Read and Grow.

Photo credit.

It’s happening again. And I’m so utterly excited and thankful. Life has presented me with a challenge, and God has birthed in my heart a craving to grow.

The desire and motivation are a gift. I didn’t design it nor can I contain it.

This happened once before, a little over 7 years ago. I wrote about my desire to change, to fix a character flaw. It was truly the beginning of my blogging journey as well. I had no idea that writing my way through that year would serve to fundamentally define me as a writer.

Isn’t that just the way God works? Those mysterious ways that come upon us, altering us in areas beyond imagination.

Last year, I tried to manufacture my growth by setting up a reading challenge full of deep and delightful titles. But even while creating the list, I could feel my own distance – reluctance that I ignored because I wanted to teach myself a lesson in discipline. I was tricked by my own success with growing productively into believing that I could force growth in any area. I didn’t honor my limits, I wasn’t being gracious with my weakness, I over estimated my strengths.

I was sick of being held back. I thought pushing through, trying harder, and thinking big would free me from my own struggle with my brain.  

Dealing with my ADD brain can be tricky. Sometimes I do need to “sit myself down” and “obey the list.” I’m learning that I can only make progress through this type of firmness in the area of productivity not the area of contemplation. I need to budget my energy to fuel these two parts of my mind (there’s a post brewing on this topic…). I’m realizing again that God gave me this brain with all of it’s limits and talents for His purposes to be used in His timing. 

So, I’m excited for this year and the growth I can see up ahead, but I’m not ashamed of last year’s “failure” because I recognized an important, personal limitation and learned to respect it. More on this later.

For now, I can see that the challenge in my life is CHANGE. There is change all around me. My kids are all coming out of a coasting season. Their interests, competencies, and complexities are on the rise. Taking just this area of change into view, I see that I will have to change in order to rise to the occasion of being the kind of mother I want to be for my loves.

Questions: How can I rise to the occasion on my own? What strength or talent do I possess that will allow for personal growth? Can I contain or conjure up a motive that will sustain growth over a long period of time?

Answers: I can’t. Nothing. No.

What gives? Why am I excited if I can’t do this on my own? Exactly because the desire, strength, motive aren’t coming from my decision, I can trust that I won’t have to worry about controlling or maintaining them.

It’s like the “Field of Dreams.” I feel like the Lord is showing me how much great change is ahead of me, and all I have to do is pick up the book and read. He will grow me from the inside.

And He already has. Since the beginning of 2017, I’ve been reading. I’ll do my best to share the most of what I gain from the titles this year. And I’ll keep the list here as a reference.

Books read in 2017 (I’ll link the ones I review):

  • BFG by Roald Dahl*
  • Gifted: Raising Children Intentionally by Chris Davis
  • Boundaries with Kids by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend
  • Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
  • Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier
  • Trim Healthy Mama Cookbook by Pearl & Serene
  • Simply Tuesday by Emily Freeman
  • The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
  • Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe by Sally Clarkson and Sarah Mae
  • Managers of Their Homes by Steven and Teri Maxwell
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • The Unveiled Wife by Jennifer Smith
  • Currently reading: The Life Giving Home by Sarah & Sally Clarkson, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth, Gameplan by Sarah Harnisch 

Are you interested in following me in this process of change through reading? I’m ready to really GROW. Let me know in the comments what books you’re reading and what you recommend! Who doesn’t want to GROW their TBR list even more? 😉

Here’s my Amazon list for easy reference. If you make a purchase, Amazon thanks me at no cost to you.

* Audio book

Photo credit.

Motivation, Challenge, and My Evenings (a new tool makes the most of my time)

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I’ve come to accept that I will always need a new tool to help me keep going in the direction of my goals.

When I stop thinking critically about my life, actions, priorities, and thinking (yes, I need to think about my thinking) then drift, coast, or stand still in the areas that are most important to me. Sure, I may still be active online with social media and even in person with friends and family, but the things that fuel and energize me take the work of paddling against the current.

