Sunday, August 5, 2012

School Cabinet Organization

Today is the first post in a new series on organization. The word alone gives me the chills as I am not a natural organizer. I see things that are cluttered and messed up and I just shut down. However, my house, the place that is my domain, the place that is to be a ministry to those entering my home was just getting out of hand. No one could find anything and it was making our days become unproductive and difficult. It is because of this that I am challenging myself to organize my house. To hold myself accountable I am committing to blogging the last week of each month about the room that I have chosen to organize.

I took the month of July to sit down and come up with a plan of action. Where was I going to start and what room was next? As I thought about the upcoming school year and my planning for it, I decided to start with my school cabinet. It has been a thorn in my side from the very first day I started homeschooling 8 years ago. I was determined that the 9th year was going to be different!

I started by taking everything out of the cabinet and purging what I didn't need. If it was old, ripped, out of date, or not used anymore I either put it in the trash or donated it. It felt so good to fill a complete 36 gallon trash bag of junk and take 4 boxes of books to goodwill!

After cleaning the shelves off and purging it was time to put the things back on the shelf. I first thought about things I liked and didn't like about my setup before. OK, so I thought about more things that I didn't like than I did... but there were a few things I did like. I liked where I have my teachers guides, reading and reference books, and student books so I put all of those back on the shelf where they were.

Then I looked at what I didn't like. I didn't like loose papers everywhere, digging through boxes looking for things (even the plastic see through kind), moving things to get to something else behind it, and having things in plastic bags. It just looked messy or was an inconvenience to get to.

To solve my organization problems I started at Walmart in the storage department. I found some plastic storage bins with sliding drawers in many different shapes and sizes that would fit perfect in my cabinet. I thought about the things that I wanted to put in them and where they would work best on the shelves.

I decided to put all my math flashcards up high on the top shelf, but made sure there were easy to reach because they are something we use everyday. The small alphabet cards and miscellaneous flash cards went into another larger bin like the one I put the math flashcards in on the other side of the cabinet. The only flashcards I didn't put in bins were my phonics cards. I have two sets of these, one with pictures and one without and I wanted to keep these broke up in their color groups. However, because I don't like to dig through boxes to find things I put both sets in an accordion file. I put the file next to the bins on the top shelf because like the math cards, these are something we use everyday. To complete the top shelf, we added two smaller 3 drawer plastic bins to hold things like scissors, tape, and push pins.

I have always had my teacher's guides on the 2nd shelf and it works well for me there. Beside my teacher's guides, I placed a large plastic jar with a hinged lid to hold all my pencils. By the end of last year we were down to using just a few nubs of pencils left and I did not want to go through that again this year. I got a great deal on high quality number two pencils at staples a few weeks ago and ended up buying about 100 of them. I also bought a pack of chalkboard labels at staples and used one of those to label the jar. Next to the pencil jar is a small 3 drawer bin that holds rubber bands, dry erase markers, and my dry erase eraser. I bought the 3 drawer instead of the 5 drawer so I could place my stapler and tape dispenser on top. Next to that I have the bigger 5 drawer plastic bin that holds other things like chalk, counting blocks, and paper clips. I labeled all the plastic bins with removable label's trimmed in red that are part of the Martha Stewart line. I had just enough room next to the 5 drawer bin to put a magazine holder for the educational magazines that my children enjoy reading. It was a perfect fit and gave the shelf a finished look.

The 3rd shelf has always held my children's school books. It's a good height for each of them, but they always seem to get their books mixed up with each other. So I did end up changing how we stored their books and I'm hoping this will fix the problem. I bought another larger 3 drawer bin like I used to hold the flashcards and put in on the shelf. I labeled each bin with their name using the metallic bookplates from the Martha Stewart line that I bought at Staples. It made the girls boxes stand out and gave a bit of extra style to the inside of the cabinet. Inside each bin holds their workbooks and text books as well as their special pencils, rulers, glue, crayons, and colored pencils.

Next to this bin is one of my favorite additions this year, my dish drainer! I went out and purchased a new small white dish drainer (I wanted a red one, but I would have had to order it) and placed it in my cabinet to hold my files. I didn't just want yucky manila files so I searched and found some fun colored ones at Walmart for .88 for a 3 pack. I left a few of them open, but on the others I took clear tape and taped the sides up to make them pockets. I have things like my stickers, educational games, laminate sheets, and reader response journal questions in the folders/files. I placed my favorite file in the very front that reminds me to stay organized. In the front of the drainer there is a silverware holder and I use this to hold a few pencils and pens for my husband and myself.

