Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Striving for Simplicity

Simplicity looks different for everyone.  Some will achieve simplicity by stocking up tons of clothing so they can shop their own personal thrift store in the spare room closet and others will find it in only having 4 outfits at a time for each kid and passing on all other clothing that comes their way.  For some simplicity is having a night or two each week when they eat out and take a break from cooking, and for others simplicity is going out once a month or less to save money for something else.  For some it means shopping once a month, for others, it's a peaceful trip to the store every week.

One thing is for sure:  I'm constantly bombarded by too much.  Too much clutter, too much laundry, too much on my to-do list, too many expectations put on me by myself and others, too many dishes to do, too many fights to mediate, too many deals calling for my money via e-mail ads, too many things trying to distract me from my priorities, etc. etc. etc.

This is why I'm always striving for simplicity.  It's not something you can achieve by doing a major de-cluttering of your house a couple of times a year or trimming down your commitments one time.  Life is busy, life is messy, life is complicated sometimes.  Simplicity is something that you have to continually work at, like maintaining a healthy weight or being fit and in shape.

Here are some things I hope to do this year in striving after simplicity for our family:

Guard our day of rest.
Too often we get caught up in a whirlwind of church activities on Sundays or home projects on Saturday and we don't have enough time to truly unwind or just kick back on the weekends. 
I would love to see Sundays become a media-free day in our home, where the internet and TV are off-limits for the day.  My hubby has recently become a football fan, but he usually watches it at his friends' house anyway.
I would love to ignore dishes, housework, and laundry on Sundays and be able to take a nap or read a book and relax. 

Examine my relationships.
Staying in touch is important to me and I have been blessed with many wonderful friends.
However, maintaining close friendships with all of the wonderful folks I know or even just the occasional phone call here and there with an old friend can eat up too much valuable time in my day.  Letting go of friendships is VERY hard for me, but I need to do so.  I have set a "time budget" for each day and allotted time to connect with friends.  I am also letting go of friends who have moved on or don't stay in touch and trying to focus on the people right in front of me whom God has put in my life to take priority.

Participate in a lot of activities! 
For some this may be the opposite of simplicity.  But for our family, life seems to be so much easier when we get out daily or near-daily and interact with people.  Maybe it's the scheduled activity and the break from my child for a moment or the fact that I get energized by some adult conversation or am more motivated to get my housework done if I know we have plans for the day, but I find that life is much easier when we are going to lessons/groups of some kind.  Ali is thoroughly enjoying her homeschool art lessons and homeschool ice-skating this month and soon I will enrolling the boys in preschool swimming lessons.  We will likely have Jer in rec soccer this spring and Ali in more art classes, and a "How To Use the Library" class too.  Of course it's easy to go overboard with this and have too much going, but I think we will seek to have at least a couple of activities a week, in addition to Play and Pray so that we can all find refreshment in the chance to get out of the house and into a new environment for a little bit.

Produce less trash.
Why am I concerned with this?  I am fascinated by this family and am inspired to look for ways that we can produce less trash too.  I want to start a compost bin and collect our paper scraps for burning at the wood shop where my husband works.  I want to buy things with less packaging wherever possible and do re-usable wrapping options for birthdays and Christmas as much as  possible.  I'm not, however, going to go back to cloth diapers with Katrielle (the Miralax she takes for constipation would make this most unpleasant!) or give up all paper plates and clorox wipes, but I can take baby steps toward improvement in this area.  Less trash means fewer runs to the dump for my hubby and money saved (since it costs him about $5 per time he takes our garbage to the dump.)

Plant a small container garden.
For those who think I can do it all, gardening is an area where I miserably fail!  I cannot keep a plant alive to save my life and I also realize that in our climate the growing season is incredibly short and in our town, where the roaming deer necessitate 10 foot high fences around gardens, it is cheaper to buy vegetables and fruits than to attempt to grow them, for the most part.  But, I can grow a container of lettuce and a container of herbs on the porch!  Baby steps!

