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January 2010

FCS Questions: What about bills and bulldog clips?

Good Sunday Morning, everyone! I'm not sure how much time I'll get to spend online today - the boys are all sick with a little bug (fever, aches, stomach issues). Crackerjack and Bookworm are already on the mend, but Earlybird got hit with it yesterday afternoon and right now, at 7 in the morning, he is back in bed asleep (having woken at his usual 4:30 a.m.). Hopefully it will pass as quickly for him as it did for his brothers.

But while I'm here I wanted to address a couple of FCS questions ... :)

The first one comes from Karen, who asks:

Where do you file bills? Do they go into your weekly folders? or do you have a completely separate place for the financial side of things?

Ok, truth be told Karen, I am not super organized when it comes to budgetkeeping. But my system works well enough for us so I hesitate to make any big changes. I do have a designated "bill basket" that I keep on my bookshelves (in my little work corner) where I place all incoming bills and statements. This basket also holds my checkbook, calculator, stamps and a pen. In the back of the basket is a large Ziploc bag standing upright where I "file" receipts and statements through the month. At the end of the month I close up the bag, and start another. (Note: anything tax deductible or health expense related, go directly to Bill.) 

Here's a picture of the basket (in all its messy glory!) sitting on my shelf:


As for bill paying, I sit down with the basket and my online bank statement once a month. Most of our payments are now automatic (aka "auto pay") but I do need to send out a few checks each month. I keep track of all this - current balance, bills paid, expenses coming up - in my journal. Now, you all know my journal is a real hodgepodge of information (a brain dump, if you will) but I find it easy enough to flip back through the pages and find my monthly budgetkeeping notes when I need to. I like to use those little post-it flags to mark the place. 

As I shop throughout the week I leave receipts in my purse, in a designated section of my wallet. I go through that section on Saturday afternoon after I've completed my weekly errands. If I make online purchases, I print out receipts and file them in the weekly folder - as I purge the file to store at week's end, I place these print outs in the ziploc bag.

I did toy with the idea of keeping receipts in my weekly folders, but it was a little ungainly - I was stapling the receipts to the inside cover. I think a much better option would be an adhesive pocket. Alternatively (or in addition), you could staple a budget sheet inside your folder for weekly expense tracking. You could also keep an envelope in your bi-monthly hanging folder for receipts and statements. Just a few ideas - I'd love to hear how others handle this necessary (and often tedious) aspect of household management.

OK ... another quick FCS question before I go, this one from OSG:

Sorry Dawn, here's another FCS question for you (I'm obsessed!). I recall you saying that your current week's file folder is attached to your diary/planner with a big clip. Does this mean the file folder travels everywhere with you?

Obsessed here too OSG, so no apology needed! :)

I do take my folder with me sometimes, and if I do, I store it inside the back cover of my calendar. I secure it with a large clip to keep things all together:


I'm a big fan of these clips as you can tell! (And I believe someone asked me recently where I find the large colored bulldog clips ... I got mine at Office Depot, but I found some here at Amazon.)  

I use a backpack-style bag for my everyday tote and it easily fits my calendar, folder, clipboard, wallet, cosmetic pouch and miscellaneous reading materials. Clipping the folder to the calendar keeps things from sliding around inside my bag.

I still have several more FCS questions to address and I hope to get to them all this week. Please feel free to leave more queries and/or comments if you have them. I will do my best to get back to you just as soon as I can ... 

Happy Last Day of January, everyone! :)

February Fun

Come this Sunday, we've reached January's end - it's a good time to look at what's coming up on the calendar and make some plans for February fun ...

1 - St. Brigid's Day

2 - Groundhog Day/Candlemas

6-7 Focus on Feeders Weekend (Massachusetts)

7 - Superbowl XLIV

12 - Abraham Lincoln's Birthday

12 - The Winter Olympics begin

14 - St. Valentine's Day

14 - Chinese New Year (Year of the Tiger)

15 - President's Day

16 - Mardi Gras/Fat or Shrove Tuesday

17 - Ash Wednesday

22 - George Washington's Birthday

28 - Full Snow Moon

February is a short month, but weather-wise it's the coldest and sloppiest of the year. We'll most likely see plenty of snow - from light flurries to old-fashioned noreasters - as well as sleet, slush, ice and even rain. It's hard to get out in nature this month, so instead we'll bring some inside ... forcing branches of forsythia and pussy willow and starting seeds for our spring garden. It's probably too early to look for our snowdrops (also known as Candlemas Bells) but if we get a good week of sun and milder daytime temps, a sprout or two could be found. The days will grow longer and lighter as well ...  Winter's hold sure is tight in February, but there are still signs of Spring if we look closely!

Happy Friday, everyone ~ have a great weekend ~ I'll be back again soon. :)

A Few Household Questions


Hope you're all having a nice Thursday. It's a very cold and gray day here - in fact, right this very minute, it's snowing to beat the band! So pretty and wintry ... though I must say I was pleasantly surprised to spy daffodil shoots at my folks' house earlier today!

Anyway, I thought I'd answer a few homekeeping queries that were posted recently:

From Julia S. ~

Dawn, I know this is probably the silliest question you've gotten, but when you change your family's sheets do you wash the mattress covers (and pillow covers if you have them) at that time or do you just do the sheets? Also do you do the blankets too? I usually wash everything, but boy do I get worn out changing sheets and as a result do it less often then I probably should. Thanks so much.

Hi Julia, 

Not silly at all, and I agree changing beds can be a pretty tiring activity! (Especially if you have lots of children - and/or bunk beds!) I change just the bed sheets (flat, fitted and pillowcases) once a week. Usually. There are weeks (such as this) that I skip it and catch up the following Monday. Blankets and underbedding (mattress pads and pillow protectors) I do once a month. Non-down comforters and quilts are washed seasonally, while the down comforter gets dry cleaned once a year - roundabouts April before storing it till fall.

From Michele ~

If you don't mind sharing, what are the chores you have assigned to the other days of the week? I would like to start a similar system.

Sure thing, Michele ... here is my weekly homekeeping routine. Bear in mind this is what I strive for ~ rare is the week I get everything done. :)


Clean bedrooms.

Begin laundries.


Clean upstairs bathroom.

Continue laundries.


Clean kitchen.

Finish laundries.

