Snapshot: February 2016

I recently noticed a comment on last fall’s snapshot post, which reminded me that I haven’t updated it, in spite of having made some good changes since then that might be helpful for or of interest to others.

Game Changer 1: A Checklist For ME

IMG_4992I don’t know why it took me so long to think of this, but when I saw Misty’s post on her checklist, I shamelessly grabbed the idea and tweaked it to fit our needs. The result? Pure gold. Here is why this works for me:

  • Everything is on one page. This is an entire week of school, for all of the kids, on one page.  It’s a daily to do list and a record keeping tool in one. Because I have it color-coded by child, it’s easy to see at a glance who still needs to get stuff done so I don’t have to scramble to figure out if someone should be playing Legos or actually still needs to finish math.
  • I pre-made decisions. To fit everything on one page, I really thought about what I need to do with each child. In some cases, that meant adding some things, and in others it meant getting real about what I could actually accomplish. I don’t have to reinvent this wheel every week. I just change the dates, change the books we’ll be reading together for history and literature, update dictionary/vocab words, change independent reading, and I’m done. Ten minutes, tops.
  • It keeps me accountable. I love checklists. Seeing something on my clipboard helps me to follow through with intentions. I am doing much better checking people’s independent math work, actually doing Latin every day, and remembering what we do on which day.

Like Misty, I keep my checklist on a clipboard, which also contains our memory work, map work, hymns, and review pieces for the week. I use sticky notes to keep track of where I am. No more hunting for a poem or looking up passages on my phone!  It’s all in one spot, and that really works.

Game Changer 2: Preschool First

IMG_4872I have read over and over again to spend time on the littlest people first, but I never could figure out how to do that. It seemed more important to get the big people through their work. However, when I don’t put a space in for tot school, it falls off the agenda way too often. I’m not talking about crazy academics here, just about the sort of solid reading, Mother Goose, alphabet/numbers, Bible stories, and fairy tale time that I used to pour out for my big kids when they were littles.  Eliza (2 1/2) gets a lot of read-aloud time throughout the day, but that often comes during our school reading, family reading time at night, or from siblings reading picture books to her.  Preschool time is 20-30 minutes of one-on-one with me going through the great children’s literature we’ve collected. We do this right after breakfast and Convocation, while the big kids get ready for Inspection and do their piano practicing.

Game Changer 3: Building in Margin

IMG_4983Homeschooling with a baby requires more margin than you might think, but also less than you might fear. I’m pretty adept at handling a baby while also teaching, but I have been a lamentable failure at margin for a long time. No more. Teaching From Rest put this in great perspective for me, although it is something I should have accepted long ago.  Maybe lessons should take a certain amount of time, but homeschooling (and parenting in general) is not about efficiency, much to my chagrin. I think my reluctance to build in margin is why my schedules never worked before.

IMG_4984This semester, I built in margin every step of the way. Lo, and behold, we actually follow this one. It’s more of a flow than a rigid minute-by-minute thing, but if I don’t at least ball park times for our routine, I’m going to try to put too much in it.  Since I built in some margin, this timed version of our schedule is actually what we normally do, give or take a few minutes.  It looks something like this:

7:30 – Put on classical music (whatever composer we’re studying) to call kids down to breakfast.

7:40 – Convocation while kids eat (mostly Biblestudy, prayer, singing, and memory work).

7:55 – Preschool with Eliza while big kids do jobs, get ready for Inspection, and practice piano if they have time.

IMG_49858:20 – Inspection (What is inspected gets done! Everyone has jobs and checklists for this) and get Eliza dressed.

8:30 – Jack’s Teaching Time (one-on-one subjects with me) – other big kids do independent work and/or read to Eliza.

9:20 – Sarah’s Teaching Time (one-on-one subjects with me) – other big kids do independent work and/or read to Eliza.

10:00 – Table Time (this is a rotating list of things we do together like memory work, geography, dictionary/vocab, art, Latin, etc) – I peg this to morning snack to make sure everyone gets protein and that we actually do Table Time.

10:30 – Hannah’s Teaching Time (one-on-one subjects with me) – other big kids do independent work and/or read to Eliza.

