It all started with some plastic army men…

Army Men

My youngest son, now 9, recently decided to forego showers in exchange for a return to a nice, bubbly bath. This is not sad for his parents, who have noticed that little boys DO get cleaner when they soak for a bit.

Each night, we entertain ourselves by listening to him upstairs, exploding imaginary things, firing imaginary Tommy guns, and creating miniature tsunamis in the comfort of the bathroom.

One such night, I went into the bathroom to get ready for bed after a somewhat stress-filled day. I observed the little scene in the photo, above — a frozen-in-time glimpse into the imagination of a little boy who thought it appropriate to commandeer the soapdish as a U-Boat.

At that moment, I realized that I was strained because I had been getting it all wrong. I was working more, writing more, planning more, and more elaborate, homeschool lessons, making longer to-do lists, and buying more food.

But life isn’t about more, at all.

It’s about having less, doing less, plannning less. And delighting in it. A good life is, as the apostle Paul said, about “[learning] to be content, whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11).

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Here is how I worked on simplifying life, this month:

1. I joined a gym. I love hiking, and gardening, but the winters get me down. For the few dollars it costs us, my husband and I joined the local gym. I don’t worry about competing with the 20-somethings that go. I just get my 51-year-old self on the treadmill and the arc trainer and do my best. And I feel great.

The simple part: My husband and I go together, or sometimes I go with my eldest son. It is a low-cost, fun and healthy way to spend time together, and we encourage one another, which leads to success.

2. I used up all my food. I mean all of it. I’ve become a fan of Fabulessly Frugal (I even type up the Connecticut coupon inserts for them now!). One thing I read there is one way to decrease your food bill: when you feel like you need to go grocery shopping, don’t. Try it — it’s amazing how much food you still have when you think you don’t have any.

The simple part: While our last meals before finally shopping were interesting, we saved a bunch of money this month, didn’t waste anything, cooked more meals at home, and had a nice, clean fridge to fill up.

Become FabuLESSly Frugal and learn how to coupon!

3. I modified my homeschool plans for the rest of the year. While itself not a simple task (it took a couple of days), the end result was a simpler homeschool life for us, which focuses on the things we both love, and gets rid of the busy-work.  I am not competing with other homeschoolers who seem to have beautiful schoolrooms and endless patience, and moms who work at home. It’s about us.

I also decided that, if I plan something I think is interesting but my son doesn’t want to do it or read it, I will be my own student! I love learning new things…

The simple part: The point of homeschooling is to enjoy our lives together. If we are stressed out over it, then what’s the point? I want joy.

Here is a notebook cover and dividers set I created for our Year 4 Ambleside History Work (click the image to download). I want to share it with you. Enjoy it!

There are 6 sections, corresponding to Year 4 of Ambleside’s curriculum, and I have created a table of contents for each section, based on the readings they’ve included (with a couple of my own additions). I haven’t created the notebooking pages for each section (we tend to invent as we go, so when we finish, I’ll compile them and share).

The Sections (pages to follow later):

  • Book of Centuries: 1600 AD – 1800 AD (including the Puritan Migration, King Philip’s War, Thirteen Colonies, American Revolution, Writing of the US Constitution, and the French Revolution – all covered in the Year 4 Readings).
  • Notebooking Pages: Puritan Migration/Pilgrims, Thirteen Colonies, American Revolution, US Constitution, French Revolution from Year 4 — I added Native Americans of the Colonial Period and African Slavery in Colonial America, since I felt it important to provide a balanced perspective of European colonization of North America.
  • Geography: Native American Tribal Maps (1600-1800) – not in Year 4 materials; Colonial America 1600-1776; The United States 1776-1800; Minn of the Mississippi (a Year 4 book); Europe, 1600-1800 (various Year 4 readings); Asia, Africa and South America (from George Washington’s World)
  • Famous People: (all highlighted in Year 4 biographies, except Metacomet, whom I added) – George Washington (George Washington’s World); Benjamin Franklin (Poor Richard); Abigail Adams (Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution); Metacomet (“King Philip”)
  • Authors, Artists & Composers: (from Year 4 curriculum; I only included individuals who were alive during 1600-1800) — William Wordsworth (a Year 4 poet); Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe, from Year 4); Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (author of “Paul Revere’s Ride”); Jacob van Ruisdael and Pieter de Hooch (artists from 2012-13 schedule); Johann Sebastian Bach (composer from 2012-13 schedule)
  • Logs, Lists & Teacher Stuff: Read-aloud and Independent Reading Logs; Running Records, Spelling Lists and Writing Goals; Websites & Links; Ideas
What's Really Important
8-page set: Colonial America thru French Revolution — notebook and spine covers, and section dividers. FREE!

