Posted in Family, Wednesday Work, What Works for Me

Table Talk

If you pick up any parenting guide, read any family focused tips, or seek advice on strengthening or restoring family cohesiveness, you will see “share meals regularly” as a common top recommendation. I’m going to admit something that I’m just now coming to realize: I rebel against that advice. Not because I don’t make a habit of sharing meals with my family. I do. Although there are always exceptions, our goal is to sit down as a family for at least one meal every day. Because that is our goal, we are quick to find alternatives when the goal is thwarted. It’s that important to us.

So, why do I balk at the advice to eat as a family daily or a certain number of times each week? Let me answer that question with a brief trip down memory lane.

An Aspirin a Day

Decades ago, my grandparents were told by their doctor to take a “baby” aspirin every day to ward off heart disease. Now, my grandparents were both very healthy right on up into their nineties. Although there were illnesses involved in their deaths, the honest truth is that they died of old age. Their bodies had degenerated too much to fight off normal diseases.

I remember multiple times when my grandmother told me that she was so healthy because of that daily aspirin. So-and-so was having heart or other health issues, and if they would just take an aspirin every day, that would solve their problems!

Truthfully, though, my grandma was just healthy. Or maybe it was just that she was too stubborn to get sick! Either way, the aspirin was just a tip. A suggestion for dealing with a potential underlying issue. It was not a cure-all, but advice based on contemporary medical wisdom.

And that, my friends, is exactly what the family meal suggestion is. It is one method of combating relational distance. Just one method.

Our Talk Time: Table Talk

My family loves sharing a meal together because that is the easiest time to just sit around and gab for a few minutes. Some days we talk, and some days we don’t. Sometimes we have serious conversations and other times a fly on the wall would run away in terror because of our insanity. Sometimes we just so happen to eat multiple meals together in one day, and other times we can barely coordinate sitting down together three times in a week! We might have interesting discussions every day one. week and none for the next two weeks.

The key is that meal time is the most opportune time for us to converse in a spontaneous manner, without pressure or topic orchestration. And, honestly, that’s probably true for the majority of families. Sharing meals as a family has a reputation for being one of the greatest single components of a healthy family, and consequently tends to be the greatest single recommendations for restoring or building family health: because it’s an opportunity to talk.

It’s not about the meal. It’s about the natural interaction and the relationship. It’s about the talking. It’s about the relaxed interaction and communication.

What’s Your Talk Time?

For your family, it might not be table talk. It might be car talk if you are all in the vehicle together at least one to three times a week. Perhaps you have weekly game night or enjoy regularly watching sports together, so it’s game talk. The key is not the meal. The key is finding a time when everyone in the family is together and relatively relaxed so the relational conversation – whether serious, funny, or outright weird – just naturally flows.

Yes, mealtime is what works for our family. And I love that time together! My prayer is that you find the “talk” time that works for you. You won’t regret it!

Posted in Wednesday Work, What Works for Me

Letting Go

I’m a perfectionist by nature. Unlike the portrayal of perfectionism that is often depicted in our media and entertainment, perfectionism does not always mean that everything is perfectly in order. For me – and for many perfectionists I know personally – it is more that there is a sense of constant tension because it’s not perfect. My desk is a mess. Why? Because right now I just can’t seem to keep everything in its place. And, even if I do, there’s just a lot of stuff that stays on my desk, so it doesn’t necessarily look tidy even when it is. That’s a conflict. So, it is almost better to have chaos than to have something shy of perfection.

I know. I’m weird. But, you probably are not just now figuring that out!

Over the years, I have learned to repeat a phrase in my head when perfection eludes me. So, pretty much continuously. What is that phrase? Let it go.

Yes, princess moms, you can now all start singing the song in your head. All. Day. Long. I’ll be joining you, I’m sure. You’re welcome.

Back on point.

