Spring Cleaning Your Life

What if we treated spring cleaning as an opportunity to freshen up everything in our lives?

As the spring comes barreling in with cherry blossoms in bloom and gardens beckoning, it’s a time to freshen everything up a bit. There’s a reason that we all crave an intensely deep clean and purge session this time of year. The mustiness of winter needs to be replaced with wide opened windows and the smell of clean laundry. However, there may be even more than your house needing a little love right now, and if that’s true, my words are for you.

What if we treated spring cleaning as an opportunity to freshen up everything in our lives – our physical and mental health, our relationships, even our passions and plans?

It can be a brutal process; one that gets messier and harder before you come through the other side, but isn’t that when all the beautiful things in life happen? After the hard work and a big mess? (I mean, our closet clean outs aren’t a thing of beauty until the final hanger is in place.) 

We are knee deep in the mess that comes with detoxing and we were in need of an escape. <Insert our runaway to Florida here>

While soaking in the Vitamin D, we decided to have those big, messy conversations. I highly recommend doing this in the sunshine; you’ll by far less likely to become defensive, cranky, or negative. The other key here is to dedicate quality time to these big-life conversations. Hire a babysitter, leave the kids with grandparents, and then book a hotel for the night. The time together will help you spring clean your relationship in more aspects than talking, ha! 

With the discussions typically comes a few emotional breakdowns. This is all part of the process. Get in a good workout and treat yourself to a massage or facial (DIY style or at the spa). Your puffy eyes will be gone, and you’ll use the solo time to process anything and everything still needing processed. 

What We Conquered While ‘Freshening Up’

Fresh Sheets

There comes a time in adulthood when you need to pull the trigger and upgrade your sleeping situation. A crisp new sheet set may be a great idea – or you can go big and replace that old mattress and bed frame, too. (Jump over to Casper for an amazing mattress and Article for a beautiful frame.)

Fresh Food

Whole food eating has always been our way of life, but we are focusing on adding in more wild caught fish and removing/limiting the all-day snacking. 

Fresh Mindset

This one is hard for me. I’m still struggling with it long after the initial conversation. We are dedicated to healing and happiness, and I’ll be the first to admit that my negativity (How can we do this? It’s too hard. How can we afford it? Why is XYZ happening?) has got to go. While it is triggered by very valid points, it does not help anything. God continues to provide us with answers when we need them most. I believe he does the same for you, too. 

We are all smart, capable, and deserving people. A fresh mindset (if you, too, are in need of one) may be the first step in aiding the next step of your journey.

If you are not confident in your actions, dreams, and abilities, your end goals will always seem out of reach. 

Can you tell that I needed a pep talk? 

So here I sit, in my freshly cleaned house, on my new bed, not stressing over the basement flooring choices (actually, I just let John pick and walked away from that decision), not freaking out over the laundry list of things we want to accomplish in the next 18 months (and how it will get done), but instead – I am enjoying my tea and choosing to believe (to know) that it will all work out wonderfully. 

A Childhood as Sweet and Slow as American Honey

Where…

“Strong love grows
She grew up good
She grew up slow
Like American honey.

Steady as a preacher
Free as a weed
Couldn’t wait to get going
But wasn’t quite ready to leave
So innocent, pure and sweet
American honey.”

I’ve had too much on my mind lately. I needed an out. We were all a bit burned out and over the cold, the masked-craziness still occurring in NOVA, a solid year of school work, our health issues, and all the updates we are making to the house. 

I needed a change of scenery and a reminder that breathing is a necessity.

As we spent over 16 hours in the car driving down the east coast to escape our reality that is still happening in Northern Virginia, the kids listened to music, audiobooks, and watched movies thanks to the unlimited wifi we opted for to use in just such road trip occasions. I realized just how ‘privileged’ this is – and I wondered if I was doing the kids wrong by granting this luxury.

Then I laughed and laughed and laughed as I knew my own sanity needs to be valued, too.

Balance, it’s important.

