When You’re Expecting During the Holidays (and how others can help)

If you baby has a due date around the holidays, here’s a list of things for you–and your family and friends–to consider. Challenges and blessings that makes having a baby around the December/January holidays different than having a baby at any other time of year. I had a holiday baby and one of my sisters was expecting an end of December baby this season, bringing it all back to mind! Hopefully, these thoughts will help some other mom prepare–and help family and friends know how to best support.

1. Extra stress from unpredictability
. Childbirth and due dates are always unpredictable, and while having an April baby on a Tuesday versus a Saturday may hold some difference, having a baby the day before a big holiday, or the day of, versus three days after it’s over–that’s a monumental difference in experience!

Holiday gatherings take many hours of planning and prep work–and if you just knew whether you’d have the baby before or after would allow you to make wiser decisions about how to spend your time and dwindling energy… It was very frustrating in every practical way to not know if I would have Christmas morning with my family, and I imagine it’s the same for my friends celebrating the first night of Hanakkuh or Kwanza, or maybe even New year’s Eve.

When you are pregnant (especially if you have other kids already), you look ahead to that big day and wonder if you’ll be there, as big as a house, or in labor–or just returned home and trying to remember if it’s day or night as you’re up around the clock with a newborn! You did all this work and are looking forward to so much–but will you be there to enjoy it?

My due date was December 26, the day after Christmas. Because I’d had my other children prior to my due date, one almost 2 weeks before it, I hoped I’d have this baby around December 16th. I worked my tail off getting everything ready for going into labor around the 16th. I was excited, anxious, and very busy. But I got it done.

104_1010And then I waited.

And waited another day.

And another.

And each day that passed, my spirits plummeted further. I wanted the baby to arrive before Christmas! I preferred to be back home and have the disruptions behind us. The stress of my disappointment kept mounting and mounting–and was made worse by the fact that I had worked ahead and left myself with not much to do!

Tips: Focus only on what you can know, and do what’s reasonable with the rest. Also, consider doing something early if it’s really important for you to not miss. Don’t leave it to chance.

2. Feeling like you’re missing all the parties/festivities! A sister just said that to me last week, and I remember that feeling–like you’re missing Christmas. (Note here, this sister is adopting, and still, just about everything on this list applies to her situation, as she will go to the hospital with the birthmom and stay in the hospital with the baby.)

My husband’s side of the family always gathered the Saturday before the holiday, but we were not driving that far from our place of delivery. My side of the family was driving to my mom’s house for Christmas, but we were not.  So we had nothing to go to for Christmas Eve or Christmas day. No one to see, no one to celebrate with.There were other parties we didn’t plan to attend either, thinking we’d already have had the baby or that I won’t want to go, being so close to my due date.

And you do feel like you’re missing out on almost everything–because you ARE!

This Christmas, when my sister asked if our family could postpone celebrating Christmas til January, in the hopes that she could actually make it, I knew how it felt knowing everyone was gathering and all was going on as usual  and you were missing it. So I said,  “Yes, we should move the celebration so she can hopefully join us.” So we are now celebrating in January!

TIPS: Ask. If you’re the one expecting, ask your family and friends, if practical and not crazy, if a celebration can be moved to before or after your expected baby’s arrival. If you’re a friend or family member, consider the mama’s experience and suggest this to the rest of the family/friends. There is nothing like feeling excluded, and conversely, there is nothing like feeling so appreciated and loved as when others consider your experience and move to include you.

If the above don’t work or apply, consider how you can make a meaningful celebration yourself. When you know you are missing a party you’ve loved attending, choose to do something else you love that you won’t get to do in the months ahead: snuggle up with cocoa and a favorite old movie, etc.

I never had to make something up to fill the time. My Christmas Eve party turned into being driven back home through the snow with baby in the car seat next to me. And with the kids, we made our own Christmas day: quiet, at home, with our less-than-a-day-old baby with us!


Christmas morning: presents wrapped and unwrapped, and newborn things all over the coffee table!

3. Extreme difficulties finding care for your other children. I cannot underestimate this one enough. This may have been my biggest stress when anticipating my daughter’s arrival. My due date was the 26th, and though I expected to go early–as I’d never seen my due date in any other pregnancy either–each day the calendar crept to December 24th was very worrying because that was the day we had a gap in childcare coverage. A time when all my local sisters were driving north to visit family or in-laws. A time when all others close enough to ask to come stay with the kids–friends, church family, neighbors–were ALL leaving town! It was uncanny–a year when no one stayed in our county! Though I’d been begging to go into labor before Christmas, I swiftly changed my tune on the 23rd and instead wanted that baby to stay inside until the 26th–just so there’d be someone to take care of our other children!

