Fine Tuning my Focus

I have done plenty of soul searching and praying as of late about focus. I don't think I lack in the ability to focus. In fact, I have tendancies toward hyperfocus. It just seems that my hyperfocus changes ALOT in the scheme of time. 

I think I am accepting the fact that I will never be one to be employed at the same job doing the same thing for 30 years, even though loyalty is very important to me. What's funny is that's what I thought I WOULD be like. 

After teaching public school art for ten years, I wanted to stay home with my babies. Both Mike and I dove into free lancing. Mike was very focused: music lessons. I was doing lots of digital design work and photography all the while longing to make stuff. So, I added painting and craft classes and an Etsy shop. Shortly before Covid, I found out I love facepainting... which promptly stopped with Covid. 

Then, during Covid, I started decorating cakes for more than friends and family. My list of passions and artistic endevours was growing, and growing, and growing all as I was also homeschooling! 

Then, suddenly, and I mean suddenly, the non-profit that my husband founded (CollECtive Choir), was handed over a building to rent. The building has two sides, one of which would make a pretty great dance studio. 

Add another passion, that had been neglected since coaching during my school teaching days, to the list.

Fast forward a few months and CollECtive Choir morphed into CollECtive Arts, and I began a dance ministry called Might in Motion. Needless to say, it's stolen my focus in the best way.

Oh, and I took a job teaching elementary art one day a week at a local private school. HA!

So, I'm whittling down. Pruning. Fine tuning my focus on the things that are most important: raising and homeschooling my small humans and ministering to our community through the arts. 

I'm not completely abandoning all other creative outlets. Custom cake making has been a source of great joy, and I will continue to take on orders as I am able. 

The thing I'm having the most difficulty accepting is that it's time to shed my photography business, because I have LOVED building relationships with clients. However, I am lacking time for sessions and really not enjoying the editing process like I used to. I'll never stop taking photos, it's just going to be of my life instead of others'. 

I'm hooooooping that I can use this space to share ideas and thoughts. Probably most having to do with homeschooling, art lessons, and things that are a by-product of these things I am focusing on. 

I'm grateful for those of you who have supported me in all of my free lance/business ventures. All of those things served me well when I needed. 

So... You're Thinking About Homeschooling

With the times as they are, I have been getting so many questions from friends about homeschooling. Things are very uncertain for public schools, and I don't blame parents in the least for looking at all of their options. 
First of all, I have to tell all you parents out there, you are all my heroes. When your kids were sent home for quarantine in March, you went into crisis schooling... that is way different than homeschooling. You had to follow a different curriculum for every teacher your kid(s) had. You had check-ins for every teacher your kid(s) had. You were at the mercy of every teachers' schedule. You sifted through 100's of emails and/or letters that were probably giving you inconsistent information and advice. All while dealing with the uncertainties of your own jobs, finances, and health! 

You did it! You made it through the end of the 2019-20 school year, and you deserve applause for that!

Unfortunately, for the schools around me anyway, life is not going back to normal as we have known it. Most parents are now trying to decided if they want their kids to be in school face to face (mask to mask) a couple days a week, go totally virtual again dealing with all the things mentioned above, or to fully withdraw from the school and commit to homeschooling until we are safe from COVID-19. Remember, homeschooling is never a permanent decision; you can re-enroll back into public school anytime. I found that very comforting when we were deciding whether or not to do it.

I have to tell you that I am NOT a very experienced homeschooling mom. My oldest is just starting 4th grade. So, what I share is mostly appropriate for elementary age kids. 

I only have two kiddos to school without any toddlers or babies in tote. I am blessed that my husband's income is enough for me to work free lance as much or as little as I want. I have it incredibly easy. 

My circumstances are also unique in that my oldest is dyslexic (that's a post for another time) and my youngest would probably be considered gifted and talented. In many "academic" areas they are doing the same level of work. So, I use one curriculum for both and adjust according to their age and abilities. 

So, knowing all of that, I'll share with you some things about getting started with homeschooling, some of the things we do, and some of my favorite resources in a series of posts.

First off, you'll have to find out homeschooling laws for your state; every state is different. 

Here in WI you need to file a PI-1206 form. It's a very simple, online form that you'll need to file every year for every child that you homeschool from ages 6-18. 

