What I’d Tell My Younger Self

If I could go back 8 years to when my son was in 1st grade (or 10 years to when he was in pre-school) this is what I would tell myself. I’d be very blunt and that’s okay because it’s myself. 

Stop doing school.

Just stop. Put away your schedules and Charlotte Mason books and Sonlight book lists and CC Scope & Sequence and dreams and goals and pressures and worries. Stop doing school.

Focus on heart attitude and obedience first. We will get to school in a few weeks. Or months. But we need to get some things in order first.

Your children need to obey you and they are not. If you ask them to go sit in a chair, they argue and complain or throw fits. Work on that. Get them to sit in a chair when you ask. Or for the toddler, get him to stay in a pack and play when you tell him and not climb out. Here’s a great talk about that.

Now, at this point I know you are getting worried, younger self. You are thinking maybe this is too harsh, maybe you can distract or cajole them into doing what you want. Why do they need to sit in a chair anyway? Can’t you just make this work?  In fact, couldn’t we just take everyone to the park and ignore this whole thing?


I’ll tell you why. The chair isn’t the issue. Obedience is the larger issue. Respect is the larger issue. Who is the one in charge of the home is the issue.

If your children don’t obey you, you will spend the next 5, 10 years in constant battles. You will not be able to enjoy them. They will be discouraged that they are constantly in trouble and you are constantly mad at them. There will be very little joy. You will be exhausted that no one listens to you. You will know they are brilliantly smart and so frustrated that school takes forever. You will feel like they are in control of the house but you won’t know what to do about it.

So focusing on requiring them to obey isn’t mean. I know all the stuff you read in parenting magazines, and our American culture really makes it feel mean and to let the kids decide everything but that doesn’t end well. That ends with spoiled, rather obnoxious children.  It ends in you exhausted from their demands and them moody when they don’t get their own way. It ends in depressed teenagers. So even though this seems like a small issue, getting them to sit in a chair, it isn’t. It’s the foundation.

Also, the Bible says for children to obey their parents. God is very clear. So, go back, younger self, and do a Bible study on Proverbs. Who is in charge, the parents or the children? Who is teaching? Who is listening? Who is called wise, the parents or the child? Who is in charge?

Copy Ephesians 6:1, Deuteronomy 6:7 and 11:19. Who’s to teach? (And if your children aren’t listening to you and respecting you, and they’re NOT, which is why you’re frustrated all the time, then you can’t teach them, can you?) 

Good. Now copy Hebrews 12:11. Is discipline fun? Is it fun for you, my dear younger self? No, it is not. But you know what’s really not fun? Stressful dinners for 10 years because no one listens to you. Conflict with your child so that your relationship is fraught with anger, tears, hurt feelings. It is so much better to deal with these little weeds before they choke out your garden.

So, this is a huge deal. Yes, the world says all these academic, social, things are critical. You are worried you will be behind.

You are worried you’ll be mean. You don’t have to be mean. You can be loving, gentle and sweet. You don’t need to yell. It doesn’t have to be a fight. You just need to get your child to sit in that chair and you need to win that battle. (Maybe do it when Dad’s home. Maybe have a friend pray for you that day. Maybe get some extra chocolate.)

Start with one minute. They are not in trouble. They just need to sit in a chair because Mom says. Then praise them and go on with something fun and enjoyable. Repeat 5 times that day. Then increase the time the next day to 2 minutes. Nothing fun happens if they don’t do this. No park, no reading, no free time. Just work on this, praise, and build for a week or so. Get to 5 minutes in a chair just one time a day without them climbing out. (* HOW did I actually do this? See the end of this article.) 

Before you start this, listen to these talks about: First Time Obedience, and limiting choices (the funnel). And these talks for toddlers, preschoolers, and older kids (Understanding Freedoms part 1 and part 2).

(These talks are extremely helpful. And yes, I know it makes you a little nervous because these Mom’s Notes Talks are based on Growing Kids God’s Way. I know you don’t agree with their baby feeding advice. But just listen for the practical wisdom here. The Links are very balanced. They have the experience of hundreds, maybe thousands, of families. You don’t have to be legalistic. They have lots of practical advice. Listen to them! It’s like a Christian Supernanny. Use what God prompts you to use. Walk in the Spirit. Pray. These talks have so much wisdom in these practical areas. And they know what to do with middle year kids and teenagers too! Finally, someone does!)

Okay, now your child will sit in a chair when you tell them to! This is huge! This is foundational! This is great! Celebrate!

The next thing, younger self, is plan on a training time with your children first thing after breakfast. You can work on a few things: obedience (yes, Mom), patience (sitting and listening to something for a couple minutes, stretching this out), self control (sit time again). For toddlers you can work on blanket time or coming when they call you. Or whatever other issues you see.

(And don’t feel badly that they have to play alone for 20 minutes maybe twice a day. They are surrounded by loving family the rest of the time. It’s okay for them to have a little alone time and learn to be content with that. You’ll be amazed at the imaginative play they come up with.)

Just set aside some time to be proactive with your teaching. Instead of reacting to misbehavior, start using this time in the mornings to teach and train. You can teach a Bible verse and then a practical skill to help them. You can ask them to do a chore and use this as a training time in obeying cheerfully, giving them another if they complain. You can play the Yes, Mom game.

Okay, so now after a few weeks your children should be obeying better.

