Thursday, November 27, 2014

Living life on a budget. Our $11 Thanksgiving Dinner

It is that time of year again, the holidays are here and the corporations are in full swing selling us everything under the sun. We as a society have become so confused with what is a want and what is a need that we get ourselves into such predicaments. Yesterday on the Rachel Ray show they had a viewer on who felt she had to provide perfect Thanksgiving for her children so she spent her gas money on a $35 turkey. Please understand that I am not in any way bashing this woman. She is a single mother working two jobs to provide for her children. She is doing everything in her power to do what she feels she has to do for her children.

I am however bashing a consumer driven society that has made this woman feel like if she can not give her children the perfect Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving she is somehow lacking as a mother. It is one meal. ONE MEAL in which we are to come together as a family to thank the Lord for the many blessings He has given us through the year. Do you think the Lord cares if you have a turkey? Or do you think the Lord cares that you were a responsible steward of the resources He gave you?

We as a society have be come so confused on what is a want and what is a need. You need to have food. You want a turkey with all the trimmings so that you can check some invisible box on a checklist that society made for you. We get so caught up in buying things we are told we need to make happy memories for our children. You know what? I never had a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner as a child yet I have only the best memories of Thanksgiving. We would all get together as a family at my grandparents house and have chicken and dumplings. Every year. Like clockwork. Those are some of my fondest memories of my childhood. Just being together and spending time with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. We spent the day talking and just being together.....without a turkey. Every time I make dumplings I think of my grandmother and the Thanksgiving dinners throughout the years. I wouldn't have traded even one of those dinners for a traditional Normal Rockwell meal.

Our children look to us as role models and base their reactions to situations off of our reactions. If you are happy and content with your circumstances that is what they will remember throughout the years. If instead you are stressed and crying because you feel you failed your children by not being able to live up to some standard set by people you don't even know trust me they will remember that as well.

As I mentioned in my last post we are on a very strict grocery budget. I budget $4.70 per meal and that is for EVERY meal........even Thanksgiving. The national average a family spends on Thanksgiving is $54.18 That is about $50 too high for me. When planning this years Thanksgiving dinner I decided to allocate $9 to the meal since I assumed we would have leftovers the next night thus eliminating the cost of the second meal.

How was I going to pull off Thanksgiving dinner for 8 people for $9? I needed some creativity to be sure.

I started with the protein since it is the star of the show on Thanksgiving. As I shared earlier we make the protein component an accent to our meals. How could I do this on Thanksgiving when a large turkey or ham is the centerpiece of the meal? I gave my husband two options. A turkey meatloaf or a very small ham. He chose ham (big surprise!). While at the grocery store I had heart failure over the prices of hams. $30??? Are you serious? Nope. Not gonna happen. So while standing in the middle of the store I made a command decision. Ham was out and Pork tenderloin was in. I decided to cook a tenderloin I already had in our freezer at home, slice it thinly, and add a brown sugar glaze to turn it into a "honey baked ham".

Now on to the sides. I had 2 small bags of green beans in the freezer and half a bag of potatoes in the I added green beans and chunks of potatoes to the crockpot with the pork tenderloin. I also really like soups and how about a Curried Butternut Squash Soup? Yes please! Bonus points because I already had a butternut squash in the pantry waiting to be used for something this week. (I just made the soup portion of the recipe substituting in skim milk for coconut milk and left out the bread bowl and toppings part of the recipe.)

Every Thanksgiving dinner needs rolls, at least in our family, so I made a double batch of these Italian Rolls from items already in our pantry. What is bread without butter? Pretty boring if you ask me so I threw together a quick batch of super yummy whipped honey butter.

Dessert is a must at our house for Thanksgiving. I needed a cheap option this year and decided to go with a family favorite, Banoffe pie. Bananas, homemade toffee, and whipped cream.....really who wouldn't love it?

