In a large family like ours, we have a lot of trash.  Most folks are surprised at the fact that we don’t have that much that goes into a “trash” bag, headed for the landfill, however, what we do have a lot of is the different TYPES of trash.  To avoid filling up landfills–all part of our belief in being stewards of our land–we try to send as little waste as possible to the dump.  Thus, we recycle whatever we can.  Over the years, we have a found a balance by sorting our trash into about 4 different piles: recycle (we can mix all our glass, plastic, cardboard, aluminum, etc. into one bin), paper for recycling or scrap use, paper with personal info for burning, and actual trash (anything that doesn’t fit into the other categories).  Our collection area is our pantry, which is not very large–equivalent to a standard bedroom closet.  With the kiddos “help,” I was finding the floor of my pantry constantly covered in trash due to an inefficient system of grocery sacks hanging on hooks that either dumped or from the kids getting confused which bag was for which trash, or whatever the reason.  I went searching for a better option.  I needed something that would fit into a tiny space, had 4 bins, and was simple and efficient.  I think I’ve found the answer!

Rubbermaid’s 2-in-1 Recycler.  rubbermaid

It’s quite a handy little sorter, actually, and very practical.  First, I took the 4 bins and put photos on each so even the littlest children knew what type of waste went in which bin.


Since the top two are just papers, I don’t worry about a bag.  If the scrap paper bin gets full, the handy handle allows it to simply be carried to the burn pile or the recycle bin outside.  Likewise, the handle on the other  “burn” paper bin allows the personal papers to be hauled to the fire pit.  The entire paper container simply lifts off the trash bin below it.  Of course, the fact that the bin just nests onto the lower bin means it would knock off pretty easily if bumped, but situated in a closet like ours, out of the way of traffic, it shouldn’t be getting bumped hard regularly.


I do put a bag in the bottom bins for recycle and trash, which can be wet or messy.  It holds a standard 12-18 gallon bag.  When full, this bin simply slides forward, out of the 3-sided backing section of the contraption.  You don’t even have to lift the top bin off.  The rest of the time, a gentle pull on the handle or step on the foot ledge tips the trash bin forward to deposit trash into it.


I’m loving these new bins.  They seem to be perfectly suited to our needs.  Although they don’t hold a whole lot, who really wants trash sitting around their house for several days anyway?  The trash and recycle bins will easily fit our entire household trash for a day or two, and the small size makes it very simple for the child responsible for trash duty.  So far, I highly recommend them!


I mentioned in a previous post (or 5) that a major challenge of this move has been the fact that we downsized from a 2400 sq.foot house to a 1600 sq. ft (plus basement) home.  We took our family of 7 from a 4 bedroom home to a 3 bedroom.  And, most challenging of all, we moved our rather extensive homeschool and personal library from a home with lots of storage to a home that had almost none.  Ever wonder what that might look like?  Yeah, I’m ashamed to admit, most of our summer involved our loft looking like this:

Rail side of loft, before....

Rail side of loft, before….

Window side of loft, before....

Window side of loft, before….

Yeah, that’s our boxes and books piled up on the floor, with hardly a trail to find what we needed.  You can’t see the makeshift box and card table set-up in the left corner for the computer and printer.  It was an unorganized mess, and I needed a plan, fast.  (For the record, that branch-type arch on the far wall was painted on as a faux headboard by the last owner.  It’s still there.  I will get around to painting it one day, but that’s pretty low on the priority list right now.)  With school starting in the near future, I had to get that space functional and organized.  Thus, I sat down with my drawing pad, came up with ideas, figured out a plan, and started to work on it.

First, I needed a plan for all the stuff, so I decided to build shelves in the hallway outside the loft.  Although the hall shelves actually went up AFTER the loft project, it was still a critical part of getting the final result:

I have to add one more shelf on the bottom before this project is complete, but you get the idea.  The decorating part is thanks to my mom.

I have to add one more shelf on the bottom before this project is complete, but you get the idea. The decorating part is thanks to my mom.

Once I got stuff out of the way, though, I was able to start building in the loft.  This was by far my most challenging project yet, as I wanted to build a wall-mounted counter/desk area.  It had to be built in place, though, which was a much bigger deal than I originally anticipated.  After having to start over on the project twice, I called in a relative who has made a career and a retirement out of his building skills.  He came and rescued me (and my loft).  I told him what I wanted, showed him how far I had gotten, he made a few changes and finished the rest of the building.  Then, I had to go back and fill gaps with wood putty, sand everything as smooth as I could (let’s just say it’s a good thing I like the “rough-cut” look and feel!), and stain the whole thing.  After several weeks of work though, I am absolutely thrilled with the final result:

....The railing side of the loft, after.

