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Monday, June 19, 2017

From Big Picture Thinking to a Written Daily Schedule: Plan Your Year Review



I had planned to post this review after I finish all of my Teaching from Rest book studies for the summer next week, but the price on this resource is going up this Wednesday (June 21, 2017)! I did not want you to miss out, my friends. I am not being compensated in any way for this review; I just really want to share how much I love this kit!

THE KIT

Pam Barnhill, a fellow homeschooling mama, has created a remarkable resource to bridge the gap between the theoretical homeschool and the day to day reality. Her Plan Your Year Kit is a true gem, and if you are hoping to be more intentional about planning your homeschool year, every page is worth every penny!

The current price is $24, and this includes the Planning Guide in PDF format, (currently) 74 beautiful downloadable forms for planning, two inspiring audio workshops, an invaluable Facebook group, and lifetime updates to the product. Pam updates calendars every season and adds custom forms requested by users.

She has also just added a 14-page student planner, The Independent Student, in 4 different graphic formats with an audio workshop, specifically for this new planner, which is included in the kit for free until July 2! You can download free sample pages from all of the above now to see if this product is for you.

Now, let me share why this kit has been such a gift to me!

NEXT STEP

I have found that PlanYour Year is the logical next step after reading Teaching from Rest. Most of my readers and friends know how much I love Sarah Mackenzie’s wise words. She regularly challenges us all to imagine our vision for our homeschools and focus on our priorities. Pam’s guide insists that the first thing one should do before buying materials or making a schedule is to write down on paper (or you can even type into Pam’s forms and save a pretty typed version) our overall vision and our goals for each child.

Once I have read about how I should “bring [my] basket,” “simplify the curriculum,” and “plan to breathe,” personally, I will completely forget about those ideas once I walk into the homeschool conference and start talking planning with my homeschooling friends. Even the subtitle of Pam’s guide, Plan Your Year: Homeschool Planning forPurpose and Peace, reflects the subtitle of Sarah’s book, Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guideto Unshakable Peace. (Yes, I think they did that on purpose; they’re pretty good friends, if you hadn’t guessed!)

And another day I’ll post a review of MySchoolYear.com, a homeschool record-keeping program, which has totally improved the day to day execution of the plans I make with Plan Your Year! My process includes: Step One, read Teaching from Rest; Step Two, Plan Your Year; and Step Three, use MySchoolYear.com to make it happen! (3 fantastic resources created by fellow Catholic homeschooling families!)

HOW TO

As I said in my testimonial above, there are probably thousands of free homeschool planning forms on the internet today. I have used many of them, but none of them come with a how-to guide to filling them out. Pam’s planning guide walks you through the ten steps to planning your year: Vision, Goals, Course of Study, Scheduling Options, Plan a Week, Purchase Resources, Booklists, Organization, Records, and the Daily Plan.

The forms themselves are clean and pretty, and I love that you can type right into the spaces to make your own personalized planning pages. There are so many different forms for so many different situations, including everything you would expect for homeschooling planning and a selection of specialized forms for family chores, morning time, loop scheduling, transcript planning, reading logs, etc. But the guide also includes links to resources and action steps to be sure you’re putting your family’s priorities first when you plan.

If you are like me and get overwhelmed by the details such that you forget the big picture, PlanYour Year is for you. I used to start with a long list of the things I wanted to teach the following year without stopping to consider why to teach those things and which were realistic for my family. I would see the shiny new books and the bargains at the used book sales and decide to jump in without evaluating our needs. Going through Pam’s careful planning steps ensures that I walk in to each conference or sale with a list of what my priorities are and which books I think will best fit those principles.

PERSONALIZED

I admit that I am the type of homeschooler who cannot use somebody else’s plans. When I look at sample pages to purchase daily lesson plans from whatever provider, I would make so many changes that I see them as a waste of my money. You may not be that way. Perhaps you love the structure of daily plans and maybe are enrolled in a full time or hybrid homeschool program. Plan Your Year can work for all of us!

This kit really is personalized. You decide the goals and print out the forms you want. You make a list of resources you need and when you need them. You plug in the activities and lessons on the calendar if you want. You map out the best approach to each day based on the needs of your family. And since an individualized education is one of the reasons many of us homeschool, this is the tool to make those wishes come true!

Finally, I cannot say enough good things about the wonderful ladies in the Plan Your Year Homeschool Planning Facebook group. Pam’s assistant, Dawn, guides the group in regular discussion during key planning times, and Pam pops in to share relevant wisdom, opportunities, and resources, including a file section with some of those customized forms I mentioned above. If you have a question or need someone to look over your plans, the mamas there are ready to help you make a plan that works for you!


