Everyday Life, Parenting

Best Valentine’s Day Gifts for Kids (That They’ll Use All Year Long!)

In two days, Valentine’s Day will be here! Did it sneak up on you like it did me? I mean, wasn’t it just Christmas? I love this holiday, but it sort of presents a conundrum. It feels like we don’t need one solitary extra item around here, but the front shelves at every store are stuffed with giant pink unicorns and candy hearts as big as your kid’s head. Those sorts of gifts can absolutely say, “I love you!” loud and clear, but they can also give you a big headache…”Where are we going to put this thing?” or “how can I sneak away half of this candy without them knowing?” So! If you need some last minute ideas for what to give the kids in your life this Valentine’s Day, grab something both thrilling to kids and useful to them, too! (Yes, it is possible, trust me). Here are some ideas to replace all the stuffed minions and candy:

  1. Baking kits – Put together a little cookie dough and some fun cookie cutters and Voila, everyone is excited. Throw in an apron and it’s a gift that can be kept for years. Bonus: aprons are an easy way to use up bigger scraps of fabric if you happen to be a crafty person with remnants hanging around your crafting closet. (Props to Aunt Destiny for this classic at our house!)
  2. Card games – Old Maid,  Go Fish, or for older kids, a fun travel sized game could be a great gift. My oldest daughter (8) really loves the game Authors.
  3. A special mug that’s kid-sized and a packet of hot chocolate – Can anything say I love you every time you use it more than a mug picked especially for you? 
  4. Sticker books – For kids 3 or 4 and up, a sticker book can be hours of entertainment that’s screen free and no mess!
  5. Temporary tatoos – This is what my kids will be getting this Valentine’s Day from me! The metallic ones are especially fun, but be prepared to scrub them off with some coconut oil because they will stick around for weeks (ask me how I know…).
  6. Cups with lids and straws – We call these our smoothie cups. I grabbed them on whim for Valentine’s Day last year and the kids use them several times a week still!
  7. Play-doh or modelling clay
  8. Bubble bath
  9. Books – Obviously. Try your very best to pick something the child you love will actually enjoy reading…maybe not a gushy Valentine’s book? Not saying they’re bad! Just…you know…get something kids like to read, k? ; ) [Check out our favorites in this category here and here].
  10. Pajamas – Okay, okay, this has a reputation as being the classic underwhelming gift, but actually, my kids love receiving new pajamas.
  11. Rainy day gear – rain boots, umbrellas, a poncho – all great fun for rainy days of late winter and early spring!
  12. An invitation – Kids love time spent together more than anything else. Make an invitation for your kids to go get ice cream, go to a movie, or whatever fun thing would be special for you and them. Easy and maybe the best gift in this whole list.

Okay, now hurry, Valentine’s Day is in two days! I hope it’s full of warmth and joy for you and your children (and throw in a little candy, too…).

 

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Everyday Life

What’s Saving My Life, 2018 Edition

We’re halfway there! Halfway through winter, that is. How’s this season been for you? Where I live, it’s been the coldest winter in years and the flu has hit record numbers.  Joy. When I say, “Yay, we’re halfway through!” what I’m really thinking is “I cannot believe we’re only halfway through.” It’s been winter for forever. But! Whether or not the Groundhog sees his shadow today, we have a ways to go.

To get us through this often doldrum-ish time of year, we’re asking the question, “What’s Saving Your Life Right Now?” I’m once again linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy and other bloggers on this mid-winter day to share some of the little things that are making life easier or more enjoyable this winter. Join us in focusing on the good stuff!

  1. Grocery Pick-Up + Plan to Eat – Life. Saved. Weekly. I never thought I would be a mother who couldn’t stand taking her children grocery shopping with her. Oh, but I am that mother x 20. Now, I can simply make a meal plan on Plan To Eat and then put everything from my Plan to Eat list into a cart online at a grocery store (several stores do this but the closest one to us is Walmart), and someone else will get all the stuff for me! And check it out and put it in bags! All I have to do is show up and put it in my car. Yes, thank you. Sure, some mistakes are made, but heck, some mistakes are made when I do my own shopping. It’s a no-brainer for me right now. And my adoration for Plan To Eat could take up a whole post on its own. I have been using it for three years and I hope to never, ever stop. All my recipes are there, and all I have to do is drag them onto the calendar on the day I want to serve them. Then, Plan to Eat generates a shopping list. I loathed meal planning before I started using Plan to Eat. Now it’s not so bad!
  2. Homemade trail mix – Did anyone ever tell you before you had kids that they would be hungry ALL the time? Maybe people told me and I just didn’t understand, but now I do. Therefore, I’m always on the hunt for semi-healthy snacks. My two middle kids snack on their self-made trail mix almost daily. Maybe it’s such a hit because they get to put chocolate chips in it, and they aren’t allowed to have the chocolate chips without other additions. I guess it goes back to this:

Image result for everything is better with chocolate chips meme

But if you can’t have the chocolate chips without the raisins, well then, where I live, you eat the raisins, too.

