Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Life is Harder Than Yours

I heard about Gwyneth's comments and I couldn't help but chuckle to myself.

In case you somehow missed it, actress-and-mother Gwyneth Paltrow recently sent moms all over the country into an absolute tizzy with some offhand remarks she made in an interview with an online magazine.  I refuse to link to any of the entertainment sites that have covered the story, (those sites always leave me feeling like I need a good shower,) but I will share a portion of her statements with you here:

"I think it's different when you have an office job, because it's routine and, you know, you can do all the stuff in the morning and then you come home in the evening.  When you're shooting a movie, they're like, 'We need you to go to Wisconsin for two weeks,' and then you work 14 hours a day and that part of it is very difficult. I think to have a regular job and be a mom is not as, of course there are challenges, but it's not like being on set."

Okay, first of all I have to wonder how she could possibly be so out of touch as to not realize that was going to offend people.  Gwyneth will make more money off one endorsement deal than most working moms will make in their entire lifetimes.  She regularly works, travels, eats, and sleeps in complete luxury and never has to fear how she'll pay her bills or how her children will be provided for.

And if she considers "regular" working moms so fortunate, I shudder to think how cushy she must think we stay-at-home moms have it.  After all, we get to sleep all day, read, scour Pinterest, or go shopping any time we like.  (Well, except that we don't.)  We can hold our adorable kiddos whenever we feel like it and then hand them off to a well-paid nanny whenever we don't.  (I'm thankful I usually can hold my children any time I want, but handing them off when I'm sick or need a nap or just want to clean the house?  Nope.  Doesn't happen.)  And letting someone else cook for us when we'd rather not cook for ourselves, (sorry...can't afford it,) and paying someone else to clean up our messes.  (Can't afford that either.)

Bless her heart.  She has no clue.

But I didn't set out to pick on poor Gwyneth.  Really.  I've never seen one of her movies, but maybe she's very talented and maybe she's a very nice person in real life.

What really struck me about this story is that, honestly, I'm not so sure most of us moms are really so different from Gwyneth in our thinking.

We ALL think our lives are the hardest.  Don't we?  Another mom starts complaining about her circumstances or venting about her rotten day or offering excuses why she couldn't do this or that and for no good reason something begins to rise within us, some strange and unnecessary sense of self-vindication that leaves us rehearsing in our minds, if not out-loud, all the things that make OUR lives harder than theirs.

What is she complaining about?  She only has ONE child!  She ought to try handling FIVE! 
At least her kids are old enough to help her!  I have three helpless little people pulling on me all day long! 
She gets to stay home with her kids!  I have to work every day! 
She works!  I'm stuck at home all day! 
She thinks she's stressed now?  She ought to try homeschooling! 
She gets to homeschool!  I feel like I'm spending my life shuttling people around in our minivan! 
Her husband has an awesome job!  She had no idea what it's like to have financial problems! 
At least her husband is home from time to time!  Mine works so much I feel like a single mom!
Her house is twice the size of mine!  What I wouldn't give for that kind of space! 
Her house is half the size of mine!  What I wouldn't give to have less space to clean! 
She doesn't know what it's like to have a special needs child! 
She doesn't have the added pressure of caring for an aging parent! 
She doesn't know what it's like to struggle with an illness!

And on and on it goes.

I'm not sure why we feel so compelled to play the my-life-is-harder-than-yours game.  Sometimes I think we're just so insecure in ourselves and our feeble efforts as wives and moms and Christians that the natural reaction is to make self-righteous, self-absorbed, completely pointless comparisons in an effort to justify ourselves, even when any kind of self-justification is both unnecessary and inhibiting to our own personal growth.  In a twisted sort of way critiquing and criticizing others makes us feel better about who we are and what we do and if we even suspect someone thinks their life is uniquely difficult, we must be quick to set the record straight.

No one has it harder than we have it.

