Seven Habits and Routines that Keep Our Household Running

There are a few habits that we have cultivated (or are actively cultivating) to help hold things together at our house. We do them with our Best Effort, but we rarely get them done perfectly. I am sure that you have different things working for you at your house, but these are seven things that keep things running in my house.

  1. The Habit of Eating Well, pt. 1: Planning Ahead

Some things just make life easier and cheaper. I feed five people three meals and two snacks a day. So, it is a good thing that I like to cook. On Friday evening or Saturday morning, I check the fridge and pantry for things that need to be used and make a meal plan and grocery list. Then, we stop at Aldi to get most of the stuff. I’ll run to Costco on the way home from CC, and maybe hit Trader Joe’s between two activities later in the week. I may wind up making meals in a different order as the week unfolds, but if I follow my list, I can avoid end-of-the-day decision fatigue by following the plan.

2. The Habit of Eating Well, pt. 2: Dinner

We set a goal to eat dinner together at least five nights a week.  Sometimes it evolves into a long conversation, and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, dinner keeps my husband involved in what they are learning and gives us many opportunities for discipleship. We will shift the time if we have do. If dinner needs to be late, we have a larger snack in the afternoon. If dinner needs to be early, I’ll make sure no one snacks. Sometimes the evening activities can pre-empt our half-hour if we aren’t careful, so we purpose to guard this time. For our family, it has been very beneficial.

3. The Habit of Fun

Movie night is usually a hit over here. We will stay home and watch something on DVD, Netflix, or Amazon Prime. Occasionally, we actually go to the movies. We saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi a few weeks ago, and this week we really enjoyed The Greatest Showman. Movies add to our family culture like books do – when we watch them together, little quips and jokes are added to our common pool of shared expressions. Using those memories draws us closer together.

4. The Habit of Play

We also love to play board games together. Like family movie night, we enjoy doing this a couple of times a month. We don’t always achieve it, but when we do we have a blast. We played Tsuro with the cousins over the holiday. We also played countless rounds of Spicy Uno and Dominion.  If we have plenty of time, we like Catan or Ticket to Ride. Sometimes we need something is quick and easy and allows for people to move in and out of the game – Chess or Spoons or Nertz.

5.The Habit of Cleaning Up

Chores are a necessary beast for all of us. We have tried several systems, and it turns out that the best one for us is to change it up often. So, people have assigned days to be the dishwasher, the sweeper, or the launderer. Jon and I fill in as needed, and we continue to teach these boys to clean all the way. They need to know how to clean a kitchen and a bathroom. Those convenient horizontal services that collect items that we were too lazy to put away correctly the first time sure do fill up fast! Doing this one daily is absolutely necessary because I need the house to be somewhat presentable, and all we have to do to achieve that is tidy a little bit at a time.

6. The Habit of Identifying Problem Areas:

So, we manage these few things (chores, meals, fun and games), but we fail repeatedly at other household habits to the extent that it is embarrassing. We are terrible landscapers and yard-keepers. We aren’t great at completing repairs. We get things tidy, but the floor usually needs mopping, and the stovetop is always dirty. We just can’t do all the things.

7. The Habit of Continuing to Refine Habits

We are all working on getting out of bed when we ought in order to complete what needs completing in the time that we have to complete it. The boys are working on putting things up when they are done with them and not waiting until I command it. They also get to work on attending to the answers they get to their questions. I’m working on giving them space to take care of things themselves before I remind them and to remind them with kindness and humor. I’m also working on my own attitude when people aren’t doing what they ought.Being grumpy and whiny, isn’t the proper way to encourage them to do as they should. It’s a rather bad example of how to handle Other People’s Attitudes. I should react differently.

These seven simple things aren’t as simple as they seem, but they do keep things from getting out of control over here.

Seven Habits that Keep Me Sane

We are intentional around here about developing and functioning on habits and routines. There are some that are mostly mastered (like tooth-brushing), and some that require constant attention (like putting your dirty dishes in the dishwasher, not on the counter). Some are educational: we do instrument practice, memory work, math and handwriting nearly every day. Some are part of our family culture: we have a morning meeting most mornings… on the weekend, it may include Dad also.  I’ll talk about household and educational habits and routines later. For today, here are the little things that keep me sane when I do them.

The Habit of Bible Reading and Prayer: I usually make coffee while it is still dark. It is cold when I carry my mug and my blankie to my desk. I know I only have a short time before I am interrupted. I try to resist the urge to check email before I have read something else. I read the day’s devotional and recommended Bible reading. I pray. I may read a few pages of one or more other things also. I check my lists for the day. I need to start the day by praying and reading just a little bit to sustain my thoughts though all of the adventure and monotony that is motherhood.

The Habit of Slow Reading: There is a time for swallowing a book whole, but some books demand more time. There are ideas and characters need to be met and moved on from, and then there are others who need to live with us for a while.  Last year, I read A Tale of Two Cities, and I thought about sacrifice and salvation. Two years ago, I spent a year thinking on redemption and grace with Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. Three years ago, it was The Count of Monte Cristo, and I considered damage done by revenge. This year, I’ve invited Anna Karenina to stay for a while. She has a lot to say about marriage and relationships. I’ve also invited Charlotte Mason (volume 6), David Hicks (Norms and Nobility), and Karen Glass (Mind to Mind and Consider This) to help me define classical education. I may also read 99 other books this year, but these are the ones who will have a place on the shelf next to my desk until I am finished with them. I will read them slowly.

The Habit of Timeline Keeping: One habit that I’ve worked on personally for several years is that habit of writing the people and events that I come across in my reading onto a timeline. It took me a couple of tries to get it arranged in a way that would work consistently for many entries. After I finally got it set up, I copied the CC Timeline events onto as anchors for other events. Then, I put the philosophes and events from the history book I was reading. I continued, so on and so forth, not adding things even every week, but building it over time. It has been an amazing way to see connections between ideas and events about which I am reading.

The Habit of Writing: For many years, I scribbled a little here and there. I blogged a lot as we were first grieving for Isaac because I knew that I wouldn’t remember that season at all if I didn’t document (like I don’t remember most of 2005, which is the year Danny died). I’ve poured out my thoughts by hand in journals and typed them at Its Not Nothing and in hidden files on my computer. I was a scribbler, a processor, a record-keeper, but not a writer. I found a high school journal and in it I had quoted my favorite English teacher, who used to tell us that “All you have to do is write to be a writer.” I dedicated a few minutes a day to writing – nothing big or important – mostly just dumping my brain at and leaving room for developing ideas. This has become a blessed end to my day, even though it takes a little time.

The Habit of Exercise:  It is easier to learn a new habit in company than alone. We are working on an exercise habit, and it is proving difficult. I like to walk in the neighborhood with my husband. I have to stick to the low impact exercises that don’t damage my already sore joints. That kind of stinks because I’d burn more calories if I was running or CrossFitting.  However, walking is better than nothing. We’d all rather be walking and running outside… but not when it is just too cold. One of us usually wants to go to the Y in a day, and the rest of us tie on our tennis shoes and get in the van. The decision to go is easier because of the one person’s desire to work out. Perhaps, one day, we will each feel the need to move consistently individually and have the gumption to make it happen.

The Habit of the Little Bit: Here’s the secret to why my reading moments work: I don’t try to read a lot at once. I read just a little bit, and then take time to turn the characters and ideas over in my head while I do more mundane tasks, like the dishes. The work of continuing education for a mother isn’t done in free luxurious hours. It is done in the tiny moments, in little snatches, in short spurts. I can’t wait to do it perfectly, I can just do what is in front of me.  I manage writing little bits and pieces in my little corner of Instagram, and that is my best little bit at this time. But I least I got to the Little Bit.

The Habit of Doing It Now: My mother trained me to “Do it now” – to not “put it done unless you are putting it away.” Unfortunately “away” can get out of hand when the drawer in question won’t open or close because too many wrong things have been stuck there. This afternoon, I had to hunt for a CR2032 battery. Once I removed something, I couldn’t put it back in until I sorted the whole mess. Wiggling everything back in, shutting the drawer, and pretending the mess disappeared was not an option. It was either sort the stuff or leave the mess on the kitchen counter. When I finished, a third of the contents of these two drawers was in the trash, and everything else was neat and tidy.  I was grateful for my mother’s wisdom yet again.

