Hodge Podge: Life, Work, and Getting Your Point Across

In the mix this week: some thoughts on how we work (not just in jobs), form habits, and communicate.

Deep Work – In this fantastic book, Cal Newport describes how our culture is shifting toward shallow thinking, and the opportunities this opens for people who cultivate the ability to do deep work–that is, who know how to work with innovation, depth, and concentration. Newport discusses how to work deeply and develop focus and also exposes fallacies about what does and does not foster this ability. For example, he describes the idea that kids using iPads in school to prepare them for the high-tech economy is like giving them matchbox cars so they can learn to service a Porsche. Of particular strength are insightful sections on how to reframe the way we think about tasks and how we could approach tools and platforms with a craftsman approach (“Does this help me meet my core priorities?”) versus an any-benefit approach (“Shiny! New! I’ll take it!”). I took six dense pages of notes and was challenged in my thinking on many points, putting several of my take-aways into practice, such as the Roosevelt Dash. “A deep life is a good life.” Read this book. You will not regret it.

When Breath Becomes Air – This startling book is an end-of-life memoir written by a neurosurgeon struck in his mid-30s with terminal cancer. It sounds grim, but instead is hopeful and incredibly thought-provoking. One thing that stuck with me in particular was how Kalanithi’s pre-med background in literature and the humanities made him a better surgeon and more able to deal with the complexities and tragedies of own his life and those of his patients. Highly, highly recommended (both the book and the study of humanities!).

Reclaiming Conversation – This high impact book discusses how modern life is eroding our ability to communicate and relate to others, and offers suggestions for how to repair the walls. I’ve made a note to require my kids to read this book in high school, and would highly recommend it to anyone. Many things in our current culture are stacked against community and relationships, and it behooves us to pay attention and make stronger decisions about connection, empathy, attention, and imagination. This is not an anti-technology book, but rather a framework for how to prevent it from narrowing your world. An excellent read.

The Sweet Spot – In the habits and happiness genre, this book stands out for concrete, workable, high impact suggestions written in a personable, inspiring tone. I put a lot of things from this book into practice, including this year’s motto (Love is the horse) and defining the MDR (minimum daily requirement) for things like exercise to help me break the “well I don’t have two hours so I guess it’s nothing” mindset. Another strength of the book is the emphasis on how to build or repair relationships in small, manageable ways. I really liked this book, and would recommend it.

Smartcuts – The fact is, most of us have to work and get stuff done in life in one or more arenas. So, the author of Smartcuts posits, we should do these things in a smart way. Whether you have a traditional 9-5 or not, many of the tips in this highly readable and entertaining book will help you. Smartcuts demonstrates how the maxims many of us take for granted, like “put in your time” or “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or “10,000 hours of practice makes you good at something” just aren’t true, and replaces those ideas with research-based alternatives.

Average is Over – There are a couple of fascinating points made in Average is Over, although I think they would have been made stronger in an article rather than a book. To sum up, the author argues that in recent decades a lot of people have been “overemployed relative to their skills” (that is, the cost of providing insurance and benefits is more than the value they provide) and that in the near future loads of people are going to fall out of the middle class. Some of the conclusions are fairly obvious but others are interestingly unique, such as the assertion that a key determinant in future success will be self-control. It’s not a bad book, but now you know the gist and you could probably skip it unless you’re just really interested in this sort of forecasting.

What have you been reading this week?

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Hodge Podge: The Danish Thing

This week’s literary trail mix flavor is That Whole Danish Thing. It’s everywhere. One of the book clubs I’m in did a Danish theme this month (it was very hyggelig), so I read a couple of things.

