The Bookmarked Life #14

2The Bookmarked Life is my take on catch-all posts–a record to help me remember this season of life.

Right now I’m:


We take a lot of things for granted. At least, I do. For example, the fact that most people have uneventful pregnancies and mother and baby live through delivery–this was not always such a given, and I have now repented not being more grateful for the four simple deliveries I had prior to Margaret’s!

…Furnishing My Mind


As I am restricted from almost everything (other than sitting on the bed or couch and typing!) I’ve had lots of time to enjoy Margaret’s tiny phase. It’s hard to believe she is already one month old today! The big kids love her and–when they haven’t been battling dreadful colds, ear infections, and croup–have enjoyed hanging out with her. So far she is a very solemn baby, and hates to be left alone. It will be interesting to see how she shapes up as she grows!

…Living the Good Life

I downloaded a new Advent Biblestudy from Jenni Keller (having gotten so much out of her studies on James and Colossians). I’m excited to start it once I finish the Savor and Establish study on Philippians that I’m working through now.

IMG_4675One thing I really like about the Advent study is that it includes a short Biblestudy for you to do with your kids too.  Each day has a Scripture reading, a Scripture for writing down in a notebook (starting a good habit!), and a few questions for discussion and understanding.  I think this is going to be a great addition to our December Bible time!

We will also keep up our annual Jesse Tree tradition, and it will be fun to use the story Bible selections with Eliza since I doubt she remembers this from last year..


Being in such an intense recovery phase–and finding out that it’s likely to be a three month process rather than the six weeks I initially thought–makes school a IMG_4724bit of a challenge.  I had planned ahead to take a month or so off, but hadn’t planned on two months!  So we are doing a little bit of school every day, and counting quarter days, half days, etc as it seems good to me.  I have kind of high standards for what constitutes a whole day of school, but my benchmark is NOT hours spent.  Rather, I mark a school day by what learning transpired.  A kid can spend 12 hours dilly dallying over a math lesson (ask me how I know) and that doesn’t count as a full day of school for me.  Or, kids can have a great discussion of history and science and literature readings, do their language arts, math, and spelling quickly with no fuss, and get in a full day in no time flat. Some of us grasp this truth more quickly than others.

…Boosting Creativity

IMG_4732I got each of the big kids an adult coloring book to help give them something productive to do since I can’t get up and regulate fights and whatnot as I usually would.  They are an unqualified success.  The kids don’t usually care for regular coloring books, but the detail and challenge of these books seems to inspire them.  I wish the author had done a few more so I could get others for Christmas presents!


 …Seeking Balance

Fortunately, thinking and typing are not on my restricted list, so I’ve been able to keep up with work fairly well while I’m recovering.  I did take two weeks of “maternity leave” while I was in the hospital–out of sheer necessity–but now I’m back to work and grateful that I have work I enjoy and can do flexibly from home!

…Listening To

Since I’m up nursing a lot at night and Margaret is sleeping in our room, I can’t really turn on the light and read a regular book.  Instead, I’ve been listening to audio books and podcasts.  I can’t say I follow every word with bated breath, as often I feel like I’m floating between being awake and asleep, but I like feeling like I’m doing something, rather than just sitting around in the dark. One podcast of note is Tsh Oxenrider’s The Simple Show.  It’s great!

What are you bookmarking this week?


Posted in Bookmarked Life | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

November Reading Roundup

I read fewer books this month due to my unplanned hospital stay when I was too sick to want to read (and if you know me, you know that is seriously unusual!), but I still managed to read my usual hodge-podge of genres, which I’m linking up to QuickLit.  Let me know if you’ve read any of these and what you thought, and if you have any particularly excellent recommendations for us this month! And without further ado, this month’s roundup:

A memoir that’s kind of like a book review

middlemarchI was intrigued by Rebecca Mead’s unusually structured memoir, My Life in Middlemarch, because George Eliot’s Middlemarch is also one of my favorites (if you’re an Austen fan, you really should read it.  It’s similar, but far, far more satisfying).

As it turned out though, Mead’s premise–that a particular book can weave into your life experience–yielded lots of interesting information about the book, the setting, and the author, but bogged down in Mead’s own memoir sections.  I think overall I’d just recommend that you read Middlemarch itself and skip this memoir unless you absolutely want to know more about the book and have time to wade through the memoir bits.

I did love the reminder of the very end of Middlemarch:

“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

Don’t you love that?

World War II history well suited to audio

train in winterWe began studying World War II just before our impromptu launch into holiday term (I planned ahead to take time off for maternity leave so we are on partial/half schedule through December) and as I’ve always been fascinated by that era, I was eager to read A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France.  I listened to the book on audio, and at first was allowing Hannah (age 9) to listen with me, especially due to the reader’s incredibly mellifluous voice.  She has the most elegant British accent and PERFECT French–as Hannah said, “I love to hear this lady speak!”  The gripping story begins with a very interesting history of the resistance movement in occupied France, and the various roles women played as the resistance became established.

However, once the book turned to descriptions of the convoy of women taken to the concentration camps, the unspeakable horrors they endured and how their commitment to each other allowed some to survive quickly became more detail than I wanted to expose the kids to for now.  The detail was entirely appropriate and important knowledge for adults, but take care if you have sensitive kids.  Even after decades of reading World War II history, I still learned a lot from this book and would recommend it.  

A parallel story of cultural change

Boston Girl cover[1]The Boston Girl reminds me a lot of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, in that both books are told in retrospective style and feature heroines who come of age in tenements in a time of great change in America.  I enjoyed the changing perspectives and the way that attitudes and even the city of Boston changed as the main character grew up and made life choices.

If you enjoy books that combine a story with insight into cultural change and historical events, I think this is a pretty good one.


Part 2 of a funny memoir about growing up in small town America

she-got-up-off-couch-other-heroic-acts-haven-kimmel-hardcover-cover-artShe Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana follows Kimmel’s first memoir of growing up in small town America, A Girl Named Zippy.  In the second volume, which is also excellently and hilariously narrated by the author in the audio version, Zippy is a little older–10-13–and there are undercurrents in her growing understanding that all is not right in her world.  The main theme of the book, which begins with Zippy’s mom taking control of her life and going back to college, is her parents’ courage in finding happiness even though they seem locked in to dead-end situations.  The second book is not as funny as the first–although it’s still pretty funny–but Kimmel still nails the particular qualities of being a pre-teen in the 70s and somehow makes a very specific childhood seem universal.

An awesome fiction pick you will want to add to Christmas lists

ready-player-one-paperback-coverIf you need a Christmas present for a husband/brother/whoever guy who was a kid or teen in the 1980s, give him Ready Player One.  It’s the sort of novel that even guys who claim not to read novels will really, really enjoy.

And if you already like reading novels, whether or not you are a guy from the 80s, you’ll also like this book because it’s a crazy amazing quest-pop-culture-throwback-mystery-coming-of-age story that you will want to read from cover to cover in one sitting.

The book takes place in a close dystopian future.  In the midst of an extremely well-pitched story, it also examines questions like how we see other people and get to know their true selves, the interplay of virtual lives versus real lives, and the meaning of self in an increasingly technological world.