Figure out what I'm going to do with facebook.
I have a love/hate relationship with facebook.  I love the way fb allows me to connect with sooo many friends and relatives I would otherwise lose touch with.  I love that I can share photos and what's going on in my life with my brothers who live far away.  I love making people laugh with funny kid quotes and sharing photos that I've taken that have touched my heart or bless my extended family members.  I love the godly perspective I get from older aunties and friends weighing in on my life problems.  I love that I can save myself 20 phone calls a week regarding church stuff, Pray and Play announcements, and playdate and homeschool get-together stuff by sending a quick message.  I love that I can post my clients' pics quickly, without having to pay for an online gallery site, and their friends and family can see them.  I love being able to check in with my close friends daily and see if they're doing okay.  But, I dislike the hypnotic distraction that fb can be.  I hate not being able to keep up with every post, knowing that the updates I do see are hit and miss.  I dislike the added drama/tension in my life that comes from interacting with tons of people minus tone and body language and the overload of information and causes to join and heartbreaking stories and tragedies affiliated with everyone I've ever known.  So, I feel trapped into staying on fb, for now...but am continually re-evaluating it and trying to avoid spending much time on it.

Shop less.
I would love to figure out how to shop once-a-month and be in a habit of this by the end of this year. At this point in time we don't have a deep freeze and I'm a little nervous about my family eating everything within the first couple of weeks.  If we don't have much for snacks, my hubby and kids will give up and not eat as much or ask for as much to eat.  So, guarding the groceries would be a challenge, as well as finding space for all the frozen items.  I feel that shopping less would simplify my life and schedule quite a bit.  But, on the other hand, we wouldn't get quite as good of deals, as we often buy from the mark-down shelves at the grocery stores, where the deals are even better than coupon deals.

I plan to check in monthly on my blog and post my progress with my goals for the year and my "striving for simplicity" goals.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

My Father's World--The Letter I (Insects)

January is almost over and I'm just getting around to posting last week's school lessons!  Needless to say, January has started off with plenty of stress and trouble and I've been in a bit of a "homeschooling slump" this month.  I have been struggling to find fresh motivation and inspiration and have been feeling really run-down.  But, I press on, knowing that God has called me to this, and finding joyful and precious moments learning with my kiddoes, even though it's not always easy or fun to do school.

We spent two weeks on insects, partly due to the craziness of life and partly because the boys LOVE bugs and I wanted them to soak up as much as they could.  Our cousin who is also using MFW chose to postpone the Insects lesson so that they could actually collect and study real insects during this week.  That was smart of her!  I should have thought of that!  Oh well, our kids have had lots of hands-on experience with their pet bugs in our backyard most of the year.

Worm crafts made from pipe cleaners.

I is for ....interesting.  I asked the kids to make insects from playdough one day and Justus ended up like this....

We did our usual word-search for I words.  It can be tough for kids to find 20 words that begin with I so I love having a Scholastic Kid's Dictionary on hand so they can look up the letter for some inspiration.

Ali had a lesson on measuring and it tied in nicely with our lesson on how far a grasshopper can jump.  If a grasshopper was the size of one block, he could jump the length of 20 blocks.

Making insects with playdough...

Ali's paintings

Ink prints on the floor...what happens when you dip the newly-walking baby in paint to do footprints for the Grandparents' valentine cards....

Last year Grammy gave us this cool felt-board book on insects that teaches kids to count, add, and subtract using little felt bugs

One of our favorite books is this pop-up book that we were given as a hand-me-down.
Every page is interesting and fun!

I is for Ice-Skating!
Here Ali skates with Grammy, whose school skates at the same time as the homeschoolers in town.

Jeremiah with two of his buddies from the Christian school. 
This is his first year skating and he's doing really well!

Ali and her friend Jessie skate together the whole time!

We also made binder pages with insect stencils on them and practiced writing the letter I.  Our key words were "I am a wise child, so I work hard."  There was one day where the house was a complete and total mess and we decided to copy my friend Heather's idea and do a "House Blessing."  I put a few of the chores on index cards and had them draw out of the hat and chose a chore.  So, we put the key words into action by working really hard on getting our house back in shape and reading verses about ants who work hard.

The curriculum suggested that we do an ant farm this week but my last two attempts with this have failed miserably.  So, we read books about ants and bugs and discussed them, but didn't actually observe them making tunnels.  Maybe next year!

