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Daily Liturgical Journals for Kids

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Our morning schedule has had a big, fat, wet wrench thrown into the middle of it.

And that big, fat, wet wrench goes by the name of “swimming lessons.”

So, in an effort to get our spiritual lives back on track, we started a new schedule while we are in the midst of a month’s worth of swimming lessons.

While the kids eat breakfast, I read out of this book:

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It’s awesome.  Marigold Hunt, the author, is awesome.  We are LOVING this book.

I then fill out our laminated Liturgical Year sheet with a dry erase marker.  This has SIGNIFICANTLY helped our family work our way through the Liturgical Year.

While I fill out the sheet that hangs on the wall, the kids have Liturgical Journals to fill out–I made one for the older kids (8 and 6) and one for the younger kids (4).

They LOVE filling these out, running to the window to give me a weather report, and telling Dad about the saint they learned about that particular day.

Hopefully these help your family as well!

The Liturgical Year Fill-in Sheet

The Liturgical Year Cheat Sheet

Daily Journal Older Kids

Daily Journal Little Kids

Interview with an Author: PART II

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If you missed Part I of the interview with Catholic author, Dr. Mark Adderley, please check it out here.

We now return you to the previously scheduled interview where my inner Diane Sawyer just can’t be contained…

[Dim the lights]

Who designs the covers of your books?

Dr. Adderley:  I do that. I find it very difficult. I’d like to get someone else to do it.

 How do you structure your writing time? Do you try and write every day? Or just on the weekends?

Dr. Adderley:  I write for a minimum of 30 minutes a day, whether I’m inspired or not. 30 minutes isn’t much, but the consistency of writing every day means that you actually achieve quite a lot.

 Do you start with an outline for your books or do you just sit down and start writing?

Dr. Adderley:  I first find out something interesting going on in the world at the time I want to set the book. So, the latest McCracken book is set during early 1916. I found out that there was fighting in West Africa at that time—Nigeria and Cameroon and, to a lesser extent, Togo. So there’s the setting. Then I look for a villain. I can be a little freer with that, because it doesn’t have to be historical. Then I figure out what McCracken’s psychological or spiritual conflict is going to be. Then I write an outline. When I have my outline, I write another outline, which lists each chapter, its major conflict and how it ends. After that, I can start writing. I write several drafts, and get input from my family and sometimes from friends who, for example, might know the languages I use in the books better than I do.

What is the most difficult thing about writing books?

Dr. Adderley:  The most difficult thing about writing is selling books, and getting people to review them.

 Do the McCracken books need to be read in a particular order? Do we get to know McCracken in the first book and watch as his story progresses throughout the books or can they stand alone?

Dr. Adderley:  I wrote the McCracken books so they can stand alone; however, McCracken does make progress through the books—he gets married and has a child, earns a reputation for adventuring, etc.

Out of the three McCracken books, do you have one that is your “favorite?”

Dr. Adderley:  My favourite is always the most recent one, or the one I’m currently working on.

Are there any more McCracken books in the works?

Dr. Adderley:  McCracken and the Lost Lagoon will be out in September 2015. Set in early 1916, McCracken must find a secret weapon called a Corkindrill. The Corkindrill was being tested by McCracken’s friend, Nicolas Jaubert, when a mysterious explosion sank the ship he was on. Deep-sea diving, Amazon warrior-women and voodoo all feature in the latest McCracken book!

 In what ways could homeschoolers incorporate the McCracken books into their lesson plans?

Dr. Adderley:  There are a lot of ways of incorporating McCracken books in a homeschool curriculum. Since they’re historical adventures, you could use them to teach history; since they take place in different global locations, you could use them to teach geography; you could build some of the artifacts McCracken examines with clay, Lego, or other materials as an exercise in engineering; you could imitate the style of the treasure hunt in McCracken and the Lost Valley for a scavenger hunt in your yard; or you could use literary analysis to examine the characters, plot and theme. If you would like help in developing an educational experience based on the McCracken books, you can also e-mail me from the McCracken Books website, and I’ll be happy to help you design a curriculum that specifically meets your child’s needs.

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[My oldest (8) reading one of Dr. Adderley’s books from the McCracken series]

 Tell us a little bit about the books you have written for adult readers.

Dr. Adderley:  I have written three books in the Matter of Britain series. Eventually, there will be twelve novels in this series, covering the story of King Arthur. The published trilogy (The Hawk and the Wolf, The Hawk and the Cup, and The Hawk and the Huntress) describe the life of Merlin. He has to try to control the supernatural gifts he has been given, and at the same time search for the long-lost sword of the ancient kings of Britain, Excalibur.

What was the thought process behind these books?

Dr. Adderley:  The Arthurian legend is so well known that I wanted to find an original approach to the story and, to do this, I went to ancient Celtic stories that not many people have read, and even fewer understand. Actually, I’m not sure I understand them myself, but at least I have a theory. Many of the people who read Arthurian novels are not Christians—they’re New Age or neo-pagan, and they have a rather sentimental attitude towards the pagans who preceded Christians in Britain. I wanted to set that record straight. The Celtic pagans were a brutal people, and their rites involved human sacrifice. So I wanted to show the brutality of the pre-Christian religions, and the civilizing influence that Christianity brought to bear on the culture of the time.

Do you have a “favorite” out of these books? Or one you just really enjoyed writing the most?

Dr. Mark Adderley:  My favourite is The Hawk and the Huntress. I like the central character, who was a challenge to write, because she’s female—Nymve, the character in the Arthurian legend who seduces and betrays Merlin. But the novel was also a challenge to write because it’s about forgiveness, and when you write about forgiveness, you also have to write about sin. So I had to depict an attractive character, from a viewpoint different from my own, who sins grievously and must be forgiven. I think it creates a very compelling story, but it’s rough at times—Nymve has to suffer a great deal before she can attain her maturity.

What books are you reading in your spare time?

Dr. Adderley:  I’m currently reading Parzival, by Wolfram von Eschenbach, which is a German tale about the Grail. I’ve recently read The Shining Company by Rosemary Sutcliff, an historical novel about seventh-century Britain. I like a lot of Sutcliff’s books, especially The Eagle of the Ninth and The Mark of the Horse Lord, but she doesn’t do well with Christianity, and that can be frustrating at times. I’m also reading a book about sacrifice and violence called Violence and the Sacred, by René Girard, which is brilliant and incisive.

Just for fun–you have five minutes to sit down with ANYONE throughout history (or even the present). Who would you want to sit down with and interview and why?

Dr. Adderley:  I think it would be great to sit down with William Shakespeare. I’d like to know if my theories about him are right. I’d like to know if he was really a Catholic. I think he writes a lot of his personal experiences into his plays—the death of his son Hamnet, for example. But I just think that someone who was such a keen observer of the human race would be fun to spend time with.

You have children. Are any of them authors? Do any of them have any dreams of becoming an author?

Dr. Adderley:  My son Nick (aged eleven) is an excellent author, much better than I am. He loves Lewis Carroll and George MacDonald, and can write in a beautifully ornate Victorian style when he wants to. He’s also written two novels—one about finding Atlantis, and one a Tolkien-esque fantasy.

Do you have any words of advice or encouragement for kids or adults who have a passion for writing or are struggling to get their book published?

Dr. Adderley:  Now is the best time ever for becoming an author, because of the new technology that allows us to print on demand, and so permits self-publishing. It means we have to market our own books, but since traditional publishers want you to do that anyway, we might as well take the higher cut in royalties. I think the time is ripe for a Renaissance in Catholic arts and letters, and I would like to help the new generation of Catholic authors get published. If you are a senior in high school or older, I would encourage you to think about learning how to manage your writing career on the Via Nova Catholic Education Program (www.vianovaprogram.org); if you are younger than eighteen, I’d be happy to look at any story you have written and offer my thoughts on it. Just contact me through the McCracken books website (www.mccrackenbooks.com).

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A huge thank you to Dr. Mark Adderley for taking the time to answer all of my burning questions!  I am so excited to finish reading the McCracken series (and looking forward to the next one!), and I wish him great success!

Make sure to “like” the McCracken books Facebook page–along with The Hawk and the Wolf Facebook page to keep up with all of the new titles and any announcements!

Interview with an Author: Dr. Mark Adderley

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Greetings, friends!

Last month, I was fortunate enough to once again work at the Kansas City Catholic Homeschool Conference.  As I was setting up my table, a couple sat down at the table next to mine and began to set up their table for the conference.  We introduced ourselves and ended up chatting throughout the 2-day event.

Dr. Mark Adderley and his wife, Dr. Adrianne Adderley, were an absolutely fascinating couple to chat with.  Residing in South Dakota, they are the parents to four boys–two of which are still being schooled at home.

I noticed that Dr. Adderley had a stack of books on his table, and I quickly found out that he had written them.  After describing the books as “full of adventure” and being like “Indiana Jones with a Rosary,” I knew immediately that I had to grab one for my two oldest boys–and I was fortunate enough that Dr. Adderley offered to sign the books with a message to the boys.

I asked Dr. Adderley if he would be willing to let me interview him for this blog.  I was so excited to let other Catholic parents know about these fun–and Catholic!–adventure books for their younger readers.

Imagine my excitement when he agreed!

Can you give us a little bit of background about yourself? I noticed your English accent right away–where at in England are you from? When did you move to the United States?

Dr. Adderley:  I was born in Crewe, which is a railway town in the north of England, in a county called Cheshire—where the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland comes from. I lived there until I was about four, then my family moved to Pelsall, a village in the middle of England, and then when I was eleven, we moved to Bournemouth, a town on the south coast of England. I went to college in North Wales—which is a wonderful place, full of mountains and castles—and met my wife there. My wife’s American, so we moved to America to get married. That was in 1989, and I’ve been living in the United States since then.

You are a medieval literature professor. What made you want to pursue that area?

Dr. Adderley:  I’ve always been interested in the Middle Ages, but it was reading T. H. White’s The Once and Future King in my freshman year at college that really sparked my imagination. I wanted to know more about King Arthur, so I read everything I could get my hands on. Somewhere along the way, I fell in love with Shakespeare too. When it was time to go to graduate school, I found a program on which I could study the legend of King Arthur. Later, I wanted to fill in all the gaps in my education, so I studied medieval literature—Chaucer and Langland and other writers of the Middle Ages.

Did you always love school–even as a child–or did you learn to love it later in life?

Dr. Adderley:  I did not always love school. I was always good at it, but I was lazy. I would always rather be writing my own stories than studying mathematics, or whatever. I remember when I had to study for my “O” Level exams. I didn’t study—I just read C. S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles instead. If my mother entered my room, I could quickly hide my Narnia book and pretend to be studying. I passed a few of my exams, but not as many as I could have, so in the end I couldn’t get into a good university. It wasn’t until I discovered the legend of King Arthur that I began to love school. And then I really loved it—I couldn’t get enough. As a teacher, nothing has been more important to me than helping people to love learning. To me, that’s more important than “getting it right.”

What was your favorite subject in school growing up?

Dr. Adderley:  I loved creative writing classes. One of my teachers, Mrs. Parkinson, wrote on my report card, “He should go in for being an author.” I even found that other people liked my stories. I also liked literature classes, later on. One of the best classes I ever took was English at high school, where we studied Shakespeare (Othello and Antony and Cleopatra) and Chaucer (the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale).

 You have written a series of books for younger readers and a series for adult readers. Did you ever have a dream to write books or did this just kind of “fall into your lap?”

Dr. Adderley:  I always wanted to be an author, ever since I learned to write. For years, though, I didn’t know what I wanted to write—I liked war stories, spy stories, science fiction, some fantasy. I tried writing all of that. Then I discovered King Arthur, and the stories just started coming.

Can you take us back to the first day the lightbulb went off in your head and you thought, “THIS would make a great story!”

Dr. Adderley:  With the McCracken books, it started with a board game. The game was called Forbidden Island, and it’s about getting treasures from an island before it sinks beneath the sea. My family thought we should all write stories based on the game, which we loved, and had been playing for over a year. Each one of us began to write a story. I didn’t want to do it, at first—I was too wrapped up in my books about King Arthur. But then, very reluctantly, I sat down at the computer, and thought about how each player in the game could be a character in a story. When we had played the game, I had played the engineer character, so my character in the story would be an engineer. What would an engineer be doing? For some reason, it seemed right that he should be on safari—then he would be a little bit like Allan Quartermain, the hero of H. Rider Haggard’s adventure stories. All the other characters just fell into place—each based on a family member, and each with a different role depending on his or her part in the board game. By the time I’d introduced each of the characters, I knew where my story was going to go, and most of the key episodes. I don’t usually make stories up on the spur of the moment, like this, but McCracken and the Lost Island did grow like that—the game gave me the plot and characters. When I read the first chapter to my family, my wife said, “You should publish that—Catholic boys need adventure stories like that.” In the end, I was the only member of my family to finish his or her story.

How long, on average, does it take you to write one of the McCracken books? From the time you start writing to the time you finish–before editing, publishing, etc.

Dr. Adderley:  It takes me about six months.

The McCracken series are full of adventure. Did you, as a child, enjoy adventure stories? What was your favorite genre growing up?

Dr. Adderley:  I enjoyed adventure stories when I was a little older—in my teenage years. I loved Ian Fleming’s spy novels, and Dick Francis’ thrillers set in the world of horse racing. They’re not very suitable for children! I read King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard. Mostly, though, I enjoyed fantasy and science fiction—C. S. Lewis and Arthur C. Clarke, for example. Especially C. S. Lewis. I read the Chronicles of Narnia over and over when I was eight or nine. Movies also had a profound effect on me, particularly war movies, then Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

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Where do you come up with the names for your characters in your books?

Dr. Adderley:  Often, I find my characters’ names when I’m driving somewhere. Road signs are a great source of names! We drive to northern Minnesota a lot, and we pass three towns close together called Olivia, Litchfield, and Willard. They became the principal villains of McCracken and the Lost City—Oliver Lychfield and John Willard. I don’t know where the name McCracken came from. It just seemed right. Vassily Sikorsky is based on my son, William. I thought Vassily was the Russian equivalent of William, though I was wrong—it’s the Russian equivalent of Basil. Sikorsky is the name of a famous aviator from the early twentieth century. He has a helicopter factory named after him. Nicolas Jaubert was named after my son, Nicholas, and Georges Jaubert, a Frenchman who invented a process that could be used for breathing for a long time underwater. Ariadne Bell is based on my wife, Adrianne. I took her surname from Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone—Ariadne is an expert in communications. And so on.

 The McCracken books are written in first person. Did you base the character of McCracken on anyone you know personally? Is his character based on a combination of people?

Dr. Adderley:  He’s me, but a bit cooler. And sillier at times, too.

 Do you incorporate any real life experiences into your books?

Dr. Adderley:  I think writers always incorporate their real life experience into their books, but you have to disguise it to fit the book. Creative writing teachers say, “Write what you know.” That doesn’t mean that you always have to write stories set at the same time you’re living, and in the same place. But it does mean that you can take situations from real life and adapt them to the book’s setting. I take what I’ve encountered and set it a hundred years ago, during World War I. I’ve met people who believe things similar to my villains. With a slightly different environment, and slightly more money, they would behave like my villains. In a way, the McCracken books are a warning to people who cold become villains if the opportunity presented itself. In another way, they show how Catholics can respond to such people.

