2017 By the Numbers, So Far

How do you measure a quarter of a year? On any given day of 2017 I’ve felt like I’ve been hanging on by my fingertips… but I can look back in awe already and appreciate that I’m here and smiling with a whole pile of memories and personal triumphs, if I count picking myself up after I fall as a triumph. And I do. ūüôā

Mostly I’ve had some minor victories over my tendencies towards impatience, selfishness and perfectionism, but also I’ve had the chance to be resourceful, develop greater empathy and live by faith. (That’s another way to say these past few months have rocked my world.)

Some days have been full to bursting and some nights have been long and heartbreaking, but they would all be a blur without the photos I took here and there and my 10 year journal. Thank goodness for habits.

Let’s see if I can tell these months’ story through numbers. Most are firsts for us!

1 set of house plans (finally) approved. ¬†Well, approved by me and Scott anyway. Surely we must be pickier than the city? ūüėČ

After failing to find any floor plan that fit our family, we started with a blank piece of paper. Remember Harry Potter’s blood quill in detention with the detestable Delores Umbridge? I feel like maybe our floor plan ultimately got drawn up with one of those. It was so painful by the end to figure out that balance of easy-to-clean, super functional for a large homeschooling family, beautiful, and not-so-expensive. Now we have breathed a huge sigh of relief and are ready for the easy* part: building!

*If this part is, as I suspect, not in fact easy… please don’t mention it yet. Ignorance is fewer gray hairs for now.

2 extra kiddos we’ve been hosting through Safe Families for Children.

~7¬†weeks we’ve been a “family” of 8.

1st time in my life at the grocery store when someone has told me I had my hands full that I totally agreed with them.

6 kids 9 and under is a lot.

The short story is: I had an appointment to apply for a loan for the construction of our dream home and I ended up canceling it because we got a call just an hour beforehand from a single mom who was losing her apartment and her children and needed immediate help to keep her family intact. Boom. Perspective on a platter. It was a tremendous and humbling opportunity for us to center our attention on what matters most (relationships, souls, families) and let what matters less (mudroom dimensions) take a backseat.

10¬†weeks Scott has been doing P90X3 without missing a day. ¬†I’m truly impressed, considering that lots of my own goals have been jettisoned in the last few months as I’ve tried to stay afloat.

11pm is the time I try to be in bed by.

2 nights¬†this year I’ve actually been in bed by 11.

8 times I loaded (and unloaded) all the kids into (and out of) the car this past Wednesday.  It shall henceforth be known as Black Wednesday in the memories of us all. School pickup and drop off for one of our guest kids, Joy School for Daniel, a meeting with our builder and draftsman,  and a church activity for Mackenzie.  Each activity seemed good in isolation but was too much for everyone in sum.

2 soccer balls that have rolled down our heinous driveway so far this year. ¬†One was recovered several blocks away. It’s the fourth¬†one since we’ve moved here that has been lost and subsequently found, which is amazing since we really do live on a layer of hills. ¬†Our new driveway will¬†not be treacherously steep. Just sayin’.

1 dropped and smashed dish, 1 dropped and spilled container of brown sugar, countless epic meltdowns by various children, 2 wet pairs of pants, ¬†1¬†broken dishwasher,¬†1 leaky roof, 1 broken water pipe, ¬†countless squabbles amongst children when you factor in there are 15 different relationships¬†potentials for conflicts between the 6 of them and they’re all sharing toys and space and beds, 2 days spent sledding down our heinous glorious driveway on cereal boxes, 1 water fight outside that turned a flour fight(!), ¬†lots of prayers for the mother of our guest kids, 1 homeschool spelling bee coordinated, ¬†1 Sunday on time for church and many Sundays late despite giving it my best effort.

1 attempt to french braid kinky hair (she promptly took it out so she wouldn’t have to go to school ‘like that’. Doh. ūüôā Apparently I’m supposed to ignore her when she says it hurts and just braid tighter!

1 week long “whale spout” hair style for Josie courtesy of our guest 4 year old who thought the diaper cream was hair grease and gave Josie a good application of it while I was in the shower.


2 pig tails courtesy of Josie’s adorable mullet.


4 times my friends have saved my (vegetarian) bacon with last-minute babysitting when I was in a tight spot. Twice I had extra kids for them to take care of and they welcomed them with open arms.

Hundreds of great books read. This is a constant in our family and an anchor when life gets crazy. We’ve read piles of picture books and a good number of great chapter books already this year. ¬†Specifically, Jim Dale’s reading of Peter Pan has me laughing every time we get in the car. Also Mary Poppins, Where the Red Fern Grows, A Little Princess with Caitlyn, The Princess and the Goblin with Mackenzie, The Jungle Book, and more. Sharing stories together is priceless and has really helped us envelop the extra kids into our family culture.

For me to remember: When I felt pretty helpless to “save” this sweet family from being split up, I tried to focus on what I¬†could do. Give the kids love and security in our home, primarily, but also I helped the 7 year old become a confident reader. ¬†She was struggling and set to finish 2nd grade believing she couldn’t read. ¬†We turned that right around together and with hard work on her part she’s now a voracious reader. ¬†I hope it takes her far.

1 visit to the temple, seeking peace. I found it there, as I always do.