Oh, and limit their choices during this time. In fact, give them almost no choices.

Because they pretty much think they are in charge of everything. And in case this seems like just mean Christian fundamentalism, read this book, Bringing Up Bebe. In France they call this the ‘cadre’ or the frame. And they say “It’s me who decides.” The parents have a tight frame, structure and control over their children’s day. They proactively train their children in waiting patiently, in being respectful and polite and in developing a taste for healthy foods. It reminded me of how parenting was in the U.S. in the 50s. Or what I know of it from Mrs. PiggleWiggle books.  

So, since you like curriculum so much, younger self, think of this as a curriculum for the preschool and kindergarten years. Here’s what you’re teaching and training them in

  • ·         Obeying cheerfully, quickly, and completely (you know, most of the time)
  • ·         Waiting patiently, not interrupting, not demanding attention by climbing on your head
  • ·         Ability to play by themselves (blanket time and pack and play time)
  • ·         Self-control, the ability to sit still and listen (sit time) – this will reap huge benefits in read aloud time, on airplanes and at stores.
  • ·         Contentment with what Mom chooses: food, activities, clothes, etc.

And academic work and chores are a tool to teach them these skills. I don’t even want to call them character qualities. I mean, they are, but they are also skills that can be learned and practiced. Starting small and building up from small successes.

So yes, with your toddler, start with one minute of sitting with his hands in his lap, on mom’s lap, not squirming to get out. I know it seems mean. But oh, the dividends it will pay! The few minutes of training pays off on a plane ride. In the grocery store cart. When he has to sit in a class with you because someone’s late. On and on. I know you don’t see it now. But I’m telling you from the other side, do it!

And the benefits are amazing. Not just to you, for whom of course this makes life, school, your home easier and more peaceful.

But this is also amazingly beneficial and comforting for your children.

They will be happier when they don’t feel like Mom is mad and frustrated at them all the time.

They will be happier kids because they don’t expect to get their way in everything. They will have learned, because you will have taught them, how to be content.

You will not be afraid to go places with them because you never know what they will do. You will be able to minister to people because you know your child will not be out of control.

It truly does bring a harvest of righteousness and peace.

So, stop reading all those homeschool books, my dear younger self. Put down the parenting magazines. Read these two books: for younger kids and this one for older kids. Get the French book from the library (it’s really fun and entertaining too). Listen to these MP3s and then these when you work out at the Y instead of watching HGTV. (I mean, you can still watch the video while you listen to the MP3 if you want. Or you can watch HGTV after each MP3 as a treat.)  And dig into what the Bible says about parenting in Proverbs. And I know you didn’t have podcasts back then but if you did, this one is really good.

Pray God would help you obey, even if it feels risky. Even if it feels counter-cultural. Even if it feels hard. Even if you’re worried you’ll ruin your relationship with your child. You won’t. You’ll strengthen it, because they will listen to what you want to teach them. You can be gentle and kind and loving (2 Tim 2:24). But be firm. Require respect and kindness in your home. Require obedience in your home.


You don’t have to spank to do this. It’s okay for some people, and it’s certainly an option, younger self, but since God has led you to use mostly other methods of discipline, that’s okay. You may have to spank a handful of times when you are training them to stay in the chair or pack and play, but that’s it. It won’t be as bad as you fear.  Once they get the basic idea, the chair will become the discipline, or consequences, or loss of freedom. You won’t be spanking much at all.

(In fact, I’ll whisper to you, younger self, you only had to spank your middle children less than 10 times in their lives. And most of those were training to sit in the chair (or stay in the pack and play). After that, you used sitting time as the consequence, or losing something, or an extra chore, as the consequence. So, you can be very firm and require these things without using much spanking at all.)

Now, you can start to structure your day because they actually obey. Before, you could come up with any schedule you liked, but it never worked because everyone argued with you about everything.

But also, once you have some of these things going, don’t be afraid to pause.

Even if you had other plans that day. Just pause.

If your child isn’t doing school with a good attitude, ask him to just go sit in the chair until he’s ready to obey with a good attitude. It might take 4 hours the first time. And 30 minutes the second time. And 5 minutes the third time. They learn really fast.

But don’t go on. That’s what I want you to hear. Don’t press ahead, getting madder and madder.

If they roll their eyes, have them sit.

If they argue or whine, have them sit.

If they complain about why they have to do it and brother doesn’t, have them sit.

Maybe give them a warning the first time, but after that, just kindly ask them to go sit until they are ready to work cheerfully.

Same if you’re out. Pull the car over. If the kids are arguing and screaming, pull the car over, quietly talk to them, and work it out.

And if you’re thinking, we’d never get anywhere, they’re always yelling and screaming, well you may need to stay home a few weeks. You may need to train them in not yelling at each other at home. You may need to do a few trips around the block as practice. You may need to plan a trip to the park, fully intending to go back home when they start yelling, calm down, apologize and play nicely. Then try again. (This is not a day to plan to meet friends. This is a training day.)

You don’t need to put up with this. They can learn not to scream at each other, demand the things they want on the CDs, and act silly to get out of things. They can act nicely at dinner.

Stop putting up with it.

It can be different.

With God’s grace and kind, firm teaching and training, it can be different.

And also, I’d tell myself, it’s not too late for the oldest. It’s not too late at 9 years old. Or 12. Or 14.