GUARANTEE

Need another reason to click and buy? Pam offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. If you are not satisfied for any reason, she will give you a full refund.

Whether you are an orderly thinker who loves filling out forms, or tend towards being a scatterbrain and need someone to help you focus step by step through planning, I think Plan Your Year will work for you! I have just begun to print forms and dive into the process this year, but I am looking forward to pulling together all the thoughts swimming around in my head about next year into a definite plan.

Let me know in the comments here if you decide to join me and tell me what you think about Plan Your Year. Maybe we can even meet here or on Facebook to share our plans as we develop them!

TFR Part One Thoughts 2017



This is my third summer to read Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace (affiliate link - I might get a few pennies from your purchase using this link). Each time I ponder this book, I find new wisdom and a unique focus to guide me in planning for our next homeschool year. Over the past several weeks, I have had the opportunity to discuss the first part of this book with various friends and colleagues, in real life and online.

As a result of those discussions and my own reading, listening, and journaling, these are the key points I will take from part one this year:
  1. Over and over I have been reminded that the voices in my head that discourage me and cause me to question my daily decisions in mothering and homeschooling need to be replaced. In fact, the entire first section of this book reminded me that much of teaching from rest is to simply change my attitude. That is easier said than done, of course. 
  2. And to replace those voices, I need to constantly remind myself that God is present and watching. As Sarah says, “God showing up is not the miracle.” I am sure that if I can remember to let God be God, His still, quiet voice will guide me, especially as I spend precious time praying with His Word in the Scriptures, one of my favorite ways to pray.
  3. Thanks to the wise words of dear friends, I am also pondering anew how we can find God in the true, the good, and the beautiful. I can find Him there, and I can lead my children to Him there. Surely, this is the best way to capture the hearts of my children.
  4. Sarah also reminds us to always “choose the child” and focus on “loving him through” whatever is to be done. I have long believed that my highest priority is my relationship with each of my children, and I now renew my desire to live that more intentionally. To be faithful, to share joy, to be diligent…these all take intentional living.
  5. But to accomplish any of the above, I will need to learn better to accept the existing conditions the Lord has allowed and acknowledge my own weaknesses. He created each of my children, my husband, and me to be exactly the way He wants us to be. All I can offer is my best, trust that God will fill the gaps, and hope that Mary will, as one of my favorite prayers says, "supply in [her] all-wise motherhood for my poor human deficiencies."
These are my thoughts! Here are Sarah's thoughts in a recording of her excellent online book club. I am sure, if you have read Part One of Teaching from Rest, you have other thoughts to ponder. Please share them! I want to hear what words have touched you.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Be There



I went on a 20-hour womens’ retreat last month led by the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. (By the way, if you ever have a chance to go on one of their retreats in Ann Arbor or near Austin, go!) There were many things about those fleeting hours that I have brought home to ponder, and this one won’t let go, especially given the division and fear that is crushing our world today.

At one point the Sisters showed us the first part of this wonderful new movie, Liberating a Continent: John Paul II. One portion of the film that struck me was after Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II, and he went back to visit communist Poland, his homeland. The government did everything they could to discourage people from going to see him, fabricating and spreading stories about damaged roadways, rampant disease, and filth. But despite these lies and because of the inability for the faithful to ever speak in public about their faith, they went to see him. Historians estimate that 13 million people saw him over his nine-day visit in Poland.

I forget who, but one of the historians or clergy who were interviewed for the film explained that those gatherings were a catalyst for change. You see, these people did not know what their neighbors believed. There was no free speech, but by seeing one another gather together to pray with the pope, they realized how many fellow citizens were desperate for change. By physically being there, a new unity came about which inspired the strikes and other actions that would one day lead to the fall of communism in that country and beyond.

In our culture, it isn’t often difficult to know what another person thinks. We share our opinions freely, as we should in a country of free speech. Our Facebook feeds and our lunchroom discussions are as often about politics and religion as pop stars and TV shows, since we seem to have outgrown the previously taboo nature of these topics. But when we encounter another person who has similar beliefs and is living in a similar situation as we are, our faith is indeed boosted, and we feel we are a part of something bigger than our little circle of influence.

You have probably experienced this at a concert, conference, retreat, or similar large gathering. Wow. Look at all the people who love what I love. I felt that way on retreat this weekend as I met women from all over the State of Texas who were busy with jobs and families but needed 20 hours to focus on God, reflect on their vocation, and pray together for our families and our world.

