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Sunday, December 26, 2010

In times of economic crisis, do what you know!

The economy dip hit my family hard early on, as my husband works in the automotive industry and I was a stay-at-home mom with one child still a preschooler. We were able to survive for a while using money from our savings and from selling off an extra vehicle. At first things were ok. Not great, but ok and I am used to a budget, so it didn't feel like a strain. But then, just as overtime was picking back up and things looked brighter, my husband got sick. He was out of work for 3 and 1/2 months in 2009. When my husband and I had used all of our savings and our bills had mounted to the point where I could no longer be JUST a stay-at-home mom, I tried to think of things I could so with my children at home to allow me to continue homeschooling them.

I already had two Etsy shops which provided a little spending cash, but clearly not enough to live on. I had wanted and tried to run an in-home preschool but finding children was harder than I thought, despite my years of experience with pre-k and homeschooling and my large, fenced-in back yard. I guess everyone else, like me, was trying to avoid spending the $85 a week fee that childcare in my area runs.

I needed cash and fast. What skills did I have after being out of the workforce for so long? Other than some teaching skills, crafting skills, and childcare skills, I had years of experience cleaning my own home. My kids were always underfoot, always making messes. So I put my experience to work. I located a few busy friends who needed a break and were willing to pay for a cleaning. I made a list of all I needed to do to get each home clean. I had a basic list (vacuum, dust, mop, sweep, clean bathrooms, general pick-up, etc.) and this service ran $40 and took about 2-3 hours to accomplish. For $60 I would add in dusting blinds/ceiling fans, doing some laundry, changing bedsheets, cleaning up after pets, sweeping porches/decks, etc. This one was called "the works" because it was pretty much (within reason) what the owner wanted done most. A "works" house took about 4-5 hours to clean, maybe a little more. Also, any two story home automatically was charged the $60 rate due to size. I cleaned those few homes and then used that as a spring board to finding more, all the while bathing the endeavor in prayer. Within only weeks I had 12 or so rotating locations. Not all were regulars but it was still more money than I'd had at home. My only problem was it was getting harder and harder to accomplish any schoolwork with my new jobs. I'd have to leave home by 8 or so to get the jobs done, and wouldn't be back most days until lunch time. By the time I had gotten settled in to helping all three children, it'd be time to go pick up my husband at work (we'd sold the extra vehicle for extra money). For the first time in our homeschooling lives, I felt someone was always getting "jipped". My then 5 year- old needed to learn to read; my highschooler needed help with at least two subjects a day, and my then 4th grader was getting into harder math and language. I never had time to do the fun extra things we always had. It was becoming bare bones and no fun at all. It was with a heavy heart, tons of tears, and hours of prayer that I decided, for a season, we needed to make changes in order for me to be able to be there for my husband and our finances and really give it my all. So I enrolled the children and focused on getting as many cleaning jobs as possible.

I occasionally cleaned two locations in one day. If they are small jobs, two hours or so, it's very workable. But if you have two 4-hour homes for example, it's very physically draining. Yes, you may think, that's only an 8- hour work day for $120 at my rate. But lifting and tugging the vacuum, climbing stairs all day, and bending over scrubbing tubs will kill your back if you don't take a break. So I never recommend two large homes in one day. (I have a curved spine and what I think may be a heel spur and two homes a day will about kill me. I ache all night when I do that. Think moderation and remember your health).

Why one earth would anyone want to clean for a living???

The pros....
1. Good pay. If you can find the right clients you can easily make between $10-20 an hour.

2. It's fairly flexible. Got a sick kid? Most clients understand and will let you come another day. You can generally work the hours you want to; my hours were sometime between 9 am and 2:30 pm. Not bad at all and allowed me to get kids to and from school. I've even been allowed to bring my kids along. They pack a lunch and toys and play while I work.

3. It's honest work and you know you're making a difference in someone's life. For me it wasn't just about the money. I wanted these tired, over-worked moms to come home and breath a sigh of relief that I had been there.

4. As you expand you can hire someone to help you. But that is a whole other issue and can get complicated. My husband and sister and my own kids have all helped at one point or another. My sister and kids I pay in combo meals at the drive through. :) My husband and I split the money equally.

5. You're a neat freak and like to clean things. This job might just be for you!

6. Added bonus...weight loss! I have lost about 20 pounds in the last two years. Admittedly, some of it was stress-related but the last 5 lbs. or so have been from the constant cleaning. I'd get up and drink a breakfast drink or have a small bowl of cereal. Then clean for hours 5-6 days a week. Even with my daily fast food 3 pm "lunch" I still lost weight. Imagine how much I could have lost on a good diet and cutting out sodas combined with my cleaning!

7. Instant payment. At most homes I was paid immediately. Meaning I could buy some groceries right away, hand out lunch money, or fill the gas tank if needed. That is a big perk for those living on a very tight budget.

Now for the cons....
1. It's physically hard

2. Even if you like cleaning, you may soon tire of it.

3. You can't please everyone all the time, but try to do your very best to clean each home to the owner's expectations. Some of us are more detail-oriented while others are more concerned with the big picture and over-all pick up of the home. This one abhors dust; another lady a clean tub. Women tend to be very different in what they expect of a house keeper.

4. You'll have to be careful to calculate gas, cleaners, and other expenses to make money. Packing a lunch to take along will certainly help. Try to plan out the day's errands according to where you'll be cleaning.

Don't forget also to figure out the legalities of running your own business. Do you need to make sure you're legally protected in case you break something? What happens if you are injured? What if your vacuum sucks up a necklace or toy and breaks? What about taxes? Will you need a DBA account? Make sure you check with a professional on these issues.

