REAL Essentials for This Tired Mom

I am trying to focus on the essentials. The REAL ones. In a practical language that my practical brain can understand.

As the day progresses, my main priority is attitude. Smiling, singing, patient, helpful, teaching, humble, prayerful attitude. Ok, that order is a little tall, so the simpler attitude would be peaceful and gracious.

The bulk of my day is spent responding to needs or hiding for breaks (haha):
Prepping meals, feeding kids, changing diapers, dressing children, refereeing conflicts, keeping the laundry going and kids out of trouble, keeping the budget up to date, paying bills, tending the garden (barely), picking up the house, helping Anna with math, etc.

(Ooh, right now, I’m scared of starting a full school load with the kids in the fall. I trust some time and rest and slow prep this summer will have me ready by September. Stressing about things in the future is pretty much not allowed. If I feel something stressing me much… I drop it. It will have to wait. Essentials first.)

Daily priorities:
One on one time with kids
Bible time
Nap or Quiet time (NOT computer)

The first six are my original list. I have not been successful in dedicated one on one time with the kids, so that is a goal of mine. And it DOES feel stressful, so I may have to change it somehow. But, parenting is just about on the tippity top of my main, high-level list, so I think it deserves its spot. The other three things have been mostly not happening up until this month, I have begun exercising daily (early AM walks) and making sure quiet time happens, though keeping away from the computer remains challenging. For Bible time, I have been surviving by remembering God’s promises to me and reading a few verses that are posted around the house or that Brian sends me in a text. I would like to give more of my mental energy to the Lord’s Word.

I mentioned my main, high-level list. It looks like this, in order of priority:

Take care of myself
Take care of my husband
Take care of my kids
Maintain friendships
Support those in need
Maintain less involved relationships

I have had quite a lot of less involved relationships since we moved a couple years ago. A couple of those have developed into deeper friendships, but I have worked hard for a long time on those less successful relationships and I need to let them go. I also need to let go of feelings of responsibility for those in need… well, more or less. That is, I need to put appropriate amounts of energy into keeping myself from sliding further into a place of desperate need so that I have more to give. And I don’t mean money. I mean emotional and mental health and well being. I have experimented with blessing others in order to be less self-centered and to release self pity. It was a good exercise and I should keep doing it. But I need to let go of those situations I don’t have resources for.

Ok… I know this isn’t complete or concise. I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

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Simplifying Your Life… Process for the Overwhelmed

Ok, so let’s imagine we write on an index card every thing that you do/want to do. The idea is, you’re going to look through the big stack of things that make up your life and try to remove some of them in order to simplify. You know you’re spread too thin, so this was your brilliant plan. (Thanks again, OneThankfulMom!)

Some things are easy to take out (things that aren’t even in there, for instance), like:
- Having kids in multiple sports at the same time
- Buying a membership or two and attending weekly its activities (Children’s Museum, OMSI, zoo, Children’s Theatre, Portland Symphony, etc.)
- Edging the lawn, removing unwanted bushes, and weeding beyond the main yard area
- And so forth and so on…

Some things I really want on my list… things I don’t want to discard:
- Attending most local free family activities (park days, festivals, face painting, ice cream socials, etc.)
- Weeding the immediate yard
- Keeping the blackberries down
- Weed control in the pasture
- Enrolling one child in one sport/activity at a time (ballet for Anna and gymnastics for Maggie)
- Not letting the laundry eat us alive (ie. Make sure we don’t run out of clean essentials)
- Keeping the floors clean inside (I don’t mean clutter… I mean dirt.)
- Washing the windows that Jordan has marked once a day
- Making bread and cheese now and then
- Daily wishes: quiet time, nap time, Bible time
- Responding to emails and phone calls… if not same day, at least sometime.

That’s just off the top of my head and those things… are not happening. And I haven’t been ok with that. BUT… I am going to learn to be ok with that! As my stress level decreases, regardless of the length of my list, I feel better and I do better at the things I do get to. I am learning to replace my feeling/thoughts of failure with new thoughts.