Especially as mothers, especially as homeschooling mothers, we can feel extremely isolated and wonder if anyone else has similar struggles. But as soon as we head to the park and start chatting about toddler meltdowns and tween-age dawdling, our spirits are lifted, and we know we can persevere. When we encounter another soul thirsting and questing for God, we feel an instant connection and realize we are not alone.

In my own life, I recognize the need to find like-minded friends with similar vocations. All they have to do is be there, to send a text or to meet me for coffee, and I find renewal. It does not matter how we spend our time, whether we delve deep in conversation or merely chat with constant interruptions as our children play squabble. The Lord created us, women especially, for relationship with one another, and making the effort to show up not only feeds the souls of those around us, but also comforts our own hearts by reminding us that constantly striving for holiness is indeed a noble thing and not an impossible quest.

Perhaps there are obstacles to finding these IRL (in real life) gatherings. It is then that social media can fill a void with forums and blogs, Facebook and Instagram. A simple post can connect us to strangers and remind us Whom we serve, taking us out of our self-centered thoughts. We can find our tribe, and we can be reminded to fight the good fight and keep the high standards.

So my challenge to you is to reach out today. Be present to someone IRL or online, and stand side by side, appreciating your common ground and respecting your differences, because God loves us all when we are united in His Son, Christ Jesus.


Monday, June 12, 2017

This Book


This book. When it was first published as an ebook in 2014, I was in a fog. My youngest was just about a year old, I was struggling to keep a home business alive, and I sincerely thought it should not be taking me so long to bounce back to orderliness and productivity after another new baby. I was homeschooling a 5th and a 3rd grader and chasing a three year old amidst it all. Rest and peace were elusive.

Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakable Peace (affiliate link) came out on Sarah's blog and sounded like it would be a great help to my weariness. I had been reading and enjoying Sarah's perspective for a while, but reading a post here and there while nursing was hardly enough to cobble together a coherent thought to remember and apply tomorrow.

So I devoured her e-book. I printed it and put it in a binder and promptly read through it. I enjoyed her focus on trusting God and respecting who He created my children, and me, to be. But as she began to suggest practical ways to implement surrendering our homeschooling to the Lord, I fell back on my old perfectionist, worrying ways. And then, I promptly called a friend, one who had also read it, and complained, declaring the impossibility of the ideas within it. It just did not make sense!

How could I allow my children not to finish their math book by the end of the year? How could I simplify my curriculum when we hadn't even started Latin!? And how on earth could I schedule our days to allow for seemingly idle time? 24 hours are just not enough! (If you are laughing with me now, you have been there!)

But when the Lord wants to heal you, He doesn't give up. The following school year Sarah's words kept coming back to me. I argued with myself regarding my objections to her wisdom. Yet, even in Confession, Father was telling me to stop looking at prayer as something to check off of my to do list and just to "rest in the Lord." So, little by little, stubborn me began to surrender more and more to Christ. I brought my "couple loaves of bread and a few fish" to God and sat still long enough to let Him work in our homeschool. The results were grace and peace beyond my imaginings.

The following summer, I picked up the book again, in print form and remarkably edited to clarify its message, and I devoured it with new eyes. Now I read it at least once a year, sometimes twice. Each time the Holy Spirit prompts me in new ways to realize that I am not "the be-all and end-all of whether the education [I am] offering [my] children is going to be as successful as [I] hope it is." God is, and I endeavor to "seek Him first."

I highly suggest every homeschooling mother, whether you are enrolled in a hybrid or home-based program or you cobble together your own lessons, read this book. There is wisdom here that comes directly from Scripture and other wonderful books and from the daily experiences of many. If you look to planning next year as an enormous chore that you are incapable of completing or have not fully finished your school year and are limping to the finish line, consider reading this book. (And it's good for those of you who school year round, too!)

Would you like to join me to discuss this remarkable book over the next few weeks, as I study it again? I'm hoping that for the next several Mondays I can manage to get a post up here with my thoughts on each section of the book, and we can try to chat here. I know some of you are joining me to study the book in other ways, but a few friends requested a non-local, non-Facebook place. Let's try it! If you're in, please comment below, so I know to plan to chat with you next Monday about Part One!


