Stepfamily Step-Up

If you’d like to turn your life upside down, tornado style, try a second marriage.  Seriously.  If you’re looking for a wild ride, marry again.  For serious thrill seekers, add kids.  Statistics tell us that second and third marriages are very risky.  I gotta tell ya, we have learned this first hand and it’s true.

We’ve had our share of failures.  Ugly ones.  But we’ve stumbled upon a little success here and there and I wanted to share a specific strategy that’s working for us.

Our StepSensational Family

Our StepSensational Family

Our family has a total of 4 kids.  One, my husband’s grown son.  Two and three, my daughter and son from my first marriage.  Fourth, our child together, one of life’s little surprises, haha.  When Dwayne and I married, I already had a rhythm of life going with my two kids.  He already had a bachelor style thing going since his son is grown.  It was challenging to try to mix the two.  Then we threw a baby like a grenade into the mix.  The guilt I feel over the pain my kids have been through, the tight schedule we keep, the vast differences in our parenting philosophies… are you feeling motion sickness yet?

Anyway… one of the biggest things we have going for us is our “want-to.”  We both WANT to make this work.  My husband is so willing and enthusiastic about helping me and the kids.  One of our biggest frustrations came from the differences in our expectations for the kids.  Since my husband is off earlier than I, he has the kids for several hours in the afternoons on his own.  He expected the kids to take on some chores and responsibilities.  I agree with that.  But often I’d come home to unhappy faces and a disagreement would ensue.  I felt he was expecting too much.  He felt the kids were only responsive when I asked them to do things.  I felt stuck in the middle, wanting my kids to be happy and feeling they were good kids, and wanting my husband to be happy and feeling respected, and who in the world was looking out for how mommy was feeling????

We sat down as a family and aired out our expectations.  We came up with a list of responsibilities.  We put down a lot of detail, from what time we get up in the morning to who does what chores.  We listed consequences in writing.  We all signed our family document and we posted it on the wall.  From that night on, we agreed we would all refer to our family contract.  The kids’ chore assignments are on there.  We  no longer ask more than once or remind.  Everyone knows what to do because it’s listed on the wall.  If it’s not done, the consequences are also listed.  No more guesswork.  No more he said they said.  I can’t tell you how effective this has been for us and how peacemaking.

1)  The kids love it.  They’ve never said this aloud, but I can tell.  They rose to the challenge of having a more grown up style of responsibility.  They are relieved to know they won’t be nagged or begged.  They don’t have to wonder what will make us happy.  I’m so proud of how my kids have followed through with this agreement.  The responsibility is on them.  If they choose not to do the chore, they’ve chosen their own consequence.  I’ve found they know how to make good choices.

2)  My husband loves it.  He doesn’t have to explain to me or try to get me to enforce a rule.  Either the job is done or it isn’t, and the resulting action is in writing.  He’s no longer the bad guy, no longer the one who has to try to enforce the chores since the kids make that choice for themselves.

3)  I love it!  I don’t have to feel stuck between making my kids and my husband happy when it comes to household chores.  I no longer come home to conflict about who’s doing or not doing chores.

This one agreement has done more to bring about family harmony than anything else we’ve tried.  We are blessed to be dealing with just regular family stuff, no serious behavioral issues or special needs.  I’m no expert, and I hope this doesn’t seem too simplistic, but I thought I’d share what has worked for us in the hope that the idea might also help some of the rest of you who are in the step-family storm chasing life.

So you step-people out there… what are your great ideas?

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A Social Butterfly on Organization

Nobody has ever accused me of being organized.  There is stuff, like trash, in the bottom of my purse from months ago.  I forget my share of appointments and yesterday I found an orange crayon in the back pocket of my jeans… while I was at work.  My success in career is due to love of people and relationships, not paperwork and calculations.

I’ve discovered, to my dismay, that in order to accomplish what I want to, I’ve GOT to have some level of organization and planning.   If I had my way, I’d fly along through life from one coffee date to another, looking people in the eyes, laughing, sharing, talking and having a grand old time.  I’d wear cute aprons every day while baking biscuits in my self cleaning kitchen for my adorable children and interesting friends.  There would BE no behind the scenes.

Yeah… dream world, I know.  Life takes at least a basic few strategies to keep things running.  All you organized types are like “Duh…” but hey, I’ve learned a few things the hard way.  Here’s my organization and planning for butterflies.  Social ones, you know.