Next to the drainer is where I keep my all important planning binder (I've blogged about my planning binder here). Next to it is where my children keep a few workbooks that wouldn't fit into their drawers and reference books that they use the most.

So lets see, we have a place for books, pencils, rubber bands... what's missing? Oh! What about glue sticks, markers, high lighters and stuff like that? Here is where Martha Stewart meets Walmart canning. I had the thought of putting my extra stuff in jars and having my husband build me a half shelf in the very top of my cabinet, but I wanted to label them clearly with chalkboard labels and I didn't want all the bumps from my Ball mason jars. When I was looking at Walmart, I found that their mason jars had no bumps or markings. I admit I had a "thank you Jesus" moment right there in the store. The jars were just perfect and I was able to fill them with pens, markers, craft sticks and more, label them with the chalkboard labels, and write clearly what was in them for a nice added touch.

To finish off the cabinet I added 2 clips to the top of each wooden door to hang posters and charts from when we need them and a clear plastic pocket folder that hangs about half way down one of the doors. In the pocket I keep seasonal reward stickers and thumbs up sheets (just little notes that give a thumbs up to the child for doing something extra special or just working hard).

I have to admit, I enjoyed organizing my homeschool cabinet. It was nice to stand back and see the fruits of labor and know that everything had a place that could be easily reached and used. I have a few things tucked and hidden, like extra boxes of crayons and bottles of glue on the top shelf behind one of the plastic bins and my Judy clock slid on top of the math flashcard bin, but I still know where they are and they aren't cluttering things up.

I'm praying that this will help our school year run the smoothest it ever has and that we are able to maintain this level of organization from the start to the end of the school year.

Linking up with:
The Morristribe homestead blog carnival
The Homestead Barnhop

Monday, July 30, 2012

Week in pictures and post to come

The last week has been full of fun learning adventures for our family. We have more new pets and a lot of information to process from a convention we went to this past week. I promise full blog post on all events, but till then, I leave you with some pictures...

I walked out and found this lovely butterfly sitting in my garden. It stayed most of the day right there near the flowers. It was a wonderful reminder of the beauty God has created.

 My oldest daughter brought these wonderful vegetables in from her garden. We have really enjoyed eating from the garden this year and we are looking forward to the fall crops.
Our hens have picked up their egg production again. We changed our feed a bit and they seem to be dealing with the heat much better now. I do have a blog post about heat and chickens coming up soon. I've been raising chickens for years and never know that their bodies needed so much more in the summer time.
This week will be the first of a monthly series on organization that I am doing. We homeschool, so I am starting with my homeschool book cabinet. Lets just say that after 8 completed years of educating at home, I finally have a function school cabinet that I am not ashamed to open in front of people. If you are looking for some ideas to go from chaos to complete order, you don't want to miss this blog post!
I also have a post coming up this week on a wonderful homeschool conference that our family went to that was totally free. It was called Raising Entrepreneurs and was hosted by David Stelzl. Until then, God bless and enjoy your summer with homesteading adventures!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Trading What You Don't Need, For What You Do

My husband is great at trading things. He has no fear to talk to people and work up a deal for trading things. I on the other hand, do not share that same enthusiasm with approaching people and working up a deal. Because of this, my family was very shocked when I told them this Friday that I had contacted a young man who was looking to trade goats for a mini pig.

The area I live in is saturated with male dairy goats for sale right now. People are dropping their prices just to get rid of the animals before breeding season starts again. I myself knew I had two very sweet males that needed to find homes and was worried about being able to place them. So I went on Craigslist, something I hardly ever do, and found a young man who was looking for dairy goats and wanted to trade for one of his mini pigs.

Now why would I want to trade for a mini pig? Because my youngest daughter has wanted one since she was old enough to utter the word pig! Her room is covered in piggy stuffed animals, pig blankets, pig pillows, pig clothes... To say she loves them would be an understatement. So this was a trade I couldn't resist.

The young man was very excited to make the trade and my husband was very proud that I had made contact with someone to make a trade!  So on Sunday morning, we loaded the truck up with my two Nubians and drove to take them to their new home and pick up our new baby mini pig. When my daughter saw her new best friend, it was love at first sight. She couldn't stop talking the entire way home and has taken very good care of her new piggy.

I also learned something through all of this. I like trading! It was fun. I had something I didn't need and I was able to trade it for something I wanted. My lady goats are safe from unwanted breeding, my feed bill is going to go down, the goats have a beautiful home in the countryside with rolling hills, and my daughter got the piggy she has always wanted. Trading very well may be a permanent fixture in my life now. I'm looking forward to spring when I'll have more baby animals to trade with.

So, may I introduce to you, Nosy... because he pushes everything around with his nose.