These talks on understanding freedoms will help. (The most helpful things were: responsibility + good attitude = freedom. My son earns the right to stay up late or go to a friend’s house when he’s responsible in what his Dad or I have given him with a good attitude. Not before.)

That’s what I’d tell my younger mama self. She might or might not have listened. But I think she might have, because she really was at a loss in the discipline area for a looong time and people don’t want to tell you what to do. She wanted someone to tell her what to do, with helpful practical information that worked.

I’m so thankful for the resources God has brought my way. I’m thankful for the wisdom of older women. I’m thankful my relationship with my older children is better now after so many rocky years. My oldest especially seemed, oddly enough, to really thrive when I really required respect and kindness in our home instead of letting things go and constantly reminding him.

And with my toddler, I’m spending way more time proactively training him in all kinds of things: Yes, Mommy game and practice, Blanket Time, Pack and Play time, Sit time (on my lap), how to interrupt politely, how to like healthy foods, No Touch, etc.

But I’m spending way less time frustrated and exhausted with a demanding toddler. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy! It’s so much work!!! Taking the time to correct yelling instead of ignoring. Taking time to practice the right behavior instead of just going on. Taking time to correct him if he gets off his blanket during Blanket Time.  But as a result, he is a sweet, relatively obedient child.

And he’s so happy! He’s content on an 8-hour plane ride. He makes friends everywhere. He can sit on my lap for 30 minutes during brother’s co-op class. He can be in the room listening to Trumpet of the Swan (for very short periods, like 5 minutes, but we’re working on it!) or just be around us more because he’s not a constant disruption.

And my third-grader actually obeys, praise the Lord! (You know, most of the time.) He gets his school done so we can actually have read aloud time and nature walks and art and play soccer. We can have days with truth and beauty because the foundation is pretty solid. The fun things can happen because of the work on obedience on the front end.

So, the time you put in is worth it, Moms. It’s hard, but when you’re being proactive instead of reactive, it’s not so exhausting somehow.

I pray this was helpful and you’d benefit from some of my many and varied mistakes. Blessings on you and your sweet children.

 EDITED TO ADD: So HOW did I actually train them to sit? With my 4th, I was terrified about an upcoming trip to Kenya and we had just been camping and this child would not sit still and I was exhausted, so I really focused on it for about two weeks. I sat him down in his tiny wooden chair and told him we were going to practice “sit time.” I wanted him to sit in the chair and not get up until Mommy’s timer (my watch) beeped. I sat next to him on the floor. I gave him a book that had an audio CD with it so he could listen to the CD and turn the pages of the book. (But any CD or book would probably work. I thought this video was helpful for the concept, even though I used a chair instead of my lap.) 

We started with 30 seconds. When he stood up, I’d say, “Oh, no, no, sit until Mommy’s timer beeps.” and I’d gently push on his shoulders to help him sit. And I’d say, “Let’s try again.” or “I’m going to start the timer over.” Not mad of course, just in a happy relaxed tone, and with the attitude we’d keep practicing until we got it. So the first time we had to keep resetting the timer to even get to 30 seconds! So it took maybe 10 minutes. But when he did sit for 30 seconds, I really praised him, told him what a good job he did, clapped and celebrated, then went off to play or do something else.

I also kept a little chart on a piece of notebook paper that showed me progress because it was mind-numbingly slow! And pretty boring for me to have to keep sitting by him and working on this multiple times a day.

I started keeping my hand lightly on his legs to gently push down when he’d want to stand and say, “Oh, no, no, sit until the timer beeps. This is sit time.”

After a day or two he could sit for 30 seconds without a reminder. Then we went up to 1 minute. When he could do that successfully we went to two minutes. It felt like it was taking forever, but after two weeks we were up to 7 or 8 minutes, which actually was long enough to be really helpful at times when I needed him to sit.

And it truly was a great help on the plane ride (and in 2 hour Kenyan church services), because he was used to the concept of “sit time” and I’d just remind him when he wanted to stand up and jump around that this was sit time. So it didn’t seem to matter that it was hours instead of minutes, it was the idea that he had to sit until Mom said time was over that was helpful.

Some people continue using “sit time” daily, but since we do Blanket Time and Pack and Play time (with toys and a CD), I don’t have this as part of our daily schedule. But I am transitioning to this as a consequence. Instead of putting him in the pack and play if he scribbles on a book (on purpose) or screams at or hits his brother or something, I’m having him sit in the kitchen (or wherever I am) with his back to the wall and put his hands together  for 1-2 minutes until he “has self-control,” then we talk, he says he’s sorry to brother, we pray, and he can get up.

Also, for my others, they did go through a few days where they were just defiant about sitting where I told them. I mean, after they’d had plenty of practice and clearly knew they weren’t supposed to. That’s where I spanked. One swat. I’d warn them very clearly that if they got out of the pack and play or chair they’d get a spank (one swat). They tested a few times and decided quickly they didn’t want to do that. And with my middle two, that was the only thing I ever spanked them for.  (My first one I was generally confused and don’t remember except that I didn’t do it very logically or well.) But once they’d sit, that became the consequence I’d use. Plus maybe extra chores or something if they needed an additional consequence.

Hope all those details are helpful! :)





Karibu Rafiki! (Welcome Friend)

Sometimes I wonder if our house is actually on the moon, unhindered by so much gravity. Because my children tend to float up onto the furniture with no warning and, at least according to them, entirely by accident.