So how did we manage on the budget front?
Pork Tenderloin: Freezer
Green Beans: Freezer
Potatoes: Pantry
Brown sugar glaze: Pantry
Butternut squash soup: $2.69 for a gallon of milk, 3/4 the gallon left for future meals
Rolls: Pantry
Honey butter: $3.49 for a lb of butter, 2 sticks left for future meals
Banoffe Pie: $4.35

Total for the meal: $10.53

Yes I went over budget by $1.53, the extra was covered by a ATM surcharge rebate that was credited to our account the morning of our shopping trip and had not been added to a budget category yet. We could have done the entire meal from our pantry if money had been super tight this year.  I felt it was worth it for the gallon of milk and the butter both of which can be used in future meals. I wanted to get eggs as well since we had run out that morning and the girls wanted to make chocolate chip cookies but I drew the line at going any farther over budget. We will live without cookies or eggs for a few days till the next budgeted grocery shopping day.

Is this the traditional Thanksgiving meal? No.
Was it yummy? Yes.
Did it fill our stomachs and leave us thankful for the meal and all of the Lords provisions this year? Yes.
Did my children care that there was not a traditional turkey or ham? No.
Did they care that they had pie to eat? Yes.

Sometimes it really is the simple things in life that matter. Time with family, thankfulness for the Lords provisions, and pie.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How we feed our family of 8 on $600 a month


When people hear that in a typical month we only spend $100 a week at the grocery store for our family of 8 they are usually more than a little shocked. I do have to clarify this is not accomplished EVERY month. Some months are stock up months with a larger budget being implemented. 

Typical month (6 times a year): $400 on food and toiletry items
Meat stock up month (2 times a year): $900 on food and toiletry items
Staple stock up month (6 times a year): $500 on food and toiletry items

That comes to an average of $7,200 a year or $600 a month. That breaks down to $75 a month per person.

*Totals include food, toiletries, and rabbit supplies and food items*

So what are our tricks?

Buying Meat twice a year. We stock our freezer with meat every 6mths. I have found this to be the easiest way to make sure we have what we need on hand on a daily basis and cut down on trips to the grocery store. Even when there is "nothing to eat" I can turn frozen chicken breasts, flour and yeast into chicken sliders in under an hour and stretch our last shopping trip even farther. With the protein item already supplied and ready it is much easier to come up with simple meals. I like shopping at Costco for bulk meats. Everything is already packaged up for the freezer and ready to go. I count up the amount of dinners needed for the upcoming 6 months and plan 1 pound of meat per day for our family of 8 with leftovers counting towards lunches the next day. We typically have chicken, ground beef, london broil, pork chops, and pork tenderloin in our freezer.

Stocking the pantry with staple items. The easiest way to stretch your grocery budget is to keep staples stockpiled at all times. Again we like Costco for these items. I budget $100 every 2 mths towards a trip to Costco. Typical items we buy at Costco include flour, sugar, baking powder, oats, vanilla, spices, cocoa, yeast, oils, rice, trash bags, and laundry soap. I am very careful to keep a running total on my calculator as I add items to our cart. It is VERY easy to go over budget at warehouse clubs. I start with my priority items and work my way down the list. If after I have everything on my list I still have money left I like to pick up chocolate chips as a treat for the kids.

Frozen Veggies. Outside of the end of summer it is usually cheaper to buy vegetables and some fruits frozen in bulk. I prefer frozen for a variety of reasons but mostly for the quickness of cooking times, the freshness of the item when it was frozen, and the lessened chance of being exposed to the BPA that is commonly found in canned foods.

Grow your own. You really can't get much of a cheaper options than to grow your own fruits and vegetables. I am hit of miss on this front. Some years I have a great result...some years not so much. I am very happy that we are not dependent on my gardening skills for survival because we would probably all die. I do my best however and we do have some success. I typically grow herbs, tomatoes, bell peppers, green beans, lettuces, and strawberries. I just invested in blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and grapes. They are in the ground now to over winter before the spring warm up. I am hoping that they survive and thrive. I doubt they will ever produce enough to sustain my family of fruit loving children but every little bit helps!

Menu Planning. A menu plan is essential to cutting your grocery bill to the bare bones. Most people will recommend looking at the sales flyers or your coupons to decide on a menu. I do not agree with this philosophy. I look at my pantry and freezer and see what meals I can create from the items I have on hand. If I then have empty spots on my menu planner I then look through my recipe binder, pinterest, and my favorite bloggers to find cheap recipes that I can pull together with very little added items. Shopping from your own pantry is often called a "Pantry Challenge" on frugal forums and it is the best way to reduce wasted food items and save a bundle.

