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?

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.

Chapter Book Challenge: Mid-Year Update

Earlier this year I wrote about a Chapter Book Challenge. The idea is to encourage each other in our reading and share great books we’ve found.

Please jump in with your comments and share your great ideas! I have learned a lot from you.

So each week this year I felt like we were not doing nearly enough reading, maybe only sitting down to read 2-3 times per week, but somehow it added up. (The audio books did help greatly in squeezing more in.)

Here’s what we read and what we thought. At the time of the reading, my children were:
son, 8 years
daughter, 6 years
son, 3 years (But most were read during his nap.)


The Horse and His Boy; C.S. Lewis
My Rating: 4 stars
(For this age. For an older child, 5 stars.)

Great story and Christian worldview, but the complex plot and vocabulary made it hard to read to a 6 and 8 year-old without a lot of explaining.

Wonderful writing, of course.




Prince Caspian; C. S. Lewis
My Rating: 4 stars
(For this age. For a an older child, 5 stars.)

Same review as The Horse and His Boy. My kids did like it, but I think they’d enjoy it even more in a few years.






Voyage of the Dawn Treader; C.S. Lewis
My Rating: 4 stars
(For this age. For a an older child, 5 stars.)


I crossed the last two Narnia books off our list for this year and plan to try them in a few years when the kids are a bit older.





A Little Princess; Frances Hodgson Burnett
My Rating: 4 stars
(Due to weird theme of how The Magic is inside all of us and watches over us, instead God’s providence and care.)

Wonderful character story that ignites the imagination, but the weird “Magic” undertone bothered me. My kids (especially my daughter) enjoyed it.  I liked the concept of holding ourselves to a high standard of civility and graciousness.  Writing was good but not great. This is a classic though, and I’d recommend it, especially for girls.



Anna Hibiscus; Atinuke
My Rating: 4

Story of a girl in Africa, written by a storyteller. Lyrical writing. Kids were interested in the funny stories and names. No explicit Christian content, but seemed a Christian worldview. Lovely. Perfect for us since we hope to go to Africa this summer (Lord willing). Wonderful way to learn about the world.

Usborne carries these.



In Grandma’s Attic; Arleta Richardson
My Rating: 5 stars

Though the writing isn’t exceptional, I loved this book. Each chapter is a story from
Grandma’s day. The kids were interested in the stories. All come from a Christian worldview; some have explicit spiritual messages. This is the perfect book for their ages—simple enough plot to understand, moral lessons, funny stories, spiritual truth. I plan to get others in the series.



Hank the Cowdog and the Runaway Windmill; John R. Erikson
My Rating: ? I don’t know. I didn’t hear it.

My son said he would recommend it. (He also said I HAVE to tell kids about the A-Z mysteries. HAVE TO. But we’ll get to those later.)


The First Four Years; Laura Ingalls Wilder
My Rating: 3 stars

This book was a rough version because Wilder didn’t polish it before she died and you can tell. The writing is not nearly as strong or descriptive as the others, the theme doesn’t really work, it’s poorly transitioned in spots, and it’s extremely depressing.

The happy parts: they have a daughter.
The sad parts: hail destroys their wheat crop, Almanzo and Laura get diphtheria, Almanzo has a stroke, they lose their homestead, most of the trees on the tree claim die, their infant son dies, and the book ends right after their house burns down.
Cheery, right?

This is not one I’d recommend for kids unless they are dying to see what happened to Laura (mine were).

[Note: I don't blame Laura Ingalls Wilder for any of this. All her other books are a 4.5 or 5 stars. She's wonderful. This book, from what I've read, she didn't even like, and put the rough draft away and didn't work on it again. Her publisher decided to publish the rough draft after her death. So it's really not her fault. I'd highly recommend any of her other books.]

 Throughout the Year

The Jesus Storybook Bible; Sally Lloyd Jones (and God)
My Review: 4.5 stars

This is the Bible we read through in the mornings, one story most days. I would
recommend this because it held all three of my children’s attention, an impressive feat, and all stories are tied in to Jesus, which is a lovely thread.

The only thing I didn’t love is it’s a bit silly in parts and embellishes with dialogue that is not true to the Bible accounts. My kids really enjoyed it.


James Herriot’s Treasury for Children; James Herriot
My Rating: 4 stars, so far

I feel like this is required homeschool reading! It is lovely, with quirky stories about various animals and an English vet. My daughter is the animal-lover and she enjoys the book the most. My 3 year old likes looking at the pictures even though the stories are a bit above him. Gorgeous illustrations.
Warning: will make you want to move to a farm in England.

Here’s our updated list for the rest of the year. You might notice almost everything has changed since the original list. Ah, well.

