Thursday, March 5, 2015

Dyeing my hair with coffee....

Selfie from my phone and for some
reason I look all shiny. Whaaa?
Because when you're behind on the housework and writing and the toddler is going through a rough (read: Uber clingy) patch, why not spend crazy amounts of time trying to dye your grays with food? I'm mean, I know you'll only get farther behind which will wreck havoc on your sense of well being but, hey. Why not? Lot of reasons. Lemme fill you in.

I was feeling a little stretched thin, not actually thin but, you know. Stretched, anyways. I have very dark hair. In the sun it looks more brown and I mentally picture it as brown but people almost always call it black. Whatevs. Anywho, so I am getting the odd gray here and there and contrast being what it is, it kinda looks like I have creepy 60s Christmas tree tinsel growing out of my head.  Ben it completely opposed to the idea of dye and when I have been tempted put the kibosh on it right away. But, I was still tempted. When I friend mentioned she had been considering dyeing her hair with coffee or tea but was leary, I jumped. Because food is not dye, right? So I am not dyeing or anything, I am just drinking caffeinated beverages in an extraordinarily messy way. So I made sure that my condition was silicon free and mixed together half a cup of it with 1/4 of instant coffee and 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (to make the dye set). I watched like eighty videos on YouTube hosted by teenaged girls will varying quantities of tattoos and piercings and felt confident that I was in good hands. Because teenaged girls know everything, y'all. Keep up and watch that step there.

I smeared a runny goo that can only be described as looking like a bad intestinal virus through my hair. I tried to comb it through but then realized it was pushing it out so I just smeared. This was insanely messy. It was all over the place and dripping down on my shoulders and just wrong in like eighty ways of wrongness. I had the presence of mind to do it the shower which means then I had to clean the shower and wash the curtain. It looked like Mr Coffee had been murdered in the tub. At least it was contained. I wrapped my head in plastic, then a shower cap, then a towel and put on black clothes. I smelled like a cheap diner, the acid and the coffee made it smell like back alley in a big city in August. But since beauty ain't cheap, I pressed on while it dripped down my back. In the two hours I sat like that, I had to change my towel once because it looked like I was melting.

I rinsed it out and kept rinsing until the water ran clear, added more AVC and then rinse. Not wanting to wait, I blow dried. Oh my heck. Coffee and vinegar and heat are a super, super, super bad combo. At that point I was seriously concerned about my hair smelling and since I can't escape my own head, this was reasonable. Turns out everyone could smell me for like five feet. I had a halo of crappy coffee smell. Not good. What is more is that my hair was bad frizzy and kinda lighter, not darker at all. The teens thought I had an ombre thing happening. I could still see all the grays but only now they smelled bad. In fact, I smelled so bad that at some point in the night Ben put a pillow over my head because he said that my hair was frizzy and creeping into his nose and it smelled like old coffee.

The next day I scrubbed with shampoo and conditioner and let it air dry. The kids said I almost didn't stink anymore. They were almost right. But the good news is that is looks exactly the same now. Maybe the reddish was temporary? 
Snow hides grays.

Oh, and it is a good thing I live in a snowy place because now, you can't even see the grays. Until I come inside. But then you are so glad to be warm again you wouldn't even notice!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Crowd control in Crazytown...

I was cleaning the closets out so I gave the kids bubbles and
told them to stay outside. Also, this was summer. So not now.
In case you had any questions about this, I am the mayor of Crazytown. Also, when I say crowd control I pretty much just mean my brood. They are a crowd unto themselves and a force to be reckoned with but managing them in a crowd is another matter. What have I learned in two decades of managing the madness. Lots. Ima telling you.

1. Do roll call, even if makes you feel stupid. There was a time when I could look at all the children at see that they were all there in the van. Then we graduated to the system of counting all the time, which works but is actually harder on the brain than you would think. I remember when we had nine kids and I used to yell out, "What do you see?" and the kids would reply,

"Three rows of three! No! Wait! Where's Eli!?!"

Yes. Because that actually happened. This way, I know which kid is missing. It is not always Eli (but it usually is). Still. Pro-tip royale, I am telling you. By the way, the college kid is still required to participate when he is home from school. I know he totally loves this.

2. Before going to a crowded event or attraction, use your phone to take a photo of all the kids in the clothes that they are wearing. This is a biggee. This way you can tell Security what your kid was wearing. A girlfriend and I once brought our combined 15 kids to the opening of a giant new zoo exhibit because we were freaking crazy that day. We lost one of my kids. He actually violated my rules and left the exhibit (never leave the exhibit!!). The zoo had posted people at the exit with texted photos of Jack but had a policy of calling the police at 30 minutes after a child was noticed to be missing. We were at 26 minutes when a savvy security lady asked what his favorite animal was and then radioed the closest officer there. Boom. At the giraffe exhibit.

