Living the Answer Essay Class Review

Posted By: Kittykait

When people ask me about learning to sew I always say “Try it! Practice makes it easy, fast!”, and it always seemed silly to me when they returned with something like, “I couldn’t do it like you.  You’re just naturally talented!”.  But I always felt the same way about writing.  Deanna and Megan could always just write well, with little effort.  But I couldn’t and practice wasn’t going to change that.  As it turns out, I just needed a pattern to help me along with my practice.

Several weeks ago Mom told Lydia and I that she signed us up for an online essay class, which didn’t excite me at all.  It made me nervous. I’d never done something like it before and I didn’t know what to expect, especially when I found out there were in-class assignments!  And a teacher!  And worst of all, grades!  I may have acted like a silly unsocialized homeschooler for a while.  The upside to my nervous pessimism is that I’m usually pleasantly surprised!

The teacher is funny, entertaining and comprehensive.  He uses a lot of quotes from famous literature to illustrate whatever aspect of good writing he’s talking about.  He also uses some more lighthearted quotes. One week he pulled bits from both The Lord of the Rings and The Princess Bride movie, which won me and Lydia over for good.

The in-class assignments, which were my greatest fear going into this, are extremely helpful, because you get criticism on the spot.  That way we know if we properly understand the concept that he’s going over, before the actual (graded) assignment is turned in.

The class is for five paragraph essays, which is a bit of a rigid format, but the principals carry over to most types of writing. After all, every bit of writing should have a bit of an introduction, and once you’ve written and intro you have to say something about the subject, then of course, you never want to leave a reader just hanging so you must wrap it up!  Besides structure Mr. Vogel has plenty to say about keeping your writing from being choppy, making it interesting, engaging your reader from the beginning, and using different styles to aid you in whatever type of writing you are using to communicate.

The class is nearly over now, and I’ll be sorry to see it go.  I like being forced to practice new things every week, which is a big deal.  I used to be the kid that had emotional breakdowns over writing.  Ridiculous.  The skills I’ve gained from his class have given me a lot more confidence in my writing.  Hopefully I’ll have the self-discipline to keep it up on my own, but for now I’m incredibly grateful for all that Mr. Vogel has taught me.  I highly recommend it for parents looking to boost their emotionally incontinent writer’s confidence. Who knows? Maybe they’ll end up enjoying it.

P.S. If you ask *really* nicely I might post a few of my assignments.

Toothbrush holders for 12

Over the years, I’ve been frustrated at the difficulty we have in keeping our toothbrushes straight (who has light purple stripes this month?!) and keeping them clean.  The standard store-bought holder rarely holds more than 4, and never 12.  A coffee mug or pint jar is big enough to hold them all, but it quickly collects slime in the bottom.  It also seems to collect extra anonymous toothbrushes, and nobody is ever quite sure which toothbrushes belongs to no one in particular, so it’s hard to thin them.

After poking around the internet a bit, I found the perfect solution for our family, the Hang Away Universal Toothbrush Holder.  Each holds 4 toothbrushes, so I installed 3 on the side of the bathroom cabinet.

Why is it perfect?  Let me count the ways.

  1. It’s cheap: less than $4.
  2. It’s durable.  After more than a year of daily use by kids, only one plastic prong on one holder has broken.
  3. It’s easy to install.  One piece of strong double-sided tape (included) does the job.
  4. It’s not made by me.  No procrastination necessary.
  5. It’s out of reach of the toddler, so we never have to wonder why our toothbrushes are out of the countertop holder and where else they have been.
  6. Everyone has an assigned spot, so there’s no place for anonymous toothbrushes to hang out.
  7. Since everyone has an assigned spot, trying to find toothbrushes in 12 different colors is optional.
  8. I have an assigned spot, so I don’t have to try to remember what my own toothbrush looks like and spot it in a bristling mass.
  9. If someone’s toothbrush is mysteriously missing, I don’t have to rely on their personal hygiene habits to let me know.  Haven’t you ever said, “What do you mean you don’t know where your toothbrush is? How long has it been gone?  YOU DON’T KNOW?!

And if you happen to have 4 or 5 teenage daughters who are always stealing your razor because they can’t remember which one belongs to whom and yours works the best, it also holds those.

Um…it holds the razors.  Not the teenagers.



4 Moms on buying and storing ALL THAT CLOTHING {linky}

4 Moms, 35 Kids

This week’s topic is frighteningly broad, and leaves me with 2 options: I can pick one aspect and beat it to death or I can skim over everything, trying to cover too much at once and leaving you feeling entirely unsatisfied.

