Sunday, November 29, 2015

Fall Chalkboard Drawings


The Thrushbeard King

The Golden Goose

The Water of Life

Container story for letters S and T

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Inspiration Behind Three Rules

The story behind THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC is pretty long and winding. It started out as a book with two grandmas who come back as guardian angels. That was inspired by my children having old ladies for imaginary friends. Creepy, but hey, that works for story inspiration sometimes.

But then I got feedback from my first mentor that pointed out that as it was, the grandma angels were distracting to the heart of the story about a girl and her depressed father. I either needed to give the angels more purpose or find a way to tell the story without them.

I tried at first just to make the grandmas more important, but then I started getting some ideas on how to tell the story without the angels. So I decided to JUST TRY. I sent the first few chapters to my CP and she raved. This was it. All that emotion from the last half of the book? It's now in the first part of the book, too. The part everyone told me was slow before.

But as I got to the first turning point, I knew I needed something. Something slightly magical. It's hard to go from paranormal to straight contemporary! I was on a cross-country car drive when it hit me. Not magic the way we think about it, but this idea of magic, and these three rules. I can still remember that moment of inspiration with absolute clarity. It changed the direction of my story while also deepening the original heart of all of it.

So that's it, really. Imaginary friends, hard feedback, and a cross country trip. That's all you need to write a book! ;)

Check out the other Mentees

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

On Rewriting and Life

Last December, I was struck with absolute creative inspiration. My kids had been playing with imaginary old ladies and I'd been feeling creeped out about it. But after talking to my mom, I decided to think of them as the kids' great grandmas, and it seemed less spooky. Of course, that thought began a story...about a girl whose father suffers from serious depression and leaves his family, and the guardian angel grandmothers who return to earth to help her find him.

It was a pretty fun story to write. But I got done with the first draft, and there was little to no voice. I'd caught brief glimpses of her (Kate's) voice, but couldn't hold on to it. So after a couple weeks break, I went back to the book, opened up a blank document, and wrote the whole thing over again. With mostly the same plot, but this time the way Kate would say it.

As I wrote I kept thinking, this is beautiful. Wow, I didn't know I could write like this. The feedback from my CP's was overwhelmingly positive. I incorporated their suggestions and did some pretty massive revisions. I took risks. I added elements I loved that were unique. I sent it out to beta readers and each one wrote back telling me how it had made them cry, that they loved it. There were still some things that needed fixing. But I could handle that. I revised some more and believed that, other than a spit polish, it was pretty close to as good as I could make it.

Then I got a mentorship with three agented authors. The first one read and had many of the same things to say as my beta readers. It made her cry, it had a beautiful voice, a beautiful heart, an important topic.

But maybe think about losing the guardian angels.

Um, what?

I balked. I tried to wave away the suggestion. She just doesn't get my story, my humor, I'll see what the next mentor says. But I couldn't get some of her words out of my head. She pointed (virtually, this is all in email) to the heart of Kate's story, about the loss of a father-daughter relationship to depression and how to love someone in that state no matter what, and said my silly angels were a distraction.

Basically, I needed to dig deeper, get closer to the pain, closer to the heart. Stop messing with the fluff and get serious.

So I decided to give it a try. Taking a paranormal story to a straight contemporary. I changed those two guardian angels into a single grandmother with early dementia. And as I was driving across the country to visit family and working on my story in the middle of the night, I had another burst of inspiration. A way to weave just a tiny bit of magic into this serious, and gut-wrenching story.

It's hard to say where creative inspiration comes from. Because it wasn't there in my brain before I typed it onto the paper, but all of a sudden it was in my story and in that moment I just knew, this was the story I was meant to tell all along. Why had I been gumming it up with humorous guardian angels? Underneath all the fluff, there was a much more powerful story just waiting for me to uncover it.

My critique partner raved. I felt extremely confident. I sent it back to my mentor and she loved the changes. But now it was a whole new story. More like a first draft than the sixth or seventh it truly was.

Some of her suggestions required I part with things in the story near and dear to my heart. Things that felt like moments of clarity at the time about what my story needed to be and do. But I changed it anyway, clinging tightly to the last vestiges of my original story. The unique narrating format.

Then the second mentor read it. She too raved about the magic elements, the heart of the story, the beautiful language and voice. But she wanted me to change the narration. It felt like a bridge too far.

No. I've taken out the guardian angels. I've removed the notebook. And yeah, okay, it's the most beautiful and powerful thing I've ever written. I still can't believe it actually came from me. But now you want the whole format changed too?

And suddenly my thoughts were swarming with, "Is this even my book anymore?" and "Will I ever be able to write anything else without people tearing it apart and making me rebuild again and again from the ground up?"

The answer to those questions is, of course, yes. But as I've waded into the waters of this next revision with a lot of trepidation and angst, I also feel like I've gained new insight into life in general.

A lot of times we envision our life going a certain way, and sometimes it does. And it seems pretty good that way. Everyone else seems to like it. We like it. But then something comes and changes everything. Maybe it's God calling you to something better. Maybe its a sudden tragedy. Maybe it's illness, a job loss, infertility. Maybe it's your own conscience whispering to you that there's something else you're supposed to be doing.

This story's good. But it could be better. It could be a lot better. Better than you can even imagine at this point.

And sometimes when that happens, we have to step back, breathe, and then toss that old version of our life in the trash. We have to open that blank document and allow ourselves to fully walk into it and accept all the possibilities it offers. We have to be willing to open ourselves up to inspiration, changes we don't see coming, to dig into the pain and the heart and all the gut-wrenching moments of our lives and find a way to make them beautiful. To let go of the fluff. So that one day we can look at it and say, "Is this really my life? Did I really make this?" (And of course, the Christian in me feels the need to remind myself here, no you did not. Not by yourself, at least.)

And even when you have this new normal. This new, beautiful, heartfelt, imperfectly perfect normal, it might still need to change down the line. And I hope you're open to that. I hope you're willing to let go of the things in your story that aren't supposed to be there anymore and make room for better things.

I don't regret a single draft of my story. I was complaining to my longtime CP earlier this summer about my unwillingness to make certain changes because that's how I discovered the story. How could I change that? That's what it is. And she gently, and kindly said (and I'm summarizing here) "Maybe you needed to discover Kate's voice that way, but that doesn't mean it HAS to be that way."

And now I see she's right. Every single rewrite and revision has been like an archeology dig. It's less about me creating something, and more about uncovering the beauty that was always there to begin with. I hope you can look at your past with the same eyes. None of it has been in vain, even when you've had to start over and rebuild from scratch. It all led you to uncovering that better story.

