A Full Plate but a Light Burden

A Full Plate but a Light Burden

“You have a lot on your plate.” It’s a statement I hear often, and I know it’s true. I homeschool, I cook nearly everything from scratch to accommodate our food sensitivities, I’m a pastor’s wife with various responsibilities and projects, not to mention I work at home now as a writer. It’s a full life.

It’s easy to feel like I’m pulled in a thousand directions, to feel overwhelmed by the tension. There are days when my plate seems too heavy.

Perhaps that’s why the book Rhythms of Grace resonated with me. The author Kerri Weems discussed the tensions we often feel from too much to do. Her comment was that we feel tension when those tasks have opposing priorities. But, if there is a way to have every task share the same priority, our pace of life would change. That’s what her book is about: changing your pace, setting your life’s rhythm, “discovering God’s tempo for your life.”

It’s easy to let our “to-dos” set our life’s rhythm. But my life purpose is not to check off all the boxes for the day (though it gives me great joy to do so). My purpose is to seek God and know Him more. And the delight is that I can accomplish that in so many varied ways—cleaning my house, making meals, serving my family and church family, teaching a class or Bible study, writing a story, or ministering in an assisted living facility.

To see my to-dos and projects as either achieving the same goal or at odds with each other was new—and liberating. The idea brought so much clarity.

Were each of my tasks serving a purpose of their own? Were all of these activities part of separate agendas? Or was I seeing each task, each project, as just one more way to seek Him? These questions help me to cut what doesn’t belong and embrace what does. Most importantly, these questions help me to remember why I do what I do.

I’m not pulled in a thousand different directions. Instead I have a thousand threads weaving my life into His. With each task, I have the grace and opportunity to know Him more. Bring it on!

A New Adventure: Taking on ADHD diet

A New Adventure: Taking on ADHD diet

When my homeschool year wrapped up, I embraced the summer break with the resolve to see if we could get to the bottom of some of our health issues through diet. It’s been a roller-coaster two years: two of my kids diagnosed with ADHD and some serious toddler issues, my husband had two back surgeries, a month-long bout of stomach bug (which ended in my toddler hospitalized for three days for dehydration), my husband’s second kidney stone, plus my own mysterious cramping and hormone concerns. Just for myself, I’d experimented with diet and realized I had very extreme issues with milk. Even trace amounts in baking goods would have me doubled-over in about 15 to 20 minutes.

So with all that circling around in my head, I really wanted to give diet-change a serious look. We went gluten-free in June, and by July we tackled the extreme elimination diet called Feingold.

I began keeping a detailed journal of everything everyone ate and daily notes on behaviors and moods.

What the diet eliminates

To start with, all dyes and preservatives and artificial anything are eliminated. This includes the hidden, non-listed preservatives. For instance, a package might be labeled “preservative free, no additives,” but the packaging has been sprayed with the preservative so the food is still contaminated even though it doesn’t have to be listed as an ingredient. Or, the product may list “corn, oil, salt” but the harmful preservative is in the oil that was used (but that doesn’t have to be listed either.) Bottom-line, Feingold does detailed research, sending out questionnaires to companies to find out which products truly are clean. I’ve learned the hard way, their list is pretty right on.

This also includes shampoos, toothpastes, hand soap, chapstick, laundry detergent, etc. I thought we were doing okay with dyes until I started looking more closely. You would’t believe where these things hide. Even fresh produce at restaurants is often injected with dyes to make them look brighter and fresher. Medicines, vitamins, and supplements are another surprising culprit. Again, no wonder my kids were having trouble.

Next the diet eliminates certain fresh fruits and vegetables that have been, from vast experience, shown to be problematic because of something called Salicylates, natural pesticides that plants produce to ward off bugs and disease. Even though it is natural, some people are extremely sensitive: tomatoes, grapes, apples, berries, cucumbers, almonds, coffee are some chief offenders. Some of these can be potentially be added back into a person’s diet once the key-offenders are found.

But the core of the diet is keeping a journal, making notes of everything, and watching for the patterns that surface. I’ve been blown away. And because I knew from personal experience how fast a reaction can happen, I could see my kids’ moods and behaviors shift just as quickly after eating certain foods.

How long does the diet take

A long time. It feels like an eternity. We’ve been doing this for 9 weeks, and we are not yet where I want to be though I’ve definitely seen progress and made connections. This is not for the faint of heart. I’ve read many articles that say you can’t treat ADHD with diet, and that specifically Feingold is only 1% effective or “outmoded.” And here’s why I think they say that: it’s stinking’ hard! This is all or nothing: no exceptions. This is not “give it a try for 2 weeks and see.”This is life-altering, leaving status-quo forever. There is no dabbling in this. It’s jump in with both feet. And no lie, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I spent 4 hours on my first shopping trip and did a lot of crying those first few weeks. It seemed impossible.

