The Serve One Another in Love Cafe

When my children are at each other, I sometimes require them to do something nice for one other: make a bed, fold laundry, share something, do each other’s chores, scratch each other’s backs…gently.

My seeester-in-law-and-in-love, Karen Baye, has taken this to a whole new level. When her four blessings were not treating each other like blessings, she invited them all to lunch at the Serve One Another in Love Café.

The Serve One Another in Love Cafe |

When they arrived at the café (also known as the kitchen), there was no lunch prepared. Instead they were greeted by a patient mama with these instructions:

Welcome to the Serve One Another in Love Café!

  • Each child must prepare lunch for the child immediately younger than him or her…and the youngest child must feed the dog. (Mama will feed the oldest.)
  • Each chef must prepare something their café patron would truly enjoy. In other words, no anchovies for a fish-hater and no salad for a dedicated carnivore.

The result? A happy family of well-fed children enjoying their time serving one another in love. Sure, one of them had a marshmallow sandwich for lunch, but it was served with a side of love and a big ol’ helping of brotherly affection.

Well played, Sis! Well played, indeed.

How do you encourage your children to serve one another in love?

Photo Credit: Karen and Scott Baye


Getting Through Hard Times {Finding Raisins in Your Cookies Instead of Chocolate Chips}

How to Handle the Hard Times (and some chuckles to brighten your day)

Photo Credit (Alterations mine)

Life is amazing and it totally stinks all at the same time. It gives and it robs. It promises and it fails to deliver and sometimes it hands over so much pain we can’t breathe and so much joy we’re bursting. It’s full of summits and valleys, days when your cookies have chocolate chips in them and days when the “chocolate” in your cookies turns out to be raisins.

How do we get through the valleys? How do we handle raisin days when we really need chocolate?

First, a glimpse:

Six weeks ago today, our eighth child was born. He was healthy. Everyone wants a healthy child, but when you’ve had unhealthy children in the past, your gratitude level for a healthy child skyrockets…like rockets…to the sky. We were and still are overjoyed–seriously overjoyed people. There’s joy, and then there’s us–overjoyed.

Five weeks ago I was sitting on the couch nursing my baby and chatting with my grandmother.

Four weeks ago we were standing by my grandmother’s hospital bed as she danced into heaven.

Three weeks ago we buried her.

Two weeks ago Judah and I joined the rest of the family who were already back on tour. Totally wonderful, but I need to go back to kindergarten so I can have a nap.

This past week our daughter with Crohn’s disease had a flare-up, and our son Judah presented blood in his diapers–we’ve been down that road too often.

Six weeks ago–summit. Three weeks ago–valley. Five weeks ago–chocolate chips. This week–raisins.

Here are some of the ways we choke down raisins while waiting for chocolate chips:


15 Tips for Handling Hard Times

1. Cry. Yes, cry. Science is amazing, don’t you think? By science I mean the incredible body and world designed by God–provider of summits and chocolate chips and sustainer through valleys and raisins. When we cry tears of sadness, the tears streaking mascara down the face contain stress hormones. In other words, by crying your tear ducts are removing stress hormones from the body. Isn’t that amazing?! (Yes, Christy. Yes, it is.) So don’t hold back–bawl your eyes out.

2. Just tackle today. I don’t particularly find the words “today has enough trouble” comforting, but this verse does offer good advice: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” Matthew 6:34. Don’t worry; don’t regret; don’t think about tomorrow without Grandma; don’t think about where Hannah’s flare might take her; just live this moment. You can handle this moment.

3. Rest. According to this State Universityy of New Jersey Pub-Med report summary, “Effects of stress accompanying social disruption and psychological depression, when demonstrated, have been consistently adverse.” Say, wha’?! Because I am an English major, not a science student, I will translate: stress weakens the immune system, and many personalities cannot adapt to the higher stress levels over time. Therefore, you must baby your body a bit (say that ten times fast) to counter the negative health effects of the raisins in your life. Do what you can to incorporate downtime into your day, even if that means jamming to some 80s tunes on the way to the next doctor’s appointment. To quote my doctor, “You. must. rest! Ask. for. help!” (Yeah, he scolds me…but he’s right.)

4. Hug. I’ve learned that hugging random strangers can get you punched, so I don’t do that anymore. Hugging willing huggers, however, is a great stress-release and a mood booster, because it releases endorphins (happy chemicals) into your body. A 20-second hug is ideal, but sometimes that’s awkward…especially when the hugger hears you counting. I prescribed 20-second hugs to all my children, and they count out loud, which serves double duty in teaching the preschooler her basic math skills and easing my homeschool load a bit.

Twenty seconds of hugging releases endorphins into your body and lifts your mood...unless you hug a random stranger who punches your lights out.

5. Don’t listen to the downers. When my daughter has a flare and people tell me Crohn’s horror stories, it doesn’t help. It’s horrible, actually. Total strangers learn about our daughter’s condition and, because they know someone with a similar disease, that somehow opens the mystical door of permission to destroy this mama’s joy. “I know a boy who had Crohn’s–he died.” Oh? Thank you. I haven’t panicked in, like, 17 seconds. I was almost feeling like a normal person. Thank you for removing that possibility for me. “My neighbor’s uncle’s llama’s previous owner’s niece has Crohn’s and was on the same medication as your daughter, but it stopped working and now she can’t get out of bed and her life is miserable.” Whoa, thank you! I was feeling almost optimistic, but you narrowly saved me from the inevitable fate of a positive outlook. Whew. That would have stunk.

