A How-To for Working Parents Suddenly Homeschooling

My last post for folks who are Suddenly Homeschooling spread far and wide pretty quickly, and I was SO GLAD to be able to share some of what I’ve learned from seven years of trial-and-error with homeschooling my own crew. I was immediately asked for tips and ideas for parents who have their kids at home AND have to keep working. My heart immediately dropped, thinking about you many parents… and then specifically about all the amazing nurses, doctors and therapists who cared for my son during his 48 day hospital stay last year and I thought… gosh, I need to think long and hard and do what I can to help!

Out of those thoughts, I’ve created a simple step-by-step system for creating a schedule that your child should be able to complete with minimal help from whoever is watching them while you’re at work. I hope this will be a gift to you working families trying to get through this craziness, and especially for the medical staff that are most likely working overtime right now. I welcome your thoughts and questions and hope to help any way I can!

Ready to jump in?

Step One: Gather Your Materials

The best place to start? Simply thinking about a handful of things your child would benefit from working on while you’re at work. Before we get into a list of ideas, I want to make one important caveat. You should not try to (and cannot) replicate public school at home. It’s just different!! I highly recommend starting out by creating a routine solely based around the two pillars that most educators agree are essential: Math and Reading. Once those pillars are in place, and you’re getting into a groove, by all means look at Science and Social Studies and a second language… but really know that if you guys are getting Math and Reading done every day, you are doing great.

Keeping that Math and Reading tip in mind, here’s a list of ideas (in no particular order — you already know what I think is essential!) for collecting materials to help your child continue making progress at home. Also — if your child has some schoolwork to do online, GREAT! Don’t try to overdo it — let that start your list!

  • Order an age appropriate Math Workbook like this one. Just completing one or two lessons a day will help your child continue practicing their math skills, and perhaps even strengthen some weak spots/gain some ground during the break. Have some time/want to save some $? You could also google “fifth grade multiplication worksheets” (or whatever fits the bill) find what you think is appropriate, print it, and put it in a folder.
  • Handwriting Books. How’s your child’s printing? Are you wishing they were learning cursive? You can print out free handwriting pages online, or visit a curriculum vender like The Good and the Beautiful (they’re our favorite for handwriting). Again, a page or two a day can take you a long way.
  • Shop your house for books your child could read and create an age-appropriate worksheet (or find one online like this) that will help them engage with the book in a fun (not school-ish!) way. Make multiple copies! For example, ask, “Who was your favorite character?” or “If you could rewrite the story, what would you change?” For older students, you could ask more in-depth questions.
  • Similar to the Math workbooks, look for something to strengthen your child’s Spelling, Reading or Writing skills. I know you don’t want to drop loads of cash on curriculum for just a few weeks, so remember there are loads of resources online and a half an hour hunting could produce enough work to keep your child learning for weeks!
  • There is SO much your child can learn online with the appropriate adult supervision and the right guidance. Khan Academy has loads of instruction videos on dozens of subjects for free. Maybe now would be a good time to sign up for a trial of ABC Mouse. (We haven’t used that one so I don’t know much about it!) Pick a subject and spend a few minutes googling — you might be surprised how much wonderful content you discover. Please just remember — I REALLY don’t recommend your younger children have unsupervised access to the internet. Check your parental control settings and be wise in this regard.
  • Choose something that’s just for the fun of it. Art For Kids Hub is a fantastic YouTube channel for drawing and other art projects. They’ll lead your child step by step to gain skills and confidence. KiwiCo has several great learning lines delivered to your doorstep, like Tinker Crate, Atlas Crate, and Doodle Crate. Definitely a fun and exciting way to learn!
  • Look for audiobooks online. I shared this in my last post but can’t recommend it enough! Start an Audible Trial or use your Library Card to access audiobooks. You can also check out Librivox where hundreds of books in the public domain have been read by volunteers. If your child is listening to great lit, they are learning! My kids love to gather around the coffee table with popcorn, crayons, and blank sheets of paper and listen to a story and create. Pull out a puzzle, build with blocks — and listen and learn at the same time! THAT is learning at its finest in our house! Also, blown away by this: Audible created a website called Audible Stories — as long as schools are closed, they are going to be open with free audiobooks! AMAZING! Well done, Amazon!!!
  • Shop your house (or the internet) for poetry books, or interesting pieces of information your child could practice memorizing. Many famous poems are online that they could listen to or read over and over. They could learn the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, a song of the US presidents or the States and Capitals, or a passage of scripture set to music. Really, the sky is the limit! Pick something they’ll enjoy and let them amaze you by showing you what incredible sponges their brains can be! Hint: Encourage them to aim for repeating it seven times for seven days — their brain will master so much with that amount of effort!

