Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Reclaiming Our Real Dining Room

It looks like a real dining room, doesn't it?

It didn't two weeks ago.

We moved into this house 22 years ago, a busy home schooling family with four kids. At our peak there were 10 kids living here. 

That wall there in the picture? You couldn't even see much of it because it was lined with three full size bookcases and a blue plastic organizer thingy. Not so beautiful. Oh, the hundreds of books weren't so bad. That's a status symbol for home school moms, you know? After all, I had kids from preschool up through college. 

But then all of the other stuff gets set on the shelves "just for now" - band aids, hair brushes, Happy Meal toys from yard sales, school papers, last season's decorations, and who knows what else. Another humongous bookcase across the room was filled from floor to ceiling with bins of school supplies, art supplies, yarn, games, puzzles, and miscellany. Add in two other half-height bookcases, a sewing machine tucked in the corner on the floor, all of the laundry baskets with clean clothes spilling out, and a bunch of other junk laying around. Perpetual mess is an understatement. I just took it as par for the course.

But life changes. Now I'm down to 5 kids and a dog at home. I am only home schooling my youngest (fourth grade) and only for another two years. I don't need early grade, middle school, or high school books. Every year I try to purge at least a hundred books. Last year I gave away or sold two or three hundred. 

I mentioned this to one of my adult daughters a few weeks ago, and she gently suggested that if I was going to go through the books again, I might consider getting radical and removing all of the bookcases to make it a real dining room. "It will be so relaxing, Mom! I promise!"

Something clicked. I could do that. It was time, especially since school was starting the following week. I tackled it a few days later, pretty much a 10 hour marathon to get that one room cleared out and in order. I got brutal with the books. "Do I NEED this for home schooling in the next two years? Or is it something I personally love so much that I want to keep it anyway?" No? Out it goes! Someone else will appreciate them more than I will! I had several boxes and bins with hundreds of books. I made $150 in store credit at the local used bookstore. I gave a huge pile to a friend, and donated boxes of them to Salvation Army and to our old home school co-op. I still have a big bin to sell or give somewhere or other. Yowza. I was a mom on a mission and I did it. (Let me mention here - ironically - that I had been planning to sleep that particular day away. I had just come home from a medical test for which I was under full anesthesia. I managed to stay in bed only about 20 minutes. But hey, I was alert and motivated and not allowed to drive that day, so why not? Just saying.) Never mind that there is still an air hockey table in our computer room full of bins of assorted odds and ends that I need to put away. I'll get to it. Or not.

In the end, I cleared out three full size bookcases and a large wall unit in the computer room. I gave away two of the bookcases to daughters in college. I still have one in my front hallway waiting to go somewhere. (Do you live in my area and need one? Come get it!) I moved the humongous supply shelf to our computer room and filled it with all of the remaining school books except for what we're using this semester. Those I kept in the small bookcase next to my little girl's desk in the picture below. She keeps her own school and art supplies in her drawers and in the white cabinet on top. There is also another small bookcase behind the table with my cook books, some art books, and a few decorative items.

See the light green container on top of the shelf in the picture above? That is the easily accessible family supply of sharpened pencils, pens, tape, and scissors. They are organized into three flower pots that I bought especially to fit into the green container. (IKEA, baby!) There are more supplies in a file cabinet in our storage room.

Here is the room as seen from right next to my daughter's desk. I like to have her work in the dining room so I can putter in the kitchen or use my laptop at the table. She is still transitioning into more independent assignments and likes me nearby.

OK, so I purged and organized. Then I decorated with what I had on hand.

The large waterfall painting, a wedding gift nearly 30 years ago, came in from the front hallway. The long side table with the flower arrangements and white porcelain potpourri containers came from my bedroom.

After we returned from North Carolina last month, I created and ordered six photo collage posters on the Walmart web site and framed them. I chose to hang them on a newly empty wall next to the kitchen. What a warm reminder of our mountain adventures! The collages with frames cost me about $50 total. They go nicely with the mountain waterfall theme in the big painting. You can see most of these photos in my NC trip blog series.

Side note: We had the wood-look ceramic tile installed over 10 years ago, and I have to say it was the best flooring investment we ever made. So durable, attractive, and comfortable for my bare feet! We've had the huge conference table since we moved in, but even seating 10, it's not big enough if everyone in the family comes over. We already have several grandchildren, so I set up a card table and chairs as necessary. 

I loved the opportunity to invite our family over for a dinner party last week. The table is all set with a crystal bread bowl, candles, and the beautiful blue stoneware plates I've been collecting from the dollar store.