Linking up with:

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Back to Eden, Did it work?

There was much anticipation this past spring as the blogging world shared an online film called Back to Eden, a documentary on natural gardening that tries to imitate the conditions in the garden of Eden. Plans were being made to follow the instructions of Paul Gautschi’s that would lead to the gardens with little weeding, disease, and beautiful fruits and vegetables for the picking. He made it look easy and gave inspiration to many newbie and seasoned gardeners alike. I myself, who has been gardening for the past 15 years even was entranced by the ease of his garden.

I've been wondering over the last few months if many of the people in the blogging world who set out to recreate the Back to Eden project in their own backyard followed through, and if they did follow through was it successful? Does Paul Gautschi's gardening theory work in all parts of America? Those are answers that I don't know, and I'm hoping that if you yourself tried a Back to Eden garden that you will share your thoughts with me. I do know how it worked for our family and that is what I want to share with you below. What worked, what didn't work, things we would change, all to help you as we put our summer beds to rest and prepare for the fall garden ahead.

The Back to Eden project recommends that you start in the fall by laying newspaper on your garden beds followed by 4 to 6 inches of wood chips (not the kind from the local gardening store, but the kind from a tree trimmer) and then to let the winter temperatures and snow create your garden bed. We were not able to do this because for starters I didn't see the video till spring... and because even if I had seen the video in the fall we had one of the warmest winters on record! So instead we did start out by tilling to prepare the ground.

Our soil is breathtaking here. It is like a sea flowing of black gold. I learned that the gentleman who built this house in the early 60's was a wonderful gardener. Before he retired in this little house with his wife, he farmed the land around here, raising tobacco for other people. Once he was done farming for other people, he turned all his attention to his gardens and spent countless amount of hours tending the soil in his garden. The results of his hard work and wealth of knowledge are still able to be found in the garden beds 26 years after he has passed away. The garden area is divided into 4 sections. Each section was done a bit differently for various reasons, but each section taught us a tremendous amount about what does and doesn't work for our gardening area.

After the beds were prepared the plants and seeds were planted in the first section. Then we panicked. If we mulched, would the sprouts be able to push their way up through the mulch or would it kill them off before they ever got to see the sunlight? We weren't sure so we decided to wait and mulch after they were up and visible. We also didn't have any tree mulch yet so once the sprouts were up, I used the huge piles of leaves I had sitting next to the fence composting from the fall to mulch with.

At first the leaves were working great. The soil was moist, the weeds were there but not to hard to get rid of, and the vegetables were thriving.  Then we had a weeks work of rain followed by warm weather. You would pull a weed and 3 more would pop up in its place . It didn't take long for the entire first section to be over taken by weeds. The leaves did little to nothing to stop them from coming up, but it did keep the soil moist and the plants healthy.

When it came time to plant the 2nd section, we again tilled and planted. This time most of the plants were started from seed in cell packs so we felt comfortable mulching right away. By now my knight in shining armor (aka my husbands friend Robbie who owns a tree trimming and removal service) came rolling in my backyard with an entire dump truck full of mulched up oak and pine trees. When I told him where I wanted him to dump it he gave me a funny look and warned me that fresh mulch would kill my entire garden. Trusting Paul, I went ahead and mulched anyway. This time the garden did better. We found that we still didn't put enough mulch out so we had weeds that popped up again, but this time, there were fewer weeds and they were very easy to pull up. We did apply a second layer of mulch and the weeding is now down to a few hands full once a week. We knew for sure now that mulching with the tree mulch was going to work the best for us.

When we got to the 3rd section, we tilled again and planted right away. This time we were back to seeds, but we took a chance and mulched right over them. It didn't take long for the sprouts to come right up through the mulch and make a grand appearance. I will say that the seeds we planted were of hearty plants, so I still don't know how well small seeds would do coming up through the mulch. However, this time we did mulch nice and thick and we have had very few weeds come up at all! It has by far been the best section of garden this year.

So, what did we see from mulching?

The plants did not need watered as much. Even with days in a row reaching 105, all we did was water first thing in the morning. Nothing wilted! While other people in our area lost everything, we were still picking tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and zucchini.

Disease was far less! We only lost one set of plants, our yellow squash, and we later found out that our area had a terrible time with it this year. Almost everyone lost their squash.

We have to mulch thick! It needs at least 4 to 6 inches of mulch for it to work.

You will not be weed free no matter how much mulch you put down. However, the weeds that do come up are very easy to pull up.

We had less bug problems this year. I'm not sure if it's just the mulch they don't like going over or if the chickens cleaned them out, but we only had to spray our plants 2 or 3 times in the last 4 months with a soap mixture and that was only on a few plants.

