Chaos On Serenity

Diary Of An Off-Grid Homesteader

Tag: homeschooling

Library Liberation

I am in love with our local library. Obsessed is more like it. As a poor, homeschooling, homesteading family, the library is a miraculous beacon of hope in a world of expensive curriculum, allowing us to function with little funds in our quest for wisdom.

It’s a beautiful thing, my friends.

After all, the library has to be one of the last places on earth that offers it services completely free. Free books, free movies, and free internet (makes it a triple threat in my book). They also have free room rental, which we occasionally use as a winter school solution to keep from killing each other in our tiny, cramped space.

So, yeah the library is amazing. And the people who work there! At least at my local library, they are like another species of humans all together, so friendly, patient and ​helpful.  My local librarians are my idols. I want to be just like them when I grow up.

So you can imagine my embarrassment when, just the other day, my girls called me out in front of one of my favorite librarians so brilliantly, so perfectly, I was left bright red and sputtering from shame.

See, the problem is, I have very little self-control, especially when I’m surrounded by books. I’m like the proverbial kid in a candy store. Only a kid is at least limited by the change in his pocket. When it comes to checking out books, I am limited only by the library’s generous cap of 75 items.

Lots of books plus poor organization skills equals large library fines.

Amazingly, considering all of my issues, it has taken me a long time to get to my current library low.

Mav was the first one to go down. It took me less than a year to desecrate his library card. Then I got a card in my name and, for a long time, I kept it under control. Sure, there were occasional hiccups; a lost or ruined book here and there. But I paid off the fines as needed and we kept the reading rolling.

Unfortunately, I had a recent relapse and watched my library fine jump to $160.00! Oops. Can’t pay that anytime soon. But…

I must have books.

In desperation, I turn to Phoenix who shakes her head, shrinking away from me.

She knows what’s coming.

“We are going to have to put a few of our school books on your card. No choice, we need them for our learnin’. Plus a book on cultivating mushrooms for the homestead, and this other one on fermentation. And just one more item, a princess book for London. That’s all, promise. Unless you want to get a movie…” says I.

Phoenix sighs, reluctant to allow me to defile her sacred card. But, she basically has no choice.

I must have books.

And so that’s that. We got some books on Kyrah’s card. No big deal.

But, after having to beg Kyrah to relinquish her card, I realized it was completely shameful to force her hand. I mean, what kind of example am I setting here?

So I got a card in Leyla’s name.

And everything was cool until a few days before Christmas. Phoenix wanted to grab a few books to read over the holidays and I had a couple of holds that were ready for pick up. When I walked up to the counter, the librarian, recognizing me, immediately went to look for my holds, only she couldn’t find them under my name.

I casually mentioned they were on Leyla’s card. Shrugging it off like, of course an eight-year-old is reading this 800-page biography on Joan of Arc.

Phoenix had come to the counter with me to check on her fines. She knew she had some late fees (of her own doing!) but was aiming to keep her card under $25.00 in fines so she could still use it.

When the librarian announced her fines at $32.00, blaming a certain over-due princess book, Phoenix immediately turned on me, claws out.

“This is why I don’t want you using my card! You’ve already ruined yours, it’s not fair, now I can’t get any books!” She hissed loud enough for the whole library to hear her.

I could feel my ears burn, I began to sputter, about to throw Leyla under the bus in my place when-

The librarian, beautiful being that she is, sprung into action, overriding the fines so that Phoenix could use her card. “You need to get some books honey, and it’s Christmas.

We thanked her profusely, me feeling doubly ashamed. The shame of the poor and the shame of the guilty. I told myself it was okay, the librarian still loved me, they are super-human after all and not prone to judging. I took a deep breath and got my anxiety under control.

As I was finishing up my transaction with the holds, Leyla popped out from under my elbow. The librarian was explaining the more rigid late fee policy with the special-order books when Leyla piped in and said, “Mom, no! You can’t order these books on MY card, I don’t want big fines!

My ears, which had just returned to their regular color, burned bright all over again. I gave the librarian a pitiful smile and nudged my loud-mouths out of the library where they got a full briefing on tact and diplomacy.

In other words, throw me under the bus again ladies and kiss those coveted cards goodbye!

How about you? Have your kids ever thrown you under the bus? How did you handle it?

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How To Wash Your Dishes Without Running Water: Six Steps To Off-Grid Domestic Success

Ok friends here we have quite possibly one of the most important How To tutorials of your off-grid extreme homesteading life… dishes. Yes, that’s right. More important than solar power, more important than growing food, more important than a composting toilet (ok, now I am exaggerating) is doing your dishes.

After all, dishes make the world go ’round and it is nary a homesteading woman who can live without clean dishes. Unfortunately, they have a tendency to multiply right before your very eyes, popping out dirty creations like the gremlin spawn of a mogwai. And, like a gremlin, they sneer and snarl at you from their crusty perch on the counter, daring you to just try and wash them without running water.

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Fear not, my extreme homesteading friends (or weekend campers), as I have found a pretty decent way to wash your dishes without running water. All you need are the right tools and set up and those evil dishes will no longer have you sleeping with one eye open.