Shop at discount grocery stores. This is a pretty simple one. I only shop where the daily prices of items are already at a reduced amount. I don't have the time or the energy for a price book, sales circulars, coupons, or multiple stores. I need to get in and get out as quickly as possible. We shop weekly primarily at Aldi and during the summer at a local farmers market. I will occasionally run to a bigger store to get a specialty spice or cheese item if I am splurging that week but for the most part we shop only at Aldi. I like the store for it's simplicity. There are only a few aisles and only 1-2 choices of items within a category and all are their own house brand. I have found the food items to be the same quality as the major name brand items and I love paying only half the price for them.

No convenience foods. This was a hard one for my husband to get used to. No sodas, chips, frozen meals, crackers, cereal, granola bars, boxed mixes, or other premade items. You are seriously paying a fortune for these items and in most cases can make them quickly and easily at home.

Cooking from Scratch. After the last bullet this is kind of a no brainer. Cook items yourself and from scratch. It really isn't that hard and nowadays it is super simple to find recipes online for everything you can imagine.You can make your own salad dressing, soups, mixes, spice rubs, gravies, breads, "cream of " soups, coffee creamer, and baking mixes in just a few minutes. Have a little more time and you can make your own yogurt, cheese, jams and jellies, peanut butter, mayo, ketchup, etc. The internet is a big big place and there are a lot of amazing people out there sharing their recipes for "essential" convenience foods.

Meat is an accent not the centerpiece. This has taken some getting used to in our house. My husband is a "meat and potatoes" man and was used to the protein item being the center of attention at a meal. I only allow 1 pound of meat per day...for 8 people. There is no way I can make the meat the center of the show. My father once joked that I could make 3 meals out of one chicken and was shocked when I agreed that yes I could very easily do that. The trick? Casseroles and other items where the meat is cut up and added in with other ingredients. How can I get 3 meals for 8 people out of one 5lb chicken? Well first I cook the whole chicken in my crockpot. Once it is finished cooking I strip all the meat off of the bird and add the bones back to the crockpot with the cooking juices. I mix the white meat and the dark meat together and divide into 2 portions. One portion goes in to the fridge for the next nights meal. The second portion I add to a casserole for that nights dinner. While the casserole is cooking I fill the crockpot with water and cook on high overnight. The next day I store my strained chicken stock in the fridge for meal number 3. On the second day I take the remaining half of the chicken and use it in a new way, such as enchiladas or quesadillas. Day 3 is a simple chicken broth based soup such as chicken noodle or chicken and dumplings. I do not add any actual chicken to the soup but it is still very nutritious since it is made with the homemade low sodium bone broth you made in your crockpot.

Cheap sides. I am not talking about just starch and carbs here however they are very cheap and filling items to add to a meal. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, rolls, rice, and pasta are all cheap additions to a meal and fill bellies up very quickly. There are other healthier options however. Such as butternut squash soup, broccoli, sauteed green beans, dried beans such as pintos and black beans, salads, mixed veggies, etc. My kids always ask for seconds of green beans and broccoli which I am more than happy to give them. If they want seconds of the meat item however they have to have first ate all of their veggies. I am a bit of a stickler on that one. Veggies are important to growing bodies and I will happily sprinkle a bit of cheese on them if that is what it takes to get them to eat them.

Soups! I think you can see from the previous items that soups are wonderfully cheap additions to meals. They are super cheap to put together thanks to the ability to use leftover veggies and meat as the base items. On nights when I don't feel like cooking I can usually convince myself to make a pot of soup since it comes together so quickly.

I think I have hit the highlights of how we save money on our grocery bills. Do you have any additions to make to our list? I would love to hear about it!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Frugal accomplishments 11/15-11/22

I have not been posting our frugal accomplishments recently because....well to be quite frank we have not been very frugal. I let the stress of everyday life step in and derail our efforts. I have been making a conscious effort this last week to be more frugal so I thought I would return to keeping track of our accomplishments.

Lets see.....

