Thursday, March 23, 2017

Tips to Encourage More Reading in Your Life

This post is sponsored by U.S. Cellular.  I am part of the U.S. Cellular Ambassador program.  As always, all opinions are my own.

As long as I can remember, reading has always been a passion of mine.  I remember many many nights hiding under my covers with a flashlight to read just one more chapter…and I still am like that today.  When I find a good novel, I am hard pressed to find anything more important to do other than read it. 

When I welcomed my first baby, I realized how important reading was to me, and wanted to foster that same love in my daughter.  So I read, and I read, and I read some more.  Not the typical fairy tales and children’s books, but rather I read what I wanted to read, but aloud to her – Pride and Prejudice, the Harry Potter Series, the Narnia series, Animal Vegetable Miracle, and every homesteading book I could get my hands on.  Surprisingly she would listen, or fall asleep while I read something her mind found incredibly boring (win-win in my book).

Once she got a little bigger though, I realized that the ease of nursing and reading, or reading to a toddler from a real book became a bit more difficult.

How excited was I when I bought my first nook.  Wow, what a difference.  To have the ability to read anything I wanted, and not worrying about trying to turn the pages with a baby that grabs.

Technology has been my saving grace in my continued reading with littles in the house.

One of the biggest reasons I am able to read more is because I always have a book with me.  I just turn on my phone, or I bring my e-reader with me.  Instead of scrolling through Facebook at the Dr.’s office, or in line, I can open up a new or current book to read.  It is helping me get to my 100books read goal this year.  Having a reliable network like U.S. Cellular allows me to always be able to access these books.

To be sure I still have a large library of *real* books, but the ability to use the library to check out e-books whenever, the never-ending samples I am able to acquire from the nook library or on my kindle, it is a new world for readers!

Reading and technology isn’t an adult exclusive opportunity, there are so many options available for kids.

There are a number of books available on the public library system in our state for my kids, as well as a number of e-books available through different e-book libraries.  Apps such as Homer and Hooked on Phonics give fun games and videos to help kids learn to read and to cultivate a lifelong love of learning – which is my primary goal for my kids in homeschooling.

I spend a large amount of time reading on my iPhone at night.  Having little ones it seems like I am always lying in bed, in the dark, waiting for someone to fall asleep.  Unfortunately it always seems like the brightness, even when turned all the way down, is too harsh in my dark bedroom.  I have two tips to help with this.

The first is to turn the nightshift on – just draw your finger up from the bottom of your iPhone to bring up the little screen, and then click night shift on.  It takes the blue light away from the phone, which is a huge help with getting to sleep if you read on your phone or another electronic device before bed.

The other tip I have is to dim the screen even more.  In order to do this you need to go to settings – general – accessibility.  Then you are going to want to turn on the “zoom” setting.  Press “zoom” and then when you get to that screen make sure your “zoom region” says full screen zoom, and the “zoom filter” says low light.  Once you turn the zoom on at the top, your screen will literally zoom and you will not be able to see anything on the screen besides one large button.  Not to worry!  Just double click on the screen with THREE fingers, and then move the zoom dial all the way to the left, it will dim your screen, and it will be a normal size screen.  This little trick has allowed me to read while my children sleep beside me many many nights.

Do you use tech to keep up with your reading goals?  Do you use night shift or the zoom function on your phone?

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

knitting and reading

If you saw my Day in the Life post on Monday, you will know that two things are going on right now - my kids are all sick and have had high fevers (me included) and we brought home our new puppy on Saturday.

Yes, it was a perfect time to bring home a new puppy...when everyone was sick...but it was when we had planned to get her, so no backing out!

All that to say, I have made very little progress on my cowl this week.  But, it is coming along nicely.  I really like how the pattern is coming out with the yarn color.  I wasn't sure what would highlight the variance in color between the cream and the tan color, it is so beautiful in the skein, but I think this pattern is working out quite well!

As far as my reading goes, I have been reading a lot - a lot of time laying down with the kids seems to allow that.  I have been reading Justin Morgan Had a Horse to the kids, and so far they are enjoying it.  

I also just received in the mail the majority of our new books for the next school year.  Yes, it may seem quite early, but because we school year round our current books are just about done, and we are looking for some new reading material.  It works out nicely to move right along, especially since March is usually such a long and dreary month here in Maine.

My reading is also going quite well.  If you have read here any length of time you will know my love of all things Jane Austen - and my favorite book is Pride & Prejudice.  I absolutely love the story, and the movies, and re-tellings; whether modern or otherwise.  I recently came across a series told from Darcy's point of view.  It is called Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman

It is a three book series that follows the same story, but fills in a lot of the time gaps when Darcy is away from Elizabeth.  The second book concentrates on the entire time from when Darcy and Bingley leave Netherfield to right before Darcy heads to Rosings with his cousin.  

I just started the third book, and I am really excited to see how the author wraps up the series.  And honestly, it has been a while since I have found a really good series to read - I think maybe this is my favorite since the All Souls Trilogy.

We have been taking an unexpected break from school this week due to being sick, and it has been nice to sit back and try and recuperate without the added stress of school hanging over us.  

What are you working on this week?  Is this the winter that never ends in your household as well?  Any cute puppy pictures you want to share? 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Homeschool Day in the Life {8, 6, 2 year old}

Some of my most favorite posts to read are day in the life posts.  I think that is also why I enjoy vlogs so much – I love to see the simple, everyday occurrences.  I like to be able to glean little bits of information here and there in order to make my days run more smoothly – or at least that is the attempt!

I had big plans this year.  I wanted to do another day in the life vlog like I did last year.

Unfortunately, that did not happen.  It reminded me of one of the top reasons we homeschool – flexibility.  If you would like to see my post from last year, head here.

I am most definitely an early riser.  I wasn’t always that way, but sometime after having my second child I realized that if I didn’t get up early, I would not be as good of a mother as I could be.

I rarely wake with an alarm these days, and tend to sleep exactly seven hours before I wake up – so whenever I go to bed, I tend to wake up exactly seven hours later.  Weird, but it is the way it goes.  In another life I would get up at 4am, and I probably still do that a couple times each week, but for some reason my littlest decides that when I wake up, she also should wake up.  So, I have been getting up closer to 6am as of late. 

Most of the time I will get a good 20 minutes before someone else is awake.  This gives me a few minutes to get my coffee, brush my teeth and get my mind ready for the day.  If it is a day that I am up a couple hours before everyone, I read my Bible, do scripture writing in my journal, and then I try to write for a while.

The kids are almost always up by 7am, and two out of three need breakfast immediately.  My middle guy is the late sleeper, and will sometimes sleep in until 8:30 or so, especially recently because he has been sick with a fever, which is absolutely no fun! 

Our breakfasts are very basic, either oatmeal with frozen blueberries and sliced banana, egg burritos, or peanut butter toast.  We are not very fancy here, but it is a good start to their day.

My breakfast of choice is coffee…always coffee.

The kids have free play time until 9am, when I start school with everyone.  They will usually play with LEGO, build something in their room, work on a book they are reading, or watch PBS kids.  The past week with fevers it has been PBS kids…I’m glad that the programming is educational, because when anyone is sick it tends to throw everything else off!

At 9am I try to do our circle time.  I am not as reliable about this as I would like to be, but sometimes Lucy is otherwise occupied (she is my youngest) and when she is occupied, I try to jump right into the school that takes a lot more of my attention.

A new thing that I am working on since January is to have dedicated school time, instead of trying to multi-task (check e-mails, do laundry, put dishes away, work on my blog) while the kids are working on something.  Even when they are fully capable of working on something independently, they tend to slow down and their minds wander, or they sneak off to play while I am not looking. 

Now we have dedicated school time from 9am-11am.  And surprisingly we get almost everything accomplished during that time!

When Jack is working on school we go through three things for him – Singapore Math 1B, HandwritingWithout Tears My Printing Book and he will read a chapter of a book.  Currently he is reading The Hardy Boys Secret Files Collection.  He will read a chapter and then he has to come and tell me three important things that he read.  It seems to be working quite well.  Also, he is super speedy so that he can get to his “more important” work of making stop motion videos, drawing video game scenes, playing with his LEGOs, or building something with his snapcircuits.

I count all of the “other” as school as well, but I am usually trying to let him get as much free play and self-directed learning as possible.  He will be seven at the end of the summer, and that is when it will start to become more real for him.  We don’t do seat work every day, mainly three days a week.  He is almost always present for when I am doing read-alouds though, and that comprises a large part of our schooling. 

Now, Emma, being eight, does a little bit more school work, as in every day.  But, her diligence pays off.  We are about 6 weeks out from finishing the school year, which is uncanny to me.  We do school all year long, but sometimes I forget what all those extra days lead up to in the summer, breaks at different times during the regular public school year. 