As a homeschool mom, I find that using tools in my own life to keep me organized, prioritized, and energized is the number one thing that impacts our home and education the very most. It isn’t selfish or distracting from that work. I need these tools in order to teach – in fact, these tools are maybe more important than the ones I use for my kids.

I used the Make Over Your Mornings tool about a year ago for the first time. The course, by Crystal Paine of MoneySavingMom.com, was one of the most motivational things in my life. She helped me define (maybe for the first time) the connection between my priorities and my goals. Without her encouragement and direction, I don’t think I would have made the effort to progress in the areas of my life that were (and are) challenging.

Plus, I became an affiliate for the course, and this post earned me enough money to buy a bulk of our Christmas presents for last year. Win, win.

I tried going through the morning course again after becoming pregnant because so much of my routine was altered by my changing needs.

It was good, but not as great as the first time. I felt like I was lacking the challenge of the newness.

So when Crystal messaged me about her new course, I was skeptical that it would really work for me. It’s called Make Over Your Evenings.

I thought, “What could the difference really be?” In the mornings course, she takes a day to address creating an evening routine. I couldn’t see how she could expand that one day into a stand alone course.

But she did it, and it’s amazing.

Like the first course, it challenges me. (And the daily intro music is better than the mornings course. 😉 )

Just in the first three days, I’ve had so much success in the life application.

For example, she shares advice that challenges my thinking like this:

“I love what Marie Kondo says in the The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: ‘People cannot change their habits without first changing their thinking.’ Today, I want challenge you to change your thinking so that during the rest of this course, you can work on changing your habits.”

And challenges for my actions like a 4-question process of adding anything to my calendar and the process of creating a temporary “Stop Doing List.”

In the first day, she addresses the reasons why she created the evening course – including the fact that she created this one for the people who took the morning course. I was thinking that this course would be an alternative for those who didn’t want to take the morning course, but on the contrary, she developed this course to dig in deeper to the work already started in the morning course.

It’s so good.

Plus, I believe the structure of the workbook is laid out better with all the worksheets and resources right within each day (no more having to jump back and forth to the end). And the resources included are very practical.

My favorite resource so far has been from Jeff Sander’s post Morning’s 101: How to Create Your Ideal Evening Routine:

Keep in mind that the evening routine tends to much more flexible than the morning routine as schedules are likely to evolve more dramatically as the day progresses.”

Also in this post are the 9 Potential Habits to Include in Your Evening Routine.

The most helpful thing I took away from Jeff Sander’s post is learning to set an evening boundary. The time when all work related, house projects, or other tasks get put away and I begin to go through the routine that best sets me up to go to bed on time and to prepare for the next day.

I used to set my bedtime as my only evening boundary, with the hope that I would have already done the things that make for a great evening. But I’ve learned (through many disappointments) that this doesn’t always work. Usually, it’s one of two options: I go to bed on time but I don’t accomplish all the ideal evening helps (writing out the next day’s agenda, cleaning the kitchen, or winding down in a way that’s relaxing for me) OR I do accomplish all the things at an arbitrary start time only to realize I’m going to be 30 – 60 minutes later than I intended.

So, as I prepare for baby, schedule our summer activities, and review my priorities I’ve been so blessed by this course’s guidance in setting up an evening routine that refuels and refills my soul. It’s true that a great morning routine is built on the foundation of the evening routine from the night before.

Who wants to join me?

I’m also about to start another Whole30. If you’re interested in doing that or the Make Over Your Evening Course, contact me or comment!

Accountability peeps! This post is my challenge to you today. How are you doing with your planning and trying the Bullet Journal? If you have any more questions, you know how to reach me! Keep up the great work; your life is worth it.

I’m so excited about this list.

You know the scene in the BBC’s version of Emma where Mrs. Bates is having tea at the Woodhouse mansion to read her latest letter from Jane Fairfax? I have it nearly memorized. Mrs. Bates continues reading aloud “Jane says she’s nearly half way through her reading list of 100 titles. (Looking directly at Emma now) 100!”

