Thursday, December 8, 2016

Schooling at Christmastime

This year I considered taking a lengthy Christmas break from school; after all, the public school children here get about three weeks, and I have several homeschooling friends who take off the entire month to focus on baking, events, and fun!  

But as we've gotten deeper into December, I realized that I don't want a long break.

What's wrong with this picture?! Shouldn't I be ready to stop??

I blame Charlotte Mason.  The thought of not reading our books for an entire month makes me feel rudderless and sad.  I don't want to skip daily French practice, stop reading Pollyanna during Morning Time, miss all those wonderful Christmas poems, wait to see what happens to our pilgrim in John Bunyan's classic, pause our studies of history. The books we read are too good to leave unread for a month!

So instead of stopping, I'm swapping.  Instead of our regular hymn, we are singing "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus". Instead of focusing primarily on Longfellow and Robert Frost during poetry time, I'm expanding to read other Christmas poems as well.  Instead of listening to Beethoven, we'll listen to hours of Handel (of course!).  We may learn a Christmas song in French. Finn's piano lessons have ceased, but he'll play Christmas carols.  Instead of recitation, we'll learn the children's lines for their Christmas program--a play that my husband writes and directs for our church each year. It's a subtle shift, but one that will incorporate the Advent and Christmas tidbits we love into the the daily rhythm we enjoy.  At this rate, I don't think we'll stop school until December 23rd!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Great Baking Week*

I got a head start on this week sometime last week, but this is the Great Baking Week here.  Finn is trying to raise money to help fund a medical clinic in a developing country, and we're selling Christmas treat trays.  Delivery is this Sunday!

I'm making 10 different types of goodies.  Yesterday we did the labor-intensive chocolate truffles and peanut butter balls, and today I baked magic cookie bars and Italian nut cookies (delicious little gems rolled in crushed pecans with a wee dollop of red raspberry jam in the center).  Each day has clearly delineated work to do! The List is my friend because it keeps chaos at bay.

By the end of this week, the rest of my baking (vegan goodies for my husband and traditional fruitcakes for my father) will seem like a walk in the park! I'm having fun, though...mostly because I am following The List.


*Having a Great Baking Week not recommended for anyone with children under the age of 5 (unless you have some seriously helpful teenagers or adults around).  Trust me on this.  Trust me on this.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

My Moleskine Planner (aka My Brain in a Book)

My fresh new plum-colored Moleskine is just waiting for me to start littering it up with plans, but in the meantime I thought I'd share what a workhorse my lemon-yellow Moleskine has been this year.

As a "lefty" I love Moleskine because there's no spiral spine to get in the way of my left hand!  But I also love the minimalism of the Moleskine look, the size (fits perfectly into my purse), and the font on each page.  

Here's how I use it!

First, I use these re-stickable tabs so that I can easily reference any section in the planner--this year my tabs are: month, week, create, cleaning, to-do, and pray.  I keep a lot more than this in the planner, but I only use six tabs. 

The month layout is one page per month.  Frankly, until now, I've always used a two-page per month layout and I was not inclined to like this one.  But I've discovered that it's nice to see two months on one page!  So I can live with it. 

The weekly layout contains all the days of the week on the left page and a blank page on the right.  I didn't think I'd love this, but I have come to adore it.  I can jot down all my random things on that right page (phone numbers, vague things I should do during the week that aren't assigned a day, menus, etc!). The left side of the page always get cluttered and crowded, but it works.  I put anything we do in the evenings in the lower right corner.  I cross things off as I go and sometimes circle something that needs to be shifted or moved.  It's not pretty but it's effective.

Under the "Create" tab I have a running list of my ideas--stuff I want to create (sewing projects, knitting ideas, etc).  This is the second page of 2016--the first is full.  I also will sometimes jot down ideas for writing projects here as well.  

And I like to keep a little list of homemade stuff I want to try--like vanilla sugar or apple butter.

The "Cleaning" tab is pretty unimpressive, and I'm probably going to ditch it in 2017.  I just have a list of my daily routine tasks, but I keep that on the fridge anyhow.  I use a rotating cleaning system (also on the fridge) for my non-daily cleaning tasks. 

The "To-Do" tab is where I keep the long, long, long list of Stuff I Need to Do.  This is like the spot for the brain dump. If I think of something, it goes on this list.  The list becomes pages and pages long, and many, many things are crossed off during the course of the year.  When I'm planning my week, I like to glance through the list to see what I can tackle during the course of that week.  It's so handy!

The To-Do list is actually on the address book insert.  I don't need an address book in my planner, but I didn't want to waste all those precious pages.  So I just ignore the "ABC" tabs and use the lined pages for my lists and plans.

Later in the "To-Do" section I have a "To Buy" list.  You know--stuff you might forget, like snow pants.  A floor lamp.  Leggings.  That stuff. 

Not pictured, but also in the to-do list section, is my handwritten comprehensive Christmas list.  

I also have a page for interesting homeschooling-related ideas I see.  As you can tell, I tend to stick with my plans and not really use these 'other ideas,' but I like having this list in case I want to bring something fresh into our day.  Pinterest scares me, so a simple list is best for me.

Another random list: my shopping plans for Operation Christmas Child.  

I also have a personal goals list here--things I'd like to do in the next 1-5 years.

The "pray" tab: I keep my prayer requests on post-it notes.  They change and shift and morph and this allows some flexibility.  

 And I reserve the last couple of pages for "Funny Things the Children Say"--all the stuff I think I should write down, and then forget....I now try to jot it down as soon as I can so I don't forget it!

I will say that I do not put homeschool plans in the planner.  I use index cards

As I mentioned, my chores are on the fridge. (A list for the rotating chores and a chart for the daily chores.)

And I have a daily routine/schedule I loosely follow, along with an exercise plan and my own meals, that I keep on a different chart as well. 

That's it! My approach is very simple and straightforward. I love my Moleskine!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Obliger or Questioner?

Right now I'm reading Gretchen Rubin's Better than Before, a book about using habits to improve one's life.  Roan suggested it, and I was intrigued because I am fascinated by habits.  (I should have been tipped off to my tendency when I immediately started to question the validity of the framework.) 

I took Rubin's online quiz to see which of the four tendencies matches me (questioner, obliger, upholder, or rebel).  I got "obliger"--someone who struggles to meet inner and external expectations, and who needs external accountability.  I took it again and got the same thing.  But I wasn't so sure. It's true that I happily help others and sometimes struggle to maintain certain habits, but as I thought about it, I realized that there are many habits I keep without a problem.  To try to get more clarification, I listened to Rubin's podcasts on questioners and obligers to get more details on each tendency, and--I'm a questioner!

 Although I do have some obliger traits, especially superficially (I struggle to get to bed early, and I struggle to maintain a really consistent, set schedule for my day or my cleaning routine, etc.), I realized that I'm brutally consistent with the things that I value. In order for me to meet an expectation, it must be an inner expectation.  If something doesn't make sense to me, I reject it. 


*I have no trouble keeping certain habits...even if no one knows I keep them. (This was one thing that made me really question whether I'm an obliger or not.) I keep my kitchen clean, make my bed every day, keep closets organized (even when I am the only person who really ever sees them!!), etc.  Another thing I remembered was that when I was a freshman in college, my sister was diagnosed as pre-diabetic.  She had to give up all sugar. So even though I was four hours away, and at college, and no one would ever know what I ate, I gave up all sugar as well.  (Tough for me because I'm a sweets person!) I never cheated.  It wasn't hard because I'd decided that being in solidarity with my sister, even at a distance, was more important than eating sour patch kids.  

*If I don't think something is worthwhile, I don't do it.  Finn still hasn't memorized his multiplication tables, although on his standardized tests he scores in middle school on "math concepts" (he was in third grade when he scored that high!).  He hates memorizing math facts.  Although it would make his computation faster, I don't see the point in forcing the issue because what really matters to me is his conceptual understanding. If he can figure it out, that matters more to me than instant recall.  If he enjoyed memorizing math facts, we'd do it!