Begin menu plan and marketing list.

Organize trash and recycling.


Put out trash and recycling.

Clean living and family rooms.

Store flyers arrive - read through, note sales/specials.

Work on menu plan and marketing list.

Begin weekend errands list.

Look at calendar and begin plan for next week.

Pull out new FCS folder for next week.


Clean the learning room.

Finalize marketing and errands list.

Organize coupons.

Round up library books.

General pre-weekend tidy. 


Put out newspaper payment.

Clean pocketbook/backpack.


Organize receipts and bill basket.

Update budget.

Catch up on correspondence.

Lesson plan and prepare for next week.

Organize/update clipboard.

Miscellaneous home/garden maintenance.

Re-stock birdfeeders.

Neaten playroom - aka "the man cave." ;)


Clip coupons.

Finalize lesson plans and prepare work piles for next week.

Work in personal journal. (Read back over notes from the week and add in stray clippings.)


Hope this helps, Michele - and good luck setting up your housekeeping system! :)

From Shonda ~

I am working on a menu plan after a long cooking hiatus(surgery). I am looking for how you do your kielbasa and apples (and potatoes). I thought I read about it in a long ago post, but can't find it. It sounds good and I happen to have the ingredients on hand! Am I just missing it or do you have a search function? Thanks so much!

Shonda, first of all I hope you are healing well from your surgery. It's a good feeling when you're ready to get back to familiar routines. :) I don't have a blog search function at present. I did at one time, but it seriously impacted how my blog loaded (it made it painfully slow). If anyone has a suggestion for a blog search tool (widget I think they are called?) please let me know. In the meantime, the best I can offer is my list of post categories (see my righthand sidebar). If you were looking for a specific recipe, it's best to browse my Food & Drink archive - or simply ask me in a comment as you did today! :)

As for the kielbasa recipe, I make a dish with kielbasa, potatoes, sweet peppers, baby carrots and (in season) zucchini. I cut everything into chunks (halving the carrots) and toss it all with Ken's Italian dressing in a large Ziploc bag. Then I let the mixture marinate in the fridge for a few hours. When I'm ready to cook I preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. and line a large rimmed cookie sheet with tin foil (a coating of Pam is a good idea). I then shake the meat and veggies onto the tray making sure nothing is overlapping. I bake it all for approximately 30 minutes - or until the potatoes are fork tender. 

This is one of my family's favorite meals - we eat it almost every week. It's delicious served over rice. Fyi, we use Hillshire Farms turkey kielbasa which is lower in fat than regular kielbasa.

I have done a similar kielbasa dish with apples, carrots and potatoes and a marinade of maple syrup, apple cider and mustard. This is delicious over egg noodles and a nice recipe for the fall. :)


Thank so much for the questions, ladies. And thank you all for stopping by today!

Wednesday is Kitchen Day


Like many of you, I have specific household chores assigned to specific days of the week. In general, this system works very well - but on a day when we're particularly busy - this past Monday comes to mind - it's hard to get those daily chores done. And sure enough, between my head cold, appointments, volunteer work and club meetings - no beds were changed on Monday. (Monday is bedroom day.) :) 

Well, today we were home all day and I was actually able to get my kitchen chores accomplished. This included cleaning and menu planning. Tomorrow, after the Shaws flyer arrives, I'll work on the market list-making.

Kitchen Day Chores:

Clean out the refrigerator and freezer (toss anything unusable and wipe shelves).

Go through the kitchen cabinets in the same manner.

Note things to purchase in my shopping notebook.

Wash the countertops, stovetop and sink.

Spot wash the floor (especially crumby corners).

Start the menu plan for the next week ... so far I only have a few notes:

M - "shepherdess" pie and jello dessert (It's St. Brigid Day and Crackerjack's getting his braces on!)

T - Chicken-veggie stir-fry over rice, s'mores for dessert using (unscented) candles to toast marshmallows. (It's Candlemas!)

W - Pasta Day - spaghetti and (turkey) meatballs, garlic rolls, salad

Th - ??

F - Homemade Pizza Night

S - ??

Su - a crockpot supper of some kind

And speaking of menus, for dinner tonight we are having ...

baked ziti (affectionately called "cheesey pasta" by the kids)

garlic-parmesan broccoli

crusty Italian bread

chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and butterscotch sauce*

(*I don't usually make such decadent desserts but I found we had 3 boxes of cake mix on hand and we also had leftover butterscotch sauce from company last weekend to use up.) 

Now, about those eggs in the picture above. Aren't they lovely? I bought them last week at Whole Foods - they are cage-free Ameracauna hen eggs sold by Pete & Gerry's out of New Hampshire. I couldn't resist purchasing them - and now I can't bring myself to use them lol! Actually, I do plan to use them in supper omelettes one night this week. So I had to show them to you before they are put to good use. :)

Have a great night, everyone!

FCS Question of the Day: Where do you keep it?

First of all, good morning everyone! :) I have another File Crate question to answer, so without further ado ...

Today's question comes from Tanya:

Does your FCS sit out in the hub of things?? (cause I can't imagine that your house is less chaotic with 3 boys busy with projects!) I have a household notebook for static info (garbage schedule, school info) and a fridge calender so we don't miss appointments and the like but the stuff I *want* to get done stays in my brain or in a pile on the bedside table and doesn't get transferred to real life...this is where I know the FCS could really help me. I like the idea of a clipboard....think I'll have to incorporate that into my house. If you have any ideas on how to get the FCS from sitting quietly empty in the bedroom to actually being used, I'd love to hear them. :)

My FCS does sit out in the hub of things, Tanya. I think a big part of making it truly useful is to keep it close to where you "live" most. Think about where you are, physically, during most of the day - for most of us mums it's in or near the kitchen area. I can guarantee I would hardly use the FCS if I had to walk down to the bedroom each time I had something to file. I can just see the FCS gathering dust while lots of little piles of things "to be filed" pop up on my kitchen counters.

So my first piece of advice is to find a good location for your crate - somewhere convenient and accessible. For me that is our learning room - the room that sits between the kitchen and family room.

