Back to School: Almost Free Curriculum Special Announcement!

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Almost Free Homeschool 5th GradeFirst, I am happy to announce that the 5th Grade Year of the Almost-Free Secular Homeschool curriculum is available on Amazon Kindle! Head over and get your copy today! Currently, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th, and 8th are available.

I’ve decided to reward my faithful readers (that’s you 😉 ) by extending the sale until all 8 elementary and middle grades are published! I am close to finishing the remaining three volumes and I am so grateful for everyone’s patience and support, so this is my way of saying THANK YOU! Your reviews and emails have been amazing, and I am so glad that so many of you are finding these materials to be a helpful resource.

I hope to have all the volumes published by the end of September, if not sooner. I will continue the sale for two weeks after the final volume is published!

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Homemade Mondays: Fall Cleaning

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It’s September now and we are about to settle into our fall schedule. Although there is technically three weeks of summer left, around this time it really starts to feel like fall — school buses, shorter days and cooler temperatures tend to do that!

Almost everyone has heard of spring cleaning, but fall cleaning is just as important. Although cleaning isn’t homemade, it does help make the home. We usually do our fall cleaning in September right after the eldest boy’s birthday. I thought I share our cleaning schedule and a few tricks we use to make it quick and painless!

Spring/Fall Cleaning

Kitchen

Wash walls

Scrub cabinet doors

Clean freezer

Clean oven

Clean dishwasher

Sort pantry

Bathrooms

Clean/stock medicine cabinets

Wash shower curtains

Organize linens

Wash walls

Bedrooms

Organize

Sort closets

Wash windows

Dust blinds/furniture

Flip mattresses

Wash linens

Living Rooms

Declutter

Wash walls

Wash sofa covers

Clean carpets

Laundry Room

Declutter

Scrub floors

Organize storage

Closets & Other

Organize hall closet

Organize coat closet

Organize office

Wash car

Clean AC filters/fans

Outdoors

Spring

Weed & Feed lawn

Clean patio

Uncover/plant garden

Weed paths

Sweep/wash deck and house walls

Rake up winter debris

Fall

Final mow

Put away tools/hose

Put away pool

Replace duck bedding

Clean patio

Weed/mulch garden

Sweep deck/rake lawn

 As you can see, our fall and spring cleaning is almost the same! Everyone will have different things on their list — for example, I’m sure not all my readers have ducks to worry about :)

We spend about a week on fall cleaning, although the outdoor stuff may happen in October or November depending on the weather. I know some people like to clean room by room, but our method is a bit different.

First, we divide up the rooms amongst everyone in the family for basic organizing. The kids naturally have to do their own rooms plus one other. Then, we divide up the cleaning chores amongst everyone and assign days. Then, we spend and hour or two each day for a week tackling the chores. The schedule may look something like this:

Day 1: Organize rooms and closets. Surfaces are wiped down during organization — book shelves, inside drawers, drawer shelves, basically any surface that doesn’t get cleaned weekly when we regularly dust.

Day 2: Finish organization (these are usually the big projects, such as organizing the basement storage or the garage. We tend to stay fairly organized because I am the exact opposite of a hoarder).

Day 3: Vertical cleaning — this includes walls, windows, fans and blinds/drapes. Anything that will send dust or dirt down on other surfaces. Generally, one kid does windows indoors, one gets walls, Drew gets ceilings and fans, and I take the outdoor windows.

Day 4: Heavy scrubbing. Now is when we get the grout as shiny white as we can, scrub those forgotten floor corners and clean under the fridge (including vacuuming the coils on the back), and generally scrub anything that needs heavy scrubbing. For this day, we each usually take a room and set to it. Since we clean pretty thoroughly every week, this chore isn’t as hard it sounds.

Day 5: Day 5 is when we get all those little things — we flip mattresses, wash those forgotten linens in the bedroom like bed skirts and throw pillows, clean the shower curtains and sofa cushion covers, and change out filters. Depending on how dirty things got and how on top of our chores we have been, this is often the easiest of all the days.

Day 6: Day 6 isn’t always the 6th day, depending on weather, because this is when we head outdoors. We clean out the inside of the car from a summer’s worth of fun, put away outdoor items we won’t be using anymore for the season, and generally do our fall outdoor chores. This usually takes a whole day, but sometimes we divide it out over a weekend.