11:20 – The Reading (Subjects we do together using read-alouds, like history, literature, art history, poetry, science, etc) – this takes 1-2 hours but we don’t always finish it all at one time in a given day.  It can spill over to meal times, afternoons, after dinner…lots of families do this sort of thing first, but since this is what we love to do most, it’s the one thing I can reliably do in the evenings and know it will still work.

In all, school takes us about 5-6 hours per day. On paper at least! In reality, independent work isn’t always completed efficiently, and often even with margin the times wiggle significantly. Still, we generally follow this plan now and it seems to work pretty well.

Game Changer 4: The Week View

IMG_4940Another great thing about my checklist is how it helps me to see school as a week-long pursuit, not just one day.  Some days we have appointments, or a babysitter coming over, or homeschool co-op.  Sometimes we just have a rough day.  The checklist helps me to see what we have to accomplish for the week, so I can clearly see where we can do more or less on a given day.  We can have a really long Table Time, someone can double up in spelling, or we can finish up subjects at night after dinner.  School doesn’t have to happen between 8 and 3, and flexibility is part of the beauty of the whole thing.

Game Changer 5: Humility

This year has been all about humility. We’ve had crisis after crisis that I did not see coming. Things I thought I had all sewn up (potty training! getting baby to sleep!) after Kids 1-3 fell to pieces on Kids 4 and 5. I do have some systems in place so that we can stay functional, but more and more I am realizing that what I think I have “under control” is not really under my control at all, and what looks like “together” is actually God’s grace more than my competence.  That is simultaneously terrifying and freeing.  So I’m bringing my basket and doing my best and praying a lot more and continuing to learn as I go.

In light of that, please see posts like this for what they are–a snapshot of what is working, for us, for now.  It will almost certainly change, probably soon, and possibly won’t apply to your situation at all.

Anthropology.  It has to go somewhere!

What is working for your family or school life these days?


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?


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!

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.

The Bookmarked Life #13

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

Right now I’m:


…my philosophy/theology/ethics of social media use as my kids get older.  I see lots of resources to keep kids from doing dumb things online, but what about things that parents post ABOUT kids online?  In the past I’ve had a habit of recording funny things the kids do and say on Facebook, but a recent episode when an anecdote about me was misrepresented on Facebook made me nervous–I can handle it because I’m an adult, but what if that happened to one of the kids because I unthinkingly put up a story about something I thought was funny?  I may need to record those moments differently to protect their privacy.  I’m interested to know if anyone else is thinking or writing about this!

…Furnishing My Mind

Eliza had a vocabulary explosion while we were out of town in July.  They say that a change of location often has that effect on kids, and certainly it’s true of Eliza!  One I really want to remember is the way she says “statue.”  It sounds like “staht-yeuw” and we keep trying to come up with reasons to make her say it because it’s so cute and funny.

In another great example, Eliza came dancing into the room wearing her sister’s ballet slippers.  She hauled her foot up on my lap and said, “DIE!  DIE plezz!”  I was taken aback.  My word!  She’s only two and already has had enough of me!?  Then I realized that the string was untied and she was trying to say “TIE please.”  That was a relief!

…Living the Good Life

DSC_0378We had a great week at the beach with my parents (pictured above), enjoying the sand and the pool and getting a good break from our home turf.IMG_4341Then Josh had to get back to work but the kids and I spent another week with my parents at their lake house. My parents got this huge inflatable thing to drag behind the boat and the kids had a blast.

IMG_4345The lake they live on is huge, with lots of fun coves and waterfalls to explore and rock formations to climb.

DSC_0434IMG_4370We visited a bunch of interesting places like the Biltmore House gardens, a science museum, and two museums in our own city, one of which offered a hands-on opportunity to pan for gold! Fool’s gold, but still fun!


We started school again on August 3, with a revamped schedule, new approaches to problem areas, and some different ways of doing things.  With a 4th grader, 3rd grader, 1st grader, toddler, and new baby due in November, we were due for some problem solving.  One innovation I have high hopes for is Table Time.  This section of our day is where I’m putting non-core subjects on a loop.  If I try to do Latin, Spanish, geography, artist study, composer study, poetry analysis, Shakespeare, and things like that every day, some of them wind up not getting done.  This year I set up a schedule to hit each of those topics twice a week during table time.  We will do those subjects all together, at the table, while the kids eat a mid-morning protein snack. I also added in memory work and a brief calisthenics break to this part of the schedule, and so far I think it’s going well.  If the new setup keeps working once the novelty wears off I will post more about it.