Maybe you're in the middle of rewriting your life. Or maybe you just got a painful critique from life, God, yourself, whatever. Keep going. Don't be afraid to rewrite.

I don't know if Kate's story will ever go anywhere other than my computer files. She may never make it to a bookshelf or land me an agent. And I'm finally at this place in my writing where I don't care. Don't get me wrong, I really want to get this story published. But whether it happens or not, the process of rewriting and revising and rewriting again and discovering and writing this story has changed me as a person. Kate's story, in its beauty and sadness and magic, has changed the way I look at the world. And I'm not sure I can ask for anything more than that from a book.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Small Acts of Service Matter

I don't know about you, but when I think about ways that I can serve others, I usually think big. I want to help pull people out of poverty. I want to send foster kids to college. I want to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, etc. When we thinking of service and volunteering, these acts are held in high esteem and with good reason.

But lately, I've found myself more and more thankful for small acts of kindness. I've found myself grateful for the chance to serve within my family. No, I'm not alleviating poverty, or helping someone in another country, or, I don't know, fighting for social justice, I guess. But is it somehow less than?

The service I give within my family, to my children and to my extended family, is important. It's something I need to stop downplaying and feeling like it somehow pales in comparison to sponsoring a child. When I have the chance to bring in a meal to someone who is sick, I need to stop feeling like that's just "JV" service, or not as good as working at the soup kitchen. In both situations, aren't I feeding the hungry?

I have been the beneficiary of food brought to the grieving, I have walked in after mourning a sudden, devastating loss to find my home clean and yard taken care of. And it was a burden lifted. A clean home gave me space and time to grieve. It was no SMALL act of service to me.

My sister's husband was recently diagnosed with cancer. He was about to start at his first job after finishing school, but instead he will be beginning chemotherapy in the next few weeks. And so, for the next several months, I will not be sending money to the migrant crisis in Syria. I will not be giving to international charities at Christmas. I will be sending all the help I can to my sister and her husband. And that is feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving shelter, even though it's within my own family.

Their church family is stepping up to the plate. Finding housing for them during chemo treatments, and will be bringing in meals and helping with childcare. I can tell you right now, that each one of those meals or times helping with the baby, is no small act of service. To me, while I am so far away and can't help as much as I'd like to during this time, they are not just God's hands helping my sister and her family, they are my hands too. And my mother's hands. They stand in place of us when we can't be there and I cry just thinking about it. Just knowing that she will be okay.

When my mom was in DC with my sister and her husband during his surgery, she received the smallest act of service, but it made such an impression on her. She was on the shuttle to the hospital and began to cry. She was the only one there, and the bus driver noticed. She asked what was wrong and when she heard, told my mom, "Don't worry. The NIH works miracles. They work miracles there!" A few sentences that made all the difference to my mother on a very hard day.

Never feel like you aren't doing enough because the service you give doesn't fit the normal, "big" ways we think about giving. Serving means showing up and doing what you can with what you have when you are needed. And "small" acts do not feel small to the receiver.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Chalkboard Drawings for August

I'm trying to use the container story for my big chalkboard drawings and just do one a week. I'm also trying to hide each week's letters and form drawing in each picture. Above you will see the letter M,V and this week's form which is similar to letter M. Below you sill find lines, curves, and a sort of wave.

Real Life Waldorf Homeschool: What Real Life First Grade Art Looks Like (Also, learn from my mistakes.)

I think it's important to realize that your child will not be turning out these beautiful Main Lesson Books right off the bat and to get a feel for what real best work looks like for children. So with that in mind I've decided to show you what we are doing for our art. And along with showing you my daughter's work, I'm going to take you through my work and my reflections of what went right and what went wrong. Okay, ready? Let's go!

Here are our paintings for the letter M. M is for mountain and that's what we painted. Jane decided she wanted yellow fields at the base of her mountains so it could be like California right now. I had practiced this painting before and decided to get fancy. "Hey, let's shroud our mountains in just a touch of mist and fog. That would be cool, right?" Yeah, I went a little over board on the mist and fog. Next time, one little ring of mist will be plenty and I'll remember that. The other thing I will do differently next time is have Jane wait a little longer for the rest of her painting to dry before adding the red letter over the top of her painting. We did it too early this time and her M sort of spread out.

This is our very first block crayon drawing. It's a garden. Above, you can see the retelling for the container story from that week. I'm giving Jane lines to write with right now because without them she writes everything really huge and we only get a couple words on the page. I made these lines a bit too far apart and she still couldn't quite fit all her words on one page. This morning I made the lines closer together and she fit her whole narration on the page.

A side by side. My garden picture on the left. Jane's on the right. She though the mixing crayons were really cool and kept saying, "This is fun."

This is our painting from last week. The blue sky wasn't wet enough when I had Jane add her red. It was supposed to be a purple dawn. Next time I'll check the wetness of her page. We put the blue on first and then added all the hills and it was just too long inbetween.

This was my picture of hills at dawn. I'm not sure where all those white splotches on the hill came from. I kind of suspect some young picasso's got a hold of a wet paintbrush when I left the table. We now call them sheep.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Dear 2015 Pitch Wars Mentees

Dear 2015 Pitch Wars Mentees,

Congratulations! Your writing life is about to completely change...for the much, much better.

One year ago, I was in your shoes. I had completed and revised and polished my manuscript for two years and when I saw my name on that list, my hopes and dreams skyrocketed and left earth's gravity for a while. Look at the numbers, this means I'm among the top 5% of queriers, right? And with a mentor my ms is going to go above and beyond. This was it. This was my ticket to success. It had to be. I could feel it.

It's a year later and I don't have an agent or a book deal, but I can still say, hands down, Pitch Wars has been the single greatest thing to happen to my writing, and it has nothing to do with my mentor or any sort of feedback, but everything to do with a Facebook group of 83 writers, dreamers, and fellow pitch warriors.

For the past year I have been part of a community of writers who all struggled through the crazy and exhausting revisions of Pitch Wars, the nail-biting agony of the agent round, the triumphs and heartaches of querying. I've been able to get an inside scoop on all the highs of this business. Getting the call, choosing from multiple offers, book deals, pre-empts, auctions, and being a PW mentor.

I've also been part of a community that bands together and lifts each other up through the absolute lows of this business. Losing an agent, firing an agent, failed R&R's, getting zero requests in the agent round, and the absolute hell that is querying and getting rejection after rejection after rejection.

We've brushed each other off and encouraged each other to keep going. We've celebrated the amazing successes, each book deal, offer, contest win, and request.

And through all of this past year of being in this community, the most important thing I've learned is this: It doesn't matter where you are on your writing journey. Agent, book deal, querying, never-ending rejections, nothing but CNR's, inbetween manuscripts, editing the never finished project, or working on a sequel. You will never feel like you've "made it." You will never be rid of that doubt lurking in all the corners of your mind. Getting into Pitch Wars won't get rid of the doubt, getting an agent won't get rid of the doubt, getting a book deal won't get rid of the doubt.

Every time you email your mentor you'll worry that they secretly are sick of you and your book and wish they picked someone else. Every time you sit down to write that first draft you will feel like it's garbage. Even after you get that three-book deal, you'll still worry that your sequel won't live up to the first. Every time you get editorial feedback, whether from a CP, your agent, or your editor, you will still feel nervous enough to throw up. You'll worry they secretly hate your book. You'll wonder if you can deliver.

But doubt is not your enemy. The doubt is what binds us together. It's what makes it so we can all say, "I know what you're going through. I understand how you feel." It's also that little voice that drives us to write it better and better. To not give up at "good enough," to put out our best work.

But alongside that doubt that you will always experience as a writer is another equally important emotion. HOPE. As long as you have words in your head and stories in your heart you will always have hope. It weaves itself into the words you write. It's what drives you to sit your butt in that chair and type and type and type. It's that voice that whispers, Maybe the next agent. Maybe the next manuscript. You can not survive in this business without it. And when you feel like you can no longer go through the pain of hoping, your PW community will keep hope alive for you, and wait for you to come back and realize that there are still stories to tell and characters to redeem.

You just got into Pitch Wars. And yes, you got a mentor. But more importantly, you just got a community that has the opportunity to take the next two months to form an amazing bond of shared experience and go out and conquer all the highs and lows of the writing world together. That's the true gift of Pitch Wars. Open it.

Read from other PW 2014 Mentees and Alternates!

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Look Inside Our Homeschool Schedule

I have been planning and planning for first grade since January! Jane will be starting Grade 1 and Max begins his first year of Kindy.

Kinergarten in the Waldorf philosophy is very laid back. So Max's schedule will go something like this.

Monday - Circle time, painting, music, and story
Tuesday - Circle time, music
Wednesday - Circle time, music, bread baking, story
Thursday - Circle time, music, story, and craft/recipe
Friday - Service project, homeschool sports and park day

Pretty chill life, right?

Jane's school just stepped it up a notch. This year we begin a foreign language, knitting, narration/writing, lots more art, spelling, recorder and form drawing. It sounds like a lot (and it feels like a lot some days) but I have been slowly adding each of these things in for the last few weeks to work into the rhythm of it, and it's amazing how much I can get done during our anchor points like circle and quiet time.

So, Jane's schedule.

Monday - Circle time, which includes songs and poetry memorization, Spanish lessons, beanbag math/spelling, and jumproping. Then we go straight into recorder practice (right after her recorder I do a quick "music lesson" with Max. He plucks a pentatonic lyre and we learn a new song to sing.) Then the Fairy Tale, Watercolor Painting, and Form Drawing. After lunch we have 15-20 minutes of knitting time while listening to a sparkle story, and then reading (I read a loud and Jane reads aloud).

Tuesday - Circle time, Recorder, Jane Retells the story and we add her narration to our Main Lesson Book. Handwriting. Knitting, Reading

Wednesday - Circle time, Recorder, New Fairy Tale, Block Crayon Drawing, Reading, knitting and Afternoon Science Co-op!

Thursday - Circle time, Recorder, Retell and add to MLB, Reading, knitting, and homeschool classes

Friday - General Free Day, but we try to do the following. Service project, catch up (if needed), homeschool sports and park day, play practice.

I can usually start circle time around 9:30 or 10 and be done by 11:30 or 12. Some days will be longer. Mondays definitely, with the form drawing. Other days will be shorter. Those are days when we'll add in some cooking or projects to go along with our stories.

You may notice there is no math in this lineup. I promise we're teaching it. But Waldorf teaches subjects in blocks. So some weeks, instead of new fairy tales we will have math lessons. All social studies and science/history will be done through homeschool co-ops/classes and our daily read-aloud time.

Phew! We begin on Monday with EVERYTHING!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Getting The Most Out Of Disneyland With Young Children: A Paradox

Did you know there's an entire blog devoted to picture of kids crying at Disneyland?

There is.

For being "The Happiest Place On Earth," you'll witness a lot of kid meltdowns there. And you can't really be surprised because after you spend all day in the hot sun, eating nothing but junk food, and being blasted with loud music, bright lights, you most favorite princesses ever are walking down the street but you can't touch them because there's a huge line, and you missed your nap, and tea cups made your head swirl. Well, I think we get it.

This past year our family got annual passports to Disney. We are Disney fanatics. After Rob's dad died, it kind of became an escape and we used it on an almost monthly basis from September through March. So now I consider myself a bit of an expert on how to do Disneyland with young kids and actually have a good time.

Here's the secret to getting the most out of Disneyland with your kids.


I know that may sound like it doesn't make sense, especially after you just ponied up $90 bucks for a ticket. You may think you HAVE to get your money's worth now and so we are going to cram as much Disneyland into one day as possible. And all I can say is, I get that feeling. But don't do it. You want to get a FUN Disneyland experience. You want to be there after dark for the fireworks and World of Color. You don't want to be dealing with a nuclear meltdown at 6 O'clock and end up all fighting at the "Happiest Place on Earth" and then push a bunch of grumpy kids from show to show or ride to ride. So here are some of the tricks we use to make our Disneyland days, and we have had a lot of them, long, full days, how we make them enjoyable and workable with young kids. These tips are for everyone, even if you are only going for one day. Perhaps I should say, ESPECIALLY if you are only going for one day.

1. Keep Your Anchor Points The Same.   If you don't have an established rhythm or schedule in your home, this might be a challenge. But for us, we eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at pretty consistent times. We also have a very consistent nap/quiet time. These are the most dependable parts of our schedule, if we miss them or are late on them, all hell breaks loose. So even at Disneyland we stick to them. Breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same time. Nap time is NOT missed, which brings me to point 2.

2. Definitely Take a Break from the Park. Not all young children will be able to take a nap after lunchtime. But even my kids who have outgrown naps still fall asleep at least 50% of the time on Disneyland days. Lunch is the perfect time to return to the hotel room, get a bite to eat in the quiet, draw the shades and take a snooze. It doesn't have to be as long as usual, especially if you are only there for a day. One hour will be perfect, and you really won't miss that much at the park I promise. What a nap ensures for you is being able to see some of the really fun nightly offerings with your kiddos. All we have to do these days is promise to stay at the park late if the kids take a nap and that's enough motivation to get them to sleep. This routine works best if you follow tip 3.

3. Get a hotel within walking distance of the park, and WALK THERE. Don't take a shuttle. Don't drive and park. These add TIME whenever you need to leave or return to the park. They can add an hour onto that afternoon nap. Get a hotel within 1/3 of a mile of the gate and you are golden.

4. Get to the park right when it opens. This is prime time. So many people seem to mosey through the gates an hour or two later. First thing in the morning is when it will be the most dead and the lines will be shortest, use this time wisely and try to get on as many rides as you can.

5. Whichever park is having it's Magic Morning with early entry...GO TO THE OTHER PARK! I know, that sounds confusing. You paid all that money, you want that extra hour, dangit! No, everybody else is thinking the same thing, and with the cheaper one park per day tickets, that is the park everyone will choose to go to so they "get their money's worth." We've experienced it time and time again. The non-magic morning park is the place to be. It is far less crowded for the first half of the day at least. I promise, the extra hour isn't worth it anyway as your access to the park is very limited.

6. Go in the off-season and on a school day. I know this is a no-brainer, but it really does make a huge difference. Kids have a hard time in lines, your stress level is higher when the park is at capacity. It is well worth your money to pull the kids out of school for a day or two and go then. I would be lying if I said this thought wasn't part of our decision to homeschool.

7. Set expectations early about all the stuff. Let your kids know long before you go (and several times) what they can expect as far as buying things go. Will you allow one souvenir? Will there be any snacks? You can set this up how you want. Some families have a certain "churro budget" and that's what they get at the park. We let the kids pick out a toy for their birthdays. We take snacks into the park and make it clear that we will not be buying any there (we occasionally do, but these are surprises and they are big deals.) We've already spoken about how excited we are for churros and cotton candy when we go this next time, so I am gearing up for knowing I will be buying that. On other trips when we've made it clear that nothing will be bought, or that the kids can "earn" mouse ears or something to that effect, we have had almost zero problems with them asking for things we can't or won't buy them. Occasionally Max will freak out as we pass cotton candy stalls, but that usually only happens when we've been late on getting lunch. Along with all of this, avoiding the stores is probably just a good bet in general.

8. Do a character dining experience. This is extra cash and if it is out of your budget then don't worry about it. But if you know your kids will want to see all the princesses or characters, it is worth it to see them all at once and then not have a freak out or stand in line later to see Mickey and Minnie. You'll be in enough lines. Don't stand in one for a picture.

9. Use the freeplay areas. It's tempting to just focus on rides, rides, rides at Disneyland. But these quiet areas where your kids can run and play will save both your sanity and theirs. Everyone needs some times rejuvenate and kids often do that through free play so make sure they get some of that at the water play area in Bug's Land, Wilderness Adventure Area, and Tom Sawyer Island.

10. Go see the shows! There are so many fun shows to see and not only are they fun, but they get you out of the heat, sitting down, not in a line, and give your kids a little time to relax and recover from overstimulation. Some of our favorites are the Frozen sing-along, Turtle-Time with Crush and all the other offerings in the Sorcerer's workshop, and Mickey's Magical Map.

BONUS TIP: A lot of following these tips has to do with your mindset going into all of this. Be aware, that you CAN NOT see everything at Disneyland in one day. We go for three or four days at a time sometimes and still miss things. My advice is to discuss beforehand what are the "must hit" rides and then make sure to hit those. After that, do what you can without running everyon into the ground. Go in with an attitude of having "enough" rather than one of "scarcity." Disneyland will be around for a long, long time. This is just one visit, and you want to remember it as a happy time even if you don't DO EVERYTHING!

Friday, August 7, 2015

3 Things Journal Prompts

On Sunday, I challenged my Sunday school class to write in their journal every day this week. Just a couple lines. I said that I would try to do the same.

I've never been great at journal writing. I've been able to do a little bit better with photos and blogs, but as far as giving a window into our family and days and my heart, I just never seen to get around to it. And yet, I think leaving a journal to help you remember things later or for your children to read is an amazing blessing. After Steve died, his missionary journal has become a family treasure. I don't want the things I've loved and learned and experienced to die with me. They are part of my greater family story.

BUT, journal writing is SO HARD for me. The blank page is super overwhelming. I feel like I have to fill it all up. And then I feel like I have to give a total run down of EVERYTHING going on in our life, and then it takes forever and makes me feel like I don't have time to write in my journal every day.

Well, I decided to change my style and viewpoint on it. I'm trying to write every morning, and all I have to write are three sentences. I can elaborate if I feel like it, or not. It just depends how my day is looking.

So here is a list of journal prompts asking for three sentences or responses. If you want to try it out, feel free to use them! But, I'm putting them here for me too, on mornings when the creative juices just aren't flowing yet.

3 things I'm thankful for
3 things I need to do today
3 things I'm scared of
3 things I love about my kids
3 things I love about my husband
3 things I love about my job
3 things that bother me
3 people I miss
3 friends I'm thankful for
3 favorite traditions
3 traditions I'd like to start
3 ways I find peace
3 things that make me angry
3 things I believe
3 favorite books
3 favorite quotes
3 favorite movies
3 big dreams
3 small dreams
3 things I wish everyone understood
3 things I want to get better at
3 things I'm really good at
3 things I'm working on
3 memories
3 things from a child's birth story
3 dreams for my child
3 blessings from that day
3 ways I've seen the hand of God in my life
3 favorite foods
3 smells that always bring back a memory
3 memories of my mom
3 memories of my dad
3 memories of my grandparents
3 things I don't understand
3 things that always make me cry
3 favorite scriptures

Monday, July 20, 2015

First Grade Read Alouds

I'll update this list with each chapter book we read aloud.

1. The Graveyard Book
2. Little House on the Prairie
3. Magic Treehouse, #38, 39, 40
4. The Addy books from American Girl series. #1, 2

Friday, July 3, 2015

10 Life Lessons I Learned From Writing

1. Everyone is sympathetic, even the villains, when you take the time to learn their back story.

2. A good life, like all good stories, requires the main character to further the plot by their own choices. Always be acting, not just reacting.

3. It's boring without dialogue. Look up from your phone and interact with the other characters in the room.

4. Change is good. A satisfactory character arc requires it. But that doesn't mean the middle part isn't muddy with the ending unclear.

5. The dark night, when it feels like all is lost, always comes before the moment when the hero picks up his sword and fights back.

6. Not all endings are happy. Sometimes the saddest ones leave lessons that last longest.

7. The worst antagonists are the ones you can't see. Those without physical form that don't die by the sword.

8. Perfect people do not make interesting characters or stories.

9. Words are meaningless without action. Show, don't just tell.

10. All good stories require goals and obstacles. Do not curse your obstacles and make sure you always have a goal.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How to Write a Novel

1. Come up with a great idea for a story. Or maybe only half an idea. Or maybe just a character you like and you'll figure out the story along the way. Don't overthink it or overanalyze it. Let it grow and blossom for a while.

2. Lose sleep while listening to your character talk or devising ways to make your character suffer or asking all sorts of "what if" questions.

3. Sit down at your computer and write a thousand words.

4. Repeat step 3 sixty times.

5. Hate everything you just wrote.

6. Hide from it for a while. Convince yourself you suck at writing.

7. Open that folder up and look at all the bloody carnage that is your first draft.

8. Take a deep breath.

9. Focus on the strengths.

10. Get real about the weaknesses.

11. Rewrite the entire, bloody thing, but better this time.

12. Send off your now sparkling pile of not so stinky poop of a second draft to critique partners who love you, but also don't see you on a daily basis and aren't afraid to completely rip your heart out of it's chest.

13. Read their feedback.

14. Take a deep breath.

15. Cry into a pillow.

16. Fix everything, cut without mercy, rewrite problem sections, create whole new scenes and chapters, tweak motivations, sharpen voice.

17. Send out new, much more sparkly, hardly stinky at all manuscript to beta readers.

18. Repeat steps 13-16 until you either

    a) can't look at your book without throwing up
    b) are told there's nothing left to fix.

19. Line Edit. Correct all punctuation, grammar, cut unnecessary words, chop all filters, format correctly, add a title page and page numbers.

20. Write a query letter and realize all over again how much you hate your book.

21. Send out query letter to agents.

22. Get your dreams stomped on daily.

23. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait.

24. Write another book.

25. Repeat steps 1-24 until you either
      a) die
      b) puke whenever you sit down to write
      c) get an agent and get published. Then you only have to repeat steps 1-19.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Our Kindergarten Reading Alouds

We set a goal to read a novel every month during Kindergarten, and we did it! Here is a list of the books we read.

1. Magic Tree House 1-6
2. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate Dicamillo
3. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Dicamillo
4. Because of Winn Dixie by Kate Dicamillo
5. Sarah, Plain and Tall
6. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
7. The Chocolate Touch

We started with Magic Tree House. These books are really great for introducing read aloud chapter books to your kids. The chapters are short, they are easy to understand, and very fast paced. But after six of them, I was ready for something with a little more depth to it.

As you an see, we went on a Kate Dicamillo kick. My daughter will tell you that she is her favorite author. While we were reading Jane would say, "How does she always write such good books?" I worried that some of the ideas or plot points would be above Jane's head, but she caught onto most of it really well, and I feel like the challenge was good for her. She has become very good at listening and understanding a story in the last year.

Sarah, Plain and Tall was received well and understood better than I expected. They played and talked about it for several days after we finished. I never finished a chapter though and had the kids beg for more.

Charlotte's web is a huge hit. We're almost finished with it, but the kids always beg for one more chapter. Always a good sign!

Song List

I am working on having a list of songs that I sing in the morning while we do chores. I'd like to sing and have the kids know and learn a lot of the classics, folk, Broadway, Gospel, etc. I'm trying to learn a new song every couple of weeks. So here is my list so far so I can keep track.

Oh, What a Beautiful Morning
Here Comes the Sun
Scarborough Fair
Danny Boy
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Sweet Betsy From Pike

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Jane's First 100 Books

This is a book list/reading log. We've set a goal for Jane to have read 100 books by herself by the end of August. We started with the Bob Books, which as you will see takes care of the first 50 titles. But the next 50 books I'm hoping to see a growth of confidence and a growing passion for reading.

1-50: Bob Books Sets 1-5
51. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
52. What Can You See? by Sharon Callen (Reading Seeds Level 1 Readers)
53. Zoo Hullabaloo by Sophie Valentine (Reading Seeds)
54. It's Good Enough to Eat  (Reading Seeds)
55. Maddy's Mad Hair Day (Reading Seeds)
56. This is my Story  (Reading Seeds)
57.  Edward the Explorer  (Reading Seeds)
58.  When I Grow Up  (Reading Seeds)
59. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
60. Playground Friends (Reading Seeds)
61. Max  (Reading Seeds)
62. The Princess and the Pea (Reading Seeds)
63. Safari Party  (Reading Seeds)
64. I Can Fly!
65. The Life of a Bee (Reading Seeds)
66. Boris the Basset (Reading Seeds)
67. And Then it's Spring by Julie Fogliano
68. Hat by Paul Hoppe
69. In a People House by Theo Le Seig
70. Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel
71. The Little Red Ox from "Hay for my Ox: a Waldorf School First Reader"
72. Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel
73. Frog and Toad All Year by Arnold Lobel
74. Lazy Jack by Kelley Morrow
75. More Spaghetti, I Say
76. Giraffes Can't Dance
77. The Very Hungry Caterpillar
78. Three Little Kittens
79. The Prince and the Dragon by Kelley Morrow
80. Splash!

So right about here, Jane's reading really took off. She would just sit in the reading corner and read book after book and I couldn't keep up with this list anymore. I've tried to remember them all, but I know I've missed some. Especially the ones read on vacation. You'll notice some of the books are baby books (that she read to her brother), some are early readers (that she tells me are too easy now, but likes adding to her 100 books), some are magazines (that she reads cover to cover several times), and some are early chapter books and more advanced picture books.

81. Chicken Little
82. Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant
83. Ranger Rick Jr. July issue
84. Hunpty Dumpty magazine September/October Issue
85. What do you do with an idea?
86. Little Bear's Visit
87. Room on the Broom
88. Rock-A-Bye Farm
89.Get Dressed, Dudley
90. Going to the Beach (Carousel Readers) by Maxine Rose
91. Help! by Susan Green and Sharon Siamon (Reading Corners)
92. Moo, Baa, La La La!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

10 Ideas to Promote Daily Learning (And Stop Summer Learning Loss!)

Summer is upon us. School is ending and it's time to have fun and play and not even think about school, right?

Of course!

Then in three months we can all return to school with two months worth of learning loss!

Wait, what?

Yep, summer can be a real brain drain, but it doesn't have to be. And you don't have to turn your house into a summer camp or a temporary homeschool to stem the leak. The secret is in creating routines and a family culture that support everyday learning opportunities. As I've traversed this last year of homeschooling, I've realized that certain parts of my rhythm/routine do half the work of homeschooling for me. They're not hard, and I think they can work for you too. So without further ado.

