What’s in a Name?

I’ve come to realize that names, or titles, are extremely important to my children.

“Is it “Family Movie Night?” Because just watching a movie is different from “Family Movie Night.” If it’s “Family Movie Night” that means they can get their blankets and pillows and set up in the living room. And there should definitely be snacks. But if we’re just watching a movie, there are no expectations. So you know, important titles like that.

When I first introduced the idea that this year after breakfast Abby, Noah, and Daddy would be in charge of cleaning up the kitchen while I did “preschool” with Emmalyn and Eli, there was groaning. Mostly from the kids… 😉 But the next day, when asked if they *had* to clean the kitchen, I said, “Yes! You guys are the ‘Kitchen Crew!'” No joke, everything changed after that. They have not whined about cleaning the kitchen after breakfast ever since. They have a title. They are a team. With Daddy. Some mornings, he even announces, “Kitchen Crew, spring into action!” Now it is fun. Just. Like. That. One title became a game-changer.

For Emmalyn, it’s the word “school.” Whatever activities I call “school”, she is eager to do. It helps her feel older, included, important. Puzzles. Blocks. Singing songs. I’m a big advocate for learning through play so, it is her school. 🙂

This is why I jumped at an idea I read in a book about a month ago. I was struggling to find a rhythm for our homeschool. Not only that, but I was struggling to get the kids excited about what we were learning. They bemoaned whenever I said the word “geography.” I get it. It’s a boring word. But it’s the very essence of what this year is about: exploring countries and cultures. The geography lessons are supposed to be the best part! I was already following a “block” schedule, meaning I wasn’t doing every subject everyday; instead, lumping science for the week into 1-2 days, geography into another, etc. Yet, I still wasn’t fitting everything in and housework wasn’t getting done at all. I felt like I was just spinning my wheels and worse, the year I was really looking forward to teaching wasn’t turning out to be much fun so far. It didn’t seem like I was really tapping into the freedom and beauty that a homeschooling lifestyle is supposed to afford.

In the book, The Call of the Wild and Free*, by Ainsley Arment, she mentions a schedule one of her friend’s follows that has a theme for everyday. In addition to math and language arts on Monday through Friday, her days look like this:

  • Sweet Sunday: worship, hospitality, family walk, board games
  • Magic Monday: art, music, poetry, baking, tea
  • Time-Travel Tuesday: history and geography
  • Work & Wonder Wednesday: household chores, letter writing, and time for wonder
  • Thunder Thursday: adventure, nature walk, nature collecting, audiobooks
  • Favorites Friday: library, nature journaling, science at Grandma’s house
  • Skillful Saturday: homesteading, prepare for Sunday

Sounds amazing, right?! And totally doable, when tailored to my schedule. You see, we already made it a point in our house to worship, practice hospitality, and have family game night on Sundays. By some coincidence, writing a letter is already built into our curriculum for every Wednesday this year. I had already resolved to go on a nature walk once a week, Fridays we have co-op and library (a big favorite among my kids), and Saturdays have long been the day we make it a point to prepare for Sunday. The rest I could easily make fall into place. We may not have a homestead, but we have skillful soccer on Saturdays! We don’t do science at Mimi’s house, but we have co-op and other favorites built into our Fridays. We are big lovers of audiobooks. And now I could fit in the beautiful things like art, music, poetry, or baking first thing in the week rather than put them off and then wonder if I’m ever going to get to the “fun” stuff that I long to do with my kids. “Geography” has been replaced with “Travel Tuesday” and I can’t begin to tell you how wonderfully freeing it has been to have household chores built into our school schedule! It’s a mid-week reset that is much needed.

Following this new “schedule” has been refreshing and fun for our homeschool. Each day is purposeful and special in its own way and I am constantly hearing how much the kids love “Work Wednesday”, “Magic Monday”, or any of the days, really. When you have little kids, life is constantly changing and once you find something that “works”, you usually have to change it shortly thereafter. The nice thing about having themed days like this is that the themes can probably stay the same, even if the specifics need to change. Either way, I’m really happy that we’re finding our rhythm… for this year, at least.

Here are some pics from a few of our “Work Wednesdays.” I love that I have built in time to teach my kids how to really clean something. I instruct them on how to organize their papers, their rooms, their toys. I demonstrate how to wield the vacuum and the toilet brush. We have a weekly checklist with rotating “add-ons” which are bigger chores that don’t necessarily need to be done every week such as cleaning the refrigerator. We blast whatever music we’re in the mood for and go to town…

*affiliate link; as an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

What I’ve been Reading and Listening to Lately: Recommendations for You!

Summer is about half over. HALF over. It’s not over yet! Target dollar section, I’m looking at you… (There’s a sad story there about a girl in search of swim goggles only to find school supplies. At the end of July. Sigh.)

