Where DO We Do School?

Our schoolroom is slated for demolition.

It has served us well, but at this point our family has outgrown the need for a dedicated schoolroom.

When we built our house 20 years ago, it seemed like a great idea to plan for a schoolroom right off the kitchen and adjoining the living room. We filled it with the sweet antique desks my dad had given to each of the five children we had then. By the time my desk and a piano were added, it was full. And it worked pretty well for many years even as we squeezed in more and more desks. But even then my children tended to spread out far beyond the schoolroom. While they might do their math or handwriting at their desks, we'd read together in the living room, do science experiments in the kitchen. As the kids reaching junior and senior high, they began finding the quiet of their own rooms helpful, and we set helped each older one set up a more adult workspace.

These days a devoted schoolroom doesn't make much sense. With only four children at home, they use just about every part of the house for school. We have plans to open up this room into the adjacent living room and build in bookshelves and a window seat. Maybe this summer?

Since our kids rarely use the school room, where DO they do school?

The living room gets a heavy workout for both group discussions/classes and independent work.

Ben always grabs an apple before sitting down to read a good book

Homeschooling in February (Or how to deal with Giant Despair)

February has to be the most difficult month to homeschool. We've been at it already for six-seven months but three more months remain of our school calendar. February is somewhat like middle age. We've trekked a good distance, but rather than seeing the progress, often it is easier to focus on all the things we haven't done. And the days are still cold and dark.

But sometimes our February blues go beyond normal feelings. How does a homeschool mom deal with extended times of depression? Homeschool moms can't exactly opt out for a month or two until the sun shines again or life returns to a happier place.

For our Girls' Book Club, my younger daughters and I have been discussing Pilgrim's Progress. In this week's selection, Christian and Hopeful strayed from the path and ended up at Doubting Castle in the clutches of Giant Despair. Christian almost succumbs to the Giant's command to do away with himself, but his friend Hopeful urges him to be patient:

But let us exercise a little more patience. Remember how thou playedst the man at Vanity Fair, and wast neither afraid of the chain nor cage, nor yet of bloody death: wherefore let us (at least to avoid the shame that it becomes not a Christian to be found in) bear up with patience as well as we can.

Shortly after this, his patience is rewarded as Christian remembers he has a key in his pocket, a key that will release them from the dungeon. What was his key? Promise! And he had it all along.

From my experience, here are some of the more helpful things for dealing with the blues.

1. Spend more time, not less, with the Lord.
(Even if you don't feel like it.) Dwell in the Word and get to know God's promises which never fail.

My old cross country skis make it easier to get outside
2. Go outside every day, no matter what the weather. (Even when you don't feel like it.) This goes for your children, too. Fresh air and exercise are great blues killers.

3. Keep busy. Find some fun projects. I like to sew with bright, beautiful fabrics in winter. There's something about cutting up and rearranging gorgeous bits of color that lifts my spirits.

4. Spend time with friends.  Take time to relax and laugh.

I was able to ski (and laugh!) with friends this week. So much fun!

4.  Take Hopeful's advice: Be patient. Trust God to do His work even through the darkness.

Blackberry seems to enjoy the snow

If you struggle in this way, take heart. Many other moms do, too. And a number have written helpful advice. Here are some.

Melissa wrote a two part series on the Bright Ideas Blog.
   Homeschooling with Depression, Part I: Survival Tips

   Homescholing with Depression, Part II: Finding God

Candace blogs at His Mercy Is New, and she has a series of five posts about
   Homeschooling With Depression

Marty at Marty's Musing has a post called "4 Practical Tips for Coping With Anxiety and the Blues."

And here's a post I wrote a couple of years ago about Melancholy, the Puritan term for what we call depression and another about helping your husband when he is the one dealing with Giant Despair.

Same Same, But Different: Kitchen Remodel


When Tim and Kristen went to Thailand a number of years ago for a trip with The Potter's School, Tim brought back some T-shirts that were all the rage in Thailand. (I've never been quite sure what they really mean.) On the front they say:



And then you read the back which says


That pretty much sums up our kitchen remodel. Even though we completely gutted the old kitchen, our new version has exactly the same layout. SAME SAME.

But all of the finishes are, well, DIFFERENT.


Tim installed crown mold on the bulkhead
We replaced the wood laminate flooring with a gray porcelain tile. Oh my! It is so easy to clean! (Plus it makes my boys feel like we live in a castle with stone floors.)

As a remodeling contractor, Tim has spent decades working in other people's homes, but he said it was more stressful living in his project than being able to leave it each night. I'm afraid he found his customer (me!) a bit frenetic in her activity to get the house back together again. (It was the fastest kitchen he's ever done, finished in just under three weeks.)