There are times when you can listen and empathize and handle the horrors, and there are times when you simply cannot take it. Just say so. Say, “I’m sorry, but I’m really panicked about my daughter’s future right now, and I can’t handle any more bad news.” Some people have no tact and will ignore your request and keep talking about horrors and doom, so give them this WikiHow link: How to Be Tactful–15 Steps (With Pictures). You could even have business cards made up.

6. Pray. ‘Nuf said.

7. Exercise. It releases happy hormones into your body. If you exercise while crying, you are putting happy hormones in while taking sad hormones out. It’s pretty cool, unless you jog into an oncoming school bus because you can’t see through the tears–that right there is why I don’t jog, people, in case I start crying and hurl myself in front of a school bus and scar the passengers for life and leave my children motherless and get the bus driver fired. I don’t jog because I’m concerned for the job stability of bus drivers. Plus there are bears in the best jogging places, and no chocolate.

8. Laugh. When my father-in-law was dying, it felt wrong to laugh. The first time we laughed during his illness, it was a confusing release of pent-up emotion which actually made me cry, and it felt like we were betraying him, but at the same time it felt good to finally laugh again…while crying–I’m emotionally unstable like that. Why are you taking advice from me?

Laughter can help you through the hard times.

9. Distract yourself. I am certainly not one to hide from the realities of a situation, but dwelling on them does nobody any good at all. I know, because I’m a dweller. Turn the dwelling over to God and do something enjoyable–read a book, take a walk, plant a garden, hang out on for half an hour, play spider solitaire on your phone, call your bestie and make plans for world domination. Whatever you do, don’t dwell!

10. Embrace normal. Sure, your normal is different in the valleys than on the summits. After all, raisins are kinda squishy while chocolate is smooth and divine. Whatever you can do for yourself and your family that resembles your normal (movie night, family dinners, bed-time routines) will help remind you all that life is still livable.

11.Throw away normal. Ah, woman, you’re nothing if not contradictory and confusing! I know. Sorry. Seriously, though, if you homeschool your kids and you just lost your grandma, forget about math. Sit and read books and hug your kids and build a fire in the fireplace and roast popcorn over it in one of those tin popcorn thingies that clearly states, “Do not use over an open fire,” because having firetrucks parked outside your home is totally not normal and it’s a great distraction.

12. Find an ear. Not your own. Find someone you can talk to. Don’t find a fixer or an accuser. Fixers tell you what you need to do to make everything better; they have their very important place, but it isn’t here and now. Accusers like to tell you how everything is your fault. If only you would have… I’m not sure they have a place, except maybe on Perry Mason or Columbo. Find someone with an empathetic ear who will just let you vent and who will hug you and pray for you right then and there and for that short time will make it all about you and your problem until you have soul-dumped and cried and laughed and eaten chocolate and can get back to living. Talk your emotions out with your spouse as well, and with your children at their levels, since tough times often bring out the worst in a body when families need to really be sticking together.

Finding something to be grateful for.

13. Understand that this is a season. When Hannah was first diagnosed with Crohn’s, I thought our lives would forever be a mass of emotions, confusions, regret, guilt, and anguish as we watched her struggle. It has gotten much, much better. Trust me when I say that you will not always feel this way. Sure, I will always miss Grandma and my daughter will always have Crohn’s, but we adjust…like velcro shoes, and things get better…and then worse again, but that’s where this next point comes in.

14. Keep it in perspective. By perspective I mean eternal perspective. What are today’s troubles compared to the glories of heaven. Also, keep it in worldly perspective. Face it–most of the things we complain about don’t matter. Really, I mean…really! Okay, the chocolate versus raisin thing–that matters, but most of the other stuff–non-issues! The sooner we can accept that, the better. Some things really do matter, like cancer and Crohn’s, but heaven has none of those things, and it is very real for those who trust in Jesus. The sooner we can look at life through heaven’s eyes, the best.

15. Find joy. Find something to be grateful for. There’s always something. Trust me. Better yet, trust God.

What are your best tactics for handling life’s valleys and raisins?

My apologies to anyone who loves raisins. I’m not usually so hard on dried fruit.


How to Homeschool Preschoolers and Kindergarteners: 18 Tips for Creating a Natural and Joyful Learning Environment

This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you purchase something through one of my links, I receive a portion of the proceeds. It costs you nothing, but it helps us buy schoolbooks, because, believe it or not, kids don’t stay preschoolers and kindergartners forever.

How to Homeschool Preschool and Kindergarten: 18 Tips for Creating a Natural and Joyful Learning Environment

I shared with you my big-mouthed opinion on pushing young children beyond their readiness levels. What you should be asking at this point is “Who are you?! Who are you to be saying this? Do you have a degree in education? Do you have a title?”

Good question. I’m glad you asked.

I do not have a degree in education. For what it’s worth, I have a triple major in English, communication, and communicative arts (whatever that is), but that’s not what qualifies me to write this post..although it does help me properly punctuate this post. What qualifies me is my “experience in the field” of homeschooling little ones–sixteen years of it. For over sixteen years we have been creating a natural, enriching learning environment for our kids, and, yeah, while they’re all a little weird cuz the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, they all have an unquenchable love of learning.

How do we do it?  How do we ensure that our littles are growing in wisdom, knowledge, and a love of learning through their early years?  In other words, how do we “do preschool and kindergarten” at home? I’m glad you asked.