There is still plenty of time to enjoy a good read or podcast on the lake, beach, or by the pool on a lazy day. I am finding so much encouragement and soul-feeding in my podcasts and books lately and I wanted to pass on the goodness, so here goes…

If you’re looking for one last book to read to complete your summer…

  1. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I read this one to the kids in the beginning of the summer (and we finished it on Audible when we were driving to and from VBS one week) and had my mom and sister-in-law read it, too, and we had “book club” while on vacation! It’s an easy read, which is great for summer and the theme of “coming alive” and being surrounded by beautiful things couldn’t be more perfect for the season.
  2. The Read Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie. I listened to this on Audible, also, and loved it! Not only does it have so many great ideas for how, when, and what to read aloud to your kids, it’s filled with helpful information about the importance and impact of reading for everyone. This is one I’ll be revisiting often.
  3. Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown. This was recommended by a friend and I ended up having a small group book club with it. Very thought-provoking and spiritually stirring, you could honestly do a whole study group on the book and stretch it out over several weeks. You will find yourself closely identifying with one or more of the main characters and will undoubtedly do a lot of spiritual self-reflection.
  4. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall. A middle-grade novel series, I read the first one to the kids, and Abby and I are reading the rest on our own but at the same time. We’re having our own “book club” and our first meeting is this Saturday to talk about the second book! This is such a sweet series and super fun to read. Might be my favorite pick. Think “Little Women” but in modern times, with charm and humor.
  5. Currently, I am listening to A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle, but I haven’t finished it yet. It’s great to listen to on a long walk and full of poignant quotes like this one:

“We can surely no longer pretend that our children are growing up into a peaceful, secure, and civilized world. We’ve come to the point where it’s irresponsible to try to protect them from the irrational world they will have to live in when they grow up. The children themselves haven’t yet isolated themselves by selfishness and indifference; they do not fall easily into the error of despair; they are considerably braver than most grownups. Our responsibility to them is not to pretend that if we don’t look, evil will go away, but to give them weapons against it.” 
― Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

This made me think of homeschooling and the false judgment that we are attempting to shelter our children from the world. I do not wish to shelter them (fully) from the world as they grow, but I want to properly equip them to deal with it. And that is something I can do much better at home.

Looking for a good listen while you wash the dishes, go for a walk/run, or while on a road trip? Here are the podcasts I have stored up on my phone…

  1. Risen Motherhood*. This is my favorite podcast and my number one recommendation! I’ve been an R/M listener for over a year and I can’t get enough. They take a break in the summer so I used this as an opportunity to get caught up on episodes I hadn’t heard before. This is a podcast that is full of love, laughter, encouragement, and Gospel-truth for the weary mama! Topics range from sleep-deprivation and mom-bods to education choices, screen time, etc. I’m so in love.
  2. The Read-Aloud Revival. This is Sarah Mackenzie’s podcast and it is delightful. Author interviews, book recommendations, and tips and tricks for home education, though even if you don’t homeschool, you can benefit from this podcast!
  3. Wild + Free*. This podcast for homeschoolers refreshes my mama soul and reminds me of the importance of letting children be wild and free and unstructured at times. It reminds me that homeschooling is NOT about recreating public school at home but about creating relationship, love of learning, and family memories to last a lifetime.
  4. Heidi St. John. Heidi’s podcast is a Bible study, poignant political discussion, interesting interviews and Q&A all rolled into one. I don’t always agree with her politics 100%, but I love her Bible studies and she is grounded in Biblical truth which I appreciate.

*These podcasts (Risen Motherhood and Wild + Free) both have books coming out this fall! I have pre-ordered them on Amazon already! If you give them a listen and like what you hear, I encourage you to do the same… click on the links above. 🙂

This Summer Doesn’t Look Like It Was Supposed To

Miracle of all miracles, my husband just fit ALL of our vacation luggage into ONE vehicle!!! We thought it was going to have to be two and I prayed it wasn’t so. Not only am I thoroughly exhausted from all the packing and preparing and stressing over how much work the vacation itself will actually be, but the thought that I might not even be able to nod off on the ride up was almost more than I could bear… But now I can rejoice about that one thing! And that one thing matters as I am learning to appreciate all little things that can be considered a positive for my sanity.

This summer looks different than I expected it to look. But really, it looks strikingly familiar. This was supposed to be the first summer in seven summers (yes, SEVEN!) that I wasn’t pregnant or nursing. It is now the eighth summer in a row that my body is serving another human being. We weren’t supposed to have to pack baby items for vacation anymore. I wasn’t supposed to be lugging around an infant carrier. I was supposed to be wearing trendy tops and cute bathing suits instead of nursing camis and flowing shirts that attempt to hide my 2-month post-partum pudge. (Okay, so that one might not be totally dependent on a baby. I can admit that my body might not have been where I wanted it to be, baby or not, but it could have!) I was supposed to be relaxing and just enjoying my kids without timing feedings or trying to snag a nap whenever possible. I was supposed to be happy. Well, more happy. (Post-partum hormones can be a real kill-joy. It’s not something I’ve needed to manage with medication, but there’s absolutely no shame in that and it has been something my husband and I have considered.) Once I identified my emotions as more of an anxiety rather than depression and a desire to meet my own (unreasonable) expectations, they’ve been way easier to manage.*

We always planned to have four children, with the possibility of adoption down the road. And after having four unpleasant pregnancies, I was more than happy to announce to everyone that we were D-O-N-E. Done! “Fourth and final!” “Four, no more!” “If we do have any more children, they won’t be coming out of me, that’s for sure!”

You’ve heard the saying, “We plan, God laughs.” I always thought I was very aware that God’s plan for my life might not be my plan. I never planned to marry the “type” of man I married, but am everyday more grateful that I did! I never planned to live where I live or own a multi-family house. I never planned to homeschool. And when people ask me how long I plan to do it, I’m more than comfortable to answer, “However long God wants me to!” So why did I think my family plan was any different? Perhaps because we never struggled with infertility it never crossed my mind that God might have a different number of children in mind for us. I’m sure I would’ve been more aware of that if getting pregnant was difficult. I certainly didn’t think it would happen when it wasn’t “supposed to.”