In WI a simple record of attendance is required, and you need to provide 875 hours of instruction which sounds completely overwhelming. But I guarantee that when you assess all of the learning that takes place in the daily activities of life, it adds up to WAY more. 

Trip to the store- give them some price comparison math! Trip to the bank- let them count the cash! Working in the garden- science! Baking and cooking- measuring/math skills plus home and life skills! Trip to the apple orchard, zoo, or museum = field trip : ) <----- public schools do field trips all. the. time. When you do projects around the house, make sure your kids are there to help. My hubby is SO good at including the kids in building and repair projects. 

There are plenty of times when I have to check myself, because it would often be so much easier to just do it all myself. Sure, it would go faster. Sure, it would be less messy, but I remind myself that I only have so much time to do this stuff WITH them. In the blink of an eye I will be doing all this stuff myself and I will miss the extra time and messes!

Once you figure out what your state requirements are, you'll want to consider what type of homeschooling you feel would be a good fit for your family. 

Some of the most popular/well known styles of homeschooling are: traditional, classical conversations, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Waldorf, and Unschooling. There are more as well, and of course, you can always use a combination of styles! I'm not going to cover them all. Just know you'll need to take some time to research them to figure out what you'd like to try. One main reason I love homeschooling is that you can CHANGE your style anytime! 

We do a combination of traditional and unschooling. So, in other words, we use set curriculum for some main subjects, but also allow lots of time for "interest led" learning. I try to have a day every couple weeks that is unplanned and I simply ask my kids what they want to learn about today. Most of the time, the interest led learning happens when questions come up during our time using curriculum. We make room for lots of tangents. 

Moving Beyond the Page is our current choice of curriculum for literature, English, science, and social studies. They also have math and spelling units which we don't use. I LOVE literature based learning which is why I chose this brand. I really like how they break down the concepts and units. I appreciate their scope and sequence. They have plenty of hands on activities that cater to all types of learning styles. I don't do every activity. Honestly, I mostly use this curriculum as a guide. I often find my own activities to do (thank you Pinterest!) and when we find something the kids are really interested in, we welcome tangents and extra activities on that. BUT, on days when I don't have drive or energy to find my own things to do (which happens to every homeschooling parent!), I love that I can default to the provided worksheets and activities. 

If your child is just learning to read, you'll have to get a separate reading curriculum. We used the book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons along with the Usborne Very First Reading Box Set. I loved the script and the coding of TYCTR. "Easy" is definitely a relative term. It took my dyslexic child a really. long. time. to get through the book. We had a big celebration when she completed it. My second child... didn't even finish it. I think he made it to lesson 78 and he was reading chapter books on his own. 

From the beginning, I knew that my oldest would need something very visual and tactile for learning math. We did a lot of Montessori math activities in her first years of schooling. Then, we started Math-U-See. The number blocks, which are used in plenty of curricula, are an important visual for the kids. There is video instruction for every unit, which is what I need for the subject I feel the least confident about teaching. I love that Math-U-see is very straight forward. Though I understand and appreciate all of the "new" and different ways of teaching math, my dyslexic child (who struggles with remembering sequences) gets very overwhelmed when presented with so many different steps and variations of doing something. She does best with a set, straight forward method and then plenty of repetition to set in the order of steps. 

For spelling and grammer, we use the Orton-Gillingham method which is well known as an effective way to teach dyslexic students. I highly recommend Logic of  English which uses OG techniques. We started the LOE essentials and eventually we will get back to it. But this year, we are going back to the basics of OG. I was failing at teaching spelling, and spelling is my daughter's BIGGEST struggle. This, though, is one of the main reasons we chose homeschooling, the ability to take ample time to address struggles.

Curriculum (or no curriculum) is such an individualized choice. Every kid learns differently. Every parent has different comfort levels of teaching. What works for one family isn't necessarily going to work for another. For instance, take my bestie. We both found success with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. She is the person that introduced me to Logic of English, which I think will be good for us in the future, but not right now. I introduced her to Moving Beyond the Page, which she isn't jiving with. She doesn't have the time to find alternate activities and doesn't find the provided activities motivating. So, she is looking for something different. I know a couple of families that do classical conversations and love it, but tuition can be costly for some families. There are benefits and drawbacks to all styles of homeschooling and curriculum.

