Laundry/Mud Room

We've made some good progress on our kitchen/laundry remodel over the past two weeks. The kitchen is a week or more away from completion, but the laundry room is just about done!

I've spent probably way too much time looking at pictures of laundry rooms and mudrooms on Pinterest and Houzz. What I was looking for, but never quite found, was a mudroom that looked like it could live up to its name. We live on a farm, and we keep animals. That means the footwear (and paws) that comes into our house has often been tromping through muddy fields and not just walking on relatively clean pavement.

In designing our laundry/mud room, I wanted to meld functionality with aesthetics. (If it's a pretty place, I'll be happier spending time there, right?)

Here's what we started with:


And here's what it looks like now:


Here's what we did:

1. Replaced the 20 year old vinyl floor with tile. I love it! It's so easy to clean!

2. Painted walls light purple.

3. Replaced open wire shelving with some upper cabinets taken from the old kitchen. (Painted with Sherwin Williams "Snowbound.") Now I have cabinets devoted to cleaning, laundry, animal, and craft supplies.

4. Painted door gray to match the floor. The old white door never stayed clean. My hope is that this color will disguise the dirt better.

5. Sewed new ironing board cover. I was thrilled to find this home decor fabric which ties the various colors together!

6. Replaced plastic milk crates (boot and shoe storage) with these white metal shelves. Once upon a time, we had as many as nine crates for shoes, but our smaller family at home requires fewer places for muddy footwear.

7. The really muddy boots land on a boot mat under the utility sink. Speaking of utility sinks, boy do I love our which gets heavy use for cleaning after painting and craft projects. It was looking really grungy, but after lots of scrubbing, the grossest stuff came off, and I realized that if we replaced it, we'd be back to the same place in no time, so this one won a reprieve.

And here's a sneak peak at our kitchen remodel:

Our new cherry cabinets with Amanda's faux marble backsplash in progress

Where Do I Put All My Homeschool Stuff: Tip #2 A Crate for Each Student

Tip #2 Collect each child's notebooks, texts, and other materials into his or her own crate

This is such a simple tip, but it has worked so well for us for more than a dozen years, I thought I should include it.

We tried various ways to corral the necessary papers, books, binders, and other things each child needed for school, but nothing worked terribly well until we began using individual crates. It seemed that math books were particularly likely to sprout feet and walk away when we were trying to put them away in the lovely antique school desks my parents gave every child. And when I kept the current crop of workbooks on a bookshelf in the schoolroom, every day we had to re-sort out whose were whose. Finally we bought a milk crate for each student (even the preschoolers) and the daily search and sort parties came to a halt. Later we replaced the plastic crates with these wooden ones a friend was discarding.

My children outgrow the need for a crate by the time they are in junior or certainly senior high when they move to using desks in their own rooms, so now I have only two still using school crates. The third wooden container is for library books.

Why do I like the crates so much?

1. Everyone knows exactly where to put his books when he is finished with them for the day.
   Plus when I find a stray book, I know where to toss it.

2. Presorted for each child.

3. Easily portable!
    Most of the time the crates stay in our kitchen desk nook area. But in rare times when we need to move to another location, it is easy to do so. Years ago when I was on bedrest with my last pregnancy, the children all brought their crates up to my bedroom for us to do school together. And this past week when we had tile setters working in much of our main floor, we again brought the boxes upstairs.

There you go! School crates may not be what everyone needs, but they have been a huge help in our family!

Where Do I Put All My Homeschool Stuff?: Tip 1: Start with What you Have

What's this strange thing? Hmmm. Oh, of course - a spool cabinet. Once used to store different types of spools of thread in a general store, it also served as the checkout desk at several stores in southern Indiana near the turn of the last century. (The top opens up to hold receipts, a few of which came with the cabinet.)

But in our house this piece of furniture has a different purpose: toddler toy storage. During all those years we had little ones, I used these drawers for toys that were to be played with only during school time. Today, I still keep toddler toys here for visiting grandchildren and other small people.

