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Simple Meal Planning - Plan to Eat

100 Books In A Month Challenge

The 100 book reading challenge for my first graders

It seems that around first grade, my kids really catch on to reading. Though this can be very different for different kids. I know some of my friends kids don’t catch on to reading until they are 9 or even older – so don’t fret if your child doesn’t “get it” yet and start reading with ease. It will come.

So maybe I should rephrase the beginning of this blog to say – when my kids first “get” reading – once they can read cvc words easily (not necessarily by sight, but, can sound the word out and understand it) and are EXCITED ABOUT IT, and sound out then read back short sentences, we consider a 100 book reading challenge.

I don’t drill sight words – they catch on to frequently used words quickly enough, and by the time they finish their 100 book challenge they know all they need to, by sight. No need to drill, I’ve found, at my house. The best part is that their confidence, comprehension and fluency in reading skyrockets. I don’t like to waste any time getting to this challenge because they LOVE it, and it helps boost their reading level more in one month than it does following their reading curriculum for many months.

We don’t really do anything super special – we just set aside the reading curriculum (and a lot of house work) and set a goal of 100 short books in a month. We set up a chart on loose leaf paper that is numbered to 100. The kids write down the title of the book and the author when they have completed a book. I tell them to read a minimum of 3 books every single day, more if they want to take weekends off and finish early. I let them include very easy readers at the beginning to help them along and give them confidence. We take many trips to the library. Towards the end I ask them to read a few bigger books – not yet chapter books, but books that have more sentences and pages than the easy readers. What that is, exactly, depends on where they are at in their reading abilities.

Once we have achieved this goal and return to our reading curriculum, I have found it is so easy for them to glide through the rest of the way because as they have read 100 books they have learned a lot of new material that has stuck through repeated exposure. We tackle new phonics rules as we come across them during this challenge.

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Homeschooling in the Afternoons

A number of people have been asking me how homeschooling in the afternoon has been going, so I thought I’d write a post detailing how our days go. I can say that it has been going very, very well.

My husband works afternoons, so if we did our homeschooling in the morning our kids wouldn’t see daddy at all during the week. That just won’t do, so we moved our schedule around his. We wake and have the whole morning to play, visit, run errands, and I have time to put together a filling lunch that he can also take to work with him as a meal later in his day. As soon as my husband leaves for work, we head to the school room to start our school day. The kids have full tummies and have already had a chance to work off some energy so they are ready to focus. Our school days start a little before the local schools dismiss for the day. This works particularly well for the winters, where the evenings get dark so early. When some kids are getting out of school and don’t have any time to enjoy the great outdoors after homework because it’s dark, our kids have been able to play all morning. We are on a somewhat intense schedule right now though so we can enjoy the great outdoors more this year. I intend to go to a light school schedule as soon as the weather breaks. We’ve barely taken any time off for the winter, but we are all looking forward to being able to spend time outdoors in the nice warm weather before it gets hot and uncomfortable out there.

I used to feel that if we didn’t hit the books immediately following breakfast, getting school work done at all that day was a lost cause. Perhaps if my husband was home in the afternoons that might be the case, but, he’s not so we can all focus our attention on our studies. This is one of the joys of homeschooling – a schedule that fits our life. If my husbands work schedule changes, our school day will likely change again to accomodate his. We homeschool for many reasons – but one of them is the flexibility that allows us a lot of family time.

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Beginning the Journey

Where does a girl begin her journey?
If you’re me, you ask your girlfriends on Facebook. Because, really, how else can you connect with so many girlie girls who know their stuff and have been doing their “thing” their whole lives?

I need help with everything, and thankfully a few of my local girlfriends, who have a modest and feminine fashion sense, have reached out to help me develop some fashion sense of my own. I will take them up on the offer. My husband is also very good with picking out clothes and makeup. Laugh not! Well, ok, go ahead and laugh but ladies – I have a true gem of a husband! Early in our relationship he took me to a fancy clothing store to pick out an outfit for a funeral we had to attend. I had nothing dressy (remember – I hated skirts). Well he picked out a nice outfit and as we were checking out the cashier was complimenting me on how nice it was put together. I had to hand the credit where it was due – to my then boyfriend. During my girlie phase when I showed interest in makeup he and my neice took a trip to the store and he picked out the shades that best matched my face. He could have probably shown me how to apply the basics, but he let my neice take over in that area. I don’t remember much, and it was extremely basic instruction just to get me started. Today I can apply some eye liner, mascara, foundation and blush… that’s it. And that may be all I “need” but I’d at least like who know how to pick out colors that complement my face (and clothes?) and different ways to apply it.

