5 things that help me to be more productive

I'm going to be honest, it's almost laughable that I'm writing a blog post about how to be productive, because there are many days when I feel like the least productive person in existence. But with three little kids who are reliant on me for some stability in their lives, I have to organize my days so that there is some framework, and not guesswork, running the show. That means staying on top of a lot of different things at the same time so that they don't crumble and fall apart... which happens very easily when you get behind a day or seven on laundry. Here are some things that I do to ensure our household runs smoothly! For the most part. *cough* 

1. Learn to say no. One of the reasons I tend to get overwhelmed and start procrastinating is because I have too much on my plate. I realized a while ago that I need to respect myself and my priorities by saying no sometimes, even if it's to something that I would enjoy doing, or if it's to someone who needs something. While I always want to help out and hang out with people I love, I can't be the best mother, wife, and woman if I am so overwhelmed that the things that really need to get done aren't done. For me, this also has to include things that cause anxiety. Sometimes I want to do something, I might even have the time to do something, but my nerves just can't handle it. I love leading worship, but the last time I was doing it regularly -- lugging three kids to the church and then watching them running around the room like crazy people while we did rehearsal and not getting home until an hour after the youngest's bedtime -- it really worked against my sanity and became something I dreaded, as much as I wanted to do it in my heart of hearts. I had to tell the worship team that I was stopping, which felt awkward and gave me another reason to feel unnecessary guilt, but once I did it, it was like a weight had been lifted. It's important to know how far you can stretch and respect your limits! It's also totally okay that different people can handle different things -- maybe you've made a commitment to something that you realize is outside your gifts or what doesn't realistically fit into the dynamics of your family. We as a society love to be busy, but it's not always healthy. And if you have children, understand that many seasons of motherhood are simply (or not so simply) seasons of survival or waiting. That's okay.

2. Put lists throughout your home. This is something that is so simple that I can't believe I hadn't thought of it before! Throughout my home, I have permanent lists that I glance at several times a day. I tend to be pretty scatterbrained and I'm easily distracted, so checking a list of things that should be done in my day to day routine really helps. It might seem silly to have "take the meat out to thaw," in my daily checklist, but you would not believe how many times I go to start dinner around 4 o'clock and realize the chicken is still frozen solid in the freezer. Or the number of times we are out the door and buckled in the car and I realize I didn't put a brush to Austen's hair. One of the most helpful lists is the one on the door. I look at this list whenever I leave the house to make sure I have everything I need. If I don't check the list, you can almost guarantee I will forget my phone, or a change of clothes for Chase, or heck, even diapers and wipes! Obviously, I won't need all of these things, but if I'm going to be out all afternoon I can take a quick glance to remind myself to bring snacks for the kids or a book.

3. Visually prioritize your to-dos. If I make a general to-do list, I get overwhelmed by the amount of things that need to be done; so I've started by taking off a lot, and by sorting what remains as Must Do, Should Do, and Could do. Must Do are the things that absolutely need to get done that day -- things with deadlines, and often things that I need to complete for others, like design work or scheduling an appointment for one of the kids. Should Do are often home tasks that don't get done as often, like mopping, or things that need immediate attention that I tend to forget, like a load of laundry or taking out the bathroom trash. Could Do are things that I'd like to get done if I have time, but aren't priorities -- things that would give my day a sense of contentment -- like finishing the last few chapters of that I've been reading, starting a new sewing project, or editing photos of the kids. I don't have an extremely busy life outside the home, so you might think that a planner wouldn't come in handy, but I've found that they are very helpful for keeping a daily or weekly routine! Especially as a homeschool mom.

4. Create pleasant morning and evening rituals. Mornings are so hard for me; I have to drag myself out of bed no matter how much sleep I get. I am just not one to leap out of bed bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to start my day. A morning ritual helps a lot -- not only does it help me start the day off on the right foot, but I have something to look forward to. I think this is so important if you are not a morning person! It can be something small -- like doing a quick, five-minute yoga routine or programming the coffee pot to start at 6 am. If you know that the moment you wake up you get to do something you enjoy, it will be easier to get started.

