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 Friday Faith Nuggets

Missed Beauty

The country of Jordan has a desert climate. For anywhere from seven to ten months out of every year, no rain falls, and the country is covered in a dull, dusty brown.

But twice a year, a miracle happens. Right after the first rains arrive in October or November, the mountains of north Jordan turn a beautiful, lush green. Clover and grass sprout everywhere and remain for a couple of short weeks until the winter chill set in. Then, it all dies again and turns a wintry gray until spring rolls around. Spring, like fall, is short-lived, those few weeks bring the most beautiful time of the year. Sometime in early March, as the warmth returns and the rains begin to recede, the whole countryside erupts into a tapestry of red, yellow, and lavender as the wildflowers bloom. Intermingled throughout it all is the deep purple of the national flower of Jordan, the wild Gilead iris, commonly grouped with black irises.

I grew up in those hills of north Jordan, and each spring we would take a day and head out to pick wildflowers – especially poppies and irises. We would come back with a trunkload of flowers to brighten the next few weeks. I loved the poppies, but there was nothing like the deep, royal purple of those irises.

When I moved back to Arkansas, I still saw irises in the spring. Blue and lavender and white and yellow and all sorts of beautiful colors sprouted in gardens and yards everywhere I looked. But, I almost never saw anything dark like those Gilead irises.

Then, several years ago, my mother-in-law surprised me with the gift of several black iris bulbs. I was so excited! Doug and I went and bought a pot and some good soil, and we planted those irises according to the best directions we could find.

Then, we waited. The green leaves sprouted, but no flowers appeared. The next year we moved the pot to a more sunny location. Still no luck.

The year after that we were in a new home, so I transplanted the bulbs into a spot already populated with flourishing irises. I watched and waited. The established irises bloomed beautifully, but my transplanted bulbs still produced nothing more than tall, strong leaves.

I felt so disappointed. And in my disappointment, I almost missed the beauty that did exist before me.

There is something regal about a cluster of irises. They stand tall, and their petals flow with amazing grace and perfect shading. And in my yard – for the first time ever – I had a whole patch of beautiful light purple and blue flowers. But, because they were not the dark purple I’d hoped for, I almost disregarded them.

I am ashamed to admit that the dismissal of those not-quite-dark-enough purple irises reflects the way I dismiss God’s gifts so very often. I am a planner. A plotter. The type of person who takes possible scenarios and plays them out to logical conclusions. In the process, I establish what I think should happen.

Ironically enough, God rarely, if ever, works the way my daydreams try to dictate!

When His reality – His amazing gifts – fall into place, I far too often get pouty because they are not what I wanted to see. I miss the beauty of His provision because I’m staring at the flowerless leaves of my expectations. My demands, if I am honest.

This spring, I’m watching all of my irises. We have had a sunny spring, but cold is expected. It is possible none of my flowers will bloom this year because of the freeze. Or, because they have been slower to sprout than the established irises, it might be that my black bulbs are the only ones that flower. Who knows? What I do know is that I intend to soak in whatever God sends. I will choose to not miss the beauty He sets before me, whatever the color.

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 Friday Faith Nuggets

Worth It!

My son has loved Legos since before he could walk or talk. He had a funny way of showing his passion at that age. We would build something for him, and he would take great delight in tearing it down and begging us to build something else for him to destroy. I honestly believe that his excitement for destruction lay in the realization that he could watch us build again and again, because he anxiously awaited the day he could build for himself.

At age seven, after discovering several fun Lego sets and kits, my son learned that there was such a thing as Lego robotics. Honestly, he had no clue what that entailed. He only knew that “Lego” and “robot” were combined in the same concept. He was hooked.

My husband knew much more about it, having learned that the Lego Education line encouraged kids to learn programming and electronics skills ranging from the most basic to highly involved. He also knew that our son was nowhere near ready for that kind of challenge. But, he encouraged Steven to start saving, confident that by the time he reached his financial goal, he would also be ready for the challenges involved.

For the next three years, Steven saved diligently. Every now and then he would dip into those savings for a major purchase. A bicycle to replace the one he’d outgrown. A mechanical Lego cargo plane to help him learn a little bit about the difference between his familiar Lego creations and the Mindstorms kit he was saving up for. Other little things here and there. But finally, shortly after Christmas this year, he had enough money saved up. The mailman delivered Steven’s order just a few weeks ago, and he has already learned incredible things! Pacing himself, he is discovering what he needs to learn bit by bit to achieve ultimate programming goals.

