In and out and over a week

~ Capturing the context of contentment in everyday life ~

round button chicken

Instagram photos again this week! It’s so much easier and simpler to pull out and snap a candid shot with my iPod Touch rather than have the camera handy (and then the cord to get the photos off the camera).  



~Pretty Heels ~

This stylin’ little mama came strolling her baby through the kitchen the other day. She loves the click-click-click of my heels.



~ Happy Circle Time ~

We love Circle Time. It is the together time, the praying together time, the Scripture together time of our day. You’ll be doing a Circle Time, Morning Time, for your homeschool next year, right?




~ Funny Clutter ~

Because it’s better to laugh than cry.

Your home is a tool. Let it be used.

Remember my day-in-the-life-of-our-counter? Yeah. It’s been awhile since it’s been cleared like that. Maybe I should do another one so I have the motivation to get it all put away again.



~ Real Art ~

Hans finished his math early the other morning, grabbed a library early reader nearby and started copying one of the illustrations. Isn’t it good??

Providing art books and time – not lesson plans or direct instruction (which I couldn’t give anyway) – has worked for us so far.

Another week nearing an end, another week closer to the end of the school year. Who else is ready?

The effort of thinking, learning, and teaching

Last month I noted that one of the five books Brandy suggested for commonplacing was Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Learning and Teaching. I had it on my bookshelf but had not read it, so I picked it up and moved it to the top of the queue.

It is a collection of essays that are quite good, but depressing. They were written for major journals and newspapers in the forties, collected with additional comments added in the eighties, and yet no one heeded them and things are even worse now, the holes being dug then are even deeper now, and the likelihood that anything will change for the better even less.

One of the blessings, if also difficulties, of homeschooling is that we, unlike national bureaucracies, can pivot, alter course, and apply new wisdom when we get it. Our nimbleness is our strength, and it’s a good reason to keep reading and thinking.

The difference between a problem and a difficulty

We have all got into the habit of calling every purpose or difficulty a problem, to the point where some people on hearing “Thank you” no longer say “You’re welcome;” they say “No problem.” A problem is a definable difficulty; it falls within certain limits and the right answer gets rid of it. But the difficulty – not the problem – the difficulty of making a living, finding a mate, keeping a friend […] cannot be dealt with in the same way – it has no solution. It calls for endless improvisation, some would say “creativity.”

A few years ago I started noticing how easily discouraged some of my children could become in the course of learning. So many of the early steps had come easily to them, that when they encountered something they had to work at, they immediately jumped to the conclusion that it was something they couldn’t – and therefore wouldn’t – do.

It looked and sounded familiar, because I have the same tendencies.

I realized that my tactic and my expressions had to change. We had to be able to encounter difficulty with grit, rubbing our hands together and getting down to business. Instead, difficulty was a problem – and the easiest solution is to give it a miss.

So we come to the conclusion that the mind at its best thinks not like Dewey’s imaginary scientist, but like an artist. Art is achieved not by problem-solving, but by invention, trial and error, and compromise among desired ends.

One thing I’ve seen as we’ve read about the history of chemistry this year is that knowledge does not come from neatly following the prescribed scientific method. Discoveries came accidentally, unexpectedly, and after long wrestling and trying this or that over and over again. Learning and knowledge do not happen by applying a formula, but by engagement.

There is no possibility of making schoolwork always easy and “natural.” Much of it is hard and unnatural until it has become a habit. Effort is always needed.

Homeschool moms, we are not failing if our kids cry over math or argue about revising a paragraph again. Learning is hard work, and we are our children’s support team as well as teacher. We need to let them know that there is nothing wrong with them when the work is difficult, and we need to know there is nothing wrong with us or the material when it is hard – at least, not necessarily.

Oftentimes our hunt for a better curriculum is based on a desire to make things smooth and easy. But growth requires challenge.

No one goes to a personal trainer to get into shape without expecting to be sore.

No one starts a diet to lose weight and expects to eat cake all day.

No one goes into the Marines and expects to be mollycoddled.

We know that good results generally come from consistent, difficult effort. Let us give our children the benefit of learning the habit of effort during their childhood rather than having to learn it later in life, when consequences will be even greater. The habit of effort isn’t something that will take 21 days and then it’s all free and easy. Every growth spurt comes with growing pains.

And, of course, we cannot give what we do not have. If we want to teach the habit of effort, we must be learning and applying it ourselves.

Let us model and require and praise the effort, rather than seek easy “solutions.”