  1. I look at the grass and I think, “I don’t care if it’s a foot tall. That lawn mower part is coming in the mail and if the neighbors judge, too bad. I have more important things in my life than weeds and lawns.”
  2. I look at the laundry and think, “It’s ok that we’re out of napkins and towels. The towels are clean anyway; we can just pull them out of the basket. I’ll catch up again, I always do. Taking a moment of quiet time in my bedroom is just as important as folding the clothes piled in here.”
  3. I look at my big girls as they dance and sing around the house and think, “Going to class to learn dance and song and gymnastics is awesome and these girls would excel at them. But they are creative and learning and happy right here right now. Maybe they will go later, but even if they never do, they can still have good memories of their childhood.”
  4. I walk around downstairs and food, dirt and random stuff sticks to the soles of my feet… I think, “I will get Josie over here to vacuum. The floor is not my top priority….” Ok, so this one bugs me.

Honestly, they all still bug me, but I am intentionally (trying to) releasing them. I am trying to release all the non-essentials. I am trying to come up with the list of REAL essentials. And to enjoy the moments. And to rest. Rest in God’s love for me. Rest in my family’s love for me. Rest in God’s grace. Grace. That’s been a really important word to me lately. My husband, my family and God have been extending me grace. It’s a required ingredient.

Next post: Real essentials for this mom

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Humble Pie

A year ago, Jordan learned how to sign “eat!” We had been teaching him “eat” for 18 months. Since then, he has weeks and months where he signs perfectly, seeming to be communicating that he would like another bite. But every few days or months, he can’t sign eat but will only sign “drink” for days on end. Also, he spends a lot of time signing “eat” compulsively the whole time he’s eating his meal… less like he is trying to communicate. When you feed your son three times a day and he signs eat before each bite, this learning and unlearning is frustrating and makes you feel like a failure. And it’s hard to hold the bowl, the spoon and do hand over hand. Just saying.

Two years ago, Jordan was just learning to crawl and to stand. He was very withdrawn but could be taken most places without too many meltdowns. A year ago, Jordan was walking (slowly) and more engaged, causing it to be harder to go places without it being overwhelming. (Good and bad, right!?) This year, Jordan can run (more or less) is physically much bigger and has definite opinions about where he doesn’t want to go. I can’t just put him on my back so easily since he is so big… I am going to look into carriers for larger children, but I don’t know if they work for the child who is trying to escape. It is hard on a parent’s self confidence to look at the future and be wondering if you will be physically capable of keeping your child safe. It’s a blow to do a google search for safe restraining holds. And it can be crushing to see your son hurting and upset or terrified and have no power to comfort them. (Sometimes we can comfort him, sometimes we can distract him, sometimes… we can’t.)

Jordan didn’t use to communicate at all. Then he regained passive communication (crying when sad, smiling when happy, trying to get what he wants, etc.). Now, he is beginning to try to directly communicate. Unfortunately, the attempts are generally not received well by me: head butting, slapping faces, pulling hair, screaming, grabbing… I can usually remember that it is good he is trying and try to teach him the proper way to ask. It’s just… well, it took 18 months to teach him to sign eat, so I am a little discouraged.

When Jordan is experiencing illness or pain, we don’t know what’s wrong. We play a guessing game, wondering if the unusual crankiness or aggression is because of lack of sleep, an injury somewhere, a headache/toothache/sore throat/earache. Case in point: Jordan had strep throat three times in a row this spring. Not once was he diagnosed by us or the doctor until Maggie got it and she could communicate that her throat hurt. Now, it would have helped if he had gotten a proper fever like you’re supposed to when you have Scarlet Fever! Thankfully, he drinks medicine real well, so both he and Maggie are well again.

I hesitate to share this video of Jordan crying… but I think it will help you understand. I took the video, not knowing what else to do… wondering if I could show it to somebody and ask for help. Look at him looking right at me (yay! Great eye contact! Great looking to me for help!). Now imagine that he does not want to be held, touched, picked up, sung to or fed. All I could do was ask him to stay in a safe place and not throw himself around, hurting both him and me. He cried for about an hour. The next day Maggie had Strep Throat and we found out Jordan had it too. Poor boy.

The last several months with the strep throat keeping Jordan from being 100% tricked me into believing that he is never happy and that I’m a failure as a parent. Getting behind on housework and yardwork and feeling tired and muddled all the time is so discouraging. (Even with Carolyn sleeping better lately, I have trouble with memory and a foggy head most days starting about lunchtime.) I became snappy and crabby and impatient with the kids, with very little reserve left to absorb the daily challenges. Mealtimes with Jordan when he couldn’t sign… or when he misbehaved in the same way over and over (eating dirt, climbing into unsafe areas, knocking stuff off my desk, turning on the bathtub…) were frequent triggers that made me feel angry and then guilty and then hopeless on a regular basis.

I have three other little kids too and I know…. at least I believe I ought to be handling things better. I want to. I want to be patient, gentle, loving, generous and close to and with all my kids. And though Brian assures me that I’ve really been doing a good job, I doubt it. I see my failures in glaring clarity. I call out to God for supernatural aid and it’s like He is waiting for something before He answers. I don’t know what.

I did something… two somethings, unspeakably humbling this month. Maybe they shouldn’t be so humbling… but for me, it was. I called a counselor. I went and spent an hour talking with her. I would like to go back weekly… have to look at the budget first. Having a little direction from the counselor, I then scheduled an appointment with my primary care doctor to talk about medications for anxiety and depression. I filled that prescription, but our first choice had the side affect of keeping me awake. (bupropion) Next I will try Prosac. I don’t want people to know I take Prosac! I want to be successful all on my own. But I hate to be secretive. So here I am. Blogging. Blasting shame away from me by not hiding. (Thanks, OneThankfulMom… I appreciate you)

I don’t know if I can post this blog online. It’s all about my failure to love my son like he deserves and about the ways I don’t measure up. Here goes.

Next post: simplifying your life… process for the overwhelmed


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A Short Update

Hello all! I have been in a season of foggy brain and feeling overwhelmed. The Lord is not through with me yet. Here are a few pictures of some highlights and I hope to be more on my feet and back to blogging again soon. When one is fighting depression, it is hard to blog. What would I say? :-) Obviously, life is full and lively here and it’s not all doom and gloom. And there’s so much I could write. But it’s not coming easily, so I’m going to turn around and fold my laundry instead.

Here’s a beautiful song that encourages me to believe God loves me, I’m not a failure and to keep trying and keep hoping:

Taking advantage of sun when we can...

Taking advantage of sun when we can…

This will be harder now that Jordan is out of school.

This will be harder now that Jordan is out of school.

Such big girls now!

Such big girls now!

Carolyn is getting close to two years old!

Carolyn is getting close to two years old!

Cutie patootie..... hmmm

Cutie patootie….. hmmm

She smeared GOBS of Vaseline in her hair.  I could not get it out.  Finally, I rubbed corn starch into her vaseline slick and it soaked it up.  She left corn starch smears all over the house, but it was better than straight petroleum jelly smears.  Oh dear... some days.

She smeared GOBS of Vaseline in her hair. I could not get it out. Finally, I rubbed corn starch into her vaseline slick and it soaked it up. She left corn starch smears all over the house, but it was better than straight petroleum jelly smears. Oh dear… some days.

A creative snack time.

A creative snack time.

Happy to be playing with toothpicks.

Happy to be playing with toothpicks.

Carolyn just got raisins.

Carolyn just got raisins.

Strawberry picking!

Strawberry picking!

My Dad!!!!  And little Noralie.

My Dad!!!! And little Noralie.


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After My First Year Homeschooling: How to Teach your Kids at Home

Warning: I am a linear thinker and had to think this out in exactly the process that I do things in. This is just what I did this year and so that’s exactly how I describe it to you.

Is this what homeschool looks like, Mom?

Is this what homeschool looks like, Mom?

This was my first year really being a homeschool parent. Being a grown-up homeschooler doesn’t count. And the previous year didn’t count either, what with doing just three 10-15 minute kindergarten blocks per day while surviving two moves, a new baby, and no sleep. This year counts, though. We tucked a true “core” curriculum under our belts and first grade was a success. Next year, my goal is to bring back the joy of learning.

Here’s a little tutorial of “How to Homeschool,” Rachel Davis style:

Hint – read step five first.

Step 5:
Lesson planning
1. Take the list from Step 1 of the subjects you decided are important and lay it out on a week-long schedule, adjusting until it looks feasible.
2. Rewrite the name of each subject (math, reading, writing, etc.) onto its own sheet of paper.
3. Write down what resources you have for working on each subject and what you need to purchase. (Writing: College ruled paper, pencils, list of poem styles, list of types of creative writing, how to write a letter, etc. Need: Wide-ruled paper, more erasers, examples of poem types, etc.)
4. Type up a weekly schedule/chart that shows which subjects you’re doing each day, Monday-Friday. Typing is important, so you can print one out each week without rewriting it. Leave a blank for the date at the top and leave room to scribble details about that week’s plans. For example, on Monday mine has Writing, but when I get ready for the week, I hand write it with things like “letter to Grandma” and “remember to check spelling.”
5. Ta-da! You are prepared!