Most of all it’s a fantastic story.  I thought it was so fun even though my husband thinks I’m kind of culturally illiterate when it comes to the 80s.  Highly recommended.

A widely applicable leadership/business/life book

H3-Leadership-197x300If you’re saying, “well, I’m not a CEO so I will skip this book,” stop right there. The messages in H3 Leadership: Be Humble. Stay Hungry. Always Hustle. are almost universally applicable, because we are all leaders in one way or another in our lives.  The book takes the approach that no matter what your leadership role, there are habits that can serve you well in your walk of life.  From exhortations to build deep connections and stick to your principles, to thinking rightly about ambition and innovation, the habits described in H3 would make a strong foundation for just about any calling. I appreciated the author’s readable style and thought-provoking way of examining common concepts in new lights.

My main takeaways from the book were:

  • To think differently about ambition so that I can foster the positive sides of that trait without succumbing to the downfalls (I had let myself off the hook for ambition since I gave up the whole “Big Career” thing, but really I’m a very ambitious person, and Lomenick’s section on the topic gave me a lot to think about)
  • To make a point of scheduling a weekly coffee with another writer, artist, colleague, or friend to get inspiration
  • To find a way to answer “How are you?” with “I’m rested and rejuvenated” rather than “I’m really busy”
  • Whenever someone asks me how they can pray for me, to ask for wisdom.

I think the majority of people would benefit from at least a cursory read of H3 Leadership and its description of helpful habits, and I’d recommend it.

A decent history of the Romanov sisters

romanov sisters

I can’t put my finger on why The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandrawas a long-term bestseller.  I enjoy Russian history, and thought the book was fine, but not terribly ground-breaking or fundamentally different from other, similar narratives.  That said, my perspective could be flawed since I listened to the book in audio form and was mildly annoyed that the reader mispronounced words including Russian names, and also I listened to it primarily in the middle of the night while up feeding the baby in the dark.  Listening while sleep-deprived, in pain, and disoriented as I tried to nurse, pumped, and gave bottles may not have been the ideal circumstances for consuming a book of history.  However, I don’t regret the time and did enjoy the book enough to recommend it if you’re looking for something about the last Romanov tsar and his family.

Another SUPER helpful book for parenting spirited kids

spirited childI’ve written at length before about the challenges of parenting intense kids (and books to help with that), after which a friend recommended Raising Your Spirited Child. I love that the book focuses on the power of the labels we use to describe our kids, and also on the fact that as parents our responsibility is to help our kids learn to navigate life, whether they come into it calm and compliant or literally having stronger physical reactions to frustrations, emotions, and stimuli.  Since parents are often like their children (shocker!) I found personal insight into things like why I can’t sleep in hotels and want to DIE when I hear other people chewing and why I’m always throwing away socks with the wrong type of seams, and I realized once again that I have a lot of sanitized, adult versions of the strong reactions my intense kids have to their environments.  I feel like so often the answer to my parenting struggles is GRACE–for all of us.

The book has a lot of helpful concrete suggestions for living with your intense child in understanding, avoiding power struggles, really commiserating with your child, and helping the child learn to control his or her own intensity.  I highly recommend it.

Your turn

You made it!  Let me know your thoughts on these books, or give us a tip for great books you read this month!  Finally, be sure to check QuickLit for more book roundup posts.


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Posted in Reading, Week in Books 2015 | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Two birth stories and a little growing up to do

10thLong, long ago, on November 4, 2005, I published my first post on this site (although at the time A Spirited Mind was called Catherine Wheels (here’s why) and was hosted on Blogger).  Five years after that I moved the site to WordPress and lost all of the comments, which is really sad because there were some good ones.

Over the past ten years (TEN YEARS!) the blog has shifted from being random musings (early topics included chickens, banjo babies, and the superpowers of dolphins) to a mommy blog, to being primarily about books.  I’ve poured a lot of time into A Spirited Mind over the decade, even though it’s not how I make my living or achieve my impact, and it’s not even read by that many people. Rather, the blog has been a good side outlet, a record of how my thinking has changed by what I read, and a vehicle for connecting with some wonderful readers I would not otherwise know. Ten years in, I’m ok with A Spirited Mind being what it is, and I’m grateful for the kind and thoughtful readers who have sharpened my thinking and kept reading through all the changes.

So, to celebrate the tenth birthday of A Spirited Mind, I went ahead and had another baby (see previous birth stories for Hannah, Jack, Sarah, Eliza), but in a big, dramatic, emergency fireworks fashion completely appropriate for a last hurrah.

At 36 weeks 4 days pregnant, I started having an aching pain in my abdomen that then gave me a weird popping feeling I described to doctors as being like something had broken (badly) inside of my stomach, but not like water breaking. Unbeknownst to me, or to the doctors, I had just ruptured my uterus.  Apparently Margaret’s head, thankfully already down, plugged the hole pretty well and saved my life.  Instead of an immediate hemorrhage, I began bleeding internally and my digestive system started shutting down.  I was in excruciating pain, but wasn’t sure why, and when I called a friend over she called the ambulance because I couldn’t even sit up to ride in the car.


Over the next couple of days I was in the hospital in incredible pain and subjected to lots of tests, CT scans, MRIs, and so forth.  Because I wasn’t presenting with normal uterine rupture characteristics, everyone just noticed the digestive system problem and a specialist kept admonishing my OB to just put me through more and more preps, which I couldn’t even swallow.  Finally, mercifully, my OB decided to induce me at 37 weeks 1 day.

On Sunday October 25 my OB induced labor and I had an epidural because I was so weak and hadn’t eaten anything in days and they were pretty sure they might have to handle some emergency.  The birth went very fast, I think in under four hours, but when I started pushing I was in agony in spite of the epidural.  I didn’t even know it was possible to feel so much pain, and I’ve had other unmedicated labors.  This was, in hindsight, Margaret disengaging from the rupture and the rupture becoming worse. She was born easily, the doctor announced no rips or tears, but the baby was not breathing and pure white and so the NICU team had her for a while.  I was still in so much pain I felt I couldn’t breathe.  The doctor kept checking for why and suspected cervical damage, so I was taken back to the operating room.


I was awake for the first surgery, which was very strange.  They had music playing, and the anesthesiologist told me most surgeons operate to music.  It was one of those random rock/pop type mixes, whatever had been on when we came crashing in.  My doctor found a tear in my cervix, which she stitched up, and everyone thought maybe that was that.  But I was feeling awful and apparently very pale, and again, unbeknownst to anyone, was bleeding heavily internally from the rupture.

I got back to my room after the first surgery and Margaret had perked up so our doula brought her over to help me try to nurse.  I barely remember this because I felt so horrible.  Someone was supposed to do a post-op check in fifteen minutes but the doctor did one after only a few minutes because I didn’t look good.  Thank goodness she did because I was hemorrhaging seriously.  I wouldn’t have lived to the fifteen minute check.

Things moved fast.  Someone handed the baby to Josh. My OB told him she would try to save my life and pulled a curtain around me so he couldn’t see all the blood.  They ran me to the OR and had a mask on my face before the bed stopped rolling.  I felt oddly peaceful the whole time, although I registered that something serious was happening.


