Composting: What About When…

The biggest set back with people composting is the fear that it’ll turn gross. Yes, there’s the possibility it can get gross, but if you have a decent mix (roughly 3 browns to 1 greens… see last week’s post for what greens and browns are), the chances of maggots and other disgusting creatures inhabiting your compost are pretty slim. And, if you’re not grossed out by maggots, I hear that they can be great at breaking things down quickly… but you’ll have to tell me because I think I would vomit on my compost if I saw maggots. I’m pretty sure vomit neither fits in the “green”, nor “brown” category.

Okay, so what about when…

Compost: What About When?The compost is infested with flies

We had small flies, maybe they were gnats, in our compost for a while. It really was not fun to lift the lid and a boat load of tiny flies come fleeing out of the compost bin. One thing I learned: put the browns on top of the greens. Browns do not attract flies, but greens do. I only mix my compost before I put new material in, then I put in the greens and cover them with a layer of browns (usually just some dried leaves from the previous year).

So what happens if you already have the flies? Boil some water and pour it into your compost, covering the effected area, then cover everything with browns.

The compost stinks

I’ve never had stinky compost, but I’ve had a stinky compost collecting bin under my sink.  Moral of the story? Too many greens make a stinky compost. I’ve heard too many browns will do that too, but it takes longer to stink. Think of how long it takes for a pile of leaves you never put in bags to stink… a long time. How long does it take for watermelon rinds to stink… less than a week. If you run out of old leaves, you can cover your green in your compost with newspaper, or let your garden trimmings dry out before putting them in.

The compost is taking longer than a year to break down completely

One year is the goal typically for a finished compost, though you can shorten that to maybe six months if you try. Some things that will lengthen the time for your compost to break down:

  • The compost is too dry. I put water in my compost each time I empty out the kitchen bin during the warm months. This way I can rinse out the bin to prevent it from getting stinky, and I can keep my compost moist. The compost should be moist, like mud, but not dripping.
  • It is turned too infrequently or not at all. I mix my compost… umm, maybe three times a year… it’s recommended to mix more often than that, but that just means I have to wait longer for finished compost than my rule-following counterparts. A pitchfork is a great tool to turn compost, and to ward off weird neighbors.
  • Bad mix of greens and browns. Are you noticing a pattern here? The green/brown mix is vital to a good compost.

The compost is not warm

The compost should be warm most of the year. If you have a really good compost, in a dark, insulated bin or in sunlight, it can stay warm even in the coldest of (livable) climates. I’m pretty sure mine cools off in January and February, but I’m in no big rush to use it so I don’t mind. Again, make sure you have a good mix of browns, greens, and water to keep everything activated. Turning your compost can activate things again by letting air in and getting everything breaking down against something new. Many garden stores sell compost activators, but I would try to find the root of the problem first so you aren’t just buying activators every few months.

http://www.composting101.com was awesome for loads of information when I started my compost, and has much more scientific answers than I can provide. Check it out if I didn’t answer your question, and post in the comments so I know what I’m missing!

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Being Organized – The Home Binder

A common question homeschooling families get is how to stay organized. I did mention some systems to stay organized in a previous post, but I thought I’d share my own home binder. In sha Allah it helps give ideas for what will work for you – if a binder is going to work at all.

First, please forgive me for the phone pictures – the one digital camera we have actually isn’t any better, and unless I can find a nice digital camera for under $50, the phone is going to be the best thing we have for quite a while, alhamdulilah.

All right, in the beginning (hehe) there was the cover!

Home Binder Organization

On the cover I have the general daily schedule (this is originally created on a Mac, so let me know if the .xls version is not working or looking funky). This is my ideal schedule, and what my perfect day would look like. Honestly, most days don’t look exactly like this, but I have it in mind throughout the day. As time goes on, I continue implementing more items, like the small clutter clean up times is new as of this year.

