On clearing out the worry and putting on the armor….

Monday morning dawned with to do list overflowing its page and calendar squares bulging til the end of the year and an irritable crankiness settled in like a heavy fog.  And I grumbled against that to do list and these children and how home schooling just takes so.much.time.

And this morning as I sat at His feet and soaked up His word, still battling the irritability and anxiety, I read in Streams,

Do not fret. (Psalm 37:1)

I believe that this verse is as much a divine command as “You shall not steal”.  But what does it mean to fret?  One person once defined it as that which makes a person rough the surface, causing him to rub and wear himself and others away.

And isn’t that what I’ve done all week, what I do every time I allow life to overwhelm and crowd out the most important things?  I become rough on the surface and wear us all away. So I pray about schedules and priorities and how to put first things first and not let the urgent become a tyrant in our lives.  And today is a new day and I choose to trust God with our schedule and our time.

In the early morning dark I also read this quote from Ann,

Life’s not hard because you’re doing anything wrong:  Life is a battle.  Put on your armor.

And it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with schedules and surrendering our time to God, but it gives me strength today as I remember again that this life is not easy, it is a battle, so I should expect hard and I should expect challenges and I need to dress for war every day. But by surrendering my time, my expectations, my schedule to Him, I am freed to fight the battles He brings with both hands, rather than fighting one-handed while clinging fiercely to my own plans with the other.

And as I drove across town this week to get a tooth for a science project, I soaked in the silence but begrudged the trip out in the middle of busy.  But as I drove I talked to God and heard His Spirit whisper in the midst of my unhappy grumbling just give thanks.  Thanks for to do lists that will never be done.  Thanks for kids and projects that send you driving all over town collecting teeth or staying up helping with fundraisers or cleaning rooms you’ve helped clean a thousand times.  Thanks for the opportunity to die to myself and my own plans and to serve Christ by serving others, primarily my family.  And thanks for all the gifts He daily gives….

2154.  perfect fall days

2155.  a tour of the local fruit farm

2156.  apple cider slush

2157.  apple cider donuts

2158.  making happy memories

2159.  a pantry re-stocked

2160.  a couple of days off school

2161.  resting, relaxing, slowing where we can

2162.  thirteen miles run

2163.  a long, slow Saturday

2164.  laughing all evening long with old friends

2165.  seeing others give so generously to help the oldest go to Haiti

2166.  warm furnace turned on

2167.  girls in jammies all Saturday long

2168.  the Sunday crazy train and all it teaches me about grace and giving it abundantly

2169.  an honest, insightful letter from a daughter who struggles to find her place

2170.  a Spirit reminder to just say “thanks”

2171.  grocery day

2172.  fall riding in on a cool north wind

2173.  new shoes.  again

2174.  yummy new recipes and happily feeding my family

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I continue in my 31 days of prayer and I lift up prayers for a changed heart and eyes opened and a mind stayed on the truth of His Word.  I lift up prayers to continue to rest from the fretting and the wearing down of those around me and to daily put on my armor and die to myself and my plans.  And I lift up prayers that you would each know the realness of His presence in your life this week.

For His Glory ~

~ Sara

Getting Things Done….

We all have chores to do and we have struggled all year to find a workable system for this season of life.  Early this year I implemented a card and clothes pin system that works pretty well.  However, the clothes pins hang on the side of the fridge, the side that guests see as soon as they walk into the house.  And while the clothes pins look nice when I line them up, they quickly become a mess as the girls take them on and off the side of the fridge to see what they have to do.  Considering that I hate having stuff hanging on my fridge in the first place, this was making me nutty.

January 26, 2012New chore system implemented and successful!

(The old system – cards clipped to a clothes pin for each child.  Looked cute, but got messy quick.)

This weekend, I tweaked the system, and came up with something that I really like and it looks nice on the side of my fridge.  Win win!

