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Home management tips

Renee Ellison's tools for effectively managing your home--including finance and domestic skills..

A waltz with plastic (an editorial on the use of credit cards)

Sunday, 28. June 2009 by Renee Ellison

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Credit cards waltz many Americans straight into surrealism. Taking another spin around the room in the arms of plastic, with sweet nothings being whispered in our ears, we whirl deeper and deeper into the night. But the “financial-folly-of-a-dance” ends in the morning. By the rude light of day we see the tables turned upside down; we hold only empty bottles and toys and begin to feel the headache.

In the old days, before plastic was invented and cut into sturdy little 2x3 inch rectangles, we had to FEEL real money, and we counted out DIFFERENT amounts for each purchase: one dollar, two dollars, three dollars. At the checkout stand, people used to observe the size of the pile of cash required for each and every item they bought. And AFTER a purchase, if there was any left, they put a DIMINISHED stash of cash back into their pocket…realizing that what remained was thinner, littler, and lighter. They felt the transfer of stored sweat equity in actual greenbacks and clinking change.

But today, regardless of whether we buy a large expensive car or a small cheap loaf of bread, we put the SAME SIZED piece of plastic back into our wallet after the purchase; nothing is diminished in the palm of our hand. We see no loss; we feel no loss. This new financial modus operundus has led many of us straight into un-reality. We know that reality still exists out there somewhere, but it is veiled and far away. What we now feel is only the waltz, the beat of the music in the air. The faster we spin, the higher we fly, until we don’t feel the tug of even the law of gravity anymore…financial gravity. We have disconnected with natural laws.

Many think that we cross the line into surrealism when our credit card debt-load reaches $5,000, or $10,000 or $15,000, or whenever all hope of EVER paying it back seems past. But the reality is that we crossed it with our first small purchase when we didn’t have the actual cash in the bank to back it up and we KNEW it, but did it anyway. That is where we crossed the line. Thousands cross this line every day. It is a kind of financial mini-stroke, a trial run at financial suicide. A shot of morphine.

By the way, what COULD persons do if they ever DO reach such a point of needing money when they have none? They could do what people have done for centuries. Stop purchasing!!! Stop the financial hemorrhaging. Don’t keep digging the same hole deeper. Leave the grocery store, leave the gas station; instead, walk, bike, catch a ride with a neighbor. Go out immediately and earn something. Earn pocket change for just today, and then do it again tomorrow, until you can get a larger, more permanent job, based on your conscientious regard for the responsibilities of the small temporary job you completed today. You then use this small job to get a quote, a referral, a recommendation for the future. Go mow someone’s lawn, make a loaf of bread and sell it, or fix something for someone, babysit someone’s child, look after an elderly person, fix them dinner, wash their car, clean their house, or yard. Do grunt work. Clean someone’s “something” that they don’t want to have to clean themself. Work at some little job for UNDER the going rate. Do what makes you the most marketable immediately. You can think about a more long range solution WHILE you work at SOMETHING to put food on the table right now.

Be exceptionally clean and well groomed. You never get a second chance to impress a future employer, whether they hire you for a day, or a week, or a year. Demonstrate by your LOOKS that you COULD care about someone ELSE’S details. Poverty and elbow grease aren’t mutually exclusive. Wash dishes in a restaurant. Get a paper route, or fill in on a mail delivery route. Take the lowest job of the low. There is always room at the bottom of any potential work project. And if you do it well, you’ll soon climb the ladder, within hours, even!!!

Just several short decades ago, even if a person’s own mother died, if they didn’t have the money to take the train home for the funeral, they didn’t go. Period. There was no WAY to waltz across that line of reality. It was not possible. No cash, no purchases. For this reason, some of the Pilgrims daily rationed themselves with only 3 kernels of corn during the toughest moments of that first harsh winter. They viscerally FELT the lack of vital resources, and it caused them to use their fleeting vital energy to find a way to reverse that reality so that it wouldn’t hit again tomorrow. Money or the lack thereof defines a large part of our reality. It tells us what we can and cannot do. If one chooses to leave the path of financial solvency, finding it too narrow, one quickly ends up in the jungle, NOT on a larger path as one imagines.