Also, it gets worse before it gets better. I couldn’t have done this without wonderful moms on the Facebook groups telling me to hang in there and helping me trouble-shoot. The detox of all the crap leaving their little systems is akin to a drug addict going through withdrawal. It’s ugly.

But here’s how I knew to stick it out. While I’m thankful for medicine to help us through this transition time, I was always baffled why some days it seemed to work well, some days it seemed to be too much, and some days it didn’t work at all. Now, it all makes sense, depending on what they ate and what their bodies were dealing with.

What I have learned

I’ve learned my kids have three categories of reactions: aggression and violence (corn, corn starch, corn syrup is awful for this); nasty, mouthy, catty remarks and general moodiness (dyes and hidden preservatives, also some salicylates for us); and just plain impulsive off-the-wall silliness, as in what is typically thought of as ADHD (still working on this one). Note: Everyone is different; the triggers for my kids may not necessarily be the same as someone else’s, though there are often similarities.

I’ve learned that, since cutting my own salicylate consumption, my daily migraines are gone (I only had two headaches last month. That’s it!) The ringing in my ears disappeared when I switched from almond milk to rice milk (almonds are a salicylate). I’ve learned that I can have a few of these fruits and veggies in small amounts and not in the same day, limiting the number I eat in a week.

I’ve learned that bananas are gassed with a corn-based spray to make them ripen faster, causing severe tantrums in my toddler (biting himself, screaming and kicking on the floor, extreme stuff). And that he is back to his happy, easy-going self when I watch what he eats. Also, diet-cheats caused potty accidents almost without exception.

I’ve learned to bake everything. This is huge for me. I hated baking. But going gluten free, milk free, corn free, pretty much left me with no other alternative. And I’ve learned that I really enjoy baking, and my bread machine.

I’ve learned that all the “I could never” excuses, are really just that—excuses. And the Lord has taken all of my “I could never” statements and made me eat them, literally.

I’ve learned simplicity. As complex as these changes are, I’ve learned to keep meals simple and uncomplicated. And they are still delicious. I’ve learned to pack lunches and snacks for everything. I’ve learned you find new favorites. I’ve learned diet changes don’t have to be isolating.

I’ve learned a lot. It’s been a hard journey, but an unforgettable one. And yes, it’s been totally worth it.

Curious about Feingold? Here’s a great ebook pdf that will give you an overview of what’s involved.

Preparing Tapestry: our Fourth Year

Preparing Tapestry: our Fourth Year

We are headed into our fourth year of our Tapestry of Grace curriculum, which means we will have completed the cycle at the end of this year. (It also means this is my last year of all grammar level.) Last year, I felt like we really made Tapestry our own and found our rhythm, our stride. It felt good, like a fitted glove.

Of course, when you end a year like that, it makes planning the next year exciting. I love the aspect of homeschooling where I trouble-shoot and research and find our answers, but the Lord knew I would be doing that in several other areas of our life; so homeschooling was off the hook. No massive revamping this year.

With that said, my prep for this year went really smoothly. In summary, I love manilla folders. I keep 36 folders for our weekly “must-do” assignments like language and math and latin. Then I keep a second set of folders for Tapestry that are labeled by Term (we do three 12 week terms) and by topic (I don’t cover everything; instead, I select the events and topics that will best suit my learners). All of our reading lists, media lists, and project papers are printed off and filed in these topic folders.

So here’s what it looks like. At the beginning of a week, I pull out two folders: the week we are in and the topic we are studying. Within the weekly folder, I pull out assignment pages and file into the kids’ daily pockets inside their binders (we use case-it binders with the accordion file inside). Within the topic folder, I look at my list all of the books and projects assigned for that topic and the number of weeks that I’ve guessed it will take us to complete (i.e. Titanic, 2 weeks). I then allocate those assignments that will fit with our week’s schedule. Last year, this method cut my weekly prep to about 30 to 45 minutes total! Both kids filed and ready to go in around a half hour. It was beautiful.

Reading Lists

Tapestry’s reading lists are copyrighted, so I can’t share the specific book titles that we are using. However, I will list a couple of other resources I use to compare and substitute book titles. SimplyCharlotteMason.com has a book finder feature that I love. Just type in the event or person you are studying, the reading level of your students, and a great list of engaging living books is listed for you. My second resource is my local library online catalogue search feature. Again, I type in the event or person, narrow it to children’s resources, and voila! I love my local library. It has an enormous selection.