Image result for illy coffee3. Illy Coffee – New favorite splurge! It’s so rich and delicious. And also pricey, compared to our usual Seattle’s Best/Elixer of Life, but sometimes I find it marked down at T.J. Maxx and then I try not to shriek with glee in the middle of the store.

4. Electric Mattress Pad – I love warmth so much, and hate cold equally. I told myself this is the year I would finally buy some flannel sheets and save myself from freezing cold cotton sheets, but my husband beat me to the punch and purchased this thing when it was on sale before Christmas. It’s heavenly. The only downside is getting out of bed fifteen times a night with little ones is extra difficult.

5. Google Keep– When I’m overwhelmed with tasks and things to remember, I go back to the Facebook Live video by Aimee Kolmansberger that made me realize my brain is meant for focusing and creating and not keeping all the things organized and at the forefront of my mind. A lot of times, the overwhelm will happen when I’m driving or in the middle of something else. Enter technology! I like Google Keep because I can open a note in the app, click the mic button and start telling the app everything I have to do. Then I can go back to it later on my computer or phone and make a plan of attack when I have time to do that. I also keep notes of funny things my kids say, stuff I need to put in Baby books (one day), or books to check out at the library. Another perk of Google Keep is my husband and I can share grocery lists and to-do lists and whatever other notes. It’s like a shared bulletin board that goes with us everywhere. I’m a fan!

6. Seashell wreath – When I look at this wreath above my desk, I remember that there is such a thing as summer, sand, waves and warmth. I’m transported to Oak Island, NC, our family’s vacation spot since I was a little girl. My mom made this wreath for me for Christmas from seashells she has gathered over the years, and it’s by far my favorite home decor in my house right now.

7. The Psalms – I decided to read a Psalm a day in 2018. Best decision of the year so far.

8. The Great British Baking Show – I don’t like to cook a whole lot, but I’m actually inspired by this show. It makes cooking/baking into something more than drudgery. Maybe it’s the English country side and the soft music, but all of a sudden, I kind of feel like an artist when I craft something for my family. I get new ideas and I also relax and watch a TV show, which is a novelty in and of itself! Last week I up and decided to make a homemade chicken pot pie because of this show, and it actually turned out beautifully.

9. Thriftbooks. Even better than The Book Depository! For all your old book needs (which are mammoth in my life).

So those are the small things saving my life this winter! And all of the things on my last winter’s list are definitely still in my daily mix of favorites as well. What’s on your list? I hope the rest of your winter is short and wonderful!

Everyday Life

Cherries and Wicker – A Summer Favorite Things List

Back in February, I joined up with Anne Bogel and other bloggers to post about what was saving my life in winter. For sure, winter can be a bleak time when we need some life giving practices and a focus on celebrating the small things. It’s easier to thrive in the summer. Still, there are challenges in summer that make life a bit heavier than we’d like. Take swimsuit shopping, for example. Or cooking in 100 degree weather. So I thought it’d be fun to do a favorite things post in the summer. Because you know I’m always on the lookout for favorite things after failing to have any favorite things a year ago.

Here are a few of my favorite summer things this summer!