…Boosting Creativity

DSC_0038Eliza needed a backpack for co-op this year, so I grabbed a ridiculously cheap one that had decent colors.  Then I felt bad for buying my child a $3.97 backpack so I decided to upgrade it a little.  Fortunately I have a huge collection of embroidery flosses and found three to match the colors.  I added a flower and vines, then her monogram, then some more scrolly things, then put stripes on the monogram.  I could probably do more, but enough is as good as a feast.  I listened to podcasts while I embroidered and kept it simple, so it was a fast and fun creative project.  She REALLY likes it and refuses to take the backpack off, even to sleep.  If you lose Eliza these days, you can just listen for her little voice singing, “Mah backpack!  Mah backpack! Zaza’s backpaaaaaaack!”


…Seeking Balance

IMG_4396I started tracking my time in August (more about that later) and one thing I remembered from previous time logs is how very, very much time I tend to spend in the kitchen.  With school starting back up and work to keep up with and a toddler who really, really, really wants to be snuggled around 5:30 every afternoon, dinner prep can easily be an hour and a half of cooking while breaking up fights and dragging a crying kid or two along while they are attached to my legs.  I enjoy cooking and being creative in the kitchen, but I prepare three meals a day for six people so I don’t always want to go full gourmet.  As this problem crystallized in my mind, Lora Lynn posted one of her seriously helpful updates (I consider her a virtual mentor, even though she has no idea who I am) and I decided to do some freezer crockpot meals.

I found some meals that seemed to fit with the way we eat (mostly protein and vegetables with lots of flavor) and used Lora Lynn’s tips to create 15 meals, prepared in crockpot liners, in just an hour and a half.  There was an extra half hour of cleanup, but still, eight minutes per meal beats 90 minutes per meal hands down.  I’ll keep you posted on how we like the meals, but I’m thinking that getting a few meals off the schedule might be worth it.

…Listening To

Every time I plug my phone into the car (I play audio books and music for the kids via the phone) the system defaults to the Hypnobabies: [Wahhhhwwwwwwnnnnnggggg noises] “Wellllllcome to your birthing day affirmations… is such a wonnnnderful day to enjoy liiiiiife.”  It’s creepy.  The kids can do a bang-up imitation of the lady, but this is getting on our nerves.  However, due to how our music is stored now, I can never seem to get it from iTunes to my phone via my laptop.  I have to use Josh’s computer instead, and I never remember to do this.  I need a better system.  Although for some reason I am now COMPLETELY convinced that today is a wonderful day to enjoy life.

What are you bookmarking this week?


The Bookmarked Life #12

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

Right now I’m:


I just finished a book about a family who spent several years in a Japanese concentration camp in Indonesia during World War II.  With very little advance warning, they were able to pack a suitcase before being taken away, and as it turned out the mother chose very wisely, both in practical items like fabric and cod liver oil, and in bringing a Children’s Bible and a small painting that provided small spots of beauty and hope in the squalor and terror of those years.  I’ve thought before about what I would save if the house was on fire or we had to escape from something, and most of the items I list are of the feed-your-spirit variety.  I figure some things are easily replaced (clothing, books, kitchen utensils) and some are not (pictures my great-grandmother painted, a crystal decanter that’s been in our family since before the Civil War).  As a child I moved around a lot and so my sense of home is very fluid, but there are a few items that make home for me wherever we are.  I think the mother in the book made a wise decision in allocating some of her limited space to that painting.

…Furnishing My Mind

DSC_0366Jack turned eight last week, and asked that his birthday cake be themed “Harry Potter.  Or Batman.  But preferably both.  And shaped like an eight.”  With that creative direction, I cobbled together a vague approximation of Harry Potter and Batman playing Quidditch, and the contrails from their flight making an 8.  I used a gold dragee to make the Snitch.  Not my finest work, but Jack seemed pleased.  Right now Jack’s favorite things are reading (especially fantasy and adventure), riding bikes, jumping off of high and dangerous things, making up rhyming songs, wearing bow ties, and building with Legos.  This year his curls are pretty much gone, but fortunately I furnished my mind and my photo archives with his formerly lovely locks, so all is not lost.  And he’s still very handsome.