Growing your business
Do some research in your area to find out the going rate. Get business off social networking sites and through word-of-mouth. Clean a few friend's homes for free or at a reduced rate and ask them to be references. Hang fliers in beauty shops and grocery stores. Offer holiday or birthday specials. Give regular customers a discount off their next cleaning for every referral or for booking you 2-3 times in advance. Allow clients to purchase a coupon for a free cleaning as a gift for a friend.

Naming it
Think of a catchy name for your business. One mom of 5 children, all under the age of 12 said to me, "I clean but the mess is right back the next day. It's not as if the cleaning fairies are going to pop out during the night and clean it all up again." What a cute image I thought....a cleaning fairy! I could picture the logo...a little fairy with a sparkly feather duster in her hand instead of a wand. The slogan: "The Cleaning Fairy--working her magic to make your home spotless."

Ground rules and basics
You''ll need to decide some ground rules. How far are you willing to go at each home? What would you not be willing to do, if anything? Are you willing to pick up children's rooms for an hour just to be able to get to the dresser top to dust and see the floor to vacuum? Or would you rather toys be cleaned upon your arrival? Are you willing to clean hardwoods the way each owner wants them to be cleaned (such as with a spray bottle and cloth, on your hands and knees) or use certain cleaners? Who will provide the cleaners? And what will you use? (From my own experience I found some of the best bathroom cleaners are also the most dangerous to inhale. On more than one occasion I thought my lungs were going to burn out before I could exit an enclosed shower to get fresh air. There are some great recipes for all-natural cleaners online. Vinegar is an excellent cleaner once you get past the smell).

Things I wish I'd known....
I am now entering a different job that is more steady than cleaning is in my area. But before I go I wanted to give a few last tips, things I wish I'd done differently:

1. Have a contract. Make it very detailed. Discuss how you'll handle the cleaning, what your client can expect, how many hours you think you'll be in their home, and what to do if an accident occurs or an item gets broken (I have had 2 broken items in 6 months of cleaning and almost toppled from a staircase landing-better to be safe than sorry!). Also, will there be a door left open for you? Will you have a key or alarm code? Can your children come along if they happen to be home on school break or are slightly under the weather? Do your clients mind you having helpers?

2. If you want toys and clutter removed before you arrive, say so! This was one of my worst mistakes. It is SO hard to clean a home that is filled with clutter, loose toys, and knick-knacks. It adds a lot of extra time sorting and even after cleaning, if you put all the owner's items back where they were, it still looks dirty. I cleaned a home with a live-in hoarder of sorts. All I was allowed to do was lift the items, clean under them, and put them all back because this girl would have a fit if things were not in their places. You couldn't tell I'd even been there!

3. Have a home walk-through. Go to each new client's home with a notebook and follow them through each room asking what they want done. Then you can decide how much to charge. It will also help you to make notes on where bedsheets are located, which cleaners to use where, etc.

4. Compile a notebook with all your contracts and checklists. I wish I'd made a check list sheet for each home. If I had it to again I would so this and leave a copy of what was done each week for my client, also keeping one for myself so I'd recall which rotating items were done and which needed to be done. It is extremely difficult to keep up with whose blinds were dusted, which baseboards were wiped, and which beds were changed in multiple locations who may not need these things done each time you arrive.

5. Ask owners where you need to put loose items in each room. My big pet peeve is clutter...little odd things everywhere. I believe every thing has its place and I stick to that pretty strictly in my own home. I just can't function if there is stuff everywhere. When I clean I have the same philosophy. I want the owners to come home to a home that looks inviting and relaxing. So what to do with the things that aren't trash but don't have an obvious place to go? I suggest each owner have at least one basket for oddball items, perhaps even one basket per room. This would be where random toys, homework, library books, receipts, loose change, etc. would go. You can't imagine how many times I've confused a home owner by putting something where I feel it would go, and then she can't locate it upon arriving home.

6. Clean from top to bottom. Work yourself into a routine at each house. You might choose to do all the dusting in every room, then all the mopping, etc. Or you might find it easier to carry your supplies from room to room and completely clean one room from top to bottom. I have done it both ways but tend to do all like chores at once. I start most homes with general pick-up, then dusting/wiping counter tops. Then bathrooms, laundry, etc. I finish with sweeping, vacuuming, and mopping. At first homes took me forever to clean but the more often I went, the more into my routine I got.

7. If you have helpers, make sure they clean thoroughly. And make sure they are reliable and honest. My helpers and I divide the workload. Each person knows what they are to do and we do it. We try to pick the chores based on what we are best at and like. I hate dusting but love a clean bathroom. My husband likes to dust and can reach high places. My sister enjoys Windexing. With each person doing what they like best, you're sure to have a clean home.

8. Look into cleaning churches and businesses. I find it is much easier to clean a church than a home. Most of the time the offices and churches will be very predictable and routine. You just never know what you're going to see in a home from week to week. Also, if you can't be away from home by day, cleaning churches and offices is usually an evening job.

