Thursday, April 30, 2015

Clutter Busting

Today I tackled the boy's room. Whew! Too often "clean  your room" means dumping all their treasures in their closet. Today I told them to pull everything out and dump their treasure boxes out on the floor and sort through everything.

Do all boys have collections of string, whittled sticks, and painted rocks?

Halfway through I was ready to despair. It looked far worse than before. But we kept at it and now their room looks wonderful.

Will it stay that way for more than two days?

I love the tips on organizing that you all have been sharing in the comments. Jonna sent such as sweet email  that I asked if I could share it with all of you. I loved her perspective on seeking the Lord in our organizing. She graciously agreed so here is Jonna's organizing tips.

I am a busy homeschool Mom - I know you are busy - so here are a few hints that have helped me - I SOOOOO pray for help with this area of my life - I sometimes feel like I am "drowning" in my "stuff"/their stuff at our home.  We have 7 children - 5 still are at home.

Clutter has been such a struggle for MANY years - just ask my husband Mike:-) There were times in years past my own big "clean-up" consisted of taking the mail and other papers for many weeks and then putting it into paper garbage bags until I could find time to sort it all (which then never happened).  Mike one time smiled, saying that he had taken some of these bags to the dump that sat around for months. When he saw my shocked expression, he said "Be truthful - have you missed a single thing in them?"  :-)  Had to admit I had not!! 

Another tip someone gave, was to sort your mail every day right near your garbage can or recycling paper spot and only keep what you absolutely need. If it is a "rare" (which they are anymore:-)!!) personal letter, jot the date r'cd on the back so you can then see how really long it takes you to answer it:-)  

PLEASE get the book Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider. The author is a believer so even though the book was published for a secular audience you will at least see that theme understated within the book. Cheap on eBay or Amazon. If you get through Amazon, be sure to use their link - 1/2% of any purchase can go to Christian ministries, like Voice of the Martyrs etc.

Ask yourself in sorting ANYTHING/purchasing anything - does this simplify or complicate my life? 

Getting any new/used book - be ready to get rid of one in exchange or even two if brave - same goes for any clothing piece, knick knacks, - whatever-

 PRAY before every single purchase, since it's all God's money anyway (I just got given this VERY challenging thought by another believer). Even praying before grocery shopping, that you might find more on sale to help stretch the money etc.

 I am always SOOOO touched by my cello teacher's home - so simply, sparsely furnished with a few tasteful wall hangings.  Such a peaceful feeling it resonates. I long for this even in a busy household with three boys ages 14, 11, and 8 still in it:-)

 Ask yourself - if I had a year to live, which of this "stuff" I own would I really want to keep/use? 

 Take what things you might be hesitant to part with (unsure) and give yourself a week to decide. If they have value, make them a project - sell them on eBay if you are able to do this, and give all the money away to someone poor - there are SOOO many worthwhile projects at Gospel For Asia or CAM - even a $1.00 buys tracts.  I am amazed how God gave this idea to me to help me part with my "stuff", and how he has blessed these feeble efforts to turn this "stuff" into something tangible for Christians in other countries. 

Another good read is The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn, also Road to Reality by K.P. Yohannan – the man from India who started Gospel for Asia.  My free time is SOOO limited I cannot read many books, so I only will recommend those which I feel are 100% worth your time. I hope you will be blessed by these three books. They help underscore from a Christian perspective about living more simply and content.

I will leave you with a poem I just read by Ruth Bell Graham: 

 Let Them Go 

Let them go -
the things that have
accumulated through the years.
If they be only things,
let them go..
As barnacles,
they may but impede the ship
and slow
it down when it should go
full speed ahead.
Why dread
the disentangling?
Does the snake
regret the shedding
of its skin?
When the butterfly eludes
its chrysalis
does regret
set in?

In Christ -

Jonna Statt

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Four De-cluttering Excuses

De-cluttering my house and creating margin depends upon my success in blocking out the excuses that run through my mind. Maybe you battle the same excuses. Here are some of my most common.

Excuse #1: I might need this sometime.

This is a big one for me. I hate to throw away something I might need later. And I know when I throw something away - I'll find a use for it tomorrow.

I try to ask myself "Is this the last of its kind?" If I find a genuine need for this item, will it be impossible to procure a replacement? And if it would not be worth buying a replacement, is it truly a need? Often I'm using this as an excuse just to store more stuff.

Excuse #2: I paid good money for this.

This is a tough one for a tight-wad like me. Whether the purchase was wise or not, if I spent money on it, I will force myself to live with that item.