While I was unconscious, they found the rupture and all the bleeding.  The backup doctor in the OR happened to be the top expert at hysterectomy, which was fortuitous because they couldn’t save my uterus and it had to come out fast.  They also pulled out all of my intestines to check carefully for damage and did find damage to one kidney.  The other surgeon my OB called in–who turned out to be a Christian and incredibly kind and personable, especially for a surgeon!–checked the rest of the abdominal cavity and worked with my OB to finish the surgery.  During the surgery I stopped breathing, had my lungs collapse, and had to have 80% of my blood volume transfused.  Apparently this was very touch-and-go the entire time and my OB was worried I would die on the table.

But God was gracious and I pulled through eventually and woke up in the ICU.  I was in a lot of pain, but asked that the nurses help me pump so the baby could eat.  Thankfully she only had to have one feeding of formula because my milk came in right away–I’m not sure how great the quality of the milk was after all that trauma and such a low hemoglobin level and no food, but I wanted to nurse and figured I should pump.  They brought Margaret back to me in an isolette so she wouldn’t catch any germs from the ICU but I could see her now and then.  I still had very little idea how much danger I was in and continued to feel very peaceful and hopeful.  That’s odd for me, which is why I mention it. I know a lot of people were praying for me.


After a few days I went back to my room in the labor and delivery unit, and had to have two more blood transfusions over the next couple of days, so now all of my blood has been transfused at least once!  We were still pumping for bottle feeding because Margaret dropped nearly 18% of her birth weight, which is not good.  I had been without solid food for a week and had been through a lot of trauma, so maybe that was also a factor.  She was also very jaundiced so wound up on a combination of bilirubin lights and blankets at different times.


About a week post-delivery, I had a third surgery to try to correct the damage to my kidney/urethra, which was kinked and torn.  I have a stint in place like a scaffold to encourage healing, and in mid-December will find out if further surgery is required.  I’m praying not, and would appreciate your prayers too!

The pain was terrible, and I went over a week without reading or writing a THING (this is how you know I was really in a bad way – I haven’t missed that much reading and writing since I learned how!) but I did continue to improve, and eventually I was able to get out of bed (barely) and was finally released from all of the tubes and wires and allowed to come home with Margaret 15 days later.


Now I’m recuperating at home with lots (and lots) of restrictions on activity and still in pain, but it’s good to be home.  I will be recovering for 4-6 weeks and hopefully will be somewhat back to normal by mid-December if I don’t wind up needing more surgery.

Margaret is still having some growth issues so we are back in the pediatrician’s office every day to check her.  I’m trying to balance nursing with pumped bottles because she has to use a lot of calories to nurse versus the easier bottle feeding, but I don’t want her to lose the ability to nurse entirely.  We could use prayers for this.


November is a month for giving thanks–all months are, of course, but this one in particular for me, especially this year.  I’m overwhelmed with gratitude that God spared my life, gave wisdom to my doctors at the right times, and brought me home to my family.  It so easily could have gone another direction at so many points.

I can see in hindsight how God was preparing me for this in advance.  Throughout my married life I have never understood the feeling of “done” that many of my friends described about having children, but from the start of this pregnancy I had a deep sense that this was our last baby. God completely changed my mind on that topic, including some deep-seated feelings about femininity and age and leaving options open.  So the thought that my womb is not just closed but gone entirely is a strange one, but not depressing or sad to me.  I’m so grateful for my five healthy children (it’s not that I wanted more per se but the thought of not having more full stop would have been hard for me to handle a year ago) and don’t necessarily have to act like a middle-aged woman just because my child-bearing phase of life is over now.


Life always changes when you add a new member to the family.  I had prepared in advance to take a long break from school for maternity leave.  We may have some half days and lots of reading aloud and some light school work over this holiday term, just for a little structure.  I hope to make time to have one-on-one reading and discussion with each of the big kids while I’m recuperating and can’t do much–I’m hoping that will be fruitful for learning but also for our parent-child relationships.  We all need grace now to adjust.  It’s hard for Eliza (2) to understand why Mama can’t pick her up or hold her on the lap and why I’m in bed.  It’s hard for the big kids to have their routines disrupted and see me so not myself and not quite understand what happened.  It’s hard for me to see things I normally handle and not be able to do them.  But thankfully, amazingly, I am here.  A near-death emergency does have a way of putting a new perspective on things.

And so we have a little growing up to do.  This year I have been focused on cutting back and zeroing in, to giving my best to my core callings and letting the rest go.  I need to do that now more than ever.  This has implications for my work and homeschooling and family life and other writing, as well as for A Spirited Mind.

You may have noticed I’ve cut back on posting recently.  I want the articles I write to be the most thoughtful ones, not just a post for every book.  The time I take to write here is time I take away from my work writing and school and real life, so I want it to count.  I’ll probably post just once a week or so–some on books that really get me thinking, some on parenting or homeschooling in a reading-focused way that hopefully helps whether you homeschool or not, and some round-up posts to catch the other books I’m reading, suggest titles for read-alouds and kids independent reading, bookmarked life posts, and the like.  I’ll hopefully keep up the newsletter, as I think that’s a good spot for links and other odds and ends of the literary life.  And, as always, I welcome comments, questions, or discussion, which you can leave on posts or email me directly.

As I reflect on the past ten years and the past month in particular, I’m struck by what a great privilege it is to have such a crazy, wonderful, exciting, challenging life.  Thank you for reading along with me here!

Posted in Bookmarked Life, Parenting, Updates | Tagged | 48 Comments

Bridging the gap between ivory tower theory and Everywoman’s reality

money making momDon’t get me wrong–I love big picture theoretical thinking about major issues like women in the workforce. I avidly read books like Lean In, Torn, Life’s Work, Overwhelmed, I Know How She Does It, and all of the articles and discussions I come across related to the work/life/parenting identity issue.  I’m a product of the ivory/ivied tower, and I identify with the frameworks in most of the work/life balance literature.  However, I’m also a mom in my 30s who has made some unconventional career choices, and in that sense, I often feel a bit outside the target audience for working mom books.

As a strategic thinker, I appreciate the theoretical aspects of how we should raise our kids to think about work and family, how we might change the conversation with young women about structuring their careers and families, and so forth.

But for me, and, to judge by the emails and comments I’ve gotten, for you blog readers too, the theories might give us some ideas for tweaking our own situations, but they don’t always lead to concrete steps.

Once you’re already down the road of family concerns, and you’ve already made your initial choices about college and career, what do you do with a need to add to your family income?  How do you go from being a 30 year old mom of three with a degree but little work experience to paying bills?

That’s where Crystal Paine’s latest book, Money-Making Mom: How Every Woman Can Earn More and Make a Difference, really shines. Crystal draws on her own experience making money online (which, while flexible, is not realistic for everyone) and then more broadly from women in different situations and circumstances to show how every woman–not just those with Ivy League degrees, advanced certifications, or killer entrepreneurial acumen–can provide for her family and have an impact in her sphere of influence.

While overall I think it’s important to read both the theoretical and practical parts of this discussion, I think the practicality of Money-Making Mom may make it more worth your time if you’re in a crunch or really in need of practical steps to take from right where you are in life to better your financial situation.  The book releases tomorrow, but there is still time to pre-order it (which usually means a lower price) and pre-orders also get access to Crystal’s five-day class on making over your schedule (once you’ve ordered, click here with your receipt information to get the bonus). I’ve paid for Crystal’s courses in the past and always found them well-worth-it, so this is a good chance to get one for free.