But there it was, that “positive” pink stick. And one of the first things I thought was that my summer of 2019 was ruined. “My beach days are gone!” “Will I ever be able to leave the house with my kids again?!” And I grieved. It might seem crazy, insane, and unnatural to grieve something gained–we were gaining another child! Praise the Lord! But I had lost my plan. My grand plan. How I had looked forward to my first “free” summer. How I relished the idea that homeschooling would soon be just about my child students and not about coordinating nap schedules and interrupting toddlers. I couldn’t wait to have all my kids potty trained, to take all the cool field trips without babies in tow, and to lose the diaper bag (and replace it with an awesome purse). And though those things aren’t gone, they’re further away. And our idea of adoption some day was now in question. We used to use our van to give rides to people–I could bring a single mom and her son to church every Sunday and we did for a time. Now every. single. seat. is full.

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions to one’s ‘own’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life–the life God is sending one day by day.” – C.S. Lewis

I happened upon this quote in a book, Teaching from Rest, after I discovered I was pregnant and it resonated with me. I don’t mean to say that my baby is an “unpleasant thing”, (seriously, I can’t imagine my life without Logan now–he is the sweetest thing!) but the news of my pregnancy and the loss of my own plans was unpleasant for me, to say the least. But this helped me realize that though I had my own plans, God clearly never intended me to be a mother of four (not counting a previous miscarriage). He was not surprised at all about my positive pregnancy test. His plans were not my plans. He sent us Logan. Little, wonderful, adorable Logan. Even up until the last week of my pregnancy I struggled with wondering if I’d even want to hold him. I had to sort through some tough emotions. And now, I don’t like putting him down. He’s a part of our family, where he belongs.

God is teaching me so much through becoming a family of seven. And that C.S. Lewis quote becomes especially applicable when one of my little cherubs (the fussy one-year-old who is struggling with the “loss” of some mommy-time and less sleep now that he’s in a big-boy bed, the strong-willed three-year-old who is ever trying my patience, the curious 6-year-old who has too many questions than I know how to answer, the helpful, responsible, yet comes-with-an-attitude-of-a-teenager almost 8-year-old, or the newborn: our newest and very sweet family member who truly needs Mommy 24/7) “interrupts” what I thought my day would look like. My days are not well-planned right now. We’re in, what I call, “survival mode” and I am just passing the time, or “running out the clock” in some ways until the end of the day. But this is where God meets me.

This summer does not look like I thought it would, but there have already been many moments to treasure. This summer looks drastically different from what I hoped it would, but it also looks the same as always. We went out to dinner at a casual-dining restaurant tonight, all seven of us, and it was a fun time, just like always. And we’re taking one vehicle on vacation this year, just like always.

Daddy always says Logan’s number one job is to snuggle Mommy. She needs it. And he does a fine job of it!
I mean… Don’t you just wanna squish him?!
I can’t even imagine our family without him!!!

Getting quality time with the other four… pictured here is mini-golf with the older two and playground time with the younger ones… is something I cherish!

*If you have struggled or are struggling with PPD, I have a great resource and counselor to recommend! Please reach out!

Backpacks, Baguettes, and Babies

I have finally solved the major issue I’ve had with summer field trips since I can remember: lunches! I only wish I had thought of the idea myself.

I hate making lunch. I hate it. With a passion. Which is weird because I love making breakfast and supper. (I don’t love being interrupted by all of my children while I cook, but I really do love all the planning, prepping, chopping, sauteing, frying, baking, and everything else that goes along with making a meal.) But I would take a hard pass on making lunch everyday if I could. And even more than making a PB & J around noon, I hate packing lunches for field trips. It puts a major damper on my morning. And before you suggest it, I’ve done it the night before and it puts a damper on my evening, too!

But recently while listening to a podcast, a nature-loving homeschool mom said that to solve her lunch-making problem, she simply packs a baguette, some salami, and cheese. And voila. When the kids get hungry on their hike, she tears off a hunk of baguette (that’s been sticking out of her backpack so perfectly because where else would it be) and her kids rip it open and stuff in a slice of cheese and salami themselves and then wander off with their sandwiches while they explore. Cue lightbulb moment!

So that’s what we did today. Before hitting the trail, we pulled in at Hannaford (and then I had to unload, tote around, and reload 5 little children–will definitely be doing this part the night before in the future when I plan ahead, but this was a last minute hike), picked up a baguette, some salami and some pre-sliced cheese, a bag of cherries and a bag of Swedish fish (because it’s me) and we were off. And the lunch was a hit!

Not only did they love their handmade “gourmet, European-style” sandwiches; there were no napkins or little baggies to worry about and they just took their hunks of stuffed bread with them and continued their explorations by the water and in the woods.

I’m surprised I didn’t think of this myself because when I backpacked through Europe, this was literally how I ate all. the. time! I wandered through France with my baguette, cheese, and maybe a splurge on meat or mustard. A bottle of water and a bottle of wine. Had I forgotten that or did I just not think that a simple bread/meat/cheese combo made by hand instead of a butter knife with mayo could suffice for my kids’ lunch until I heard it from another mother?

Either way the success of today’s lunch brought back that memory and more. I’ve found the start to a simple solution of a problem that has plagued me about our summer day trips and who’s to say it can’t spill over to our in-home lunches, too? And I’m starting to remember things about myself from my pre-mommy days. That’s a bonus. I’ve been knee-deep in diapers and spit-up for a long time and I still have time to go before these days are gone, but I’m liking the direction we’re heading.

More on the diapers and spit-up and how a surprise fifth baby has rocked my world in many ways in an upcoming post…

For now, here are some more cute pics from today’s hike…

When the Important Seems Unimportant (Making Time for the Littles in the Midst of Homeschool Mornings)

“Momma, when you’re done with Abby, you do pattern blocks with me?” – Emmalyn, 3.