Chuck the guilt and allow yourself the privilege of occasionally making a foolish spending decision. Don't add to the misery by making a second foolish decision of holding onto an unwanted item.

Last year I got rid of all the dresses in my closet that I disliked or didn't fit well. I love having only dresses that I enjoy. I don't miss the others at all.

Excuse #3: I used this___________. 

This can be anything from "I wore this dress on my daughter on the first Sunday we went to church." "I wore this dress on our honeymoon." And so on. All the kinds of sentimental reasons to hold onto items that have long since outstayed their welcome.

It is fine to keep some items just for the memories, but make sure they are still blessing your life. It is impossible to store every item that is associated with a memory. Give yourself a limit such as a certain number of totes. When it is full, no more. Take a picture of the item if you really want to remember it, and give the item to someone who can use it.

Excuse #4: It was a gift.

This is a tough one. I never want to knowingly hurt a giver - even if it means holding onto an item I dislike. Relationships are more important.

But sometimes this can get a little ridiculous.

Like this fern.

My grandma grew many ferns in the corner of her living room. One day my grandma was dividing her ferns and gave me one. When she died a few years later, I treasured it as a memory of my grandma.

When I married, I hauled the fern to my new home. And it thrived, along with my many other houseplants. But then came children, three of them in about as many years, and in the choice of which living things to keep alive, the children won and the houseplants succumbed one by one. Eventually I was left with one houseplant - Grandma's fern.

And it has been trying to die ever since.

This fern has been banned to the basement windowsill where it is seen by nobody but me. And it is not making my laundry room more cheery. I look at it and feel guilt that I can't keep my grandma's fern alive.

My grandma died in 1996 - nearly twenty years ago. My fond memories of Grandma are not dependent upon keeping this fern alive.

So today, I'm stopping the excuses, kicking out the guilt, and adding the fern to the compost pile.

I know Grandma would approve.

Okay, so what about you. What excuses do you hear when you try to de-clutter your house? And what is your cure?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Key to Organization - Margin

What is the key to keeping a house organized?

No, it is not a maid, though maybe that would work.

It is de-cluttering.

I can clean and polish but if I have too much stuff it will immediately become disorganized again. I like to think of this principle of home organization as margin.

We are all familiar with the margins on a page. The margin is the white space around the text which makes a book easier to read. A dictionary defines margin as "an amount beyond what is needed."

Somehow, by default, my home can become crowded with items. And just like a page filled to the edge with words, a house without margin is overwhelming. It is difficult to clean and impossible to keep orderly.

Just because I know this to be true doesn't mean it is easy to live. I enjoy organizing a closet, bookshelf, or drawer - fitting each item in a neat manner like a puzzle. But if I wedge them together closely, with no margin, the organization may not last a day.

Margin is the difference between crammed and comfortable, overload and order.

I can't expect my children to replace a book when the shelf is wedged so tightly with books that not even a magazine can squeeze in. And the art drawer is in a constant state of disaster when three items need removed to find the scissors.

It is easy for me to think that I just need more shelves, more containers, or some other organizing gizmo. But the real problem is that I have too much stuff. I have seen very tiny homes that are orderly because the homeowners limited their belongings to what would comfortably fit the space.

But margin never just happens. I need to plan and fight for it. The Scripture says to do all things "decently and in order." (1 Corinthians 14:40) And often it seems like an impossible goal.

I have a lot of room for growth in creating margin in my home. While deep cleaning these next few weeks, I'm planning to carry some items out of my home and create some more space.

(And no, this doesn't mean I'm getting rid of any of the mess-makers that reside in my house.)

Want to join me? I'd love to hear your hints on how to de-clutter your home.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Spring Cleaning

We've finished our 180th day of school (thanks to starting in July!) and now I'm ready to turn to some spring cleaning.

I actually don't usually "spring clean." When something is so dirty it is driving me crazy, I just clean it.

Generally I do okay at keeping up with general cleaning and upkeep. I'm usually not too ashamed if a friend stops in unexpectedly. (That is if she is also a mom, who understands toys on the floor and dishes in the sink. And if she doesn't look for the unfolded laundry shoved into the bedroom.)

But right now there are a lot of corners of my house that need some deep cleaning. And I'm hoping to spend the next two weeks doing something about it.

I thought of sharing some before and after photos - just to encourage me - and maybe you - that there is hope. But it is really hard to show smears on the windows and the mold growing on the bathroom ceiling. Even things that are truly dirty may not show up through a lens.