We arrived at our first Florida location and unpacked our suitcases and backpacks of ‘school items.’ (We homeschool year-round with long breaks in the summer and 2-3 breaks throughout the year for road trips, but we still bring books, some math, and anything needed for any online classes that are being completed during that time.) Scarlett completed her 6th grade history project, the boys finished their books, and everyone picked out a few new games. We enjoyed family time, more board games, and running around outside in that beautiful warmth known as the Florida Sunshine. 

One afternoon on our trip, while sitting outside reading a book, American Honey started playing. I looked up to see my kids, especially the oldest jumping in and out of the pool – sun-kissed and laughing so hard she had tears pouring out of her eyes. My tears came, but not from laughter. I was brought back to my own childhood and saw just how special my own children’s lives are during this small chapter of their own lives. They are growing up slow. While mature beyond most of their peers, they are innocent and naïve, even. It’s absolutely the reason we chose to homeschool – and it’s paying off. 

Beyond homeschooling though, there’s so much more. Our children do not know social media; Daddy says HELL NO to makeup, wedges, and crop tops; they will not have cell phones for years to come. Our children will be behind their peers in so many ways – but FREE in so many others. They know how to explore. They will continue to explore well passed the tween years. They would rather swim, run, roller blade, and create than sit – and sit – and sit. 

Why am I sharing this? Because your kids deserve an American Honey childhood, too. It’s never too late to find a better balance. Kick them outside. Make them make friends. Host sleepovers. LET THEM BE BORED.

No kid is in a race to having their first kiss or shaving their legs – no tween needs a social media presence. There are such bigger things in life worth striving for — like a long, slow childhood.

Grant your children this. 

The First Taste of Spring After a Long Winter

My boys are bordering on the stage where verbal fights are turning physical. I mean, Lyle chucked a rock at Emmett’s head because Emmett was taunting his ‘bad aim’ yesterday. Pretty sure that he hit his target in that moment. 

(So much for peaceful parenting at this stage, right?)

Our homeschooling days are already in countdown mode due to starting the year early and doubling up throughout the whole ‘two weeks to flatten a curve’ year we’ve had. (Seeing as how our area has no end in sight, I’m assuming some of my kids are going to complete two school grades this calendar year – because, what else is there to do?)

We started the pandemic as an already close-knit family, but the past year of doing the right thing by staying home has left us a little undone. We ordered out groceries and needs. We played with the same people and only vacationed to VRBOs. We weren’t scared of a virus; we were doing the same thing we’d have done in a really bad flu season. Mix that in with everything being shutdown/limited capacity and mandatory masks and the cold temperatures – UGH – a recipe for disaster for this outgoing family.

The winter was hard, there’s no denying it; but the snow has transitioned to rain and mud. My anxiety and clean house OCD is still not a fan of this season either, but at least I don’t need my parka on. I’ll take it.

The sky has found its blue again; the wind is calming down. 

The indoor fighting has turned to outside adventures together – exploring the thawing creek, building forts, and sword fighting with broken tree branches. 

After the longest winter, the spring is giving us renewed energy and faith. Soon flowers will bloom, my vegetable garden can be planted, and our skin will soak in the Vitamin D we so desperately need.

My prayer group had a homework assignment last week: Think of something – anything, big or small that touched your heart or gave you encouragement this week. 

1 Thessalonians 5:11 “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up.”

I was still in the weeds and couldn’t think of much. Emmett and I had just had so much bloodwork done. (They literally had to weigh us to make sure they didn’t take too much.) Emmett’s Lyme journey seemed to hit a wall and we needed more answers. My own autoimmune journey is just beginning. I was tired. I was more than tired. My body ached, joints cried, head throbbed, and I wanted to curl up in bed.

Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling encouraged. I wasn’t even sure what to pray for in that moment, but God gave me what I needed: a beautiful blue sky and temperatures that welcomed me outside. 

6 glorious solo miles.

I have since been running outside on the days that hit 45 degrees or higher. We’ve been venturing to playgrounds and spaces for the kids to burn energy. I’m even sitting outside while working today! I am pushing aside my negative thoughts and worries and welcoming this spring with open arms. 

Along with this energy comes road trip planning! It has been 2 years since we’ve been to the beach, and I do believe that it is calling to us…

Your Guide to Valentine’s Day 2021

It’s time to start planning your Valentine’s Day festivities. Skip the fancy date night and overpriced flowers (and even the store-bought chocolates) this year and opt for a fun weekend making memories instead. 