To solve that problem for Christmas day itself, we’d invited my husband’s parents to come stay overnight–so that someone could be here with our littles, day or night, if I went into labor. We’d never had them come or stay over Christmas, but it seemed the only practical thing to do under the circumstances.

So that left just one small window–the first half of Dec 24–when all sisters and friends would be gone, and my in-laws would not yet be here. Every other day was covered! So of course, basket of nerves that I was, I prayed I’d not go into labor that one morning!


My sister just went through this–she had the one day where everyone was out of town for the day, and she hoped the baby wouldn’t come, because who could she call to take care of her son?

Tips: Plan the best you can–though it feels like you’re piecing together the pattern of a kaleidoscope, and one little twist/turn of the thing, and all the pieces shatter to the ground. (The relied-upon sister can get sick, or a friend who promised they would be called on day or night could change her mind about helping last minute, etc.–and you start piecing together a new puzzle!)

And if you’re a family member or friend, the best advice I can give is to be flexible, even when it hurts. If you offer or agree to help, changing your mind when the time comes, or restricting your availability, puts expectant parents and/or siblings under high stress. If you want to give the expecting family a gift for the holiday, the best one is to give them your flexibility–even though it may be inconvenient during the holidays. (And if you don’t have the flexibility to be of help, that’s ok; just don’t offer it unless you can.) The expecting parents aren’t asking family or friends to undergo any inconvenience that they themselves aren’t already undergoing themselves to an even greater degree. This is an amazing opportunity to give self-sacrificingly, even if the timing is really not preferable.

And for the mamas in this position, the last tip I give is if the above doesn’t happen: forgive. Work on, practice, forgiving those who don’t pull through for you and you feel let you down. (Holding onto unforgiveness does you no favors in labor or the post-partum phase either.)

Note: My favorite part of my story is how we just so narrowly avoided our gap of “no childcare.” (The blessing of answered prayer…) My nearest sister was scheduled to leave the morning of the 24th, but I called her around 4 am, saying I was in labor. It was perfect timing–in just a few hours, she’d have been gone, driving to another state to visit members of her in-laws. (And, if memory serves me correctly, this sister and her husband  actually delayed their trip and were at my house later that night when we returned home, though my in-laws had arrived to take over.

Okay, I’ll pause right there. I can almost hear readers’ eyes popping out of their heads. I was able to deliver the baby and be home the same day because I went to a free-standing birth center with midwives, and you need stay only 4 hours after birth, if all is well. I’d done that before; having a natural birth in the environment of those midwives always left me in good shape; I never had to recover from interventions (as I did in my first son’s birth, a hospital birth complete with Pitocin induction and various other things that complicated my recovery).

Extra tips: For friends and family: be like my sister. She’s awesome. Self-sacrificially, she and her husband stayed in town! (That’s above and beyond.) For each of my babies, she was always the first (or among the first) to meet each baby, whether at hospital or at my house upon my return form the birth center. Also, be like my in-laws, willing to come overnight for a holiday, totally against their tradition!

4. Extra stress from added tasks. It’s just true that for women and moms especially, the holidays present a long list of extra things to do. So while packing the hospital bag, washing the baby clothes, getting the room/crib/bassinet ready, add baking cookies, making snack trays and gifts for office or school parties, all the Christmas shopping and food prep too. (Holiday stress to the second power.) Then, there are the gifts–and the wrapping! For any non-pregnant woman with normal resources of energy, this is a monumental task completed in late nights already!

Tips: Enlist others to help. If a family member offers to help–let them! Also, delegate others and/or exempt yourself from extra, outside demands on your time which may not be yours to give in the end. You may not even make it to Aunt Mary’s house for Christmas Eve so even if you always make the gingerbread, this may be the year to let someone else do it or simply explain that you cannot be counted on. (Your family may not have the gingerbread one year, but it will be okay! Friends and family: offer to lighten the load, offer your time or effort or extend the grace of a free pass on an obligation.

