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.


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.


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?

Homeschool Planning

You know what really motivates me to plan for the upcoming year? Panic.

I looked up and there was our co-op starting date staring me down.

I had been thinking we would start school after Labor Day because, you know, I wasn’t really in the mood to do school yet. Then I realized our
co-op begins August 17th, which means we need to start getting into our routine Monday, August 13th.


We’re not even done with potty training yet. Poop and school really do not mix, so I need to do something about that as well.

Anyway, back to planning. That’s what I’ve been doing for about ten hours today (I had a babysitter). My brain hurts. I’m still not done.

There are about a million ways to plan a homeschool year, and all kinds of lists and schedules I make, but I wanted to share my three favorite tools. They are simple and they’re what made last two years run much better than the first two for us.

Planning Tool #1 – Checklists (these might get tweaked as the year goes on)

My son (8) and daughter (6) had a checklist for their language arts stuff last year. This saved my sanity.

My son figured out that if, instead of whining and complaining, he would just do the work and check it off the list he’d get to escape the dungeon (schoolroom) that much sooner.

The checklist works so well, in fact, that I decided to make another one. We do Bible and math downstairs, then take a walk, then go upstairs for language arts, so I made a
checklist for each.

Here they are. Feel free to use them if you would like. I left them in Word so you can modify as needed.

Checklist: 1st Grader (mostly math)
Checklist: 3rd Grader (mostly math)
Checklist: 1st Grader (mostly Language Arts)
Checklist: 3rd Grader (mostly Language Arts)

Just for fun: checklist for my 3 year old. (He’ll turn 3 on August 17th.) Mostly so he doesn’t feel ignored.

Planning Tool #2 – Weekly Lesson Plan (these will hopefully not change too much as the year goes on)

I printed off 40 of these babies, punched holes in them and put them in my pretty little 3 ring binder. Then I sat there for about 3 hours today willing myself to keep going and fill them out.

Last year I kept about a month at a time of these lesson plans on the fridge in those big magnetic clips. It really helped me look at the whole week at a glance and know what was coming up.

Here’s the other great thing—they kept me on track. I knew that if I didn’t do that week’s spelling lesson, I’d have to rearrange something later on to adjust for that and it was less work to just suck it up and do the spelling lesson already.

I also like having a “plan” column and an “actual” column, because learning opportunities come up that I wasn’t planning on, and I can write them down.

{Oh, VERY important! I have “catch-up” weeks designated throughout the year. If we’re actually on track, then it’s a fun week of going to the library or whatever. If we’re behind, it gives a chance to catch up. Otherwise, this planning the whole year out would be a nightmare, because you’re always going to get behind. So I have about 6 catch-up weeks that coincide with fall/spring break, a couple extra in December/January, and a few at the end. I don’t get stressed out if we’re a bit behind because I know I’ve got some catch-up time planned.}

Here’s my version of a weekly lesson plan. Feel free to use this if it’s helpful.

Weekly Lesson Plan

Planning Tool #3 – Lists

I still like plain old lists for planning. We won’t follow these reading lists exactly, but they give me a place to start. I made the lists based on a combination of Sonlight, Ambleside, Honey for a Child’s Heart, and what I thought my children would enjoy. I also tried to have a good mix of boy and girl books.

Reading List – Chapter Books (Mostly I read, they might help a bit.)

ReadingPlan_Independent – (My 3rd grader will do (theoretically) during Rest Time.)

There you go! I’m all planned out. Hopefully those are helpful. Oh, and if this is your first year, just remember that things will rarely (and possibly never) go according to your plan. But that’s okay. It’s still good to have a place to start, remembering that we may plan our way, but God directs our steps.

Feel free to comment if you have any questions about any of that. IEW means Institute for Excellence in Writing, HWT means Handwriting without Tears, CC means Classical Conversations and I don’t know if I used any other confusing acronyms. Comment or email me with any questions!

I got the idea to do this because the Schoolhouse Review Crew is doing a “blog hop” this week. I’m NOT one of their official “crew” but I thought the topics they were writing about sounded fun.

If you want to read more about planning, start at Sam’s Noggin or Christine’s blog, then click on any of the links at the bottom, in the “linked up” area.






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?

Rhythm of a Year: Summer

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.


Summer = Organization

Summer is organizing time for me. I have to get everything done that I haven’t gotten done during the year. This year that is a lot, because I’ve been basically ignoring the house for the last year.

Here is the list from early May. The crossed out things are done.


Homeschool – 5 days worth of work

  • wrap up this year
  • Testing – prep, administer (we do Iowa tests)
  • organize/file records  (used my weekly plans and notes to summarize the  year’s work)
  • straighten up schoolroom. Clear out/file/throw  old curriculum, projects, books, etc. [Note: decided to do show & tell for Grandma when she comes in July, then file or throw out the old stuff.]
  • type up year end wrap-up (year’s summary onto computer. Not required in Oklahoma, but helps me see what we’ve accomplished  and what we need to work on for next year.)
  • Finish any book work/reading lists
  • Turn in co-op receipts

Home – 2 weeks [Note: took at least 5 weeks, probably 6 after I do the kitchen/laundry room. And maybe garage, if I have any energy left.]

  • Declutter whole house; organize bedrooms – 5 days
  • Possibly paint bedroom/bathroom (maybe?) [Took forever! part of 2 weeks.]
  • Clean office/wrap up book work – 1 day
  • Kitchen – clean out /organize
  • Plan, think about good meal system for  gluten-free -2 days
  • Outside kitchen window – plant a few vines? [This might not get done.]


Homeschool – 5 days worth of work

  • Start planning next year. Pray about what  worked/what needs work.
  • Make calendar for school year with “normal,” “rest,”  and “holiday” weeks
  • Plan curriculum for each child, make list of  chapter books I want us to read
  • Buy all curriculum and books (conventions/used  book sales) except library books
  • Make out weekly lesson plan sheets and fill them in
  • Organize schoolroom with new curriculum, books,  etc.

Homeschool – co-op/Classical Conversations – 5 days

  • Attend practicum – 3 days
  • Order all materials for CC – ½ day [Still don't know what I'm doing about this.]
  • Plan/buy for co-op toddler class – 1 day
  • Plan art/poetry class; buy materials; make  posters, etc. – 3 days


  • One book signing – Mardel + trip to Colorado

RELAX !!! Try to rest and enjoy my family.



  • POTTY TRAINING!!  (2 weeks )
  • Reading 30 minutes / day ; Xtra Math on computer
  • Think about how to cut back on TV
  • Routine for summer!


  • One book signing – Oklahoma City

If Time (get a babysitter for 3 days)

  • Scrapbook past year (3 days)
  • Edit videos and burn to CD (3 days)

RELAX & REST (I relax better after all of the above is out of the way!)



  • Exercise
  • Spa day with yoga and massage
  • New haircut
  • Few comfy clothes/ giveaway old clothes


  • Start working on new routine
  • Work on chores, train in new chores, routines

There you have it. Those are the summer plans. Lord willing. Pretty much  every summer has those same categories of wrapping up the prior year, preparing  for the next year, getting things settled, etc. This year it will take longer  because of the dreaded POTTY TRAINING and also catching up from this past year  of letting the house fall into disarray while working on the book.

But I am fed up. I want order. I want peace. I want a clean

And after everything is neat  and tidy, I’m planning on that spa day for myself, I promise. I just have to clean a few things first.

Do you do home projects during the summer? Or do you actually relax?