Maybe there’s a third choice: try to make my post so entertaining that you won’t notice you didn’t really learn anything useful.  Oh, I like that.  Let’s do that.  Wait, does it work if I tell you the plan?

I’m kidding – or stalling, if you prefer to call it that.  Actually, I have LOTS of experience with mass quantities of clothing for mass quantities of people.  The question is whether you should follow my example or learn from my mistakes.  There’s a fine line, and believe me: when it comes to clothing for 12 you don’t want to find yourself on the wrong side.  You could spark a revolt, or a mass outbreak of nudity.

The trick is maintaining the general sanity and the clothing at the same time.  Not every day can be Nude Fasting TV Day.

Buying All Those Clothes

Buying is the easy part.  We love thrift shopping for everything but underclothes.  Shopping for secondhand clothes requires a bit more of a time investment, and nicer shops may have prices that rival those of some new clothes, but you’ll usually find much better quality, more variety, and it’s a good way to avoid pieces that are too trendy.  By the time it’s on the thrift store rack, you’ll know if the newest style is going to last more than 10 minutes.  We have a new way of handling clothing purchases and other personal expenses for the older girls, and I can’t wait to tell you about it in an upcoming post.

Did you know that Goodwill offers gift cards and accepts returns?  It’s just like shopping at any other store now, and in this new thrifty era even the social stigma is gone – not that some of us ever cared about that.

Buying becomes even easier when friends make it entirely unnecessary.  I do my best to let others know that we are never, under any circumstances, insulted by offers of hand-me-downs.  We love it when our friends cull their closets and give us that skirt we’ve been eyeing since the first time they wore it.  One time the Long ladies sent us some hand-me-downs, samples, proto-types, etc, and Oh My Word We Had Fun Were Blessed.  Can you imagine the riches that come forth when they make room in their closets for new creations?  We can now.

Storing All Those Clothes

Storing clothing for a big family is a much bigger challenge, especially when your home is smaller than the standard-issue McMansion.  In our home, the children usually store their clothes on the floor or under the bed.

Yours too, huh?

Well, that’s not the officially sanctioned plan.  The clothes are supposed to be stored in fabric bins on cubby shelves or hung in the closets, and we really do love our current setup.  The bins won’t hold up forever, especially when kids overstuff them with wadded up jeans, but they are cheaper and easier to replace than a busted drawer.  They also make for a cute, flexible system that can be expanded, rearranged and redecorated as desired.

Actually, that photo is from months ago when we first set up the system.  That’s when I loved it.  Now you don’t want to see it, though even at its worst it still looks far better than dressers ever did in our house.  Let’s just say my kids have the pack rat gene.  I don’t know where they got it.  Why yes, I do have 3 broken sewing machines and a serger which I have never learned to use.  Why do you ask?
Link up and tell how you manage clothing for your family!

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Upcoming topics for 4 Moms:

  • January 26 – Q&A
  • February 2 – Scriptures and/or stories we rely on for comfort/encouragement as a homeschooling family

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About 4 Moms, including a complete list of all past topics

We are “uninsured,” and we like it that way

Last summer when Perry started jogging and doing an insanely rigorous exercise program at the same time, he also started having persistent chest pains.  He doesn’t like going to the doctor but after some equally persistent encouragement from me, he finally assented.  After 5 appointments, 2 months, and $1,100, we learned that his heart was fine but he has diabetes.

We are uninsured, but medical expenses are not a problem for us.

When I say we are uninsured, I’m not saying we have no way of paying for medical expenses – even major ones.  I’m saying we don’t have or want traditional health insurance, because we believe we have something far better.

We have been members of Samaritan Ministries for about 6 years, and unlike our previous 12 years of “real” health insurance, I have enjoyed writing the check every month.  That’s because now our checks go directly to real people with real names, Christian brothers and sisters for whom we pray when we write the check.  I think I have even written a couple of checks to blog readers!

When we have medical expenses of our own,  we don’t have to battle a faceless system to get the cost covered, hoping they read the rules the way we do.  We fill out a short form detailing our needs and bills, and receive checks from real Christian brothers and sisters – again, sometimes from people we know!

Our share is the same every month, and it’s far less than the cost of traditional health insurance (currently $315 for our family of 12).  We have had 4 babies and a few other smaller medical expenses, and every penny has been paid by the members of Samaritan Ministries.  We personally know people who have had much, much larger needs that were paid as well, with never a problem. Regular members may submit needs of up to $250,000, but if you are a member of the modestly priced add-on Save To Share program (we are!) there is no dollar limit on needs that you may submit.

