Posts tagged #homemaking

Before You Buy Legos You Need a Game Plan

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There are times when I see something on Pinterest and I think, “Oh that’s a neat idea! I’m going to do that when I have kids!” And then a moment of panic rushes over me. Oh wait--I HAVE kids already! FOUR OF THEM!! It seems hilarious, but it’s true. Even the most well-intentioned of mothers can be blindsided with the duties, challenges, and blessings of parenting.

One such hit on my mothering has been the acquisition of Legos. It seemed so natural, my son was getting older. He was bright and creative. Legos were a clear choice for a birthday present. He played with that first, small set repeatedly and looked over the manual multiple times. We declared a “Lincoln Lego Zone” and put the tiny pieces in a place that would not be ambushed by little brothers.

And then there was another tiny set…

And then another…

And Lincoln learned how to get the pieces down by himself…

And then the neighbor boy started mixing the sets...

And of course these tiny mini-figures love to play in the imaginary worlds made of other toys…

And the little brothers weren’t really that much younger, so of course they wanted to join in...

And then the paper manuals started to tear…

Thankfully, we really didn’t have that many sets yet. Then Lincoln asked for the BIG set for Christmas. And he was intellectually ready for it. But with all the busyness of preparing for Christmas I didn’t think through the organization of it well enough.

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Packages were torn open excitedly, the set was discovered, and my little boy begged to put the set together right away.

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We cleared off a table, told his brothers it was off-limits (which was fine since they both had smaller sets to build at another table.) Lincoln worked all day on the giant set. We managed to keep it safe for a few days on the school room table, but of course we needed the surface eventually.

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The set was moved to a cabinet in our guest bedroom. It is a very feminine cabinet, but it has glass doors, so it works well for showing off a little guy’s craftsmanship for the time being. (Eventually I would love to have a huge reclaimed wood, industrial bookshelf like my friend has, but this was fine in a pinch.) Well… if you have read my quiet time post (please link), you know I separate my kids for their daily thinking times, and put them in different bedrooms. I need that guest room for one of them to rest in… and one day the youngest brother--”The Climber”--happened to be in that room. Needless to say, the set was no longer in tact after that “rest time”. I consoled my eldest, telling him we would rebuild it together, but it’s difficult to find that much time to rebuild a large set that’s been destroyed. The process is harder than building it from scratch. We’ll get it done, but it’s going to take a lot of time. Anyway, I felt like a failure--my mother-in-law, the woman who still has her son’s Lego sets in boxes after 30 years, purchased this expensive set for us--and I let it get smashed. Someone show me the rewind button for life please.

What began as a Type A personality toy with methodical instructions was confronted with the endless creative possibilities they represent. The whole dilemma of The Lego Movie was playing out in my home. (If you haven’t seen it, the father in the movie follows the directions to a T, and would never even think of building connect blocks unless instructed to. His son wants to combine the sets and think, literally, outside the box. Eventually the father comes to see there is value in his way of playing, and they learn to carefully AND creatively play together.) Well, my boys are 3, 5, and 6… and their little sister will be roaming the halls before we know it. This constructive epiphany isn’t happening tomorrow.

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Part of me wants to blame my sons for the chaos. Those little guys are darling, but they are DESTROYERS! Some days I hear my own mother’s voice ringing through my head, “Can’t I have anything nice?!” as I discover new stains, broken toys, and chipped furniture. I have been sent a mini-army to raise, and I can’t seem to find the balance between training them to be MEN and teaching them to have a semblance of self-control! People are more important than things, but we are called to be good stewards! “Balance Gentlemen! Balance!” Because I am wrestling with it, I know God will give me wisdom. But I’m not going to lie to you, these thoughts run through my head a lot.

Okay, back to my Lego conundrum! Since my personality is usually a battle between the creative and the organized, I’ve been challenged how Legos are going to work at our house. I can’t tell you exactly how it should look for you and your kids, but I want to pose a couple of questions for you to consider before you go purchasing these tiny people… or maybe if you’re feeling how I was this can help you get back on track. (Side note: I will continually be referring to Legos, but the concept and questions are the same for any collection of tiny toys.)

Where:

  • Where are your kids going to play with Legos? Is this a permanent location, or will it need to be cleaned up at certain times?
  • Where will the creations be displayed?
  • Where will manuals go?
  • Where will boxes go? Will they be recycled or kept for storing the individual sets?
  • Will they be allowed to play with Legos in their bedroom? What about bedtimes or rest times? How will you stop them from playing with them at those times?

When:

  • When will your kids have building time?
  • Is there a time when they can expect you to build with them?
  • Will they be required to complete certain tasks before they can build?
  • When do they get to build by themselves, and when will they need to share with siblings?
  • When friends come over, are they allowed to play with the Legos? What rules will they need to follow with them?

How:

  • How are the Legos going to be stored?
  • How will they be displayed?
  • Will sets be separated and stored, or mixed together?

