Monday, November 23, 2015

Bits & Pieces : homeschooling thoughts beyond the curriculum

I said in a previous post (about what resources we've been using for homeschooling our kindergartner) that I had some other things I wanted to share.

I'm unpacking my thoughts in bits and pieces. Nothing profound here. Just things I'm thinking and working on a lot lately.

+ As a new homeschool parent, balance is tricky. I need to keep up the house. I need to make sure the kids are getting the best possible (while also reasonable) educational experience. I need to take care of myself. I want to keep cooking awesome stuff and spending a bit of time exercising and enjoying my time with Paul.  Here's sorta how I've managed to pin it down...

+ My mornings (except Wednesday) are blocked off for my top priorities: housekeeping & homeschool.  What I have found in the past three months that works best is this sort of weaving of the two threads.  I don't have Thomas sit for hours until he is finished with schoolwork. I do it in short bursts of quality one-on-one time in between cleaning. Our morning looks something like this: We eat breakfast.  Then I clean a bit. I put away clean dishes while the boys play for a moment. Then we all sit with books and I read a couple chapters out loud (or picture books if I'm reading the crowd and the crowd is already loud at 7:30 a.m.).  Then I will get up and make my bed and clean the bathroom and start some laundry. Then I will teach Thomas a lesson. Then I will do more cleaning.  Then I will teach Thomas or the boys some more.  Then maybe snacks or cooking of some kind.  Then another school lesson or activity. This is not exact clockwork. It's just essentially housework, then homeschool, then housework, then homeschool... And on and on until lunch. It literally feels like I'm braiding two cords together. I'm hoping that makes since to someone.

+ What do we really want to teach? I'm very passionate and knowledgeable about the academic portion of education, but now I keep thinking about everything else. And here the distinction between a homeschooling parent and any other parent completely dissipates. But I have to ask myself--That's great if you know something, but what can you do? That question. Or this one--That's great if you know something, but what good is it without character? It's not either/or. We have to teach both. I'm just thinking that we get it wrong often in thinking much more of the academic portion of learning (and where we send or keep our kids to learn) than we do all the other things we should be teaching: morality, work ethic, integrity, service, and so forth.

It doesn't matter how awesome the "schooling" is, or honestly, to some degree, how mediocre, or where it is taking place.  Knowledge has little place to land and take root without that foundation of gratitude and hard work and self-awareness and empathy for others.  When I was in the public school system it was those students with that maturity and character development from their home life whom I would look at and think that when it all washed out (those ways in which we measure learning in schools), it wouldn't matter what grades those students received.  They had all the tools they would need and when they bumped up or against their needs or jobs or discovered missions as adults, they would bring forth and bring to themselves all the "knowledge" they would need specifically because of that foundation of everything else that can't be measured by tests but only fed by an abundance of intentionality, nurturing, discipline, direction and love on the part of parents.

+ I'm very grateful for this. I'm glad we are here, that we are homeschooling.  I'm blessed at this time and place in my life that the way in which I'm providing for my family is the very same thing that endlessly feeds me.  I love all things teaching and learning. I always, always have.  Teaching looks different for me now than when I was teaching teenagers (and I do miss those teenagers!), but I have so much experience and passion to pull from.  I have very practical knowledge to use as well.

I think we should all be able to enjoy that feeling of being really good at something.  I've worked so hard at becoming good at housekeeping... It's a slow and steady uphill battle for me. But to be teaching again! It literally feels like a breath of fresh air every day.  I know little tricks for when Thomas is stuck or how to take a lesson and put a spin on it.  I have oodles of content knowledge and I have sober memories when I taught more than let students learn... and so I keep that in my heart and mind as well.

+ Drawing on our why. Earlier this year, I wrote down ten reasons we wanted to homeschool. Six had nothing to do with academics.  I'm glad I took the time to do that.  Comparing our school to a brick and mortar is like comparing apples to oranges. We have different aims. I won't shy away from sharing with you that I think we (our culture at large) are getting some things very wrong with early education.

Let them play. Let them pretend they've got guns. Let them stare and dig in dirt and run around. We are taking academic disappointments in America and running those fears into the way we teach small children.  I see parents panicking about preschools and maybe this is because most of us are full time working mommies now.  But c'mon people. Where is the common sense? Have you watched a child learn? Have you led them to a clean room with books and crayons and coloring paper nearby?  Why do we insist on the ridiculous demands on small children?

Maybe it's not actually happening at the school you send your children, but it is increasingly all too common. Ridiculous PC nonsense. Fights from parents for just slivers of recess. Upped and upped pressure on kindergartners to read (even though the research has again and again and again and again shown that this is a crap approach).  Loads of homework going home this very afternoon with kids who should be going home to play and sit with mom and talk to dad over dinner and not be thinking about more math.

Whew. I could just not ever stop on this one.  Anyway, yeah. Six of our reasons (mind you--for a kindergartner only) had nothing to do with academics and I still feel just exactly like that way. This isn't to say we aren't doing some rigorous, high quality things with the academic portion. It's just that when I'm watching Thomas read to the twins or make lunch with me or build Legos or putz around the backyard, I can't help but think I'm nearly fighting for that margin in his life right now because it is one of those things I feel immensely passionate and super convicted about.

Okay, I'll stop there. Maybe more later.

Chat with me in the comments.  You know you know you know I love chatting about this stuff.

And sorry for the grammatical errors. I wrote this in a rush and Thomas is up from a nap and asking me questions about termites now.