Educating Our Oaks in Advent 2017

Because I am so tired, a goal for Advent was to do less. We work hard for the fifteen weeks that make up a CC semester, and then we need a break. So, for the last couple of weeks, I have required each boy to do these things:

  1. Chores
  2. Participate in the Council of Oaks
  3. A math lesson (until they reached their goal for this term… which was roughly half the book)
  4. Read for an hour (can be broken into segments)
  5. Practice your instrument.
  6. Go outside and move as the weather permits.

That was pretty much what I did also. A little math, a little reading, a little exercise, a little fellowship.

For our Council meetings, we read bits from Cindy Rollin’s Hallelujah: A Journey through Advent with Handel’s Messiah   and we listened to Handel’s Messiah(Each word is linked to a different version, but both albums are available through Prime Streaming.)  Cindy leads us through the entire Messiah, not just the first part, so that we don’t miss the purpose for the birth of Christ: that we all can, through His sacrifice, be forgiven for our sins. There are poems and scriptures to read and ponder in the book, including Christina Rossetti’s In the Bleak Midwinter, which is what we agreed to memorize here and worked on.

I am pondering a focus word for next year. I think we can agree that I wasn’t great at creating Margin in my world this year. It is simply very difficult to get everyone where they need to be around here. I did get better at working in the small moments of time. I am looking at some new habits to work on next year in the areas of exercise, health, and downtime. Those ideas aren’t fully formed yet.

Educating Our Oaks in November 2017

November is glorious in Oklahoma. This year the colors have been brilliant, the sky has been a beautiful azure blue, and temperatures have been pretty mild. It is December 1. We haven’t turned on the heat yet, but the air conditioner is definitely off.

This was a particularly busy month. Every day on my calendar had more than one thing outside the house scheduled. It was a month of finishing-things-up. Josiah and Gideon finished up their term in Foundations and Essentials. Micah took blue books for Challenge 2, and I gave exams for Challenge 3 and wrote progress reports.  There were meetings, field trips, and dentist appointments.

Rejoice:I have still been staying up late with Jon and Micah, so I am not getting up early enough for a long and quiet morning study period alone with my coffee. I did write a gratitude-based series on Instagram in November, and I was consistent with Bible study but not personal reading.

Relate: Our CC community is now on recess until January. We miss seeing our friends consistently, but we were all very much ready for a break from the pace of life when classes are in session. Jon and Micah and I continued to work companionably at the big table in the evening. Occasionally, one of us tutors him in algebra or Latin or edits work for him. Most of the time, we are all working on our own projects. We have enjoyed hanging out with him as fellow autodidacts.

Remember:  We had three or four Council of Oaks meetings a week and did memory work each time. We are on track with Foundations memory work, but the younger boys fell behind with the Essentials memory work because they didn’t want to take time to recite a chart for an adult in class.  We did a few more Spanish and German lessons and learned our hymns and poetry. It feels like we are behind in Scripture memory work, but in reality,  I had delusions of grandeur when I made the Memory Work Packs for each month. I’ll fix that.

Reason:  Math, Algebra 2, and Calculus are all on track. Logic and Latin are on track. English grammar is too. Check. Check. Check.

Read: Josiah and Gideon and I finally finished Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution by Natalie Bober. We read it a little bit a day over fifteen weeks, and it was enjoyable.  Abigail was quite a behind-the-scenes hero of the American Revolution, and her story was engaging.

Record:  I wrote mostly on Instagram, and I met the monthly challenge on The boys all wrote essays for school, and Micah wrote his blue book exams. I did a lot of essay reading and coaching.  I have a couple of ideas for article series for this blog, but I can’t decide where to start.

Books Finished in November:

By Micah: Jane Eyre, plus a lot of other school reading and internet research

By Josiah: Nathan Hale’s Raid of No Return and Natalie Bober’s Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution.Of Courage Undaunted by James Daughtery, And a pile of re-reading. He is still finishing up The Silver Chair and Johnny Tremain.

By Gideon: Nathan Hale’s Raid of No Return and Natalie Bober’s Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution. Of Courage Undaunted by James Daughtery, And a pile of re-reading. He is still finishing up The Last Battle and Johnny Tremain.

By Me: a whole stack of cookbooks (none of which I would particularly recommend), a book about dot journaling, (from which I learned nothing new), and I started eight books and finished none of them. For recipes and bullet journaling ideas, Pinterest is still my go-to.

(Links in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Any funds earned through them go to support our homeschool.)


Educating Our Oaks in October 2017

Like Anne, I am thrilled that I live in a world where there are Octobers. We had a long stretch of late summer that lasted half the month, followed by a string of beautiful days that we are still soaking up. October in Oklahoma is glorious.

Rejoice: We have fallen into a pattern of all getting ready for bed when the younger boys do and then spending the late evening working or writing at the kitchen table. So, I am not getting up early, but I do get the spend the evening near my husband instead of sleeping while he works by himself. We did start a new Bible plan with the boys, and I am still reading SheReadsTruth and IF:equip every morning because I am enjoying both studies at the moment.

Relate: Part of working at the table in the evening is the chance to draw Micah into our more quiet evening study time. Occasionally one of us is tutoring him in algebra or Latin or editing work for him. Most of the time, we are just all working around the table together on our own projects.

Remember:  We had our Council of Oaks meetings four times a week and did memory work each time. We are on track with the Foundation and Essentials memory work as well as our Spanish and German lessons and hymns and poetry. It feels like we are behind in Scripture memory work, but in reality, I think I had delusions of grandeur in that area when I made the Memory Work Packs for each month. I’ll update them in December and fix that.

Reason:  Math, Algebra 2, and Calculus are all on track. Logic and Latin are on track. English grammar is too. Check. Check. Check.

Read: We did a lot of reading (cataloged below). I finished up several books, including one that I’d been working on for three years according to Goodreads.

Record: Like I said, I worked on developing a habit of writing daily. I don’t know how much of it will become public, but it felt good to be writing. I wrote a series of Instagram posts for the #mybesthomeschooltip challenge at @learningwell.  I had noticed a lot of the people only had tiny children, and I thought they might need a little look at how days might be later in order to help make it through the temper tantrums and toddler messes.   That did mean that  I wrote every day and developed a better habit of writing in the evening after we send everyone to bed. My kids all did their assigned writing, and Micah is still also working on his book.  He is looking forward to the long holiday break in which he plans a lot of writing. (So do I.)

Books Finished in October:

By MicahPride and Prejudice by Jane Austin, and snippets of other books that he will read a little at a time over the year. He also internet reading of research for a large project.

By JosiahJohnny Tremain and Prince Caspian were the books of the month for the younger boys.  He also read bits and pieces of other books that he will finish over time. He also read most of the Ranger’s Apprentice again series.

By GideonJohnny Tremain and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as well as parts of other books that he will finish over time. He feel in love with Narnia, and he read most of the Ranger’s Apprentice series again too.

By Me: I finally finished Stratford Caldecott’s Beauty for Truth’s Sake. It took me three years. He has some interesting comments on the liturgy of learning. I also read Present Over Perfect, Jennie Allen’s Nothing to Prove, Anthony Esolen’s Out of the Ashes, and a book for boymoms called Knights in Training that I highly recommend.

(Links in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Any funds earned through them go to support our homeschool.)


How We Make it Work: Jesus and Pancakes

Like every other household in the world, we have a hard time fitting things in. One that we have found particularly difficult to put into the schedule is time to study the scriptures together. As our kids get older and as work gets more hectic, we no longer are all home after dinner every day. Jon leaves for work early quite often, and he isn’t home by the time the boys and I sit down for a council meeting. We read the Bible as part of that most days.