Today I looked at my nine-year-old son, whom I had just gotten out of time out for climbing all over the couch and setting a bad example for his brother during reading time, and he was climbing up the arm of the couch. Thirty seconds after he had promised he would sit still like a normal human. “Oh! Mom! I don’t know how I got up here! I’m sorry!” And he genuinely was. He had no idea that he was floating up the furniture. Again.

Anyway, despite the fact that no one seems to stay attached to the ground or sitting for more than 30 seconds, we’ve been doing a lot of reading around here lately. Mostly about one topic: Africa. Because we’re going.

That sentence strikes fear in my heart. Also, excitement. And trepidation. And joy. And terror. Sort of like homeschooling.

No, I’m thrilled we’re going. I want my kids to see the world, more than our little tidy piece of it. I want them to serve others and learn compassion and have practice being uncomfortable. And yes, we could do all those things here in Oklahoma. But we have the chance to go visit some friends, serve them and just do whatever we can (working out some details still) to refresh their hearts (I hope).

The other day I started to make a list of a few minor concerns such as:

  • lost luggage
  • lost children
  • civil war
  • malaria
  • food allergies (mine)
  • food avoidance (children’s)
  • mosquitoes
  • children getting speared by a rhino
  • children getting eaten by a lion
  • husband not returning from safari
  • robbery
  • having to eat a big pot of goat meat
  • listening to 2 weeks of nonstop whining about things my kids don’t like
  • death

Then I decided to stop worrying about it. I went to the travel.state.gov website to find out what immunizations we needed. There I read about a travel alert to Kenya that warns people to be alert after a few instances of kidnapping and murder. Fabulous.

I’m not going to worry about it any more. As the events from this week illustrate even more, there is no place that is perfectly safe, even those we’d like to think are. God is in control of our lives here, our lives there, and everywhere in between.

A Unit Study

In preparation for our trip I found whatever our library had about Africa. We found some picture books, a DVD on the food there and some Swahili CDs. I’ve made one Kenyan recipe. I want to make “ugali and sukuma wiki” but haven’t done it yet. I need to find out where to get goat meat.

We’ve been reading those, listening to some CDs and generally trying to soak in what we can. I feel like we haven’t done much because we’re still trying to do those pesky subjects like spelling and math, but I’m hoping to focus on it more this summer.

Wherever you are going this summer, you can do the same, just get some books, learn a bit about it ahead of time, and dig into whatever interesting culture you can find about that place. So much fun!

(If you happen to want to learn about Africa, I’d recommend all the resources in the picture. They are great! Chai Tea Sunday and the DVD are for grown ups; the others are for kids. Also this David Livingstone book. )

Cookie Map

And of course we had to make a cookie map, because you say Geography and I say Cookie Map. Here’s how we did that:

  1. Bake some Pillsbury sugar cookie dough into one huge flat cookie. I covered the entire pizza pan.
  2. Cool. Frost in white. Trace shape of continent, country, or area in toothpick (so you can correct mistakes) into the frosting. Cut out shape. (It doesn’t have to be perfect, as evidenced by my weird-looking Africa.) Put wax paper or foil around edges of cookie (to be the water or boundaries of the area).
  3. Have kids help decorate (my kids didn’t help until this point). We used chocolate sprinkles for the Sahara Desert, frosting for rivers and some country boundaries, red hots for mountains and one piece of spaghetti for the equator. Licorice would have worked if we had had any.
  4. Take pictures, share with friends and enjoy!

 Are you planning any trips this summer? Are you doing any fun learning before you go?

Easter: Resurrection Rolls

{This is a repost from last year. We’re planning to make these on Saturday.}

“He is not here; he is risen!”   Luke 24:6

This is the one Easter activity my children think is mandatory. They did it in their Cubbies class in Awana, and thus it must be  performed every Easter, without fail.  Today is the Friday before Easter, and we just remembered, so when we went to the store to
get Easter egg dye and a salad kit for Easter dinner, we picked up some rolls and marshmallows too.


Get some yeast freezer rolls, the kind that have to rise for 3-5 hours.  Let them rise.  Once the rolls have risen, your kids can flatten them out hide a big marshmallow in the center of each one, wrap the roll around, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar and put it on a cookie sheet.

Isn’t this a great picture? I have no pictures of the finished product, so I looked online and found this at http://barbarah.wordpress.com/2007/03/28/works-for-me-wednesday-easter-treats/

Bake the rolls according to instructions on the bag. When the rolls are done, the marshmallow is gone! It symbolizes the empty tomb! These rolls are a great, easy, fun activity and can be served with the Easter meal or as dessert.




Here’s a link that shows doing it with Crescent rolls. http://savingdollarsandsense.com/resurrection-rolls-recipe.html Either type of rolls would work fine, and Crescent rolls are probably easier since you don’t have to wait for the dough to rise. We just have always done it with the frozen kind.

He is not here; He is Risen!


6 Tips for My Future Crafting Self

NOTE: This is a re-post from last year. Hope you enjoy it! This year we’ve been stitching hearts onto cardboard and it’s been going surprisingly well. My eight- and six-year-old love it and my three-year-old tolerates it for about twenty minutes before he gets bored.  I followed the tutorial here: http://www.redbirdcrafts.com/2012/01/sew-heart-valentine-tutorial.html
Valentine’s Day seems to bring out the crafty side of my  fellow stay-at-home moms. And while I appreciate the sentiment behind all those cute Valentine’s card ideas on lots of blogs right now, we are doing well at our house just to get through a construction paper and glue session and wind up with some crooked hearts without cutting someone’s finger off.