In an unrelated aside, Hannah taught Eliza to curtsy.  In case you wondered, few things are cuter than a just-turned-two-year-old performing a curtsy!

…Cultivating Routines

IMG_4247I got Crystal Paine’s Make Over Your Mornings course when it was on special for $5.  At the moment, I have good morning and evening routines in place, and most of the material so far is things I’ve read about in books (including Crystal’s!), but I thought it would be worth having the course because while my routines are solid now, they do shift as children enter different stages and I knew that it would be a good reference for those episodes.  One thing I do in the evening that helps us enter the next morning more smoothly is to take a few minutes to set out everyone’s independent assignment for the day (usually part of a math lesson, some handwriting, and copywork or a writing assignment) and update our whiteboard with the next day’s plan.  The kids have really liked being able to reference the whiteboard to see what’s coming next, and I like being able to defer the zillions of “what’s for breakfast/lunch/dinner?” questions I would otherwise receive.  I redecorate the board for each month and then just have to switch out the date, day of the week, menu, and daily happenings.  These two simple things take me about five minutes total to do at night, but save a lot of hassle in the morning.

…Living the Good Life


We went strawberry picking this week (local friends, check out Fields of Joy – it’s a great place and is owned by a family that goes to our church) and had a great time.  We came home with about 20 pounds of berries, of which many were unripe, overripe, or had already had bites taken out of them (thanks kids!) but for us it’s most about the experience not the harvest.  After we picked berries the kids climbed trees and ran around with a friend who joined us and had a blast while the moms relaxed and had a chat in the shade.


I’ve loved the term schedule we adopted this year (6-7 weeks on, 1 week off, 1 month off in summer) because it has helped us to avoid burnout and I think it will make the re-entry after summer break easier (after three months off last fall, we had to spend a lot of time reviewing). But it is hard to hold the line when the neighbor kids are all on summer break and we are still doing math.  However, I’m trying to stay firm since getting in a couple of extra weeks this June will mean I can take a bit of a maternity leave this fall after the baby arrives.

…Boosting Creativity

After reading about it on The Art of Simple, I decided to try writing down 10 ideas every day on different topics to boost my creativity.  So, for example, I might list 10 How To Books I Could Write (example: “How To Handle Laundry For A Family of Six Without Wanting to Defenestrate Yourself”) or 10 How To Books I Wish I Could Write (example: “How To Spot Reduce Fat From Your Thighs”) or 10 Ways to Incorporate Refried Beans Into Every Meal.  They don’t have to be good ideas (see previous reference to refried beans) but it really is challenging to get ideas 7-10, especially when the topic is deep or wacky.  It’s fun.  Try it.

…Seeking Balance

After reading an entire book on being overwhelmed, one of my takeaways is that to make this whole working/homeschooling/parenting thing work I really need to work on not splintering my focus.  When I’m trying to review document edits for a work project, help someone with math, and keep an eye on the stove, it makes me feel pulled in too many directions and stressed.  Some things have to be multi-tasked and many things don’t matter.  I don’t feel the need to give 100% to menial housework.  However, in terms of work and my family relationships, I do need to move toward focusing on one important thing at a time.  As Brigid Schulte wrote, “When you’re riding Icelandic ponies, RIDE Icelandic ponies.”  That struck me as funny so I added it to my desktop inspiration frame.

…Listening To

A friend loaned me her hypnobabies set, and because I’d rather not have a reprise of the difficult last half hour of Eliza’s birth this time around, I’m dutifully listening to the affirmations in hopes of changing my mind about birth.  It’s mostly “birth is completely natural…my body was designed to deliver my baby…I focus on everything going right” type stuff.  But some of it offends my analytical nature.  “I deserve a comfortable, easy pregnancy…Birth is easy and comfortable…”  What is this deserve business?  And if I can expect a completely comfortable pregnancy, what is the meaning of this back pain and vein trouble and epic nausea?!?!  I plan to keep at it for a bit longer, and maybe work through the getting rid of fear part but I’m not sure this is overall a good personality match for me.  Have any of you tried hypnosis-for-pain thing?

What are you bookmarking this week?


