Monday, December 8, 2014

Keeping Up With Record Keeping

Sometimes record keeping can be the hardest part of homeschooling. Just when you think you have a system down, you find yourself pulled in 20 different directions and the work piles up to unmanageable levels. This is when having a system is handy. It could be as simple as piling everything in a box for the year, or as detailed as daily entries in a teacher's record book. You can grade individual papers only, or cross post the grades in a yearly record.

Checking your state's homeschooling law is critical on this issue. Some states require detailed records and samples of work, some require nothing. Some states have mandatory testing, others don't. Even if your state does not require any record keeping, it is still a good idea to have some kind of system in place, just in case of overzealous school officials, nosy neighbors, or persons with "the best interests of the children" "at heart".

Some online curriculum programs even keep records for you. I am sure there are computer programs that can do this as well. If you are clever enough you could probably design your own computerized record keeping system. I am still doing mine by hand, with pencil and paper. I know several parents who use specially designed worksheets they have printed out.

Here is my simple system to give you ideas:
                        1 - grade each paper turned in;

                        2 - in a weekly calendar book, post each grade, as                                  well as non-graded work completed;       
                        3 - place all completed work for the year in an 18                                  gallon plastic box, place the weekly calendar                                      book in the box at the end of the year.

                        4 - Place any projects, books not being resold,                                          pictures, copies of videos and miscellaneous                                      items in box. Tape and label box and store                                          away.

We rely heavily on pictures and videos to document projects and work, so it is critical that I copy all school related media to a usb or sd card or make a hard copy of pictures to store in the box. This takes a little extra time, but I feel it is worth it for the permanent record. It is okay to revise your system from time to time, as your needs change and your abilities evolve. Our system has changed over the years but the important thing is that we do maintain a permanent record of work accomplished.

Start with whatever you think will work for you and tweak your system as you go along. You will be glad to have records if you should ever find yourself in a situation where your child's learning or your qualifications as a teacher are ever questioned. It will also prove helpful when it comes time to make up high school transcripts.

If you enjoyed this post, there is lots more information on homeschooling in my new book:
The Working Parent's Guide To Homeschooling

Monday, November 24, 2014

A System to Deal With Waste


Decreasing waste is wonderful in theory, but if you don’t have a system in place to deal with waste, it becomes very complicated. So what is waste? Waste is stuff you can’t reuse, isn’t good enough to donate somewhere for someone else to use and is likely to end up in the landfill. When I made my most recent stop at the Homestead, I was enthused about recycling, composting and minimizing what would go to the landfill. To my dismay, my systems were no longer in place.

My compost heap was fully composted and ready to relocate to the garden. I also wanted to set up a new system of 2 compost bins, one to fill and one to age. So began the deconstruction of the compost heap. The old log sides were removed, but before we could haul the composted soil to the garden, the waist high weeds had to be raked down and moved to a spot where they could be added to the new compost bin. We did not have enough time to complete this project while we were there, so it will be completed on our next visit. Sadly, our compostables went into the trash.

My burn barrel was buried and broken by an overenthusiastic tractor which seemed to think it was no longer of any use. Trash was carted to a shared dumpster, to be taken to the landfill. I do have another burn barrel, but I need the lid cut off, so I can use it. It is an old, empty industrial 55 gallon steel drum.

In our area we have no full service (all metals, glass and plastics) recycling center, so other than aluminum cans, these items go to the landfill. I did repurpose quite a few plastic items, and cleaned out my cabinets to find a couple bags of containers I could take to the local thrift store.

Junk mail, strangely, is not a problem at the Homestead. As we heat with wood, we need something to start the fire with. The envelopes and paper from the junk mail work just as well as newspapers. I also stuff toilet paper rolls and small cardboard boxes with dryer lint (yes, I do sometimes use the dryer instead of the clothesline) for this purpose. Most of the glossy papers get thrown in the trash, though, because they don’t burn as well.

It doesn’t sound like much to clean out the compost bin and rebuild it, and to cut the top off a steel drum, but for us it is a bit of a project. The compost has sat for so long it has become an ideal garden spot. Since I prefer this spot for the compost bin, we have to dig the compost out and relocate it. With shovels. Safety concerns demand that we have the proper tool and coordination to cut the top off the steel drum. This will entail enlisting help. Hopefully next time we stop home, we’ll get our systems back in place and keep the Homestead “green”.

Until then, we’ll work on improving our waste generation and disposal in the tiny trailer.

Also see:

Decreasing Waste

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Decreasing Waste

I just finished reading "The Humanure Handbook". I know, eewww, right? It got me back to thinking about decreasing the amount of total waste I generate. Living in a trailer with limited water capacity and living on the homestead, where we have to haul all our water in, has made me very conscientious about my water usage. 

