Some days

Some days

Stretched thin

My heart, my skin

Spread far and wide

And though I’ve tried

My patience fails

My heart, it quails

Some days

Stretched thin

My heart, my skin

The toddler roars

And slams the door

He lets me know

Who runs the show

Some days

Stretched thin

My heart, my skin

The baby cries

The empress queen

Will be obeyed

Or price be paid

Some days

Stretched thin

My heart, my skin

I’m losing sleep

And with is goes

All the wisdom

That I know

Some days

Stretched thin

My heart, my skin

Chalk in the sink

Paint on the floor

Stamps on the wall

Pens on the door

Some days

Stretched thin

My heart, my skin

My mind forgets

My plans do fail

Behind me lies

A messy trail

Some days

Stretched thin

My heart, my skin

Mistakes rubbed in

Do sink my heart

Under their weight

I fall apart

Some days

Stretched thin

My heart, my skin

I write this poem

Take refuge in

The secret world

I hide within

Some days

Stretched thin

My heart, my skin

10 Homeschool Hacks from an Experienced (not expert!) Parent

Often when people hear I’ve had eight kids (seven here on earth and one gone ahead), they get wide eyed and exclaim something like,

Oh, how do you do it!? You must be an expert!

I always feel a little awkward, because how do you tell someone you just met,

Actually, I struggle just as much as the next mom…my only expertise could be in making mistakes. I’ve probably made more than most people.

I’m no expert; I’ve had lots of experience with babies and kids, but I’m still learning every day. So I don’t have an expert e-course to offer, or a fancy printable for your fridge, helpful as these things can be. When I share any of my adventures in parenting with you on my blog, it is in the spirit of one friend speaking to another over coffee. I hope we will both laugh and come away encouraged. Maybe you’ll be able to skip making some of the makes I have, or at least to know you’re not alone if you do!

Many things that come to some people a bit more naturally, like being organized or planning ahead, are a huge challenge for me (squirrel!) so lots of the things I’ve learned might be things you already know. Hurrah! You’re doing great.

Homeschool Hacks

  1. The Myth of Multitasking…Make a Time for Things

Women are often praised for being great multitaskers. It’s true that we often need to juggle many things at once, and can. But is it ideal? Is it actually the best approach? For years I’ve been trying to homeschool the kids, answer the phone, plan activities, cook meals and clean the house at….well, basically the same time. It’s exhausting.

Finally I took an awesome, practical and insightful online homeschool planning course from Pam Barnhill, called: Put Your Homeschool Year on Autopilot. One of the best takeaways for me from this course was the idea of having a basic but flexible schedule so that I wouldn’t always have to be deciding what’s next. I always resisted the perceived constraint of a schedule, but I realize now that having a set time for school to end, for example, means after that, I’m free to do other things…like mark and plan, or cook and clean, without feeling like I should be doing educational activities with the kids at the same time. Relief.

2. Professionals Don’t Pick Up

Another thing that’s been helpful this year, because I’m more clear when is school time, and when is not, is that it’s easier to be more professional about my teaching, and avoid distractions. So I leave my phone and iPad upstairs when we are in session in the school room, and just check messages at lunch and after school. It’s hard for me to resist being always available to everyone who might call or text, but it’s more important that I’m fully present to the kids while we homeschool.

3. There’s no such thing as “just one more thing.”

It’s easy for people to assume that because we homeschool moms are generally home, we are generally available….and therefore free to do them little favours or errands…”just this once,” “just once a week,” “just for an hour,” or whatever. All these little “justs” can completely derail homeschool days. Also, for the busy mom with an ongoing to-do list of 18,264 things, the last “just” could be the straw that breaks the camels back.

I would encourage homeschool moms (actually, any moms) to really mull over any new activities before agreeing to them, and even to consider any current extra obligations: do these things bring you life and joy? Do they fulfill you and make you feel enriched? Great! But if they cause stress, emotional drain, or additional fatigue…then…maybe they just need to go! Quitting some extra’s is not failure; it’s intentionally choosing where to invest your precious and limited energy, so you can give your family your best.

4. Accordion Binders are Magic

As I already mentioned, I’m pretty scatterbrained, and while I have lots of good ideas, I’m also good at forgetting them. And losing things. And wasting time trying to find them again. The dollar store came to the rescue with lovely accordion binders. I got one for each child, so they can easily slip their work into the right labeled slot, and close it up, instead of piling their work on my desk to get lost. Little ones have no trouble with this, the way they often do with using a hole punch and metal ring binder. Also, when our homeschool coach comes to visit, their work should be much easier to find!