3. Always introduce the kids to an employee and show them the uniform. When I am making the introduction, the employees have always been really helpful and supportive. They don't want your kids lost anymore than you do. If they cannot find an employee, tell them to look for someone a mother with kids For kids too little to remember your cell phone number, write it on their bellies. I am not even kidding. I have a laundry marker in my kitchen drawer for this purpose. Ask any of the kids. For the record, losing a child does not make you a bad parent. Chatting with some mom-in-arms friends, I recently realized how many of them had the same experience. Not fun but common. Let me repeat this, it does not make you a bad parent if you lost a kid in a busy public place!

4. Have a plan for meeting if separated at a big exhibit or attraction. This can help with teens or adults. If we cannot find each other, we know where to go. It stinks when you have to wait at the ticket booth forever because a teen wandered around too long but it is better to have a single place to meet. You never know when someone will have a dead battery or a lost phone or some other issue that keeps them incommunicado and knowing that they will meet you someplace specific keeps you from having horrible slasher film scenarios playing in your head {for very long}.

5. Use a really long dog leash. Somebody is gonna freak when they read this but then they have never walked around downtown in a city of a million people with more than a half dozen children . You can run this through all the kids' belt loops and clip it to the last one. You can loop it through your beltloop or toss it over your wrist, whatevs. An older woman who had six kids in eight years used to take her kids to school on foot over the 8th Avenue viaduct in downtown Denver told me to do this. Brilliant. Completely. Do people freak out? Sure. But if I cared what people thought, I would never have had eleven kids.

6. Make sure you keep your phone on its highest volume and that it is fully charged. If your child or someone trying to help your child needs to contact you, you need to hear that phone! I usually charge my phone on the way just to make sure that it is actually charged and I tend to keep it in my pocket so that if it is really loud, at least the vibrate should get my attention.

7. Wear something easily seen. My husband is six foot four and has a very distinctive hat that he wears all the time. Nobody misses him. Me? I am five foot four (exactly a foot shorter) and I am harder to spot. When I am out with my kids, I wear something that it is easily spotted. I have a neon pink fluffy scarf and a neon green 3/4 sleeve cardi that I often wear in combination. If the kids fall behind, I will be easier to find in the swarm of people. Yeah, I know. Neon. Whatever. If I cared what people thought, I would not have eleven kids who need to find me at that rodeo. Remember?

Okay, so why did I resort to a list post that is not in keeping with home organization theme? Well, for two reasons. First, Lent is just starting and the extra services have been keeping us extra busy. Second, it turns out that I have some exciting news. I decided to write a book. Then I decided to submit the book proposal to publishers. Then, a publisher decided they wanted the book. Now I am writing a book and working out the specifics. This is super cool. Not everything is hammered out yet but when it is, you can be sure that I will let you know all the deets. I am really excited about this project and I hope you will be, too. Anyway, tomorrow I will start on closets and other storage. I will have photos, explanations, and tips. See you then!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Home schooling in a small house...

I know, the faces are overexposed but there was
sun outside! How could we close the curtains?
This is only the current arrangement. We've been homeschooling since 1999 and every year we rearrange things and shuffle before and during the school year. Now that I think about it, this might really be a sign that home schooling is just naturally in a state of flux. As kids grow and their needs change and babies are born and other kids develop the ability to study by themselves, we have to evolve with them. It is never easy but we get through it. First things first, these are terrible photos. I just ran through the house snapping them while the kids studied so that I could get back to the real business at hand. I also am working on Ben's laptop since the kids are using the main computer for a movie and my laptop is on the fritz. Why does this even matter? This laptop has no editing software so you are going to cope with terrible photos. At least, I hope you do.

We no longer have a school room so this means that we tend to spread out through the house. It is not how I wanted it but it is how it needs to be. I have a small room that was used as an office but it is little, like 5x7, this means that there is not much room in there. Since there are some walls around there, it tends to be a bit quieter there so the teens tend to use that room. We have Ben's father's old kitchen table in there, the one Ben grew up eating at, and we can fit three kids and their books there. In the back is a dresser that belonged to Ben's father and his brothers. It is really, really sturdy so we use it for school supplies.