My Book Bag

Get more great quotes & recommendations at ladydusk’s Wednesday with Words!

How to Use Evernote for Loop Schedules

Have you heard of loop scheduling for your homeschool? Sarah Mackenzie wrote about it awhile back and got us all thinking and talking about it: Loop Scheduling for a Recovering Type A.

Pam Barnhill, in her Plan Your Year Kit, includes a section detailing the why and how of loop scheduling, and the kit also includes an audio interview with Sarah Mackenzie on how to make a loop schedule work.

So, how can we use Evernote for loop schedules and make them even more handy? I’ll show you how.


Three steps for setting up Evernote for loop schedules.

First of all, remember that not everything belongs in your loop schedule. Only those subjects that need to be done in rotation, not daily, go into the loop schedule. Then, in your homeschool time budget, you reserve a slot for “lessons,” and the loop tells you what to pick up next. You work through the loop in the time allotted, but once the time is up, you put it all away, picking it back up with the next item in the loop next time.

It’s a brilliant tactic, and Evernote can help you pull it off smoothly.

1. Create a loop schedule notebook, then add one note per subject in the loop notebook.

So, for mine, I titled the notebook “Elementary Lessons,” because that’s what we call the twice-weekly time where I do content lessons with my own and my friend’s big kids while the younger ones are at her house.


Then, each note inside it is one type of lesson I plan to do during our two-hour time period together. If each one takes about 20 minutes as planned, then we can do them all in one day. However, I know transitions and bathroom breaks and questions all take their toll, so it’s unlikely we’ll get to all of them every single class. That’s ok – with a loop schedule, that all becomes part of the plan instead of breaking the plan.

Inside each note, you have a few options. They might be your lesson plans, your list of books to read aloud, links to things to watch or listen to, or whatever else you do for that subject.

Here’s the beginnings of mine for science. We’ll be reading Anatomy, and so I’ve flipped through the book and written down chunks that should take approximately 15 minutes to read. Between chapters, I have an alternate reinforcement activity planned in. Now, instead of assigning those sections and activities to specific dates, which is thrown off the first sick day, or instead of winging it (more my style), we can just “do the next thing” in the list. The last week of every term will have its own special review game, regardless of where we are in the book. So, I made sure that this list has no more than 50 items, even though we’ll have about 60 classes planned.


For Shakespeare, my note has what each 20 minute lesson should contain, then a list of each of the things we’ll do for each play, then after that comes the three plays I’d like to do this year and the sources we’ll be using for each of them.


When we do Shakespeare in class, I’ll start a 15 minute timer. When the timer goes off, I wrap up what we’re reading or discussing and prepare to move on to the next thing. So whether we listen to one scene or half a scene, we’re only reading along to 15 minutes of play rather than pushing through an entire act or getting through as much as we can to wrap it up (which is what I ended up doing this last year, to the detriment of our comprehension and enjoyment).

2. Arrange the notes by date last modified.

You’ll note that each of the items in these lists have checkboxes. When we finish one item on the list, I can check it off so I know what to do next when we come round to it again.


Here’s where the magic of Evernote comes in. At the little icon up at the top of the notebook sidebar, there is a menu item called “Sort by.”


Choose “Date Updated” as your sorting option, then “Least Recent to Most Recent.”

Now Evernote will be the one looping your subjects for you – you don’t have to keep track of what’s next!

3. Work from your list when you start or after you’re done.

Whenever you check a box in a note, Evernote will move that note to the bottom of the notebook. Whichever lesson-note you’ve not done recently will be at the top of the notebook. So, whenever your time slot starts, you start with the note at the top of the notebook, do the next thing in the list inside that note, mark it off, then move on to the next note that is on top. Each time you check a box in the note, it will move to the bottom of the notebook.

Using Evernote for loop schedules is a great way to set up your lessons for “do the next thing” ease!

Photos of dinner are all I have

~ Capturing the context of contentment in everyday life ~

round button chicken

I looked over the photos I have taken in the last week and realized I pretty much only have pictures of dinners. I joined Instagram awhile back and seem mostly compelled to share real life food scenes. So, please bear with the Instagram shots and follow me there if you end up wanting more.



~ Pretty Salad ~

This was Wednesday’s dinner, paired with chicken. It is whole wheat spaghetti and a whole bunch of julienned veggies with an Asian-inspired dressing. I served it cold and the chicken hot from the crockpot. It was a new “orange chicken in the crockpot” recipe I saw on Pinterest, but the chicken wasn’t that great.