Step Two: Pick a Few Things Your Child Can Do Each Day

Now that you’ve got a plethora of ideas, let’s calm down and just pick a few things for the list each day. We don’t want to overwhelm them, so I’d recommend having a basic number of things you feel “MUST” be done, and then you can consider some extras that “might” be done. Remember: Math and Reading are really the essential pillars, so make sure those are on the list, and know the rest is excellent extra!

Step Three: Get Out a Few Blank Pieces of Notebook Paper

Now you get to put feet on this thing, baby! At the top of that sheet of paper write the date that the work will be completed. Next, draw a little square beside each item that you’d like your child to accomplish. Those squares are important so don’t skip that step! Every time your darling kiddo accomplishes something and gets to check that box, he or she will get a tiny rush of endorphins and gain a little confidence: “I can do hard things! I can keep going! I’m making progress!” My kids love checking boxes and feel a rather large tinge of frustration if I check one of their boxes for them!

Remember: you’re just listing work for ONE day on that sheet. Math and Reading are Essential. Add the to do’s to the list and you’re golden. Each step should have enough information for the person helping your child to get them to the right place to do the next thing, or if the child can work independently, for them to navigate from step to step on their own. I’ve included a few examples in this post to help give you an idea of what this might look like. Arabella (list above) is six, Blake (list below) is nine, and Asher (at the bottom of this post) is 11. The 11 year-old has a good idea of what is expected, so less instructions are necessary.

Step Four: Attach any worksheets, write out any links, put everything together in one place.

When I’m away, it makes life sooo much easier if everything the child needs is all in one place. I try to attach worksheets with a paperclip, or put any workbooks that will be needed for the child to check their boxes.

Step Five: Consider a Reward for the Hard Work

You know what a lot of folks have a love/hate relationship with right now? Screen time. But when your kids are home and you’re trying to keep them isolated (you good citizen, you!) screen time is a likely necessity. Screen time can be a reward for getting all the work done. “No screens until you’ve ticked the boxes!” Or maybe if the child ticks all the boxes all week, dinner Friday night is something special they love to have. Maybe you’ll bake cookies together Saturday. Maybe she’ll earn $1 towards that Lego set she is saving up for. You’ll know you’ve found a great reward when your child is willingly plugging along with the end in sight. In case you’re wondering, I really believe in rewards for hard work because I think that’s real life! When you work hard at your job, you get paid — and hopefully if you’re putting in extra time and effort, you get noticed and get rewarded above and beyond. Work hard in your back yard pulling weeds and cutting grass, and you’re rewarded with that amazing feeling at the end of the day — I did that! This yard looks great! If you can aim for positive consequences and get more flies with honey than vinegar (so to speak), by all means — go for the honey!!

Encouragement for the Journey

Now that I’ve shared these ideas, I just want to take a moment to encourage you of one more thing. Friend, it is not going to be like this forever. Last year, we stared death in the face when my eight-year old son went into the hospital with a massive brain aneurism. The days dragged into weeks and for a long time we felt there was no end in sight. Survival mode is a hard place to live in. We are a lot like ketchup packets — you really only find out what’s inside when you get squeezed.

It’s hard to be squeezed, and it takes a lot of mental fortitude to make it through when there’s no end in sight. But, friend, you are made in the Image of God. He is strong, and so are you. He is creative, and so are you. He can laugh at the days to come, and so can you. We will get through this! This is not forever. The world may be a little different on the other side of all this — but maybe, just maybe, it will be better. Maybe we will have learned a little about caring for our neighbors. Maybe a lot of families will draw closer together, allow some old wounds to heal, make some new and beautiful memories when they have this time together. This isn’t forever, so don’t be afraid. And, this isn’t forever, so make the most of it!

I’m here for you if you have questions! I’d love to encourage you however I can. Brave Moms and Dads and Many Other Caregivers, above all, enjoy those kids. Have fun. Make learning fun for them. They don’t need to be worried or afraid. Find reasons to laugh, and laugh lots and often. Good times are ahead, and the best is yet to come!

xCC

I sure hope this was an encouragement to you today! Could you use some more encouragement during this crazy pandemic? If so, you can subscribe and never miss my (weekly) posts by clicking right here. I’ll do a happy dance, and you’ll get encouraging words in your inbox once a week! (I’ll also send you an awesome Meal Plan Step-by-Step Guide… kind of like this post, but for meal planning. Definitely a win/win! Hint: I Instant Pot like nobody’s business.  

***

One more to-do for you to view!

Some posts on my site contain affiliate links. When you click on those links to make purchases, I receive compensation at no extra cost to you. I love it when you do that! Thank you for supporting With Love!

Introducing the Bear’s Kindergarten Teacher

I’ve mentioned before ’round these parts that I think the return to the US has made me a little granola here and there. I transitioned to (always) baking my own bread a couple times a week, cooking about 90% of our meals from scratch, and I even dabble in literally making our granola and laundry detergent when I’ve got the time.