Step 1: Get a Gigantic Pot

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There is one key item to doing your dishes without running water quickly and efficiently and that is the Gigantic Pot. The Gigantic Pot is absolutely essential if you don’t want to spend an entire day heating up small batches of water. And believe me, you don’t. I started off with a Small Pot, and I was not happy. The Gigantic Pot brings me much joy.

Step 2: Get a Long, Crappy Table

Okay so you have your Gigantic Pot. Now you need a long, crappy table. I say crappy table because if you can do your dishes outside on a crappy table, you can slosh water all over the place – which tends to make you feel better about having to do your dishes outside on a crappy table. Get it? I have a nice, crappy eight foot long table that is the perfect length for our size family, or for my lazy housekeeping habits, whichever way you want to look at it. So technically you could use a smaller table and you can also use your actual sink and counter area, but that’s a little boring, don’t you think?

Step 3: Set Up Dish Area.

First, there are a few other things you will need:

  1. Two basins, one for washing and one for rinsing. These are what I currently use. I know they don’t match. Don’t judge me.
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2. A cup with a handle for scooping hot water out of the Gigantic Pot into the wash basin. I use this measuring cup which conveniently hooks right on the handle of my pot when not in use. A match made in heaven.

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3. A jug (or two, depending on your dish load) of clean, cool rinse water next to your rinse basin

4. A sponge or rag to wash dishes and some biodegrable dish soap

5. A drying rack and/or large towel

6. A large bucket to dump dirty dish water into (another option is to just dump directly onto the ground if you are outside and it won’t create a mess.)

7. Compost container to scrape your food scraps into.

Step 4: Heat Up Water

Now we are ready to get to work. I will forewarn you, I like my dish water hot and clean, so I refresh often. I use anywhere from 2-4 gallons of hot water, depending on the dish load. I usually heat up more water than I need, because is saves time and hey I can always take a shower after.

Pour water in your pot and heat it up. One of the many blessings in my extreme homesteading life is my (nearly) full-size propane stove. So heating things up is easy peasy (until we run out of propane right in the middle of making dinner. that is). I just put my Gigantic Pot on the stove, turn two burners on and it heats up quick.

If you don’t have stove yet, you might want to look into getting a portable burner used for camping, if you plan on cooking more than once a week. Of course, if you want to (or need to), you can always go to the maximum extreme and heat your water up over an actual fire (technically the maximum extreme would be rubbing two sticks together to start said fire, but I digress). As romantic as it sounds, however, it’s really a pain in the ass to do everyday. But I have done it and so can you.

However your go about it, the important thing is to get your water HOT. That way it stays nice and hot until the last dirty dish has been hunted down. If your water gets too cool, it is a hassle to reheat and you run the chance of loosing motivation and not finishing the dishes, which does not feel nearly as satisfying as finishing the dishes.

Now scoop your hot water into your wash basin and pour cool water in the rinse basin. If the water is too hot (which it should be if you have been following directions) mix it with a little of the cool water until you get the right temperature. As you work your way down the dirty mountain, the water should cool off to a reasonable temperature. Better hot than not, I say.

Step 5: Wash Your Dishes

Now you wash your dishes. I like to move from the left to right, but to each his own. As your wash basin water cools down and gets dirty, dump it into the waiting receptacle or onto the ground if you prefer and refill with fresh hot water. Same with your rinse water, if it gets too soapy. Finish all the dishes. All of them. It feels good, remember?

Step 6: Call In The Troops

This is about the time I start yelling for Maverick and the girls. Maverick, with his strong shapely arms and equally strong stomach, gets to dump the teeming bucket of dirty dish water. We like to dump it right into the garden beds. depending on the chunks. Yum.

Now its the minions’ turn to help. Remember how we were doing the dishes outside? Well they are the lucky ones that get to haul the clean dishes back inside, put them away all nice and neat and then hang the dish towel on the line to dry until we need it again for a new table-load of dirty dishes, usually about ten minutes later I’d say.

Well there really is no glamorous way to end a dish tutorial, so bye!

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What Type Of Homeschooler Are You?

Sometimes I feel like an imposter when I tell people I homeschool.

After all, when I think of homeschooling, I picture a super-organized, perpetually perky mom and her brood of perfectly polite, constantly clean, studious children. I imagine this homeschool mom having a detailed schedule that she sticks to like clock work, planning out her handpicked curriculum a year in advance while her offspring practice rote memorization and dote on each other all day. Hmmm… come to think about it, that sounds an awful lot like my sister!

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Okay, so now that we established my sister is my fantasy homeschool mom alter ego, lets talk about what kind of homeschool mom I am.

I am the type of homeschool mom that starts a cleaning project in the morning and by evening realizes the only ‘school’ we did that day was home ec.

I am the type of homeschool mom who makes a mountain of lists, outlines, and diagrams only to misplace them right before we need them.

I am the type of homeschool mom whose children wear pajamas all day and brush their hair only when we are going somewhere important (grocery store is low on the priority list).

I am the type of homeschool mom that starts a lesson, realizes its boring and pointless, and sends the kids to play Legos while I regroup over a bottle of wine.