I can't believe I didn't make ladybug cookies, ants on a log, or roast some grasshoppers for the kids to eat as part of their lesson!  January has just been busy!  I'm hoping that in February I'll find more energy and enthusiasm in my lesson planning!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Helpful Tip for Homeschooling

(Ali holding a color-it-yourself puzzle from Auntie Kandi)

A friend and I were talking about the challenges of homeschooling two different grades.  Every mom I know who homeschools more than one child struggles with getting everything done and feeling like they are giving enough attention to each child.  Lori and I were especially concerned about our oldest kids' getting their stuff done.  And then I had a lightbulb moment!  Both of our oldests are EXTREMELY motivated and organized little girls who can accomplish amazing things when they set their minds to it.  Ali can clean the entire house and vacuum every room without even being asked if she is in a cleaning mood, and can somehow find the energy to color 20 or 30 pictures in a day if she feels like it.  Ansley, my friend Lori's daughter, makes me laugh because she is so mature for her age and such a little mother to her siblings.  One day when she was 7, she turned to her 5 year old brother Caleb and asked him who he was going to marry and what he was going to be when he grows up. He, being the typical boy, was like, "Huh?"  She put her hands on her hips and said, in an exasperated tone, "I cannot believe you don't want to think about these things!  These are important life decisions Caleb!  Get your act together!"

So, with daughters like these, I wondered if we could somehow harnass their zeal and intelligence to help our school day run smoother!  I suggested to Lori that we might make our lives easier by placing some of the burden of our kids' schooling on their own shoulders.  Just as they are responsible for their daily household chores, we decided there are a few things that our girls can definitely do, without our help, to meet their schooling goals for the day.  We each decided to sit them down at the beginning of the new semester and explain what they were in charge of for schoolwork.  I made a little sign with Ali's 3 tasks for the day and hung it up.  Lori made a chart of all the spelling lessons that she wants Ansley to do in order to catch up to her grade level. 

So far, it's going really well.  I used to feel torn between taking advantage of Ali's academic energy right after breakfast or getting dressed, doing some dishes, etc. and then getting to school.  Now, I can do a little cleaning in the morning and get ready for the day, knowing that Ali is taking care of some basic things that are improving her everyday learning, and then we can jump in and do the lesson time together a little later, without feeling like we're already behind.  One of her tasks is to read for 15 minutes, and the boys love curling up beside her to listen.  I can be loading dishes into the dishwasher or fixing a meal when she's doing that and still help out with the occasional difficult word she is sounding out.  Her other task is to do 2 worksheets in Explode the Code and to color 1 page in her Anti-Coloring book (which is an awesome coloring book that encourages creative drawing instead of just filling in a picture with color.)

Of course what works with first-borns may not work with our boys.  Since my boys are very easily distracted, I think we will have to start with 1 independent learning activity they are in charge of doing each day when they are a little bit older.

Both Ali and Ansley are thriving under this system (so far) because they like having a game plan/map/schedule and it motivates them to get it done.  Ali even does extra pages in her workbooks and reads extra minutes because she is enjoying herself! 

If you implement this idea with your child, follow these tips:

1.  Keep it simple so they don't feel so overwhelmed by a lengthy list that they give up.
2.  Pick tasks that you are sure they can do on their own.
3.  Praise them when they follow through on it!  They will be encouraged to continue!
4.  Make sure they are following through on it by checking their work and communicating with them about what they are learning.

Though this is a novel idea for newbie homeschoolers with younger children, like me, I'm sure that this is the main mode of operation for large families and folks with older children!  So, if you are a pro and this is "old hat" leave me your tips in the comments!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Goals for 2012

(Goodbye nasty gray dining room carpet! 
I love our new dining room floor that my hubby put in this weekend!)

Here is my list for 2012!

Spiritual Goals:
*Read through the NT during my personal devo time (sometimes I do the whole Bible but it gives me far less time to digest and really study, so this is a better goal for this year...)
*In conjunction with my hubby--we have a goal to have regular couple devos/prayer, something we haven't been good about lately
*Moving towards a more Radical lifestyle all the time
*Continue to be in 2 weekly Bible Study groups (one for moms, one for couples)

Marriage Goals:
*A one or two night getaway for our anniversary this summer
*Reading a good marriage book together that we can really chew on and discuss
*Building better communication--I think we're finding out that though we see each a few times a day and talk about lots of stuff, we still fail to tell each other really "key" things and need to have more heart-to-hearts!