1 opportunity for Mackenzie to sing in Germanic Latin.  She performed Carmina Burana with Willamette Master Chorus (including Scott), a live orchestra and live dancers.  It was a treat for all of us.

1 dream come true: In case you haven’t heard it from her (and you probably have), Caitlyn is now an actual real live ballerina. We watched the documentary¬†First Position a while back and she’s had stars in her eyes ever since. When we finally signed up for a class I think the whole world knew where Caitlyn would be on Tuesday afternoon. We have had lots of discussion about how this is ballet and not talk-et but judging by my peeks through the window she’s still getting plenty of chat time in the studio. ūüėČ


1 new Bean Reader! Daniel finally finished up his 100 Easy Lessons and boy were we all excited. I gave it my best effort to be consistent and it still took far more days to get those lessons in than it did for his older siblings. But hey, being third in line has its perks. He had encouragement from his older sisters helping him to the end.

(See that little handful of cold cereal by his knees? Yep, those came to some of our longer lessons.)

1 photo flashback captured when I realized that this little darling was wearing the same dress (in a similar church lobby) as her big sister did 8 short years ago:

Josie’s babyhood has had a smaller slice of my attention, by necessity, but I’ve relished it more because I know just how short it is.

Dancing in the lobby doesn’t last forever, except in pictures. Thank goodness for pictures.

Posted in Life as we know it | 5 Comments

Looking at a glass, darkly

My six year old daughter is staring down her glass of cranberry juice when I walk into the kitchen.  Ever since she had pyelonephritis as a toddler, I crack open a bottle of the good stuff at the first sign of a UTI.

The cold juice I poured a while ago is now tepid and still she sits before it. ¬†She’s talking to herself, but it’s loud enough that I¬†overhear. ¬†“You would think I would like it,” she says, regarding the glass.¬†“After all, it’s pink!”

Then, after a moment’s reflection, “But it’s dark pink.”

She warms to the topic now. “Evil¬†pink. ¬†TOXIC pink.”

Her voice lowers to a whisper, for effect. “Treacherous pink.”

Then she sighs heavily, shrugs, and bottoms up.

Drama is in this lady’s past, present and future.


Posted in Life as we know it | 4 Comments

Fighting Infobesity: 17 Ideas for Slimming Down Part 3

Read part 1 here, and part 2 here.

11. Stay grounded in old truth.

Thousands of years of profound thinking have generated a body of wisdom that cannot be snacked on. It must studied diligently to be absorbed. I highly recommend starting the day with at least 15 minutes of a hearty breakfast: religious texts, classic literature, etc.

The pull of my phone is strong when I wake up in the morning, but when I deliberately grab truth before I grab what’s new, I reinforce to myself what I value. It’s a subtle but real willpower boost for me to stick with this habit.

(I have lots of young kids and there have been many days and weeks straight where I wake up to a child and what I do first in the morning is change a diaper or change a bed. However, I commit to reading truth before reading anything else, when the opportunity to read does present itself.)

Dietary corollary: ¬†Fill up on vegetables and everything else will be less of a problem. Cauliflower shouldn’t have to compete with candy. Candy might be alluring but cauliflower saves lives.

12. Decide already.

When starting to research something online, be it a microwave or a flight, begin¬†with deciding on how much of your time the decision is actually worth. Then set a timer. It’s embarrassing to admit that I’ve spent over an hour making a $10 decision on many occasions.

Dietary corollary: Decide before you go to a restaurant or party how much you will eat and stick with it instead of agonizing over the possibility of a second (and third) helping. 

13. Put your device to bed.

When screens have an earlier bedtime than I do,¬†I suddenly have time to do many of the things I “wish I had time for”: drawing, exercising, writing a handwritten thank you note, getting lost in a good book, etc. ¬†These are all things I value but they would get squeezed out of my life if I didn’t set conscious¬†limit on screens.
I heard a psychologist recently describe a “flow” state of mind, which includes losing track of time doing something you enjoy and coming away at the end refreshed. ¬†She pointed out that when we watch television or scroll¬†social media, we experience “sham flow.” ¬†We get swept up in it and lose track of time, but we end up feeling depleted afterwards. ¬† If we’re losing sleep and time, that’s a triple whammy.

Dietary corollary:¬†After dinner, clean your kitchen and clean your teeth. ¬†Late night snacking loses its appeal after you’ve flossed and infrequent are the times I snack late and don’t regret it.

14. Timewarp it.

I installed a free plugin (Timewarp, but I’m sure there are many) that puts a stopwatch on my screen¬†anytime I visit certain sites. ¬†So far I only have it on for Facebook but I might add gmail to the list. ¬†This is an¬†antidote to sham flow (see #13) because it makes it impossible to lose track of time. ¬†I can see right there that though I got on Facebook to send an important message, I’ve slipped into mindlessly¬†scrolling for 17¬†minutes and counting…

Dietary corollary: Write down what you eat in a food diary.  The increased awareness will automatically reduce mindless calorie consumption.

15. Build in stillness

I think we’ve all heard that we need to be comfortable in our own skin, and I would add that we need to be comfortable in our own heads. ¬†Whipping out a device seems to have become¬†a reflex, a knee-jerk reaction to a momentary pause in conversation or a pause in life. ¬†But if we want to increase in wisdom and understanding, we need to stem the flow of information and start grappling with what we have already heard and seen. Look up from your device. ¬†Look around yourself.¬†Look inside yourself. Be deliberately still. ¬†Be the only parent¬†at swim practice who’s not glued to a screen. Schedule thinking time on a regular basis if needed, and bring a pencil and a paper if it helps you clear your mind.

Dietary corollary: Commit to experiencing hunger between meals. Hunger is the best sauce, yet we tend to seek food as soon as we feel the first twinge of discomfort from an emptying stomach.

16. Savor it.

This is a simple habit but a powerful one. ¬†When you watch a beautiful video or read something fascinating¬†online, pause. ¬†Instead of instantly looking for the next funny video, witty remark or piece of news, just sit with what you just experienced for a moment. ¬†It will be more funny, more thought-provoking, more useful if you take a moment to let it sink in. ¬†There’s a better chance you’ll be able to recall it and use it later if you savor it a bit now.

Dietary corollary: Savor it. And, eat things that are worth savoring rather than larger quantities of lower-quality food.

17. Work for it.

When a topic interests you, resist jumping right to wikipedia to skim the gist of it. ¬†Instead, sometimes seek out a well-written book by someone who is passionate about the topic. ¬†We value things we work for and doing the hard work of reading an engaging book rather than just blistering through a summary article online will give you both a more lasting knowledge of the topic and the pleasure of entering into someone else’s experience.

As a bonus, you side step some of the inherent danger in the way information is conveyed  online Рthe line between factual and vetted vs. persuasive has been blurred to the point where the relative merits of the information are hard to gauge.  You can read in an encyclopedia that lemurs are long-tailed marsupials. You can read on a blog that lemurs are dumb.  Google will dump both of those on the first page of search results.

An observation: Google favors what’s recent, and wisdom favors what endures.

My opinion: People who read great books tend to be more interesting and have a richer thought life than people who acquire information solely from flitting about online.

Dietary corollary: People who cook food from scratch tend to be thinner than those who grab convenience foods.

Wrapping it Up

I use multiple devices every single day. I stream great music, read fascinating and uplifting content, and connect with people I care about online.  There are so many good and beautiful things technology brings to my life.


The 17 ideas in this series continue to help me as I seek a healthy relationship with technology and its accompanying glut of information. What helps you?


Posted in Life as we know it, Parenting & Household Hacks | 2 Comments

Fighting Infobesity: 17 Ideas for Slimming Down, Part 2

Read part 1 in this series back here.

Note: Not all of these next ideas had an immediately obvious dietary corollary and I opted not to push the analogy to the breaking point.

5. Ditch the games.

I enjoy playing computer games, but there are so many other things I enjoy at least as much that bring more value to my life and relationships. Knowing that I have had a tendency to get hooked on¬†games¬†in the past,¬†when I first got a smart phone I decided not to put¬†any games on my device. ¬†I applied the same principle to my iPad and it’s served me well. ¬† One decision made years ago has freed up countless hours of my time to use in ways that make me happier.

(If games truly make you happier, than you’re probably making the right call by having them on your device. These ideas match my priorities and interests but may not match yours.)

Dietary Corollary: If, considering objectively, you’d rather not eat a box of cookies then skip the cookie aisle at the store entirely.¬†

6. Turn off alerts.

There are very few things outside of my little sphere that I need to know immediately. ¬†I’m not a fire fighter or an emergency room doctor.

In fact, to be excellent at what I do it¬†is¬†critical that I focus as much as possible on the task at hand without interruption. ¬†I’m a homeschooling mother. Looking into my child’s eyes as we talk, snuggling a kid while I read them a book, and cranking out dinner to feed the masses while under pressure all¬†benefit from complete attention. ¬†So I protect that attention as much as possible. ¬†My¬†devices don’t¬†beep or ping or buzz unless I have text or phone call, and my phone generally lives on the kitchen counter by the charger, not in my pocket. The world won’t implode if I don’t notice a text for several hours. ¬†I’m just not that important except to my immediate family.

(If there is a crisis with my family or friends, they know they can reach me by calling my house phone twice. )

Dietary corollary: Recognize that advertisements for food¬†are designed to entice you into eating something you otherwise wouldn’t… and broccoli doesn’t have an ad campaign.¬†

7. Unsubscribe regularly.

Periodically I realize I’m subscribed to a bunch of email newsletters that I immediately delete anyway. ¬†I try to keep my inbox at zero and I’ll find myself just mechanically swiping at¬†messages that don’t apply to me. ¬†When I take a few minutes and deliberately unsubscribe from things I’m no longer interested in, it reduces the daily digital clutter and associated decision fatigue dramatically.

Dietary corollary: When you find yourself slipping into poor dietary habits, do a course correction. Address the problem, throw out the ill-advised bag of Rolos and get on with life.

8. Deal with deals.

Gmail has the excellent ability to snatch messages before they even hit your inbox.  I use this in a couple great ways.

Although I am not a big shopper, when I do buy I like to get a good deal so I was subscribed to quite a few stores’ promotional emails. After a time, I realized I was using great coupons but spending more money overall when those things landed in my inbox. ¬†I was giving advertisers prime real estate in my brain. ¬†So, I reversed my¬†process.

Now, after I decide I want to buy something, I seek out a coupon.

I use Gmail’s filters to snatch all the “deal” emails I receive with coupons or sales and dump them in a Deals folder I created for that purpose. ¬†Truthfully, a year later, I’ve yet to look in that folder.¬†It turns out a quick Google search usually brings up the best discount codes anyway.

9. Give the good stuff good attention.

I filter out all the blogs and informational newsletters I subscribe to, except the single blog that is time-sensitive. ¬†I have all this great stuff land in a “Read/Review” folder and I check it when I have a small¬†chunk of time¬†and would like to read something interesting.

Before I started filtering them, those emails would land in my inbox right along with emails requiring action on my part and correspondence from friends and family. ¬†So I’d either read them immediately and delete them, or allow them to hang out in my inbox and muddy the water. ¬†Content like blogs, newsletters, etc. in my inbox lured me into¬†reading random stuff that felt “productive,” which is an insidious distraction from the reason I dipped into my inbox. ¬†Yes, I am interested in “10 Tips To Organize Your Schoolroom!” but not at the very moment I was looking for an response from my sister-in-law about our travel plans.

I was consuming information when I wasn’t in a place to really absorb it. ¬†I found myself¬†skimming¬†blogs when I should have been moving projects forward. ¬† Then later when I wanted something great to read online I would end up mindlessly scrolling Facebook, having nothing waiting in the wings. ¬†Now I’ve got a beautiful “Read/Review” folder loaded with content ready to be enjoyed and absorbed¬†when I take time¬†to focus on it.

10. Hold office hours for your email.

“When you’re checking your email, you’re checking someone else’s agenda.” ¬†I heard that recently at a great conference and it rang true with me. ¬†Email has a powerful ability to derail whatever else¬†I’m focused on.

Scott had a professor in medical school who included in her email signature a polite note about the hours she responds to her emails during the day. “I read and respond to e-mails twice daily, between 9am and 10am and between 4pm and 5pm.” ¬†I thought that was fairly particular at the time, but I see the wisdom in it now. ¬†Again, I’m just not so important that an email can’t go unanswered for 4 hours (see #6). ¬†And the constant pull to check my email during the day does me no favors.

A wise homeschooling mother once wrote on her blog, “email before breakfast is for early risers.” If I get sucked down that rabbit hole before I’m dressed for the day, have food for all the little ones depending on me, and have applied Idea #11, our whole morning is side-tracked. I personally do a quick 2 minute check-in after I call the kids to breakfast and I only handle the urgent and quick issues at that point. I’ll block out some time mid-morning if there are other urgent and important things on my plate, otherwise I’ll typically wait until Quiet Time in the afternoon or my project time in the evenings. Ideally I like to batch-handle things so all my finance stuff gets tackled one day a week, all my long-term calendaring & non-urgent phone calls happen once a week, etc. That is generally far more efficient than bouncing around trying to address everything as soon as it comes in.

Dietary Corollary: Be like the French and eat only when appropriate. I noticed last time we were there that everyone wandering around snacking in Paris is a foreigner. If a Parisian is going to eat, he or she sits down and has a proper meal. It’s more enjoyable and satiating and allows for hours in between meals to focus on soaking up the art museums. ūüėČ

paris eclaire

See how tasty that eclaire looked? That’s like a lovely full email box and a nice free block of time to handle it with a good appetite. Checking your email constantly means you run the risk of having “No new messages” despite a bunch of stale¬†ones still sitting there waiting to be handled. Bleh.

On to¬†Part 3…

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Fighting Infobesity – 17 Ideas for Slimming Down, Part 1

When I graduated from college nine years ago, I didn’t even have a cell phone. ¬†¬†iPads were just a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ eye, having a hotmail email address was acceptable, and we still used the term¬†“answering machine.”

The glut¬†of devices,¬†social media sites,¬†and¬†other¬†bright and shiny distractions today comes with¬†some challenges. ¬†It’s not the technology. Any two year old can navigate an iPad. It’s the implication of having constant access to a fire hose of information at a moment’s notice. The¬†love of learning that served me so well in my youth has become a bit of a liability. ¬†I can look up¬†anything I want to know in an instant. ¬†That’s not to say¬†that¬†wisdom¬†or even worthwhile knowledge can be gained in an¬†instant. They can’t.¬†But the information is so tantalizingly quick to access that I fall prey to the temptation to google-solve my problems just the same.

The information is¬†often pre-chewed as well. Much like a fast food burger is engineered to slide down my throat without the inconvenience of utensils or undue mastication,¬†someone else’s answer to any question under the sun is available as a tasty, 140 words-or-less morsel.

I have four young children growing up with an all-you-care-to-consume buffet of people’s opinions presented as fact.

They will never know the freedom of buying a toaster without the nagging suspicion that if they had only spent an hour wading through reviews of various models they’d have ended up with a superior product.

T.S. Eliot wrote the following 80 years ago and it’s sobering to read¬†today:

“The endless cycle of idea and action,

Endless invention, endless experiment,

Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;

Knowledge of speech, but not of silence….

Where is the Life we have lost in living?