Valentine’s Day 2021

Heart Notes

Plan a simple love note to write on a construction paper heart every day from February 1st – 14th and hang them on your children’s bedroom doors while they sleep at night. They will wake up to a new heart each morning!

Matching or LOVE Themed Sweatshirts

Hit up Etsy really quick and order one of their gorgeous heart sweatshirts (or shirts if you happened to be down south). There are dozens of options. We went with different versions for each person and cannot wait to snuggle up in them! 

Fuzzy Socks

If you are throwing on sweatshirts, fuzzy socks should also be on the agenda. Even the boys will love a fun pair of Valentine’s Day socks. 

New Books

Books are gifted on every holiday in our house! I love searching for a book that matches each child’s personality. I’m loving the choose your own ending chapter books for the oldest kids, an easy-to-read chapter book for Lyle, and fun picture books for the littlest two. 

Natural Bath Bombs

These can get pricey, instead of ordering each person their own box, order enough for each child to get 2-3 actual bombs of their own. Stick with natural versions to keep the skin happy.

Homemade Heart Chocolate

Grab a few molds from Amazon, melt your chocolate (we use Enjoy Life Dark Chocolate Chips), and toss it into the freezer! We add whole almonds, crushed almonds, peanut butter, and chipped bananas into the center before freezing for a fun addition. 

These are definitely best frozen, so pop them out of the mold and into freezer baggies or a mason jar for easy access. 

Homemade Hot Cocoa Bombs

We are a hot chocolate family, but we enjoy ours with almond milk and an organic/healthier (haha – nothing is healthy with hot cocoa) option. Instead of purchasing hot cocoa bombs at $4-5 a piece, we are opting to try the DIY version at home and use our own dairy-free, organic ingredients! I even splurged on natural marshmallows for a few kids to try!

Heart-Shaped Pizza

Hand out a dough ball to each kid and let them roll away! You can help shape everything into hearts, even using cookie cutters for the pepperoni!

Family Paintballing

If you want to get out of the house together, think about doing something completely out of the box and booking a family package at your local paintball arena. We ventured out to try a few outdoor, safe, family Valentine options and paintballing won the prize! (We’ll report back on indoor race car driving soon!)

Plan a Quick Romantic Bed and Breakfast Escape

You know I’m always ready for a getaway, and this last year has been rough on our traveling souls. We are enjoying little weekends away, and I highly suggest you book one. Skip Valentine’s weekend away and spend that with your kiddos but plan it for another weekend in February. (This is much needed for reconnection and remembering why you chose your forever valentine!)

The Quaintest (Romantic) Getaway in Virginia

We have spent more time together than ever, and while we have loved it, there still was very little time for John and I to just be.

Ready to pack your bags?

In need of time away to reconnect?

We were. So we did – and you should too! Your relationship will thank you.

Recently, John and I decided after 13 years of marriage that we deserved an actual retreat together. It was the first time we have left the kids this long (FOUR NIGHTS!) and could not have done so without the help of my mom. 

Isn’t it funny how life turns into the same thing day in and day out – even during a pandemic? We have spent more time together than ever, and while we have loved it, there still was very little time for John and I to just be. Sure, we binged some Netflix, read some books, played games, and finished puzzles. Hell, we even took the kids on some great road trips. But we needed some solo time.

Insert all of the crazy here because we could not figure out what to do or where to go. We knew it needed to be driving distance from home to get back (just in case), and we wanted mountains. In truth, we wanted to snowboard, but we knew that it would be cutting it close to opening days due to the warm winter start in Virginia, so that option became 2nd priority. Our biggest hurtle was figuring out where to stay after pinning down a central location: Charlottesville, VA.

Due to the pandemic, John and I have not done anything other than rent through VRBO. We literally order our groceries, workout at home, and have friends over to our place (especially since soccer is on winter break). The mask situation completely creeps us out, and we’d rather not partake in it all if given the option. This left us asking if a resort was really where we wanted to stay, as all VRBO mountain rentals were booked or outrageously overpriced. And then I stumbled on the answer: A bed and breakfast outside Charlottesville.

The Fenton Inn came across my Duck Duck Go search a few pages into researching. Located at the bottom of Wintergreen Resort, it was the perfect location if the mountain opened to snowboard! After stalking their social media pages for a week, I booked the Swallow’s Nest room (OMG-THAT VIEW!).

Our anticipation grew as the trip grew closer, and in mid-December, we packed our bags and headed on the road together.

What you should bring on your B&B getaway:

ANYTHING YOU WANT because you are not packing for the kids.

Fun lingerie or whatever will help reconnect the two of you.

Snacks (you know you are used to snacking throughout the day!)

Appropriate clothing for adventures together.

The Fenton Inn did not disappoint! Please make room in your life to visit this gorgeous little German-inspired slice of heaven. It’s quaint charm and seclusion will have you wanting to snuggle up with hot tea and watch the fog roll in from the mountains. The owners are beyond kind, there are hiking trails you can jump on from the property, and the breakfast is brought wherever you’d like to enjoy it. Make sure you add a couple’s massage to your stay, and follow it with some hot tub time overlooking the views. 

Of course, you’ll want to leave the bed and breakfast at some point, right? Well, you’ll have to if you’d like something other than breakfast, ha! Because the mountain delayed its opening date, we only had one resort restaurant nearby, and we did enjoy some beers and food to-go from it, however, the best decision we made was to save our big meals to be eaten in Charlottesville! The drive was winding, pretty, and not the shortest, but well worth it. We splurged on one really nice dinner our first night, and the rest of the days were spent sampling wines, beers, appetizers, and foods nearby. There are vineyards and breweries as far as the eyes can see, so don’t worry about stopping at the store to pick anything up for the room. Seriously, grab a flight to sample and then purchase your favorite bottles to bring home.

The pictures do not do our trip justice. We went without seeing another guest all but once in our 4 nights there. (Although, I long for the days of normalcy and to see this B&B packed!) If you are longing for some time together away from the world, pack your bags and head out to reconnect. I promise it’s worth it.

The Freedoms of Homeschooling

I’ve started and deleted so many articles about homeschooling lately. My words seem to flood the pages but not really provide the impact that I’d like for them to do. Instead of rambling on and on about how this year is impacting homes everywhere, and instead of whining and complaining, I thought sharing these few things with you would be so much better.

Everyone is doing the best they can. Instead of accepting and adapting, though, you can walk away from your local education options and gain some control that you may be desperately seeking. Homeschooling can happen at any point of the year. You can withdraw your child any moment of any day. You may also reenroll them at any point that you’d like! (Each county may require different enrollment processes depending on the child’s grade level.) If you are even toying with this idea, I want you to hear why it may provide you with the freedoms your family is craving.

Note: I completely understand that homeschooling is not for everyone. Whether it is just something you don’t want to do – or you cannot do due to work and finances, that is okay.  However, this article is for those who are really thinking about taking that leap… and are able to. (No judgment to anyone who cannot or does not want to.)

The Freedoms of Homeschooling

Freedom of Choice 

With a civil war (of sorts) building right before our eyes, we are living an extremely impactful part of history. No matter whether you stand with the majority or have stood your ground in another way, you have the right to choose what your child is learning RIGHT NOW.  While religion, politics, and health choices should never be discussed within a school building or by a teacher, they are. Every time a teacher shares a video, reads a book, or pushes on something happening in our world right now, the children are impacted. Whether these views are in line with yours or not, it’s still extremely inappropriate that they are spoken. 

Homeschooling grants you the freedom to choose your own curriculum, the freedom to do your own research, the freedom to go against the whole and follow your own path.

It also allows you to stay within your own bubble – whether it be for health, safety, or sanity.

Freedom of Childhood

Childhood ends too early in our society. Between social media, celebrities, movies, and even clothing options, our babies are jumping straight into teenagers before they are ready. Homeschooling is an opportunity to extend the years of exploration and play, imagination, and youth. Some may think homeschooling equals naivety (in a bad way), but the truth is that this innocence stays with them until they are ready to truly understand more adult-like things. It also means that topics are spoken openly and together within the family, instead of through peers.

Freedom of Time

Homeschooling does not have set hours or days. It can happen 2 hours a day from 6-8pm. It can happen every other day. It can be as structured or unstructured as your child’s personality demands. 

Freedom of Passion 

It’s no secret that our school system is very broken. 

By homeschooling, you are eliminating the chance of peer-pressure, bullying (by peers and teachers), and the squashing of your child’s passion. Jumping off that assembly line that asks 28 students in a room to line up and spit out the same facts, will allow you to truly learn who your child is – not the one that is formed and molded by the school system. Your relationship will strengthen. You can help guide and teach your child in ways he will retain and crave more. 

Freedom of Travel

This is one of the greatest freedoms that our family enjoys. We can pack up and hit the road on any given day. We try to work around sports and work, but the option is always right there. 

While the rest of our country has been sitting in front of virtual learning screens or heading in and out of an overly sanitized, faceless building for hybrid learning, we headed out for two weeks on the road! We hit up North Carolina and then cozied up watching the rain pour down on a lake in Southern Virginia. The music played, puzzles were put together, pancakes were devoured, and we still read books, completed work, and headed out on the boat for sunset. 

Homeschooling is what grants us the freedom to do this. Yes, it takes a different mindset. Yes, it presents many challenges. Yes, it is so worth it – for us… and possibly for you.

The Perfect Lake Escape.

There are great lake house rentals and then there is The Dragonfly

We have had a hell of a 2020 – along with everyone else at this point. But in all seriousness, we were separated while John was relocated to start a project. We sold our house and moved across the country and were in a mold-filled corporate rental until we could find and purchase our house out here. During this time, the lockdown happened. We had zero toilet paper and enough food for 3-4 days… for a family of SEVEN. The shelves were empty and we had nowhere to put anything. We lived off the same seven days worth of clothes, had no tv or internet, and were banned from parks and playgrounds. We were a day away from losing our minds. 

We found an amazing house, moved in, and dealt with neighbors who were too scared to bring groceries inside, let alone be our friends. All the while, John was working 16 hour days, 11-12+ days in a row, and having 2(ish) days off… (the -ish is because he was still working 24/7 even on those days ‘off’). It was a 100 day project and we knew it would be intense. The kids and I pushed through and finally made friends in the neighborhood. We schooled throughout the summer to kill time, and we took several little vacations. But it was a LONG 100 days. 

Here we are, on the other side of the project. We were both burnt out. We were in need of a retreat. We booked an amazing week-long stay at Hawk’s Cay Resort in the Keys, but as it approached, we learned the kids’ club, spa, arcade, and kids’ pool were all closed. We also learned that we could reserve a 2-hour spot at the pool each day, masks were required on all over the age OF TWO?!!! (WTAF) – and on top of it all, the prices were the EXACT SAME AS EVERY OTHER YEAR. My mind was blown and we got our money back. 

Everything was booked. We wanted to cry.

Along came THE DRAGONFLY.

Lake Gaston has clearly become a favorite vaca-spot for me, but John had not experienced it yet. A neighbor messaged me about her rental property and offered it to us, leaving a week early from their own planned vacation. I was ready to cry… but I had no idea what this rental had in store for us.

It was gorgeous. Beautifully decorated for fall, full of every kitchen item you could possibly need (a wok?? Who had a wok to make fried rice? I was in heaven!) There was a hot tub, paddle boards, kayaks, a lake trampoline and slide, and a boat ON PROPERTY. The rain may have kept us inside the first day, but the Wii and TV’s all over the house were enough to entertain the kids. We brought games and puzzles that helped too! Once the rain cleared, it was GAME ON.

Since we had an entire week there, we broke it up with great friends joining us for a night. We had 8 kids and 4 adults – and every single person was in love with this house. We made s’mores over the fire pit and listened to music on the speakers (that were located EVERYWHERE.)

Our food was delicious. The boating was peaceful and just what we needed. The entire trip was one for the books. I cannot wait to return.

What made the trip even better? We were able to spend 4 days in North Carolina beforehand! I had an amazing opportunity fr work, and we jumped on it to add on to the trip. We stayed with family and had the best time. 