5. Reduced staff/availability of services. I gave birth to all three of my kids at/near a holiday. (Really!) The first was Memorial Day weekend. I stayed in the hospital an extra day even, in order to get a chance to see the lactation consultant as recommended, but she still had not returned to work before I left. It became a theme in each of my births: “Well, normally we have ______, but because its’ a holiday, we don’t.”

Similarly, for our daughter’s Christmas Eve birth, my husband wanted to leave and go get some restaurant food to bring back for us to eat. He even got recommendations before he left, but then found that all area restaurants were closed. When he made it to the main inter-state highway about 15 minutes away, he fund one fast-food restaurant open, so that was what he got! Because we’d delivered this baby at a free-standing birth center, not a hospital with a cafeteria, we had to get food elsewhere. (I’d already eaten my frozen enchiladas meal brought for the purpose; labor makes you famished!) We didn’t realize how much the world shuts down Christmas Eve/Day, since we’ve never needed to check them out before. (Plus, giving birth can sort of take you out of time, and you don’t know what day it is anyway!)

Tips: Just be realistic about how the world has available on holidays. It’s not completely business as usual if you birth on a holiday.

6. Holiday cheer helps. If you like the holidays and their trappings, then it is a mood booster. I do love the holidays and so took advantage of the nostalgia and comfort from the festive decorations on the dark, wet streets as we drove to the birth center. I labored and gave birth to the background of Christmas carols. (If you find that annoying, you can have it turned off.)

I loved being pregnant during the Christmas season; Christmas is a favorite holiday. If you have ever tried to identify with Mary, being pregnant makes you think of things you might otherwise never have thought about, regarding her experience. I remember our church showing this video for Francesca Battistelli’s Christmas Song “Be Born in Me,” and tears streamed down my face:

7. Who cares for you at home may have to change. I already mentioned that stress ate at me, worse each day, the closer the calendar crept toward Christmas day. Tears dribbled down my cheeks easily, even when I had no idea why. It took me days to realize consciously that my anxiety rose in reverse proportion to the number of days left until Christmas because, if I gave birth right before or during Christmas, my mom would not be coming to help.

There are just times you want your mama.  For each of my babies, my Mom came to help for 2-3 days. That was always such a comfort and gave such peace of mind because she’d had 5 kids, loved, loved, loved babies (we call her “The Baby Whisperer”), and she also nursed her babies and could give both support and help in that department. (And seriously, The Baby Whisperer can take a crying infant and soothe it to sleep even through feeding times!)

But when you give birth near or on a holiday, the person/people you were counting on for the transition back home may not be able to come right away. My mother, who lives hour away from us, already had a houseful of guests staying overnight, for whom she was cooking a breakfast and dinner the next day. She couldn’t just leave them. I do remember she wrapped it up as quickly as she could and did get to us later, Christmas night. (God bless her!)

After birth, your hormones are bonkers, and you cry at the drop of a hat. I honestly was completely bummed that my own mama couldn’t be there for that first day home–all because I had to give birth on one of the TWO holiday days I didn’t want to! It was really okay; my husband was there, my in-laws were there to help with practical things like the other kids and some kitchen stuff to keep people fed.

Tips: As much as it pains me to say, any mama in this predicament just has to give it time when her mama can’t get there right away due to holiday traditions/obligations. Even though it can be really challenging at times, due to the fact that you’ve JUST GIVEN BIRTH, not to begrudge the family enjoying a big holiday meal  while you’re trying not to have non-stop hormonal crying while hiding in your bedroom, trying to teach your tiny newborn with a too-small mouth how to nurse, since your tiny house allows no other place to be while in-laws are visiting.  (Even while you’re simultaneously glad those wonderful in-laws ARE there, because they kept your other kids and are currently playing with them in the living room! Face it, you’re a bundle of contradictions after childbirth.)

IMAG1478 And though you feel the only thing to make all things right in the world is the presence of your mom, a holiday might be the one non-tragedy that could mess that up, and you simply have to wait.

Accept any all kinds of help this is offered. Maybe it’s not your mom offering to help with the baby, but DO take up your Mother-in-law’s offer to heat up supper, and your husband’s offers to set up a movie for you in the bedroom, and your kids ask if they can carry diapers to you. Receive all the love and grace you can soak up while waiting for what you feel is the only balm.

