sign Anne up for six hours of private driving lessons, which is a state requirement on her journey for a license. 
  • Dean will complete U.S. History II credit and maybe his Visual Arts III credit.
  • Anne will complete her Health Credit and U.S. History I credit.
Our other goals are financial goals. We lose almost 20% of our income in May due to the loss of Dean's adoption assistance at age 18. He received this benefit because he was a special needs adoption from foster care. I also was required to be a stay-at-home mom for many years as part of his adoption requirements (not that I would have wanted it any other way). There are some other big expenses coming down the road right now as well, a dying mini van, health insurance changes and necessary home repairs...not to mention community college for Anne in the next 18 months. We have known that this is coming for a long time and are actively preparing for the change. We had assumed that I would go to work part-time around this time, but the special needs of my family still makes it in everyone's best interest that I remain a stay-at-home mother. We hope to continue to shave off expenses wherever we can for the next year or two so that I can do just that. If we really need more income, I will most likely start a daycare home, which is something I have loved in the past and keeps me at home. This is all said to announce that I will be starting a Thrifty Thursday post with some of my ideas on how we are saving our pennies.

Blessings, Dawn