Priorities (and What I Need to Cut Out)

I love to set goals for the new year. This year as I was thinking about goals though, I had to think first about what my priorities were going to be.

Here are the areas I want to be HIGHER priorities for 2013

1. Health – healthier food, slower pace, more sleep, a bit more exercise for Mom. The big one here is healthy dinners though. I’ve made some progress in this during the fall (like, actually cooking dinner) and the kids have been helping as Dinner Buddies (huge help!) but I want to do better about planning a menu and cooking each day. (Which results in less fast food and less money spent as a bonus.)

2. Spiritual Disciplines- I have been reading my Bible some mornings, but I want to be more consistent in this, pray with my kids each night before bed, and work on teaching them how to read their Bibles and actually get something out of it. I also want to work on memorizing a verse for myself each week or so and reviewing old ones somehow.

3. School- It’s time to raise expectations. I’d like to have the kids know what they need to get done each day and, with help when needed, be responsible to complete that work before playing. I’d also like to read more with them in the afternoons.

4. (Also, being nice to my family. No yelling. No annoyed voice. But this is more a matter of the heart than time.)

Here’s the hard part: I have to cut some things out to make room for the kind of life I want.

Activities that need to be LOWER priorities:

1. Computer time – I sit down to “check Facebook” and end up an hour later wondering where the time went . The computer is like a black hole that sucks my time right away.

Many times I’m not goofing off; I’m actually doing profitable things related to the book, blog, or Facebook. The problem is, I’m allowing the computer to distract me from what’s most important.

2. Reading – I love to read, especially researching recent Christian fiction, or interesting writing books, or non-fiction books on whatever topic I’m obsessed with that day. The problem is I can get swept up in a book (or pile of books) and not emerge for hours.

Again, nothing inherently wrong with what I’m reading, it’s that it can take away time from my other priorities, especially time with my husband because I have my nose buried in a book. I am going try to keep a Books to Read list that I can dive into during the summer. Also, I’m going to try to get audio books so I can listen while I’m working in the kitchen.

3. Writing-This was a tough one, but I’ve decided many times over the last six months that writing really isn’t one of my top priorities right now. I hope to write more, but it’s going to be a while. Last year writing was higher on the list, but it’s time for it to move back down.

In order to keep those lower priority items in their place, I have found I have to

Give Myself Boundaries

Computer stays off until 2 o’clock. This assures that I’ll focus on school and home before I let the computer monster get its claws into me. (I don’t know about you, but once I turn it on and start checking, my mind just keeps going back throughout the day, even when there’s no reason to. Do other people have this problem? I think the technical name would be “technology addiction” or something.)

I did find during December though, that if I went a day or so without even turning the computer on, it seemed to lose its hold over me. I sort of forgot about whatever was going on online and got plugged back in to my life. So that’s good.

• Writing confined to 2 hours on Monday nights. Whatever writing/blogging I can get done during that time is what gets done that week.

Listen to audio books in the kitchen. I realized during December that one reason I get on the computer is I’m kinda bored and wanting adult interaction. But listening to the radio or an audio book feeds my brain and makes me happy. I’m quite content to empty the dishes or get dinner started if my brain has something interesting to think about. (I also want to work more on my verse memory during that time.)

Not read too much about writing. I’m trying to cut back on reading blogs about writing because that just sends me straight to plotting a novel, and I don’t have time for that right now!

So far, though I’ve only been working on these things for a few weeks (I sort of started in December), I do have to say life is much more relaxing. I know I’m doing the most important things, and I’m not getting hundreds of ideas online for things I’ll never have time to do anyway!

How about you? What is one thing you want to CUT OUT (or cut back on) in 2013 to make room for the things that are really important to you?

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!

Easing In

This week we started easing in to our school routine. It went amazingly well. I’m not really sure why.