  • The Year of Living Danishly – This is the book club selection, and it made for a lively discussion. The author did a great job of discussing various aspects of Danish culture that impact overall happiness. Although her attempts at application were not very helpful, it was easy to think of individual ways you might want (or not) to put the ideas into place in your own life. I will say that the things that struck me most are things that would require cultural overhaul and are thus not likely to ever be present in my life. But I’m still thinking about several things:
    • Danish society has a strong framework of shared traditions and rules. You’d think this would be stifling, but it really gives them freedom in their lane, versus American individualism, which leads to a lot of ambiguity and stress as we’re spoiled for choice on every front.
    • The taxes are high, but shockingly not THAT much higher than what I pay as a self-employed person (in the US if you are self-employed you pay an additional 15% on top of your regular tax bracket). And because Danish taxes and benefits are straightforward, there is a lot less stress and uncertainty involved.
    • Danish people trust each other. They leave babies in strollers outside of restaurants and shops. That sort of thing would send you to jail here. But I think trust also diminishes stress.
  • The Danish Way of Parenting – This book is a little gimmicky and heavily geared toward raising younger kids. I didn’t find much about older elementary or teenaged kids, but that’s ok. One of the premises of the book is that parenting is an ethnotheory–that is, we parent very differently based on our culture, and it’s hard to see our own bias objectively. Again, the take-away is that Danish people are not as individualistic as Americans. “They don’t enjoy drama, negativity, and divisiveness.” And that really sums up the difference, doesn’t it? Although I don’t think this book is a must-read, if you’re interested in the topic it did have some interesting insights, and perhaps more that you could implement in your own family even if you are unable to change your culture single-handedly.
  • Overwhelmed – Linked to my longer review, this book has a great section on Denmark and what makes it’s work-life balance so much easier. It would be a great companion read for the topic, plus it’s an excellent book on its own.

A few other links a ran across recently:

Have you read/thought much about the Danish trend? What do you think?

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Stuck: thoughts on risk and faithfulness

Stuck: How to Balance Risk & ResponsibilityIn The Art of Non-Conformity, Chris Guillebeau advises those who are not chasing their dreams to ask themselves “what’s the worst thing that could happen if something goes wrong.” The tacit implication is that you should not be afraid to chuck your comfortable life to do something risky/different/awesome.

And depending on your stage of life, it could be terrible advice.

Sure, in some situations, the risk is not great. If you’re 24 and single and your business idea fails, you sell your car and go live with your parents for a few months and there you are–ready to start another venture having learned a lot, but having lost very little.

But if you’re 34 with three kids and a mortgage and your business idea fails, you’ll run through your savings pretty fast. If your idea fails, “the worst thing that could happen” is going to involve homelessness, being unable to feed your children and pay their medical bills, crippling debt that will follow you for years, and debilitating stress.

Worth it? Maybe not.

So, if you have dependents and responsibilities, are you stuck? Do you have to give up all of your dreams and plod wearily along for the duration? Should you give up on the follow-your-dream genre entirely?

Not necessarily. I think the key is to balance risk and faithfulness and keep a positive mindset. The Art of Non-Conformity also says to “Begin with a clear understanding of what you want to get out of life.” When you have a family, what you want to get out of life begins with them. Sure, you may hanker for adventure, but ultimately you’re choosing to prioritize your family’s flourishing. In some seasons, your family may flourish as you pursue your dreams. Sometimes, the bold choice is to do the faithful thing. To take the boring job that puts food on the table. To put others’ needs before your own desires.

But remember, this is something you are actively choosing, not something that is just happening to you. The circumstances may look the same, but the radically different attitudes make the difference.

The stuck attitude starts out feeling resigned, then spirals into negativity and winds up in bitterness. The attitude of personal agency is positive, able to see chances for small changes, and leaves room for joy.

Maybe you can’t chuck it all and move to Thailand to start a record label right now. But The Art of Non-Conformity and Guillebeau’s more recent Born For This could still help you:

  • Test out big steps with small experiments. If you don’t have capital to try your business idea, maybe you could do it as a hobby, with the option to scale up later.
  • Start living a fuller life. Begin by saying no to one thing you only do out of obligation and saying yes to one thing that feeds your soul. Just one thing could make a big difference, or start a snowball effect.
  • Avoid the glory days trap. Look for ways that your current situation can be formative and learning intensive. Can’t swing grad school right now? Make your own syllabus and read on your own time.
  • Lose the all-or-nothing approach. Think about what you love to do and what you’re really good at, and move toward those things in small increments. Your joy, money, and flow don’t all have to come from the same source.
  • Beware of false choices. You don’t have to choose between being responsible and being fulfilled. Or between exercising or playing with your kids. Or whatever. Test your assumptions. Many either/or problems can be reframed to both/and lifestyles.

Maybe you’re in a position where the awesome travel hacks and inspiration for big leaps in Guillebeau’s books are doable for you. If so, I’d definitely recommend The Art of Non-Conformity and Born For This. But if you are feeling tied down and stuck and foiled at every turn, I might recommend them even more. Rather than seeing books like this as not practical for my stage of life, I think of them as sources of ideas I can customize to my situation. It all depends on your mindset.