So, in response Emma makes a snide remark about whether Jane could learn Chinese. And once Mrs. Bates leaves, she sets herself to start her own list of 101 titles.

Reading lists.

I don’t think I have ever set out to make a long list of titles to be read over the course of a year before. Sure, I make lists mentally all the time in an effort to try to remember all the good recommendations out there. But I’m well acquainted with my over-eagerness and fear of failure which cautions me against making high and lofty goals in any category.

But this time it’s different. I’ve been watching Modern Mrs. Darcy’s reading list challenge for a while now, I’ve been reading on my own regularly and with much success, and I’m ready for a challenge outside of homeschooling and homemaking. The difference feels reminiscent to my reading challenge that I created for myself in 2010, which ended up completely changing my life and my parenting. (If you don’t know what I’m referring to – read this.)

Sink or swim, here we go.

My Picks for the 2016 Reading Challenge:

1. A book published in 2016: Give Your Child the World by Jamie Martin

2. A book you can finish in a day: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

3. A book you’ve been meaning to read: Gifted by Chris Davis

4. A book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

5. A book you should have read in school: Heidi by Johanna Spryri

6. A book chosen for you by your spouce, partner, sibling, child, or BFF Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

7. A book published before you were born: Emma by Jane Austen (currently free for Kindle from this publisher)

8. A book that was banned at some point: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

9. A book you previously abandoned: Desperate by Sally Clarkson and Sarah Mae

10. A book you own but have never read: Money Making Mom by Crystal Paine

11. A book that intimidates you: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

12. A book you’ve already read at least once: One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

There you have it! If you’ve created a list of books to read in 2016, share the link in the comments – I would love to see what you’ve picked. Cheers to a new reading challenge!

Thanks for reading! All the product links in this post are affiliate links. For more information on this read my disclosure. And to subscribe to receive more free content click here. Happy reading!

The Library Challenge: Change Their Reading Diet

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All you need for a good home education is a library card and a comfy couch. – Steve Lambert

Ever since my eldest was a toddler, I took her to the library.

It didn’t matter how much of a struggle it was to get out the door – the toddler story time was always worth the effort. My kids have grown up going to the library at least one day per week (sometimes more) and the trip still fills all of us with joy.

Going to the library is an anchor – it happens at the same time every week (usually) – and it creates security and stability for our week.

When we moved into our new house, one of the first areas I prioritized was setting up a library station – a spot where all the temporary treasures could be stored. Having tried the “library bin” and “library shelf” before, I knew I needed something more unique, separate and special.

A Home Library Station

This spot has worked perfectly.

After writing about searching for a twaddle free childhood and coming to the conclusion that our biggest source of twaddle didn’t in fact belong to us, I realized I had a pretty good challenge on my hands.

How can I change the way we enjoy the library – kids milling about, meandering through aisles looking for anything that interests them – without taking the “enjoy” part right out?

I have tried the “encourage them to look for the classics” on my own before and that ended with lots of sighs, huffs, and “I won’t read that – it looks boring.” I didn’t want to choose this battle. I have already chosen the battle of content – what they pick off the shelves has to be skimmed for pictures and content.

Because let me warn you: there are a lot of sensual, demoralizing pictures in kids’ books too. It makes me sick, but it’s a fact.

I thought maybe I could hide from my own post. Maybe twaddle from the library isn’t such a bad thing? Maybe no one will notice what my children are reading or what they see in our home?

Nope, that didn’t fly. This happened.

Library Lists 8

My daughter left her 5 Star Wars Readers on the swing set over the weekend and it rained – twice.

I had the chore of blow drying every single page, and the punishment of having to read them too.

Let me assure you, I have nothing against Star Wars in general, but in specific – these books don’t do justice to the value of reading that the work “book” assumes.

They were terrible. Twaddle has been defined.

This was just what I needed to fuel my passion for being twaddle free, but now the challenge was peacefully dealing with 1 child who protests for her rights to read what she chooses. Or maybe she just wants to read the exact opposite of what I want her to read – just because.