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The cast of characters – empty check boxes, packing tape, Sharpie, ruler, utility knife, cute scrapbook paper, strong magnets.

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Step 1:  Draw a straight line around the middle of your empty check box.  The simplest way would be to draw one straight line around the middle.  However, I made an error in my first set of boxes and didn’t realize it until they were finished.  Because I’m picky like this, I couldn’t stand the idea of the boxes not all being the same size.  Thus, my need to make two lines around each box.

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Step Two:  Using your utility knife, cut each box along the line you drew.  Tape down all edges with packing tape to secure.

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Step Three:  Wrap boxes with pretty paper, just like a present.  Secure edges of paper with packing tape.

Step Four:  Using strong, quick-drying craft glue, adhere magnets to the back of each box.  Allow to dry thoroughly before using.

Step Five:  Fill with chore cards and watch your children take responsibility for their own tasks.

A word on the chore cards themselves:

January 26, 2012New chore system implemented and successful!

To make the cards I went around the house looking for jobs the girls can do or need to do.  Some jobs they are compensated for monetarily and it is noted on the card (see photo).  Others they do simply because they live here and are responsible for those things.  Those cards do not have a monetary amount on them.

I made the cards in Word using Avery Label size 5264 and printed them on purple paper that I had leftover from something else with gridlines showing and cut along those lines.  I then did a poor-man’s laminating job by coating each one with packing tape.  I have since purchased a small laminator for the house.  Clearly, that would be a faster and cleaner option if you have one available!

I love these little boxes and I don’t cringe any more when I see the side of my fridge.  🙂

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How do you keep chores organized at your house?

For His Glory ~

~ Sara

Time and Balance Tuesday – Five Reasons I Love My Smart Phone

Well, I think I promised this post a few weeks back, but October has been dubbed “the month that got away”, so here we go trying to start again.

Late this last summer, I traded in my Blackberry for a gently used iPhone and my Mac product brainwashing was complete.  I’m a big fan of my phone.  I have found several apps that have simplified my life and allowed me – an avowed “paper person” – to go virtually paperless.  Here are some of my favorite apps; maybe they will help you too:

  • iCal – if you have an iPhone, this is obviously not an app you have to go out and download, it comes with the phone.  I have found it to be so easy to use that, like I said above, I have completely eliminated the paper planner that has been a part of my life since 9th grade. (<—– NERD!)
  • Seize the Day – once I realized I could go paperless with my calendar, I wanted to find a task list for my phone to see if I could go paperless there too.  I found Seize the Day, a free app that works really well and clicking the check box when I finish something is almost as much fun as crossing it off on paper.  And rescheduling is much better than rewriting several items to the next day on paper.  Two thumbs up.
  • Calengoo – since I spent a fair amount of time creating a workable school schedule for us this year, with actual times for actual classes, I wanted to find a program that would alert me when it was time for someone to move on to the next class without me constantly referring to a spreadsheet at the back of my clipboard.  Calengoo will do exactly that.  One could also put their daily calendar and task lists on this app as well, but I don’t want my personal calendar cluttered with school stuff and I don’t want our school calendar cluttered with our personal stuff and my to do list, so I have opted to use this app exclusively for school.  Again, two thumbs up.
  • iPeriod Free – this one is just for the ladies….the name pretty well sums up what you’re going to do with this app.  I’ve had this app on my iPad for over a year and now it’s on my phone.  Very easy to use and accurate.  You can chart your cycles up to a year ahead, which can be helpful if you’re planning a get away or just want to know what to expect when.
  • Local library app – this one is just for folks where live here locally….with this handy little app I can now easily check the library catalog for a book or author we are interested in and reserve the book from my phone.  Even better, I can check what books are due when without entering that ridiculously long card number on the website and renew them if necessary.  Hopefully this will help with our occasional run-ins with the overdue fees.

There you go – my five favorite apps for the iPhone.  How do you use technology to simplify your life?