Earlier this year, I felt like I started to up the ante a little more, with some decisions that felt, considering I had three kids four and under around the house, slightly crazy. Among the many, I started cloth diapering (I haven’t told you about that yet, have I?) and simultaneously kicked off infant potty training (pretty sure I haven’t mentioned that yet — cool topic for another day.)

Most of these decisions have family health and environmental concerns at  heart, but there was another on the horizon that felt like a bigger deal, whispering in the back of my mind for two or three years now. I tried to avoid it as best I could, tried to come up with alternative solutions to the I know in my gut this is right for us thing that I just couldn’t shake .

But that wonderful Houndog of Heaven didn’t give up on me. He kept whispering, first one way, then another, until finally, I just couldn’t shake it anymore.

You can be sure of one thing, friends: when the Maker of Heaven and Earth whispers to your heart something He wants you to do, you can count on experiencing blessing and adventure, and often also challenge and adversity, when you choose to obey. But, woe to your soul, if you hear Him whispering and choose another path: you will miss out on the adventure and blessing, but the challenge and adversity still have a way of finding you.

So here it is. Decision made. And I proudly introduce the Bear’s Kindergarten Teacher.

CCTeacher 003

{She’s the long-haired one in the middle.}

Yes, boys and girls and children of all ages, we are homeschooling.

You saw it coming, maybe? Maybe even before I did?

Well, here’s the moment for us to look at it together.

I’ll take this introductory opportunity to share a few thoughts on this subject, just to make sure the thoughts are shared before I perhaps find myself with too little time to share any thoughts about anything anymore.

Let’s start with the reasons that are NOT reasons we’re homeschooling:

1. We are NOT homeschooling because we think our local public school system is lousy or full of slackers.

I am confident that the Bear would get a very good education in our local public school system. Do I believe there is a possibility he might get a better education at home? Well, yeah, but it’s kind of an unfair fight. I only have to teach one kid (right now), I can work at his pace, choose curriculum that suits his learning style, spend extra time on things he needs extra time on, and enjoy focusing on the subjects that really interest him. I don’t have to deal with government-legislated budget cuts, lack of parental involvement, or a number of other issues that public school teachers face on a regular basis — and they still manage to work their magic.

Basically, I’m taking a risk with the hopes that it’ll pay off.

P.S. My Mom taught in the public school system for thirty years — I have a huge amount of respect for the underpaid, underappreciated, incredibly challenging profession of teaching. Teachers, you are amazing.

2. We are NOT homeschooling because we think the Bear is smarter than everybody else’s kid and needs special attention.

While I do think the Bear is a very clever little chap, I’m not avoiding the public school system because I feel like I need to make sure his astro-physicist-genius-potential is handled with care. I do intend to handle his education with care, and hope that it does foster him reaching his full potential — but not because I think he’s smarter than your kid or your kid or your kid.

3. We are NOT homeschooling because we want to hunker down and live in a bubble until Jesus comes back. 

We will still be involved in the local community. The Tank will start preschool soon. The Bear will hang out with his little pals in children’s church every Sunday, play sports with other kids when we’re ready to kick that off and we’ll be connecting with others in play dates throughout the week. There is a great homeschooling co-op in our area, so we’ll also get to hang with other homeschoolers, take field trips and so on.

Here are a couple of reasons we are choosing to homeschool:

1. As previously mentioned, I have a deep sense of conviction that it’s something I’m being called to do.

Would I rather drop the Bear off at 8 and not have to worry about him again until 3? Sometimes, yeah – I would like to use nap time to write the books that are swirling around in my head, instead of using it as a small-people-free-zone time to accomplish some of my learning goals for the big kid that day. But, the old hymn might’ve said it best: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey.”

2. Like my Argentinian PhD advisor once said, “You will never regret to put your family first.”

It sounded really extra beautiful when she said it with her gorgeous accent. And this feels like a family-centered decision. I get to play an (even more) integral part in training my children up in the way they should go. I’d like play an integral part in choosing their curriculum, helping them find the subjects that make them come alive inside, and helping them process a lot of the information that is difficult for small people to take in, about the fallen world we live in, and how we are supposed to keep on living in it.

The more I do my homework, the more I hear the stories about how connected, what a unit families feel like when they choose to homeschool. I’ve witnessed it first hand, and I hope I have the privilege of enjoying it, too.

And sure there are trade-offs. I might have just tossed a whole heap of me-time out the window. I’m already fielding weird questions and sometimes beginning to feel like I should start dressing weird and stop brushing my hair to somehow play the role I feel stereotyped into.