In your own experience, what holds you back from taking steps forward in augmenting your financial situation or giving more generously with what you have?  Is it a need for more clarity of vision, or for more concrete help?


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Posted in Reading, Week in Books 2015, Working | Tagged , | 4 Comments

October Reading Roundup

Rather than doing individual posts for each book I read, I’ve decided to do a few longer articles about particularly thought-provoking books, and then one monthly roundup of the rest.  I’m linking up to Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy, where you can find lots of similar posts to inspire your To Read list.

Erich Maria Remarque - All Quiet On The Western FrontAll Quiet on the Western Front is billed as “the greatest war novel of all time” and it may be so.  It’s certainly an exceptional addition to World War I literature, and broadened my understanding significantly.  I read it as we were studying World War I in our homeschool, and after I had read The Long Shadow, which is a very readable history of the ways World War I impacted the rest of the 20th century (highly recommended).

One of the major strengths in the novel is its portrayal of the changes wrought when young men in the most idealistic phase of life are dropped into horrific realities of war.  I’m sure that this happened throughout history, but it’s particularly striking in this novel.  World War I was, of course, a really horrifying war–trench warfare plus the first widespread use of more destructive modern weaponry–but the seeming futility of the way it was conducted also had a tremendous impact on the young men at the front.

a girl named zippyOne of the book clubs I’m in read A Girl Named Zippy last month and otherwise I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. The title and description didn’t really grab me.  However, one of the bonuses of book clubs is that they sometimes make you read books you wouldn’t choose on your own and sometimes you’re glad about it.  I listened to this one on audio–read by the author–and it was really great in that format.  The author’s voice is perfect and her delivery is excellent.  The book is funny, poignant, and contains great story-telling.

Jewel_Bret_LottAfter reading Before We Get Started and Letters & Life, Bret Lott’s exceptional books on writing, I was inspired to read Jewel, his best known novel.  I enjoyed the story, which is a sweeping saga of a woman from Mississippi and how she transcends her background to care for her youngest child, who has Downs Syndrome.  Lott writes with great sensitivity and nuance describing family relationships and the tension Jewel feels as a woman greatly constrained by her time period and sub-culture, but also driven to do her best by her daughter and navigate a way to love her husband well without being drowned in the conventions of her time and place.

I really enjoyed the character development in Jewel and would recommend it.

BOOK OF SPECULATION_MECH_01.inddThe Book of Speculation has a great premise and strong writing, but fails to explore the issues it raises in very great depth.  The book could have been much stronger if it had delved into things like how you can break the cycle of persistent personality types and tendencies, why relationships perpetuate the same tragedies over generations and what to do about it, and how people cope with being different in their social groups.  That sounds like a list of self-help book topics, but believe it or not you really can address big issues like that in fiction–and often it’s the best way to address them.  Rather than digging in to those topics, though, The Book of Speculation stays pretty surface.  People tend to label those they dislike or find different, and in the past this family was labeled as cursed. So, the book says, I guess they are!  So they destroy some stuff and move away and voila!  Problem solved!  Except that’s not actually how life works.  It’s how made-for-TV Halloween movies work.  After the solid story-telling and great premise, I was ultimately pretty disappointed with how this book failed to deliver.  It’s still a good story, but falls a bit flat.

The_End_of_the_Sentence_by_Maria_Dahvana_Headley_and_Kat_HowardMy other book club chose The End of the Sentence as a slightly off-beat Octobery choice. The book plays with the traditional fairy tale genre–that is, the original versions not the Disney-fied takes.  Setting a fantastical fairy tale/ghost story in small town Oregon was an interesting choice, and although you can basically see where the story is going from the start it does move really quickly.  You can easily read this whole novella in under two hours. As I write this, I haven’t been to the book club yet, so I’m not sure how much we will have to discuss. But since book clubs are good for discussion AND for pushing you to read things you might not otherwise pick up, I’m sure we’ll think of something.  I wouldn’t say The End of the Sentence is a must-read by any stretch, but if you need something quick and the genre thing appeals to you, you’d probably enjoy it.

RelentlessCoverfinalThis month I used my friend Darcy Wiley’s Biblestudy on the book of Judges, Relentless, for my personal study and discussion in a Hello Mornings group.  Tackling a book like Judges in a six-week study is a big task, but Darcy did a great job of combining background and insight with thoughtful invitations to make personal applications.  At several points in the study I was struck by much deeper perspectives on the events I had read about many times before, and I found I was also challenged in good ways to really apply this book of Scripture.  Since if you grew up in the church you probably interacted with Judges primarily through flannelgraph, an opportunity to dig deeper may be just the thing.  The study is affordable and easy to use digitally (although I printed my copy out of personal preference) and I’d highly recommend it.

art and the bibleFrancis Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible discusses how Christians should consume, evaluate, and produce art. I think at the time it was first published, this book probably seemed more ground-breaking. Nowadays I feel like Christians have a better understanding of how faith and art can co-exist, and many also understand that Christians should lead in art, not just produce derivative “junk for Jesus.”

I got some good points from the book, both as a consumer of art and as a writer.  However, if you don’t have time to read widely in this genre I might recommend Makoto Fujimura’s Refractions or Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water instead.

Schaeffer’s book is short and to-the-point, and certainly worth your time if you are interested in the topic of faith and art.

Year of WondersGeraldine Brooks’ novel Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague is well reviewed generally, but it wasn’t my favorite. I’m not sure if it’s because I read a lot of historical fiction–especially historical fiction set in England–or just my mood, but I was sort of annoyed throughout the book by anachronistic attitudes in the main characters.  I just didn’t buy the way the characters reacted to situations, thought, or interacted.  And the secondary characters were often flat and even less compelling than the main cast. Because I didn’t believe in them, I didn’t really wind up caring all that much about any of the characters, which makes a book about the plague hard to like.  With so much rich material, I expected this to be a better book.  So perhaps it was more of a missed expectations problem, but even so the characterization issues probably wouldn’t have been overcome.

northanger-abbey-cover2To be honest, Northanger Abbey is not my favorite Jane Austen novel.  You can sort of tell this was an early attempt–the story contains a lot of Austen’s trademark aspects, but the story felt a bit forced and it lacked the polish and wit of her later works.  One of the book clubs I’m in read this for our November meeting and I don’t regret devoting the time to it, but if you only have time for one or two Austen pieces, I wouldn’t recommend this one.

What have y’all been reading this month?  If you have any particularly stand-out recommendations–or warnings to run away–I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to check out other review round-ups at Quick Lit.


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Posted in Reading, Week in Books 2015 | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

King Lear, a Pandemic, and the Good Life

StationElevenIn Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel creates a rich novel structured around the intersecting lives of main characters as they are impacted by a world-wide flu pandemic. If you love excellent world-building, beautiful writing, interesting characters, and a compelling plot, you’ll enjoy this book.