If you are having trouble designating - or finding - space for your crate, there are a few alternatives. You could use a portable file box (the kind you find at Staples, with a lid and a lock). You could get something more "decor" friendly - a wicker basket type of thing (something like this). Or you could get one of those rolling file carts - and just wheel the FCS in and out of your living environment as necessary. I've even seen pretty tote bags and patterned canvas bins made especially for hanging folder frames - not sure how many folders a bag would hold but it would certainly make for an attractive and portable system.

As for me and my FCS *smile* I use a clear plastic crate and muted earth toned folders. I added a piece of scrapbook paper to the front of the crate for a nice touch.


It's kind of bulky but it serves its purpose well enough. At some point I would like to switch to something more natural than plastic, but it needs to be roomy enough. I've talked with Bill about building something for me out of unfinished wood - maybe something with shelving or baskets underneath. He's great at woodworking and design.

Another idea for making better use of your crate space - and keeping your "planning tools" in order - is to store those tools in the back area of the crate, behind the hanging file folders. For instance, you can stand your homekeeping binder back there - as well as your calendar and clipboard etc.

Keeping things neat goes a long way in feeling comfortable with the file crate out in the open.  I do try to keep the area as neat as possible and confine it to one corner rather than let things spread around. We all know how easy it is to let our work areas get messy! Start by having a place for everything and then devoting time each day to neatening your work area.

And for special events like dinner parties and other gatherings, I can just move it out of the room for a time. The bulk of my planning paraphernalia can be stashed in my tote bag and carried out of the room as well.

Before I go, here's a peek at my FCS corner ...


Tanya, I hope this post helped you envision some ways to get your FCS out where you can make the best use of it. If there is anything I can further clarify, please don't hesitate to ask!

Be back again soon, everyone - hope your Wednesday is off to a great start ... :)

Light and Shadow at the End of the Day

I was thisclose to finishing my next "FCS Question of the Day" post but since the supper hour is upon me I think I will plan to wrap it up in the morning. I couldn't help but notice, though, as I sit here at my computer, how lovely the setting sun is today ... and how the light and shadow spreads through my house at this time of day ...









And now the light has moved on, slipping beneath the edge of the day. I am surrounded by a somber shade, whereas just moments ago the room was alive with playful shadow.

Have a wonderful winter evening, my friends.

A Touch of Spring in the Middle of Winter


We're having a little January thaw here this week ... Yesterday's heavy rain washed away a good portion of our snow cover - and the temps have been so mild!

Of course we New Englanders know better than to get too comfortable with all of this ... the forecast is for 20 degrees come Friday, and a potential weekend storm. Ah well ...

Have a great Tuesday, everyone! :)

My Three Boys ...


... out sledding with Dad yesterday afternoon.

I'm afraid I won't have a chance to put up an FCS post today - but I still wanted to pop in and say hi. :)

Hope your week's off to a good start! It's off to a busy one here: orthodontist, library, Cub Scouts and Teen Night all in one day! As I type, the boys are working here and there around the house, and a rainstorm is lashing the windows with great force.

Thankfully the rest of the week looks fairly quiet ... and that's a very good thing.

See you all soon!

FCS Question of the Day: What about the children's work?

Happy Sunday, my friends! Hope today's post finds you well. :)

So, I had grand plans for writing a mammoth post addressing each and every one of the wonderful FCS questions left for me over the past few days ... but in the interest of time, space and the limitations of a nasty head cold I am going tackle things one question at a time.

This question is from Jo, and it's about the children's work ...

I keep my children's work from the week in the folders. Where do you put completed work? I also put future things in future files. Like for this upcoming week I have a few math worksheets and the lab sheets from the science project I want them to do.

Jo, I used to keep the boys' work in my weekly folders, but with three children in grades 1, 5 and 9, the folders got too bulky and unmanageable. 

I now sort the work piles for each child with a colored binder clip:


(Green, red and blue - each boy has his own color.) 

I keep these piles separate from the file crate folders - when not in use (i.e. evenings and weekends) I keep them in my tote bag. During the workday the piles are kept out on the kitchen island, at my "station" where the boys do their work. As work is completed, (and after it's corrected), it goes into our "in box" - a deep rectangular basket I keep nearby. I refresh the piles over the weekend as I write out a lesson plan and organize the work for the week.

In June, at the end of the academic year, I go through all the weekly folders and the inbox (as well as my calendar and blog) in order to retrieve information for writing the end-of-year reports. 

School work would be things like photocopies from teacher guides, worksheets, quizzes and tests, news articles, answer forms and notebook pages (loose leaf).

Seasonally-based learning tends to get filed into the folders. These would be things like nature and liturgical crafts and recipes. They tie into the specific time of year, and would be helpful again in the future. They also tend to apply to the whole family, not just one grade level. These activities are certainly essential to our home learnng, but not part of the boys' curriculum per se.

So for example, Crackerjack's English review test is in his work pile - but the directions for an ice mobile is in my weekly folder.

Does that make sense at all? I hope so, but please let me know if I can further clarify this concept - I think the Dayquil's messing with my head a little today. ;)

ETA - I wanted to address a follow-up question Jo left in the comment box this evening:

So, the inbox, does it go in some sort of order or do you, at the end of the year, just have a random box of stuff. I imagine it ends up getting in a general sort of order. Or do you have multiple inboxes. Like, say, you wanted to look at the work your boys did back in September. Do you still have that or would you have to look through a stack of papers? Or would you simply look for a box with a date on it and it would be in there?

I only have one inbox and there is no real rhyme or reason to the stuff I place in there - but because I place things in there - paper by paper, day after day - it's easy enough to find things from a certain month. So for example, if I was looking for something from September, I'd look near the bottom of the pile. If I was looking for something from December I'd look a little higher in the stack - and many things are dated so I can kind of see whereabouts I am in the year. Definitely not very organized, lol - but it's very easy to maintain. ;) I will say, if I had to provide work samples for reporting, I would probably use a more efficient system (such as the fantastic binder idea Mrs. Darling just described in my comment box ...)

The inbox does get full, though - in fact, I just "rebooted" last Friday. I gathered up the pile of papers and wrapped two elastic bands around them for safe-keeping. Now the basket is empty and ready to fill up again. Hope that helps, Jo! :)

So there we have one question down ... several more to go! I'll do my best to address at least one question a day this week - so stay tuned! And I'll see you all back here again soon. :)

The FCS* this Week ...