If you’re skeptical, take a look at the new series on the Samaritan Ministries blog, Health Care Sharing Myths.  It answers many concerns that others might have about this way of paying for healthcare, and promises to answer even more.  Subjects so far:

If you decide to join, tell them I sent you (Kim Coghlan).  We get a credit toward our own membership, because the more members Samaritan Ministries has, the better the system works!

Questions? I’m happy to share my own experience, but the people at Samaritan are friendly and knowledgeable, so I encourage you to give them a call (888-268-4377) or email if you want to talk about whether it’s a good fit for you and/or your family.

Are you already a member of Samaritan Ministries, or do you know others who are?

Life with Littles

I’ve often been asked how I got through each day back when we had lots of little ones and no older children to help out.  I have written about those bygone years before, but it’s been a long time and there’s no harm in revisiting old subjects is there?

The easy answer is that I got through the days one at a time. Anyone can run a house with 6 little ones for a day, right?  Just one day?  All it takes is 3 meals (2 if you cheat or run so late that breakfast turns into brunch), a load of laundry (better make it whites!), a few baths (or send them out to play in the hose; who will know the difference?), and straighten the house after they’re in bed.  Somewhere along the line, squeeze in a few minutes each of Bible reading and reading lessons.  It’s not ideal and it won’t work that way forever, but you can do this.  Some days you can do a little more, and some days your 4yo will tell you she was out of undies 2 days ago.

Don’t fret about the fact that you have to do it all again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next…Matthew 6:34 says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

God doesn’t give us the grace, or the energy, or the patience we need for the whole upcoming year all in one dose. He measures it out for us day by day, like the manna He gave the Israelites in the wilderness.  Planning ahead is good in general, but when the Israelites tried against God’s command to gather enough manna for the following day they found it rotted.  Don’t worry about tomorrow.  Do your best today.  God’s way keeps you coming back to Him.  If you start feeling like you can do this all on your own, things are about to go downhill.

I said that was the easy answer, but it’s not the only answer.

Things went better if I worked hard and made good use of my time. I had more energy back then and got by on less sleep than I do now.  We sometimes made cookies instead of doing laundry, but more often it was the other way around.  I once made a full round of fancy Easter dresses, working late into the night.  Never again, but some of those dresses are still in circulation.  Those days were often a blur, and I have mercifully forgotten much of the hurry and bustle and exhaustion.  I have also forgotten many of the good times, but that’s ok.  I have living and visible reminders all around me, and they remember.

Things went better if I reminded myself that this was only a season in life. Sometimes it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but remember those busy days won’t last as long as they feel.  In a year or two, you won’t have the same crew of Littles you have now plus a new baby.  Your whole crew will be a year or two older.  They will all move up a step, and the baby will have a new name and face.  In effect, you’ll have a new oldest child, not a new baby.  This realization was an epiphany for me when I felt like I was at the end of my rope with 4, 4yo and under.

Things went better if Perry and I stayed on the same page, and on good terms. We had times when our relationship wasn’t the best, and I’ll readily confess that these times were hard not just as a wife but as a mother.  There is a trickle-down effect, and parents need to realize that their relationship with each other and with God deeply affects their children.  I was and am a Christian first, then a wife, then a mother.  I am His, then his, then theirs.  I do the children no favors when I allow my priorities to become skewed.

Things went better if I was consistent in the children’s training. It’s so much easier to mother a child who obeys commands the first time than one who tests every boundary, every time.  I know every child is different, but a challenging child is not an excuse for ineffective parenting.  It only means we must – must – work harder at parenting effectively.  Invest time early, and your days will go much more smoothly.  That’s the blessing of consistent rules and discipline: if the boundaries are clear and firm, your children will learn that it’s fruitless to test them.  There is no need for 2’s to be terrible.

Things went better if I got sleep. This is more easily said than done, but sometimes we fool ourselves.  I tell myself that I need to wind down after the kids are in bed, but before I know it, it’s 1 AM.  It’s so easy to vegetate in front of the TV after a long day of chasing toddlers and putting out fires, but even now I know that my day will go better if I don’t allow myself that free time in the evening.  Go to bed!  Yes, you might need to wind down, but 40 minutes of winding down in bed is better than 3 hours of winding down in front of the TV or the computer.

Things went better when I thought of “me time” as a gift, not a right. If I didn’t feel entitled to “me time,” it was a sweet gift when it came.  Grocery shopping alone in the evening, volunteering to mow a lawn for a summertime customer while Perry stayed home with the kids, a late-night in-house movie with my sweetheart: these were welcome times, but if they were few and far between that was ok.  In the high-power career of Motherhood, you are a highly valuable asset to the corporation.  The hours are long and replacements are rare, expensive and poorly trained.  You knew that when you signed up for the job, right?