Also, Thomas recited a wee poem. Here's the video if you're into that sort of thing.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Home to Me

Home. It's nearly my whole world (and especially so since I started staying at home when the twins were born). Paul and I have been building up our home in bits, whether in the duplex we started in when newly married or the ranch style house we bought almost 5 years ago. I have much to be grateful for and too much to say.  The following I'm sharing with you is little bits and pieces, notes and highlights of our happy home strung together day after day, year after year, moment to moment. Come on in and sit. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and imagine it was really me. 


+    +    +    +    +    +

Home is comfort. Warm mugs of tea. Soft blankets for cuddling on the couch with the kids. Bowls of soup familiar. Cold winter nights, dark enveloping us early. Dim lights and soft music. Candle flickering, encouraging me to keep bright my own flame.

Home is loud.  Saturday family dance parties to Metallica (+orchestra) songs. Three small boys shooting invisible guns and roaring their lion jaws.  Paul stomping in to tackle & tickle & destroy. Music streaming through all the speakers: Taylor Swift singing us through pick up time.

Home is humble. Popcorn ceilings and blinds to be replaced---someday. Tiny fingerprints on the windows & a dining table with happy scars from lingering meals with loved ones. Our things made beautiful by our use of them. This is no museum home. This is the real thing. Wooden floors that know our dancing feet. Walls that listen in on our reading voices.  A counter that has held a thousand meals. 

Home is intimate.  Vulnerability lays her head here with us. We are challenged & split open. Spilled milk. Long days. Whiny kids. Disappointing each other & saying sorry & trying again and again to love with our hands pouring coffee and setting the table. This family here--we know, we see each other & ourselves--this is our chance to come to harbor & drop anchor only to be shaken on shore just as we were rocked at sea, to get so close that we can't help but understand more, know more, to see truth and set pain free. 

Home is color.  Vibrant children's book illustrations. A heap of just clean laundry on the dining table. Thomas's watercolor paintings & the mess of toys at my feet. And the food! Red peppers slices and green beans snapped by little hands. Muddy faces and green leaves to stare up into and through on warm summer days. Sparkly eye shadow applied with stolen moments from kids. Pumpkin bread, butter melting, on a crisp fall day. 

Home is creativity. Blank canvas propped on the easel. Long financial conversations for us to come together & think big. Little routines & habits built daily by intention. Family values set to work in real time. A new recipe posted to the fridge for Saturday. Making a simple dinner from bits of things found in the fridge--and somehow, by magic... by love, feels special all the same. 

Home is school. Textbooks marked with bright post-its for tomorrow's lessons. A school basket stuffed with exciting things to learn. Math manipulatives lined up on the kitchen counter while I cook just three feet away. Sharp pencils, eager & ready. Broken crayons. And books everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.  Words lift up off the page and make us laugh, make us think, make us know. We savor all those things in books like little threads of gold weaving into our hearts & minds. But then we get up off the couch & off the floor & learn by doing. Our life is our school. We touch truth in the physical. In crawling caterpillars and bark peeled, in awkward conversations with neighbors and the hateful kid at the Y.  How to measure flour and clean a toilet well and fold socks into each other and the time it takes for the cupcakes to bake.  

Home is renewal.  Clean sheets. Sunday naps. Sitting in one of our big chairs just to simply sit and be silent.  Nights of vegging out with Netflix, slow mornings with pancakes, laughing (coffee cups in hand) at the funny things the kids are doing. Hot showers for thinking & resetting. Thick socks. Lotion pressed into cracked feet & clean clothes ready to face another day to be filled in with little, colorful notes of pride in hard work and gratitude for good things. 

Home is happy.  Memories of years past twinkling on the Christmas tree.  Happy heart ache for small bodies quickly growing out of clothes.  Leaning into just being & letting things be.  Cooking side by side and remembering all those other times aproned up and arguing, making too much & cooking big & loving it.  Board games. Lifted glasses. Feet intertwined under table while we talk with our eyes and ignore just a little the kids surrounding us from every reach. 

Home is goodness. Interruptions that pierce selfishness. More water for little mouths. A bowl completely full of eggshells and still not enough. Clothing the naked (all the time naked). Wiping tears. Listening carefully. Choosing peace, building it up. Pouring on the grace & giving space for ugly, bumbling growth. Praying for our daily bread. Loving as Christ urged--because even though I've said yes to these people, they are still imperfect and hurting and hoping like me. Fully loving them and not just in beautiful aims but hard won small acts of service is a daily yes, an hourly yes, a constant yes to love in ways I didn't think I was capable of before, in ways I wasn't capable of before.  Home is the sacred place opened up to me, door wide- a gritty real, a beautiful domestic, a humble space to dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. 

+   +   +   +   +   +   +

This post is part of the “Home to Me” blog hop, hosted by Julie Walsh of These Walls. During the two weeks from Friday, November 13 through Thanksgiving Day, more than a dozen bloggers will share about what the concept of “home” means to them. “Home” can been elusive or steady. It can be found in unexpected places. It is sought and cherished and mourned. It is wrapped up in the people we love. As we turn our minds and hearts toward home at the beginning of this holiday season, please visit the following blogs to explore where/what/who is “Home to Me.”

November 13 – Julie @ These Walls

November 14 – Leslie @ Life in Every Limb

November 16 – Rita @ Open Window

November 17 – Svenja, guest posting @ These Walls

November 18 – Anna @ The Heart’s Overflow

November 19 – Debbie @ Saints 365

November 20 – Melissa @ Stories My Children Are Tired of Hearing

November 21 – Amanda @ In Earthen Vessels

November 22 – Daja and Kristina @ The Provision Room

November 23 – Emily @ Raising Barnes

November 24 – Annie @ Catholic Wife, Catholic Life

November 25 – Nell @ Whole Parenting Family

November 26 – Geena @ Love the Harringtons

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Homeschool Notes: Year 1, Week 12

We are in our 12th week of our first year of homeschooling.  I thought this would be a good place to stop and gather some notes about where we are at and how it is working.