One of the tendencies of perfectionism is emotional and mental self-abuse. I suppose every personality suffers from a form of that. It just manifests itself differently in each of us. For my perfectionist mind, the self-abuse comes in the form of beating myself up over every past mistake and imperfection. Just ask my husband. I will readily forgive my children when they spill something. (Unless it was an “accident” caused by blatant disobedience. Then we have to deal with it first.) But, my own spill? I mentally enumerate all of the ways I messed up leading up to the spill. All of the ways I could have prevented it.

It’s just a spill. But in my mind, it’s an utter failure.

So, once again, I have to repeat in my head over and over again, “Just let it go, Ann. It’s okay. It really is just spilled milk.”

It gets even better. The topic for this post came to mind for the most bizarre reason. I had a marriage post ready to go on Monday. Just this morning, I realized I never actually published it. It’s such a silly thing. Some people would have just published it today. But, in my perfectionist mind, that post belonged to Monday, my day for marriage posts. I missed the window. I didn’t get it published. Grrrr. I messed up. Beat. Beat. Beat.

Or take a deep breath, let it go, and publish it next Monday. (Because, it really does belong to Monday. I can hang on to at least a small portion of my craziness, can’t I?)

The great challenge here is learning how to separate mistakes and accidents from my sin, just as I do with my children. Mistakes happen. Accidents are plentiful for a socially and physically uncoordinated person like myself. But sin? That’s another story entirely. The problem comes when I beat myself up more over the mistakes and accidents – the things that just happen – than I do over my willful sin. I’m often much more quick to justify those actions.

So, what works? A thriving and active relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

You see, the Holy Spirit is the only one who can truly help me separate conviction from perfectionism. He knows best how I am made. He knows what damages my relationship with a holy God. And He knows that my heart craves the perfection I was created for.

When I’m listening to the voice of my Lord, I know best when to confess and when to just let it go.

Oh, and once it’s confessed? Yeah, I have to learn to let that go, too.

What do you need to let go of this week?

Posted in Homeschooling, Wednesday Work

What About Homeschooling?

A couple of weeks ago, I shared about the homeschooling side of my organizational system. But, you have probably noticed that I rarely write about homeschooling.

It’s odd, I admit. Homeschooling is such a huge part of my life. I was homeschooled through most of my childhood, and now I’m in my eleventh year of teaching my own children. So, why does it not figure dramatically into my writing? Well, there are a few reasons.

First, I am not really the hands-on, photograph worthy homeschool mom that you might see on Twitter, Pinterest, and in the great bloggy world. Yes, I’m comparing myself, and I am not that mom. Oh, we have done some of those things in the past. I do have posts on the family blog of the elementary years displaying outings, projects, and funny moments. And, there are sometimes blog worthy moments even now that they are older. But, now that the kids are older, those picture perfect moments have grown fewer and farther between because my kids do not fit that homeschool model either. Books fill their love for learning, but pictures of kids sitting around reading book after book after book tend to get a little old.

Second, we’re strange. What works for us does not work for many other people. Maybe even most other people! (Again, rather obvious from social media and the blog world.) So, I actively refrain from writing about what we do as if it’s THE way to homeschool. It’s not. It’s just our way to homeschool.

Finally, I love to encourage and mentor other homeschoolers, but I’m a one-on-one kind of person. If you have questions, I’d love to sit down face to face or over e-mail and talk through them with you. I’d love to help you discover what will work best for you and how to get the most out of your homeschooling. A blog post does not accomplish that. Not in the least. Mostly because I can’t hear your questions and respond according to your unique needs.

There’s a Problem, Though

All of this leaves me bothered about something. You see, there are a gazillion homeschool bloggers out there. Think I’m kidding? Get on Twitter and search #homeschool. Then, begin following everyone that pops up. But, as you follow, make sure to look through and follow all of the recommendations connected to each new account you follow. It keeps going and going and going and going and going! And all of them have plenty to share about their homeschool experience.

And that bothers me. Not because they are sharing what works for them (I applaud that part!), but because their posts often – and usually very unintentionally – leave other moms like me (and maybe you) feeling like failures because we cannot make that same system work. Or because we have never taught this topic or insisted on those lessons. Or because we don’t do all of those creative, hands-on projects. We come away with the feeling that, no matter how exhausted we already are as we try to fit everything in, we have to make sure to fit in this one more thing or we’ll be leaving incurable gaps in our children’s growth and education.

That, my friends, is a lie. And many of the homeschool bloggers out there would be mortified to discover that they in any way contributed to that lie.

I work with a team of amazing homeschoolers. Each of us has homeschooled a different way. We prioritize differently, and our children are all developing differently. But words cannot express just how much I have learned from my amazing coworkers through the years. They encourage me, exhort me, and share their wisdom with me. How I love it!

That is what homeschool community is meant to be. And, that is actually what the blog and social media world can be to all of us, if we know how to navigate it and sort through the massive amount of information flowing our way.

So, I have decided to start writing more about homeschooling. Not necessarily about what works for me, but more about how we can navigate this huge, intimidating, but potentially helpful community that is the world wide web of homeschooling. And I would love to hear your questions! Is there anything you want to know about homeschooling or navigating the online community? Any general homeschool questions that you have never known how or where to ask? I’d love to hear from you! Either comment below or click on the Connect with Me tab at the top and send me a message. I’d love to connect with you over a little homeschool chatter!

Posted in Wednesday Work, What Works for Me

The Planner in Me: Life

Last week I shared a glimpse into my homeschool planning system. But, I know many of my readers are not homeschoolers. So, what do I do for the rest of life?

Well, the first system that really seemed to work for me was Franklin Covey. I had a really nice binder, and I ordered planner inserts every year. I used that system for three years, I believe. The biggest problem from me was the size. The binder I used was lovely and sturdy, but it was not incredibly convenient to carry around. It did not fit in my purse, so it had to be carried separately. That got a little awkward. I had tried a variety of pre-bound planners, but I never found anything – even among the Franklin Covey planners – that matched what worked for me through the customized Franklin Covey inserts. That really offered the best layout, but the bulk just got to be too much.

For a while, I tried to to make digital planning my primary go-to system, updating in my Franklin Covey paper planner when I was at home. But, I had trouble keeping up with that. The story was the same when I tried to carry a smaller calendar in my purse, updating my big planner at home. So, my next step was trying to go all digital. I was just not very good at that, either. I’ve tried. Really I have. But, it is so hard for me to see the “big picture” on my phone. It’s also hard to flip to information quickly. And, just about the time I really need something, technology outsmarts itself, something doesn’t sync, and I cannot retrieve my information. Yes, it is inconvenient sometimes when I neglect to carry my planner around (which really isn’t very common) or when a date is beyond the end of my planner. But ultimately, it is so much easier for me to flip open that planner than to try to find what I need on my phone. And, I keep up with it better. I can much more quickly jot notes in the planner than tap them into my phone. So, it didn’t take long for me to give up on the digital planner idea.

About four years ago, as I transitioned from being a volunteer reviewer for Well Planned Gal to being an editor on her staff, I also expanded my usage of her planners and gave On the Go a try. This is a purse-size planner (unless you carry one of those little bitty purses!) that does everything my Franklin Covey system did, but is much easier to carry around! It has spots for to-do lists, time-focused appointments, and extra notes. The monthly view pages are easy to write in, and there is plenty of room for notes for each month.

The only problem with my On the Go planner is that it is a school year planner, and life and church tend to go more on the calendar year. To solve that problem, I have a simple, hardcover Moleskine weekly planner. It has all of the monthly views in the front, and the weekly views follow. On the weekly views, the calendar page is on the left and a note page is on the right. I do not like this layout as a primary planner, but it works so incredibly well for a secondary planner. I use it as my prayer planner and to keep dates and information for July – Dec. Thanks to the combination of these two paper planners, I always have anywhere from nine to eighteen months of planner space available to me!

That’s such a quick overview of my planner organization system, but if you are by some chance trying to figure out a great organizational system, maybe my overview and the links above will help you get a better idea of what you’re looking for! Or perhaps you already have your system working well. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: what works for me will not work for everyone. So I’d love to hear what works for you! Will you share it in the comments?

Posted in Homeschooling, Wednesday Work, What Works for Me

The Planner in Me: Homeschool

I’m a planner. I’ve always loved calendars and planners and getting things all lined out! Recently, my husband wrote a blog post outlining what he uses for schedule and organization. When I shared it on social media, I mentioned that I would outline my own system soon.

My system actually started with success on the homeschool planning front first. I have tried many, many planners and organizational systems over the years, both for homeschooling and for life. All of them kinda sorta worked, but each one left something to be desired. Then, I ran across a huge discount on a planner that only had a few months of life left in it. That was early 2011; it was also my very first Well Planned Day planner. Later that year I would become a volunteer reviewer for the Well Planned Gal, the creator of the planner. But for the time being, I was just trying out a planner I’d never heard of from a company I was only vaguely familiar with.

And I was hooked.

This gal who had tried one planner after another and rarely been diligent with any single planning system had suddenly found the one homeschool planner that truly worked. And now, six years later, I actually get to help make them! Why yes, I do love my job.

Ahem…back to the task at hand. So, why do I love Well Planned Day so much? Well, it accomplishes what I had always looked for before. It allows me to lay out assignments on a weekly basis in a large, roomy format. For even greater ease of use, I keep a colorful array of Frixion pens on hand. (Yes, they really do erase well – very important for when the schedule needs to be tweaked.) Each child has a color of their own, then there is a separate color for things I do with each child. When each assignment has been graded, I write the grade beside the assignment. Then I highlight the assignment, leaving the grade un-highlighted until I have entered it.

So, where do I enter the grade? Well, that’s part two of my homeschool planning system. You see, I don’t like to plan on paper more than a week or two in advance because of all of the little things that pop up and require us to change the plan. But, I do like to have a handle on the whole school year. That’s why I also use My Well Planned Day, an online planning software. I lay out the entire school year online, then I can tweak it as needed each week. It saves me a ton of time and allows me to stay on top of where we are. And, it’s a great place to keep grades, which is especially helpful now that I have a high school student who will need a transcript soon. Oh, and the best part is that the girls each have their own login. So, they can get on, pull each day’s assignments, and make notes in their own student and high school planners. In the next couple of years, I’ll teach Steven how to do the same thing.

What’s neat about it all is that I got to spend last weekend showing other homeschool parents what works for me. I helped Rebecca the Well Planned Gal, aka my boss, man her booth at the Ft. Worth Great Homeschool Convention. Yes, I was working. But, the whole time I was also getting to share what works for me (and getting to spend time with my amazing boss!). What works for me doesn’t work for everyone, and I was quick to admit that this weekend. It’s fun, though, to know that I get to be a part of sharing the system that I love!

Next week I’ll share what I use for everything beyond homeschooling.

Posted in Wednesday Work, What Works for Me

A Little Exploration

My oldest loves to explore. If there is a closed door, she wants to know what’s behind it. When she walks into a new place, she wants to check out every single corner.

I, on the other hand, am happy with what is visible. I like to feel comfortable and confident in what I know. When a door opens and I start to realize just how little I know about something, I’d much rather slam that door shut and just be content. I get easily overwhelmed – and easily discouraged by what’s left to learn.

For instance, I’m trying to learn German with my oldest, because that is the foreign language she chose for high school. I have this stigma against learning just for the sake of getting a grade. So, I’m trying hard to really learn the language and help her do the same rather than just do enough to help her get the grade she needs on her transcript. But, it’s hard. It’s overwhelming. And I get lost so easily.