I print the list and hang it on a clipboard. As each person completes their item they check it off and sign it. Kids have to have an adult inspect their work before it gets checked off. We divide out the list and assign days to each chore before we begin, but everyone can work ahead on the list if they want to finish earlier.

How do you fall clean, from a list or do you just play it by ear?

Spring/Fall Cleaning

Kitchen

Wash walls

Scrub cabinet doors

Clean freezer

Clean oven

Clean dishwasher

Sort pantry

Bathrooms

Clean/stock medicine cabinets

Wash shower curtains

Organize linens

Wash walls

Bedrooms

Organize

Sort closets

Wash windows

Dust blinds/furniture

Flip mattresses

Wash linens

Living Rooms

Declutter

Wash walls

Wash sofa covers

Clean carpets

Laundry Room

Declutter

Scrub floors

Organize storage

Closets & Other

Organize hall closet

Organize coat closet

Organize office

Wash car

Clean AC filters/fans

Outdoors

Spring

Weed & Feed lawn

Clean patio

Uncover/plant garden

Weed paths

Sweep/wash deck and house walls

Rake up winter debris

Fall

Final mow

Put away tools/hose

Put away pool

Replace duck bedding

Clean patio

Weed/mulch garden

Sweep deck/rake lawn

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Menu Plan Friday: Chicken Cordon Bleu Rice

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August only! The Almost-Free Homeschool Secular Curriculum is on sale for half-price. You can find it here

Chicken Cordon Bleu RiceAnother week, another menu! This week, I want to share with you Chicken Cordon Bleu Rice. This casserole is perfect when you want those rich flavors, but are low on money or meat. It stretches items that would normally only serve one adult into a meal for four with plenty of leftovers!

Saturday: Fake-out Take-out — One Pot Lo Mein

Sunday: Leftovers or sandwich night — usually BLTs.

Monday: Chicken bacon ranch pasta and broccoli

Tuesday: Jambalaya bowls

Wednesday: Ham Crepes and cauliflower

Thursday: Chicken cordon bleu rice and cucumber salad RECIPE BELOW!

Friday: Bubble up lasagna and roasted vegetables

Chicken Cordon Bleu Rice

Chicken Cordon Bleu Rice

Ingredients

  • 3 cups cooked rice
  • 1 chicken breast, cooked and shredded
  • 1/2 cup ham chunks, or shred up some deli ham lunchmeat if you're cheap like me
  • 1/2 cup shredded or sliced cheese -- Swiss is traditional, but anything works
  • 4 tb butter
  • 4 tb flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups water or chicken broth
  • 1 tb mustard (preferably dijon or brown)
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • 3/4 cups bread crumbs

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F and grease a casserole dish
  2. Melt the butter in a sauce pan and whisk in the flour until it bubbles and begins to thicken. Slowly stir in the milk and water/broth, stirring constantly, making a thick white sauce.
  3. Stir the mustard, pepper and salt into the white sauce. Remove from the heat.
  4. Stir half the sauce into the cooked rice, and then smooth the rice into the bottom of the casserole dish.
  5. Layer the ham and shredded chicken on top the rice.
  6. Cover with the sliced or shredded cheese.
  7. Pour the rest of the white sauce over the casserole, and then top with the bread crumbs.
  8. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, or until it's bubbling and the breading turns golden.
  9. Enjoy!
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Homeschool for Free! A Few Favorite Links

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August only! The Almost-Free Homeschool Secular Curriculum is on sale for half-price. You can find it here!

Homeschool for Free

Everyone loves free stuff! Here’s a few fun links I’ve found this week I wanted to share:

Udemy.com: Although many of these courses cost money, there’s also a lot of free ones to choose from, especially in the art, craft and humanities section. This looks like a fun one for Middle School and High School students!

Book Adventure: This one looks like a lot of fun for K-8 students. Kids read books from the list, take a short quiz, and earn points. The points are redeemable for real prizes, like books, CDs, fancy candy, small toys, and kid-appropriate magazine subscriptions!

Scistarter: Scistarter is for citizen scientists, and they have plenty of options for kids. Help real scientists with their research. There are a ton of possibilities to choose from — help scientists map Mars, study marine life in a nearby lake, track local migratory birds, and much more!

Until next time, happy homeschooling!