Home Binder OrganizationThis is just a pen holder, and holds the hole punch reinforcers. I use the wet erase markers for the menu plan (two pics ahead). I try to have a regular pen in here, but people keep stealing it! 🙂

We start with the basic home management section

Home Binder OrganizationI hold all my coupons in this pocket folder, next to the menu plan. I used to coupon a lot more with a full coupon binder, but found it was just another thing to do, and something had to go. I still keep restaurant, gas, and grocery store coupons here. Thanks to the 52 Week Challenge, I started keeping them here instead of stacked up on the kitchen counter!

Home Binder OrganizationOne of the two pages of the menu plan. Both pages are identical so I can plan out a full two weeks of dinners. I do not plan breakfast or lunches and instead just pick up typical items for my family to make for themselves. I just found a menu plan online (there are many) and put it in a sheet protector. I then use wet erase markers, since they smudge less, to put in the meals. As I write out each meal I write in the grocery shopping list what I need to buy. Since we only eat halal meat, I have the meat at the bottom on a different list because it’s a different store. When it comes time to head to the store, I just take a picture of the shopping list (no paper! yay!).

5Month_menu

This second picture is just a monthly calendar. I use this during Ramadan to plan out the menu for the whole month. I want to plan the month while I’m not fasting. I think too often people end up focusing on iftar (breaking of the fast) during Ramadan. I want that to be good and nutritious, but not the highlight of my day.

If you click on the first menu plan picture you can see more details. I put the location of the recipe (AR = allrecipes.com, the mecca of recipe searches) at the bottom. Sometimes I’ll also write in things to remember, like if I have a meeting and won’t be making dinner myself. Whew, that was a lot about the menu plan!

Home Binder OrganizationHere’s a printout of the monthly calendar for the 52 Week Home Organization Challenge. I have the current month showing in the sheet protector, and all the other months are just behind the current month in the same sheet protector.

Home Binder OrganizationI have a master to do list still in the binder, though it is out of date. I have a “people to contact” list also on the page before this. Notice, there are hold reinforcers on these pages since they don’t go in sheet protectors and this way they don’t rip out easily.

I’m using Google Tasks right now with GTasks on my phone to work through my To Do list and seeing how that works. So far so good! Until it’s a proven system though, I’ll keep my paper to do list as a back up.

Here’s a picture of Little Miss because with every picture I was taking of the binder, she would say, “Cheese!” I had to let her have a bit of the spotlight. 🙂 MashaAllah, she’s such a cutie, if I do say so myself.

Home Binder OrganizationYearly cleaning calendar. This is pretty new to me so it’s still a major work in progress (thus quite empty). I keep telling Hubby I’ll have all this wife business figured out when I’m about 80. Until then, I’m appreciative of how forgiving he is.

Home Binder OrganizationI keep business cards in a sheet protector with sleeves made for business cards. You can get these super cheap on amazon.com! I have contractors, the carpet cleaner, Muslim owned auto repair shops, cards from mystery shops I’ve completed, etc. I don’t like putting all these contacts in my phone if I may only call them every couple years.

On to the homeschool section!

Home Binder Organization

I keep attendance for my own records on a 15 month calendar. I just mark the days we take off, and for now that’s all I really need since our state doesn’t require it. It’s good to keep record though so you know just how much time it has been since you’ve given yourself a break, or how much time you had to take off for a family emergency.

Home Binder OrganizationWe print off the weekly planner from donnayoung.org (LOVE this website for organizational stuff!) each week and Care Bear writes in the assignments for each day. I used to do this, but it seems Care Bear takes more responsibility for her work if she writes it herself.

Home Binder Organization

Some subjects are best to plan out many weeks at a time. I have the semester planner printed out from donnayoung.org for subjects, like History, where this is beneficial. This way if I want to use a specific book from the library for a certain week, I have that listed here. (This image is clickable to make it bigger)

Home Binder OrganizationI keep community ed, YMCA, zoo, or other resource calendars and brochures in the next pocketed divider. This used to sit on our counter also, but the home binder seemed a perfect place to keep it all!

Home Binder OrganizationOn the other side of the pocketed divider, I’m keeping “to do” items. I need to cut these up and laminate them before I want to use them with Little Miss.

