"Back in the saddle again..."

Sunday, November 25, 2012

(This post was written in late September.  Jus' sayin')

That song seems to apply to just so many different situations. :-)

It's quite astounding to me, the number of homeschoolers that blog.  Take Ann Voskamp, for instance, one of my favourite blogs...that I perhaps get a chance to read once a week.  She pretty much blogs everyday,  on top of homeschooling her 6 (I think technically 5 at this time, as one has gone off to highschool, I read) children, and generally accomplishing that old world position of homemaker.  As you can see from how many posts I have....I've not managed to carve out daily blogging time.  Add that to my list!

We've now accomplished nearly two weeks of homeschooling.  It's amazing what a change having Jairus at home has been.  Not saying bad change, just change.  Overall, our lives are looking significantly different than they did in June.  I'm liking it.

Back in the summer I made a few changes that has carried into the fall and assisted in our new way of life.  I didn't make these changes with any far reaching prophetic knowledge of how they would benefit us--oh no, don't be thinking I have such wondrous foresight.

One was an idea I had been trying to accomplish for months, probably years.  I had this philosophical thunderbolt a while back about laundry.  I think it's just positively ironic that 100 years ago we had to wash clothes by hand.  So that meant we all only had 2-3 outfits each, unless you were rich and had a maid to wash your clothes.  So then 50 years (or so) later, we developed the washing machine.  Now it didn't take so long to wash our clothes! Glory be!  Perhaps the washer accomplished it's goal for a few years...but slowly, as clothes got cheaper I would imagine, our wardrobes got larger...and larger...until now it takes just as long to wash all our clothes, as it used to take 'us' 100 years ago to wash 2-3 outfits.  So what have we accomplished, exactly?
All this to say, I decided that my children had too many clothes.  Yes, you read right!  I was sick to death of mountains (literally) of laundry up to my waist.  When my older kids were just tiny, I did have a bit of a schedule that one day a week was my laundry day.  At that point we all had enough clothes that it only took a days worth of having the washer going to get it all done.  As we added kids to the family, and all those kids got older, the one-day-a-week laundry day plan was not working.  A couple years ago I was blessed with the services of Christina McCarthy, home manager coach extraordinaire and one of her suggestions was basically to do laundry everyday.  At least a load from beginning to end.
On top of this, after we moved I finally managed to cut down the children's clothing.  I had actually done this before, but I had made the mistake of not cutting the clothing back enough.  I would still leave 10 to 12 or maybe 14 outfits---I'll admit, I was scared.  What if I cut back on clothing and then couldn't keep up with even that?  But it's worked out great.
I limited the kids to 7 outfits only.  I took each kid at a time and laid all their clothes out.  Even if they weren't all clean (which had been my excuse for a long time not to do this), I laid them out along the couch and had the kids each pick out 7 shirts, 7 pairs of shorts, 5-6 sets of pjamas and then varying amounts of other items like skirts, dresses or pants.  (For the summer I have them leave out 2 pairs of pants for camping and cool August evenings).  It was positively shameful how many shirts most of the girls had!  I think Afton had nearly 30 t-shirts!!
This has been an absolutely freeing feeling and laundry is now a breeze.  It also helps that my laundry is now on the second floor.  I highly recommend laundry facilities near the bedrooms.  Every morning after I make my bed, I go around and gather out enough laundry for a load out of the kids baskets.  The girls have a large sorter (Ikea) in their room, while Jairus just has a small basket, as do James and I.  No more do my dirty laundry baskets heap as tall as my youngest child (a rather tall girl).  And while I haven't found a better time yet to get it folded (evenings after the kids are in bed) I actually don't mind sitting down with a couple baskets of laundry while Bones plays on Netflix.
But enough of laundry.  This wasn't supposed to be a laundry post.
Another change we made this summer was fairly significant.  When we finished up all our activities in June, we were running around with the children, work and other events pretty much every night of the week.  I'm very mindful of our state of busyness and do try to keep an eye out, as best I can, for ways to streamline our activities so that we actually have time at home as a family.  Dr. Kevin Leaman and his gerbil book weigh heavily on my mind.  The whole 'supper as a family' thing was also something that was happening less and less.
This year is not much better.  On Mondays I teach choir, which now includes my oldest three.  Last year I was teaching a private student right after, which so far hasn't started back up yet, but then shortly after I would head off to the church for praise and worship practice.  It often meant James would come pick up the kids after choir, and I would not go home until after practice. I try to have something in the slow cooker.
Tuesdays Verity has gymnastics at 5.  I drop her off early so that I can get over to the west mountain for Honour and Afton's highland dance classes.  I've started teaching with a school of music close to our house, so now James meets me and I take off to do that.  So far I only have 2-3 students, so I get home at a reasonable hour, but Verity isn't done gymnastics until 8, so we've been ending up waiting to eat until then, since James doesn't get back with the other kids until after 7:30 anyways.  Again I try to have something made in the afternoon and ready--although this past week I was home just past seven and had a glorious hour or so with the house to myself to leisurely prepare supper, as James went to get Verity straight from dance.  I even put on Mad about you while I was cooking!
Wednesday is more gymnastics for Verity (she's training 10 hours a week), but she starts earlier in the day, at 2pm.  We make Wednesdays our library day and go there either before or after we drop her off.  Honour has another hour of dance on Wednesdays so the other kids and I take her there, again meeting James.  One of us goes off to pick up Verity, who is finished at the gym before Honour is done at dance.  We get home at a decent hour to actually eat supper together.
Thursdays bring Verity's final day of gymnastics for the week, from 3:30 to 6:30.  We drop her off and usually head back home.  James actually gets to come straight home, but I leave shortly after he arrives, to go teach at my other school of music job.  Again, I only have 3 students so far, so I'm home in time to read stories to the kids before bed, but usually don't eat supper until they are all tucked in.
Friday's is our one 'free' day, although right now I still have 2 private students in the city in the late afternoon. I want to switch them to another day when I'm already in town--I'm thinking about Wednesday.  We also still need to schedule Jairus' speech therapy and academic coaching, which we'll likely be alternating every week. (Hey....now that's a good idea.....perhaps I can schedule them at the same time each week...then it's just a matter or remembering which one to go to, lol).
Saturday mornings is Musikgarten class for me, although sadly I didn't get enough students to run a toddler class.  Small blessing however, to not have to get us all up and out the door for 9am.