9. Last of all, you might want to lock yourself in while cleaning. I hadn't thought much of it until I began to clean a beautiful, 2- story Georgian brick way out in the country. I'd be cleaning away, music blasting, never imagining anyone could be around. I'd often take my 6 year old with me to this house as it was very child-friendly and the owner didn't mind. Anyway, she had gone out in the backyard to play one day while I cleaned downstairs. She came running back in and told me that the woman outside had waved at her. I immediately went out to see who she was talking about and saw no one. Talk about chills! From that point on I made a rule she couldn't play out at a house unless I was working where I could see her and I began locking doors behind me. Coming into a home that has been left unlocked for you could also be dangerous. I prefer to enter a locked home and leave the same way. I found out, after months of cleaning a certain home, that this lady has a neighbor who keeps close tabs on everyone, including me. He seems to know when I come and go and has a history of going in and out of people's basements, gardens, etc. You can be sure I locked myself in there. Maybe he's just a harmless, lonely man, but better to not take chances.

I hope this helps those of you who may be searching for a side job or a new business. House keeping is not easy but it tends to pay well. You just need a good reputation, be willing to work hard, and build your business steadily. It can be a very rewarding business.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas 2010

Merry Christmas to all!

I pray the Lord keeps you and blesses you in 2011. He has certainly blessed and kept me and my family this year. I am so thankful His love for me isn't conditional, based on my actions and weaknesses. Not that I haven't been disciplined a few times. Ok, a lot of times. :)

I am trying to adjust to life being a working mom after 11 years of being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom. I will never regret our time at home and still believe God called me to it. For 11 years I was able to be my husband's help meet in the areas of keeping meals prepared, seeing to his personal needs such as having his laundry clean, budgeting, shopping, house-keeping, and caring for and educating the children. I am now called to be my husband's help by providing a steady income. I do miss our homeschooling; I miss the days of snuggling on the couch with a great book...building models in the kitchen...nature walks and field trips and co-op classes with friends. But I also feel good knowing I can help financially and free my husband of some of the burden he has carried so long as our sole provider.

I began housekeeping in July of 2010 and actually enjoyed it. It is hard work, very physically demanding, and sometimes emotionally draining as I tried to learn what each mom wanted done. I plan to continue cleaning a few of my regular homes as I merge into my new job with the school system as a special education teacher's aid. I could write a book on residential cleaning; I learned that much in only 6 months and still have so much to learn. It is good money but not the most steady job. Still, it helped when I needed it and I was glad to have some alone time to think and just do something mindless. I hope to post on tips for starting your own cleaning job, in case there are other moms trying to find some work that can fit into their schedules.

I was pleased to get the job as an aid. I was especially pleased to pass the parapro test with a very good score. I always say I am not all that smart, but I am a pretty good test-taker. And that's the honest truth. But maybe 11 years of schooling three different grade levels also paid off. I have always said if I couldn't homeschool, I'd love to be a preschool teacher, kindergarten teacher, or maybe an elementary social studies teacher. Who knows what doors this might open for me. I've even toyed with the idea of finishing my degree. I'll just have to hop on the train and ride it out.

As for my new job I am a little nervous but excited. I enjoy teaching and so if I couldn't teach at home, it was only a matter of time before I found myself in a different classroom setting. Knowing I am on someone else's time frame makes me much more thankful of the spent homeschooling and setting my own schedule based upon our family's needs. To all my homeschooling friends---enjoy, enjoy, enjoy! I can't tell you how much I DON'T do mornings and that has to be one of the worst parts of my working outside the home (think waking up while it is dark and cranking the car on mornings when the temperature is 27...brrr!). I also miss our daily devotions. I have still not mastered the art of a family quiet time on school days and that is a true shame as a Christian mother. On the other hand, public schooling gives my kids a chance to meet and make new friends and be part of some activities we couldn't do at home. I think they needed to see life on the other side to appreciate the sacrifice their father and I made for them all these years. I was so looking forward to homeschooling my daughter into godly womanhood; she is strong-willed and needs some extra training but is such a beautiful person. I am glad that my sons got so much Biblical training but I feel she is getting cheated. I'd love to hear ideas from public school moms about getting in some meaningful, daily Bible study when you're schedule is already bursting at the seams. Meanwhile I take every chance I get to teach her to be obedient to us and God.

I have no idea what God is doing in my life right now. A popular contemporary song says, " Whatever You're doing inside of me....it feels like chaos, but somehow there's peace." I have really experienced the "peace that passes understanding" this year. I have truly been through some valleys and yet, I'd feel this indescribable peace. And mercy. And love. And gratitude. And blessings. Not that I haven't felt worry...and fear...and sorrow...and emptiness. Christians can get weighed down by the burdens of this world, too. But underneath it all, I have hope. I know I am God's child, a daughter of the King of this universe who owns "the cattle on a thousand hills"...He cares for me and knows every trivial detail of my life.

I have a plethora of verses I have been posting around the house to encourage me. I got that idea from a friend who has scripture verses written and painted on the walls of her home. Such a blessing to me! I'd go to clean and perhaps was having a horrible day and just the right verse would be there. I'd read it and be moved to tears because I knew God was speaking to me through His Word. So many prayers sent up...so many prayers answered...many more to come I'm sure. Thank you Lord, for Your patience with me!

Jarred is feeling better and will be able to return to work in January. I know he is ready.

Nick is growing every day and really is becoming a man. He has been my right-hand man this past year and is a big help at home. Its hard to believe he is 15 already. He is ready to take his permit test. I think I'll die. :)

Adrian is really coming out of his shell. He can crack some comebacks with the best of them now. He's still my sweet boy though; easy to please and not very demanding. That is a breath of fresh air for me.

Ashleigh is six going on sixteen. She is sweet, prissy, and very girly. And did I say emotional?? Girls sure do change moods easily. Raising boys might be a little easier. Ask me again in ten years. ;)
Only a few more days until my 17th wedding anniversary and the New Year. I have no way of knowing what the new year will bring but whatever it does, I can't wait to experience it with my friends and family.