Craft day at our house is a big, fat mess every single time, but this time I thought I’d share some tips I am willing my future crafting self to remember. You know, for next
Valentine’s day. Or Easter-egg dying day (shudder).

Hello, nice to meet you. Would you like to shake my freakishly purple hand?

1. Put the toddler in the high chair before you start. Always. Always! How many times do I have to tell you this, self? Otherwise he’ll be running around with purple, inky hands saying, “I not poopy!” which means, of course, that he is
poopy, and you will have both an inky toddler and a poopy diaper with which to contend, and this is not a good situation for anybody.

Get behind me, Satan. (non-washable ink)

2. Make sure the ink is washable.  I mean, hello. I did notice when I got out the blue ink that it said, “washable.” Which the black ink did not say. But how hard could ink possibly be to wash off? Well, I’ll tell you. Very hard. So hard, in fact, that even after giving my two-year-old a bath for an hour, and using lots of soap, he still looked like he had a black eye and some oddly tattooed hands. Thankfully this should not be a problem next year since I threw the non-washable kind away and vowed to not let any other such insanity enter the house as long as I have young children.

Eye Love You.

3. Googly eyes are a hit! In fact, my five-year-old helped my two-year-old sit there and glue on googly eyes happily for at least twenty minutes. They didn’t really care about those cute heart stickers I bought, so next year I might as well just buy a couple extra packs of googly eyes.

4. I have to cut out other activities on craft day.
I’m doing better about this! Maybe writing posts will help me remember my own
advice. I remembered our sticky snow ice cream disaster and thought, wait! I
need to only do one thing at a time! And cut other things out! So, we just had
our Valentine’s Extravaganza on the schedule that day. I counted it for
handwriting and copywork (which it was).

We went to our homeschool Capitol Day earlier this week, and it was awesome. (If you’ve never been to your state’s Capitol Day, I’d encourage you to Google it, find out when it is, and go.) But because of that, and our Valentine’s Extravaganza, we got exactly zero math lessons done this week. But, I reminded myself, it’s okay. Better to do a manageable amount and not get stressed out, than to try to cram everything in and be yelling at my kids. So, that’s a praise! I didn’t yell at my kids! Thank you Lord!

Busy at work

5. It will get easier. Next year, my toddler will be three and a
half. Practically a man! So, I’m sure it will be easier next year. And if it
won’t, I don’t want to know about it, okay? I’m just going to keep repeating it . . . It will get easier . . . It will get easier . . . It will get
easier . . .

6. It’s worth it. Despite the mess, the clean up, the chaos, this is important. I want my children to make Valentines for family and friends and neighbors, to show their love and appreciation for their teachers and grandparents. I want them to learn that life isn’t all about them. And the sooner they learn that, the better.

Bar Keeper's Friend, you are a friend of mine

On a side note, my husband has been yearning after a certain Pottery Barn table for years. But can you imagine the stress of a gorgeous new table? At least this one is all dilapidated, so if it gets a little ink on it, it’s no big deal. Three cheers for old kitchen tables.  :)

Happy crafting with your kiddos. I’m sure at your house it’s much more orderly than at ours.

Family Song: Take Time to Be Holy

This is our current Family Song. I love this line: “Take time to be holy, the world rushes on.” It inspired me to try to do a media fast, with mixed results. I didn’t totally cut out  the radio, but I did better at turning it off and praying or singing or just having quiet thinking time. I realized how much all that noise contributes to stress. Next up: computer time. Ack.

Here’s to “much time in secret with Jesus alone” over the holidays, for all of us.

Take Time to Be Holy
William Longstaff

Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.

Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.

We’re just memorizing the first two stanzas.
For the entire song and melody go here.
For sheet music go here.

In fact, I just have to tell you, I barely even know the names of the notes on the piano, and I can pick out the melody by just using the top notes on the sheet music. I’m trying to learn it enough to play as the family sings. I’m quite excited that I can almost play a song! :)

10 Second Autumn Leaf Bouquet

Do you ever gaze awestruck at the autumn leaves and have to
convince yourself they’re real? Maybe we’re all dreaming.

Sometimes in November I don’t understand how we aren’t all
lining up our lawn chairs in the driveway to watch the glorious show—the honeyed drops tumbling on the wind, the scarlet embers drifting down.

Here’s my attempt to capture a few sparks of their splendor, if only for a day.

1. Collect the best leaves you can find, the ones that make your heart skip a beat, as you walk down the street with your children.

Arrange them artfully in your fingers as you go, so as to be delightful.




2. When the time comes that you must go inside, wrap the stems with Scotch tape to hold them together.







3.Plunk them into a glass jar, vase, jelly jar or
anything you find. I added water in an attempt to slow the withering, but I don’t know if it will help.

4. Sigh in rapture every time you enter the room.


Note: I expect these will be withering by morning, but they are still nice and colorful as they dry.

This might be a project I give to the children on Thanksgiving morning to decorate up the house, if there are any leaves left by then. It’s a perfect project for a child—they can spend hours collecting their most special leaves, and the only adult help they will need is possibly to help them wrap the tape around the stems.