Fiscal reality is not a bad thing. It is a sure parameter around existence from its inception. Earning money is a motivator for all mankind. History has revealed the wisdom of it. Without needing to buy bread by the sweat of one’s brow, one would choose not to sweat. Most all of the great art and literature contributions made during the Renaissance were produced in response to a commission! The artist had to eat, so he wrote the book, or painted the church’s ceiling, to get money for his living expenses. Think of the art the world would have missed, had there not been the necessity of producing it.

Realistically, there are only two avenues to wealth. Only two. Spend less. And earn more. That’s it. That’s the secret formula in its entire splendor. It is no great mystery. The challenge of fiscal reality will always be to mobilize oneself WITHIN this construct, not seek to hunt for a different road.

Spend less. Put pencil to paper… greenbacks in envelopes…record daily purchases/receipts/expenses in a financial log-book before you go to bed EVERY night, until you fully master yourself again in this area. Even Ben Franklin did this. He was carrying his own financial weight by the time he was 24 and then—by multiplying those efforts/successes through hiring others—by age 42 (the very same numbers flipped) he was CONTRIBUTING to the needs of the WORLD.

Become AWARE of EVERY purchase. Rather than purchase in surrealism, totally oblivious to what you are ACTUALLY doing, wake up. Take 48 hours to think before making ANY purchase that isn’t previously WRITTEN down, whether it is for groceries, medicine, projects, seemingly needed travel, clothes, etc. Put it ALL down on paper. Applying pencil to paper is the fastest route to control your income and outgo.

Earn MORE. One way to do this is to layer those income streams. Do more than one job. Pick up smaller jobs around the edges, and stay relentlessly steady at it until you return to total solvency. Mobilize the entire family as a fiscal machine, if need be. The Pilgrims did it. There is no other way. Foreigners who come to our country do it, even now. The entire family sleeps in the back of the storefront on the floor and works its way up from there. Don’t stop when you are finally out of trouble – stop only when there is EXCESS in your wallet. Savings is the goal, not just survival.

One may wistfully stand on the shore and WANT or even TRY another way to cross the Atlantic Ocean, be it by roller skating, hot air ballooning, or swimming, but only two ways will ACTUALLY, surely get you there. It’s only possible to fly or take a boat. We will not make it if we attempt to walk on water. So it is with money. Determine to grab yourself out of the current financial surreal world. Live for the morning, and begin to feel financial gravity again as you return to fiscal sure-footedness. If you’re in trouble in this area, the first step is to cut up the plastic and stop the waltz.

Filed Under: Home management tips

How to make SURE money by nightfall, TODAY, in a collapsing economy

Thursday, 19. March 2009 by Renee Ellison

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Make and sell home-made bread. We’re serious. A number of families are trying this with success. Recently when one family’s daddy lost his job, the couple went into the bedroom and got on their knees and cried out to the Lord, “Show us what we could do to bring in income for our family of seven.” They “heard”, put your nose to the grindstone and make bread.

They got up and tried it. Then went out to sell it to the neighborhood and were all sold out in ten minutes! They used a darling old country basket, nestled some pretty fabric in it, stacked the bread on top, attached a label describing the healthy ingredients, put a ribbon around each loaf, and took their adorable children to the door with them, and they were in business.

This family goes out right at the 5 p.m. dinner hour, when everyone is home and hungry in their houses. And “Lo and Behold”, here comes a knock at the front door and irresistible food right there on their front porch! You can’t beat that marketing strategy. Now, with an expanded route, the bread-making family is home in 45 minutes start to finish, where they then sit down to their own PAID-FOR dinner. Hearing this story, a family in ANOTHER STATE tried it with the SAME terrific results.

The first family has since tweaked their utensils and tools, and are looking at a gradual expansion of their home business. And, while they sell bread they also are making significant positive and recurring contacts with neighbors, who may come to know the bread of life through the gospel witness of this family. Aha, hmm… wonder if God knew this, when He first suggested it to them!