Luke 2:10-11


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Vocabulary Cartoons: SAT Word Power

Vocabulary Cartoons: SAT Word Power
Learn Hundreds of SAT Words with Easy Memory Techniques
by New Monic Books, Inc.

(I received this book, free of charge, as another delightful review product through the TOS magazine's Homeschool Crew).

This book has been a wonderful tool to help my oldest son prepare for the vocabulary portion of the SAT. Recommended for grades 7-12, this book does just what it claims to do: the child views a cartoon that teaches the meaning of an SAT word. For example, on page 115 we see a visual of a man clinging desperately to a tree on a tiny speck of land in the middle of the ocean, as sharks circle him and one tries to bite him. The vocabulary word to be learned is "dearth" and the linking word ( a word that rhymes with the vocabulary word) is "earth". The definition for 'dearth" is given: it means scarcity or lack. Then under the cartoon of the poor man the caption reads "There is a dearth of earth in the middle of the ocean." If that's not enough to help the student recall the word there are three example sentences given under each cartoon as well.

My son was able to read it in only a few days while waiting on his computer schooling to load. Most of the cartoons were really funny and helped him to easily recall the meaning of the words. It's not overwhelming to read just a few pages a day, even for the child who doesn't enjoy reading and the added visual of the cartoon really locks the words into your memory. And what child doesn't like to read cartoons or comics?

There are other vocabulary books available from the company at www.vocabularycartoons.com.

You can also see sample pages which will give you a much better idea of how the product works and how simple it is to add into your daily school routine:

The books in the series are only $12.95 each. You can also get the books in a computer cd-rom format.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Math Tutor Video Series

After homeschooling for almost 12 years, I had to stop recently to return to work due to a family illness and its lingering effects. While waiting for my children's public school enrollments to take affect, I continued to receive a few items from vendors to review for TOS magazine, free of charge, in exchange for my honest opinion of these items. Two videos from the Math Tutor company were among the supplies received.

Unfortunately, I was unable to use either dvd. One was a pre-algebra level and the other, a Texas Instruments Calculator usage video. None of my children are at the pre-algebra level and the oldest has not yet been introduced to any sort of specialty calculator. We did put them into the dvd player and watch each briefly, skimming through the chapters and seeing how these videos compared to others from this company.

While I was unable to dive into this set, my oldest son, who has used other videos from the Math Tutor series with great success, said both dvd's were very similar to previous lessons he had. Jason Gipson is the instructor on the dvd's, and he is thorough and works through problems slowly. By the time a child is done with a Math Tutor video, he or she should have a good grasp of the basics of the course. Mr. Gipson has a friendly, laid-back approach to math which helped my son get over some the anxiety he associates with it. We used the Algebra 1 and 2 dvd's with great success.

While not a lone program (the name "tutor" says it all), this is a great supplementary curriculum to add to your regular math program. Depending on how slow one moves, there are only a few months of lessons (maybe even days or weeks if the student is really fast) on each dvd. You can add the companion worksheet cd-roms to your video series to flesh it out a bit. But overall, it is not meant to be a complete, core curriculum. Use the Math Tutor series with a child struggling as an alternative to a pricey tutor and you'll likely be impressed.

The price for most dvd's is around $26 for 5-7 hours of video-much less than you'd pay a private tutor- and we found the dvd's we have used to be extremely user-friendly and helpful. Mr. Gipson has courses ranging from Basic Math all the way to Calculus 3 and Physics.

Visit www.MathTutorDVD.com to see detailed lists of what each video includes as well as samples of actual video clips. The site says "Raise grades or your money back." Give it a try!


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The end of the homeschooling journey?

After 11 years (almost 12) of homeschooling, I returned to work this year. At first I tried working and homeschooling but my younger children needed more of me than I could give. So at present my 10-year old and 5-year old are in public school. My high schooler is registered, records have been transferred, and we await placement testing. If all goes well there, he should be in school by next week. There have been many hold-ups along the way that make me wonder if this is God's will for him; still praying that if it isn't we'll know soon. As in by this week.

I will try to journal some of my thoughts, feelings, and even helpful hints along the way for those of you contemplating homeschooling or putting homeschooled children into a public school setting. I hope to be able to return to homeschooling all my kids in the future but until then, journey with me into this new season of life.

Monday, July 19, 2010

TOS Planner June 2010: Travel the World module

If you have never used one of TOS Magazine's Planner modules, you are in for a treat in your school day. This is the fourth one my family has tried and they are always a hit, especially with my elementary-aged children.

Each module, available online at www.theoldschoolhousestore.com, is a mini-unit study that is easy to use, requires virtually no teacher prep time, and works well with multiple ages. For the busy mom (and what homeschool mom isn't busy?), these short units are a fun break from textbooks that kids will learn from and enjoy.

This 56-page unit comes to you in the form of an enhanced E-book with hyper links to various child-friendly websites with games, puzzles, and other activities to reinforce the theme of Traveling the World via the seven continents. Pages can be printed as many times as needed, and teacher answer keys are included.

There are informational pages, recipes, resource lists, extensive hyperlinks, rebus puzzles, and even coloring pages children. There is also a variety of crosswords, both manuscript and cursive copy work, word searches, and even lap book ideas and templates.