I loved the salad, but I’ll have to make some adjustments to get the rest of the family on board. It’d make a great summer dinner with chicken mixed into it. With the mandoline my husband gave me for my birthday, slicing the veggies tiny was quick work.

Asian flavors are rarely a hit with anyone else in the house, but it seems like the natural thing to top julienned veggies. Any other flavor ideas you’d try instead of sesame, soy, ginger, and white wine vinegar?


homeschooling lunches

~ Happy Lunch ~

A couple weeks ago I had a few extra kids over for the morning and afternoon, and so needed to feed 8 children lunch. I chose cheesy steak fries as a kid-pleaser and, served with ketchup, it met universal approval.

I made two pan-fulls, and this was all I had left in the end. And then, uh, I actually ate quite a few myself, even though I am trying to avoid much starch.

Happy #2


~ Happy Helper ~

For Good Friday I made a lamb stew and unleavened bread (aka tortillas), something I’ve been thinking about doing for years but had never made a reality until this year.

Geneva pinched flour and patted it out and rolled the counter and generally covered herself in a fine layer of flour-dust.



~ Funny Inspiration ~

Monday I took all the kids to the dentist, and in the waiting room we watched an hour and a half of Food Network. In one show, the bleached and tattooed chef was enthusing over lamb burgers served in pitas with feta cheese sauce. Pitas. It’s been a really long time since I’d made pitas. They aren’t that big of a deal if you’re used to making bread, which I am.

Lamb burgers were not going to be on the menu, but what else could I put in a pita? Um, hello. How about the 3 dozen hard boiled eggs in my fridge from Easter-egg dying with Nana?!

So, whole-wheat pitas (I just used my pizza dough recipe – it’s the extra hot oven that makes them puff) were a vehicle for egg salad and the egg salad was a vehicle for bits-and-pieces of leftovers: a few strips of bacon, 4 mushrooms, and even a couple spoons of feta.


Too bad it only used up half my hard-boiled eggs.


easy homeschool dinners

~ Real Efficiency ~

Tuesday was the type of school day that finally wrapped up at 4pm, with panting and gasping for breath. We got all our work done, and the kids had breaks, but because I was rotating through lessons with various groupings of children, I had a lunch break but not much more. I definitely could have used another coffee break in there somewhere.

It was the sort of day that at 3pm I began wishing it had been a crockpot dinner day. But it wasn’t, and it was nearly 5, and what was I going to do now?

Here’s what I did: In a 375-degree oven, boneless chicken (still half-frozen: very real) brushed with barbecue sauce on a baking tray, fresh broccoli with Parmesan cheese on a baking tray, and brown rice in a 9×13 casserole dish. The rice went in first, then the chicken, and when the chicken looked nearly done, I popped the broccoli in. Dinner was ready by 6 and it was a complete meal without feeling like a lot of work.

It’s a meal combo I’ll definitely be keeping in my back pocket.


Principles Are Practical, a video conversation

Principles are Practical (hor)

What is a principle?

A principle is something we know to be true, something that is foundational to our thinking that informs our choices. A principle is a guiding code that leads us down certain paths and not others. A principle is a method we assume when we have a set strategy for approaching our situation.

Principles give us the criteria for making decisions. Decisions must be made, and if we don’t have a set of filters to run the options through, we’ll default to what is most comfortable or easy or familiar.

We don’t want to run on default.

So principles are not nice extras in our homeschool journey, something to tack on after we’ve been doing it for awhile. We have principles whether we’ve thought about them or not, but if we haven’t thought about them and consciously chosen them, they are likely to be assumptions we made unconsciously in our own childhoods about what school is, what it looks like, what matters.

Principles are foundational. They are what tell us the right thing to do when we are researching curriculum, troubleshooting a difficulty, or choosing between extracurriculars.

Whatever measures and standards you use to make those decisions – and you must make those decisions – those are your principles.

Principles are practical. The practical things we do each day are done because we made the choices to do them. Our principles are the why behind the everyday practical. If we aren’t happy with our practical application, chances are it is actually the foundational principles that informed the practical choices which is off and needs adjusting.

We don’t need to sort through and try approach after approach after approach to see what fits. We need to take a step back and think about our assumptions, our values, our principles. Those will shed light on the options and narrow down the field considerably. They don’t give a One Right Way. Principles are foundational, but there are many applications of them. However, they do eliminate a lot of the noise out there in social groups, in social media, in catalogues, in bookstores.