Now that your head is spinning with the management crises of these tiny toys, I do have a few tips…

  1. Buy a giant toy drawstring storage bag. These mats lay flat for play, but cinch up and contain the toys for storage. Instead of picking every transparent Lego light from the carpet each time your child plays, you can have the mat underneath them. If they can contain their play to the mat, it really is a cinch to clean up. Pun intended. We asked for one for Christmas, and it has transformed Lego time!
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       2.  Get a three-ring binder and some pocket protectors. Every time you buy a set, safely store the manual in a sleeve. That way they are easily accessible and kept from certain ruin.

       3. In hindsight, I wish I would have kept all the individual sets in their boxes and bought a few Lego Classic Creative Building Block Sets. I would put these in the drawstring bags for my boys to mix and build as they pleased. Or I’d store these pieces in a rainbow tower like this. Right now we keep our Legos in this. I wheel it into the boys bedroom for building time, and take it out before they go to bed.

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       4. Have a place to display their creations. Let them have some pride in their hard work! We are now using a bookshelf. Each boy has a shelf to display his Legos.

       5. Look online at organizational options. Perhaps your kids are all old enough to have the Legos in a common play area. There are great ideas for that! Once you start searching, an idea that fits your situation is sure to pop up. I want to caution you though, just because an idea is the cutest, doesn’t mean it will be the most functional for your family. Think through the above questions as you evaluate an idea.

This may seem like a lot of thought for a toy. However, at the end of the day, toys aren’t just toys. They are training grounds. Training our children’s imaginations and growing their responsibility. This is an issue of character. And character counts! I am trying to train my kids to take care of what they have with the little investments so that they can take care of more costly gifts in the future. Hopefully I have helped you a little with this process… and perhaps spared your feet from the painful fate of stepping on the inevitably misplaced building block!

Posted on March 21, 2018 and filed under Building Your Home.

House Hacks: Quick & Easy Tips for Managing Paper Clutter

House Hacks: Organizing Paper Clutter by Entrusted Ministries

I’ve always wondered how people conquer the influx of papers that come into a home. I know that normal people struggle with this. Single, family, retired, it doesn’t seem to matter. We all have bills, catalogs, to-do lists, things to file, things to shred...on and on. And when you throw three school-aged kids in that mix and the incessant deluge from their backpacks every night, you’re just buried.

Right now, the piles of paper at my house are overwhelming (as in, taking up kitchen floor space at this point), and I’ve been wanting to get some counsel on this topic for a while.

So I sat down to interview my friend and organizing expert, Holly Herrick. She is a former paralegal, mom of two (a 2nd grader and a preschooler), and trademark owner of what I have dubbed “Herrick Clean.” It’s not that her house is always impeccable...she’s human for sure...but she has this way of keeping organized that is remarkable. For instance, she always knows where her Band-aids are — purse or house! She never has stray papers on her desk. She knows where her tupperware lids live. All of them. When she runs out of something, she puts it on the grocery list in her phone — immediately. She’s stressed if she has 5 emails in her inbox. (In case you’re curious I have over 75,000 unread emails in my inbox. Yet somehow we’re friends). She even folds her socks. Shocking!

Listen in to our conversation about how Holly “stays on top of things” so diligently. I definitely had some a-ha moments and I hope you will too if you’re in my shoes! And if you’re more like Holly and have this all figured out, then please, I need all the help I can get...e-mail me your tips!

House Hacks: How to Organize Paper Clutter by Entrusted Ministries

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LI: What is your system for incoming mail?

HH: Mail comes in and is set on the kitchen counter. It isn’t allowed to stay there longer than 1-2 hours. All junk mail is immediately recycled. Bills are opened and put in a letter sorter on the desk in the office.

LI: Then do you pay the bills on a certain day of the month?

HH: I usually pay them twice a month. Whatever is due before the 15th in the first half of the month, and anything after the 15th in the second half.

LI: Once they’re paid, do you file the bills, or toss them?

HH: I file them. We have a file drawer in the same desk where I sit to pay bills (our office is right off the kitchen), and I have a folder for each utility company. Once it’s paid I just put it in the file drawer right away since it’s within arm’s reach.

LI: What about catalogs?

HH: That is tricky because I am not much of a catalog junkie. Chad [my husband] has a couple subscriptions that I put on his nightstand. The kids have one that goes in their special bin. Any newspaper-type catalogs are put in a drawer to use in our guinea pig cage at a later date.

LI: So you don’t subscribe to any magazines? And you don’t get too much mail that you want to “read later?”

HH: No. Not since having kids. But if I did, like I know that you do, I would probably purchase either one of those pretty magazine files or else a flat shelf system to organize magazines within the office.

LI: Because I know your house, I know that Chad’s nightstand and the kids’ bins are all the way upstairs. Are you just really disciplined to get them to their spots in a timely fashion? Do you ever leave them on the bottom stair to “take up later?” I ask because I think that’s the hard part for me. I’ll have a “go upstairs” pile in the kitchen, but it’ll be hours or days before I actually take it up there.