My upcoming 5th grader could read and do most of the work independently, and my preschooler enjoyed the coloring pages and online games (her favorite was a map matching game). A separate section called "High School Expansion" presents more in-depth information for the older students in your home. I found the sections on lapbooking and Letterboxing (a pastime we've wanted to start for years) particularly helpful and interesting. We broke our study down over a period of about three days but these modules could be easily stretched out or shortened.

My middle son is a highly visual learner so the colorful format and bite-sized pieces of information made it easy to understand and grasp. He also benefits from online educational sites and retains information better when it is presented to him in a visual way, so for him each hyperlink was a highly effective educational tool. He just thinks the games are fun and forgets he's learning! And I didn't have to take the time to search out these safe sites for him to explore.

As a mom, I appreciated the ease of use and the way all the information had been gathered for me. The resource link list in this module is outstanding! I really like paying the low price of $7.95 per module and being able to save it to my computer and print only what I need, when I need it, using it with my children again later. The only item called for was a globe and even that was optional, as we were referred to a photo of one in the unit itself as we covered the topics of latitude and longitude.

There are many other modules available, too many to list. There are units on Remarkable Art, Let's Be Scientists, and Liberty: the Founding of a Country, just to name a few.
Many moms I've met shy away from unit studies because they can be so much prep work. Not these modules. Trying a TOS Planner module is the perfect way to ease into the world of unit studies and theme-based learning.

Give it a try! I am sure you'll like it as much as we did.

Disclaimer: I received the TOS Magazine June 2010 module free of charge to use and review.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

New product line coming soon: Kids Love Mail character letters

Children love to get mail. My 5 -year old enjoys checking the mail every day, always hoping there will be something in it for her. To actually receive a piece of mail addressed to her is a true joy and really makes her day. It's such a simple thing to send a letter but in our world of text messages, emails, and Face Book, it is quickly becoming a lost art. Yet children can learn so much from reading or composing a simple letter. It is an activity that boosts creativity, penmanship, proper grammar, and can be downright enjoyable. That is especially so if the letter the child is reading comes from a friend or pen-pal.

Thus an idea was born.

As a homeschooling mom of three, I appreciate any chance to squeeze in some educational activities into my children's day. I know the few times my children had pen-pals they were excited about it. Unfortunately pen pals don't always write back faithfully and before long, we find that all correspondence has stopped.

As a small business owner specializing in hand-crafted products, I am constantly aware that a hot selling craft may become tomorrow's least desired object once the general population learns how to copy the product for themselves. I have two Etsy crafts stores and most of my sales come from the same two items: lip balms and bottle cap jewelry. Most everyone I know in the teen/tween realm has learned to make caps already, so I anticipate that in a few years, this current fad will die out. I am always on the lookout for a new product, a new idea. Because we homeschool and live on one income, I try to find ways to be able to stay home in my God-given role and still be a little bit of a financial help-meet to my sweet husband.

As a Christian mom, I long for good role models for my children. Especially for my daughter who is growing up too fast in an age of often less-than-ideal Hollywood women to model herself after.

When all these ideas merged (and with some help and ideas from fellow WAHMs over on the www.bizymoms.com network), I decided I could try to meet all these goals with one new simple idea: a character letter writing service for children.

You've probably seen ads where you can send x amount of money and get a letter from Santa at the North Pole or a letter from the Tooth Fairy. This is a similar idea but so much more. I have spent a few sleepless nights developing a series of characters to interact with your children by mail through one-time letter sales or via a yearly subscription service.

Just to give you an overview of what is to come, I'll have two services geared towards different ages.

The first and most basic service will be seasonal monthly letters to children ages 4-8 or so. These will be from characters such as Santa and the Tooth Fairy, but also Patty the Leprechaun, Hug-a-Bug, Sally Sunshine, Lady Liberty, Bubbles the Clown, Frostina the Snow Princess, Hoppy the Bunny, and more. Each letter packet will include some sort of coloring sheet or activity page, the personalized letter to the child, and fillers such as a simple craft kit, stickers, balloons, notepads, pencils, etc. On the child's birthday there will be a special letter with a small gift enclosed. Children will be encouraged to write back or draw pictures to send to me (the character) which will be acknowledged in the next reply letter. This is an early start to reading and writing letters and hopefully will plant some seeds in young minds. When my children were little I bought a subscription to a company that sent an educational packet by mail. They so looked forward to getting that little packet in the mail. I would be delighted to find out my character letters were sparking the same kind of interest in another child.

As excited as I am about the younger letter service, my heart is thrilled over the idea I have for my older character letter service. At present I will only be marketing it towards tween and elementary girls. It will not only plant the seeds of letter writing but will also be a way I can encourage girls to be godly and be their best. I am calling it the BFF Club and I am looking into getting a graphic artist to draw out the 6 characters I have floating in my head.

Meet the characters:
Chloe-fun-loving, friendly, popular, a true friend who throws the best parties
Lily-a dreamer, artsy, crafty, creative, always has a vision and sees it through
Laurel-loves to read and is an excellent student but also makes time for hanging out and having fun
Star- a naturalist and animal lover, she likes to take care of God's world and all the living creatures in it
Adrienne-a fashionista and shop-a-holic, wants to be a fashion designer and live in Milan or Paris; she teaches girls how to be cute and trendy while dressing modestly
Alex-fitness and sports are where its at; she teaches girls to be healthy and fit and to glorify God with their bodies

My newsletter software will allow me to produce a nice letter from a different girl each month. The characters will share all sorts of things from tips on doing well in school to themed-party ideas to recipes and volunteer opportunities. There will also be a Bible verse to memorize each month and a section called "Hear it, Learn it, Live it" where girls learn to apply the memory verse to their lives. Another regular feature will be the "Be a Better Me" section where each character learns to work on an aspect of her life to be more godly. For example, Chloe is everyone's best friend, but sometimes she feels caught up in the other girl's squabbles. What does God's word say about being a friend? About being a peacemaker? As Chloe examines her own life and its problems, she will be able to give practical advice to other real girls like her who might be going through a similar experience. Short articles and graphics will hold girl's attention. There will also be links to safe websites where girls can learn and grow and receive free items.