We try to start with the harder subjects.  It seems easier to get those out of the way first, although sometimes she does not want to do those subjects at all – mainly math.  She is currently working through Singapore 3B.  We really like this curriculum; I think that it gives an excellent grasp on math.  I have heard a lot of people recommend Teaching Textbooks as soon as you can get your kids into that program, but it hasn’t appealed to me yet.  We are planning on continuing with Singapore Math in a few months with the next set of books, 4A & 4B.

Then we have spelling.  We have been using Sequential Spelling Book 1 this year, and I really like it.  Although, it definitely can get a little stressful doing 25 words every day, but they do build on each other, and I have seen her confidence grow with her free writing.

Once Math and Spelling are out of the way it is time for a snack and some Cosmic Kids Yoga.  This is something my kids have been doing for several years, and everyone loves it.  Lucy included.  She will often get one of the kids’ yoga mats and say it is time to do yoga – very cute coming from a 2 year old.

After our little break Emma will finish up her “seat work” which is her cursive as well as whichever book she is reading at the moment.  Then it is onto read alouds.

We are actually all done now with our Sonlight Core D books for the first year of American History.  Now the kids will pick a book off the shelf and we will read that.  Jack has been asking for me to read him Lassie and Emma has been enjoying the Mandie series, which is a series that I read when I was a kid, actually they are the same books I had when I was a kid.

At this point everyone is hungry again (are my kids the only ones who eat just about every hour?!), and I start to make lunch.  The kids are then able to have free play.  I forgot to mention that Lucy is decidedly good during this time.  I do have to spread my time between helping Emma and making sure Lucy is not climbing onto the tv stand, but for the most part it works out well.

After lunch it is time for quiet time, rest time, nap time, anything where there is dedicated time that the children are up in their rooms, and Lucy is sleeping. 

For a very long time I used this time as a way to catch up on *everything else* that goes on (chores, blog work, more chores, de-cluttering), but when I hit a wall at the end of last year, and decided that my word of the year would be margin, I started to take this time as self-care time.  It is a time where I can read, write, sit, think, knit.  It is really just a time where I practice self-care.  I need it, I deserve it, and I finally gave myself permission to take that time.

It would be nice if it were an uninterrupted amount of time, but the kids are usually up and down the stairs asking me a question about Minecraft, or something else, but as long as Lucy sleeps, Emma, Jack and I will have this quiet time.

We encourage a lot of free play, a lot of drawing, and music.  Overall it is a much more relaxed schedule than it used to be, but it is working well for us this year.  The kids seem to be enjoying it more, and that is the most important thing in my book!

Now, to get back to my three sick kiddos and new puppy!

Do you take time for self-care during your homeschool days?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

knitting and reading

Welcome back to another week of the yarnalong!  

This week I am still working on my cowl - and probably will be for quite a while.  I think I have nine more inches to go before it is technically done.  I'm not sure if I want it to be that bulky or not, and I might make it a little smaller.

I am really enjoying the pattern, it is super easy, which is always a good thing when I don't have a lot of dedicated time for concentration on a pattern.  This way, the kids can still interrupt me all the time, and I don't lose my place!

The only issue that I have had is when I joined to knit in the round I must have twisted the stitches, and so now the pattern will not lay flat.  I realized this after I had knit for a couple hours on it, and I was at a crossroads, do I rip it out and start again?

There was a time when I would most definitely have ripped it out, but seeing as it is a cowl, and the fact that I am just starting to get back into knitting, I decided to let it slide.  I don't think it will have a big impact on the final product...I hope!

As far as reading goes, I am still working through Affluenza.  It is as good as I remember it!  

The kids and I just finished up The Lewis and Clark Expedition.  The kids really enjoyed it, but at the end when they talk about how everyone died, including Lewis, well I think Emma said it best "that book has a horrible ending."  It was a tad depressing, but overall it was a great book the kids and I enjoyed.

I also finally purchased Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie.  I don't know why it has taken me so long to purchase this book, but in my quest for slowing down I knew that it was one I needed to add to my book list. 

As of now I am 6 books ahead on my reading goal for the year, which is really exciting!  I am definitely prioritizing reading this year.  When I have a few minutes free, instead of constantly scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or watching another YouTube video, I am pulling out my kindle and reading a few pages.  So far it is working!

How are you practicing self-care this week?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Tech to Help Plan the Perfect Date Night

This is a sponsored post brought to you as a U.S. Cellular Ambassador.  All opinions are my own.