Start Simple
The “loaves and fishes” story in the Bible is really a financial PRINCIPLE. Start with what you HAVE. If you have nothing, go buy some flour, add the other necessary ingredients, and come home and knead it with your own bare hands and go out and sell it. Do it again and again. Plow your profits back into buying a USED Bosch on E-Bay for kneading, and a Vita Mix™ (with the dry container) to grind your grain from scratch. Voila. You’re in business. They sky is the limit. There is no end to neighborhoods or of hunger for wholesome food.

Make the bread WITH your children and you bump it up one more level: family togetherness around a productive, joyful, progressively enlarging enterprise that is WHOLESOME. How many families have prayed for just this scenario? You’re lookin’ at ANSWERED PRAYER. It may be God’s little miracle for many of His children, who now need such an idea, to thread their way through the present economic collapse. It may, in fact, become your young children’s OWN business, that they become capable enough to run by themselves, making ever bigger profits. This is wonderfulness! “At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11, NKJV).

In business school, in marketing classes, they always say it is ideal to find a product that is UNIVERSALLY NEEDED and that involves REPEAT business. Bread’s it!!!!!

This business works well alongside anything else you want to do for the next few years. It could fund any dream you have. If you make 20 loaves a day, you might earn $2,000 a month. One family said that they could easily sell 50 loaves a day in less than an hour, if they just HAD them to sell! (Of course, you will need to check with your local governing authorities to see that you are complying with any regulations for having a business, collecting sales tax, baking bread at home for sale, etc.)

To read more (including recipes for whole wheat bread and walnut chocolate chip cookies, and more tips on how to do it), open this PDF file.

Wish you or your daughter knew how to sew?

Wednesday, 17. December 2008 by Renee Ellison

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Do you always look longingly at others who know how to sew? Never have time to learn, or no one around to teach you? Now your wish can come true! Start with these two helps from here at HomeschoolHowtos.com and then move on to the DVD sewing series referred to below, and you’ll get a full garment sewing course, all without leaving home! Winter is the perfect time to take advantage of those cold dark months and learn a new skill.

Tips available from us:
Very valuable beginner information, tips and tricks right from the get-go!
Beginner Sewing Basics: Why sew? Plus a checklist of sewing skills to conquer (available as a downloadable e-book or in print)
Simple Sewing Solutions for Busy Moms (DVD)

A referral:
I’ve discovered the neatest set of SEWING DVD’s that would be absolutely perfect and exciting for both you and your daughter.

She (or you) would be an EXPERT after working through this series, because it covers every aspect of garment construction. Over the past six months, in an effort to develop and provide sewing help for moms (just like I’ve tried to do for cooking in years past), I’ve been researching various sewing instructions put out by various companies. I’ve ordered them through libraries, bought some, and studied through all of them.

By far the BEST series out there is put out by Margaret Islander. She is an older lady, with a very cheerful spirit and an excellent teaching gift…step by step, totally understandable. She used to be a factory seamstress and learned all their tricks and then modified them for home machines. Later she started a sewing school for basic sewing as well as couture sewing (fashion, ultra refined stuff) and pattern drafting. Her tips are REMARKABLE and save tons of time. Eager would-be seamstresses take to all of this stuff like fish to water. If you get them for your daughter, don’t plan on seeing her for months, she’ll be so engrossed in them and excited!!!!!!

I would start with her DVD entitled Shirts, Etc. After viewing this, you (or she) will be able to make EVERYONE shirts that look like a professional made it.

These are the names of all of the instructional sewing DVDs in this series:
Industrial Shortcuts
Shirts, Etc.
Pants, Etc.
Galaxy of Sewing Techniques 1, 2, 3 and 4 (four separate DVD’s)
Easy Zippers (demonstrates all zipper types, with professional results)

You can just rent them far cheaper than purchasing them—at www.SmartFlix.com—or purchase them from Islander Sewing Systems (phone 1-248-889-5091), but they are pricey. The first DVD—Shirts, Etc.—costs $79.00.