One of the rare occasions I managed to get the girls all cute and somewhat matchy-matchy. This was the first day of a twelve week homeschool art class (note the bow in Leyla’s brushed hair and the fact they both have their lunchboxes packed and in-hand). Sadly, it all goes downhill from here my friends.

​It use to be that I pushed against who I was as a homeschool mom.

I would spend hours creating beautiful schedules and chore charts, ordering curriculum and reorganizing our collection of books. Hours I would spend on these things, waiting for them to magically transform me into the homeschool mom of my dreams. We are now in our fourth year of homeschooling and I have yet to be organized or perky.

In fact, the only thing which has really changed over the years is that I no longer strive so hard to be what I am not. I have given up trying to fit us into a fixed schedule, as we are just too spontaneous for that kind of planning. Instead, I keep a nice loose tally on what we have going on. When something is working, it is easy to keep at it. When something isn’t working, we drop it and move on.

Once I gave myself permission to relax, we became way more consistent and found a routine we actually look forward too. Since we no longer have to follow a list of Things We Must Get Done, we can get lost for hours reading together. We can choose to put the books down when the weather is gorgeous and friends want to come over, knowing we will pick right back up where we left off tomorrow, or the next day.

So how do I measure our homeschool progress if I not by what we have tangibly accomplished?

I pay attention to who my kids are. I look for signs we are on the right track. I am happy to report my kids are curious, creative, and thoughtful. They love to explore and have adventures. They are able to converse with people of all ages. They are not too self-conscious. They are smart and capable. They are strong and responsible. They care about ethical issues. Most of all, they are happy.

This is not to say I don’t still pine over moms who actually stick with their curriculums and carefully chart their children’s progress. Mom’s who always have a clean, matching pair of shoes (and socks!) for each of her smiling, hair-brushed children.

The fact is, a part of me will always want to be that mom.

But, I am not.

And I have realized when I quit trying to be someone else, I can actually be a pretty good me.

And now some more pictures of my adorable nieces and nephew.

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Flowers

So what type of homeschool mom are you? 

How To Be Happy and The Magic Of Perspective

My family and I live a hard and dirty life with very little luxuries. We live a life that, described from a certain perspective, might have most of you feeling a bit sorry for us.

The fact is, we don’t have much money and we rarely buy new things. Our vehicles are so old and obnoxious, we make a scene everywhere we go. Due to not even having what some would consider the basic necessities of life, it can be a daunting task just keeping up with the day to day household operations.

On top of all this, we have hours of physically taxing farm chores that have to be done too, every single day. Being out in the middle of the woods, living in very tiny, very temporary housing, even a simple rainstorm can create so much mud and mess it’s enough to drive any woman crazy.

​Yet I stay… Why?

Because it’s all a matter of perspective. Everything I just described are some of the facts of my life,  but the perspective is all wrong. I’d like to share with you a different perspective

 My family and I live a fun and free life with ample amounts of time together, working and playing side by side. We live a life that, although unconventional and challenging, is one we have chosen just for those very reasons.

We try not to be weighed down by unnecessary possessions, yet we surround ourselves with the things most important to us, such as books to spark our curiosity, animals to teach us kindness, and the natural world to help us connect to the divine. We have chosen to live frugally so we can pursue our dreams of living sustainably, building a community, and teaching our children spiritual and ethical truths they are not likely to learn from a public institution.

From our perspective, cuddling up in the middle of the woods to watch a movie in the great outdoors powered by off-grid technologies is a luxury. Squashed into the front seat of our ’72 Chevy, bouncing down our mile-long dirt driveway, we learn to laugh at ourselves and not take everything so seriously. We have time to literally stop and smell the roses, though it is more likely we are pointing out a hawk in the sky or snapping a picture of an strange-looking mushroom.

And when, as inevitably happens from time to time, I begin to feel some mom-guilt that my children might be missing out due to their lack of electronics and shiny new shoes, I remind myself that helping split firewood for winter warmth, chipping in on building projects and foraging dinner in the woods, creates strong and capable children who will eventually turn into strong and capable adults, where as shiny new shoes are simply muddied up before they can be outgrown… around here anyway.

Our specific things and circumstances, we don’t take those with us once we leave these physical bodies. We take our beliefs. We take our perspectives.

If we see ourselves as victims, then our lives will reflect that idea. The same is true if we see ourselves as blessed. It is my belief that whatever perspective we die with is the one we return with in the cycle of many incarnations.

If the eternal part of ourselves is that which is unseen, and all that manifests stems from our beliefs, getting a handle on your perspective will create the eternal happiness we all desire.

After all, the only thing we can ever truly control is our perspective; not our circumstances.  Maintaining a balanced and positive perspective takes practice and perseverance but is worth the riches received: joy, peace, and true security.

For myself, when I feel circumstances out of my control creeping up on my happiness, I breathe deeply. I grab my dog and we go for a walk in the woods, where I connect with the eternal truth of the divine, and bring myself back into the perspective of my choosing.

Baby Jasper waits under the hammock while mom takes a moment to reset her perspective. (Hammock naps = Happiness)

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