A schedule for the relaxed homeschooler…

Homeschooling moms have this hilarious little quirk about us…Whenever we find ourselves in another homeschooling mother’s space, we stalk her lists and charts like that creepy guy in the back alley your mother always warned you about.  Seriously.  Before we’ve admired the photos on the wall or the art over the mantlepiece, we’re moseying over to the refrigerator, surreptitiously glancing at the chore chart, scanning the schoolroom for a daily schedule, shaking down the bookshelves for some clue as to how this mom is making it all work.  We’re weird like that.  Or is it just me??  Please tell me it isn’t just me!!!!

So anyways, whenever I happen to chance upon something that’s actually working for my homeschool, I like to share it.  Because inquiring minds want to know!  Am I right, girls??  I thought I would write a little post about our relaxed homeschool schedule and how I’m simultaneously juggling a 3rd grader with two middle schoolers and a preschooler/aspiring kindergartner. And for the purpose of full disclosure, let me just say that this comes after 3 years of feeling more than a little lost in our homeschool! If you don’t feel like you have it all together, trust me when I say that you are in good company :)

This schedule is loosely based on the philosophy that children do best with half an hour of daily academic study per grade level.  For example, I plan about an hour and a half to two hours of homework each day for my 3rd grader.  You will be surprised at what can be accomplished in such a short period of time.

“But wait!” you say.  “My state requires X number of hours per academic day. How can I work with a shortened homeschool schedule and still honestly do what the state is expecting of me?”

Excellent question!  My answer to that is to give this a try and see what happens.  If you provide a no-tech or low-tech environment during the school day, I think you will be pleased with the things your children will find to do with their nonacademic hours.  In his free time, my oldest son can be found putting pencil to paper in his artwork, reading books about various wars or weather phenomena, compiling information for his scrapbook of well-known tornados, and building Lego creations with his younger brothers.  My 11 year old daughter sews, cooks, writes on her blog, sends letters to friends, researches the proper care and training of dogs, and reads reads reads all the books all the time. She’s like Martha Stewart and Caesar Milan’s love child :)

My little boys?  Well, the 8 year old will read some of the time.  But mostly,  they play!  Play is the work of children.  In my 7 years of homeschooling, I have found that this time for creative play and development of personal interests is especially important for children age 10 and under. If you stay loose and relaxed, you will see your kids developing more “academic” type interests around the age of 10 or so. Were I to compile all the hours my children spend in worthwhile projects and personal reading time outside of my planned academic schedule, I am certain our hours would easily exceed the state’s requirements.  This really does work!!  The secret is providing interesting reading material, giving them some creative freedom, and strictly limiting or disallowing TV, video games, and computer time.

Ok, so now that I’ve explained the madness to my method, here are the nuts and bolts of our daily homeschool schedule.  Each child has a checklist of activities that I would like them to work on throughout the week.  They don’t have to do everything every day, but having the list helps me to see what we’re consistently hitting and what we might be missing.  I’ve purposely divided each child’s daily routine between the following 3 types of lessons:

1) Things they can do on their own

2) Things we will do together as a group

3) Things for which they will need one-on-one help

“So what does this look like on any given day?” you ask….Well, with the exception of read aloud time, you will be hard-pressed to find us all sitting down “doing school” together.  I give each of the two older children a copy of their list.  I will remind them of various things throughout the day, but they know that their list is their responsibility.  My 3rd grader gets the lion’s share of my time.  He is old enough to need a fair amount of academic coaching each day but still too young to manage his own schedule.  My youngest child is like a free range chicken!  He wanders about, joining in with anything that looks interesting.  I will snag him once a day for 10-15 minutes of reading time, but seeing that he is a young 5, we really haven’t ramped up an official homeschool schedule for him.

Here’s my Secret Sauce though….Ready for this??  I hit the ground running first thing in the morning!  It’s like Monopoly.  “Do not pass Go.  Do not collect $200.  Go straight to homeschool.”  I used to think that “responsible people” (Whoever they are, bless their hearts!  I hate them, but only a little bit and in the most Christian sort of way ;) ), well, responsible people would have a proper breakfast, get the children dressed, take a shower, do the morning chores, and perhaps milk the cow and gather the eggs before starting homeschool in the morning.  I don’t think that anymore.  Or maybe I’ve given up on being a responsible person because ain’t nobody got time for that!!  I mean, really, school didn’t get off the ground until after 10 a.m. when I was trying to be “responsible.”

So now when I wake up, I get dressed and do a quick fix on my hair.  I often try to take 15 minutes or so to start the day with Lord, read the Word, pray a little bit. This all takes me a half hour or less.  Then I head downstairs and look for my first “victim”!  If my 11 year old is up, I check her chart for any task that requires help from me, and we begin.  Eventually, the others wander down.

As soon as I finish helping someone with one task, I’m checking a chart and reminding so-and-so to go practice their piano or corralling another child to work on math with me.  Breakfast happens here and there and everywhere.  Sometimes I make lunch.  Sometimes my daughter makes it.  The chores and the personal hygiene tasks get done between bits and pieces of schoolwork.   Somehow it all gets done!!  And at 2:00, we STOP.  Two o’clock is quitting time at the factory, and we are done for the day!  My older children may have a few assignments that they finish later in the day, but they know that the important thing to me is effort and a demonstration of responsibility.  Our lists serve us and not the other way around!

Here’s a little visual for all you List Stalkers out there :)  This is a copy of my 12 year old’s schedule from this week.  I hope this post will be of help to some of you.  Mostly, let me encourage you to discover your own way, to lean into routines and rhythms that jive with your personality and the natural inclinations of your household, to forget about doing it the “right” way because what is the right way anyways??  The right way is what works for you and your children and brings the maximum amount of peaceful learning to your home. So homeschool on, brave mother!  You’ve got this.

P.S. We have one day a week for “Project School” or “Field Day” or “Science Projects,” but that’s another subject for another day.


When you’ve lost the joy of living @emailyourprayers.com

I’ve always been a journaling kind of girl.  I prefer to do my thinking out loud, and writing is what I do when I’ve pushed my husband’s ears beyond their listening capacity :)  What can I say??  I have a lot of thoughts, and they all make so much more sense to me when I put them into words!

Lately, I’ve applied this same principle to my prayer life.  My thoughts come so slowly to me, like grains of sand sifting through a sieve or 4 year old’s when it’s time for bed.  Ha!  Anyways, I’m not a very good out loud pray-er.  I’m an even worse silent pray-er.  I get lost on my way from Point A to Point B.  When I’m trying to pray, I tend to meander and think of all the Other Thoughts inside my brain.  It’s very annoying, and it makes me feel like such a Prayer Loser!

So, enter the prayer journal — updated for the 21st century!  I pray my prayers into an e-mail and send it myself.  Strange, I know, but I don’t think God has an e-mail address.  I wouldn’t know who else to send it to!!  In all seriousness, though, this has been such an amazing discovery for me.  My prayer life has exploded with an honesty, a spontaneity, a richness that I’ve never known before.

Here is something I lifted up to the Lord just this week. This is my heart poured out to my Savior.  It’s my hope that you will also find a way to make prayer such an integral part of your life that it comes almost as naturally to you as breathing in and breathing out.

Lord, I am so weary of my life.  I feel horrible even saying that.  But every day seems to take on a dreary sameness that I find exhausting and quite unfulfilling.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me right now, but I feel as if something has sucked the joy and the enthusiasm for life right out of me.

I wake up.  I do school with the kids.  I take a nap.  I look at the internets. I make dinner.  I put the kids to bed. I watch television.  I feel like I’m just surviving, pushing one lead-heavy foot in front of the other, plodding ahead like a tired, old broken down workhorse with blinders on.

I’m exhausted from doing so little!  How can that be possible??

Oh, dear God, is this really the life you intended for me to live?  Is this really the abundant life to which I’ve been called?  If it is the life you have for me, what am I doing wrong?  And why does everything seem so heavy and lifeless?

I love my children!  I love homeschooling.  But I feel so weighed down by all my responsibilities, the things I do and the things left undone.  It’s like I’ve lost my passion for living and breathing and being the real me.  All I can do now is put one foot in front of the other.  All I can do is survive.  I’m barely even here emotionally for my children.  I feel as if I lost my joy for them.  Help me, God.  Break through this nothingness I feel inside.

I don’t want to continue feeling this way. I feel like I am floating or drifting, having some sort of out-of-body experience. It’s very surreal. I can see myself doing all the things, but my heart doesn’t feel connected to my body. I hear myself responding to the children impatiently with not an ounce of energy to spare.  I am skating on thin ice emotionally and any misstep on their part just seems like too much to bear.  I hear myself scolding and reprimanding, and it makes me feel sad and helpless.  I am just trying to make it through the day, to function without breaking down.  I am just trying to survive.

God, help me.  Hear my prayer.  Care for me as a mother cares for her children.  Gather me under your wings as a hen would gather her chicks.  I am weary.  Restore to me the joy of my salvation and renew a right spirit within me.

Lead me and guide me in the way that I should go.  Help me to know that a change in schedule or circumstances is not a magic bullet that will fix the way I feel inside.  Help me to lay down my lists and take up my Lord.  I pray that goodness and mercy will follow me tomorrow and all the days of my life.  May I dwell in Your house not only forever but in this very moment.  I take refuge in You, the rock of my salvation.

I love you, Jesus.  Thank you for loving me and for knowing what this feels like.  Surely you have borne my sorrow and carried my grief.

Amen, Jesus. Amen

What to do when you are overwhelmed

One of the hardest things about being a mother is the perpetual feeling of always being completely overwhelmed. Always. And Completely. Nobody can prepare you for this! “What to Expect when You’re Expecting” is mere child’s play, and the “Just wait til you have kids” warning of well-meaning friends usually falls on deaf ears.

Trust me.

I am speaking from experience. If I knew how overwhelming raising children would be, I’m pretty sure I would have entered a convent at the age of 16 and pledged myself to a life of celibacy – just to be on the safe side, you know? ;) Ok, so I’m sort of kidding (but maybe not??!!) I love being a mom, but sometimes I hate it a little too. It’s honestly the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life, and I’m not into doing hard stuff. This is why I have a 0.0 sticker on the back of my van, even though I live in the land of the fit and the 13.1 and 26.2 stickers!!

And then I decided to add homeschooling to the mix, as if this Mother to Four gig wasn’t complicated and hard enough. Wow. If you’ve never homeschooled and would like to know what that’s like, just imagine every day was “Bring your Kid to Work Day,” only while you’re gone, there are little people trashing your house. That’s the cold, hard truth, folks! I wouldn’t have it any other way, but this is NOT EASY! Saying that I’m often overwhelmed is actually quite possibly an understatement. Two degrees south of crazy might be a better description :)

Some people are fighters. They go swinging into battle when faced with difficulty and opposition. That’s totally not me. When faced with an obstacle, you’ll likely find me curled up in a fetal position with my little blankie. I’m delicate like that. Honestly, my automatic reaction to trouble is flight instead of fight. I’m a perfectionist who was incredibly adept at micromanaging notebooks and classes and straight A’s in school but terribly unprepared for managing the complexity of life, especially motherhood life.

If I can’t do ALL the things and do them RIGHT, sometimes I don’t do any of the things. I just give up before I even get started because I don’t even know where to start. It’s a little pathetic actually, but it’s the honest to goodness truth. This is why there is months old dirty laundry living at the bottom of my hampers and unidentified plastic objects cluttering my kitchen cupboards and drawers and thousands of our family pictures living in cyber space (or on little flash drive thingys, is that what they call them??). I’m not even a quitter. I’m a non-starter!

So, you’re probably wondering why I would even write a blog post titled “What to do when you are overwhelmed”?? Clearly, I do not have my stuff together! How can someone who loses every measuring cup she’s ever purchased possibly be of help to you? Maybe I’m just here to reassure you that feeling overwhelmed is normal for moms. Or maybe it’s more likely that y’all will read this and feel totally awesome about yourselves because “that poor lady over at Messy Perfectionist is really a much bigger mess than I am!!” :) Or maybe being completely overwhelmed for the past 12 years, 3 months, and 2 days (but who’s counting??) makes me something of an expert?? I don’t know. I’m just learning to be thankful for the little things God has taught me over the years, and I try to pass those lessons on to others.

Anyways, inquiring minds want to know “What to do when you are overwhelmed?” The answer is harder and easier than you might think. And no, “Surf the internet for funny pictures of cats” isn’t what I was about to say. You probably already know the answer, but sometimes we all need a reminder. When you are overwhelmed, do this:

1. Pray. Pray specifically for what you need. As in “Jesus, I do not know how to clean this oven. Will you please show me what to do?” Yes, this is word-for-word from my prayer closet. I pray about weird stuff, and He answers me!

2. Do one thing. Do what you can do. Pick up 10 things on the completely cluttered counter. Wash dishes for 10 minutes. Fold and put away ONE basket of clothes, even if there are six baskets waiting for you. You cannot do all the things, but you can do one thing. Do that thing and feel good about the effort you’re expending.

It’s not rocket science, but I forget this so often!! Last week, I had out-of-town guests coming and felt like my house just needed to be bulldozed so I could start over from the ground up, you know what I mean?? Well, I prayed that “Help me, Jesus!” prayer, and twenty minutes later, I was out the door to rent a Rug Doctor. Besides eating and sleeping, I basically ran that thing for 24 hours straight. And guess what, my house got picked up in the process! It was AMAZING! God answered my prayer, and he gave me the strength to do only what I was able to do. And in the end, it was more than enough.

He is so good to me! Call on him for the little things, and you will see your faith grow in ways you never could have imagined. He cares about the details of your life.

What is Brave Writer??

It’s been a couple of weeks since the Brave Writer retreat. The initial “rock concert high” is wearing off a bit, and I’m pondering some of the things I learned. Quite a few friends expressed interest in my experience, so I thought I would try to put my thoughts down on paper. Most were wondering, “What exactly IS Brave Writer?” So, is it a curriculum? Is it a book? Is it a class? Is it a philosophy?”

Well, yes…

It’s all of that and less than that and more than that!! Now that I’ve thoroughly confused you, I’ll try to elaborate. Brave Writer is the brain child of Julie Bogart. Julie is a professional writer, a designer of a writing program, a writing teacher, but most of all, a veteran homeschooling mother of 5 grown children! As any home educator will tell you, that last qualification is worth it’s weight in gold, college degrees, and professional accolades. Here is someone who did this Big Thing successfully – not just once but five times!

Whereas the vast majority of curriculum providers will hand you a book and say, “Open to page 6 and do x, y, z,” Julie takes you by the hand, puts her arm around your shoulder and initiates a conversation that opens doors you never thought possible for your homeschool. Yes, she hosts online writing classes. Yes, she has written a comprehensive “how to” guide to teaching writing called “The Writer’s Jungle.” Yes, she sells several literature-based writing products.

BUT she has done and continues to do so much more than this!!

She tells you it will be ok if your child only produces one polished piece of writing a month. She tells you that having Big Conversations with your child might actually be the most integral part of their education. She tells you that children are notoriously bad writers, that your child is a bad writer, and that this is the way it’s supposed to be, as it takes 10 years to gain writing fluency. She tells you how to maintain a semblance of routine within your homeschool without being tied to an impossibly rigid schedule. She tells you how to partner with your child in the writing process in order to produce happy, confident writers instead of reluctant, resentful writers. She tells you about Teatime on Tuesdays and Freewrite Fridays. And she tells it all with a smile on her face and a delightfully witty sense of humor! She’s the homeschooling friend you’ve always wanted – the one with the fantastic ideas and the reassuring presence.

My biggest take-away from the Brave Writer retreat was more than cerebral. It was intensely emotional. And oddly enough, it had very little to do with the actual writing process. Being a wordy sort of gal myself, writing and writing instruction aren’t necessarily my biggest concerns in homeschooling. I’m quite adept at writing, and I feel confident in my ability to convey the gift of words to my children. When I walked into that retreat center, it was math that was weighing heavily on my heart and mind.

You see, my oldest son, he’s not a math person. And neither is his mother! She’s far, far from it, as a matter of fact. Over the years, this unwieldy pair, well, we lost our way with mathematics. As his younger sister surpassed him in math, maintaining or exceeding her grade level, we both panicked. We were “behind” in math! The pressure was on! We had to fix This Thing, or else we were all doomed. To what? I’m not entirely sure – perhaps math purgatory or a life spent collecting garbage? Either way, the odds were stacked against us, and we were in panic mode! Math time meant tears and frustration and a profound sense of failure for both of us.

Enter Brave Writer! When Julie leaned in during that first seminar and told us that the struggling child IS NOT the lazy child or the incompetent child or the undisciplined child but rather The Hurting Child, I felt like I’d been given a new lease on life. I knew that this, THIS was the thing I was missing! And when she described partnership writing for the elementary age child, I realized with a start that partnership was what needed to happen in my math instruction with my oldest son. And when I sat in that Bohemian Art Journaling session with the unfamiliar water color palette in front of me and a blank piece of a paper and the persistent, humiliated feeling that “I’m not good at this! I don’t like this! Art is hard. Everyone else is better than me. This is so embarrassing. I wish I could leave,” for the first time in my homeschooling journey, I finally understood what my son feels like when he tries to do math.

And something inside me broke when the tears began to fall…

It was an incredibly heart-rending, soul-searching, life-changing moment for me. I was not only convinced mentally and emotionally that I needed to change my approach in homeschool and math, but I was also finally equipped with the tools needed to make that change. THAT is what Brave Writer is to me! It is a change of heart and mind about the way you think about homeschool and writing, but it is also the practical, nitty-gritty, everyday habits that make the change a reality.

I can’t recommend Brave Writer highly enough! If you are interested in learning more, please check out the Brave Writer website at http://www.bravewriter.com. They offer curriculum, online classes, a free e-mail group that incorporates the Brave Writer lifestyle into your daily routine, and coming this fall, something called The Homeschool Alliance. Stay tuned to her website for more details on that!

Unscientific research proves that women can only be amazing at two things

Ok, girls, today’s post is gonna be short and sweet because 1) It’s my birthday, and I can feel my brain cells shrinking even as we speak.  As you know, this happens with age.  2) It’s 10:45 p.m., and whatever brain cells I have left are brushing their teeth, putting their pajamas on, and getting ready to go to bed!  In case you missed my next to last post, this is a continuation of my series of little tips and ideas for making life just a bit easier.

I love ideas and philosophical conversations and all manner of verbose speculation about life in general.  However, most things shared during these high-brow pow wows (ooh, I like the sound of that!) find themselves lost somewhere in the deep recesses of my cranium (much like the due dates on my most recent batch of library materials, ha ha).  But once in a while, someone will share a rare bit of wisdom that has a lasting impact on my life and revolutionizes the way I think.  Boy, don’t you LOVE it when this happens??!!

Today, I am going to share one of those mind-blowing revelations with you.  Are you ready for this??

Here it is:  Generally speaking, most women can excel in only two major areas of life.  When you add a third major task or responsibility to a woman’s load, her life will often feel burdensome and overwhelming.  So, I am sure you are wondering how I know this is true.  And I would have to say that it’s because one of my best friend’s husbands told me so.  And because his sister (who is a registered nurse, yes, a medical professional!) told HIM so.  And because when he told ME what his sister told HIM, my mind was like totally blown.  And I knew it was true.  See, that’s how I know it’s true!  And now YOU know why I had to title this post, “Unscientific research proves that women can only be amazing at two things.” #sigh #deepbreath

So, anyways, think about that for a spell.  Let it sink in.  If this is true of you, and I know it is since UNSCIENTIFIC research PROVES it, then you sort of have to pick and choose what your priorities are.  You can be an awesome mom and a superior housekeeper, but chances are, you won’t rival Rachel Rae in the kitchen department.  You can rock out at the office or any other place of employment and be a superstar at the gym, but your mothering might take a back seat.  You can be Natural Crunchy Earth Mother and The Happy Homeschooler, but your housekeeping skills might be a tad subpar (Hmmmm, y’all don’t know anyone who fits THAT description, do you??)