HH: You are kind to call it “discipline” — more like some sort of mental weakness where I can’t tolerate clutter. ESPECIALLY downstairs. So yeah, it gets moved to a better spot by the end of the day.

LI: Is there a pill I can take to make me more averse to clutter?

HH: Ha! I’ll look into that…

LI: Well it’s interesting how a lot of this comes down to your personality and tolerance levels. I can obviously ignore the clutter (to an extent), but you’re saying that you’re totally compelled to deal with it right away or you can’t relax in your house.

HH: Exactly.

LI: How do you handle coupons that come in the mail?

HH: I have a mini accordion file that I keep in my purse and have all store coupons organized within it by store. Every so often I go through it and throw away the ones that have expired.

LI: So every time a coupon comes in the mail, within a certain time period (but definitely on the same day it comes), you either throw it away, or clip it and put it into your accordion file?

HH: Yes, usually at the same time I am unpacking backpacks. I do not like how high-strung I sound in this interview. Make me sound more interesting and less uptight!

LI: Ha! Well, I do not like the fact that your paper management system all comes down to personal discipline and there is no magic trick that automatically sorts and declutters your house.

HH: The truth is, like most other things, once you start from a clean slate it is actually very quick and easy to maintain. It sounds horrible to you because you have a metric ton of paperwork threatening to become self-aware and kill your whole family. But really, on a daily basis I literally spend 3 minutes going through mail.

How to Manage Paper Clutter: House Hacks by Entrusted Ministries

LI: The other thing that comes to mind is you need a cooperative partner...but that’s a whole other topic. Your husband is on board with the system, I assume?

HH: Yes, for sure, and that really helps. I think if he wasn’t though, that I would still sort the mail the same way I do now. If there were things of his, or that I knew he’d want to keep, I’d start a bin for him somewhere the same way I have bins for the kids. It could be out of sight to me, and he could do with it as he pleased.  

LI: What is your system for managing the school papers that come home in backpacks every day?

HH: I unpack the kids’ backpacks immediately after school (most days). What are school papers to you?

LI: OK that’s interesting. Currently, I make the kids unpack their lunches and water bottles when they first come home from school. Then they put their backpacks in the closet. Later after dinner, when it’s homework time, they will take out their folders and then start handing me their papers.

Sometimes it’s homework, but that’s usually kept in their folders and backpacks. The only things I get are field trip permission forms, advertisements or notices about upcoming school events, and then LOTS of kids’ artwork or tests (bad and good!). They hate throwing away their artwork so I have it piling up in the kitchen. I tried to have a special bin for each kid to keep favorite ones, but those are full now. I also tried taking a photo of each thing to turn into a book, but I’m not very disciplined about doing that.

HH: Yeah, that is hard. This is the drawback of my personality. I can too-often do things for the kids because I want it done right. But I neglect building personal discipline in them. This year I have wanted ownership of their backpacks because it is our first year of school and I wanted to stay on top of what is going on. But that is good to think of implementing for this coming fall.

LI: I should point out that even though the “rule” is they must empty their backpacks after school, it took [my 8-year-old daughter] until NOW to get into the routine, and [my 10-year-old son] still throws his backpack on the kitchen floor when he gets home. I have to call him into the room to remind him to unload it and put it away every day.

HH: That is comforting. :) To answer the larger question of where the paper goes, if it is graded homework I either toss what is not needed any longer, or else keep tests or things with bad grades so we can review again during homework time. There is a pile on my desk of my daughter’s homework folder where I keep those kinds of tests.

Field trip notices or other announcements from school I read right away, put any necessary dates right in my iPhone calendar and then toss the paper.

For artwork, we have two long pieces of ribbon strung across a wall in our playroom which we dubbed ”the art wall.” We keep the kids’ art hung there. Honestly there are some pieces of “art” which are just doodles or whatever and I leave those pieces of art on the kitchen counter “to show daddy” and then once the kids are in bed, they are thrown away! Only ONCE did my son catch me in that, and I feigned innocence on how that got in the recycling bin! In general I find that after 24 hours the kids forget exactly what art they have brought home, and seeing their art wall is a constant reminder that we do care and are proud of all their efforts. But I have seen my mother’s attic and knew from day one that if I kept every piece of “art”, things would get out of control fast. So I am choosy about what is on the wall and what gets “lost.”

LI: That’s a good point. I feel so bad throwing away their stuff now, but it really is doing them a favor in the long run. What 22-year-old wants a box full of their own first grade artwork? All that stuff would be a burden to them down the line.

HH: So true!

LI: Well, I feel like this gives me a good glimpse into how you manage papers. Essentially it boils down to taking the time to stay on top of it every day. When you do that, you’re only working on it for a few minutes at a time instead of trying to dig yourself out on a weekly (or worse) basis. And a huge takeaway is what a favor you’re doing for your kids in not teaching them to hoard papers that will be a burden to you now, and them later! Thank you Holly!

HH: This was great fun to talk about, so anytime!