You describe the McCracken books as “Indiana Jones with a Rosary.” Did you find it easy to weave aspects of our Faith into the books or did that provide a challenge?

Dr. Adderley:  That was a challenge. I wasn’t very good at it at first. My wife was the one who helped with that. But I got better at it. At first, aspects of the Faith were things I put into the books once I’d written the stories. Now, I look for opportunities to weave the Faith into the books, so it’s more organic.

The McCracken books take place during the WWI time period. Do you have a fondness for that particular time period in history?   Most people focus on or are familiar with WWII, so why WWI?

Dr. Adderley:  I’ve always been fascinated by both world wars. WW1 has two advantages over WW2: first, not many people know a lot about it, so there’s an opportunity to learn—not just my readers, but me as well. Second, WW1 happened just a hundred years ago, now. It’s kind of an end of an era. People were still encouraged to behave chivalrously in WW1, but that was gone twenty years later, at the outbreak of WW2. But also, in Europe, WW1 was the beginning of a series of disasters that led our world into the mess it’s in right now. By setting the McCracken books during WW1, I can look at issues that are actually quite contemporary, and try to help my readers figure out where they stand in relation to issues like industrialism, nihilism, and so forth.

 If the McCracken books were ever turned into movies, who could you see playing the main characters?

Dr. Adderley:  I think Jude Law would make a fine McCracken, but I can’t think of contemporary actors who would fit the other parts. Twenty years ago, Catherine Zeta Jones would have been a perfect Ari. Gert Frobe, who played the James Bond villain Goldfinger, would have made a perfect Baron, but he died a long time ago.

 How much research do you do when writing your books?

Dr. Adderley:  A lot, though usually research on the Internet is enough. I look at a lot of pictures to find out what various different locations would look like—the Mexican jungle, for example, or the inside of a zeppelin. I do a lot of research to find interesting WW1 events to form the background of my stories. Thus, in the new book, McCracken and the Lost Lagoon (out in September), the setting is the African campaign of WW1. I didn’t know they fought WW1 in Africa. That’s really fascinating to me. It really was a world war. It wasn’t just confined to Belgium and France. I also try to find historical characters I can just drop into the books for cameos. Thus, at the end of McCracken and the Lost Valley, the Catholic journalist G. K. Chesterton and the English inventor Barnes Wallis both make an appearance.

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Oh, my–Chesterton makes an appearance?!    How fun to weave historical characters into fiction like that!

This was only part of the interview with Dr. Adderley.  Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 where he explains how homeschoolers could incorporate the McCracken books into lesson plans, we find out more about the series of books he wrote for adults, and he tells us which historical figure he would choose to sit down and interview and why.

If you are interested in learning more about Dr. Adderley’s books, please visit his website.  These are excellent read-alouds for the whole family as well!

Edited:  Part II of the interview can be found here!

The Top 8 Items Every Home School Needs

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Well, it’s July.

I’m not even sure what happened to June, but here we are.

A lot of homeschooling families take the summers off to rest up and rejuvenate before the new schoolyear begins.

We keep the homeschooling par-tay rocking throughout the summer because our household runs better when we stick to our schedule.

And my kids have no idea that other kids aren’t schooling at the moment, so if you break that news to my kids I will hunt you down and find you and…

ANYways, I was looking through my supply box the other day at my extra school supplies and realized a list should be made of all of the homeschool “necessities” any mama should have on hand.

Whether you are a rookie homeschooling mama or have been at it for some time, there are always items in our home schools that make our lives just a little bit easier.

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1.)  The Royal P70 Pencil Sharpener.  Any homeschooling mama will tell you that pencil sharpeners have nearly been the death of us.  Most likely you have tried an electric pencil sharpener, a manual–even the crank style you have to bolt to your wall.  Perhaps you even tried mechanical pencils to try and solve the problem and ended up ripping your hair out.  *click-click-click…click…click-click-click*  I picked this bad boy up at Sam’s Club last year, and we haven’t looked back.

2.)  The Royal Sovereign 13″ laminator.  (This must be a new model design because mine looks a lot different.)  A good friend of mine had one of these, and after using hers, I was hooked.  I haven’t had a single problem, and the laminating is of professional quality.

3.)  Ticonderoga Pencils.  I like the black Ticonderoga pencils best, though.  They write better–I’m sure of it.  Hey, public school kids–remember how you used to have to have #2 pencils for tests?  I despised #2 pencils with a passion.  How am I supposed to write beautiful letters or fill in beautiful bubbles with a #2 pencil?!  The Ticonderoga has long been a favorite of mine, and it’s the only pencil we use in this house.

pencils-001-300x225 4.)  A label maker.  Now, I have a Casio label maker–which I LOVE–however, I suggest grabbing either a DYMO or Brother label maker because they’re kind of running the tables on label makers.  There is only one store I can even find label tape for my label maker these days, so I will probably have to switch at some point to one of the more ubiquitous brands.  What do we label in this house?  What DON’T we label in this house?!  I have found very quickly that when you label spaces or drawers, items tend to STAY in those spaces that have been given a name.  This has helped us out tremendously.