This post is right up the homeschool junkie's alley.  Lots of specific details about our right here, right now homeschooling.

(Note: I'm on easy street at the moment.  Homeschooling one 5 year old--labeled kindergartner, doing a lot of 1st grade work.  Managing toddler twins and trying to include them in as much as we can but also not stressing over a set of goals or curriculum for them just yet.)

+ Reading instruction 

Last year we worked through 100 Easy Lessons. This year we are working through Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading (lesson 109 as of today).  I did not like the Ordinary Parent's Guide the first time I attempted to use it. I think the poem used to teach vowel sounds is more overwhelming than it is helpful for a blossoming reader (and we actually lurve poetry here, so... yeah). I skipped that section. Everything else has been G O L D. It's extremely thorough. I'm a huge fan. We are on track to finish by May.


We just started First Language Lessons this week, so I won't give my opinion yet. From what I can tell, it will fit our needs nicely.  We shall see. There are 100 lessons in this book. I'm aiming to complete this by end of year.

We started the year with a handful of poems to memorize. I eventually ditched that. Momma gut. It just didn't feel right to me.  I know just about every homeschooling family memorizes poetry. We will do that.  Just not now.  I'm starting right where we are at: 1. We already love it so we will keep reading lots and lots of it.  2. Building up a collection of resources.  My mom & dad gave us a little bit of money to use for homeschooling and we used it to buy, among a couple other things that were sitting on my Amazon wish list for forever, A Child's Book of Poems by Gyo Fujikawa.  Totally swooning over it.  I'm going to have "Little Things" memorized in no time.

+ Independent reading

Thomas declared a goal to read all of the Elephant & Piggie books. He has one left that we are waiting for from the library.  I keep beginner readers in our morning basket so that he always has quick access to those. It's my gentle nudge for more practice, but mostly he reads all the picture books we have in the sunroom (A LOT).  He reads everything though. He is really hitting a stride, and I'm amazed every single day at his growth.  He's starting to read comic books as well. I'm excited to see what he will be able to read by the end of the year, but I feel very confident that no matter what we do--he'll be fine.

+ Read aloud stuff

I'm a little sad that our read aloud experience isn't the same as when Thomas was 4 and I would read him to sleep every day. It was so lovely and I have so many fond memories.  RIP Thomas's naps.

But we have to be true to our season and so that's how it is.  Now our read aloud time looks like this: We put the twins to bed.  I clean up the kitchen a little. Thomas plays with Lego on my bedroom floor and I read to him from my bed.  [No, we don't include the twins in read aloud time right now. We will eventually. We did last year and it pretty much felt like a pot of boiling water with a lid on top. Right now we just read lots of picture books to them and poetry too.]  So far this year we've read The Green Ember, My Father's Dragon, and Hoot. I'm really, really wanting to start the Chronicles of Narnia series. Too soon?

+ Our picture books goal

I made a goal to read 1000 picture books this year.  This experience has been awesome. We are behind a touch, but I still think we can still do it by the end of the year. I've been taking all sorts of notes about the books we read.  There have been some really awesome ones, and I've grown to love children's lit in a whole new way.  We just signed Thomas up for a library card this week. Now we will be able to check out 100 books rather than only 50 at a time. True sign of a homeschooling family. One library card does not cut it anymore.

+ Handwriting

Thomas flew through the kindergarten level of the Zaner-Bloser book. He's about a sixth of the way through the 1st grade ZB book now. He told someone this past week that handwriting is his favorite thing to do for school. However, he also told a man in Walmart two weeks ago that his favorite part of school is the breaks. I'm sure the guy thought we were really hitting the books hard... or hardly.  Next semester I'll have him to a bit of copy work from either The Harp & Laurel Wreath or other bits of beautiful language and wise words I've collected.

+ Math

We are making our way through the 1st grade Saxon curriculum.  I was slow to warm up to the Saxon program, but I'm seeing how the spiral method is so good for Thomas.  I still think that a great teacher can make almost any resource shine. However, I give Saxon two thumbs up so far.  We also started Life of Fred this week <heart eyes>, and Thomas and I have really enjoyed it. It's a world apart from Saxon, so I think it's a great way to switch things up. I also set Thomas up on Kahn Academy and let him practice there every once in a while.  I think it's great for him to see math in different formats to reinforce what he learns primarily with the Saxon materials.


This year we've read the 1st Story of the World (The Ancients) book. We are about halfway through the 2nd book about the Middle Ages. We read 2-3 picture books a week that are either on the topics we are reading with the SOTW book (castles, the feudal system, Marco Polo, etc.) or are just social studies/history books in general.  We plan on taking a trip to D.C. next year for our family vacation. I'm rolling around in my head how we can utilize homeschool to really prime Thomas (and the twins??) for all the awesome things we will see.

+ Science

We read 3-5 science picture books a week.  We look through a lot of science materials we have on hand (children's encyclopedia and other science reference books).  We do *some* science experiments when I have extra time.  I love that we are learning oodles. I do not love that we are not doing it in an organized manner or even just recording it in an organized manner.  Even though reading & math (in my opinion) trump science education at this age by far, I still want to be a bit more orderly in the way we approach things.  Working on it.

+ Art

We manage about 1 formal art lesson a week. I have him practice simple concepts related to art, complete different activities with materials that are more open ended, or we imitate the art of someone else.  Last week we just painted together.  About a third of the art we complete is just that. It's art that has a natural purpose and prompting to it, and isn't set up as a structured activity.