Humanure Handbook

This isn't just about water, though. I also stumbled upon a site about living without plastic. Now that's drastic! On the homestead, we recycle or burn almost all our trash. In the trailer, we have not been consistent with this. There is also the issue of how much we bring in that ends up going out as waste. Not just packaging, but also all the plastic shopping bags - ugh! I am getting better at remembering my reusable bags, but not all the way there, yet.

I use a lot of plastic ziploc bags. We frequently brown bag our lunch on errands and day trips and I do a lot of cooking from scratch, so prepwork also gets bagged. I also stumbled upon How to Store Produce Without Plastic. I had just bought some veggies, so I decided to put some of these tips to use right away. We had a whole bunch (bunches, actually) of carrots, so I washed them and put them in the veggie bin, with the broccoli and covered it all with a damp towel. The lettuce, celery and green onions I washed and wrapped in damp towels. After sitting overnight, I went to make my lunch and everything was still fresh and crisp. I cut up some of the veggies for our bento boxes and put the rest in a bowl, covered with a damp towel, in the fridge for tomorrow. At lunch time, everything was crisp and delicious. I have already eliminated the lunchtime ziplox with the bentos and sandwich boxes (um, plastic ones...) and now I can eliminate the refrigerator storage ziplox. I like. Not that I don't have other uses for ziploc bags, but this cuts down a great deal. 

Now that I have my sewing machine set up for a few days, I can whip up some more cloth veggie bags and towels and some cloth sandwich bags. Yes, I know, bacteria. That is why we wash things and let them dry thoroughly. We wash plastic and we wash cloth. And believe it or not, bacteria does grow in plastic...

There are things that I do prefer to use plastic for, however. The sawdust toilet would be one. (See the Humanure Handbook.) Also for water jugs that I have to be able to lift and maneuver. Not to mention that it cuts down on the weight in the tiny trailer/mobile homestead. But I am, once again, conciously trying to reduce my own waste and use more enduring containers.

I had a few more pictures to post, but my systems are working against me, so I am going to go ahead and post this as it is.

What are you inspired to do to reduce your waste?

Monday, October 13, 2014

How To Cure Soap

That's easy, don't let it get sick! Aaarrgh! Bad soapmaker joke. Seriously, though, it's one thing to pull out the folding table and make a batch of soap, but once the soap sets up and gets cut, it needs to sit around for about 5 weeks to completely neutralize the action of the lye and oils and evaporate some of the water so that the bars get nice and hard. 

So maybe I'm giving away trade secrets, here. But really, anybody can look this up in about 5 seconds, anyway. My aim is to figure out how I'm going to store several batches of soap (I'm on a soapmaking spree), with adequate air flow, to properly cure into nice, hard, suds-making, creamy, soothing, gentle, cleansing cakes of goodness.

Keeping in mind that I am now living in a 14 foot trailer with an 11 year old boy and our dog, matters get even more complicated. Last winter, we stayed in the RV and let the soap cure on the kitchen counters in the trailer. Now it needs to be out of the way, yet protected from dirt and damage, with plenty of air circulation. Hmm. We have a nice, big space on top of the fridge, which works for the first week or so, until I get the next batch made. Then I have to get creative.

Under the beds we have plenty of storage room. We keep working at getting rid of stuff we're not using, so the area is becoming fairly organized and clutter free. At least on my end. On top of my tool box is just enough room for some flattish shoe box size containers of soap. Bars go in boxes, lids off, sit in storage as long as necessary to cure. Protected from elements, dirt, damage and in a climate controlled environment. 

I love using my gentle, handmade, whole milk soaps and I would love to have you give them a try, too, and tell me what you think. Check out my website Mrs. D's Homestead - Soaps 'n' More and Etsy shop today.

If you enjoyed this post, check these out, too:

Soap On The Road

Teaching My Son To Sew
What Is A Lotion Bar?
Dry Skin Relief - Coconut Oil, Shea Butter and Goat's Milk

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

It's A Book!!

The Working Parent's Guide To Homeschooling by Robyn Dolan
The Working Parent's Guide To Homeschooling
It's finally in print and boy am I anxious to get this book out to anyone who might benefit from it. Think you're too busy working to homeschool your children? Think again! "The Working Parent's Guide To Homeschooling" is packed with tips, tricks, suggestions and resources to help working parents take charge of their children's education.

Get your free excerpt at the link above and get ready to explore a whole new world of opportunities and freedom for yourselves and your children. "The Working Parent’s Guide to Homeschooling" will inform and empower you with tools and resources to homeschool. You'll explore time management, child care arrangements while working, how to teach and more, with real life working parents’ solutions to each of these issues.