Curriculum is a trial and error type of commitment. But, you know what? When I taught in a public school, they switched curriculum and methods of teaching several times! When our students were scoring lower on reading standardized tests, the whole district adopted a new way of teaching reading. So, don't feel discouraged if you don't find the perfect curriculum right away. 

If you do choose a curriculum, usually there will be at least a couple of Facebook groups centering on the use of that curriculum. I find those groups to be a treasure trove of ideas for alternate activities, extended learning, and advice. Those groups are usually great for buying and selling used curriculum books too. Curriculum can definitely get expensive! I buy as much used on FB groups and Ebay as I possibly can. 

I want to encourage those of you considering homeschooling during this weird time in our world. I have a feeling that separating from the expectations of multiple teachers will be much less stressful than educating your kids yourself. 

Literally, if you start the day with "what questions do you want to answer today?" Or, "what do you want to learn about today?" you can successfully educate your kids. For example:

Kids: I wanna learn about FOSSILS!
Me: Okay, tell me what you already know about fossils (proceed to discuss or write what they know)
       What questions do you have about fossils? (proceed to say or write down questions)
* Look up information on fossils via the internet to answer those questions. Find printed information and have them read aloud. Also watch some videos. Check out a book or two from the library for them to browse throughout the week (there are lots of digital books available if your library is closed). 
* We like "taking notes" using a web diagram.
* When you find or hear locations in articles, books, or movies, be sure to find them on a map or globe.
Kids: I wanna be a paleontologist!
Me: Cool! What can we do to be like a paleontologist?
Me: Lol. Right. We might not find bones, but we can go dig : ) 
* Let them play and dig somewhere and record what they find. If they don't find anything... who cares!?Paleontologists don't find something on every dig.
* This inevitably leads to dinosaurs. We happen to have a ton of dinosaur toys. We could match the toys to our dinosaur species book.We could create an environment for the toys. Discuss the terms, herbivore and carnivore. Name currently living animals that fit into each category.
Me: Let's pretend you are a paleontologist or an archaeologist. Write a journal entry describing today's dig. Draw what you found and describe it.
Other possibilities:
* You could have a discussion of what kind of artifacts or fossils will be found millions of years from now.
* You could make a time line of history
* You could make some type of treat to represent a fossil (like the fossil cookies).
* You could figure out the differences of ages of things. 


Your kids are curious creatures. Curiosity is the basis for learning.

You can do it! I'm not saying it's going to be sunshine and rainbows everyday, but freedom to explore interests, freedom to concentrate on specific gifts and struggles, and freedom from someone else's schedule is worth it. 

What questions or worries do you have about potentially homeschooling? Let me know in the comments.

The Secondhand Life

I want to talk about this book a bit, especially in light of my last post and before I post some actual practical advice to help us conquer the consumerism mindset. 

This book was eye opening and not in the ways that I expected! 

I expected gloom and doom. I expected guilt trips and wake up calls. I expected to be convicted to stop buying anything of any sort at anytime. 

Instead I was assured that buying new now and then is key to keeping up the economy, and I was very encouraged by the life that second hand goods take on if they don't sell in stores like Goodwill or Savers. 

After a certain amount of time, things that don't sell in second hand stores head to second hand outlet stores where product is sold by the bag or by the pound. This was totally new information for me, and coincidentally not a week after I finished the book, one of my favorite bloggers posted on this very thing! Take a look at Dina's blog, or for some video footage, check out her Instagram story highlight titled Goodwill Bins. 

If goods aren't sold from the outlets, much of it is put into giant shipping bins which are sold world wide. It turns out that people from all over the world make their living by selling our second hand stuff. People around the world appreciate being able to get these goods at affordable prices. 

People across the globe repair and recycle second hand goods until they can't be used any more. Appliances are repaired or disassembled to use parts in other appliances, or those parts are recycled. Clothing is reused and recycled until it gets made into rags. Literally, there was an entire chapter on the rag industry! 

Unfortunately, there is something that is hindering the life of second hand goods and causing massive amounts of waste on our planet. 

Consumers today, want the newest and latest of everything. Manufacturers are meeting that demand with fast made, low quality product. The saying, "they don't make 'em like they used to" is truth. The quality of goods has diminished so much that appliances often are actually unrepairable if they break, and clothing is such poor quality that even rag makers won't use it for rags! 