  1. Target Swimsuits – I told myself I would be a serious swimsuit shopper this year. I’ve had the same suit for three years and I was sick of it, even thought it was holding up surprisingly well for a $30 Target swimsuit. I scoured all the boutique websites friends were posting for great swimsuits, but nothing called my name. (Shout out to Camellias and Copper for collecting some great options in this post.) Then I happened to be passing through Target with only one child in tow, and thought, “Hey, I’ll just look real quick.” And I found a suit I loved in less than ten minutes. Sold! Apparently I am firmly in the Target swimsuit camp. I’m simply not a serious swimsuit shopper yet.
  2. Rainier Cherries – I always thought these cherries looked gorgeous when I saw them gleaming in the produce aisle, but I never bought them because of the price tag. How different could they be from these much cheaper Washington cherries? Oh, I was missing out. Rainier cherries are my new favorite summer snack. But for my favorite summer dessert, see the next item…
  3. Aldi Super Premium Ice Cream – Aldi is currently selling ice cream with only five ingredients in it – cream, sugar, eggs, milk, and cocoa or vanilla flavor. It is so choice. And only $2.99. Also, their Mango ice cream bars are highly addictive.
  4. Short runs – It’s pretty cool how “in” it is to run in 5ks, 10ks, and lots of other ‘Ks these days. We need better health in our country, and the popularity of running can only be a good thing. But I’ve come to grips with the way I run right now, and that is not with a lot of ‘Ks. My 10-15 minute run three times a week isn’t going to impress anybody, but I love it. I’m up early, I’m outside, I’m moving my body and breathing hard, but I’m not wearing myself out in this time of life when I’m already pretty dang tired.
  5. Wicker chairs – I got two of these wicker chairs from my husband for Mother’s Day/Our 12th Anniversary (they were on the same day this year), and they were every bit as wonderful as I thought they’d be when I oh-so-helpfully e-mailed a link to them to my husband a few weeks before Mother’s Day. (I’m learning.) I love sitting in these every chance I get, but especially early in the morning with coffee.
  6. Games with my kids – I am not as good as I once was at playing imaginatively these days. It’s sad, but I’m too tired and too distracted by my endless to-do lists. I still want to engage in play with my children, though, so having the perimeters that a game gives is invaluable. Our current favorites are Labyrinth and Authors. Uno and Monopoly, Jr. are also go-tos, and our favorite preschool game is and probably will always be Hi-Ho, Cherrio! I’m hoping to get Old Maid soon, another simple card game I think my kids would love.
  7. Ektorp Ikea couches – I’m telling you, once you have a couch that is washable, you might never go back. I’m livin’ the dream here. Sweaty kids/self? Spit-up from baby? Blood from the giant cut my son somehow didn’t realize he had on his foot? The dreaded stomach bug? It all comes out in the wash. They are quite comfortable, too, even according to my husband who was pretty resistant to the idea of Ikea furniture at first. We are now both big fans.
  8. Grass – Grass has made our summer. We’ve been living without it in our backyard for a year-and-a-half, but now that we had a good landscaper come and scrape the backyard of all its ivy and other infestations in June, we have been able to lay down some sod and voila! our backyard is an oasis. Summer vacation to the beach? Not happening this year. But a green backyard is a fabulous trade-off, in this family’s opinion.
  9. Book Launch Teams – I’m on two book launch teams this summer that I am thrilled about! Basically, that means I get to read advance copies of books and write about them. I’m like “eek!” inside every time I think about it. Look for reviews on Ruth Chou Simon’s new book and Melanie Shankle’s new book this month. Both books will release this Fall.
  10. These water bottles are so great for older kids. They don’t break, they don’t leak, they keep things cool. Violet had a smaller one, too, but she went all rogue two-year-old on us and threw it away at a baseball park this spring for no apparent reason. Sheesh. Toddlers. They are so cute and equally crazy.
  11. Every Mile Mattered – Nichole Nordeman released a new album on July 28th. I’m not a fan girl of any band or musician (other than maybe Switchfoot), but this has been on repeat nonstop on my Spotify app. I especially love her rendition of Beautiful Day.

And that wraps up my summer favorite things list! I hope your summer has been full of small and significant delights, and that many more are still to come.

Everyday Life, Parenting

Slow Summer

Summer is so wonderful. We love to go to the beach, the mountains, the library, the zoo, the park. Summer energizes this family and makes us want to go, go, go. But this summer, everything (including my reading pace), has been slow. Here’s why:

Lydia is sweetheart, we can’t resist her and her kissable cheeks, but we also can’t predict her. Her only pattern at 3-months-old is a good morning nap, and the rest is anyone’s guess. Sometimes she naps four times a day, sometimes we can’t get her to sleep from noon til midnight and we think we must be the worst parents in the world. Whoever says fourth babies just roll with it and are totally laid back…well, they haven’t met Lydia. Some days she’s completely blissful, some days she cries her head off. She’s not colicky but she’s not the classic happy baby. She’s just Lydia. And we love her.