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Homeschool Planning Series: Get Organized!

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August only! The Almost-Free Homeschool Secular Curriculum is on sale for half-price. You can find it here!

Organizing the Frugal Homeschool

My homeschool planning goes something like this:

1) Start looking at the options for next year. Get excited.

2) Begin putting it all on paper. Still excited!

3) Try to fit in everything I was excited about, begin being more realistic. Excitement waning…

4) The end is in sight, but I can put off those last few planning tasks, right? Excitement exhausted.

It’s way too easy to stop at the very end of the planning and preparation process for the new year. You have almost everything, you bought the supplies, you can wing it from here, right?

Wrong. This is a recipe for frustration for both teacher and student, which will lead to burnout before mid-year. Instead, push yourself to finish getting everything ready to go, and as open-and-go as possible, and then take a week off to enjoy one last summer hurrah before diving in to the new year refreshed and ready.

Here’s a few things to make sure you have ready:

  • Have every text and printable, for at least the first month, ready and waiting. Place the texts in an easily accessible area for your student. I like to use sticky notes to mark each lesson, with the week that lesson goes to, so even on those disorganized days the kids or I can find our place even if we can’t find our work plan for the week. If you have printables, print those out for a 30 day period. It’s too easy to skip the work if you are printing at the last minute every morning.
  • Get your supply station in order.The kids find it frustrating and you are more likely to give up on a daily lesson if the supplies are ready and waiting. Look over the lessons for at least the next 30 days and put every single supply needed where the kids can find it. This is everything from pencils and crayons, to specialized science or crafty-type supplies. Trust me, that awesome science experiment you have planned in three weeks won’t get done if you wait until the last minute to buy a epsom salts.
  • Load your links. If you have any websites you plan on using with your curriculum, or online curriculums, set up a bookmark tab for each child and load the links. Even better if you can save the login info so your child can login with one click. Hunting down that perfect website you had found three weeks from now will just compromise your mojo, so get everything ready and waiting now.
  • Make a schedule. This can be as loose or as stringent as you like, and IT”S NOT WRITTEN IN STONE. But having a plan, any plan, will get you through those first few weeks when you and your students are getting used to new curriculum and trying to get back into the swing of things.

While these steps will help get you through the first month, what about next month, and the month after that? For me, I find it best to make sure I am always prepped up a month in advance. Come the third week of September, I will sit down and prep everything for October, so on and so forth.

What are some of your best tips for getting the new school year off to a smooth start?

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Homemade Mondays: Inexpensive Wall Art

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August only! The Almost-Free Homeschool Secular Curriculum is on sale for half-price. You can find it here!

Frugal DIY Art

When we first bought our home, we were broke. We didn’t even have furniture for every room in the house! As we added living room furniture and a dining room set from the thrift store, the bareness of the walls started to really bring me down. There wasn’t a cent to spare, though, not even for a thrift store picture frame.

So how did we fix it? Made our own art of course!

Here’s two ways to quickly and easily make classy art, even if you don’t have a single artistic bone in your body:

1) The DIY frame and photo from someone that’s actually good with a camera.

The wall art in my dining room, which I like enough that’s it’s still hanging up 5 years later, are photographs I printed from a royalty, copyright-free photo site. I printed them in color on cardstock. The frames are pieces from our sturdy moving boxes, covered in fake leather fabric left over from some Halloween-costume-past.

Frugal DIY Art

I simple glued the fabric around the cardboard, like wrapping a present, and then glued the printed photos on covered cardboard. I had some pretty paper flower stickers I used to complete the look. Cost: $0, because I only used materials I had on hand, but you could probably churn out a lot of these for a couple of bucks if you already at the color printer ink, or used pretty images from a magazine or thrifted book

2) Foam core and scrapbook paper art.

These were even easier! I had some pre-cut foam core rectangles with a sticky side that my dad gave me, that were leftover from sign displays at his job before he retired, but any old foam core and a glue stick will do.

Frugal DIY Art

I cut the scrapbook paper to fit the rectangles and stuck them on. Six of them I hang together in a mosaic display, and two I hot glued ribbon hangers onto. Drew did the watercolor in the middle of our cats a few years ago as a Yule gift, placing it in a thrifted frame. I still like these, but I am thinking of changing the scrapbook paper out to teal or turquoise shades to match my current living room accents. When we first moved in, we had a pink and beige loveseat, so the paper was to match that.