As I sit at home – a clean home (because you ALWAYS have a cleaner come while you are on vacation) – with a pizza being delivered, I am so grateful for the last 10 days.  

Although, I’m a bit jealous… John headed to the Florida beaches for the next 5 days with 2 of the kids!  However, our soccer kid decided he NEEDED to return home before missing any more practices or games. Insert Mom of the Year award here for giving up a beach trip for travel soccer.

Morning Baskets: Educational Games for Schooling at Home

Well, it looks as if everyone will be spending the majority (who are we kidding? The WHOLE) school year at home this year. No one is thrilled – even us seasoned homeschoolers. But here we are, reliving Groundhog Day over and over.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a huge “play mom.” I have five kids and they don’t need for me to crawl around on my hands and knees in their world of make believe. They have the greatest imaginations and there are enough of them for me to sit and sip my tea instead of playing. This also rolls into games. While board and card games are a lot of fun, I never seem to gravitate towards them on a regular basis.

Insert The Year of The COVID.

I needed to get my act together before we were waist deep in the quicksand of the school year – grasping at anything to just make it through. We love homeschooling, but I need to get out of this COVID FUNK and get my ducks in a row (all five of them) so that we actually enjoy this year. My goal is to not just survive until normalcy, but for us to thrive and find joy in our learning environment.

After talking with a few besties, I decided to jump on the “Morning Basket” train. What’s a morning basket, you ask? It’s simply a basket that you have ready each day (or week – because, well… I’m not a Pinterest mom) with things you will do TOGETHER. Throw away the morning word because you can do it in the afternoon or evening – or on the weekend.   What you put in your basket depends on the ages of children you have, but basically, you want a read aloud book, a little lesson, something fun (like a game), and maybe some copy work.

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We started using our morning basket this week, and I realized just how amazing it is and that YOU NEED ONE NOW. It helps get everyone on the same page and moves you through your school routine calmly. I pick a game, a book, a bible verse/motivational quote for discussion and copy work (on the top of the page, I have them write a word to describe how they are feeling that day), one of our Mrs. Wordsmith vocabulary words, and a calendar activity. (Because my homeschooled kids aren’t exactly on top of their days and months – haha)

If I have anything that can be taught to the whole gaggle, I do it at this point. (Think: History story can be read together and then the 6th grader can break off to answer her questions, review 1st grade spelling lesson because everyone needs to remember how to spell those basic words, etc).

I then put on a song and have them transition to wherever they want or need to be for their individual work. Thanks to HomeschoolPlanet.com I have my entire school year planned out, down to the page numbers for each day. I can easily bump things, delete things, add things, and merge things with one click, and at the end of the year, I’ll have a transcript for my 4th and 6th graders! (I only put in basics for my 1/2nd grader because he’s working between grades and somedays completes 4 days worth and others nada.)

So what are we loving right now for that morning basket, you ask? Well, HAPPY SHOPPING!!!!!  (as always, affiliate links are included!)

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I purchased a few fun activities and books that correlated with things we are studying this year (anatomy and astronomy) and a few great nonfiction reads, too. My oldest is choosing a historical figure each month to complete a biography on, so I included some easy read biography books, too. But, you can simply grab whatever books you know your kids will love! (I included a few new ones we just added). And if you are an Usborne Book lover (LIKE ME!!) then head over to my live link and grab something before it sells out!)

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Don’t forget to get a few little things for your toddlers to play with quietly… You’ll see I added the flower building kit at the bottom. Mine love this inside or outside on the deck with the watering cans!

Grab Your Kids and Meet a Friend for a Week.

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My skin is a few shades darker, and my babies are all blonder. I’m flipping through over 900 pictures, and daydreaming of buying a lake house (and a boat). 

If you have never loaded your car full of kids, duffle bags, scooters, and snacks to hit the road to meet with a like-minded mama-friend and her kids, you need to, ASAP.

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When you escape solo, it is a much needed getaway, but when you take the kids on a grand adventure solo, you are allowing yourself to grow and blossom into the confident and capable mother you truly are. Knowing your kids and their needs will grant you the ability to plan an amazing vacation that everyone will remember.

