Friday, January 29, 2016


This past weekend, I sat down with our map and grammar books and determined when we would finish them based on our current rate of completion. It turns out we will finish both books by the end of March. Back in October, when I decided to move through the curriculum faster than it dictated, I knew we would finish early, but I never figured out exactly what 'early' meant.

In my gut I figured we would be finishing up these books about now and then I would just order the next book in the series and we would keep going. I think that intuition did not take into account that we really didn't start school until the middle of October. When I counted out exactly what early meant, I questioned whether or not we should buy more books and keep trucking. It seems like a good opportunity to do something entirely different for a mini-term of two months.

Now what should we do?

For Grace our subjects are math, grammar, flute, map workbook, and handwriting, along with whatever she is reading and a bit of writing.

For Olivia our subjects are math, reading, map workbook, and handwriting, along with a bit of writing.

We have a once a month art class, they go to Grandma's for cooking and sewing once or twice a month, and science is pretty much contained to watching nature documentaries while I try to snatch a moment of sanity. I also started reading Story of the World with them because the last school day in January is a perfectly normal time to begin history for the year.

If we will be dropping the grammar and the maps for April and May, what would be a good replacement? The girls really love the maps so some kind of geography suggestion is not out of bounds.

Some ideas are: bird study, music theory, something more sciency than watching TV, and US States.

Any other suggestions? Or are some of my ideas too big to tackle in eight weeks?

An aside: I feel much less angsty about this less than rigorous academic year with Olivia than with Grace. Everything you read says elementary school can be pretty laid back, but middle school is where you start getting really academic. So with Olivia, I am perfectly relaxed with what we have done, but with Grace, it is hard to suppress that inner voice screaming, "YOU HAVE SKIPPED AN ENTIRE YEAR OF SCIENCE AND HISTORY!!! And what about language. And she should be reading higher quality literature. And she should be writing more. And. And. And." I know, intellectually, we made the best choices for us overall, but that irrational feeling of missing key components and running out of time in later years is hard to silence.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Homemaking Diva

I told you about my struggles in learning how to manage a household since I quit my job, but it hasn't all been doom and gloom despite my frustrations.  I really have spent time learning new tasks and recipes and they haven't all been failures. So, without further ado, I give you all the things I was doing while I disappeared off the blog for two months.

I cut out three Halloween costumes without a pattern with Kyra's long distance help.

 Grandma and the girls sewed them up, but hey, *I* cut them out!

I made pumpkin chocolate chip muffins for children to eat for breakfast.

For All Souls Day, I made Soul Cakes. Well, actually, it wasn't All Souls Day. It was later in the week, but it counts.

I made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for a church bake sale and learned how to cream butter and sugar when an electric mixer is not to be had. I think Rebecca was the one handing out pointers this time.


I made Emily Stimpson's polenta one night. 

 I got very adventurous one night and made paella with Amy's help. This little foray took an absurd amount of time. I think we finally sat down to eat at about 8pm, but everyone loved it and Olivia even requested it for her birthday meal.

We sauteed pumpkin seeds.

 And then I roasted pumkins to make puree to freeze for later.

I cleaned out the closet under the stairs, which took an insane amount of time and ended with Dave and the children eating at Wendy's. I ate supper at some point. They brought me a chicken sandwich.

Crazy befores: 



The moment it can get better:

The glorious afters:

I sorted through the two year old girl clothes. We could clothe triplets if needs be.

But just one is here:

In a fit of I-don't-know-what, I decided to make turkey stock with the Thanksgiving turkey leftovers at my mother's house. I even left it to bubble overnight. That was stressful. I just knew the house was going to burn down or, worse, the stock would be ruined. But all was well. 

And if that wasn't enough, I came home and made ham stock. This only simmered all day because cat. I have heard you are supposed to make some kind of ham and bean soup with this concoction. Someone needs to tell me more about that. 

I finally started on a project that has haunted me since before Marian was born: the horrible corner in my room. The spot where the keyboard is buried.

Awful before:


I finally got Olivia's Kindergarten folder finished. Yes, she is in second grade now.

Here is the after for now. I still have more work to do, but Christmas was coming which pulled me out of this project and I haven't gotten back to it yet. That table actually belongs in the living room, but it had to be moved to make room for the tree.