But here’s the thing it keeps coming back to. Yeah, it would be easier to do what mostly everyone else is doing for a million and three reasons, which include convenience and the fact that I don’t like feeling like a weirdo.  But has anything amazing ever happened to anyone who backed down from that thing they sensed in their hearts they needed to do to instead choose to just fall in line with what everyone else was doing?

If Benjamin Franklin hadn’t risked looking looney to chase thunder and lightning on horseback would we have electricity?

If Martin Luther hadn’t written those ninety-five theses would the Protestant Reformation have taken place?

What if Mother Teresa had asked the Lord to call back later when He called her to live among the poor?

None of this is meant to sound like I’m preparing for something absolutely miraculous, but it is to say that what I’ve seen in my heart over the course of wrestling with this decision is a deep desire to kind of look like a reasonable version of normal to a lot of people whose opinions really don’t matter much in light of eternity.

“Will my kid be socialized?” No, I’m currently placing bids on ebay, hoping to purchase some wolves who will raise him for me in the woods near our house.

“Will my kid feel weird?” Maybe, but plenty of public school kids feel weird enough to go off the deep end (in one direction or another) on a regular basis.

“Will this possibly be the hardest thing ever?” I am kind of starting to think so, but it might also be the best.

So here we go. Maybe he’ll call me Mrs. Collie, but I think he’ll probably just call me Mom.

xCC

 

Sweet and Easy Valentines for Kids {And a Use for Broken Crayons!}

Crayons 010

I saw something on Pinterest a while ago about a use for broken crayons. Can’t remember where it was or what the use was, but some snippet of the idea filed in my brain somewhere between the idea of trying sweet potatoes on top of Shepherd’s Pie and the lyrics to all of the songs from the Lion King. I guess that’s a things that might be useful someday section.

I wanted to do something crafty with the Bear for Valentine’s this year, probably because I didn’t want to pass out candy or spend twenty bucks at the dollar store to cover all the kids in the Pre-K class at preschool. Or maybe because I’m trying to add more things to a full to-do list to see how far I can get towards a nervous breakdown without cracking. Let’s hope not on that last one.

So the adventure began with separating out the broken crayons and peeling off their paper.

Crayons 001The Bear had a loose definition of broken, but we have so many crayons, I was okay with that.

Crayons 002I chopped them up. And took a picture.

Crayons 003Then we organized them into a pre-sprayed mini muffin tin.

Crayons 004Crayons 005Then we baked them in the oven at 250F for maybe 20ish minutes until they were nice and melty.

Crayons 006We took them out and let them cool overnight. Apparently the cheaper crayons produce a little waxy layer at the top (which is eventually the bottom). We’ve picked up some cheap crayons along the way. You could scape off the extra wax if you could be bothered to do so. I couldn’t be bothered. As they say in Scotland.

Crayons 007

And this was the finished Bear-paw sized result!Crayons 008Pretty and fun, hey?

Crayons 009

Then I created a little print-out for the Bear to fill in the To: and From: with his preschool friends’ names. It says “You Color My World.” And I resisted the urge to use the British spelling of color.

That was hard.

We wrapped the crayons in cling film and tied them with whatever it is this type of cord is called… I have forgotten the name of it.

valentinecrayonscarolinecollie

Like we spaced out the work in the previous steps, we have been putting together a few of the crayon-valentines each day for a little “craft time” — and they’ll all be ready in time for the party.

So the awesomesauce result of our fun little crafty time together? Besides having fun doing a craft with the Bear, I spent $0 on these Valentines. Which fits in the budget very nicely, don’t ya think?

I wrote a little poem to go on the back so that the kids wouldn’t try to eat these completely unedible Valentines:

This might look like a tasty treat,
but this little circle is not to eat!
It’s a crayon – colorful & round,
so grab some paper & go to town!

Do you love my poetic skills? 🙂

And guess what? I decided to spare you the work of doing this yourself and uploaded a pdf for you to use if you want! Click right here:

ValentinesPrintable

The Valentines are business card size, so if you were really lazy had those perforated business card sheets you could just print and pull ’em apart.

I scoured the net to figure out how to do the melting part, and Our Best Bites has a beautiful post with lots of pretty pictures and ideas and good instructions. I think you should check that out, too! {And save me the hassle of typing it out again here.}

I hope you have a Happy Valentine’s Day, friends!

xCC

Ten Things That Are Rocking My New Year

Yesterday I shared about a book called Organized Simplicity. It has been an inspiration to me in a season of wondering how I will ever manage to manage my household and do it well.

Yes, manage to manage. To manage to manage. I could go on.

Today I thought I’d share some practical steps I’ve taken to change the way I do things around la casa de Collie. They are making a big difference – even if they’re just slightly de-whelming my own over-whelmed feelings about the possibility of doing this motherhood gig well – and for that I am grateful.