The Bookmarked Life #11

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

Right now I’m:


I went to a great concert this week with a couple of friends.  If you get a chance to hear All Sons and Daughters and Sandra McCracken, you should go.  Their sound was more what I would describe as hipsterish (in a good way) than their YouTube videos suggest.  At any rate, during Sandra McCracken’s set, she told about how she loves to write new music for old hymns and Psalms, to help her think about the words in a new light.  She described how during a recent difficult time in her life, she would stand at her kitchen counter with her Bible open, singing Psalms out loud to whatever tune came to mind.  I thought, that’s bookmarked life!  Sometimes I think when we get too used to a particular tune or style of music, we get into a rut of certain harmonies and melodies and it’s easy to overlook the depth and richness of the words we’re singing.  I want to be changed by all of what I read–whether it’s a novel that raises new ethical questions, a book of history that helps me to set the present in perspective, or a Psalm that lets me know it’s ok to be angry at injustice and ask God hard questions.  I appreciated the insight into how changing a setting can give even familiar words a higher impact.

…Furnishing my mind

IMG_4128Instead of candy in their Easter egg hunt, the kids found “fortune eggs.”  Each contained a rolled up message like a fortune cookie, and their good fortune is that they will get a new sibling in November!  Everyone is pretty excited about this development.  In between the first trimester exhaustion and sickness, my mind is swirling with possible carseat configurations.  The kids have begun the “what should we name the baby” discussions already.  So far Agamemmnon and Roberta have been vetoed.  Firmly.

…Learning about

I’m reading a biography of Queen Victoria and another on her son Edward VII, which ties in nicely to our school studies of the latter half of the 1800s this semester.  The books are full of interesting anecdotes, like the time an old woman pelted Prime Minister Gladstone with a piece of gingerbread, rendering him nearly blind in one eye.  It’s one of those moments where you aren’t sure whether to cluck in sympathy or laugh at being blinded by a bit of cookie.

…Living the Good Life

IMG_4099Although yet another round of stomach bug went through the family during Easter week, we did do some egg decorating. I bought some interesting gilding kits on 90% off clearance after last Easter, so we gave those a whirl.IMG_4100

Eliza was not allowed to paint the eggs, but she didn’t seem to mind.IMG_4116After our church’s egg hunt, I took the big kids to the living history museum near our house to see how Easter was celebrated in the 1800s. We saw a lady trimming bonnets and learned how you can dye eggs with onion skins, beets, and things like that. Also, the kids tried out a yoke for carrying water buckets and pronounced it heavy.IMG_4122Since I was singing in church on Easter, I had to be out of the house early and didn’t get to witness all of the Easter morning joy. Instead of full baskets, I put out an activity book, a new book to read, a small toy, and a mechanical pencil for each kid. I’m not sure why, but the mechanical pencil was HUGE for them. I also made hot cross buns from my friend Heather’s excellent recipe as is now our tradition, and left some brightly colored eggs.


We’re at that point in the year where it seems a real slog.  Some people burn out in February; I burn out in April.  It’s not hard for me to keep up with our history and literature and science, because we love to read and discuss those things.  And I am pretty good about requiring everyone to keep trucking with math and handwriting and spelling.  It’s the side stuff that begins to edge out–grammar and languages are harder to motivate for.  But I’m gearing up to tackle all of it more diligently next week, and fortunately we’ve gotten ahead earlier in the year so a bit of a breather was not an enormous setback.

…Seeking balance

I’m trying to bear in mind the lessons I learned during my last pregnancy about slowing down and giving myself grace.  I’d rather not have to learn them on bed rest again this time around!  Because I don’t have much energy and it’s hard to concentrate when you feel ill all the time, I’m focusing in on the things that are really priorities–getting school done, keeping my business going, and getting enough sleep.  Other stuff is taking a back burner, and that’s mostly ok.  Some of it is necessity–it’s very hard to cook dinner when the smell of cooking food is anathema!  We are experimenting with eating a lot of cold foods that don’t have a scent!  And yes, that does narrow the field a bit!  But certainly balance is about shifting to fit the circumstances, and we will get back to normal (or whatever the new normal will be!) eventually.