I do have some skirts. I’d like to wear skirts daily, and my pick for those are jean skirts or long tan skirts. I also love the look of maxi dresses and skirts, so tomorrow I am going to see about getting one or two to try out. My biggest problem with wearing skirts was finding shoes that I liked. Something comfortable, casual, and attractive. I have been looking for YEARS to find shoes that fit my pickyness, but I have not succeeded. I have an idea in my head of what these shoes would look like, but I cant find them anywhere. I did find two pairs of shoes today that my husband assured me look wonderful. I’m not a shoe girl, so I’m just taking his advice. I believe they are mary jane type shoes. Flat, with a strap. One pair has a nice little bow looking thing on one side and the other pair is plain. Both are black. I have a few nice shirts to wear with the skirts and a limited amount of jewelry but my next projects will be finding a maxi dress or skirt or two, learning more about makeup and figuring out what I should have on hand, and some more hair style ideas for long hair that doesn’t require cutting, is causal enough for every day wear, and is something I can do myself. My girlfriends hooked me up with a bunch of ideas so maybe my adventures in hair can be for another post.

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Going Girlie

After shooting on our friends farm one evening, my husband casually mentioned that he thought it was great that I shoot guns and throw knives, but he really wishes I’d go out and do something girlie once in a while. Get a mani or a pedi, a facial, something girlie. “Be a girl!” He said. I looked at him said that my handgun has a pink grip, and we made the white letters pink – isn’t that girlie enough? He gave me a look and told me that was not what he meant! Aw heck I thought. I wouldn’t have the first idea as to what to do, because I’m not girlie like that. “I’d never spend the money on a mani and pedi because girlie things like that just aren’t my thing.” He responded “well, maybe they should be.” Really, I had no idea he’d want me to be even slightly high maintenance (my apologies to anyone who might be offended by that – but I consider anything more than my get up and go to be high maintenance). I can get ready to go in the morning before he’s ready. I can get up and be ready to walk out the door in less than 5 minutes. I’m ok with that. But I’m also not opposed in the slightest to some slight changes in how I present myself. I am delighted that we have a relationship where he feels like he can offer suggestions and not feel like I will be offended or ignore him. No, he’s not saying he thinks I’m ugly and I need to change. Nor does he want me to change in such a way that I no longer resemble who I am. My husband isn’t a pig. But every husband has certain things that will put a smile on his face. That conversation was his way of giving me the little push I needed…

So here begins another journey of mine into the girlie realm. Finding femininity after 30 years. I’ve been a tomboy all my life. I had one phase where I was girlie, shortly after giving my life to Jesus. Then I phased out of it because it was so hard to garden in a skirt, and winter came and boy was it cold. We never had money to go out and spend on buying winter girlie essentials, so it just seemed natural that I would wear what I had, and that was jeans and a tshirt. Gone went the makeup, the ribbons in my hair, the skirts and glam. I should point out that in no way do I think that makeup makes or breaks an attempt at femininity, in fact I struggle with if it’s even godly at all. God gave me my face the way it is – so I suppose as long as I am trying to enhance my features rather than cover them, then I am ok with makeup. That’s just my personal opinion. And my walk down this path is not solely due to my husbands encouragement. I want this, and so does he. And I love that my husband is supportive of his wife finding pleasure in the ways that should come naturally to me – but don’t! I also think it’s sweet that he feels he can encourage me – and if he wants his wife dressed up a little more, who can blame him? Him suggesting that I be more feminine isn’t much different than him asking me how I’d prefer his facial hair. We both have preferences and likes and dislikes. I like his facial hair in a certain way, so when he had a different job that didn’t require the possibility of fighting fires he would wear a beard. I liked it. Now, he can’t, but he took into consideration how I liked his appearance. I will have the same respect for him in mine. No, he’s not asking me to completely change how I look. He’s not asking me to be someone I’m not. He is still attracted to me as I am right now – and I know that if I end up hating the whole girlie thing, I can come right back to where I am now and he wouldn’t care. Yes, I feel a little silly, being 30 and not knowing how to properly apply makeup or how to pick it out. I should have some basic fashion sense, but really none is needed when you live in a tshirt and jeans. Anything goes. And so, this new chapter in my life begins. The chapter where I finally find my femininity. For a tomboy like me, this is a pretty big deal. Is there hope??