**

I so appreciate Holly taking the time to sit down with us and share some of her insights. I am already putting her advice into practice. Last night when my daughter gave me an invitation to Mother’s Day Tea in her classroom, I immediately put the info on the calendar, RSVP’d to the teacher, and then threw the piece of paper away. It took about one minute and felt worlds better than putting the invitation in a pile of “to do’s.” I hope you found some helpful tips too!

 

Posted on May 4, 2017 and filed under Building Your Home.

Finishing the School Year Strong: 10 Tips for Homeschooling Well

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When I tell others that I’ve decided to homeschool, they immediately nod, and say, “Oh that makes sense because you were a teacher!” Perhaps my background as an educator simplified this decision, but I assure you that most God-fearing, loving mothers are just as equipped. They just don’t know it. Confidence is a common ingredient I find lacking in homeschooling moms. They are often unsure of themselves and of what changes they have the authority to make. I want to encourage you (literally put courage in you!) to run this leg of the race well!

Why am I writing this in March, and not August or September? Because every teacher is tired in March. I’m convinced Spring Break was created just as much for educators as it was for the educated! No matter how chaotic and challenging the days may be, I want you to feel that you are achieving your goals with steadfast purpose.To finish well, we need to have faith and hope that we are going in the right direction. Otherwise we can throw in the towel and just promise ourselves we’ll do better next year. I don’t want you to finish defeated. I want you to finish proudly--like a woman who crosses the finish line of her first marathon, exhausted, but so glad she did it. So here are some tips I gleaned from others and discovered myself recently. Many of them are helpful at the beginning of a school year, but most can be applied at any time. May they bless your long days!

1. Set good goals, and stick to them. To finish well, you need to begin well. There are different ways to begin homeschooling preparations. Some mothers look at curriculum for months, figuring out their homeschooling philosophies, and interviewing every homeschooler they can find. Others ask their most-trusted homeschooling friend what she did and copy everything until they feel like they aren’t drowning in the decisions. Neither of these are right or wrong. However, there are two keys to make these important initial calls: seek God and set goals. Pray throughout the process. Let God guide you. Remember He is a God of peace. Part of God leading me has been researching trusted resources. I have looked at curriculum maps for private schools I trust, and read books about what kindergarteners should be able to do by the end of the year. Many of these benchmarks coincide, and have really helped to relieve the burden for me. When looking at a whole math curriculum, it seems like a lot of material, but when you really understand how simple kindergarten math goals are, the teaching seems much more attainable.

So, if you didn’t do this, it’s not too late! Make a list of what you want your child to be able to do by the end of the year. Really--this is worth it! Spend the majority of your time on these goals. Going above and beyond is great, but if you are feeling really stressed, try to streamline your efforts to focus on the most important goals.

As far as starting each week right, plan how it works best for you. I made myself a simple spreadsheet so I can fill in which pages/topics we are covering each week. It takes me just a few minutes to fill in. I have a section to write in the a materials and library books I need to gather for our lessons. On a great week I have this completed Friday afternoon. On a normal week, I work on it Sunday night. In either case, I feel more prepared when I have those items gathered before the lesson begins!

2. Start the day right. When I was a classroom teacher, we began our day with a morning meeting. I find this works great with my own kids too. We begin with a devotional, prayer, and some fun picture books. We sing our ABCs and count to 100.  By the time we are done with that, my younger two jump off the couch and go play, and my oldest and I start our Bible lesson. I like having that focused time at the beginning to start our day with the Lord, together.

3. You are the teacher. Not the book. Do you know you don’t have to go through every book, cover to cover? What if your child has thoroughly mastered the denomination of each currency, and your math text has a whole chapter devoted to it? Please tell me you won’t waste their time going over it again! Instead, use your pantry items and some play cash and let them practice grocery shopping! Make it fun and think outside the book. (Just to be clear, the three-year-old below does NOT have his money skills mastered, I just thought it was a cute picture by our play food! :) )

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Do you know that your child can write their handwriting lesson on a white board instead of in the workbook? (You can leave the page blank in the book and the homeschooling police won’t come to your house. I promise!) My son loves to do this! Occasionally I give him a rainbow assortment of colors, and have him practice his penmanship. He is willing to write three times as many letters or numbers because of how easily the marker glides across the board. My goal is met, and he had fun! The point is to think about the goal, and release yourself from completing every lesson as written. There are many ways to apply this concept.

4. Character training is part of the education, not a distraction from it. One of my most respected homeschooling examples told me her goal for her daughter’s kindergarten year: “I want her to obey me.” Her daughter is bright, and is reading well already. Of course they are refining her academic skills, but my friend is keeping this important character goal at the forefront. A huge aspect of education is learning submission to authority. If students are to become learners, they must be willing to be taught. Hold your children to this standard as their educator. There may be days that you sense the Lord telling you to stop an academic lesson to focus on a heart issue. Release yourself from the educational task, and follow that leading! Don’t put off these promptings until “later.” The teachable moment is powerful, and an effective educator capitalizes upon it.