*FCS = file crate system. :)

So, we're nearing the end of the week  - time to pull a new folder out of the file crate and see what's coming up ...


Above you see my current folders, and below is a peek inside next week's folder ...


This may be a bit too much "nitty gritty" but if it's helpful in showing how I use the file crate system, I figured I'd give it a go ... 

In last week's folder (1/18-1/24) I have:

  • an email from a friend re Haiti donations
  • a few emails from this month's Nature Club host
  • a printed receipt from a charitable donation
  • a letter from my doctor re test results
  • coupons printed out from a website
  • a printout of Bill's fantasy baseball picks (why it's in here I've no idea)
  • a recipe for Jello Poke Cake
  • a stack of library books to check out/request (website printouts)
  • the itinerary for my inlaws' trip
  • a printout with lab registration info for Bookworm
  • a recipe for pizzelles (snowflake cookies) attached to a St. Agnes prayer card (feast day 1/21)
  • my home education mid-year review notes
  • a questionnaire for a potential therapy program for Earlybird
  • instructions for making rose potpourri

The items highlighted in blue will remain in the folder once it is filed back in the crate.

As for the rest of the items ...

  • The coupons will be used or tossed (recycled).
  • The recipe for the jello poke cake will be filed back in the New Year's week folder (so I'll remember it for next year).
  • The library print-outs will move along to the next folder. (Once a book is taken out, its sheet stays in that week's folder.)
  • The lab registration will go on my clipboard (where I keep action items).
  • The mid-year review notes will be moved along until I post about them. (Once I post I will return the notes to the week's folder from which they originated.)
  • The questionnaire will be moved to the clipboard.
  • The potpourri instructions will be moved along until I complete the project. 

In next week's folder (1/25 - 1/31) I have:

  • clipped together: a heart doily, snowflake stickers and an index card - a reminder to switch up EB's bulletin board for the new month
  • a Family Fun magazine page - an ice craft*
  • an email re "Activity Night" - with notes from conversations I've had with potential hosts
  • a birthday card for a friend
  • a recipe for shortbread (for Robert Burns birthday 1/25)
  • a recipe for "snowball ice cream" (using shaved ice)*
  • a recipe for "snowball coconut cake"*
  • a few ice projects - photocopies from books and printouts from websites*
  • a dated library request for The Days of the Blackbird (1/29-31)
  • info re Citizen's Energy (our annual heating oil donation)
  • a Teen Group invitation for Bookworm - moved to my clipboard so we can be sure to RSVP
  • a printout re painting winter trees with EB (using black paint and a straw)
  • directions for starting paperwhites (bought the bulbs and dish last weekend)
  • an email re an upcoming meeting I need to attend
  • a copy of this month's "Ask" magazine (theme: Ice)

*Note: the ice and snow ideas had been stored in the front of the "Winter Season" hanging folder (not in a specific week), because I wasn't sure when we would focus on that theme in our homeschool. Once I decided this coming week would be a great time to explore "cold" (for one thing it is FREEZING here - lots of snow and ice in our midst - and for another the Full Cold Moon is next Saturday) I moved those ideas into next week's folder.

In the following week's folder (2/1-2/7) so far there is:

  • a groundhog coloring page for EB
  • a candle craft project (for Candlemas)
  • a printout re a field trip taking place that week
  • an email re February Book Group (which meets that week)
  • a tally sheet for the Mass Audubon "Focus on Feeders" weekend (2/6-7)
  • as it is the first of the month, I have a blank budget page filed here too

ETA: Just now I printed out an email for an activity (a winter beach bonfire) that will take place next month. I penciled in the activity on my calendar and added the printout to my clipboard because I need to RSVP to the person organizing the activity. Once I've done that, I will place the printout in the appropriate week's folder. And now that we have both Candlemas and a bonfire coming up next month - I'm thinking a little study of the element of fire would be fun ...

I've been giving the FCS a lot of thought lately - I've been using this system for several years now, but I'm always tweaking it and trying to make it work better, especially in light of my proposed book project. Because the file crate system is so central to my seasonal and practical planning, I feel I will include it in/along with my book in some way - and for this reason I'm trying to examine how I use it in hopes of making it a more efficient and convenient system.

Please let me know if you have any questions or if you're using the FCS and finding it helpful - or not! And thank you all for stopping by today - Happy Friday! See you all again here sometime soon. :)

Happy Wednesday Things ...

I feel like posting a few pleasant pictures this evening ... some happy things from my day. What made you happy today?


This was the view through our eastern windows this morning. So soft and wintry. There is nothing quite like a winter sunrise. Bitterly cold and blisteringly early it might be, but it's a moment of grace when the sky's this beautiful to behold.


Look at this crazy little squirrel who perched himself outside our window today. Yes, he's giving me the furry eyeball ... he's about to launch himself at our suet feeder.


And who am I to say no? He made himself quite comfortable on the suet cage right outside our learning room window. And he never flinched at the faces pressed against the glass. Call me crazy (or maybe it's nutty) but I just never get tired of watching squirrels. 


This is my marketing/menu planning notebook and my basket of coupons. I start in on my plans roundabouts Wednesday (my kitchen cleaning day). Obviously the coupons could be much better organized - I basically add them to the basket and then file them into my notebook as I need them ...


I adhered a small clear pouch pocket inside the front cover of the notebook. (Forgive me if I've shown you this before - I tend to lose track of things from time to time.) I place the coupons of the week here for easy access. 


Inside the notebook I have weeks upon weeks of menu planning and marketing lists. (I've been using this "system" since September and so far it's worked pretty well.) On the lefthand side I sketch out a weekly dinner menu and on the right hand side I write my shopping list (along with errands to run). 


I loved the afternoon sunshine streaming in through the south-facing windows today. I was trying to get a good picture of my new "desk" under the window there, but the light was just not cooperating. It's still a pretty picture. (And I'll post more on my desk in a future post.)

So there you have a few happy things from my day. I hope your day had its share of happy things, too!

See you all tomorrow ... I feel a File and Crate post coming on! ;) 

Oh my goodness!