The cloth napkins (lacy ones by Laura Ashley) belonged to a sweet friend who passed away last year, and I inherited the garden place mats from my late mother.

The trick now is keeping this room clean and tidy. I'm being vigilant against people leaving junk on the shelves and floor, but I confess the table was pretty messy there for several days. I cleared and cleaned it this morning for one last picture of it. And now, after dinner, I need to go finish it up again. That's life, isn't it?

My final photo - a chalkboard inspiration to adorn the entry to the dining room from the front hallway. 

This dining room transformation signals a shift in my thinking and approach to home life. I don't want extra chaos or complication. I want simple and soothing. I know I have a long way to go, but I so want to make my home a haven for my family and a place for hospitality toward others.

I love the new light, airy, and streamlined look in our dining room. I wish I had done this years ago.

If you would like to see what I have done in our other rooms, you can visit these posts:

God bless!


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Super Summer #7: Back to School!

Dear friends,

School starts a week from tomorrow for my four youngest kids! We're in the middle of our typical back to school frenzy of shopping and organizing. Summer as we know it is almost over! This is always a transition for me, whether they are going to public school (because I won't be seeing them all day and I have to communicate with their teachers) or staying home with me for school (because I have to get us back on a tighter daily schedule and TEACH). I'm learning, too. More on that later in the post.

Two of my teens will be at the same high school this year, my son as a junior and my daughter as a freshman. Their chorus classes had a camp in the evenings all this past week with a concert at the end. 

I also have a son going into 7th grade in public school. :-)

My youngest daughter is doing 4th grade at home with me. She loves to sing and ask a bazillion questions. We had 3rd grade home school evaluation last week and she did just fine! I had to compile a notebook of her work and a lengthy reading log. I also showed the evaluating teachers my goals and curriculum for this next school year, and they were quite pleased. I think I'll do a post on my Start Well Home School blog about what we're doing for school this year.

While I was cleaning out our storage room a couple of weeks ago, I found a box of high school and middle school math books. I don't home school at those grade levels any more, so it was time to sell them. I also rounded up some others books I didn't need. The local used bookstore, Brightlight, gave me $50 in store credit for this pile, and I'm getting another batch ready to take in this week. I used part of the store credit to buy some ancient history books for home schooling this year.

What about me? I'm still learning, too! I spend a lot of time waiting for my kids away from home, so I wanted a secure place to take notes on what I'm reading without everything falling out or getting mashed up in my tote bag. Last week I bought this
full-featured zippered padfolio at Walmart, thinking it was $20. After I got home and started using it, I discovered that the handle had a frayed edge. I also figured out that it was cumbersome for a left-hander like me to use on my lap. When I returned it, I realized had paid $30 for it. Not worth it!

So with the cash I got back, I bought a simple zippered notebook for $5 there. Much better! I got one for my youngest daughter, too, along with a reading lamp and an alarm clock to start her new school year off right. Oh, and some all cotton white T-shirts since the two of us are doing a tie dye project to celebrate the first day of school. In our state, there was no sales tax on school supplies or clothes this weekend. Little bits add up.

I bought most of our school supplies and a new backpack for one son at Staples when they were offering 40% teacher rewards. Since I spent $100, that means I will get $40 back in store credit, which will come in handy for printer ink. We also return our empty ink cartridges for store credit.

So that's where we're at. What are you doing to get ready for the new school year? How do you save money on school expenses?  I'd love to hear, so leave a comment and/or a link!

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

P.S. The EDUCATION stained glass at the top of this post is from the Washington Memorial Chapel which is surrounded by Valley Forge National Historical Park in Pennsylvania.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Super Summer #6: Mothering My Melody

My youngest child, Melody, turned 10 today! I just posted photos of her two parties on my Virginia's Life, Such As It Is blog at Happy Birthday, Melody, but I also wanted to do a post about her life and what it is like to be her mother.


Melody is spunky and silly and she's a bit of a spit fire! She loves to go places and do things. When the new school year starts in two weeks, she's the only one of my kids who is going to be educated at home. I'm so glad she likes to read great books with me, but she's also always begging for field trips and fun stuff. She loves to chatter and ask questions. True to her name, she is forever singing or humming. She says the cutest stuff. She had a blast with soccer at the Y this spring. Her enthusiasm and energy leave me shaking my tired head. 


You want links to those cute things she's said? You want pictures? You got it! Here goes!


First, a hilarious video from a few years ago...

"Cream Cheese Toast" YouTube video




Life with Melody:

Home schooling Melody: