Fight Summer Brain Drain and Illiteracy at the Same Time

Attack Summer Brain Drain and Widespread Illiteracy with This Free Summer Reading Program

Let’s cut right to the chase. Illiteracy is a huge issue throughout the world. “Summer brain drain” is also a problem–a first world problem, but a problem nonetheless.

Here’s a solution to both:

We Give Books is an organization that puts books in the hands of children who otherwise wouldn’t have access to them. Right there they’ve won me over. Throw in cookies and I’m totally sold!

You can help fight illiteracy for free!

Join the We Give Books summer reading program, read books for free online from their rather impressive library (or read print books of your own), and We Give Books will donate real books to needy children.

I don’t have all the details figured out, but they do, so check them out here.

By the way, if you school year-round like we do, this program is still a nice shift for something a little different and to get the kiddos thinking about helping others. What a great motivator to get reading, and if that doesn’t work, bribe ’em with cookies or s’mores.

Check out more summer reading programs here.

By the way, there’s nothing in this for me–it’s simply a great idea that deserves a little more chatting up.

Free Online Chore System – An Interview With My Kids

To skip my cheesy review of My Job Chart, a free online chore system, and to go check it out for yourself, click here. Reposted in honor of all those kiddos in school and homeschool who are adjusting to new schedules. 

Let’s face it. Sometimes I forget things, like making sure my son brushes his teeth in the morning, or brushing out my daughter’s golden locks before bed. I’ve heard parents complain about the battle to get kids to do their chores, and the constant search for the perfect chore chart.

First, chore charts in general are excellent tools to help you on the path to simplifying. The kids (or mom) know what’s expected of them, and the kids (or mom) know when it’s fine to run off and play (or hit Pinterest). It’s nice to know, ya know?

Second, let me tell you this–nothing this side of heaven (including a chore chart) is perfect. Did I burst your bubble? Sorry. A chore chart is a tool, not a solution. But hey, now you can stop hunting for perfect and instead make “almost perfect” work for you as you simplify! Hooray!

Free online chore chart--find out what real kids think. |

I recently tested out an online chore chart with my kids, called My Job Chart. After a parent sets it up, the child tracks his or her own progress, earning points for completed tasks. The points can be donated to a charity, saved up, or spent on a pre-approved reward. The intention is to teach personal accountability and the value of a dollar.

Here’s what I thought:

1 – It’s free. I like free.
2 – It’s relatively simple to set up, and the kids can easily manage it themselves.
3 – It’s highly customizable, so when my son announced that we should have PJ day on Tuesdays and bank holidays, we easily eliminated “Get dressed” from everyone’s Tuesday schedules while leaving it untouched the rest of the week.
4 – It handles one-time events well, so a parent and child can break certain activities–such as packing for a trip, spring cleaning, or working on a science fair project–into manageable chunks and schedule them over a period of time.
5 – It can handle a whole lotta kids on one account, which is great for those of us who have a whole lotta kids in a world that thinks four is a freakishly large number and rarely accommodates that many, let alone my seven. (Yes, I know “lotta” isn’t a real word, thanks.)
6 – The kids enjoy it. It’s fun to check off their work. They run about with renewed zeal to brush their teeth and finish their day’s readings. Die plaque, die!

Brush teeth
7 – While some “time savers” and “simplifying tools” actually complicate life, this doesn’t seem to be one, apart from having to turn on the computer twice daily…which my pen and paper kids disliked, and my screen kids liked. After I set it up, I remained almost completely hands-off. (Simplicity is an important qualifier for The Simple Homemaker reviews.)
8 – Parents can set up customizable reward systems for their kids. The key word here is customizable, so, for example, if I really want to buy my son an X-box for brushing his teeth for a week, I could do that, and I’m sure his future wife and employer would thank me some day. A-hem. If I opt to reward piano practice and completed chores with weekend screen time, I can do that, too.
9 – The system alerts parents to the child’s daily progress, so I don’t have to log on and check. That may not seem like a big deal to you, but any extra logging in for me is time I would rather spend snuggling someone.
10 – My favorite aspect is that each child has a message board from which he or she can send messages to me…and only me. I love getting messages like this one from my four-year-old:

“Mommy, yu ar the bets mommy.”

Do you hear that? I’m the bets mommy.

Brushing Hair

Here’s what my kids think:

Is it any better than using a written chore chart? Let’s ask the experts:

Mama: Kids, what do you think of My Job Chart?
Twelve-year-old: I like it, because it helps me remember what I’m supposed to do.
Nine-year-old: I think it’s fine, but I don’t like having to turn on the computer.
Mama: Do you prefer it over a paper chart?
Four-year-old: I like it better than paper. May I please do it now?
Seven-year-old boy: (Nods vigorously)
Mama: Why do you like it better?
Seven-year-old boy: It’s just funner.
Fourteen-year-old girl: Funner is not a real word.
Sixteen-year-old girl: Technically the word “fun” is coming into vogue as an adjective instead of its original use as a noun and subsequently a verb, meaning “funner” would be acceptable in this situation. It is not, however, commonly used in the over-10 sector of society. (Okay, so she didn’t say that, but that’s what that heaving sigh meant.)

I used the program with five of my children, ages four through fourteen. My fourteen-year-old only used it for one day, saying it seemed like too much work to log on every day just to mark that she did her chores. Of course, that child can manage an entire household without parental guidance, so I believe she has moved past a chore chart from Mama into the planner stage, don’t you think?

Chores are fun

What about the negative side?

One concern I have which may be unique to my family, and which has both a positive and negative slant, is that this is on the screen. Screens are addicting, and I don’t like them. Once they’re on, they are hard to shut off. My son, when engaged with a screen, has trouble re-engaging with the real world. He is still thinking “screen.” I hear that’s a boy thing.

A screen is a child-magnet here. I noticed that when one child is online checking off his or her accomplished chores, two or three other children stand around the chair watching. There is nothing particularly engrossing about a child checking off tasks, but it is on a screen. Of course, the same thing happens in my family when a child is looking at, say, a catalog of bedroom slippers, so that may just be my family. Annnnnd, admittedly, I am an anti-screen nazi currently in (and failing) rehab, so take that with a grain of salt.

The plus side to that is, hey, it’s on a screen! The kids are more excited to do their daily duties so they can get on the computer, check jobs off, and send Mommy a little note. Plus it can be accessed anywhere–library, school, Grandma’s, sitters, home, on the phone…if your kids have a phone.

Clean Teeth

Do I recommend this product?

You know what, I do for families that prefer to stay connected electronically and who want an easy reward system. I think it can really reduce nagging reminding from mom and help kids take an interest in personal responsibility, accountability, and money management–amen to that! I especially think this is an ideal tool to keep parents and kids on the same page if parents work inside or outside the home and if kids are in school and other outside activities. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that, even though you didn’t remind him, Junior’s soccer bag will be packed and ready to go when you get home from work and have to turn around and head to a soccer game? Sure would.

Finally, who doesn’t love the “bets mommy” messages?

I’m the bets mommy.

To learn more about My Job Chart, to watch an informational video, and to get your own “bets mommy” messages, visit

Disclosure: I received free access to My Job Chart in exchange for this post…but since it’s free for everyone, that didn’t affect my opinion. Uh, that’s a really funny bad joke. Since I don’t have to remind my kids to brush their teeth, I have more time for cheesy humor. I should have probably put that under the “negative” section.

4 Thoughts on Tragedy, Family, Focus, and Faith

I’m supposed to be writing about Brussels sprouts. Somehow, I can’t force myself to think about Brussels sprouts right now (although these particular sprouts were unusually delicious). Another school shooting took place last week. I’m sure you heard.

I wasn’t going to write about it, because it feels like capitalizing on tragedy. But somehow, I find myself here in the dark writing, a small child asleep on my lap.

4 Thoughts on Tragedy, Family, Focus, and Faith (

There are no words for situations like this, for the victims, for those left behind, for the shooter’s surviving parent. There is only pain.

With pain comes a backlash.

We’re hearing people scream for gun control and other people saying this would have played out differently if every law-abiding citizen had a gun. Celebrities are stepping forward with their wisdom, mystically garnered from years of pretending to be somebody they’re not. Soon, it will be overshadowed in the media by another tragedy, but the pain will remain.

Closer to home, we’re hearing people say to hug your children a little closer tonight, let your kids be kids, keep them happy because this could be your last moment together.

Then we’re hearing people going on with life as usual, sounding off about the dangers of French fries and non-organic apples, arguing over politics, global warming, educational methods, fill in the blank.

And finally, we’re hearing people trying to make sense of the senseless.

Pause. Big sigh.

Four things.

1–Our world is in pain. A school shooting is big, and it’s tragic. When the hallowed halls of a safe place are attacked, everything we think we knew (but never really did) about life in America is irreparably shaken.

The same reality strikes families every day everywhere on a quieter, but just as painful scale. Children are taken away from parents, ripped out of “safe” places every day through disease, accidents, family break-ups, and sometimes evil people.

Everywhere, every day, there is pain.

The way we all feel about our children right now–the way we linger a bit longer at their bedsides, touch their hair, put down the computer or magazine and make eye contact–we should feel that way, act that way every single moment of every single day.

The way we pray for others, love our husbands a little more, pick up the phone to call our mamas, and smile at total strangers, that should be a daily practice.

The pain will never go away, not ever. Shouldn’t our love be just as enduring, just as strong? Even stronger? Shouldn’t we be this way all the time?

We won’t, because we’re human, and because we need to eat and sleep and earn a living.

But we should.

4 Thoughts on Tragedy, Family, Focus, and Faith (

2–Love like they’ll be gone tomorrow, and train like they’re going to live forever.

What does that mean?

Your child may be taken from you tomorrow. Heck, today even.

Cherish. Every. Moment.

Even when your boy throws up on your laptop, cherish it–not the throwing up, and especially not the smell, but cherish the fact that you have your boy there so he can throw up on your laptop…and hopefully he can do other, more remarkable things later.

The Bible calls it being grateful in all circumstances.

But don’t cherish to the exclusion of your duties.

Your job is to cherish your child as if each moment is your last, but the other part of your job description is to train your child as if he will live forever.

Please, please, please do not use tragedies and what-ifs and guilt (or your child’s personality, but that’s another topic) as an excuse not to train your children. If for no other reason than to make your daughter- or son-in-law’s life a little (or a lot) more pleasant, train your kids!

If I knew my children would be taken from me tomorrow, of course I wouldn’t make them do their chores or eat their veggies today. We would not work on reading lessons or first-time obedience or sharing. Chances are, however, that my children will someday need to be disciplined enough to clean up after themselves, obey those in authority, and be accountable for their own actions. That won’t happen without work…my work.

Don’t slack on the cherishing, and don’t slack on the training. I know there are only 24 hours in a day, but lucky for you, you can cherish and train at the same time.

4 Thoughts on Tragedy, Family, Focus, and Faith (

3-Assess your priorities. What are you passionate about right now? What is driving your days?

I’ll go first–my family, my God…and not in that order. But it wasn’t always that way.

If your passion suddenly feels unimportant in the wake of what happened, maybe that’s because, comparatively, it is.

Maybe your passion needs to be demoted to a hobby or a pastime, or maybe even kicked out for a time, so there’s room for your family and your God to take places one and two in your life (not in that order).

Spend 15 minutes on any social media platform today–Facebook, Twitter, anything. There is a huge outpouring of unified love and support and very real pain in America right now. And then there are the other posts:

“I can’t believe my mama gave my baby a graham cracker! I told her we don’t eat that junk and she did it anyway.” Well, I’m sorry, and she should listen, but you are so blessed to have a mama and a baby, and I bet you didn’t listen to your mama a whole lot more than she didn’t listen to you…just a guess.

“Anybody who feeds their children XYZ is just plain ignorant.” Maybe. Maybe. But I’m pretty sure the mamas that have no children to feed this morning aren’t comforted one iota by the fact that when they had children to feed a few days ago, they took the time and effort to feed them ABC instead of XYZ.

Has your passion or cause–whether real foods, green living, getting out of debt, or even a mission of helping others–skewed your vision just a little? Come on, just a little? Think about it, and hear yourself through others’ ears. Feed your kids right, be a green queen if that’s your calling, clip those coupons sister, but keep it in perspective, and never, ever, ever, ever let it take precedence over a living, breathing person…even us ignorant ones.

4 Thoughts on Tragedy, Family, Focus, and Faith (

4–Give them something real.