In times of COVID, one of my besties needed to hit the road cross-country to get some QT with her oldest boy who lives in the northeast. We jumped on the opportunity to meet up for an entire week! Instead of our normal resort stays, we opted for a killer lakefront VRBO. I highly recommend skipping the hotel scene right now and finding a rental where you can cook and live as easy and normal as possible. 

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If you have never explored Lake Gaston in NC/VA, start planning. Depending on where you stay, you may be quite isolated as far as food and shopping options are concerned. We had a gas station and a food lion 30+ minutes away – but we made the most of it with one big online order and curbside pickup. 

No matter where you vacation, meal planning is key. It is the best way to make sure you are consuming nutritious foods and staying on budget. There is no way I can feed 5 kids from restaurants for 6+ days – nor would I want to. Instead, I emptied my pantry and brought all of gluten/dairy-free items to bake, and any food I could utilize throughout the week. With limited kitchen items, a wine bottle came in handy as a rolling pin, a neighbor’s pan worked perfect for gf/df brownies, and the blender made great popsicle fillings! We filled the table with buffet-style meals and snacks all day, every day. Waffles, bacon, sausage, every fruit possible, hummus and veggies, etc. But dinners? We knocked those out if the park!  John sent us on vacation with smoked pork butt, and we used it on tacos, burrito bowls, and homemade pizza! We butterflied and roasted a chicken with potatoes and cauliflower, too. Definitely have fun cooking with your bestie – turn on the music and dance in the kitchen!

The kids needed nothing more than rafts, sunscreen, fishing poles, and kayaks for the week. We had an amazing dock to cannonball off of, too! Sunset kayak trips, nighttime fishing, and late night wine drinking were all the rage! I was able to keep my running streak alive and get in great workouts lakeside each day while everyone slept in and relaxed. 

One more giant recommendation: Throw A Party Together.

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Streamers, glow sticks, games, and music. We celebrated 1/2 of 2020 being over (hallelujah) – but you can come up with any reason to party – Taco Tuesday? Wild Wednesday? Sunday Funday? You name it, it’s party time!

But in true Our Lucky Seven fashion, I had to pull off a surprise. After calling every marina within 45 minutes from our VRBO, I found the last ski boat rental available for the week. I woke Emmett up early on Thursday morning and we headed out. His face was something I’ll remember forever when he realized his mama could hop into a ski boat and take off. Pulling into the dock at our rental, we were greeted with squealing kids! We borrowed a few killer rafts and spent the entire day exploring the 21-miles of lake we could access. I threw kids off tubes, jammed out with dance parties, and taught a few of the kids how to drive the boat. Talk about memories.

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We wrapped up the stay on Friday, and I took the opportunity to take the boat back solo… where my soul connected to the calmness of this grand lake just after sunrise. I swore I would not take anything for granted. I am so blessed to have such an amazing friendship and a family that will pack up in a moment’s notice to take on every adventure with me.

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We are living in odd times right now. There is great diversity happening in so many ways, and it’s happening everywhere. However, if everyone could take a breath, step back – perhaps even take a vacation – maybe we would all realize that our passions and beliefs throughout everything are all rooted in goodness. Instead of burning things and yelling, let’s stop the panicking and start the supporting. Take your health into your hands. Take the education into your hands. Smile to everyone and find a way to spend time with someone who will help you remember these things. Let’s grow together through these slower days. Let’s appreciate more, together.

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So you may want to homeschool: curriculum help.

My Tools 4 Wisdom 2020-2021 calendar arrived yesterday and reminded me that this holding cell we have all been trapped in doesn’t mean time stood still. Instead, it has sped up – the months now ticking by as we slow our lives drastically down. But, there is a huge stampede heading for everyone in just a few weeks: a new school year.

I have had my e-mail flooded with questions from families considering keeping their children at home and opting out of any in-person or virtual schooling offered by their school systems. The emails generally read as follows:

“Please help; I’m overwhelmed with where to begin. I don’t know how to teach! We aren’t structured enough to do this, but I just can’t send them back. I’m scared. How will I know they are learning? What if they hate it! What if I hate it? Do your kids fight a lot? What about curriculum – how do you even choose one? How do I transition to homeschooling?”