For His Glory ~

~ Sara

The Back to School Post (After Everyone’s Already Gone Back to School)

*I’m going to do a short “Time and Balance” series on productivity.  I’m starting with our back to school planning just as a jumping off point.  I know everyone is already back in the groove, but maybe this will be helpful to someone down the road.

So a while back I had a few people ask me what it looks like around here as we go back to school.  Well, we’re six weeks into the semester and I’m finally getting around to writing this process down.  I am not an expert at this and there are countless women who are far more experienced and gifted in some of these things than I am.  Also, I’m typing this while under the influence of a serious ragweed allergy and feel like I just downed about half a bottle of Nyquil (even though I haven’t had any), so take this with for what it’s worth.  🙂

Our “back to school” process truly begins early in the second semester of the previous year.  As we work our way through the year, I see things that aren’t working, or need to change or be improved upon or added in or whatever, and so I start my list of curriculum or skills or activities for the coming year.  Some years I will go to a home school conference to look at curricula and get ideas, other years it’s just more cost-effective to order on-line all that I need.  I typically like to have everything in hand by early July.

This year, at the end of July, the three older girls were all participating in an all-day day camp.  So, in an effort to help Ellie have a more fun week without her sisters and provide myself time to do some data-entry, I farmed her out two of the days (one day with each grandmother) and hunkered down with the girls’ school books and my laptop and entered all of our assignments for the year in Home School Tracker.  Typically I would encourage someone to only enter a couple of weeks, or maybe a month, to make sure what you are doing is going to work.  I was pretty confident, though, about what we were using and how I wanted to break it down throughout the year, so I went ahead and did it all.  Also, I knew I wouldn’t get those two full days again and I wanted to use them for all they were worth.

We started school on August 2.  I almost always start back to school after any kind of extended break on a Tuesday.  I do this because I have found that Mondays are naturally hard anyway, what with catching up from the weekend and everyone typically being tired.  Also, it’s nice, that first week back, to have it be a short week.  Starting the school year on a Tuesday works really well for us.

Each of the girls has a clipboard on which she keeps her assignment chart and a copy of our daily schedule.  The schedule was new this year.  I’ve tried a systematic schedule before but have never been able to make one work.  But, with the girls being older this year and knowing that a couple of them need real help staying on task, I spent a considerable amount of time creating one and then continually revising it until about two weeks ago when I think we finally came up with one that works.

I also have a clipboard with another copy of all of their assignment charts for the week.  (These charts are printed directly out of HST.)  Yes, we go through a lot of paper and I should probably be recycling it.  Someday.  On my chart, I keep track of points on graded work and mark off what has been completed.  At the end of the week, I go in to HST and enter points earned, mark work completed, make necessary changes to the schedule, and then print out the assignment calendar for the next week.  I will typically spend an hour and a half or so over the weekend updating HST, typing out questions for Grace’s work, and copying tests and non-consumable pages, but then I’m good for the week.

That’s kind of the nuts and bolts of my back to school and weekly planning.  Soon I’ll post on what we’re using this year.

~  Sara

Trusting All Our Time to Him

On Friday we will be a month into school and I try to implement schedules and structure and in keeping with the laws of the universe, that which is in order presses hard into chaos.  I try to contain it all, fit all the necessary into the moments we have and the moments never seem to be enough.

And in a gift Ann writes words that speak from my screen; words that reach somewhere deep and touch my heart.  She writes,

“What if I woke to now and refused to hurry because I didn’t want to refuse God?  What if I didn’t discount this moment, but counted it for what it is – God here?

It is only the present moment alone that holds the possibility of coming into the presence of God.  Look around, breathe deep, enter into this one moment – now could be an altar.  This time could be a tabernacle.”