Except that that isn't true.  Several years ago someone told me a few things about a woman I'd known for some time.  But obviously I didn't know her well.  Come to find out, her past had been absolutely steeped in tragedy and loss and hardship.  She had endured suffering on a rare and awful scale and I had never known anything about it.  She was always smiling, always pleasant, always kind.

And I wondered, have I ever complained to her?  Have I ever griped about being overwhelmed as a mom?  Have I ever fussed to her about the stress of my responsibilities or the weight of my obligations?  If so, she had never responded with anything less than the deepest understanding and the kindest words.

Oh, that I could be like that! 

Truth is, none of us know all the things other wives and mothers face.  Maybe their lives are harder than ours.  Maybe their circumstances are more of a challenge.

But it doesn't matter.

These words of the apostle Paul come to mind:

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. --Philippians 2: 3-4

It's not about what I face that you don't have to.  It's not about the struggles I have that you don't.  We all deal with unique circumstances and we all have our successes and failures.  And while the tendency to defend ourselves and to find ways to justify our shortcomings is natural, it does NOTHING to help us be better wives and moms and it certainly doesn't extend to others the kind of caring and compassion we are commanded in scripture, again to again, to share.

          Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one           another.  --Romans 12:10

Sometimes my life is hard.  Sometimes yours is, too.  I know I need to be a better Christian and wife and mom.  You would probably say the same about yourself.  We're really not so different.  Our lives really aren't so far apart.

And it would do us all good to pray more.  To quit making excuses.  To make better choices.  To be more understanding toward others.

And to quit obsessing over what makes our life harder than anybody else's.


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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Little Tips for BIG SAVINGS on Family Vacations

The spring break/summer vacation season is upon us and it's time to think about a FAMILY VACATION!

Or maybe not.

For so many families, this is only a time to dream of a family vacation; to stare longingly at an ad for the ultimate Disney World vacation or to sigh and groan while flipping through 114 photos an old friend has posted of their family cruise to the Bahamas.

Oh, if only...

Vacationing becomes very costly very quickly and for many families, a getaway of any kind can seem like an absolute impossibility.  But I truly believe family time away from the routine and responsibilities of home will not only refresh the entire family, but do much to strengthen the family unit.  For that reason, if for no other, I think family vacations are important.

Of course, I can't pretend to know everything about your financial situation, your job, your health, or your other life circumstances.  Maybe a family vacation really isn't a possibility for you right now, but that doesn't mean it can't be in the future!

Just for perspective, we're a one-income family.  We don't have a lot of money for extravagances like vacations.  And yet we have found we can take little trips with our kids.  Maybe we can't do it every year and maybe the trips we take aren't our dream vacations, but that doesn't mean we can't spend special, quality time together as a family.

So may I offer a few simple tips for making a family vacation more affordable for your family?

  • Plan for the vacation you can have instead of bemoaning the one you can't.  

I would hate to think I wasted so much time longing for something beyond my reach that I missed out on the things totally within my grasp!

Listen, I have my own idea of the perfect family vacation and if it happens for us sometime in the future, I will be delighted!  But I've decided I would rather focus my time and attention and savings on trips that are very doable, not on the ones that may or may not ever happen.  Granted, it's possible if I wait 10 years I might save enough for the dream vacation, but then 10 years will have passed without me ever taking time away with my kids.  Sorry, but kids grow up too quickly for that kind of thinking!  Honestly, isn't it better to have smaller, simpler getaways more often than to scrimp and save and stress for ONE lone, extravagant vacation that may or may not mean more to my kids than a weekend camping trip?

Cumberland Falls -- Beautiful.  In-state.  And FREE!  My kids probably talk more about this 3-day trip than any we've ever taken.

Consider what kind of vacation is realistic for your family.  Maybe you can't spend two weeks in Destin, but you could spend a few days at a local lake.  Maybe you can't afford a full week in the Colorado rockies, but you could afford a weekend in the Ozarks.  Both can provide a wonderful memory-making experience for your family.  Both can be refreshing and relaxing.