I’m reminded of a similar little girl who in 5th grade hid Goosebumps books and read them late into the night even though her parents strictly forbid it.

(Sorry mom! Believe me, I regretted it.)

I don’t want to parent in such a way that I push and force my children to the point that their will fights back in retaliation. Or so much so that we lose all the joy of being free to discover and read new things – simple, frivolous, or silly as they may be.

I don’t want to suck all the joy out of going to the library.

So I set my mind to making a plan.

I started reading the best book lists I could set my eyes on for children’s books. There are so many great books lists out there – by age, reading level, genre, character qualities, you name it – and there’s a book list for it.

I decided that for my kids, 3 books from the lists would be enough per kid, per week.

Library Lists 1

  • 1 Picture Book: below their reading level but rich in character qualities (The Boy Who Held Back the Sea by Lenny Hort and Brave Irene by William Steig)
  • 1 Non-fiction: I defined 3 topics they could choose from to further dig into our current unit study
  • 1 Chapter Book: my son has an upcoming Boy’s Classics Book Club meeting so his book was for this, and I chose my daughter’s book based on interest from the “Middle Readers: Historical Fiction” (The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli)

Once I made these selections, I looked them up on the library’s online catalog to see if they were currently “ON SHELF” – I did this just a few hours before we were to head to the library.

(One book I really wanted to find isn’t even in the library catalog – The Black Falcon by Boccaccio retold by William Wise – has anyone read this?)

I’ve learned that it is important not to spend time at the library using the computers to hunt down books – at least at my stage – chasing down a toddler doesn’t allow for much freedom to breeze through the aisles.

So, I grabbed 3×5 cards and jotted down the titles, authors, and “library address” for each book, for each child. (They love having their own lists for anything – groceries, chores, you name it. Write it on paper, hand it over, and they own it.)

Then when we arrived at the library, I gave each child their 3×5 card and explained that I would help them find the books on their list, but that they could not pick out anything for themselves until their list was complete.

Library Lists 2

See? I didn’t take away all their fun. I just added a challenge of manageable size to the beginning.

Library Lists 3

And wow. Was it ever eye opening again to look at the library displays – my son was in shock looking at all this twaddle.

He wasn’t interested in taking these home – technically he could have since he already completed his challenge when he was distracted by this display – but the challenge had directed his attention to the best. After searching, finding, and placing the books in our bag – he felt satisfied.

Library Lists 9

My goal isn’t to eliminate or ban all library twaddle. My goal is to change my children’s reading diet from “fast food” to “whole foods.” I want them to know that it’s okay to read a junk food novel (assuming the content passes the skim test) every now and then, but a whole diet of junk food reading will leave them feeling lazy, bored, and apathetic.

The whole food reading inspires them to create, to care, and to contribute to the world around them. So my whole goal is to help them want to read better books, because I agree with what Rea Berg said:

Two things in life will shape you – the books you read and the people you meet.

It really is that simple, and since I still have the greatest influence on what my children read – I want them to read the best first and then if they have time for a little more that’s great.

For more inspiration on the subject of library challenges:

What I’m reading to fuel this desire to be twaddle free:

Thank you for reading this post. If you've found it helpful, bookmark or share it for future reference. There are affiliate links in this post, because that's just good business - they are all marked by underlining. If you want to know more about affiliate links read my disclosure. As always, be sure to subscribe for more free content and to download your free guide to writing your own Parenting Purpose Statement.

When You Feel Desperate to Change

January 14, 2010 was a day that sparked a great change in my life.

Actually, it was probably the 13th that was the spark and the 14th was the first flame.

I came to a crossroads moment. I was watching a movie that was a true story of a woman who was determined to make a change in her life. She started with a small, almost silly goal, but it grew into the motivating factor for everything in her life.

I knew I needed a motivating factor too. I felt paralyzed by the struggle of raising a toddler and a baby – everything in my life felt like work – hard work. I was desperate, and I didn’t have anything to show for it. (Important side note: I had so much to show for the work I was doing – two beautiful children who were loved and cared for! I hope the pictures in this post prove the point that the hard work of raising littles is worth it, and the hard work of setting small personal goals is worth it too.)