This week we turned our thermostat down from 72 to 68.We keep it at 72 during the summer but when winter comes we find it hard to turn it down lower. It seems to take us a while to adjust to the cooler temps in the house. I systematically turned the thermostat down 1 degree at a time throughout the week and no one seemed to notice. I have been wearing a sweatshirt in the house more often and have been putting warmer clothes on the two littlest ones at bed time since they do not use a blanket. I know what you are thinking "68 is not cold" I agree no it isn't it is just taking some adjusting on our parts. I plan to keep dropping the thermostat down this week till we reach 65 during the day and 60 at night. We shall see how everyone reacts. Our 4yr old twins are used to running around in t-shirts and shorts year round inside so it is taking some getting used to for them especially. We have natural gas heat so not crazy expensive by any stretch of the imagination but every dollar saved really does matter in the long run. Right now our gas bill is going up by $20 every month due to the colder weather outside. This last few weeks it has been in the teens and twenties, I am not looking forward to this months bill at all!

We started using YNAB once again and I have been making sure to reconcile the account every night before bed. I have found that if there is more than a day or so to add into the software I get overwhelmed and have no interest in catching up so I put it off even longer and it gets even more see where this is going. So I have been making an effort to add every transaction in via my phone at the time of purchase and then to sit down in the evenings when it is quiet and reconcile it all with the budget. This has been working really well for me so far and making things much easier to stay on top of.

I also pulled out my cloth envelope system and filled our envelopes up with the cash budgeted per category. We did have some hiccups with this this week. I pulled the cash out for gas for both cars this week thinking it would be simple enough to pay with cash. It is....if you remember to bring the cash with you. It seems my husband doesn't remember he needs gas until he is already halfway to work and all he has on him is the debit card. So he pulls the money out for gas from the debit card and I have already pulled the same money out in cash for the we overdraw that budgeted category. So then I have to get creative with moving money between budgeted categories. Not cool. I have better things to do with my time. So we are going to cash for MY gas budget and debit for HIS gas budget in the future. Hopefully this will help with the confusion and make my life easier.

I stayed on track for our variable budgeted categories thanks to the benefits of cash only, you can't spend it if you don't have it. So our grocery, household, clothing, homeschool, etc categories all came in at or under the budgeted amounts.

Here around the house we ate all our meals at home even when I really REALLY didn't want to cook. I even managed to pull together a meal with just an hour before we had to leave for girl scouts. I so wanted to stop and get Mcdonalds on the way. It would have been so much easier. I held strong however and made a large pot of chicken and dumplings. The kids love them and it was really easy to do while the kids ran around trying to get dressed and find their shoes.

We raked the leaves outside on top of our perennials in an effort to insulate them for the coming winter. I figure for an afternoon of effort I have insulated the plants a bit, gotten free compost and weed suppression in the spring. The neighbors did look at me kind of funny as I was piling leaves knee high in my flower beds. Oh well they thought I was crazy anyways for having 6 kids and homeschooling what it one more thing added to the list?!

I did some thrift store shopping this week which is always a thrill for me. I needed to find yoga type pants for our 8 yr old who has some sensory issues with anything on her bottom half. I looked quickly on khols website the other night while waiting on the girls at girl scouts and found with the sales going on I could get 4 pairs of pants for $50. wasn't in the budget. So I stopped by the thrift store to have a look at what they had. I found 4 pairs of yoga style pants for $1.99 each. As I was walking out I saw a rack of snow boots. I am not going to lie I almost did a happy dance in the aisle and I might have thrown a few elbows if anyone had tried to muscle in on that rack while I was sorting through them. Luckily everyone recognized the crazy lady I was and stayed far far away. I needed 5 pairs of snow boots and I had planned to buy them on black Friday via payless. I expected them to run about $60. I found 4 pairs of boots that would fit 4 of my children, each marked at $3.99-$4.99 a pair. SOLD! All in all with our military discount I paid $21 for 4 pairs of pants and 4 pairs of snow boots. That is a savings of $90-100 depending on how much shipping would have been on the pants and boots if I had bought them retail. I don't normally buy shoes used. I do feel that new shoes are a necessity for everyone since shoes do breakdown with wear and can can cause pain and other problems over time. Snow boots and dress shoes are my exception however. They get so very little wear that even used they are in practically brand new condition.  I still need to find a pair of boots for our oldest daughter but I am quite happy to have my list cut down from 5 pairs to 1 pair.