….The railing side of the loft, after.

...The window side of the loft, after.

…The window side of the loft, after.

I designed the counter to wrap around three walls of the loft.  The left side has the computer and printer, the center area also has 2 shelves for the boys’ school stuff, and the far wall has 2 more shelves and more counter space for additional school and activity storage.  The counter space beneath each window serves as individual desks for the boys.  In this photo, you can also see a TV table in front of N, as, until I find another chair like A has, N is too short to color on the new desk.  So, he uses the TV table for his worksheets instead.  The boys are in different grades, K4 and K5, and each have their own DVD player, class programs, and so forth.  As a result, they wear ear phones to help with their focus, and it seems to work pretty well so far.  If there is likely to be a lot of distractions in a lesson one day, then I always have the option of putting one of the boys at my desk outside the loft, or downstairs at the table.  For the most part, though, this setup works, allowing me to sit and read a book, do some paperwork, or work on the computer, all while monitoring their school day.  Most mornings, R sits beside N and does some of his easier K4 lessons with him.

I still have a bit of tweaking to do to totally finish this area–cord control, a little lamp/reading table by the lounger, painting those faux headboards (there is a second one behind the computer area), etc.  I’ll also be dusting and wiping this area for months before I will get the dust that still remains after the sanding job.  Oh well.  I just love this area, though, and since school has started, it’s a good thing since I likely now spend more time here than anywhere else.

Whether you call it a Daily Operations Center, Operation Central, Family Organization Center, or whatever else you prefer, when you have children, I have decided it makes life soooo much easier.  It’s one of the first things I try to get up when we move to a new house.  I have had several over the years, and they progressed from a simple chore chart on the wall to several items I found myself needing throughout the day.

Our "Training Center" condensed to a standard-sized bulletin board.

Our “Training Center” condensed to a standard-sized bulletin board.

This time, I wanted more than just a simple bulletin board.  The only wall I had to put it on was a centrally located wall in my dining room, which is also one of the first walls seen when you enter our front door.  Thus, I also needed it to look somewhat nice.  It desperately needed a new paint job anyway, but it meant I had to find a new location for the piano (which we don’t yet play, but it has been in S’s family for a while now).  This was the wall before:



Amazing what  a little paint, some picture frames, cork board, simple wood shelving and stain, and some trips to Hobby Lobby can create:




Our new “Family Operations Center” includes a small rack that contains baskets with our table cloths, napkins, and placemats, all plates and bowls, and our utensils so the kiddos whose job is to set the table have easy access, without being under-foot in the kitchen.  The upper shelf on the wall is just a decorative shelf I used to bring it all together.  It just looked better with it.  On the left is a basic photo frame with a calendar I drew on poster board.  With the glass over it, it makes a perfect, decorative, dry erase calendar.  Under that is our “Penny Jars,”  which I will explain in another post.  Below the shelf are where the Chore Packs hang.  You can read more about that HERE.  I have made some changes to the Chore Pack system we used in the past, which I will also discuss in a future post.

To the right of those things is another picture frame, with no glass.  I cut a cork board to fit in about 2/3 of it, where I can hang our “If-Then Chart”, our “Extra Chore Chart”, and a bit of room to expand.  The other 1/3 is a vinyl cover that creates another dry-erase section for to-do lists and such.

Finally, all the way to the right is our new “Family Rules” list.  I couldn’t find a pretty one that was Christian based, but this one was pretty good.  It has things like “Do Your Best,” “Hug Often,” “Laugh at Yourself,” “Share,” and other such things can generally keep peace in a home.

I am very pleased with how it turned out.  Now maybe I can start getting things more organized around here, now that the kids have some direction to help out!

My husband has this crazy idea that garages are designed for parking your vehicles in.  Imagine that.  I guess the idea is to protect the expensive automobile investment from things like weather and other outdoor dangers.  Of course, in order to do so, you have to limit the clutter stored in the garage, and I suppose that’s always a good thing.

In any case, we bought our new (to us) truck just over a month ago, and S had to find a way to fit it in the garage.  We generally don’t store items we don’t use, so clutter isn’t a big problem.  Our 2-car garage is, however, already home to 2 chest freezers, our minivan, all animal and bee supplies except hay (since we don’t have a barn), all our bulk groceries, S’s tools and mini-workshop, and the family bicycles.  This didn’t leave a whole lot of room for a full-size pick-up truck.  S was determined, though, and this was the end result:

Yup, it's a little tight.