Regular (Print) books
We are hoping to go to Africa this summer, so the books are Africa-heavy.
January:          James Herriot’s Treasury (finish); Mrs. Piggle Wiggle’s farm (finish)
February:        Anna Hibiscus, books 2 and 3 (Africa girl stories)
March:            No. 1 Car-Spotter, book 1 (Africa boy story)
April:               David Livingstone, illustrated version
May:               Anna Hibiscus, book 4 and Dr. Doolittle (if time)
June:              Heidi, if time

Audio Books – as many as we get through from this list. My brilliant friend Sarah really encouraged me by how many books they’ve gotten through by using audio books. Here are some of the ones she recommended.
Beverly Cleary - Runaway Ralph, Motorcycle, Henry and Ribsy
Sarah Plain and Tall and 2 sequels
Boxcar Children
Peter Pan
Sugar Creek Gang, Focus on the Family Radio Drama
Anne of Green Gables
Hank the Cowdog

These books were bumped from the original list for a while.
Narnia, last 2 books 
Mary Poppins, Paddington Bear

What about you? What are your favorite read-aloud books so far this year?

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?

Rhythm of a Year: Holidays

Holidays = Practical life/Service

I almost don’t remember last Christmas because I was so busy editing the book (and getting really, really irritated at all those commas).

This year, I’m trying to focus on my family. I’m hoping to leave the computer off most of the time in December. I might check in on Facebook every now and then, but I don’t expect to post anything else here until January. (Except maybe a pretty picture.)

I feel sure that the world will go on.

Have a wonderful, blessed celebration of our Savior this year. Enjoy your sweet children and families.

See you in 2013!

Here’s a bit on what our “school” looks like in December.

During the holidays (Thanksgiving through New Year’s) we are doing some school trying to keep up with lesson plans. But here’s my secret—I schedule in three or four “holiday” weeks into my calendar at the beginning.  I still count those weeks as school because we are learning, but I don’t schedule regular math/grammar/spelling lessons those weeks. Basically the kids help me with the holidays. Here are some things they
might do.  (We don’t do ALL of these every year. )

Practical Life

  • Plan a meal, help make grocery list, find recipes
  • Help cook one to three dishes
  • Help set the table and make decorations
  • Invite friends who might not have anywhere else
    to go for the holiday over
  • Help clean the house


  • Help pack a box to send with Operation Christmas Child
  • Help pack a box to send to missionaries
  • Shop/wrap presents for less fortunate children
  • Shop/wrap presents for friends/family
  • Make cookies/thank yous for awana leaders


  • Often make crafts of some kind for gifts
  • Wrap presents
  • Decorate tree, make ornaments
  • Sometimes do gingerbread house or other projects with grandparents

Reading/ Math

  • Often read lots of Thanksgiving/Christmas books with family
  • Checkers, chess, chinese checkers, Risk, Candy Land, dominoes, cards are all great for math/logic skills.
  • Scrabble is great for spelling/reading/language skills.
  • Puzzles – a big jigsaw puzzle can be out on the table for a few days with the whole family helping-spatial/math skills.

So, that’s why I have no problem counting those weeks as school. The kids aren’t doing the normal weeks of lessons, but they are learning all those practical lessons that will help them in their homes later.

Also, just a side note, after the holidays when all the new gifts are lying piled about, I get stressed out about all the stuff everywhere. I REALLY like to have a visiting grandparent occupy the kids for a few hours (or a day) while I clean and declutter and get everything all organized again. Then I feel like I can breathe and am ready to start the new year.

Have a wonderful holiday season with your loved ones.

My grandpa is the one in the picture playing Chinese checkers with my daughter last year. He lived with us for two months last fall and passed away in the summer. It was a hard, busy time, but I’m so thankful for those two precious extra months with him.


After the holidays are over, I tend to feel the urge to rest.
I like to just cuddle up on the couch with my kids in front of a fire, and read, and if it has snowed, make snow ice cream. My favorite winter was when we kept getting snowed in and everything was cancelled. Lovely.

What we do:

  • Get back into our routine
  • Work on staying up with our weekly lesson plans
  • Readjust if needed, if something’s not working
  • Lots of reading and indoor projects. (ex. History/Science hands-on projects are great now.)
  • My husband’s busy season is Jan-April, so it’s always crazy. I like to try to keep things clean and do Saturday chores so we can focus on school during the week. This year, I plan to cut out a few more things (friend birthday parties, other Saturday activities) because last year was just too busy.

What we don’t do:

  • Go anywhere, other than the YMCA for my sanity (at least once a week)
  • I cut myself some slack on dinner. Things are more relaxed because it’s just me and the kids. We have some nights of pizza in front of the TV on a blanket. I get tired.