So those are our frugal accomplishments for this week. Nothing ground breaking up every little bit does add up. I would love to hear about your accomplishments this week!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ralph the Therapy Rabbit


Since the day our son was diagnosed as autistic we have been looking into obtaining a service animal. The first option that ocurred to us was to get a service dog. After looking into it for several months we were more than a little shell shocked at the costs associated. There was no way we could afford $25,000 upfront for a dog not to mention the follow up training and costs associated with maintaining a certification. We still felt our autistic children would benefit from a service animal and kept researching.  We started searching for therapy animals instead of service animals. The difference? A service animal is trained to preform actions that the person with a disability can not do themselves. While therapy animals are not limited to working with just people with disabilities and their functions are not legally defined. Therapy animals are less regulated and less expensive. Since we did not intend for the animal to go to schools or other public places having the certification as a service animal was not a deal breaker for our family.

While doing our research I stumbled across an article about therapy rabbits and became fascinated. Our oldest autistic daughter has been obsessed with rabbits since she was 2 yrs old. She carried around a giant stuffed rabbit for years and is still extremely attached to it. Seriously don't touch the stuffed rabbit. Getting a therapy rabbit seemed like a natural fit for our family. 

We were extremely blessed to find a rabbit for sale for $20 including the hutch and a few weeks worth of food. It didn't take long for Ralph the rabbit to join our family.

 Don't let the name fool you, Ralph is a girl. She is a Dutch Blue and extremely sweet and as you can see tolerant of lots of little hands loving on her.

Therapy rabbits are far from mainstream and Ralph was not trained as one before we received her. What makes a rabbit a therapy rabbit? Well what makes any animal a therapy animal? Therapy animals are there to love on, calm anxieties, and give confidence. I saw no reason why Ralph couldn't be classified as a therapy animal. I started working with her several times a day building up her tolerance to being handled and loved on. It didn't take long before she was comfortable being out of her hutch and loved on. I helped the kids learn how to handle her and take care of her daily needs. We have not certified her as an official therapy animal since we do not intent to "take her on the road". She however is functioning as a therapy animal for our family quite well.

So how has Ralph helped our autistic children?
  • Cuddles. Lots and lots of cuddles. When children are overwhelmed and need time to calm down and reset their systems cuddling with a rabbit is just the ticket. There have been many times when our son was overwhelmed and we were unable to calm him down or keep him safe. Ralph has hopped in to the rescue. Something about Ralph shocks him out of his self harming sessions and helps him to recenter and come back to himself. Ralph earned a lifetime of carrots after that first rough night.
  • Confidence. Handling another living thing requires confidence and self assurance. Our oldest daughter has a very difficult time with confidence and learning to handle Ralph has been a great learning curve for her. 
  • Responsibility. Having to feed, water, and clean up after a pet is a big responsibility. Our oldest daughter has been assigned the role of chief caregiver and has done an amazing job at it.
I have to say I have come to love Ralph just as much as the kids have. She is such a sweet and quiet pet. No barking at the neighbors. No having to take her out for walks in the middle of winter. No chewed up shoes or gigantic bags of dog food to haul around. Over all she is very low maintenance and it has even been simple to find someone to watch her when we go out of town. 

Therapy rabbits are not for everyone or every child. Each child is different and you shouldn't make the decision of what type of service or therapy animal your child would benefit from lightly. It is all to common for people to jump into owning an animal without fully thinking the process through only to then dump the animal at a shelter when they are tired of caring for it. I would recommend anyone interested in a service or therapy animal to go out and spend time with the same type of animal. Get a feel for how your child responds and how you feel handling the animal yourself. Lets face it at some point mom and dad are going to be picking up the slack...and the poop....when the new wears off of the animal. Make sure you are fully committed and that the animal has the desired effect on your child.  I wish you luck in your journey towards a therapy animal and would love to hear from you along your journey.

When learning is hard......

As parents we make what we feel are the best possible decisions for our children. Sometimes things don't go as planned however and it is so easy to second guess yourself. You know what they say, "Hindsight is 20/20". We ran into a triple whammy recently that has thrown me for a bit of a loop.

Nine months ago our oldest two daughters (10yrs and 8yrs) were in public school and I was fully looking forward to sending our next three children to preschool that fall. We were doing what every family does and honestly never thought twice about it. Then came the fateful day that changed our lives. We decided to pull our girls out of school and homeschool them. We didn't make this decision lightly but we felt it was what was best for our children and decided to take the leap.