1. Decide What to Do With The Day

This seems totally obvious. But, to my credit, before I started this motherhood gig, for all but one year of my life from the age of four, an educational system was deciding what I was going to do with my day. I didn’t really give my time management a lot of thought, because my time pretty much surrounded school, school work and the jobs I was loafing around at in between. Four years into motherhood, I have finally begun devoting time to deciding what I do with my day. Thanks to inspiration from the book and a Daily Docket download over at SimpleMom.net, I’m taking five or ten minutes either first thing in the morning or the night before, to actually figure out what the most important things are that I want to try to accomplish with the day I’ve been given.

I have to take a little extra time to emphasize this one, because, if you’re anything like me (do I ask that question every week or what?) you have found yourself standing in the center of any given number of rooms in your house, with a dazed, deer-in-headlights look on your face, thinking hmm, I have twenty minutes before the kid will wake up or the dryer will buzz or … what should I do with them? And that is when the list comes to the rescue. Having some purposeful organization to how I’m spending my time is nothing short of magical. I get to the end of the day, look at some checkmarks and breathe a happy sigh that I know what I’ve accomplished. This simple action helps me make decisions about what to do next all day long, without having to stop and think it all over again. And when I haven’t checked something off, well, it helps me get started on the list for tomorrow.

I am also learning to breathe and celebrate, with grace, the days where nothing on the list is going to get checked off. Because that’s okay. More on that another day.

2. Think About the When

You know what really stinks? When poor scheduling means you not only get your own day off to a bad start, but you start your spouse’s day badly for him, too. I have been doing this kind, kind gesture for the Hubs almost once a week on a Tuesday or Wednesday, when he needs to hop on his bike by 8:15 to get to Greenville for staff meeting or work at 9:00. It really stinks to give him a kiss and send him out the door knowing I’ve stressed him out by making him late because I am not managing things well.

There was an obvious and simple solution — but it took me taking a step back and, um, using my brain…, to see it. Take a shower before the kids wake up, or the night before. Lightbulb! This obvious little tweak to the system made a huge difference — the first day I rearranged things to make sure I wasn’t going to make him late for work by asking him to keep an eye on the boys while I got my shower, he specifically thanked me before walking out the door. It went something like this:

This is wonderful. It’s 8:12 and I have everything together and I’m not rushed heading out the door. Thank you very much.

That was so worth it. All of this boiled down to a basic principle? Don’t just think about what you’re doing with your time – think about when you’re doing it, and whether that’s the best choice.

3. I’m Continuing with Reduced Poo

I mentioned once ages ago — you might remember — that I decided to try going no-poo. If you have no idea what I’m talking about you’re probably very concerned, so let me set you straight. You see, it basically seems — I’m not usually one for sticking it to the Man but hear me out — that we have become almost unanimously convinced by Johnson & Johnson and associates that we need to shampoo our hair at least every couple of days, if not daily, in order to not be gross in public. At least three-quarters of us think this, I think. Half the time. But it turns out, most hair types can completely skip shampoo all together {yes really} and use baking soda and vinegar to clean their hair and — get this — perhaps only need to do that every five to seven days or so. Yeah. Is your head spinning? Because mine was. Apparently that shampoo in your shower is stripping the natural oils in your hair, encouraging them to overproduce, and therefore causing you to need to wash more often. Maybe that’s the deal, anyway.

I decided to try going no-poo after reading a fabulous post by Beth Dreyer about going no-poo. I was preggers at the time, and had a wedding in South Africa and another in Scotland ahead of me, so after trying for a couple of weeks, I decided it might be a rough time to tinker with the baking soda and vinegar experience in order to figure out exactly what made my hair happy. Hormonal imbalances and all. But in the process of at least beginning to stretch it out and try, I figured out that I can actually go about five days before I need to shampoo my hair. I think it would be longer if it wasn’t for the bangs/fringe I am usually sporting. I am pondering whether keeping the fringe is a high maintenance decision. {Thoughts?}

Now if you haven’t thought about this before, let the wheels spin for a minute. I am going to try the baking soda and vinegar routine when I run out of shampoo again, but even just washing my hair once every five days or so has a ton of magical consequences. I save a ridiculous amount of time in the shower, using a blow dryer, and using straighteners. I save money on shampoo and conditioner and electricity and I use less hot water. Boom. I save time in the store looking for shampoo and conditioner. Our mornings are a whole lot smoother. It works out better for me to shower the night before since I don’t have to wash my hair and worry that the blow dryer will wake a baby. I’m reducing the number of chemicals I’m scrubbing into my epidermis on a regular basis. I could keep going, but you get the idea.

So, do so homework about going no-poo, or at least consider the possibility that you are washing your hair a lot more often than you need to. And — don’t let this completely blow your mind — if you have dry scalp, it could be that instead of washing your hair more often with Head & Shoulders, you actually need to wash it and blow dry it less. And that could help more. For less. Wow.