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5. Balance faithfulness and flexibility. Are you having a baby during the school year? Don’t stress about it! Take a big break, and make up for it later! You can extend the school year into the summer, work a little harder over holiday breaks, or make each day slightly longer for the rest of the school year. But, by all means, don’t feel guilty for having a major life event during a school year. Life happens. We have children, we go to funerals, illness comes. You don’t have to follow your local public school calendar. You can adjust for your family. However, you do need to be faithful and consistent. If you decide to take a break for a week because of a family situation, explain it to your kids so they know what is happening. Kids should not wake up asking, “Are we having school today?” They should be aware of your routine because you are consistent. Also, when taking breaks, have a plan for how you will make up for the time.

6. Your husband is your best sounding board. My husband really respects my decisions in homeschooling and rarely questions what I have chosen. I am thankful for that, but sometimes I feel like the weight of my decisions is too much—I want to know he would choose the same direction for them academically. Sometimes I will tell him my plans and his eyes will get big. He will challenge my ability to accomplish my goals and keep my sanity intact. In those moments, I need to pause and analyze to see if I am going beyond what God is asking me to achieve. There have been several times he has told me, “That sounds like way too much work,” and I have known in my gut I am doing the right thing. I say something like, “I understand it sounds too laborious in your eyes, but God has called me to teach our kids and I know this is worth it!” In those moments, he knows I am willing to give up sleep for it, and he supports me. Travis is good at helping me think about the effect my commitments have on our family. I can’t spend 40 hours a week homeschooling and care for my other children and our home well right now. He keeps that perspective for our family’s best interest. I am thankful for this protection that God has provided for me. At the end of the day, he knows me and he knows our kids. He wants their success as much as I do, even if he isn’t the one putting in the daily work of making it happen.

7. Surround yourself with community—for you and for your kids. No one loves your kids like you. But your love has limits, and so do your gifts. I get giddy teaching my son about Ancient Greece and fractions right now, but I am void of musical or linguistic ability! I have chosen a co-op for my kids so that someone else is pouring into them the things that I can’t. I want them to be exposed to different teaching styles, personalities, and subjects. The co-op is key in achieving that. This also gives me a network of other mothers to ask questions, and get counsel from. Obviously your church is going to be key in providing a great social foundation for you and your children as well. I recently heard a statistic that many children stay in the church when they leave home if they have consistently had 5 strong adult believers in their life while growing up. It is important for us to surround our children with great mentors and role models as part of their education and their training in the faith.

8. Think outside the rectangle. The rectangle of a table or desk, that is. Homeschooling gives you such freedom! If you are studying zoology, take your kids to the zoo! Visit a science museum to support your latest unit. Time and finances limit these more obvious alternatives, but there are other simple ways to branch out. One of my goals for Lincoln is that he would be able to confidently count to 100 by himself. The car is a perfect place to practice this. First of all, we are using the time well on our way to co-ops or running errands. Second of all, his brothers hear him and are counting better than ever. Quizzing kids on math facts, poem memorization, and Bible verses are perfect activities for the car or while on walks. I’m not saying you shouldn’t let your kids have downtime, rather that you can redeem the time outside the schoolroom for educational benefit. As the weather gets warmer, this can be key to keeping your little ones focused!

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9. Teach your kids to help each other. An upper elementary student can give a spelling test to a younger sibling. They can also help each other practice math facts. I let my kids take turns being the “teacher” for part of our morning meeting, so that even my two year old gets a turn to lead the class in the “ABC Song.” He takes more ownership over his learning, and my other children practice listening to their “classmates” as they would in a typical classroom setting.  Readers can read to their siblings. If you ask a new reader to read board books to their young brothers and sisters, they won’t feel like they are reading “baby books;” they will just think they are reading their siblings’ favorite books. You are helping create an atmosphere of servanthood in your children.

10. Make breaks work for you both: At the beginning of the school year, I planned breaks for Lincoln. I was excited to have him do laps and jumping jacks for “Physical Education” time, and play our toy classroom instruments for “Music” time. I had planned for his younger siblings to join along for this time. Well, it turns out that Lincoln isn’t the only one that needs breaks. I do too. Not so I can take a mental break, but so I can take care of the other tasks vying for my time. My toddler needs me to take him to the bathroom, I have to fill up snacks or sippy cups, an urgent text or email comes in that I need to deal with. When I adjusted the schedule to give myself breaks, our days went much smoother. Now, I tell Lincoln we will break every three subjects. Since he is in kindergarten, the subjects are brief. It is good for him to know what he is working towards. Right now, art projects get him very excited, so he loves it when I print out some of his favorite images to color. Sometimes I will say, you can color a page when you are done with these three subjects, and then you can play for 10 minutes. He is excited because he is working towards a goal, and it took me very little effort.

I hope these tips give you a sense of freedom. You don’t have to apply all of them now, or ever. They are just simple ways I have picked up to help our homeschooling go well. I hope that you will be blessed by them! I want to be clear that even with these tips, homeschooling is still hard work. Some days, regardless of how well prepared I am, are chaotic! My toddlers are getting into things left and right, my oldest woke up cranky, I am getting constant outside distractions, and my sink is an endless mound of dishes. And a lot of days we do school in our pajamas! I don’t want to paint a picture that it is all peaches and rainbows when you get yourself in order. I want to convey that it is worth it in so many ways.