Yup, it’s a little tight.

So tight, in fact, the driver cannot enter through the driver's door.  The driver must climb in through the passenger door (which has only slightly more room), and scoot.

So tight, in fact, the driver cannot enter through the driver’s door. The driver must climb in through the passenger door (which has only slightly more room), and scoot.

In order to make room for the push bar that was installed on the front of the truck, he raised all the bikes to ceiling level (notice them hanging over the hood), slid the chest freezer over about 3 inches, and VIOLA!

In order to make room for the push bar that was installed on the front of the truck, he raised all the bikes to ceiling level (notice them hanging over the hood), slid the chest freezer over about 3 inches, and VIOLA!

Where there’s a will, there is always a way!!  Getting into and out of the truck just helps encourage me to stay on the thin side myself!  Mind you, the minivan is our primary vehicle, and we don’t drive the truck a whole lot at this point.  That makes things a little easier for the time being.  I’m hoping our next garage will be a bit more spacious though!



As you may know, we have had our house For Sale By Owner (FSBO).  It has been an interesting experience.  We googled FSBO and learned all we could about prepping and staging a home.  During the week, we would continue working on projects around the house.  S carefully observed the potential buyer’s expressions and listened to their comments to get a better feel for things around the house that were a turn off, and then he would try to fix those things for the next showing.  The more research we did, the more we realized our set-up had a slightly “cluttered” feel to it, which is apparently undesirable to potential buyers.  So, I started purging.  I spent several weeks in January and February going through stuff, craigslisting or freecycling some things, and putting others in a yard-sale pile in the garage.  Items that weren’t really needed until after the move, I packed into boxes.  I focused on packing things that were visible or made a closet or bookshelf look too stuffed.  At one point, I packed 4 boxes of books from one bookshelf, then reorganized the bookshelf to look more decorative.  S got home from work and couldn’t tell I’d packed a thing (though he did think the shelf looked quite nice)!

Bookshelf Before:


Bookshelf After (after packing 4 box loads of books from this one shelf!):


One tip we continually found was that a kitchen can make or break a deal for a woman, so the kitchen should be presented at its best!

Kitchen Before (notice the tops of the cupboards):


Kitchen After (keeping out only what I knew I would likely use prior to the move):


Then, in an effort to both declutter the kids’ rooms and to assist my efforts to keep the house clean, each child was allowed to pick one toy (or type of toy, like legos), essentially giving every child a choice of 5 toys to play with for the next few months).  All others got packed.  After I got the tops of cabinets, bookshelves, and closets looking nicer, I then had piles of boxes I had to figure out a spot for.  We considered renting a storage locker, but decided to postpone that option.  At the same time, we were converting our family-closet into a bedroom for the showings.  The closet set-up made the room look much smaller than it is, and we wanted to open it up a bit.  The only problem was, I didn’t have another bed to put in there. Then, S decided to clean and de-clutter his garage.  If a kitchen makes or breaks the sale for a woman, according to our research, a garage can make or break the deal for a man.  S asked if I had anywhere inside I could put some things, one of which was a headboard.  Then I got an idea!

Before:  The Family Closet; practical and convenient, but a bit cluttered.


After: The faux bedroom; look closely–totally impractical, useless, and a waste of space, but good for storing boxes and providing an opportunity to laugh!


Look closely at that photo.  You can just slightly see the secret peeking from beneath the quilt.  I took the extra boxes, stacked them in front of that extra headboard to look like a bed, “softened” the harsh edges with some extra blankets and pillows cluttering my linen closets, covered it all with a floor-length quilt, and VOILA!  Don’t you love the added personal touch M offered, by placing a Bible on one of the “tables?”


I just had to forbid the kiddos to actually sit on it, lest it collapse.  I was left with a few larger boxes, some of which were relegated to our walk-in closet upstairs (there comes a point where folks have to understand we are moving!), and 2 were assigned duty as bed-side tables for the box-bed.  I should probably cover them somehow, but maybe it will give someone a laugh.  After all, it’s all about staging and imagination, right?