1)  Make stuff the night before.  Specifically coffee, a plan for wardrobe, and any miscellaneous items required by your calendar.  Ya’ll, I had to replace my coffee pot, and I wasn’t picky.  My main requirement?  Programmable.  Every night, no matter how tired I am, I set my darling programmable coffee pot.  Every morning after exercise, it rewards me with the smell of fresh coffee as I walk back in the door.  I pour a cup and head upstairs to get in the shower. (What?  You don’t drink coffee in the shower?  Pssht.  Yes you do.)  Then, I head to my room where I’ve set out or at least planned what I’m going to wear.  The precious, precious minutes this gives me every morning are peace.  Peace when I would otherwise be measuring coffee grounds, pouring water, digging for shoes, and trying to find the dress I want in the dark.  Peace before I wake my children and pass the point of no return into the fray of our busy days.  I see this not as organization, because organization doesn’t matter to me, but as a treat to myself.  I give myself this gift and it feels like a warm bubble bath to my soul, not another task to be completed.

Menu

Our Menu and Grocery List in its place on the fridge

2)  Make a menu, and a grocery list while you’re at it.  I’ve written in detail about our grocery strategy.  We’re probably a little more involved in this than most because we have a chef and a culinary student in the house.  Still.  We are too busy to stand around every night wondering what to eat, and too busy to waste our lives wandering up and down the grocery aisles, falling for every end cap display ripoff and bright, shiny package.  And we are too predisposed to diabetes and heart disease to eat fast food every night.  (In case you didn’t know, fast food is ANY chain restaurant.  Any.)  We make a weekly menu at some point on the weekends that gets us through the following weekend, making use of what we pick up at the farmer’s market and what we have in the pantry and fridge.  While we’re jotting down our menu, we also list items we need to pick up at the store if there are any.  We make it a family affair and we start to have fun and look forward to what we’ll be making that week.  My husband usually stops at the grocery on his way home.  Chefs love grocery stores, and we can take advantage of the slow time of day at the store.

3)  Empty your car of trash when you get gas and stuff when you get out.  This is so cheesy, and I know you of the organized species are laughing,  but it works for me.  There was a time when stuff would be piled in my car and one big clean out would take forever.  I once was rear ended, totaling my car and the trunk wouldn’t reopen.  I lost a basketball goal, two large bags of mardi gras beads, a pair of shoes, several of the kids toys and some important paperwork.  I somehow, probably thanks to Flylady, got in the habit of grabbing a couple of pieces of trash every time I leave the car, and of using the time at the gas pump to also make use of the trash can next to the pump.  According to my husband’s standards, (think military precision) my car still isn’t clean, but there’s nothing growing in it, and I can find everything I need, and if I get rear ended and can’t open the trunk, I’m cool.  It may not look freshly detailed all the time, but it functions and there are no projectiles. I can pick up somebody on the fly for a lunch or coffee date and I’m not embarrassed about the pile of garbage beneath their feet.

4)  Run your appliances.  Every day.  For so many years I went easy on my appliances.  As if I could hurt their feelings or ask too much of them.  Not anymore.  I make those things WORK for me.  Our washing machine and dryer work seven days per week. We find that one load every day keeps us ahead of the laundry avalanche that five people can produce.  It works but the trick is to do it every day.  There was a time when my laundry was a ROOM of shame full with waist high piles.  Sometimes to catch up I’d spend a day at a laundromat.  NO FUN!  One load every day and NO MORE wasted days trying to burrow out from under laundry overwhelm.  Our dishwasher pulls double shifts all the time.  It runs every night and sometimes again in the afternoon.  I’ve already told you about my coffee pot.   My phone reminders work hard to tell us when it’s time to move to the next subject, time for me to get to an appointment, and what’s coming up tomorrow.  My crock pot slaves all day or sometimes all night.  It’s like having a butler and a maid.  If you’ve got those workhorses, USE those babies!

5)  Delegate.  To your kids.  Our daughter, 16, takes care of the laundry (one load per day start to folded), sweeps and mops the kitchen.  Our son, 11, does the dishes and takes out the trash.  Our 4 year old can make his bed, pick up toys, help wipe things, and put away his laundry.  This accomplishes several things.  It makes mom and dad’s evenings WAY less stressful.  It gives us ALL more time to play on the weekends.  And it teaches my kids basic skills.  I won’t be releasing children into the wild who cannot care for their own households.  More on this philosophy later.

A Sunday Morning Breakfast, biscuits and gravy

A Sunday Morning Breakfast, biscuits and gravy

6)  If people offer to help you, let them.  Every Sunday morning church meets at my home.  Every Sunday morning I make breakfast for everyone who attends.  This usually means at least two pots of coffee and one extra dishwasher load.  It’s not unusual for someone to arrive for church, grab some cups and start pouring coffee out of my kitchen.  Or after we’ve finished, someone else often loads the dirty dishes in my dishwasher or wraps up the leftovers.  Sometimes they take out the trash.  If someone loves me enough to offer his or her help, I say yes if possible.  That way we have more time to spend together rather than me alone in the kitchen.  I’m learning to be too busy being a happy woman to be a super woman.