Decide what to teach: (subjects)
1. Make a list of all subjects you can think of.
2. Look up your state’s list of all the subjects they want you to teach. This tells you what level they should be at also.
3. Get overwhelmed, because you can’t possibly do all that. Then realize that nobody can or does learn every one of those subjects in its entirety (am I the only one who tries to learn everything about every subject all at once?). Relax. Then, notice that you can do four subjects at once and accomplish more off that list than you thought. For example, Reading, Language Arts, Spelling, and Handwriting are incorporated into just about every other subject, be it science, history or whatever it is you want to learn about.
4. Make yourself another list: Make columns that show
-things that are absolutely important academically this year. (core)
-things that you really want to do but aren’t on the core list (extra curricular?)
-things that you will save for later
5.Now that you have all the must-haves listed, put the list away somewhere safe. Put it out of your mind. Because, you know what’s more important than academics? It’s a happy house where people are loving and respectful of each other and cheerfully help each other. Accomplishing everythign academically does not equal success. Love and joy and character are better measures and they do best in a home where academics are in their proper place. Loosen up. Put on some music and dance with the kids. Release your imagination and just learn something fun together with your kids. Now, bottle that feeling up! You want to pour that liberally into your school year.

Homeschool break!


How to get it done (weekly schedule):
I liked to pick certain things for each day. That way we don’t try to do everything in one day. And it seems to be about the right amount of structure to keep us working without being so inflexible that normal life can’t happen. Well, that’s the idea anyway. I do stop school and go do other stuff some days. I think of my weekly schedule as a goal list and it helps to motivate me to keep working on things.

Here’s our weekly schedule for last year (first grade) and the order we worked on things during the day:

Monday/Wednesday/Friday: Mom reads to the kids, Handwriting (snail mail Monday and Wednesday, copywork on Friday), Math workbook (I liked Horizons), workbook pages (like the Brain Quest workbook… these are usually a little easier, but provide some variety and practice)
Tuesday: Mom reads, we practice piano together, we do visual math (Cuisenaire Rods or Base 10 math or Math U See type stuff), a science experiment or project, workbook
Thursday: Mom reads, piano, visual math, Art or cooking together, workbook
On that same little calendar, I made a note of anything else that happens: AWANA club on Wednesdays, Bible time with Papa before bed, goal to visit a friend or park once per week.

Music appreciation?

Music appreciation?

How to get it done (daily schedule):
I had a hard time figuring out what was best for the daily schedule. Morning chores first or second or halfway through? Definitely, I found that the morning worked best for us. How to work in the one-on-one school with the little kids’ needs? How to read to the girls with a baby turning toddler climbing up and demanding things from you? What ended up working the best this year for us was generally this little process:
*Have breakfast, get dressed, do hair, do morning chores
*Sit and read with mommy – give toddler snack and pray you finish before she does
*Give the other kids snacks and pull out and show them their work for the day. (Anna had full school – first grade. Maggie had workbook pages… pre-K… her goal was to do at least one of the pages according to the instructions. She surprised me and often did the pages carefully.)
*Do school. In case of hard “I can’t do it!” days (the kids or myself), I encouraged kids to go out and get the chicken eggs, we ran around the house and played chase, we turned on music and boogied and just generally shook things up for 10 minutes as needed. It wasn’t all fun and games… mostly, we tried to put our nose to the grindstone and get some basic schoolwork done this year.

Building a volcano

Building a volcano

What books to use (curriculum)
You can do ANYTHING. What curriculum to use is a big question. For the primary grades at least, though,you can just make it up! Consult the list you made in step one. Can you think of things to do for the core list? What do you need help with? Is it scheduling that stresses you out or finding materials? I’m a “make my own” kind of person, but it still really appeals to me to purchase a kit with everything I need. I love the way a structured curriculum is laid out for you. I also don’t love that, because it makes for less flexibility.
Two curricula that I’ve heard great things about: My Father’s World and Sonlight
Sonlight costs more, but is a super comprehensive pack. It appeals to the organizer in me. Somebody really loved organizing the curriculum and did a good job. My Father’s World looks great on my friends’ kids and I expect I’d like it too. Next week, I get to go to a curriculum fair in Portland. I’ll pay $15 just to look at tables full of books, but for those books that I want to purchase, it is helpful and inspiring to preview books along with other homeschooling parents.

If it didn’t cost lots of money, I would probably be using one of these two, I think. Since it does cost money (several hundred dollars per year), I make up my own. I rather enjoy looking through the materials I have on hand and matching it up with the subjects they need to learn.