10 Things You Can Do to Promote Daily Learning

1. Turn off the TV. You don't have to go screen free (though if you do, that's awesome) but try to limit this to no more than 1-2 hours per day. TV especially relieves our minds of actually thinking, increases risks of ADD in children, delays language development, and stunts creativity. Plus, it kind of just makes you feel blah and puts kids into a TV coma. Find something else to do during TV time. Here we've learned how to knit and played with lots of playdough to replace that hour of quiet time TV we used to have every day.

2. Make a weekly schedule of consistent activities. These do not have to be huge and they don't have to take up that much of your day. Actually, you'll really only stick to this if they're small. For us, Monday is painting, Tuesday is games, Wednesday is baking, and Friday is park day. I'm thinkng of making Thursday night music night and Sundays, "puzzle day." Other great ideas could be library day, playdough day, swimming day, golf day, biking day, somewhere new day, family history day, garden day. Really, the possibilities are endless. What you have to do is decide what you want to do and plan on it.

3. Plant a garden. I can't tell you how many learning opportunities have come from our little garden. The kids have learned all about bees and pollinating. They have watched it take place and witnessed the transfer of pollin. They've helped manually pollinate flowers, learned to identify male and female flowers, found ladybugs, seen aphids, understood the relationship, cheered on the arrival of butterflies, measured, harvested, tasted. It's one thing to learn about these things in a classroom, it's another to watch it actually happening.

4. Join or Create a summer reading program. Most libraries have a summer reading program. I remember doing one every summer back in Wyoming, even into high school my mom would take us into the library and make us create a really challenging reading goal. When I was younger it was 100 books in a summer. As I got older and was readingjust by myself, it was 25 novels. 25 novels in a summer is quite a bit of reading! And reading, for most people, is the very root of education and learning. A person who enjoys reading will always be learning something.

5. Have a real family devotional. Our family devotional has really become an important part of our homeschooling. Not just because the kids are learning scripture stories. We also learn a song each week and the sign language to go along with it. This only adds 1-2 minutes onto this nightly ritual, but what a learning experience it creates! If you have older kids you can really discuss and study scriptures together. Plus, devotional is just one more chance for kids to practice reading skills.

6. Play board games. A good board game will keep those math facts oiled and ready to go. There are all sorts of games and all sorts of different kinds of math to be learned from them. Starting with just counting, to using money, to multipliers, and lessons in calculating averages and chance.

7. Sing lots of songs. This is something I've started trying to do recently. We are inheritors of such huge collection of traditional songs. It's a shame that we don't pass more of these beautiful words and melodies along to our children. You can choose what sorts of songs to sing, but maybe before turning on Pandora you can all spend a few minutes in the morning singing a few rousing renditions of some of your favorites. Our favorite morning songs here are "Here Comes the Sun," "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," "Shanendoah," "Danny Boy," "Scarborough Fair," and last week I added, "Swing Low Sweet Chariot."

8.  Get outside. A lot! Send your kids outside for at least an hour a day, but preferrably more. During the hottest months of summer we actually do school so we can take a break in September. It's just too hot to spend much time out there. But we still try in the early morning and late evenings or with a constand stream of water running. One thing Jane and I have enjoyed doing outside is nature journaling. This improves art and writing skills, but it also just helps you slow down and admire the beauty all around you. There's so much to see and learn about outside, and just do with your body. Learning the limits of what your body can do is important to education and more and more research links learning and certain physical capabilities.

9. Have a reading time. Like I said before, I think reading is the most essential ingredient to learning, and I think it needs to happen every day. I also think the number one thing to get your kids reading is to not only read to them but to model reading for enjoyment. You want your kids to pick up a book? You better be picking up a book every day too! I find it easiest to do this with a set reading time. I always try to read as the kids play outside. Between eating lunch and naptime we have family read aloud time. Just having a set time makes it so it actually happens every day.

10. Talk with each other. Take the time to connect. You have all day together now! Your child's greatest teacher and influence truly can be you if you take the time to listen and respond.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Our Waldorf Week of May 18

I actually made this felt crown several years ago and didn't think it would last a month. It's still going strong and one of the most used parts of our dress up box! I made it stiff by using cardstock as the liner.

I'm really enjoying the rainbow tulle over our nature table this month. I made the flower baby last week, and the flowers are leftovers from my Mother's Day bouquet.

It's a big week for Toby in our Super Sam stories this week. He finds his family! Of course, I had to illustrate it on the chalkboard. The kids were so excited for Toby to finally get his happy ending. They've been anxiously waiting for it for a while.

Here is Max's painting from Monday. He has become very adept at mixing colors and not just getting a brown sludge. I'm impressed and kind of jealous. I don't think I could do this if I tried. 

The Music of the Gospel Chalkboard Drawing

I summarized the conference talk, "The Music of the Gospel" in Sunday School this week. Here is the chalkboard I drew to accompany. And here is the talk.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

On Making It

Tonight I was getting dinner on the table and Max and Tommy were sitting in their chairs making silly faces. Max had his tongue out and was making Tommy laugh. His eyes sparkled with genuine delight. He was happy and full of light and spreading it to those around him. And I had to pause for a moment and relish in my realization.

We were making it.

Maybe that seems like a silly thing to realize, but things with Max haven't always been easy.

You see, Max is extremely passionate. When he feels things he feels them deeply. It's great when he's happy and playful, but when he would get angry, or sad (which turned quickly into anger), he was a force to be reckoned with. For two years now we've dealt with, fought, talked through, cried about, and hugged out, the hitting, punching, pushing, pinching, screaming, absolute meltdowns.

Last year he sent a cousin to the Emergency Room for stitches. He was tired, he got angry, there was no adult supervision, and he just happened to be carrying a golf club.

It could have been a lot worse.

After that came the guilt and the worry. We were told there was something wrong with him. We were asked not to leave him. I watched people online say they would never let their kids play with a child like mine. Some insinuated behavior like this was indicative of domestic violence.

It was isolating. I couldn't take him to the park and talk with the moms. I had to monitor every move, every possible trigger.

It was exhausting. Day after day I would draw suns and butterflies and flowers on his hands and remind him to have gentle hands.

It was humbling. I crashed to my lowest when it would drive me to yell and scream or to smack his hand back. In one episode he began kicking the door at our in-laws so hard I thought he would break it. I was so embarrassed I threw the door open to tell him to stop, and in my anger not realizing exactly where he was standing, the doorknob hit him right in the eye.

I was a terrible, terrible mother. I felt hopeless and helpless.

But I could also see this amazingly giving, thoughtful, kind and loving little boy. He has this goodness within him that is unparalleled by his other siblings. His lows are so low but his highs are so incredibly high.

But I felt nobody would be able to see that beyond the violence and the anger.