I am just so overwhelmed by the amazing response to my "Opinions, please" post! THANK YOU, everyone, for taking the time to offer your opinions and suggestions for my "maybe-someday-soon" book. I am grateful for all of your kind words, your offers of assistance and all your generous encouragement. Please know I cherish each and every opinion - they are feeding my focus and energy for this project!! In fact, I am printing out every comment to keep in my newly established "work" binder - to read, hi-light and consider. Your many specific ideas are really helping me to define my ideas - and are shaping my vision and goals. I definitely can see a common theme in all your suggestions, and believe me I'm taking all of them to heart!

I will keep you all posted on my progress, and hopefully I'll have something to share with you before too long ... :)

But for now, have a wonderful Wednesday, my friends - keep warm and keep well! I will talk to you all again soon. 


p.s. Today is the last day for the Special Offer from Night Owl Paper Goods. Be sure to stop in and take a look at all those charming jotters and journals! :)

Opinions, please ...

Some of my readers noticed my little "confession" in yesterday's post that I'm thinking of writing a book.Pink-flowers-mug Well, here's the thing ... I'm just not sure what to write about! So many subjects interest me - organizing ideas (the file crate for instance), balancing family life (and home education), nature-based learning (monthly activities), and seasonal celebrations (big and small), etc. - but I'm an expert in nothing. I'm having a hard time narrowing my focus, so today I thought I'd ask my faithful readers for their opinions ... 

What kind of book would you be interested in reading - if it was written by me?

Of course who knows if anything will ever come of this writing venture ... I have no contacts or prospects at present, and goodness knows I have little spare time ... but I figure it's time to start doing something and see how it goes. :)

Any and all thoughts would be very welcome!

P.S. Have a terrific Tuesday, my friends ... Mama's got a brand new desk to set up today so you'll be getting a learning room post before long. ;)

Notes from my Blogging Meeting, Part 3

And now for the final minutes from my meeting last week. This is part three of three ... part one can be found here and part two, here

Organizing your blog ...

Well to be perfectly honest, I felt a little funny discussing "blog organization" with my guests since my own site had been completely out of date for some time! Still, we went over the general layout of a blog -Typepad's offerings at least. I like a 3-column design, but there are several others to choose from - and we also discussed how sidebars or "Typelists" can be used for various types of information: book lists, web links, previous posts, photo albums, personal notes, etc.

I showed them my category list and how I assign my posts with specifically themed tags - so as best to find them later. In my "category cloud" you can see at a glance (by text size) what themes I post about most often: family, nature, home education, food and drink, etc. The more specific your post tags are, the easier it will be to find a specific post down the road. For instance, my Nature category is HUGE ... but if I'm looking for a post about Trees, I have a separate category for that.

My Book Typelists help me keep our reading well organized. I try to update what books the boys are reading (haven't in a while, though!) as well as what book our Book Group is studying each month. I also like to post what books I have sitting on my bedside table as well as favorite book collections - for homekeeping, crafting, nature study, etc. If we're studying a certain subject - owls or Mexico or amphibians, for instance - I have book lists for those too.

Organizing our seasonal reading is particularly easy using Typelists. In my Typelist Index I have stored all the lists I've ever published. So when Spring is approaching, I can grab my "Spring Book Basket" Typelist and add it to my current blog content (removing it once Summer is upon us). I make sure to update the list with any new book titles before posting. It's a great way to remember what books we have in storage (because yes, I can easily forget!). 

I've also posted seasonal household lists - for example, a pre-Easter cleaning schedule, a back-to-school supplies list and this month's January to-do's. These are helpful in keeping on top of things around here (relatively speaking lol).

Another way I use my blog is in keeping my nature notes organized - in fact, this is my favorite Typelist of all. At the top left-hand side of my blog you'll find my Nature Notes corner. This is a "notes" style Typelist, meaning it's used primarily for notes, or text. (They can also be used for pasting images such as the birds nest at the top.) As most of you know, we are real nature nuts here - and we enjoy keeping tracks of the changes that come with every season - the flora, fauna, weather etc. On any given day I add an item to my List, dating it and writing out some observations - a migratory bird we spotted, the first rainbow of the year, how much snow fell overnight - and then post it to the List. After several days, or sometimes a week or two depending on how much I write, I scoop up all those notes and make up a post for my other blog, The Nature Corner. What I have now is a wonderful journal of a year (more than a year now) of our New England seasons and our experiences with nature. I find this to be a very easy way to "nature journal" regularly, and these collected notes make up a handy personal almanac of sorts.

Making money with your blog ...

Unfortunately I didn't have a lot of useful information to share on this topic but I felt it needed to be addressed. I am not a professional blogger, but I can see how someone can use a blog to appeal to a targeted market. It's certainly an interesting and easy way to connect with potential customers or clients. Private bloggers can also make money by hosting ads at their site - this is not something I am familiar with, but again, I know it can be done. (If anyone has links or tips on this subject, please feel free to leave me a comment below - I'd be happy to pass on information to my readers.)

Now, the way I can and do profit from my blog is by being a member of the Amazon Associates program. I know there are various ways to profit from this program, but I have only used it in one easy way. The links I post to books (in my posts and on my sidebars) take you directly to If you buy *anything* when you are at Amazon (it doesn't have to be the book I recommended) I earn a referral fee. Because you came to (and shopped at) Amazon from a link at my blog, they reward me with a percent of your purchase. At the end of each month Amazon Associates sends me a gift certificate to be used at Amazon. I believe there are other options for your earnings, but this worked out best for us. 

On a final note on this subject, if you are toying with the idea of writing a book (as *big breath* I am) it is wonderful to have a blog base to feel out ideas and opinions, as well as a potential readership. I have had thoughts for a book for some time, and it's interesting to see what posts capture the most attention here at my blog. This helps me hone my focus and tweak my ideas. So a perspective writer can certainly get a great boost from blogging (if for nothing else than for writing practice!) but as with any business venture, you just never know where and when you'll make a great connection or "meet" someone who can be helpful to you in your endeavor ... and blogging is definitely a fabulous way to meet people!

Types of blogs, including kids' blogs ...

There are so many uses for blogs - the template can be used for a personal diary, a homeschool record, a travel journal, a family reunion project, a housekeeping manual, a photo journal on any and all subjects ... 