I’m pretty embarrassed to admit that I don’t know much about an area I should be a pro at – but I realize I’m not alone. Because of that, I hope to blog about my learning experiences for other ladies wishing to cross on to “the other side” and become more modestly feminine. I do believe that God intended for women to be feminine, and they should especially want to please their husbands. So here is the beginning of learning more about an area that I should be well versed in, but am not. And I hope you’ll join me in the journey and help me out, and help others reading this who could use it, too. This certainly does not come naturally. My mom never had the chance to teach me about these things – I had no interest. All I can remember is her nagging me one evening because I wanted to wear purple spandex pants (ahem, I was an 80’s child, give me a break) and a large red sweater to a friends house. She kept saying I couldn’t leave the house because red and purple clash and I can’t be seen outside the house. But I didn’t see anything wrong with it. See, now you know how bad it is. I will leave you with that mental image as I go off youtubing how to style long hair in ways other than a bun and pony tail. I tried a swiss braid crown yesterday and actually left the house wearing that style today, and I did it to my girls hair and they both loved it. Score! Oh, and I’m still going to take my husband up on his offer to go out and do something girlie. I’m still not quite sure what I’ll do but a facial sure sounds nice. I can paint my own nails. ;)

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Grocery Shopping as a Field Trip

While some parents may try to go shopping alone to avoid the headaches sometimes involved with shopping with children, some others choose to embrace it as a learning experience. A field trip, of sorts.  As a homeschooling mom, I look at everything as an opportunity to have my kids learn.  Grocery shopping is no different – and it’s an excellent time to introduce so many concepts all in one place.  It keeps the kids engaged, too.  There is less misbehavior and boredom.  What can you do while grocery shopping?  Depending on their age you can…

  • Do scavenger hunts (while in the aisle with you of course, I wouldn’t send the kids off alone with a list!).  “Who can find red skinned potatoes?”
  • Identify different varieties of the same item.  “What differences do you notice between the gala and granny smith apples? “ or “What differences do you see between beefsteak and roma tomatoes?”
  • Estimate and round.  “If this item is 7.62, what do we round this up to?”  “Here is a list of items rounded up on our shopping list. What do you estimate our total to be?”
  • Add.  “If this item is $2.50 and we buy two, how much will it cost?”  or, “Add up our list of items to find the total.”
  • Read.  “What is the name of this item?”  “Can you find the bag of vegetables labeled ‘mixed vegetables’?”
  • Learn about food.  “Does this item have sugar in the ingredient list?  Where in the list is it?  What does that tell us about this item?”  (If sugar is listed in the first few ingredients, it’s got too much sugar for our shopping cart!)


Kids also learn about labels on fruits and vegetables, different brands, cost comparison between units, find aisles based on numbers or names, learn about symbols and abbreviations, work on some basic conversions and fractions, keep a list of tally marks to total up how many items we buy, skip count when adding the same items to a bag, estimate how many green beans are in a bag (and count them when we get home), estimate how many apples are on the shelf then skip count the total (assuming no one is waiting to pick out apples!  Normally we shop in the morning during school hours when stores are pretty empty).  The ideas are ENDLESS for a fun (because there is no pressure!) learning experience where you can not only get your shopping done – but keep your kids engaged and behaved also.

How do you turn grocery shopping into an educational event?

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A step or two closer to self sufficiency

Life has taken a big turn with lots of new and exciting changes.  Of course, our sixth baby is due this summer which is probably the most notable and important exciting change.  The next one: my husband has finally jumped on board with keeping chickens in our city backyard, and meat rabbits as well.  Our city ordinances do allow chickens – there are no limitations or restrictions other than the fowl must not have their wings tied to keep them from flying, they  must not be overcrowded, must be kept contained at all times, and must be well cared for.  Our backyard is big enough even with our big garden, and this year seems to be the right year to do it as everything is finally falling into place (I’ve been researching backyard chickens and suggesting we give it a go for the past 8 years.  We were going to do meat rabbits, but ended up moving before that got established – so now that we own our own home and are established in it, we’re going to do it this time…  We’ve already got a coop, we’ve already lined the whole area the chickens will be in with wire mesh to prevent digging rodents from getting in, then filled dirt on top of it, and we’re putting a privacy fence up along the back fence to offer some protection for our hens against the dog that will bark at you the entire time your outside.  Considering we’re outside most of the day, and the dog often is too, a privacy fence is a welcomed barrier between us.   It will also offer a bit more protection against rodents and keeping the neighbors out of our business so they aren’t forced to look at our backyard farm if they don’t want to.

So as we are figuring out all we need for chickens and meat rabbits, I am trying to get it all established before our baby arrives so that I can get the hang of it and not feel overwhelmed with our baby gets here.  In addition to preparing, we have our garden to tend (seeds are already sprouted and growing well) and I have canning and dehydrating to look forward to this fall, and boy what a garden I am growing this year.  More of everything than I’ve ever done.  And happily – my asparagus bed produced asparagus this year (my dog dug up all the roots last year, I wasn’t sure it would make it!) and my strawberries are spreading like crazy.  We pulled a bush from the front of our house and I am taking over that entire bed for edible herbs and peas.  I added a new garden plot in front of my normal garden to make up for the space lost for the chicken area and I am planting more beets, spinach, and green beans than ever before there.  Spinach, beets, peas, and kale are already in the ground.