I also use a binder for my own projects, such a my second poetry book that I’m slowly compiling and editing. Now my precious papers aren’t lost, and I can grab the whole thing to take with me on rare times I’m out alone and can work on it…even if it’s just on the skytrain.

5. Sticky Notes Save the Day

I can’t believe it’s taken me till now to realize how awesome sticky notes are! I got beautiful coloured ones, a different shade for each child, for them to keep their places in the textbooks and workbooks. It makes marking so easy because I know where the kids’ current work is. Sticky notes make their work easy to grab and get started without wasting time trying to remember what we did last and looking for the right page. When you multiply 4 text or work books by 5 kids–considering it takes a minute to find your place if it’s not marked–I figure sticky notes save us at least 20 minutes a day!

When they don’t have mistakes, I move their sticky note forward to the next new page. When there are corrections to be made, I leave it where it is, and move it after marking the next assignment. If we miss a day of a subject, we just look for the note and start again. No problemo.

6. Clipboard Checklists Keep Things Running Smoothly

One of Pam Barnhill’s great tips was to give each child a clip board with a notebook on it, and to write their daily checklist of assignments on it each day. When I take time to do this, usually right after school while the kids have a quiet time show, the next day runs more smoothly. Right away the kids know what’s expected, and can work ahead. If they don’t feel like doing the first one right away, they can also choose to do a different activity on the checklist, knowing they are still getting the day’s work done.

The clipboards are also super handy for filling with any printouts the kids will need that day, as well as additional quiet activities like colouring sheets, mazes or word searches in case they finish before the others. I have a clipboard, too, which I write my basic daily plan on. When I’m writing it, it reminds me to grab all the books I need and stick them in my teacher basket on top of my desk. (You guessed it! Another handy tip from Pam: visualizing your school day to make sure everything you need is at hand.)

7. Plan as if you’re having a new baby

This year, before starting our new homeschool year, I did the same prep I’d usually do if I was expecting a newborn–that is–anything to make life a bit easier! First we delayed starting school for an extra week in order to clean the house. Then my Dad bravely took me on a giant Costco shop (we don’t have a car) and we filled the poor vehicle to the brim with every possible staple, easy school snack, freezable meal, and even some really cool homeschool books and science kits.

I got the toddler, who thinks that she is Van Gogh and every surface is a canvas, a giant erasable-marker ABC book she can lie on the schoolroom carpet and scribble on. I picked up some new alphabet stacker blocks for her, too, and some superman books for her preschool brother, who has a desk and sits with us, too, during school, when he’s not rolling around on the ground wrestling his older brother or attacking people with a sword.

8. Not every meal has to be fancy

Since the kids are often out at extracurricular activities later in the day, my husband had the good idea that we have our main meal at lunch and then do simple sandwiches and fruit, or wraps and veggies, etc, for dinner. This way I can pack sandwiches for kids who will be out, and have them ready for the others who are home. Also, I don’t have to spend the evening doing tons of dishes, because dinner was really simple with minimal mess.

I find I have more energy for cooking mid-day, anyway, and it gives the kids a welcome break mid-school day to go practice music or hang out a bit between lessons. My handy instant pot makes it easy to make things like curry or stew quickly. I save leftovers for my husband’s dinner, and with the kids help, get things cleaned up from lunch before we continue school.

9. Loops are Lovely

One of the other insights tips from Pam’s course was how to use loop schedules. We have basic blocks within which we do certain topics, but they are on a loop. For example, I have a language arts loop, with things like spelling, writing, and grammar, and in that block the kids just do one topic after the other until the time is up, and then start at the next part of the loop next time. There’s no need to feel pressured or behind, or to assign dates to every page…you simply keep swimming! Here’s a list of potential topics for various loops:

This concept of flexible routine is so helpful, kind of like a dancer’s arms: they are firm enough move their own body with them, but supple enough to respond to changes in their partner. Have a plan to ground you, and be flexible enough to smile and give the chocolate pudding covered toddler a bath in the middle of math class! (Math and morning snack always go together for us…but this time was a rather sticky combo!!)