So this brings me back to our other significant change.  I decided that if we couldn't always eat supper together, we would eat breakfast.  I think it's a brilliant idea, if I do say so myself.  The only problem is that sometimes James has to be into work reeeeally early.  Usually he has to the leave the house by 7:30 or 7:45 at the lastest.  Sometimes though, he has to be into work much earlier, like 7 or even 6:30.  On those days, I have to say, I don't drag us all out of bed before the sun just so we can eat together.
I also made this change though because I've always wanted to have my family eat breakfast together.  James' family often did this when I first met him and I thought it was so nice.  Another reason was because we seemed to be spending a horrid amount of money on cereal that my children largely wasted.  Day after day I would scrape soggy bowls of cereal into the garbage and ooooh, it made my blood burn.  I decided that the only way to put a stop to this would be for us to eat all together.  I surmised that it could or would be cheaper too, since cereal is so expensive.
Well, that didn't turn out to be so much the case.  I started searching out and planning easy, interesting and yet (I hoped) inexpensive breakfasts.  I started just a few times a week early in the summer and we had things like pancakes, oatmeal with different yummy additives like blueberries, apples and cinnamon, raisins and spices, muffins and fruit salad, perhaps bacon and eggs once in a while.
I was pretty shocked at how much our grocery bill went up.  At the same time, I started planning our lunches too....soon that led to planning snacks as well.  I was just tired of coming into the kitchen at lunch and scrounging for lunch ingredients.  Peanut butter and jam sandwiches were just entirely too common. (not that two of my kids ever complained about that).
My budget had been 225$ every two weeks, but I had jumped that up to $250 soon after we moved (no correlation, just time for a bump up--plus rising costs of food).  With the new comprehensive plan of pretty much every single meal and snack, our food budget was well over $300.  I was horrified.  I spent time with my receipts and figured out what each meal was costing.  According to our budget, I could spend $7.61 for each meal.  This worked out to $1.26 per person, per meal. (Does that not sound crazy cheap?)  My breakfasts, however, were coming out to 10-15$ for each meal.  At first I was outraged.  At who, I don't know.  Grocery stores?  Sigh.  After my anger simmered down though, I decided that the only way to fix this was to plan cheaper meals, specially the breakfasts.  I visited the 5$ dinner lady's site (although I find that I can never make the meals for quite as cheap as her--figured it was better than nothing), and started tracking the cost of breakfasts so I could pick the cheaper ones (pancakes is el cheapo) and only do the more expensive ones when there are sales.  I've not been completely successful yet--my food budget is still getting blown every week, but I think I've reached the point where I just can't feed my family for much cheaper.

I'm happy with how our new breakfast plan has been working.  We also eat more fruit because I plan it into each breakfast.  This morning was an especially fun one--I made some peanut butter banana muffins (from $5 dinner lady) and some fruit kebobs.  The kids wuffed these down! (ok, some kids traded fruits they didn't like).  It was pretty easy to pull all together too. It's meant I've had to face one of my laziest fears--getting up early.  I'm finding that really, I have to be up by 6:30 to have something ready in time for James to leave for work.  But what I love is that we are all done eating by 7:45, leaving us plenty of time to get dressed (if the kids aren't already--they're supposed to be dressed to come down to breakfast), make beds, tidy rooms, highland dance or piano practice, put laundry on, do some chores, or whatever else we never have time for!

I knuckled down and got our chores back online. (not...really...online).  We had a good schedule a couple years ago, which also included Dave Ramsey inspired commission payments for said chores, but somehow we fell out of it.  Now I have a schedule up in the pantry with the dishwasher jobs (dishwasher unloading split into three parts, one kid gets a freebie day), daily 'big' chore and supper chores (setting table, clearing, wiping down table and chairs, etc).  We started back into commissions by paying a quarter each day that all the chores were completed. (this is a raise from a dime 2 years ago), and we're trying to give it immediately, as my youngers really need the feedback right after the accomplishment.

This is our fall so far!