A neat way to involve blogging in your kids' lives is to give them a blog to play around with. Their sites can be password protected (meaning only people who have their password will be able to find and read their blog). Blog writing is fun but it's also a great way to work on writing skills. Ask your kids to write up a movie review or a book report at their blog - or let them post pictures from a field trip. Recently, Bookworm attended a science lab and I asked him to post a recollection of what he learned from the experience. If you are planning a family vacation, let the kids start a blog in which they can post all kinds of things from their shared experience. They'll get great writing practice as they preserve their journey in a fun and memorable way.

Blogs can also be shared by multiple authors. One blogger must own a pro level account (this is at Typepad, other platforms offer similar packages I am sure) and then invite other bloggers to join her or him in posting about a certain subject. This would be great fun for any group - including a Teen Group or a Drama Club or a Cub Scout pack, etc. The possibilities are endless!


At the end of my meeting I gave my guests a link to my original post in which many kind readers left comments with links to their blogs. I also shared links to two other bloggers in my homeschool group - both friends of mine and terrific ladies - Leigh and Jenney.

It's so much fun to check in with other homeschoolers (mothers, homemakers et al) and see how things are going for them - what ideas work, what struggles we share in common, how we are feeling about this place we find ourselves in at this time in our life. I enjoy sharing ideas with my readers but more than anything I am thrilled to have four years worth of memories from my family's life. I KNOW without a doubt I would never have this much saved if I didn't have this blog.

In the end, I hope my guests went home with a better feel for blogging - what it is, how it can help a homeschooling mom, and how it can be done by anyone (trust me - if I can do it, ANYONE can!). I know for myself, this meeting left me feeling so invigorated about blogging and determined to find a way to fit it back into my life once again. I know I say this all the time, but I truly appreciate all my readers - especially for your patience and support. Thank you for sticking by me, for all your kind comments and for encouraging me when I can't seem to encourage myself. :)

Blessings to you all - have a wonderful Monday - and I'll see you back here just as soon as I can!

Notes from my Blogging Meeting, Part 2

Continuing on with the minutes from my homeschool support group meeting last week, these were some of the other topics we covered:

  • Privacy and publicity issues
  • Finding an audience/connecting with other bloggers
  • Maintaining a good attitude re blogging (i.e. the "grass is always greener" syndrome)
  • Finding the TIME to blog

Privacy and publicity issues ...

My blog is public - meaning anyone can read what I write - but if I wanted to, I could protect my site with a password. This would allow only invited guests to read my posts. I decided to make my blog public but I wanted to keep the details of my personal life - and my children's lives - as private as possible. So to begin with, each of my three boys got a blog "alias." Choosing these nicknames was fun - each of their names reflects a bit of their personality - our oldest IS a Bookworm, our middle son IS a firecracker and our youngest is very much an EARLYbird. :)

I guess what you need to do is decide for whom you are keeping your blog - yourself? Your family? Like-minded women with whom it will be nice to share ideas? If it makes you uncomfortable to post pictures of your children, you can obviously refrain from doing so, or you could elect to post only pictures that show profiles or the children from a distance. Another thing to consider are the feelings of other parents whose children might be in the photographs you take. Always be sure to ask for permission to post pictures of other people's children.

Finding an audience/connecting with other bloggers ...

Now, assuming you are making your blog public, you might be eager to establish a readership for yourself. Of course to begin with there is good old word-of-mouth - tell people about your blog! Send an email out to family and friends with a link to your site, inviting them to check in when they can. Invite other bloggers to visit your blog by linking to their blogs in your posts. Ask if you can add a blogger to your "blogroll" (a list of blogs you read on your sidebar) and most often they will return the favor. If you belong to web forums (chat boards and the like) add a link to your blog in your signature. (You can add the same kind of link to the bottom of your emails.)

If you are reading blogs you might come upon a blog "carnival" in which to participate. This is a fantastic way of joining in the blogging community. I showed examples of my old Field Day posts to illustrate how a "carnival" works. Basically, one blogger hosts the carnival (a collection of links to other blogs) centered around a theme. She announces the carnival at her blog, asks people to spread the word, and invites other bloggers to send links to posts about the chosen topic. On the designated day, the hostess posts the carnival, filled with links to other blogs. It goes without saying that contributing to a carnival is a great way to get lots of new readers checking out your blog.

If you are curious to see how people are finding your blog, you can follow your stats to see who is linking to you. Typepad has a feature that allows me to see who is linking to BS&C - and I used to use Sitemeter to track stats as well, but I found it took too much of my time (it can be rather addicting to follow stats). Keep in mind, other bloggers are doing this as well - so if you link to somebody, they can easily trace it back to you. 

Maintaining a good attitude re blogging - i.e. the "grass is always greener" syndrome ...

As mentioned in my previous post, I came into blogging by reading other women's blogs. I found them interesting to read and beautiful to behold - those blogs inspired me to start my own blog. I hoped to create something similar - a quiet corner where I could share happy things and (hopefully) some useful information. It was never my intent to air my dirty laundry (both the literal and figurative kinds) but just because I don't describe in detail all my downfalls and daily frustrations doesn't mean they don't exist. It's just not the tone I am going for here. 

As a blog reader you know how addictive reading blogs can be, and as much as we love to borrow ideas from other bloggers, we can't help but compare our life to the lives of other women doing what we do - raising children, home educating, cooking and cleaning, celebrating holidays and decorating our homes. 

There are so many blogs out there, and as you read you'll find yourself drawn to certain blogs that nourish you - inspire you, help you out in some way. It's important to decide for your own peace of mind, if reading blogs is feeding you or frustrating you. 

As a blog writer yourself, you''ll find that people respond to your blog in different ways. I've had people read my blog and tell me they enjoy it - they like stopping by to see what I'm up to. But I've also had people read my blog and then tell me they won't read it again because it makes them feel like a bad mother (i.e. like they're not doing enough with their kids). I know they didn't mean it as an insult, and I don't mean to disregard those honest feelings but I can't let this change how I blog. I can't control how people perceive things, I can only control my end of the bargain.

Keep this in mind as you find your blogging niche - write and share what you want and try not to worry about how it is perceived. It sounds cliche, but stay true to yourself - blogging should be fun and fulfilling for YOU first and foremost. :)

Finding the time to blog ...

This was the biggest concern of my guests last week - how on earth does one find TIME to blog? Before I got into that (which you all know has been a real challenge for me lately) I offered this piece of advice ...