Even what has come to be known as the "stay-cation", staying at home while visiting local attractions, can be very rejuvenating, so long as you're willing to set aside the regular routines in order to relax and enjoy one another, just like you would do on a vacation away from home.  Refuse the temptation to obsess over housework or other chores and spend every day of your stay-cation relaxing or seeing the sites with family.

  • Focus on quality, not on quantity.

It would be nice if we could choose to return from our vacations only when we were ready to return, but I think it's safe to say that for most of us, limited days off from work or financial constraints make that sort of thing impossible.  But a vacation really doesn't have to last two weeks or more to be refreshing and fun-filled.

One of the best vacations we ever took as a family was an in-state trip that lasted a mere 3 days!  My kids STILL tell stories about that weekend and beg to revisit the places we went.  We enjoyed ourselves so much and crammed a lot of fun and memory-making into that 3 days.

So don't underestimate the power of a short getaway!  Do what you can to make those days special for your family, no matter how many or how few of them you have.

The Dairy Barn: an old-fashioned, mom-and-pop burger and ice cream joint we discovered on our way to ride the Big South Fork Scenic Railway, another one of those in-state gems we've learned about through a little research.

  • If possible, travel during the off-season.

People usually choose to travel in the summer because the weather is warm and wonderful and the kids are out of school, but keep in mind summer is generally the most expensive time to travel.  Gasoline and hotel prices are usually at their peak, though, depending on your planned destination, sometimes travelling at the height of autumn color or around Christmastime can be very pricey as well.

What is considered peak tourist season in the area you plan to visit?  Are you willing and able to travel before or afterwards?

Regardless where you plan to visit, keep in mind January is almost always the least expensive month for a vacation.  Cold weather and the after-Christmas money crunch make January a less-than-desirable vacation time for many families, but airlines, hotels, attractions, and even restaurants will often slash prices to attract customers during this slow month.  If you can take advantage of the savings, it can definitely pay off to do so!

  • Tie a vacation onto other travel plans.

So you're planning to travel to attend a graduation in May or a wedding in August.  Might it be possible to tag a few vacation days onto the trip?  Could you make a swing through a nearby city or attraction and spend some time there with your family?

I have some friends who just recently tagged a family vacation onto their visit to a homeschooling convention.  We just did the same before visiting a conference.  Several times when my husband has ministered away from home we've used the opportunity to do something together as a family, like when we visited the Creation Museum.  Thinking ahead this way can provide some great family vacation opportunities.

You're going to be travelling away from home anyway.  If you have some time and a little extra cash, why not turn your travel into something more?

  • Learn all you can about your destination.

It takes time and WORK, but this is the absolute BEST advice I can give for making a vacation happen for your family:  RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH!

Read about the area you're planning to visit.  Learn about local events and attractions.  Carefully explore your options for accommodations.  Yes, doing so can be incredibly time-consuming, but it can also save you a great deal of money!

You've heard the advertisements for all the online travel sites, so I'm not going to list those here.  But whether you're searching for cheap hotel rooms, rental cars, or airline tickets, carefully compare prices and never assume the price offered by any of these sites is the cheapest.  Several times I've contacted hotels directly and got a cheaper rate than I could find online.  And just recently we were able to get a cheap rental car from a small local company that wasn't listed with any of the big travel sites.

And when it comes to finding lodging, be sure to check out one of my favorite sitesVacation Rentals By Owner.  VRBO offers literally thousands of vacation rental properties in places all over the United States...houses, cabins, condos, houseboats, apartments...often at far better prices than you'll find through rental agencies because you're dealing with the owners directly.  My husband and I just recently rented a 2-bedroom, 2-bath cabin with more than adequate room for our family of 6 for the same price as a hotel room, but with lots of privacy and added amenities like a game room and a hot tub, in addition to a full kitchen.