In a way, nights are hard for me too, because I'm night owl and could easily stay up until 2 or 3 am, even if I'm exhausted. By the time I'm ready to go to bed, I don't want to go through the whole process and I'm feeling too wired. Having a routine where I put on my PJs, take out my contacts, brush my teeth early in the evening before I start to feel tired or even before I sit down to relax will make it easier to go to bed earlier and get a good night's sleep.

5. Start without the intention of finishing. You might think I'm crazy and that this goes against all the inspiring, motivating self-help talk you've heard that mentions intention and purpose and being fully present, but I'm telling you -- it works. Research shows that if people start a chore or activity without the intention of finishing that often they will end up sticking to it and seeing it through. No, I can't point you to a source here... I know I read it somewhere, but I scoured the internet and couldn't find an article to back me up. Give it a chance anyway -- try putting it into practice in your daily life and watch the magic. Even if I end up not finishing, doing half the dishes is better than not starting on a mess at all, and getting a jump start on editing a batch of 400 photos is better than letting it sit and my anxiety build up over all the work I have ahead of me. I can't tell you how often "just 15 minutes" turns into an entire hour of hard work.


thoughts at night

Conscious of my thoughts
like wind whistling past
barely noticed.
Trickling down my ear canal
tickling my brain stem

How do I decipher the words spelled out
like ink in water

What words are these that demand in whispers
They come at every side,
a constant stream of consciousness
or is it unconsciousness?


homeschool room tour

I finally have what I've always dreamed of: a homeschool room! When I say "always dreamed," I mean that this dream goes back to when I was eleven years old and my parents were looking to purchase a home in San Antonio. While looking at one house that had two living areas, my mom exclaimed, "This would be perfect for a homeschool room!" and thus, the dream began. I knew I wanted to homeschool my own kids someday (yes, at eleven, I already had plans to someday have many children and teach them at home) and I've always been someone who likes homes and spaces and finding beautiful, functional ways of doing things in those spaces. I loved viewing model homes with my parents, and to this day I rearrange my furniture just about every six months. I blame it on being a military brat.

In the back of my mind, probably in a corner labeled Dreamy, Yet Unattainable, were visions of a room full of shelves and globes and maps and old, dusty books. A table for sitting down with my morning coffee, a place to recite Bible verses and continents and math facts, to read aloud Charlotte's Web and Peter Pan and Jame's Herriot's Animal Stories, a place of my own where my children could complain about my coffee breath as I lean over their shoulder to help them with handwriting, just as I did complained to my own mother. Ah, memories. A homeschool room for a real homeshool mom, slippers and coffee breath not optional.

When we first moved into this house, I thought about turning our extra room off the dining area into a homeschool room, but we have so much music equipment and art supplies crammed in there that it became more of our home office/creative space. (That's putting "creative space" very lightly... it's a mess right now and not really conducive for creating much of anything!) Slightly disappointed but otherwise understanding, I turned the bottom of my grandma's hutch into our "school cabinet," and that's what we've been using for the past 5 months.

For those five months, we've done traditional text-book schooling. Pennsylvania has a wonderful charter school available to homeschoolers, using the Calvert curriculum, and they sent us everything we would need -- even a laptop! So for a while, we didn't need much space. It was a tight squeeze, and with my aging, almost-thirty-year-old eyeballs that have never been all that reliable in the first place, sometimes it was hard to see what I was reaching for in the recesses of the Homeschool Hutch, but it worked. Then my mom said, "Hey, I've got a ton of y'all's old picture books and school books down in the basement if you'd like to take them home!" and that led me to rethink our approach to homeschool all together... but I'll leave that for another post!