4. A Chore Chart for the Bear

On the parenthood front, one little adjustment has been a really good one. I started a chore chart with the Bear. I personally insisted to myself that I had to come up with chores that would make less and not more work for me. Right now he unloads the silverware from the dishwasher, usually in the morning before preschool. I pull a chair up to the drawer and he goes to town. He also gathers the laundry from our bedroom and his bedroom into a big laundry bucket he can carry, and takes it to the laundry room before preschool. He tidies up his toys before nap time and before bed time, and he helps me set the table at dinner time.

_MG_2442

Good thing North Carolina child labor laws are lax — he earns a penny for each of those chores. We put a sticker on the chore chart and at the end of the week, we count up his chores and put money in three jars — the “God” jar for the 10% he’ll bring to church, the “Save” jar which he will have to hold onto for a while, and the “Spend” jar which he can blow on race cars or bubble gum if he wants to. He is four — and introducing the concept of hard work earning a fair reward, counting and math, spending and saving and giving — it is all good stuff. He loves it and I love that it is much easier to get his help now. And already having the laundry right there every day when it’s laundry time…man that does help. He does other things that will not count towards the chore chart, because I also want him to understand that he’s part of the team and will have to help around here. I digress. Let’s move on.

_MG_2435

5. Decide to Make a Plan

One of the most insurmountable challenges I’ve been forced to face in motherhood is trying to keep a reasonably tidy home. It is hard for me because I hate cleaning more than I like the results after I’ve cleaned. But obviously, it has to be done. So I spent some time deciding what the things are that need to happen at least every couple of weeks in order to not have anyone call Social Services because my children are living in a dump. I assigned one of those tasks to each weekday, and they rotate on a bi-weekly basis. For example, I mop the kitchen floors on Mondays (every other Monday), wash our sheets and towels every other Tuesday (the kids’ on the opposite Tuesday), clean the surfaces in the bathrooms every other Wednesday, and so on.

This works really well for me — even if I miss something one week and don’t manage to get it done on a free day later in the week (I don’t have a set chore on Fridays or the weekends) at least I know it’ll come around again in two weeks, which is much better than knowing that from probably October to early January, my kitchen floor got mopped a total of never. Mmmhmm.

6. Choose your Almost-Always’s

Along those same lines, I have repeatedly discovered that if I aim to do just one load of laundry a day every day except Sunday, I will manage to stay on top of our laundry and it will never feel like a mountain is piling up on top of the basket that sits in my laundry room. It’s okay if I miss a day, generally it will still work out, as long as I aim to just regularly get something started once everyone who showers has showered in the morning. So that’s an almost-always for every morning.

7. Divide your Work (and Conquer)

There are some other obvious chores that happen regularly around here. Exhibit A, I make bread in our breadmaker, usually three or four times a week. This was HH’s suggestion, ages ago, that I finally implemented at the beginning of this year: when I’m measuring the first loaf of the week out and dumping everything in the breadmaker, I measure another two loaves into random jars or containers so that I don’t have to make that big mess, get everything out and measure it all over again, and again. This is another one of those things that seems so simple and obvious, but it just took me deciding to actually do it to realize how much it helped. Now when it’s time to start a loaf I just have to measure and warm up the milk, cut in a little butter, dump in everything that’s already measured and add the yeast. Four minutes tops. And every time I do that, I brings me a heap of joy. It’s like the easy button at Staples. But real.

_MG_2439

8. Hit the Sack, Jack

Yes, I’m a grownup and I can do whatever I want. But. I am a lot like my kids. If I let them stay up super late, they would. They’d fall asleep eventually, sure, but they would be worse for wear the next day. So. Me too. The Hubs and I have purposed to be much more disciplined about getting to bed this year. We decided to close up shop and head to the bedroom, aiming to be in bed by 9:15. From there we have about thirty minutes of Bible reading/quiet time, and we plan to turn the lights off at ten. We usually won’t start watching something if it’s going to take us past 9 pm. (We don’t have cable — we just have Amazon Prime. I can talk about that decision another day if you’re interested.) Now do we do this every night? No. But is it great when we do? Yes.

9. Make Dinner, Double or Nothing

I have become much more disciplined in the way I’m doing meals now. For a long time, I’ve planned ahead the week’s menu in order to know what to shop for. But my love for spending time in the kitchen meant I generally planned a different meal every night. And I spent the leftovers at lunch time. I am now realizing how much better life is in general if I make my time work for me in every area I can. That means I aim to put at least three meals on the menu which I can double. I try to divide what we’re eating — at least in my mind — to make sure we don’t overeat and then not have enough to enjoy the meal again. If the meal is freezable, I will freeze it for another week. If not, we will probably eat it again two nights later. This simple decision is stretching my budget in a very good way, because the things I do for lunch are usually cheaper than the things I do at dinner time, and I am spending less time in the kitchen, less time running the oven, stove, kettle, etc. and less time doing dishes. Can I get an Amen?