8. The chance to use holiday names. My daughter’s first name had been picked–since I was in high school. But the middle name was yet to be decided. We considered many names for our girl that have a Christmas root or association: Holly, Ivy, Natasha, Natalie, Christmas, Ginger, Christina, December, Winter, Star, Stella, Angel, Mary, Merry and Noel/Noelle. I really loved Noelle, but a sister had that picked out for a future child, as its middle name, so we left that alone.


In the end, we chose Joy for our daughter’s middle name. It was so perfectly fitting–recalling such a time of great joy, celebrating a pinnacle event in our faith,  when angels told some smelly shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy, which shall be to all people.” And our baby girl indeed brought us great joy too. And in the years we’ve had her, she has lived up to her name of spreading joy with her personality and by just being herself.

9. Unparalleled Christmas gift.

Your family, and especially kids, will NEVER forget the arrival of a holiday baby. It will be permanently etched into their memories, always associated with that holiday.

My oldest had prayed for a sister for two years, and to him (and us), this baby was the best gift we could have been given (after the original Gift, of course).


No present that year even came close to comparing with his baby sister.

This was the best part of having a holiday baby. My boys have such strong memories of her arrival because that event combined with Christmas. Even on days she drives them nuts, they still say she was their best gift.

So, anyone else have anything to add to this list? And homebirth moms, I imagine your list might include some other items? What would you add? Leave comments!

P.S. A public service announcement: If the peculiar challenges of a holiday baby leaves anyone thinking that induction might be the best solution, to guarantee a birth before the holidays, I just have to say that is one route my family has determined is not an enjoyable solution. Just have to put that out there. Three of us 4 sisters have walked the path of induction in the birth of a child (though not elected in order to have a child before a holiday) and it left our only sister yet to have children to say, “Why do doctors induce anybody anyway?” because she has seen is that it led to very long, drawn-out labors with unnatural levels of pain, very difficult recoveries as a result of multiple interventions brought about by the induction process, and in one case, ended in C-section anyway because the baby was not ready. I could write a whole post on this subject, but I felt I needed to say why I didn’t list it as a “tip” for a mama to avoid the unpredictability of arrival. Induction is a big decision in which many factors need to be considered, and I can share only our experiences as to why we’d not recommend it as a solution for holiday convenience.


Other posts:

Christmas Letter 2017

Finding an Editor: Genre Matters (And sometimes, maybe you just have to do it yourself!)

I’m NOT that Crafty Mom

Disney During the Holidays

Fine Arts Lesson: Grandma Moses




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Disney During the Holidays

Our trip to Disney during the Christmas season was my second visit to the parks; we’d gone with my in-laws when my boys were both under 5. Because my boys were so young, our experience of Disney this time was quite different, because did different things.

Here I’ll highlight a smattering of experiences–including the new Beauty and the Beast features, an Avatar ride, food, the holiday features and more, in no particular order.

  1. Meeting Princesses. First time for this. My daughter is nearly 5, so she was at just the age to be in awe…at first. The first Disney movie princess she met was Tiana (because you had to meet Tiana before Rapunzel), and my daughter didn’t even now who Tiana was. (We watched The Princess and the Frog once, years ago, but it wasn’t well liked; the voodoo aspect of the story made it scary to the kids, and I didn’t want that playing on repeat in my house either.) But, the amazing thing is, after meeting 4 princesses that night, my daughter said Tiana was her favorite! Why? Because she took the time to talk with my daughter; asked about her family, her life. 

    After that first night of meeting Princesses in the Magic Kingdom, my daughter’s tune changed. She’s come to the trip stating that Anna and Elsa were her favorite and a priority to meet. However, by day 4, when we were eating at Akershus, right next to the house where Anna and Elsa are to meet, she said, when I asked, that she didn’t want to wait in line to meet anyone , because, “they aren’t the real her. It’s just someone to pretending to be Anna and Elsa, so I don’t want to do that.”

Come to find out, she wanted to meet characters that looked like their cartoons–and now I understand, reflecting back to recall whom my girl met first–on day one: Sophia the First:


Sophia was a portrayed by a human woman, but wearing a suit of skin that covered even her hands and neck, topped by a big cartoon head. I guess Naomi expected more of that! But she grew accustomed to the princesses being played by an actress. However, when she met Belle, I learned that she fully expected to meet Emma Watson, the actress from the new Disney version!

However, Belle was so sweet and enchanting both times my daughter interacted with her, Naomi seemed to forgive her for not being Ms. Watson.