Jon and I were talking while we were gone to Kansas City a couple of weeks ago, and we realized that we will only have all of these boys under our roof for two and a half more years. We decided to look for a Bible reading plan for our family that will insure that Micah has read and heard the full council of Scripture at least twice more before he leaves this house. We settled on the Bible Project’s Read Scripture app for daily reading assignments, though we are aware that we won’t be successful every day. We’ll try hard, and Jon might miss some of it.

On Sunday morning, we are all home and committed to a slow morning after Saturday night church. Once everyone is up, Breakfast Man make the pancakes and bacon, and we feast on maple syrup and scripture. It isn’t fancy, and it isn’t a perfect plan, but perhaps we can build a daily habit of systematic scripture reading into these boys before they leave us.

Breakfast Man’s Pancakes
Normal-Sized Recipe:

Beat together:

  • 6 eggs
  • 4 c. milk
  • 3 T. butter, melted
  • 6 T sugar
  • 1 t vanilla

Combine in a bigger bowl

  • 4 c. flour (ours is gluten free)
  • 2 heaping T baking powder
  • ½ t. salt

Get your griddle or skillet ready. Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients and mix together.

Make pancakes. Add blueberries or chocolate chips if you want.

We make the super-sized version of this, and it makes enough for one big breakfast and six extra cups of batter. Those six cups are divided between two quart mason jars and stuck in the fridge for mid-week waffles. When it is time to make waffles, we add two tablespoons of avocado oil to one of the jars, and whisk it up.

Super Size Version:

Beat together:

  • 8 eggs
  • 5 c. milk
  • 5 T. butter, melted
  • 8 T sugar
  • 2 t vanilla

Combine in a bigger bowl

  • 5 c. flour (ours is gluten free)
  • 3 heaping T baking powder
  • 1 t. salt

Proceed as directed above.

How we make it work: Breakfast

One thing that we do to simplify our mornings is to cycle through the same breakfasts every week.  These boys like to eat, and we tend to not buy much processed food. My challenge was to find things we all didn’t mind eating over and over again that were easy to make, gluten free, eaten by everyone and low prep on the morning we were going to eat them.

Each Sunday, we eat pancakes or waffles and bacon for lunch and leave two mason jars of leftover pancake batter in the refrigerator. On Sunday afternoon, we will stir up Breakfast Cookie dough and press it into two pans.

On the mornings we need to leave the house quickly, we will bake and eat the breakfast cookie bars that we prepped on Sunday. They have to bake for a while, but the prep is completely hands off.  On mornings we aren’t running out the door, we’ll add a little oil to the leftover pancake batter and make waffles. Those waffles are either eaten with ham, cheese, and eggs or with peanut butter and jelly. The fifth morning is either toast and sausage or frozen potato cakes and sausage.

On Saturday and Sunday, we leave people to fend for themselves until lunchtime. They can choose from cereal, omelets, yogurt, oatmeal or eggs. But everyone is responsible for his own food and for his own mess.

Oatmeal and More Breakfast Cookies

Makes 2 9×9 pans of bar cookies

Cream together:

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¼ c butter, softened (or coconut oil)

Mix in until combined:

  • 1 cup nut butter that makes you happy (We use peanut or almond depending on what’s in the pantry)
  • 2 eggs

Mix in until combined:

  • 1 ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp chia seeds
  • 2 scoops protein powder (We’ve used several with success. I’ve also left it out and added an extra ½ cup of oats)

Stir in:

  • 3 c quick oats (We use gluten free oats here, but if you don’t, it shouldn’t change things)
  • 1 cup craisins, raisins, nuts, chocolate chips or a combination thereof

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray or butter or oil two 9×9 or 8×8 pans.  Divide the dough between the pans. Press it out somewhat, but don’t stress over getting it flat. Bake until done – about 20 minutes, I think.

What can you think of that you can do ahead of time so that you and your family start the day well?

Educating Our Oaks in September 2017

It is suddenly October, and I haven’t written the wrap up post for September.

We had a good September learning about Igor Stravinsky, Thomas Moran, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, George Washington, Abigail Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Carl Linneaus and Thomas Jefferson. We explored the people and places of American history up to the War of 1812, and we are on track with science experiments and reading. Micah finished his work for Challenge 2 for the month. I am mostly caught up in tutoring duties for my Challenge 3 class. We did some work for The Little Light House, and we participated in a jog-a-thon to raise money for that organization.