Home Binder Organization

Here I have the preschool planner you can download (click on image for full size)! I keep two full weeks of this planned out so depending on how the day pans out, I have quite a few activities and ideas to pull from that follow a general theme. I wouldn’t go as far as saying Little Miss is homeschooled, but instead I watch for opportunities and peaks in curiosity and have activities queued up to use with her.

Home Binder Organization

Lastly, I have extras of many printable pages in the back in sheet protectors. I have gathered many of these printables from various places on the Internet, so I just have an extra copy ready at all times instead of trying to find all the items online when I need more. Two things I have in the back but haven’t used yet are a unit studies planner and a field trip log. I imagine these will come more in handy for elementary homeschooling than it has for later middle school homeschool.

The binder has been a work in progress for about a year now, and I’m finding the more I use it, the better I feel about how our days pan out. This works for us, but it might not work for everyone. Still, I hope this helps!

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Field Trip Friday: Aquarium Edition!

We are all starting to feel a bit locked in our home around here lately! While we can’t enjoy the great outdoors lately (umm… -5F high predicted on Monday!), it’s pretty awesome to feel like you’re somewhere tropical for an hour or two!

Field Trip Friday: Aquarium Edition!Enter, the underwater aquarium! This seemed like such a new concept just 15 years ago and now it seems that most major cities have one. You can easily stroll through the walkway with the aquarium above you and on either side. Last time we brought Little Miss to the underwater aquarium, she didn’t have a level of awe I was hoping for, but I’m anticipating the next time we make the trip, she will be full of excited gasps.

For Care Bear, I just ask that she read some of the signs and tell me what she thought was the coolest thing at the aquarium. In any field trip, I want them to take in the learning opportunities, but not make it an assignment either. Still, it’s good to focus on what happens when we throw things in the water, or when we farm fish in small spaces. Just asking questions like, “What do you think it would be like if there were twice as many of that one fish in this tank?” I hope we are striking some kind of balance. We don’t make it to the underwater aquarium more than once a year because of the decently high price, but I suppose that keeps it fresh for the kids!

Do you have an aquarium nearby? If so, do your kids enjoy it and how often do you get to visit?

 

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What Can Be Composted?

So now that we know that we want to compost, and we know what type of compost bin we will use… what do we fill it up with?

The general rule of thumb is, if it rots, you can put it in your compost. There are some exceptions, of course so we can use the compost within a year or two, and we don’t grow weeds in the compost. Also, we want to make sure there is an even mix of “browns” and “greens” in the compost so it breaks down at a reasonable rate, and doesn’t get stinky and gross!

In general, you want about three parts greens to one part browns. I typically will put in our kitchen scraps, then cover them with dried leaves, garden clippings, or something similar to avoid flies and another annoying bugs.

Typical Greens:

Our kitchen scraps (melon, grape stem, orange peels and coffee grounds) in an old Planter's Mixed Nuts container. Fabulous, aye?

Our kitchen scraps (melon, grape stem, orange peels and coffee grounds) in an old Planter’s Mixed Nuts container. Fabulous, aye?

  • Food scraps
                    • Apple cores, potato peels, coffee/tea grounds, rice, beans, pasta, etc.
                    • Think about whether it grows from the ground or is close to it’s original ingredient… if it is, you can compost it.
  • Fresh garden clippings and scraps
                    • Weeds with the seeds removed, plants that are done producing, grass clippings, fresh leaves
  • Bird/bat guano, steer manure (if you happen to have some laying around! hehe)

Typical Browns:

  • What to put in a compostDried yard clippings and scraps
    • Anything listed above for garden clippings and scraps becomes a brown when you let it dry out.
    • The easiest way I’ve found to keep a nice stock of browns is to keep two bags of leaves from the autumn to use throughout the year
  • Hay, twigs, tree bark
    • Larger sticks will take a long time to compost and aren’t recommended
  • Human and pet hair
  • Fabric scraps from natural materials like wool, cotton, and hemp

Things to Avoid:

  • Animal based food scraps
    • This can attract unwanted pests
  • Diseased plants and aggressive weeds
    • You don’t want the disease or the weed transplanting into your finished compost!
  • Cat and dog droppings
  • Eggs shells if you are in a hurry to use your compost – otherwise it has valuable nutrients
  • Treated wood products
    • The chemicals can be harmful to break down

Hope that helps! Any other tips from those who have a compost?