*I resist expectations that don't seem to meet an end goal that I value.  But if an expectation meets an end goal that is valuable to me, I have no trouble meeting it. 

*Homeschooling.  I am completely incapable of following a set curriculum (as I learned last year, --definitely not an Upholder) because I question the curriculum.  (Why are they teaching this at this age? Why do they take this approach to spelling? I'm sorry, but this method of teaching grammar is  nonsensical!!  Etc.)  Instead, I feel best when I settle on a solid educational philosophy and make choices based on that.  

*I quit my full-time job as an associate at a large firm after less than a year, which was almost scandalous in the workaholic atmosphere of a law firm (and I didn't have a job lined up, either--I gave two weeks notice without any idea what I would do next...I was married and had no law school debt, so that helped a lot).  The external expectation is that an associate begins work, works many hours a week, and eventually makes partner.  I soon discovered that I found that slavishly plugging billable hours just to meet a billable hour quota did not square with the life I had envisioned myself leading. There was the added issue of an internal restructuring which had split me between the really good work (meaty, intellectually stimulating, heavy on analysis and writing--the work I was clearly meant to do, as the partner who headed that department knew when he recruited me to be his associate after only working with me on one discrete project the summer before my third year of law school) and workers' compensation (statutory, boring, rote, mind-numbing).  So I handed in my resignation. (Interestingly, they then countered with an offer for part-time work, and I countered with an offer for contract work, and we had a deal.  I worked from home as an independent contractor for two more years until Finn was born.)  In other words: the external obligation was enormous, but because it didn't match my internal values, I had no problem leaving it behind.  

*I'm NOT a procrastinator.  In college and law school I "procrastinated" in that I wouldn't get things done weeks in advance, but I also never worked to the very last-minute deadline, either. I liked to get things done a day or two ahead, if possible. And in my own personal life, I hate procrastination. (My husband is  a major procrastinator so we balance each other out!)  For instance, for our homeschool co-op family gathering this weekend I have to take five scripts with highlighted parts, and several props.  I've already printed out the scripts and highlighted them, and will gather the props today.  No one knows whether I'm doing this now or Saturday afternoon right before the event.  That doesn't matter; I like my life when I don't procrastinate, so I don't procrastinate!  (I have already begun wrapping Christmas gifts and my Christmas cards are addressed and's not even December 1st. See?)

*I deliberate over all my decisions.  I deliberate over purchases, choices, etc.  I like to research. And once I make the decision I almost never look back or second guess myself.  

*I struggle with habits that seem arbitrary. When I realized this was not a negative thing, that it's just my questioner tendency, it was a watershed moment.  For instance, I love a clean house, but I refuse to follow a cleaning schedule.  I like to create them, and figure out what would work best, but I struggle to implement a cleaning schedule because it does seem arbitrary to me.  I want my work to make sense.  Earlier this fall I created a rotating chores system and it makes lots of sense to me--and I skip a chore if it clearly doesn't need to be done. (Maybe I'll post about that sometime.) I think one thing I have been thinking is that I'm an obliger because I do struggle with things like a "cleaning routine" or a very specific, set exercise schedule.  But the reason is--I don't actually see the value or benefit of those things.  Instead I like to clean what I know needs to be cleaned, and to exercise based on how I feel (if I don't feel like jogging but really want to do Pilates, I do Pilates).  It's not that I struggle with habits; in fact, I am good at keeping habits.  It's just that many habits that are valued in our society are habits that I find arbitrary.

*I eat the same thing for breakfast each day, and rotate between two lunches.  No one knows what I'm eating (other than my children). But because I have found meals that I like and consider very healthy, I have no problem with the habit of eating the same things over and over again.  