Things went better if my attitude was good. And now we’ve come full circle.  It was easy to stress about tomorrow, and worry that because we didn’t do reading lessons or Bible today our children were doomed to grow up ignorant heathens.  But all that was really required was to repent if I was squandering time or making poor choices about priorities, then try to do better in the morning.

Questions from the trenches

I’d like to write a few helpful posts for moms in the trenches, who might not have 4 teen daughters and a never-ending supply of ice cream.  Wait – the ice cream is gone?  Why is the ice cream gone?!

Anyway, what would you like to know?  If you and I were sitting on my deck, sipping our homemade frappucinos, how would you complete the following sentence:

“How would/did/do you…?”

Alarming new habits

I’m working hard at finding new uses for the tools I have in my hand – a concept I’m learning from the Headmistress – and the current object of my attention is my new phone.  I’m not often a victim of SOS (Shiny Object Syndrome), so I’ve chosen to let this case run its course as I learn all I can about my new phone.

One way I have been able to see an immediate change is by using the alarm for more than just waking up in the morning.  I didn’t come up with this idea myself.  My real-life friend Mother Hen has been doing it for years, and all of my past cellphones had alarms too.  The difference is I’m finally using them.

Right now, I have the following alarms set for every weekday:

6:30 AM – Rise: Plays classical music, which starts very quiet and gets louder, but not too loud.

9:00 – Bible: This is not our private Bible reading, but family Proverbs time.  We drop what we’re doing and gather at the table to read a daily chapter aloud together.

12:00 – Psalm practice: Our church learns about one song/month in 4 part harmony, and the girls in our family make up almost the entire alto section.  We are finally practicing daily!

2:00 – Reading lessons/naps: Tuck Bethany in for a nap and start Perry’s reading lesson, immediately followed by his nap.  I move on to Rachael’s reading lesson followed by quiet time for her.

9:00 PM – Dinner/lunch: Do I know what’s for dinner the following day?  Did I pack Perry’s lunch yet?

I plan to add another alarm for exercise, one for read-alouds, and one for bedtime.  I have a tendency to stay up much too late.

One thing I have learned about myself is not to turn off the alarm until I am actually doing what I’m supposed to do. I’ll hit the snooze if necessary, but I have let the alarm keep bugging me.  If I turn it off because I’m just about to do it, I’ll get sidetracked and forget in 5 seconds flat.  Think I’m exaggerating?  Ask any member of my household.

How do you use alarms?

Oh, that Boy. He’s gonna get it.

I made a new rule a few weeks ago: if anyone leaves the door open when they go outside, it gets locked behind them.  I instituted the rule during a cold spell, when the kids were often making a quick run to take out the trash and planning to run right back in.  Coats are often left behind on these trips, and because they’re in such a hurry they also don’t make sure the door closes all the way behind them.

Understandably, they want back in fast. They don’t like finding the door locked.  They don’t like being forced to knock and wait – oh the humiliation – until somebody hears and unlocks the door.  Also, when you live in the country and doors rarely get locked, there’s something infuriating about finding the door locked.  Because of this, the rule was surprisingly effective.  It was so effective that we forgot about within a couple of days simply because nobody was leaving the door open any more.

This morning was cold.  I went outside in short sleeves and socks to see Perry off to work and everything was sparkling with frost.  I was cold because I had stood out there for several minutes helping him load odds and ends into his car, but then I had to run out once more to take his forgotten keys.

Can you see where this is going?  Congratulations, because I didn’t see it.

As I ran into the house for the keys and out again, I left the door slightly ajar.  When I turned back to the house, the door was shut and locked.  Locked.

I knocked – oh the humiliation – and after a long 10 seconds, The Boy opened the door, smiling innocently as if he were pleased to see me.  I scolded him, “You don’t lock the door when I’m outside!”

He looked a little surprised and truly puzzled.  “But Mom, you left the door open.  You said we’re supposed to lock the door when somebody goes out and leaves it open.”

One of these days, Boy.  One of these days.

13 uses for receiving blankets

I took a plan trip with a 3 month old baby last week, meeting connecting flights in both directions.  Along the way, I picked up a couple of new uses for the ever-present receiving blanket.