I tried everything. Gentle parenting, time outs, consequences, positive attention, empathy. They all worked and didn't work, or required me to always be on my game and sometimes I just wasn't. In the last year we've moved twice, been denied a home loan two days before closing, dealt with the grief of losing Steve. I wasn't always on my game. I didn't always give him the best of me.

But somehow...he's getting better. I'm not saying we're out of the woods yet. We still have an occasional problem. But they are fewer and farther between and usually brought on by extreme situations where everything is thrown off, hunger, exhaustion, etc. I've found if I can guard against those things, we do much better.

In the last two years I've found a recipe for mostly success.

1. Rhythm and routine.
2. Plenty of sleep.
3. Whole foods.
4. Very limited screen time.
5. Hours of outside play every day.

But I don't feel like I can credit all those things with the change. I think a lot of it is just growing up and maturing. And so today, when I had that realization that we were on the downhill slope. That things were getting better, easier, that he wasn't this angry little boy anymore, it felt like breathing fresh, mountain air after a long time in the city.

I know I'm not the only Mama who has a passionate, energetic, and sometimes aggressive little boy. I know the pain and the worry. And all I can say is Mama, don't give up. It will get better. He will grow up. Keep setting him up for success. It will not always be like this. That child has the qualities of a great leader. And right now you may be the only person who sees the goodness deep within him. Hold the image of him in your heart. It. Will. Save. Him.

He will be okay. You will be okay.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Real Life Waldorf: Getting Back on Track

I got off track within the last month. Not too terribly, but at the end of last week I looked around and thought, this is not how I run my house and homeschool. The kids were watching television every day for at least an hour, usually two. We weren't doing circle time or story, or math. We were still practicing reading and plowing through our chapter book. But that was it.

Granted, in the past month I've taught two week-long classes for the educational enrichment center in town. It's fun to do, but it uses up my entire morning and then I'm beat and need a nap in the afternoon, so the TV goes on. And then what about dinner?

Lots and lots of processed or fast food.

And the weather has been so nice that the kids just want to play and play and play, and so I've let chores and school slide. Granted, it's kindergarten and we go year round, so I don't think that is the biggest deal right now. But our rhythm was off, and at the end of last week I could feel it and I knew my kids could too.

I was harried, and my heart wasn't anchored in slow and peaceful, mindful and intentional, like I wanted to be.

It was time to get back on track. We had a busy weekend and by the end of it, I was itching to slide back into our rhythm.

I think that's the nice thing about having a good rhythm. Once it's really extablished, even if life gets crazy and you get off of it for a week, or two, or six, once you decide to go back to it, it's right there just waiting for you. It's comfortable and goes on easy...with a little help.

Yes, getting back to your old rhythm is kind of like riding a bike, but there are a few things you need to do to grease the gears.

1 - Get Your Husband On Board. Rob has a rotating schedule. When he's on early shift, things run smoothly. But when he's on late shift...things seem to deteriorate. We sleep in, take longer to do chores, don't play outside. It just throws things off. So Sunday night I sat down with him and said, "I can't have this happen every two weeks. I need your help to stay on rhythm."

Rob, bless his heart, has seen the difference it makes in our kids and in me, too. So he said, "What can I do?" I then wrote out a list. I wrote our morning rhythm, I wrote each of the kids chores, I wrote the chores I try to do every morning, and then I wrote out additional activities that might not be a daily thing, but would be helpful. That list has been a wonderful visual for Rob to see how he can help. I don't know what your husband is like, but I have a husband who wants to help, but doesn't always have the clearest vision of how to do so. Now he can automatically see what I need. This has helped this week run much more smoothly.

2 - Go Screen-Free. Has your rhythm gotten off? Have you fallen off that free-play, Waldorf wagon? The next best thing you can do to climb back on is to turn off the TV, and really cut back on your own phone time. It may be hard at first, with some whining. But I let my kids know all weekend that there would be no TV this week, and they've done well. Jane actually said, "Oh, good," when I told her, which I found enlightening. I think TV is easy, but not always enjoyable. You know how after watching too much of it, you feel 'blah?' I think it was doing the same thing to my sweet girl. With all that extra time you can read, play outside, attend to lessons, craft, bake bread, etc.

3 - Get outside. Getting outside is definitely the next biggest thing to getting back on track. It helps work off excess energy, makes you feel happier, gets the kids playing, and it keeps your house cleaner because...they're outside! Take a nature journal out and count it as school. Read outside. Do circle time outside. It's May. Everyone wants to be outside right now. Go with that flow. That's part of the natural rhythm of the year. Your expanding out with the seasons. Your kids feel it. You can do this and keep your rhythm, just move your rhythm outside. It's far better than fighting the crankies inside. Today, Jane ran in and said, "Mom I saw a bird and a butterfly and now I know what I want to do. I just want to watch the bugs and birds."

4 - Cut yourself (and your kids) some slack. But not too much. We've been getting back on track but that doesn't mean it has all been smooth sailing. Jane cried for quite a while today when I said she had to play outside for an hour. Tommy broke one of the wheels on the brand new wooden cars I got to replace the old metal ones, making me second guess if I'd made a wise decision. There were plenty of squabbles. Tommy is in a growth spurt and extra tired and all he wants to do is read the same book (sometimes just one page) over and over and over and over. Does this throw off my rhythm? Only if I let it. I can cuddle with Tom and still eventually get done what I need to. Remember, a rhythm is not a regimen. Don't fret over the tears, or the detox, or the roadblocks. Just reach into that peace surrounding your heart and push through. You know what your family needs to thrive, don't let it get pushed aside out of fear or disappointment that not everything is perfect. But also don't rationalize yourself out of doing what you need to do to feel good about your work.

5 - Wake up Early - This is probably actually the number one thing, but oh well. The most important thing to getting back on track with your rhythm, your home, your homeschool, is taking control of where your heart is. It's the anchor of your home and family. Wake up early and get yourself into a place that is good with God and the world. Do what you need to feel connected, at peace, and alive. You can not be a good Mom if you don't feel like a good/real person. For me, I've been reading my scriptures AND Anne of Green Gables (gosh I love Anne.)

You CAN  do it. Forgive yourself and get back on that wagon, Mama!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Mothers I want to Remember

Mother's Day is coming and we'll all take time to celebrate our own mother's, grandmothers, mother-in-laws, and in turn be celebrated by our husbands and children. I could write several lengthy posts about how wonderful my mom is. But right now, I want to remember the second mothers in my life, and the mothers who don't always get the recognition they deserve.