The empty words trying to make sense of this tragedy are just that–empty. Nauseatingly empty.

Give them Christ.

We teach our children what we understand from the Bible, and that’s this:

God commands all people to be perfect, not just good enough. Unfortunately, none of us is perfect…no, not even you. So God gave us the Christmas baby, His Son Jesus, who is both God and human. (Our brains can’t grasp this completely; we are, after all, only human.) Jesus lived the perfect life we couldn’t, and then died as punishment for our failings, not His own. Jesus came back to life (because He’s God, remember) and now lives in heaven and in my heart…and maybe yours, too. I hope so.

Believing that, however imperfectly we believe and however imperfectly we understand, is faith. Knowing Christ earned you a free pass to heaven, despite the doubts that sneak in, is trust. Living every day for Him instead of ourselves, however much we mess that up, is thankfulness.

If you believe that Christ is the path to heaven, share that with your children. Don’t wait for them to figure it out on their own.

It isn’t brainwashing for a doctor to give medicine to a dying child to save his life. It isn’t forcing our beliefs on a child to teach him how to read or spell or tell him about the history of America. If you believe in Christ, truly believe that He is the only way to heaven, why would you withhold that truth, that saving medicine, that “big picture” history lesson, that comfort and hope from your child? Why would you ever let it take a back seat to anything else?

You can share your faith while you’re training and cherishing–it all fits together beautifully.

If you don’t really know what I’m talking about, this path to heaven, please, please ask me.

share your faith

I’ve said enough.

I think maybe I can focus on Brussels sprouts now before my blessings wake up. You, my friend, go love on your children–cherish, train, prioritize, and share Christ. That’s the simple life in a nutshell.

Affording a Large Family: 15 Ways To Make It Work

Rumor has it that raising a child through the age of 17 costs two hundred thousand dollars. That’s $200,000…which is a lot of zeros.

Want to send them to college? Better get used to living in the poor house.

Want more than two children? It’d be cheaper to get a lobotomy. (And most people will assume you have had a lobotomy if you’re crazy enough to venture past 2.3 kids.)

People, I have seven children. Count them…on two hands. That’s nearly 1.5 million dollars just to get them out of diapers and braces!

Affording a Large Family

So how do we afford to raise a large family, especially in a failing economy?

I recently posted about this over at Stacy Makes Cents while Stacy was on blog maternity leave, resting up from growing her own family.

Hop on over to read Affording a Large Family: 15 Ways to Make It Work.

While you’re there, sign up for Stacy’s emails. She’s a fantastic girl—humble, funny, smart, and she has nice grammar. (It’s true: I judge bloggers by their grammar. It ain’t right, I know, but I can’t help myself.)

Read Affording a Large Family

See you over at Stacy Makes Cents!

20 Tips for Traveling With Children

I know a thing or two about traveling with children…and dogs. We have seven of them (children, that is), and we have been traveling with them for 15 years. Currently we are on the road full-time traveling the country as part of my husband’s music mission. Yup, all of us.

The Travel Bags
The Travel Bags rig in Donner Pass where we blew a tire. Has your house ever blown a tire?

You can read about that at The Travel Bags.

Go to The Travel Bags.

As you might imagine, I’ve gathered a few pointers over the years for making traveling with children a bit more fun and a little less…well, a little less not-fun. A word of warning, these tips do require that you put down your smartphone and focus on your family.

You can read my 20 tips for traveling with children over at Purposeful Homemaking. Buckle up and cruise on over there.

Read Traveling With Children: Keeping Kids Happy on the Road.

25 Tips for How to Soothe a Crying Baby

Someone once told me that her son never cried. Not ever!  Not even once!

Two things come to mind:

1) That most definitely was not the experience I had with any of my seven babies.

2) Liar, liar, pants on fire.

Babies cry.  It’s just one of those things.  Your job as a parent or caretaker or babysitter or the lucky person on nursery duty with a room full of screaming babies is to figure out why the baby is crying and to do something about it.

In other words, you want to turn this:

How to soothe a crying baby

into this:

How to soothe a crying baby

or this:

How to soothe a crying baby

Here are some ideas from a mom who has been there.  (Actually, I’m still there!)