Access to a kitchen can provide huge savings all by itself, but I'll get to that in a minute...

Look for discounts on attraction and event tickets, keeping in mind that the internet does NOT always offer the best price and sometimes includes added processing fees.  Check to see if there are combination tickets available if you're planning to visit more than one attraction.  Remember that some attractions offer family passes and others offer discounts on particular days of the week or after certain times of the day.

Visit local visitors' centers or tourism commissions for coupons on hotels, attractions, and restaurants.  And don't forget to take advantage of AAA discounts to all of these if you're a member.

My recent view over morning coffee.  Not traveling at peak season saved us a bundle on our cabin.  Scouring VRBO saved us even more!

  • Think ahead to save on meals.

Use those visitors' center coupons I just mentioned!  Often they can provide a considerable savings and sometimes also introduce you to local, family-owned restaurants you may never have discovered otherwise.

If your kids are breakfast-eaters, a hotel that offers a free continental breakfast can save some considerable cash.  And don't be afraid to inquire exactly what the hotel means by "continental" or "complimentary" breakfast.  For some it may mean a box of doughnuts; for others, it means a large bar offering hot breakfast foods.  My boys are true breakfast lovers, so a lousy or non-existent continental breakfast is usually a deal-breaker for us!

There are scores of websites that offer information about kids eat free days and nights at various family restaurants.  Catching the deals on the right nights can save quite a bit.  Be sure to call ahead, however, since this information can vary from city to city and in certain tourist areas may not be applicable at all.  

Remember that in most sit-down restaurants, lunch is cheaper than dinner, often for an equal amount of food.  It may be wisest to eat your largest meal of the day at lunch and then snack or do fast food in the evenings.  Of if you're blessed with a fridge and microwave in your hotel room, you may also be able to feast on leftovers!

Consider cooking.  Maybe you're like me and look forward to a vacation so you don't have to cook every night, but doing so, even part of the time, can add up to BIG savings when you travel.  That's part of why I love VRBO!  Most of their rental properties offer full kitchens stocked with cookware and dishes, so you always have the option of cooking meals rather than eating out.  Since food is often one of the largest travel expenses, that can save you a bundle!

I even remember my mom packing the crock-pot along on some of our vacations when I was a kid.  She would fill it in the morning before we left to sight-see and supper would be ready by the time we got back.  When I was a kid, I thought everybody traveled with a crock-pot in tow!  ;)

  • Seek out FREE activities and attractions.

There's some truth to the old saying, "The best things in life are free!"

Fun doesn't have to come with a huge price tag.  Some of the most enjoyable things we've ever done together as a family cost us absolutely nothing.  Take advantage of free national, state, and city parks for camping, hiking, biking, fishing, etc.  Inquire about free museums, historical homes, cemeteries, or battlefields you might like to visit or even free local factory tours you might be interested to take.  Find out about local festivals, arts and crafts fairs, music venues, or flea markets that offer free admittance.

We recently spent a day in lovely Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  We packed along a cooler and stopped along the scenic drive for a picnic.  It was one of my favorite things from our trip.  And aside from some gasoline and the cost of the picnic food, it was FREE.  

  • Pray about it.


I believe God cares about the things we care about.  Now that's not to say He thinks I need the 3-week trip to England I've been dreaming of, but it does mean He knows when I'm longing to bless my family with a few days away and He cares that I'm trying to be frugal about it.

I also believe God rewards our mindfulness of Him.  I can't tell you the times I've prayed about finding a cheap hotel room or asked for God's guidance in where to stay and when and then been blessed in my effort.  No, that doesn't mean God drops 5-star hotel rooms in my lap, but on several occasions I think He has helped me make wiser decisions and helped stretch our dollars in ways that didn't seem possible on paper.