These poor quality goods are now piling up with nowhere to go. 

Our acceptance of cheap, low quality goods to meet our "need" for the latest and greatest is affecting the livelihood of others, and it's ruining the earth. 

Believe me readers, I have gone through every excuse to justify MY acceptance of cheap goods. But, if I actually examine my heart and mindset, it isn't justifiable. It comes down to me being discontent with what I have and impatient, either to save up for something of higher quality or to wait/search for that perfect second hand quality item. 

I am discontent and impatient. These are hard truths to face. 

Okay. I PROMISE my next post will be practical applications to help conquer the consumerism mindset. Every blogger needs some soapbox posts, right? 

Stay tuned...

Consumerism and Climate Change

I have to get a few things off my chest, readers. Some of this might be unpopular opinion, but I need to talk about the Golden Globes. Not quite what you thought I was gonna say I bet.

Please understand, I am a fan of celebrating art. Quality film and television are two of my favorite things. I love acting. I love cinematography. I love story telling. I love costuming and make up. People using their God given talents to create beautiful things is itself a beautiful thing.

I am also the first on Instagram to see all the fashion on the red carpet, because fashion is just as much art as the movies and television.

The desire to express. The desire to make things beautiful. It's all good and even comes from God. He is a creative God after all.

The red carpet and awards shows have also become a platform for politics. It's understandable. Hollywood stars have influence. It's the perfect place to be seen and heard. Time's up, equal pay, race representation, you name it, the stars have stood for it.

This year, there were plenty of stars addressing climate change especially because of the devastation happening in Australia right now. (If you don't know, it's literal Hell there right now. Like, the images are what I envision Hell to look like, and it's utterly terrifying).


All these stars, who are mega consumers, and who then influence all of us to consume the stuff they are consuming, are taking a "stand" on climate change?

I wonder if any of them car pooled to and from the event and after parties in their fuel efficient cars rather than pulling up each in their own vehicles that idle in line until it's their turn to take the carpet.

Though I love looking at the dresses, I need to address the fact that these dresses are worn ONCE for a few hours and then, most of the ladies change into an after party dress that most likely will never be worn again either.

The red carpet is a perpetual example of living a "once and done" lifestyle.

Even though the clothes of the red carpet aren't considered fast fashion, it certainly promotes the mentality that every event needs a new outfit and that once it's out of style, or I'm simply over it, I'll just buy something else.

Fast fashion/textile production is one of the worst contributors to climate change there is!

Well, "I donate my clothes when I am done." Yes, it's a better way, but please educate yourself on what actually happens to donated clothing. Most of it ends up in landfills or gets shipped to other countries where it does more harm than good.

Second hand/thrifting is a better way. But it is just as easy to get stuck in a consumerism mindset, sometimes even more so, because we can afford MORE STUFF if it's second hand! Until I learned about the amount of used stuff creating havoc on our environment, I was in the cycle of buying and re-donating all the time. I naively thought it was just all getting recycled buyer to buyer! Not so, my friends, not so.

And let's talk about all the free stuff that the stars get from these awards shows and after parties.

Did any of them say "no thanks" to the extravagant gift baskets full of the newest and greatest stuff? The amount of stuff given to these people is insane and, of course, WE ALL can find out what was in the gift bags so that WE CAN HAVE ALL THAT SAME STUFF!

Not to mention all that stuff comes in tons of packaging. Mostly packaging that NEVER breaks down. "Recycle," you say. Mmm...hmmm... don't get me started on that.

I get it. I'm an artist. I make stuff to sell, and I love when people buy it. I have to market it. I have to share what I do. We gotta make a living after all. But, at some point, it all got OUT OF CONTROL!

To quote one of my favorite books, Agate, by Joy Morgan Dey: (Sigh, yes, that's an affiliate link. I'm definitely a hypocrite, because I will influence you to buy all the books! See also, sidebar).

We are a malcontented bunch --
Give us breakfast, we want lunch.
Give us flippers, we want paws.
Show us talents, we see flaws.
Make us tall, we'd rather be small.
Give us some, we want it all.

The want of stuff comes from a place being discontent. We buy in hopes that the new thing will make us feel content.