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

More so than at any other time in history, children today will need to know how to evaluate information for accuracy.  They will need to consider what knowledge is worth acquiring. They will need to apply wisdom to the use of technology.  They will need to decide if a life well lived involves having Candy Crush in their pocket.

Who am I kidding? I need to learn those same things and make those same decisions for myself!

I concur with wise Aunt Abigail who declared in the book Understood Betsy, published 100 years ago:

“I declare! Sometimes it seems to me that every time a new piece of machinery comes into the door some of our wits fly out at the window!”

Yet, I adore using the internet to show¬†my children sights I’ve never seen myself, to glean practical tips¬†from those in the trenches of homemaking and homeschooling, and to accomplish many things (banking, etc.) more efficiently. How can I sample the best parts without overdoing it?

The Internet Can Make Us Fat… Kind Of

Obesity is a clear and alarming epidemic in our culture. Restaurants, television, flyers, and radio all push the idea that more is always better. Bigger servings. More indulgences. We’re told that we will find satiety not in quality, but in the sheer quantity of what we consume. ¬†With our culture of dietary indulgence, our waistlines are large and our palates have lost refinement, numbed by years of fast food. ¬†Unfortunately, our minds are deteriorating in a similar way. ¬†The constant influx of information is dulling our ability to think clearly and independently and grapple with significant information.¬†We live in a culture of infobesity.

A person who wants to stay lean may avoid a buffet entirely, or he may employ practices to help him eat in the moment what he will wish he’d have eaten later on. In other words, he’ll make¬†short-term decisions with the long-term outcome in mind.¬†donut-iphone

Here are 17 ideas I have used to stay lean in a culture of infobesity:

1. Only be where you want to go.

I have a Facebook account, but I’m not on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or any of¬†the others. Facebook isn’t inherently more valuable, and I fully acknowledge that those other places online have appeal and could give me great ideas and connections with people. ¬†But I’m not lacking¬†great ideas nor connections with people. ¬†In fact, if I’m being honest, I don’t give as much¬†care and priority to the ideas and relationships I already have (#15) as I’d like to. ¬†I’m sure if I had accounts at more social media sites, I’d feel a pull to check them, which would then pull me away from something I value more.

Some is enough.

Dietary corollary: Don’t feel like you have to try everything on the table at the potluck. Choose your favorite few and¬†accept that someone else’s plate might look equally appetizing.¬†

2. Make a smart phone dumb(er).

I don’t have a data plan on my phone, and haven’t had for several years. ¬†This has had many consequences, some unintended. ¬†I still have access to wifi at home, at the library, at church, at the doctor’s office, etc. ¬†but the temptation to check my email while at the park with my kids has evaporated.

When a question I don’t immediately know the answer to comes up, I just wonder about it instead of instantly gratifying my mild¬†curiosity. (And maybe add it to The Wonder List, #4.)

I prepare better before I leave the house (and Google Maps) behind, which has resulted in my¬†getting lost¬†less often. ¬†Knowing I don’t have the safety internet has made me more resourceful. I reach out to strangers to ask for help or directions more frequently, and I’m more open to serendipity because I’m fully present in my surroundings.

Plus, I pay just $4 a month for my cell phone. ¬†That’s pretty nice.

Dietary corollary: Eat at mealtimes. Quit the mindless snacking. 

3. Use a {dumb} watch.

I’ve found that pulling out a multi-function device to check the time is tempting fate and often leads to checking email or social media or, if you haven’t applied idea #5, playing a game.
I also have a¬†CD player and a plain kitchen timer for similar reasons. My¬†kids can listen to an audiobook without being tempted to tap over to something else and I can keep dinner from burning while I’m out sitting on the deck… without the phone.

Dietary corollary: Don’t store your vegetables and¬†chips in the same place. Otherwise, you may intend to snack on carrots and end up with Dorito fingers.

4. Make a Look-Up Later List (AKA a Wonder List).

Instead of whipping out my device anytime I have a question or my kids have a question, often I simply jot it down or just sit with the question a bit. Is it a good question? Does the answer matter? Is it something worth the time and distraction it takes to look up?

After a week or so,¬†I often have a list of several things. Most are no longer interesting or relevant¬†and since I’ve put this into practice, it no longer surprises me that I¬†survived without an instant answer. ¬†A few things are still worth looking into and I’ve found that usually in the interim my mind has been turning over the question, germinating better questions and some possible answers. The information¬†I find online then falls on fertile ground. ¬†Seeking knowledge through instant gratification is like throwing seeds to the wind¬†and hoping for a good harvest.

Dietary corollary: Hunger is the best sauce. 

On to Part 2…

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A Family Update

It’s been too long since I’ve blogged, which is a sure sign that life has been really¬†great lately, or really hard lately, or both at the same time.

It’s been a bit of both, honestly, but I’m typing this with a smile on my face.

I’m giving a little update on each member of our family here and the plan is to catch up a bit on the last six months¬†in the next few posts.


The adjustment to four kids has been a roller coaster, mainly because our newest family member is head-over-heels adorable and captivating in her cuteness… and she spits up a lot, screams a lot, and sleeps less soundly than I’d like. ¬†She feels emotions very strongly and can go from giggling to devastated in the time you can blink. ¬†Her¬†gorgeous eyelashes are¬†often seen batting at you with tears still clinging to them from the latest cloudburst of despair.