But by the time we had our character dinner at Akershus, I had to instruct my daughter to still pose with them and allow me to take a picture. Because you can’t tell the princesses, as they come to each table, “No thanks, my daughter doesn’t care about you anymore–because you’re not the real one.”

2. Cinderella’s Castle restaurant versus Akershus in Epcot, both of which feature a bevy of princesses who will meet your children. We went to Cinderella’s Castle with the boys years ago–because they wanted the sword that is given to each boy who comes! (Seriously. The only reason.) It was nice. We were there for lunch. The kids ate mac n cheese. I don’t recall what I had anymore. It cost two dinner credits per person.

Akerashus, on the other hand, costs only one meal credit, though it lacks nothing that Akershus offers (well, maybe the complimentary sword or tiara given to each child…) Cinderella is even at Akershus. (For some irony though, Akershus is in the Norway section of Epcot, adjacent to the Frozen ride, and Anna and Elsa are princesses who never put in an appearance there… We saw Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, Ariel, and Sleeping Beauty.) The food was really great: a salad and hors d’eouvres bar to start,  then I had an exquisite creamy wine sauce pasta with seafood, and dessert was a little tray of three desserts for my daughter and I to share: a bread pudding, an apple cake, and a delicious chocolate mousse treat.

We had wanted to take our daughter to Cinderella’s castle, and even though my husband tried to book it the first day it’s permitted–180 days from the trip–there were no openings! My husband stalked it for months, to no avail. He booked Akershus as a second choice, by default. I see no default; I’d book there again and not feel I missed a thing. The two offerings are so comparable, you need only one or the other. (And one costs half as much….)

2. Full meal plan versus partial: We didn’t know what we were doing on our first trip to Disney with my in-laws years ago–and that is why we got a 3-meals-a-day dining plan (though it was offered half price as a special). But we just didn’t know–how abundant the food was and how after a couple days, we regretted it. We were so full, we didn’t want to go to the next meal! Not to mention the time it takes to do 3 sit-down meals a day.

So this time, we got a dining pan with one sit-down meal a day, one quick service, and two snacks. That is truly more than adequate.

But in that trade off, we also did lose something.

On our first trip, our hats were off to Disney because the way they structured everything (high price though it may be), it was paid for up-front, and all dining decisions were made up-front, so much of the stress of meals simply evaporated! (And that’s invaluable when you’re dining with toddlers!)

While downgrading to less food was better and smarter as far as the amount of food really needed, we lost the eradication of the stress of choosing a place to eat 1-2 times a day. AND–a new Pandora’s box was unleashed by some amazingly dedicated should who tabulated every snack available in all the parks, with it’s price! But there are pros and cons to this knowledge.

Pros to this list: we sometimes ate snacks as lunch, and it was great to know to go to the little tea stand outside China in Epcot to get 2 egg rolls or curry chicken pockets as a snack, or humus and veggies in Animal Kingdom.  My kids loved a fruit and in Animal Kingdom’s Africa section that sold fruit and cheese, including a little Babybel round that fascinates them (I think it’s the round package…). I love knowing that all choices aren’t sugary treats.

Cons: You don’t want to get caught in the trap of comparing values of the snacks. If you become focused on not getting a frozen banana you want because it’s $3 when you could get a whole sundae at another stand, it can take over. You could get stuck in thinking you should just pay cash for the cheap snacks and save your snack credits for things with a higher value–but then you’re thinking about the money and weighing decisions–and in reality, we still didn’t even use up all our snack credits by the end of the week! We had two left over. Good strategy–get what you want to eat, no matter its comparative value, and don’t buy anything outright to “save” your snacks credits–spend the credits first and then see IF (big if) you actually run out and need to purchase anything with cash.  (That’s just my advice to avoid the day-to-day stress and pretend you’re really in a magic kingdom…)


3. Be Our Guest restaurant: The glowing reviews we read about this place were absolutely correct. You can’t believe it’s considered a quick-service. We went twice for breakfast–once for my daughter and myself, then another time with the entire family because my son, whom we thought would be disinterested, was upset he didn’t get to go! The food was very good (including the tray of pastries for the table to share), but the details really bring it home. The waiter brought the food in full character, not just the post-Renaissance costume of knickers–but with a French accent, finesse and all. And the fact that we were eating in an opulent ballroom, decked out for Christmas no less,  mesmerized my daughter.