On Developing Better Follow Through toddler and baby

When I thought of the one thing I enjoyed doing most – reading – I felt like a failure because most of the books on my shelf were only half read.

I needed to change. I wanted to change.

The half read books symbolized the challenge I needed to overcome. If I truly wanted to become a finisher, then I would have to create a challenge for myself to fight my way through to the end.

It was easy at first to turn off the TV at night and curl up with a book instead. I believed what I was doing was worth my time and attention. What I didn’t realize was happening under the surface was – I was becoming a finisher. I had my goals and they were time sensitive. I had to prove it to myself that I could follow through.  

After a few years of homeschooling now, this mindset has transferred over to how I set goals and follow through for my kids. I finish what I start because they are worth it.

On Developing Better Follow Through worth the work

We started a book* back in October 2014. Life interrupted and we had to set that book down for another one. We left the first book on the shelf until just this month because I can’t stand the idea of leaving a story unfinished. And more importantly, I told them I would finish it – I gave them my word. Following through has everything to do with trust.

Being able to follow through doesn’t mean that you have to do everything. There are books that we have started and not finished. Our science text for this year isn’t finished. I chose to put it down and save it for later. My kids are in 1st and 2nd grade material and this one was written for 5th and 6th graders.

Don’t over think things that aren’t worth it to you. Just like following through on the read aloud was an important choice for me to follow through on, it’s okay that I didn’t follow through on the science. It’s also okay to set challenges and goals for yourself that look differently from the families around you.

Comparison is not only the thief of joy, but also the jailer locking you in inactivity. Just because my friend is able to set what I think is “higher” goals for her family, doesn’t mean that my goals are “lower” and inferior. The more I set goals that are attainable, the more success will inspire me to set higher and higher goals. At the end of the day, it’s not about how impressed you are with me – it’s how satisfied I am with myself.

So set goals, make plans, chart the course for what you want to accomplish – personally or for others. Then memorize the plan. Make your personal challenge something easy to rehearse so that you don’t forget it and go a week without fighting to attack it.

Just like the book we put down, life gets bossy with all the activities and demands on our time. So use one calendar. My husband and I share our Google calendars with each other so that we can see potential conflicts, and we can plan accordingly for times when one of us has an engagement. (Don’t like digital only calendars? You can print your Google calendar and put it into a cool notebook like this.)

Synchronizing calendars feels like more work to do, but it aids in communication, follow through, and has a better impact on the lives of everyone in the family.

Character is at stake – theirs and mine. I don’t commit to plans quickly. My friends joke that I am over-protective of our schedule. It’s true. I am very committed to follow through, and I feel like it’s a mark of poor character to not finish well.

I also recognize that certain plans will enhance teaching good character to my children and other activities will test that character. It is important to have both. Struggle, hardship, busyness – these can teach perseverance and good work ethic. So my key isn’t to avoid all difficult plans in order to ensure a 100% success rate of follow through, but rather the key is balance. It’s letting my yes be yes, and my no be no.

With my young children, I have come to recognize that they need me to answer their questions about our schedule and plans. It’s good to hold their hand and walk them through carefully. They are little for such a short time.

On Developing Better Follow Through

In order to have balance and peace of mind – knowing I’ve taken the time to tend to their heart and prepare to arrive on time for our plans – I use timers, simple instructions, and I mean what I say. My kids can feel time. They know what “5 more minutes” really is. Because I’ve committed to follow through they can’t be tricked by loose standards.

Follow through is a work in progress for me. When I started my personal challenge back in 2010, I was an entirely different person that who I am now. The seemingly insignificant challenge I set for myself was just the sort of distraction I needed to keep my focus in my mothering positive and separate from my self worth. I’m living proof that little choices in the right direction make great change over time.

Only the link marked with an asterisk is an affiliate link in this post. The rest are provided for further reading and reference. Enjoy!

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