There you have them.  The top tricks of a seasoned plate spinner.  These are hard won lessons, the results of a messy mom’s war wounds.  Now all you out there with the gift of organization… give me YOUR best tricks.

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Friday Feeling

Me at Ultimate Change

Me at Ultimate Change

There’s a feeling I lost.  One I forgot how to feel for a while.  The busyness of life and the feeling of overwhelm can sometimes… well… overwhelm other feelings.  Back in late February, before my birthday, I started exercising at The Ultimate Change.  One of the many benefits of regular exercise is one I didn’t expect:  The Feeling Of Accomplishment!  Every morning the class starts, and yeah, somewhere about halfway through I’m thinking I can’t do anymore or sweat any more or whatever.  Encouragement is yelled out from the front of the class “Push a little more!  You can do it!” and I somehow get through.  Before I know it, the cool down starts and a giddy feeling sneaks up on me.  I did it!  It’s over!  I feel great, want to laugh out loud, and can’t help the smile I get.  I’m actually a little bit hooked now.

Some people call this runner’s high.  I don’t even know because I would not call myself a runner by any stretch. (See what I did there?)  I think it’s a little more than that because I’ve noticed I can cultivate that feeling at other times.  At the end of a work day.  At the end of a project I dread.  At the end of the week.  More than runner’s high, I like to call it Friday Feeling.  What I’m discovering is that Friday Feeling pops up all over the place.  Most of the time I’ve just ignored it.

But lately, I’ve decided to maximize Friday Feeling.  By maximize, I mean stop.  Just stop and let myself feel the giddy feeling of “I did it!  It’s over! Yay!!!”  I guess most of the last few years I’ve let good accomplishments slip by with little more than “What next?”  By neglecting to celebrate, I cheat myself out of so much of life’s joy.

I’m doing amazing things.  So are you!  We’re raising kids, putting ideas into practice, finishing books, cleaning bathrooms, scoring great deals on toilet paper, finding the guts to try something new.  Little accomplishments happen every day and they’re miracles.  So outside the 26 inches I’ve lost (FRIDAY FEELING!!) I’ve gained a way of  recognizing and celebrating the gift of life.  Somebody Else did this, too.

“And God saw everything He had made, and behold, it was very good.”  Genesis 1:31

“..fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Hebrews 12:2

So God did this.  God celebrated the good things.  He celebrates the good things.

I’ve spent a lot of years letting perfectionism take for granted the wonderful-ness in life.  Living like Friday never comes.  Ignoring the cool reasons to celebrate because I forgot how to appreciate things, or I’m moving too fast to have time to bask in the goodness.  I’m thinking, however, if God places this on priority… perhaps I should, too.

It’s Friday, y’all!  Time to take a deep breath, a sigh of relief, a little cheer of “I did it!”  What’s giving you Friday Feeling today?

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I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

 “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly.”  Proverbs 18:24a (KJV)  My first grade self stood by her desk and recited this verse in unison with the rest of my class at Temple Christian School.  We had knee length skirts, a teacher that smelled like sweet cinnamon (or that might have been the scratch and sniff stickers she gave out), and we memorized…. boy did we memorize those Bible verses.  King James Version ONLY, of course. This one in particular has always been a guiding light for me.  I took it at face value, practiced it, and it has proven true.  To make friends, BE a friend.  I learned as a child that a smile, a kind word, a show of interest are all it takes to make a friend.  Sure there have been a few people along the way that haven’t really wanted to be my friend, and I’ve screwed up a time or two with aloofness or laziness, or just plain dysfunction in relationships.  Over all, however, I have a wealth of wonderful friends who make my life absolutely blissful.  Here are a few of them:

Husband and Me

Husband and Me

1) My husband.  The absolute best friend I have.  We have our share of disagreements, and crazy baggage, but when it comes down to it, he will do anything to help me.  He’s the one I call when I’m in trouble, the one I cry to on a bad day, the one I laugh with about stuff I’d never tell anyone else.  Without his help and support, homeschooling, working, running a household, and being part of a home church network… all that makes our life bright and beautiful… would be next to impossible.  Plus… there’s the whole he’s-a-total-hunk thing.  ;) 2) Friends who’ve gone before.  These are the trailblazers, and they’re vital to getting through new challenges.  I’ll never forget being pregnant with my first baby and scared to death of delivery.  Not long before Mackenzie was born, another friend who was also pregnant, had her baby.  It was my first up close knowledge of someone who actually gave birth (besides my mom of course).  But Kelly, a girl my age, gave me the confidence to know I could do it too.  She delivered little Abby and made it look like a picnic.  Her help was so valuable to me and seeing her go through it gave me courage.  My friend, Janet, is my homeschool pioneer, expert, consultant and coach.  She’s been there.  She’s done it.  Her son actually graduated and is in college.  She has also blazed the trail of a second marriage and the difficulties it can bring.  Her calm “been there, done that” advice has saved me, dried my tears, inspired me, and kept me going more times than I can count.  You need this kind of friend, one who’s willing to share her expertise and experience with you.