5.)  Contact paper.  This was a hidden little gem I just found out about the other day.  I now am in the process of covering paperback books in this house so they will last longer through the years with multiple little hands touching them.  What’s that–you want a video tutorial done by yours truly?  No problem!

6.)  An Amazon Prime account.  Once upon a time, I signed up for a “free trial” and totally forgot to cancel it, so we then had an Amazon Prime account for an entire year.  Best…mistake…EVAH!  I can have nearly anything I need shipped to my front doorstep in only two days–and the shipping is “free” since you paid for the yearly account.  This has more than paid for itself.  Hmmm…do I want to load all five kids up in the pouring rain and go BUY that pencil sharpener or should I just have it shipped to my doorstep in two days?  I’m pretty sure a stay-at-home mom came up with this idea, folks.

7.)  ANYTHING from Discovery Toys.  We have been blessed to have been given SO MANY AWESOME activities from homeschooling mamas who are no longer able to have children and have moved into the tween and teen years of homeschooling.  People, listen up.  If you are working with some of your older kids, and the 2 year-old has taken his diaper off, is now naked and streaking around the house, and decides to dump out the rest of the milk on the floor–you’re gonna wanna hit up Discovery Toys.  They have such great activities for little hands to keep them busy.

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8.)  And–at the risk of sounding like a spoiled homeschooler–an iPad.  Or any tablet, really.  I have a friend who refuses to own a computer in her home.  How she homeschools without one, I don’t know.  The technology-free pioneers who paved the way for us are my heroes.  Not only are there some great educational apps for the iPad, but I can quickly show the kids a volcano erupting while we’re discussing volcanoes–or show just what a tornado looks like in action.  I mean, as much as we all love our “tornadoes using soda bottles,” I think it’s safe to say they don’t exactly show the damage and destruction a real tornado can do, you dig?  Studying a composer?  Symphonies at your fingertips, my friends.  I have also used the video function on the iPad to help out with school.  I have the kids spell out their spelling words on video, and then–because they love seeing themselves on video–they watch it back and hear the spelling of the words again.  OR I “interview” them on camera asking them their math facts.  When they watch it back (over…and over…and over again) they are hearing those math facts yet again.

So, there it is.  My top 8 items I think every home school needs to have on hand.  I would love to hear your ideas in the comments box–what items are necessary in YOUR home school?

12 Things New Homeschooling Moms Should Know…

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Hey, lady.

You.

Yes–YOU.

First time homeschooling?  I knew it.

How?  Well, you have that “deer-in-the-headlights-everything-is-so-overwhelming-what-in-the-world-should-I-do” look on your face.

“What am I going to do?  Will my kids be freaks?  There are so many things to learn!  What if I turn my kids into idiots?!”

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I know it well because I, too, went full-fledged Bambi my first year.

I need you to do a couple of things for me, okay?  I need you to go get yourself a cup of coffee.  Or tea.  Or water–whatever you need.

I need you to take five deep breaths.  I’ll wait.

[“…everybody was kung-fu fighting…”]

Back?  Good.

So, you’ve decided to homeschool–or maybe you had no other choice given the state of the public and “Catholic” schools in your area.

I’m here to give you some helpful tips and suggestions to make this new journey in your life as smooth as possible.

1.)  Let’s talk WHY you are homeschooling.

You need to figure out exactly why you are homeschooling.  Are the “Catholic” schools in your area a joke?  Are the public schools dangerous and taking kids on field trips to places you’d rather them not go?  Do you have a child with special needs?  Is you child’s life miserable IN school, and you’re just trying to let them grow up with a peaceful childhood?  Whatever the reason, you need to figure this out.  Write it down if you have to.  This will be the whole basis on how you choose your curriculum and how you live your homeschooling life from this point on.

2.)  Figure out what is going to work best for you.  Do you need all the books for the year shipped to you in a box with step-by-step lesson plans?  Ain’t no shame in that game, lady!  They’ve got “boxed curricula” all over the place.  Are you more of a squirrel who loves shiny things?  (*quickly raises hand here)  You might love planning your OWN lessons and gathering your OWN books for the year.  “Hey, you know what?  Sam loves insects.  We’re going to do an insect unit study this year.”  or “I’m not a huge fan of this book because of x, y, and z, so instead, we’re going to use THIS.”  There are pros and cons to a boxed curricula and designing your own.  Figure out what you need in your life.

3.)  Now that you have figured out WHY you are homeschooling and what kind of style you have, it’s time to figure out what materials you will use.  You will immediately find that there is an overwhelming amount of curricula out there.  Some families use secular homeschooling books (meaning they do not come from a religious point of view), some families use online “schools”, some use religious curricula, some actually “unschool” and let their kids pursue whatever interests they have until they are blue in the face.  I’m going to offer you some advice, if I may, when choosing your curriculum.

–If someone touts that their curriculum is the Way, the Truth, and the Life–it better be Jesus talking to you, sister.  You will find some VERY arrogant people out there in the homeschooling world, and if they claim their program is the ONLY program, that it’s far superior to anything out there, they mock or belittle other homeschooling publishers or families, that THIS is the only way to go–run.

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Run far, far away from that person.  That’s a red flag.  If their program is great, they shouldn’t be worried about putting down others.  Just my 3 cents.