But, as in all really great books, this novel goes much deeper than the surface story to explore deeper questions. The book delves seamlessly into nuanced explorations of technology, connection, art, and purpose. The pandemic provides a great hook and drives the narrative, but in the end the reader is left thinking about ways to make better choices even if 99% of humanity is not wiped out by the flu any time soon.

Mandel’s work joins an increasingly popular genre. The end-of-the-world-as-we-know it framework is of course a good plot propeller, but I think it resonates now because people feel harried and fragmented and sometimes it really seems like it would take something massive–no electricity! no internet! zombies!–to jar us out of our warp speed.

But this feeling–that we are caught up in modern life and have no choice in the matter–is an illusion. And it’s one of the themes Mandel explores so well in Station Eleven. Before the collapse, Mandel’s characters can’t see their way clear to do what they really love, live the way they really want to, establish deep connection with their families, or stay true to themselves.  They are caught up in the superficiality of social media interaction, chasing fame, sleep-walking through jobs full of banality and cliches and long purposeless hours in a desk chair.  When the modern era collapses around them, they find ways to live with purpose and beauty even in the midst of uncertainty. Both eras see characters who create and characters who destroy, those who choose to add beauty and those who feel locked in by their circumstances.

As their stories unfold through flashbacks and the real-time narrative arc, we begin to see that the characters may have had the freedom to make difference choices in the pre-pandemic world too, which leaves what would otherwise be a kind of dark story with a pervasive sense of hope.  Maybe we don’t have to accept the surface-level friending and flippant comments, the rat race of how careers are supposed to work and endless chasing after illusory rewards and empty goals.  Maybe instead we can choose–even in our modern milieu–for deeper relationships and greater purpose, for truth and beauty and a life well-lived.

Station Eleven is the sort of novel you should not start at 9pm, because you will want to stay up all night reading it.  It’s a fantastic story and very well conceived, beautifully composed with lovely use of language and scene.  But it’s also an invitation to think about what matters in life and how you can live more deliberately, and that makes the book even better than its technical excellence and entertainment value.

I’d recommend this one pretty highly, and think it would also be a great book club selection – so many things to think about and discuss, with lots of possible perspectives and positions to explore.


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Posted in Reading, Week in Books 2015 | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

September Read-Alouds

pollyannaI can’t believe that I never read the complete Pollyanna as a child.  I watched the Hailey Mills movie dozens of times, but the book is so far superior to the movie.  The book contains more characters, with more developed plot lines, and appealed to my girls as well as to Jack, although I don’t think Jack would have picked up the volume on his own due to it’s predominantly pink cover.

Although I think the book would make a great read-alone, it was really great as a read-aloud.  The chapters are quite manageable (we usually read two per night, but the last night we read six in order to find out what happened more quickly) and there are lots of opportunities for different voices.

As a side note, I’m really impressed with the Oxford Children’s Classics series.  The series prints high quality copies of complete and unabridged classics.  These are children’s books.  There is absolutely NO NEED to abridge children’s books.  I loathe the Great Illustrated Classics series because it takes great kids lit and cuts it down abominably. So I toss this out as an aside–check when you buy or borrow books for kids–the GIC series is NOT the same thing as the OCS!


This year in school we are covering the 1900s, so we listened to Susan Wise Bauer’s exceptional The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Volume 4: The Modern Age: From Victoria’s Empire to the End of the USSR on audio while we were taking a road trip and driving around town doing errands.  I know I keep saying this, but this four volume audio set is without a doubt one of the top five things I have ever purchased for the kids.  I’m so glad that we own it!  The kids have listened to these books so many times and we continue to get a lot out of them (practical note: take it from me and rip these CDs to your iTunes BEFORE you give them to the kids!).

What I love about this series is it’s ability to present history as a story, with events tying in to previous eras and different parts of the globe.  It’s not a Western-centric series, although Western history is of course covered.  You also learn how what was going on in other parts of the world influenced and was influenced by things happening in Europe and America.

I’ve seen Volume 4 described as not being for younger elementary kids but honestly I’m not sure why.  Although the 20th century was full of terrible things, so were other centuries.  This book does a great job of removing details that might disturb small children without shying away from the evil perpetrated by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc.  I have no problem with small kids hearing this book.

You could do Story of the World as a read-aloud, but I’ve been glad to have it as a high quality audio book (Jim Weiss reads well).

Note About Picture Books: As of this month, the Five Favorite Picture Books series is moving to the newsletter.  You’ll also find the Quarter in Books superlatives in this month’s issue.  If you want to get some inspiration for stellar things to read to younger kids–plus other interesting tips and articles–check out the newsletter archive and subscribe to get thoughts and tips for the bookmarked life in your inbox the last Monday of every month.


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Snapshot: Autumn 2015

FullSizeRender 3Sometimes it helps to read about other people’s life hacks. This fall I have a 9 1/2 year old, an 8 year old, a 6 1/2 year old, a 2 year old, and a baby due in early November.  So what works for me may not work for you.  On the other hand, maybe you’ll find a couple of things that might make life easier at your house, or give you a few ideas, or just make you glad that you don’t have my life!  :)


One fact I have accepted about myself: I abhor having to get my family anywhere by a set time in the morning. This is odd because I tend to be a morning person and my kids tend to wake up early.  But every time we have tried a morning activity–MOPS, co-op classes, tennis lessons, etc–it has resulted in stress and more than the usual amount of fussing at everyone to find their shoes and stop crying and remember their backpacks.  I’m sure there are hacks for this, but I’m done looking for them.  Instead, I rejoice in the fact that I can arrange our schedule to NOT have to be anywhere in the morning.

I like to get up earlier than the kids and have time for coffee, Biblestudy, exercise, and a shower before everyone else wakes up.  I really like it if I can get work time in that window too.  But the reality is that I am not sleeping well at this stage of pregnancy so I’m cutting slack wherever I can.  I do get up and shower and get dressed, and sometimes have time for coffee and a little bit of work time before the kids descend and the wild rumpus starts.


In the interest of streamlining I have cut breakfast down to things the kids can make themselves with no mess.  That means cereal or breakfast sandwiches or yogurt and peanut butter toast type meals.  I’d love to make this a higher protein, higher quality meal, but the reality is that I can’t do it all right now.  The kids get their own breakfast, either while I’m cooking my eggs or while I’m reading out loud to them.

IMG_4354Sarah (6 1/2 – 1st grade) is cheerfully eager to learn first thing so we go with that.

Sarah has first Teaching Time as soon as breakfast is mostly over and morning jobs are done.  We usually start this around 8, give or take half an hour.  I have 45 minutes slated for her individual teaching, but it’s often more like an hour or more.  She often has her independent assignments (copywork, cursive, math page) done already. I teach her the next new thing in math–she’s on about lesson 60 of Saxon 3–which could mean one lesson or could mean several, depending on how well she’s catching on.  Then we do a grammar lesson from First Language Lessons 2 and a section in All About Spelling 3.  After that, Sarah reads out loud to me from a chapter book (currently Little House in the Big Woods) for 15 minutes, which helps me catch anything she’s skimming in her reading and helps her work on good expression and reading aloud skills, which are different from independent reading (she does lots of that too).  Finally, she does the Biblestudy her Sunday School teachers put together, which involves looking up and reading a short passage then answering a couple of questions.