We have drawers for flashcards, math kits materials, index cards, and one whole drawer for just post-it notes and self-adhesive bookmarks and labels. In the middle is a section the kids call the drawbridge and I keep new composition notebooks there, containers of binderclips, 3M hooks and removeable glue pads, my label maker, and extra label cartridges. Honestly, ever draw is labeled so that you can see what you are getting. We have a long drawer for specialty paper, laminator sheets, the laminator, the hole punch, and stationary. Then the bottom drawer is for art supplies like perler beads, chenille stems, beads, and other things like that. We do a lot of crafts. Lots. O. Crafts. The vert top of the dresser holds a globe, an alphabet bean game I made, magazine holders things that hold phonics and religion games, and the paper sorter. I have a section for printer paper, one for cardstock, one for quadrule, and another for construction paper.

The shelves hold school books. The very top is all the science experience equipment, the top shelf is answer keys and manuals, below that are my binders for the removeable worksheet answer keys (they are put behind dividers and the tabbed according to subject and grade) then there are the history texts and literature books, the bottom two shelves are for my writing models. HERE is how to use quality picture books to teach writing to children. HERE is how I teach high school history.

In the hanging pocket folder on the wall are all the collections of postcard sized masterpieces for art appreciation. Each level has its own place and the kids can easily find what they need, when they need it. We use a Montessori program, you can find the companion book at the link above. You can also get all the sets of cards for each level. That is an affiliate link, y'all. The second pocket from the top holds additional art program pieces. With the preschool through first graders, I have THIS program (not an affiliate link) which also uses a similar structure. We also use THIS CD series which has levels for each grade through 8th. We have a fabric CD case that we use to hold all school related CDs and DVDs so that they won't be lost. If it came with a CD, you find it in the case. The wall surrounding the pocket folder is for completed assignments and other items that the kids want to show off as well as school posters such as a map of Africa a child is making.
Just outside this room and to the right is this set of shelves. Most of the curriculum is here. The bottom shelf is math and ALL the Saxon math kids are here is order as well as a binder of masters. The shelf above is historial fiction, then above that is science, then I have all the religion books and readers on one shelf, then one up from that is all the English, then the top two are resource books. Resources are thinks like dictionaries, style guides, atlases, and the how-to art books, With the resources section is the format writing masters, the vocab masters, and my poetry books. The kids are always memorizing poetry. They can choose a poem and I will put a copy in the master book I use for the year. The teens are doing an in depth study and the samples I have for the techniques are here. The top has games and whatever toy has removed from circulation this week. On the wall is the pocket folders holding all the phonics games. I am a super big fan of Happy Phonics and I have been using it for ten years now (not an affiliate link). Above the phonics games are the hands on math. The bottom one is Pre Math-It for kindergarten and uses dominoes to each mental skill, then is Math-It for early grades, and the top are math blocks and clocks and things (no affiliate links). I have more on how I teach math HERE. Under the pockets are read aloud books for the littles and they can and do drag the basket around. Under the book shelf is a mushroom hat because the kids were actually doing school.

Then even more to the right and into the kitchen are the school cubbies. They totally look like a nightmare right now. Each of the oldest six kids has their own cubbie to hold their portfolios, workbooks and comp notebooks. There is a tray on the top that holds a tape dispenser, a sharpener, a stapler, and  a caddy with pencils, pens, crayons, highlighters, and other things like that. It can be moved to the table in the kitchen, the living room, or the study room and moved back as needed. It needs tidying constantly since so many people use it.

I also learned a cool tip. Keep a cup for sharp pencils and another for dull pencils. If the kids needs a sharp pencil, just get a new one. Then when it is lunch or after school assign someone to sharpen all the pencils at once. Then you do not have to listen to the whine of a sharpener in the middle of the day. Yep. Cannot believe it took so many years to learn.

The two youngest don't have cubbies, they have bins. They keep all their workbooks, personal flashcards, and coloring books (for when I'm busy and they need to be quiet for a few minutes). They go under the desk when it is not school. The MegaBloks bin is what we call Claudia's school. She loves it. It goes into the play area when it is time to call it a day.

So, in the kitchen we have math set up. The kids cycle through the two laptops and watch their DVDs and have the math kits handy for whatever they need. Having all the kids at the table working one subject at a time helps.

In the living room the kids use the couches and chair to read and Veronica, who is still short, sits at her own little desk. I need to have the kids spread out since there is only room for three at the study table and the kitchen table is really for math and I have eight kids in school. At the coffee table I work with the little people. Usually they sit on the ottoman and face me while read aloud, do flash cards, play phonics and math games, and do memory work. Writing work is done at the little desk which means Veronica and Cristina take turns. Sophia sometimes sits with us and sometimes bails but she is four so I am not worried. Everyone has to take a half hour baby turn and I keep a running list in my planner of who has done it that day. Baby turn means that they read to, color with, play blocks with, or otherwise entertain the (almost) two year old and sometimes the four year old. By the way, see the laundry basket to the left of the couch? When I said I fold laundry during school, I was being real.