And I breathe deep.  This time, this day, it is not mine.  It belongs to Him, the One who gives all things and gives only good gifts.  And His plan for my day may not be my own and I have to learn to see the interruptions of each day as the Savior saw them, not as obstacles but as opportunities.  Opportunities to show love, live grace, extend kindness.  And it’s always easier said than done because we live in a world driven by schedules and deadlines and to do lists.

So as I leave to go out on the second trip for something that should have been done in one and as I look at our list again and see how some things are suffering because there aren’t enough moments in each day and say again this moment is an altar, time is a tabernacle and give it over to the One who made time and orders my days and has a plan for all things.

And as we enter into a new day, a day fresh with opportunities but already running not-quite-on-time, I lay myself down.  I lay down the idol of my schedule and my pride in being productive and offer it all back to Him and trust Him that what matters will be done and He knows my heart and how He made me and what is important.  And I trust Him to give good gifts even in this.  For it is all He can do.


If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! ~ Matthew 7:11

~ Sara

Time and Balance – Keeping Our Eyes on Him

As we wind down into Christmas, I hope that you are exercising balance and finding time for those that you love most.  Today will be our last day of school and I know that I am looking forward to spending some time with the girls, baking Christmas treats, reading cherished Christmas stories, and watching favorite movies.

I pray that we will all be able to sift through our “to do’s” and postpone any that are not essential.  Let this week leading into Christmas be one filled with making memories and focusing on the Savior.

Time and Balance Tuesday – My Favorite Hour of the Day

 

I love to read.  And our curriculum is heavy on literature, so the girls need a lot of time to read as well.  Fortunately, they all like to read, so that helps.  In spite of our universal affinity for reading, I found we were still having a hard time fitting all the reading in to each day, and I certainly didn’t have any spare time to read for pleasure!  That is, until I discovered what has become my favorite hour of the day.

After lunch, I grab my heating pad, a glass of water, and a timer.  We all grab whatever book we’re working through and blankets, and we settle in on the couches.  I set the timer for thirty minutes and everyone reads quietly.  Bliss, I tell you! Pure bliss!  😉  After that thirty minutes, I will then read to them a chapter from a read-aloud book, which typically takes another thirty minutes.  This change in our school routine has been a huge blessing.  We aren’t able to do it every day, but if we go too long without it I get that dry, desperate feeling, similar to missing my quiet times for too long.

This hour has replaced “rest time”, which never was very restful anyway once all the kids gave up naps.  I spent most of that time brooding because I could hear them all upstairs not resting. This way, my ears get an hour of quiet and we all get to do something we enjoy together.

What about you?  Have you found a creative way to fit something you enjoy into your daily/weekly schedule?  Feel free to share in the comments section!

Have a wonderful Tuesday, friends!

~ Sara

Time and Balance – Grace

Over the past several weeks we have covered many topics – getting our priorities in line, starting with the first things first, delegating, doing in bulk, multi-tasking, and many others.  If you’re new here, feel free to click the Time and Balance Tuesday tab on the right to see all the posts.  Today is the last “official” post in this series.  The theme today is give yourself grace.

Here’s the deal:  you’re going to fail.  Yup.  I said it.  In the six weeks or so that I’ve been doing this series, I have missed a Tuesday post because I ran out of time.  I have gone to bed with too many things undone.  I have lacked grace and patience with those I love most, particularly my children.  And then there’s this week, when I have front-loaded the week so heavily in hope of relaxing and enjoying the weekend, that I know I’ve been a bear to live with.  😦  We all fail.

But then there’s grace.  It doesn’t give me license to fail, but it does offer me new mercies in the morning.  It gives me hugs from a four year old and tender cards from a seven year old.  It shows me a ten year old who pitches in without being asked and an eight year old who tells me something to make me smile.  Grace – unrelenting, unyielding, unashamed grace.

I’m not perfect.  You’re not perfect.  Only Christ is perfect.  Let us follow hard after Him and trust Him for the means and the ends of each day.

I’ve enjoyed this series.  I hope you have too!  I think I will continue it as I am able, and hopefully you all will be willing to participate through the comments.