+ Music 

We could definitely do better with this.  We sing lots of songs with the twins, listen to lots of classical and international music, and read (as with everything else) some picture books that are music related. I just listened to Pam Barnhill's Morning Basket podcast about music appreciation, and that was very helpful.  It's time we beefed up this area of learning.

+ Other Stuff

We do a lot of learning in the kitchen. Thomas cooks with me several times a week. We work on communication skills with a lot of intention (Thomas loves to talk, but we are both working a lot on listening right now). We also practice a lot of practical life skills-- everything from manners to matching socks to fixing things around the house.  I realize every mom does this, but I am noting it. I think it's just as important as phonics and subtracting numbers, and I would like to give even more thought and planning to this area of our schooling.

*    *     *

Oh gosh. I've barely made a dent into what I was going to type. Maybe I will do another post on all the other stuff about homeschooling: ordering our home and day, finding balance, where we are headed, the fulfillment I've found, the stuff I'm working on and thinking about, my observations on the learning process, and so forth.  I have tons and tons I could say.

Any questions for me on the nitty-gritty stuff? Anything I left out that you want to know? Ask me anything. And if you're homeschooling, how's it going?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Money making? Money saving? Or saving within the spending?

Women, no matter what their work schedule looks like, can feel overwhelmed and even guilt-ridden over how we save or make money. We talk about mommy guilt. Oh, the mommy guilt.  I think there's so many ways this can manifest for women.  One way though that is not as obvious as breast vs. bottle or home vs. day care is wrapped up in the choices about how we make or save money.  I want to detangle it from the rest. It's a guilt that is clouding up our big picture.

I don't thrift shop. My sister-in-law, Jessica, does and she's dang good at it.  She would be my go-to guide if and when I needed to dip into that resource. Not only is she good at it, but it brings her joy. That's the trick. Enjoying the way we provide or finding enjoyment in the ways we provide.  We chatted about that this past weekend when we spent an extended weekend in Alabama meeting brand new baby Grace & catching up with family.

The truth is I hate shopping.  I always have.  The only time I really found enjoyment in shopping was about a year ago when I would, after a week of watching my boys as well as my nephews (and especially weeks when Paul was also traveling), go to the mall on Friday night for a couple hours to walk around and feel like a grown-up again. That was fun, but it is definitely not my norm.  The soul suck is strong when I cross paths with a rack of clothes.

Those glorious day care days! :)
My norm is going without.  I've had the same coat for 7 years. I wore my shoes down so badly in college, my parents asked me to throw them away. Every year I tell myself I'm going to buy a pair of boots... and I don't.  There's a beautiful sense of savoring in that for me. I don't want things all at once in a mad rush. I don't even necessarily want them when I can afford them. I still want to wait. There's probably a curious subset of the population just like me--the waiters.

But it's not like I'm some amazing money saver just because I wait for a lot of things. There's other things I just buy outright. All I'm saying is that I know my strength.  I also know my weakness as well as my parameters.  That's me personally, but then there's something even bigger -- our family dynamic.

Paul and I are better at making money than saving money. And I actually here mean "the saving within the spending" kind of saving. Actually saving the money is not the problem. Actually making the money is not the problem. It's the "saving within the spending" that is not our strength.  We do okay.  We make a lot of homemade food.  We know when to catch good sales. We know you can stack savings.  We know sales loop around continuously. Our negotiating skills are okay. But it is actually not worth our time to toil hours and hours over how we purchase things.  We take on work better than we cut out coupons.

I feel like there's scandal in that--to say that our family identity is more closely aligned in making money than in the saving within the spending of the money. It shouldn't be that way though.  There's honor in all forms of stewardship.

I'm so grateful that our generation is getting back to the roots. There are calls for less materialism and consumerism. There's a call to return home (read Homeward Bound!).  There's a call to do meaningful work. That's all good. But I feel we've thrown the baby out with the bath water.  We can't be all things.  Build up a home of DIY from A to Z and build a stocky career.  Or at least not the mom AND the dad.  This equation of do all the things just doesn't work.  You can't work 50 hours and brew your beer and mow your lawn and shop at 3 different stores to get the best deals on groceries and wash your diapers and clean your house and make that organic well-balanced meal.  You can't. So stop.

Stop telling yourself that if you finally get it together you are going to do all the things. You were not made to do all the things.  Your eyes are open and my eyes are open and we can see all the things because they are all over this screen. What your friend did for her kid's birthday. That Halloween costume another mom made. The food your friend keeps posting on Instagram.  Good for her. Not for you. Right? Can I get an Amen?

I'm not advocating being lazy or wasteful.  I'm not advocating sloughing off responsibility. I think there's so much reward in homemade pizza or dirt turned over by our own hands.  What I am saying is that each person can't be it all nor should they try.  They have to say no to a great many things to say yes to the either money making or money saving methods that help their family thrive.

Essentialism.  Honing in on that one thing. What's your one thing? Don't let all the other details drag you down.  If you find time for them--awesome. But if you don't? You're totally fine because you are doing your thing!

As women lean into supporting one another I hope we can respect those differences.  I hope we can see there is no shame in a woman working to make money just as there is no shame in a women sorting through hand-me-downs or baking bread.  We are all providing for our families. We are all, by our work that can look drastically different from our neighbors, friends and even mothers, clocking in so we can clock out for time with loved ones (today and/or maybe a tomorrow we are storing up for...)

We all have beautiful gifts that come alive and light up when we strike those things that both meet our purpose and give us delight too.  It might be in homeschooling or in working part-time or in being an independent seller or being a freaking hawk of a buyer at the grocery store or in slipping into those slacks each day and driving into work.