Hannah (9 1/2 – 4th grade) is working very independently but needs oversight.

Next is Hannah’s Teaching Time.  At this point, Hannah does her copywork, math problem set, writing assignment, and independent reading on her own just fine.  However, she does still need oversight and so we have a 30-45 minute one-on-one teaching time every day. In that time we go over the new material in her math lesson and talk about any issues with the previous day’s problem set (she’s working in Saxon 6/5). This is my reminder to CHECK that she actually completed the problem set, as a couple of times she has slacked off there and I only found out later.  Then we cover grammar in First Language Lessons 4, and spelling in All About Spelling 4.  I’m about to loop in Writing With Skill, but for now I give her weekly writing assignments based on independent reading.

The Reading – We cover lots of subjects together.

After Hannah’s Teaching Time we collect on the couch to read for an hour or 90 minutes from our history, literature, poetry, geography, art history, composer study, and science books.  We use a literature-based approach to all subjects, and look for living books.  So we read a mixture of different levels of books to learn about all sorts of aspects of the time-period we’re studying.  The kids intermittently narrate what we read, especially science, but I don’t make them narrate everything because I find that tiresome.  We often have talks about how different subjects relate or how what we’re learning about now relates to things we’ve learned before.  It’s a good way to process ideas and put things in context.

DSC_0434Table Time – For things that fall through the cracks.

Next we eat some sort of protein snack and cover subjects that might otherwise fall through the cracks.  Lots of subjects don’t have to be done every day, so I have a rotating list and we do what we can in 30-45 minutes.  Days when we are pressed for time, we can have a short Table Time or none at all and still get more than enough done to see progress.  Table Time subjects include:

  • Alternating Latin (we’re all doing Song School Latin this year, with extra games and activities since the kids are older – I might post more on my evolving philosophy of Latin) and Spanish (mostly covering what the kids are learning in their co-op Spanish classes)
  • Map study (twice a week in addition to maps we look at during The Reading)
  • Dictionary look-up (twice a week each kid takes turns finding words from our Tapestry vocabulary list and reading the definition out loud)
  • Poetry memory and review
  • Art projects – Tapestry includes lots of hands-on project ideas so we do some of that, and we’re also doing a great book with step-by-step instructions for how to draw like Picasso, who is the subject of our current artist study.

Jack (8 – 3rd grade) is the wild card.

This is a challenging year parenting- and teaching-wise for Jack. What’s working for the most part is to give him a concrete list of expectations and then lots of latitude for when he accomplishes things.  So some days he does Teaching Time with me, and some weeks he elects to do his entire roster of assigned work on Fridays.  It’s not always convenient, but I’m working to let go of what he’d have to do in a traditional school setting in favor of keeping the goal in mind–which is that he be challenged and learning and making progress.  This is only an issue for his individual subjects, not the rest of school, which is good.  On a day when he’s doing Teaching Time, we do a math lesson (he’s in Saxon 5/4 and mostly doing the problem sets out loud with me after working problems in his head because he hates writing things down.  Writing things down is important so I do make him show his work a little bit in each problem set, but I also don’t want to hold him back since he mostly still finds this book easy), a grammar lesson from First Language Lessons 3, and spelling from All About Spelling 4.  If he’s willing, he breezes through Teaching Time, having been known to do a math problem set including algebra in 12 minutes flat.  Other days, he drags his feet and wants to stop to talk about random things like how penicillin works and it takes a lot longer.  Again, I’m learning flexibility.  He does always get the week’s assignments done, so I’m letting go of when and where and how that happens.


By lunch time I am wiped out. We do easy things that the kids can mostly handle themselves like sandwiches, cheese and fruit, vegetables and hummus, baked potato bar, or leftovers.

Rest Time/Work Time

After lunch the big kids can finish up independent work assignments and read or play quietly in their rooms or the basement until the neighborhood kids get off the bus.  Eliza (2) takes a nap.

This is my prime work time.  Most weeks my friend who owns the business I contract through comes to watch the kids on two afternoons, which shifts depending on her schedule and when I have client meetings.  I try to schedule work calls and client phone meetings for Eliza’s nap time.  It usually works.

  • On days when my friend watches the kids, I get five hours of focused work time.
  • On other days, I get two to three work hours while Eliza naps, and then sometimes another hour or two of interrupted time if the kids are playing well and we don’t have other appointments.
  • One afternoon a week we are at our homeschool co-op from right after lunch until 4:45 or so–each of the big kids takes three classes, Eliza takes pre-K, and I teach in two classes and have one parent connect hour.
  • One afternoon a week all of the big kids have back-to-back piano lessons, so I get two hours of work time and then either take work with me or read a book for the hour and a half of piano lessons.
  • Other work time happens on Saturdays.

IMG_4496Late Afternoon/Dinner

I’m trying to make dinner super simple too.  So I’m experimenting with meals I can dump in the crockpot, freezer meals, and very simple things.  The big kids are supposed to be prepping and cooking one meal per week each, but the reality is that is very time-consuming for me and I’m usually not looking to spend another hour and a half on my feet at this point in the day.  So easy wins for now.

Ideally I would do Eliza’s individual reading time in the morning but mostly it happens in the late afternoon before dinner.  I aim to read to her from a story Bible, a Mother Goose, and at least five picture books every day.  This takes 15-20 minutes.  If we have time, I also do the alphabet with her, if only because of the disarmingly cute way she says “bobba-lyewww” for W.  Otherwise Eliza is in the mix all day.  She likes to “write” and color when the other kids are at the table doing school, or works on puzzles, plays with the Little People dollhouse and barn (which are kept in our school room), or plays with whichever big kid is done with school or taking a break.  She listens in on our school reading and evening read aloud time as well.

In the afternoons I usually try to find time to do my around-the-house walks.  I can get some exercise while keeping tabs on kids playing outside and listening to podcasts or books on tape.

We eat dinner as a family the vast majority of nights.  Josh gets home from work late so we often don’t eat until 6:30 or 7.  We spend 30-45 minutes at dinner–according to my time logs–and actually have some pretty good discussions.  We usually listen to music during dinner, either the composer we’re studying or some other classical music.  Then there are the nights when everyone is talking at once and squabbling and spilling things and acting like they have never heard of manners and were raised in a barn.  It’s not always idyllic, but many nights are, so we press on.

FullSizeRenderTwice a month I have book club meetings, one or twice a month I go meet a friend for coffee or something, a couple of Thursdays per month Josh has worship team practice (I’m taking off this trimester), and sometimes he works really late so we eat without him, but mostly this is how evenings work.

Evening Routine

After dinner Josh puts on music that is more dance-friendly and he does the dishes, the kids do their assigned jobs, and I do general kitchen clean up, make lunches ahead, and things like that with breaks for family dance parties.  This way clean up is faster and more fun.

The kids go up to take showers or otherwise get ready for bed, Josh gives Eliza her bath, and I do school prep.  This involves updating notebooks, changing the white board, rotating job wheels, and setting up for anything that requires advance setting up, which is not much.

We really don’t ever do night time activities, with a very few, very rare exceptions.  Evening activities are kind of disruptive for our family and keep us from the things we’re prioritizing like family time and reading aloud and getting to bed at a decent hour.  That won’t work for everyone, but it’s something we’ve realized works best for us, at least for this stage.