If your young seamstress (or you!) want to actually make a shirt while watching the Shirts, Etc. DVD, you’ll need a shirt pattern…any old one that you might have from Granny or your mom will do. If you don’t have one, then order the Dress Men’s Shirt Pattern directly from Margaret Islander. If you DO obtain the dress shirt pattern, the instructions will perfectly match the exact pattern that she is using…but not a big deal either way…a shirt is a shirt.

The main thing is to teach your daughter to conquer a pattern and then use the SAME pattern over and over and over until she is an expert at that one, then switch to a new one. A long time solidifying foundations in developing ANY skill, makes for zooming later. (Even in cooking, train her to make the same seven evening dinners over and over, until they become mindless…absolutely none of us were taught this fast track to homemaking expertise…and wandered around in the domestic wilderness of trial and error for years!) When she gets married, she’ll have seven meals conquered from day one!

The following is the best way to proceed with acquiring the sewing skill. Have her watch the entire DVD totally through, once, so that she gets a good overview of where she is going. She can watch it while she eats supper over several nights. Then go back and watch it section by section…stopping the DVD to actually DO that section on her own garment construction.

(Buy some cheap 100% all cotton fabric off a remnant table…maybe even an entire bolt for her to learn off from…she needs to work out all the bobbles before using expensive fabric…this is cheap TRAINING fabric. Wash the whole bolt at once and cut it up in three-foot sections, fold and stack to use on project after project…avoid stripes or checkered squares, which she would have to match up).

Because the DVD is all VISUAL, there are no detailed, technical things to read…nada!!! It is all just sheer fun.

There is just no doubt about it, that becoming an expert cook and seamstress makes a gal a very, very, very capable woman…an asset to any household. These two skill areas need to be incrementally improved constantly, by all of us women, so that we can eventually do them on the backstroke while TALKING with OTHERS, at the same time! That’s the goal! I once knew an 80-year old woman who STILL didn’t know how to make basic oatmeal, and another woman, age 60, who had no sponge by her kitchen sink, or under her sink…go figure!

If you or your daughter are interested in this skill, these sewing tips could give you REAL tools, which would help you in SERVING others in a confident and excellent manner. It could be a wonderful next step in your domestic education.

Coping with cold weather: tips for chilly women

Wednesday, 15. October 2008 by Renee Ellison

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Up north here, winter is coming, so batten the hatches! When you weatherproof a home, you cover the holes. So, too, the body! The main place heat escapes is through the head (especially if you have a small brain) and the feet (especially if you have holes in your toes).

The head: Wear stocking caps to sleep in, or Polar Tec hats that cover your ears. (Warms up your dreams and blocks out all sound…add eye-patches for a total blackout.) Wear them inside during the day, too… the stocking caps, that is, not the eye-patches. (Warning: if someone comes to your door, they’re apt to say, “Oh I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize that you were just leaving.”—to which you answer ?????).

For outside daytime, think “Russian Czar hats” with fur that sticks out in front of the hat. I used to rip this off from hats, considering it a nuisance, not knowing what it was for. In a less aesthetic moment I discovered that the added fur moves the cold further out in front/away from the face by about two inches (one of the few splendid ideas the Russians have had).

The feet: Wear two layers of socks: a comfortable non-itchy thin inner sock, covered with a heavier wool sock (unless, of course, you LIKE that itchy feeling). Wear flat-heeled thin tall leather boots all the time (high heels were invented by men); this adds additional warmth UP the leg. Or, wear ankle-high tennis shoes with thicker insulation, or any thick shoe.

Wear socks to bed. Fill hot water bottles and place them at the children’s feet as they go to sleep. My mom used to sleep with a hot brick from the fireplace wrapped in a thin towel during cold Wisconsin winters. (Heroically, you could use older, iffier, hot water bottles in your OWN bed.)

Stay warm at night (this is a time when you don’t need to heat your entire house): Sleep with two pillows. Set one pillow against the wall standing wide-ways at the head of your bed, providing another thick layer of insulation against the wall. (Move these extra pillows to the center of the bed if you’re having a marital spat and need a demilitarized zone for awhile.) Wear long underwear for pajamas, to cover with a quick robe when the children are around. (Forget about looking attractive at night.) Silk long underwear can’t be beat (SierraTradingPost.com has it for about $18 for top or bottom. For reasons mentioned below, we recommend just getting the bottoms). And switch to flannel sheets when chilly nights have arrived!