P.S. I have to just tell you the lovely green grass in the above picture is our neighbor’s. Ours is a nice crunchy brown.  Theirs is much more photogenic.


If Mama Ain’t Happy . . .

Not a Danish fjord, but fjord nonetheless. (From my optimistically titled book, Iceland: The Warm Country of the North.)

Last Thursday afternoon was one of my babysitter afternoons, during which my three darling children go to a babysitter’s house for a few hours and I do … whatever I want.

It took me a while to figure out what I even wanted to do. I had that odd sluggish feeling hovering about.

You know how when you have postpartum depression it feels like an enormous gray cat is sitting on your brain? And you feel overwhelmed with life, and can’t even think of what the next thing to do would be, but you know you don’t have the energy to do it? And the least little thing makes you burst into tears?

That’s how I feel by the end of the homeschool week. It’s a passing cloud, not a lingering blackness, but I usually do seem to be in a bit of a fog by the end of the week.

I am so worn out from the constant demands for my time and attention (and food, always food), from breaking up fights, and for having to make sure everyone gets their
school done that I really look forward to some alone time. (I am an introvert,
so I get recharged by time alone; you might enjoy time with a friend more.)

I tried to go home and be productive this past Thursday afternoon, sorting through the kids’ outgrown clothes, boxing up summer clothes, vacuuming up the ten pounds of debris on my living room carpet. But when the vacuum cleaner started making strange sounds and not working properly, and this caused me to almost burst into tears, I knew it was time for an intervention.

I made myself go to the YMCA.

And, oh, it was glorious. I didn’t have to settle any fights in the car on the way over. I didn’t have even one single child to shepherd into the children’s area. I got to run on the treadmill. The treadmills have TVs with cable, so I got to watch House Hunters International about a sweet American couple trying to find a house on a fjord in Denmark.

It made me exceedingly happy.

Sometimes it seems like a luxury, doesn’t it? To take time for ourselves?

But the alternative, with me at least, is to keep going, chugging along getting grumpier and grumpier at “all the work I have to do,” even though I know it wouldn’t be spiritual to admit it, and then I get crankier and crankier at all the people around me.

“You want a piece of cheese? Didn’t I just feed you, like, four hours ago?” Sigh.

My kids spill milk. I grit my teeth and try not to be mad.

They fight. I gripe at them to be nice.

I’m not saying there’s ever an excuse for me acting that way. I should pray, and I do. I should read my Bible in the mornings, and I do (some days).

But sometimes, it really helps to go for a run.

Those endorphins helped lift my cloud. I could see sunshine again.

I was able to think and analyze some of the changes I needed to make in our lives. I suddenly had all kinds of plans for the next few weeks, most of which taking time to slow down, stay home (and off the computer), and make things in the Crock Pot.

(I was also inspired by the couple on my treadmill TV who were moving from California to experience the slower pace of life in Denmark with their two young girls. I want that for my kids.  I was yearning to nestle us all down by a Danish Fjord (with no TVs and maybe limited electricity), but since my husband and children are rather attached to Oklahoma, we’ll have to be content here.)

I’m not saying any of us “deserve” time to ourselves, or that it’s a requirement to be happy. Amy Carmichael chose to be joyful during persistent health problems. Corrie Ten Boom chose to be thankful in a Nazi prison camp. Many women have much harder situations in life than I do.

I do think it makes sense, though, when it is feasible in my own situation, to do those things that make me a stronger, better wife and mother.

When I picked up my kids that evening, after a nice run and a healthy dinner, I felt refueled. I was happy to see them. I was glad to get to go home and be their Mommy again. I was glad to see my husband when he came home, and I had energy to talk with him.

Life can be stressful and exhausting.  But when we choose to make time to do something that makes us happy, to renew and refresh, I think we are stronger and more
joyful women for our families.

What makes you happy? How do you make time to do it? Do you feel guilty for doing it? 


Ridiculously Simple Autumn Leaf Art

Autumn Leaf Watercolors

Step 1: Have your children collect interesting and colorful leaves on a walk or while in the backyard.

Step 2: Give them paper and watercolors. They trace a leaf on the paper, then fill in with watercolors however they want.

If they get carried away and just start painting the paper with color, fine. It’s really about them interacting with the colors and lines and making art that is beautiful to them.
I like to sit at the table and paint with my kids. It gives the project a bit more importance, and besides that, it’s relaxing and fun.

Optional Step 3:
They can sprinkle salt on the wet paint. Let it dry. Dust off the salt. You can
see the interesting patterns the salt made as it absorbed the water.

Note: I love watercolors because they don’t stain clothes or people, so if your three-year-old paints his face green, and he surely will, it cleans right off.

Autumn Leaf Collage

Step 1: Use your collected autumn leaves.

Step 2: Give the child paper and glue. Have them glue down the leaves in any arrangement they find fitting.

Step 3: Hang up and have bejeweled walls.

As you can see, these are the types of projects that are really about the children interacting with God’s amazing creation, and form and color, more than making a certain product. Glorious.

Remember, it’s the process, not the product. Have fun!

Sorry, I accidentally posted this twice, once without pictures, so you might have gotten a repeat post in your email. Sorry!

Teaching Our Preschoolers to Serve

A while back Kristen Summers asked if she could use a snippet of something I wrote in an upcoming eBook. I said sure, then promptly forgot about it.

Well, imagine my surprise when last week she emailed me and let me know the
eBook was ready! She sent me a free copy for review. I have to tell you, I loved it.