3)  A friend who’s different.  Beyond basic human kindness and respect, common ground isn’t necessarily required for good friendship.  One of my dearest friends, Karen, and I never run out of stuff to talk about.  Once, she pointed out to me that we are different.  Her areas of expertise are different than mine.  We shared a smile about how often that just WORKS for us.  We complement each other, learn from each other, and just plain have fun.  There’s a kindred spirit between us, and a deep love, but our life experiences are vastly different.  It makes for one of the richest relationships in my life.  My friend Bex is single with no kids.  I’m married for the second time with a three member circus of offspring.  She grew up midwestern, I’m southern.   She grew up with spotty church attendance and I was my church’s poster child.  But we laugh, we love, we’ve shared deep conversation and we know companionable silence.  Her differences challenge me to get out of my own comfort zone and off of my high horse.  She makes me better. Don’t be scared to befriend people who aren’t the same as you.

Bex and Janet

Bex and Janet

4)  Life-long friends.  There’s something to be said for a friend who’s been there through it all.  A friend who knew you when you went through your big hair phase, who knows about your first boyfriend, who wore jelly bracelets and/or two pairs of socks and a side ponytail with you, who knew you before your braces came off.  This group includes my sister, Angela, my friends Christy and Amy.  The inside jokes are endless.  We know the miracle of loving each other through and in spite of life’s huge changes like marriage, motherhood, and moral dilemmas.  I don’t live close to any of these three, but one line of a text, one conversation, one picture, and a lifetime of understanding makes deep friendship possible and successful.  There is no hiding from these three.  But why even try?  They’ve already seen my stupidest and most adolescent behavior, so what do I have to lose???  My goal is to continue building on a lifetime of history and if the visit to New Orleans adventures with these three are any indication… we’re nowhere near done making embarrassing memories to share.  The older I get, the more precious this becomes.

Christy and Me

Christy and Me

Remember that first grade me?  She also learned part “b” of that Proverb.  “… and there is a friend who sticketh closer than a brother.”  It’d be silly to leave out that Friend.  As rich as I am in beautiful friendships, there are some places we must go alone.  No human friend can get there.  In those dark places, my relationship with God has been my comfort, my shelter, my steadying hand.   That Friend extends the ultimate love to me, which enables me to risk the imperfect love of other people.  The decision to open my heart up to the Friend above all friends has truly been my life’s greatest choice.

So what are your favorite things about your friendships?  Who are the ones who’ve surprised you?  Helped you the most?

 

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How DO you do it?

So its been a long time…. Am I still homeschooling and working full time? Sure am!

 We declared last year’s experiment a success so we’re at it again, this time with more confidence. Along the way I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks.  When I was looking around for advice, help, and perspective on the possibility of homeschooling while working…. well… there really wasn’t any.  My idea raised a few eyebrows and still is sometimes the cause of some awkward conversation.  We took off with it anyway, and we’ve made it work.  In reality, I don’t think we are all that different from the average family, homeschooling or regular schooling or whatever.

A typical day for us looks like this:

5:00 am my alarm goes off and I head out to exercise at Ultimate Change.
6:30 I’m on my way home to shower and dress, but first I kiss my husband goodbye since he’s leaving for work about that time.
7:30 school starts! We begin with Bible and move on to math, English, and then science or social studies.
10:00 time for me to be at work. I live exactly two minutes from work, so I can spend the time I would otherwise be driving to work actually working with he kids. After I leave, various family and friends provide supervision for the four hours we are both at work.  During this time, the kids work on reading assignments and chores.
2:30-6:00 Husband gets off work, heads over to NOCCA to pick up Mackenzie. They head home and do errands, get going on dinner. I leave work around 6 and head home.
6:30 until 9:00 Once I’m home, we have dinner, do baths, relax and get ready for the next day. We do the normal family type stuff, ride bikes around the neighborhood, visit with friends, etc.

Weekends are catch-up time.  We do a lot of our planning, playing and resting on those days.  I know that schooling my children while working is a big undertaking.  Here are two things I’ve discovered:

First Day

Mackenzie and Levi first day 11th and 6th grades

1)  I like it!  I look forward to school time with my kids.  I’m best in the morning and I feel so happy to be giving my kids the best part of me rather than my end-of-the-day leftovers.  In about the same time I used to spend on homework begging, cajoling, fussing and wondering what in the world the teacher wanted, we finish the curriculum assignments.  We laugh and have a good time.  I like learning, and I like learning with them.

2)  We don’t do MORE rushing, stressing, or fussing than I observe and hear of in families who do regular school or even homeschool with a non-working parent for that matter.  I attend exercise class early each morning with other moms who are making calls to their kids during class to see if they’re up and getting ready for school.  They leave just like me and go home to start breakfast and getting ready for school routines.  I could be spending my time making sure backpacks and lunches are packed, papers are signed, uniforms are clean, homework is done, and then shepherding my children out the door and driving for an hour to three different schools.  Instead, I pack my morning full of actually schooling them.  Either way, it’s busy.  Either way, it’s packed.  This way works for us.

Caleb First Day

Caleb’s first day of PreK-4 with his school box.

This year, we’re doing 11th grade, 6th grade and Pre-K 4, along with Mackenzie’s involvement in the culinary arts program at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.  The kids are flourishing and guess what?  So am I! We are happy. Everyone is healthy and thriving. Perfect?? No way!! But happy, absolutely.

It can be a little weird when I’m working and someone asks “Where do your kids go to school?”  “Uh… we homeschool,” I say and steel myself for the funny expression as the person tries to figure that out. I’ve found, however, that most people are kind, or uninterested at worst.  Very few actually press for details about how in the world I would try that since I work.

I return again to one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned as a mother.  If you can search your self and know that you are placing your child’s best interest at heart, not acting out of fear, but following your God-given mom-gut, then GO FOR IT!  Do what is right for YOU and YOUR KIDS.  Experts, statistics, and the accomplishments of other parents aren’t the ultimate guide to raising your kids.  Plus, there’s a wonderful freedom in finding the right thing for your family and getting busy doing it!  Yep, at the end of the day I’m tired, but I don’t remember a time that wasn’t true.  Now, it’s a good kind of tired knowing I invested the best of myself in what I feel is best for my family.  That’s how I do it.

Mommy's first day of school prize:  Skinny Cinny!!

Mommy’s first day of school prize: Skinny Cinny!!

 

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Give the Lettuce to the Fat Girl

 

Date Night

Date Night

Sitting in a  romantically lit cafe during a  long-awaited evening out with my husband, it happened.  We talked easily,  sipped our wine and waited for our dinner.  My handsome, effortlessly thin husband ordered Mediterranean lettuce wraps.  I ordered a cheeseburger. The waiter (someone different than the one who took our order)  swooped over and.. you guessed it… set the lettuce wraps down in front of me and gave my cheeseburger to Thinny McThin.

I’m not that sensitive about my weight.  Really, I’m not.  I live somewhere between wanting to drop about 30 pounds and trying to learn to be happy and at peace at whatever weight I am, since I know being thin isn’t the key to happiness.  Yeah, I’d like to be a couple sizes smaller, but I also know that there are pretty features about me.  My husband loves me, and I know that constant obsessing about my weight doesn’t make me sexy to him.  You can’t be married to a chef and be shy about enjoying food.  They aren’t really into that.   Plus, there’s sugar.  And I ain’t talkin’ about the kind you give your Granny on the cheek.  I can’t give up hope that there’s a way to be healthy without totally sacrificing bread, cookies, and cake.

At the end of a long, emotional week, the cheeseburger thing just rubbed me wrong.  I know that magazine covers are airbrushed, that stretch marks can’t be erased, and that a woman’s weight and shape don’t define her value.  I really wish the rest of society knew it too.  There are still enough smart remarks, fat jokes, and judgemental looks out there to make a girl feel like a less-than because of her weight… especially in a weak moment.  I couldn’t help rolling my eyes at the waiter’s assumption that the fat girl needed the lettuce wraps.  Couldn’t help feeling a little embarrassed at his quizzical expression as my husband corrected him and handed the cheeseburger over to me.  Couldn’t help wondering if the guy walked away shaking his head at why a handsome, thin guy would be with a Mrs. Sprat like me.  Depressing, huh? I know.  AND a little crazy.  AND I totally projected my feelings onto the poor, unsuspecting, stereotyping waiter.  It was enough to ruin a perfectly good first-date-night-in-a-long-time with grumpy sighs and over-obsessing defensiveness.

When I was a little girl, my mom and dad used to sing a song about how God made me special.  They believed that, and still do.  I do, too.  Most of the time.

The cheeseburger was great, by the way.  I ate about half and took the rest home, a normal part of my attempt to practice balance and moderation every day.  My head’s still held high, and I know I’m loved.  My shape’s not perfect but it’s me, and no one else can be my husband’s wife, my kids’ mom, my parents’ daughter better than I.  There’s so much more to life than bodyweight and so much more to me than my physical appearance.

The Salad We Had TonightI’ve recovered from my temporary insanity and remembered that other people don’t get to dictate whether I enjoy my life.  I shall continue to laugh, love, and eat sugar.

Lettuce is nice.  Thanks for the gesture.  But stereotypes just don’t fit me right.  I’ll have the cheeseburger.

 

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Attacking Your Day

I recently read the book,” Attack Your Day! Before it Attacks You!” The main thing I took away from the book was the idea of managing my TASKS instead of my time.  Just because someone comes along and asks something of me doesn’t necessarily mean I must stop right that moment and complete the interrupting task.  It’s my responsibility to prioritize my tasks.

SOOOooooo much easier said than done.  My knee-jerk reaction was “Well, you’ve never spent a day at my desk!  I’m the first face anyone sees when they pass our office, and there are 63 people between the ages of 80 and 100 who all think I’m at their personal beck and call, not to mention all of their responsible parties who need questions answered or need to tell me about a doctor’s appointment.  Before and after and during work, I mother three children.  Three children with no less than 5 years between their ages, all needing different things simultaneously.  Mommy! Mom! Mama!  Hey Mom!  I have a husband and a boss (not the same person) and somehow I’d LIKE to think I try to write stuff and help people.  NO way I can just call the shots on what I want to do.”  It seems that most of my life is basically one interruption after another, putting out one fire after another.  Even while typing this, I’m typing around a pair of three-year-old hands as they stick stickers on my laptop.

So basically, my first thought was “Nice idea.  Totally impossible for me.”  Then I remembered… (start playing Battle Hymn of the Republic background music) I remembered that it’s still the United States of America, the land of the free.  I’m still of legal adult-decision-making age.  This means I AM in charge of what I do.  I make the choice to allow myself to be interrupted, to allow myself to forget the tasks I’ve decided are most important and do the stuff other people present to me as “emergencies.”
I admit, I wonder if deflecting all of the interruptions that come my way would take more time than just doing the task right then and getting it overwith.  A legitimate concern, except if I keep on simply stopping and doing every single interruption, I’ll keep on being unable to get past all the interruptions and accomplish the things I’ve deemed important.

This idea applies to all of life.  Churches, jobs, friends, social organizations, and more are all lining up for a piece of us.  Saying “yes” to them all creates a constant stream of interruptions and interruptions to the interruptions.  (Dizzy yet?  Me too.)

I’ve decided it’s important to homeschool my kids.  I’ve also decided since we still need to feed them, that I can’t quit my job.  Oh yes, and I also want to make a healthy happy marriage, do life with my friends, and make a difference in the world.  This means I HAVE to be a master at managing my tasks.  This life isn’t going to just “happen to me.”  I have to keep my priorities in the forefront of my mind and I have to make these things happen.  I have to be on the attack.

So what do I do?  Here are some ideas:

1)  I need to know what is important to me today.  There’s no way I can order my tasks if I don’t know what I want and need to be doing.  This means I’ve gotta spend a few minutes planning, thinking, and prioritizing.  This could be a simple “to do list” or a calendar program or whatever.  Anything that helps identify what exactly I plan to do and need to do puts me in a better position to be in control of my tasks.

2)  Learn to say NO already!!  Sheesh!!  There are some things absolutely required of me because of my job or position in the family, some things to which I can’t simply say “no.” BUT there are a LOT of things not absolutely required.  A lot more than I want to admit.  For me, saying “no” is uncomfortable, it’s weird, it’s unfriendly… I hate doing it.  But, I can’t say yes to the important things if I can’t say no to the unimportant. 

3) Strategize.  I don’t often think about having a strategy.  I prefer to dance around and float through life while everything seems to fall into place.  Nice idea but not effective goal achieving material.  I need to use strategy.  I don’t think great marriages and good parenting just happen.  There’s a strategy there, or at least a set of core beliefs that are applied by the partners or parents.  I wonder what the simple step of identifying what I want and actually creating a strategy to achieve what I want, would do?  This may seem silly to a business-minded organizer, but to a people-pleasing social butterfly it’s groundbreaking. There’s also a level of commitment in making a plan.  It’s one thing to say I want to homeschool my children.  It’s another entirely to make a strategy figuring out how to do it.  Strategy in place, my excuses are few, aren’ t they?

My life is a juggling act.  THIS IS NOT A COMPLAINT.  I’m overly, wonderfully, incredibly, undeservedly blessed with more than my share of loveliness.  Attacking my day means I get to dive in with gusto and enjoy fully the huge pile of good things in my life.  Handsome husband, wonderful children, great job, dreams of good things to strive toward.  All mine to attack at will.

