Monday, December 30, 2013

Entryway redux & intro to Use What You Have Monday

I started the entryway redo just before the holidays. Here is the summary of part one with a reminder of the end result:

That post represented the largest part of the makeover, which will be completed in four sections.

Today we're discussing part two. You can't see it in this picture, but the ceiling light fixture was an old, 70's style round glass globe that had to be unscrewed in order to replace the light bulb. I did not like it. I did not like it at all.

I also didn't have pockets deep enough to change out the ugliness.  All manner of  DIY lighting projects have been popping up in blogs and on Pinterest for a while now- from repurposed lamp shades to homemade covers made from embroidery hoops, bird cages, and mason jars--the possibilities are just about endless. I knew if I set my mind to it, I could come up with a low-cost solution.

In the end, my project came in at zero dollars and zero cents. That's right: not a single penny.
I cut the bottom of out small wicker wastebasket I already had. I didn't even have to paint it;  it was already blue. 

 I was going to complicate matters and use small screws to affix to the wall, but in the end decided construction adhesive was the way to go.  Genius, right? The basket is so small and lightweight that it won't cause a lot of damage should I decide to change it out. I put a little construction adhesive on the edge of the basket, then I held it in place for a few minutes and she was done. I love how it complements the space.

Some light covering tutorials give instructions for covering the bottom of the piece, so that you don't look up and see the light bulb. Lightweight plexiglass cut to size is the usual answer. I skipped that here, as I did with the upgraded light in the dining room. The standard bulbs will be replaced with  with compact fluorescents, which will give off a softer light and are most cost efficient. They're a lot easier on the eye and I won't mind seeing them when I look up.

I used a generic brand of a Liquid Nails equivalent. You'll always find paint, adhesive caulk and salsa in this house.   Stay tuned for part 3.  Hopefully, I'll have the stairs painted by then. (We're still rocking that primer.....)

This in our inaugural post in 'Use What You Have Monday'--low or no cost upgrades using what you already have on hand. Feel free to add your re-do.  Please link directly back to your post, and post projects that are less than three weeks old. Looking forward to seeing your work!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

2013-2014 curriculum

Today I'm sharing what my girls are studying this school year. In keeping with the theme of this blog (and how I choose to live in general), we've not spent a dime more than is necessary. 

I'm going to let you in on a little secret: it doesn't take a boatload of money to properly educate children. If you've got the time and patience to research, a library card, computer access and a nearby thrift store with great books or a homeschool book store, you have all you need for an effective, low-cost curriculum.

If you're considering homeschool as an option, or if you're already teaching at home, be careful of the curriculum bandwagon that equates popularity with proficiency. It drives the cost of curriculum through the roof.

For example, there is a certain computer math curriculum that is all the rage right now.  It cost more than $100 for each grade level, so if you have two kids, you've spent over $200 smacks on math alone.

My problem: math hasn't changed. No matter how many bells and whistles you add to the mix, there is only one way to learn math: memorization of basic facts then learning the formulas. That's it. And you can learn that free online or with a library book or for next to nothing with a pre-owned or less than popular text. If you prefer to teach online or use a website to supplement, there is Kahn Academy, IXL, and a host of other sites to help. Just google.

Know that the cost of a text can have very little bearing on its effectiveness. Though we assume the opposite to be true, there are pricey books that are rubbish and inexpensive books that seem heaven-sent. Personally, I prefer older books, especially history books.

I've gotten the girls' input on occasion. I took Grace with me to our local homeschool bookstore to choose her science book.  I got Beth's o.k. on the free online psychology class after we both found the book she was using a bit boring. (Thank heavens it cost only $2.00).

Though I don't spend any more than I have to, I have decided that should I find a curriculum or text that cost megabucks, I would purchase it if it were the only thing I felt would work. So far that hasn't happened and I've got nearly twenty years under my belt.