Written specifically for working parents, my own experience peppers every chapter and I also share several other families’ experiences to illustrate solutions to succeed in working and homeschooling.

This dream has been a long time coming, so I hope you will celebrate with me. Now that I've give birth to my first book, I plan on doing it again. Get your copy today and tell me what you think!

Ebook formats coming soon.

Check out these posts, too:

Yak Shows Off His Science Projects


Working and Homeschooling

Friday, September 26, 2014

Mesothelioma Awareness Day

And now for a little something different:

Today is Mesothelioma Awareness Day. I was contacted by a fellow blogger who is a Mesothelioma survivor and asked to spread the word about this deadly disease. Since I also have another friend who is a Mesothelioma survivor, I agreed.

In looking for a few background facts to share, I was astounded to find that the ban on asbestos-containing products was overturned just a few years after it was put in effect. Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung lining.

I was also amazed that it can lay dormant for 20-50 years after a person’s first exposure, and that family and friends can be exposed to it second-hand. I am not an expert on this, so I will refer you to  for further info; you can also read Heather’s story there (pictured above, with Lily).

And here are some interesting facts about asbestos and mesothelioma:

"Asbestos can be found in many homes, schools, commercial and industrial buildings.

China, Russia and Canada use asbestos in consumer products.

Mesothelioma is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 50 and 70.

Many women received second-hand exposure from parents or spouses who worked closely with asbestos."

Info taken from MAD Asbestos Facts, courtesy

Monday, September 1, 2014

Yak Shows Off His Science Projects

One of the great things about roadschooling is visiting family and friends. Another is the ability to have an impromptu science camp when you're visiting the home of an engineering grad. Here, Yak shows off some of his creations, built from an "Eco Toys" kit, with the supervision of his brother-in-law. (Following commentary is Yak's.)

Gravity Robot

You have to have some small nuts, stick on eyes, string, can and legs that will move that you can see in the clip. Robot needs: can,stick on eyes and the legs in the clip for feet. Attach the eyes on the can and take off the tabs on the can, attach the legs on the bottom. The mover: string and small nuts. Attach the string to the hole on the legs that you can see on the clip and on the other end put on the nuts (about 20 or 25) and then tie a big enough knot so that the nuts won't fall off no matter what and there you have the gravity robot put all the nuts on the string off a end of like a table and make sure you use a flat surface. Enjoy!

Disc Racer

This is a balloon and a disc and something else. You blow up the balloon and then put it on the thing that you will put in the middle of the disc and then it will float! Not in mid air but on a flat surface. Enjoy! This is not the one that has the 2 discs and the toilet roll.

Hover Disc

Cartesian Diver

Check out these posts, too:
Back To School - Blogging as Language Arts

Working and Homeschooling
My Budding Photographer

If You Give a Homeschooled Boy a Tire

Friday, June 27, 2014

Off-Grid in Yellowstone for a Fairytale Wedding

We just got back from a wonderful week in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. My daughter married her Prince Charming and we all did a whirlwind tour of the park and the adjacent Grand Teton National Park. We topped it off with an awesome trail ride and when we stopped at my daughter's house on the way back to California to take my dad home, I had a renewed enthusiasm for my horses, who are now enjoying life, grazing on real pasture there.

Camping in the RV in Yellowstone was an interesting experience in being off-grid. We got to test the limitations of our coach batteries, our solar panels and our refrigerator. Also, since my dad and my oldest son and his family stayed in the RV with us, we got to test our endurance! All kidding aside, it was great fun to camp out for a week with old, new and extended family.

I am excited to be able to report, in upcoming posts, on our successes with our system, as well as the bugs we need to continue working out. This was also our first attempt at towing another vehicle with the RV. We gained a new perspective by actually being the big, dumb motor home slowing everybody else down! We tried to use as many turnouts as possible, but getting going again, from a complete stop, uphill, with a tow car, is really an exercise in frustration.

For more on our adventures in Yellowstone and Grand Teton, also see upcoming posts on our sister blog, A Simple Catholic

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:

Soap on the Road

Keeping the Water Flowing

A New Direction

Mobilizing the Homestead

Monday, June 9, 2014

Truth Be Told - Book Review

Now that I’m finally back online, having weathered bad internet connections, crashed computers (plural!), a funeral and a wedding, I have to tell about a fantastic new historical fiction novel by a favorite author and friend, Carol Cox. Hot off the press, just in time for summer reading:

Truth Be Told, by Carol Cox

 Amelia Wagner steps off the train for her yearly visit with her father, investigative reporter and editor of the Granite Springs, Arizona “Gazette”, A.J. Wagner. What she finds is a series of seemingly unsubstantiated articles in her father’s newspaper, suggesting corruption in the Great Western Investment Company, the developers buying up much of the land around the town. Great Western sends handsome Ben Stone to spy on Amelia, but what happens next turns the tables on their land-grabbing scheme. As Ben and Amelia seek out the truth – Ben to clear Great Western and Amelia to clear her father’s name – they discover much more than lies and intrigue. Will they survive to bring the truth to light?

