Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Jobs for Teens

Each of my three children have always been interested in earning their own money. We have always expected each of them, as family members, to contribute by helping with household chores. Those chores have been based on their age and ability and we have never actually given them an allowance for helping around the house. As a result, they have all been especially eager, to get jobs somewhere, to earn a pay check. Simple enough, I thought. Not so, it seems. Jobs for teenagers are harder to come by, then when I was a kid. An after school position, or even a summer job, isn't as easy as just asking at the local grocery store anymore. In Illinois, where we live, anyone under sixteen is required to have a work permit. Those permits are issued by the local district school superintendent.

First employment - at the sandwich shop.

As a homeschooling parent, I'm a bit miffed by the requirement to ask permission from the district superintendent for my children to work an actual job. It adds one more hoop to jump through and in my opinion, gives undo authority to district schools over a teen's earning potential. There are, however, "jobs" for teens that are not required to have permits - sports officiating (umpires at the local baseball field) is one, delivery of newspapers or caddying at the golf course are others. So without wandering to far off into the political weeds....

My oldest's first experience with earning his own money, came as a newspaper deliverer. At that time, a local community newspaper gave each edition to every residence in the community, delivered to each door by a local teen. This provided an excellent first "job" opportunity for preteens and teens in our neighborhood. These first opportunities were coveted in our town. Other families in our vicinity held the same positions, handing them down from one sibling to the next for many years. Unfortunately, the newspaper made the decision to end direct delivery and eliminated the jobs held by young people. Since then, most of the earning opportunities for my teens have come privately from neighbors and friends. Many based in the connections my oldest made as a delivery person.

The next ongoing, lucrative opportunity, came as a dog walker. Everyday, during the school year, my son walked a beautiful German Shepard whose owner had long work days and wanted her pet companion to have much needed daily exercise while she was at work. My younger son filled in on days when the primary dog walker had a schedule conflict. Dog walking was an excellent way for both of them to spend time with a canine friend without our family having to make the commitment to dog ownership. The bond established between boy and dog was, none the less, significant and meant a positive pet experience for both of them as well as earning money.

The pet care opportunities have expanded and my daughter has enjoyed taking care of a neighbor's ducks when their young family needs assistance. More challenging then poultry care, she has also had the opportunity to babysit and more recently she has become an assistant in a gymnastics program for beginning gymnasts. All of these experiences are leading toward a greater understanding of making a contribution in return for financial rewards.

Pet sitting includes feathered friends.

Besides the financial benefit, the experience of accepting responsibility has been extremely beneficial for for my teen-aged children. Having the reinforcement of a paycheck from outside of our family emphasizes the importance of creating value, doing a job well and responsibility. Having teenagers in our family, who hold part-time jobs, requires me to add to my own responsibilities. Scheduling family meals is more complicated and driving them to and from jobs has been added to my to-do list. However, the benefits of them increasing their financial literacy and learning about employment is well worth the effort.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentines Day!

Celebrate the art of love with these free Fine Arts Pages from Enrichment Studies.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Learning to Read

I will never forget - the joy of watching my children learn to read!

Curious and eager, children are little learning machines. They readily absorb the information around them and want to actively participate in the world of the people they know and love. As we all know, acquiring the skill of reading is fundamental and essential for participation in that world. Giving them an environment rich in print, teaching them basic phonics skills and offering them encouragement and modeling, they will become readers and participate in our world of written words.

Teaching a child to read.

Teaching reading isn't really that hard. Especially, if as parents, we are aware of the range of readiness in our children. Not all children are early readers. If a child begins to read "late" as defined by our current education system, it doesn't mean that they won't become excellent readers. As a child, I was an early reader myself. Attending kindergarten was a disappointment for me because I thought I was going to school to learn, not to play in a playhouse and take naps. However, my early reading as a child did not predict early reading in my own children, as I expected it would. It was my misplaced expectation that threw my family's reading enjoyment off track for a period of time. Oops! Thankfully, we had already chosen to home school and also, fortunately, I was able to pay attention to my child and set my early reading expectations aside. I had to regroup and trust. Our focus was to enjoy words, stories, reading and books with my children.