When the whole family went, the boys wanted to eat the West Wing–so dark and dreary, my photos didn’t turn out! In there, the chandeliers are thick with decaying, hanging cloths, the prince’s portrait is ripped, and the only light appears to come from embers in an old fireplace. In a corner sits a gated-off area with the rose behind glass. this place gets full points for decor.

Tip: It really makes a difference if you order your food ahead of coming. Because we did, both times, we were led directly in to get a seat, instead of the right-hand side line that was long and winding.


The details at this place–inside and out–were impressive:


4. Storytime with Belle. My daughter had no interest in checking this out. We didn’t really know what it was–a place where a costumed Belle told a story? Well, thankfully, on our last day, in the afternoon, our daughter decided she wanted to go. And boy, it was one of the best things we did! Inside, you wait in a small room of a cottage, and when it’s time you’re led to a wood shop. Inside, someone begins to tell you a story and the mirror on the wall, with a screen of smoke, transforms into a doorway that leads into the castle.


In this lush hallway, the talking wardrobe welcomes all the children. When she opens, props come out as children are recruited to play the parts to re-enact the story of how Belle and Beast fell in love. My daughter got the “role” of a dancing dinner plate.

Then we were led to another room where Lumiere welcomed us and introduced Belle, who entered from the side. Belle narrated, calling the kids forward when their part required them . (All of this is perfectly short–just the perfect time-span for the littles.)


Then, when I thought it was over, each child is called up by name and introduced to Belle formally as she took their hands and gave them a bookmark for reading–since we were sitting in the castle’s library!

We almost didn’t get to this, and in the end, I thought it was one of the best features for small ones.


5. Avatar Flight of Passage  My daughter was too small, and someone had to stay with her. So my boys and hubby took this ride together–a ride for which a friend of ours said he waited in line for two hours, and “it was totally worth it!” My family agreed–it was the best ride they’ve been on, bar none.

My boys and hubby had fast-passes–which is good because that day, wait times were well over two hours–185 minutes at times! Because of those wait times, I, with no fast-pass, never did it.

So my review of this is dependent on their testimony. But after the fact that I missed it, we were given a great tip: we can get 5 fast passes, even though one of our party is too small. If we’d gotten all 5, I could have gone on the ride (with one lucky son who got to go twice) after the rest of the family already had their turn, while my husband stayed with our little girl while I rode. (I wish we’d thought of that earlier…just didn’t.)

6. Heavenly Desserts at Kringla Bakerie in the Norway section of Epcot. (Or the Frozen bakery, as my girl calls it, since it is in the Norway section, close to the Frozen ride.) The first day we went to Epcot, I got one pastry there. On our last night there, we had a lot of snack credits left, so the plan was to try as many different things as we could in the World Showcase. I took two kids to the Kringla Bakeri and we shared two types of pastries–and then we were too full to eat anything else. But they had been so good, at the end of the night, we went back and bought 5 more pastries for the whole family to sample the next day, before our flight home! My daughter tried Anna’s birthday cupcake, pictured below (a little squished after a stroller ride in a package). Now, I’m a girl who rarely tries anything that’s not chocolate (because you know, how can you ever bypass chocolate!), but the berry cream puff is so good, I got it twice! The only chocolate item, the mousse viking hat, was the only thing we didn’t really love. But the School bread, troll horn, cupcakes, cream puff and snow globe all got big thumbs up from us! I seriously have since dreamed about having another cream puff! IMG_0928

7. Christmas features. We had hopes of spending time just going to see how different places and hotels decorated–but there was always so much to do! But yes, everywhere you went in Disney was decked out:


And the characters dressed for the ocassion:


I’m someone who loves the Christmas season, so I loved the atmosphere, the music, etc., –even though, really, it didn’t really feel like Christmas because it was in the high 70s, and I’m from the North!

The entertainment also changed its regular feature to reflect the season; we saw the Frozen-themed stage show in Hollywood Studios and the Magic Kingdom’s noon show in front of Cinderella’s castle. My daughter loved all of this, and she went nuts when it “snowed” at the end of the Frozen show.