“Yes, Emmalyn. When Abby and I are done.”

Emmalyn and Noah (5) start playing pattern blocks pretty well together until the bickering starts and it’s clear I’ll need to break this up.

“Okay, Noah, come sit at the kitchen table for school.”

“Momma (I love that she calls me this–sometimes it’s “Mommy” or “Mom” but mostly it’s “Momma”), when you’re done with Noah, you play pattern blocks with me?”

“Yes, when we’re all done.”

Abby finishes her work and I send her to play with Emmalyn while I continue working with Noah. Then Noah finishes and I know we have to get science in so I’ll need to clear the kitchen table and set up the experiment so I call to the kids to start picking up the living room so they can do yoga while I clean and set up the kitchen. They start fighting about cleaning up and I can tell that Emmalyn is being the obstinate one. I call her into the kitchen ready to give her a time-out for not listening to my directions. She comes into the kitchen in tears and I’m suddenly so aware that I’m staring at my little girl who has been waiting all morning just to play pattern blocks with me and I’ve just told her to clean up. So I sit her down and I say, “Emmalyn, I told you I’d play pattern blocks with you and I haven’t yet, and I’m sorry.”

And in my head I’m struggling because I don’t want to interrupt our school routine–if I let Abby and Noah free play, I’ll have to draw them out of it to finish school and it’ll push us back, at least. And playing pattern blocks seems so unimportant right now. Can’t we just push it off a little longer? I promise we’ll still do it!

But will we? I’ll want to clean up after science, then maybe start getting lunch ready or the one-year-old will need me or I’ll have to fold laundry or I’ll want to start planning next week’s lessons… I know myself too well.

Every morning my attention gets divided. I have four children who all need something different from me–help with a math problem, explaining the spelling directions, help with printing, help with a toy, kisses and cuddles, good ol’ fashioned attention, not to mention the teacher-directed schooling we have to do. Then there’s the housework. We don’t have a dishwasher and most mornings we have a hot breakfast which means I have a sink and counter full of dishes that I need to get done before I start making lunch. And laundry. And changing diapers. Then there’s the direction I pull myself in when I get sucked into checking my texts or emails. Fortunately this isn’t a regular habit, but I do it more often than I wish.

It can be so hard to decide what’s most important–isn’t it all important? Yes, it is. And it all needs to get done. But does it have to get done at the cost of my sanity? No. All school year I’ve been trying to figure out the perfect school morning and I haven’t yet. Maybe it doesn’t exist. But I have found some things that work better for us and preserve my sanity in the process.

With two school-age kids and two toddlers, I’m constantly looking for ways to occupy the toddlers so that school can get done. But I’ve found that giving the toddlers the attention they crave (even if only a little) is the real key. Sometimes this is in the form of reading a quick book together right after breakfast before school. Sometimes we do a puzzle while Abby does her independent work. But I usually like to get the dishes done while independent work is happening. So sometimes the three-year-old helps with the dishes (thanks, Randy, for that one) and that time spent with me washing dishes is enough to put her on cloud-9 for the rest of the morning. Sometimes she sits on my lap and does a puzzle at the kitchen table while I’m available to help the older kids. (By the way, can I just say how thankful I am for a husband who listens to my frustrations and is able to offer gentle suggestions when needed? He kinda rocks.)

Yes, it’s important for us to get school done. But it’s also important for me to love on my younger children at the same time. And yes, the housework is important, too. I’m so grateful that God grants me the grace to accomplish all I need to each morning. (That’s a whole ‘nother blog post in itself!)

And that morning, I told Abby and Noah to go play in another room for a few minutes. Emmalyn and I needed to play pattern blocks before they were put away. It took all of 5-10 minutes to complete a pattern and she happily brought them into her room to put away and we continued on with our school day.

Heart Work with the help of Mario Brothers

The other day I made Ree Drummond’s amazing cinnamon rolls. The recipe makes about 32+ rolls. (I also made Ina Garten’s Outrageous Brownies, my own chocolate oatmeal cookies, and some mint chocolate chip and cookie dough ice cream.) I think it’s safe to say my pregnancy sweet tooth has been turned on and turned up! There are plenty of sweets for everyone, so if you’re hungry, you should stop by. Please. (I just heard Randy yell from the kitchen, “There are baked goods everywhere!” and it wasn’t in an excited-kid-in-a-candy-shop-kind-of-way, it was a I-have-no-where-to-put-down-my-coffee-cup-kind-of-way.)

Those cinnamon rolls, though. They are so delicious and just a tad labor-intensive. But a lot of the work that goes into them is also dependent on the yeast, and whether or not its done its job. There are many references to yeast in the New Testament, and how it only takes a little yeast to work through a whole batch of dough–it can be good yeast and make the bread rise well, or it can be bad yeast and spoil the batch. When I made the cinnamon rolls this time around, I was afraid I burned the yeast and killed it. It wasn’t able to do its job the way it normally does, and the rolls didn’t rise as well as usual. They still tasted delicious because they’re covered with cinnamon, sugar, butter, and delicious maple icing. But I knew the truth. They weren’t as good as they should’ve been.

I’ve been reading a lot of blog posts and books lately about raising kids. being a mom, homeschooling, etc. As a homeschool mom, it can be easy to feel a lot of pressure to raise “perfect” kids. Or at least “perfectly educated and well-mannered” ones. We are home with them, so we have all the time in the world to turn them into wonderful little specimens, right? 😉 But what I’m realizing/learning/accepting as Randy and I work through a parents’ Bible study together is that the work I do to turn out God-fearing children is futile if God’s not already in it. Just like I can work the dough all I want to turn out delicious rolls, but if the yeast isn’t good, the rolls will fall flat.