–Choose a curriculum that appeals to YOU as a mom as well.  If you are a super visual person and love to be creative, do NOT pick a curriculum that deals in workbooks only.  You’re going to hate it, and your children will probably suffer because of it.  On the flip side of that, if you are VERY analytical and the thought of art projects has you curling up in the fetal position, figure out what you need to do.  Pick something that excites YOU and something YOU want to teach your children.  This kind of goes along with what I’m chattin’ about up in point #2.

–Having said that, keep in mind what kind of leaners you have around your table.  My oldest la-la-la-LOVES him some workbooks.  My second born would be happiest out in the backyard, collecting bugs, all the live long day.  It has worked well within our family to cater to their strengths–this IS a beauty about homeschooling after all!  If your child is excelling at reading, don’t keep them in 2nd grade reading level books because “he’s in 2nd grade.”  Let ’em fly, my friend!  If they’re not quite grasping the concept of counting money, hit “pause” on the lesson planning and work with them on it until they get it.  There is no time table like there is for public or private schooling–give your child the time he needs!

–The first piece of advice I ever received about homeschooling was from a mom who said, “Don’t…skip…around.  You’ll find that new materials are published every year–don’t give into the temptation to drop yours and run to the next best thing.”  I thought this was great advice–and there really is merit in what was said.  If you skip from one program to another program to another, your child might develop some gaps in their learning.  However, if the curriculum you are using starts teaching errors, it’s not vibing with your family, or your children are DRAGGING their feet to get to the table in the morning and burst into tears at the thought of school, you might find yourself hopping to something else.  Both have pros and cons–just think about what you’re doing and what you’re trying to accomplish before you start racing toward the newest and shiniest trend in homeschooling.  (Have I jumped around?  Yes.  Yes, I have.  But we’ve found our groove, and we are WORKIN’ it in this house!)

–Get your homeschooling books used!  Oh…my…goodness.  How much money have I spent on materials when I could have been buying used?!  I even found workbooks this year–never been cracked open–for that older child of mine who LOVES them for LESS THAN HALF of what I would have paid brand new.  Shop used–save the difference.  True story.  Write that down.

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4.)  Do NOT compare your homeschooling style, successes, and failures to the Smith family down the road.  They do everything online?  Great.  Good for them.  The Jones family does a co-op three times a week?  Fabulous.  Good for them.  Little 6 year-old Johnny is already doing multiplication.  Bravo, Johnny.  Good for you.  The Miller family tried this curriculum and threw it out the window?  Good for them–hope they found something that worked for them.  DO NOT COMPARE THYSELF OR THY CHILDREN TO OTHER HOMESCHOOLING MOMS OR FAMILIES.  Pretty sure it was the 11th commandment, but Moses heard about the people worshipping the golden cow, and, well–he took off running with the tablets.  Seriously–focus on YOUR family, YOUR successes, and learn from the failures.  Call an audible if you have to if something’s not working.  Re-group.  Breathe.  Your kids are going to be FINE.

5.)  Join the HSLDA.  (What’s that?  You want to know what HSLDA stands for?  Get used to a LOT of acronyms, my funny homeschooling mom.)  It stands for Home School Legal Defense Association.  For a whopping $10 a month, this group will come to your aid and represent you should The Miller family down the road decided to call you in because your kid was out in the front yard at 9:30 in the morning, watering the garden.  When we first started homeschooling, I thought, “Eh…what are the chances, right?  We don’t have that kind of money to be spending on a ‘what if’ situation.”  And then I bought a huge bag of M&M’s, a skirt I didn’t need, and an expensive bottle of water while waiting to check out, and I realized, “Hey.  We’ve got some wiggle room here.”  HSLDA–do it.  You will be grateful should someone ever come tap-tap-tap on your door.

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6.)  There is going to come a time every year where you can’t even fathom cracking open the books. Some people claim February is “homeschool burnout month”–particularly if you live in a place where the sun rarely shines, and snow covers the ground.  For us, it’s November.  Holidays, birthdays, traveling–my brain is pretty much fried until the next year.  So, figure out if you need some time to regroup before coming back strong.  Relax–you’re going to be fine. Expect that month, meet it head on, and make a plan.

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7.)  There is going to be a point in your homeschooling life when someone asks your child, “What grade are you in?”  and you will feel sweat trickle down your back, your palms will drip, and your heart will race.  Your thoughts will consist of, “Does he know what grade he is in?!  OH, MY GOSH.  HOW DID I MISS TELLING HIM THIS?  Wait.  Do I even know what grade he’s in?!  He’s reading at a 5th grade level, doing 4th grade religion work, but he’s in 3rd grade math.  WHAT GRADE IS THIS?!”  And your child will say, “Um, 3rd grade,” and the person will nod, smile, pat them on the head, and move on.  You, however, will need a stiff drink and a plan for next time.  Bottoms up, friend.  Bottoms up.

8.)  You are going to acquire a LOT of homeschooling books throughout the years.  I highly suggest finding a patient husband and some really nice bookcases.

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9.)  One of the things my husband was concerned about before we started homeschooling was how much pressure it puts on Mom.  She has to school the kids, get laundry done, raise angelic children, keep the house clean–he felt it was way too much for the wife.