On top of all this, each letter will include something fun--a small trinket or gift, a craft kit, a homemade beauty product safe for young skin, a jewelry item, etc. And on the child's birthday, parents can request a custom letter from the character of their choice written to the child, along with a birthday gift. The BFF Club is part character letter service, part pen pal service, part craft club, all rolled into a fun, Christian theme. It will available soon at www.whimsylanecreations.etsy.com so be sure to check it out.

I welcome your feedback and comments on this endeavor.


craft classes

Mc Minnville:
Watch for postings from me about future craft classes for kids and adults...coming soon to Et Cetera on Main Street.

TOS Crew: my second time to be a mate

I am very excited to be chosen again to be on the TOS Homeschool Crew. This is the third year of the voyage and my second time around to try out wonderful free products. God provided this opportunity for me as a confirmation that, yes, I am to homeschool again this year. My husband has been physically ill for months and is now back at work. We are blessed to see him able to work again, but it has been a hard year emotionally and financially. We have had some very trying lessons to learn about God's provision and our own faith-walk. I know I spent more time on my knees this year than I have in a long time. I think God likes to remind us that this world is not our home and there is a much better place to look forward to. If we never had trials here, we wouldn't feel as though we need Him or Heaven. The trials are hard to go through and hard to understand but they keep us grounded in Him. My mother-in-law is a godly woman who says we can choose to become bitter or better after a trial. I am hoping we learn to be better.

My friend Angela likes to remind me of how diamonds are created through intense pressure and heat. Look how beautiful they become! How rare and of how much worth. How much more beautiful are we to our Lord after a period of refining by fire!

I pray blessings upon all moms and those who are going through a difficult leg of life's journey. But I especially pray and hold dear to my heart those who are committed to the cause of homeschooling and all the details it encompasses.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Etc! on Main Street

So excited to be approved to have my crafts and b&b goods sold in Etc! on Main Street in McMinnville. I am currently crafting, bagging, and tagging about 40 items to put in, from glass necklaces to soaps to lip balms. Hope to have all items in by the end of this week. Go by and visit if you get a chance. They are located across from the fire hall and have a lot of pretty things to sell. The painted plaques are adorable! Tell them Lynn sent you.

I also was invited to join my first Etsy team. I am still learning what it involves but hopefully it'll mean even more exposure.

Held a two-day promo at www.whimsylanecreations.etsy.com and racked up about 40 sales. One sale was for 20 caps! That's what I'm talking about. Thank the Lord for the blessings.

Nick is away at church camp in Florida while the littles and I pet-sit for the youth pastor and his wife (who are also on the trip to Florida). While on the trip Nick spent the first 24 hours with ice pick headaches and bad nose bleeds. Day two he thought he broke his toe. I wonder what today holds? Hopefully safe fun! Back home here it's been an experience taking care of the two tiny bundles of energy on top of my dog and her six pups, crabs, fish, frog, and two cats. Is this a zoo or what? I am thinking of charging admission. :)

In between all that and recent Easter fun, my new shop at www.whimsylanecreations.com is in the works. It will feature a drop-down menu that will make it much easier to order personalized items and give discounts than it is on Etsy. Plus it will be ultra-girly!

Take care until next post,

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My friend's blog is holding a give-away


You don't want to miss this! Jennifer, over at The Trendy Spot
is hosting a give-away this month for this adorable, hand-made cloth baby doll and a super-fab new key chain/mini change purse she just invented. Gotta get one of these ladies! If you are on-the- go but don't want to mess with lugging a purse, this is for you. This is Jennifer's take on her own creation:

"A fabulous new item! The other week we went to a concert at the Sommet Center. I didn't want to carry my purse for obvious reasons but since I was the driver, I needed my license, insurance card and of course I needed my cell and money. So, I drug my purse along with me. When I got home, I had an idea in my head and set out to create it. So, this is what I came up with... A small keychain/ID holder that has plenty of room for your debit/credit cards and money and a roomy pocket on the back for your cell phone!"

Go check her out and tell her Lynn sent ya. ;)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Sampler Village

Both my shops will have samples in the March and April Sampler Village boxes.
So go check it out and order your awesome sample box today!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Our "typical" school day, part 2

Note: We are night owls by nature, although since hubby got moved to day shift, we are trying hard to make the transition after 11 years. So first off you'll see that we sleep later than most people and wake up later. The getting in bed earlier and waking earlier...well, its not really working yet. Its just so hard to get past 11 years of staying up late. I find myself having more migraines in the last few weeks, especially on the weekends when I get up at 4 am to take hubby to work. Barring we don't have a migraine day or any place to be, and everything goes smoothly, this is usually what a typical day looks like for us.

8:30 am...Mom wakes and heads to computer. This is my time to work on listing items in my shop, catch up on Facebook, and emails.

9 am...kids wake up. They begin chores/showers while I finish my stuff.