I made homemade turkey noodle soup from my stock and chopped turkey.

Did you know that the leftovers from homemade soup congeals into not-soup? I certainly did not. So I made a casserole thing with the soup leftovers. What do you do with soup that turns into not-soup?

As Christmas neared, I decided to try my hand at fruitcake. It was a three day process, mostly because I couldn't do it all at once, but I think it turned out okay.

Fruit and liquor. A lot of liquor.

And the finished product:

Tasty. I don't think I've had fruitcake before.

It finally got cold and I made chili. Hurrah.

So there it is. All The Things I've been doing. With my ever-present helper.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Worth Doing Badly

As part of her grammar curriculum, Grace has to define a highlighted word everyday. Normally she will look it up in her dictionary and write down the definition. The other day she was feeling lazy and asked me to define her word for her. I told her I would tell her, but she would also need to look it up as well to verify. She agreed. The word was despair. I gave her a quick off-the-cuff definition complete with dramatic rendering. Her laughing response was, "If that's despair, you despair a lot."

Back all those years ago, before we knew it would be a terrible idea, when we decided that I would be the breadwinner because I wasn't that great at being a homemaker, we weren't wrong about my abilities. I am not skilled at running a household. The art of homemaking is anticipating a need and meeting it in a timely manner before it becomes a crisis. This is not my forte. I know it is a skillset to be learned, but it isn't a skillset that plays to my strengths. 

The succession of tasks overwhelms me much of the time. I am pelted by requests and demands from the moment I wake up until ninety blessed minutes of naptime in mid-afternoon. I am paralyzed by my attempts to prioritize the next best thing to do. My desire for efficiency leaves me running in several directions with a series of half done jobs. I feel as if I have been dropped into the deep end of a pool: sink or swim. Some days sinking is a very viable option.

I am the newlywed who struggles to get dinner on the table at something approaching a dinner hour.

I am the first time homeowner who struggles to arrange her eclectic collection of possessions into a neat, orderly, and cozy home.

I am a new parent who struggles to figure out what to do with a toddler all day, day-in and day-out.

I am a first year homeschooler who struggles to educate two or three children at the same time.

There is nothing routine about our routines. There is no solid ground here. Everything is always in flux as I thrash about putting out fires.

If I could concentrate on any one of these areas, I don't think I would be so out of my league. If all I had to worry about was getting food on the table, I could manage. On a day when I have to make supper, it isn't unusual for me to spend four or five hours in the kitchen from starting to the end of the cleaning. That's a lot of kitchen time, but doable if that's all I had to do.

If all I had to worry about was cleaning and organizing my house, I could work for hours decluttering and rearranging.

If all I had to worry about was entertaining the toddler, I'd be fine. We'd sit in the floor and play games in our secure, toddler-proof rooms.

If all I had to worry about was schooling the girls, there would be no freak outs here.

Honestly, the homeschooling is the easy part. It is the tether of sanity in my day. I know how to solve math problems, diagram parts of speech, and sound out words. It is my reassurance that I am, in fact, not totally incompetent at life.

The double whammy that torpedoes my days is the clutter combined with food. Food. It has always been about the food. Food and the process of preparing food overwhelms me. I need to be able to see all the ingredients out, pick them up, put them down, and not have to shuffle and sort to find what I am looking for. I need the dishes to be laid out and not stacked while putting food on them. My "big" countertop is 28 linear inches wide. There isn't room for multiple plates and multiple ingredients even at the best of times. My most viable work area is the kitchen table. It is discombobulating to have to make continual trips back and forth to get everything set up on the table. The same table where children or husbands are working and is within easy grabbing distance of a two year old.

My kitchen is in a state of change. I am slowly, slowly, slowly cleaning, purging, and rearranging. The slow speed of this transformation is very frustrating for me because first, I just want it done already, but second, I don't really have room for all these items to be floating without homes. Everyday, we must climb over and around items that can't be gotten rid of yet because they are waiting to be moved into a spot that has not yet been cleaned out. But that has to wait until I can find another stretch of time to undertake another multi-hour project. I'm hard pressed to find it.

In the midst of all of this, I read Emily's housekeeping post a few months ago. I know she got raked over the coals for it, but I don't really disagree with much of what she said. It's just so out of reach for me right now.