10. Kids Matter Most

All of these plans and tools are meant to serve your family, not to cause stress, if they don’t go exactly as hoped. To paraphrase Todd from The Smiling Homeschooler: Ultimately, curriculum doesn’t matter, your plan doesn’t matter, your schedule doesn’t matter, your kids matter. They are the reason for it all. Watch their faces….little smilo-meters. If they’re generally smiling, you’re doing well. Not that there won’t be challenges each day, but if they’re always frowning, stop and reassess your priorities. Relationship is first.

Todd’s wise wife Donna’s motto is: “If we’ve laughed a little, and learned a little, we’ve accomplished a lot.” I love that! When things go sideways, and kids are too worn out for another lesson, I remember it and pull out the storybooks for a cosy break. Sometimes the unplanned moments create the best memories.

Do you have any favourite homeschool tricks or general teaching tips you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you!

The Case of the Missing Mom

It’s been kinda quiet on the blog lately and you might be wondering…where’s my mother? Didn’t she come back from summer vacation?

Is she off having a wild toga party??

Did she shrink into a fairy and get lost in the wild chives in our garden?

Is she a total basket case who forgot she loves writing??

No, she’s homeschooling us! She misses you all and hopes to appear again soon!

We’re working really hard…see? Look at the floor!

Moments of Glory

So many times

life in a large family

is like swimming in the ocean

tossed about by salty waves,

trying to catch your breath between tantrums.

Then there are those moments of glory

when your kids are all getting along

and the baby is sleeping while your eldest girls

do a duet on their ukuleles.

That moment is one of perfect rest,

like you’ve climbed upon a wooden raft,

the waveworn wood smooth against your skin,

the sun’s warm weight on your back.

At that moment you question nothing.

Self-doubt sinks below the waves

and you float there

–happy–

trusting for that moment

that everything is grace.

My (Wonderfully) Clueless Husband

My husband is clueless. He has absolutely no idea how wonderful he is. He works day and night (literally) to support our family, and even though he is exhausted, makes a point of spending time with me…even if it’s just watching a stupid show in the wee hours so we can laugh together. Relationships matter to him. There’s nothing more precious than his family (ok, his books come a close second, but still).

Despite all this he often feels inadequate, because he can’t be the magical dad who is home at 5 pm helping cook dinner and then wrangling all the kids into bed. His work to-do list never ever ends, but without it, I couldn’t be home with the kids. I couldn’t be there for all the first steps and first words, for my five year old’s funny science questions (What if tongues didn’t stop growing?), for the impromptu ballet performances and puppet shows, for the discussions about novels and movies and what life is all about. All these things, my husband primarily has to miss so I can be there for them.

Thank you, honey. It’s crazy hard….your work, my work…but it’s a gift. Our family is a gift. I’m so grateful.

Right now, on the midst of all this business, you’ve taken a week off so I can have a break. So I can go on workshop to feed my mind and recharge my soul. Because even imperfect moms deserve a break. That means we all do. It’s hard to go away when I feel like there’s a million things I should be doing at home, but with your love and support I’m going. Sailing off to be a kid in school again for a week and study philosophical anthropology–what it is to be human and live a fulfilling life–and honestly, I can’t wait! 😉 As a homeschooling mom, it’s nice to take a turn being the student!

While there’s always so much to do, sometimes the best way to move forward is to step back and let go for a bit. So cheers to that, and thanks, honey for being amazing.

Beautiful Mess!

A baby is the best decoration for any room…and makes even a pile of clean laundry into a throne from which to beam at the world!

I’ve been in bed with a sore throat reading Jennifer Fulwiler’s hilarious, inspirational book “One Beautiful Dream: The rollicking tale of family chaos, personal passions, and saying yes to them both.” It’s amazing…I can so relate the struggle and beauty of a writer mom with a large young family trying to be present to her kids while digging deep to pursue her “blue flame”…her passion for writing. I love how she’s integrates them both with such honesty and humour…and leads you along her journey of discovering that perhaps a loud house full of little people is a place of inspiration and growth, rather than just distraction from her craft. If you ever wonder if only your house with kids is a little crazy…I highly recommend it!! I laughed and cried and shouted…you might, too! 😉

Anyway, she inspired me to share this moment from our own beautiful chaos…

The Kamakazi Toddler and Other Adventures in Eating Out with Kids

We went to the Dosa Factory restaurant

with a very good old friend

and our seven kids.