It took a bit for us to find our groove and get settled in to our curriculum choices. It was then that I started to see that something wasn't right with our 8yr old. I fully expected to have to make adjustments for our oldest daughter who is autistic but to see how badly our second daughter was struggling was shocking. I knew from the notes home from school that she was "slightly behind" in reading and had been receiving some supplemental help. What I was seeing now that I was acting as her one on one teacher was very different. She was a lot more than "slightly behind" and not just in reading either her math was just as troublesome.

It was at this time that we also became concerned about her hyperactivity and inability to focus on anything without fidgeting and going off topic. We had obviously known for quite some time that she could go either way on the ADHD diagnosis but she seemed to be doing well in school so we did not go forward with medicating. When we realized she was not doing well in school and was having trouble focusing we decided to have her evaluated for ADHD. Turns out she did in fact have it and was prescribed medication to try and help balance out her hyperactivity and difficulty with focusing. The second medication she tried worked wonders with no side effects. I almost cried the first time she sat still for an hour and worked on a project she was designing for her fort.

We started addressing the school difficulties by simply dropping her back a year to the beginning of second grade. The step back was helpful for math as it took her back to introductory subtraction with regrouping which was a very difficult concept for her to understand.  I however became even more concerned when she was unable to read any of the material presented in the beginning 2nd grade reading curriculum.

I watched her closely as she was "reading" and saw that she had memorized the majority of the commonly used words. The words she didn't know by sight she just skipped or made up her own version of the sentence. She didn't understand how to sound out any of the words and seemed to have missed a vital step between connecting the phonetical sound of a letter together with other letters to make words. Once we started working on sounding letters out I became really concerned when she kept sounding the words out right to left instead of left to right. Adding that to the fact that she was still writing many of her letters and numbers backwards I started to fear we were dealing with dyslexia. I asked her a few non leading questions and couldn't have been more surprised with the answers. Apparently the letters and words were "wiggling" on the page. I guess in this age of tablets and computer screens it never seemed odd to her that words on paper would be moving around. We made yet another appointment with her pediatrician, this time to discuss dyslexia. While we were there I figured I would make sure all our bases were covered and ask about her eye sight as well.

When I expressed my concern for her eye sight while reading the tech administered the standard eye  chart on the wall test having her stand back against the wall on the far side of the room.  We were then moved in to see the Dr who assured me her eyes were perfect and not the reason she was having trouble reading. administered a test for nearsightedness (seeing things far away) when poor eye sight while reading is called farsighted and done through a completely different test (having a person read something close up). He wasn't listening however so I moved on before I turned purple. After securing a referral to see a developmental pediatrician to discuss dyslexia we left as quickly as possible.

I called my husband as we were leaving the pediatricians office informing him that we were going straight to an eye doctors office. He decided to join us which I was very happy about. We arrived at the eye doctor and she was taken straight back by the tech to administer a few tests via a machine that I am not even going to pretend I know the name of. We were then moved to the exam room where the Dr took one look at the results from the test and announced that she was farsighted and needed glasses. Simple. Done. Glasses ordered and we were on our way.

The wait to see a developmental pediatrician in our area is one year. You know I wasn't going to wait a year to get my child help with her reading. We decided to switch her curriculum once again, this time to a dyslexia curriculum that started at the beginning and used a cursor. A cursor is simply a business card with the left top corner cut out. While she is reading I move the cursor over to expose just one letter at a time from left to right while the card underlines the word making it less "wiggly".

We went with the Dancing Bears curriculum and couldn't be happier. She is reading! Not fast or for long periods of time but she is reading! She has mastered all the phonetical sounds and can sound out 3 letter words with the use of a cursor. We are working on 4 letter words but adding in the blends, "ar" "or" "ch", is proving difficult for her. The cursor has to expose both letters at once to get the sound correct and she is having trouble reading from left to right again. She will get there but it is a very tiresome experience for her.