Steven recently asked me how he got started saving in the first place. “You heard the words ‘Lego’ and ‘robot’ and were hooked!” I explained to him that he had no idea how big of a deal this kit was. Doug and I did, but he did not. All he knew was that it was worth the time and effort it would take to save up for it. He knew it was worth the sacrifice of not being able to spend money whenever he wanted. Even as a young child, he grasped that this was important to him – without even knowing just how far it would take him.

Even now, the big picture is too great for him. He can only focus on one thing at a time, learning what is right in front of him. But, he is investing in the little tasks now because he knows that opportunities he can’t even imagine are still ahead of him if he is diligent.

Is that not the perfect picture of salvation and faith? How many of us truly knew what we were grabbing hold of when we first declared that Jesus had become Lord of our lives? How many of us knew the challenges and promises bound up in that moment? My guess is that none of us truly grasped the depths of our new life. We just knew it was worth it. It was something we desperately hungered for, and we were willing to go wherever it took us.

Oh how amazing to know that I do not have to grasp the fullness of what I have received from Christ in order to live in His will. He understands for me! He knows my present, my capabilities, my future, and the promise of all that lies ahead. He knows the challenges and the joys, and He is ready and able to walk through each one of them with me when I am ready. He is guiding me through each step so I will not reach a goal too soon, nor will I have to wait too long. Every moment of His plan for my life is laid out in His wisdom and perfection. When I’m ready for the next challenge, He will lay it before me. In the meantime, I can trust Him with the one in my path at this moment. I don’t have to have it all figured out to progress through His will. I just have to do the task set before me right now and watch as the little goals along the way change, grow, and evolve while I conquer each hurdle.

Even as a young child, Steven knew the kit was worth his time and energy. Now he knows each step of learning is worthwhile. And, in faith, both of us know the same thing is true in our spiritual walk.

It’s worth it!

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 Friday Faith Nuggets

When It’s Bad

One afternoon recently, I sat down to write. I wrote and wrote and wrote. And none of it was usable.

You might be thinking right about now that I am probably being overly harsh and self-critical. But, it really did all need to be rewritten or reworked. I had some decent ideas, but when I tried to flesh them out, they just would not come together. The thoughts were scattered and incomplete. None of it was even in the “oh, this was mediocre, but at least I can still publish it” category.

But it was still writing. It was still trying. It was still practicing my writing muscles. And, finally, after several hours of thought, prayer, and effort, the work led to some solid ideas that could be more easily developed in later writing sessions.

Sometimes when I try to push the writing, things just get worse and worse. I lose whatever momentum I had, and I just become frustrated. But more frequently, if I keep trying – even if hours of my efforts end up in the “trash” – I come around to something useful and productive.

It’s against my nature to believe that something “bad” is actually productive. If it’s going to end up in the trash can, is it not a waste of time? Should I not be just giving up and pouring my effort into something more constantly productive?

That’s my inclination. And it’s a dangerous one, because I have never been able to start off with only good results. I was a toddler once who had to fall quite a few times before I walked successfully and consistently. I had to say things the wrong way before I could learn to speak properly. And, if you could only see some of my high school papers! Mom “bled” them, marking them up with a red pen until there was more red than black on the page. Ouch! But, by my senior year, the red had become much less prominent.

The failures – the bad work – morphed into successes.

I can’t help but connect this to the idea of spiritual growth. In every stage of this life, we start on the immature, failing end of faith. Yet, where else would we start? Many of the things I struggled with twenty years ago are no longer an issue. But I wouldn’t be hashing through today’s issues if it had not been for the Holy Spirit’s work in me then. There were many failures. Many attempts that ended up with me in a heap on the floor crying out to God for help. For His hand. For His mercy. For His peace. For His strength. If not for those times, would I know Him like I do today?

Sometimes, life is just bad. Circumstances hammer us. Our failures pile up. The choices of others break us.

But if we do not experience those seasons of life, how will we see the Holy Spirit produce faith in us? How will we grow closer to our Lord and Savior? The bad paves the way for Him to work for good in and through us.

Does if feel as if everything you put your hand to meets with resistance or failure? Keep working, my friend. Keep praying. Keep seeking His perfect will and wisdom. He will use this to make something good in you. What a glorious promise!

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!