School Day, Fall 2017

DSC_0234We’re about three weeks in to the new school year, and, surprisingly, the schedule is going really well. I made some significant changes, so I’m recording them here–for my own remembrance and in case it helps anyone else. I will add in posts giving more detail about different sections, and link up as I go.

First off, I say “schedule” but really I mean “flow of events.” We have a hard stop every day by 1pm at the latest, and it does take us five hours to get through the part of school where I’m actively teaching (various children often take longer than that to complete independent assignments). So I aim for an early start, but the chips fall where they may. Links below are to longer posts about each item.

Preschool – 30-60 minutes – Eliza (4) tends to be up early and raring to go while the big kids are still straggling in, so I often begin the day with focused preschool time. This takes 30-45 minutes. If we really get an early start, I also roll Margaret’s board book reading time in, which takes another 15 minutes. While this happens, the big kids finish breakfast and do morning jobs and personal hygeine.

Convocation – 20-30 minutes – The big kids come to the table and we officially start our day with prayer, a hymn or Psalm, Bible memory, a Bible chapter, catechism review, and a short devotional. Time varies depending on what we’re reviewing and what sort of discussion crops up. After convocation, the little girls are excused from the table but they stick around playing quietly (or not-so-quietly), coloring, etc. Margaret (22 months) takes a morning nap around 9:30am.

Jack’s Teaching Time – 45-60 minutes – Hannah (11) goes off to do independent assignments, Sarah (8) has 30 minutes of computer time (10 minutes typing, 20 minutes French), and Jack (10) gets one-on-one time with me to do his math lesson, go over his writing assignments, do his narrations and book discussions, get his Latin assignment, and get spelling and grammar feedback from the previous day’s writing.

Hannah’s Teaching Time – 45-60 minutes – Sarah goes off to do her independent work, Jack has 30-40 minutes of computer time (10 minutes typing, 20 minutes French, sometimes 10 minutes Latin if there is a video that day), and Hannah gets one-on-one time with me. I check on her Bible assignment, get her narrations, go over her writing assignments, teach her math lesson, teach her Latin lesson (or give out an assignment, depending on the day), and go over spelling and grammar as needed. Because of the depth of her readings, the narrations and book discussions can take a long time, but usually we can get this done within an hour.

Sarah’s Teaching Time – 30-45 minutes – Jack goes off to do independent work, Hannah gets computer time (10 minutes typing, 20 minutes French, 10 minutes Latin or Pre-algebra if there are videos for either subject that day), and Sarah gets one-on-one time. I hear her narrations and talk over her readings with her, correct her writing, give out assignments, and teach her math lesson. Her session is shorter, because she’s not doing Latin yet and she’s a bit more…shall we say…efficient about her teaching time than some of her siblings.

The Reading – 60 minutes – All three big kids are doing their readings independently, but we still have some subjects we’re looping together. For about an hour after teaching times, we do poetry, poetry memory work, Plutarch, church history, Indiana state history, extra science, Shakespeare, dictation, composer study, artist study, and nature study. We don’t do all of these every day, about which I will say more in another post. Depending on the time, the kids usually eat their lunches while I’m still reading, or we switch to listening to music from our composer during lunch.

Hard Stop – As aforementioned, we have a hard stop every day. At 1pm or thereabouts the little girls take naps, the big kids finish up independent work, and I start my work day. On Thursdays we all go to our homeschool co-op for the afternoon, but otherwise I’m working from 1-5 or 6. We have babysitters in the house most of those days to keep the lid on.

Extras – We have a new piano teacher who will come to the house Tuesdays from 5:00-6:30pm to give all of the big kids lessons. The kids each take three elective classes at co-op, and Sarah is doing soccer through our church. Jack has a dissection club once a month. All three big kids go to various church activities for their age groups as they come up. We are taking a break from swim team in September due to my work load, but hope to resume later this fall.

Evening – Most days, I hear more narrations, field math questions, check notebooks, and answer questions as I make dinner. I try not to correct Latin while cooking, because disasters–both linguistic and culinary–so often ensue. After dinner and our nightly chores/dance party, we usually read aloud a chapter or two from a non-school book. Right now we’re reading Sticks Across the Chimney and enjoying it thoroughly.

Prep – My prep work this year is extensive, because each older kid doing an Ambleside Online year independently (more on that later, too), and I’m pre-reading all of it. I love it, because the books are terrific, but it’s a lot. I started the year six weeks ahead for each level, and am slowly trying to get through the next term before we finish the first one. We’ll see how that shapes up. I have a notebook for each level and make notes on each book I read as I go, so that I can remember things to flag for discussion and make sure the kids are giving thorough and thoughtful written or oral narrations. The scheduling itself has been fairly straight-forward, though, once I figured out my system.

IMG_6942

Checking Up – As always, it’s important for me to have a checklist so I can keep us all on track and visualize what has to happen for a week of school. I changed my checklist this year to better reflect what I’m doing in each teaching time, what I’m checking each day for independent work, and how often we need to loop various things in The Reading. I color-coded dots for each child, which reminds me which child has done what without requiring more real estate on the page.

So that’s the broad overview of our homeschool this fall. How is the year shaping up for you?

Toward flourishing

I find my core callings deeply contradictory. Faith, marriage, motherhood, homeschooling, writing, and my paid work are not easy for me in every respect. I am fascinated but exhausted, comforted but confused, fulfilled but frustrated. The things I value most are, by and large, difficult. I say that the past year has been hard and it has. But even in the best of times I tend to do life in a fairly intense fashion.

Some of my intense life is circumstantial, but much of it is choice. So I don’t want to waste my story in rush and resentment. I want to savor hard days and difficult phases and flourish in the midst of it all. Over the years, I’ve learned that if I want to live deeply and joyfully instead of getting mired in discouragement and burnout, I need to keep my vision refreshed.

I have a feeling sleep might also help, but I will have to get back to you on that once I don’t have a baby and chronic insomnia.

irrational seasonCertain writers are my go-to mentors when I need to reconnect with the bigger picture. Madeleine L’Engle is one. I recently read The Irrational Season and was once again inspired by L’Engle’s refreshing viewpoints on faith, creativity, love, and motherhood–this time in the context of her thinking through the seasons of the liturgical year. Weaving in thoughts on language and mystery and memory, L’Engle writes with simplicity and profound insight about the way that the rhythm of temporal time enhances our understanding of depth, truth, and the unknowable greatness of God.

I don’t always agree with L’Engle, but I never fail to find food for thought and encouragement to think, write, and live with more clarity and honesty. I’d recommend all of her non-fiction, but I’ve addedThe Irrational Season to my favorites along with Walking on Water and A Circle of Quiet.

mission motherhoodSally Clarkson more recently joined my shelf of visionaries. In the past I think I misunderstood her platform and thought she was in the motherhood-is-woman’s-only-calling camp so I didn’t really connect with her. However, what I have found after several months of reading Sally’s books and listening to her podcasts is more of a vision for wholehearted living–of being all in as a mother even if you also do other things (she started and ran a business, wrote books, and homeschooled, for example). I love Sally’s vision for flourishing even in trying circumstances, and her encouragement toward excellence without making an idol out of motherhood.  There is a way to be wholehearted in parenting while also nourishing your soul and mind and creativity and I think Sally’s books The Mission of Motherhood and The Ministry of Motherhood are excellent resources.

ministry motherhoodIn both books, I appreciated Sally’s ability to cast a thoughtful vision and give practical ideas while acknowledging that families and children and life stages are different and so methods may differ even as principles stay the same.

All three of these books are the sort I wind up purchasing so I can re-read them–and I fill them with sticky tabs and take reams of notes (I got nine single-spaced typed pages of notes fromThe Mission of Motherhood alone!). I have intense kids, I homeschool, and I work and write in the margins. If you have naturally calm kids and send them to a brick-and-mortar school and work full-time as a chemical engineer your take-aways may be different than mine. However, no matter what your circumstances, if you’re the sort of person who leans in to your life and longs to flourish in the midst of it, I don’t think you could go too far wrong with any of these volumes.

What books have most refreshed and inspired you lately?

 

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Unfinished Business

unfinished-businessUnfinished Business is Anne-Marie Slaughter’s book-length follow-up to her viral article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.  You probably remember that Slaughter left her high-level State Department policy job to return to her tenured position as a Dean at Princeton when her teenaged son needed her to be home more than weekends.  I thought the article was refreshingly honest, but the book seemed long and lacking in fresh ideas.

Slaughter did identify some important points such as the role our internalized assumptions play in our decisions about work and family, and the need to have a primary parent figure at home to support a big career. In contrast to many work-life balance narratives, Slaughter points out that Americans like to feel in control , so it appeals to us to believe that our careers and family planning are within our control. But life often intervenes and things don’t line up the way we planned.  We may not want the same things at 35 that we did at 25.  Slaughter’s suggestion is, therefore, to plot a course for the greatest measure of flexibility so you’ll have more options when things fall apart, as they likely will.

But what does that look like in practice?  How do you advise your college-aged daughter about career paths? The book is a little vague on this point.  And the policy prescriptions are kind of vague too, which surprised me since Slaughter is a policy person.  She suggests that most workplaces can and should be more flexible. OK, but what is the incentive for the employer to do things that way, especially when it’s a major culture shift?  How could corporations be incentivized to pay more than lip service to life balance without taking major financial risks in an already tight economic situation? And what do we mean by flexibility? My version? Yours? Who decides what a healthy balance is? For some people balance means making it home for a bedtime story every night.  For others it’s being available to help with homework.  My flexibility includes 20-30 hours a week to homeschool and a couple of hours of reading aloud to my kids most days. How can a corporation build in an equitable framework that suits all of these disparate definitions of balance?

Slaughter also suggests that we should not undervalue care as a way to spend time.  That’s a great idea as far as it goes.  But if our society decided to value care (childcare, elder care, etc) equally with competition (banking, law, manufacturing, etc) how on earth would we pay for that and make it equitable?  The reason we don’t pay a lot for daycare workers is that we give those jobs to a wider range of people, versus a brain surgeon who had to go to nearly a decade of schooling and intense training to do her job.  Professionalized care does exist–people with means already hire nannies with relevant degrees and experience–but lots of people are priced out.  If a woman is earning an average salary, which is something like $38,000 per year, how much can she afford to pay for childcare before it just stops making sense for her to work at all?

So what is the primary good we are shooting for here?  Is it for women to be in the workforce instead of at home? In that case we could potentially subsidize care for all but the wealthiest families.  Or is our goal to allow those who WANT to be caregivers in some capacity at some point in time to be compensated for that work? In that case I guess we could extend government paychecks to stay-at-home parents so that their work is valued in the economy.  Would either of those options build the economy enough to justify the expenditure?

These are the questions I’m left with after reading the book–they aren’t addressed in the text.

Unfinished Business is does effectively establish a problem–the title refers to the fact that feminism, or something else, has more work to do–and offers a few potential solutions, but I think overall I’d recommend that you read Slaughter’s article and then read Overwhelmed for ideas about how other countries tackle this issue or I Know How She Does It for thoughts on solutions you could apply to your own situation apart from wholesale policy changes.

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for clicking through to Amazon from A Spirited Mind!

 

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.

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!  🙂

Mornings

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.

Breakfast

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.

IMG_4492Lunch

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!

 

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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!

 

 

How Will You Measure Your Life?

measure-your-life-416x620In an interesting twist on and melding of business and life management genres, Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Life? explores how tried-and-true business theories can illuminate and improve your personal life and overall life trajectory.

Theories, Christensen asserts, often apply to smaller units like families or even to individuals, not just to larger organizations.  In this book, he shows readers how to think differently about the ways you allocate time and resources, develop your family life, and measure your overall life success.

I thought the sections on building strategies, keeping kids motivated, emphasizing processes AND resources (versus, in the family example, giving your kid a lot of lessons in how to do stuff but no real life experience of how to solve problems), and establishing a family culture were excellent.  I was encouraged in some areas, challenged in others, and inspired overall to improve my perspective and change some tactics.

Although many people do New Year’s Resolutions (and I’m one of them) I also find the start of the new school year a good time to evaluate where we are as a family and define some goals for the year.How Will You Measure Your Life? would be a great resource if you want to think through your family’s culture, ways to provide helpful experiences for your kids, and personal or professional goals for yourself.

Do you find yourself re-evaluating when it’s Back to School time?

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

 

Being Realistic About Balance

I recently read an article entitled “Women with Big Jobs and Big Families: Balancing Really Isn’t That Hard.”  Part of me wants to cheer that such a headline is possible.  It’s great that some women have big families after attaining a level of professional seniority and compensation (or maybe after marrying men who are highly paid) so they can afford a full-time staff to handle details and logistics.  But part of me wants to call foul.  Most of us are looking for balance without the financial wherewithal to say it “really isn’t that hard.”

I get that articles like this are about encouraging young women to lean in and work for a position that makes balance easier before having kids.  But for those of us in the trenches, balance absolutely really IS “that hard.”  For most of us–including women I know with “big jobs” and those with passions that don’t come with as large a paycheck–figuring out how to mesh our parenting priorities with our other callings takes significant time and thought.

Balance is often on my mind–I’m reading about it, evaluating it, troubleshooting it, tweaking it, or trying to maintain it.  It’s never simple, but it’s a worthy pursuit because I don’t think balance is ultimately about making more money or having a prestigious job or making your kids your idol or any of those extremes.  Whether you work full-time, are home full-time or something in between, a balanced life is one in which you are confidently living your priorities.  A reader pointed out recently that it can be helpful to see how balance works for other women, even if they don’t have it all figured out.  So in that spirit, and with the caveat that my circumstances (and priorities) fluctuate wildly in this season of life, here is the balance I’m working with now.

Work/Writing – I am self-employed as a corporate writer and marketing consultant.  Sometimes I have a lot of projects at once, sometimes not.  I do this work between 10-30 hours a week, but I think my sweet spot is 20–more than that and I get frazzled, less and I get nervous about bills.  

We have an excellent babysitter for 10 hours a week–one afternoon and one morning.  She handles the kids amazingly and gamely supervises their independent schoolwork.  I try to schedule client meetings and calls for those hours.  Sometimes a friend watches the kids if my meetings don’t line up with babysitting hours.  The rest of my work fits in to daily afternoon quiet time (only the baby naps, everyone else reads or plays quietly) or on Saturdays.  I am not very productive at night, so while I sometimes do mindless work stuff like admin or emailing after the kids go to bed, I prefer to unwind then and get to bed early so I can be fresh for the next day.  

I also spend some time every week on personal writing like blogging and fiction.  I don’t get paid for that, but I love to write and I figure that writing for fun makes me better at the writing I do for pay.  

School – According to time diaries I’ve kept at various times, I devote 20-30 hours per week to homeschooling.  That includes planning and prep, as well as direct teaching time.  At this point, having homeschooled in one way or another for six years, I have a lot of things figured out so I save time by not reinventing the wheel, but I do pay attention to phases and individual needs and am always tweaking things to improve them.  My primary goals are that my kids would love truth and beauty, be lifelong learners, and get an education tailored to their unique needs and levels, so I try to approach individual subjects from that perspective, rather than being locked in to other benchmarks.  Homeschooling is challenging, but for me it is very, very rewarding.

Mind/Body/Soul Care – Most days I get up between 5:30 and 6, throw on exercise clothes, and have my morning Biblestudy and prayer time while cooking and eating my breakfast eggs and having a cup of coffee.  Then I exercise in the basement (right now I am alternating Jillian Michaels workouts, modified somewhat to accommodate pregnancy).  By the time I’m done, the kids are usually up and starting breakfast.  If I’m lucky, I can finish my workout and start my shower before they get up, but if not the bigger ones are old enough to poor milk, cook eggs, serve baked oatmeal, or whatever.  Although one child did recently set a fire in the microwave so I may need to revisit rules about unsupervised cooking!

I keep my mind sharp by reading all sorts of things, and keep books all over the house and car so that wherever I am, if I have a few moments to spare I can read.  I’m not sure how much actual time this comes to in a given day–it varies–but I average about two books per week so I guess I’m getting adequate reading time!

I tend to go to bed early most nights, but I have a lot of insomnia issues, so adequate sleep is an issue.  Since it’s been a lifelong problem for me and I don’t make it worse by staying up too late, I just do my best.  I try to rest on Sundays, at least by taking a break from paying work and trying to avoid housework where possible.

Relationships – I like my husband.  I enjoy spending time with him.  We can’t afford regular date nights, and we’re always looking for ways to carve out more time together.  But we do try!  Although I spend a lot of time with the kids as a group, I also try to make time for one-on-one outings.  They take turns going to do errands with me, going out to Starbucks, etc, and Josh does that too.  So each kid gets at least one special date with me and one special date with Josh every month.  It’s often more, but it’s good to have an achievable minimum.  I’d like to have more friend time, but I find that the best I can really do is one or two outings or playdates per month, and I try to make one or two book club meetings.  I’d love to be in a position to really do the whole “community” thing with friends, but in our area I haven’t figured out how to make that happen.

Housework/Errands – I need things to be tidy or I get stressed out, so we pick up twice a day (kids have assigned jobs like sweeping, dusting, straightening, wiping the table, etc) but I don’t do a lot of deep cleaning.  The kids are learning to clean bathrooms, and I help them out.  Josh is really good at cleaning, being more detail-oriented than I am, so he cleans our bathroom every now and then.  He also does the yard work.  I do the cooking and Josh washes the dishes most nights.  I do the laundry and ironing and change the sheets.  We trade off for things like mopping and taking out the trash.  I usually do the weekly grocery/library run and other assorted errands with one of the kids (which makes it more like a fun outing and less of a chore), although sometimes I take all the kids to Costco (and almost always regret it) or if there is only a Costco list, Josh will do it because he is a ninja and getting in and out of there fast.  While I think we would both prefer to have a weekly cleaning service and someone else to mow the lawn, right now that’s not in the budget so we make do, and I think we do a passable job of sharing household responsibilities.  

Other – This is a pretty full list, so we don’t usually sign up for other activities.  We go to church weekly and both of us serve on the worship team and in the nursery.  We go to other church events as they come up and do random things like go to concerts or strawberry picking or visit a museum once a month or so, but we tend not to do a lot of evening events, especially not regularly scheduled ones.  The oldest three kids have piano one afternoon a week at the same place, and this summer they are in swimming lessons at the same time once or twice a week.  During the school year the kids take three electives each at our co-op, which meets one afternoon per week.  We don’t have any interest in living in the car or missing our evening family time, so that’s about it for now.

I’d love to hear about how you make time for your various callings and interests.  How do you balance?  If you have an epiphany to share or a link to a related post, let us know in the comments!

Overwhelmed

overwhelmedI hadn’t planned on reading Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time because I felt like I didn’t need an excuse to dwell on the aspects of my life that feel fragmented and times when I feel overwhelmed.  However, I’m glad that I did finally read it because the overall tone was not “golly, we are all screwed” but rather the encouragement that I’m not alone or uniquely unable to get my life together, and the inspiration of plenty of ideas for changing my perspective and reducing the feeling of frenzy.

What was most helpful for me was how the book challenged my usual narrative about the causes for what the author calls “time confetti.”  I have four kids, I homeschool, I am self-employed, and I am pregnant.  I avoid listing everything I have going on because that in itself is overwhelming.  Sometimes I think if I had a regular job, or if my kids were in a traditional school, or if we lived in a walkable city rather than a suburb I would be less overwhelmed.  This book helped me to see that overwhelm is a cultural condition shared by working moms, stay-at-home moms, homeschool moms who don’t work, and women without kids.  Men can be overwhelmed too, but in our culture we have a set of assumptions that does overwhelm women more than men.

I also realized that actually, given my circumstances, I am not as overwhelmed as I could be.  We have made a lot of deliberate choices that minimize stress and avoid being too busy, and I tweak my life a lot to experiment with ways to make time for what is truly meaningful.  So at times my life feels crazy and often my leisure time comes in very short snippets, but overall I think I’m on a good track.  That said, I did get some great ideas for further reducing stress and overwhelm that I plan to try out, especially as I’m looking for even more ways to streamline with a new baby on the way.

Aside from personal take-aways, I loved how Overwhelmed contained a lot of research and data to spur thought on our culture and challenge our mindsets.  So many deeply entrenched roles and ideas are tied up in what makes us overwhelmed, and it helps just to expose our biases.  Schulte looks at the Western idea of the “Ideal Worker” and how many people believe in it like a religion, in spite of vast amounts of data that show how dumb it is in practice.  She also examines the roots of the “Distant Provider Father” and “Self-Sacrificing Mother” roles, and looks at alternatives and ways people are trying to be more involved dads, moms who put their families first but don’t burn out, etc.  Along the way the reader is challenged to think about his or her individual priorities, what he or she really values in life, and how to actually implement those in a daily routine.  Schulte points out that choosing not to live an overwhelmed life is a deliberate and often counter-cultural act, and yet encourages readers to take workable steps toward a different perspective.

As the subtitle suggests, Overwhelmed is loosely organized into how to combat fragmented, frenzied lifestyles in our families, our work, and our leisure.  The writing is excellent and highly readable, thought-provoking and insightful.  I think students of society and culture, men and women who are interested in navigating a meaningful life, and people interested in how policies impact the lives of real people would find this book fascinating and useful.

How do you deal with feeling overwhelmed?  

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

The Bookmarked Life, #7

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

Right now I’m:

…Considering

No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.–Edmund Burke

…Furnishing my mind

photo (1)Eliza turned 18 months old and is an endless source of entertainment for us all.  She dearly loves reading books (that’s how you can tell she’s one of us!), latching and unlatching things, putting on and taking off her shoes, and dancing.

Recently, she began saying “Yam” for yes ma’am, and when asked to say “I love you” she solemnly blows a kiss and says, “It is.”

…Learning about

After readingThe Locust Effect, I was bothered by the fact that I wasn’t doing anything to help the problems of human trafficking and violence against those in poverty.  Then, just a couple of days after I finished the book, a friend invited me to hear a presentation by a lady who, finding herself an empty nester and very convicted about the problem of human trafficking, decided to start a company that partners with organizations who rescue people from human trafficking and give them meaningful work at a fair wage.  She imports the things they make and sells them here in the US, giving all of her profits back to the organizations she partners with.  I learned a lot from her talk–like the fact that chocolate and coffee are two products that are often implicated in human trafficking, and how by simply spending a dollar more at Costco and buying the fair trade chocolate chips instead of Nestle, I can do something.  It’s tempting to say “well, what difference does it make if I buy fair trade coffee or Folgers?” but even little things do make a difference (see Edmund Burke quote from earlier in the post!).  At any rate, you can learn more about the company–Accessories for Hope–online, and Sherry does travel to speak at churches and community groups if you’re interested.

…Living the Good Life

photoWe took the children to LegoFest over the weekend, and although I don’t think any of us felt it was worth the price we paid for the tickets, once viewed as a sunk cost it was a fairly fun afternoon.  We were expecting more tips and instruction on how to build better, but instead it was more of an exposition of different types of Legos, plus lots of piles of Legos for building random things.  The session we went to was sold out and very crowded, so the kids didn’t get to play any of the games and relays.  Still, it was fun to get downtown and do something random and unusual with our Saturday!

…Teaching

Even as I was reading about modern slavery in The Locust Effect and modern prejudice and genocide in The Sunflower, the kids have been learning about slavery in history.  They were very taken with William Wilberforce, as they all are quite sensitive to injustice.  Then we turned to the topic of slavery in America and have been having deep discussions about the Missouri Compromise, the nature of prejudice and injustice, the ways that black people were mistreated in both the North and the South, the way the Irish were mistreated in the North…the kids are drawing connections I would not have expected from their ages and our discussions have been very rewarding.

…Excercising

So, I’m running over 3 miles most mornings now…in the basement.  I think I need to move this party outside, but now the 5am temperatures are well below freezing and I still often have kids waking up early while I’m exercising.  I did buy a pair of running pants though (on wild clearance, but still) so I feel quite official.  I need to find a way to get my strength training back in, and have considered alternating running with a Jillian workout, but at oh-dark-thirty in the morning I’m much more motivated to run than to have Jillian admonish me to “push the up button!!!!”

…Seeking balance

By Thanksgiving I will have wrapped up the extra work project that has been taking up a lot of my time since August.  I am simultaneously looking forward to more breathing room in the schedule while also hoping that not too much time goes by before the next big project appears.

…Building the habit

The last of my fall habits (order, focus, grace, duty) is also a habit that one of the kids is struggling with right now.  That has been helpful in reminding me to give grace to this particular kid, since I have a hard time doing things I have to do as well.  Duty implies things we ought to do–that is, we have to do them, but we don’t necessarily want to.  Lots of life is this way, and it’s worth it to cultivate a habit of duty.  This is not to say that you should blindly accept everyone else’s ideas of what you should do, but in the things you know you must do, duty means cutting the whining and getting it done.  As an adult, I tend to whine internally and make excuses to avoid things I don’t want to do.  I’m tired, I’m stretched too thin, I don’t feel like it…you know.  I’m working on catching myself in those thoughts and taking time to think them through–is this a case of needing to give myself grace because I really did only get three hours of sleep, or is this a case of needing to be kind and patient even when I’m on my last nerve?  I suppose if there were easy answers I wouldn’t have to work on this habit!

…Listening to

The kids have been listening to The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie on audio during quiet times lately.  There are a couple of words I wish had been omitted (the hazards of audio books!) but I think due to the narrator’s spectacular accent they haven’t noticed.  I need more good audio book recommendations!  Send suggestions!

What are you bookmarking this week?

 

Note: Most of the links in this post are to my longer reviews, but one is to Amazon, and it’s an affiliate link, just so you know!