Speaking of real, I am not perfect. Also, home schooling takes time and means allowing some mess to happen during the day. Look. Behold my honesty. This is the mess space. The littles can play here while we work, I know it gets messy but that is life.

What are my tips for organizing all the school paraphernalia of eight school agers in a little house?

1. Use the walls, even if you have an open plan. I not only have book shelves but I have pockets for anything that can fit in the them, and then baskets underneath. Think vertical and narrow as much as you can. I even set up school storage next to the fridge. You don't need a lot of space, you need to use the space you have.

2. Contain it. I keep all the kids work and lesson plans in binders. I keep math kits (protractors, compasses) in small plastic bins. Corral things as much as possible so it doesn't just spill out all over. This does not mean that you should stack it, do not stack! If all the kids had bins and we had to shuffle them all the time, then we would never get anything done. We would be too busy stacking and unstacking. Remember the single motion rule. If it is hard to put it away, then you won't.

3. Make it portable. I have caddies and trays and bins for things so that we can pull them out and use them where we need to and then put them back Thing of things in terms of "kits". For a type of work, we can pull out all the things we need at one time. For example, if we need a specific phonics game or an art game level, we can just grab it and take where we need to be and then put it away with no sorting or stacking.

4. Thing about the problem and be flexible about the solution. I have beautiful antique oak desks for the kids but they are in the barn. I just didn't have room here. I needed to look around and think about how I could store each kids' belongings and make it easy to get to and it was not desks. I also could not afford lockers. We use these cubbies and even if not perfect, they are working really well. I realized I was bemoaning what I wanted and not working on the problem. I needed to stop focusing on the desks and really think about what the goal is and what I could use to get me there.

This post is the third in a series on big families in little houses. Stop by and see the others in the series:

1. General tips for big families in little houses.
2. Every house needs a mudroom.
3. Making the most of a small laundry room.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Make the most out of a small laundry room...

I started with THIS post on big families living in small houses and it keeps growing. It turned out people wanted more, so I started another post HERE about my mudroom. That mudroom post lead to a flurry of questions so I decided to answer them before moving on to the rest of the house.

Q: How big is your mudroom? Where does the ceiling start to slope? Why is it heated?

A: The room is roughly 160 sqft, technically it is 9.5ft x 17ft. The ceiling begins to slope down about five feet across the room and then it drops to about 5ft 6in. It is heated so we can have the washer out there but it is kept no warmer than 50F. It gets pretty cold here and if we did not heat it, everything would freeze. That 50 degree mudroom was actually 68 degrees warmer than outside last night.

Q. Where is the laundry?

A: Because it is a small space for everything that has to be in it, I don't have room to store the laundry of a family my size in there so I don't do it. Actually, laundry is only allowed to be in that room if it is in the washer or the dryer, period. No extra baskets laying around. If my husband sees it, somebody gets to lug it back upstairs.

We knocked the wall out between to closets to make a large storage closet. In the room that lost a closet, we made one by hanging a bar and then another half height one that went half way across and set it off with a curtain. I never got a good bunch of photos so I will definitely do that this week for this series. If you want to see a bit about it, you can see the post about my plans (HERE). The laundry goes into this closet into separate bins that are color coordinated (reddish, greenish, darks, whites) and we can grab a bin and wash it without sorting. We dry clothes in the dryer most of the time (today's high was -8F) but we hang line dry stuff upstairs over the railing. The heat rising up the enclosed staircase dries it really well.

Q: What about diapers?

A: I do not soak diapers, never. HERE is how I handle diapers. I only have one left in diapers now but she will be potty training before too long so this is a phase in my life that, while it has lasted twenty-one years, is coming to a close. Believe it or not, I am sad about it.

Q: Where do you fold?

A: Actually, I usually fold on the sofa in the living room while I am listening to kids read, recite poetry, or do spelling. I never let more than three loads get washed without everything being folded and put away. I don' go to bed with unfolded laundry though I might stack it and let them put it away in the morning. All the socks go into a milk crate and matched later by kids. Anyone who wants Netflix privileges knows where that basket is! When they were all little, we used to match socks together weekly for treats. It was lame, something like a blueberry for every matched pair, or a chocolate chip, or whatever, but it got done.

Q: How do you get all that laundry washed?

A: I have a schedule and since everything is presorted (diapers, kitchen laundry, colors) we can just start it. HERE is more on having a laundry schedule.

Q: Where did you get that rolling shoe rack?