18 Tips for Creating a Natural Learning Environment for Preschoolers and Kindergartners

In random order, because random is fun.

1. Read together daily.

I cannot overestimate the value of sitting together and reading. It doesn’t have to be a formal reading session. Some days it can be as simple as saying “yes” when a little one brings a book or reading a favorite bedtime story every night. Some tips:

  • Become regulars at the library, but not during flu season if you have a book-licker or a nose-picker.
  • Give books as gifts to build up your library within your current budget.
  • Follow along with your finger as you read so they see that words have meaning, and they begin recognizing some of them.
  • Don’t shy away from chapter books or non-fiction. They don’t bite…except for maybe that pop-up shark book.
  • Gradually get rid of the dumbed-down books. Your children are apparently smarter than the people writing the children’s books. Adios, Disney!
  • Repeat your child’s favorite books or poems often to teach memorization skills.
  • Don’t worry if your child can’t sit through a simple picture book or you can’t get past the first page because of all her questions. This is normal! Don’t make “finishing the book” your goal and lose sight of the needs and abilities of the child on your lap.
  • It’s okay to let your reading be the “background noise” as your children play, eat, or take a bath.
  • Don’t be afraid to read straight from the Bible with your littles. It was written for them, too.
  • For a bit more on this topic, read my post entitled Read Aloud to Your Children. It’s about reading aloud to your children…if you didn’t catch that.
2. Cook and bake together.

Children in the kitchen make a big mess and they slow you down, partly because your feet stick to the floor. Still, if you keep them out of the kitchen, they lose out on an excellent opportunity to learn this:

  • cooking skills
  • cooperation
  • following directions
  • safety lessons
  • developing a habit of follow-through and clean-up
  • strong work ethic
  • the joy of caring for and serving others
  • preparation for a future in which, chances are, they will need to eat.
  • basic math lessons. (When you’ve been doubling, tripling, or halving recipes in the kitchen for years, a worksheet full of fractions is a piece of cake! Mmm, cake.)

Keeping them out of the kitchen robs you of this:

  • an element of joy to your work
  • bonding time
  • over-easy eggs and toast, caramel apple pie, homemade bread, and fresh cookies made by (supervised) six- and seven-year-olds.

Bring it on!

How To Create a Natural Learning Environment at Home for Preschoolers and Kindergartners

3. Explore nature together.

This can be as simple as planting a pot of flowers and putting up a birdfeeder on an apartment balcony, or as elaborate as visiting national parks and homesteading. Take walks through parks, get good and dirty in a garden, or lie on your stomachs to stare at a square foot of earth. Follow ants, watch  butterflies, look closely at flowers, be observant with your five senses. Look up discoveries in field guides if the interest is there, but don’t force it. Keep this fun and informal as you wonder together in awe at God’s creation.

Help your littles begin the practice of keeping a simple nature journal–simple! For now, give them a blank notebook (check craft sections or office supplies) and let them “draw” what they see, draw it for them, take pictures, or press flowers and leaves. We sometimes tape treasures into their nature journal and cram it back into the book shelf to press it. (That is not the right way to do it, but it works for us. I use to use a flower press like this one, but…well…now I don’t. Uh, that’s an affiliate link.) We’ve even been known to smear interesting colored mud and dirt on a page or two.

To perk interest in nature when stuck inside, try classic stories like Beatrix Potter’s tales for the youngest set, Parables of Nature by Mrs. A. Gatty, Thomas Burgess’ Bird Book for Children and Animal Book for Children, Rudyard Kipling’s Just-So Stories, and...somebody stop me! (These are affiliate links, although most of them are free.)


4. Teach your little one to do what you do.

Are you an artist? Teach her to draw or let her explore alongside you as you work. Are you a cook? Get him in the kitchen, even if he’s making stuff up. Are you a grocery list maker? Give her paper and pencil to make her own list. Do you work on the computer? Let him sit on your lap and press “Enter” when you need it, or open a notepad for him to type in. Break the big jobs down into something small that he can do alongside you. This is especially important for parents who may be gone during the day and find themselves busy with projects and “homework” at night.

 5. Answer questions.

I don’t know any child who isn’t full of questions, unless life has drained the God-given curiosity from his soul. When your child has a question, take the time to answer it or look it up together or “figger” it out. Say, “Hmm…I don’t know where that ant is going, but let’s follow it and ‘figger’ it out.” “Figgering” together is a great way to develop a curious mind that takes learning to the next step. By the way, “figgering” doesn’t always have to involve a book. Gravity can be figgered out fairly memorably with an egg and a tall ladder or an upstairs window. Yee haa!

6. Use big words.

When my firstborn was a baby she reached out for a knife. I said “Dangerous!” as I pulled her hand away. Someone scolded, “She’s a baby! She doesn’t know what ‘dangerous’ means.” No, kind Someone, but she will never know what “dangerous” or any other word means if she never hears it. Don’t shy away from the big words. Before you know it, your three-year-old will be lisping, “What an unusual piece of artwork!” or “Actually, I prefer white milk, thank you.”