Call me crazy if you want, but I can even offer a little testimony here!  I had scoured through SCORES of cabins online in search of one the right size in the right location at the right price.  Nothing seemed to be working out and, discouraged, I finally thought to pray about it.  Afraid there would be nothing available the longer I waited and resigning myself to pay more than I had hoped, I put a call through to make a reservation and literally as I was giving my information to the manager, the dates were blocked by the owner.  I was so disheartened by it!  But would you believe that very night I stumbled across another cabin I had somehow overlooked before, and ended up getting a larger, nicer cabin for well over $100 cheaper for the week than the one I had just tried to reserve?!  Don't tell me God doesn't care about the things that matter to us!


I wish I could dole out vacations to all the weary moms and dads out there who long for a little break and some time with their children.  Unfortunately, I can't.  

But I can give you some hope that, even when you don't have much time to give and you don't have much money to spend, a family vacation may still be possible.  With some patience and some saving and with a few simple tips in mind, a family vacation filled with fun and amazing memories may very well be on the horizon for you!

NOT the cabin we stayed in, mind you.  But my kids would probably have been just as happy here!


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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Southern-Style Two Beans and Rice

When you stumble across a recipe that's a crowd-pleaser, you tend to go back to it again and again.

Which is why this beans and rice dish has a way of making it on the table at virtually every church dinner and family get-together we're a part of!  It's simple and straightforward.  And GOOD!   Seriously, I could probably eat my weight in this stuff.  Though I really try not to do that.  Usually.

And I'd say I get asked for the recipe for this dish more than for anything else I cook.  So it's about time I put it on my blog!  Now I can direct people HERE for the recipe instead of telling them I'll get a copy to them, which I'm notorious for forgetting to do!  (To those of you who have been stiffed for the recipe, I apologize.  Consider this post my way of making amends.)

Southern-Style Two Beans and Rice

1/2 lb. bacon
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
3 tsp. minced fresh garlic
1 bay leaf
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups butterbeans
2 cups red kidney beans
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp Worchestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. hot sauce
1/2 lb. smoked sausage, sliced into coins (optional)
Cooked white or brown rice

Fry the bacon in a Dutch oven until crisp.  Remove, crumble, and set aside.  Drain half the grease and then add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, and bay leaf.  Saute until vegetables are tender.  Stir in tomatoes and cook an additional 3 or 4 minutes.  Add broth and beans and bring to a boil.  Add smoked sausage, if you're using it.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.  Simmer uncovered for 20 more minutes, stirring often.  Stir in parsley and remaining ingredients and cook 10 minutes more.  Cook rice according to package directions.  Discard bay leaf and ladle beans over hot rice.  


My mouth is watering just typing out the recipe!  Let me say here I usually double the recipe to feed our family of 6 and I always have leftovers to freeze for later when I have a hankerin' for some beans and rice.  (Like TONIGHT, I'm thinking now...)

You can use fresh tomatoes rather than canned ones, and keep in mind you can use whatever bean combination suits your fancy!  Butter beans are my favorite in this dish, but I often substitute Great Northern beans instead.  And regular red beans are great if you prefer those to the kidney beans.  But black beans would be great, too!  I usually buy dry beans and cook them in bulk, then divide them into freezer bags in 2-cup portions, which works great for this recipe and for a lot of others that call for canned beans, since 2 cups is pretty close in size to one can.  

The smoked sausage isn't essential to this dish, but it gives it a more Louisiana-style look and taste.  Turkey smoked sausage is actually my favorite.  I love to grill the sausage before adding it.  That's a totally unnecessary step, but it adds some incredible flavor.  

I also love to add to my heartburn by pouring on this stuff...

If you've never tried it, believe me, it is delicious!  I've never been a fan of Tabasco sauce, but the Green Pepper Sauce has a different flavor and a very mild heat.  Something about it is PERFECT for this dish, so I usually pour it on at the table, along with a healthy sprinkling of cracked black pepper.