So my child who was "slightly behind" in reading in public school is now known to have ADHD, is farsighted, and more than likely is dealing with dyslexia. Do you have any idea what that feels like to a mother? How could I have not seen this? How did *I* her mother not know all this before? How could I have missed it and let it get to this point? Hindsight is 20/20 after all. I went through a period of really beating myself up on this one. I took for granted that she was on track educationally because that was what I was told. I took for granted that she was doing well and was healthy as a horse. I took a lot for granted. It wasn't until I gave her 100% of my attention in an educational setting that I saw the deficits. I would like to think that I, or someone in the school system, would have seen what was going on at some point in the future but I am not sure we would have. I now understand how you can have kids in high school that can't read. They get really good at faking it. If you were not looking at the page and following along word for word with her reading you would never have known there was a problem. She was very convincing at making it up as she went along.

So what are we doing now? Well she hates the glasses but wears them while reading. She is on grade level work for math and doing really well with it, although she still hates subtraction with regrouping. She is working very hard at learning to read but I do have to face facts on this one. She may never read fluently. That is a hard one for me. I adore reading and really hoped to pass that love affair on to my children. She does love hearing stories however so we are doing a lot of audio books while she follows along in her books. I do a lot of her writing for her via dictation, she loves writing stories about mermaids and I am happy to help her get her thoughts on paper.

We also do a lot of hands on activities to "cement" the concepts we are covering. For History she colors corresponding historical pictures while I read aloud. For Science she updates her notebooks with her "notes" while I read the text to her and completes lots of hands on experiments and observations. I have found that the more ways I can come up with to teach her without textbooks and worksheets the better grasp she gets on the material. This was more than a little bit of a learning curve for me as a brand new homeschooler. I automatically wanted to gravitate to the preplanned worksheet centered curriculum since they were easier to "grade" and see how she was doing. We have now learned how to go with more of a Charlotte Mason style approach with lots of short lessons, narratives, and hands on time out in nature.  I no longer worry about grading her work or administering tests. I can see clearly how well she understands the material simply by asking her to talk to me about what we just read or by how difficult her day's math work is to her.

How does she feel about all this? Well how do you feel when you have to do something that is extremely difficult and confusing? She does it but not happily. Reading is something she HAS to do and she knows no amount of whining is going to get her out of it. I am completely honest with her and do not sugar coat it. Yes this sucks. Yes you shouldn't have to work this hard. Yes it would be easier to just skip reading work for the day/week/month. Life is not fair and sometimes things just suck. This isn't going to suddenly get any easier and it is best to approach it with a sense of determination instead of frustration.   You can do this, you ARE doing this. One 10min reading session at a time we will get through this and to the other side. I am right here holding your hand and cheering you on. I will always be your biggest cheerleader. You are an amazingly strong and beautiful young lady and I couldn't be prouder of you!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Newest ways to stay in the loop!

Me, "I have writers block. I can't think how to start this blog post"
Hubby, "I am sorry. Does that make you a block head?"

Isn't he helpful? I guess he kind of is since he gave me a way to start this post. Don't tell him I said he was helpful however I don't want it to go to his head.

Anyways..........back to the topic.

I am finally getting with the times and have added an email subscription option and a facebook profile. I had been putting it off for some time because I figured it would be difficult to dig into all the HTML codes and get everything formatted properly. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the process was. Sooooooo........come on over to facebook and hang out with me as I share the random things that pop up in our lives. I mean who would want to miss my rambling about the strawberry syrup on the ceiling? Or how I was so busy catching up on laundry after a stomach bug came through our house that our oldest daughter decided to teach a geography lesson to her stuffed animals? This is golden stuff people!

Seriously though I can only talk to myself for so long before people start to stare so look over there on the right and click on our facebook page link!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Biome Units final projects

Now that our Biome unit is finished we are ready to start our final project. We covered a massive amount of information in this unit concerning the Rainforest, Tundra, Grassland, Desert, Marine, and Temperate Forest biomes. I felt like a final review was in order but wanted to make it fun for the girls. We decided to make informational brochures for each of the biomes. The girls went back through their notebooks and gathered facts about each of the biomes and added them to their brochures along with lots of art work.

I can't think of a better way for the girls to review the material covered and refresh their memories. Not one sigh or eye roll this week. I will take that as a massive win!

I hope you have enjoyed reading about our biome units this month and are looking forward to next months new unit study! We are tackling Outer Space in November! Our plan is to cover the planets, constellations, phases of the moon, asteroids and meteorites, and space travel. It should be a very exciting month complete with homemade rockets and oreo cookie moons! We look forward to sharing with you all!

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