Mulching will not keep the peacocks and rabbits out of your garden ;-) Not that I thought it would, so it looks like more fencing needs to be put up. And the peacocks? I have not a clue yet. Fencing won't stop them.

Remember how I said I had 4 sections of garden? Well, because of my husband having to go out of town for 12 weeks we never got it planted. So this fall we are going to do it like Paul said and see how the weeds are next spring.

Over all, the Back to Eden plan worked for us! We need to tweak it a bit more for our house, but mulching with thick mulched up trees makes gardening more enjoyable this year for all of us. We are looking forward to our fall garden going in soon and I will update on how it did later this winter.

Linking up to:
The Barn Hop
The Morristribe’s Homesteader Blog Carnival

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Entrepreneurship and Sweet Watermelon

 We are very fortunate to live just off of a very intersection of two of the main roads that connect 4 different towns. I say fortunate because every day we have a large number of cars that drive past our house, many times being caught by the traffic light and coming to a dead stop in front of our home. We don't have 100's of acres, only 1.5, but it is filled with animals, flowers, veggetables, and playing children. It draws peoples attention and gives them something else to look at besides the surrounding subdivions. While there are sections of farm land around, there aren't to many places where a person can see chickens pecking in the yard, turkeys sitting on the fence, or goats talking the day away.

This has given us a wonderful opportunity to sell a few things here at the house. We started this last spring with eggs. We had about 8 dozen in the fridge and thought it would be fun to see if anyone would stop to buy. Not 3 hours after we put our sign up, people started stopping and buying our eggs. We have been blessed with so many egg customers, that we had to take our sign down! Our poor little hens just can't keep up.

I love selling the eggs, but my favorite thing is just having the people stop and see the animals. They enjoy going back and seeing the ducks on their nest, chickens pecking at the bugs, goats jumping and playing with each other, and the turkeys strutting around showing their feathers off. I get to teach about "farm" life, sustainable living, and gardening to people who have never thought about where their food comes from. People generally walk away with a new respect for their food and the work it takes to raise it.

Making money, while doing something you love, is just an added bonus. We make just enoguh to help pay for all the feed and hay we have to buy throughout the year as well as needed repaires. Not much money is made for expanding though and my oldest daughter really wanted to build a glass greenhouse to grow vegetables in this winter. We had been looking at cost and it was going to take a few hundred dollars to get it made with all recycled material and that just wasn't in the budget right now. However, God provided a wonderful way for her to earn the money to build her greenhouse! She is spending her summer selling watermelon!

She was offered almost 300 watermelon from a local farm to sell right there in front of our house. She got some signs together, loaded up the old pickup truck, backed it up to the road right in front of our house where all those cars drive by, and started selling watermelons. She also decided to grab her wooden plant stand and put the herbs she grew this year out there as well.

Of course she is still offering eggs and our goats milk (for pet consumption only of course!), but watermelons are taking up most of the sales. It's hard work. It's hot outside. The melons are heavy. She is learning what it takes to get what you want in life. She almost has enough money to build her greenhouse and how sweet it will be when she is standing in it this winter, planting her flowers, herbs, and vegetables not only for her family to enjoy and eat, but also to sell at this wonderful busy intersection that we live on in the spring.

Linked to:
The Barn Hop
The Morristribe’s Homesteader Blog Carnival

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Blackberry Jam Instructions

Today was an exciting day of first time jam making with my dear friend Shelly. She had collected blackberries that were growing around her house and brought them over so I could teach her to make blackberry jam. She did a great job and in the end, turned out 6 wonderful jars of jam for her family.

We started by washing the berries and removing any stems.

Then I scopped out the berries one cup at a time for her to mash up. They don't have to be smashed to death, you just want to release the juices a bit. When we were done, we have 5 cups of berries.

We placed the berries in a large pot, added powdered pectin, 1 Tablespoon lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon butter to keep the foaming down. We brought the mixture to a rolling boil, stiring the entire time. Once we reached the boiling point, we added in 7 pre-measured cups of sugar that were sitting in a bowl waiting for us. Always make sure you have your sugar ready because it needs to be added quickly and you won't have time to measure it out then.

We then brought the jam back to a full rolling boil and then continued to boil it for one full minute.

We then ladled the jam into pre-washed jars and placed the lids on them. Next, we placed the jars into a water bath and brought the water to a full rolling boil. Once boiling, we timed it for ten minutes.

After the ten minutes were up, the jars were removed and placed on the stove to cool. You could see the excitement in her face as each jam jar started to "pop" and seal.

We let the jam cool on the stove for about 2 hours. The jam set correctly and the taste was fantastic!