I think the reason this concept changed my life was because for the first time, I gave myself permission to be mediocre or just downright bad at certain things.  It was freeing to know that I could pursue my top priorities wholeheartedly and assign other things to the back burner, so to speak.  If you’re a perfectionist like me, I hope this speaks to you and gives you a little more breathing room.  You don’t have to be Miss Magnificent in every way possible.  Just pick your two things and run with them, girl!  The mismatched socks and disorganized linen closet will take care of themselves.  And it’s ok.  It’s really OK! (Because I said so and because unscientific research PROVES it!)  :)




Why the first two chapters of Genesis matter

Public service announcement:  We interrupt our previously scheduled programming for this Deep Thought…

Ok, so this isn’t exactly advice or an idea to make your life easier, but when a Deep Thought strikes, I have difficulty dismissing it without nary a word.  So, here’s a word.  Or two.  Or maybe more than two :)  


For the past few weeks, my discipleship group at church has been discussing the impact of naturalism versus supernaturalism as a prevailing worldview.  And for the first time in my life, I think I actually GET IT!!  I’ve gone to church my entire life.  I’m pretty sure I cut my first tooth gnawing on the cover of that sweet children’s Bible with the picture of Jesus holding those little kids on his lap!  I was in private Christian schools K-12 and graduated from a conservative Christian college.  What is it about the Biblical account of Creation that I could possibly have missed up until this point??


Sitting with my discipleship group on Wednesday, it finally hit me after all these years and I realized why Creationism matters, why it’s not just a side note in Christianity, something to occasionally trot out for debate, or just an issue that should be quickly set aside again as to avoid controversy.   Why do I consider it to be so integral?  Following all these long years in church and Bible classes, I now realize that without a Biblical understanding of creation, it is virtually impossible to fully experience the power and majesty and love of almighty God.  Without Genesis 1 and 2 as it is written and plainly understood, there is no Psalm 8:3-5:

“When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
    the son of man that you care for him?”

There is no Psalm 19:1-4:

“How clearly the sky reveals God’s glory!
    How plainly it shows what he has done!
 Each day announces it to the following day;
    each night repeats it to the next.
No speech or words are used,
    no sound is heard;
 yet their message goes out to all the world
    and is heard to the ends of the earth.”


And there is no Psalm 148.  Without Genesis 1 & 2, we could probably just delete this chapter of the Bible altogether!

“Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord from the heavens;
Praise Him in the heights!
 Praise Him, all His angels;
Praise Him, all His hosts!
Praise Him, sun and moon;
Praise Him, all you stars of light!
 Praise Him, you heavens of heavens,
And you waters above the heavens!

 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
For He commanded and they were created.
 He also established them forever and ever;
He made a decree which shall not pass away.

 Praise the Lord from the earth,
You great sea creatures and all the depths;
 Fire and hail, snow and clouds;
Stormy wind, fulfilling His word;
 Mountains and all hills;
Fruitful trees and all cedars;
 Beasts and all cattle;
Creeping things and flying fowl;
 Kings of the earth and all peoples;
Princes and all judges of the earth;
 Both young men and maidens;
Old men and children.

 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
For His name alone is exalted;
His glory is above the earth and heaven.
 And He has exalted the horn of His people,
The praise of all His saints—
Of the children of Israel,
A people near to Him.

Praise the Lord!”

If the world and all that is in it, if we as a people were not intentionally fashioned and formed by the sovereign hand of God, then what are we?  Children of chance, people and matter perhaps originally set in motion by some Higher Power, but certainly not planned or intentionally designed for the glory and purposes and pleasure of Someone who knew our name before time began.  Regardless of whether we are products of a godless random, evolutionary process or as some Christians believe, a God-inspired random, evolutionary process, there is  a certain futility and hopelessness inherent in a human experience that would deny the direct, purposeful involvement of an all-powerful, all-loving Creator.

 If God wasn’t present in superintending every aspect of the created order, then what hope do I have of him directing or caring about the events of my everyday life?  And if I don’t serve a God like this, then what motivates me to praise Him?  Not only is my perception of God as intentionally loving and infinitely sovereign severely limited by a denial or partial denial of Creation, but my ability to worship Him, to convey his full worth, to understand and declare His glory is also cut short by this philosophical misstep.  Do not be deceived!  Ideas matter. Theology shapes you.  What you believe about life, the nature of life, and why and how we were created will ultimately impact what you feel and how you will live.  As my pastor is fond of saying, “When you change what you believe, you change how you feel. And when you change how you feel, you change how you act.”


Today I am overwhelmingly grateful to be known and loved by a God who leaves nothing to chance, a God who formed me in the womb and planned the days of my life before one of them came to be, a God who would not hide himself from mankind but has made himself plain to us through his Word and through Creation. This is my hope, my confidence, my whole reason for living.And it’s why Genesis 1 & 2 matter to me. 






Well, if you want MY opinion…

For better or worse, one thing I’m known for (sorta, kinda, maybe, ok – DEFINITELY!) is having an opinion and dispensing advice. I actually had a friend tell me this week that I should start a blog devoted to little ideas for making life easier. And that’s when I confessed my strange, odd little dream of someday having my own advice column. As I lay in bed contemplating my little Ann-Lander-like aspirations, I realized that in this day and age of blogging and the internet, almost anything is possible in the world of writing! I can have my own advice column if I want it, gosh darn it! There may only be two people in the whole entire world who want to plumb the depths of my vast wealth of wisdom and worldly understanding, but hey, who’s keeping count?? (Mom, are you out there? I need at least one, so don’t fail me now! :) )

So, I’m up for a little experiment on my blog here. I’ll be posting ideas, tips, life-hacks, and all manner of unsolicited advice for a few weeks – just to see if there is any interest. Also, I’m up for replying to specific questions anyone might have about homeschooling, mothering, marriage, natural health, relationships, and life in general (Just don’t ask me about gardening or sewing or underwater basket weaving, as my experience is severely limited in those particular areas of domesticity!).

Ok, it’s time for my first tip!

#Ahem #clearsthroat #peersovertopsofspectacles


I read recently that if you want to change your life, you have to change something in your daily routine. Ok, so I’ve always wanted a clean house! On any given day, if someone stopped by my house unannounced, they would assume that my house was inhabited by an unsupervised horde of feral preschoolers. Seriously. We’re talking dirty dishes piled high in the sink, remnants of the previous meal strewn on the countertops, toys & random items of clothing littering the floor, unmade beds, papers here, there, and everywhere! It was a disaster! I cried. I prayed. I hired an organizer. I Pinterested. I made lists and charts until I was blue in the face! Nothing seemed to tame the clutter and chaos surrounding me.

And then, ta da!! Enter ROUTINE! (and a little kick in the pants from overnight guests coming to visit!)

Following a serious whole house pick-up and cleaning (compliments of my bi-weekly cleaning lady – my homeschooling luxury!), my husband and I did a little brainstorming about how to make this a daily reality. We came up with a little “His & Hers” list.

1) This is what I do: Set aside the hour before my husband gets home to pick up the house with the kids. (They do the upstairs so I can work in peace and quiet on the main floor. Can I get an Amen on that one??!!)

2) This is what he does: Tell me every.single.day how great the house looks. My preferred form of currency has always been praise & recognition & ego stroking – lots of ego stroking! If my man forgets to mention it, I just say, “Honey, can you please tell me that the house looks amazing??” Subtle, I know! On weekends when he is home, my husband also helps us with the routine.

And that, my friends, is it! No complicated schedules, no bins & baskets & expensive organizers, no mind-blowing tips from Pinterest…just one simple change to my DAILY routine! This would work for almost any habit you want to establish (exercising, daily time with the Lord, reading to your children, organizing your photos, etc).

Just stick to these guidelines:

1) Make it daily – No skipping, even on weekends!
2) Make it doable – If you are easily overwhelmed, start with 5-10 minutes. You can always add more time later
3) Make it “de-stressed” – The routine is more important than the immediate outcome. Instead of saying, “We have to get this WHOLE house picked up,” I just work slowly & steadily, knowing that the routine will work its magic over time.

Ok, so that’s my first tiny tidbit of advice. If you like what you see here and think it might be of help to anyone else, please repost the link on your Facebook feed! And check back later this week for more unbridled wit and wisdom from Yours Truly….

I’m hearing voices…

All my life I’ve been hearing these little voices in my brain and for the most part, largely ignoring them. And no, in case you’re concerned, these aren’t the voices that tell me I actually originated from the distant planet Plursupious, that the neighbors are really Soviet spies, and that I ought to be wearing a metal colander on my head to protect myself from an impending nuclear apocalypse (No, I turned THOSE voices off a loooonnnngggg time ago! :) ).

For better or for worse, the voices I routinely ignore are much bossier and far less entertaining than those OTHER voices. It’s as if someone’s nagging yet benevolent mother has taken up permanent residence inside my brain. I’m hearing things like, “Are you really gonna stay on Facebook all day long?” and “Get your behind out of that warm bed! It’s already 7 a.m.!” or “For the love of God, don’t make another list! Just go play a game with that child.” Well, ok, I guess the voice is more nagging than it is benevolent ;)

Yes, while others may enjoy the relative simplicity of quiet thoughts or occasionally no thoughts at all (Some men claim that this is actually possible!), a great deal of my inner dialogue seems to be a steady stream of pithy advice and well-meaning directives. And it never occured to me until recently that I’ve been doing myself a HUGE disservice by regularly disregarding much of that guidance.

I’m an adult now, right?? And gosh darn it, that means I get to do whatever it is I want to do! If it strikes my fancy, I get to stay up until 1 a.m., and nobody is gonna tell me otherwise! When one serving of ice cream isn’t enough and I decide I need another, I just dare someone to try and stop me! And that little expenditure at the mall that really didn’t fit into our budget? Pshaw! I’m a grown up, and I work hard. I deserve a treat every once in a while! So, back off, little voice. I’m doing my thing, and there ain’t nothing you can do about it!