Instead of answering every email and message, I thought I’d share some advice here on the blog. 

Breathe. 

I cannot tell you if homeschooling is the right fit for your family, but I can tell you that I understand why you are considering it. Know that you have the ability to re-enroll in the school system at any time, so why not just throw caution to the wind and join the homeschooling community! 

Is it hard?  Only if you make it hard.

Is there fighting?  Only if you and your children are on different pages.

Will you be overwhelmed? Yes. You are a parent. You are always overwhelmed.

However, you can do this. The transition is the hardest, as you need to take a few months to just be with your kids – without curriculum or expectations. Read together (at every age), play together, explore, and build. Give them freedom to explore and play without you, too. This time is to adjust to being together and filling the hours of the day without stress. Once you all can spend a week doing ‘not much’ without major complaints or 8 hours of screen time, you know you are ready to bring in some curriculum!

I’ll share our curriculum choices in a moment, but first understand that homeschooling does not take 7-8 hours of time sitting at a desk. Homeschooling is completed quickly (depending on your child’s internal motivation, of course).  My 1st grader finishes his entire day within 45 minutes most days! My 4th and 6th graders take longer, one finishing in about 1.5 hours and the other taking 3 hours, depending on the subjects/assignments of the day (but she is a very slow worker-ha!) The rest of the day is spent outside playing, doing legos, creating things, watching science videos, playing games, or whatever else they want to do!

As for curriculums – the selection is very overwhelming. You do need to decide if this journey will be short and you will be re-enrolling as soon as you feel it is appropriate, or if you will be sticking with this for a longer period of time. I say this because our math program does not exactly line with each grade level, as it is foundational and builds upon itself instead of introducing 15 new concepts a year and then reviewing them every year. But there are fantastic programs that allow for a more seamless transition back to school! 

Our choices may or may not fit with your family, but they may make a great starting point. I would recommend ordering ASAP because we expect there to be a great shortage with the number of families wanting to educate at home this year.

 

Preschool Level: (I have an almost 3 year old and a 4 year old)

Keep it very very simple and utilize learning videos with phonics and fun characters.

Great curriculums to look at:

Abeka: They have great options across the board, but we utilize their spelling, language, reading, writing for first grade – and their history and geography for middle school.

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Math-U-See or Saxon for math of all levels

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HAKE – Writing and Grammar 

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Science and Reading Detective – we start these in third grade. 

 

All About Reading – Great to start around kindergarten!

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Bob Books – Wonderful filler books for brand new readers.

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The Reading Lesson – This book takes 5 minutes or less a day and really helps the child’s fluency.

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Evan Moore – Great workbooks, we use their spelling series currently (but may switch to abeka in the future!)

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180 Days of Workbooks – These are easy workbooks for all grade levels. They read a short passage and answer questions. If you choose these, you’ll want to check out some library books to really get deeper with the topics.

 

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Handwriting Without Tears – We love these little workbooks! 

My First Reading Library (Usborne) – Great books the kids will work their way up with.

Brain Quest – These are great for road trips or dinner conversation!

Gakken Workbooks – For the little kids – cut, trace, count, etc.

Gifted Learning CogAT flashcards – Again, great for a quick 5 minute lesson or fun learning moment.

Online Fun:

Duolingo – Free language learning (Scarlett does French here)

Dave Ramsey Programs – You can get a great deal right now. Kids are never too young to understand the value of money.

GenerationGenius.com – This is our science program. You purchase for a year at a time and have access to lesson plans, experiments, videos, etc! 

BrainPop – A fun and educational app that let’s you grant guilt-free screen time.

MathPlayground – Another great app!

outschool.com – You pay by the class and can find a class on any and every subject you can imagine. The kids log into zoom and have a blast!

typing.com – A free typing website that tracks progress.

I’m sure there is more, and I’ll add it as I think about it! But this should be enough to help you start exploring. Look for any coops in your area, too – although ours were all cancelled, put online, or opening with very strict regulations this year, so we opted out and decided to just get together 1-2x a week with other like-minded friends! 

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