My goals this year are to preserve more than ever so I don’t have to buy any canned vegetables this year.  Each year I try to keep records of what I’ve canned and dried so I can revisit that at canning time to determine what we need more or less of.  Due to more mouths to feed (the baby who wasn’t eating much to speak of last year at canning time eats like a normal toddler now, plus this baby who will be eating around next canning season, plus the additional food my kids will eat because they’re older) I feel more pressure to can more than I ever have.  I don’t like needing to have a store at all.  Of course, I need a grocery store for some things, but my list has grown smaller and smaller over the year.  I am much happier, secure and at peace when I know all we need is already in my home.  We shop once a month to reduce our dependence on the grocery stores and I make all I can to avoid them.  There is something to be said about making and doing things yourself.  We are the self sufficient type.  I find great joy when I realize I can re-create something I’ve been buying or want to buy and save money or make it healthier.

Another thing I’ve been up to is learning how to make my own toothpaste/tooth powder, going the ‘no-poo’ method to eliminate the expenses of shampoo and conditioner, and using our cloth baby wipes in place of toilet paper because we go through a million rolls of toilet paper each month – many lost by falling in the sink or the tub (we had a holder that kept it on the wall, but then the baby grabs the toilet paper and runs through the house, or one of our multiple cats gets stuck in the bathroom and paws the paper off the roll…  We pay a lot of money each month in wasted toilet paper so I got fed up and we use cloth now.  My husband isn’t quite on board with that, but he’s not the main ‘problem’ with our toilet paper issue so I don’t mind.  We’ve managed to save 5 rolls in the few days we’ve been doing this, so it’s worth it to me.  I wash them with our cloth diapers.  They come out nice and clean just like the diapers and its no different than washing the cloth wipes I use on baby butts, really. I know it isn’t for everyone – even I wasn’t all for it the past few years, but for the time being, I am.   We put all the wipes in a little garbage can I keep under our bathroom sink, where I put the cloth diapers.  I empty it once or twice a day as needed into the main diaper pail in the basement, and wash every other day with diapers.  Done.

I’m on a roll to live more frugally than normal so we can put the money saved towards our current large projects.  We’ve dropped cable, both my husband and I have gone from smart phones back to stupid phones to ditch the monthly data package, and we’ve parked our cargo van that we don’t use much anymore and put parked car coverage on it.  In the event that we do drive it, we put full coverage back on it for that time but it sits more than anything.  We’re not quite ready to sell it yet because it does come in very handy, but I don’t see the point in keeping full coverage on two big vehicles, as it’s quite expensive!  Plus we don’t need to keep gas in both vans.  One is a v8 and one is a v10, both suck down gas like crazy so it’s better to use one vehicle instead of fueling two.   We have paid off our only credit card after my husband had extensive dental work put on it last year just this past month and now we have one more debt to work down and we’ll be back to being debt-free aside from our house payment.   Just as much as we’ve saved, we’ve put back out in expenses for starting our coop and rabbitry.  I will write about the details of how we did that if you’re curious about doing it yourself, but another time because it’s not finished yet J

Keeping along the lines of frugal living and self sustainability, I am starting a worm bin.  Breeding worms which will eat my kitchen scraps, create excellent compost for the garden, and be a treat to my chickens.  We’re planting clover in the backyard as a special treat for the rabbits.  I am researching ways in which I can prepare my own chicken or rabbit feed, or maybe supplement their feed with homemade options to reduce our need for commercial blends.

As it stands currently, we have 9 chicks, and this weekend we are picking up 6  Californian rabbits, one buck and 5 does, plus the remaining babies the moms have with them that didn’t sell by Easter.  The owner is selling his rabbitry so he can travel this summer and has offered us a package deal on those rabbits, a bunch of hutches and all the supplies we need that he was using.  Can’t beat it.   I am a complete novice with chickens, but rabbits are something I have a lot of experience with as I raised them through much of my childhood.  My husband hunts rabbit, and we have eaten both wild and domestic rabbit enough to know we like it and will eat it.  In the future I’ll do a write up of why we chose meat rabbits, and you may find it is something you’d like to take on, too.  If you’re local to me (near Detroit) I would be willing to help you get started if we have any babies ready to wean when you’re looking to start up.