Sometimes I think about my friends’ homes… how they remain clean during the day, instead of destroyed by the children who are home. I think about the free time some of them have to grocery shop without children. I think about the moments they have to clear their minds and plan their week without all of their children competing for their attention. It sounds nice to have all of that… and maybe someday that will be a better fit for our family. Right now, however, the blessings far outweigh the challenges. It just helps to know I’m not alone in the struggle. I pray you have or find a strong community to support you in this endeavor.

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Posted on March 15, 2017 and filed under Building Your Home.

4 Simple Ways to Make a Temporary House Feel Like Home

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A move to a new temporary house can create a little upheaval...ok a lot! But that doesn’t mean your new house can’t feel like home.

I don’t know what kind of circumstances you are going through in your life or where this read finds you, but we can rest in the knowledge and truth that Jesus sees and loves us deeply — no matter where we are.

If you are in the process of making a temporary house a home, that could mean several things: God led and directed you out of where you lived, you’ve had a job transfer or loss, a military reassignment or simply moving across town or to a different neighborhood. Regardless of the why, we all seem to have an inner desire to feel at “home” wherever we live.

Our family has lived in five different houses in the past seven years. That, my friends, is a lot of packing and unpacking. My husband and I have come to realize that wherever we live, it needs to be a haven for our family.

Through my own seemingly endless process of moving, I have picked up a few tricks to make our house feel like a home. Here are 4 simple steps that have made a significant difference for us:

1.     De-clutter and unpack the main living area ASAP. This has been a helpful one for our family. Even for my own sanity! To have my kitchen and living room unpacked and put together makes unpacking in other areas bearable. It also fosters a bit of normalcy for the kids to have their “play/hangout” environment intact.

2.     Prioritize the unpacking. If this is a temporary situation due to a job, rental, etc., you might not want to unpack everything. However, unpacking the “essentials” will help to make your family feel like they are at home. For example, I love to cook and bake. In fact, I would say the majority of my days are spent in the kitchen. If I don’t have my cooking or baking gadgets I would not spend as much time in the kitchen, thus leading to less routine and normalcy for the family and myself.

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3.     Family photos are a must. Family pictures and pictures of my three girlies are my favorites. When you add pictures to your home, whether on the wall or on a side table, it fosters a depth to your environment and gives it the personal feel that makes it home.

4.     Live plants create beauty. Or let’s be honest. To this black-thumb gardener, fake plants create it too. I have had a long history of killing lovely plants. BUT, since succulents have made their debut in décor, I just might have started to earn my green thumb. Succulents are hardy little plants that don’t take a lot of special care. They are also inexpensive and are available in a myriad of kinds to experiment with. There is something about plants around the house that help create that warm, homey feel.

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As you can see, without a whole lot of effort, you can make that temporary dwelling place feel like home. So if your family is a bit unsettled these days, I hope you find these simple suggestions helpful.

Happy homemaking!

Posted on February 22, 2017 and filed under Building Your Home.

Setting the table: share a meal, share a story, share his goodness

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Holidays bring about settings of beautiful tables, with families welcomed into our homes to share a carefully prepared meal. A table is arranged and an extra trip to the store adds just the right touches. Napkins, greenery and tablecloths are purchased, the menu is planned, and we eagerly anticipate the celebration. All for a moment to share a meal, laughter and good conversation with those special people in our lives.

But then the holidays pass. Thanksgiving is over and Christmas is celebrated, the New Year is brought in with parties and good cheer, and often our tables sit strangely empty and quiet... and life gets back to "normal." We wait for the holidays to return again before we make those special, heartfelt preparations in our homes and at our tables.

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What if we changed that this year? What if the setting of our tables and the preparation to welcome friends and family into our home became a monthly practice in the everyday reality of life? What if, instead of waiting for the holidays, we set our table to simply sit and tell the stories of God’s goodness in our lives? (There is something very powerful about speaking of His goodness—out loud.) How do we go about sharing from a personal place the very glory of the handiwork of God? Where can we tell our stories?

I think for day in, day out life, it might be at the table. Over a meal. Sharing these real-life stories of God with the people around us—including our children—is a tremendous opportunity to build into the next generation that they may KNOW God, in order that they might pour into the generation after them, so that many may come to KNOW God.

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At the table is where we could share a testimony of God’s faithfulness through a difficult time. At the table is where we could flesh out what faith and trust and a relationship with Jesus looks like for each of us. I want to create that at the table. I want to set that as my expectation for this New Year.  To invite families over and make it happen in the crazy, busy mess of everyday life. Dinners where we hear of the goodness of the Lord in others’ lives. Where amazing testimonies are shared. Or a "this too shall pass" moment in time is told, and the glory of the goodness of the Lord is declared. For our children to hear ... and for them to pass down from generation to generation. For our own hearts to perceive—from one believer to another.