Over the last few months, we have had a couple of people return to look multiple times.  We have also had one offer.  Unfortunately, it was an insultingly bad offer in many ways (mentioned in a previous post), so we declined.  We have had lots of “city folk” who just want to move out into the Forest, and a few country-loving folks who appreciate the value of our land rights here.  We’ve had several ask if we’d owner finance or rent, many who have to sell their house before they can buy a new one, and a few who were very interested, but just couldn’t get financing.  We had a promising showing this weekend, with a couple who were already approved for financing, don’t have a house to sell first, seem to have big dreams of hobby farming, and liked all the outbuildings and setups we already had in place.  Even their realtor sincerely complimented our staging efforts (while the couple was walking around outside), and explained their frustration at seeing a nice photo of a house, going out to look, and the place being a dump in reality.  He described how ours appeared to be exactly what they are looking for, and how it was everything the pictures made it seem.  That made me feel really good, and I am still praying maybe it will result in an offer.  Nonetheless, we continue looking for ways to stage, stressing about trying to keep the place cleaned and de-cluttered for the next showing (no easy feat with all these young-uns!), and praying that God will send the perfect family who can appreciate all the work and efforts we have put into this place to improve the land organically.  If we don’t get an acceptable offer in the next month, though, as was originally planned, we will be listing with our realtor in March, to make it official and more visible on the MLS.  Of course, since we will have realtor fees to pay at that point, then the price will also increase significantly, and be placed closer to market value.  We’ll see what God has in store, but with the ever-increasing list of items needed for Red Gate, we sure are hoping His plan includes a quick and easy sale!!

Since we basically caught up on most major projects over the summer, and we knew more about what to expect over winter this go around, we have really taken advantage of some beautiful weather to winterize a bit.  In our case, it’s a bit trickier than simple winterization, though.  We are putting our house on the market in March, and as a general rule, we are under a blanket of snow between November and April.  So, in addition to preparing for winter, we have been preparing for selling the house and moving.  So, in case you were wondering what winterizing on a farm might involve, here’s a few things we did….

  • Installed windows, insulation, and a light with timer in the chicken coop (to keep egg supply up), and got new electric netting to try to prevent losses to the hungry fox over winter.
  • Built a straw bale wall over part of the open side of the goat shed to give them more shelter.  This year, S made it more sturdy and less edible by wrapping it in fence wire and really wiring it to the shelter.
  • Filled the donkey shelter with shavings this year instead of straw like last year (IMPOSSIBLE to clean donkey poop out of straw!)
  • Purchased almost a year’s worth of hay (we hope) to get us through the winter.
  • Built a hay shelter to protect the hay.
  • Prepped the milk room.
  • Harvested the last of the garden, turned the chickens loose to glean it, and then left the remaining vegetation as a fertile mulch.
  • JR cleaned up his rabbit pen, bedded all the nest boxes with lots of warm straw, got his spare water bottles ready (for switching out the frozen ones), and generally ensured everything was ready for snow.
  • S chopped lots of firewood, and the kids helped stack it all.  We have enough for at least a couple months, we think, and he continues to work on it if he has time.  The 4 good stacks we have now, though, are far better than the pitiful half stack we had going into winter last year!
  • Removed the excess honey frames from the hives, and took off the extra hive bodies to help maintain the heat.  We didn’t have enough honey to make it worth harvesting this year (probably up to 25 lbs.), so we decided to store them in the freezer to use to feed the girls with in the spring if their supplies run low.  That should hopefully give them a better start on the season next year.
  • Dumped the pasture water trough (since it just freezes and collects pine needles over winter), and set up a smaller, portable water bucket and a shelter in the pasture.
  • Installed a tank heater in the pen water trough to keep it from freezing.

And that is all in addition to getting the decks repainted, the playground repaired, the yard cleaned up, more curtains hung (for inside insulation, the path mulched, the driveway graded and graveled (to prevent the ice we had last year), the chimney pipe cleaned, and so on.

Yup, I think we are ready for winter this year.  That is, of course, until the next snow, at which time we suddenly realize what we forgot to do!

As you know, things have been a little crazy around here the last few months.  Animal care adds some responsibility, cooking from scratch takes up a good bit of time, and all the other issues have combined to create a life that officially became too busy.  This past canning season really set me back a bit when it came to my normal responsibilities.  Then, A’s issues came up, increasing the number of doctor appointments, which added some pressure to my already hectic day.  Another big factor was the simple fact that my wonderful husband likes coming home to a clean home.  Since I am not naturally efficient at house-keeping (as in it takes me twice as long to complete the same job as S), and the added factor of 5 young ‘uns who are home all day messing up whatever I cleaned up, made this ‘clean home’ concept nearly impossible. 

