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Homeschooling and Socialization

About two and a half years ago, we decided to homeschool our children. Oddly, one of the biggest concerns many people have about homeschooling is socialization. Odd because often more outgoing, talkative children are told that they aren’t at school to socialize, so it seems strange that school is deemed the best place for children to learn social skills.

Many families join co-ops or other homeschooling groups to give them time to be around their peers. We haven’t really found a homeschooling group that fits us well, so we have taken a different approach. If you’re in a similar spot, or just looking for fun, inexpensive after-school activities, these options may work for you, too.

Libraries

Most libraries offer storytime for younger children. This is fun and free for the little ones, and gives older children quiet time to find new books to read or to do research. Our libraries also offer activities for all ages in the afternoon and on weekends. For us, just between the two libraries we frequent, we have activities available at least four days a week.

Interest-based clubs

Chris enjoys playing chess, so each of our boys has taken interest in it from a young age. We’ve found two free local chess clubs: one meets at a library and is for children, the other meets at a bookstore and is for all ages. We primarily go to the one at the library, but occasionally go to the other one. One of our complaints about school socialization is that it really only allows children to interact with their own age group, whereas outside of school they need to be comfortable holding conversations will people of all ages. The bookstore chess club offers them the opportunity to meet people of all ages who share a common interest.

Almost ready for chess club…

Depending on their hobbies, you may be able to find clubs by asking around at libraries, bookstores, shops, or searching online. I’ve even known of people to start their own through Meetup and Facebook.

Museums, zoos, and other attractions

Many places have special homeschool days, sometimes with cheaper admissions or special tours. These offer the opportunity to meet other local homeschooling families. At the very least, it’s a fun field trip. Last year, we went to a Texas Rangers game on their homeschool day.

Take a class or join a team

Our city rec center offers a variety of classes from dance to martial arts for less than we’ve found elsewhere. Beckett is currently taking a Wing Jitsu class that Finn took alongside Chris back when B was a baby. They also offer soccer, baseball, and basketball teams for all ages. Some of our libraries have a Maker’s Spot where they offer classes for older children and adults on how to use the equipment. Ours has 3D printers, sewing, embroidery and long arm machines. Art, music, crafting and language classes are also options. My oldest took a kids’ art class at a local art center.

Beckett getting one-on-one instruction on his first day.

Parks and playgrounds

Never underestimate just getting out and playing. Parks are free and depending on the time of day, there can be tons of kids. Go afterschool or go during school hours to meet families with younger children and homeschoolers.

No one else today, but still tons of fun.

Daily life

Something that seems to get overlooked is the little social interactions that happen without thinking. Young children learn a lot just by playing with parents, grandparents and siblings. If you take your children with you to the grocery or the bank, they are likely to get little lessons on how to greet people, approach people with questions, politeness and all the other interactions we take for granted. My kids go everywhere with me. Sure sometimes makes simple errands take F-O-R-E-V-E-R, but those little lessons they get are worth it. Mostly. 😉

You have no idea how long it can take just to get to this point.

On a final note, as important as socialization is, children also need to learn how to be at peace with themselves. Sometimes I think we underestimate the need for quiet alone time. Make sure to allow plenty of unstructured downtime when planning activities for your children, regardless of whether they are homeschooled.


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Genius printer hack you won’t believe

Have you ever had to print a paper or mailing label NOW and realized your black ink cartridge is out of ink? As much as I try to keep an extra on hand, sometimes I run out without a backup. Something I’ve found that works in a pinch is to simply remove the black ink cartridge. This forces the printer to use the color cartridge to print the document instead.

With and without the empty black ink cartridge removed.
With and without the empty black ink cartridge removed.

The label on the right was my first attempt at printing a mailing label before realizing that I was overdue for a new black cartridge. The label on the right was printed with the black cartridge removed.

My printer will usually print one or two jobs this way without complaining, then I may have to put the old cartridge back in for a bit then remove it again if I need to print something else. Usually by that time I have been able to get a replacement cartridge.

It’s always better to be prepared, but in a pinch this trick works like magic.


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Children’s Messenger Bag

This morning I made a messenger bag using Merriment Design’s Kid-sized Messenger Bag Free Pattern and Sewing Tutorial. The size is also nice for a small messenger-style purse.