How To Create a Natural Learning Environment at Home for Preschoolers and Kindergartners

7. Live life together.

Whatever is going on in your life is an opportunity for your child to learn. Are you headed to the dentist? Touch on tooth care and the job of a dentist. Are you counting out money? Let him help. Are you repairing items in the home?  Give your little one a safe tool and ask for help. Chances are you’re not going to find a preschool or a curriculum that includes helping Daddy fix a bicycle. Take him with you to the election booths, the grocery store, church, the bank, the library…everywhere! Feed him, give him a nap, tell him your expectations for behavior, wipe the peanut butter off his chin and bring ‘im with you. Yes, this is harder than going alone, but that’s parenting! Another part of parenting is training your child, so if the reason you don’t take him is because he doesn’t behave, make training a priority at home and away.

8. Hold real conversations.

Discuss big ideas with your little ones.  This sets the groundwork for an open flow of conversation throughout the years.  If you ask for and respectfully listen to your children’s views on a subject, you will encourage the children to begin to think. When I say think, I don’t mean parroting what their friends or the media says. I mean discern, rationalize, come up with fresh ideas…you know, think.

9. Be observant.

Do you see signs and numbers throughout your day? Point them out as early reading lessons. Do you see someone performing a job? Talk about it. Do you see a critter? Discuss its colors, behavior, and habitat. Learning is everywhere if you keep your eyes open.


10. Develop social skills naturally.

Take your littles to the library, to Grandma’s house, to the voting booth, to Bible study, and anywhere else you go. Don’t waste this opportunity by dumping your child in the nursery as soon as you arrive. Let your kiddos hang out with a mix of people from every generation. This is society; being able to function in society is being socialized.

Teach by example, but also by explanation and practice: “Hey, Kiddo, you’re four now, and it’s time to learn to shake hands like a man.” And then show him and practice. When you’re out, introduce him like a man and let him shake hands. It sets the stage for a teen who will look a person in the eye and say, “Nice to meet you,” rather than grunt at you with earbuds permanently encrusted in his ears. Ugh.

11. Be a learner.

I frequently hear,”I don’t know enough to teach my kids everything they need to know.” Wow, that’s a shocker. Hello! Nobody does! That’s why you teach your kids to teach themselves, and you do this first and foremost by setting the example. Exemplify curiosity. Look things up. Ask questions. Wonder out loud. And do this with your child.


12. Play.

Play together. I don’t mean Barbies…unless you want to. Play chess, blocks, hopscotch, 20 questions, I spy, dollhouse, cars.

Also, let your child play alone so she can develop self-motivation and a bit of independence.  Fill her life with a small number of excellent toys and puzzles (we love Lauri puzzlesaffiliate link). Aim for quality, not quantity. In fact, keep it simple. Keep it simple! A child in a room full of toys will fill a room full of mess. A child with two cars and a pile of blocks will fill his head with big ideas. So will a child with a pile of dirt and a few sticks. Don’t paralyze their imaginations and make cleaning up an overwhelming agony by filling their lives with too much stuff.


13. Dabble in foreign language.

If you are fluent in a foreign language, use it…all the time. Most of us aren’t so lucky, but that’s no reason to throw in la toalla. Libraries and used curriculum sales generally have foreign language materials. Some pricier companies, like Rosetta Stone, offer samples that are fun for kids. Online apps, games, and lessons are readily available as well. Incorporate the words you learn into your daily life. Your child won’t become fluent in this manner, but he’ll get a great head-start.

 14. Explore art and music.

However possible, expose your child to the greats and let him copy them. Get a Bach or Tchaikovsky CD from your library or online and listen while your child colors or plays.  (My kids enjoy the Classical Kids collection. Again, sneak it in budget-wise by giving it as gifts for birthdays and Christmas.) Attend local free concerts. Sing patriotic songs, folk music, and hymns with your child, and encourage him to explore a variety of musical instruments that you can pick up at garage sales or as toys, or make your own.

Hunt for books or calendars containing the art of the masters and mention who drew or painted the pictures. Keep a ready stash of art supplies for your children to explore at any time. Replicate the masters, or get a Dover coloring book about an artist of your choice.   It doesn’t have to be structured to be effective.

15. Get rid of the desk notion.

Who needs desks and chalkboards and stations? What’s wrong with the floor? Come on, what’s more fun, sitting on a hard chair with pencil in fist, circling the bigger rectangle and the bigger ball on a worksheet, or lying on your stomach on the floor building a house, and then a bigger house out of blocks with Mama? Do a little over and under talk for some spatial recognition training, and you’ve had school, bonding, and playtime. Add cookies and call it lunch.

How To Create a Natural Learning Environment at Home for Preschoolers and Kindergartners

16. Do a little school.

But didn’t you just say…? Yes, I did. At this young age workbook school is fascinating to some children. Take advantage of that! Here are some items that were well-loved in our home (most of these are affiliate links):

Keep it short and pressure-free, and stop before their interest fades. Remember, your goal is creating a lifelong learning attitude, not finishing a book or impressing Grandma. Sorry, Grandma!

17. Don’t rush!

There will always be a child smarter, faster, or more talented than yours. That’s just life. (Pick yourself up off the floor.) While life does involve competition, don’t let it pressure you into rushing your little one into things he simply can’t do yet. The only thing your speed will accomplish is burn up your kiddo’s tires like an Indie car. Don’t let the expectations of others or yourself drive you to squelch the precious love of learning innate in children.


18. Don’t worry about the gaps!

If you are afraid your preschool-aged child is missing something vital by not following a pre-planned curriculum or being taught by the professionals, just relax.  A young child whose life is rich in experiences, real life learning, and the respect and attention of a loving family will in no way be hindered academically or socially. Yes, your child will miss something. We all have gaps in our learning, including those of us who have been in the system since age two. Instilling in your little one a love of learning, however, will give him the ability and desire to bridge those gaps when necessary, a skill many of today’s adults don’t have. It’s not the job of education to give children all the knowledge they’ll ever need in their lives.  It’s the job of education to give children the skills to gain that knowledge for themselves.