Planning the perfect date night has changed a lot since my husband and I started dating almost 18 years ago (yes I had to check how long!).  I remember when I got my first cell phone my freshman year in college from U.S. Cellular.  It was a Nokia.  I loved it, however, it didn’t have near the capability of my iPhone today.  I’m not sure I even knew how to text with the number keys…and I certainly couldn't look up a good restaurant to go to.

There are so many options available today to help plan the perfect date night, and as a married mama, date nights are most definitely fun and important!

My favorite dates with my husband are pretty basic, getting out to a nice dinner that I don’t have to cook or clean up from, and a place where we can sit and talk – all important to me.  But, it seems to take us FOREVER to figure out exactly what we want to do.

Top Five Apps to Plan your Perfect Date

OpenTable – This app is perfect because it helps you find restaurants to eat at, and then lets you also make reservations – win-win!  And if you have Apple Pay, you can use your iPhone to pay for everything.

Poynt – If you aren’t ready for your evening to end and instead want to get out to get drinks after your meal, Poynt will use location services to find the closest hot spot for after-dinner fun. 

Bouqs – I am kind of old fashioned in that I LOVE to get fresh flowers from my husband.  They always brighten my day (and my home – especially in the middle of winter).  This app allows you to buy flowers and even have them delivered same day.  This app would actually work for any occasion where a special bouquet is needed!

Vivino – This app is perfect for the in-home date night.  If you are having trouble finding a wine for the evening, you can snap a picture of the label, and the app will tell you ratings, reviews and even food pairings for that wine.

Date Night by – As a mom, going out for a date is hard, but this app makes it easy to find childcare in your area.  It also will open OpenTable and Fandango to help plan out your dinner and a movie.

What was your most memorable date night?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

knitting and reading

After my little planning retreat this past weekend, I feel a little more on track with my knitting.  I think that getting my head around what I want to accomplish in the next few months, as well as what my family is going to be doing is the main reason I needed that planning retreat.  But, it had the added benefit of freeing up mind space so I could sit down and knit without feeling guilty about not getting the *other stuff* done.

I really only just started this cowl.  I purchased the yarn last year because I just loved the white and tan together.  It looks so pretty in the skein!  However, I could not figure out what to knit to make the beautiful yarn shine.  I finally searched ravelry for the exact type of yarn that I had, and found this pretty honey cowl.  It is super simple, which is what I need right now, but also I think it will be a nice knit to have.

Both Emma and Jack have asked if I am knitting it for them.  Emma because she thinks she needs a new cowl, and Jack because he keeps getting snow on his face when he goes outside.  I told them both I was knitting it for me, but I have a feeling we will be sharing it.

My reading is two-fold.  First, I am looking at seed catalogs.

After the 3 feet of snow we got last week, and now the 50 degree temperatures this week, I am thinking spring.  And spring means gardening in my world.  I am definitely excited to get out there and start working.  Granted we have an awful lot of snow, and even with the warm temperatures we are having this week I don’t expect it to be going away anytime soon (it is February after all!), but I am in the dreaming and planning stages now – heavy on the dreaming.

I am actually thinking about trying to grow hops this year.  I think it would be fun for Matt use some homegrown hops in his beer brewing, and attempting to grow something completely out of the ordinary will be fun and challenging for me as well.  I’m not really sure how they will do, but I am excited to do some more research on it.

And finally an old book, Affluenza (there is a new version out now, but the one I linked is the book I have).  I actually bought this book maybe 10 or 12 years ago.  I have read it, and I remember it was kind of at the beginning of my journey to follow a different path – less stuff, more homesteading, more homemaking.  It is really a very enlightening book, but one I haven’t read in a decade, and one I have been thinking about more recently.

When I was talking about slowing down a couple weeks ago, I realized that it is so easy for me to be caught up in the *stuff* of this western life I live in.  There is so much, it is so easy to get, and it is fun.  I like stuff just as much as the next person, but there comes a point when it is no longer fun, and I think I reached that point more recently after a time of slowly letting that original purpose of a different path slip.

I can’t really speak to many of the specifics of the book because I am just starting it again, but from what I remember it is quite good.  Some much more liberal ideas than I typically have, and I definitely gloss over some of the ideas, but overall, a good book that I am looking forward to digging into again.

What fun thing are you working on this week?  Any new books on the horizon?

Monday, February 20, 2017

What is a Planning Retreat and Why do I Need One?