Ready.  Set.  GO!!

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A Crazy Little Thing Called Love

It’s made me drag myself out of bed on a rainy Saturday morning to drive my daughter to a volunteer event at school.

It’s made me spend time and money in a counselors office to enhance my marriage and motherhood.

It’s made me give away my last piece of pie, my last French fry, the last of the milk in the jug.

It’s made me drive fast and slow, reckless and extra careful.

It’s made me ask God to take a suffering person who was precious to me and broken my heart when He did what I asked.

It’s made me stay awake when I was too tired, keep walking when my feet hurt, and open my arms when I’d rather be alone.

It’s made me braver than I ever thought I’d be able to be and it’s made me the biggest coward on the face of the earth.

It’s made my cry tears of sorrow and just as many tears of joy.

It’s made me cook and made me eat, made me go out and made me stay in.

It’s made me give everything my body and mind have to offer and more.

It’s been my lowest low and highest high.

And this was all in the past week!!!

It’s a crazy little thing called love and I’m grateful tonight to have a life full of the stuff.

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Makin’ Groceries

In New Orleans, we don’t buy groceries. We “make groceries.” Whatever you call it, feeding a family of five is no small task, especially if one wants to stay out of the drive thru lane. Lucky me, I have a chef for a husband and a daughter in culinary school. We’re officially “foodies” now. I know. So cool.

Mackenzie and ChefDad doing a taste test

Mackenzie and ChefDad Doing a Taste Test

Lately, we’ve been working on a menu-planning, grocery makin’ project. Here’s what we did:

STEP 1: INVENTORY

I’ve learned from my very own Chef that inventory is an important part of menu planning and grocery making. Honestly, it’s something I didn’t do much of in the past, though I’ve done my share of attempts at menu organizing and grocery list making. So we took inventory of everything we had in the house. Every. Single. Consumable. Item.

We made a word document and divided our items into categories so we can see a list of our stock on paper. Knowing what you have on hand is important, right down to the spices, jams, jellies, vinegars, everything. To my surprise, we planned almost four weeks’ worth of meals off of what we already have on hand. This also was a way to reveal the things we’ve had on hand for like, a year, and have never eaten. When something’s been sitting in your freezer or pantry for a year, there’s a good chance it’s either out of date or it’s something your family really doesn’t like. Might’ve looked good in the store or been a great deal, but if you aren’t going to eat it… you get the point.  What… ya’ll know you’ve got some Ramen noodles from 2010 just like I do.

My husband keeps an inventory list on hand at work and uses it when he orders groceries every week. (The UNGLAMOROUS part of a chef’s job, my friends. Behind the scenes, they sit at computers, order groceries, spend hours inside freezers and refrigerators and worry about food costs. They endure all of that to bring a smile to your mouth. That’s why they’re so sexy.) So we’ve decided to do the same at home to help us use up the things we have and know when we’re getting low on staples that we use often. I printed our list and put it on the fridge so that we can mark off things as we use them up.

STEP 2: PLAN MENU

In the past, I’ve tried doing this by the week and bi-week and month. I’ve had successes and failures all ways. This time, I decided to just see how far our inventory would take us. ANNND our handy-dandy inventory list kept us from having to run back and forth to the fridge, freezer or pantry to make sure we have an item needed for a meal.  Interestingly, we got almost all the way to the end of the month planning meals out of our inventory. I’m not necessarily a proponent of shopping by the month, but I do love the idea of one MAIN trip to the store each month and the rest of your trips are just for perishables like milk and eggs. This is the way it worked out for us and is how we’ll probably continue to roll, considering our time is so limited anyway, and one Saturday morning per month to shop for groceries with a three-year-old is a gracious Lord’s plenty if you ask me.

Since we are a family of food-lovers, we all sat down together and brainstormed our menus. We planned three meals each day, since we homeschool and actually serve all three meals at home. We used some cute printables for this. I’ve found that even though my big kids are capable of getting their own lunch, they do better knowing what’s for lunch that day, which means less blank staring into an open fridge, which is fine with me.

In the future, I’m thinking we’ll put the food magazines, websites, and cookbooks that overrun our home into good use as we brainstorm more creative ideas to add to our inventory and meal repertoire. That’s why they have Pinterest, right?

STEP 3: MAKE A GROCERY LIST

I don’t feel the need to get all crazy with a grocery list. The perfectionist in me considers, for a second, that all the dairy should be together, then the meat, then the freezer aisle, then the staples… then I slap her and just get the list on paper. The reason for having a list is to keep from getting sidetracked by the “deals” at the store on the aisle endcaps, and by the Oreos you always want to buy.  Don’t act like I’m the only one.