10. Reconsider your spaces.

Just before the Belle arrived, we got on a kick where we began rethinking and rearranging some different areas in our home. We thought about things that were a problem and why, and we began working toward solutions. Having our big Mac (the computer hub of Quiver Tree Photography) in the living room where the boys play was just causing a lot of issues (Tank, don’t touch…Tank…Tank!) and it was also a pretty significant risk. Hello, toy car crashing into a monitor… So we moved things around so that it could sit in its own little space in a different room. HH, being the hero he is after all, spent his bonus on an island for the kitchen – workspace has been an issue for me, and I had new pots and pans from my brother and nowhere to put them. We put together a 9-cube storage organizer thing to house the boys’ toys — and all of a sudden life started making more sense.

These simple changes sparked a number of other simple changes. From making the decision to actually complete some projects that will result in my being happy in the spaces where I spend 95% of my every day, to rearranging drawers and cupboards based on criteria that actually make sense and make them more functional — before I’d even started Tsh’s masterpiece of a book, this work was well underway, thanks to us starting with baby steps and moving forward.

Sometimes it’s daunting and overwhelming to think about rearranging things to make your home a more useful place, but it helps to remember getting started is usually the hardest part — just bite the bullet and start somewhere!

So those are a few simple practicalities that have helped get my year off to a good start. Ann Voskamp shared an amazing 25 Point Manifesto for Staying Sane in 2013 that I think you should check out.

How are things going for your 2013? Any tips you want to share?

xCC

My Homemade Renaissance {Over at Se7en}

Not too many years ago I was pretty much the worst eater. Ever. I made really bad food choices, very rarely ate any fresh fruit or veggies (salad was a personal nemesis), fast food was a rather regular occurrence in my diet, and the things that counted as a serving of ‘vegetables’ on my plate were… let’s just say pretty ridiculous.

An important conversation with the Hubs took place when we were dating, and, although I didn’t realize it at the time, it was the start of a personal Renaissance that got me asking questions like — how can I do it myself? Cook it from scratch? Make it without putting rubbish in it or instead of buying it? And having an old friend visiting a couple of weeks ago helped me realize just how far I’d come.

{You know the DIY Granola made the list!!}

I’m sharing about that important conversation, along with a list of Se7en + 1 of my Homemade Favourites, over at Se7en’s site today. {Remember Se7en {and the Travelling Tuesday from when we visited her in the Cape}? She’s the awesome homeschooling mom of Se7en + 1 … meaning EIGHT … kids, who lives back in beautiful South Africa.} She has Guest Bloggers join the fun at her site on her Blogoversary each year, and what a treat to get to guest post there!

My guest post is up and running… but before you click right here to go read it, don’t forget to take a moment to put your thinking cap on for thirty seconds, come up with a name for our Senior Portraits, and perhaps win a free 8 x 10 canvas from Quiver Tree Photography… our photo or yours! {Click here to visit the giveaway post!}

I hope you enjoy the visit with Se7en, and start thinking about your favourite Olympic moment, because we’ll have another giveaway right here, soon!

xCC

Be Careful What You Pin For

If you haven’t been introduced to the mildly addictive online world of Pinterest, I’m kind of happy for you. But you’ll need a little backstory for any of the rest of this to make sense. And I think it’ll still be valuable, so hang wid me. Pinterest is basically a very simple way of sharing different things you find and like while browsing these here interwebs, where you ‘Pin’ pictorial links of favourite outfits, paint colours, recipes, arts and crafts ideas, amusing ecards you want to laugh at again later, and so on. And on. And on.

Your links are arranged into nifty little pin boards, organised with titles like “Yummy Recipes to Try” or “I Looooove this Outfit” or “Dream Home” or “Baby’s Nursery Inspiration.” And, kind of like Facebook, people follow each other in order to see what the other person has pinned so that they can like it or repin it, or, for the adventurous types, actually go to the website where the information came from to find out more.

You might think of it as a web gathering for a lot of people who are perhaps already living the dream, but just want to live the dream even dreamier.

{This could quite possibly be the most ironic pin on Pinterest. If it gets pinned.}

Alongside the creative inspiration, I’ve been enjoying the useful, organizational side of Pinterest for some time now. When the Hubs said ‘The Gallery is Going to be Your Baby‘ I promptly started a pinboard on Pinterest and began collecting ideas and inspiration wherever I could find them. And that turned out pretty well.