Her tutorial is awesome, so I’m just going to share the minor change I made. Instead of making a fabric strap, I used some webbing I had on hand. Not only did that save time, but it allowed me to make the whole thing with two fat quarters. You could also use a thick ribbon, upcycle an old belt or an old purse strap for the handle.

I like using a light colored fabric for the lining in most bags I make. It makes it easier to find whatever is inside.

The fabric is from a fat quarter bundle I found at Tuesday Morning. I always find fun things in their sewing and craft section.

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Thanksgiving Week and Cyber Monday

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. We spent the week at home doing nothing but eating and relaxing and eating some more.

I did lots of baking to keep everything gluten-free. To help make it easier, I picked up a stand mixer. I couldn’t justify the expense of a Kitchenaid right now (and I stupidly passed on buying Aldi’s Ambiano classic stand mixer a few weeks ago when I had the chance), so I went with a Sunbeam Mixmaster. It has a two year warranty, so I think that should give me plenty of time to see if I use it enough to warrant investing in a higher end machine.

So far, I have used it to make a two loave batch of banana nut bread, a two loave batch of apple nut bread, a two loave batch of sweet potato bread, mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, crust for an apple pie, pizza crust, and a batch of chocolate chip cookies. I bought it last Wednesday. If it survives through Christmas with everything I’m throwing at it, I will give it my highest endorsement. If you’re interested, here’s a link to a similar mixer in white: Sunbeam 2371 MixMaster Stand Mixer, White

The only thing that made me nervous so far was the sweet potato bread. It was super stiff and thick, and I was lazy and didn’t switch to the dough hooks after combining the wet ingredients. Even so, the mixer still managed with the speed increased. Next time, though, I will be smart and use the correct attachments for the task.

We took another batch of pecans to be cracked, and bought another $5 box of bruised apples and a few marked down bunches of bruised bananas. That supplied the nuts and fruits for most of my baking. Unfortunately I don’t have photos of any of that.

I do have a photo of the apple cider vinegar I’m making from the peelings I saved from the first batch of apples. This is my first time to make ACV, so I’ll hold off on writing a how-to until it’s complete.

Today is Cyber Monday, so I’ve marked down everything in my SubEarthan Cottage Etsy shop by 20%. No coupons needed. ☺

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Fruit and Nuts

We have eleven pecan trees, so along with the leaves, pecans cover our yard this time of year. We already had about ten pounds collected just from our front yard, so this weekend we took them to the farmer’s market to have them cracked. Even though we still have to separate the shell from the meat, it’s so much faster than doing it all by hand that it is totally worth it.

Cracked pecans

While we were there, Thadd discovered a big box full of bruised apples for five dollars, so I bought those, too. Thanks to my apple peeler-slicer-corer contraption, I was able to quickly get them ready to freeze for later. Here’s a similar apple peeler to the one I use:

Johnny Apple Peeler by VICTORIO VKP1010, Cast Iron, Suction Base

Some of the apples went straight to the stove with cinnamon and sugar to have as a sweet side and baked oatmeal topping.

Apples!

I’m looking for more recipes to use the apples and pecans that aren’t overly sugary. So far, I’ve found a recipe for apple cider vinegar that makes use of the saved peels.

In the meantime, I made my favorite pecan dessert that is the opposite of not sugary: pecan pralines. (That’s puh-cahn prah-leans, y’all.) They are dangerously easy, especially when you have a ton of pecans on hand and the rest of the ingredients are kitchen staples.

Pecan Pralines
Still too hot…

Here’s the recipe I use:

Pecan Pralines

3/4 cup each of brown sugar and granulated sugar

1/2 cup of milk

1 cup of pecans

1 tablespoon of butter

1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Combine the sugars and milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook until it reaches the soft ball stage. (That’s when you can put a drop in cold water and it holds together in a ball shape but flattens on your finger when you take it out of the water.) I stir it pretty constantly and check it when it starts to look a little thicker.

Once it is at the soft ball stage, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter, vanilla and pecans until it’s well mixed. Drop the mixture by the spoonful onto waxed paper. If it gets too hard to spoon out, warm it back up for a bit on the stove. It’s best to have the waxed paper ready and work quickly, though. That way you don’t risk burning it and the resulting sadness.