Our church recently had a parenting conference where one of the speakers outlined God’s work and our work in parenting (what is actually within our power and what is not). You can read about his list of things that are part of the parent’s work when it comes to raising God-fearing children here.  (And please do, it’s a great read!) When we dwell on the fact that so much of our kids’ lives are not within our power to control, it can feel freeing, and also scary! It can also be tempting to throw our hands in the air in a moment of frustration and say, “Forget it! I have no control, anyway! Do what you want.” But this is not what God wants. In fact, we are commanded to teach our kids the things of God and to evangelize to them, even though we’re not guaranteed the results we want.

I like that accepting God’s power, love, and grace in the life of my family takes some of the pressure off of me. But it doesn’t remove my responsibility, and I’ve been thinking lately about how to be more intentional about teaching Godly characteristics to my children. At the beginning of the year, we did a unit on the Fruit of the Spirit. (All of my lessons are outlined in my blog and you can see them by clicking on the link.) But just like reading and math require continued practice, so do learning and exhibiting Godly characteristics. It can be easy during the school year to get so focused on academics that it’s hard to squeeze in character-training. That’s one reason I think the summer break is an excellent time to practice these characteristics and others such as manners and social skills. For us, this is where We Choose Virtues comes in. I purchased this simple, 12-week program a while ago but haven’t found the time to start implementing it until now. We only have 2 weeks of school left, so I wanted to start now before I get too relaxed in summer. For 12 weeks, we will focus on one characteristic each week. My job is to read the parent cue card (which also has a Proverb linked to each virtue) and implement 1-2 of the fun ideas for introducing the characteristic to my children. Then I also have to notice and give them praise when I catch them exhibiting that characteristic during the week. They can’t call my attention to their good behavior, I have to notice it. We decided to tie a reward system to this program, also. My kids love playing Mario Brothers on the wii each weekend, but they can lose time playing because of bad behavior. So I thought, if they can lose time for acting poorly, shouldn’t they be able to gain some time by acting the way we’re teaching them? Of course, I want them to understand the value in having these characteristics in a lifelong, eternal sort of way, but at their age, there’s nothing wrong with some immediate gratification. 😉

So here’s our Mario Brothers time chart set up:

The 2 posters are from We Choose Virtues. I made the Mario chart myself and stuck velcro pieces on it so we can swap out what characteristic we’re working on and so that Mario can move forwards and backwards. What I like about this system is that there is redemption. If we’re working on self-control and one of our children loses control over something on Monday, Mario will move back 10 minutes. But he can still move forward again when Randy or I catch that child remain self-controlled in a difficult circumstance later that day or week.

So we begin this new adventure Monday! I’m excited for it. Remembering to keep my children and their hearts in my prayers is such an important piece and I’ll admit that sometimes I fall short there, so that’s my own goal right now. When I don’t pray for my children, it’s like forgetting to add the yeast to a dough I’m making. And at least if things get frustrating at times, we have plenty of cinnamon rolls, brownies, and ice cream to soothe our souls (and satisfy our sweet teeth)! Seriously, come over for a treat. Anytime. You’ll be doing us the favor! 😉

Plastic Easter eggs are taking over our house…

Ideally, I would like to get better at sharing our special occasion homeschool activities BEFORE the actual holiday so the ideas can be used by others who are interested. Haha! Right now I pretty much use my pregnancy nausea as an excuse for everything (because it truly can be paralyzing at times) so that’s my excuse for not getting to our Easter egg centers earlier. On Friday, we somehow managed to do our centers, go to a playground, go out for lunch, take a hike on the local rail trail, and make it to our church’s Good Friday service. No wonder we all came home and crashed and I was tired for the rest of the weekend! But I wanted to share with you our new centers, particularly the ones that used plastic Easter eggs you might have laying around your house right now…

For Abby, I set up centers using all plastic eggs (which is a great way to use up those leftover ones from Easter). These were ideas I came up with back when I was teaching first grade. There are so many cute ideas all over pinterest, etc, that can be adapted for whatever you need. I was so excited to break out my old eggs and worksheets that I once used in my classroom and to start using them with my own child.

Here are some ideas:

COMPOUND WORDS This was particularly fun for Abby, and the whole way home from our Easter celebration, she kept trying to come up with other compound words. This led to a discussion on the difference between syllables, sounds, and actual words (that make up other words). She did a good job coming up with some on her own, though, like “sidewalk.” She’s a thinker!

RHYMING WORDS I knew this would be an easy one for her, and she loves rhyming, so she saved it for her last center since she always saves the ones she’s looking forward to doing the most for last. haha!

WORD FAMILIES It was really fun for me to see Abby read through these words with such ease. This is a great way to help reinforce onset and rime practice. I wrote the rime on the longer part of the egg (ex. “ock”) and then a bunch of different onsets on the short part of the egg (“l”, “r”, “bl”, “cl”, etc) and she would rotate the egg to say and then write the different words. Since we had limited time on Friday, I only had her write one word for each word family, but when she has more time through the week to go back to it, she can write more.

Another couple examples that I have but we didn’t do yet are SYNONYMS & ANTONYMS, and then a sight word game where the sight words are written on a slip of paper inside an egg and the student “finds” it, and writes a sentence using that word. Our curriculum also did a brief mini-lesson on homophones this past week and if I had more time, I would’ve reinforced that with a homophone egg center, too! The options are endless!