25 Tips for How to Soothe a Crying Baby

  1. Check the diaper. Is it wet, smelly, or chafing?  Is there a rash? Are the tabs or band poking the baby? Are the legs too tight?
  2. Determine if the baby is hungry or thirsty.  Even if your baby is not typically hungry at that time of day, she may be having a growth spurt and require more frequent feedings.
  3. Pick the little peanut up and hold her—she may simply be scared, bored, or lonely.
  4. 100_9626Cover a baby up if she appears cold or remove clothing if the baby seems too hot.
  5. Swaddle the baby snuggly or wrap her gently in a soft blanket.
  6. Take off the babies clothes and diaper. Hanging out in her birthday suit often helps to “reset” a baby who is simply in fuss mode…unless you have a little stinker that hates diaper changes and will fuss even more.
  7. Check the baby’s temperature, eyes, mouth, and nose for signs of being sick?  Runny nose, goopy or red eyes, and swollen gums are signs that baby’s under the weather.
  8. Hold the little wailer and walk back and forth.  Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.  Is this getting old yet? Repeat. Repeat. Aaaannnndddd repeat.  When you’re done, do it again.
  9. How to soothe a crying babySee if the baby wants a pacifier or her thumb…or her toes if she’s gifted.
  10. Speak softly to the baby.  Recite every Bible verse you ever learned in Sunday School and every poem you memorized in 9th grade English.  It’s also a good time to impress the little one with your Latin vocabulary skills…since, in my experience, nobody else really cares.
  11. Hold the baby close to your cheek (and, unfortunately, your ear) and breathe softly and slowly, but audibly…sort of a less-dark-side version of Darth Vader. Your calm, steady breathing is often contagious and could put the little sweetpea to sleep.
  12. Carry the little pumpkin in a baby carrier or in your arms so that her ear is close to your heart. The sound of a beating heart reminds her of the good ol’ days.
  13. Gently massage babies legs and feet or rub her head gently.
  14. Rub her tummy gently, either moving from the top to the bottom, or forming a U-shape beginning at the upper right region, going down, left and back up.
  15. Make use of white noise by turning on a vacuum cleaner (you may as well use it while it’s on) or running water. (I think we’re personally responsible for the drought in the desert.)
  16. Play soft music or sing quietly. I had a baby that would cry when I sang, so, well, enough about that.
  17. How to soothe a crying babyAllow the baby to play with or listen to something that makes noise, like guitar strings, piano keys, a bell, or a rattle.  You will most likely need to help out…seeing as baby is a baby.
  18. Get in the car and drive until baby falls asleep.  If you have one of “those” babies, don’t stop driving until she’s about eight years old.
  19. Babies like repetitive motion. Use a baby swing or vibrating seat, or do what Grandma did and rock in a rocking chair or push baby in a carriage, or do what I do and sway.
  20. Hold the baby’s hands or try crossing her arms gently over her chest so she is not flailing.  She will feel more secure.
  21. Lay the baby on her tummy, either on your lap, chest, or other safe surface, and gently rub her back.
  22. Burp her gently.  It might just be gas.
  23. Show her something with lights or bright, contrasting colors.
  24. Take baby to a dark, quiet room.
  25. Engage baby by looking directly into her face and talking with her using a happy face.

How to soothe a crying baby

If these tips for how to soothe a crying baby don’t work, you must have one of my children you may have a colicky baby. In that case, read these tips on dealing with colic naturally.

Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help. If there is no help available, do not feel guilty about laying baby down in a safe place such as her crib, and stepping out of the room for a few minutes.  Your baby needs you to stay calm, so if you’re losing it, step away until you’ve found it again.  She might fall asleep while you’re gone…or she might throw up all over, kick her diaper off, and cover her nice homemade baby blanket, the crib, and maybe the nearby wall in baby poo.  Whoa—flashback!

IMPORTANT! Never ever ever ever ever shake your baby, get angry and rough with her, or leave her with anybody with a short fuse or questionable tolerance levels. No matter what!  Even if it means offending someone, put your baby’s safety first. Every time!

Remember, your sweet baby is not upsetting you on purpose. She really can’t help her behavior.  She’s scared, confused, and uncomfortable. She wants to feel safe and happy just as much as you do. You’re on the same team!

I apologize for the overuse of “she” in my solutions above.  I’m barely aware that babies come in the “he” variety. See:

How to soothe a crying baby

What are your best tips for how to soothe a crying baby?