Josie¬†has the best open mouthed expression of excitement/wonder/joy and she enjoys a good snuggle as much as her parents do. ¬†In fact, pressing her cheek up against Scott’s cheek is her favorite thing to do. No contest.

Coincidentally, that is also how I feel when Scott gets home from work.

Because I want to remember¬†life on this blog and not just the sweet parts of it, here’s a photo to balance things out. ¬†(To my queasy readers, avert your eyes…)

This is what our kitchen looked like while I cooked dinner often:

I was hoping things would improve when Josie started solid food, but alas only a little bit. ¬†In happier news, she is a well-behaved nurser, lights up when she sees her siblings, and does pretty well in the car. And happiest of all, she’s ours. ūüôā

Side note: I heard a great lecture at homeschooling conference on homeschooling with a baby in tow, and the woman speaking reminded us, “The baby¬†is¬†the lesson.” She said that rather than constantly trying to quiet the baby so learning can happen, we should recognize our older kids are watching the way we love our baby. They see us show continued love to a fussy baby instead of impatience and exasperation and it gives them confidence and security to make mistakes and be themselves, knowing our love doesn’t wear out just because a¬†child¬†is messy or noisy. ¬†Children are always a gift, not a nuisance. I haven’t modeled that perfectly for my older kids, but I’ve seen¬†my efforts pay off in their attitude towards Josie and it’s sweet to watch.


Daniel (3 1/2) is every bit as loving as always, quick to give hugs and kisses. ¬†He’s a sensitive soul who has learned how to “shoot” and “bang!” everything in sight, despite being in a house full of tutus.

It’s amazing what time and environment can do. ¬†It seems like not that long ago I wondered if he’d ever enjoy being read to because he would just wiggle away a few pages into a story. ¬†Now he begs for long picture book sessions and can sit for an hour immersed in great stories.

He’s also started learning how to read and is so teachable that it’s a pleasure to snuggle up with him each day to work through¬†Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.

I was waiting on reading lessons until I was sure he was ready, but he started trying to read on his own and was so frustrated that he “didn’t know the words,” so I trotted out our book and away we went! He’s on lesson 23 now.

This is Daniel’s recent handiwork:

He and Caitlyn both experience things by reaching out and feeling them. ¬†That means plenty of accidents. ¬†Cashew ricotta was actually on the ceiling¬†¬†because¬†he “just touched the bowl to see.”

I have a bunch of cute pictures of Daniel¬†helping cook in the kitchen, playing the piano (out of his favorite Thai cookbook – his favorite song is Spicy Beef with Chili Sauce), and other things… but he’s not wearing pants in any of those pictures so they aren’t going on the blog.

I made a “pants all the time” rule when he turned 3 but the photographic evidence seems to indicate I’ve let that slide. ¬†I regularly find every pair¬†of pants he owns piled up in the bathroom. ¬†Every time he uses the potty is a new chance to race out in his underwear leaving his shackles (er, button-fly) behind. He then dutifully goes to his dresser and gets a new pair out of his drawer when I refuse to feed him the next¬†meal or let him play outside until he puts¬†pants on. But the¬†next full bladder is a get-out-of-the-bathroom-with-no-pants-on card, so the cycle repeats.

He actually asked my friend to draw a picture of him on a bicycle “with pants on” the other day. ¬†She lifted her eyebrows at the specificity of the request and he clarified, waving ¬†a hand in the air, “but no shirt!” That’s a battle I’m saving until he’s 4. ūüėČ

I did get a picture of this amazing flower Daniel pulled up from our yard and presented me. “It’s to you!” he declared happily.

How did I ever live without this little boy?

I’ll end Daniel’s update with his signature move, the Tackle Snug:

It is so endearing and heartfelt that it makes up for a great many smashed towers and scribbled on art projects.


Caitlyn (5 1/2) continues to collect¬†friends everywhere she goes, from the mailbox to the grocery store. ¬†She’s never met a stranger. ¬†She had been hovering on the brink of reading chapter books herself having done Pinocchio, Charlotte’s Web, and a few others cover-to-cover but mainly just reading bits and pieces of chapter books – an approach which would drive me batty. Then she discovered the Boxcar Children. ¬†She’s plowed through one a day for the last week. ¬† I really love this post¬†about helping struggling readers with series books, and it applies to all emerging readers I think.

This picture shows life for her right now:

I remember Mackenzie going through a similar phase at this age. ¬†She wants to stretch herself and grow in independence but gets frustrated when we don’t see eye to eye on that process, or when she tries her wings (or bike, in this case) and falls. ¬†She feels emotions so strongly that we try to just be a calm presence as she rides out the storm. ¬†We also spend a lot of time talking about the word “sassy” and how a better response is to be “sweet.”


Mackenzie (8 1/2) is loving our gymnastics class we’re trying out over the summer, which is great to see from my normally reserved girl. ¬†It’s a stretch for her to try new things in front of new people but she has really stepped up to the challenge.