Oh, well, probably because things are still novel and interesting. I’m sure the complaining will start back up again soon.
Here were my goals for the week:

1.  Work on Sleep/Wake Routine.  I wanted to get us sticking to a
consistent bedtime and waking up time. Watching gymnastics until 11 p.m. was
not in the plans, but other than that we did pretty well.  

(I had been trying to get up before the kids to work out, because though I get really irritated at Jillian Michaels yelling at me, at least it wakes me up, and I get my irritation out on her instead of my kids. The Olympics is ruining that plan though, because I have to get to bed earlier. Maybe next week.)

 2. Try out School Schedule/Routine/Checklists – I wanted to see if the schedule I had planned was realistic.  I realized some things worked better in a different
order, so I tweaked the routine a bit. (For example, I decided to do Bible with breakfast in the kitchen and go on our walk right afterwards.)

I wanted to get the kids into their new habits.  For example, math is in the
kitchen with Mom; if it’s not your math time, you need to stay out of the

No, really, you need to stay out of the kitchen.

I know you want to see what we’re doing, yes, but it’s not your turn right now, so you seriously need to stay out of the kitchen.

Sometimes it takes a while to get the idea.

3. Discipline. The six- and eight- year old did pretty well, but we still worked on the concepts of a) listening to me when I was talking b) giving a respectful answer and c) actually doing what I asked.  They weren’t being blatantly disrespectful, they just needed some practice.

My  two-year-old, however, was being blatantly disrespectful. We worked on all kinds of
things: sitting quietly at meals and not yelling or banging his fork, not yelling
“Mommy, you’re mean!” not telling me no when I ask him to do something, and not
throwing baseballs at his brother.

He went to his pack-n-play a lot this week.

But that’s okay; it’s to be expected. He has to learn that he really does have to obey. We had lots of sweet cuddle and reading time too, but I know I have to let him know I mean what I say or the whole year will go downhill.

We’ll work on it for a few weeks, but that part should get better as he learns what to expect.


Those were my main goals. I didn’t really care if we got any school done.

But you know what? We got SO much school done! I think because I wasn’t stressed about it, and I just made sure we did our routine each day, we actually accomplished a lot. Go figure!

Also, I didn’t have a car so we were stuck at home all week.

I think this was a good thing. I wasn’t able to decide to go to the park (and take myself by Starbucks on the way) or go do whatever else because I thought it sounded like more fun. It was actually lovely.

I’m seriously considering asking my kids to hide my keys every other week so we would be forced to stay home. Or maybe my husband could hide the keys, so that I’d have hope of ever finding them again.

Anyway, it was a great week. We just sort of slowly worked through our day, stopping when we needed to for birthday parties in the hallway.

Despite Monkey’s lingering double-sprained-ankle injury, she had a lovely time.

(This is the Monkey for whom my daughter wanted to buy a rolling bin as a wheelchair. Poor Monkey has had to soldier through without it.)

All in all, a lovely week.  Now, don’t misunderstand me, we still had plenty of tears, fighting, messes and issues. But it’s getting easier as the kids get older.

(I was talking to a mom last night who will be embarking on her second year of homeschooling. She was telling how hard last year was and I told her, “Yeah, the first year is just terrible. I mean, it’s great too, but it’s so ridiculously hard. It gets easier. This year will be so much better.” So that’s what I’m saying. It gets easier.)

Here’s an example: I had a brainstorm Monday morning that maybe I could read the Bible on the kitchen couch while the kids ate their breakfast (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches). I didn’t actually expect it to work.

Last year Bible time was an exercise in frustration, people crying, fighting over who got to sit in my lap, spilled milk, and my toddler trying to fling himself backwards off the couch just for fun. It was horrible. Almost every day.

But this week, do you know what they did? They sat. They listened. (My toddler whined about wanting to read David and Goliath every day, but eventually he acquiesced.) They ate their breakfasts.

I’m still in shock.

So. There you go. I’m not sure I’m actually living in my house, and I’m not sure how long this will last, but so far, so good.