But for the average every day gal whose job isn’t decorating or even blogging about decorating, while Pinterest has come through on a number of occasions, on the whole, I’m not sure I ought to spend too much time there.

Cos here’s the thing. Let’s say I find something on Pinterest that I think is super-cute, and I love the inspiration and I therefore have to pin it. There are kind of three options. (For me anyway.)

1. I get excited because I can try it. And then hopefully I do. Yay.

2. I feel bummed because I can’t try it. It involves painting furniture. Or recipes that have ridiculously expensive ingredients. And I don’t own the house I live in, or even the furniture we live on. And my grocery budget won’t accommodate the purchase of six items that are each at least five bucks and will only be used for this one recipe which could rock or be rubbish. So maybe next month. Next year?

3. I pin something, but I see the ‘pin’ as an unattainable / unachievable goal I’ll never reach. You can probably guess what these types of pins are. Gorgeous DIY kitchen island projects for an island that would literally take up my entire kitchen. Living rooms that look like they’ve come out of a magazine because they actually have come out of a magazine, where half the items I love from the room are a) within arm’s reach for toddler paws and breakable or b) so expensive by the time I saved up to buy them they’d be out of style or c) so completely impractical that if I did save up to purchase everything to make my room like that room, I would immediately feel insanely guilty because I am more personally aware than the average American of what people in poverty live like and how that one piece of furniture could probably feed a family of four for a year. And change.

It’s not always about a house or furniture or food — I’m just kind of giving you an idea. And it sometimes sparks creativity and I come up with a way of doing something for close to $0 and get similar results and then I feel #awesome.

But herein, we find the heart of the struggle: Because I’d roughly estimate that 87% of the things that I pin on Pinterest fall into categories two and/or three, pinning usually makes me discontent, which is not a great choice for how to spend my time.

I don’t really want to be a dreamer. I want to be a doer. So if I spend time dreaming about perfect ways to fix my hair or awesome ways of creating world maps to decorate my boys’ room, well then I better spend some time doing those things, or I’m just wasting time…right?

What I see in my heart, I struggle with. I struggle because I am not content with the home we live in. The furniture’s not mine and we have a mild insect issue and there is only one drawer in the entire kitchen. Bugs. And one drawer. And then, I struggle because in remote villages on the Yucatan Peninsula, I have seen people live in huts made of long branches, wired and held together by who-knows-what and covered with thatched roofs. And they’ve proudly invited me in with a smile on their faces. Chasing their chickens outside and welcoming me in. With Joy.

And I looked this girl in the eyes, this one child in a shack in a township outside Cape Town. And I thought — couldn’t that have been me? And why wasn’t that me? And what was it Bono said about how Where You Live Should Not Decide Whether You Live or Whether You Die?

I left South Africa less than a year ago — I left Mexico exactly ten years ago — but… have they left me?

I’d really like to tie all these thoughts together with a pink polka-dotted ribbon {you know, in honour of our recent gender news!} but to do so would be to gloss over a truth that I am struggling to navigate — a month away from being back here in the US for a full year.

Am I now overly focused on making my happy North-American life even more happy and — dare I say it — comfortable? Could this frivolous escape cause me to forget the fact that I’m actually ridiculously fortunate and that there is so much I can do to make the world we live in a better place?

And will I stand before the throne one day, sorry I spent so much time on my hair?

Today I read this really encouraging post about why we need to struggle. (Remember Kristen from We Are That Family who collected shoes for SFSA in 2010?) I’m encouraged that this struggling is healthy and good.

Jesus blessed those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. He never said we were going to get it all right, but I think He was saying it pleased Him to see us hungry to try. So how do I balance making my home a comfortable place for my family to live in while still managing to be a generous and cheerful giver? And Jesus, should I stop pining (and pinning? funny those words are so similar) for things… especially if I see that it’s 9 pm and I haven’t opened my Bible today?

Is it possible I’m signing up for a daily dose of discontentment?

And where is the small gate? Where is the narrow road? Which boys’ room world map will show me how to get there?

I wish there were seven steps I could copy and paste right here for you that would clearly lay out the answers, but I don’t think there’s one right way for all of us, a one-size-fits-most solution. Rather it involves each of us, in our own ways, hungering for God and for godliness, and asking for His help to figure out what that’s supposed to look like in our day to day lives. And in our cars, homes, nurseries, and kitchens big and small.

Because even if we don’t get it all right, if our hearts are changed and our minds are transformed and we do make a difference in the world around us in the process of the trying — all of that is an outcome that’s glorious.

Are you on Pinterest? Do you think it makes you discontent with what you have? A little?

xCC

 

P.S. This post from Ann Voskamp also speaks to this struggle — in volumes and with wisdom, as if she’d been reading words from my heart. I just feel like I link to her every day so I’m trying to slow down. 🙂