I'm going to be thinking more on this too. I'm going to think about what I do that helps make or save money for my family. I'm going to think about opportunities that I need to explore and be open-minded t
o. But I'm also going to choose peace that my family and the way we run our finances and make the numbers work for us is just as unique as the next family. There is no better. Just good stewardship in different forms. Saying no to some things. Saying a big yes to others. But living with a focus on providing in the way we've set out to do.

*     *     *

How do you save or make money?  What is your personal strength? Where would you like to grow in how you spend, save, or make money? Chat with me in the com box down below! 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

How you can utilize quarters to frame your personal life

This year I've dabbled with personal quarters, and I'm excited to use them next year with even more intention. Personal quarters are time-wise aligned with tax quarters or fiscal quarters, but for the purpose of your growth, individually. 

1st quarter: January - March
2nd quarter:  April - June
3rd quarter: July - September
4th quarter: October - December 

I've done an imperfect job this year of trying on the personal quarter. Regardless, I've really enjoyed the new perspective. 90 days is that sweet spot.  It is enough time to get big things accomplished, but it isn't so little time (like a month) where stopping to plan and reflect gets in the way of actually doing the work.

Here's a specific illustration of how the use of personal quarters helped me this year. My 3rd quarter was very medical.  We had ER visits that led to the boys' diagnosis of hemophilia. I had a lot to learn. Essentially, think crash course in hemophilia. There were numerous, numerous long conversations with specialists, our pediatrician, our at-home nurse, and our insurance company. I walked through a bit of the grieving process to readjust expectations and let my momma heart breathe.

Then, I was looking at the last three months of the year & felt joy. I've become accustomed to new starts every three months.  I was able to frame July, August, & September around this positive sense of learning lots about my boys and hemophilia, something waiting in them for two years for us to discover.  Even though that aspect of our lives is not neatly tied up and put away, there won't be the same intensity with which we had in this specific chunk of months. I was able to start October fresh & joyful.  I was able to look forward and not feel stuck, to readjust and feel renewed to keep going.

That's why I love stopping every 3 months to pull everything back together to rewrite the plan. It makes room for the unexpected, but also helps me remember not to get distracted from my original intentions.

Here are some ways you could use the personal quarter framework for you. Pick and choose what you want:

1.  Use a personal quarterly review guide.  You are welcome to use this one that I created. (I modified it from something I found on another site and as soon as I find that site I'll give her due credit here.) You also could create a simple one for yourself that's essentially directed at reviewing the previous quarter and planning for the quarter ahead.  I get such a sense of pleasure in taking pen to paper, but you can also walk through these questions with mind maps or talking through them with someone else.

2. Block out a 2 - 3 hour chunk of alone time to think.  Journal at Panera. Go on a long hike. If you are in a survival season, maybe just a super long soak in the bathtub, candles lit and lights dim. Just pick your flavor of whatever that will allow you space from everyday life and especially that long to do list.  This is time to think big picture.  Replay scenes from the last three months. What did you feel? What did you learn? Now visualize what you want the next three months to look like, to feel like. Are there things in your value system that need fed? You don't have to write down a single thing to make use out of personal quarters. Sometimes the best growth happens when we stop to be still and listen.

3. Retool the budget. Where our money goes is a good indication of our values.  Security. Friendships. Time with family. Flashy, nice things. Freedom.  It will show up in the numbers, so updating a budget also serves as a way of thinking about your value system as well.  Then there's changes. Salary changes. Changes in family size. A notice that your mortgage bill went down. New opportunities that cost or bring in more money. Just on a practical level, I've found updating (as in actually revisiting what amount we are allowing for each area, not in making sure the numbers are accurate) the budget every three months is the most realistic.    *I would love to share how we use our online bank, Simple, to budget (it's flipping awesome--the best!), but I need to figure out how to do that tech-wise and if there's any interest, so let me know if that's something you would like to see.

4. Celebrate! If you don't take time to acknowledge the great things that you accomplished or ways in which you grew, you are robbing yourself of extra energy to take on even more.  I've found celebrating insights, new skills, and achievements to give me both gratitude and contentment. It isn't all about being goal driven. It's about seeing that life is both good and bad and that there is always good to be recognized. Life will go on. There will always be difficult things. We should take time to savor the good things too! Date night. A special, related purchase. A bottle of wine and a special meal made side by side at home with your husband. Stop, celebrate and be glad.

5. Keep it simple with answering this one statement-- "I need____________________"
How would you finish that statement? For me, right now, I need everything in its place in our home. That's why I'm reorganizing all the spaces in our house for my 4th quarter.  This need was really "highlighted" as soon as we started homeschooling.  What this statement really delivers is tackling your biggest problem.  If you can take on your big problem, other things will fall into place as a benefit.  Do you need to feel healthier? Do you need to have more time? Do you need to reconnect with your spouse? Do you need to feel happier at work?

Now answer this question: What needs to be true in order for _____________________ ?
 & fill in your need. Ex: What needs to be true in order for us to feel peace in our home? What needs to be true in order for me to have time to be creative? What needs to be true in order for me to get a promotion?

How do you set goals? Do you set monthly, quarterly or yearly goals? Have you every tried to use some version of personal quarters?

Monday, October 19, 2015

What do you wish you had known about caring for your dog before bringing it home?

Paul and I are talking about getting a dog. It may be a very long time before I'm ready or we may decide not to get a dog at all, but I'm at least open to considering it now. 

Before the twins were born, I would have laughed at the idea of us having a dog. But then along came Alistair and Emerick.