I will end this entirely-too-long blog post now.  It runs on just about as much as my brain right now.  So much is happening, and so quickly, but I know if God is allowing this then it is in His plan and I am certainly up for the challenge.  Having healthy meat and eggs at our disposal is so important, especially in the coming days when food may become more and more expensive.   I’m not a doom and gloom kind of person, but I have seen prices steadily rising, and more so now that the cost of gas has gotten so high.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize times are getting tight for everyone (and have been for quite some time), and this is one way we can avoid the high cost of super market food and replace it with home grown, healthier options.  I will share my experiences as I have time to write them to encourage anyone else who is interested.  You can learn through my mistakes that I’m sure to make!

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Making & Using a Price Book

If you’re trying to live frugally and try to get ideas from others, you may have heard of a price book.  If you’re anything like me, you’ve procrastinated about putting it together for quite some time.  The idea may seem daunting.  But from one procrastinator to another – do it!  This is one of your greatest partners when it comes to saving money, aside from making and doing thing yourself instead of buying them or paying others to do it for you.

A price book serves several functions.  You can approximate your next grocery bill based on current prices from your last shopping trip, allowing you to know exactly what you need and how much money to bring.  A price book will allow you to track pricing trends – some food will rise and never go down, some fluctuate depending on the time of year.  You can track sales, and if you use coupons, track coupon cycles so you can know how much of an item to buy to get you through until the next sale price.  You can compare prices from one store to another breaking down each advertised price to price per unit to make sure you’re getting the best deal.  A price book will do nothing but save you money when you put it together and keep it updated.

So how do you get started?  I started by printing out simple price book pages that are used for one item per page.  Then I created my own index dividers by using cardstock as the dividing page and taping cardstock tabs to the edges each tab just a bit lower than the previous one on the last page.  This way I can divide my book up into categories such as:  fresh, meat, frozen, canned, ingredients, dairy/eggs, snacks, drinks, household, pets, kids, etc.  Each family and home will have different tabs depending on what you buy.  You can use a 3 ring binder or use a binding machine and use comb-bound or spiral bound binding.  Then put your book together.  I print my price book pages on each side so I can get two items per page.  You could make your price book to hold two items per side, but the longer you keep your price book the more room you will want to have to track sales and grocery receipts.  If you buy something every month, and the price changes even a bit every month, you’ll want to track that.  Each time you buy something, if there is a change in price, you write it down.

Now the fun part.  Inputting your data.  I mentioned I procrastinate, right?  Well that means I’ve been meaning to do this for quite some time.  I just put my book together last year, then just recently made it bigger.  I kept receipts each time we shopped, meaning to put them in the price book, so when it came time to sit down and put prices in my book and figure out what items deserve to be entered in my price book I had a pile of receipts.  I started with the first trip I had on hand – the oldest – and inputted data consecutively after that ending with my most recent trip.  I shop at stores that do a pretty good job of listing the items and cost on the receipt, but then I sometimes shop at other stores that just list prices.  If the item information is not listed with the price, the receipt is about useless.  If you shop at a store like this, you may have to actually walk in the store and write prices down in your book while you’re looking at them.

If I buy an item regularly or have it included in my food storage rotation, it gets a page in my book.  I may not buy rice often because we often purchase it in 50lb bags, but that doesn’t mean the pricing information should not go in my book.  It is a staple in our home and I want to track the price changes.  If I notice a change in price BEFORE I buy it, I write that down.  I don’t always get to, but I do try to keep an eye on prices and if something looks different even if I am not buying the item during that trip, I will update my price book to reflect the new price.   I don’t like surprises while I’m out shopping so I like to know approximately how much I’m going to spend.  Sales circulars?  I try to input sale prices on items we would buy, even if I don’t actually purchase the item, to keep track of sale cycles and rock bottom prices.  You will find some items go on sale regularly – but only a time or two per year do the prices actually drop to rock bottom.  For instance, 4-6 times a year around here I notice cream cheese on sale 10/$10.  But only once per year do I find it on sale $.79 per block.  I wait for that one sale and stock up, freezing any I may not use before they expire.   Stores are pretty dependable on sales cycles – you will get to know your local cycles as you track prices.

So gather your shopping receipts, if you have any, and your local sales circulars for the stores you shop at and begin inputting information.  Your price book sheets should include a place at the time to prominently display the item you are writing prices down for.  Below that in table form you should track date, store, item/brand, size, price, unit price, sale or coupon price.  If you used a coupon to help get a rock bottom price, you can reasonably expect to find a similar coupon you can match with that sale again in the future.  Keep track of regular prices, sale prices, and prices with coupons (if you use them).  If you notice your local store did a ‘price drop’ on an item, write that down too.  Price drops normally last longer than a sale and are not always regular but it’s nice to know how low a price can go so you can decide if you’re safe to wait or if you should buy then.