Spending so much time trying to soothe a baby or catch up on all you haven’t been able to do while trying to soothe a baby (hello, dishes from yesterday) makes the summer surprisingly slow. The blessing in it is we don’t get tempted to dash off to a hundred parks and play dates. I pace and hold Lydia and listen to Ella, Isaac, and Violet play with cars, with Legos, and everything between. There are forts of sheets and chairs in the living room, there are paper crowns taped onto baby dolls’ heads, there are chores actually being done, there is an eight-year-old with a book on the couch on a rainy summer’s day….there are all sorts of beautiful, everyday things to soak in when you’re just holding a baby, and all kinds of opportunities for kids to just be and play and learn with no rush and hurry.

Would I like Lydia to have a more predictable schedule and to be happy all the time? Yes. Absolutely. But she is as unpredictable as she is cute (very). She’s a gift and she is unintentionally giving us the gift of a slow summer. I look forward to adventures with big kids, day trips to the beach and the mountains, a meal out without a meltdown, but for now…I’ll take the slow summer.

Whether your summer is full of slow days in the sun or jam packed with on-the-go fun, I hope you’re enjoying it fully and soaking it up.

Happy Summer!

Photos by Wenzel Photography (in a very casual, short photo shoot in the middle of a playdate! Aunts are awesome).

Everyday Life

Lydia Blythe

Our littlest girly arrived two weeks ago. Meet Lydia Blythe.

She came six days after her due date, at seven pounds and fourteen ounces, with a head full of hair and a good appetite for sleep (most nights). We are rejoicing. And we think she’s pretty cute, too.

Everyone is smitten, but nobody more than her big brother.

For the first two days after we brought Lydia home, I couldn’t get him to do anything but hover around her, begging to hold her. Never let anyone tell you that sisters are the only nurturing ones…this big brother is full of attentive care for his little sisters and cousins. Lydia’s two big sisters ask for their share of holding time, too.

The transition from three to four children has been much easier than the transition from two to three, but that’s largely due to Daddy being around way more, thanks to a much more flexible work schedule. It already feels like Lydia’s newborn days are flying by. We snuggle with her as much as we can, because we know she won’t be this small for more than a nanosecond.

So that’s what has been going on here! Aside from softball almost every night of the week for two of our family members, and racking up a $25 library fine in the past two weeks. Somehow, I forgot about not being able to drive for a couple of weeks after having a baby…should’ve returned those videos sooner. We’re off to the ATM and the library this morning to refresh our book selection! I’m hoping to post a Spring TBR list soon. Until then, Happy Springtime!

Everyday Life, Reading, Reviews

Reading and Waiting

The overnight bags are packed.

The baby clothes are washed.

The kitchen is cleaned, right down to a de-scaled coffee pot (as of last night).

The bassinet sits next to my bed, waiting, like the rest of us.

Even the laundry is folded and put away.

Come on, baby, I can’t keep this nesting up forever!

We’re three days past the due date of our fourth baby, and trying our best to be patient, but every day feels so full of uncertainty, it’s getting more and more difficult. And so…I read.

What have I read during the waiting?

Baby Catcher – I picked this one up when I couldn’t wrap my brain around preparing myself for another labor and delivery. Written in a light-hearted yet honest way, I thoroughly enjoyed Peggy Vincent’s account of her career. She started out at a time when twilight drugs were still used on women in labor and became a successful home birth midwife by the end. I almost wish I were having a home birth after reading it. Almost.

Mended – I love how Angie Smith writes about the love of God and how it has changed her. I loved her memoir, Chasing GodMended reads more like a devotional, and I am really enjoying it, as well.

Present Over PerfectAgain. I’m trying to go slower and soak more up this time, but it’s so good, I can’t slow down.

A Study in Charlotte – The ancestors of Sherlock and Watson meet again at a high school boarding school in the present day, and solve a mystery together. It could have worked out to be a great book…but it really didn’t. The mystery was long and convoluted, the characters as normalized teenagers lost their appeal long before the novel ended, and the teenage culture presented was just plain scary. If this is what teenagers are dealing with these days, I am locking my children in a Rapunzel castle. Or at least not sending them to boarding school.