Create your own heat: Become a heat combustion engine yourself. Exercise vigorously under the covers, sing vigorously, clean house vigorously, do daily vigorous walks and callisthentics, chop wood.

Stop the leaks in your house: Sew heavy curtains to put over your doors and windows…i.e. add shower rings to your spare thick blankets or sleeping bags and hang them over doors and windows. This makes your house look ghastly, but it drops your heating bills HUGELY. (Now is the time to come face to face with the fact that people always care more about how their OWN home looks, than yours.) Insulate windows with Reflectix® Bubble Pack Foil Insulation ...it comes in large rolls at most major hardware stores, in the plumbing section. [Email us if you’d like to read our price comparisons for this insulating film and look at pictures of the panels in place.] Cut it into sections that you can reinforce with yardsticks stapled or taped on as handles to set them into the window at night and remove when the sun is shining. Work with the elements, to take advantage of solar gain on sunny days; caulk around the exterior of your windows and check for leaks around doors (beef up the draft excluders if the cold air is sweeping under the door).

Stop the leaks in your bed: In Medieval times, people in cold climates hung thick canopy drapes around the bed (that is where the decorative frilly foo-foo thin things that warm up no one got started) and all the family members slept in one bed (that is where glee clubs got started).

Bathroom survival: Line your toilet seats with fur. Bathe in large Tupperware containers, storage bins, INSIDE the tub…using the tub only to catch the splatters. (Cold porcelain tubs COULD make you violent.) Preheat your bathroom to 350 degrees with a small electric heater before disrobing.

Drink hot drinks: Put warm water in a thermos before you go to bed at night, so that when you drink water during the night it isn’t like drinking ice. (This procedure prepares you for nocturnal picnics, too.) Be sure that it is only WARM water…test it on your wrist before putting it into the thermos. If it’s too hot, waiting for it to cool off THOROUGHLY awakes you at a time when you’d prefer to be thoroughly asleep. I’ve burned my tongue on HOT thermos water, before. Makes for parched dreams afterwards, and a foul day following.

Drink something hot first thing in the morning…tea, coffee, hot grease… Just have hot water ready in a thermos all day long. If you need variety for tea choices, just use drops of essential oils in hot water all throughout the day. Forget those tea kettles that have a one inch hole and whistle; they get rusted and filthy inside, because you can’t see inside and can’t reach in to clean them properly. (They were invented by a fastidious neurotic.) A lid on a pan works fine; you become an expert at pouring it with no spout over time.

Focus the heat: We have two little portable electric RADIATOR heaters. Where we live, they only cost about 15 cents an hour to run. We use these in addition to (often, instead of) the furnace for the whole house. We take this focused heat WITH us—moving it from area to area wherever we are doing our actual living. We set the heaters under or near the dining room table when we eat, move them to the living room right by the couches when we read, etc. In the morning I turn them on when I first get up, and drink hot tea and sit right next to them.

Wear layers: Top of the line are down vests and cashmere sweaters (a treasured find in thrift stores). Wearing TWO vests works wonders. Layer one over the other. This frees your arms to wash dishes without dipping your huge thick coat sleeves in the water. If your torso stays warm, the rest of you will, too. And of course, layer layers underneath that. I have found that I don’t like long underwear on the TOP because of the moments off and on throughout the day when I occasionally warm up. I don’t like having to take EVERYTHING off just to cool down in these sporadic hotter moments. If I take everything off down to a regular blouse, then I’m always modest and don’t have to leave the room to change clothes entirely. Then ten minutes later I can quickly grab the external layers and put them all back on again.

Read and have couch time in sleeping bags up to your armholes. (When you walk around you’ll look like inch worms.)

Think hot thoughts—grateful thoughts. Join sympathies with Eskimos and Siberians. And be utterly thankful, if you’re one of the fortunate women who got to spend the MAJORITY of your earth-life in warm places. You’ll soon forget having had to pay these dues at the low end of the thermometer for a portion of the year. Some people have had to spend their ENTIRE lives cold. (I’ve found this particular gratefulness test hard to pass, myself…but ‘tis a good goal to strive for in valiant moments of nobility…i.e., when the children are watching.)