*I'm a devoted list-maker and I work through my to-do list daily, but I have NO problem chucking something off the list or switching it to another day if it doesn't feel like it fits in with my goals for the day or the mood of the day. I know I will get it done eventually.  But I also do make the list and pay attention to the list.  

*Efficiency matters to me.  I refuse to own a fridge that has two doors, for instance.  Because I don't want to spend my life opening one door only to find that I need to open the other door.  Hairsplitting?  My husband sometimes thinks so.  But why would I build inefficiency into my life?  Another point is that for many, many years I have planned my errands based on right-hand turns. You spend less time sitting at stop lights and battling traffic if you're basically making right turns.  I have had people tell me that I'm crazy for this, but I do it because it makes perfect sense, and it's efficient. (Yes, I will make a left-hand turn if it's necessary!  I just prefer to avoid them.) So I create my own habits based on the efficiency that I value. 

I questioned Rubin's framework, but now I'm quite intrigued with it.  And looking forward to reading more in the book, especially now that I've finally nailed down my tendency and can "own it," so to speak!

Thursday, November 24, 2016


After a few hours of cooking I was ready to hit the trail. 

My husband had done 13 miles on the trails this morning, but I opted for walking for an hour.  Less impressive, but very relaxing.

Then there was target practice at my in-laws' house. 

Finn says his parents play with his BB gun more than he does.  Guilty as charged! I love it. 

And then it was time for Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings, and laughing around the fire (my sister-in-law and her husband and children are hilarious), and pie.  And now my family is in bed, my sister made it safely back to her apartment, and I can knit and go to bed. 

Another Thanksgiving in the books. I'm grateful for every one of them!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Monday: Making Things

Today was a day for making things, after we did school (it's so interesting when the accidental intersections happen: our literature book this year is Pilgrim's Progress, we are reading about the first Thanksgiving this week, *and* today in history we read about the Crusades, and the pilgrims who made the journey to Jerusalem!). 

*one batch of experimental laundry soap
*one batch of homemade deodorant
*one pot of rosemary-white bean soup
*a batch of biscuits
*pie crust (for spinach-mozzarella quiche tonight, and apple pie on Thanksgiving!)
*batch of gingerbread

I also hung laundry out on the line, this time in very cold weather.  A hat, a wool coat, a scarf, and gloves are necessary, but the wind and sun do the trick.  Line-drying clothes makes me so happy.

And finally, I deep-cleaned our bedroom and bathroom, which culminated with scrubbing the floors on my hands and knees (the only way, in my opinion, to get a floor really clean).  Those rooms are clean! now.  

I'm ready for a hot bath and my flannel nightgown!!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Pizza on the Cheap

I make a nice inexpensive cheese pizza.  We've started giving Finn some gluten these days (!!!) and my children loved the most recent incarnation of pizza.

I buy my cheese in bulk for $2.99/lb. 

The tomato paste was about .30/can at Aldi. The pizza sauce recipe was easy and tasty! It does use a fair amount of olive oil, but I buy mine on deep sale, so it's pretty inexpensive.

This is my favorite gluten-filled pizza crust recipe.  

I'm not going to try to break down the ingredients and determine how much the pizza costs to make (maybe one day I will--no promises).  But I'd guess that it costs about $3 for two large cheese pizzas.  The dough can be mixed up the night before or in the morning.  The sauce just sits around and cooks.  I shred my cheese and freeze it so it's ready to it's a very easy meal.  

I do like to add spinach to assuage my guilt at feeding my children cheese and bread for supper, or sometimes I'll steam broccoli as a side dish.  And there's always a lot leftover for their lunches for a few days!

And now I have a vegan pizza on the cheap, too! My husband has started making his own hummus in large quantities--definitely cheap.  I press out the pizza crust, spread on a layer of hummus, spread on a layer of pizza sauce, then put the toppings on (I like to roast veggies, slice tomatoes, etc., which is not very cheap during the off-season, but is free during the gardening season!).  My husband LOVES the pizza made with hummus instead of cheese.  

Much healthier and thriftier than Domino's!