…Listening to

This week I enjoyed a podcast in which Michael Hyatt and Michele Cushatt interview Greg McKeown, the author of Essentialism.  McKeown expanded on the themes in his book and offered some insight he’s gained since finishing the book (which I highly recommend you read, by the way, if you haven’t already!)

What are you bookmarking this week?


4 Books, 3 Observations, 2 Asides and a Bagel in a Pear Tree

It’s Friday, so how about a round-up?  We’ll start with books because we always start with books around here!

Four Books

throneI’ve written extensively before about Bernard Cornwell’s fabulous Saxon saga (Reader’s Digest version: funny, awesome battle scenes, great historical detail) and all that applies to his latest installment, The Empty Throne.  Does Cornwell have a formula?  Yes.  But is it a great formula?  It is.  If you like British history in general or non-romancey historical fiction in particular, you’ll like Cornwell’s offerings.  I wouldn’t say this book moved the ball very far down the series field, but it was worth it nonetheless.

fairestIf you’ve read Meyer’s other books (Cinder, Cress, Scarlet) you’re going to read Fairest no matter what I say, so I won’t bother to dissuade you.  But it’s a disappointment.  We already knew Levana was the evil stepmother character, but I was hoping this prequel would give me some reason to like her.  Nope, she’s just evil.  I guess that’s part of the fairytale trope, but since we also don’t learn anything new about the overall storyline from this book, it seemed like a waste.  I also didn’t think that the Snow White frame came through very strongly, and the story was darker and less like something I’d let a kid read.  Fortunately it’s short and you can tear through it quickly.

Good-Cheap-EatsGood Cheap Eats: Everyday Dinners and Fantastic Feasts for 0 or Less is a solid cookbook from Jessica Fisher, combining fresh, real food ingredients with tips for saving money on your grocery budget.  If you’ve done any delving into those topics not much of this will be new (although I did get some good tips!) but the recipes are good for getting ideas and branching out, which I needed.  I did find that I had to double most of them to fit my family, and since we tend to be a protein + vegetables family rather than a carbohydrates + meat-as-condiment family not all of the ideas were a good fit.  But I tried several things and got great results every time, so I’d recommend this cookbook as a versatile and helpful resource.

tiredI wanted to look into adrenal fatigue after reading about it on Crystal’s blog, so I picked up Tired of Being Tired since the library had it.  I have some of the symptoms listed, and felt like lots of the advice was good (cut sugar, reduce caffeine, sleep more, don’t over-exercise) but some of it was flat out weird.  When the rationale for using some sort of magnet therapy is that Cleopatra wore a magnet on her forehead to reduce signs of aging, you’ve lost me.  I mean, even if Cleopatra did wear a magnet on her head, I think the asp got her before we could really draw anti-aging conclusions, right?  If you can take the good and leave the weird, this book might be a good choice.  Otherwise, go forth and do the good you know you ought to do anyway.

Three Observations

1) It’s always good to have a book on your phone.  I got stuck in Costco waiting for a pizza for 35 minutes (payback for trying to save time making dinner, I guess) and scrambled until finally found a library download about Queen Victoria.  I wish I had had something preloaded!

2) Jelly beans aren’t breakfast.  I try to get breakfast together in time to send my husband out the door with something to eat.  The other day my Biblestudy/exercise/shower routine got delayed and he had to leave hungry.  “It turned out ok, though,” he reported.  “Someone brought in jelly beans.”  #notbreakfast #nicetry

3) Small tweaks matter.  We dropped cello lessons and now all three kids take piano, back-to-back lessons, all at one time and in one location.  You wouldn’t think this would make a huge difference in my life but it has.  Driving to one less thing and having an entire hour to read a book while the kids are having lessons feels amazing.  Don’t underestimate the power of a small change.

Two Asides

1) Manners matter.  I’m not talking about which fork to use when, but basic courtesy like speaking politely, not making comments about someone’s personal appearance, and responding to communication in a timely manner.  Is it the internet that’s squashing basic courtesy?  Because it feels like unkindness and disrespect when you’re on the receiving end of bad manners, as I have been several times this week.

2) Jillian still works.  I went back to the 30 Day Shred and Level 3 still brings it.  I can barely walk up the stairs.  But in a good way.