Now, discontent can be good, healthy even. If we get too content in some circumstances, challenging and changing those circumstances is good.

What I am frustrated with is the message that what we have is not good enough. I'm frustrated that we are being influenced to be discontent. I'm frustrated that so many people are listening!

AND our discontentment is ruining the earth that we were created to take care of. It's one of the first things that God tells humans to do. Take care of the earth.

If we are seeking contentment in things, we will never be content. Ever. Period.

I don't want more stuff. I want more of God.

Finding contentment is hard. I get caught up in consumerism too. I even find ways to justify it in the name of creativity and beauty, which again are definitely Godly things. This is a subject I am very passionate about. I'm not perfect at it, for sure, but very passionate about. I will share in future posts  some practical ways that we can avoid consumerism and be more content with what we already have.

Throw a Low Fuss Sugar Cookie Decorating Party

I like to bake. I really LOVE to decorate baked goods. This past Christmas season, I desperately wanted to decorate sugar cookies, but I didn't want all those cookies to remain in my house (because I will eat them... ALL).

I also wanted to create an opportunity for my kids to get together with our neighborhood friends.

On the flip side, I did NOT want to spend HOURS baking cookies and mixing frosting. I didn't want to wash a crap ton of dishes and bottles after all was said and done. Many times in my life, I am convicted of my contribution to the plastic waste problem in our world, but to be honest, this was not one of those times for me.

Here is what I did to create a fun, low fuss (notice not necessarily low mess, because kids + frosting = automatic mess) cookie decorating party.

1. Make and bake cookies the day before. I kept it to one batch. There would be 8 kids total and each kid got to decorate 4 cookies. They could have done more, but a main reason for this was for ME to get my decorating fix so, I did the rest ; ) PLUS... everyone and their mother is baking Christmas treats so, do they really need another dozen cookies to bring home? No.

I used this recipe which creates delicious, soft cookies that keep a wonderful shape and don't require any chilling! For even LESS FUSS... go ahead and buy some pre-made cookie dough!

Cream 1 cup granulated sugar and 1 cup butter together until smooth and fluffy
Add in 1 egg and 1-2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, almond extract, or a combo of both
Add 2 teaspoons of baking powder
Slowly add 3 cups of all purpose flour and mix until dough consistency
Turn dough out onto counter and knead for about 30 seconds
(I didn't find any need for dusting the work surface with anything)
Roll out to a thickness of about 1/4 inch and cut out shapes
Bake on parchment lined cookie sheet in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 6-8 minutes.
Let cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet before putting them on a cooling rack

2. Prep frosting/piping bags. I know that royal icing is the norm for sugar cookie decorating. It creates perfect designs and hardens so that those designs don't get ruined, but truth be told, I really don't like the way royal icing tastes! I hate the hardened texture. Store bought cake frosting is perfect piping consistency and tastes delicious. I actually bought way too much. I could have gotten away with half the amount for sure, but here is what I did:

I opened two containers of white vanilla frosting and emptied 1/3 of a container at a time into a bowl, added desired food coloring and mixed well. I Put the colored frosting into a piping bag, washed the container and spoon and repeated the process until I had six piping bags of color. Before decorating, cut a tiny hole at the end of each piping bag. Next time, I will just use one container of frosting and color 1/6 of it at a time. I had SO much left over. It could have covered probably three parties.

* Kids will need instruction on how to dip cookies and how to use a piping bag. Teach them to twist the top of the bag and hold the twist with one hand then, squeeze with the other hand. What would be ideal is to use a clip to keep the frosting from going out the top of the bag!
Here are some ideas for clipping off bags.

The other container of frosting I divided among three containers with flat bottoms big enough to dip the cookies into. I left one white, colored one green and the other red. These were the base colors. RIGHT BEFORE you are ready to decorate, warm these containers of frosting in the microwave 15 seconds at a time until they are a nice runny consistency.

Base color applied. I even piped the outline of the sweater and then "flooded" it by adding spoonfuls of the runny base color.

3. Decorate! Dip a cookie face down into one of the runny bases. Lift it and let it drip excess for a few seconds. Carefully flip it onto the table and add piping, sprinkles etc. Have fun! I gave each kid a paper plate to put finished cookies on and covered them with plastic wrap for transport.