Always nice when there are smiles during school!  And pbj on your pages. :-)

Always nice when there are smiles during school! And pbj on your pages. :-)

My Made-up 1st Grade Curriculum:
Read-aloud time to kids: I have a long list of great early chapter books and I slowly worked my way through all of the Little House series and a bunch of the Magic Tree House books. I have a tallllllll stack of awesome books I want to read with the kids. I hope I get to.
Reading: For first readers, I like BOB books, the Hooked on Phonics first books, and Hop on Pop. After that… well, they kinda take off. Just go to the library often, consult reading lists, collect books at garage sales, etc.
Writing: I don’t have a program for this. Handwriting has still been pretty slow, so we didn’t need much. But we’ve worked on letter writing, a couple poems, and a first story. There are so many things to learn how to write… I am looking forward to her speed increasing so she can do more. Her imagination is fast already! (Fiction stories, non-fiction accounts, writing processes, writing a bigillion types of poems, letter-writing, formal-letter writing, speeches, and the list goes on. Google it.)
Math: I wanted a workbook for her basic math. I didn’t want to miss things now that we’ve moved beyond learning kindergarten math. I found Horizon math workbooks to fit the bill, but I’m sure there are many options. I wanted to do some more conceptual work with math, though to help the ideas stick better. So I got some Cuisenaire rods and I have some base ten rods and singles and I inherited some workbook pages for those and we build our math problems with them some days instead.
Workbooks: These probably aren’t necessary, but it gives Anna a chance to reinforce old concepts and introduce subjects we didn’t get to this year. I liked the BrainQuest one and she actually went three this year. At about $10 each, it wasn’t too expensive and the pages are usually a more colorful and slightly lower level than the rest of their school. It was a nice independent-work way to end the school days.
Music: I know how to play the piano, more or less, so I chose piano for Anna’s first music exposure beyond cds. I can teach her how to hold her hands, how to read the notes and encourage her to practice. She practiced with me for 10-30 minutes twice a week and that was all our relationship could handle. :-) Then I had her practice for 15 minutes a couple other days a week. Obviously, we didn’t get very far, but she is learning and it enriched our school experience.
Science: Formal science is what keeps falling out of our school experience. It is usually so messy and mom-intensive! My goal was to do one science experiment a week, even if it was a little one. We probably did 10 all year. But I tried to introduce the scientific process (observe, predict, uhh… observe, take notes, draw conclusions. Obviously, I need some work on this.) We have science notebooks and I encouraged them to write down what we did, what things looked like and so forth. Eventually, they will know how to track data and be able to reproduce things, which is important for an aspiring scientist. I have a new plan for next year.
Art & Cooking: Because these are messy and mom intensive, we did this once per week and we usually did it. Cooking is easier for me, because I can incorporate it into what I’m doing for the family anyway. We’re still just doing basic stuff, but it’s fun and they can make more elaborate things when Mom is there compared to when they craft on their own. Anna has made from scratch pudding quite a few times with me and cookies and some other stuff. Nothing like sugar for a motivator!
Field Trips: On my list of field trips, I put things like parks, friends houses, local museums, OMSI, etc. Basically, it was any out-of-the-house adventure. I didn’t include grocery trips. haha
Friends: Friends and input from other adults is important. We didn’t join a co-op this year, but we did go to a kid’s club once a week (AWANA) and also tried to see friends regularly. I’m hoping that as the kids get a little older, we are able to participate in 4-H and have more playdates.
: I added typing and spelling late in the year, using free online programs. I didn’t really like my spelling program, but I like BBC’s Dance Mat Typing as a typing coach.
There are other subjects… for example, I incorporated History into my “mom reading” time for the first half of the school year. Culture studies are still pretty easily worked into everyday life. I need some more language arts help in the next year or two as Anna takes off with writing. I would love to find a really amazing video history series that brings history to life.

Field trip...

Field trip…

What I want to do next year:
Writing this all out has me pretty excited to go through the steps again for second grade! I love the excitement that comes with preparing and the first weeks or months of school.
This year, Anna didn’t like school after a few weeks. It was just work for her. Although I don’t think we’ll overcome that, my number one goal for next year is to discover a joy of learning. Since Anna can read quite well now and the little ones are sleeping better now, I hope to be successful in this. My first “fun” learning project that we’ll do ongoing is to make a “Field Guide,” researching and documenting the different plants and animals and bugs and rocks we see at our home. I hope it works out!

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