For Noah, he had some fun, creative centers including a letter egg hunt, and you can see more about his centers and the centers we did last week on my updated center page.

Oh, and I have to share with you our Saturday night “Sabbath” celebration. We just finished up going through the 7 days of creation in Abby’s Bible reader and we culminated it with our very own Sabbath dinner celebration. We did ours Saturday night instead of Friday. I made a nice big dinner (which I don’t do often these days, since I’m not feeling well, but was able to make an exception) of roasted chicken and sides, and set a nice table. We had the 2 candles, and a loaf of homemade challah bread, which I must say, came out great for a first-timer! Then we had a relaxing evening of watching Disney’s “Moana” and were ready for Sunday’s day of worship and family time!

Centers, Spring Baskets, and Beauty & the Beast

They say hindsight is 20/20, but when it comes to babies, I’m not so sure that’s true. It sure seems like once one stage is over, we tend to forget all the “bad” that went with it. We look at their cute little faces and instantly forget (or block out) the sleepless nights, sore boobs, etc etc etc. Sometimes we forget how horrible one night was by the next morning! We can easily minimize or forget the pain of labor and discomfort of pregnancy for the sake of having “one more.” Okay, maybe that’s not you, but it’s me. My husband and I always said we wanted four kids and it’s like, no matter how miserable my pregnancies are (and they’ve all been miserable) I’ve never let go of that “four kids” plan. So here I am, sitting on the couch feeling incredibly nauseous, tired, and overall miserable because I’m 13 weeks pregnant with number 4. “Fourth and final” I say! I say this to explain my near 2-month-hiatus from writing. I started feeling nauseous by week 6 and I just haven’t had it in me to think about anything other than daily survival. Ugh. When I was going through with my third pregnancy, I seriously questioned whether or not we would make it to number 4. But here we are! So much for that hindsight thing, I definitely forgot how purely awful pregnancy nausea is for me. But, I will make it through and the outcome will be worth it; this, I know. 😉

Anyway, I reworked our school schedule so we could take 2 weeks off and “regroup.” Abby had been asking for a break, I definitely needed one, and I wanted to start spring cleaning which is hard to do while also homeschooling (and nauseous). So I decided while on break, I could catch the blog world up on life a little bit. Let’s start with school. During school each week we’ve been incorporating “centers” every Friday which the kids can carry into the next week. If you’re not a teacher or don’t know what centers are–I pick three activities for Abby and Noah each that they can do independently. The activities usually have to do with what they’re learning currently in school and are fun. I give them anywhere from 6-8 minutes to do each activity and set the timer. They move through each center and then they can pick their favorite to do for longer at the end. Fridays are our “exploration” days so we don’t have our normal school routine. Abby and Noah can do their centers and I can help if they don’t understand something. Then we have time to do other exploration activities or fun field trips. The next week, while I’m working one-on-one with one child, the other may choose a center or two to work on independently. It’s really worked well so far! If you’re looking for a way to occupy a younger sibling during homeschool, try some of these ideas! I’m a huge fan of The Mailbox, which is where I get a lot of activities and ideas. Check out their website for activity books and cut-outs! For a full view and description of all our centers so far this year, check out my NEW center page! Here’s just a little photo preview:

Last week was the first week of spring (couldn’t tell from where I’m sitting!) so we did “spring baskets” at our house. I don’t have anything against Easter baskets in general, but we don’t really have time for them on Easter and I want to spend the limited time we do have focusing on Christ, church, and family. So the spring baskets are a fun way to celebrate the season of spring and makes an otherwise normal day seem fun! So what do I put in spring baskets? I fill ours with a little bit of candy, a small toy, maybe a chocolate bunny, a piece of jewelry for the girls and a keychain or something similar for Noah, and I usually like to incorporate something about the meaning of Resurrection Day. This year I bought a book for all of us and new Christian music CD for us to listen to when we’re cruising around town in our minivan. 😉 I also painted Abby a bag for her books a couple months ago so I stuck that in her basket as well.

Oh, and last week we saw Beauty & the Beast! It was phenomenal! Abby’s 5 and she loved it. The wolf scenes are a little intense, but she did great! I’ve seen some questionable opinions about the movie but I’ve also read some really good reviews! I can’t say anything more or better than what’s said here: ttp://ohamanda.com/2017/03/08/beauty-and-the-beast-movie-review-discussion-guide/ plus there’s a discussion guide! Check it out if you can!

So that’s all for me, I’ve gotta get to bed. Hopefully it won’t be another 2 months before I write more. Then again, my track record indicates long periods of nausea so I’m not too optimistic about it ending anytime soon. :/ Much love to you all!

The Last Supper

So how has everyone’s 2017 started off?  (Happy New Year, by the way!)