I feel like she has grown up quickly since Josie was born. ¬†She’s doing lots more independently and each new thing is bittersweet. I do a fist pump for an independent kid while at the same time harboring a totally impractical desire to freeze time. ¬†She’s doing dishes, clipping her own finger nails, no longer in a booster seat, pronouncing fewer and fewer words improperly. ¬†This has been¬†one of the sweet parts of having an early reader. She has her own relationship with words on the page and it takes a while to hear a word spoken aloud before she makes the jump.¬†(I’m holding out hope she never learns how to say “variety” and “archived” the right way. Currently they are vigh-air-ity and ar-cheeved. Please don’t tell her differently ūüėČ

I can’t put into words how grateful I am to have an oldest child like Mackenzie. ¬†She is a wonderful help with her siblings and they have a close, special bond. She’s old enough to understand plenty of inside jokes and we have so much shared experience together through books and through her excellent memory that we laugh together a lot.

Every child (at least every one of ours) has had some very challenging periods of time but having Mackenzie in an easy phase right now and having a strong relationship with her has really been a life-saver this past year.



I’m writing this on Father’s Day so I’m feeling extra sentimental, but I love parenting with this man. He is a good provider and a good example to our kids. ¬†He offers excellent insight when I’ve hit a road block in a relationship or teaching issue and is the best encourager I can imagine.

He’s still singing with Willamette Master Chorus and is taking a trip with them up to Canada for a competition next month. ¬†He’s also deep-ending on home design because after keeping our eye on the market here for 3 years while renting, we’re looking at a new build.

This isn’t a high-quality picture but it’s clear enough to tell that’s a high-quality man in it, filling our home with beautiful music and putting the fussy Josie to sleep in the process.



I am living out my dream. ¬†Sometimes I have to remind myself of that fact, but it’s always true. ¬†Having four great kids and spending each day learning together is¬†magical –¬†and messy because none of us are perfect.

I have hit that post-baby phase when I have (or somehow find) the energy to re-order the things in my life that have been put in survival mode¬†for the past year. ¬†I’m finding again that habits and consistency are powerful and needful¬†because life tends towards entropy. ¬†It takes constant effort to order my thoughts, my environment, my attitude, my belongings, etc. and I’m on the lookout for efficiencies so I can dig in and do some of the “like to dos” rather than just treading water with the “must dos”.

I’m (slowly) working my way through about a dozen books, still focused on my four goals for this year (running 500 miles, drawing 50 times, and getting to bed before 11 am 5 nights/week… and meal planning consistently). I’m really enjoying planning our homeschool next year. We’ll start in the middle of July and I have lots to square away before then. ¬†I’m also pretty immersed in home design with Scott.

It looks like I managed exactly one pretty awful picture of myself in the last six months. Ha! Here it is:

I’d better end this post with a picture of some things I made instead:


I don’t know at what age I stopped doing things I enjoyed simply because I wasn’t particularly good at them, but homeschooling has cured me of that. ¬†My 8 year old’s art occasionally now looks better than mine own but that doesn’t diminish my joy in creating it. ¬†ūüôā

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10 Homeschooling Mistakes I’ve Made

This is our fourth year homeschooling and I can really look back and say that I blew it in several areas as I was starting out.  Our homeschool is so much better now .

What is a better homeschool? In this case it’s one where¬†everyone is happier. We’re progressing towards goals we value and that brings greater satisfaction to kids and more peace of mind to Mom.

So where did I go wrong? Oh so many places… in fact, a big part of me wants to go back and delete all my early blog posts on homeschooling lest some poor unsuspecting prospective homeschooler follow my former self¬†into the same pitfalls. Maybe I’ll add a big red disclaimer to the top of them: CAUTION! A HOMESCHOOLING NEWB WROTE THIS!

All dramatics aside, I do think that many bumps in the homeschooling road (curriculum changes and frustration, scheduling tweaks, calendar overhauling, unscheduled teacher inservice days, etc.) are all part of the journey to becoming a comfortable, competent homeschooling parent and I’m sure there are many yet ahead of me. ¬†As I tell my kids when they goof up on their drawing or a new math concept: “Of course you aren’t excellent at it yet! Messing up is part of learning something new. ”

I Didn’t Make the Worst Mistake

Is there a wrong way to homeschool? There are certainly lots of different ways to do it right. ¬†I suppose the only really truly wrong way to homeschool is to have a bad attitude about learning¬†(or, worse, a bad attitude about your kids). ¬†That’s a mistake I’ve never made, and I think that’s reflected in the fact that we’d enjoyed every year together so far and we’ve learned lots.

That being said, I had clear missteps along the way.

Ten of My Early Homeschooling Mistakes

1 . I am an information hound and I naively thought that by doing plenty of¬†research at the beginning, I could choose a path and keep with it pretty well, adding kids along the way. I didn’t want to invest money in any books we wouldn’t continue to use for years to come and I wanted to reap the benefits of planning out each year by using those same plans for future students. One of my mantras in life is “begin the way you mean to go on” and another is “consistency wins.” But now here I am, admitting that while my thinking and reading early on definitely helped, being flexible and open to different approaches along the way has significantly improved the way I run our homeschool. And hey, it’s helped to improve our day-to-day consistency as well, even if the year-to-year changes have been big. ūüôā

I’ve had to eat humble pie along the way, particularly after blogging so much of our early homeschool efforts. That is why I’m now committed to only blogging at the end of a homeschool year rather than blogging about our plans… ūüôā

Now I’m better about embracing the idea of something working well “for now” or “for this child” or “for this year” and I learning to enjoy the challenge of adjusting along the way. ¬†I’ve sold some of the books that turned out to be duds and I’ve found better ways to acquire promising books inexpensively.¬†It’s actually refreshing to mix things up for a season or for a year. ¬†Aside from subjects that do need to be learned sequentially, ¬†I envision myself spreading a feast for my kids. ¬†It’s so liberating!¬†

2. I way overdid things our first year and my daughter and I both burned out. I had heard and read a dozen times not to hurry my oldest child into academics but since she was avid reader and math came easily to her, I launched right into a full morning of structured learning (with a toddler and a baby in tow).  It was, for us, unnecessary and sort of exhausting.