After several visits to my mom's that ended in returning with one or two or three armfuls of books each time, I realized I didn't have anywhere to store this beautiful collection. What's more, I wanted them to be accessible downstairs, where the kids spend most of the their time, not up in their rooms stuffed in their already over-flowing bookshelves, never to be enjoyed by the whole family. One afternoon, after staring at our dining room for several minutes trying to come up with a plan, I realized we had the perfect place for a long shelf, right under the window! I scoured IKEA for the perfect shelf, and found this one for just over $100.

What's In Our School Room

After lovingly filling it with all of our school books and living books, I decided to bring down some toys for Chase to occupy herself with during school hours. These puzzles and sets of toys had been up high in the kids' closets, because when I can't keep an eye on every little toy my children take out in their room throughout the day, toys with several pieces just end up being huge mess makers. But down here in our homeschool room, I can make sure she takes out one at a time and encourage her in the habit of cleaning up after herself. I love this memory game I found at a thrift store, which features adorable pictures of children from around the world. Another favorite was a gift from my sister, a word game called Very Silly Sentences. This is more for River and Austen's age, and I highly recommend it! It makes language and grammar fun and interesting. For Chase and Austen, I also have several wooden puzzles, pattern blocks, lacing beads, and in the hutch is plenty of paper, crayons, watercolors, and playdough... lots of activities to keep a toddler occupied, and we have more upstairs that I can switch out when need be.

As far as actual school supplies, I keep flimsy lesson manuals and work books in a basket so they don't fall over and clutter the shelves. All my books on childhood development, education, and teaching different subjects, and well as our informational books and story books are now easily accessible in the shelves. River is reading pretty well now and I see him pick up books he's never been interested in before, simply because they are available! That's so exciting to me. I hope to raise voracious readers.

Also kept in baskets are flashcards in individual baggies, and some math manipulatives, and in the middle basket I have replaced those things with copy paper, writing paper, construction paper, and a few notebooks. Finding out a way that works best for us is trial and error. If I think I've found the perfect storage solution for something, I won't really know until I've had it set up that way for a few days and see how it fits into the flow of our school day. For instance, I had the paper stored in the hutch with the crayons, which made logical sense to me, but I found myself having to get up several times a day and walk around the table to search for paper that hadn't already been scribbled or painted on. It wasn't easy to keep it all separate and organized in the hutch. Now that it's in the basket, I can turn in my seat and grab a page, and paper that has been turned into artwork goes into the hutch. I still have to come up with some way to sort all of the artwork my kids create! So much paper...

I love this space because everything is in one place, and that makes all the difference in the world to how our days go. It's easy to clean up after lessons and set the table for a meal, and I love how things are sort of hidden in the shelf, because I've never been a fan of having a bunch of kids' toys out in plain view. I do love beautiful spaces, and this way, it's functional for myself and for the kids!


life lately

I have been so bad about taking a picture a day... but I've been pretty great about taking pictures in general compared to how I was doing before the new year, and even if I'm not in the mood to, so I'm proud of that. And more often than not, I get a picture that I happen to love, even if it's not technically correct (90% of my photos aren't, anyway).

I've been feeling this pull to do something different with all this. I'm not crazy about running a Facebook page... it feels really strange to me to post on it, because while I have a good number of likes and views, but not a lot of interaction, I feel like I'm talking to both an audience and an empty room... at the same time.. if that makes sense. It just doesn't feel like me. I prefer posting on Instagram. And as for my 365 project, I will post on my photography page and Instagram when I feel like it. I know this sounds like such a silly thing to spend time thinking about, but seriously, I have not really known what to do for a while. I kept my page unpublished for nearly two years on Facebook and didn't miss it once, so I think I need to just be true to what feels comfortable for me.