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Heart of Love, Heart of Mercy


In our Catholic tradition, June is the month of the Two Hearts, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It seems a fitting time for me to offer this space at Heart of a Mother to the Heart of Our Blessed Mother.
Many of my friends are, for lack of a better word, pestering me to write more here. In prayer and circumstances, I feel prompted to write more here. So, today especially, I am asking Mary, Our Mother to guide me to God's will for this ministry. Please join me with this beautiful prayer, intended to be a novena to Mary's Immaculate Heart, but certainly useful for any day. Pray with me for all of the intentions in all of our hearts this day.
O Most Blessed Mother, heart of love, heart of mercy, ever listening, caring, consoling, hear our prayer. As your children, we implore your intercession with Jesus your Son. Receive with understanding and compassion the petitions we place before you today, especially those so deep in our heart. 
We are comforted in knowing your heart is ever open to those who ask for your prayer. We trust to your gentle care and intercession, those whom we love and who are sick or lonely or hurting. Help all of us, Holy Mother, to bear our burdens in this life until we may share eternal life and peace with God forever. 
Amen.
Thank you for your prayers and encouragement. Now...what should I write?! :)


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Of Course...Well, Duh!



"Of course you will get tired and burn-out and experience stress."
- said to a group of Catholic homeschooling mothers by a compassionate priest


There is nothing that has stuck with me more from our beautiful DFW Day of Grace for Catholic Homeschooling Mothers last month than this statement. I have circled it in my journal, pondered it in my heart, and wow. This seriously has changed my paradigm.

For years, I have heard fellow homeschooling mothers (but everyone probably experiences burn-out) discuss how to avoid burn-out and keep going. We talk about doing all the things we know we should do to remain at peace in our daily lives, all the many, many things. And I am not saying that burn-out is completely unavoidable, but I now think it is not the end-of-the-line desperation I once saw. It is instead an opportunity to grow in holiness.

The previous two Lents I have been blessed by Elizabeth Foss's Restore workshops, an online course for women experiencing burn-out. She is not running the course this year, but her guidance of spiritual and practical help for making ourselves whole again has been a gift to hundreds of women, proving that burn-out is a reality and a concern for many and that we can heal from it with God's grace. A quick Google search on Catholic homeschooling burnout resulted in over 371,000 results; it's clearly not rare.

Father's focus was not, as I expected, how to avoid burn-out and stress and not fall apart. It was to instruct us to choose to respond differently when we are tired and weary, to choose to respond rather than react. He taught us that God's grace is the help we need to see the stress as a symptom of the sickness of sin and to seek healing by making changes, by stepping back and viewing our stress through God's eyes. This can only be done, he reminded us, when we have a solid friendship with God.

I think that partly inspired my resolution to spend time in Scripture daily, in order to grow in relationship with God. So that is key. But my new paradigm is that instead of causing myself more stress by thinking of all the things I should be doing to avoid burn-out (i.e. eating well, sleeping well, exercising, planning meaningful lessons, keeping up with housework, etc.), I am looking at my stress as a reminder to take a deep breath and deflect the negativity, turning to God in that moment, which is much more frequently, and that's definitely a good thing.

Maybe all of that only makes sense in my head, but it seemed worth putting words down to try to communicate it to my friends, even though never of you ever face burn-out or stress. lol!

What choices do you make when you face stress that help you see it differently, through the lens of God's grace?



Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A New Resolution

(alternate title - The Day I Was Humbled Into Action by Elizabeth Foss Quoting Me!)



Just a short bit ago (yesterday perhaps) I was lamenting my prayer life. I just do not take the time I know I need to spend with my Lord in order to receive enough graces to get through each day. I am weary. This road is long and hard, as it should be, but that’s a deep thought for another day.

A couple of weeks ago, the Lord reminded me that, “In the beginning was the Word.” And I realized then that I need to immerse myself in Scripture. I feel, like Elizabeth Foss so eloquently articulated for me, that the dryness of my prayer and the longing of my heart can be healed with God’s Word. She shares:
I wonder how many of us spend as much time wondering what God thinks as we do scrolling through social media looking for ideas, or opinions, or arguments. (After this week, I’m thoroughly convinced people go looking for arguments.) We have time. We can read what God has to say every day. Even if we gave Him a fraction of the time we give to other reading, we’d give Him significant time.
(http://catholicherald.com/Opinions/Columnists/Elizabeth_Foss/God_s_conversation_with_us/)

Her words feel like a 2x4 to the head from God! Dummy! Pick up a Bible. It doesn’t matter where you begin; just begin with Me. And, so I do. At the beginning. Where the Word Became Flesh. (John 1)

Have you seen lately the treasures you can find there, friends? Oh my! The light we all need today in this broken world. The example of John who testified to the light and yet was not well received. And, the flesh, the man, the Eucharist, our greatest treasure. That’s only verses 1-13! John then writes:
And we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14b)
I haven’t told you yet that the word on my heart for this year is “glory,” and I will soon share with you the incredible graces I witnessed and received at our Mother’s Day of Grace this past Saturday. I am in awe at the careful love God has for me in half a verse of His Word!