How do you create a natural learning environment for your preschoolers and kindergartners?


Is Homeschooling Your Preschooler or Kindergartner Stressing You Out?

Caution: This post contains my rather strong opinion. Proceed with caution.

It happens every fall. Homeschooling mamas and papas second-guess their decision to keep their preschoolers and kindergartners home. Concerned parents lament that their three-year-old preschoolers are not thriving with the expensive curriculum they bought to “do preschool.” Some are certain their four-year-olds are educationally doomed, while others wonder if they should try other curricula or enroll their five-year-olds in a “real” school with “real” teachers and a “real” chalkboard that mama didn’t make with old plywood and chalkboard paint during nap time. Parents groan that if preschool or kindergarten requires this much work, they will never make it through grade school, much less—GASP!—high school!

I don’t like to give advice (bold-faced lie), but I’m going to anyway. Mama…Papa…


Is Homeschooling Your Preschooler or Kindergartner Stressing You Out?

Please, sweet Mamas and manly, but caring Papas, breathe! Now breathe again. Now go eat chocolate and come back.

Feel better? Good. Now here’s the scoop, and I’m saying it like it is with no apologies. You have been twice warned.

First of all, preschool? What’s that?

Technically, it’s supposed to be getting a child ready for school, thus the prefix “pre-” meaning “before.” Somehow it has morphed into sending a child to school so she can get ready to go to school. It’s like pre-birth. Hey, unborn baby, let’s be born early so you can practice breathing oxygen. Maybe that will make you more ready to breathe when you’re really supposed to be born and start breathing. Prepping for school is what kindergarten used to be for. When I say kindergarten, I mean for six-year-olds, maybe five-year-olds, not three- and four-year-olds. That’s still preschool playing pretend with a more grown-up name. Am I opposed to preschool? No. But where do you draw the line, people?

Second, what’s your rush?

Why does your child have to be reading before anybody else’s child? Why does he have to be doing the big math and reciting what a noun is before, say, my kids? What is the rush? Do you enjoy adding additional stress and frustration to a potentially beautiful life of learning? Will pushing your son beyond his readiness result in an enthusiastic, lifelong learner, or will it frustrate you and your children and create yet another student who is burned out by fourth grade and never cracks another book once he has his diploma stuffed into his back pocket? Ask yourself if you’re doing this for your babies or for yourself and your personal homeschool critics. (Yeah, we all have a peanut gallery of critics.)


Third, you’ve got it all backwards!

Have you noticed the trend in the “better” schools to try and emulate the home environment? That is because the experts are finally realizing that children learn best in a natural setting. Come here, experts, so I can smack you in the forehead. Children learn on Papa’s knee and walking hand in hand with Mama. That’s how they learn to walk, to talk, to eat, to breathe (oh, wait, nobody has to teach them that in pre-birth). That’s how they learn their colors and counting. That’s how they can learn reading and grammar usage and even foreign languages. That is not how they learn calculus. Parents that take the natural learning environment and turn it upside down are recreating the school in the home…the school that is now trying to recreate the home in the school. It’s like if you draw a picture of yourself drawing a picture of yourself drawing a pic—you get it. Yeah, my head is spinning.

Mama, Papa, please, please, please relax.

Please give your child plenty of time to sit on your lap and follow you and learn from you. Please let your little ones play with rocks and colors and follow ants and build forts. Please don’t prioritize your daughter’s workbook-learning over precious life-learning by your side. Please don’t force your active little boy to sit with a pencil in hand in a chair for two hours a day while you pull your hair out because he can’t write his name. Who cares?! When he’s older, he’ll write his name! Simple as that!  Please enjoy these precious early years without squeezing your family into an educational box that someone only recently created and announced as good. It’s not good. It’s just a box. Outside of the box is life!


Some of you are saying, “But my daughter loves workbooks!”

So give her workbooks! Do what works. But if your four-year-old could be in the kitchen cooking with you or planting her own garden, and you’re forcing her to sit at a table writing “Aa” 25 times instead, in my opinion, something’s wrong. If your six-year-old son wants to replicate the four-mile Astoria Bridge out of Legos or “help” Papa change a tire and you’re making him do three pages of addition first, in my opinion, something’s amiss. In my opinion, it’s complicating life to force a small child to do “table work” for 45 minutes, when you could instead wait until he is developmentally ready, teach the same information in five easy minutes, save frustration and tears, and not rob the child of the joy of learning. Not to mention, you can redirect those hours of lesson-planning for your children into time spent with your children. That right there is why I had children, to spend time with them, not plot out a life for them.

Now you say, “But kids need to learn to do hard things they might not want to do, like writing and adding.”

True. But there are other hard things they need to learn that they may be more prepared to tackle at this point in their development, things like saying please and thank you and brushing their teeth and picking up toys and not throwing balls in the house and not cutting their own hair and not tattooing Mama’s legs with permanent marker if she falls asleep during reading time. Things like obedience and patience and sharing and helping siblings and not bullying. Things like chivalry and sitting quietly in church and the lesson 85% of adults still need to learn–the world is round, but you’re not the center. Why make it harder?