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Third Trimester

Alhamdulilah, I’m heading into the home stretch with this pregnancy! As each day progresses, I think about how to balance our life that feels so scattered, and how to meet the needs of everyone in our family. In shaa Allah I’ll share our lessons as time goes on.

One thing that keeps coming back to me is to reduce the amount of outside responsibilities I have pulling me away from home. It feels like a requirement in our society to have some sort of outside recognition that we, as mothers, are more than just maids and cooks. I enjoy the intellectual stimulation I can achieve when working with volunteer organizations, but I always feel guilty leaving my family yet again, or telling them I have yet another conference call and to stay quiet. Alhamdulilah, I’m stepping away piece by piece from various organizations, realizing it is a season in my life to focus on my family and the community will benefit in sha Allah from that focus in due time.

Balance, balance, balance. I love being an advocate for homeschooling and lowering our eco-footprint, but as each day ticks away towards my due date, I have to remember my reach does not need to be on the scale of someone who is working full time on this effort. If I make an impact on my family and my children, the ripple effect will be worth that time. How can I effect that change with my family if I’m not there?

As my body forces me to slow down, I’m reminding myself to not plan on speeding back up as soon as I’m physically able. As the saying goes… “Think globally, act locally.” I’m going to start in my (literal) backyard. In sha Allah take time to play, make a garden (we’ll see if we get there with a brand new baby in the spring), and be a positive force for my kids.

I’m getting super excited to meet this little one… and loving the bonding moments in the quiet of the night when he/she is so active!

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Kids Helping Kids – Yay or Nay?

The issue of older siblings helping with younger siblings appears (to me at least) to be a pretty polarized issue. Should the older kids step in when mom needs a break or can’t seem to whip out her third arm? It is putting too much weight on a child and robbing them of their childhood? There seems to be arguments on either side, and many people feel quite passionately about their stance.

While I do think it is important for kids to be allowed to enjoy their childhood, I think we, as a society, put almost a sacred importance on not impeding on their play time and leisure. Too often, I see people come out of high school that don’t know how to cook their own food, wash their own clothes, or take care of their finances. Are we really doing them a favor by sheltering them from responsibility until adulthood?

Care Bear has what I consider to be a small amount of chores: take care of the litterbox, feed the cat, take out the compost, keep her room relatively clean, and help when asked. She probably helps cook dinner once or twice a week, helps with dishes slightly more than that, and helps take care of her sister sporadically throughout the day. The last item is what I catch the most flack about.

Should older kids help their younger siblings?As a much older sibling, I feel this is a golden opportunity to teach Care Bare valuable parenting skills, and home management. Even if she doesn’t choose to stay home like I do, she needs to know how to prioritize her home and how to handle the care and discipline of a child. If Jannah (heaven) is at the feet of our mothers, and insha’Allah us when we have children, then why wouldn’t we spend a good amount of time training our young women how to be good mothers? Not all kids have an opportunity to watch a little child grow up. In this time they can learn how to handle tantrums, discipline without anger, negotiate without giving up authority, and care for the little child’s needs and wants.

Care Bear also gets to see the reality that parenting can be tough, and sometimes that means we need a break. It isn’t because we don’t love the youngster, but instead we are human and have limits. There are times where I have spent near an hour trying to put Little Miss down to sleep and I’ve had enough. Care Bear can step in and help out! Am I ruining Care Bear’s childhood by asking her to step in and help? I don’t think so, but everyone is welcome to their own opinion.

Do your older kids help care for the younger kids? If so, how much? Where’s your limit?

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Field Trip Friday: Factory Tour Edition!