4. I read at night to my son. There really isn’t a better way to end the evening with your kids than this. But it’s something that got away from us. We were overscheduled, and harried, and planned too much for the evening hours. I like the relaxed end of the day, and allow my son to stay up another half hour if he is reading in his bed. He usually falls asleep doing this.

The simple part: Reading out loud is cuddly, and builds literacy, and costs nothing, espeicially since my son loves to re-read his favorite books (over, and over, and over again…). My husband sits nearby to enjoy the story.

Colonial History
Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe — our current read-aloud.

5. I got off Facebook. I didn’t close down my account, altogether — I like to share my homeschool and blog stuff with friends. But I don’t go on to “surf.” Things I was reading upset me, and I wasted so much time. I’d rather bake bread or read. Or look at seed catalogs.

The simple part: All that time I got back! I think that’s obvious. Probably many of you can relate.

6. I let my husband cook more. Not that I ever stopped him or forebade him. He loves to cook, and he’s an excellent one. I just let go of control over what was on the menu. (Do any other women who work outside the home  relate?) Last week, we had rib-eyes with homefries, breakfast for dinner, hamburgers, take out pizza, dirty rice, and chicken wings. So delightful.

The simple part: An extra cup of coffee and a few minutes off my feet before dinner makes me so much more agreeable. And my kids think my husband is the bomb-diggity. Which he is.

What's Really Important
My kids think their dad is a rock star. And he is.

7. I drink home-made juice drinks for breakfast. We all know we need to eat more fruits and vegetables. But I slacked off, and carbs are stress-foods. At the urging of my ultra-health conscious eldest son (Mom: “I’m kinda stressed today.” Son: “You stopped juicing, didn’t you?”), I got the blender and juicer back out, front and center. I add a glug of protein shake, and my juice shakes carry me through the busiest of mornings. I keep track of my efforts to eat and drink better on my Pinterest board, “Life After Breast Cancer.” 

The simple part: I feel better after I drink home-made juice drinks. When you feel better, you do better. Period.

8. We instituted Family Movie Nights. Even the adult kids come over to watch. We laugh. We eat together. We cuddle (even the grown kids). Sometimes we all fall asleep. Sometimes we don’t. But we always have fun.

The simple part: Even if we buy pay-per-view, the $4.99 we spend to watch a movie together is way cheaper than going to the movies. And we have so much fun together. And the popcorn doesn’t cost $27 a hit.

9. I send love notes. No one goes off to work or goes to bed without mom texting them a little “I love you” or “Sleep well” or “Have a blessed day!”

We had a terrible tragedy at an elementary school in our home state of Connecticut, last December. As the mom trying to be a Proverbs 31 woman, I have to keep my family covered with prayer, love and blessings, every day.

The simple part: Love, prayer and blessings are like seeds. You plant a little of each, and get so very much more back.

10.  I decided to not take on more work. My work schedule is full enough. More work would sacrifice things that are important. Like reading to my son. And researching Vikings. And cuddling up during “The Big Bang Theory.” And being sous-chef to my husband as he prepares dinner.

The simple part: Now I have more time for fun playing with soap bubbles and plastic army men. Army Men
A Winter Re-enactment,” by MB (2013)