Of course, this in no way means that you can leave your child to his or her own pursuits, assuming learning will come naturally.  It will come naturally, but it may not be the learning you seek for your little ones. It’s up to you to create a rich learning environment and an atmosphere that makes learning happen naturally.

How do you do that? Good question!

Click here to read 18 of my simple curriculum-free, stress-free, guilt-free, fun-full, family-full, life-full approaches to the preschool and kindergarten years. Buckle your seatbelts, cuz you’ll be the fun parent climbing on the roof dropping eggs on the sidewalk instead of the parent reading about gravity in a book. Yup…that parent!

Oh, I know you all have one last question; “Did your kids ever learn to read with a Mama with this mentality?” Excellent question, Watson. Indeed, they did. One of my children could identify letters before turning two. Two sounded out short words at three. They all start reading aloud in family Bible time around six or seven…but it wasn’t always pretty. Are they naturals? Some, but not all. My son could sound out basic words, but really struggled with phonics and sight words at age five, so we shelved the phonics book. Every few months I would work with him again to test his readiness. Finally at six-and-some-months, BANG! He got it like he gets everything–a semi without brakes crashing into a mega-mall. Now we can’t keep him supplied with books, and at seven he volunteers to read aloud from Scripture at men’s Bible studies he attends with Daddy.


But who cares when they learned to read! What I should care about is if they are using that skill now. One of my girls struggled with her reading. She could read at five and the schools would have called her a success, but she didn’t read smoothly and with comprehension until she was around seven, and didn’t read comfortably with full understanding and enjoyment until around nine. Now she is my most voracious reader who is currently reading classics for fun and The Declaration of Independence for her personal enrichment and to be fully informed about the laws of our nation—I can think of a few (hundred) politicians and a few (million) voters who should do the same.

So yes, Watson, I taught my children to read without tears. And they didn’t cry either. I’ll let you in on another little secret. We don’t even own a chalkboard. Help yourself to some more chocolate.

This is where you get to tell your opinion.

While this is not a homeschooling blog per se, we are a homeshooling (or roadschooling) family, and I do discuss simplifying that aspect of life as well. If you’re interested in more homeschool posts, subscribe to my email updates and contact me with your questions or ideas for future posts.


Simple Heartstrings Challenge: 50 Simple Ways to Bond With Loved Ones

Life blows past you and suddenly you’re looking back at the last five months, five years, or five decades wondering what on earth happened to all your time. How much of your precious, irreplaceable time was spent on Facebook or stressing over your latte and politics or reading about how to be a better wife or mother instead of tying heartstrings?

Probably too much.

What is tying heartstrings? At its most basic level, tying heartstrings is connecting with people, but I don’t like to use the word “connect” when talking about people, because it makes me sound like an insurance salesman. I don’t have a problem with insurance salesmen–I just don’t want to sound like one, because I’m not one.

Tying heartstrings is building or strengthening the bond between people. It’s putting your time where it matters.

Take the Heartstrings Challenge! 50 Simple Ways to Bond with Loved Ones

It is also one of the simple tools in The Simple Homemaker’s life simplifying toolbox. It’s an important one.

Here’s how you tie heartstrings:

Do something together.

That’s it. Told you it was simple. I challenge you to dedicate a portion of each Saturday to tying heartstrings. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you accept the Simple Saturday Heartstrings Challenge:

  • It doesn’t have to be anything epic—if it’s simple, you’re more likely to keep it up.
  • Please don’t make it into a big deal. Don’t say, “We shall henceforth spendeth 60 minutes of uninterrupted quality time together to ensureth heartstrings are properly tied-eth and to enableth the generations to strengtheneth their bonds…eth.” That’s freaky.
  • Don’t make your “victims” feel like you’re checking quality time off on a list. “There, I played with you. Now I don’t have to pay for your therapy. Oh, and don’t bug me for an hour.” 
  • Don’t be ultra-obsessed over the Saturday thing. Be flexible. We school on Saturdays and take Mondays off, so my Simple Saturday Heartstrings are actually Marvelous Monday Heartstrings. Be fllllleeeexiblllllle.
  • Just do something!

Here are 50 ideas for simple ways to tie heartstrings. Many of these will work with a small child as well as a teen, your spouse, Mom and Dad, or your elderly neighbor next door.