And then I opened up my Bible and read this,

“Does not wisdom call out?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
At the highest point along the way,
where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
beside the gate leading into the city,
at the entrance, she cries aloud:
‘To you, O people, I call out;
I raise my voice to all mankind.
You who are simple, gain prudence;
you who are foolish, set your hearts on it
Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say;
I open my lips to speak what is right…
Choose my instruction instead of silver,
knowledge rather than choice gold,
for wisdom is more precious than rubies,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.'” (from Proverbs 8)

Whoa! Ok, that’s like ouch and double ouch! Who would have guessed that all these years of fancy-free and footloose living were actually symptomatic of a heart problem? I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that these little voices (or thoughts, really) are direct instructions from the Lord. I don’t think this is usually the Holy Spirit convicting me or warning me of outright sin. BUT! I do think the bossy “mini mom” I’ve been so seldom heeding could very well be the voice of wisdom.

Is it possible that by conditioning myself to easily silence and avoid Wisdom’s voice, I’ve been unconsciously training myself to do the same to the Lord? I don’t know about you, but it’s not all too often that Jesus comes to me with flaming signs and wonders, thundering directives, and written words hand-chiseled in stone (Ok, so he never comes to me like that!). Like Elijah, I find God whispering to me in the quiet places, in the silent words of Scripture, in a still small voice (Yes, an inaudible one, in case my Baptist friends are wondering!).

There is nothing in life that is quite as satifying as discerning the voice of God and doing His will. This week, I’m purposing to retrain myself to listen and obey. And for me, that means tuning into the voice of Wisdom, getting off Facebook at a reasonable hour, and yes, even waking up at 6:17 a.m. to write this blog post! Like every good kindergarten teacher is fond of saying, it time for me to put on my “listening ears.” Right?

“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening!”

When you can’t hold on to Jesus

Y’all wanna know something strange about me??? Every fall, without exception, my brain turns to mush. I’m totally not kidding! I can mark my calendar by this strange phenomenon. Sometime in October, I start losing much of what I consider my “normal” personality (which really isn’t all that normal, but let’s just run with the word, shall we?). A-ny-ways…As I was saying, I get really weird at that time of year. I lose much of my ability to think clearly. I forget stuff really easily. It becomes extremely difficult for me to string words together in a cohesive fashion, which is why I usually don’t write much in the fall and early winter. Reading (which is usually like my #1 hobby, being the nerd that I am!), well, reading isn’t much easier than writing during those months. Every time I pick up a book, I come to the sad realization that I have the attention span of a 3-year-old in a candy store and the focusing abilities of a drunken frat boy. It ain’t pretty is all I’m sayin’!

I’m not exactly sure how long this weirdness has been going on, but I know that even in college I acted a bit strange in the colder months (Stranger than I normally did, that is…We’re talking about a girl who wore clunky Mary Janes, frilly socks, and a dress with wheelbarrows on it IN COLLEGE! Yes, I was quite the odd bird.) It definitely worsened after I started having children (The thing in the fall, not the wheelbarrow-dress-wearing propensity) I’m pretty sure the extreme sleep deprivation & a steady diet of Cheerios didn’t help matters any :)). In fact, during many of those early motherhood days, I would get full-out depressed for at least three months every single fall. Like lay-on-the-floor-and-cry-your-eyes-out-because-life-stinks-and-will-never-ever-get-better-and-here-take-some-Zoloft depressed! With my Paleo style diet and L-theanine (yay for this miracle supplement!), I don’t go there anymore. Thank you, sweet Jesus! But I still basically forfeit my personality from mid-October until sometime in January.

As you can imagine, this little interlude has a profound affect on my normal Bible reading routines. Over the past year, I’d become an avid Bible reader (Not because I’m so disciplined, mind you. This was a total Jesus thing!). But like any other book, the Bible must be READ, which is honestly almost beyond my grasp in the fall. With the words dancing in my head & flitting around like so many sparrows, you can only imagine how much I get out of Bible reading in the fall.

And here’s where I’ll make a confession.

This year, I almost stopped reading my Bible altogether for the better part of about two months. But by the grace of God, I didn’t stop praying. However, let me assure you that when I use the term “praying,” I’m taking liberties here! In October, I started feeling as if God wanted me to commit to 60 days of prayer. I would do something I’d never done before. I would get down on the floor and pray every single morning, first thing. And here’s where it gets tent-revival-snake-charming-healing-service weird…You all ready for this? I would actually lay facedown on the floor when I prayed. I wanted to put myself in a physical position that would remind me of how desperate and dependent I was on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Oh, how little I knew of desperation and dependence at the beginning of my little prayer experiment! I was secretly hoping that my daily prayer would cause Jesus to turn me into something of a June Cleaver or Martha Stewart or maybe a divine combination of the two. I’d admit my need for him, and He would do His magic, which would totally be glorifying to him, right? Because as we all know, He is most glorified by organized closets, perfectly decorated mantels, and freshly starched linens! Can I get an “Amen”??

Well, that didn’t happen. It really didn’t happen. What happened was me lying on the carpeted floor of my bathroom and uttering barely coherant, pathetic excuses for prayers. My exhausted mind conjured up simple phrases like “Jesus, help me” and “Let this day be for your glory” and “May I live for your kingdom and not my own.” Honestly, that’s all I could manage. I didn’t pray through the hallowed A-C-T-S of prayer acronym. A few days, I tried to follow the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer, but even that was too much for my stupor-laden, cold-weather brain. I would end each day’s “prayer” (again, I’m using the term loosely!) with a specific appeal for the salvation of three dear people I’ve come to know and love over the years. And that was it.