Bring your price book shopping with you.  Compare prices as you shop – if you have prices written down for one store and you’re shopping at another, pick a few key items and write down prices from that store for comparison.  Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to your grocery bill.

Keeping inventory of your food is another excellent way to save money.  And I’ll get into that point at a later date.  Until then, organize your pantry so that all like items are together and by the time you’re done with that I might have my inventory post written up.  Having like items grouped together is very helpful for inventorying to go smooth.

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Our Scrapbook Cookbook

One of the projects I am excited about doing with my girls is our scrapbook cookbooks.  Each of the girls, when they become old enough, will start a scrapbook collection of their favorite recipes.  Recipes from friends and families they’ve tried and liked and the best part: pictures of them cooking with the people they got the recipes from.  Of course, not every recipe will have pictures, but I think it would be so neat to flip through a cookbook years down the line and have the happy memories and pictures of cooking golabki with great grandma, or baking bread with grandma, or learning how to roast a duck with grandpa.  I intend to outfit their cookbooks with helpful charts and tutorials and by the time they leave the house to start their own families they will have a plethora of recipes and memories to take with them!











Last year a local scrapbooking store had a great sale.  I went in and purchased papers and stickers that I thought she’d enjoy for her cookbook (I’ve been waiting for the right time to do this for a while now! hehe).  A lot of the papers are cooking related with patterns such a pots and pans, strawberries, apples, chocolate chips, leaves for fall recipes, sunflowers for summer recipes, and some misc. cute papers she can use for just about anything.  She is very excited to get more involved.  I’ve recently tagged almost all the pictures I’ve ever taken, using Picasa, so I can easily search for our cooking pictures and send pictures involving my oldest daughter cooking to the next store having a deal on printed pictures that I can’t pass up.


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Top Things A Large Family Needs

The Top Things Large Families Need:

It’s no secret – raising a large family is different than raising a small family. As your family grows, there are certain things you’ll find very helpful or essential for the day to day running of your home! The gals and I from the Christian Moms of Large Families on Facebook came up with a list of items we find helpful in our day to day lives.

• The Lord. Yes, we call on Him for help several times a day as things may get crazy and we all know we just cannot do it ‘all’ without Him. God is our rock!
• Towels. This is the first thing that pops into my mind, mainly because if you have a lot of towels and hand towels, you can weather a stomach virus a little easier because you don’t have to do laundry in the middle of it. Stomach viruses are like the end of the world when your whole family, including yourself, falls ill. So, simple ways to make it just a little easier make the thought of it little easier to bear…and the reality of it easier to handle, too. We have a family of soon to be 8, and have two shelves worth of towels in our linen closet, plus a shelf full of towels we keep in the bathroom for baths. Of course, they’re handy for spills (and there are a lot of spills) and other mess clean ups, too.
• Bunk Beds
• Bigger Pots, Pans and Casserole Dishes. There comes a point when smaller pots and pans serve very little purpose in your kitchen and you move on to industrial-sized cooking equipment to get meals prepared. If you can’t find industrial sized cooking equipment you will find yourself cooking in two or more 9×13 dishes, etc. so you may want to keep extras of those on hand!
• Lots of laundry baskets!
• Extra bedsheets for every bed.
• While not completely essential but incredibly useful, a large refrigerator (or two), a deep freezer (or two), and two washers/dryers. I keep two deep freezers in my basement and pull food from them as needed. My husband wants to get a second fridge, and that will go in the basement as well.
• Enough seating space – two or more couches.
• A bigger van. There comes a point when you grow out of normal vehicles and graduate to the passenger vans!
• An area for food storage. Large families go through a lot of food!
• At least two toilets in the house.
• Membership to bulk stores like Sam’s or Costco
• Bookshelves and lots of books. One of the gals made a very good point: library visits get expensive. With so many little hands and so many books out at once, it’s easy to loose books and find them damaged. She suggested buying lots and lots of educational books from garage sales and have plenty of bookshelves to go with them.
• Bins. And labels.
• A big mixer for all that baking you may be doing.
• A roaster oven – cook up a bunch of chili at once, have it double as a huge crockpot, roast a couple chickens at once, so many uses!
• Memberships to your favorite attractions/science centers/zoo’s, etc. You’ll find after a while It’s cheaper to buy a yearly pass than pay admission for each member of your family… Then you can visit more than once!
• Lots of crayons and coloring books. Buy them in bulk.