Take the Heartstrings Challenge! 50 Simple Ways to Bond with Loved Ones

50 Simple Ways to Tie Heartstrings

  1. Say, “Let’s play a game.” (A few rounds of Tic-Tac-Toe or Twenty Questions is great—it doesn’t have to be monopoly or chess!)
  2. Bake cookies together to eat or to deliver to another heartstring “victim.“
  3. Be nosy about an interest they have, and, if possible, pursue it together once in a while. (My husband loves airplanes, so sometimes we have a picnic lunch in the van in a spot near the runway where the planes land and take off right in front of us. Simple and free.)
  4. Go for a walk.
  5. Call someone up “just because.”
  6. Ask what they’ve been reading.
  7. Read a book out loud together—children’s books are fun at any age, and chapter books can be spread out over weeks and months.
  8. Try a new recipe together.
  9. Send a letter—handwritten!
  10. Blow bubbles.
  11. Plant flowers.
  12. Help with a simple task, and don’t forget to stick around to chat a little bit.
  13. Sip tea, coffee, cocoa, or apple juice together…slowly…and chat…without your cellphone nearby.
  14. Enjoy nature together—follow ants, identify trees, feed ducks, take your dog squirrel-chasing.
  15. Ask about their week. If you truly listen all week, you’ll be able to ask in detail, such as “How is Susie feeling today?” or “Did your buddy make the football team?” or “Did your secretary’s brother’s wife have her baby?” or “What kind of food did they serve at the conference luncheon? Cookies, I hope!”
  16. Have a movie night or watch an oldie, but goodie, like Gomer Pyle, The Andy Griffith Show, or The Dick Van Dyke Show. (Yes, screen time can be heartstring time.)
  17. Paint each other’s nails.
  18. Toss around a baseball or the ol’ pigskin synthetic leather.
  19. Challenge each other to a 5-minute Lego building contest or set the timer for five minutes and see how high you can stack something.
  20. Do a simple craft—simple! Hello, Pinterest! Or, as we like to do, hop on to Pinterest together and pin all the crafts you will never do. Pinning is a fun little family obsession of ours.
  21. Make a blanket fort and sit in it.
  22. Collect jokes throughout the week and share them over a bowl of Chocolate-Covered Sugar Bombs.
  23. Read Calvin and Hobbes or a new magazine over each other’s shoulders.
  24. Pursue a SRAOKTDRS together—that’s a Simple Random Act of Kindness That Doesn’t Resemble Stalking.
  25. Share stories from your youth or ask about their childhood or young adulthood.
  26. Share dreams…but let them do most of the sharing.
  27. Attack a project from the to-do list together.
  28. Hold hands, snuggle, or give back rubs.
  29. Braid hair.
  30. Pick flowers.
  31. Flip through a catalog together or read a newspaper side by side, sharing whatever you feel moved to share.
  32. Call someone up and say, “Get dressed, cuz I’m coming over!” and then hang up…and go over there, because it would be mean to call and not show up.
  33. Star-gaze.
  34. Watch a dog show on TV.
  35. Sit in the park or mall and watch people.
  36. Go eat all the samples at Sam’s Club.
  37. Skip stones or throw sticks in the water.
  38. Lie in the grass (or snow if you live where they have perpetual winter) and look at the clouds.
  39. Ask a question and listen to the answer without interjecting the words “I,” “me”, or “you should.” Good luck with this one!
  40. Teach someone a new magic trick.
  41. Share a chocolate bar or a box of candies.
  42. Sit by the water, with or without your toes dangling in, depending on if there are gators and piranha where you’re dangling.
  43. Go fishing.
  44. Make a scrapbook page.
  45. Memorize something together—a poem or a section of Scripture or my birthday so you can send cookies.
  46. Bake a pie…and more cookies.
  47. Go window shopping.
  48. Turn on the sprinklers or fill a wading pool and sit in it.
  49. Break out the sidewalk chalk and create together—don’t be tempted to let them create while you go do the “important” things.
  50. Put your phone away and just be together and see what happens.

Take the Heartstrings Challenge! 50 Simple Ways to Bond with Loved Ones

If you follow me on PinterestFacebook, Twitter, or Instagram (as The Travel Bags), I will remind you to devote part of your Saturday to Strengthening Heartstrings, and invite you to share how you did this. (On Facebook, don’t forget to check “Follow” or comment and like frequently, or you won’t see my posts. Crazy Facebook.)

Please share your Simple Saturday Heartstrings in the comment section. Let’s share great ideas and tie heartstrings!

Enjoying the Extras in Life Without Letting Them Take Over

Enjoying the Extras in Life Without Letting Them Take Over

When my husband “gave” me this blog and told me to start writing, his original intent was that I share how to clear your queue. You Netflix lovers know what a queue is, and you know how easy it is to fill your queue with hundreds of shows you want to watch but will probably never get around to.

Isn’t that life? Don’t we have drawers and cupboards full of supplies for potential projects, shelves full of unread books, heads full of unfulfilled dreams for “when we have time.”

Here’s the problem with a full life queue:

  1. It weighs us down mentally, even subconsciously.
  2. We never get to it because there is so much to do that we don’t know where to start.
  3. We dabble if we get to it at all, and never really finish.
  4. It detracts from life, because it requires repetitive thought, tidying, organizing, planning.
  5. It ends up costing money and taking up space. Boo.

I cleared my life queue ages ago, and keep clearing it over and over and over again. Still, there so many things that I would like to do, that I can’t just lie down and meditate until I die. That’s not living!

So here’s what I do to keep on living without filling my queue.

1. List it.

I love lists. They’re my favorite. I have an ongoing list of things I want to do or learn. We also have a family bucket list of things we want to do, like eat pizza in Italy. Mine is a bit more realistic, but my kids dream big–go kids!

2. Choose it.

I pick one thing from the list–just one. Tempting as it is to think I could learn to quilt and tap dance and make a family cookbook and learn to grill without burning the hair off my arm and memorize all the burn sounds of the North Woods feathery friends all at the same time, I know I can’t.

(I do sometimes choose one fun thing and one professional thing. For example, right now I am editing my book and learning the Charleston–one’s for work, one’s for the amusement of my baffled husband. Plus we always have a character trait that we’re working on, but that’s different, like breathing and eating.)

3. Do it.

Whatever it takes to do it, do it, as long as it doesn’t jeopardize peace, family, or faith. Don’t by any means make the “thing” more important than what really matters in life. Since it’s only one thing, it really shouldn’t take over your life, but rather add a little icing to your cake, chocolate chips to your cookie, salt to your giant pretzel. If it involves your family, even better.