Resist the temptation to try the yumminess immediately and let it cool. Seriously, let it cool. Hot melty sugar burns! The pralines will be more frosty opaque than glossy and easy to peel off the waxed paper when they are ready.

I usually get about sixteen pralines from one batch, but it will vary depending on how big you make them.

Enjoy!

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Bath Towel Redo

Last Christmas we received a new set of bath towels. Many of our old ones had worn through in places and were ready to be retired. I hate to throw out something that still has some life left in it, so here’s what I did:

I cut the towels to salvage the most usable material possible. Then, I serged the edge with my serger. You could also use a wide zig-zag, fold and hem, or use bias binding to finish the edges and prevent fraying.

The white towels were cut down to about half-size. This makes them perfect for wiping up big spills or as a bath mat. The green towels on the right are smaller sized for kitchen and cleaning towels. The stack of squares in the middle can be used in place of disposable cotton squares for toner, make-up remover, etc.

The small squares are also handy for DIY dryer sheets. I keep a few in a small tub on the dryer soaking in diluted white vinegar and lavender essential oil. I wring one out slightly and toss it into the dryer to add a fresh, lavender scent to our laundry.

All made from two large, worn out bath towels.

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Thrifty Knitting Machine – Singer Silver Reed LK-140

A couple of years ago, I really wanted a knitting machine. I like yarn and the thought of making pretty things with yarn has always appealed to me. I started teaching myself to knit and crochet while I was pregnant with Finn. He is eleven now, and it takes me two days of work to make a single dishcloth. So, a knitting machine seemed like a good compromise to speed things up a bit. They are kind of hard to come by, though, especially a well made machine. Besides, I knew nothing about how a knitting machine works, so I got my embroidery machine instead.

Fast forward to two Sundays ago. The family and I were having fun thrift shopping for some office furniture. (That could also read as, “Chris and I were dragging the kids around to thrift stores, with much protesting on their part.”) The first Goodwill store we went to didn’t have much in the way of office furniture. They did have lots of bins out full of miscellaneous stuff that I really wasn’t interested in digging through, until I happened to notice this long rectangular box poking up out of one bin.

That’s the one. It for is a Singer LK-140, made by Silver Reed. It is a plastic bed hobby machine, but a durable hobby machine. I’ve since learned that, except for having ten fewer needles, it is identical to the newer LK-150 knitting machine. That means parts are easy to come by.

The box was so well taped, and it had a good weight to it, so I decided not to even open it before buying it. I figured I probably wouldn’t even know what may have been missing. Also, let’s zoom in on the price tag:

Back when I was actively looking for a knitting machine, I would have thought getting one for $80 on eBay was a fairly good deal. At $5.49, it was worth it even if it was only good for parts.

When I finally opened it at home, I did notice a few parts were missing, but only the table clamps, manual and transfer tools. I found a free manual online, and the other two items are easily and inexpensively replaced. They also aren’t essential, so I have played with it a bit.

I did need to replace the sponge strip. That’s pretty standard for an older machine. Luckily on this machine, foam weatherstripping works great as an inexpensive replacement. I also needed to clean the needles, because they were covered with gunk from the old sponge strip. With that, I was able to set it up and play.

There is definitely a learning curve, but it is fun. I have noticed, though, that you can still tell it is my own handiwork.

See the dropped stitch. It’s like my signature. The best part, though, is it only took me a minute or two to make that swatch, as opposed to a day or two. A little more practice, and I might be able to make two or three dishcloths a day without dropped stitches, or a scarf with a few holes. Seriously, though, it is fun, and I look forward to coming up with new projects and products to make.

As for office furniture, I felt bad that I got a new toy but we hadn’t found the thing we really needed, so I did a quick craigslist search. There just happened to be a desk posted locally in the free section.

Excuse the mess. That photo was taken while everything was getting tossed around with moving in the desk. There is a trim piece that needs to be put in place on the top. Overall, it is in good shape. More importantly, it provides us with the two main things we needed for the office: more desk space and shelving. Best of all, it was free!

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LK-140 Knitting Machine