Tip #1: Use What You Have

When considering where to store your homeschool materials, rather than first heading off to the nearest Stuff Mart to pickup more storage containers, spend time thoughtfully walking around your house. Probably you don't have any spare spool cabinets sitting around waiting to be turned into toddler school toy storage. But I'll bet you do have several other things which might be repurposed for your needs.

Our last house was about half the size of our present one, and when we left we had five children living in three bedrooms. (One was a former laundry room - so it was minuscule.) Where could I keep our growing body of educational materials? Ah ha! We had a weirdly deep closet off the living/dining area. It was perfect to hold educational games, science kits, and other cool things people seemed to be giving us so frequently.

Every home has unique places and items. Sometimes it just takes a fresh look to get a new idea about how to use what you already have!

Where Do I Put It?: 5 Tips for Keeping Your Homeschool Paraphanelia From Taking Over Your Hosue (Intro)

We're in the midst of a major remodel project involving the kitchen, laundry/mud room and coat closet. Most everything's been packed up and moved elsewhere for the next couple of weeks. (We had some water leaks which had damaged the floor, necessitating the change. Our cabinets were pretty worn, too, so we decided to go for a big do-over.) This is what our kitchen looked like a week ago:

This is our kitchen "before"

At the end of the week, Tim and the kids gutted everything, so now it looks more like this:

With this remodel, I've been giving a good bit of thought to how to organize all sorts of things maximally, but let's start with the problem before thinking about solutions.

Something happens when your children go to school in the same place you eat, sleep, and generally live. It occurs sort of gradually, but as time continues and more children begin school, and you acquire more and more educational accoutrements. Soon books, teacher's manuals, computers, office supplies, educational DVDs and CDs, and math manipulatives seem to take over your house. And then you have a few options. You might be fortunate enough to have a separate school room (preferably in a little guest home out back where it is cleaned by little elves at night.) Or you might just go with the elementary schoolhouse theme and decorate your living room walls with timelines and your kitchen with alphabet and nature posters. (Don't laugh. I've done this.) Alternatively you can find some creative storage areas in the places you do school that blend in with the other functions of your home.

We actually have a schoolroom, and it worked well when the children were younger, but it hasn't been used much as such for a number of years. (The living room and schoolroom are slated for our next major remodel!) In our home, as in so many others, school takes place all over - living room, kitchen, bedrooms, outdoors. In the next five posts I'm going to write about some of the things that help to keep school materials organized and accessible without allowing this stuff to overtake your home.

Return of Hope

George Washington's Mount Vernon

A few weeks ago I attended one of the sweetest weddings I've ever been to. In part the time was sweet because it was spent in company with two of my closest friends. Two of us toured Mt. Vernon and thrilled to learn of George and Martha Washington's beautiful marriage. We laughed uproariously at our continual inability to navigate suburban DC, barely getting the mother of the groom to the church on time.  But mostly the sweetness came from seeing God's goodness to the young couple whose vows we had come to witness, His blessing on their lives, and His work in preparing these two for each other. By the end of the weekend I found myself repeatedly thinking, “Look what God has done!”

These ladies give me hope, too

Psalm 66:5 captures this idea when it says “Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man.” This thought has remained with me, giving me joy when I remember the newlyweds, but also as I consider God's work in my own family this year.

Despair characterized the last months of 2013. The apostle Paul says that he was “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing.” During that period I could not have said that. Afflicted, I allowed myself to be crushed. Perplexed, I despaired. But God, in His kindness, did not forsake me, and His presence stayed me. I asked Him for hope, and He heard my prayer. I wrote this quote from John Calvin on a card (with my own punctuation) and put it in my prayer card box:

     We should ask God to:
  •     increase our hope when it is small,
  •     awaken it when it is dormant,
  •     confirm it when it is wavering,
  •     strengthen it when it is weak,
  •     and raise it up when it is overthrown.

The year 2014 has been one of returning hope. At the very tail end of 2013 the Lord encouraged Tim and I in a profound way through scripture during a sermon. That passage strengthened us to the core. David talks of hope given through God's word when he prays, “Remember the word to your servant in which You have made me hope.” (Psalm 119:49)

As I reflect on this last year, it hasn't been an easy one, but God has continued to be faithful. He has continued to give hope – sometimes through events, sometimes through His people, and often through His Word. I just love that God is called a “God of hope!” (Rom 15:13) Instead of despair and fear for the future, I am filled with anticipation to see what the Lord has in store. Look what He has done already! I can't wait to see His awesome deeds to come!