This is the season of surviving until Spring. If you’re struggling in January, congratulations! You’re normal.


Our Favorite Poetry Books

I had a guest post today over at I Can Teach My Child about memorizing poetry with young children, and Lori asked a great question:

Besides the poems you listed above, do you recommend a certain book of poems or resource to find good ones for kids to read?

Lori, my first recommendation would be to go to that shelf of children’s poetry at your library (ask the librarian where it is, or look up Shel Silverstein, that should be the right section). Just browse around and check out the ones that look best to you. After trying 5-10 books, you and your children might have a favorite you want to buy.

Here are the favorites at our house:

1. Treasury of Poetry and Rhymes, Paragon Publishing. I love this one because it works from babies up to, I don’t know, age ten? A long time. It has everything from “Hey Diddle, Diddle” and “Pop Goes the Weasel”  to “The Owl and The Pussycat” and “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” It’s also cheap.  ($3 at Amazon, probably under $5 at a local bookstore if they have it.)

2. A Child’s First Book of Poems, pictures by Cyndy Szekeres.  This has beautiful illustrations and classic children’s poems like “The Puffin” and “Who Has Seen the Wind?” Amazon has inexpensive used copies, but it’s probably not more than $10 at a bookstore.

3. A Child’s Garden of Verses, compiled by Cooper Edens – This edition has gorgeous vintage illustrations that I LOVE. My kids like it okay, but only sit well for a couple of poems at a time. They tend to like the short humorous poems of the above book better. (They are ages 6 and 8. Maybe they’ll like it better as they get older?) I have used a few of his shorter poems for memorizing, like “The Swing,” “Rain,” and “The Cow.” This is a lovely book, but if money is tight, probably not the one to start with. (Hardcover on Amazon was about $15.)

4. One Hundred Best Poems, compiled by Marjorie Barrows. This  has wonderful, fanciful poems, but is an antique book, so it’s expensive. (Right now, there’s one copy on Amazon for $10, which is a steal, but if that one disappears, the next is over $30.)  Or keep your eyes out at used book stores. Our favorites are “A Fairy Went a-Marketing” and “Norse Lullaby.”  It makes you think of how childhood used to be. Lovely.

I like sometimes to read a poem at a meal so we can talk about it, especially a poem that fits the day, like one about Jack Frost on a frosty day, or one about mist on a foggy afternoon. So cozy!

Enjoy exploring these delightful poems with your children!

P.S. There is one other resource I want to mention–Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization by The Institute For Excellence in Writing. (Yes, what a mouthful!) The book is expensive ($65) and I haven’t personally used it, but I LOVE Andrew Pudewa’s talk on this topic. I’m mentioning it because if you have a chance to enter a giveaway for this book, DO IT. Andrew Pudewa often speaks at homeschool conventions, so if you have the chance to hear him speak on this topic or buy a CD of his talk (probably about $6), it will get you excited about why and how to memorize poetry with young children.

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!

Rhythm of a Year: Fall

Fall =  Slow and Routine

I thought it might be interesting to those starting out to see what the rhythm of a homeschooling year looks like in our family. And even if you have been homeschooling a while, it might be interesting. I always enjoy seeing what other families’ routines  are like.

During the fall (end of August, Sept, Oct, early Nov) we are trying to get into a routine that works for this season.

What we do:

  • Try to stay on our schedule
  • Get used to going to bed/getting up consistent times (Mom included)
  • Work on training in chores
  • Play outside at home after school is done
  • Try to get a good start on schoolwork for year, stay up with lesson plans.

What we don’t do:

  • Go to the library almost at all (because the new books throw off my plans)
  • Go on any unplanned field trips
  • Any other projects other than school or basics.
    No home improvement. No organizing extravaganzas. No trips to Washington D.C. (My husband actually went last week, and I thought about taking the kids, but travel like that takes a huge amount of time and energy and I just wasn’t up for it.)
  • I don’t go to the YMCA much during this time.

So far this fall, school is eating my lunch. I find it is taking a lot more time this year. The Classical Conversations class (Essentials) means more writing homework for my son, and my son and daughter both have a tiny bit of co-op homework now. Even my three-year-old is in Awana Cubbies now, so he has his little verse to memorize–very cute, but one more thing to squeeze in.

I’m yearning to slow life down. It’s been too busy for too long. I’ve said no to some writing opportunities. I won’t be an exciting blogger with a big readership, because it requires too much time at the computer. I’m okay with that.

I want slower, calmer days at home this year: doing laundry, learning together with my children, reading together under the tree in the backyard.

How about you? What does your fall look like? Are you trying to slow down?

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 >