But a few areas are so cluttered and out of order that it doesn't take an imagination to see the mess.

So in case you ever thought my house is perfect. Here is proof.

 At this moment, this is a corner of my basement.

And this is the mudroom (such a tiny room it is hard to photograph)

And the garage.

Hopefully the next week or two will see an improvement in all these areas - as well as the windows and the bathroom ceiling that I didn't attempt to photograph.

I plan to blog a little this week about spring cleaning, though it may be some reruns of old posts so that I'm not distracted from the cleaning.

Want to join me? What area of your house could use some attention this week? Let's encourage each other.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Review - The Science of Seasons

The Science of Seasons Book

The Science of Seasons is a new science storybook by Jennifer Guest.

I love Jennifer's website at Guest Hollow and the huge amount of homeschooling information she shares. I was excited to hear that she was writing and illustrating a children's science book and Jennifer gave me a Kindle copy of her book to review.

I read The Science of Seasons out loud to my four children ages 6-11. My older children learned some new information but I would guess that the younger children enjoyed it the most. I would guess that the target age is 2nd to 3rd grade but it is a book that can be used with multiple ages. Actually, even I learned some things from this book.

The book explains why we have seasons, how seasons change, and some of the special things about each season. In the story, the eldest sister is sharing what she learned with her younger brother and sister. The concepts are explained simply and clearly. The 50+ pages are also beautifully illustrated in vibrant color. I like that the girls are dressed in lovely feminine dresses in most of the pictures.

My children are accustomed to reading science books that contain evolution and are quick to say "That is not true." But they didn't need to say that in this book. The Science of Seasons is a God-honoring science book and a refreshing alternative to the majority of science story books for children.


The Science of Seasons storybook also has a companion Activity book to go along with it. I have not yet used this with my children but I think it will greatly enhance the story book.

The Activity Book is no simple coloring book (though it does include a few coloring pages.) There is lots of full-color cut-out models, games,  and paper doll puppets. There is pages to be filled out and added to a "seasons notebook" for the child to have a reminder of their study. There is sections on temperature, maps, vocabulary words, recipes, and activities from other cultures. Jennifer throws in some spelling tips, art ideas, geography facts, and a little math. Only a few additional supplies are needed such as crayons, string, ice, and construction paper. The book is designed with blank pages so that items can be cut out without messing up the next page.

By the time I finished flipping through the activity book, I knew that my children would gain much more from The Science of Seasons by utilizing the Activity book as well. The activities would help cement the information taught in Science of Seasons. Plus it is just the kind of book my children would love to work through with their scissors and glue.

Science curriculum

Jennifer went even further and designed an elementary science curriculum based on the Science of Seasons storybook and activity book. She added many more books and activities to make a 14-week course complete with day by day lesson plans. The curriculum is free and found on the Guest Hollow website.

The Science of Seasons is available at Guest Hollow as an e-book OR a softcover. The Activity book is also available as a softcover or a printable pdf. You can also find the books on Amazon.

I received free copies of these books but all opinions in this review are my own.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Hog Maw Casserole

As a lover of one pot meals, this recipe from my friend Regina S. has become a favorite - for the cook and the family. I cube bread crusts and keep them in the freezer for this recipe.

This is a favorite for Sunday lunch. There is nothing better than walking into the house after church to the smell of Hog Maw Stuffing Casserole.

Some might be saying "Hog Maw? What is that?" And maybe you don't want to know.

Another friend, Regina R. shared a tutorial on hog maw last year. This Pennsylvania Dutch delicacy might be one of those recipes you have to grow up on to appreciate. My mom always used the recipe in the Mennonite Community Cookbook.

The difference of this recipe from my mom's is that it contains bread cubes. We love the addition. And though it can be stuffed in the traditional pig stomach - I never do. I just place it in a casserole dish and cover it with foil. Easy.

I am sharing the recipe as Regina S. shared it with me though I only use these measurements as a guide. Basically I start with a large bowl and just start adding ingredients. Usually I end up with enough for two casserole dishes - which is perfect because my family loves to have plenty of leftovers.

Regina adds several slices of cooked and chopped bacon on top. I let it out and didn't seem to miss it though I'm sure it would be delicious. Bacon makes everything better.

Hog Maw Casserole
adapted from Regina S.