IMG_4468A side note about keeping track of things:

Each kid has a spiral notebook for math and another for everything else.  I prep the notebooks by writing the day’s date for them to copy (in print for Sarah, cursive for Jack and Hannah) and then their copywork (print for Sarah, cursive for Jack and Hannah).  The next page is their daily checklist, which also serves as my reminder to check up on what’s gotten done.  The checklist includes independent assignments and reminders to do things that may eventually become habits like doing morning and evening jobs, practicing piano, daily hygeine, unloading the dishwasher, putting clothes away, cleaning rooms, etc.  A lot of it stays the same every day, but it’s a good visual and also something I can keep track of.  Last year I tried printing out checklists, but found that they got lost or the kid would say “I finished it and threw it away” etc.  In the notebook means I know where to find it.  Each kid uses this notebook for grammar stuff like proofreading and diagramming sentences, spelling, writing assignments, etc.  I also tape in art projects and other loose pieces of whatnot as a sort of record keeping device.  Then I have one school binder where I keep my teaching notes for where we are in Tapestry, our file of poetry and scripture memory for review, and the record keeping sheets showing what each child did for school each day.  It’s much more streamlined than last year, and it’s working well.

More reading aloud.

Once everyone is (reasonably) clean, we have read-aloud time of 30 minutes to an hour, then worship, which sometimes is reading from the Bible, sometimes is reading from a Biblstudy book, and always is singing a Psalm or hymn because we like singing.  Then we have prayers and the kids go to bed.  Josh does final bedtime round up because I’m almost always incapable of doing stairs by that point (lots of hip and back pain this trimester).

My Wind Down

After the kids are in bed I finish any school prep that needs to be done, hang out with Josh, read, and do my Biblestudy (since I can’t count on early morning time anymore).  I try to stay off the computer at night because it’s a huge black hole of time wasting, but I’m not always successful.  I try to get to bed by 10 or 11.  Sometimes earlier, but with the kids not usually in bed until 8:30 or 9, I find I really need some wind down time, and then it takes me a while to get my contacts out and get ready for bed.  I’d like to streamline the get ready for bed part, but haven’t found a hack for that yet.

jack soccerWeekends are different.

Two kids have soccer, I take one kid per week out on “special time” to run errands and get groceries and Starbucks, I usually do a longer chunk of work time, Josh handles household stuff and plays with the kids, we do church stuff on Sundays, and sometimes we do fun extras.

But, generally, this is the flow of our weekdays.  Having a general routine and order to the day helps a lot.

I’m planning on devoting one post per month to a more general homeschool and/or life topic.  Let me know if you have questions or specific things you’d like to know more about!


Disclosure: The curriculum links above are affiliate links.

Posted in Bookmarked Life, Homeschool, Working | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

On Balance, Doing It All, and Tracking Time

“I cannot subscribe to the belief that there is something about modern life that makes us harried and maxed out.   If we are, then it’s time to examine our own choices and the scripts that are running through our heads. You don’t become a better parent or employee by not enjoying your life. There are likely lots of options available to you that would make life more fun. Don’t assume anyone is judging you, or actually cares, if you choose some of them.” –Laura Vanderkam in I Know How She Does It

If there’s one thing that being pregnant with a fifth baby while working, homeschooling three older children, and dealing with intense parenting issues has shown me, it’s that really, truly, and absolutely I cannot do All The Things.  I am a pretty efficient person, and I get a lot done.  For a long time there, I was pushing through pretty handily. But this year’s added challenges made that completely unsustainable and I realized that if something had to give, it needed to be the extras, not my core priorities.

In other words, to Do It All I had to stop doing All The Things.  Yes, those are two different cultural narratives.  Using them interchangeably is what causes problems.

Doing It All is about making time for the things that are truly important to you–that are YOUR priorities, that work for YOUR family, where YOU uniquely contribute value.  It absolutely means different things for different people.  Whereas doing All The Things is external–it’s doing the things that are expected, that are other people’s priorities, that aren’t necessarily of critical core importance to you.  Doing It All is about finding a unique way to do the things you’re really called to do, and keep your soul fed and body rested and healthy at the same time.  Doing All The Things is about feeling guilty for your choices and staying up until 2am doing your kid’s science project for him and distressing store bought pies to make it look homemade (remember that part from I Don’t Know How She Does It?)

Before you jump in with all the reasons you can’t possibly do anything differently in your life, I’d recommend you track your time for a bit.  I have done this every once in a while since I read 168 Hours (still my most highly recommended life management book four years later) and it’s invaluable for several reasons.

Tracking time helps me check my words and attitudes.  How we talk–to ourselves and others–about our life matters.  When I track my time, I see the big picture of how I spend time over the course of a week or month, rather than just how I remember a given day.  We all have a bias to weight the negative more heavily than the positive, but when I track my time I can’t say, “I spend all day picking up after everyone!” because I can see that actually I spend 10-20 minutes on it.  Maybe 10-20 excruciatingly annoying minutes, but not all day.  For me, knowing that reality helps me to turn around a negative attitude and start thinking of better solutions.

I also have to be honest about the “I don’t have time for…” excuse, because when I track my time I see that I spent X hours a week piddling around on Facebook or chopping onions instead of doing the thing I claim is something I want to do.  You don’t even want to know how much time I used to spend chopping onions.  My time logs have helped me get more focused about internet time, and were my impetus to buy those $1 bags of pre-chopped frozen onion.  And sometimes I’ve had to own up to the fact that the thing I keep saying I don’t have time for is really just not a priority right now.

Tracking time helps me check my pain points.  I overreact to some things (like feeling I pick up all day) but often completely miss actual problem areas.  One time my time log showed that I was spending a crazy amount of time making breakfasts.  I didn’t realize how much that was throwing off our day, but it was, and seeing on paper that I was spending over an hour a day prepping ONE meal–and during our prime work/teaching time nonetheless–helped me start to think through solutions.  This time around I’m looking at the time I spend getting ready for the day and getting ready for bed at night.  I’m not convinced those are hours well spent because they aren’t really restorative or rewarding, and they are keeping me from doing the things that ARE restorative and rewarding.

Tracking time helps me check my priorities.  Tracking time is not about trying to max out every minute of your day.  It’s about having an accurate view of how you spend your time now, so you can decide if that’s how you WANT to spend it.  Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised at how well my time and priorities line up, and other times I’m forced to look at the fact that I’m skipping out on something I say is a top focus area.

I know how she does itI recently read Laura Vanderkam’s new book I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time.  Although perhaps less universally applicable than her previous book 168 Hours, this one brings fresh perspective to the question of women doing it all in our culture.  The major strength of the book is its reliance on actual time logs tracking 1001 days in the lives of mothers who earn six figures.  Laura is up front about the bias there–plenty of important jobs don’t pay that much, and lots of us define success in different terms than our annual salaries–but the point she was trying to make was that even women in the top tier jobs still have time for personal lives and being involved parents.