And you know what? Jesus didn’t make me a better housewife. He didn’t even make me a better mother. He didn’t make me more organized or disciplined or amazing. My children were still beating me out of bed in the morning and scrounging around for cold cereal. My laundry room was still piled high with unwashed clothing. I was still going to bed at ridiculously late hours after having surfed the internet for much too long.

No, Jesus didn’t change any of THAT. All He did was hold on to me when I could barely hold on to Him. All He did was teach me that my performance means little to Him and my dependence means everything. He reminded me of what I sort of already knew – that His love is unconditional, that He is crazy about me, that He pursues me even in the darkest of times, that there is absolutely nothing I can do to make Him love me more and certainly nothing I can do to make Him love me any less.

The Bible says “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.” This might sound hopeless to you, but lying there on the bathroom floor, I discovered that God seeks after me. Even when my attempts to read the Bible are a huge failure and my prayers are little more than incoherant pleas, He keeps me in the hollow of His hand. He loves me. He sings over me with delight. He holds onto me when I cannot hold on to Him. What a Savior! What a Friend! I am His, and He is mine. The strength of our relationship rests not on my performance but always only on His faithfulness. And not even starched linens can rival a discovery like that!

So, I’m a stay-at-home-nerd…

If you know me at all, you know that I really love suburban living! What’s not to love about a Starbucks on every corner, a grocery store within 5 minutes of any local dwelling, and a neighborhood with a decidedly Mayberry flare (complete with its own Halloween parade and annual pool parties)?? I mean, this is where it’s at, girlfriend! While all you country girls out there recover from the shock inflicted by the mere thought of prolific coffee-wielding establishments and neighbors within shouting distance, I’ll go on to my next point…

Which is to say that some things about suburban life are hard and actually sort of stink. Like not being able to drive anywhere from 4-6 p.m. without being assaulted by massive amounts of humanity, all trying to do the same thing you’re trying to do – simply get from Point A to Point B. Yes, the traffic can be ridiculous up in here. This is true. And it’s also true that image is everything in the suburbs. The Botox clinics are almost as common as the Starbucks. The hedges are trimmed with kitchen shears. The coats all say “North Face.” When I moved here, I felt like I’d fallen off the back of a pickle truck! I’m still working on that. Let’s just say my grooming rituals multiplied indefinitely when I moved to the suburbs. We’ll leave it at that, ‘kay?

Anyways, without exception, the one thing about the suburbs that really drives me crazy is the pace of life. Seriously! When the world is at your fingertips, and the library, the grocery store, and the park are literally within a five minute drive of the house, there is an insatiable urge to constantly be on the go. Run to Kroger and pick up some fruit? No problem! Drop off those old toys at Goodwill? Let’s go! Sign the kids up for yet another homeschool class? Why not?!! As long as it’s not during morning or evening rush hour, there is no limit to the number of quick trips and easy outings available to the average stay-at-home, suburban mom.

I’d lived here for over four years before I realized this lifestyle was literally crushing me! This might sound like an old-fashioned, Leave it to Beaver sentiment, but my full time job is managing this home and caring for & educating my children. And I have to be HERE to do that! I did the math and realized that a simple one hour errand or appointment can cut an average of 3-4 hours out of my day. And anyone who has ever taken four children to a doctor’s appointment (or the grocery store or the library or anywhere!) will automatically know that these outings do not energize me! I come home feeling like my face is about to fall off, like my head might just explode. I do not shimmy back into a freshly starched apron, ready to tackle the housework with enthusiasm. I slump down on the couch and bury myself in Facebook while the children eat cold cereal for lunch. People, that’s just the cold, hard truth right there!

These deceptively simple outings were popping up several times a week on my calendar, and they were devouring any opportunity I had to settle into my life at home and actually enjoy my full-time “career” choice. I was impatient with my children. I was exhausted and distracted. I was terribly behind in my housework. I recently washed dirty laundry I’d not seen since late spring of 2013. I’m totally not kidding about that. It was scary stuff, man!

So, what did I do? I stopped. I got off the suburban merry-go-round, hamster wheel, rat race…whatever you want to call it. I just stopped. Over Christmas break, with my husband at home with us for a few weeks, I realized how much better I felt just staying home. I’m now scheduling a minimum of four days at home per WEEK, and it has made me so much happier! I can leisurely do the housework without feeling a time crunch. I can sit down with my children and play a game because guess what?? We don’t have to go anywhere or do anything except BE HERE in this moment – living life, breathing, enjoying each other. Actually staying at home is a novel idea, one that I scorned for years as old-fashioned and only for the most extreme, Titus 2:4-5 quoting homeschool mothers. But alas, this concept of being a stay-at-home mom that actually stays at home, well, it’s rocking my world!

So, my name is Grace Johansen, and I like staying home. There! I said it! Now, excuse me while I go put on an apron & matching high-heel pumps…