As simple as this recipe is, it's also pretty versatile, working great as a side dish or a main course.  It's also CHEAP!  And while I love the taste of the bacon and the smoked sausage, they can both be left out to make it a low-fat, low-calorie dish.  Even cutting the amount of bacon in half can cut some calories without cutting flavor.

So make it a beans and rice kind of night and enjoy a simple, but fabulous dinner, southern-style!


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Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Supportive Husband: The Most Valuable Homeschooling Resource

Homeschooling is not a mom-only endeavor.  There are certainly families out there in which Dad is the primary educator, and many more where dads help out from time to time.

But I think it's probably safe to say that in most homeschools, moms are the ones conducting the regular schooling.

Moms do the lesson-planning.  Moms do the teaching.  Moms do the reading, grading, scheduling, curriculum-shopping, and record-keeping.

And yet I still believe the support of a husband is one of the most VITAL parts of a homeschool.

I'm as big a homeschooling advocate as you'll find anywhere.  I believe in homeschooling and I do everything in my power to encourage others in it.

But I will strongly discourage a woman from homeschooling if her husband is against it.  Homeschooling is hard enough without the added weight of a spouse's disapproval, not to mention the fact doing so against a husband's will would run completely contrary to any idea of biblical submission.  Granted, there might be a situation in which a husband is more or less indifferent toward homeschooling rather than directly opposed to it.  If he's accepting of it, even if not exactly supportive of it, then I suppose a mom who wishes to homeschool would just have to make that call on her own.

But what a gift it is to homeschool with the full support and encouragement of a husband!

I just came from the Teach Them Diligently Convention and was pleasantly surprised at the large number of men in attendance with their wives.  I'd say women still outnumbered men by a considerable margin, which only makes sense when you consider that in most homeschooling homes the husband is working so the wife can stay home to educate the children.

But the presence of so many men told me something:  Men may surrender most of the planning and decision-making and instructional time of homeschooling to their wives, but in no way does that mean they are not equally committed to the decision to homeschool and solidly behind the effort in every way.

And that support is an incredible asset to any homeschool, even in one where, on the surface, it may seem the husband is not particularly involved.

  • For our family, without the support of my husband, homeschooling wouldn't be a financially viable option.

  • Without his support, I know I would be overwhelmed with the heavy responsibility of educating our children. 

  • Without my husband's support, those tough days of homeschooling might very well persuade me to give up. 

But though my husband doesn't have much to say when I talk curriculum, (Bless his poor heart:  I can expound on the pluses and minuses of a particular curriculum til the cows come home and he'll stand there and take it.  Quietly, mind you, but he takes it!) and though he's never written a single note in my planner or, thus far at least, administered a single spelling test, I know my husband is as committed to homeschooling as I am.

And I've never been more thankful for that.

If you aren't so blessed, I can only encourage you to make it a matter of prayer.  Notice I didn't say to make it a matter of confrontation or argument or constant nagging, but of prayer.  I've seen God soften the hearts of men who were disinterested or cynical or downright opposed to homeschooling.  And when God does the heart-change, believe me, it will be a deep and lasting change, better than you could ever effect on your own.

And for those of you who have husbands who are supportive in your efforts to homeschool, even if they aren't as active in your kids' education as you would like them to be, be mindful of the tremendous gift you've been given.  Tell your husband you appreciate his support.  And, most of all, remember to say thanks to the God who gave you such an amazing man.

We're blessed, homeschooling moms.  And we should be careful to ensure that our husbands, and the Lord, know how grateful we are for it!


In what ways is your husband an asset to your homeschool?  


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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

5 Reasons You Should Go to a Homeschool Convention

Vendor halls make me happy.
There's no question about it: you can have a happy, fully successful homeschool year without ever attending a homeschooling convention.  You can provide your children with a solid education and be a positive, focused, contented homeschooling mom or dad, all without ever setting one foot into a homeschool convention.

So why am I so adamant in my recommendation that homeschoolers make the effort to attend one?