We chose natural cherry cabinets in a Shaker design. The coloring will darken over time, one of the beauties of cherry. We're enjoying the variety of grain patterns on the wood.

We exchanged the old fluorescent light with an LED one, and Amanda painted the trim on our other two lights to match. Amanda also painted  a faux marble backsplash. We think it's pretty, but if ever we change our mind, it can easily be covered with more paint instead of ripping out tile (and drywall.)

Andrew is planning to make some leaded glass doors for the two cabinets next to the sink. Tim still has a bit of trim left to install, and we have a couple of other details left. But we're back in business in the kitchen. Hurrah!

Where Do I Put My Homeschool Stuff: Tip #5 Let it Go!

Having a dumpster here for our kitchen remodel provided a good incentive to declutter.
We pretty much filled this 30' beast.

Just where do we keep all the homeschool books, papers, binders, office supplies, old curricula that might be handy some day, and all that other good stuff? Here's what I've written so for:

Tip #1 Start by using what you already have (storage containers, furniture, etc.)

Tip #2  A crate for each student

Tip #3 Think vertically!

Tip #4 Hide it in plain sight!

But there's more to managing our stuff than finding the optimal place for everything. Because...

Tip #5: You don't have to hang on to every finished workbook, completed curriculum, outgrown manipulatives, and every single essay and piece of artwork your children have created. Pass it on to a friend, donate it, sell it, or throw it away!

Writing this last tip feels a tad hypocritical. I am a saver by nature. Plus we have a lot of storage room. So, if I think I might need "it" someday, I tend to hang on to used curricula, curricula I've reviewed but never used, manipulatives, record books, and on and on.

But in recent years I'm making progress with divesting. And I'm finding out just how freeing this is.

If you are like me, though, you are thinking, "BUT...
- it might come in handy some day!
- I want to be frugal
- it is such good material!
- these things are my children's mementos
- this is the result of my blood poured out in teaching our children (That's my husband's explanation)

If, like me, you think along those lines, there's more to consider.

First -  Clutter causes stress!

Plus it is distracting and just plain unattractive. I find it difficult to sit down and read aloud to my children (or work with them on grammar or Latin) when the surroundings are filled with out-of-place items or just too much stuff.

Clutter makes me feel like I need to get up and tidy things instead of sitting with a son who is having trouble understanding how to factor polynomials.

Clutter means I spend more time taking care of stuff and less taking care of people. And homeschool clutter is no different.

Less really is less.

The best way to be more organized is to have less stuff to manage. Find the best spot for everything you do keep, and make sure it always gets back to its home. One of the great side-benefits from our recent kitchen remodel is that it forced me to evaluate every single item and decide if it was still worth keeping or not, and if so to find the optimal spot to house it.

Here are some things I've found helpful in letting go of things.

1. Why am I saving this anyway?

Every year bring more finished workbooks, lapbooks, binders filled with writing samples, timelines, and so on.

I used to keep EVERYTHING of this sort boxed up on our basement storage shelves. Maybe some day a truant officer would want to see proof that my children really were busily working in 1991. (Yeah, right!)

But we've been at this a l-o-n-g time, and our shelves started groaning with all those boxes, so I became more selective. But still it was too much.

And then I asked myself, just why was I saving all of this anyway? Like my future daughters-in-law are going to want to take boxes of their husband's elementary school work? Come on!

Here's how I deal with it now.

At the end of each school year I sort through everyone's work, saving only a few samples. Often I've put together one family binder showing samples of work of all the under-high school children. More importantly, I keep an academic file for each child and record year end evaluations, lists of books read and poetry and Scripture memorized, and a summary of the course of study for that year in all areas. It's just a few pages per child each year. Those are the only records I actually end up revisiting. (I do record keeping differently for the high schoolers.) And then I purge all the workbooks, binder contents, etc. If I can't bear to toss something, I still box it up and date the box. The next summer, I go through that box again, and by then I can usually part with the contents.

2. Take the "40 Bags in 40 Day" challenge.
The idea behind this challenge, popular on Catholic blogs, is to get rid of one bag of clutter each day for the 40 days of Lent. Each day you'll tackle a different area of your house.

I've not done this challenge for 40 consecutive days, or even at that time of year, but when I started keeping track of the amount of stuff I was throwing out, I found it very motivating. At the White House Black Shutters blog you can find helpful forms for knowing where to start and for keeping track of your progress.

3. Keep things you use frequently somewhere can access them readily. Things you aren't ready to get rid of, put in deeper storage. Then revisit those items once a year or so and see if they are still important.