I really do want to blog more, but I only have energy for one main focus at a time, it seems. That's being human I suppose. I have really been researching and changing how our family sees and lives education, and from the moment I wake up in the morning until my kids go to bed and America's Next Top Model takes precedence, I am listening to audiobooks and asking questions on forums and reading blog posts about homeschooling! I have a brand new excitement for educating my kids, and I feel like after getting six solid, meaty months of real, live homeschooling under my belt, I know what I really want for our family and for my kid's little minds. I'm looking forward to sharing more pictures and about our homeschooling journey very soon!


it's possible that i'm not a morning person

I wrote this when River was three years old. It made me snort laugh, remembering my cheery, talkative toddler who is seven now and hasn't changed a bit, except that now he can get his own breakfast. 

My son is driving me crazy and he has only been up for an hour.

I always thought I wasn't a morning person. Okay, in all fairness, I'm probably not. My husband would definitely say I am not. I hate waking up early, I am a grump in the mornings, and I cannot function properly until about 11 am and after three cups of coffee. I'd say mornings and I don't do well, but the truth is, people and I in the mornings don't do well. There is nothing more annoying than a person trying to cuddle/have a conversation/demanding things of me early in the morning. And my family is a very cuddly, talkative, demanding one.

It was 8 am this morning when River brought his cheery little butt into the kitchen, propped himself up on a chair like a little squirrel, and said, "I'm hungry and thirsty. I want something to eat, and some water." First thing in the morning, every morning, this child wants to eat. He wastes no time. He is famished. I just got up thirty minutes ago and finished making John lunch and seeing him off to work, and would love nothing more than to make a pot of coffee and sit down on the couch wrapped in blankets and books. However, I suppose as a mother my job is to feed my hungry kid, so right away, I pour him a glass of water and get to making some Cream of Wheat. Fifteen minutes later, he has gobbled it down in its entirety.

As soon as he is done eating, he announces, "I want to go make a train track. Can I bring ALL the pieces in the living room and make one in here?" I tell him no, there are too many pieces and it would make a big mess, but his room is all clean so he has plenty of room to make one in there (I literally just finished cleaning his room last night after I let life happen to it for over a week. It was one of those things where it was messy and we had a few really busy days with no time to clean it up, so I kept putting it off until it got so bad that not a single toy was in its proper place and they had all practically been dumped and strewn around the room. It took me an hour to clean the whole room, and put every single toy piece back with its mate, back in its box, back in its place. I digress.)

Again, all I want to do is grab a cup of coffee and continue my "waking up process," since apparently it takes me about three hours, but I can see that going to his room with him to build a train track should promise me at least thirty quiet minutes after, with him in his room and I on the couch with my coffee. So I trudge to his room and set up a pretty cool track, one that he should love and appreciate. As soon as it is complete (I took it apart and started over at least once), he decides that he doesn't want to play train tracks after all, he wants to be in the living room with me.

"Okay," I sigh. "You may be in the living room with me, but I want my quiet time. You have to be quiet."

"Okay!" He yells. Everything that comes out of his mouth is a yell. I less-than-gently remind him that I'm right here and he doesn't have to yell, especially because his sister is still sleeping, praise the sweet Lord in heaven.

We make our way to the living room. My cup of coffee that I poured in-between Cream of Wheat and train tracks is cold. I sit in my spot beneath the lamp in the corner, coffee to my left on the table, laptop on lap, blankets in place. All is silent. Until River comes in with a book in hand, and begins situating himself on the couch next to me, while audibly explaining everything he is going. "Alright. I got my book. I'm just going to climb up here, and get under these blankets. Ahh. It is so cold. But these blankets are warm! I love you, Mama. I like being nexta you. Now, let's read. What is this book about? Hmm. The little boy was walking down the road... and then he saw a little tree, and..."

RIVER. Please. I told you, I need quiet.

"Oh sorry, Mama."

The rest of my "quiet time" is spent half-reading, half-listening to a solo game of rock, paper, scissors, answering random, slightly philosophical questions, and giving unenthusiastic responses to things a 3-year-old finds extremely interesting at 7:45 in the morning. That's right, I had almost forgotten a quiet morning is an impossibility for mothers, unless I want to get up at 5am. Which I do not want to do. Because, as I have clearly stated, I am not a morning person.


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