So many other things fall into this category. Take homeschooling, for instance. I was homeschooled. And I am currently in my eleventh year of homeschooling my own children. But every time I turn around, I discover something I did not know before. Whether I am researching for a Family Magazine article, helping keep an eye on the Well Planned Gal Twitter account, or researching to answer a friend’s question, it doesn’t take much to remind me that there is a lot more out there than I realize.

The same is true of writing and editing, of sewing, and of being a pastor’s wife. These are not new things. Rather, these are things I have done for a while now, and some of which I do professionally. Yet, even in these areas I have so much to learn!

What I often feel “works for me” is to stay in my little bubble where I am skilled and knowledgeable and capable. I don’t like to reach out and discover just how much I need to learn. But, every time I get settled into that beautiful complacency, something my mom said years ago rings in my memory with great clarity: “When you stop learning, you start dying.”

Sometimes it is fun to learn something new. But, there is much more to learn in the things that are right in front of us. The skills we have already honed to a degree. The talents that we already possess. All of these still hold opportunities and possibilities for us. We just don’t like to pursue learning in those areas because we don’t want to be shown how little we really know – how many others are so far ahead of us!

I’m trying to get over that. And I’m trying to explore more. Because I do want to be good at what I do. I want to be an accomplished writer, an attentive and interactive editor, a successful homeschooler, a competent seamstress, and a capable pastor’s wife. But I will be none of the above without continual exploration, practice, and stretching of my skills and abilities.

What about you? What do you need to stretch? Come on, my friend, let’s go do a little exploring and find out just how much there really is left to learn!

Posted in Wednesday Work, What I'm Trying

Walking Away

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of people walk away from Facebook or take breaks. I’ve thought about it many times myself but have never actually done it. After all, that’s where my work “office” is and it’s the way I interact with various groups for ministry and productivity purposes. And, in all honesty, there are certain people I only interact with via Facebook because of our distance. Frankly, I don’t think it was the right time for me to pull back before now.

Now, however, it seems to be a different story.

I’ve come to realize three things.

1. When I rely on Facebook interaction for local friends, I am much less likely to interact with them on a face to face level. I’ve already seen their pictures or heard about their week. Why ask? Ouch. Facebook can only go so deep. I need to be face-to-face if at all possible.
2. There is far too much to wade through in a Facebook stream. Too many friends. Too many statuses. Too much time. And the important stuff is too easily missed.
3. When I rely on Facebook to interact, I don’t write. I can look back over the last few years and see this as a proven fact. Posting to Facebook instead of to the family blog reduced my posting there. Facebook posts are short, uninformative, and easily lost. On the blog, however, I have to force myself to explain and give details – and I can easily read and reread the posts as the kids grow! That’s a big deal to me.
I also wrote less on my personal blog because it was so much easier to offer a Facebook blurb than to process my thoughts enough for a blog post. When you can share brief thoughts, why bother to hash them out?

Why? Because I need to.

So, now I believe it’s time to start walking away. I’ve narrowed down my friends greatly and will continue to do so in the coming year. Those who are left will be there for very specific and personal reasons. It’s not that I don’t enjoy keeping up with the people I “unfriended.” I do! I just want to keep up with them more intentionally and personally.

(That word intentional just keeps showing up!)

It’s not easy. I still have Facebook. I still have quite a few nonlocal friends to try to keep up with. But, I have already seen a positive change with local friends as we are more intentional about our face-to-face interactions.

So, if you don’t see me on Facebook anymore, that’s why. I’ll be writing more here and on the family blog. And I’ll be trying to interact with you more personally. I might need help, and it will take balance as I still have to manage a full homeschool, writing, work, and church schedule. But, I look forward to seeing how this choice to walk away strengthens the ability to be more intentional in writing and in relationships.

Meanwhile, here’s my question for you. As you work to walk more closely with the Lord and with your community of believers, is there something you need to or have walked away from? If you feel comfortable, I’d love for you to share either here or in person! After all, I had to wrestle with this decision because other people have mentioned their own wrestling. That’s community, my friends. You are part of my community, and I’d love to see us encourage one another in this journey!