A Bagel in a Pear Tree

The weather turned nicer here, so we’ve been out taking walks.  One of our neighbors hung a bagel in the pear tree in their front yard.  We assume it’s to attract birds, but so far it just looks odd and kind of soggy.  The kids wanted to know if we could hang assorted food items in our trees, but I said no.  Probably a missed educational moment of some sort, but oh well.

How was your week?


Disclosure: This post contains a few Amazon affiliate links, as well as links to some longer review posts.  Thanks for supporting the blog when you make an Amazon purchase through a link here!

Bookmarked Life #10

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

Right now I’m:


Judgement.  This week, after much discussion and observation over time, and a lot of analysis of our family situation, personalities, and goals, we decided to switch Jack from cello to piano.  Not a big deal, right?  Wrong.  I jokingly texted Josh that extricating Jack from cello lessons was like a drawn-out break up.  Lots of “it’s not you, it’s me” affirmations and endless explanations and questioning, both over the phone and in person.  I was upset and drained after the ordeal, but my husband reminded me that Jack is OUR kid, that we know his temperament and challenges best, and that we understand our goals and family circumstances far better than other people can.  Although we like the music school and teachers, they don’t really have a say in whether or not I’m a good mom.

Josh’s encouragement about cello lessons reminded me that I have to be more careful about who I allow to weigh in on my life and my success (Remember that concept of an inner circle C. S. Lewis talked about, that Po Bronson used in his analogy of your inner dinner table?).  As Sarah Mackenzie put it, whose “well done” am I working for anyway?

…Furnishing my mind

downtonSince we were in the Carolinas last week, and since my parents got me an annual pass to the Biltmore Estates for Christmas, I took the girls to see the Downton Abbey costumes exhibit at the Biltmore.  It was really neat to see the costumes up close, staged in the rooms throughout the house.  The beadwork on the dresses was particularly spectacular.  I enjoyed reading about how the Downton Abbey costume designers incorporated old pieces with new, but the real highlight for me was the conversations between the girls about which dresses they liked best, as they imagined themselves living in the mansion and wearing the incredible clothes.  That’s just the sort of thing I loved to do as a child visiting the Biltmore with my grandparents, so it made me happy to share that with Hannah and Sarah.

…Learning about

The kids and I read about Japan’s isolation in the early 1800s (we really liked Shipwrecked and Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun – fascinating stories and great illustrations) and I got interested in that time period.  So I put a couple of books on hold at the library and am about to launch into a tear on feudal Japan.  The 30+ books on my To Be Read shelf looked at me sadly as I typed that sentence, but they may have to wait while I immerse myself in shoguns and daimyos and samurai.

…Living the Good Life

This week I ran into three people I know in real life who are in the middle of or have suffered in ways I can’t imagine–a family dealing with six years of unemployment, a young mother who was suddenly widowed, another who lost a child at birth.  I’ve been convicted about my tendency to assume that everyone else is living problem-free, and to reframe my own situations more positively.  My husband came home from work last night, washed the dishes, and gave the baby a bath.  My kids all woke up healthy this morning.  I get to do work I’m good at in a very flexible way and still have time to pursue other passions like homeschooling and reading.  I have a note on my desk that says, “This IS the good life.”  I am grateful.


I’m teaching a Lego engineering class for our homeschool co-op and it’s turning out to be really fun!  Lego Education puts out several kits for classrooms, and although I think they are pretty overpriced, they are fun to do in a classroom setting.  I have 20 very enthusiastic and energetic 1st-4th graders learning about simple machines and problem solving and it’s cool to see how they use concepts creatively.  This week their challenge was to use what we had learned about gears to build a wheeled cart for selling popcorn at the fair.  It had to have a sign that would garner attention and would spin in a full circle by means of a hand crank.  Without any instructions, they pretty much all came up with solutions.  They made all kinds of observations about how to prevent the carts from tipping over, different types of signs, different configurations of wheels and gears, and even exciting popcorn delivery systems.  Kids are weird and amazing.  I never get tired of seeing how their brains work!