Right now, I’m wanting another book like A Gentleman in Moscow. Any suggestions? Because who knows how much more waiting we have to go…

Everyday Life

The Things That Are Saving My Life This Winter – A Favorite Things Redemption Story

Have you ever been to a favorite things party? I’ve been to just one. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a party where each guest brings a certain number of one of their favorite things. This is usually just a $5 item or less, like a favorite candy bar or gift card to a great coffee shop. Then everyone swaps with other guests, and you leave with five or so of your friends’ favorite things. Last spring I went to this party, and I sat enthralled as each of the women in that living room went around and explained what favorite thing they brought and why she liked it so much. Each item was a tiny window into that person’s personality and life. People brought everything from dry shampoo to cups full of limeade (yesss) to a sweet syrup brought all the way from Germany. It was fun, but I was sad. Why? Because I had no ideas about what to bring to that party. How sad that I couldn’t think of any small thing I really liked! What was wrong with me?

Since that night, when I brought an assortment of not-very-special notecards from the dollar bin at Michael’s to a favorite things party, I’ve been keeping tiny lists around me–in journals, on my phone–of my current favorite things. Because if it’s the little things in life that mean so much, I should probably be aware of those little things. I’m happy to tell you, I recently got to ten items on that favorite things list! Success! That’s when I saw that Modern Mrs. Darcy is hosting a Things That Are Saving My Life blog post link up related to all the things that are getting us through this winter. The timing…wow. Plus, I royally hate winter. Now is the time I can finally share those things on my list! And they are absolutely all saving my life this winter.

  1. Method Grapefruit All Purpose Cleaner – My favorite all purpose cleaner ever. I discovered it when we were cleaning the house we are currently living in after buying it in sad shape. We’re talking pets-gone-wild sad shape, with a side of wild-animal-infestation to boot. Everything that didn’t get ripped out of the house got a coat of new paint or got sprayed with this. It smells so good and cleans/de-greases quite nicely. I am both happy and sad to report that I still use it daily. Happy, because I really do love it. Sad, because it means the potty training of our youngest isn’t going quite as smoothly as we would like…
  2. Mary Kay Shea Butter Satin Lips Balm + Blistex Orange Mango Blast – I just discovered the shea butter balm four days ago, and it is awesome. I put it on in the morning, and don’t feel the need to apply any kind of lip balm ’til the evening. Yes, it lasts that long. However! I couldn’t give up the citrus smell of the Blistex Orange Mango Blas. The citrus smell of this chapstick right under my nose eases pregnancy-related nausea a good bit. That nausea has kicked in again even though I’m in my third trimester because of heavy doses of iron supplements and prenatal vitamins. So this is my one-two chapped lips + nausea punch. If that doesn’t make sense, just go for the shea butter. It really is lovely.
  3. Neutrogena Grapefruit Cleanser – Are you sensing a theme here? I promise, not all of my favorite things are citrus related. I’ve been using this cleanser for about 10 months and it’s awesome for my skin, which is neither oily nor dry but prone to break outs. I don’t use it as directed, though. Instead of wetting my face first, I rub a dime size blob onto my dry face, brush my teeth, and then wet my face and scrub it around a little bit before washing it off. (I learned to do this and why in the very informative book The Acne Cure.) While I still have a blemish or two occasionally, I do not get “breakouts” or dry skin. And this cleanser does smell nice.
  4. The Bunny Clock”  – This gadget has been saving my life for the last three years. You could take all of the other items on this list from me, but not this one. I would weep. When our second born was almost two, he would get out of bed as early as 5:30 in the morning, and be up for the day. As Dame Judi Dench announces in Pride and Prejudice, “This is not to be borne!” So we found this thing (I can’t remember how), ordered it off of Amazon even though it was a whopping $50 at the time, and never regretted it one iota. It is worth its weight in platinum. If you have a small child that you’re struggling to teach to stay in bed until a decent hour in the morning, I cannot recommend this clock more.
  5. Blendtec Classic 570 – I’ve never had a blender before that costs more than $40. When our third cheapo one in ten years died, I decided it was time to do some research. My husband and I found reviews stating that Blendtec blenders work very well, almost comparably to a Vitamix or one of those $400-600 ones, but for about half the price. Then my very savvy husband also found a thread on slickdeals.net informing shoppers that TJ Maxx had recently been selling them for $150, brand new. Hello, bright red Blendtec on my counter, and thank you very much TJ Maxx! The smoothies I’ve been making since getting this blender are ten times better than any I’ve made before, which of course means I’m gulping down more fruits and veggies than ever before. If that isn’t a good winter blues beater, I don’t know what is! And my favorite smoothie recipes can be found on Monica Swanson’s site. They are delicious.
  6. Rooibos Tea – Two months ago, I would have told you I hate to drink tea. Unless my throat felt like it had been rubbed with rough grade sand paper. Then I might force myself to drink some lemon tea or something herbal and fruity like that. Then my sister brought a friend home from South Africa over Christmas who told us about Rooibos Tea. I found some at World Market and promptly fell in love. It is so delicious. Apparently there are a zillion-and-one health benefits, too, but I don’t even care. I “take my tea” with a bit of honey and a splash of milk. It’s like warm, liquid silk. I drink a cup or two on cold days. (Hey, it’s caffeine free and good for me!)(P.S. Thanks, Anika!)