The book is Teach Me to Serve: 99 ways Preschoolers Can Learn to Serve and Bless Others.

In a culture that teaches kids that the world revolves around them (or should), this book is a breath of fresh air with practical, simple ideas for helping our littlest ones grow their hearts to serve others.

I appreciate Kristen’s honest tone. It’s not one of those irritating, “I’m perfect and if you do these things you can be too!” type of books. She is very real in her writing. I like that.

It’s also a fast read, well laid-out, and bulleted, which is nice for a quick skim or going back to look at ideas. Chapter 1 gives the Biblical basis for serving, while Chapter 2 looks at our own example, which is always the key, isn’t it?

Since your kids will model your example, let’s do a quick heart check: Does your child see you having the heart of a servant? Do they see your kindness, compassion and
care for others as they shadow you? Are you helpful? Are you deliberate? Are
you a cheerful giver? When you see a need, do you act? Your children will be
able to sense your concern for others by the way you act in word and deed, and
also by the way you pray for the needs of others.

The book is divided into areas in which to serve:

  • Home– LOVE this, because this is where we live. Why not start here?
  • Neighborhood
  • Community
  • Market
  • The House of God
  • Trips and Travel
  • Going Global

I originally thought 99 ways to serve sounded exhausting (99 more things I should be doing?) but the book didn’t feel that way at all. It felt quite manageable and practical.

You can tell the book is written by an experienced mom of preschoolers. The ideas aren’t those that make you tired just thinking about them. She gives small, simple ideas, perfect for little hands and hearts.

For example, I loved the simplicity of:

7. Ask your preschooler to help you (Mommy or Daddy) with one of your chores.
Maybe there is yard work or dusting to be done. Remember, we are not going for
perfection here, just developing a willing heart. Praise your preschooler’s good effort and thank her for being so helpful.

10. When a sibling is sick, allow your preschooler to help take care of his brother
or sister. Give the sick child a bell to ring whenever something is needed. Put your preschooler in charge of finding out what is needed when he hears the bell ring.

20. Your preschooler can help younger siblings by playing the “How Can I Help?”
game. When the younger sibling is frustrated or unable to reach something, have
your preschooler ask, “How can I help?” While a baby will be unable to answer,
your preschooler can pick up the fallen toy or spoon and hand it to her. Making
this a game will help your preschooler become quick to help.

[Love this one. One of my big pet peeves is when adults sit around and talk after a
meal while one person does all the work of a meal or clean-up. I want
to teach my kids look around and see what needs to be done or to ask, “What can
I do to help, Mom?” ]

 37. Are you hosting a garage sale? Let your preschooler hand out cups of free
water. Use a dispenser for ease of pouring.

 73. When a person drops an item, teach your child to help pick it up.

 I have to stop because I’m going to give away the whole book!
There are so many more great ones though.

I love that the author always brings it back to serving others to serve Jesus.  There are verses on serving sprinkled throughout.

I happen to think preschoolers don’t need much academic work. My preschool goals for my third son include things like learn to obey, be sweet, play, go outside, and get read to a lot.  (If he picks up some letter recognition and number awareness along the way, well, that would be okay too.)

But if a preschooler is doing some of these ideas in the book, they’ll be learning the whole time. They’ll be developing those motor and self-regulation skills, and doing it with a purpose. They’ll be learning the most important things.

I’ll end with the prayer Kristen gives at the end of her book, because it’s so wonderful and it makes me cry:


We thank You for the privilege we have of raising our young children. They are a gift and blessing to us and we are grateful. As we embark to teach our children to follow You and raise them in the faith, would You strengthen us to be the parents You intend? Help us to love and train them the way You would. Give us a heart ready to teach and persevere through the easy and rough days of parenting. Guide us in our discipline and consistency. We want to raise godly children.

Father, mold the young hearts of our children into hearts that chase after You and not the things of this world. Cause them to hunger for You even at their young age. Give them a heart to serve You and others, to deny selfishness and to be rich in compassion. Help us to take these tasks and the many teachable moments to demonstrate to our children the concept of serving others and following Your example of loving people. Fill us with Your love. May our minds and hearts grow in the things of God.

In Jesus’ Mighty Name,


Disclosure: Kristen provided me a free sample of the eBook in exchange for my honest
opinion. I do not make any profit from sales of the book.

Buy the book here in PDF format.  The list price is $3.99 but…

For the next two days (Sept. 25th and 26th, 2012) you can use the
code: homeschool30  
for a 30% discount.


10 Real Life Tips for Reading Chapter Books – Part 2

Lucy saving Edmund's life with her magical cordial

I’m doing this two-part series to go along with my Chapter Book Challenge. Won’t you join us?
In Part One, I shared my 5 real-life tips for reading chapter books. Here are the other five:
NOTE: Before I start opining about the wonders of reading aloud to your children, I just have to tell you that Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader is killing me.
I tried to read a little tonight and things did not go well. Maybe it was the “Swedish pancakes” (rolled pancakes with sugar inside) the kids had for dinner; maybe they devoured secret hoards of espresso beans.  All I know is—they were bouncing all over the  place for the 20 minutes I read to them. I think we covered three pages.

And I skipped over long paragraphs of boringness.