Ever wonder how things are made, or wish your kids wondered more about how things magically got to your home? Sometimes it seems the comforts of modern life stifle our kids’ curiosity on how things work, or we start taking things for granted. I was so excited when I came across this website… I can’t wait to take one of the tours!

Field Trip Friday: Factory Tour Edition!Factory Tours USA is a directory of tours available around the country. Just in our state alone, we have eight options around the state. Of course some of these are farther away from home than others, but it makes for a fun day trip or something to do over a camping weekend!

I wish we had this website when we took a road trip across the country for a fencing competition! We were going to tour a motorcycle factory, but they wouldn’t allow little kids with, and I didn’t really want to wait with Little Miss in their lounge for an hour and a half. We ended up going to a chocolate factory only to find out they don’t do tours – bummer! We ended up just buying a ton of their chocolate on clearance and had a major sugar rush for the next hour, so at least there’s that!

Have you been on any factory tours? What are you favorites?

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Compost Bins – What Works for You?

I was going to make a post today about different types of compost bins, but hey, other people have done that already. What I can offer you is why you may choose one over the other!

First, let’s start with this link from ehow.com on compost bins. I’ll just refer to the types they have listed there as they have done a pretty good job.

Stand-up Plastic Bin

What Compost Bin Works for You?This is the type we have at our home. It is great for being in a more urban area so neighbors aren’t having to look at your compost scraps, it stays enclosed in case of unwanted critters, and another plus of it being enclosed is it can hold in the heat a bit better. In my cold climate, the longer I can keep my compost warm, the better. You can sometimes find food grade plastic bins for pretty cheap on Craigslist, but do keep in mind that if you don’t cut off the bottom of the bin so it is directly on the ground, it doesn’t retain the heat as much. Without the bottom open, you would also need to completely dump out the bin in order to get to the completed compost at the bottom. Bins made for composting normally have an open bottom and some doors at the bottom to access the completed compost before the top of the pile is finished.

Ehow.com also mentioned compost bins with features like one that turns the compost for you and other fancy things. When we bought our bin last year, I had never heard of this before, so I’m hesitant to jump on that bandwagon because I’m worried it would break and then I have to deal with (literally) a pile of trash to get in and fix it. If anyone has gotten one of these fancy bins, I’m all ears for your experience!

Compost Tumbler or Rotating Orb

These look like an awesome idea so you don’t have to go in and turn your compost. The issue I’ve heard with them though is they get quite heavy and cumbersome. Also, since it isn’t touching the ground, the natural heat from the earth doesn’t keep it warm in winter months. If you live in a warmer climate, this is not really a problem for you. As the website says, you also have to finish the compost bin contents before starting another as opposed to taking finished compost from the bottom. With this in mind, if you live in a little bit warmer climate (not 5 months of winter like we can experience here!), and you can keep two smaller compost tumblers on hand, this is a really cool option!

Wooden or Wire Mesh Composter

What Compost Bin Works for You?These are by far the most economical to start up, and the open air design helps keep fresh air running through your compost at all times. One downside is if it isn’t done just right, it can look like a pile of trash in your back yard, which the neighbors may not be too thrilled with. Also, if you have unwanted critters in your area, they could pick off your composted goodies, plus bring unwanted attention to your yard for them to snack on your garden. I would think if you keep a decent amount of “browns” (newspaper, leaves, etc.) on top of the food scraps, this should ward off most animals. I love the look of these if they are done right… they can have a rustic, antique feel to them, especially the wooden composter!

Computerized Indoor Composter

I should say I don’t know anyone who has one of these. They are pretty expensive, and the ones I’ve seen in the stores are pretty small. Still, if you are single or a small family, and/or living in a place where you can’t have a compost outside, it can be a great option. Even if you can’t have a garden outside, you can use the finished compost to grow your own herbs in your kitchen, or even just house plants. There’s definitely some good reasons to purchase an indoor composter, though the price and size can be a hindering factor for some.