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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:

…Considering

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.”)

…Teaching

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

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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?

 

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The Measure of Success

TheMeasureOfSuccess_CVR-1In The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, and the Home, author Carolyn McCulley interacts with secular and biblical arguments and proposed solutions to questions about gender roles and what it means to be a woman and successful.

I thought the author made strong points about life being a series of phases, rather than one brief shot at Doing It All all at once.  She also had good insight into a Christian perspective on ambition and how that can play out in different ways during different seasons of life.

I wouldn’t say that The Measure of Success is a drop-everything-and-read-it-now book. While it’s not ultimately very prescriptive (and that’s part of the point), the book does form an interesting addition to the broader dialog about womanhood. If you’re interested in that conversation, you might find the book worthwhile.

 

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Breaking Busy

Breaking+Busy+CoverI know being “soooo busy” is ubiquitous in our culture, and that many people equate being busy with being important or needed or significant. That said, I also know that many of us deliberately choose to be counter-cultural in regards to the whole busy phenomenon. We don’t run our kids around to zillions of lessons, we don’t pack our calendars, we don’t overschedule, we know sleep and reltionships and down time are important.

But, do you ever look around and find yourself…still busy? I think some seasons of life just ARE busy. What do you do when, in spite of your best efforts, you find yourself dealing with a parenting crisis, a health crisis, a work crisis, a financial crisis…or several of those all at once?

The fact is, in modern life it behooves us to have some strategies to combat frenzy, because you have to live deliberately if you want to avoid the busy trap.  That’s why I loved Alli Worthington’s book Breaking Busy: How to Find Peace and Purpose in a World of Crazy.

Several aspects of the book were real stand-outs for me:

  • Diagnosing busy. If you’re not the sort who does the super busy thing as a rule, you might still at times fall into a busy life stage.  Alli gives great diagnostic questions to help you figure out if you are too busy. A lot of it has to do with tuning in to how you feel and identifying those feelings as symptoms so you can work out a different story. This is an area of life I am trying to improve: just because I’m feeling a certain way doesn’t necessarily indicate an immutable fact–it might just be a clue to a problem I can solve or a situation I can change.
  • Evaluating the why. I’m a questioner, so I have to know the why for what I’m doing, but I don’t always think of that until it’s too late.  Alli gives helpful advice for figuring out why you are doing something, and whether it’s something God wants YOU to do, or if it’s just something a lot of other people around you do but God isn’t asking from you right now.
  • Being honest about relationships. We all know that some people drain us and others encourage us.  But if you’re like me, maybe you feel an obligation to “be nice” that turns into a major source of negativity in your life and winds up marginalizing your family or other important relationships. Alli’s discussion of this problem helped me so much. Choosing to pour into relationships that are your priorities and that fill your soul is ok, and sometimes it’s ok to pray for people but not let them have a major chunk of your time.
  • How editing your life makes it more fruitful. I hadn’t thought of it in these terms, but as I read I realized that God does often have to break me down to get me to listen. Pruning and rearranging are often necessary to help us see the work God has for us. But it’s not an easy process, and that’s ok to admit. I was so encouraged by Alli’s insight into what that life edit process looks and feels like.

I could easily go on, because I took five single spaced pages of notes from the book, but instead I’ll just recommend that you read this book yourself.  I think you’ll appreciate the insight, encouragement, and practical help the book offers, no matter where you fall on the busy spectrum.

Breaking Busy goes on sale January 26. If you order it in advance, you can get a free Breaking Busy Guide that features a lot of other writers you are probably familiar with.  I haven’t previewed the guide myself, but the lineup of contributors looks solid, so it might be worth a pre-order if you were thinking of getting the book anyway.

Have you ever been hit with busy seasons that weren’t due to deliberate overcommitment? How did you handle it?

 

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I received a review copy of the book from the publisher, but the opinions expressed in this review are my own.

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.

 

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The Bookmarked Life #14

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

Right now I’m:

…Considering

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

…Furnishing My Mind

IMG_4647

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

…Living the Good Life

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

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

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

…Teaching

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

…Boosting Creativity

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

 

 …Seeking Balance

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

…Listening To

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

What are you bookmarking this week?

 

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?

 

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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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