Once again, Carol Cox brings 1890’s Arizona to life. Set within a day’s ride of Prescott, Arizona, locals with a general knowledge of the old Peavine railway route can almost pinpoint the fictitious town of Granite Springs. Budding journalist Amelia Wagner may have some traits of Carol herself, in the way she researches her subjects. Carol loves Arizona history and has traveled all over the state researching life in the 1890’s for her various writings. For Truth be Told, she met with Sky Shipley, owner of Skyline Type Foundry in Prescott,  one of only 3 type foundries left in the United States. Sky tutored Carol in the printing and operation of  a newspaper in the late 19th century, so that she could write with authenticity about the day to day work that went into gathering news and publishing it during that time period. I enjoyed recognizing the Hotel Burke as the present-day Hotel St. Michael in Prescott and suspected that the Eleventh Infantry Band, from nearby Fort Whipple, was the real deal. I thought the most delightful plot twist was how Amelia helped Ben to resolve his own secret crisis, without even knowing it.

Carol Cox specializes in romantic Christian historical fiction, set in our beloved Arizona. In addition to traveling to areas of the state where she places her settings and delving into local history and characters, Carol also draws on her own experience, as an Arizona native and wife of an ordained Southern Baptist minister.

Truth Be Told is available in paperback or ebook format from Baker Publishing, $14.99. Also available from Amazon and other distributors.

Many thanks to Carol Cox and Bethany House Publishers (parent company of Baker Publishing) for providing me with a free review copy of this book. As always, looking forward to your next one!

If you enjoyed this review, you might like these:

Gladius the Show - Review
Love in Disguise - Review
Jungle Doctor and the Whirlwind - Review
Trouble in Store - Book Review

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Soap On The Road

Cut bars in front of the MeToo
 My first batch of soap on the road did not go entirely smoothly. I opted for castille soap, made with distilled water, as I had left my stores of goat and jersey cow milk back at home base, in the freezer. Soap is traditionally made in the fall, when the weather is cooler, but not yet freezing. This being January in Colorado, even with the sun out at mid-day, the highs were only in the 30's. At least there wasn't any wind.

Yak inspecting the soap
I set up my table outside and laid out my supplies. After melting my oils on the RV stove, I brought them outside while I mixed the lye and water. Lots of fumes in that process - don't want that in the RV! Next I poured the lye-water solution into the oils to saponify - or neutralize - the lye, while changing the composition of the oils into the familiar creaminess of soap. I stirred and stirred and stirred some more. When the soap started to trace, or thicken, I poured it into my prepared soap mold. All was well, until...dinner was ready. The grandparents eat early. This is where the trouble began. I didn't want to move the soap before it set, but I didn't want to move it in the dark, even more. So I quickly set up a place for it in the trailer. The tricky part was to move the 4 ft. long soap mold while the soap was still liquidy. It spilled...I thought it was lost. I scooped up what I could off the clean vinyl tablecloth and gave up on the rest. 

You can see some of the crumbles here
   Upon inspecting the mess the next day, I discovered that I hadn't lost as much soap as I thought and I did get a good 15 bars out of this batch. A few more were lost due to the crumbly texture when I unmolded and cut it. That was thanks to Jack Frost. The soap set, or hardened, too quickly in the cold temperatures, resulting in a more crumbly texture. 

These bars cracked when I cut them
Now this is NOT great-great-grandma's lye soap! It does need to cure for 3-5 weeks to finish neutralizing the lye and hardening the oils, but after fully curing it will NOT take the paint off the barn! This pure, unscented castille soap will gently cleanse a baby's bottom, better than that big-name brand named after an elephant's tusk. After curing, my 15 good  bars seemed to shape up quite nicely and my testing with the ones that didn't cut properly went perfectly well. 

Curing on racks in the MeToo
Mrs. D's Pure, Unscented Castillle Soap is available in the Homestead Store or on Etsy. Right now I'm repouring lip butters. I added too much coconut oil to my last batch and they're too soft. Looking forward to a nice day to make some Jasmine Rose Goat Milk Soap. Can't wait!

If you enjoyed this post, you might like:
Rose Petal Jam

What IS a Lotion Bar?

Dry Skin Relief - Coconut Oil, Shea Butter and Goat's Milk
Keeping The Water Flowing