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Small Kitchen Organization

We have a very small kitchen – and it is one of the most used rooms in the house.  To accommodate our large family, from-scratch cooking lifestyle I’ve come up with a few ideas to keep many essentials close at hand.

   Shelving.  We found a place to put shelving that was out of the way yet convenient.  Since taking this picture the items on the shelf have been switched with other items as I figure out the best place to put everything.  I’ve also added hooks to the metal shelf supports to hang mugs during the winter season, aprons and some electric gadgets like electric knives. At some point we will add more shelving because there are a few more spots in the dining area that can accommodate shelves.  I envision putting our plates, bowls and glasses on shelves in the dining area for easy access, freeing our cabinet space for more pantry and kitchen items. I’d also like to take the doors off of all my cabinets to reveal the shelving only – I feel it opens a kitchen up… And I hate bumping my head on the corner of an open cupboard door!


Ikea cups and rods, and suction cup hooks on the window. I keep suction cup hooks on the window to hold oven mitts.  I have one of those Ikea kitchen rods that goes across the width of my kitchen window, and the 99 cent cups hung on it for silverware and tea bags (we like tea around here and pull the tea out often enough for them to earn a cup of their own.  There is normal lipton type tea and green tea).  I have a cup for each type of silverware (knives, spoons, forks), and some cups for tea.  I use the windowsill, too.


Here is a better look.  I also have two sets of measuring spoons put together on a binder ring, hung on a clip type keychain.  It keeps my teaspoons together (I rinse them off after using them and hang to dry, or run the whole set through the dishwasher still on the binder ring if they’re all dirty), and it keeps my teaspoons easy to access.  I used to keep them all in a drawer and I’d have to search for the size I need.  Here I keep them all together with two complete sets.  I also keep my kitchen timer and mortar and pestle on the windowsill.  My aloe plant hangs in the window.  Originally I used my Ikea cups as planters for herbs, they have holes on the bottom of the cup for easy drainage for plants.  But my window doesn’t get enough sun to make them grow worth a darn.

I keep my knives on a magnetic strip behind my kitchen sink.  They are easily accessible for my cooking needs, and out of the reach of my kids.  The magnetic strip I got from Ikea.  I normally have the front part filled and the back part has a couple knives sticking to it, too.  A knife for every purpose and several of each ;-)    I much prefer this method of storage, the last method was storing them all in a drawer where they’d get dull rubbing on each other.  I’ve had knife blocks, but have always had excess knives and never enough counter space to keep enough blocks to house my knives – so this is the next best thing.

I have a second magnetic strip for steak knives and smaller knives, to keep them out of reach of the kids as well.  My pizza cutter sticks up there, too.  Below I have two different sizes of utensil holders and my pasta house my oldest son picked out for me for my last birthday.  I keep larger utensils in the taller holder and serving spoons and kid-sized utensils in the smaller holder.  And yes, I keep a pound of spaghetti in the pasta house :)   For birthdays we normally let the kids pick a present for the birthday person from a thrift store because there is such an assortment of stuff there and it’s in our price range for the kids to pick a birthday present out.  The first year we started this, the pasta house is what my oldest son found for me.  I love it!

Chains and S hooks.  I asked my husband if I could mount something to the ceiling to hold our cast iron skillets, pots and pans and this is the idea he came up with.  Heavy eye hooks screwed into studs in the ceiling with chains attached, then S hooks hung at intervals.  They hang higher than our heads so I can have the whole thing filled up all the way across with no problem.  Huge space saver, because we have a lot of skillets and pots.  storing them all in the drawer under the stove was breaking the drawer from all the weight held in there and I didn’t have any other place to keep them all.  This is a perfect arrangement.  I also keep a lid rack next to my stove on the wall to hold lids, but I have an overflow of those too that I store under my stove.

Magnetic clips on the range hood.  I keep a magnetic clip to hang up a recipe I’m working with if it’s loose (not in my cookbook).  It keeps it a eye height.  On the wall above my stove I have another Ikea rod this time it holds utensils and a magnetic basket (also found at Ikea) which is perfect for my cooking spray, a peri-bottle filled with extra-virgin olive oil, and folded up foil I re-use every time I bake bread to prevent excess browning.  I also sling my tongs over the rod.  In the upper right corner you see a magnetic organizer hanging on the range, that holds my lighter kitchen equipment, like digital thermometers and such.

Binder clips.  I keep one clipped on the bottom of a cabinet with another clipped right into it.  This turns into a very handy recipe or chart holder, at eye height, right over my sink.  To use, simply put pressure on the top of the binder clip and the clip that is clipped into the bottom clip opens up.  Insert your recipe or chart, release pressure and voila!  You can do this on the bottom of any cabinet that has a bit of a lip or overhang.  The big binder clips seem to be the only effective way to do this because they’re big enough to clip over the wooden overhang, smaller clips don’t have as wide of a span.