I have heard the term planning or personal retreat several times in the past couple of years.  It always seemed like something that was not a right fit for me.  Not because I didn’t want to participate in a weekend of personal introspection – I mean the idea of going to a hotel by myself for a weekend where I could just concentrate on all of the thoughts in my head without any interruption (and room service of course!) – but the idea that I could actually put together such a trip was not at all on my radar.

Two years ago I had an infant, and with nursing and two older children to also take care of, the last thing I wanted to do was go away for a weekend (OK I may have secretly wanted to go away for a weekend!).

Then I realized that I needed that time to sit down and get all of my thoughts out of my head.

I read a book at the beginning of the year called Essentialism.  It is more of a business book than a self-help book.  It talks a lot about how executives in business are able to make decisions by weeding out the un-necessary or the unessential.  Instead, they make time only for what is essential, and somehow it seems to work.

One of the key parts of the book that I read was about thinking days.  One particular executive would take his entire team to have a “thinking day” where no technology was involved, no replying to e-mails, and instead they sat down and did some good, old-fashioned brainstorming.

That idea stuck with me.

Then I heard in the art of simple podcast, Tsh Oxenreider discussed the book and her desire to take a monthly “thinking day.”  During this day she could get all of the thoughts that never seem to make it out onto paper out of her head. 

It was at this point that I connected personal retreat weekends, planning weekends and thinking days.

I needed that time to be able to get my thoughts out and plan for what is next.

What exactly is a planning retreat?

Well, it can certainly be anything that you need it to be.  Perhaps you are in a busy season and you need to straighten out your schedule in order to be present for family time.  Maybe you are coming off of a busy season and you need a sort of reset to see what is next.  Homeschool planning certainly comes to mind for me.  Or perhaps it is everything?

For me, a planning retreat honestly meant uninterrupted time where I could get my thoughts down, and then put order to them.

Oftentimes I have so many items on my to-do list and running through my mind, that no matter how many lists I make, it does no good.  Not because I am not trying, but because there is no order.  There are too many things to do, and instead of figuring out the next best thing, my brain shuts down and goes into survival mode.

This was me at the end of the year last year, and I knew that I would need to change things.  So, I circled the first free Saturday on the calendar – towards the end of February – and I designated it my “planning retreat.”

Giving myself that date, that set time, where I knew I would be able to sit down and start to make sense of the jumbled mess of ideas and thoughts and dreams in my head freed me to continue working in the present through a very busy season (the holidays and the remaining basketball season).

I realized that I had to give myself permission to take that time.  Yes, it would be difficult on my family to have me be not present for a time – I am a mom that is always available to my family.  I am frequently putting their needs before my own.  A lot of the time that is necessary – I do have three small children – but I noticed myself saying fewer yeses to myself, and more yeses to everyone else.

Do you have to *plan* for a Planning Retreat?

Well, I think yes and no here.  For me, I personally needed to have some sort of agenda for my planning retreat.  While I would like to say that I could just sit and think, more often than not when I have any free time I will sit idle for some time relishing in the silence and be so overwhelmed with all the thoughts, I am rather unproductive. 

A planning retreat, while also used as a personal retreat, was not going to be me going away for a weekend at the spa.  It was essentially an uninterrupted working weekend – at least that was my hope.

I had homeschool planning to do – the end of the year planning as well as thinking ahead to which books I need to get for the coming year (we school year round).  I knew that I wanted to take time to get down ideas for my blog, to wrap my head around this business that I am building.  I also knew that I needed to get some personal goal setting done.  I started the year out strong with my word margin but I need to look forward and see where that word is going to lead me as the year continues.

Do I think that every person would benefit from a planning retreat, or a personal retreat, or even a thinking day?


Does it have to mimic my planning retreat?

Absolutely not.

I think that as you are able,  you see what your specific needs are.  Mine just happen to be planning for the months ahead.  Yours could perhaps be more self-care – that visit to the spa.  A weekend of writing a book, or a weekend of reading books.

Know that your retreat weekend will not be the same as anyone else’s.  That is totally fine, it is really about self-care for you, and you alone.

I think the first step is honestly to give yourself permission to do something like this.  That permission was hard for me to grant myself.  I struggle in being able to give myself time away from my kids.  I definitely feel like they are only so little for so long, and I don’t want to miss anything.  Having a weekend where we aren’t able to be together is a sacrifice for me, and not one that I take on easily; but at the same time, taking that time away allows for me to be a better wife and mama, and allows me the time to recharge – and that is very welcome.

Have you ever taken a personal retreat? Did you have an agenda going in, or prefer to have a more organic approach?