Principles Are Practical

Last week Brandy and I recorded a conversation about three important education principles and how they affect our daily homeschool decisions.

When you sign up to receive Simply Convivial posts by email, you will also receive the link to view this 45-minute video discussion. If you are already subscribed, the link will be in the bottom of the email; if you sign up below and you’ll get the link right away:

Yes! Send me the video link. <---check the box!

Audio books and how we experience stories.

It’s no secret that I love and make use of audio books. As someone who cannot do voices, who can’t read ahead silently while speaking the words that came before, and who simply doesn’t – I know, it’s bad – sit and read aloud for more than 30 minutes at a stretch, audio books have been a life saver.

Yes, there’s something homey and cozy about the whole family sitting together while mom or dad reads a story. And my husband does do family read alouds. But there’s also something great about listening together to a story while we eat – it cuts down on table shenanigans, for one. We can have quiet time that’s actually quiet for the napping baby and for me, while some children are listening to a story while playing legos or drawing.


The difference between a book read aloud by me and a book read aloud by the author or a professional reader is the difference between a small school Shakespeare play and a Royal Shakespeare Company rendition. The first might sometimes be decent, and it’s good for those doing it, but the second is not only more entertaining, it actually helps you understand the play and the language better.

Now, I can handle non-fiction reading. It’s a totally different creature than a story. A story has much more nuance, has different patterns and rhythms, has characters with their own voices. Non-fiction is usually consistent in its style and rhythm, but fiction moves and changes.

Novels with dialects make this the most stark. I could stumble through dialog, sounding it out and being confused myself about what the person is saying. Or we could turn on an audio book where, when we hear it pronounced as the author was hearing it in his own head when he wrote it, not only the meaning, but also the subtleties and inferences come out as well.

It is about more than understanding the words.

The words are there to move you in certain ways, and it is simply much more likely to happen if those words are read the way the author was thinking them when he wrote them.

Reading is actually an act of interpretation. A reader is translating printed shapes into audible sounds. Some are better translators than others.

Listen to a bestseller for $7.49 at!

Clearly, Wodehouse, Shakespeare, Lewis, all sound better read with a British accent. What doesn’t?

But sometimes it’s about more than sounding better. Sometimes it really is about understanding.

For example, my family listened to The Tale of Despereaux on a car trip one time. We all loved it. The narrator has a wry undertone and read both slowly and seriously and yet tongue-in-cheek. I recommended it to a friend, who read the book herself. She came back and commented that the book was rather dark, but I had thought it was funny. She listened to the audio next and realized she had picked up on the serious tale tone but not the tongue-in-cheek dry humor. I have not read this book in particular, but I know I have done the same thing with books myself. I think all my first (possibly second) readings of Jane Austen did not pick up on any irony. But the narrator of the audio book gives not a straight reading of a text, but also an interpretation – conveying sarcasm, irony, dry wit in a tone that we might otherwise miss even reading the text to ourselves.

Another example of audiobooks providing an interpretation is Winnie the Pooh. I grew up watching the tv show, but Milne was not a family read aloud. I picked it up to read it aloud when my oldest was two or three. I opened the book for the first time in my life, thinking that I could pick it up and read it aloud just like any other picture book. I read words, and I didn’t see how they worked together. It took careful reading and thought to figure out what was going on, and unless I knew what was going on, I couldn’t read it aloud coherently at all.

So I bought the audio books by Peter Dennis. On the back, Christopher Robin Milne himself said that if you want to experience the stories the way he did, then this set is the one to buy. I was amazed when we listened to them for the first time, because the tone and the style conveyed so much that I had missed. I understood.

And now Winnie the Pooh is a family favorite and we have quote upon quote that we use within our family culture.

A side benefit I was not expecting from audio books is how they are helping my own children read aloud with style. Because they listen to numerous audio books, read by different people, they have different styles and voices and sounds in their own heads to draw from when they are reading aloud (not wanting to pass along my own ineptitude at reading aloud a story, I make sure everyone gets practice reading aloud). I love hearing my sons practicing different voices and accents for characters in a picture books. Sometimes those in themselves are connections being formed: “Oh, he’s using a Piglet-like voice for that character, I can see that connection.”


April is listener rewards month at Audible, so it’s the perfect time to try out a membership. Even if you get the 30 day trial, you can make good use of it, download your books, and have a nice little collection. Check out my post on how to use the listener rewards deal to get very cheap audio books on Audible.