    The little ones using my beloved throw early one morning.
  7. Sunbeam electric throw – My very thoughtful husband bought this for me for Christmas. I loooove it. It gets me out of bed early in the morning and onto the couch with my coffee, my journal, Bible, and notebook. Which brings me to number 8…
  8. Spiral Notebooks – I adore spiral notebooks. I have been scribbling in them for over fifteen years. I write to-do lists, schedules, project plans, reminders, blog ideas…everything. Yes, I know there’s an app for that. But I am a pen to paper girl, despite writing a blog, and I can’t do without the process of putting my thoughts through my pen with my own hand. It transfers them from obscure to concrete.
  9. Image result for i love my treadmillMy Treadmill (which is no longer in production) – Got my treadmill eleven years ago with my first paycheck after college. Loved it. Left it. Or, I should say, had to give it away because we downsized homes five years ago. As blessed providence would have it, right when we were moving into a larger house, our friends we gave it to were downsizing themselves. It is mine again! I know it may seem fake to say you love your treadmill (Hey, you’re being unreal! No one loves a treadmill!), but I really do. I love walking or running (when I’m not pregnant) on it and listening to audio books on Overdrive or podcasts on Stitcher. I love feeling my body working hard. I love that I can use it at night after the kids are in bed. Do I prefer the outdoors? Most days, yes. But being able to take a good, uphill walk without leaving the house is invaluable at this stage of life. I am a much happier mother and wife when I am getting exercise. I guess you could say this thing is saving my whole family’s life this winter.
  10. The Book Depository – You knew I couldn’t stay away from being bookish for long! Books absolutely keep me sane during the winter, and especially older books. A friend told me about this site a long time ago, but I totally forgot to check it out, and then another friend told me about it again, so I finally pulled it up on my computer and my bank account has been suffering ever since. Just kidding, I only bought two books (The Baker’s Daughter and The Blue Castle) but I don’t see my relationship with The Book Depository ending any time soon. Free shipping and old books! Winter is redeemed. (Also, if I hadn’t been so out of touch with my favorite things last spring, everyone would have received a copy of The Blue Castle at that party.)

Of course, there are three “things” always saving my life that I felt too obvious to name: coffee, library, husband. And it doesn’t hurt that we’ve had a slew of 70-degree days this past month. (Now’s the time when readers everywhere say, “You have no right to hate winter! No right!”). But 50-degree highs and rain are coming back this weekend, and I will be relying on all these things to see me through February.

What’s on your lifesaving list this winter?

Everyday Life, Reading, Reviews

Late January Decluttering Encouragement – More Wisdom from Books

A Gentleman in MoscowI mentioned in my quick-lit reviews that I was loving the book A Gentleman in Moscow but wasn’t finished with it yet. Well, I am finished, and I wholeheartedly endorse it as a great novel. It’s so much better than Rules of Civility by the same author. I couldn’t stop highlighting parts on my kindle; there were so many great quotes. One, in particular, struck me as just perfect for this time of year when everyone wants to declutter but may have lost some steam along the way, so I thought I’d share it with you today.

For eventually, we come to hold our dearest possessions more closely than we hold our friends. We carry them from place to place, often at considerable expense and inconvenience; we dust and polish their surfaces and reprimand children for playing too roughly in their vicinity–all the while, allowing memories to invest them with greater and greater importance. This armoire, we are prone to recall, is the very one in which we hid as a boy; and it was these silver candalabra that lined our table on Christmas Eve; and it was with this handkerchief that she once dried her tears, et cetera, et cetera. Until we imagine that these carefully preserved possessions might give us genuine solace in the face of a lost companion.