10 Natural Tips for How to Soothe a Colicky Baby

Colic. The word sends shivers down the spine of even the most strong-hearted.

According to the dictionary:

col·ic [kol-ik] noun

  1. paroxysmal pain in the abdomen or bowels
  2. colic, fussy, irritable, colicky, sleepless infant or baby

According to the pediatrician:

“Well, uhhhhh, to be honest, we don’t really know what colic is.”

According to me:

How to soothe a colicky baby How to soothe a colicky baby How to soothe a colicky baby

If your baby cries inconsolably most nights, is in obvious discomfort, and cannot be calmed, there is a strong chance that she has colic. There is also a chance that you are going just a leeeeetle bit crazy and your heart is breaking over your baby’s agony and your own helplessness. The following 10 natural tips on how to soothe a colicky baby might help.

I am not, never was, and never will be a doctor.  Get a diagnosis from a good pediatrician and ask about these treatments before administering them.

10 Natural Tips for How to Soothe a Colicky Baby

How to soothe a colicky babyGive up dairy if you are nursing.  Dairy sensitivities in infants often present as colic.  Don’t give it up for a day and say it didn’t work. It generally takes a couple weeks for it to get out of your system, and even longer for baby to heal if she had any intestinal inflammation from the dairy.


How to soothe a colicky baby

How to soothe a colicky baby

Give up sugar if you are nursing. Sugar aggravates intestinal problems in anybody. Please, please, please don’t ever give a baby sugar water.

How to soothe a colicky babyRub the baby’s stomach with a little warm olive oil.  The heat, oil, and massage work together to soothe the stomach.


How to soothe a colicky babyPut a warm towel on the baby’s tummy. Alternatively, lay the baby down with her tummy on a warm water bottle, a blanket between baby and the water bottle. Test the temperature with the most sensitive part of your inner arm, and supervise the baby the entire time. Never use a heating pad, since the risk of burning the baby is too high.


How to soothe a colicky babyLay the baby down on your stomach, chest, or lap and rub her back gently.  Optionally, carry her so her stomach is across your arm.  Sometimes pressure on the stomach helps, but other times it makes it worse, so follow the baby’s cues.


How to soothe a colicky babyDrink chamomile tea if you are nursing.  If you are not nursing, give baby an ounce or two of weakened tea. Others have tried catnip tea. Ask your doctor before administering tea to a baby.


How to soothe a colicky babyPour boiling water over anise, fennel, or cumin seeds or a couple peppermint leaves. Let it steep for 10-15 minutes. Strain, cool, and give some to baby in a bottle. Consult a pediatrician.


How to soothe a colicky babyGive up foods that often cause digestive problems, such as spicy food, caffeine, soy, and chocolate. You may need to get more extreme down the road if this does not help, giving up common allergens such as gluten, eggs, corn, citrus, and nuts.


How to soothe a colicky babyAdd dairy-free probiotics, foods high in probiotics, and foods that help with digestion to your own diet if you are nursing. The baby will reap the benefits. Some people say to give baby a small bit of powdered probiotics, but you should discuss any supplement with your baby’s pediatrician.


How to soothe a colicky babyHow to soothe a colicky baby

How to soothe a colicky babyBoil an onion in water. Cool. Give the baby about a teaspoon in a bottle if your doctor says it’s okay.


During my research on how to soothe a colicky baby, I met a beautiful lady in her 80s out in California with a great colic anecdote (and antidote). Her doctor told her to insert a thermometer into the baby’s bottom (obviously not the forehead scanning type) and move it gently to one side. The gas will shoot out like a bat out of a colicky baby’s bottom and the baby will feel relief. (Ask your doctor!) I haven’t tried it.

What I liked best about meeting this lady were these words: “My daughter’s 60 now and we both survived the colic just fine.”

Music to a mama’s heart.

(By the way, while the screaming baby in the pictures did have colic, these tears were from her favorite team losing the championship game. Heartbreaker.)

What are your natural tips for how to soothe a colicky baby?

Have I mentioned that I am not a doctor and that you should talk to someone who is?  Well, I’m not, and you should.

Just a reminder, you can get a FREE nursing cover-up here.

Get a nursing cover!