Our homeschool days begin the same on Monday through Thursday:  half hour of Bible reading followed by current events. We attend a co-op on Fridays.

The Bible reading is personal. The girls aren't tested and I don't require scripture memorization. (We have an actual topical Bible study later in the week.) We do this because the girls need to read the Word on their own.  I know the Holy Spirit is leading this 'class'. On more than one occasion, we've been studying another subject altogether and one of the girls will mention a scripture or lesson she learned or that was illuminated during that private time.

This is our first year studying current events. Our young people have more knowledge at their fingertips now than at any time but that potential must be harnessed, otherwise peer and social network interaction will stuff them full of the latest boy band or video game.

I teach at our co-op and am still surprised when my students can name every member of One Direction or list the intricacies of Minecraft but can't name our Vice President. And these are juniors and seniors who'll soon navigate the world on their own. Frightening.

 We want our kids prepared spiritually, intellectually and socially.  We use CNN Student News for current events. It's today's news from around the world given in 10 minutes bites. Each broadcast has a lesson plan with vocabulary, study and discussion questions. We've had great discussions during this time, and they're occasionally assigned a research paper. Because we co-op on Fridays, we watch the Monday through Thursday reports. In order to test their long-term memory and their note-taking skills, each Monday starts with a test of the prior week's information before beginning that day's lesson. 

We DVR each program, but you can sign up at the website and watch it online as well.  Now my girls know Naill, Harry and the guys AND can explain the recent government shut-down.

The girls also study Latin together. We struggled through a popular Latin curriculum but it didn't work for us. We now use Visual Latin. The girls love it. The dvd program is a half hour lesson followed by five or six worksheets. We use the DVD on Tuesdays, then I make up follow up work on Thursdays.

Because Bethany is older, we've added  Hans Orberg's Lingva Latina to her study. Written entirely in Latin, it supplements Visual Latin's program nicely. In fact, Dwayne- the Visual Latin instructor, recommends it and gives a schedule that aligns the chapters of books. Beth is required to read a chapter or two daily while I check her via Google Translate.

Bethany's 11th grade curriculum:
Geometry (Harold Jacobs. Free- library)           
Biology  (Abeka.  $20 text & teacher's book, used)          
Psychology  (Free- online: Carnegie Mellon University)

Bethany also takes a few classes at the co-op: 
    Shakespeare (Free- library book & lecture)
    Economics  (Thomas Sowell. $25 new)

Bethany's total: $45

Grace's 7th grade curriculum:
Fundamentals of Math  (Bob Jones. $1)
Physical Science (Prentice Hall   $12.00)
Enjoyment of Music  (Forney and Machlis   $2.50)

Grace's co-op classes:
   Government (no book cost.Teacher worksheets) 
   Grammar  (Easy Grammar $10)
   Geography ($5 atlas. Teacher developed curriculum)
   Math Games  (no book cost. Reinforces facts)
   Worship band  (no cost. Gracie already owns violin)

Grace's total: $30.50
 Beth's total:    45.00
Visual Latin    40.00 (for 30 lessons)
Latin Reader     5.00

TOTAL:      $120.50

What I've paid for two students some homeschool moms spend on one subject for a single child. Again, if you can justify spending that kind of money, go for it. But if you're like most homeschool families, funds are tight as you've sacrificed an income (or least part of an income) so that the children could be taught at home.

Don't think your child's education will suffer because you lack deep pockets. If you take the time to research and plan, you can save money and brain cells when purchasing curriculum. Feel free to drop me a line if you have questions or need help.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Decorate for free? You bet!

The adage 'One man's trash is another man's treasure' really resonates with me. I've been known to grab discarded household items off the curb. Don't judge.

I found two window frames at the site of a remodel. I brought them home and put them on the wall in my bedroom. I was going to sand and paint them, but decided I liked  them the way they were.

The one by the sitting area has the Father's Day and birthday cards from Bethany and Grace to their dad.