Let us not neglect the practice of gathering together—holidays or no holidays. Let us come to the table and share. Share a meal. Share a story. Share His goodness.

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“I will recount the steadfast love of the LORD, the praises of the LORD,
according to all that the LORD has granted us…”  (Isaiah 63:7a)

Posted on December 30, 2016 and filed under Building Your Faith.

A Cure for Camera Guilt

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Recently I was running to my son’s call of a “Baby Alert”, and my phone slipped out of my pocket, shattering the screen. While researching the best, least expensive replacement solution, I considered giving up my smart phone. I’ve evaluated this several times, and my husband and I always decide the convenience of having a quality camera on our phones is worth the extra price tag to capture our little ones. 

Occasionally, though, this privilege feels like a burden to me. I call it “camera guilt”: I have a camera, thus I should be taking great pictures of my kids at every activity they do! We go to the park, and I have fun playing with the boys, but I feel a little twinge in the back of my mind “You should be capturing this.” We enjoy sticky popsicles and a hot summer day, and I feel like I need to find my phone. We are bundled up in snowsuits, and I’m trying to unzip my thick pockets to get out the camera. Often I’ll pull out my phone and snap a few pictures. And you know what? Most of them turn out blurry because my kids are having too much fun to slow down, and several others just aren’t that great. When I upload the photos to my computer, there are sooo many to sort through, and my camera storage fills up quickly. It’s a lot to keep up with! Sometimes a blurry shot is like gold to me because I remember the day joyfully! Other times, I wish I could enjoy the moment more and forget that little rectangle in my pocket.

 Really, I’m not telling you what to do; I’m recommending you evaluate why you do it. Take 100 pictures a day if you like, if it brings you joy and you are still enjoying your children’s childhood. However, if you have felt the obligation to memorialize every day of their lives, be released! Here are a few alternatives for you to consider: 

  1. A Must-Have List: At some point I came across a list of photos to capture during your baby’s first year. It was a list of 10 or so milestones or important events. Instantly, I thought what a great idea it would be to have a list of photos you want to capture for each child. For example, this year I want a fantastic picture of Lincoln…

1.     At the zoo

2.     Playing in the backyard

3.     Playing in the snow

4.     With his birthday cake

5.     With his birthday presents

6.     In the bathtub

7.     Helping his dad

8.     Building with legos

9.     Reading to his brother

10.  Doing an art project

11.  On the first day of school

12.  On the last day of school

13.  With his teacher

14.  With his Sunday School teacher

15.  At his extracurricular event

16.  Swimming in Grandma’s pool

17.  At Easter

18.  At Christmas

19.  Summer Family Photo

20.  Winter Family Photo

21.  With each of his grandmas

22.  With his best friends

23.  Another best friend pic

24.  With his dad

25.  With his brothers

26.  With his youngest brother

27.  With his middle brother

28.  With his cousins

29.  With me

30.  Baking something

Now this may seem like a long list, but when you realize you have a year to capture each of them well, it is really simple! This list works out to be less than 3 photos per child a month, but it is something to keep track of. Of course other moments will pop up that you want to memorialize—get that camera out and snap joyfully! The freedom is that you are pulling out the camera because you want this memory, not because you feel like you should capture everything. (Sidenote: Can you imagine how easy it would be to make a photo book of your child if you already had the best photos sorted and organized?)

2. Monthly Sort: If that idea seems too complicated and burdensome, try this next one: Take as many photos as you like, but at the end of each month, sort them on your phone or computer and make sure you got a great shot of each child. If you didn’t, focus a little time that next day to capture your son or daughter at this moment in time. Save the best photo of each kiddo to a separate folder. Hopefully this will make it easier to delete photos that didn’t turn out well or don’t represent anything too important. After a few times, I would think it will become easier to sort through the mundane.

 3. Begin a “Photo a Day” routine. This would be for someone who really does want each day memorialized, but wants to focus on quality. This can be a fun, creative outlet to enjoy the process—not a source of guilt. If you embark on this challenge, try it for a month and ask yourself if it brought fun or stress to your life. If the answer is fun, continue it! If this sounds fun to you, but too much of a task, try “Photo a Week.” You could focus on capturing a great photo of each kid, each week. Once you’ve got it, sit back and relax until the next week rolls around! I also know someone who does a “Photo An Hour” challenge on special holidays to record the day. This method is definitely not recommended for long-term use! :)

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(Also, I’m not referring to those who photograph as a hobby. One of my great friends is a talented photographer. I’m guessing she gets a lot of excellent shots of her kiddos, and I bet she has a great time doing it! If this is your gifting, spend as much time as you like using your talent! You are probably not the one spending hours deleting subpar footage from your phone. :) )

Isn’t it fun to visit the home you grew up in and look back at childhood pictures? Sharing them with your spouse and children is a special event. Part of the reason I think they are so cherished is because they are few. Sometimes I wish I had enough energy and money to make a photo book of each kid, each year… But really, how long is their future spouse going to spend looking through these photos? “Hi Sweetie, so nice to have you here! Did you want to see Everett’s Zoo Journal 1, 2, or 3 of his first year? I’d also recommend the Snow Days book from his fourth year of life!” We moms can get caught up in what we “should” be doing or what another mother has done, without always evaluating the long-term fruit. I wonder what baby photos will mean to this generation. They have videos of themselves crushing milestones, and perhaps an avid social media following from the time of toddlerhood… so will these beautiful keepsakes ever be cherished? Will they be valued? I don’t know the answer to that question; only time will tell. I can say that I don’t want to miss out on playing with them and enjoying their childhood because I was too busy trying to capture every memory.