In high school I had a funny, warm, and loving English Lit teacher. I gave her a book that I'd loved and we've been friends ever since. After my first year of college, I came home for the summer. I was in the middle of a horrendous break-up from an emotionally abusive relationship. My best friend was getting married (Yay for her, and she was still a wonderful friend, but it's still hard for that relationship to change). I didn't fit in with the local student branch and my ex-boyfriend made sure in his own manipulative ways that I was ostracized further.
It was hard.
This old teacher became my new close friend. I would go over to her house Sunday nights and talk for hours, or eat dinner, or watch fun old movies. She'd send me home with books and shows. My mom encouraged the friendship knowing I needed it. She really helped me through a tough spot. I will always love her for that. And all the visits we've had since.
She never married and doesn't have any children. But I consider her one of my mothers.

Here in Merced, my kids have fantastic woman who has opened her heart and home to us. Never married, and without children of her own, but she is changing the world and I can't think of a better role model for my kids. They love her and get so excited when I announce we're getting together. Today we saw her at lunch and Max picked up his plate to go sit next to her, calling her "the nice lady." We certainly love this mother in our life.

The mothers without children. I have several friends either in this category or who were for several years, and I know how hard Mother's Day can be. But I want you to know that I see you. I see you aching and hoping and waiting. And I see the way this part of your life has empowered you with greater empathy for those around you. I see your mother heart and the way you reach beyond yourself. You inspire me to be better.

The mothers who have lost children. My heart has been heavy for the few mothers I personally know who have lost a child recently. I want you to know that you are a mother with or without a child in your arms. And this week (and every day really) I think of your sweet babies. Their names and your own run through my thoughts and prayers. Their short lives have impacted my own in meaningful ways. Your hope and strength in the face of unimaginable heartache is amazing. I can't not think of you this Mother's Day.

My mother mentors. These are my Village Green ladies. Those of you who would step outside your home every day and talk with me, or let me spend hours and hours on your couch (looking at you Steph.) Those who visited me in the hospital, comforted me and in turn allowed me to comfort them when it was time. I was just a brand new mom then and I learned so much from all of you. I still do, even if it is from far away on Facebook. What a wonderful community of women we had. I miss that. Our late night walks, and our endless rounds of baby showers. I'm thinking of all of you this Mother's Day.

All the women in my life who have loved and nurtured my kids. You know who you are. The ones who babysit at the drop of a hat, always have good things to say, are welcoming, and kind. The women who encourage me to be better, who talk to me of their passions and dreams, and of my own passions and dreams. The ones with big ideas and big hearts, in the middle of the community, sitting around my kitchen table, making so much with so little. I have so many "second mothers" here.

Friday, May 1, 2015

I Hired a Mother's Helper

I don't know why we have this idea that stay-at-home moms should have it all together. I guess because their mothering is their "career" we have impossible expectations of them? I don't know, but working mothers feel the pull too. Keep a perfect house, spend lots of time with your kids, serve in your community, have a hobby, cook only whole/clean/delicious/from-scratch food. Exercise every day and look fantastic.

Is this sounding unattainable to anyone else?

Well, I'm here to bust that image of perfection. You can't do it. Not all of it. But gosh we try, but something always slips. For me it was housework. And I was okay with that because it was clean enough, but I'd always get to a point, usually at the end of the week where I just couldn't stand it anymore and then cue the irritability, stress, and few hours of cleaning while grumbling about the kids messing everything up immediately.

Well, no more. I can't do everything, but I didn't want to give up something. Not my writing, not my work in the community, not homeschooling, not reading my books, or crafting, or playing games, or going on walks, or just sitting down on the couch sometimes and relaxing! I also didn't want to live in a dirty house.

A few months ago my mom came to visit and (lovingly) suggested that I should think about bringing in some help. She saw everything I did during the day and to her everlasting credit never suggested that I quit the stupid writing, or think about putting the kids in public school, or anything like that, even though there have been plenty of times I've worried that's what everyone thinks. But I'm blessed with very supportive family members, which is a wonderful thing to have.

It was a little hard to do at first. It kind of felt like admitting defeat. I'm a stay-at-home mom, I gave up working to be able to do all this. Did it make me a failure? Yeah, no. Forget you, society and your impossible expectations and darn you my passionate heart that loves to dabble and learn and read and play.

So a month ago I spoke with one of the girls at church choir practice about coming in a few times a week to help me and she said...YES!

It's been four weeks now. One of those weeks she was sick and couldn't come. But here's what we set up and why I love it.

She calls me on Sunday to let me know her work schedule and we agree on times she can come. It's usually about three hours a week, spread out over two or three days. I pay $10/hour. It's more than minimum wage and what she makes at her other job. I also throw in an extra five dollars a week to compensate her gas money, she doesn't live too far from us, but still.

Now the part you're probably wondering, what do I have her do?

All the things I just never seem to get to. These have included sanding and painting my kitchen table and chairs (I started it but never got around to finishing), scrubbing out car seats, helping clean out the car, scraping the gunk from off the table and chairs where Tom sits, and sweeping and mopping.

She also is just an extra pair of hands on days when I need them. When Tommy is extra clingy and hanging on my legs, I can sit down and just hold him while she takes care of whatever I'd been trying to do. She watches the kids in the front yard when I'm working on dinner. She's another person to read to.

And then sometimes she babysits for me.

Why I love it and have talked to her about doing it long term:

1. My floors are clean. CLEAN!
2. I don't have to mop!
3. It's allowed me to relax a bit more. I know I can take that extra thirty minutes to enjoy a book because she's coming in the afternoon.
4. It also gets me to work more. When she's here I can't just sit around and do nothing. That's awkward. So usually, it forces me to clean for a whole hour in the afternoons. That makes a big difference.
5. More dates! After months of not going out at all, Rob and I have gone on two dates this month because she came over and we were able to just take off. It was great!
6. I can leave on a date and ask her to clean something while I'm gone and SHE DOES!
7. It's someone to talk to and I think we both have things to offer. She gets paid and experience doing things that while not glamorous are important for living life. I get a cleaner home with less stress, projects finished, and extra time with Rob.

I have other ideas of things I'd like to use her for if I can ever stop needing her to clean my floors. One thing I've considered is leaving her with two of the kids while I take one of them out for some one-on-one time. Teaching her how to make breadsticks so I can count on having that help for dinner and not have to push it back an hour on nights I want bread sticks. Deep cleaning. Those hand prints on the walls? Dirty base boards? Window tracks? All those spring cleaning things;

All in all, the extra $140/month is well worth it. If you can carve out the space in your budget for help even just once a week, I highly recommend it. It's okay to ask for help. You don't have to be perfect. I'd say it's far more important to get in that extra hour of reading or painting or writing or playing.