What Summer Reading Looks Like at Our House

My son read to me while I cooked eggs.

Of course things aren’t as orderly as I planned, but we do get a lot of reading done in the summer. The long, hot days mean we spend extra hours inside most days, so July and August are some of our prime reading months. (January and February are also big reading months for the opposite reason.)

Here’s what that looks like at our house:

1. Before breakfast –  Whichever child wakes up first staggers out to the kitchen and groggily lays on the kitchen couch while I read.Lately it’s been my eight-year-old son and we can read a chapter book (right now, The Horse and His Boy, the 3rd Narnia book) uninterrupted.  Often we get a good twenty minutes in before someone else wakes up. Whoever wakes up first gets to pick the book.

2. During lunch – This does not happen every day, but a couple times a week I might read the kids a book during lunch.  I have been choosing picture books so everyone is interested, one with a story they know. I often retell it, using my own words instead of reading every word. (I eat bites while they look at pictures, or sometimes I eat before or after them.) I do this more so they’ll be quiet and eat and not bicker, but I’m sure there’s value in the reading too!

The basket on the left is for library books; the one on the right is for our own.

3. After lunch- Often on the living room couch. Sometimes I read again that book we did at lunch, but I read the actual words, not my retelling.

4. Before naptime – This is pretty much mandatory. I read two or three picture books upstairs to my toddler before he goes down for his nap. (If the books are long or above his level, I paraphrase a bit.)

My toddler's books in the living room. There's another basket upstairs for before naptime.

5. Rest time 
My six- and eight-year-old read in their rooms during rest time, sometimes. I was planning for this to be when they do their 30 minutes of independent reading each day, but I need to enforce it, plus I’m out of easy chapter books right now for my son. So that’s my fault. But when I remember, my son sits in his beanbag chair and reads.

(My daughter is supposed to look at books and read what she can, but like I say, I haven’t been checking up on her.) Sometimes she listens to books with CDs when I am organized enough to get them from the library, but you know about my library issues this summer.

Our favorite easy chapter books we’ve found this summer are these Imagination Station ones. They are a lot like Magic Treehouse, but with actual Christian history mixed in.

6. When somebody’s sad – If someone has been crying and needs some Mommy attention, reading is a great excuse for a little cuddle time. Especially for my eight-year-old who often thinks he’s too big for such things.

Oh, those sweet sweeties. Melts my heart.

7. Before bed – this is almost mandatory as well. We skip it only when we’re running really late. My toddler gets two to three books out in the living room before bed with either Mom or Dad. The older two get a few pages of a chapter book, either read to them or on CD with the other parent.

The chapter book we’re reading now, The Horse and His Boy (3rd Narnia book), is very complicated with plot and vocabulary, so it would be too confusing to listen to on CD. We’re reading it a few pages a night, and stopping often to explain vocabulary or recap what’s going on.

8. Audio books In the car-  The other day we went swimming out at Blue
, and the hour drive out and back was enough to almost finish The Whipping Boy. My son had read it earlier this year, partially by himself, so this was a great chance to review and go over some things he hadn’t understood, and I wanted to hear it too.

I do have to say, the audio books work much better when my two-year-old is not in
the car or when he’s asleep. The other day I put in an audio book  and he slapped
his tiny baby forehead and moaned, “Not again!” He likes his music.

9. Waiting at the doctor’s office - We actually haven’t done much of that this summer, but whenever we do go, I try to bring a backpack with some books.

Okay, I think that’s about it.  And full disclosure, we’ve gotten very little math done. I was planning to do flash cards every day, but that has not happened. Sigh. I need to work on that. Oh, and I was going to work on some summer writing activities, which has not happened either. So many things, so little time. Anyway . . .

What does summer reading look like at your house? Any favorite times or places?