But, of course, a thing is just a thing.

-Armor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow

Yes, things are just things. So if you started out with a passion for decluttering this New Year that eventually waned, may this propel you forward to further  minimalist greatness. Or, simply ease our guilt about not dusting enough. Those things are just things, right?

Want more wisdom from novels? Check this post out

Children's Books, Everyday Life

A Day in the Life of Our Homeschool Family

I don’t write about our homeschooling journey very much. There are so many homeschool blogs available out there, who needs one more? But I have had several different friends and blogging buddies ask me about how we do homeschooling, and I always find it impossible to put it into words at the moment when I’m asked. Our philosophy and curriculum choice is a mishmash of Charlotte Mason ideas and traditional curriculum. The overarching idea is that we want our children to learn how to cultivate their skills in the things they’re good at and discipline themselves in the things they’re not. When it is all said and done, we want them to love to learn and know how to keep on learning when their school days are over. We also want to set their eyes on things that are beautiful and worthy of our attention. But how does that translate into every day life and curriculum choices, how much time we do or don’t spend on work books, what subjects we do or don’t do?

I firmly believe schooling in the early years should be simple. “Those things you learn without joy you will easily forget,” is a big part of my homeschooling philosophy. What it all boils down to in the day to day is really very simple, but I have a hard time telling people about it. So maybe I can just show you? With that hope, here is a day in the life of our homeschooling family.

 

Our Homeschool Day in 2nd Grade, Kindergarten, and Toddlerhood

6:00 – I get up to have some coffee and some quiet time. I love this morning time alone, but it will probably disappear in the next few months when Baby #4 arrives and I clutch every minute of sleep I can get. And please, do not let my early starting ways turn you off to homeschooling! This is just how I do things in this season of life. Lots of homeschool parents start their days later and it works just fine for them.

7:00 – The kids get up, we all eat breakfast, get dressed, do a few small chores like gathering dirty clothes and making beds.

8:00 – We start math. My husband’s work schedule allows him to be our math teacher about three days a week, which saves my life and the life of my children. That’s the main reason we start with math every day, not because I am a stickler for math before other subjects. We have used Horizons math curriculum from K-2nd grade. Our oldest two have done very well with it so far.

Break – After math, everyone takes a little break. I run a load of laundry, and do the breakfast dishes if I wasn’t able to do them earlier.

9:00 – Reading/Writing/Grammar/Spelling is all bound up in our Sing, Spell, Read and Write curriculum. It also includes handwriting. I love this program. Next year we’ll have to switch to something else with Ella (2nd grade) as it only goes through 2nd grade.

Break – Time to play a little, give Violet (age 2) some attention, switch the clothes from the washer to the dryer, etc.

10:00 – We all sit down at the kitchen table with a snack and I read aloud. If you are familiar with the morning time concept, this is where it fits in with us. And this is also the area of our schooling where the mishmash comes in. We always have Abeka history and science books going (I read from the 2nd grade level for both these subjects to Ella and Isaac(who is in kindergarten)), but we also have a natural science book (like this or this) and a read aloud based on the historical time period we are in. We also have a chapter book that I read aloud for literature, usually based on the wonderful Charlotte Mason curriculum, A Gentle Feast. We alternate science and history each day. Some days we will just read the Abeka book and do the craft or experiment that goes with it, some days we’ll only read our natural science book and do some sketching or artwork along with it, or some days we’ll just do our history read-aloud. Example: We just finished the Colonial Period in our Abeka history book and we read Felicity Learns A Lesson along with it. Now we are entering The Pioneers section and we are reading aloud The Cabin Faced West. When Ella was in first grade, we read The Story of the World instead of an Abeka history book, and both kids enjoyed that, too.

11:00 – Play time. I believe so strongly that playing imaginatively is equally, if not more, important than work books and curricula in the early years. My children need to move their bodies and engage their imaginations throughout the day. There’s nothing that will set them up for success in life like a cultivated imagination, and nothing that will take away their joy more than a lost imagination. As you can see, we work in a lot of breaks. While the kids play, I do some housework, check email, maybe prep dinner if I’m really on top of things.

12:00 – Lunch, then outside time if it’s a nice day. A few times a week, I’ll read to the kids from our literature book while we eat lunch. (See list of read alouds we’ve done below!) We may have to do an errand or two on some days in this time slot, and once a week we have gymnastics at noon. In the spring, we’ll get involved in t-ball/softball again.