The year has been off to a rocky start for me (us), but that means it can only improve from here, right?  I think so. 😉  But the purpose of this post isn’t to talk about the bad stuff.  There’s some good and fun things going on, too!  So here they are, in no particular order, my random positive thoughts/things of January 2017:

  1. I think I’ve discovered a new and helpful way to homeschool Abby and Noah and to give them each individual attention.  We now do “centers” and they each have a choice of 3 they can do independently when I work with the other one.  They’ll get new centers every Friday and get the morning to practice all of them.  Then the next week, if I’m working with Abby, Noah goes to do whichever center he wants, and vice versa. So far it’s worked wonderfully and they love them!  It will be a lot of work in the beginning, for me to plan and prepare it all, but I think it’ll be worth it!  Homeschool moms, what are some things you do to help your kids young kids work independently?  I love new ideas!
  2. I can’t decide if I’m pro online clothing shopping or not.  I got a bunch of gift cards for Christmas and was going to go shopping one Saturday, but a mini-blizzard came through.  I’ve really been needing some new winter clothes to wear.  After having 3 kids, it got to the point where I actually like my maternity clothes better than my regular clothes, which hardly ever seem to fit right anymore anyway!  So I ordered a bunch of clothes online recently and when they came, I wasn’t as happy with them as I thought I’d be.  I mean, I’m still pleased, but some items just weren’t how I pictured them in person.  But I’m not ready to give up on online clothing shopping totally.  I mean, you just can’t beat the convenience factor!  How many people out there buy clothes online???
  3. I had a much needed trip to Michael’s today and now am feeling super crafty.  I’ve had my sewing machine sitting in our living room for about a week now because I desperately need to fix 2 pairs of pants and a shirt.  But when I finally sat down to do it, I was out of thread.  (Of course! Can you tell I use it often?!  haha!)  I also needed more yarn for a blanket I want to start, and while I was there, I decided to make a winter wreath for the kitchen door.  So now my living room is even more cluttered with craft items.  Think I can get it cleared out by February?  That’ll be the goal.
  4. Tomorrow I restart the Whole30.  Ever done it/heard of it?  No grains, no dairy, no sugar… yep.  I tried it once before but I didn’t get through the 30 days–ahem, there were extenuating circumstances.  The process intrigues me.  And as a mom, particularly a homeschool mom, I am constantly thinking about my example to my children throughout the day.  I don’t want my energy always lagging and I even though I’m okay with them knowing how much I love coffee and chocolate, I also want them to know that it’s important to take care of your body.  I don’t like the word diet, and that’s not the example I want to set.  This is more about learning how my body reacts to different foods and filling with only whole foods for 30 days.  Wish me luck!  As my “last supper” before it starts, tonight I made stuffed chicken, butternut squash risotto, and balsamic broccoli.  I know what you’re thinking, my last meal should’ve been pizza.  The thought crossed my mind… while I was already cooking.  haha!  Oh well.  It’s probably been a week since I’ve had pizza, so at the end of this, a pizza will be even more gratifying. 😉

img_1144Making stuffed chicken is pretty easy, very versatile, and really elevates a basic chicken dish!  You can either use split chicken breasts (skin on) and stuff your chicken between the skin and flesh, or you can pound out a skinless breast and place your “stuffing” on top, then roll the chicken up, secure with toothpicks, and then grill/bake, whichever you choose.  If you opt for this technique, you can also get a little “wild” and bread the chicken for extra flavor and crunch!  I’ve done it a few times, but tonight I didn’t have time.

img_1150I pounded out my chicken, seasoned it with salt and pepper, then layered spinach, basil, roasted red peppers, and goat cheese on top.  Then I rolled the chicken up, re-seasoned the outside with salt and pepper, then seared it in a hot cast iron skillet and finished it off in a 400* oven for about 15 minutes.  Delicious!!!

I love making this broccoli, too, because my children ask for seconds and thirds!  I simply boil the broccoli in salted water, being careful not to overcook it.  I whisk together minced garlic, dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar, and extra virgin olive oil.  Then the added the cooked, drained broccoli to this mixture, season with pepper and fresh lemon juice. So yummy.

Of course, I couldn’t skip dessert on my last night before the Whole30, so I made Ree Drummond’s “Knock You Naked Brownies.”  Yes.  So much yes.  So much love.  These are amazing.  I’m excited for this round of Whole30 because thanks to my awesome sister-in-law, I’m equipped some with hearty recipes and extra tools to get me through.  I’ll keep you posted. 😉  Goodnight, all, and cheers to a better year! XOXO

Can you even handle it?  I can’t.  I’m going to go eat one now. 😉

When You Feel Like a Failure…

It’s. Been. A. Week.  Anyone else?  Seriously.  The things that happened at the beginning of the week, like the snow and shoveling my driveway on Monday, or the MomHeart Group I went to on Tuesday evening seem like they were weeks ago.

Noah was sick last weekend and I ended up bringing him to the doctor on Tuesday. Bacterial infection. Amoxicillin. If you have (or had) small children, you know the drill.  He’s much better now, but the girls are sick.  And I have a horrible cough.  The week has had some ups and downs, a lot of downs.  But probably the biggest downer of all, is this feeling of failure in every department of my life that I’ve let linger all week.  Why do we do this to ourselves?  I know a lot of other moms go through this.  So I’m opening up about my own feelings of weakness.

I guess it started on Monday.  The snow plus Noah being sick meant a sick/snow day to start the week.  I feel like I see occasional Facebook posts of other moms with their sick kids having a snuggly movie day under a blanket with some tea or hot cocoa.  It looks so lovely and serene!  (And of course, it’s only a picture, and we all know a 2-second photo that gets posted on Facebook is not necessarily the reality of an entire day, but it seems like it, sometimes, doesn’t it?)  So I was hoping to have such a day with my kids.  But I can only sit down and snuggle with my sick children after I’ve…

  • disinfected the entire house
  • changed bed sheets
  • started laundry
  • cleaned the kitchen and bathroom
  • cleaned out all the humidifiers because oh my goodness did you see the GMA special on how much bacteria can grow in humidifiers if they aren’t properly cleaned regularly?!  Yuck!
  • bleached the window sills to get rid of any black mildew or mold… or is that just dirty dust that’s worked its way into the corners of the windows from every other time I clean the windows and sills?  Doesn’t matter, bleach it!
  • and on this day in particular, shoveled the driveway