STEP 4: SHOP

I take the kids with me grocery shopping. I do this because life IS school, and the grocery store is part of life. I do this because I want them to see the REASON behind the math work they have to do. I do impromptu math lessons in the grocery store aisle as we figure out which item is REALLY the best price. Hint: It’s not always the item “on sale.” I also do impromptu logic and reasoning lessons. For example, we bought applesauce this trip. We talked about the fact that there are individual packs of applesauce, but for less money we could get a large jar of applesauce and portion it out ourselves. We discussed the fact that what we were really paying for would be the convenience of not having to wash dishes and spoon out portions. We decided it was worth the price to have a little less clean-up and to have something Caleb can snack on by himself without much help. We also discussed how most prepackaged foods aren’t the best choices and we can make so many things ourselves and save money.

Lessons like these are priceless. If you ask me, it’s fine to spend money on whatever you deem worthwhile, as long as YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING. I want my kids to know where their money is going and how to decide if what you are buying is worth the price TO YOU.

STEP 5: EAT TOGETHER!!!

Caleb Eats

Caleb Eats Grilled Steak and Tomato, with Potatoes and Steamed Broccoli

Ya’ll, none of this works if you still go to McDonald’s most nights. You gotta cook the food, put it on the table, sit down and eat. This is our favorite part, the main attraction.  All of the inventory, menu planning, listing and shopping are simply to lead up to the actual EATING TOGETHER.

Makin’ groceries is a big part of makin’ a family.

 

 

 

 

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Gettin’ Schooled

Our homeschooling adventure continues! One of the main things I want to do when I think of teaching my kids myself is stuff their heads with as much scripture as possible. My own little brain was stuffed full of God’s words when I was a little girl and I find He uses that library in my brain to talk to me. I want my kids to have a nice-sized God-vocabulary, so a big part of our homeschooling is scripture memory.

So far this schoolyear we’ve memorized:

Romans 3:23-24 (As a kid I learned 3:23 alone, but verse 24 actually finishes the sentence. )
Acts 16:21
Ephesians 6:1
Proverbs 20:11
Psalm 34:14
Isaiah 63:1-3
1 John 4:8
Psalm 23 entire chapter

Since I’ve also been working on cursive handwriting with Levi, the scripture verses provide a good opportunity to practice handwriting and work on memorization at the same time. We do one verse each week, with a “test” on Friday. On Monday, we print out the verse and each day, Caleb helps by holding the paper for us to read aloud together. He gets a kick out of saying “GO!” and we read the verse again. We also write the verse several times to “layer the learning” by using our hand to write, seeing with eyes, and speaking the verse aloud.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a Friday morning and “tested” on all the verses we’d learned up until that time, having the kids write them out as I called out the reference or the first couple of words.

Scripture Memory Wall

Scripture Memory Wall

I’m so excited for my kids to learn the Bible, and as He always does, God is using His words to change us. For example, several weeks ago, when we were memorizing Psalm 34:14 “Depart from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it,” Dwayne and I had a really rough evening. It was one of those needless marital disagreements where both people say and do things they don’t mean and nobody wins. It wasn’t the kind of thing we could hide from the kids, even though they were in bed when it happened. We screwed up and our kids knew it. The next morning, I tearfully read over Psalm 34:14 and had to explain to my three babies how Dad and I were wrong to not do what the verse asked. We had not departed from evil and sought peace. We had done the opposite. I also shared with them how we planned to work on our disagreement, and ask God to help us too. Talk about humble pie. Talk about relevant scripture.

As He always does, God turned my stupid mistake into something good for me and my children. I had a chance to talk honestly with my kids, not hiding from them the fact that adults make mistakes. I had a chance to teach them that being an adult isn’t about not messing up, but it’s about owning your mistakes and doing what it takes to learn how to do better.

 

Vacuum Science Experiment

Vacuum Science Experiment

So far, we’ve also started a creation science unit, made “rain,” created a vacuum, and we are pairing that with a World History study, starting off at the very beginning, of course. I’ve been working with Mackenzie on poetry, and with Levi on reading comprehension. For math, I have a geometry student and one working on multiplication with several digits. For some extra curricular work, Mackenzie is taking a cake decorating class and Levi is participating in the children’s choir at NOBTS. As a family, we’ve also done a menu-planning and grocery budgeting project.

I’m finding my days are intense, with nonstop activity from 6am to 8 or 9pm by the time I complete the entire day from homeschool to work to NOCCA pick-up to putting everyone to bed. BUT I’m working on some different techniques to manage my tasks and time. I’m so thrilled with my kids’ progress and so surprised at how much MOM is learning. :) Guess they aren’t the only ones gettin’ schooled!

 

 

 

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