1:00 – Rest time – Our toddler naps and the bigger kids stay quiet in the schoolroom for an hour on their own. Ella does unfinished math or writing from the morning during this time, or reads her own book to herself. Isaac almost always plays with Legos, colors, or looks at books.

2:00 – The older two are headed outside again! If the weather is bad, they’ll usually watch a short video.

3:00 – Snack time and literature read-aloud time if we haven’t worked it in earlier.

Our school day is over!

There are a few subjects I would like to put in to our days more often, like music or art or foreign language. Right now, though, a simple approach is all we need and it’s working well for us. I know my world is about to get rocked adding a newborn in the middle of the spring semester! Our schedule will definitely change, but I’m glad we have some sort of structure in place. Maybe (fingers crossed!) it will help my children know what’s expected of them when I can’t be as present for every single part of their school day.

I’m still figuring this homeschooling life out and will probably be doing so forever, but if you do have any questions you’d like to ask me, feel free to in the comments! I’ll do my best to answer them.

Below is a list of some of the read-aloud chapter books we’ve done since starting homeschooling. They would be great fun for any family, whether you homeschool or not! We also do lots of picture books.

  1. Mr. Popper’s Penguins
  2. B is for Betsy
  3. The Boxcar Children
  4. The Courage of Sarah Noble
  5. The Bears of Hemlock Hill
  6. Little House in the Big Woods
  7. Little House on the Prairie
  8. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
  9. Beezus and Ramona
  10. The Little Riders
  11. The Children of Noisy Village
  12. Kirsten’s Surprise
  13. Homer Price
  14. The Saturdays
  15. Phoebe The Spy
  16. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
  17. The Five Little Peppers
  18. Lady Lollipop
  19. The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook
Everyday Life

Light Has Come – Why Winter Can Be Bearable

Welcome to the 2016 Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year. We in the Northern Hemisphere are tilted as far away from the sun today as we ever get. In the past, I have dreaded this time of year, the dreary days of winter. Last winter was especially dreary. My husband and I spent all of our time from December to February in a drafty, smelly fixer upper, cold and cheerless. This year, we live in that fixer upper. It’s not drafty or smelly anymore–in fact, we feel it’s quite homey now–but as our first Christmas season in it approached, my feelings about it were kind of dim. After Thanksgiving, I started to look at this big white box of a house and think, “It’s so drab. How can we make look like Christmas?” I didn’t know where to start. We began our advent calendar tradition and pulled all our decorations down from the attic. Boxes of forlorn Christmas garlands and wrinkled red bows spilled over the living room and dining room, but none of it looked merry or bright. It all looked like an uninspired jumble.

The first few days of December came and went like that. The neighbors’ houses were
decorated, the pictures of friends’ beautiful holiday houses on social media flooded my news feed, the weather was cold, and I was a holiday sloth. “Maybe I’ll just hang a wreath and call it done.” I couldn’t find our wreath. But then we put up our Christmas tree. We found a beautiful one at the un-cool location of Home Depot and when we put it up, the lights shining through the deep green branches shed clarity on it all. Light.

We put lights up at Christmas because our souls need light in the winter darkness. 

Two trips to Hobby Lobby later, our front porches had garlands laced with lights and new red, cheerful bows on them. A few days and ten extension cords later, our windows had candles in them to light the night, and sometimes the rainy days. Our advent calendar ornament for that night, when all the lighting up of the house was done, was a candle.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

This is why stringing up all these unruly strands of lights is worth it and why  lights brighten our holiday spirits without fail- The Light of the World came into the darkness. And he stayed and dwelt among us. Christmas lights will come and go, but The Light in the dark days of winter remains.

"It will all shake out, meanwhile I'm putting up more twinkle lights." You've Got Mail Quotes: Am I excited about winter now? Not at all. I hate winter. But I’m pulling out all the candles in the candle box I seldom open, and throwing wide curtains on sunny days. As Meg Ryan says in You’ve Got Mail, “It will all shake out. Meanwhile, I am putting up more twinkle lights.” Her friend Birdie calls that “a fine idea,” and it is. Candles, twinkle lights, lamps in every corner, whatever it takes, we will have light this winter. Light will remind us that the deep darkness in our souls is no more, that The Light has come and He has stayed.

May your Christmas and your winter be merry and bright, full of lights and flooded by The Light.