Drop Thy Still Dews of Quietness





Another of my favorite cabinet quotes:

Drop thy still dews of quietness
till all our strivings cease;
take from our lives the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of Thy peace.
- John Greenleaf Whittier

Why are our lives so often not ordered? I think when mine is not it’s often because I’m afraid to say ‘no’ or I’m afraid of what other people will think (failure). So, this year I want to purposefully say no to the things that are not highest on my priority list and focus on the things that are. That means, for me, less computer time, less writing. More keeping up with my house, more making soup, more sitting on the couch reading with my kids.

How about you? What things have you cut out to have a more ordered, less stressful life?

Happy Birthday America!

Colonial flag cake we made a couple of years ago.

Fun question to ask your family on July 4th: How many of the  original 13 colonies can you name?

If you need a fun family movie to watch over the holiday, might I recommend Pollyanna (the Disney version with Hayley Mills)? I always think about it on the 4th of July because of the bazaar where Pollyanna dresses up as part of the flag and they sing “America the Beautiful.” It also teaches wonderful lessons about being choosing to be “glad” in any circumstance. And wherever does she get that crazy idea? From her father’s study of the Bible as a missionary. I love it.

America the Beautiful
Words by Katharine Lee Bates
Melody by Samuel Ward

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!

America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!

America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!

America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for halcyon skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!

America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till souls wax fair as earth and air
And music-hearted sea!

O beautiful for pilgrims feet,
Whose stem impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!

America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till paths be wrought through wilds of thought
By pilgrim foot and knee!

O beautiful for glory-tale
Of liberating strife
When once and twice, for man’s avail
Men lavished precious life!

America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain
The banner of the free!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!

America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till nobler men keep once again
Thy whiter jubilee!


Learn to like what does not cost much

I love the artful arrangement of words so much that I treasure wonderful quotes. I have run out of good places to put them, so I’ve
taken to taping up my favorites on the insides of my kitchen cabinets. After all, the insides of those cabinet doors are just sitting there. I might as well put them to use.

Here’s one of my absolute favorites:

Learn to like what does not cost much; learn to like reading, conversation, music. Learn to like plain food, plain service, plain cooking. Learn to like people, even those who may be very different from you.
Learn to shelter your family with love, comfort, and peace.
Learn to keep your wants simple. Refuse to be owned and anchored by things and opinions of others.
Learn to like the sunrise and sunset, the beating of the rain on the roof and the windows, the gentle fall of the snow in winter. Learn to hold heaven near and dear.
Learn to love God for he surely loves you.

- Anonymous (wouldn’t you know?)

Isn’t that amazing? I realize, typing that out, how much those ideas are undercurrents in the book.

I especially like how the author says, “Learn to like.”  We have to learn to like all kinds of things don’t we? Spinach, reading hard books, getting up early (working on that one,
ahem), being content with simple things.

It always reminds me of Hebrews 13:5 Let your lives be free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

That theme of simplicity is woven lightly into the book, but the thread is pulled out most explicitly here:

We all value the things that are unseen; sometimes we just forget. We think we value ease and luxury, diamonds and crystal, but we don’t. We value fulfilling work, truth and honor, family and friends, lives well lived, love freely given.

Frank and Vicky and all their millionaire friends know what we all do when we
think about it—what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

What simple things do you love?

Wall Hanging Idea

This is what I did for over our bed. The fabric is napkins from Pottery Barn (one napkin covers 2-3 letters), and it’s ModPodged (matte) onto those 99cent letters from Hobby Lobby. Then I hot glued a ribbon to the back and stuck it up on the wall with a thumb tack. I love the pop of color and whimsy in our otherwise solid-colored room.

You could do something similar with a child’s name in their room, with any leftover fabric you have.

Total Time: about 6 hours (including getting supplies)
Total Cost: about $30

Another cute idea I just saw is here:

With that, we’re officially done with big decorating/renovating projects, 3/4 of the decluttering/organizing is done, and school prep work for next year is mostly done.

I’m ready to sit around and do nothing for a while!