I've never seen little kids so obsessed with dogs. When they see a neighbor walking a dog across the street on the sidewalk, they ask to open the door so they can blow kisses. 50% of the tantrums the twins have ever had are over not getting to go hang out with a dog they've spotted.  

Emerick especially wants to pet every dog that walks near.  Yesterday, he took a book to bed with him about a therapy dog named Lola. This is usual behavior for him, schlepping a dog-related item around with him all day long and still clinging to it at night. When I checked on him, he had the book under his head as he was sleeping. And actually, it's not just dogs with him. Dogs are absolutely #1 for sure, but when he was at Paul's parents' house, he (a two year old who had never been around chickens before) was scooping up chickens and cradling them in his arms.  It astounds me the way kids are so strikingly their own person. 

Here's where you come in. I need your advice, input, and wisdom. I want to know what you wish you had known before buying your dog. <please>

Was it more expensive than you thought it would be?

Did your dog's demeanor end up different than what you knew that breed to be? 

Did you have trouble training the dog?

Did you learn something in the buying process? 

Did you end up doing all the work taking care of the dog?

I guess these questions are tilted pretty negative. If you had positive, unexpected things about your experience, that would be good for me to hear too.  

The three most daunting things about a dog for me: 1.) long term decision  2.) smell   3.) just more work.  And there's the costs too, which we've already looked at, and those are pretty sobering.  

That's me being real with you.   I would love to make my boys happy, but we can visit someone else's dogs or maybe have a lower maintenance animal if we decide dogs are too much (see #3).  

So, give it to me. Be honest -- please.  Good, bad, whatever.  Anything you think might help. 

You can post anonymously or message me as well if you want to be more discrete. ;)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

When there's something lodged up in your heart

I'm camped at the dining table. I think it's because of the sun coming through the windows along the back of our house. Those windows, despite a fragmented mural of smudged little handprints, are flooding my home with happy. And I need that sunshine today.

Ever have one of those weeks where you just get whammy after whammy of slams from real life? 

That's me this week, so far. It's nothing that bad really. It just adds up.

Thomas cussed in PSR on Sunday. He spent an hour writing letters of apology when he came home. I get that. I cuss. I've been stressed as +%&% trying my best to keep the twins from hurting themselves this summer ever since we found out they have hemophilia.  I average one really tiny heart attack about once a day when someone gets hurt.

I've had to reverse five years of being chill. I've had to turn this ship around and be on high alert and keep things um, mild--- you know, because it's easy to have three boys playing together without things getting rough. Boys don't like to tumble and jump and climb. I don't know if you've ever met boys, but they like to keep things calm. Really, really, really calm.

Anyway, so there was Thomas's cussing which wasn't funny but I 100% got. it. And poor kid.  He never once said, "I learned that from my mom." I was waiting for him to spill that out in front of Sister Jeanne. I was waiting for him to say that his mom runs around calling out for Jesus in loud ways, but it never came. He just kept saying that he knows that bad word. And I wanted to tell him telepathically that I owe him for life.

It's hard to see your sins take shape on your kids and walk around bumping into things.

Yesterday, I took the kids grocery shopping.  A woman stopped me and said...

"I have utmost respect and admiration for you....

(and then the smile 1000% disappeared from her face before she continued with--)

"I nearly raised my two younger twin brothers and I wouldn't envy any of your life for the next 18 years."

And then she strolled off leaving me with my kids hangry and wanting to prowl about like wolves through the grocery store but strapped in our two stuffed carts.

Last night I told Thomas not to interrupt me on the phone unless someone was on fire or letting out blood.  But then I saw why he still tried to interrupt me on my phone call. He had gone to fix the crayon on his closet wall and had done a wonderful job except for one small point: He had scrubbed the wallpaper off along with the orange crayon. Ok. Awesome. So the wallpaper needs to be removed and the closet needs painted.

Yesterday, I could have sworn Emerick woke up with pink eye. I saw white puss. I heard a long babbling story from him and lots of crying. Who knows what goes on in that room sometimes.  I Googled all the stuff I needed to know and was at the ready. But that passed.

But then at the opposite end of the day Thomas was curled in a ball and said his stomach hurt real real bad. And he said maybe he had poop lodged up in his heart.  I gave him water and told him a vitamin might help because I was also dealing with the twins and needed a stall tactic.  He mentioned maybe eating a leaf a couple days ago. I went to question him about this and found him passed out in my bed.

Then the twins had their speech evaluation today. Maybe there will be more speech evaluations. Maybe not. I know I will get Alistair's hearing checked. Add it to the list! You know what I mean. The list. It's just so long, right? At some point I'm not going to feel like someone is punching me in the gut when we are assessing what's "wrong" with my child. I'm just not there yet.

And the guilt from having twins. Having multiple kids. Just wondering all the things.  Do I listen to that kid enough? Do I read to child #2 more than child #3? Do I take them out enough? Do they have enough friends? Was this nature? Was this nurture? Will this go away? Will I ever feel like I do enough? Do I do too much? And that's when you need to chill out. That's when you know your brain is fried and you need to just. shut. up. and deal later.

But wait, there's more.  But Ashley, you've already complained enough! NO. NOT DONE!!

Here's how Paul's travel goes for me. He travels almost every week. We are on week 5 in a row. And I'm normally fine. Totally fine.  Really. It's like I was built for this. Minus I do love hanging out with Paul and I miss him, but when it comes down to it we all do what we need to as part of the plan. Anyway, yesterday I just felt so... lonely. So terribly lonely.