 I’ve been trying to simplify my life for the past year. It’s been a very freeing process, and I’ve loved it! Our family photos are the most challenging area for me to declutter…. And they have been at the bottom of the list for some time. It’s because these moments are so precious! I love looking back at them and thanking God for the time He has given me with each child. Last week I was feeling pretty discouraged. I spent some time watching videos of my kids when they were babies, and it really lifted my heart. This ability to have photos at our fingertips is a gift. However you use it, I hope you see it that way and don’t feel burdened to adopt anyone else’s method. Be the mom you were created to be, dear sister!

Posted on July 6, 2016 and filed under Building Your Home.

Simple, Sentimental Pillowcase Apron

A few years ago I was shopping at a flea market, and I spotted two adorable pillowcases. They were only a dollar apiece, so I bought them for a rainy day project. I thought they would make a very cute apron. Well, they sat on the shelf for way too long. I uncovered them this week and decided to finally make that apron.

 

It was very simple, even for this novice seamstress. Perhaps you’ve seen the idea before; I am sharing it here because I think this is a perfect use for pillowcases from your daughter’s previous bedding. Kids grow up so fast and move on to the next stage, and sometimes our nostalgic mothers’ hearts want to freeze the season while they are little. Wouldn’t it be great to take some of those sweet patterns and place them in the kitchen to remember… and perhaps even use to cook with your daughter as she grows? Making matching aprons would be very simple. I did not include measurements for a child’s apron because that would depend greatly on your child’s age and size. I would recommend looking on Pinterest for sizing of that. You could also use pillowcases from bedding passed down from your grandmother or mother. What a special way to preserve memories of your family!

This is also a great gift idea. I made the one pictured here for my mom’s birthday.
Last year I wrote a post about using my dad’s dress shirts to make pillows for my sons.
I still had some portions of fabric left over, and I wanted to include a section on her apron. These pictures show the shirt collar attached to the waistband of the apron. If you decide not to include the collar, simply keep your ribbon in one piece and sew it to the waistband by itself.

(Side note: As I mentioned, I am a novice seamstress. I am not claiming these directions will give you a flawless, store-bought-looking apron. If you would like more elaborate instructions, Pinterest will be a better option for you. :)  As with most of my tutorials, I give somewhat loose directions because I want you to be inspired to be as creative as possible, not necessarily to copy me. If you are still interested in a homemade version, read on!)

Materials Needed:

1 pillowcase (2 if you are making one for you and one for a child)
55-60 inches of 1 ½ to 2-in wide ribbon
pins
sewing machine or needle and thread
Optional: collar from a dress shirt, additional rickrack, ribbon, buttons, pockets, or pom-pom ribbon to add embellishments

Time: 20-45 min. (depends on the embellishments you include)

Directions:

1.    Cut the pillowcase along the seam, leaving it in one large piece.
2.    Cut out the shirt collar and/or embellishments needed.

3.    Iron the fabric.
4.    The hem of the pillowcase will be the bottom of the apron. Cut the width to be 25 inches.
5.    Next cut the height of the fabric to 18 inches.

6.    Fold the fabric over about half an inch on each side, but not the top yet. Sew these down to create a new seam. (The bottom hem won’t need to be sewn.)
7.    Now fold over the top of the fabric, about 1 inch.
8.    Fold slight gathers, and pin them down. You can do more dramatic pleats or gathers if you like —a I opted for a loose version.

9.    Cut your ribbon to 55 or 60 inches, depending on your waistline. To determine, just wrap around your waist and tie a bow behind your back. Cut off the ends and untie.
10.    If using the shirt collar, this is the point you pin it to the pillowcase, with the ribbon passing under it. (The stiff portion will be the section shown on the front of your apron. It will just be a flap that sits on the top of the apron. The lower portion will be sewn onto the top seam of the apron. You will not see this section once the collar is folded down.) If you are not using the collar, pin the ribbon to the front of the apron. This will go over the top of the pillowcase fabric, so it adds a fun embellishment and covers up any unruly seam-sewing!
11.    Sew the ribbon to the pillowcase fabric. Remove the pins just before the fabric passes through the machine.
12.    I also added a small ribbon on top of the collar as my last step.

Happy sewing….and reminiscing!

Posted on August 5, 2015 and filed under Building Your Home.