If all else fails, cave in and move to India.

Filed Under: Home management tips

Art in homemaking

Tuesday, 05. August 2008 by Renee Ellison

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Have you seen the movie Babette’s Feast? I think it conveys a strong message about serving our families with excellence and artistic sensitivity. One of my favorite parts, early in the movie, is watching the old man’s reaction to the one bowl of soup Babette kindly placed in front of him. That kindness was spread THROUGHOUT the soup by her CARE with the spices. Food can be a carrier of meaning…as ANY endeavor can be if one elevates it by one’s care.

The other thing that I found most memorable about the movie was to see ordinary people caught up in art, finding to their surprise a part of their own humanity that they didn’t know existed. In this case it was the art of dining...several courses…savored…eaten slowly (we would omit the alcohol) caused another part of them to wake up…communicating lovingly with one another on another level…not just knowing one another in a one-dimensional functional setting of work.

These sorts of momentary aches, brought on by art, teach us that there is another existence somewhere, of which this is only the prelude. The German philosopher Goethe said, “There is so much in us that longs YET to be developed, even when we are old, that it indicates that we were created ultimately for a life beyond this.”

Filed Under: Home management tips

How to pass the marriage test

Monday, 30. June 2008 by Renee Ellison

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I read a superb treatise on marriage by a very wise old man on the Sabbath. He said we all go into marriage thinking we will get our needs met by the other—only to discover that the other person went into marriage hoping to get their needs met by us! We went into marriage to be takers, only to discover that God’s total design was to be made like Christ via the marriage. He designed and uses the marriage as the slow fire that burns away our dross. In other words, God put us into the supreme object lesson of how to be consummate givers, expecting nothing in return.

The verse doesn’t read “husbands tolerate your wives” or “wives tolerate your husbands” (Ephesians 5:25). That would be easy. It says, instead, to love them, to be devoted to them, praying for them, demonstrating Christ’s nature to them, exposing them to His likeness day in and day out, no matter how ornery they chose to be. Could it be that this is, in fact, why God added that additional obstacle of making a man and woman’s very wiring different—that women are more relational, and men are more career oriented—to force the issue? Will we even strive to “leap the mystery” because we desire Christ’s nature to be formed in us so desperately…hungering and thirsting for His righteousness…to be made like Him, whatever the route He designed to get us there?

Let us study our mates, apply to God for how to love them, to grow in flexibility, magnanimity, willing to die to self over and over, to be slighted, forgiving being treated badly because of what it makes of us, to even be willing to be stripped of preferences and inclinations. (Our spouse is God’s problem!!!) God after all designed marriage. We have found Him to be wise in His other designs…why not in this? If we determine to pick up the cross daily we shall be rewarded with the crown forever and ever without end. Not a bad exchange. A finite denial for an infinite glory. Let us apply ourselves to pass the test, incident by incident.

How long should my skirt be? and what about jewelry?

Wednesday, 07. May 2008 by Renee Ellison

About skirt length—your husband KNOWS; ask him. I wear mine about six inches off the ground. If you keep the fabric of your skirts plain and classically understated (you only need about two basic skirts) and wear lovely BLOUSES, (for the variety), all the attention will be drawn to your face, where your eyes express the love of the Lord. Attention drawn to flamboyant shoes, flouncy patterned skirts, and chunky legs and calfs all militate against KEEPING the stranger’s eye on your face and not on your lower half.

The longer the skirt, the less you have to worry about hose, etc. You can wear comfortable knee socks, or sandles…and warm leggins’ when it is cold. Longer skirts and dresses make your life far more simple. I’d dress this way for selfish reasons even if modesty wasn’t a reason. Ditto on the jewelry. It really gets down to “Am I grooming myself to be an ornament, or as the Lord’s servant with rolled up sleeves?!” (For further reading on these topics, see Feminine Dress.)

Filed Under: Home management tips