If you want to blog but feel you don't have the time, go ahead and try it anyway. When you have a little time on a weekend or one quiet evening, set up a template for a blog. You don't have to tell anyone about it - as long as you don't link to other blogs you can remain in anonymity for a while. Next time you have a moment, try a quick post. Jot down something that happened that day - a funny thing your child said, your dinner menu, a recipe you like, a list of the day's lessons, a quote you found inspiring - and just post it. Maybe on another day, upload a picture you took recently. Add a quick note for description - or not. Do this over a week or more and before too long you'll get the hang of it and see it's really pretty quick and easy to blog. Eventually you'll find a rhythm and a spot or two in your day (or week) for blogging. It seems overwhelming at first, but as with any hobby, the more you do something the easier it becomes. And sometimes you just have to jump right in and get things rolling.

As for me and my blogging "rhythm," well, I reminisced on how easy it once seemed to blog regularly. Generally speaking, I would complete a post about once a day. I have a laptop, which I keep open at all times on my kitchen counter, or at my spot at the worktable, depending on time of day. In the early part of the day I would be thinking about what my next post might be. (Often I would brainstorm over the weekend, along with my general planning, what posts I might write in a coming week.) I would start a draft and keep it open in a window on my browser. In fact, I might already have a draft saved - if I think of a post idea I always start and title a draft to return to at some point.

Usually around lunchtime when the kids were taking a break (and I'm taking a breather) from lessons, I would work on my post - put up the pictures I had on file OR take the pictures of the subject at hand. (Midday light works best in my house.) Sometimes late in the afternoon I'd find another 30 minutes or so to spend tweaking my draft. By the time I went to bed I had a post mostly ready for publishing, but I'd leave the final edits for first thing in the morning. Most of my new posts would go up in the early morning hours of the day.

It was a very efficient system at the time ... but as life rolls along, things have changed here for me lately. I am still homeschooling three children - but my oldest is now a high schooler and my youngest (who is autistic) is ready for a lot more "work" than he was in previous years. Suffice it to say my work load has increased all around. For a time it was just easier to break away from blogging in order to focus my attention on my new workload ... but now that things are settling into a rhythm again, I am finding my way back to blogging. 

Finding time to blog is a challenge for sure, but it can be done. Sometimes it's easy to fit into your life, other times you have to carve out time to make it happen. At one time I found it easy, these days I'm looking (hard) for that extra time in my life.

So ... once again I found I needed to split up a very long post, so Part 3 of my Blogging Notes will include the final minutes from my meeting

  • Ideas on organizing a blog
  • Making money with a blog
  • Types of blogs including kids' blogs (more homeschool opportunities)

As always, thanks so much for stopping by - I hope you all have a wonderful weekend. I'll be back again before long! :)

Notes from my Blogging Meeting, Part 1

Last week I hosted my homeschool support group's monthly meeting, and as hostess I got to choose the topic of discussion. I chose the theme of blogging and, more specifically, how blogging can be used as a homeschooling tool. It was fun to explore the reasons - especially my reasons - for blogging and to share the ways I fit blogging into my life as a busy homeschooling mom. Here are the minutes (embellished with hindsight and reflection of course) from my meeting.*

(*Note: I decided to break this post up into two parts because Part 1 got entirely too long!)

The ladies who joined me last Thursday night are not currently blogging, but were familiar with blogs and are considering the endeavor for themselves. After some casual chat, and after filling up our cups and plates with some goodies, we sat down to start the meeting ...

What is a blog?

A blog is basically a type of website that provides a format for posting journal-style entries and photographs along with links to all kinds of things - other blogs, websites, book recommendations, etc. A blog can be private (password-protected) or public. It can be used for professional or personal purposes.

It seemed easiest to explore the general concept of blogging by explaining how I got into blogging myself. 

Blogging, yes or no?

About four years ago I found myself reading several blogs kept by some wonderful ladies I met at the 4Real Forums. I loved the format - and I loved reading what other homeschooling moms were doing with their families: how they were handling lessons and home life, how they were celebrating holidays and special events in their lives. The photos were wonderful, and so was the conversation. I started thinking about blogging myself ... but at the time I was a hardcore "paper" journalist. I have always kept journals - simple notebooks filled with notes, scraps of paper, clippings from magazines, this that and a little bit of everything. I am very much a paper kind of gal - technology tends to befuddle me - so I hesitated to blog ... but before long the tempation became too strong to resist. One afternoon, I just sat down at Typepad and within an hour I had myself a blog! 

Blogging platforms ...

I didn't have much information to share about other blogging platforms (Blogger/Blogspot, Wordpress, Homeschoolblogger) because I've always used Typepad. And since Typepad was (and is) so easy to use, I've stuck with it. I do use the Pro level account because I wanted to be able to create more than one blog and I also wanted greater design options. This means I pay for my blog - but I find it's worth it.

Why I blog ...

So I explained how I initially considered blogging ... but I went on to describe the appeal blogging held for me. In addition to journaling, another hobby I enjoyed (sort of) was scrapbooking. I say "sort of" because I could never seem to find the time or space to get my scrapbooks going ... I knew how important it was to keep track of our family memories, and I LOVED the look of scrapbooks - choosing colors and pictures and stickers, etc. - but no matter how many times I started an album, I would get sidetracked with "real life" and materials would get hastily put away and forgotten. As a "hobby" it was frequently more frustrating than enjoyable. Not to mention I felt foolish owning so many scrapbooking materials and having so little to show for it all. When I first considered blogging I could see it as a way to "virtually" scrapbook. I would have the ability to capture memories AND play around with design as I liked to do. And of course, I didn't need a large space or a lot of materials to make it work.

Also, in my pre-mommy life, I was a writer by profession and I missed writing for an "audience." Of course in the beginning I had no idea who would be reading my posts (if anyone!) but I found it gratifying to get my thoughts down while honing my rusty writing skills. I know a lot of perspective bloggers balk at the thought of writing for an audience, but I found the more I blogged, the quicker I found "my voice" and the more easily the words came to me. Of course it helps that I am by nature a very wordy person!