10 am...we "clock in" (yes, I count our hours...I get lots of strange looks when I tell people I do this; apparently its viewed as sort of anal. lol But here's the thing: I get easily distracted. There is always some new website, or a book, or a craft calling my name. If I didn't keep up with our hours, I'd never get schooling done because I'd never leave the computer, and Nick wouldn't have any high school credits. )
We usually begin on the couch together doing devotions and prayer. We didn't always put Bible first and sometimes we still don't, but our day seems to flow better when we do. It sets the stage for the rest of our day. We're reading through the Bible in a year along with our church family. Ash is too little to really comprehend our daily reading, so she usually plays. I try to make sure she gets some little kid Bible stories in each week so she's not left out.

After Bible, we scatter. Nick goes to one computer to work on Switched on Schoolhouse for language, another Bible study on the NT, and history/govt. Adrian, meanwhile, is on the internet working at www.time4learning.com on his core subjects. This is when Ash and I cook lunch or squeeze in some pre-k stuff.

12 noon...lunch break and recess. Kids can go outside or play a video game. Sometimes we cut it short and start right back in school if we have an afternoon errand. Or we'll frequently eat while working if we have to leave early in the day. But if there is no place to be, we take the whole hour free. I love to be able to catch up on chores halfway through the day.

1 pm....back to work. Nick moves to internet for Learning Upgrade's Algebra online program or to the laptop to work on Tell Me More Spanish. I like to take this time to sit with Adrian and Ashleigh and do some Five in a Row. When Nick is done with computer work, he works from either his Artistic Pursuits art lessons, silent reading, or his Apologia Biology. When the FIAR lesson is done, Adrian catches up on random worksheets and Ashleigh plays or gets a little TV time.
If there is still time left to get our 4 hours in, we'll do some silent reading. If the kids will be good and read for thirty minutes of DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time, I can sneak in some additional Bible study time or parenting books. This is when Nick is trying to get in some classics and books from his 9th grade reading list.

If we stick to our schedule we can be done by 3 pm. But often Nick's work takes longer or we'll get absorbed in our FIAR lesson and keep going past the 4 hours. We have been known to start as late as 11 am and end at 4 or 5 pm.

Late afternoons and evenings are for family time, church, youth group, 4-H clubs and sports. Generally the kids are in bed by 11 pm, while Dad and I finish up a rerun of Criminal Minds. I often stay up until 12 or 1, crafting new items to add to my Etsy shops. It's my only really quiet, 100% free time.

**Side note: I could sleep about 5 hours and be raring to go again but for some reason, Ashleigh still gets up every night to find me. She sleeps through the night only about once every 5 months, no kidding. I'm exhausted most days. We're not sure why she doesn't sleep solidly. Doesn't seem to matter what she eats or drinks, or how early or late we put her in bed or how busy she's been.
I try to dim the lights every night and settle in her with rocking, snuggling, and stories. Still she'll awaken about three hours after falling asleep. Sometimes this happens multiple times, and so I am up and down putting her back in bed. Then I get up at 4 am long enough to make sure Jarred is awake and see him off. I think this up- and- down sleep pattern is killing me slowly. I look forward to a day when I get a good 4-5 hours of SOLID, uninterrupted sleep. ;) Then maybe we can get up "on time" and be more "typical". lol

Today was a "not so typical" day. Long night last night; lots of ups and downs with Ash and Adrian , who has a bad sore throat and couldn't sleep well. Got behind on my Etsy store work this morning and my chores, and let kids way over sleep. Started with lunch first today because we were so hungry, then schooled from 12 noon until 4 pm without breaks.

As long as we get our four hours in, it really doesn't matter when or how. :) Again, the beauty of it all. I prefer to have a similar schedule every day but sometimes things get mixed up a bit and we just jump in head-first and make it work.

Well , there you have it. Hope you enjoy planning your homeschool day according to YOUR needs.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Our "typical" homeschool day part 1

Ok, I have been asked a lot lately what a typical day at our home looks like, mainly by those interested in homeschooling their own children. So I (finally) decided to open our lives up here (scary!) for those who are curious.

Things to keep in mind:
1. In TN, a homeschool day generally consists of 4 hours of work. This may sound preposterous but trust me, with only a handful of kiddos to instruct, fewer bathroom breaks, no milk money to collect, and very little down-time, we can get so much done in that short time. In fact, if you took a typical public school day and removed all the distractions, trips to other rooms/restroom, breaks in between classes, lunch/recess, and teacher duties such as taking attendance or collecting monies, I dare say you'd end up with about 4-5 good solid hours of instruction. I used to do some subbing in our elementary schools and I do recall quite a bit of non-instructional time. My Special Education teacher pals tell me that the paperwork they have especially is horrendous and takes a large amount of their time.

For younger children most of this can be hands-on. As the kids tend to age, the work also tends to be more bookish. My high schooler *sometimes* takes 5-6 hours a day to finish his work load. Part of the length of time involved will be determined by how fast your child grasps the work, how focused he is on the task, and the type of curriculum you're using. Some homeschool textbooks contain a lot of busy-work, as they were written and geared towards use in a Christian school classroom.

2. What is typical? No two homeschool families are alike. Try reading Rhonda Barfield's Real-Life Homeschooling or Nancy Lande's Homeschooling: a Patchwork of Days. Homeschoolers have real-life interruptions...a sick parent, emergency room visit with a younger sibling, unexpected phone calls and visits, or even a cranky baby can upset the day's plans. What is "typical" this year may not be next year if Mom is expecting another child...or Grandpa is in the ICU for weeks...or dad gets a new job and the family has to pack up and move. Those types of things certainly affect any family, but even more so a homeschool family, because the kids are right there during it all. I don't feel this is a bad thing; this is what real life is and these are the struggles children will turn into adults to find placed upon them.