By His Grace ~

~ Sara

Time and Balance Tuesday – Get Up

 

We’ve discussed a lot of things over the past several weeks that can be implemented to help find that balance among all the responsibilities that we bear as women.  Today’s suggestion will be one that either already comes easily to you or one that you won’t want to hear….

Get out of bed

I am not, let me repeat NOT, a morning person.  My natural tendency is to stay up late and sleep late.  This worked well the first few years of motherhood.  But as we began to journey of home schooling I have learned that we really need to get an earlier start on our day to be truly productive.  Starting at 10 just wasn’t going to cut it over the long term.  I also learned that if I will, at a minimum, get up twenty or thirty minutes before I expect my children up I can read my Bible, have a cup of coffee, and begin to prepare my heart and mind for the little people that are very soon going to be bounding down the stairs.

Over the past twelve months, I have come to appreciate just how much I can accomplish if I get up early.  I have been able to fit my running in without cutting into school or family time later in the day.  On days I don’t run, I can do school prep and other computer work that must be done in the course of life but steals my attention away from my family and my home.  I can even get a couple of hours of ironing done and watch whatever I want on television in the process.  🙂

The trade off for getting up early is the need to also go to bed earlier.  I can’t stay up until 11 or 12 night after night and get up at 5 day after day and function well for more than about, oh, 24 hours.  Part of growing up for me has been learning to go to bed at a decent time.  Sometimes this means I am going to bed at the same time as the ten-year-old.  But it’s the only way I’ve found to make it all work.

A daily schedule is a highly personalized thing.  The key is figuring out what works best for you and and your family.  You may not need to get up at 5 to accomplish all of your tasks, but I will challenge you – if you feel like you’re having a hard time fitting everything in each day – to consider getting up earlier for one week and see what a difference it makes.  Yes, you will be tired.  Go to bed earlier as well.  Or have another cup of coffee.  But try it for one week and see if you don’t get more done in your day.  And if you do, I challenge you to stick with it.  It took almost a year of regularly getting up early to make it a natural habit for me.  Now I find it difficult to sleep past seven (which used to be considered early), even on Saturday’s.  I also find that consistently getting up early is easier than trying to get up early some days and sleeping in others.  Getting up at approximately the same time every day is easier on both mind and body.

Getting up isn’t about a particular time on the clock.  It’s about knowing what time you need to get up to start your day and then actually getting out of bed at that time.

I’d love to hear how this goes for you if you decide to give it a try!  Here’s to a productive week for us all!

~ Sara

Time and Balance Tuesday – Do in Bulk and Multitask

A week or two ago I was late on my Time and Balance post because I was practicing what I am going to share on today.  I had recently cleaned out our pantry and I was tired of looking at the sad, empty shelves, so I restocked.  The extra time to plan that shopping trip and get all those groceries ate into my writing time, but it was worth it!  It’s so satisfying now to go downstairs and see those shelves full of staples, ready to be used this winter when the weather is cold and going to the grocery store sounds like an even bigger chore than normal!

So, today let’s talk about doing things in bulk and multitasking some of our chores and activities!

Do Things In Bulk

Whether it is meal planning, schedule arranging, or emailing, with many things in life, it often only takes a few moments of extra time to accomplish twice as much work.  As much and as often as I am able, I like to do things in bulk.

Each week, I make a menu and grocery shop with a list.  I try to run errands only once a week.  When you have to take children along, this can be challenging, as you all wear out very quickly.  I will go on two separate days if necessary, but I desperately try to avoid running errands every day.  I have learned from personal experience this is not only taxing on the schedule and sense of peace and order in the home, it’s also taxing on the budget.  It makes sense:  the more often I go out, the more money I am likely to spend on incidentals like coffees or cokes or fast food or treats for the kids.  And then there’s the time spent:  just a quick trip to the nearest grocery store will require me to spend a minimum of ten minutes in the car doing nothing but driving or waiting.  And I live in town.  Very close to a grocery store.  For those that live farther away, the “empty time” is even greater.