I can tell you straight up, it isn't because I work for any of them.  Nor do I work for any exhibitor or vendor you might find at a homeschooling convention.  I can't speak to how that could change in the future, but it should be understood I currently have no personal vested interest in anybody attending a homeschool convention.

But I know how my first visit to one impacted me and my homeschool, and how all my visits since continue to encourage and inspire me as a homeschooling mom, and I want other people to experience the same.

Now I'm fortunate enough to live within a few-hour's drive of some amazing state and regional homeschool conventions, but I realize not all of you are so blessed.  For some, attending a convention of any kind will require significant travel and a considerable investment of time and money, and that can be tough for a lot of families.  But I still recommend making the plans and sacrifices necessary to do it, if at all possible.  Some of our dear friends have even scrimped and saved to make it a part of their family vacation this year!

My homeschool convention buddy, Amanda, and I last year at the Teach Them Diligently Convention in Nashville.  The workshop choices are a little overwhelming.

I could give you a list a mile long why I think you should take the time and spend the money to go to a convention this spring, but I'll limit myself to these reasons:

1.  It is so encouraging to see you're not alone on your homeschooling journey.

I have friends who homeschool -- several of them, in fact -- and yet it is still so easy to begin feeling like I'm all alone, or at least that we're all alone -- an incredible minority in a world that so often views us as either superhuman or super-peculiar for our decision to homeschool our kids.

But when you walk into a homeschooling convention and see all these families -- all those other moms and dads from all sorts of backgrounds who have made the same decision for their children, it is so incredibly uplifting. And I can't tell you the times I've been blessed by a conversation with a mom sitting next to me in a workshop or standing beside me at a vendor table who I quickly learned had questions or struggles similar to my own.

2.  You can come away with fresh ideas and much-needed inspiration.

I don't care how long you've been homeschooling or how successful you've been in it, I don't think any homeschooling mom or dad ever reaches the point they couldn't stand to learn a thing or two from someone else.  Sometimes people with other personalities and gifts and experiences can offer suggestions that can be a tremendous help in your homeschool.  I've learned simple things, like helping my son focus by allowing him to stand up while he does his math, and much bigger things, like when and where to seek help for learning disabilities.  And again and again I've heard messages that motivate me and strengthen my resolve to keep up what I'm doing and to do it better than before.

3.  You can learn ways to strengthen your family.

I would think most of us could agree that our homeschools are only as strong as our families.  I've been pleasantly surprised at the number of sessions I've seen at homeschool conventions aimed at strengthening marriages, parent-child bonds, and even sibling relationships.

Maybe you've got it all figured out, but sometimes I need encouragement in these areas.  I need advice for how to be a better wife and mom.  When I improve in these areas, it will inherently affect our homeschool in a positive way.

4.  You can receive spiritual encouragement.

I could write an entire post about the workshop my husband and I once attended about family devotions.  Yes, it offered creative suggestions and ideas for family worship, but I also can't begin to tell you how one of the speaker's object lessons spoke to my husband and I and some of the circumstances we were dealing with at the time.  We left there encouraged in so many ways!  And that same sort of thing has happened over and over when I've visited homeschool conventions.

While there is a growing secular arm within the homeschooling movement, I think it's still safe to say homeschoolers are overwhelmingly Christian and so homeschooling conventions are generally cram-packed with Bible-based teaching and Christian resources.  But this is where I have to put in my plug for the Teach Them Diligently Convention because of its all-Christian focus.  Last year was my first year to attend TTD in Nashville and I was thoroughly impressed.  I'm glad for anyone who wishes to enjoy the blessings of homeschooling, Christian or no, but I do enjoy attending a convention where absolutely everything, from how to teach math to choosing the right curriculum, is addressed from a Christian perspective.

5.  You have access to LOTS of curricula and other homeschooling resources, often at a discount.  

I never can decide which excites me more -- interesting workshop sessions or the exhibit hall!  I'll read websites and pour over reviews, but there is nothing like holding a curricula in my hand before making a judgement about its purchase.  And I've stumbled across some incredible resources at homeschool conventions I would likely never have discovered any other way.