3. What works for one family might be a disaster for another. My thoughts on it are to first follow the laws set forth in your area, and then use the flexibility of it to make homeschooling fit your family, not the other way around. Not an early bird? Then don't try to teach at 7 am. Have to work part-time? Do schooling when you're home or have Dad or a friend teach a few classes here and there. Have a really busy week? Do some work on the weekends. Like to sleep in? Focus on using your afternoons or evenings for the majority of your school load. The beauty of it is in the flexibility.

Join me again later for part 2.

Don't feel sorry for my kids

Ahh, its good to have a chance to blog again!

Today's blog post is part venting in love, part confession. Hoping it shows everyone a glimpse into our lives so you can understand us a little bit more. ;)

Please don't feel sorry for my kids....

Yes, we homeschool. No, it isn't torture. Believe it or not I've asked them would they ever want to try public schooling and they always answer "no".

Yes, we enjoy being with each other a lot. We have our moments, though. We make sure to get out around our buddies frequently so we don't get on each other's nerves too much.

Yes, we argue and fight like any other family, although probably not as often as some do. My kids are pretty quiet to begin with. They also know the rules, so they usually don't push them too far.

Yes, our school schedule is kind of different. But it works for us and that's why we do it. I don't plan my days around public school breaks, snow days, or flood days. Not to say that we never take off for those but I don't intentionally plan to take off, just because public schools are out. If it really does snow and is a good one, then usually we'll have a half day. Hubby and I share a vehicle and I won't drive on ice/snow unless I have to anyway. So unless a friend wanders over to our home, we are generally stuck here on snow days. Why have the kids sitting in front of the tv for 6 hours or playing video games all day? My kids already have (unfortunately :( ) plenty of time to do that stuff every day.

So the kids go out to play and then come in to warm up and do a bit of school. School on those days tends to be easy stuff, educational board and file folder games, lots of read aloud time, or educational Netflix videos. It's not me standing over them for 6 hours cracking a whip! LOL I am beginning to think that's the perception people may have, and if so, its not at all correct. And yes, from time to time we'll take a whole day off when public school does, and have friends over. It depends on the circumstances and if we are currently behind or ahead.
Now, some have asked why we don't take off every time, a whole day every time. For that answer you'll need to come back and ready my next blog post, 'A Typical (Ha) Day in Our Homeschool Lives".

Yes, we have to answer to an authority. First and foremost, my authority to answer to is God. I need to do everything as if I'm doing it for God, and that includes homeschooling. Next I answer to my church-related school. I have to report my attendance and grades to them twice a year and submit my sources/books used. At certain grade levels the kids can get tested.

Yes, my kids are normal. The boys are really quiet, but Ashleigh jabbers 24/7. My oldest son Nick is shy most of the time, Adrian is almost never shy, and Ash acts shy because people think she's cute when she's acting shy (which actually gets her MORE attention--it's a plot). They laugh, they play. They go places and meet people. They have full schedules and a variety of peers and friends. They are strong in some subjects, weaker in others. They can have genius moments. Then again they sometimes do dippy things. They may even say very dippy things (usually it happens in front of someone who is opposed to homeschooling, making me smack my own head and ask, "Why now?"). They don't always know things that public school kids know, like going through a lunch line (which is not too important in life anyway). But they do just fine on work and tests, and where it counts, they are just as normal as other kids.

Yes, we plan to keep going as long as it is God's will. I am surviving the first high school year. Its wasn't as hard as I thought, although Algebra gave us some trouble until we found the right program for Nick. He is using the computer for most all of his work, via Switched on Schoolhouse. He basically self-teaches. This curriculum assigns and grades all the work submitted. I hardly have to help him anymore. Which makes me feel proud and also a little sad. He enjoys working solo at his own pace. He makes all A's and B's on his SOS work. My only problem with this is that we miss him! Up until this year, for the majority of our schooling, we used unit studies and worked on most all subjects together as a family. So I kind of miss having Nick around more. I was afraid to use units for his freshman year, but I plan to go back to them next year now that I have a grip on high schooling at home. We will use the third volume of Learning Adventures together. I am eager to get back to this time.

Yes, I have to strive to make sure that my kids don't pick up my quirks. I have some OCD type issues, maybe some anxiety disorder mixed in. There are things I just don't enjoy, although I can usually make it, such as being in large groups. I don't like to drive in large cities or on the Interstate. I am also an introvert, but again, I can come out of my shell if needed.
To make sure my children have plenty of opportunities to grow, God has clearly blessed them with mentors who can offer things I might not think to or desire to. Family and friends tend to invite them on trips where I might spaz driving. They travel with family and church youth as far as the ocean or just a few hours away to ice skate or see a hockey game. I never have to ask; the opportunities just pop up. I like to stay home and "charge my batteries" with quiet time more than they do, but again, I am adjusting to being on the road a lot more and having kids in and out more frequently. And locally I make sure my children have church activities, 4-H, and homeschool group time to keep them busy. I watch for signs to make sure my habits don't rub off on them. I've commented to my kids many times that driving my big old Suburban is not something I enjoy. My oldest son now seems nervous when he thinks about driving it. I can see where he is picking this up from me, so next week we are going out for a driving lesson.

You don't have to homeschool to rub off on your kids; we tend to turn out like our parents more every day and most of us were probably public-schooled. It just happens. And its not all bad. ;)

So don't feel sorry for my kids. I think they'll all be okay in the end. :)