 This one is on my side of the room. I got that cute sign from Wal-Mart.

I mentioned in an earlier post the shutters I found on the side of the road that I used in my kitchen. This picture was taken a while ago, when I was in my Tuscany/Olde World decorating stage. The kitchen looks totally different now and I've since thrown these shutters out. Maybe somebody got them off the curb.....

If you haven't heard of Freecycle, you're in for a treat.

Freecyle is an online Yahoo email group that allows people to share items they no longer need with others. It's the ultimate in recycling. Clothes, sofas, books, and the like are posted on the site. Interested parties will contact you by separate email to arrange pickup. No money changes hands. All items are free.

 Items may be transferred in the safety of a public place, such as a parking lot.  Most common is the porch pick-up, where potential new owners send a private email informing what time/date they can retrieve the item from the current owner's porch.

I can't decide what I like best about Freecycle: the reduction of waste, the free treasures you find or the chance to pass on an item that still has some life but no longer works for you.

Sign up for Freecycle here. You can get started as soon as you choose your state and city.

When I was going through the aforementioned Tuscany/Olde World decorating phase, I really wanted upholstered chairs at my dining room table. I found two wing chairs listed on Freecycle. I kept them for two years. When I re-did that room, I placed the chairs on Freecycle and they were picked up within hours.

Freecycle does have a downside. No-shows are frustrating. I've actually thrown items out because a person who promised to stop by didn't. A few times they were picked up from the curb. 

You never know what you'll find on Freecycle. If you've got the imagination, you can use it to your decorating advantage. Someone posted a few empty frames and I snapped them up.

 I used the first one in the master bath. I didn't add a mirror or picture. I used it to frame a plate instead.

 I added another frame over the linen bureau on my husband's side of the bedroom. Same set-up: the frame is framing a candle holder.

You're ignoring the dust on top of the dresser, right? Thanks.

The last frame in the set was reserved for the dining room. It has a gold metallic finish. It's used to frame a smaller red mirror.

Free decorating? It can be done.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Bench Love

I mentioned in a previous post how much I love benches. I've got several. They're different but share one similarity: each started its life as a coffee table. True story.

The first bench is in our living room. That's my baby girl Gracie working on her geography in homeschool.

I love that detail in the middle of the table. All I did here was paint the legs black.

There are two coffee table-turned benches in the dining room.  The one at the table was originally wood that I painted black and had hubby add wheels to.
I painted the bench years ago, before I knew about priming wood before painting. A newbie error that I've never got around to correcting. We had a friend over for dinner once who thought that I'd painted the bench then sanded a portion off to give it that weathered look. Yeah, let's go with that.

This table turned bench will be our focus today. It was also wood painted black, but with flat paint instead of semi-gloss as that's all I had at the time. It's home to a pillow and cat bed, both of which are in abundance at Casa Nichols.

I got a wild hair tonight and decided to cover it with the wall hanging that lost its home after the entry-way makeover. The colors work in the room and it's nearly the perfect size.

Thanks for your help, Simon.
I plan to finish it off with batting and upholstery tacks. A quick tip: if you need upholstery tacks and your funds are low, skip the fabric store. I got these at Lowe's for around $2 a pack and each pack contains 25 tacks. Various finishes and styles are available. I chose an antiqued finish.
This bench re-do is part of a larger project: I also plan to re-upholster the head chairs at the dining room table. I'll post pictures when I'm done with the entire project. Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Ten things that will kill your homeschool

10 Reasons Homeschooling Can Fail

Homeschooling is a wonderful blessing, but homeschooling is not an easy road.  There have been plenty of people who have started and stopped for a variety of reasons.  Here are some reasons that homeschooling can fail and how you can avoid them.

1.  No Support – Homeschooling is not easy.  Perhaps you are trying to homeschool without the support of your spouse, perhaps it’s your parents or your in-laws, swimming upstream is tough and frankly it can wear you out!