After just a few minutes the frosting stiffens up. It never hardens completely, like royal icing, but I was able to stack the cookies for storage without the designs being ruined.

4. Send kids home and decorate your own cookies ; ) Got my decorating fix in a peaceful atmosphere.

5. Clean up. Like I mentioned above, it's still messy. But, after you throw out the piping bags and wash the three base color frosting containers, all that's left is to wipe down the table!

6. Eat cookies! Grab a cup of coffee, tea, or milk and enjoy a cookie (or three) by the tree.

I never did any Christmas baking before, because we have so many loving people in our life that share theirs with us! But, the kids and I enjoyed this experience so much that we plan to make it an annual tradition.

Do you bake and decorate treats every Christmas season? What is your favorite thing to make?

Make a Felt Box Cake

I asked my daughter one night what she wanted for her birthday. She mentioned that she had a cake that she could cut apart and serve as part of her kitchen arsenal, but thought it would be fun to have a cake that she could decorate. 

"Because I really like to organize and arrange things, Mom." 

Gosh I love that kid.

So, here is what I came up with:

I bought two paper mache boxes like these. Then, I measured the top and sides and added a half inch seam allowance for all sides. The top is just slightly different in size. Labels and arrows help very much!

Sew right sides together first to the top piece of the box. Then, down the sides. 
Trim the seam allowances as needed.

 Turn it right side out, place it over the box, and trim the bottom as needed.

Now, it's time to make and collect decorations! There are so many great tutorials out there for felt flowers and felt food. Just take a look here and here and here.

Also collect ribbons and rick rack and just cut out shapes from felt to use as decorations.

The BEST part... all those decorations can be stored right in the boxes!

Both of my kiddos love to decorate.

He is My Future AND My Past

Sometimes, when I worship at church, I just sing without really paying much attention to the words.

Then there are times when the words (usually a single phrase) hit me over the head like a ton of bricks. Sometimes those words have a life changing affect.

This song has a phrase that has gripped me for the last few weeks:

You are my first
You are my last
You are my future AND MY PAST

(Lyrics by John Mark McMillan)

We have all heard the advice. You know... Don't dwell in the past; live in the now. Be present.

I think it's good advice, but I feel like today's American culture pretty much interprets that as FORGET about the past; disregard it.

We certainly need to be present. We certainly should not DWELL in the past, but we most definitely should not forget/disregard it!

I have noticed that this disregard is often accepted regarding the Old Testament of the Bible. "Why read the Old Testament? Jesus cancels all that out. The Old Testament God was hard to palette. I prefer the loving (less angry) God of the New Testament." 

Honestly, I was among those people. 

Then few months ago, I attended a life changing conference and heard THIS talk by Brad Gray. 

Seriously, friends, this information is LIFE CHANGING. And if you were ever unsure of the relevancy of the Bible, this will surely convince you. 

It turns out that the entire Old Testament actually points to Jesus in very direct ways. When we study the life of Jesus, it is completely apparent that his actions are directly reflective of happenings in the Old Testament. 

I'm not just talking about the over arcing fact that in the Old Testament, people sinned and God was mad so, He sent Jesus. That does definitely explain the actions of Jesus, but it's so much MORE than that. Jesus' actions make WAY more sense to me now that someone has pointed out the direct connection between the Old and New Testaments. 

The point is: The whole Bible is relevant. All the books are part of the whole story (that God hasn't even finished yet!). God knew what He was doing in the Old Testament. He knew what He was doing in the New, and He knows what he is doing now and in the future. 

I am grateful for that... because, I have been remembering my past. Recalling a lifetime of health issues. I have written about some of them already, but this last year, I have discovered there is something other than mental illness that has been causing these issues. There is a root to it all. 

I'm going on one year of treatment for Lyme, and it's been hard. REALLY hard. It's easy for me to feel sorry for myself and wonder how different (better) my life could have been had I found out sooner what was causing my issues. I can easily dwell in that. 

When I, instead, dwell in the Lord, I understand that He is the God of my future AND my past. My past is part of a whole story. Since He's got the whole story under control, I don't need to dwell in the past, but I will not disregard it or try to forget it. 

I am confident that the connection between my past and future will be used for good! 

How about you? 
Do you have a tendency to dwell in the past or are you quick to try to forget/disregard it?