Total cost for 8 scrapbook pictures: $1 for the paper (at a 5/$1 Joann’s fabric store sale, a common occurrence). If you had to buy foam core, it would cost only $2.

Frugal DIY Art

As for picture hangers, ribbon hangers are attractive. You can also make regular picture hangers from the little serrated piece on foil and plastic wrap boxes. Just cut it to size, but don’t use your good scissors, and bend it into the shape of a picture hook. I hot glued them on, and since these pictures are so light they can easily hold the weight. Just make sure you center the hanger.

Now go decorate your space!

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Menu Plan Friday: Homemade Super Chocolate Syrup

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Homemade Chocolate SyrupOur menu is pretty standard this week, so instead of bringing you another main dish recipe, I want to share this deliciously decadent chocolate syrup. You can pour it on ice cream, mix it with milk, or heck, sip it straight from a spoon! We made homemade ice cream and the kids desperately wanted syrup for it, but I didn’t want to run to the store and drop the cash. So I did some searching, got the basic idea from several recipes, and then came up with the ingredient ratios to create my own. 10 minutes later and we had chocolate delight for just a few cents!

First the menu plan:

Saturday: Chicken yakisoba for fakeout takeout day

Sunday: Sandwiches or leftovers

Monday: Sausage pesto pasta and rolls

Tuesday: BBQ chicken bread with salad

Wednesday: Ham sliders and broccoli

Thursday: Pizza rolls with carrots

Friday: One Pot Sausage Pasta and cauliflower

Now for the main course!

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

Homemade Super-Chocolately Chocolate Syrup

Ingredients:

Water

Cocoa powder

Sugar

Vanilla

Notice how there are no amounts? This is because you can adjust this for however much you need. You need one part each water, cocoa and sugar. I measure the vanilla tablespoon to cups — so if you use 1 cup each of water, cocoa and sugar, use 1 tablespoon vanilla. If you use 1/2 cup each, use 1/2 tablespoon of vanilla. See? Easy!

Now to make it — mix the cocoa and sugar, and then stir in the water. Bring it to a boil in a saucepan, stirring constantly. Careful, it can boil over very easily. Boil it for a few minutes until it thickens. It will still be a bit runny, but it gets nice and thick after you refrigerate it. Cool jar and store in the fridge for up to a month (don’t worry, it won’t last that long).

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Thursday Musings

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August only! The Almost-Free Homeschool Secular Curriculum is on sale for half-price. You can find it hereTurnip Money -- Frugal Living!

I recently received an email asking me to review a certain homeschool product. It was a no-go from the start since it was a Christian-based curriculum with a creationist slant, which won’t fly in our house at all, but the price was also insanely high so even if it would work for us there’s no way I could recommend it. Why? Because we would spend that much on a single resource for a single year.

I’ve been accused of extreme frugality. Everything in my closet (sans underwear) is second hand, yet my clothes are nicer than what I could afford new. The same goes for everyone else in my family, except they also get new socks (I prefer to make my socks from t-shirts).

Our grocery budget is $50 a week for a family of four. I can spend as little as $35 with careful planning, but $50 allows for some treats and gives us more variety in the menu plan. We don’t eat out barring special occasions, yet Drew and I do go on one or two over-priced coffee dates each week :)

I think my home is tastefully decorated and I have quality furnishings, but of course they are all second hand, and the decor is either second hand, gifts, or handmade my myself or Drew. Same goes in the kitchen — thrifting pays off, my friends!

We don’t have cable, credit cards, or loans beyond our home. My kids are so used to our frugality they don’t ask for new toys when they break something, their first instinct is to ask, “how can we fix this?”

And you know what? I’m not ashamed! These choices have led us to a fulfilling life in a decent house, where we can afford to homeschool AND work from home. Our kids are growing up seeing mom and dad for hours every day, and they also see first hand how hard we work.

When it comes to the kids’ educational materials, I am also happy. They both hit it out of the ballpark on standardized testing each year — and I have never even bothered to see what those tests cover so there is no way I am even coming close to teaching to them. My free materials have proven themselves just as effective, if not more so, than higher priced alternatives. True, we are about to embark on the high school years so I may sing a different tune, but somehow I think the free and inexpensive will still make up the bulk of our curriculum.

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