…Seeking balance

I read an article in Fortune about how work/life balance is a passe concept, and really we should be aiming for work/life integration.  As someone who lives “work/life integration” far more than anything resembling balance, I’m not so sure it’s a straight win.  There are good sides to blurring those lines–I don’t have to go to an office and put in face-time for no reason, I can schedule meetings and work time around other responsibilities, and I basically fit a more than full-time workload in with homeschooling and general life stuff.  However, there is no off button.  The day often starts early and ends late.  A client needs a meeting smack-dab in the middle of our homeschool day or, worse, when I’m supposed to be teaching a co-op class.  Deadlines overlap and converge right when I need to handle a family crisis.  When work and life mingle, you get a lot of flexibility, but you also get a fair amount of stress and uncertainty, and it becomes difficult to consistently block out time for rest in the face of competing demands for your time and energy.  Ideally, as the article says, you’d integrate your work and life so you’re at your personal best in all arenas.  Sometimes it looks like that.  Other times, though, it feels like you’re not getting the peanut butter all the way to the edge of the bread.  Work/life integration is where I am personally, and I still think it’s the best thing for our family situation right now, but it’s not all positive, and I’m not sure if it’s really universally superior to the 9-5-and-done workplace model.  What do you think?

…Listening to

I’m trying to listen to the audiobook of Wizard: The Life And Times Of Nikola Tesla from Josh’s Audible account, but I can’t listen to it while I’m driving because it makes me feel like falling asleep.  It’s a fascinating book, but I think I need it in print because it’s so, so hard to focus on with the narrator’s lulling voice.  But if you need an alternative to counting sheep, this might be your answer!

What are you bookmarking this week?


Note: Most of the links in this post are to my longer reviews, but some are to Amazon, and they are affiliate links, just so you know! 

Know When to Hold ‘Em, Know When to Fold ‘Em

WhenThat wisdom obviously applies to never counting yer money when yer sittin’ at the table (thank you for your insight, Kenny Rogers), but also to making the most of the time you have available to read.

After I finally gave up on Owen Meany, I devoted more thought to dropping books.  Maybe my general plan of quitting a book if I don’t feel engaged by page 50 wasn’t detailed enough, since it didn’t kick in for that book club selection.  Once I started framing my reading time as a limited but very valuable tool for living the life I want to lead, it was easier to come up with a framework.

Know why you’re reading.

First, I think it’s valuable to decide what you’re in this for.  Sometimes you want to master a particular subject or skill, like a foreign language or how to garden organically or how to structure a book proposal.  Sometimes you have a more nebulous goal like giving yourself space for an intellectual life or making time for restorative leisure.  For me, reading is all of that (except for the gardening–I’m over that phase!), but in any case it’s not just passing time mindlessly.  That’s what TV and the internet are for.  🙂

Be mindful of your time.

In the last newsletter I wrote about finding pockets of time for reading, so I already know I don’t usually get great swaths of time for books.  But because I love reading I sometimes lose track of what I’m actually doing with the time I do have.  Being mindful means I’m trying to stay more attuned to how what I’m reading fits in to my goals.

Ask yourself some questions.

Depending on your reading goals your questions may vary, but this is part of making your reading time more valuable for YOU.  If a book was a best seller, or won a prize, or is beloved by everyone in your book club, or was given to you by your mother-in-law, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a great fit for you personally.  And that’s ok.  To make the most of my time, I’m trying to make sure that what I read fits me.  Here are a few of my questions:

  • Is this book inspiring me?
  • Is this causing me to think differently or more deeply about an issue, a culture, the way I live my day-to-day life?
  • Is what I’m reading challenging me?
  • Is the language or content or structure exercising my mind?
  • Is this book expanding my understanding?
  • When I read this, am I increasing the truth and beauty in my life?
  • Am I learning anything from this book?
  • Is this book sparking my creativity?

My reading purpose is to make space for beauty, creativity, and the life of the mind in the midst of my responsibilities as a wife, mother, teacher, and professional.  It’s to interact deeply with ideas and be changed by what I read.

This leaves room for lots of different books.  Literary fiction, narrative non-fiction, history, Oreo sci-fi/YA fairy tales…as long as my mind is working and I’m really feeling restored and energized, I’ll keep reading.

But, if I need to cut my losses, that’s all right.  I can walk away from books that aren’t good fits for me.  I’m not letting anyone down if I choose another book that delights or challenges me more.

Hopefully I’ll do better in the future at applying this framework before I start to seriously regret lost time!

What are your criteria for deciding not to finish a book?