Wire shelving normally meant to hang on the back of a door.  We screwed this into the kitchen wall for a great spice rack (and we hang our sunglasses and wish bones from it, too).  I have another set of this shelving in my kitchen room that holds some smaller food items.  these are the handiest things, all of which have been found at yard sales.  Hoping to find more – can you imagine the uses?  Backs of closet doors, in play rooms, school rooms, they’re so convenient.  But in the kitchen it holds our taller bulk spice containers, vanilla and almond extract, vinegars and some homemade mixes.

I use a drawer in the kitchen to hold my homemade mixes and dehydrated foods that should be kept in a dark place, as well as spices or herbs in smaller containers that might get lost on the wall shelf.  I also use drawer space for holding smaller canisters and canned goods that I will be using soon, brownie pans and casserole dishes, etc.  I only have four drawers in my kitchen, and do not use a drawer for silverware so I have an extra storage space for other items.   I somehow find space for a junk drawer though.  I wish I could kick that habit.  No matter how small the kitchen, we always end up with a junk drawer!

This is our kitchen table.  The benches with backs all have seats that lift off to reveal a small storage space along the length of each bench.  Here I store cloth napkins, bibs, and the FoodSaver.  Behind one of the sides I keep our highchair that folds up (from Ikea).  Because our babies don’t normally eat solids until near their first birthday, I don’t have a need for the bigger highchairs with reclining backs.  Our kitchen is pretty small and they take up a lot of room, so we went with a condensed model that folds so I can put it away when not in use.  Otherwise the baby sits at the open end of the table.

This is under our benches.  We keep crates filled with kitchen utensils I don’t use often.  I have a room devoted to food and kitchen storage where I keep my larger kitchen appliances I don’t use on a regular basis so I don’t need to keep everything in my kitchen.  But here I keep kitchen utensils, attachments to my mixer and food processor, etc.  I change out contents for the seasons too – during the summer I pull out the burger presses, corn dishes and spikes, Popsicle molds, etc.  During the fall I switch a crate out for canning equipment, etc.  I used to keep two long yet short containers under the longer bench (the containers are meant to slide under a bed), and that worked well for cookie sheets, baking pans and dishes, etc. but I used them so often it became a pain to access them.

Bare Essentials.  I don’t house tons of cookbooks in my kitchen.  I keep my master from scratch cookbook (which you can buy from this site – look at the page ‘Books I’ve Written’ for Scratch Cooking), a canning book, a dehydrating book, a freezer cooking book, and another book I helped write (again look under ‘Books I’ve Written’ for “Recipes from Mom, with love.” I do keep cookbooks in my kitchen storage room but only books that are informative or house more recipes that we like than we don’t.  I have baby food cookbooks, childrens nutrition cookbooks, culinary school books and some old favorites down there.  But I try not to be bogged down with a collection of cookbooks – I take what I like and want to try and copy them into my master cookbook or the ‘to try’ recipe holder then move the book out.

  Recipes to try.  I keep all the recipes I want to try organized into file folders in this file holder.  I go through cooking magazines, remove recipes I want to try, then pass the magazines on to my kids to use in their school or personal projects.  I also print recipes from the internet and keep recipes I’ve scanned from books in here.  When I try them, if they’re a keeper, I add them to my master cookbook.  I try to plan at least 10 meals and sides a month from here because the collection is growing bigger than the storage container….  Does anyone else have this problem?

If I need extra counter space in the kitchen, I pull the kitchen table next to the stove to create an island.  I put a cutting board over an open drawer to create extra temporary space.  I keep a garbage can under the cabinet for easy access and to keep it out of the reach of the kids and pets.  I keep a bucket under the kitchen sink to collect compost material – egg shells, tea bags, vegetable and fruit scraps.   I put cabinet locks on cabinets and the fridge/freezer when necessary.  All of my cookie sheets, muffin tins and casserole dishes are housed under my microwave on the shelving there.  Anything I don’t use regularly is stored in my kitchen storage room.  I have 2 1/2 upper cabinets in my kitchen, one cabinet stores pantry staples, another stores our cups, bowls and plates.  I have one and a half lower cabinets – including the cabinet under the sink.  I keep some dehydrated or staple items in large containers in the half cabinet that is not under the sink with the garbage can, and where I should have another full lower cabinet we installed a dishwasher.  That was the best improvement to the kitchen, ever.

Hopefully some of this will help others with a small kitchen.  It is possible to enjoy your small kitchen :)

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