They were very good:

one napped quietly and the others played card games like “Go Fish”

and set up their Littlest Pet Shops on the lazy Susan

to show our sweet friend

who expressed genuine delight.

They sat in their seats and were very good indeed…

except the toddler

who played musical chairs

and repeatedly catapulted himself off his high chair,

grinning delightedly under his cropped golden mop:

“Wheee! Whahoo! Wheee!”

Of course the encouraging smiles of the surrounding people

just added fuel to the fire

and when he hid under the table

it wasn’t in shame but in jest…

he was playing house!

It was all well and good until he spilled water all over his pants

and decide to strip down, then and there, in the high chair….

and then bolt–laughing!–

as Daddy followed in hot pursuit.

After being bribed with “Coffey” (sweet milky chai tea)

he temporarily settled back into his high chair

(now in his pants again…which were only pjs…but still)

and sipped his drink off a spoon with relish:

“It’s yummy, Mama; it tastes GOOD!”

And while all this went on

we ate mutter paneer dosa, and chicken korma and naan

and talked faith and philosophy,

the importance of being yourself

and why the little things matter,

and I nursed the baby

and bounced her as she cooed and giggled

those new little laughs

that are like spring flowers

meeting with the world for the first time

to share their loveliness.

And once the kids escaped their seats

and scampered about eating fennel seed candy,

we settled up and walked home in the slight rain

to the scent of June roses

perfuming the grey evening with hope

and splashes of colour.

“How do you do it?” An honest answer from a mom of 6. 


This is a question I get a lot as a mother of a large family. “Six kids! How do you do it?” And it’s hard to know exactly how to answer. People sometimes look at you like you’re some kind of rock star, or insane person…or both. It’s kind of embarrassing. Usually I just say something like: “Oh, you know…prayer,  chocolate, and great mom buddies.” 
You get answers like, “Well, better you than me. I couldn’t do it. I don’t have the patience.” 

As if I have a magic unending supply if it myself. 

So sometimes I feel like answering the “how you do it” question with something more like, “Terribly! My kids haven’t had matching socks in years… How about yourself?” But then…I’m already freaky enough…

So what is the real answer, and why? To get there let me tell you a story of a man who inspired me a lot. He was a Polish priest who was very humble, very gentle, and very brave. He was quiet, unassuming, and attentive to everyone he met. But above all, he loved to a heroic degree. He loved beyond the capacity of the human heart, because the love of God infused his life and broke it open. He loved, as my kids might say, “Up to the sky!” This man died when he offered his life in return for a stranger in the concentration camps, who was spared the torment of the starvation bunker. That young man he saved lived and was I believe reunited with his family, for whose sake he had pleaded to live. 

The man who saved him was St. Maximilian Kolbe, ands when I read his story I was so moved. “I want to love like that,” I thought, “but there’s no way I can on my own.” And that’s where the Holy Spirit comes in. That’s where grace takes over and lifts our small efforts Heavenward. So every day, in the midst of all the small and large sacrifices of raising a family, I rely not on my own virtue, strength or talent, but on the ever present, merciful love of God. 

I can do all things in Him who strengthens me…

Each day I try, make mistakes, lose my cool, have moments of sweetness, little successes and big failures, but without giving up. Beginning again and again. Trying to pour out love from a heart cracked open…and from my open hands reaching out for grace. 

Family life is a beautiful crucible..a place to be purified and to grow in love. But then this is my goal, remember–to love to heroic degree. To love beyond my natural human capacity, because the love of God overflows from my imperfect, struggling heart–the heart of a mother who gives, and of a daughter who receives daily from God the strength to carry on.


PS Next time I’ll share a few of my practical survival tips to lighten the load, like ordering in groceries, hiring cleaners, having regular mommy dates and also the importance of smiling! 

Planning: An act of hope!

Some people take great comfort in planning out their day in great detail, laying it all out in neat time-slots, and ticking off each item with satisfaction. And then there’s me. A clear agenda sheet divided into tiny intervals makes my chest tighten and is more intimidating to me than a blank page waiting for a blog post or poem. As a poet I love to capture spontaneous moments and share them, but I could never get into writing short stories…I just don’t know what would happen next…so much planning!