 2.  Isolated -  Not knowing another “IRL” (In Real Life) homeschooling family or at least another homeschooling mom can make life challenging.  On-line connections are wonderful and have been such a blessing to me, but never getting to hang out face to  face with another friend who shares your same lifestyle can be tough.

3.  Too Busy -  Having the days and the weeks filled up for every child doesn’t leave much time for much book learning, or much time down time for mom or the child.  That can lead to burn out quick.  It’s okay for kids to have “nothing” to do once in a while.

 4.  Trying to do School at Home – Trying to recreate public school at home not only isn’t going to work very well, frankly it’s not that much fun.  So, leave your hair net for the real lunch ladies and carve your own course.

5.  No Structure, No Organization – Just because you don’t have bells ringing every 45 minutes and your kids don’t have to raise your hands to go to the bathroom, doesn’t mean that structure and organization aren’t necessary.  Particularly if you are a mom of many, having a routine is essential.

6.  Not Paying Attention to How A Child Learns – Trying to fit a square peg in a round hole is going to leave you banging your head on the table.  Take some time to figure out how your child best learns and proceed accordingly, it will make all the difference.

7.  Unrealistic Expectations – Homeschooling has gotten some good and well deserved attention over the years for some of the students who have done exceptionally well.  We all aren’t homeschooling little Einsteins.  That’s okay.  Our goal should be to help educate our children to their fullest potential, whatever that may be.

8.  Not Giving it Enough Time – Bailing too early.  A semester, perhaps even one year may not be enough time to see if homeschooling is a good fit or not.  Most likely it will take longer for your family to find a good rhythm.

9.  Switching Curriculum Constantly – Purchasing new curriculum constantly is not only a financial drain, it’s a drain to the teacher and the students.  It takes extra brain power to get the feeling of a new curriculum.  If you are constantly stopping and starting, you are never giving yourself or your students the opportunity to really dig in.  Here’s a little secret: there is no perfect curriculum!

 10.  It’s Run it’s Course -  This is definitely not a “failure.” Life holds different seasons for all of us, and maybe at some point homeschooling has run it’s course for one or more of our children.  Life circumstance change, children change, we change.  It’s okay to acknowledge that what was once working well is no longer working.  Homeschooling allows for so much flexibility, that means starting and stopping as well.

Jen blogs about adoption and homeschooling at her blog  Forever, For Always, No Matter What

She wrote this article for her friends at The Homeschool Classroom


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Handmade kitchen island, Part 1

I wanted an kitchen island, but none that I found suited me- either price or style-wise, so I decided to make one.

Victory Home is a thrift that I frequent in Portsmouth. It's located on George Washington Highway and is run by Bethany Baptist Church. Funds are used to maintain the drug recovery mission they run. I volunteered there for a while. It's a great ministry.  If you stop by, tell Melanie (the manager and wife of Bethany's pastor) that you heard about them here.

I was searching for a night stand to start this project and came across this beige beauty for $5.  Sold!

First thing: added legs. I got them at Lowe's: 9 inch traditionals @ $4.00 each. 

There's a reason the legs on this side stick out a bit.
They will be corrected.

I sanded the top with a sanding block, then added three thin layers of stain.


After each layer dried, I gave another light sanding with steel wool, careful to remove any dust afterwards

Made sure to stain the sides....


I wanted the woodwork on the front to stand out, so I stained that as well. 

One reason she was $5: there was no back. I've logged thousands of hours of HGTV. This is no biggie at all.

I'll finish this in another post. Stay tuned.......

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A word about extra-curriculars

If you've been homeschooling for any amount of time, you may have noticed a trend: overscheduled homeschool students.

It happens quite innocently. Little Johnny or Mary has more time in the day because they're homeschooled so Mommy determines to fill some gaps with outside activities.

Or, Mommy has confused proper socialization with busyness and the family runs hither and yon to varied activities trying to make sure the kiddies have friends.