As mentioned at the beginning of the post, I like to keep a well-stocked pantry.   This is helpful for a number of reasons.  If I come to a week that is just too busy, a well-stocked pantry will buy me a couple of extra days before I have to go to the grocery store.  When the weather is bad, a well-stocked pantry is a huge blessing.  There were many snowy nights last winter that I was so thankful to be able to just walk downstairs and grab soup ingredients off my shelf, even though I was over-due to hit the grocery store.  Also, a well-stocked pantry will prevent those frantic runs out at dinnertime when I realize I forgot to pick up a can of chicken broth or cream of mushroom soup.

A well-stocked freezer is equally beneficial, be it stocked with meats and frozen veggies or stocked with meals.  Freezer meals are a great way to save time and money in the long run.  There are many websites and cookbooks available to get a person started, and during the busy seasons of life, freezer meals have been indispensable to me.  They save us from hitting the drive-thru too often and they save me the stress of having to make dinner at 7 at night.

A great way to do freezer meals, or at least to get started, is to be in a freezer meal group.  I’ve done this a couple of times, with a group of usually four ladies together.  We would make quadruple batches of two dishes, keep one of each for myself and then share the others.  There are some issues with this – I know we found out that we are far pickier eaters than we thought we were.  And so many children have food allergies today, it can get tricky making it work.  But it’s worth a shot if you have some ladies with similar sized families and you want to give it a try!

One of my favorite ways to get meals into the freezer is to simply make double (or triple) of a freezer-friendly dish and before I even serve my family I put half of it in the freezer.  Before you know it, you’ve got a nicely stocked freezer for when you need it.

Computer work is another great thing to do in bulk.  Whether it be searching for various information, blogging, or emailing, I find I am likely to spend roughly the same amount of time to sit down to do one thing as I am to do a dozen by the time I get distracted by things like Facebook and reading other blogs.  I get email on my phone, so I am able to read and respond to important ones quickly, but if you’re like me, most of your email is junk that just needs to be deleted or it is non-urgent and can wait until a set aside time to be replied to.

Multi-tasking

Whenever possible, I like to do multiple things at once.  There are countless examples of this – listen to books on tape while driving (not practical if you have children in the car, unless you like to listen to children’s books, but still a good idea), run errands while your kids are at their activities (don’t just sit there for that hour and a half – knock out a short errand or zip through the grocery store!), take a date night with your spouse while the kids are at an activity such as Awana or other club type events, and many more that I’m sure you can think of.

I also like to combine exercise with time with friends.  I have maintained two running partners over the past year.  This has encouraged me to get out and get the exercise I need while providing thirty minutes to an hour of free “therapy” two to three times a week.  I have kept (somewhat) in shape and deepened friendships that are very important to me at the same time.

As I mentioned previously, I make schedules and lists for many things.  I plan out our school year in most of one sitting.  I sit down once a week to make any necessary adjustments to that schedule, but the bulk of my planning was done in July.  I typically sit down on Saturday or Sunday afternoon to plan out our week in the home (I often do this while I wait for Emma at riding lessons on Saturday mornings) – whether that’s appointments, or chores, or errands, I list them all out in my planner and try to make a manageable schedule for the week, remembering to leave room to flex and bend, knowing that life will not happen just the way I put it on paper.

We all have limited time, but we also all have the same number of hours in a day.  I know there are many ways that I can do a better job of making the most of each one.  There are most certainly times for rest, but in our current media-saturated culture, it is easy to lose a lot of time and not even realize it.  I think we must guard against the things that will steal away our time and redeem it for His glory.

What about you?  What tips do you have for making the most of the moments and using them wisely?

Now go on – get off your computer and go do something with your day!  😉

For His Glory ~

~ Sara