When it comes to homeschool, I love to have tons of great supplies around for art, drama, reading, baking, geography, learning games, etc, but planning exactly when to use them or in what order is my downfall. With four young girls being schooled, and two rascally boys in tow causing lots of ruckus, planning at all is an act of hope. We end up doing a variety of things, but the disruption of various bad moods, sudden low blood sugar, baby diapers and necessary chores makes planning specific times for each topic seem ludicrous. With children literally climbing the walls, having an exact time for geography seems beyond the realm of possibly. I know there are homeschool moms who are amazingly organized and structured, because this is what works for them. That’s awesome, but just not where I’m at.

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However, I yearn for more peace and order in my day, and think I have finally found a handy resource to help me be reflective and intentional about creating this kind of day. It’s a sheet of question put together by April and Eric Perry, the great husband-wife team of the site http://learndobecome.com/.

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The idea is to quietly read through the 7 questions, ideally before bed or early the next morning, and use them to reflect on what kind of day you want to create. The questions include things like appointments and important projects for the day, but take it further to ask how you will strengthen you family relationships within carrying out those duties, as well as how you will take care of yourself physically and spiritually. Rather than just a to do list, you record a number of important intentions that help set the tone of your day. It’s then up to you to put them into your agenda or up on your white board in whatever order seems best. There is a great 17 minute podcast that goes with the sheet, explains how helpful it is to do this process prayerfully, keeping in mind character goals as well as things to accomplish.

The question that really interested me was “How will I learn today?” Not just how will I teach my kids, but how will I learn and grow as a person today. April mentioned something that she learned at a leadership conference I think, that to be a great leader, you must be a great learner. Of course as a homeschooling mom, like any mom I’m sure, I want to promote a lifetime love of learning to my kids. And the best way is to model it. So I tried to think how I could fit more learning into my busy jumble of the day…and the best solution is to listen to great podcasts about homeschool, happiness, personal and professional development, etc, while I do dishes. It gives me something to look forward to, as well as lots of new ideas to think about, use and share. Hurrah for my iPad mini, now keeping me great company while I’m “stuck at the sink.”

Here is the question sheet so you can try it out, but I highly recommend also checking out the great articles and podcasts on LearnDoBecome site as well!

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Using this template has been helping me, and this morning I included the kids in planning as well. We actually had quite a good day, and did lots of learning, ticking off all boxes but one in our plan. The kids added lots of their own reading and projects as well, like making a Canada clubhouse out of their puppet theatre, and making homemade flags to wave while singing the anthem repeatedly, much to the delight of their loud baby brother, who delights in song and dance.

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So when life is chaotic, remember to P.P.P….Pause, Pray and Plan…even just a little. And don’t forget to hope, which makes everything a lot brighter. I’ll try to remember that myself! My bigger kids making muffins all by themselves today after a number of classes in our Kids Cook Real Food e-course certainly confirmed that little continuous efforts do pay off! 😊

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This Father’s Day, every baby counts!

   
On Father’s Day we had a funny little thing happen. James and I were on the bus with the kids going to meet my dad for lunch. As people usually do, they commented on the number of our kids with surprise. I like to joke that as a homeschool mom I do my best to promote basic numeracy skills in the community. Like counting up to six. People frequently do that. They use their finger and point “1…2…3…4…5…6! Are they all yours?” “Yup.” Then they might shake their heads in disbelief or give a thumbs up. “That’s awesome! You don’t see big families that much anymore…” 

But this time was a little different. A slightly bedraggled older man got on the bus and sat next to an Asian grandma who began to point and count in Chinese. “They all yours?” he asked. “Yes,” I smiled. “Seven, eh?” “Yes…” I replied somewhat mystified…because it’s true. I have six here and one in Heaven. Josephine would be about 20 months if she were alive. “Five girls and two boys?” he asked. “Yes!” I replied, even more surprised, because he even got that part right. I looked around but there were no other kids on the bus besides us. 

And if that wasn’t strange enough, when we are walking back home a lady with two kids, a baby on her back and a toddler having a tantrum on the ground, looked at us and counted. “Wow, all yours?” Then she said to her little boy, “Look at that, seven kids and not one of them having a fit!” 

Funny, right? It was as if little Josephine wanted to wave hi to Daddy on Father’s Day, to reassure him that she’s right here with us, and that he’s her daddy still. How did those people see her? I don’t know. Maybe their angels showed them. Or maybe they’re terrible at counting. But however it happened, one thing is certain: every baby counts, no matter how short their life, and they are always, always, always a part of their families.