I’m sure all the quirky jokes C.S. Lewis makes were amusing to kids at the time, or to adults now, but I’ve had to stop to explain nautical terms, what the British Consulate is, what “cheeky” and “chirruping” mean, and try to guess what “lodge a disposition” means. I would totally ditch the book if the kids hadn’t already seen the movie and decided it’s the best thing EVER. So we must soldier on. But I’m telling you, I’m going to
cut out a lot.

And I DO NOT recommend the later Narnia books (Any after 1 and 2) for kids under 10 or so. Feel free to disagree with me; I’m stickin’ with that. I’m changing our reading list to save the last two books for a few years from now.

Anyway, on to some real life reading tips, because I could use some…


6. Answer vocabulary quickly and move on.
Most classic chapter books are going to have more ”rare words” and complex vocabulary; that’s part of their value.  Usually I don’t stop to explain words unless my kids ask.  “What does swift mean?” I’ll say, “Fast,” and read the sentence again with “fast” substituted. Many times they’ll figure it out because of context.

(But again, this is why picking a book at their level is important, because The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has so MUCH hard or British vocabulary that it’s exhuasting.)

7. Simplify (or summarize) difficult passages while reading if needed.
Ideally, complexity of sentences is a good thing. It teaches kids to listen and understand nuances. But when we get bogged down (like tonight), I adjust.

a.  Make complex sentences simple. Some of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader sentences are ten lines long! I make the sentences shorter and simpler when I can.

b. Cut out long, complicated descriptions. Tonight I skipped over a few lengthy paragraphs on the boat layout. The kids don’t need to know that to follow the action. If they are losing interest, I skim forward to the next dialogue or action scene.

8. Make fun voices.  I try to use creepy voices for the scary parts, or deep voices for kings or whatever. When I remember.

Audio books are great for this, if your kids can follow the plot. We LOVED the audio of the Little House books.

(The Narnia books are way too complicated for us to listen to the audio books so we’re reading those.)


9. Encourage Imaginary Play. 
We don’t act out the books in a formal way, but I might just plant the seed of an idea in their heads.  We had friends over when we were reading The Long Winter and the kids were playing outside. I said, “Oooh, I think a storm is coming. You better get your hay in the barn and cattle inside!” After looking at me like I was nuts, the other children caught on quickly and they spent the next hour or so getting in crops.

When that friend came over months later, the first thing she wanted to do was get her crops into the barn!

This lets the kids learn about the situations, time, vocabulary, as well as helping them connect emotionally with the story and turn the characters into friends.

My kids often do this spontaneously and I just play along. If my daughter says she’s Lucy and her brother is Edmund, who am I to argue? (The picture at the top is my daughter pretending to be Lucy and nurse “Edmund” back to life. This is an almost daily occurance.)

10. Answer their questions. Sometimes I ask them questions later, but more often they learn by asking questions. Lots and lots of questions.

I realized one day that if I did nothing else but answer all my children’s questions they’d get a very in-depth and well-rounded education. I try, as much as possible, to answer their questions with thoughtful, honest answers. (When it doesn’t suck the life out of me with the volume of the questions. Tonight, I kid you not, I think my son asked about twenty questions ON ONE PAGE. And I just don’t know that much about the British Consulate or boatswains.)

The question is the teachable moment. That’s the real lesson, not whatever’s on the page.

“Yes, but what I don’t understand,” my daughter said the other day in the middle of Prince Caspian, “is how God was there before anything. How could he be?”

We talked about it. Instead of being annoyed that we spent 10 minutes off topic, I thought, wow, this really is wonderful literature. It’s getting them thinking about the important things.

So, let’s do it together, shall we? Let’s just pick an interesting book and start. It may be slow going. It may take ten times longer than we thought it would, and involve more discussions of British slang than we ever thought possible, but let’s do it anyway. Let’s read these rich books to our children.

As these courageous, noble, strong characters come alive to our children, may they awaken something in their hearts. And in ours as well.

Our Favorite Chapter Books So Far
The comments to Part One and the Chapter Book Challenge had lots of great book ideas and reading tips. Be sure to check those out if you haven’t. Thank you all for wonderful ideas! (Did anyone else have the same trouble with Narnia or is it just me?)

Ages 5 and up

  • Little House Books
  • Pippi Longstocking (Kids loved it; she can be disrespectful to adults so we discussed that.)
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • The Hundred Dresses
  • Pinnochio
  • (One of my son’s favorites was Danger at Quicksand Swamp. Not a classic, not particularly well-written, but a great boy adventure story!)

Ages 8 and up

  • Narnia books #1 and #2 (all others I’d say wait until they are at least age 10)
  • The Whipping Boy
  • Historical: Pilgrim Boy, Squanto, Childhood of Famous Americans (we did George Washington and Einstein), Sign of the Beaver

These are my two favorite books about reading aloud, and they have great book lists in them. Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt, and The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. Your library might have both.

Also, Ambleside online and the Sonlight website are great resources.
What did I leave off? What are your favorites for ages 5-10?

Also, a note: a big thank you to Carey Jane Clark, author of After the Snow Falls, for her kind review of The Homeschool Experiment: a novel last weekend:

“When it comes to novels, I want to be awed by the way the author puts words together, and I was not disappointed. But perhaps the most disarming thing about this book is the main character, Julianne Miller, and her very real life. Any mother who’s ever compared herself to others (and what mother hasn’t?) will relate to this down-to-earth character.”  Read Carey’s whole review on her blog >