Our younger kids learn to read early but beyond that I just keep an eye on their interest level and needs as I start incorporating them into our school day. ¬†They often do way more than I expect in some areas and less in others, but I no longer feel any rush about it. ¬†That is SO hard to do with your oldest when you’re excited to homeschool!

3. I managed to under plan our third year and although my kids still progressed in meaningful ways, I was left feeling a bit dissatisfied with my own effort.

This series by Pam Barnhill on homeschool year planning¬†was immensely helpful and has really anchored our homeschool year. I now identify very specific areas that I’d like to work on with each child so I don’t have those vague unsettling feelings that I’m not doing “enough” or not doing the right things. ¬†The truth is there isn’t usually a universal “right” thing. You have to choose it for your own child.

4. I read a book on homeschooling that resonated with me and I pretty much followed it to a “T”. ¬†It took several years to fully realize that although the underlying philosophy was one I agreed with, the application of that philosophy didn’t work well for our family. Also, the author was very focused on¬†writing and¬†history, and much less focused on science and math. So it should have come as no surprise that when I¬†took her recommendations for science and math, I regretted nearly all of them.

I am now slower to change the way I do things, evaluating the source and my own reasons for seeking a change. The¬†solution is not simply adopting someone else’s approach 100%, because I’m not that person and I don’t have her kids and life. ¬†It felt safer to copy someone else, but I’m confident enough now to take bits and pieces that fit for my family and set the rest aside.¬†

5. I paid more attention to homeschool methods, philosophies and curriculum than I did to my own kids. ¬†This post by Sarah Mackenzie¬†explains this pitfall much better than I can. It’s an excellent read.

6. I didn’t trust in myself as the best teacher for my kids. In the future I’m sure we’ll outsource some teaching to other people passionate about a topic, fluent in a language, or proficient in a skill that my kids are interested in. ¬†But I have felt way too much angst along the way just comparing myself to other homeschool moms. ¬†Our school room is the kitchen table. Nothing is color coordinated and there is no timeline on the wall. ¬†That’s A-OK as long as it doesn’t¬†make me second guess all the great stuff we’re doing that suits my own strengths better.

My rule now is if it’s not broken, I don’t go looking at what everyone else is doing. ¬†I steer clear of Pinterest, blogs, etc. for topics unless I am actively looking for a solution to a current problem. ¬†Otherwise I limit nearly all my homeschool planning and idea-finding for the chunk of time in which I plan the coming school year. ¬†At some point I stop planning and just focus on executing the plan. (See #1, about me being an information junkie. This requires self-control but the payoff is peace.)

7. I underestimated how much my relationship with my kids impacted their ability to learn from me.¬† Tweaking the schedule or switching to a different curriculum won’t fix a heart problem.

Now I do a full stop and address any relationship issues first, before challenging my kids academically. ¬†Often¬†that means scheduling one-on-one time with that child doing things they choose. Sometimes that means I need to be more aware of my speech¬†towards that child¬†and focus on being positive with them and not nitpicking. ¬†Sometimes that means we need to take a few days off school and find ways to laugh and play together to strengthen connection. ¬†It’s that connection that eliminates friction around assignments I give them.¬†It is that connection that helps my kids feel safe enough to take academic risks.

8. I only scheduled my student(s) and not my younger child(ren) when I planned my day.¬†When I read¬†this book on scheduling, the biggest takeaway was that homeschooling is a family endeavor. ¬†If I don’t consider what my 2 year old is doing while I’m teaching my 8 year old long division, there is a good chance the 2 year old will throw a human hand grenade into the middle of that math lesson in the form of a tantrum or a mess.

I wrote¬†much more about the specifics of creating a great schedule¬†previously. ¬†After some time applying those principles, I don’t have to do it quite as explicitly now unless I reach what feels like an impasse.¬†

9. I didn’t schedule in breaks. ¬†I loved the idea of learning as a way of life, so I¬†pretty much just planned on homeschooling five days a week unless something came up. ¬†Even though my kids and I enjoy school, I have to admit this approach was not a good fit for us.

Now we do 6 weeks on, 1 week off year-round, taking a week off at Thanksgiving, one at Easter, and an extra week off at Christmas time and between school years. Mystie Winckler has a great post on year-round homeschooling that helped me wrap my mind around it.  I love being able to plan my year in 6 week intervals, including my personal and home goals in addition to homeschooling. 

10. I far overestimated the number of glue sticks we’d use and far underestimated the number of pencils we’d lose. ¬†I’m not crafty (remember?) and my couches eat pencils like they’re popcorn.



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