Staying at home is already lonely. It's like the only bad part of staying at home I just can't find a pretty way to tie up. And then you put travel on top of that.  To laugh with your spouse at home??? There's nothing better.  You are with illogical but adorable children all day and then your spouse comes home, helps you a bit, and you can laugh at your adorably illogical kids dancing together to loud music. You can look at each other and know without saying it that you love your kids so much and you are so, so grateful. Without that touchpoint each night. Without that talking to someone reasonable, discussing goals and tasks and thoughts and things you learned--that's really, stinking hard.  Note this. After this season of life where motherhood of littles is intersecting with SAHMhood and Paul's constant traveling all in one place--I will never, ever overlook the loneliness of others. I totally, absolutely get it.

Anyway. Yesterday was one of those rare times where I just felt heartbreakingly alone. And then I went on a walk at the Y and things weren't magically better. It was bedtime so that was better.  I stayed up reading The Martian, reading about his loneliness.

And then I woke at 1:00 a.m. to what sounded like a big dog and a little dog yapping like crazy for 20 minutes and so I was convinced that a killer slash robber was on the loose and coming for my house and so then I didn't fall asleep again until no memory at all because I was wired from life preservation overdrive and I woke up way late to hangry kids all over again.

Gosh. I don't know why I'm telling you all of this. I don't even have some wonderful wrap-up. I was going to slap one on but nah.  I'm not reading into any of this. I'm not making something of it more than it is.  Sometimes we just see a lot of crap at our feet all at once and we have to roll up our sleeves and get to work.  

Also, sometimes I like to write about women working or not working on this blog.  I like to make things pretty. But let's get real. There's really awful parts about staying at home. There's really awful parts about working. The other way too. Great things too! Let's just cut the crap and be honest with each other.  Sometimes, you can love what you do but not like it at all that day.... or couple days. But that's really fine!

How's your day today? And don't shy away from telling me your day is awesome. Seriously. I want to know! Actually, I would love to hear about someone else's day--help me get my mind off me!

Much love!


Monday, October 12, 2015

Walk with me and we can not quite know together

Since coming home to care for the kids, letting go of my job as a teacher, I’ve fumbled in answering that question of how long I plan to stay.   “Hmm. I don’t know.” I’ve said those gray words so many times. No great crafted answer. Just a vague, unfinished statement.

And I hadn’t known for a while for all kinds of reasons. I’m supporting Paul in what he does and he’s supporting me. It’s romantic and difficult and good. I’m loving homeschool and getting good (better) at being a homemaker which I find surprisingly fulfilling. And then there's the time with my kids--that thing that I just can't quit no matter the strewn toys and long days. 

Stepping away from teaching was exhilarating but scary. My feet ached for firm ground and yet I wanted even more to stay put & make something of something new. It was the most daring ordinary thing I will ever do.  

I know a bit more of my plan now because I’ve gone ahead and made a path.  But there is always openness to what we do not know and what we can not predict.  Hearts change. Careers change. Families change. Some of these changes we feel slowly, some click as quiet as a switch inside our soul, and others tumble on top of us and turn us inside out in no time, no warning: “Up ahead. Total life reboot.”  

+   +    +    +    +

I had thought that this vulnerability in uncertainty walked with me because I quit my job, but I learned this year that this particular vulnerability harbors no prejudice. Uncertainty walks with all of us.  It wasn’t a symptom of not having a paycheck. It is a symptom of being human. 

Throughout this year, women have come over to talk, coffee mug in hand and maybe kids playing at our feet. Old friends. Family members. Friends I’m close with now and who visit often.  I’ve listened to stories of things I missed before or things that are so new they’re raw and far from finished. I’ve listened to the hearts of women and I’ve seen how not alone I am.  

From afar, these women upheld lives that looked like perfect plans unfurled.  Or if not that, at least tidy, under control, secure.  I had made assumptions.  I had compared their front stage performance to my back stage scrambling.  I had mostly gotten it all wrong.  

I hurt all over just looking at this photo.

I’ve seen the truth of life laughing at our plans and not just mine.  I’ve seen the truth of my friends living outside of certainty and yet walking forward because life didn’t stop to fix up things and throw a rope when it was needed.  These women. Their lives.  So many things shattered, mended and hurting, so many things you couldn’t know from Facebook and Instagram, so many things outside of their plans that shaped their stories [and shape their stories] and have bloomed on their gorgeous faces because their faith and character pulled them through but not perfection.  Not anything near perfection.  So many things that they still just don’t know. 

All of us. We’re doing what we can with what we have. Obstacles ignite our creativity and stump us too. No guide to tell us why the bleeping hill just doesn’t end or how many miles more to the water.  We walk with confidence, with the things we know to be good.  We have joy in making plans for being our best selves.  But we have blank spaces too that we don’t yet have answers for. Hearts spilling over with silent grief. Cracked hands from tough work.  A turning over in our minds of things we wish we could control but can’t. 

Do you have plans? Yes?! Me too! So many plans. 

But do you also feel wonderment and gratitude for the things beyond the plans? 

Adventures you can not see. 

Splashes of color where you have pulled out a fresh, blank canvas. 

Inevitable turns up ahead that will have you doing things you don’t want but need, can’t know how but want, and won’t plan but is an unfinished part of you already just waiting for completion.

Me too! 

Plans are very, very good. But the things outside our plans, maybe even especially that which mystifies or frustrates or grieves or tires or stretches or pulls us to our knees in humility because the freaking roof blew off our box…

These are good because this is what has us grow the most. We become something we weren’t before. We become something that even our most perfectly perfect of beautiful plans can’t hold a match to because those plans were of the stuff inside us and this is of the stuff beyond. 

Where you find discomfort.  Where you find blank space.  Where you find vulnerability in uncertainty.

Go there.  I will meet you there & walk right along with you. I’ll laugh with you or cry with you or just get quiet with you.  Whatever you need, friend, but I’ll meet you there.  