Family Trips:
*Go camping at least once this summer in addition to church family camp
*Go to MN to see my dear friend Hannah get married!  She's waited a decade and God brought a wonderful, godly guy into her life and I'm going to be in the wedding!

Alathia Joy:
*Teach her the basics of sewing
*Teach her to clean the bathroom by herself
*Continue working with her on folding clothes (she begged me to teach her to run a load of laundry already)
*Have her reading chapter books by the end of the year
*Work with her on gentleness and self-control
*Help her memorize verses to finish her 2nd AWANA book
*Have her take homeschool art lessons and ice-skate with the homeschool group weekly

Jeremiah David:
*Swimming lessons (his self-made goal for the year was to learn to swim better)
*Continue with phonics and reading
*Work with him on honesty and self-control
*Enroll him in Sparkies in the fall
*Teach him to wipe himself (terrifying for a mom who is OCD about germs and cleanliness....)
*Continue having him do regular chores
*Daddy's goal for Jer:  Teach him not to interrupt when adults are talking
*Enroll him in spring soccer

Justus Abraham:
*Learn to stay dry all night, every night
*Swimming lessons
*Work with him on learning the alphabet
*Daddy's goal for Justy:  No interrupting!
*Continue to work with him on sitting still in church and being quiet
*Teach him to make his bed

Katrielle Hope:
*Learn to walk (She can do it--she just doesn't like to do it!)
*Get constipation issues resolved (Her doc prescribed Miralax today so she should be feeling great in no time!)
*Work on obedience training as she begins to explore more and test the boundaries more

Work Goals:
*Continue working my cleaning job and add another if possible so I can work 3-4 hours a week and bring in some money for the family
*Continue to do photo shots as I'm asked
*Contemplating some ideas for an income-earning blog--not sure if it will pan out or not but it's definitely an option
*Continue to refine my photography skills, read, research, and practice! 

Ministry Goals:
*Continue helping lead Pray and Play weekly
*Continue helping with the AWANA Sparks group at church
*Continue to exercise the word "no" with most of the ministries I get asked to take on
*Plan fund-raisers with a good friend to raise money for Door of Hope, a home for abandoned babies in South Africa
*Continue to open our home to Christian events, meals with friends, missionaries needing lodging, 5 Day Club, etc.

Health Goals:
*Continue rebuilding my health--vitamins, rest, exercise, and healthy eating
*Continuing checking in weekly with my "Health Buddies" to stay accountable in these areas
*Finish losing the baby weight
*Eat less sugar and more proteins and complex carbs.  This book has been fascinating to me!

I believe God gave me the word SLOW for my "word of the year" for 2012.  I want to slow the pace of crazy busy....even though crazy busy is pretty much a given when you have four kids, and especially if you homeschool.  I want to find ways to slow down and savor these moments with my little children and take a pause to listen to the Spirit.  SLOW is also for earning to be slow to anger in moments of stress or in difficult circumstances.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New Year--Old Need--Tales from our "Duplex"

Over the past few days I've been mulling over resolutions and goals, reading inspiring posts by friends on the things they hope to accomplish this year, and getting excited about what's ahead for us in 2012.  And yet, in the midst of all the hope for the best year we've ever had there is a weight that pulls me down.  A little thing called reality.

I could write all about everything I want to do to be a better Christian, wife, mom, friend, sister, neighbor, and church member in 2012.  Goals really are important and have their place in life.  But I'll save that for a future post.  Today, I'm thinking about how I've failed and what hasn't gone right so far this year:

I forgot to pick my kid up from a playdate....until the friends' mom called...wondering why I was so late...yikes!
I snapped at a kid who just doesn't know when to quit
I've been exasperated and already muttered to myself, "Why on earth did I ever have children?"
I've put some of the kids' brand new toys in Toy Jail
I've cleaned up a wet bed incident in the middle of the night...waking to ear-splitting screams just as I was drifting off into a deep sleep
I've found myself overcommitted, and hating the things I had to get done one night, but feeling trapped by my schedule because I didn't say no
I've wrung my hands in despair over what to do with a baby who is in agony--unsure if she's teething, experiencing constipation pain, or an ear infection
I've reprimanded and disciplined little ones many, many, many times
I've woken up with an overwhelmed feeling when I survey the wreckage that I'm in charge of cleaning up
We've already sent one of our favorite babysitters packing (getting her home an hour later than we had hoped and rather than our kids going to sleep peacefully like we'd imagined, they screamed the whole time....)
We've had an overflowing toilet in the downstairs bathroom, a continually flooding laundry room and thus the inability to do dishes or laundry, or flush
My hubby and I got upset with one another over a garage door that almost got closed accidentally on the back of our van
I've put off some schoolwork we should be getting to
I forgot all about AWANA starting up again tonight
I haven't taken down the Christmas tree
I've had to have a serious talk with my daughter after she witnessed something inappropriate at a playdate (nothing horrible...but nevertheless distasteful)
I've listened to a friends' embarrassed confession
I've dealt with late people who have inconvenienced me, disobedient kids, and sticky fingers
I've heard my husband say that there's no wiggle room in the budget this month
I've worried about my husband's aching wrist and the kink in my back that just won't come out
I've made phone calls trying to figure out how to get my kids' healthcare coverage again--a computerized form got lost and their coverage was dropped
I've had a black-out in our house...in fact it was in the middle of typing this post...
I've had to ask a few different people for help with our flooding laundry room
I've had two embarrassing moments...slipping on packed snow in front of folks I was photographing and making an accidental faux pas with company

And though these problems are light and momentary in the grand scheme of life, especially when compared to those facing death or persecution, or those who are fighting terminal illnesses or grieving a loss, these little things still serve to remind me:

Having a wonderful year doesn't mean having a perfectly easy year.
Ann Voskamp has said:
"There’s only one address anyone lives at and it’s always a duplex:
Joy and pain always co-habit every season of life.
Accept them both and keep company with the joy
while the pain does it’s necessary renovations." 

2012 is a NEW year
but I have an OLD need:
I need Him.

I need Jesus, a Savior and Friend, in this messy life...this life that will always be filled with difficulties--difficulties that both whisper and holler reminders at me that this....all of this here....this isn't what it's all about.

Since you've seen the "pain side" of our duplex, I'll now recount the joy side, lest I leave you thinking life in our household is a major downer:

I've made goals and have an action plan to actually meet them
I've read one great book already!
I've enjoyed coffee and prayer with some dear friends
I've gotten a bouquet of flowers from a wonderful friend who wanted to bless me in the midst of my plumbing trials

I've had a different friend offer to buy us dinner
A sweet elder from our church volunteered tools and time to help us with plumbing issues
Another friend called to let me know about an awesome grocery deal
I got a free coffee, thanks to a tip from a friend
We ate delicious pizza and brownie sundaes with my sis-in-law Anna to celebrate her 29 years! 
(She's standing by her present from my brother)

We've played "Scum" (a favorite card game) with dear ones while eating chocolate fondue and ringing in the New Year

We've hosted fun overnight guests--Josiah's folks, sis, and her boyfriend
We met Karl, a super-sweet and godly young man from Canada who is dating Josiah's sister Kianna and came with them for the visit

We've had a movie night without kids, courtesy of my brother
We've had friends offer tools and assistance with our flooding laundry room
I had the privilege of taking photographs of a beautiful, newly engaged Christian couple

I got a good belly-laugh out of accidentally calling Karl "Uncle Karl" to the kids, providing Josiah's mom and sister with some giggles of their own!
I've watched my little girl practicing her walking with her new push-toy from Grandma and Grandpa

I've laughed with my kids, hugged them, and prayed with them
I am savoring the moments of having a one-year-old and a second little girl!