It worked. A little instruction. Lot's of reading together. They became readers.

Encourage your children to become readers, the basics:

  • Read aloud with your children.
  • Provide a print rich environment.
  • Carve out silent reading times for your family.
  • Make sure your children see you reading on your own.
  • Explore the places that offer the adventure of reading.

Some of the best reading resources that I am aware of:

Excellent reading resources at Old Schoolhouse Teachers

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Sunday, January 29, 2017


Create something of value for someone everyday and you will always be wealthy!

An idea I try to convey to my kids in word and deed.

The thing, I think, is to keep creating - create something, produce something, instead of, or at least in addition to  - consuming, It may not always be something as tangible as a piece of art or a product to sell. It may be something quite intangible - the beginning of a friendship or a plan for a beautiful event.

Create something for someone else to have, or hold, or view, or respond to. It could be a painting or a poem. It could be something more immediately useful. It may be only a seemingly mundane thing; like a clean load of laundry, or a just mopped shiny kitchen floor, or a joke. No matter where you are, where you live, you can create something useful, something of value or lasting beauty. Something that will please someone, or make them think, or not think so much.

What ever it is..

Create something today to encourage a smile on the face of another.
Create something that will feed the body, soul or mind of someone you love.

Create something, then create and eat your lunch!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Traveling with Young Athletes

Our teenagers participation in sports has sometimes required us to travel long distances to events. So far, this has always been because they have achieved entry into a level of competition that they worked hard to accomplish. A regional or national competition is a big deal and something we felt deserved our commitment as parents to assist them in participating in.

Needless to say, travel is expensive. Our family vacations have predominantly been budget conscious adventures, tent camping, lots of sandwiches on the road, etc. So our earliest sports travel expenses were quite a shock. Fun and exciting, but did a number on our budget! I began to explore options and ways to reduce the expense. One wonderful discovery was of Airbnb. Not only did Airbnb save us money but the accommodations were actually beneficial in many ways, especially for our daughter, as she competed at gymnastic meets.

Staying in the hub (the designated host hotels) of competition excitement can be invigorating but it can also be distracting and overwhelming for an athlete as they prepare for high level competitions. In the case of gymnastics there are often many athletes of varying ages with different needs and expectations. The activity level can be distracting. Socializing looks more fun than getting rest, eating well and staying focused. The food choices, especially if your funds are limited can be restrictive.


Healthy nutrition is an important component for competing athletes. Eating on the road is typically more restrictive and finding good nutrition on the road is difficult without over spending. It can be difficult to maintain a healthy diet especially one required by a young competing athlete while traveling. Staying with Airbnb hosts has been amazingly beneficial for us, in this regard. We have been able to find accommodations that have provided access to complete use of a kitchen, allowing us to prepare food for ourselves instead of eating out or resorting to packaged items. In one case we were asked by our host in advance, what items we would like to have available for breakfasts. When we arrived we were greeted by a well stocked supply of appropriate, start your day right, meal choices.

Share the Expense 

Trying to keep costs down, we have organized with other families, to share the expense. Due to different competition levels, schedules and needs of the athletes, arranging to share accommodations can be helpful or honestly, only add to the level of stress. We have at times been fortunate to have teammate families that have been willing to share travel and/or accommodations. Depending on the location and distance, sharing driving especially, can be much more cost effective than air travel.

We have shared both hotel rooms and airbnb accommodations.  The advantage to sharing an Airbnb is the wide range of options available. There are whole houses, or single rooms. There are luxury accommodations, or bare bones facilities. In one situation, we shared with another gymnast and her mom, we had two lovely bedrooms (the girls shared one, us moms the other), The downside of this arrangement was the chatting that went on into the night, infringing on sleep. And it wasn't the girls who were up late into the night chatting and losing sleep. We have always had access to a kitchen when staying in an Airbnb.  As a result, we have been able to provide the best nutrition and cook up some great meals. After one meet we were able to share a wonderful meal of celebration with our hosts. You never know where support for your young athlete and your family will come from.