So by the time I was actually able to sit down and try to get some snuggle time in, Abby, who wasn’t sick at the time, couldn’t sit still and watch another movie if you paid her, and Noah was falling asleep.  So the day came and went without that perfect Kodak moment.  Initiate feeling of failure.  (And to clarify, it’s not just about getting the cute pic on Facebook.  It’s about not getting that time, that moment.  Don’t sick kids need mommy snuggles???  Am I a bad mother because I spent the day cleaning the house instead of hugging my kids???  Not that I don’t hug them all the time anyways, but, these were my thoughts.) Here’s what my house typically looks like with sick children…

My kids have been sick with colds recently so this new wave of sickness felt familiar.  Which led to a whole new set of questions leading to my feeling of failure…

  • why are my kids “always” (yes, huge exaggeration but this is how it felt) sick?!
  • I haven’t refilled their vitamins in a while, is that the reason?
  • Am I not feeding them enough fruits and vegetables?
  • Are they not getting enough vitamin C?
  • Is my house not clean enough?
  • Am I not instilling enough “clean” habits?
  • Am I FAILING as a mom because I can’t keep my kids healthy???  What are other people thinking in secret about what our house must be like if my kids are sick all the time…

We took December off from school so we could relax and embrace the reason for the season.  I also hoped to play lots of educational games and do some supplement work to our curriculum.  And here it was, week 2 of our 4-week hiatus, and we were stuck being sick.  And not all at once.  So when Noah was sick, I was busy cleaning and looking after him (and the baby) and then when he got better, Abby got sick, then Emmalyn.  And now I have a terrible cough/cold!  So there’s always been a reason we couldn’t get something done.  How is it possible that I’m “behind” in my “break schedule?”  That has to be some kind of oxymoron.  So among this week of weirdness and sickness, these were some of the failing thoughts that I let grab a hold of me…

  • Why can’t I keep my kids healthy?  I’m a bad mom.
  • We’re not having the “educational fun” and “embracing the season” like I envisioned for December.  I’m a bad homeschool mom.
  • Even though we’re not officially doing school this month, I still can’t find the time to balance the checkbook or budget and have caused my husband stress over this.  I’m a bad wife.
  • Even though we’re not officially doing school this month, I’m not putting in as much time as I’d like at work to get done what I want.  I’m bad at time management.
  • I found a recipe for a immune booster smoothie that I decided to serve my family each morning to help ward off future sickness, but it was not well-received.  (Too pulpy.) And I only served it a few mornings.  I’m a bad mom.
  • I didn’t get my Christmas shopping done when I wanted to.  I thought I would be “ahead of the game” and I’m not.  I’m bad at getting things done.
  • I can’t manage to get up early enough to do my quiet time AND exercise like I’d like to.  I’m bad at taking care of myself.

These are the thoughts that swirled around my head and heart all week, nearly crippling me.  I know that they’re not true.  Sure, I can improve on all these things because I’m not perfect, but I’m also not bad at all of them, or a failure.  I know this.  But when you’re weak (like, because you’re tackling sickness during the holiday season and feeling stressed) the Enemy creeps in.  And I let him.  I let him allow me to focus on my shortcomings and to feel like a failure.  And in doing so, it took my focus off of Christ. And when Christ is not at the center of my universe, it sort of spins out of control, you know?  His grace is sufficient for me, and His power is made strong in my weakness.  This truth was forgotten this past week.  I hope to never let it be forgotten again.

I will say, that as melancholy as this post has been, I’m doing much better at the start of this week. (At least mentally; physically, I kinda feel like crap still.)  And at the end of last week, I had a nice text-pet-talk with my good friend (and mom hero), Amanda.  I know we can all be in this same boat at times, ladies.  Let me encourage you that you’re not alone if you’ve felt these things, and please take hold of 2 Corinthians 12:9 and claim it for yourself!  You’re not a failure, you’re a child of God and have the glorious privilege of resting in Him.


Looking for an immune-boosting smoothie recipe?  I think I got this one down, as this morning, the kids said it was the “best smoothie ever!”  This smoothie is jam-packed with vitamin C and can be a good “pick-me-up” if you start to experience the “winter blues.”  I don’t really measure, so bear with me.  For my 3 kids I used…

  • handful of whole strawberries (stems included)*img_1022
  • 1 banana**
  • handful of chopped pineapple
  • 1/2 – 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 TB almond butter**
  • 1-2 TB wheat germ**

Blend until smooth.  Serve cold! 🙂

*Strawberry stems are edible and very healthy, containing extra vitamin C and minerals, which is why I leave them on for a smoothie.  Faster prep since I don’t have to cut up the strawberries, and the kids don’t even notice!

**Not included in the original “vitamin C” smoothies I was looking into, but they made the smoothie taste better for the my kids and the wheat germ helps to fill them up a bit more.

I serve this smoothie WITH FOOD for their breakfast.  Growing kids need a good breakfast! Randy and I could just have the smoothie as our meal and be fine! (Although, I pack him a different “protein” smoothie for lunch, so if I want to serve him this for breakfast, I usually make some other food as well.  Don’t want him to feel like he’s on a liquid diet. haha!)  For Randy and I, I add frozen, chopped kale; but my kids pick up on that right away so I leave it out of theirs.  Originally, I tried putting shredded carrots in the smoothies, too, but that’s what made it too pulpy since (although the carrots were already shredded) they didn’t break down enough.  I like the benefits carrots have to offer and I want to get vegetables in the smoothie, too, so I might try carrot juice in the future.