If your child has a particular hobby they enjoy and both your school schedule and pocketbook can handle it, I see nothing wrong with adding that in.

In my house, we give careful consideration to the extras we allow in our schedule. I freelance from home, so time is just as valuable as money to me. The fact that my husband works nights and I'm automatically the chauffer is also factored in.

How do we decide what to go for and what to exclude? A number of ways.

First, if the activity is a passion, something that each girl will likely carry into adulthood, it's a go. Beth has been taking dance lessons since the age of four, first at our local community center where the cost was drastically lower than dance schools. She's doing some teaching now and plans to dance professionally.

Next, if the activity is a favorite and is used in ministry now, it's allowed.

Grace began playing violin two years ago. She occasionally plays at our church and at a nursing home ministry we have with a group of friends. We tested the waters (both financially and practically) by hiring a homeschool grad who is a college music major as her initial teacher. Grace is  part of the worship band at our weekly co-op and we're considering allowing her to attend another co-op that specializes in music when she begins high school. She's in 7th grade.

Grace playing at a local nursing home

Grace (in the middle) playing at the Norfolk Zoo at her summer strings camp recital

We've had a few extras that we stopped.

Girl Scouts was one. Grace became concerned with some of the policies at the national level and I felt our local troops were all but ignored by higher-ups until Girl Scout cookie season.

We got into GS because Grace enjoys community service projects and I was eager for her to make friends.  Volunteering at a local soup kitchen every week and joining my husband on our church's sick and shut-in team met Grace's service project need.  I then encouraged my shy daughter to connect with girls she's sees regularly at our church and co-op. Once that happened the reasons we joined the GS in the first place no longer existed so we left.

Another activity we dropped: soccer. Yipes.  Someone should have told me that would eat up a major part of my schedule, with the twice-weekly practices and back to back games.  Since we were in a homeschool league, we had to travel half an hour each way. Did you know they play in rain and snow?  Double yipes. We dropped that after one year.

Keep evaluating why you're in a certain activity and make adjustments as needed. You could save yourself time, money and peace of mind in the long run.

One final thought: this rush to connect our children with other children is, in my opinion, a bit backward. I feel it's important for our kids to obey their parents and get along with their siblings before we should expect friendships. My girls hear it all the time: 'Inside before outside'. That goes for our home and their behavior/character.

I also believe every effort should be made to ensure the kids are connecting with children already in there sphere-- i.e. church, neighborhood, etc., before branching out, so to speak.

Oh, and don't fall into the 'activity by guilt' trap: so concerned about the dreaded 'homeschool socialization'  that you sign your kids up for a gang of hobbies. It will backfire. You'll be tired, stressed and broke, and once the activities eat into your teaching time (and they will) you'll be frustrated. Don't go there.

Our rules: passion, adulthood, ministry, time and budget. Just a few of my thoughts on the subject. Would love to hear yours.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Wow. Just wow.

I appreciate the vision it takes to transform a routine or discarded item into a work of household art.  I'm really grateful when the craftsperson shares their project. It gives newbies like me hope that we can do something similar and proves that style and taste are distinctly personal.

Occasionally during my forays through the DIY and decorating haven of the web, I come across a project that leaves me speechless, in the 'I would've NEVER thought of that'  way.

Look what I found this morning.


Picture these all spray painted black, with the open end of the crates facing up, the seat hinged (so that it could open and close) and covered with a toile fabric. Instant hidden storage. 


Or, perhaps the open part of the crates could face forward. There would still be storage, but you wouldn't have to open the seat to get to your items.

Beautiful project, unfortunately, I don't have the space or need for another bench. I've already got three, all homemade. I'll share those in a later post.

Here's another item I found by the same person.

The window next to the fireplace in my living room has a ledge my husband built for the cats, who love to sit high and survey what's happening in the side yard. Simon and Max would love to watch the birds feed, drink and bathe out of this.  Samantha doesn't use that ledge.