I love that guy–should I mention that?  I love that he UNDERSTANDS.

As a homeschooling family, you will find that it’s not just about shoving books at your child and checking lessons off of a page.  Homeschooling gives order to your family, and everyone realizes they are in this family together.  Teaching your 8 year-old to do laundry after teaching the 4 year-old how to separate the laundry into different categorical piles?  You’re not just teaching them book knowledge.  Your teaching them LIFE knowledge.  Everyone in the family has to pitch in and do their part for the house to run smoothly.  Have I figured this out completely?  NO.  Our home is a work in progress.

We’re ALWAYS learning around here.

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10.)  Be confident in your decisions.  This is YOUR family.  YOU are the parents, and YOU know what’s best for your child.  Who cares if your brother thinks you’re crazy?  Who cares what Grandpa says?  Who cares what Dave down the street thinks?  I’ll say it again:  THIS IS YOUR FAMILY.  THESE ARE YOUR CHILDREN.  You know what is best for them.  Do not let anyone else’s opinions impact how you’re trying to educate your children.

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11.)  Having said THAT, find a support group.  Seriously–join homeschooling groups on Facebook.  Find a circle of homeschooling friends–cling to them like velcro.  Get on homeschooling forums and chat ideas, frustrations, successes.  Find “your people.”  Find “your tribe.”  You are all in this together, and supporting each other makes a world of difference.

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12.)  Lastly?   Have fun. This should not be a chore–it should be a joy.  The first time I watched my child put sounds together to read a word on his own, I cried.  He wasn’t in a classroom with a stranger–he was with me, and I got to see him start on his path of literacy in person–the exact moment it happened.  The first time I watched my child sit down on the couch and make the connection that he could read on his own–it was a beautiful moment.  I’ll never forget that, either.  And it never gets old–I’m watching it with my 6 year-old and my 4 year-old right now, and it still brings tears to my eyes.  Go on nature walks, storm the local library, get them in the kitchen making lunches to work on fine motor skills and organizational skills–it’s not about school.  It’s about LIFE.  Have fun with this.

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Top 10 Gifts for the Hypothyroid Patient in Your Life

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While my thyroid levels are currently stable (HURRAH!), it’s been a journey getting here, and there are SO MANY PEOPLE out there suffering from thyroid issues.

They might be crying for no reason in the corner–at their child’s birthday party.

They might be wearing a Snuggie–at their teenager’s summer baseball game.

They might be knitting a Chewbacca costume–out of their own hair.

So, I started thinking.  What would be THE best gifts you could possibly give someone who suffers from Hypothyroidism?

1.)  The Snuggie.  I thought these were pretty dang ridiculous when I first saw them, but then when you start looking through the Hypothyroidism lens…?  GENIUS.  Feel warm all the time and still use your hands while not getting off the couch the entire day.

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2.)  Eyebrow pencils.  Because most of the time the last half of our eyebrows mysteriously vanish.  Let your Hypo loved one fill in some brows.

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But, just to be clear, the following ways of drawing in your eyebrows are NEVER acceptable:

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And don’t you DARE go trying to get all fancy on me:

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3.)  Electric foot warmers.

Seriously–this lady is laying on the surface of the sun, and her feet are STILL cold.  THAT’S how awful Hypothyroidism is.

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4.)  Tired of telling people WHY you have no energy?  WHY you’re crying?  WHY you can’t think clearly?  Stop telling people.  Just start pointing them in the right direction.

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5.)  Let’s be honest–Hypo patients have no idea what day it is or why they even woke up this morning.  Trying to remember a list of items or ANYTHING important went out the window long ago.  Give ’em a hand by letting them record their entire life so they don’t forget a thing.

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Appropriate examples include:

“Need to get milk, butter, eggs, and bread from the store.”

or

“Remember to call endocrinologist tomorrow to give him a piece of my mind because he’s an idiot who has NO IDEA what this is like and doesn’t seem to want to actually help me fix this problem.  Then remember to find a new endo.”

6.)  Weight gain is common among Hypo patients.  Give them the scale that will always make their day.

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7.)  Hypo patients are tired.  All…the…time.  Let me repeat:  they are tired.  NOT LAZY.  So, let them pass out when they need to and wherever they need to in style.

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Be patient.  She’ll come to in a few hours.

8.)  Hypo patients’ hair falls out.  A lot.  Huge clumps at a time.

Look at this woman.  Her hair is falling out so fast that she can’t even stand up straight anymore.

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It’s quite common for your brush to look like this after one swipe down your bangs:

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Expensive creams and shampoos are so yesterday.

Give them the gift that keeps on giving.  Head to your local Hobby Lobby, hit up the crafting aisle, and really encourage them to open up their own ETSY shop with that renewable resource they’ve got goin’ on.

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9.)  Motivation is lacking in a Hypo patient.  We would LOVE to exercise, but seriously–who has the energy for that?  Some days we can’t even get out of bed.  Give them the gift that will let them exercise without having to move any major muscle groups.

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Still can’t open the pickle jar, but they are well on their way.

10.)  I know what you’re thinking:

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“Who needs that much Kleenex?”

Hypo patients–that’s who.