Pineapples are symbols of hospitality. Airbnb hosts deliver.

Visit Airbnb

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Building an Ice Rink in the Yard

Every October, my husband starts to get antsy about an annual household project that needs to be completed before the first freeze. It's not winterizing our home for optimal heating indoors. It's not preparing our cars for the snow and ice we can expect in Chicagoland, equipping them with snow tires or checking the anti-freeze. It's not hauling winter boots, coats, hats and mittens out of their summertime attic storage. Nope, it's none of those only slightly necessary preparations that he begins to focus on when the leaves begin to turn and fall.

It's something much more vital to the wintertime existence of this homeschooling family. To meet the needs of winter survival and sanity of physically active children and stir crazy adults, my husband begins to turn his attention to the building of an ice rink in our suburban yard. It is not a difficult process but it is a labor of love.

Usually a chilly half day project, every year they hope to begin the process before the ground freezes. My husband and the boys haul the systematically stored boards and stakes out of the garage.

The boards are laid out in the yard in their eventual order of placement, set up with stakes and held in place with brackets and screws.

The boards are draped with a very large piece of plastic (construction grade), obtained from our local Home Depot. One hundred feet long, the cost of the plastic is $80.00. It is cut in half for use over two years, one half per year. Attached with a staple gun to the boards the plastic covers the ground and the inside of the boards.

Once the task of adding the plastic cover is complete, the weather watching begins. They begin looking for the inevitable report of the first freeze. The rink is filled with water (minimum 3" deep at the shallowest point) using the outdoor faucet and the garden hose. The frozen rink requires some maintenance. If it snows, the ice needs to be cleared. If the weather warms, melting can cause rough spots, adding water again before a refreeze can help smooth the surface. From my observations of the skaters in our family, watching the weather, the maintenance of the rink and skating day and night, is all a part of the joy of winter.

After the freeze the skating begins.
Late one night as I was saying goodnight to our youngest, I heard sounds outside...
Looking out the upstairs window, I was delighted to see the source; my husband enjoying the fruits of his labor, enjoying a late night skate on the ice in his own backyard! I captured it on the video below, perhaps not very exciting viewing for all, but the scene and the sound of my husband's skate blades on the ice warms my heart!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Urban and Suburban Gardening - A Little Bit of Fall Harvest

This year for the first time I had a fall harvest of raspberries, a small harvest, but a harvest none the less. I have often wondered about encouraging my raspberry canes to produce in the fall. And it seems there were two contributing factors this year. One I had control over, the other not.

First, I didn't cut back canes as early as I usually do despite the pressure to do so.
My raspberries are between my garage and the alley. A perfect spot for them as it provides natural barriers to the weed like growth tendencies of the canes. The location, however, tends to include the neighbors in my suburban gardening efforts.

The neighbors seem to fall into two groups. The first set includes the concerned and skeptic, they express concern over the possibility of the raspberry canes causing damage to vehicles, specifically scratches on car paint. Even though I want to be a good neighbor, this year I left the cane trimming for later and with the unseasonably warm weather extending into the fall as an added factor, the canes produced again in October. Another group of neighbors doesn't complain. They just harvest freely. This years overly abundant harvest produced enough to share, the heat curtailed any over zealous foragers and they weren't expecting berries in the fall! The small fall raspberry harvest was few but it was all mine!

What ever view the neighbors take, the raspberries love their location.They thrive there and produce in abundance. And maybe I shouldn't admit this but, they really are not labor intensive at all! This year, when on one occasion I made the mistake of picking during the heat of the day, the work was long, tedious and a little sweaty. That task at that time of day forced me to consider those who do agricultural work and pick for a paycheck. They are out picking for hours a day to provide what we can easily find and buy at a grocery store. Remembering them makes me thankful for every bite!