I'd love to have the kids clean up their toys every night, but first I have to create a place for them to put them. I'd love to purge all the stuff we don't need, but it is slow and hard work, and they are constantly acquiring more stuff from people who are not me. I'd love to make my bed before I leave my room everyday, but Marian yelling for me is usually my alarm clock. (An aside, it takes me more like ten minutes to make my bed because I am thorough, a perfectionist, and mostly incompetent.) I'd love the state of my house to be such that a quick walk-through in the evening would allow me to put an item or two away that is still out of place instead inducing insomniac despair at all the things left to do.

Despair. There's that word again. The truth is that I am struggling in this life I was so desperate to begin. The learning curve is steep and I am not very patient with myself. I long to hit pause so I can find a comfortable spot with at least the house, but that isn't reasonable. People live here, learn here, and work here, and they all can't disappear for a month while I figure out how to function as an adult. I am building several different skillsets at once and there is no easy way to do it. I just have to persevere and keep my eye on the long term. I need to remind myself that even if I never gain as much competence as I'd like, there is value in the process of struggling, and homemaking, even by the imperfect me, is worth doing badly.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Pantry, Part I

That fine day arrived, the children were safely shipped to Grandma's, and I approached the chore I have spent three months hiding from: Cleaning the pantry.

Let us review the before pictures:

This pantry has suffered years of neglect and shoving. Now it's true, there is a general scheme of where things are supposed to be and, if you are the official loader of the pantry, you generally know where you put the things you just bought. However, for those of us who only open these doors as a last resort because the official pantry loader is at work, this pantry has been an ongoing source of despair.

I began by taking everything out of the pantry. This took much longer than I anticipated. I started by stacking everything on the table.

I quickly ran out of room and trailed over into the living room.

Along the way, I filled two entire garbage bags with trash, expired food, and items that just needed to leave my sight.

Why yes, those are eight empty oatmeal containers that were floating in the closet.

As everything spilled into the living room, I decided to begin to sort as I went otherwise I might never finish. After everything was pulled out of the pantry, I discovered that we had accumulated twenty-six pounds of pasta.

If you come to my house, you are probably eating pasta.

So finally at long last, the pantry was empty. Also it was supper time. I called Dave and told him to pick up the children and take them somewhere, but to not come home for as long as possible.

It had to get worse before it was better, and we were right at worse. I neared despair as I wondered what I had done and if it were possible to fix it again.

Now the children were home. Dave smuggled them upstairs through the disaster as quickly as possible. Marian paced the living room exclaiming, "What in the world?!" over and over and over.

I got soap and water and scrubbed nearly ten years worth of muck out of the closet. Then I made a bleach solution and wiped everything down. This pantry was as clean as I could get it.

I began the task of getting things back in the closet. I couldn't take too long in the decision-making process because a) it was late b) the children were going to be home all day the next day, and c) we had out of town company coming. Before the evening was finished, everything I wanted back in the pantry found a home.

The Amazon box up there is full of spices that I want to move into a cabinet. I have to clean out the cabinet first. It's a never-ending cycle of shuffle the stuff around. Look at our pasta corner. Twenty-six pounds, y'all.

I know where everything is now! I can find food in the pantry! Opening the door doesn't induce weeping anymore!

We have some ongoing issues. First, what to do with the cans. Right now they are stacked in an apple box on the floor. That's not a great organizational system. What do you do with your cans?

Second, is how many containers should I get to store baking goods. On the shelf to the left, you can see ten open bags of various products stored inside plastic freezer bags. Should I get a permanent container for all ten of them? I have a few I can use, but decisions have to be made about what to keep and what to buy.

Once I figure out what to do with the cans and baked goods, I will have to pull out the pantry again and reorganize it, but it should not be nearly so painful the next go around.

The biggest issue with the kitchen right now is what I did not put back in the pantry, but do not necessarily want to get rid of. We have floating items that need a home, but I need another day to clean out another cabinet. Floating homeless clutter drives me a little crazy, but we have had illness and company and now school starting up again. I will have to purposely carve out time to work on this project.

My hope is that by the end of this adventure everything in the kitchen will be useful, organized, and have permanent locations. I hope that the trash will leave and our overstock will move on to new homes.

So there's the pantry clean out, part 1! Part 2 coming soon, I hope.