My friends, He has words just for you, too. Words that will stir your heart, that will reach you wherever you are on this road to Him, whether you are filled with peace or struggling with doubt. The Bible is God’s gift to His children, and waiting inside are messages for each of us.

If you do not pick up your Bible daily, please join me in a new resolution. It may be the end of January, but let’s push away the burnout blues of February and prepare ourselves for the season of Lent to come by seeping ourselves in Scripture. Spending just a few minutes a day with the Word of God will surely bring great fruits for each of us and our families.

Will you join me?


Friday, January 20, 2017

You Have My Permission



I don’t have time. That thought runs through my head on a daily basis about many things. Fun outings. Kid meltdowns. Personal interests. Whenever I think of the things that I want to do and don’t get to do, that’s my internal response. The voice that whines in my head.

What thing would you like to do that you don’t have time to do? For you? Maybe you like to sew or read or paint or craft. Think especially of those things you want to do that do not have a tangible benefit for your family but are a way for you to create something.

I have a friend who makes fun t-shirts for her family to wear. I have another friend who has a direct sales business that she loves, and the income helps her family get through each month. That's fantastic. In this day of Etsy and blogging, mamas can turn almost anything in a money-making endeavor or turn their creative passions into tangible items that benefit their families. But, while that’s admirable, the rest of us who can’t handle the stress or logistics of self-employment (trust me, I tried a few times) and whose passions can’t directly benefit our children and husband still do desire things that bring us joy and feed our souls.

So, that thing? The one that you look forward to and love doing but takes time away from your homemaking, mothering, homeschooling, paid position, wife duties, etc? Do it anyway. Seriously. You have my permission. You don’t need it, but you have it.

As women, often we want to make lovely things, especially in this fallen, broken world. I remember growing up, noticing that my mother would sew and write and garden for fun. She enjoyed it. Sometimes it benefited our family directly, but sometimes it was just something she wanted to do. And it’s so difficult for me to follow her example.

But God made women as part of His creative genius. Beauty is of God, and I’m not talking the perfect Pinterest-beauty. I’m talking the art made with your heart. In my experience, when I do set aside that time, 15 minutes here and there or an hour or two once a week, my soul soars. I gain peace and confidence that does directly benefit my family. Mamas, you know this is true.

So, again, I give you permission, and I beg of you. Please, this week, take some time to do that thing. I made myself sit down and write this, and I challenge you to go do something that brings you joy - and brings God glory - and come back and share what you did! Our world is a messy place, but if we find beauty and create beauty, our souls will glorify God and His light will brighten our often dark and dismal world.




Thursday, January 5, 2017

Last Year



I bought this little decor item as a post-Christmas gift for myself as a reminder of what I did last year.

Last year, I said goodbye to my husband five times, each time knowing the stretch of time before I saw him again would be longer.

Last year, I said see-you-later to the dearest group of mom friends I have ever had, and fought little by little to make brand new mom friends.

I spent five months living in an apartment with my four kids and no husband, except for the couple of nights he visited before deploying.

I searched for a house, bought a house, moved into a house, and set up a house that my husband has never seen and will not see for several more months.

Last year, I survived my 17th wedding anniversary, Thanksgiving, my 40th birthday, Christmas, and New Year's Eve but missed my man every second.

Last year, I learned that fighting doubt and anxiety is exhausting, terrible work and that lowering expectations is a perfectly acceptable, but humbling, coping strategy.

I loved my children through a 2600+ mile road trip, attitude adjustments (before, during, and after), their own anxiety struggles, and plenty of too-big feelings they are ill-equipped to handle.

I found joy and peace in doing the one thing in front of me and putting one foot in front of the other each day, despite my longing to just stop time and stop being in charge of everything for a bit.

You see, I am strong. And I knew that. But I had no idea the kinds of tough emotions and stressful challenges I would face in 2016. I simply had no choice but to love my husband and my children and get through it somehow. I suppose I did have a choice, but no other option was okay with me. I might not have always done it with as much grace or love as I was capable of, but when I woke up on New Year's Day, I realized...

This year is the year my husband comes home.

This year is the year I cultivate my newfound strength into personal growth.

This year is the year that no matter how daunting the day, I know I can face whatever life hands me.

Because that's what we do, and there is no other acceptable path. Whether you deal with deployment, divorce, death, discord, disease, or something else, when life hands you adversity (and only then) God will reveal the hidden depth of the strength He planted deep in our souls.

5 days down, 360 to go! To God be the glory!