  1. As a teething toy – Tie a knot in one corner of the blanket to give baby something to hold and chew.
  2. As a nursing cover – Most receiving blankets aren’t quite big enough to make a really good nursing cover, but remember that knot you tied in the corner?  Catch that corner over the baby’s head and you’ll find that the rest of the blanket covers the business areas rather handily.  The pocket formed by the knot makes it harder for baby to surprise you and bystanders by tugging the blanket loose.
  3. As a changing pad – Lay blanket down before you change baby to protect the surface beneath.
  4. For playing/lying on the floor or other questionable surfaces – Many receiving blankets are printed only on one side, so they have a “right” side and a “wrong” side.  Just place blanket wrong side down to give baby a clean surface to lie or play.  Re-use as many times as desired, always placing wrong side down.  In between uses, I like to fold mine carefully to keep the wrong side from touching the right side.
  5. A play surface for legos, etc – Spread the blanket on your play surface for quieter play.  Clean up is a snap: just gather all 4 corners
  6. To cover an infant seat – Drape over an infant seat to give baby a private area for napping or unwinding.  If your baby becomes used to this, it becomes a portable bedroom and baby always feels right at home no matter where you are.
  7. To catch people jumping from a burning building – Stretch the 4 corners between 4 strong people and…well, maybe not…
  8. To wrap a baby gift – Use a receiving blanket and a bit of ribbon to wrap baby gifts, or to pad and decorate a basket of baby goodies.  Cute and useful!
  9. As a burp rag – Handy, and it does the job.
  10. Make a quilt – If standard issue receiving blankets are too small for your taste, cut 2 or 3 into squares and assemble into a simple quilt that is more to your taste.
  11. As an emergency cloth diaper – Most receiving blankets are flannel, the perfect fabric for cloth diapers.  Just fold yours into the right size & shape and lay inside a waterproof cover.  It’ll do in a pinch.
  12. As a lap cover – Did the baby manage to ruin your clothes?  Drape a blanket over your lap to hide the damage until you can change.  If it’s going to be a while, try tying the blanket around your waist or wrapping it loosely around the baby and letting it drape strategically over the problem area.  With a baby in your arms, nobody will give your fashion choices a second thought.
  13. Adjustable blankets for baby – Add or remove lightweight receiving blankets to keep baby comfortable in varying temperatures.

I’m sure you can add to the list.  What else do you do with receiving blankets?

My grand idea

I woke up with The Best Idea Ever.

Remember when we were wondering how to fit our kids more comfortably into their 2 smallish rooms?  We talked about stacking them higher, or building a loft over the bedrooms.  We kicked around the idea of triple or even quadruple bunks, and where to put them.

We even talked about finding a way to fit them all in one room and turning the other into a library, thus freeing up all the space in the rest of the house that is currently cluttered crowded consumed by books.

Here’s what we’re going to do:

The 2 bedrooms are nearly 12×12 each, and each houses 4 children plus assorted pets and a baby.  The beds are, of course, the biggest piece of furniture in each room: bunkbeds with a full on the bottom and a twin on top.

We’re going to build-in a set of shelves that runs the entire length of the room, just behind the door.  They will probably be 24-28″ deep.  It will be over 11 feet long, and 4 levels high.  Each shelf will sleep 2 children, feet-to-feet.  If they enjoy each other’s company and/or want to share a booklight or alarm clock, they could choose to sleep head-to-head.

The beds will be built of wood, probably similar to the storage shelves the girls and I built under the house for hubby’s birthday, though these won’t be hung from the ceiling.  We will buy thick comfy mattress pads to cut down for mattresses.  We have already done a bit of research for this part.  Three king size pads will be more than enough.

We will have 8 beds – or even 9, since 3 small children could sleep on the bottom level – on one side of one bedroom.  The kids love the idea!

We’re still working on other details:

  • Treasure boxes: I hope to leave a 12-18″ space underneath, which will be divided into cubbies for personal possessions.  Right now they each have a large cardboard box under the bed, which we refer to as a “treasure box.”
  • Clothes: Yikes.  We already have some very bad habits, and I have resolved to become a laundry nazi.  We’ll need to thin things severely and learn NOT TO TOSS CLEAN AND DIRTY LAUNDRY INDISCRIMINATELY ON THE FLOOR.  ahem.  Pardon my raised voice.  We will probably build cubbies on the opposite wall for underthings, and heavily thin the hanging clothes.  I would like to see our rundown dressers disappear entirely.
  • How to fund the project? We’re hoping you’ll pay for it, but don’t worry.  We have a very fun idea in mind!

Now, who thinks we’re crazier than ever?  Who wants to see pictures of the project when we start it?  Who wants to see my fundraising idea?