Raspberry care tip for fall: harvest the leaves, cut back the canes (especially by the neighbors garage!), throw on some compost, spruce and pine needles, viola!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Orange Food is Good Food - Squash Soup Recipe

The colors of the autumn season have been gorgeous in Chicagoland this year. As the leaves finally fall from the trees, I am disappointed to see the beauty of it all freeze away. This yummy butternut squash soup recipe is a bit of consolation. It's tasty, healthy and saves some of the lovely fall color for the table.

Fall and winter are great seasons for bowls of hot soup to keep the chill in check. Along with a hearty piece of whole grain bread, fresh baked or not, with a vegetable or cheese spread, soup can contribute to a complete meal and make for cozy time together. Squash soup is an ideal way to prepare those beta-carotene rich squash so abundant in the fall harvest.

Butternut Squash Soup

1 small - medium butternut squash
1 16 oz.can chicken broth
1 cup low-fat sour cream
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash lemon pepper or white pepper
1 tablespoon honey
chopped fresh chives for garnish

Halve the squash, remove seeds and bake at 350 in baking pan in shallow water cut side down, turn cut side up after about 20 minutes.
Bake another 15-20 minutes for a total 30-40 minutes total or until tender.
Spoon squash from peel into food processor or blender and puree. (When in a hurry, I have skipped this step, but the resulting texture isn't as nice.)
Combine baked pureed squash and broth in a large saucepan bring to a boil and simmer.
Over medium heat stir in sour cream, butter, cayenne and honey. Add salt and white pepper.
Cook soup until thoroughly heated.
Garnish with chives. And if you like a small extra dollop of sour cream.                                                                

Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween Birthday!

Fall is a delightfully colorful season. Traditional autumn activities of harvest include preparations for the upcoming winter months. Gathering provisions for warmth and sustenance dominated fall activities in the past. Despite the official beginning of fall in September, it is Halloween that seems to mark the actual change of seasons for us. Halloween is a festive day of tricks, treats and fun for young ones. In northern Illinois, the day can be a warm weather day of the very last of summer or one in which a full blown winter coat is needed, either way children delight in the day of fun and costumes.

I haven't always been a fan of the holiday, preferring a mellower acknowledgement of harvest and the change of season, but the birth of one of my babies on a chilly Halloween morning changed that. Our son, Asher, has naturally always loved having a Halloween birthday. Turning eighteen this year, (how can that be?) we celebrate our middle child and continue to enjoy the day as one of celebration and good fun. Here's wishing a delightful Halloween for you and yours as well, no matter how you celebrate.

Happy Birthday, Asher!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Meeting Arcy - Art at the Dunes

Living in the intensely urban area of Chicagoland, I am always looking for outdoor nature experiences to renew myself and share with my family.  As an artist, I am also interested in viewing the artistic expressions of fellow artists. One benefit of city living is the many opportunities to view art in galleries and museums. 

On occasion, there is even the chance to enjoy nature and art together. One such opportunity, to view art while surrounded by nature, presented itself at the Indiana Dunes this summer. Looking for a simple, close to home vacation, we headed to "the dunes" and were greeted at the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center by the wonderful mural art of  Ryan Christenson. Despite being positioned directly in the sun and the mid-day heat, the mural was in process.

As my children will attest, I talk to everyone and the opportunity to meet a painter so visibly in process was simply irresistible. Fortunately, the painter was welcoming and accessible for questions and conversation.

Ryan Christensen lives in Connecticut and has been painting since 2003. Having done a bit of graffiti art, Ryan signs his work with his tag name of Arcy. His mural work is fabulous.  The application goes somewhat quickly and the image comes to life before ones eyes. 

Watching him work with the spray paint cans was fascinating.

The application goes somewhat quickly and the image comes to life before ones eyes.

Talented graffiti artist with mainstream appeal Arcy has become a for hire mural artist. He's found a calling and fortunately for himself and his young family, is earning a well deserved income doing mural commissions around the country. Visitors to the Indiana dunes were fortunate that at some point the cans came out of the shadows with Arcy.

Thanks, Arcy, for sharing your craft with dune visitors this summer!

We always welcome inspiration to create our own artistic responses.