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 15:13)

Handmade Christmas: The Elves' Projects 2014

It wasn't part of the draw, but Andrew made this gorgeous salad bowl for me 

We had a very sweet Christmas this year, and once again a huge highlight was our seeing the love our children have for one another and their creativity expressed in their annual Christmas gift exchange. All of the kids and grandgirls were here except for Jon, who is in Europe for a couple of weeks.

Calling the exchange between the kids a "draw" as we still do is somewhat misleading, as there is nothing random about the assignments. Often one individual will request another because they have another and sometimes one is "commissioned" to make something or other in line with their gifts.

Overall, we had several themes going on this year - art and accoutrements, weapons, fiber arts, and one botanical entry.

Art Category:

Amanda made this oil painting for Kara.

Actually, I should say, "is making" as it is not quite finished. She still has to add street lamps and other details. But it sure is lovely already!

Because she loves to paint, Andrew made Amanda an easel, and because purple is the #1 color in her book, he crafted it out of purple heart wood.  (Following the "not-quite-done" theme, Andrew completed the easel assembly over the next couple of days. Finishing with shellac is ongoing as Amanda wants as many coats as possible to keep the lovely purple color intact.)

This one shows the true color better.

Artwork, even when it comes from Zambia, requires frames, so that's what Ben made for Kristen using cherry wood.

Weapons Category

Paul made this knife (a Persian dagger, to be specific) for Andrew,

while Kara crafted a leather sheath for Paul for a knife he had previously made. (She wrapped the sheath amongst some Ramen noodles to fool Paul.) By the way, this is great place to find knife kits.

Peter decided that a slingshot was exactly what brother-in-law, Collin, needed to keep his garden squirrel-free.

You probably didn't know there is a slingshot channel on YouTube. But that's a great place to find instructions for making super slingshots. Peter used "How to Make a Fantastic Wooden Slingshot." 

Fiber Art Category

Preferring working with fabric to wood, Kristen made this gorgeous lined wool cape for Faith, who was pretty excited to receive it.

Commissioned by Peter to knit a "professional hat", Faith came up with a lovely gray one which I missed getting a photo of. And following the "Wait! Christmas is coming way too early this year!" theme, she's still finishing a basket weave knit scarf to keep him warm while he runs or goes to class.

And finally, the Botanical Category

Benjamin has developed a strong interest in all things plant related in the past year or so. Happily, Collin is a botanist (OK really he's an ecologist, but he's a plant expert!) Ben was particularly excited about the butterwort which is carnivorous.

The nieces were curious about Ben's gift, too

Pitcher plant (green), butterwort, and hen-and-chicks (yellow)

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!

Elves' Projects 2013

Elves' Projects 2012

Elves' Projects 2011

10th Blogiversary and a Blog Break

Faith made a beautiful snowflake swag for our mantelpiece

Over Thanksgiving break I realized that my blog was having a birthday. It's 10 years old!

So much has changed in our family in the past decade! I began blogging when Kara was a freshman at Purdue, and now she's the contented wife to Collin and Mama to her three (going on four) sweethearts! In 2004 our nine children ranged from 1-19, and seven were still at home full time with the two college students back frequently. Now we still have two college students (three next year), with only four children live at home. Occasionally things even get almost quiet here!

But life is still running full-tilt. Ha ha! - if I had any thought that things would get easier as the children grow, the joke was on me! Every day brings new joys and challenges as the Lord leads us through this phase of parenting.

Each snowflake has a unique, intricate design. This one features polar bears.

So much is going on right now that I'm finding it hard to carve out time to write, even for the columns and reviews for which I have deadlines. For now, I'm going to be taking a break from writing in this space, and hope to make a decision over the next weeks about the future of this blog. 

Until then - may the Lord bless you and your families in this season of remembering His Advent and looking forward to His return!