I also use SimplyCharlotteMason’s Story of America and Story of the Nations ebooks as my core. These are not Tapestry titles, but the table of contents make it very easy to assign chapters that fit what we are covering. And the books are very engaging. We love them.

I select my favorites. Depending on how long we intend to study a topic, for each week I will select one to two read-aloud titles, one to two independent reading titles per child (depending on the length of the book), and the rest will be assigned merely as reference, as in “let’s look at more pictures.”

Media List

I love audios. Awhile back I scored Diana Waring’s history audio from Answers in Genesis‘ history program. We love listening to these on the way back and forth to karate and co-op. So, on the days we don’t get to our reading, we are still getting to our history. And this is another very engaging resource.

Netflix is also a resource where I search for related films to what we are studying. We don’t always get to this, but it is great for those off-days or sick days to already have this list compiled.


Homeschool in the Woods is not a Tapestry resource either, but we LOVE these projects. I use the Time Traveler activities. We make notebooking pages using both the notebooking and lapbooking project ideas. Especially since my kids are finally old enough to do their own cutting and pasting, these have been really fun activities to assign. They work on these while I read-aloud. It keeps their fingers busy but doesn’t distract them from the reading.

I generally choose the projects that fit what we are studying, our time-frame, and my kids’ interests. I spend one long afternoon printing all of my chosen activities and filing into my topic folders. This saves me so much time during the school year.

I also have the Draw Through History titles. My son loves to draw; my daughter loves to trace. And it gives them some ideas for drawing and enhancing their notebook with images of what we are studying.

Our Rhythm

I mentioned that I note about how many weeks I think a topic will take us. Last year, this was very fluid. We moved on when our books were read and our projects were done. And I found that in the end, things balanced out. Some topics took longer than I estimated, and some topics didn’t take as long. If we read everything in a week, we moved on. If it took us five weeks, because of interest or illness, we took our time and enjoyed it all. Sometimes, it was just a dud, and rather than struggle through 3 more weeks of something we were not enjoying, we covered the basics and moved on.

I’m also sensitive to my kids’ reading interests. There were some books that my son just hated, and while I realize that not all learning can be interest-driven, I think at the younger levels, reading should be. Occasionally, I’d make a call that he just needed to get through a book. But if I made that call, I ensured that I had a very tantalizing book as a reward when he finished. There were books we didn’t read cover-to-cover. (Pause for you to gasp in horror.) We survived, and were no worse for that decision.

In spite of all that flexibility, I was amazed by how much my kids retained and learned. A little went a really long way.

What about discipline and teaching kids to push through the difficult stuff? I split my subjects into two categories: our discipline subjects like math, grammar, spelling; and our inspiration subjects like history, science, and reading. This helped me define my objectives. My discipline subjects were challenging but in short spurts (no more than 15-20 min. per lesson/subject). My inspiration subjects were kept inspiring and interesting and often took closer to an hour or hour and a half (hands-on projects take awhile). But again, I watched my kiddos. If they were engaged, we took our time. If their eyes were glossing over, it was time for lunch.

Want to know more specifics? I’ve listed our specific curriculum choices here. Feel free to browse those links. Not sure what your homeschool style is? Be encouraged with my post about losing the labels.

I’m looking forward to another really great homeschool adventure, and I hope you tag along on our journey.

Losing the Label

Losing the Label

Sometimes, labels can be very helpful, allowing us to define our vision or explain that vision in a way others can quickly identify with. At other times, we allow those labels to shackle us to a lifestyle or an approach that maybe isn’t quite the right fit.

Crunchy, organic, homesteader. Attachment-parenting, grace-based parenting, traditional. Classical education, Charlotte Mason, unschooling.

I think to escape the label in homeschooling, a lot of us settle on “eclectic” and call it a day. It’s easier than trying to explain the exceptions we’ve made to this philosophy and that approach. But I will take the time to explain some of our exceptions, just to help you see our journey and maybe bring some clarity to yours.

eclectic homeschooling

We started out hard core classical educators. Lots of memory, early Latin, art and music appreciation. And while I still love the learning levels and cycle of history, some of the rigidity and rigor has slipped away, for our sanity and survival.

I loved everything I read about Charlotte Mason, and was fully prepared to embrace the majority of that educational approach at the beginning of the year. Short lessons saved us this year, transformed our homeschool. My little ADHD kiddos thrived with short intense bursts and learned more than you could imagine from lessons that were no longer than 15 or 20 min.; it fit them perfectly. They could succeed and still be Tiggers. I also loved the connection with people rather than simply memorizing events. We merely discovered the events as we got to know people. My son saw himself in the life of Charles Dickens, saw who he wanted to be in Abraham Lincoln, and saw what he wanted to achieve in the lives of inventors like Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers.