I don’t spend time or money on anything else in my queue. If I come across something I would really love to learn or do, I add it to the list, but I don’t dabble in it yet, because I know I can’t handle a dozen dreams going at once…nor do I want to.

Will I die with undone dreams in my queue? Most likely. Will I have lived for the moment? Most definitely.

List it, choose it, and do it. It’s simple.

So, what one thing do you want to learn or do right now?

Me? Right now (July 2016) I’m learning the Charleston with my teens while Hannah learns to play it on the piano. We’re using this fun video and a few others for kicks…no pun intended. What are you doing?

I’ll update this, just for fun, as we choose new items from our queue.




When Cell Phones Trump Relationships {Free Printable}

When Cell Phones Trump Relationships -- Guidance for Bringing up the Topic and Changing Behavior -- Includes a Free Printable Cell Phone Decree

Photo Credit (Text Mine)

My husband loves it when I say irritating things like this:

“Oooobviouslyyyy you love your phooooone more than you love meeeee.”

I love it when he says annoying things like this:

“Maybe your ears would work better if your eyes weren’t plastered to your phone.”

Yeah, some days we have a phone problem. Some mornings our eyes are still blurry with sleep, and instead of smooching each other and inhaling that aromatic morning breath, we fumble around for our phones. To be fair to me, I’m just looking to see what time it is…and get distracted…forever. He, on the other hand, is probably doing something utterly pointless, like checking the weather.


Some times we’re driving down the road and I’m ignoring a van full of totally tubular people (my slang is stuck in the 80s) with my face in the phone because I have to know. Know what? Absolutely nothing of importance, but my behavior tells my family that the current nothing of importance is more important than they are.

It’s time to stop.

When my husband first planted that smart phone in my hand, I wrote out a printable decree. Here it is:

My Cell Phone Decree

  1. This phone is now and will forever remain merely an electronic device, not an appendage or extra bodily organ.
  2. This phone has no ring finger and no wedding ring, so it will not usurp the one who does wear the ring.
  3. This phone came out of a box, not out of my womb, and it will be treated accordingly.
  4. This phone will be set face down, silenced, or turned off when real eyes seek mine.
  5. Because this phone receives its meals in a charging station, it will not be welcomed at the family dinner table.
  6. Because this phone does not speak properly, it will not be involved in any family conversations, except when invited with these words: “I don’t know; let’s look that up,” or “That’s a good question; let’s call Grandma.”
  7. This phone will be put away before bed; all drool will be reserved for my own or my husband’s pillow, not for electronic devices.
  8. This phone may be used for Bible reading, but only if Bible time is not interrupted by Facebook, texts, bleeps, beeps, or any other non-human sound.
  9. When in public with me, this phone will not keep me from looking into someone else’s face.
  10. Ultimately, this phone is just a phone, and it will never come between me and another human being. Ever.

{Print this decree by clicking here.}

And I broke the decree.

To be fair, I didn’t break all of the points. I never broke number fo–, um, thr–, oh…hmmm…I never broke number eig–. Blast. I didn’t break number 11, okay?!

Yeah, I have a problem. And so does he.

When Cell Phones Trump Relationships -- A Free Printable Cell Phone Decree and How to Broach the Topic with Your Spouse or Teen

Photo Credit

What’s the cure? Limits. Discussing and setting limits. More specifically limits that express your priorities. Joshua Straub calls it an e-nuptial agreement. (You can download Joshua’s e-nup free right here, or write your own.)

Of course, we all get a little judgmental when called out on our cell phone over-usage, mostly because deep down we know we overdo it, but somehow that addictive little electronic device lures and satisfies us…or at least we think it does. Strangely, this area needs to be approached delicately.

Here’s how to bring this topic up with a spouse or teen:

  1. Wait until neither of you is on the phone and both of you are calm.
  2. Confess that you spend too much time on your phone and want to spend more time together instead.
  3. Explain how you plan to do that–feel free to use one or all of the points on my decree above or Joshua Straub’s e-nup.
  4. Do what you said you would do.
  5. Wait until neither of you is on the phone and both of you are calm again.
  6. Kindly ask that your spouse or teen join you in spending less time on the phone, and explain what that would mean to you and your relationship. You might also explain how it feels when your relationship is trumped by the phone. Don’t say “you always” or otherwise sound accusatory, but refer them back to how they may have felt when you were addicted to your screen, and how much more alive and connected you feel now. (Don’t actually say “connected,” because you’ll sound like an insurance agent, which only works for selling insurance.)
  7. Pick one area from my decree or the e-nup to work on and build from there, such as no phones at the dinner table; optionally, jump in with both feet an tackle the whole thing at once.
  8. Enjoy the increased time together…but make it worthwhile.

Replace your phone time with chatting time, cookie-baking time, good time. Live life again, rotate your neck, look up for a change, remember the seasons, stick your head out the door to check the weather, buy a watch to check the time, and get one of those funky phones for your house with a cord that attaches it to the wall, so it cannot physically invade every aspect of your life.

Print my cell phone decree here, sign it, and hang it on your refrigerator for a daily reminder of where electronic devices should rank in life. 

I’d love to hear your tips on taking control of your cell phone time.

P.S. I wrote this a few months ago. By turning the sound off on my phone when with others, keeping it in its charging station, and removing my personal Facebook account from my phone, I find myself less connected to the digital realm, and more connected to my cuties and my hottie. Plus dinner’s on time more often. Score!