This should last your Hypo loved one a full day or two when they’re having a “bad Hypo day.”

Let them sob into a fully supply.

And there you go.  Ten thoughtful gift ideas for the Hypothyroid patient in your life.

Raw rambling from a mother…

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“And God help Mom to be nicer to our family.”

Well, that’s gonna leave a mark.

Those were the words prayed by my 6 year-old last night at family prayers.

It comes on the heels of learning I have made life unpleasant for my family for the past several weeks.  (Which hurts even more than normal since I thought my energy levels were up, patience was up, etc.)

I don’t think I can adequately express the hurt going on in my heart right now.

Not even just my heart–my whole body seems to just hurt, and the words just keep echoing in my head.

No one said motherhood was going to be easy–I didn’t expect it to be.

What no one tells you, though, is how much it can hurt at times.

You’re trying your best to keep these small creatures alive.

You’re trying your best to get them to Heaven.

You’re trying your best to train them up to be responsible citizens in life.

You’re trying your best to keep a house clean while juggling homeschool and every other thing on the schedule.

You’re trying your best to do it with a happy heart and a chipper smile.

But sometimes you fail.

Sometimes you fail a lot.

And you’re not allowed to fail.

Because this isn’t just your job.

This is your life.

You don’t get 30 minutes in the car to yourself to unwind or quietly think while on the way to your job.  You don’t get 30 minutes in the car on the way home to reflect on your day and detox from what just happened throughout the day.  You don’t get to leave your co-workers behind for the evening to decompress before seeing them again the next day.

Motherhood isn’t a job.

It’s life.

And it’s a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week gig.

And included in that is sleep deprivation.

So, not only are you in this gig 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without those moments to decompress or unwind, you also get to do it while having no normal sleep schedule.

I have been up every 2-3 hours most nights for the past 6 months.

There is a reason they use sleep deprivation as a form of torture.

You’re irritable, you’re tired, and you would sell your soul for 5 minutes of uninterrupted sleep.

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So, add sleep deprivation into the mix, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for some bad days.  Or weeks.  Or months.

Except you’re not allowed to have a bad day.  Or week.  Or month.

Because this isn’t a job.

It’s life.

And those little souls you’re trying to get to Heaven are looking at you for how to deal with those bad days.  Or weeks.  Or months.

No.  pressure.  there.

And I’m not trying to make excuses.  Really, I’m not.

We ALL have room for improvement and could change the way we talk to our loved ones.

But I am human.

Just not superhuman.

If you don’t think that we, as mothers, go to bed every night feeling like we have failed at life and are trying to formulate a new plan for the next day, then you’re wrong.

If you don’t think that we, as mothers, are already feeling guilty at how our kids are going to turn out because we have failed over and over again, then you’re wrong.

If you don’t think that we, as mothers, are constantly worrying that we are ruining our kids or somehow setting them up for failure, then you’re wrong.

Maybe there are some moms out there who really can run on little sleep and keep a smile on their face constantly.

Maybe there are moms out there who really can have a child screaming at them without losing their cool.

Maybe there are moms out there who can do it all.

But I just…can’t.

And I’m tired.

And my heart hurts because I can’t.

There are a lot of times that people will make comments when they see I made homemade playdough for the kids or put together a fun activity packet for them on a feast day.

“I don’t know how you do it.”

“You inspire me to do better with my own kids.”

“I need to be more like you.”

But you don’t.

You need to be more like you.

Because I’m apparently not doing so hot at this.

“And God help Mom to be nicer to our family.”

I prepare meals for you.

I educate you.

I hold you when you’re hurting.

But in this line of work, there is no reward for effort, is there?  Not any immediate reward here on Earth.

I’m reminded that when I’m doing the little things that no one else seems to notice or appreciate, God is watching.

He is seeing.

He is understanding.

He is also willing to hand over help in the form of grace if I should ask for it.

But I forget to ask for it…a lot.

Another check in the “failure” column.

I’m all about shattering records these days.

These are the days I think, “My kids would be better off in school.”

Or worse:  “My kids should have a different mother.  My husband should have a different wife.  One with patience.  And smiles.  Who makes life pleasant for everyone.”

But God gave me my family, and He gave them me.

We’re stuck in this together, like it or not.

“And God help Mom to be nicer to our family.”

Last night, I laid awake, trying to think of any saint to pray to for help.

“St. Monica…?  No.  You were pretty much awesome your whole life.”

“St. Anne…?  No–you probably didn’t lose your cool.”

“St. Rita?  Nah–you were pleasant while your husband was beating on you.”

“Ummmm….anyone up there a mother who just failed a lot but kept trying?  Anyone?  ‘Cause I’m down here and could use some help.  I’m hurting.  And I have no idea how to be because everytime I feel like I’m actually making progress and doing a good job, I’m quickly reminded that I’m not.  I’m sinking down here.  I could use some help.  So, if there’s any saint up there who tried and tried and kept sinking and sinking, I need some prayers.  I know there are worse things in life, but this is my life, and this is what’s happening.  Thanks.”

So, while my 6 year-old’s words made my heart break, they also left their imprint in big, bold letters on that same heart.

And all I can do is try harder today.

And try again–even harder–tomorrow.

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