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Day in the Life - All photos, No words

Wednesday, October 7th

6:00 a.m.

7:00 a.m.

8:00 a.m.

9:00 a.m.

10:00 a.m.

11:00 a.m.

12:00 p.m.

1:00 p.m.

2:00 p.m.

3:00 p.m.

4:00 p.m.

5:00 p.m.

6:00 p.m.

7:00 p.m.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Reclaiming my home

I’m reclaiming the spaces of my home.  It took one signifiant repurposing of the 3rd bedroom to set into motion a purging and reorganizing of every space in our home.  

Whether it was the long string of time we’ve now lived here (4 & 1/2 years), the drowning in chaos that comes with having a few small kids at home all day all week all year, or my own underdeveloped skill set for homemaking, our house had become a puzzle of shuffled chaos. 

It’s easy to think I’ll get to that another day when I have more time.

Earlier this summer a family member pulled out her phone and I saw a notification for over 2,000 unread emails. I won't say who here, but she knows because I gasped. ;) 

I could not sleep at night if I didn’t know exactly what those 2,000 were about, if I hadn’t sorted them and called them by name. I could not think clearly without those emails in their respective homes. 

But yet my house was just as much an unclaimed, waiting mess of stuff.  Things are mostly in their places but cozied up next to neighbors who had found their way there by accident and never left.  In the kids’ room mostly toys but also binders & board games. In the laundry room mostly cleaners but also tools & manuals.  In the garage, mostly… okay, everything is in that garage… but also lots of garden essentials that would have a wonderful home in our shed if only just escorted. 

And so it is I’m reclaiming the spaces of my home.  It feels good. It also feels a bit embarrassing, but I’m used to that.  As an INFP, I live life in a dreamy landscape and then reality sometimes bites me in the ass just as I’m musing at the pink sunset. That reality right now, teeth deep in my cheek, is that the linen closet provides the impression a drunk person was in charge of cleanup after a camping trip.  

Contents of our linen closet. I wish I was joking. 

Here is exactly how I’m getting everything in their places and booting out all the rest:

  1. I’ve set a deadline for myself: 

Paul and I listened to a podcast a couple weeks ago that made me rethink deadlines.  Essentially, our work expands to the time we give it.  Often we aren’t getting what we want done because we aren’t setting a deadline to do it. 

I’ve set a deadline for New Year’s Eve.  It’s always been one of my very favorite holidays.  Since I was a little girl, my love for a new year has known no bounds. It’s a bit ridiculous how excited I get.  This is what is pushing me. To know our family is starting a new year with all the things we love and need in their right places so we can seamlessly work hard and play hard too—the best! 

2.  Follow a thorough system. 

This is just how I’m doing this. I’m incorporating a lot of things I’ve learned from professionals like being comfortable with extra space in areas and getting as many alike things together in one place to increase simplicity. With those gems, I made my own system appropriate when one finds their home is a kaleidoscope of unorganized nonsense and they have to mostly start all over. 

1.  take everything out

2.  think of the function that is best for this space & declare what it is and what it is not 
3. bring as many things for that function into this space (and do not worry yet about lack of space or extra space) & take all extras that were in this space but now don’t belong to an interim space to be pulled from later (for example: basket in the garage or spare room)  

4. make order of what is here without buying extra things to do so (buying organizational stuff is often a distraction from the real work of making decisions & you can do this at the very end when you know you truly do not have any extra container but need one)

5. come back (later when other spaces are established as well) and make decisions about letting go of things that no longer belong
       * caveat: if purging is so obvious and automatic that it takes no energy—do it right away

5.   paint, decorate, and organize with whatever is needed to do it. 

3.  Thinking grateful thoughts and multiplying benefits.

This weekend I worked on creating a board game closet.  Right now, there’s no fancy system in it.  I just have all things in that group in this space and the space makes sense because it’s as close as possible to where we will use them. 

As I put everything in place I did two things.  A prayer of gratitude for the past.  And then a thought about a more productive future. 

I thought of all the memories we’ve made so far with those games and puzzles. Thomas naming the states our extended family members live in and where Nana went on vacation.  Paul schooling me in Monopoly. Sharing beers and laughs with friends over games of Wizard and Telestrations and Taboo. Piecing together 1000 piece puzzles with Thomas last winter as the snow fell just outside the sunroom windows. 

And then I thought of how a new home for these things means more likely use and easier cleanup. Organization is not a blueprint for living in a museum home, seeing our things tidy and beautiful at all times.  Organization's ultimate purpose is so we can live a full, rich lives. Lots of play. Lots of work.  Access to the things we need in the way that works the best for our family.  And that’s how I think of it as I’m moving things.  A laundry room that makes me want to fold and sort.  A kitchen that calls your name in to bake.  A kids’ room that allows for play but doesn’t also give mom a heart attack… still crossing my fingers on this one. Send your suggestions.  At this point, burn all the things is an option I’m strongly considering.  

+     +     +     +     +     +

So there you have it.  A “how I’m doing it” from someone who is totally making it up as she goes.  I’m not too proud to share that I’m not great as housekeeping. It’s humbling to see that I’m really bad at something that is a good chunk of my job at the present. 

But I’m 30.  30 is, for me, a license to freely admit my faults, and to work on them with joy.  

Life is too short to hide from our shortcomings.  Embracing them and learning intentionally how to wade through the new, foreign, or messy in order to get to the things we know we need is much more fun! 

Leave me a comment. Let me know if you have had similar “findings” in your house. If and when you’ve purged or reorganized or if you need to now.  If you’ve got tips, tricks, or advice, I’m all ears for that too!