A: I love that rack. It has worked out really well for us. I bought it on Amazon and my affiliate link is above.

Tomorrow I will talk about managing school in a
small house with a wide range of ages. See you then!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Every house needs a mudroom....

I am starting a week of posts all about my house. I am going to go room by room and show with photos how we fit in here. I thought I would start with the first room that you would see, my mudroom. I have a love/hate relationship with my mudroom. Growing up in the city, people sometimes have them but it is the place where everything is stored and it is messy and primarily only the family uses that entrance. The same cannot be said about the tundra. Everyone here has two entrances, the summer and the winter. The winter is always through the mudroom and people would consider themselves very rude to not come through the mudroom. Here it serves as an airlock to keep the bitter cold of the outdoors out, a real issue. Tomorrow the expected high is -7F. The high, guys, the high. Also, we have already had more than twice the snow of Boston and it is not even a bad year. Just saying. But the point is that I love that we have a place to dress and undress and that it warmed to only 50 degrees so that it is warm enough not to freeze but not expensive, I love that it keeps the cold and mess out of the house. I just wish it was prettier. It needs paint and new flooring and maybe some curtain valances because I am all fancy like that.

The mudroom is actually a former porch that was closed in. It has a sloping lean-to roof and a hatch in the floor that leads to the cellar. The boys think that is pretty much the coolest thing a house can have. The red door leads out to the porch and when it is well below zero, the whole thing is covered is a sheet of ice. On the right is the bench we sit on while we put on shoes. Above it are two rows of pegs. We hand reusable grocery sacks, tow ropes, ice skates and the like there as well as scarves, hats, and gloves while they dry. Right next to the door is where we keep all the brooms, mops, the iron and board, as well as the dance bags. Immediately to the left is the little girls shoe rack, the drawers are for dry gloves, hats, and scarves. The back wall has a second entrance onto a smaller porch but the door is only 51/2 feet high so it is pretty useless, we don't even keep it open. Besides, three entrances into the house, two of them into the mudroom, seemed like too much.

We have a high bar for adult coats and snow pants and above it is a shelf. There is a basket with leather work gloves, eye protection, ear protection, and other safety gear as well as tools like the drill and...stuff. The cupboard is for the hair cutting kit, dog treats and meds, and more tools. Underneath the whole thing are my storage foods. I have five and six gallon buckets full of Kamut wheat, white kidney beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, cashews, thick rolled oats, bread flour, and dog food. To the left you see the rolling shoe rack. Easy to load, easy to find shoes, takes up no space. Love it.

Then I have the rubber boots bin. I have muck boots all across the lower shelves, cleaning supplies, extra storage for plastic wrap, garbage bags, and empty bottles to hold drain oil for recycling. I also have an upholstery cleaner up top. The non-compostable garbage is almost visable to the left. We produce two maybe three bags a month.

The I have the extra fridge. On top is my steam juicer and pressure canner. You can also see the dog, the pet safe ice melt, and some garbage that fell behind the washer. Yay. Need to fix that.

Above the washer and dryer are more cupboards for cleaning supplies, tools, light bulbs, fuses, batteries, and things like that. Between them are more storage containers for food like rice and more beans. On top of those is the crate of ice skates for taking to the rink. The local volunteer fire department floods an uninsulated garage for an awesome indoor rink. There's also the hook for all my season door signs. I love those. Saint Valentine's day is making room for Saint Patrick.

My advice for meeting the storage needs of a big family?

1. Think vertically. You need to go up since there is little real estate available on the group floor. Think about the way Manhattan looks.

2. Think about putting things under. I have food storage buckets under the coats. I can still see and get to the buckets and their placement does not get in the way of the coats.

3.Child size clothes needs child sized storage. If the little people are expected to put their own clothes on hangers and their own shoes on racks, they need everything at their own height. Then above it, you can place other storage so that you are still keeping number one in mind.

4. Buy the storage solution after you identify the storage problem. I bought the rubber boots bin second hand after I realized I needs tall storage that would not be susceptible to wetness and would not drip. If I bought something randomly and tried to make it work, I would have created a problem rather than a solution. Think first, then shop.

5. Don't stack anything. If you want it to be put away, make it one single motion to put it away. If you have to un-stack a bunch of things, and then open something, put it away, then re-stack, then you will likely store it in a pile on the floor. Thing about open shelving or cupboards, the cupboard doors reduce visible clutter which can help the A-type not panic every time they look at the room.

This lead to a whole host of other questions about how I handle the combo laundry/mud room business. So I thought I would address those issues here before moving on. You can find that post HERE.  Looking for more big family/small house tips? Check out my post HERE.
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