1 onion, chopped
1 small cabbage, chopped
2 cups diced potatoes
2 cups bulk sausage, raw
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 eggs
1 cup milk
4 slices of bread, cubed

Beat eggs; add milk, salt, and pepper. Pour over bread cubes. Stir in cabbage, onion, potatoes, and sausage. Cover and bake at 400 for 60 minutes.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

April Garden Plans

March didn't feel much like spring in this part of the country - but April has given us spring sunshine. I find it hard to stay indoors on a sunny day in April and it has been rather easy for my children to twist my arm and ask for a little time outdoors before they started their math.

Every spring, I think of the pioneer families who, before the days of super markets, glass canning jars, and freezers, subsisted on the wrinkled root crops from the cellar and stored grain during the winter. I can imagine the joy in finding that first spear of asparagus or dandelion greens and know that my family has survived another winter.

Today we can buy fresh lettuce, strawberries, and tomatoes all year long—but there is still something special about the herald of spring and the promise of food from my own garden. I love to see the new green shoots, like this rhubarb plant, poke out of the soil.

I know that we are already halfway through April. But I was spending my time outside enjoying April instead of writing about it. I have accomplished many of my April goals, as well as all the things from my March list that I had not completed earlier.

These are the tasks on my April Gardening List for my zone 6 garden.

1. Clean up the perennial beds and top-dress with compost and lime.

Ed mulched my flower beds with chopped leaves in the fall but there is a few weeds that managed to squeeze in anyway. I'd like to put some more mulch down and hopefully have no more weeding this summer. Last year my flower beds were totally neglected. We'll just say it was the baby's fault.

2. Divide any crowded perennials and prune the roses that I missed last fall.

3. Plant beets, carrots, onions, sugar peas, lettuce, spinach, and potatoes in the garden.

Often we are the last to get our garden planted since it is located in a low area and often stays wet for a long time in the spring. But this spring has been dry, too dry, and we were able to get all of the early spring things planted in the first week of April.

4. Set out broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower plants in the garden and cover with rowcover.

For now, I have the plants covered with milk jugs. I cut the bottom out of the jug and push it into the soil and have a mini green house. When it gets warmer and the cabbage butterflies appear, I will remove the milk jugs and cover with row cover.

5. Uncover the strawberry plants from their winter mulch of straw and plant a new row of strawberries to replace the row that is being smothered in Canadian thistles.

6. Relish fresh asparagus and the first spring salad.

What are you doing in your garden this month?

And if you are from Georgia or southern California and relishing freshly picked strawberries—I don't want to know.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Bookmarks: Picture Books on Flight

One hundred and forty-eight years ago, on April 16, 1867, a baby boy was born who would make his mark history. Wilbur Wright, along with his brother Orville, invented the first successful airplane and realized man's dream of flying. The beginning of air travel includes amazing stories of creativity and courage. 

While there are many books that tell the stories of these events, I searched for some of the best illustrated picture books at our library. These books were designed for elementary students (grades 2-5) but I enjoyed them as much as my children.

Wilbur and Orville Wright had a younger sister, and this book tells the story of the famous inventors from her perspective. While she may never be as famous as her brothers, this story gives credit to the quiet woman who supported her brothers. Superb illustrations add realism to the story.

Will and Orv by Walter A. Schulz

The Wright's first successful flight told through the eyes of a young boy from Kitty Hawk who witnessed the event. Based on the historic record of the December 1903 event.

The muted paintings by the Provensens fit perfectly with the story of French aviation pioneer Louis Bleriot. After many failures, Bleriot succeeded in being the first person to fly across the English Channel. This is a story of someone who is determined and learned from his mistakes.

Flight by Robert Burleigh

Lindbergh's historic flight across the Atlantic is told in short sentences that show the drama of the event. But the real thrill of this book is the stunning illustrations.

Night Flight by Robert Burleigh

A new retelling of Amelia Earhart's solo flight across the Atlanic is told with vivid words and paintings. The many dangers and problems Earhart encounters lend suspense to the story.

The Hindenburg by Patrick O'Brien

The lovely airships (also known as zeppelins) were actually invented before the airplanes and at one time were considered the best way to travel across the ocean. That all ended in 1937 with the tragic explosion of the Hindenburg, the largest and fastest airship ever made. The history of the airships, detailed drawings, and lovely artwork are included with this story of Hugo Eckener and his amazing airship.

I doubt the Wright brothers ever imagined that their innovations in flight would one day enable man to travel as far as the moon. This excellent book tells the story of the historic journey of Apollo 11. The poetic text combines with amazing watercolors to replay the incredible event. Don't miss this one.


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