I've heard Justus say "I love you sooooo so much Mommy!"
I've discovered that Bountiful Baskets is coming to OUR TOWN this week, so from now on I won't have to drive 15-30 miles to get a BBasket!
I've read quality literature aloud to my kids
I've seen Ali get excited about reading and read for 30 minutes when she was only required to read for 15 minutes
I've heard a great sermon on priorities and fellowshipped at church
We were able to be there for a mom friend in desperate need--she had to drop four young kids off at night on New Year's Eve to head to the hospital--praise the Lord her baby is fine!
We almost had 8 guests spend the night (on New Year's Eve)--God has blessed us with a large home and lots of extra beds!
We hosted Pray and Play this week!
I got to see Karl and Kianna do Gospel rope tricks and watched him paint a Bible lesson for the 7 kids on New Year's Eve

I've actually been pleased with how a photo shoot turned out--a rarity indeed!

We got to open a huge box of goodies from my youngest brother and watch the kids squeal in delight over the toys and candy--he loves to spoil the nieces and nephews!

I've heard sweet and kind words come from my husband's lips, encouragement, affirmation, and compliments--many more than I deserve
I'm back to my winter cleaning job that is easy to do and pays a lot of money!  Perfect timing as this is the time of year when things get tighter.
I got to see a tiny, precious, cute newborn baby girl at church--she was only 2 days old--this is a friend who was told that she'd never have children and this is her 2nd biological child!

My kids are relatively healthy and I was able to get them back on health coverage today...a relief!

I am blessed to see how much Katrielle loves her Daddy and vice versa

So, 4 days into the new year, this is where I find myself...counting the evidences of grace in the midst of trials here in our "duplex."  Never a dull moment!  And never a moment where God is not doing something, loving us, teaching us, holding us....

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Book List for 2012

Happy New Year Everyone!  I'm excited for a new year, a clean slate, a fresh start!  I've been busy compiling goals for 2012, and those goal lists include a booklist, as usual.  Here are the books I hope to read in 2012.  I average 100 books in a good year and 40-60 in a tough year, so this list is not really as big as it seems.  I've always been a bookworm, from the time I could walk across the street to the library by myself at age 7 or 8, and the local librarians, most of whom have been there for 25 years or more, know me well!  So, in addition to these "focused reads" I will probably read another 50 fiction books.  My father-in-law buys tons of Christian fiction, especially all of the Beverly Lewis and Karen Kingsbury books so I have a lot of access to fun reads as well as educational, motivating reads.

The New Testament of the Bible

The MoneySaving Mom's Budget by Crystal Paine

Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis

Choosing to See by Mary Beth Chapman

Crazy Love by Francis Chan

Unplanned by Abby Johnson

Pocketful of Pinecones and Lessons at Blackberry Inn by Karen Andreola

Entre Leadership by Dave Ramsey

Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges

A Sweet and Bitter Providence by John Piper

Understood Betsy by Dorothy Cansfield Fischer

The Vine and the Trellis by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne

Heaven at Home by Ginger Plowman

Somewhere More Holy by Tony Woodlief

5 Conversations You Must Have With Your Daughter by Vicki Courtney

The Twelfth Imam by Joel C. Rosenberg

The Tehran Initiative by Joel C. Rosenberg

Already Gone by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer

Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands by Paul David Tripp

Give Them Grace by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson

The Persecutor by Sergei Kourdakov

The Husband Project by Kathi Lapp

Cool Beans by Erynne Mangum

Putting God in His Place by Matt Whitman (OUR PASTOR!!!), Matt Ostercamp, Aron Utecht, Mark Coddington

The Art of Photography by Bruce Barnaum

Chasing the Light by Ibarionex Perello

On Being a Photographer by David Hurn

Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson

Photographic Composition by Grill and Scanlon

Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes


Radical by David Platt

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss

Read-Aloud to the Kids

Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John

The Tanglewoods' Secret by Patricia St. John

Star of Light by Patricia St. John

Stuart Little by E.B. White

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White

I'm sure many of you would benefit from various books on this list, but I'd like to gently encourage you to read this book, "Mother" by Kathleen Norris, if there is one book you read this year and you are a mom, or hoping to be a mom someday.  It is so beautiful, simple, easy-to-read, and powerful in encouraging you as a mom.  I have read it a few times in the last decade and plan to read it a few more.  It only takes a couple of hours to read and it is WELL WORTH the time.  If I could, I would buy one for every friend and blog reader I have!
Pin It
Pin It
Pin It