Reading great books

On the other hand, even though the idea of teaching language the Charlotte Mason way really appealed to me, it was a colossal failure in practice. My son simply hated learning spelling through dictation; and while I enjoyed teaching the language lessons, I did not enjoy the fact that the method was so teacher-dependent. We gave it a try for quite a while and then I realized it was pointless to continue something that wasn’t working for my son simply because I was idealistic.

I learned this year, with all of our personal challenges, to be flexible, perhaps a little more realistic and a little less idealistic. I learned that no approach to education is the right approach for every child (after all, isn’t that why many of us homeschool to begin with?). And I learned that what I’m doing has to be a fit for BOTH me AND my child.

I’ve learned that labels are for canned food and toothpaste, not people.

Losing the labels

Next Year Plans 2015-2016

Next Year Plans 2015-2016

Homeschool Curriculum Planning

I must confess, planning for this next school year was much less difficult than it has been in the past. We had so much success this year that I had little to research and change. And while it was very nice to have those decisions pretty well made, I kind of missed the search-and-find part of the process. No one needs someone to find curriculum for them, do they?

All joking aside, I’m thrilled that we’ve found the pieces that fit just right for us. It’s been a great fit this year, a perfect balance. So, here is our master list for next year.

Grade 4:

Christian Light Publications Grade 4 Math

Alpha Omega Grade 4 Language Arts

Easy Grammar/Daily Grams 4

Spelling Power, 1st edition

Visual Latin 1 (second half)

Legends and Leagues geography (North, South, East—one for each school term)

My State Notebook, A Beka

Tapestry of Grace year 4, Upper Grammar (with Draw through History and Time Travelers Pak activities)

Grade 2:

Christian Light Publication Grade 2 Math

Logic of English Foundations D

Legends and Leagues (original book and workbook)

Tapestry of Grace Year 4, Lower Grammar (with Draw through History and Time Traveler Pak activities)

We’ll also be studying Norman Rockwell and Kandinsky for art, as well as jazz and Louis Armstrong for music.

“Preschool” for 3 year old

Nothing heavy here, trust me. But I have to plan something to keep Little Man out of trouble. And he loves “plojects.” Honestly, I’m aiming for exploration. And while I don’t have anything finalized, I expect to use a lot of Pinterest ideas, some resources from Letter of the Week (COAH), and some inspiration from The Homegrown Preschooler. I also want to implement a lot of Montessori activities with him.

Tot School

Littlest is such a sponge. He does a lot of counting, can recognize a few different letters, and knows his colors pretty well with absolutely no formal instruction from me. He’s too little to have a learning style just yet, but he clearly loves to explore rather than pursue anything structured. I’m really okay with that for now. I love setting out the supplies and letting him explore them on his own.

We do have a “summer school” schedule that I’ll post more details about soon. And I can’t wait to get into that learning mode. In the meantime, I’ll have to satisfy my curriculum-hunting instincts by delving into some preschool pinterest boards.


A Mixed Cup

A Mixed Cup

Missional Mothering

We’re on day 14 of the stomach virus at my house. My toddler has had it the entire time while each of the kids have had their share. I’ve paid my dues to the virus, logged my own 6 days, and am praying I don’t have to do a second round before it vacates our premises. It’s been a long haul.

I woke up to puke for Mother’s Day, and went to bed at the end of Mother’s Day puking myself. But Mother’s Day is a Hallmark holiday after all; this is the real stuff of motherhood. And yet, in spite of everything, I’m moved to tears with gratitude.

I’ve had 14 days, but I know mothers who have faced years of this kind of suffering (and worse), with no hope and no cure in sight.

I was sent home from the doctor with nothing except “keep on keeping on” because my toddler, even after being sick for so long, is still nourished and hydrated enough to be getting into the doctor’s drawers and throwing tantrums because he can’t push buttons on the doctor’s keyboard. There was no IV, no hospital admission, no dehydration. We went home.

I have hope. This light affliction (though it doesn’t always seem light) is but for a moment (though a moment can seem like an eternity). This too shall pass. And with it will pass the days of holding small hands and kissing warm heads and snuggling sleepy little ones.

This is a mixed cup, this stuff of motherhood. And if I gulp too fast, I’ll only taste the bitter. But if I savor, if I slow down, if I intentionally give thanks, there is a sweetness too. Even stomach bugs have a silver lining.