I am constantly doing the next thing, but I am never finished.  In this odd season that I am in, where most of the homeschooling work is to direct children back to their assignments when they are distracted and only a little is hands-on teaching, I have snippets of time to learn things that I will need to know in a little while (like Chemistry and Calculus), and I have snippets of time to tutor my mom-friends in Latin and math as needed.  It seems like I should have more time to do other things than I actually do. I wish I didn’t need quiet in order to write. I’d get a lot more written if that were the case.

Books finished by Micah: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin, and  “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift. He also read snippets of other books that he will read a little at a time over the year and did some internet reading of research for a large project.

Books Josiah finished:  The Witch of Blackbird Pond (which he was surprised to learn isn’t about a witch at all) and The Horse and His Boy, bits and pieces of other books that he will finish over time. He also read most of the Ranger’s Apprentice series.

Books Gideon finished: The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Horse and His Boy, Prince Caspian,  bits and pieces of other books that he will finish over time. He feel in love with Narnia, and he read most of the Ranger’s Apprentice series too.

Books I finished: Reading People by Anne Bogel,  The Millennials, Hamlet, Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker, Jane of Lantern Hill, and some articles and parts of books about education and teaching, like Stratford Caldecott’s Beauty for Truth’s Sake.

(Links in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Any funds earned through them go to support our homeschool.)




Educating Our Oaks in August 2017

I have organized our entire school schedule around working in one month blocks. The younger boys’ schedule and copywork books are done by the month. Drew and I tend to both work about a month at a time. It does mean that some months have only three weeks instead of four. But it is an amount of time for which I can see the end from the beginning. Most of the time by the beginning of a month, I have a clear idea of what it will hold for us schedule-wise. I can plan meals and such around the activities, and I can see which weeks will have a lack of school time (like the week of the 16th of September) and which ones will afford us more time at home doing as we ought. It is hard to keep a balance between the two.

SO – In August, I discovered that I was too ambitious with our scripture memory work. I need to add some copywork for it, maybe into a commonplace book or something like that. We didn’t manage to memorize the first twelve verses of Philippians. But we did learn the first six. But we do have them down pretty well. I am concerned that the poem that we have on deck for September may be too long. But I know that the rhythm of the poem will make a difference in how well we can memorize it.

Books read by Micah: Beowulf by Seamus Heaney, the Tolkien Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, parts of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Books Josiah read:  The Magician’s Nephew, Oceans of Truth, Amos Fortune, Free Man, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Books Gideon read: The Magician’s Nephew, Oceans of Truth, Amos Fortune, Free Man, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Books I read: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Gracelaced by Ruth Chou Simons

(Links in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Any funds earned through them go to further our education budget.)

Virtue of the Little Bit

I made eight Memory Work packets for us for this school year (you’ll find them in the sidebar if you’d like to use them also). I’m planned that we will do one set of Memory Work a month for four months, and then we’ll take a month off for Christmas before we do four more.

But here is the part that may surprise you: I don’t care if we finish it all.

You see, I decided how much I think we can do, but I might be wrong. I can’t foresee illness, emergency, or things just taking longer than I expect. But if we accomplished only one packet all the way, we will have learned a new poem, a new folk song, a new hymn, and a new section of the Book of Philippians. Those little bits are worth the work even if we don’t accomplish more than that.

You see, if you learn one hymn a term (whether you have two or three or four terms), you’ll know more hymns at the end of the year than you do now. If you learn one poem a year, you’ll graduate with more poetry furnishing your mind than most of the population. If I look at one painting a week for thirty weeks, that is thirty paintings. But if I look at one painting every week for thirty weeks every year for 12 years, that is 360 paintings stored in my memory for later.

We aren’t called at all to do everything perfectly. We simply expected to work faithfully. If we want to learn these things with our sons and daughters so that their minds and ours are well-furnished, we just need to try. Perfection isn’t required or even expected. We just have to do the next right thing.