And while conventions don't always offer the best prices on curricula, (this is where a smartphone comes in pretty handy for quick price checks before you buy,) you'll often find some very good deals on new or used books and materials.  I don't normally make all my curriculum purchases at homeschool conventions, but I always take away notes and information to help me make my choices later.

TTD Nashville is at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, not your average hotel, by any means...


Like I said, I could go on.  There are so many reasons I love homeschool conventions and I think you should try to attend one.  

But I had to cut this list short.  I have packing to do.  You see I'm headed to a homeschool convention...

Have you been blessed by attending a homeschool convention?  Do you go every year, or every few years?  What steps do you take to make the trip possible for yourself or your family?


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Thursday, March 13, 2014

When its Chaos-Week in Your Homeschool

No matter how organized a mom you are; no matter how detailed your scheduling or how meticulous your record-keeping; no matter how much forethought and preparation you put into it your homeschool, there will be days, and maybe even weeks, when chaos seems to reign supreme.

We just can't plan for everything.  Life happens, with or without our permission, and it has a way of throwing some mean curve-balls into our best-laid plans.

Now I can allow the surprises of life to throw me for a total loop, or I can learn to adjust and go on, keeping in mind that...
  • Chaotic days, and sometimes WEEKS, are par for the course.  They will come.  
I can't really plan for a fender-bender or for sick kids or for the unexpected demise of my hot water heater, but I can go into homeschooling with full knowledge that things are going to mess up my plans.  I don't have to like it, but I do have to accept it and not beat myself up over the homeschooling days that are less than picture-perfect.
  • I need to leave some wiggle-room in my scheduling and lesson planning, just for the unexpected.
Some homeschooling moms thrive on strict schedules and scrupulous planning.  I am soooo not one of them. Fill out my lesson planner MONTHS in advance?  Are you kidding me?  

The main reason I'm not into strict scheduling is that I kept running into real life and I was left frustrated and discouraged every time my schedule was thrown off.  Making plans on the short-term, always recognizing that there will be interruptions, has helped me tremendously.

And I think even the most meticulous schedule-keepers will tell you the key to doing so successfully is leaving open a little room here and there for the unexpected.

And don't forget to fill out those lesson plans in PENCIL!

Part of MY chaos for the week?  Chickenpox!
Didn't see that comin'...
  • My child's learning won't be stunted by a few chaotic days.  Really.  
Honestly, a few times I've been baffled at the irrationality of my own fears.

Public schools, actually traditional schools in general are, when you really think about it, chock-full of chaos and drama:  Fights.  Meltdowns.  Accidents.  Sicknesses.  Social crises of various nature.  And yet few people seem to view any of these distractions as potentially threatening to the whole educational process.  Add to it that so many school-sponsored activities conducted during school time have little to do with actual education--pep rallies, homecoming activities, spirit celebrations, etc., and yet virtually no one fears their child's learning is being stunted by all the distractions.  

It's pure chaos, just defined by an orderly system of bells.

True, most homeschoolers hardly look to the public school system as the model for quality education, but I still wonder sometimes why I find myself worrying my kids are going to fall hopelessly behind because we have a week when things in our homeschool don't go according to plans.

They will be okay.  I'm convinced kids have the opportunity to learn more on a poor homeschooling day than they could ever learn on a good public school day.
  • Tomorrow will be better.  Or maybe the next day...
Bad days happen.  It's the nature of our world.  But if I can keep my chin up and be determined that tomorrow will be a better day, (or maybe next week a better week,) it can help me so much to stay focused on what matters most, and to keep plodding on in our homeschooling journey.  Tomorrow is a new day!  Tomorrow we can try again.  Tomorrow always has the potential to be better than today.


So how do you stay encouraged on those chaotic homeschooling days?


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