Another benefit of blogging (and this is where the homeschooling part comes in) is I have an excellent record of what we are doing each month as a homeschooling family. This is helpful to me when I report in to the school system at the end of the year, but it is also an great way of keeping family and friends - especially those who don't see us more than a couple of times a year - in the loop with our lifestyle. As long as we've been homeschooling (10 years now) and as popular as homeschooling has become - I know it's still a real mystery to lots of folks. I love dispelling myths and helping people understand how actively we homeschool. We're hardly sitting at home every day isolated from the world - if anything we're out there almost every day in one way or another. We take part in lots of classes and field trips and group activities. Sure, most of our curriculum is accomplished at home, with a one-on-one focus (which is the beauty of the home learning experience) but so much of our time is spent in social situations, learning how to get along with - and learn from - others. I relish the chance to show people all that homeschooling can be - all that it is for my family ...

And if you've been reading my blog over the years, you know I also relish the chance to share ideas, and this is where my myriad interests come into play. I guess you could say I like to hear myself talk lol, but I found as I grew as a blogger that I liked to write informative posts on a wide variety of subjects - children's books, nature, crafts, my Catholic faith, food, seasonal celebrations. So my blog became a real hodgepodge of information - eclectic you  might say - and to this day you never know what I'll be talking about next!

Through blogging I found myself another new hobby, one that has quickly become a real passion of mine. Photography was something I never really thought much about before - as a mother I owned a camera of course, and took pictures when I could - but nowadays I keep my camera close at hand at all times. The best part is I have lots of snapshots of our family life from the past year, but I find photography feeds me personally as well. Taking pictures makes me feel creative - like an artist almost. I would love to draw and paint as my mum does (beautifully, with natural God-given talent) but I don't have that gift. I would love to sew or knit or create in some tangible way, but these hobbies never clicked with me. With photography I find that I can cast a speculative eye on a subject - be it a bird or a landscape or a table setting - and find the best angle to present the image to my readers. It's fun to try and catch the light just right or to see if a tight zoom makes a difference to my shot. The world is my canvas, my camera is my tool of trade - and I never would have found this part of me if it were not for my foray into blogging.

But perhaps the biggest reward of blogging is that I now find myself looking at life with a different set of eyes - more watchful, more thoughtful, more appreciative. Little things I might have barely noticed before - a grasshopper perched on the mailbox, a startlingly bright moon, the sounds of a wren in the woods - pique one sense or another and make me itch to jot down a note or snap a picture, so as to celebrate that brief precious moment before it's gone. I'm grateful to have this sense of wonder - in every day there are so many gifts just there for the taking. I am glad my lifestyle allows me - and my children - to slow down and savor the world around us.

Well, I've kept you long enough for today, so I'll wrap things up for now ~ and if you've read this far I thank you! In Part 2 I will share the rest of my meeting notes, with information on: 

  • Privacy issues (names, pictures, passwords)
  • Finding an audience/connecting with other bloggers
  • Maintaining a good attitude re blogging (i.e. the "grass is always greener" syndrome)
  • Finding the TIME to blog
  • Ideas on organizing a blog
  • Making money with a blog
  • Kids' blogs (more homeschool opportunities)

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend - it's a long one for us (Bill has Monday off) and there's a lot of "to-do's" on my list. I'll be back again soon with part 2 ... in the meantime I would love to hear your thoughts on part 1, or any questions you might have for me. I will try my best to answer them as soon as I can.

Happy Blogging, Happy Reading, Happy Living! :)

My favorite birthday gift ...


A little story behind this pretty watch ... it's actually quite old! Bill gave it to me YEARS ago for my birthday. The illustration is a Mary Engelbreit design (one my all-time favorite artists) and the sentiment "Every Mother is a Working Woman" is - not surprisingly - one of my favorite quotes. In fact, I even have a bumper sticker stating the very same! :)

Well, at some point over the years I wore the leather wristband down until it finally split apart. I set the watch aside meaning to - someday - get it repaired. Well, you all know how infrequently "somedays" come around, lol - but I really missed my watch. I missed wearing it for both practical and sentimental reasons ... 

So, unbeknownst to me, Bill snuck my watch out of the house last week and had a brand new band attached - and he presented it to me on my birthday! He had it tucked inside a package of "nap socks," a birthday present from my boys. I can't tell you how surprised and thrilled I was to find that watch, gleaming like new!

Just thought I'd share this happy story with you all this morning. It's one of those little things that mean so much. :)

Quick question of the day ~ do you wear a watch? Or do you find them outdated in this day and age of cell phones and blackberries etc.? I've never caught on with cell phones and the like - I do keep one with me when I'm out and about, but I think all of four people have my number lol. 

Well, that's all for right now - I'm about halfway through my Blog Meeting Minutes. Hope to get that post up very soon for you all. In the meantime, have a wonderful Thursday. Talk to you all again soon. :)

A Special Offer for my Readers!

Well this just about made my day! The wonderful folks at Night Owl Paper Goods left this comment on my Happy Things post today ...


Thank you so much for featuring our doily stars jotter, made from eco-friendly, sustainably-harvested wood! We’re so happy to see so many people choosing earth-friendly alternatives nowadays!

To thank you for your support, we’d like to offer you and your readers 10% off all wooden journal and jotter orders placed before January 20! Check out our selection of wooden journals and jotters at and simply enter the coupon code "happythings” at check-out.

Here’s to staying organized and making a positive impact in 2010!

How sweet is that?! I am honored and thrilled to post this special offer here at my blog!

Please do take a moment to pop in at their charming website - I was perusing it the other day and there all kinds of fun things to check out. Whimsical paper goods, cards for every occasion - as lovely as they are earth-friendly. Currently I'm in the process of organizing a nice little correspondence basket for myself - I'm resolving to be better about letter-writing and card-sending this year! In fact, I just mailed out this very card to a fellow Capricorn friend this week. I loved the pattern, the citrusy shades and the feel of the paper - which was actually made from 100% recycled cotton! 

So thank you, Night Owl Paper Goods, for stopping by with your kind words and special offer - and best wishes to you for a Very Happy New Year! :)

And p.s. Thank you to my readers for your happy birthday wishes! My day was very nice - Bill surprised me by coming home early (when I thought he was going to have to work late!) and my folks had us over for a lovely birthday supper.

A few pics to share:


The boys gave me a dozen red roses! I set them in our sunny front window this morning.


The night sky as we arrived at my parents' house ... 

My birthday cake - vanilla with buttercream frosting - my favorite! :)