My deep storage is in the basement. And yes, there are a number of times when I head down there for some material we used long ago, but which might just fit the need of a child (or a friend's child) who needs to approach a topic from a different direction. For others deep storage might be in the attic, under the stairs,  or even under beds. Just don't put things there and never pull them out to reevaluate their usefulness.

Being willing to part with material I've enjoyed using with my children, things I "might use again some day," or the products my children have created doesn't some naturally to me. But as I remind myself that all these things are all going to burn some day, it sure becomes easier!

Luke 12: 15 And He said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses."

Where Do I Put All My Homeschool Stuff: Tip #4 Hide it in Plain Sight

We ask a lot of our houses, don't we? They provide so much more than simply a place for us to feed and house our families. For homeschoolers our houses also serve as school buildings. And then for many of us, our homes also have other functions. My husband runs a remodeling business, so his office is here, too. Right in our bedroom, to be specific.

I started writing this series after a request from a friend whose home hosts not only the study for her pastor husband, but also the church office as well. With just so much space, she was wondering how to manage homeschool paraphernalia on top of all the usual home stuff plus the church equipment.

With the multi-function needs of our homes in mind, doing what we can to keep our houses still looking like a warm and friendly place to live, here's tip #4:

Hide your homeschool (or office equipment or what have you) in plain sight!

Baskets and pretty bins can be useful for this.

The baskets above, which were ones I already had in the house, sit on a shelf in a little alcove in our kitchen. I made simple liners using these instructions to help them fit into our kitchen decor.

Here's what's hiding in them, from left to right:

- Bags full of preschool learning activities for the visiting grandgirls
- Small office tools: 3 hole punch, scissors, calculator, rulers, etc.
- Pattern blocks
- Counting bears (We've grown beyond these, and the pattern blocks too, but they are enjoyed by young visitors, plus my kids still pull them out when they need markers for game pieces)
- Computer equipment and DVDs
- Picnic basket with plate holder, etc.

Kind of eclectic, isn't it? But we find it handy to keep those things fairly close, and stored this way they are reasonably attractive.

Baskets aren't the only way to hide something in the open. Sometimes you can tuck  things inside furniture which feels like a natural part of the room. Our master bedroom doubles as office space for both Tim and I. With two desks, two computers, a file cabinet, and more in here, after a while it began to feel that every surface was overflowing with something office related. Not exactly the feel I want for our bedroom. A partial solution was to buy a wardrobe which could house paper, printer ink, envelopes, and all sorts of other office stuff.

This wardrobe didn't solve all our office space problems, but it sure helped!

(Here's the funny story behind our wardrobe. We both liked this one which Tim found on Craigslist, When he contacted the owner, it turned out to one of our very close friends!)

A friend of mine uses a big wardrobe to hold much of her family's homeschool materials. She's able to store a large amount of books and supplies, and then close it all up behind her pretty doors.

As you think about locations for your homeschool supplies, particularly the office-y types of things, consider if there are some creative ways you can keep those things readily accessible, but "hidden" - in plain sight!

Where Do I Put All My Homeschool Stuff: Tip #3 - Think UP!

One time a news reporter came to our home to interview us for a feature on homeschooling in our county. She'd been spending time with families across the homeschool spectrum, from unschoolers to very traditional "school at home" types. Walking in to our living room she exclaimed, "Now I know what you all have in common! It's a love of books!"

She was right. Just about every home school family I know has a large collection of good reading material of all sorts. So when we consider housing our homeschool materials, to a large extent that means finding a home for all those volumes.

Tip #3 is to THINK VERTICALLY. When possible, use wall space to increase your storage.

Walking through our house, I counted something like 19 bookshelves with books and a couple of others with science supplies or other non-booky things. We call this one the "hanging bookshelf" because it just sits strangely in the air. But it works for the space we have in that location. 

Every time we had a new baby, my parents gave two gifts to the new child: an antique desk (like the one above) and a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf. My mom even penned a little poem for the back of each bookshelf. The older couple have taken their bookshelves, but we need to be thinking about replacements as these are going to start leaving the house more rapidly in coming years.

  This is one of the three currently living in Amanda's room. (What are those squiggles on the wall? It's John 15 in Greek. Amanda's like that.)

But you can hold more than just books on your walls. We have metal shelves for science and art supplies, for puzzles, and more. For a long time we had an over-sized bulletin board in our schoolroom for displaying art projects. Along the frame we also put some hooks which were handy for hanging large zipper plastic bags which held ongoing projects such as lapbooks.

In our current remodel, we've added two vertical storage features. They are so simple, and yet they make me really happy.

Tim built this ironing board holder to keep it off the floor

I don't know why we didn't do this sooner - rack to hold brooms and hooks for shopping bags

So there you have it. Maximize your storage space by using walls and shelves to get things off the floor!

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