No Bin

What Compost Bin Works for You?Before I started composting for myself and I was scouring the Internet for information, I came across a farmer on YouTube that had a small video showing his compost heap. He says he doesn’t turn it or anything. He waits for a year or two for it to decompose on its own, and just creates a different pile in the meantime. If you have the space to do this, go for it. What’s the worst that could happen? You have a pile of healthy dirt in your back yard? The downside is obviously the looks of it, and it is more prone to getting picked through by critters. If you are afraid you’re not going to keep up on turning a compost, then this could be a good way for you also.

What’s your favorite type of compost bin? What works for you or what do you think would work? If you’re just starting out, get your kids involved in the decision making! Help them understand priorities, wants, and needs by being a part of family decisions!

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Balance: A New Year’s Focus

What do we have in common? Most people do not have the same family situation as us with such a large split in ages between two kids. I think one thing many moms struggle with is balance. How do we keep up on the housework, keep the kids entertained and learning, and maintain our outside responsibilities?

When I first got laid off, I had so much extra time and only one 9 year old daughter. I signed up for online classes, became a consultant for a direct sales company, volunteered at the masjid, and started looking into homeschooling. Our first two years of homeschooling were with a virtual academy and while there was a good size adjustment to get started, it didn’t require a lot of me on a day to day basis once we got our routine down. I would get stressed sometimes on the weekends because they were so busy, but Little Miss making her appearance and moving to traditional homeschooling was a bigger change than I anticipated.

Add in buying our first house and becoming landlords in the same action – I had my fill. Now, how to scale back without letting everyone down that I had made commitments with? It’s been a slow process. One by one, I’m resigning from various volunteer work and learning to say no to new projects.

My kids are my job. I have to remind myself this very often, and remind myself that I asked for this to be my full time job. I want them to grow up with someone completely focused on them, their education, their needs, and desires. This doesn’t mean they are my “boss” but rather, I’m their constant force of influence and guidance. Since I have made this commitment, it deserves my attention and focus. 

This brings back the question of balance. I often get the question of how to balance homeschool with daily chores like grocery shopping. I don’t have it all figured out, but I am committed to making it work. Sometimes something’s gotta give. We can figure this out together. How to balance multiple age groups, house chores, volunteer work, and mama time while trying to live frugal and green? If it’s important enough, we’ll make it work, and cut the fat along the way. Let’s do it!

The 52 Week Organized Home Challenge is a good start to get in the right mindset, and I’ll focus on balance along the way through this blog. Join me and provide feedback when you can!

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Basic Learning Concepts – Fun Play!

I may have a boat load of kids, just so I can keep doing preschool activities!

Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready has time and time again proven to be such a valuable resource in bringing education to simple tasks. Today the activity was supposed to mimic Jack in the Box where the small child goes inside a box and jumps out, but Little Miss was less than interested in jumping out. We use cardboard boxes to make doll beds sometimes, so she liked the idea of having her own cardboard box bed!

Getting in the box, with her baby!

Getting in the box, with her baby!

Little Miss would lay in the box and would say, “All done”, which actually meant, “Close the lid.” We got to teach her the words and concepts of closed and open. Care Bear and I also tried to talk about how Little Miss is inside the box and we are outside the box, but Little Miss mainly seemed pleased with bossing us around to open and close the flaps. I have a feeling the next time we get a big package in the mail, we’ll be playing this game again.

This mess is learning in action.

This mess is learning in action.

Another activity that was surprisingly engaging from the same book was simply taking magazine pages (we used an old American Girl catalog for the bigger pages, and fun pictures) and teaching Little Miss how to fold them in half. She got to learn some motor skills, and is casually introduced to the concept of half. Little Miss spent 40 minutes sitting on the floor folding pieces of paper! I couldn’t believe how engaged she was in such a simple activity!

You may notice how Little Miss rarely has pants on at home. I swear, we aren’t Muslim nudists in the house… there are just other battles to fight for. 🙂

In other news, we started reading about Adam (peace be upon him) in our board books and I’m feeling anxious to buy some more books about the prophets, though I need to get them into the budget before I go spending money on them! Our Islamic library for the preschool age is seriously lacking and we need to change that in the near future. Insha’Allah things loosen up a bit so we can make that happen.

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