As I’ve tracked my time, I’ve often struggled with what counts as work and what does not.  I like Laura’s definition that work is anything that’s contributing to your career trajectory.  So, in my case, a business building meeting or doing the administrative tasks that keep my business going count as work even though I’m not directly paid for them, but an office worker wasting an hour on Facebook during the work day probably shouldn’t count that as work even if she is getting paid a regular salary.  I also apply that to the time I spend on homeschooling–my prep counts for me, but my kids doing independent work without me doesn’t factor into my time log.  It counts for their school record, but doesn’t count against my available schedule space.

When you look at it this way, and especially as you consider the time logs in Laura’s research, you quickly see that the key to balance is actually to determine your OWN definitions of success in your various roles, and fill your time with important things first, rather than trying to add important things on top of whatever you’re actually doing.  In this sense, working (or working more) may not actually harm your family at all.  What’s overwhelming is the plethora of little unimportant things we find ourselves saying yes to, even when they aren’t contributing to our big priorities, goals, and roles.  

“You don’t build the life you want by saving time. You build the life you want, and then time saves itself.” –Laura Vanderkam in I Know How She Does It

When I track my time or build an “ideal week” type schedule, I find this to be invaluable. I know from tracking my time that I spend 20-30 hours a week directly on homeschooling (the kids spend a bit more time doing independent assignments).  I also know that I read aloud to the kids, on average, just under two hours per day.  And I interact with them a lot of other times as well.  Therefore, I do not have to feel any guilt when I set aside afternoons as work time and let them play independently or with a babysitter. I also see that, although I’m not in a stage of life where I can easily fit in a 90 minute workout every day, over the course of a week I do exercise more than the recommended average.  My time logs help me see the big picture on my time, so I can more easily try out shifting things around to free up a block of time for things I want to spend time on.

So can you work a “big job” and also have a life and be a good mom?  Depending on how you define those terms, sure.  I fully believe that you can do the big jobs with kids if you got started at the big job BEFORE you had kids.  Having looked into this pretty extensively, I don’t think you can start entry level in a demanding field and immediately hope for the kind of flexibility people achieve after devoting several years to a career path.  So, ideally, you’d discover your love for the big job prior to starting your family.

What do you do if you already have the family and want to on-ramp into some kind of work?  I transitioned out of a very particular type of government job when I had kids, and gradually figured out ways to translate those skills into the private sector in a way that is very flexible and allows me to also devote considerable time to my other callings, passions, and interests.  I think the transition could have been faster if I had been more deliberate about the advice Laura gives in this book and in her previous work to put the big pieces in first, and then fill in the schedule with other things, rather than trying to shove a new big piece in on top of the minutia.

One criticism I’ve seen of this book is the fact that women who earn at this level can afford to outsource in ways most of us can’t.  There is something to that, especially if these women have only a few children and if they are in dual-income households.  Even on-ramping would be easier if your spouse is already earning enough to off-set start-up costs and childcare and housekeeping.  But, after reading the book, I can’t say that it’s the outsourcing that makes these women able to balance.  The schedules include lots of cleaning, piddling around, and working when kids are sleeping or otherwise occupied.  It can be done.  If you take the main principles into consideration, you might be surprised at the ways you can escape overwhelm and find time to do what’s most important to you.

I Know How She Does It gave me a lot to think about and inspiration for some new solutions I’m integrating into my own balance.  While it would probably be most helpful for moms who do some work outside of the home, the principles do apply to anyone who has a work identity–including homeschooling, homemaking, volunteering, or whatever.  I still think 168 Hours is more universal, but if you’re a person who is interested in work/life balance or who is contemplating trying it out, or who needs some inspiration to stop feeling stuck in your choices, I’d recommend I Know How She Does It

What do you find is your biggest challenge to work/life balance?  Have you ever tracked your time to try to solve it?


Disclosure: This post contains some track-backs to my original reviews, but also some affiliate links.  Thanks for clicking through to Amazon from A Spirited Mind!



Posted in Parenting, Reading, Week in Books 2015, Working | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

An e-book bundle for people who don’t buy e-book bundles

Maybe you’re like me.  I never buy e-book bundles because:

  • Lots of e-books are free anyway.
  • Lots of e-books (even the not-free ones) are poorly written, poorly edited, and full of bad information.
  • You can often find the same information online for free.

And yet, this week I bought an e-book bundle.  I can’t believe I just typed that.  There was really only one thing that made me pull the trigger.


  • One of the free (well, almost, you have to pay $6.50 shipping) bonuses is three bottles of essential oils: lavender, lemon, and peppermint.

That’s it.  I clicked Buy Now on The Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle.  It was $29.97, and if you purchase by September 12 you also get access to a free live webinar with an aromatherapist about how to use essential oils safely and effectively.  I think that’s worth it.  Here’s my thought process:

  • I use Young Living essential oils, and the ones included in the bundle are not YL, they are Plant Therapy brand.  I may not use these oils exactly as I use my YL oils, because I did a lot of research into YL and trust them, but there are a lot of uses for oils that don’t require ingestion or undiluted use, especially for lavender and peppermint.  These three oils would set you back a lot more than $36.47 if you bought them elsewhere, making the bundle worth it for the oils alone.
  • In addition to the oils, there is also a bonus $16 credit, plus two Meyers soaps, plus free shipping to ePantry.  So even if I’m considering those as replacements for drug store brands, that saves me another $10.
  • The people at Ultimate Bundles screened and curated the included e-books, so I’m assuming a higher level of quality than your standard free-on-Amazon fare.

The Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle also includes:

  • A month-long membership to Paleofit and Paleo Meal Plan.  I’m not all in for paleo, but I do prefer to eat lower carb, real food meals, so paleo often fits recipe-wise, even if I don’t believe it as a philosophy.
  • Two free months of Once a Month Meals membership–choose menus based on your eating preferences and family size, and get a personalized plan to shop for, prepare, make ahead, or cook as you go, all of your meals for the month.
  • The Foundational Five course–a heal your diastasis program I have looked at before and will NEED after baby arrives.
  • Other good workout resources I can access any time after I get through post-partum recovery and ramp back up.
  • An e-book on handling PCOS, which is a major problem that comes roaring back every time I wean a baby.
  • Several e-books on healthy/real food easy freezer/crockpot type meals.  I’m a working, homeschooling mom expecting her fifth baby.  I’m sure I don’t need to explain why meal streamlining is a big thing for me right now!
  • money back guarantee on the whole bundle.  For 30 days, no questions asked.

There are also about 85 other e-books I might look at later although they don’t immediately appeal, and other free bonuses that I might or might not redeem depending on if I feel like paying for shipping is worth it (updated to add: I did wind up redeeming several of the other bonuses because the shipping charge still made the items cheaper than what I would normally pay).  You should check out the full list of courses and e-books and bonuses included–topics include: allergy friendly, essential oils, fitness and weight loss, healthy kids, homesteading, natural home, natural remedies, paleo, and real food–because different things would probably appeal to you.

So, you never buy e-book bundles.  I get it; neither do I.  But The Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle might make you reconsider.  At least this once.


Disclosure: If you do decide to purchase the bundle, I’d love it if you click through my link.  I signed up as an affiliate after I made the purchase because I think this is an actual good deal, and I so appreciate it when y’all help support A Spirited Mind!  Thank you!

Posted in Reviews | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment