To challenge your views on high school and college…

This week we transitioned Margaret to the crib in her own room. No more sleeping in the closet! I felt it would be too soon. “She’s almost a year old,” my husband gently reminded me. She still wears size 3-6 month pajamas! She’s too tiny to sleep alone! And yet, she took to the crib like it was no big thing.

Here’s what I know the fifth time around that I didn’t when my older kids were babies: this window is very, very short. As my oldest is in 5th grade and we’re starting to think through high school options, I’m negotiating the gulf between wanting to hold on to baby days and knowing that the days of their independence are fast approaching.

the-new-global-studentIn some ways, our culture encourages children to grow up too fast. “Sure, you can have your own smartphone!” “Why not dress like an adult going clubbing even though you’re only nine!” “Aren’t you too old to be playing with dolls?” And yet, in other ways, the culture infantalizes kids. Helicoptering while kids play, parents complaining on Facebook about doing their kid’s school projects for them, covering for kids’ mistakes.

Maya Frost calls foul on this tendency, and presents a counter-cultural view on high school and college-aged kids in her intriguing book The New Global Student.

Frost challenges myths about what teenagers are capable of, what really gets kids into college, and what the point of education is anyway. I found myself simultaneously saying, “Preach it, sister!” and “Whoa, I never thought of that.” In other words, it’s the best sort of book–thoughtful, insightful, and convicting.

While I don’t think that all of Frost’s ideas are applicable to our family, many of them bear serious consideration and I find myself thinking through options in a different light thanks to reading The New Global Student. Whether you homeschool or send your kids to public or private school, this book will give you a lot to think about as you head into teenage years and I highly recommend it for all parents.

Even though we’re several years away from high school, reading The New Global Student gave me new tools to lean in to childhood days while also preparing for what lies ahead. From crib to college is simultaneously a long time and a short time–what a privilege to do life in interesting ways!


Margaret in her 3-6 month pajamas, pensively considering her collegiate options (no doubt)



Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

The Bookmarked Life #15

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’m thinking about seasons and rhythms and the original purpose of the liturgical calendar. How might we do Advent and Easter and our school terms differently to renew focus and reduce the way holidays tend to breed frenzy? I like the idea of longer seasons and a contemplative approach to the year. We have to be careful not to get caught up in meaningless rituals, but in our milieu I think maybe there is more danger in meaningless seasons if you hew to the culture than if you follow some version of a church calendar. This is tied up in more thinking and reading about liturgy and habits and may wind up shifting how I schedule the next school year.

…Furnishing My Mind

IMG_5642Margaret was baptized in early May and we celebrated by having a picture that actually included all of us. It turns out that it’s really, really difficult to squeeze a family of seven onto a loveseat.

Related to the loveseat: people often ask why on earth I have white couches when I have so many kids. The truth is, these couches were super cheap at Ikea and the slipcovers are fully removable and washable. They hold up really well–I did not stain treat them and I only wash them 2-3 times a year, sometimes tossing the seat cushions in more frequently. We use the couches all day long and they do sometimes get a little grubby, but nothing a soak in Oxiclean can’t fix. IMG_5558Overall, I feel like they make me happy and are much easier to maintain than a couch you can’t wash.

My parents came to visit for the week of Eliza’s third birthday and Margaret’s baptism, and we had a nice visit as well as a mini-break from school.

IMG_5791Jack turned nine at the end of May and had a “Lego Inventor” party. It was a madhouse but he seemed to enjoy it. He made the cake topper himself, and it was nice to just go with it and not try to do some fantastical thing with fondant. Chocolate cake with lots of chocolate frosting (the Hershey’s recipe is easy and way, way better than any store-bought version) is good regardless.

Jack is very creative, loves to read, and is super intense about everything he does. Parenting him can be a wild ride, but he’s interesting and fun and very affectionate.


…Living the Good Life

IMG_5671We joined the Children’s Museum and Zoo this spring and have enjoyed frequent trips to both as I attempt to justify the cost with lower cost-per-visit averages.  🙂 So far we’ve done the museum nine times and the zoo five times. As you can see in the picture, the zoo has a cool exhibit going right now of giant animal sculptures made of Legos.

For some reason it often feels easier to take the five kids out than to stay home. It sort of diffuses the noise and energy! We’ve also been going to more parks and finding interesting new parts of the city to explore (that is a nice way of saying, “Mama often gets lost but then enjoys the scenery.”)


We finished our required 180 days of instruction last week, but don’t tell the kids since we will still be doing school through the rest of June (after a break this week for VBS). It works better for us to take July off and then have more flexibilty throughout the year for term breaks rather than having one long summer break. To the surprise of no one, I have changed some things up this semester, so I’ll do an end-of-year wrap-up later in June.

…Boosting Creativity


I think it’s so great to be creative in different ways.  Somehow being creative in a totally different medium can help with creativity in my usual tracks.  A couple of times lately a friend of mine has hosted a painting party–a local artist comes to her house and we all learn some techniques and paint a small picture. This one is a sprig of balsam fir.  I really like the way the colors in the background turned out.

When I was reading The Irrational Season, I was struck by Madeleine L’Engle’s schedule–she always made time for a walk outdoors, an hour of study and reading, and an hour of practicing piano in addition to writing and caring for her family and whatever else. She felt that the outdoor exercise, study, and piano were part of her creative process, and she was unabashed at saying that was what she needed for her creative life. I was inspired to pick up some of my old piano music and have been tackling Mozart’s Fantasy in D Minor.

…Building Fitness

IMG_5771 We are boldly embarking on hikes! I don’t know what it is about having five children that has made me delve into all of the things there are to do around town. Obviously it’s TONS easier to tote five kids to attractions, right? But in any case we have now met up with a friend and her two kids to do two hikes at state parks nearby. Surprisingly, Eliza (age 3) has been able to walk pretty far. And Margaret does well in the baby carrier. The big kids got these nifty water bottle holders (the friends we hike with introduced us–they are far more outdoorsy than we are!) and are allowed to eat granola bars whilst hiking, so they are all in.

I moved my regular workouts to the evening after the kids go to bed, and am now mostly doing my own circuit of heavy (for me anyway!) weights. I got this idea from Crystal, which led me to this free e-book (salesy, but informative), and so far it’s a nice break from routine.

…Seeking Balance

Work (the paid sort anyway) has been lighter this past couple of weeks, and that has been good in its way. It’s funny how the older kids, while not requiring the same hands-on vigilance as the littles, seem to be in phases that require more time and emotional energy right now, so it has been good to slow down and be able to focus on those needs lately. I’ve been doing more personal writing too, which is restorative and fun. I still have no idea how to work the schedule to include paid work, personal writing, study time, school, and intentional parenting all together. But if I look at things from a weekly or monthly perspective, it does all fit in.

…Listening To

The kids and I are listening to The Chronicles of Narnia books on audio (unabridged, not dramatized) in the car–what a great series to listen to one after the other! This is perfect for summer car trips or just for going around town. Highly recommended!

…Keeping In Mind

“May you treasure wisely this jeweled, gilded time, and cherish each day as an extra grace.” –Andrew Greeley

What are you bookmarking this week?


Disclosure: This post contains a few affiliate links. Thanks for clicking through when you shop on Amazon!

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.

Consider This

Consider ThisOne problem with modern life is the difficulty we have with defining our terms.  Some words become labels, and yet can mean vastly different things to different people.  When people hear you’re a Christian, maybe they think you handle snakes. Or that you are a die-hard Republican who hates women and likes to judge people for fun.  Or that you are a vaguely moral person who may be a hypocrite.  And that’s not what you mean at all.

The same thing happens in the homeschooling community, and it has an unfortunate side effect of tripping people up.  Labeling something as “classical” or “Charlotte Mason” can mean very different things.  In my experience this has often resulted in expensive curriculum and co-op mistakes that don’t fit with my educational philosophy.

That’s why I think it’s really important to read carefully and define your own philosophy and standards.  Then, when an opportunity comes along, you can evaluate it in light of what YOU mean by popular terms, rather than what anyone else says.

Karen Glass’s book Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition is helpful in this regard. The book challenges readers to explore the ways that the classical tradition has changed over time, and how in fact many currently espoused “classical” education techniques and programs are actually grounded in modern invention. But not to knock the classical idea, Glass also gently takes CM fans to task for divorcing Mason’s educational philosophy from the classical tradition in which it is rooted.  Ultimately, Glass upholds what Mason actually did, which was consider what was good and working out of the classical mold, and change what was not to fit the ideals–which ARE classical ideals–of pursuing truth, beauty, ideas and synthetic thinking.

A particular strength of the book is Glass’s articulation of the difference between synthetic thinking–“an approach to knowledge that places things together, comprehending the relationship of new knowledge to old knowledge, one discipline to another, and man to all things”–and the purely analytical approach which artificially separates facts from ideas, and disconnects subjects from the whole.  Modern education–including, unfortunately, many neoclassical approaches–vaunts analytical thinking at the expense of the integrated, holistic continuing story of synthetic thinking.  Glass points out that analytical thinking has its place, but that before we can take things apart, we need to understand how they fit together.

This had me shouting Amen at every turn, as it matches up with my own educational goals and with the reasons that I choose curriculum like Tapestry and use lots of Susan Wise Bauer’s materials–even though die-hard CM’ers often dismiss both resources as classical-not-Charlotte-Mason.  I think the focus on synthetic thought and THEN analysis lends itself well to CM ideals and methods, even in materials that aren’t explicitly CM.  And likewise I have found that many people who claim Charlotte Mason’s philosophy overlook the synthetic strengths of certain classical ideas.

Can’t we all just get along?!!

Of course not.  🙂  What works for me won’t work for everyone.  But if you are interested in educational philosophy, and especially if you’re homeschooling, I’d recommend reading books like Consider This to help clarify your thinking–whether you self-identify as classical, Charlotte Mason, or neither.  Of course, read them with a critical eye, and sort them out for yourself, but I think it’s good to keep thinking through and refining your positions as you go.


Disclosure: This post contains 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?


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.


Quick Takes on Personality, Checklists, and Scurvy

SQT1) Everyone forms habits (or achieves goals, or keeps resolutions) differently.

Did you see this quiz about the four tendencies?  I love type breakdowns, and this one is particularly helpful to pinpoint how you can change.  So many books or seminars imply that there is one RIGHT way to set goals or change your habits, but maybe it’s more individual.  What works for one person might not work best for you, and why not work with your natural tendencies rather than against them?  Turns out I’m a questioner.  I read the long description (you can get the full run-down emailed to you after you do the quiz) to my husband and he agreed that was me to a T.  Super interesting.

2) My husband and I are opposite types.  And yet, we live.

I had Josh take the tendencies quiz too.  And he obliged me because…wait for it….he’s an obliger!  An obliger is the complete opposite of a questioner.  As far as Meyers-Briggs types go, we’re also opposites, and the in-depth M-B book (Please Understand Me II–highly recommended!) lists us as two types very unlikely to mesh well in a relationship.  And yet, here we are, over 11 years later, beating the odds.  It’s like that part in Chariots of Fire when the guys are running in slo-mo on the beach, right?  We’re getting there.  I chalk a lot of it up to a compatible sense of humor. We differ in many, many ways, but we can almost always laugh together, and that’s no small thing.

3) Speaking of marriage, here’s a book I’m not finishing.

I started reading Raney after seeing it recommended in The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.  It’s kind of a stream-of-consciousness narrative of a small town couple’s first few years of marriage.  You know how when you get married you have to get used to not being self-absorbed and develop your own couple perspective rather than whatever family lens you had before?  It’s not always pretty.  And I found it sort of annoying to read about.  Plus I didn’t see the book as being all that illuminating about small town life or the Carolinas.  It seemed a little vapid by page 27 so I let it go.  If it’s your all-time favorite, feel free to try to convince me to pick it back up.

4) We picked school back up, and checklists are the revolution!

After a long break, we girded up our loins (metaphorically speaking) (actually now that I think about it we girded them literally too, as I tend to enforce a fairly stringent ban on public nudity) for a new term.  I read an article from Sarah Mackenzie about how she’s writing school work checklists in notebooks for her older kids.  She says it takes five minutes!  Wow!  Since my kids love checking things off lists (they get that from me) and seem to see checklists as external authorities not just stuff Mama says to do, I decided to jump on the bandwagon.  Except my bandwagon evidently has less going on under the hood than Sarah’s does, because I found that writing out the checklists for my three big kids took me a really long time and I realized I would always be writing the same things every day.  Two days of that and I was totally over it.  However, the checklists got the kids motivated to do a lot more of their school work, music practicing, and chores independently and also overcame the “golly, nobody told me I had to brush my teeth AGAIN when I just did it YESTERDAY!” syndrome that plagues various and sundry of my children, bless their hearts and unbrushed hair.

So I typed up the checklists, with big squares for checking off items, and nice, big, double-spaced fonts.  I also added in their Office Time subject order, so we could avoid time-consuming haggling over whether math or spelling should come first.  Y’all, it is magical.  The days are going much more smoothly, and even though two work-related crises truncated my teaching time last week, we still got through the assignments.  Win.


Breakfast Room/School Room ready for the next day with TYPED checklists

5) Part of the revolution is lagging, though.

One reason why it took me so long to write the checklists is that I do write out everyone’s school work in their notebooks every day.  I write their Shakespeare copywork, Bible copywork, their Latin assignments, and their writing and grammar assignments in their daily work notebooks.  I like that the notebooks keep everything together, and when we have our Office Time (one-on-one teaching), they add in spelling and Spanish and other subjects.  It’s a lot of writing for me though.  This year I finally understand why some people pony up the extra $15 for the student books for everything.  Hm.

6) However, we are not lagging due to scurvy!

I’m delighted to report that our household risk of scurvy is virtually nil!  I was telling a friend about how much produce my kids eat, but didn’t know exact numbers.  Naturally the following week I decided to keep notes.  In one seven-day period my family (two adults, four kids aged 9, 7 1/2, 6, and 20 months) consumed:

  • ten pounds of grapefruit
  • eight pounds of oranges
  • fifteen pounds of clementines
  • fifteen pounds of apples
  • six pounds of bananas
  • five bunches of celery
  • five pounds of baby carrots
  • three pounds of broccoli
  • six heads of romaine lettuce
  • two bags of spinach
  • two bags of bell pepper strips
  • four pounds of green beans

Citrus is in season (somewhere?) and the children are going hog-wild.  I suppose there are worse things.  Whenever I have a passing thought about the teenage years to come, I put my fingers in my ears and sing tra-la-la.

7) The Spirited Mind newsletter will not protect you from scurvy.

Thoughts and Tips for the Literary Life

I’m all about full disclosure.  However, while it may not impact your vitamin intake, the newsletter will give you a boost of thoughts and tips for your literary life!  This month’s issue includes resources for finding good books, a tip for reading aloud to your kids, other interesting bookish quotes and things, and a longer article about one of three topics between which I have not thus far been able to choose.  Don’t miss it!  The newsletter comes out once a month, and I don’t use the list for any spamming in between issues.  Pop over to the sidebar or click here to sign up!

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum.

Disclosure: Most of the links in this post are to my longer reviews, but there is one Amazon affiliate link. Thank you for supporting A Spirited Mind!

Using Your Brain to Master Languages

fluent foreverI’ve mentioned before how much I love to study languages. But when I say “study” I mean just that. I like to study how they work, what the structure is like, and how they sound.  Studying languages is great brain exercise, and I really, really love brain exercise.  It’s the actual speaking in these languages that I can’t seem to nail down.

And yet, I’d love to speak other languages fluently enough to actually use them with native speakers here or while traveling.  I’ve tried a variety of methods–listening to CD courses, Rosetta Stone, traditional classes–and nothing really stuck.

Enter neuroscience.  It turns out that there ARE ways you can work WITH your brain to learn a new language–no matter what your age, background, or aptitude.

In Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It, author and polyglot Gabriel Wyner explores many of these connections, and how you can leverage your brain to learn a new language.  He tackles big concepts like how to get things into your long-term memory, and then goes into great and helpful depth on how to actually put this into practice.  If you’ve heard of spaced repetition systems but don’t know how to use one, this book is for you.  I LOVED this book.  After reading it, I have a concrete plan for learning Spanish this year, and have already implemented so many of his techniques with fun and satisfying results.  This is the book for you if you like to understand how things work, and if you want a realistic game plan for how to get to what you really want to do in a language.

fluent 3 monthsIn many ways, Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World is similar to Fluent Forever, in that both authors learned multiple languages fluently in adulthood and both advocate leveraging mnemonics and memory tactics to build fluency.  However, Benny Lewis’s book focuses more on jumping in and speaking right away, with less detail on how to use the memory skills he suggests.

The Fluent in 3 Months approach will appeal to extreme extroverts, especially those who aren’t very self-conscious.  It will also work if you’ve got a lot of extra time on your hands (Benny suggests a minimum of two hours per day).  I think some of his ideas are great, and made notes on them to try out once I get some basic vocabulary down.

However, for my personality, I think the Fluent Foreverapproach will work better.  Wyner suggests starting with language sounds (what I’ve learned about sounds and how we make them so far is fascinating even if it never led to language progress!) and then using Anki to nail the top 625 words in your target language.  Then you move into speaking and use sentences and phrases to learn grammar patterns.  You add in the rest of the top 1000 words, then start doing things like reading books in your target language with the audio book at the same time (brilliant!) to build fluency and comprehension, watching TV shows and movies dubbed (not subtitled) in your target language to pick up usage and how people speak colloquially, and then has suggestions for how to direct your language learning based on what you want to do with it.

In my opinion, Fluent Forever is the more broadly applicable choice here, but certainly both books would be a good reference if you’re interested in learning languages.

Do you like learning languages?  Which language would you learn first if you got to pick?


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

The Bookmarked Life, #8

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

Right now I’m:


“The purpose of life is not to be happy.  It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”  –Emerson

I added this quote to a sticky note on my desk after reading it in a friend’s book draft.  To have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.  This is something I’m really thinking about as I consider goals and plans for the new year.

…Learning about

I follow Almost Fearless because although it wouldn’t work with my husband, the concept of being totally untethered and picking up and moving abroad to soak up different cultures and languages fascinates me.  Recently, Christine posted this idea for learning Spanish so that you can help your kids to be bilingual.  As our Spanish learning limps along (it gets shoved aside when other school work takes too long–I’m working on solutions for that), I decided to use the Almost Fearless resource suggestions to tackle Spanish myself.  I got a copy of Easy Spanish Step-By-Step and started working through it.  I love studying languages, but one thing I’ve realized about myself is that I like the concepts of language and figuring out how a language is structured, but I struggle to follow through and really learn it to speak it.  The vestiges of high school German, college Russian, post-college Arabic, mid-20s French, early 30s Persian, and now mid-30s Spanish ping around in my brain in a most non-fluent fashion.

I told my college roommate about how much I enjoy this fits and starts studying, because it’s such excellent exercise for the brain and I love brain work outs.  She totally understood about brain workouts, but then added “Most normal people do not feel this way.”  Good thing normal is not on my goal list.  🙂

…Living the Good Life

It’s trite to mention how difficult it is to get four children to smile all at once.  This photo shoot involved a complete melt-down on the part of the baby.  Eventually she agreed to be in the picture, but only if she could hold my phone and a random game piece.  You don’t even know what happened when I took the pacifier away.

DSC_0024Coordinating siblings. I will never get over it.


‘Tis the season of “Don’t touch! Don’t touch!”


I’ve tried to set up one fun thing for the kids each school day in our December term. Graham cracker gingerbread houses were a hit.


Post-ballet-class photobomb of my attempt to take a picture of my Advent-Wreath-esque breakfast room table centerpiece.


We are limping toward the end of our semester, winding up with the Victorian Era.  It was perfect timing really, to get to Dickens just in time for Christmas.  The big kids have really gotten into Dickens in their independent reading, and we read A Christmas Carol aloud.  Both Sarah and Hannah finished spelling levels, so now Sarah is moving into All About Spelling Level 2 and Hannah is catching up with All About Spelling Level 3.  The nice thing about homeschooling is that we’re going for mastery not completion, so it worked out fine to have Hannah switch into AAS from a different curriculum and refresh with Level 2.  I’ve noticed a HUGE improvement in her spelling, although she still tries to write too quickly and forgets to think about spelling a lot of times.  It’s a process.

On a math note, I’m glad I did decide to put Hannah in Saxon 54.  I had been unsure if that would be too big of a leap after Saxon 3, but she is doing a fabulous job, and is over halfway through 54.

I’m pleased with how the semester shaped up.  Breaking the year up into terms has been helpful, and I’m looking forward to a longer break starting next week.  I need some time to regroup and “identify the slowest hiker” in a couple of places.


Since we were hosting my husband’s family for Thanksgiving dinner and I was doing the cooking, I wound up unable to do a traditional outdoor 5K.  Instead, I decided to see if I could run a 10K indoors.  So, during a lull in the kitchen, I went to the basement and did just that.  It felt like a good accomplishment.

…Seeking balance

After a slow spell after Thanksgiving, several of my clients decided to do some final marketing pushes before the end of the year, so I’ve been knocking that out.  I’m hoping to take the week of Christmas entirely off.  We’ll see if that is possible.  I have 22 books on my To Be Read shelf, and delusions of finishing them all over the break.  I’m also pondering what my professional and writing goals should be for 2015.

…Building the habit

I’ve made progress on my Fall habits, but I’m looking at new ways of applying them, or possibly switching out a few.  Do you roll habits into your goal setting?

…Listening to

I decided to do a free trial of Audible in order to take advantage of some free stuff in November, and I used my free book credit to get Susan Wise Bauer’s The History of the Renaissance World: From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Conquest of Constantinople, and have enjoyed listening to it so far.  I have a $10 Audible credit that I need to spend by Dec 31.  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! 

Deconstructing Penguins

penguinsI got so much out of Deconstructing Penguins: Parents, Kids, and the Bond of Reading that I ordered my own copy before I finished the one I borrowed from the library.  I’m glad I did because I’ve already referred to it again a few times.

The kids and I discuss books a lot.  We talk about the books we read for our history and literature selections, we talk about the books we read out loud together just for fun, and we have mom/kid book club discussions when Hannah or Jack want me to read something they’ve read.

While I enjoy these discussions, I have not always been intentional about what to ask and how to direct the conversation.  Sometimes I ask the kids for narrations (telling back what they remember–which also shows me their interpretations and how they weight different events, always interesting), and sometimes I let them bring up topics they want to cover.  Deconstructing Penguins gave me a different way to tackle book discussions.

I love the framework the authors used–based on their years of leading real book groups with kids 2nd grade and up–of approaching each story as a mystery to solve, teaching kids how to find the protagonist and antagonist to get at what the themes and the author’s message are, and helping kids learn how to read critically.  The method is a kid-friendly walk-through of literary analysis, and if you have studied literature as an adult it will feel familiar to you.  But even if you haven’t read anything remotely literary since a tortured 10th grade English foray through The Scarlet Letter, Deconstructing Penguins will give you the tools to make yourself and your kids more discerning readers.

Since Hannah was re-reading The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler for the eleventy-hundredth time recently (it was one of my favorites too–must be a firstborn girl thing) and that book is one of the examples from Deconstructing Penguins, I decided to try the method out on my unsuspecting 8 year old.  I re-read the book too (it’s still good!) and walked through a similar discussion to that described in Deconstructing Penguins.  It worked out great!  Hannah gave many similar answers to the ones described in the book, but it was also interesting to note where she veered off into other observations and connections.  Overall, it was a really enjoyable book discussion and I think it was more fruitful than our usual free-for-all method.

If you want to encourage your kids to be good readers, or aren’t sure how to talk to them about books, I would highly recommend Deconstructing Penguins.  It would be great if you want to lead group book clubs like the authors did, but it also works in a one-on-one setting.  It’s a fabulous resource, and one you would not regret owning.


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.