At the same time, it began getting dark sooner, meaning we didn’t have time to squeeze in N and A’s desperately-needed therapeutic donkey rides after S got home from work.  A began regressing, beginning his toe-walking again and falling down again.  The hectic activities of the day conspired to cause me to lose focus on controlling my blood sugars, or even eating properly, which left me even more pressured and worn-out.  The projects needing to be done were weighing on me like a heavy, never-ending burden, and I began slipping into a day-to-day survival mode which I knew was not a good, healthy, or beneficial thing in any way.  Add that to the fact that S was getting tired of coming home to an exhausted wife and a still-untidy home, and I was really missing just being “mommy”, and things were just waiting for a big blow-up of some sort.  Thankfully, my soldier-in-a-snow-covered-minivan saw that I was at a point I needed some help.  We sat down, discussed our needs/wants, came up with a budget we could manage, and he agreed to let me hire some help. 

I had hoped to hire a young, homeschool lady from our church, but despite the mothers who were very interested, the daughters really weren’t very interested, or were not independent enough to manage the job we decided we needed.  So, after a great deal of talking, several months of looking, and a lot of research, I finally went online to a site called  It is a website designed to help match domestic employers and employees based on geography and qualifications.  It was risky, but I was desperate, and needed to find someone as soon as possible.  So, I typed up an ad explaining what we were looking for.

I was surprisingly overwhelmed with responses from interested folks.  I guess in this downer economy, folks are desperate for work.  Through the anonymous e-mail feature the site offers, I was able to weed out a number of people based on their seeming level of maturity or their level of desperation (judgemental, I know, but I had to weed through somehow).  Of those I was interested in, I started researching their names and info.  Thanks to this internet age, I was able to track down almost every person.  And thanks to not-so-smart applicants who left their facebook and myspace pages wide open to public view, I was able to further weed out folks.  (Like the lady who answered my ad, talking all “Christian” like, and claiming she didn’t smoke, drink, etc., yet her public myspace photos showed her with different colored hair in each photo, sometimes holding a cigarette, and other times dressed or acting very provocatively–none of which do I want around my children ).  Through these steps, we narrowed it down to 5 applicants, 1 of which was a no-show, and another who called and canceled at the last moment.  Of the remaining 3, we had to pray about it, as they all had a lot to offer.  We finally chose one, and she started work this week. 

Now, 2 days a week, for 3 hours a day, I have a wonderful lady who comes and helps with whatever project I need.  My goal is to give her 1 bigger house project that I never have time for (like organizing/cleaning cabinets or closets, painting, etc.), and then use whatever time is left to do general cleaning.  In addition, she will be helping me with the boys’ therapeutic riding as much as possible, by just being the side-walker they require.  When I don’t have a big list, she may sit and listen to the children read a book, or do some corrections with their worksheets.  She has already babysat several of the children once while I had a doctor’s appointment for A and N, during which time, she still cleaned up a bit, allowing us to have guests over that night.  She is literally the extra eyes and arms that every mom seems to need at times. 

As I sit here now, typing up this little post, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for a hubby that agreed to this.  I also cannot tell you grateful I am, or how I relieved I am, at the help she has already been.  She has proven to take intiative, do what she sees needs doing, and works quite indendently so I can focus on other areas.  The other day, while she cleaned and organized a couple of rooms I just never seem to get to , I was able to spend 2 solid hours working with JR, going over a back-log of school work, getting things caught up with him, and having an opportunity to ENJOY doing it, with no pressure to go do cleaning projects.  We then got both the boys on the donkey for the first time in a month, which was a wonderful feeling.  Then, because of all she had accomplished in her 2 days of focused work, I was able to let M ride, then later, I was able to bridle up the donkey and allow JR to ride alone (with me just walking nearby) for the first time–a request he has had for quite some time now.  Yesterday, she saw I had piles of laundry, figured out our washer and dryer, and did a couple loads while I had the boys at an appointment.  I think my hubby will be happy to come home to an at least partially clean house, and I am not totally worn out.  To the contrary, I have found just the idea of a little help to be very refreshing and motivating for me, as I no longer feel like I am handling everything that needs to be done on my list completely alone.  By freeing up my time a bit, I will hopefully be better able to serve my husband by helping him with his list of projects.  I have also already started re-gaining control of my diabetes.

We have told her we are planning to try this for 6 months, and then decide from there.  There is still much to find out about little A and his issues, so that will be a big factor in us deciding how to proceed after that.  In the mean time, we are hoping that 6 months will get us through most of the school year, and get most of our house projects completed, personal projects caught up with, and everything else just settled into somewhat of a ‘groove.’  In the mean time, I am loving being mommy, re-directing my focus where it should be, and still being able to enjoy life in general.

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