Looks simple enough: lighting fixture, dishes, spray paint. I'd modify it a bit. I'd hang the chandy off an 8 foot shepherd's hook.  I'll also paint it a different color. I'd skip the crystals.

Not sure when I'll get around to it, but I'll post it when I do.

I found both projects on 'Trash Find Redesigned' on Facebook. Go check them out.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Let there be light.....

I didn't wake up that morning expecting to re-do my entryway. It just sorta happened.

I tend to categorize my favorite thrift stores by items: one has a wonderful book section, another has awesome clothes and so forth. The CHKD in Churchland has great linen and housewares.  I mean really great.

I walked in one Saturday and found this.....

and this....

 Be still my heart.

The floral pattern was a standard 84 inch panel and cost  $3.99. The three or four yards of navy check was $2.99

When I saw it, a new project formed in my mind: my entryway.

 I didn't take a before picture, but the downstairs walls were brown uppers with a white modified board and batten treatment below.  Here's a pic I snapped as a sneak peak a while back.

The wall leading upstairs was beige, as that wall covered in brown paint would be too overpowering. Each window had a cornice board and swagged panel in burgundy.

I got the wall hanging from the same thrift store a few years ago.


 I used the checked material on the cornice board and swagged the print panel. I bought a pair of lace café panels at another thrift store for a buck.

The cornice board is a thrift store find from 5 or 6 years ago. It had a blue and yellow checked material before I recovered it in the burgundy cloth. For a millisecond I considered leaving it as it was, but these pastel shades didn't match the darker floral panel.

A few minutes with a glue gun and we were done. Umm, after I got Max out of the way.


There was only one of the patterned panels for the swag, so I used a light green sheer that I already owned to swag the window at the top of the stairs. I'm not bothered that they don't match. The cornice board is the same for both and that ties them together. The green swag better fits the décor in the upstairs landing.

The walls needed to change as the downstairs walls were too dark. I also wanted the downstairs walls and the wall leading upstairs to be the same (lighter) color.

Not a problem.  I'm a big fan of 'oops' paint--paint that has been returned to stores because shoppers changed their mind about the tint. Stores like Sears, WalMart, Lowe's and Home Depot resell this returned paint at drastic mark-downs.

I love, love, love Behr paint, especially the formula with the primer mixed in. You could easily pay $30 for their Signature line. I went to Lowe's in hopes that I'd find a lighter beige paint and looky here:

Next issue: the former wall hanging between the two windows, while perfect for the former space, not longer worked with this changeover.  I didn't see it as a problem. I wanted another wall hanging, but didn't expect lighting to strike twice, so I put it out of my mind, expecting to find the right thing at the right time.

I no longer work myself into a torrent during my home projects, convinced that if I don't locate the perfect item, my transformation will be a failure. I've now adopted the policy that the right thing will eventually show up.

If I dare to shine a spiritual light on the issue, I've determined that if my work at home is a service to my family that I do unto God, then whatever I need to complete that service will be provided.

Case in point: a few weeks after the mini-makeover, I dropped by that same thrift store and found another wall hanging that fit the new décor perfectly. It's beige, nearly the same tone as the wall.  When I get the time, I plan to add ribbon to the edges to help it stand out. Dark red probably, but green may also work.

Here she is.

 Finally, I decided to paint the entire staircase in white. I was tired of the stained wood risers and felt a white semi-gloss would really lighten the area.

The following pictures show the staircase with two coats of primer. I'd planned to paint this weekend, but we're going out of town, so I'll get to it when we return.  Even with the primer, the space already looks brighter.

Here's my entryway now. 

Total cost for this project: 22 smacks plus tax.  Can't beat that!

Fabric one:        3.99
Fabric two:        2.99
Wall hanging:    3.99
Lace curtains:    1.00
Paint (beige)     10.00
White paint for stairs: already had
Primer for steps: already had