I really wanted to make it to the Christmas Nativity reading and candlelight processional, but the evening we could spend the time in Epcot to see it happened to be the night Whoopie Goldburg was the featured celebrity reader, and we found people waiting in line over an hour before each show time! With the ages of my kids, we weren’t spending our last evening there in line, so we missed that. Epcot had a lot of seasonal entertainment–a stage with a group performing Christmas and Kwanzaa songs, a Hanakkuh event, and in many countries’ sections of the World Showcase, that region’s representation of a Santa figure. I walked by and heard a bit of Papa Noel but missed the rest. Too many things to check out, not enough time!


And as unbelievable as it may sound, one of the most breathtaking things I saw was the Cinderella castle lit up at night. You’d think I’d seen it before; what’s the big deal. But it looked like shimmering crystal the way they do it for the holidays.


Well, I could write enough about Disney to fill many posts, but these were some highlights!

What are your best tips and observations of Disney?


Other writings:

Christmas Letter 2017

My Dad, Monsanto and Christmas Trees

I’m NOT that Crafty Mom

Finding an Editor: Genre Matters (And sometimes, maybe you just have to do it yourself!)

Eleven Tips for Making/Tweaking the New Homeschool Schedule



Posted in life with kids | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Fine Arts Lesson: Grandma Moses

I prepared this lesson on Grandma Moses three years ago for Classical Conversations’ week 13 in Cycle 3. My class consisted of Masters (ages 10-12+). As this unit of the Fine Arts section is focused on the great masters and a chance for the students to dabble in a painting technique or focus of that artist, students tend to really look forward to it. It can be messy! (Or not, if you plan ahead.)

This week’s focus is Grandma Moses (Anna May Robertson). CC uses the book Discovering Great Artists as its primary text, featuring a short biographical sketch and an idea for a project. What I love about her story is the fact that she didn’t really start painting until she was in her 80s. It’s encouraging and a wonderful model of how people need never stop learning, growing and developing new abilities. (I’m not surprised CC chose her as an artist to highlight.)

Grandma Moses

Photo of Anna May Robertson, WikiArt: https://www.wikiart.org/en/grandma-moses

Step 1. To start my class, I always begin by showing examples. So many of her winter snow pictures and landscapes are available, but I’ve put one of my favorites below: Gathering in the Maple Syrup.


Bringing in the Maple Sugar by Grandma Moses (1939)

The Quilting Bee, 1940 - 1950 - Grandma Moses

The Quilting Bee by Grandma Moses

Step 2. Now, after the autumn unit on drawing, where in my class it’s all about being very serious about developing drawing skills, students may look at Moses’ work and exclaim, “Wait, she’s not very…good.” So I like to prep them by first asking what they notice about her style of figures. In most samples of her work, the people are very tiny–just dark smudges with limbs, really. I’ve chosen the two on this page for my class because you can see larger figures, for my purpose in what we are doing for the project.

Among other things, I hope students will notice how simple her figures are. And how perspective is not what we’ve seen from Renaissance artists and beyond. They may have interesting observations of comparison to art from the middle Ages.

Here’s a good time to introduce the term “Folk Art.” Robertson was not a trained artist–she painted her own way, painting what she loved around herself. She focused on the landscape and the buildings and trees and how they meander around the natural features of the land. (The quilting painting is a rarity for her–she rarely painted inside scenes.)

Step 3. For the project, I explain that we will try to mimic the folk art of Grandma Moses. Students can choose to do a landscape with no people, or something with people–but with the goal that any people are in the folk art style. This may feel freeing sot some students and it may frustrate others who like to be more exact–but reality is, we have a half hour class and we’re using paint–simple figures is all we’ll have time for! This is just an introduction.

Our community’s director set up all the paint and supplies on tables in our common area, so I did not have to get this set up in my classroom. After we looked at Moses’ artwork and  talked about her (5 minutes), we walked out of our room to tables set up for this. We used tempera paints and small brushes.

Step 4. I showed students my photograph of a camping scene I went on (sorry, I cannot find that photo to show here) that I wanted to paint in the folk art style. I asked students what drawing lessons I should recall from the fall that would help me plan this project. (Hopefully, you’ll get students who mention the basic shapes and basic geometric shapes (Basic Shapes Drawing Lesson, Week 1, Classical Conversations), and size/proportion (Mirror-Image Drawing, Week 2, Classical Conversations, Native American. (Astute students may observe that the lesson on perspective can be ignored….)

Step 5. I showed students my sketch how I planned my painting by sketching in just the basic geometric shapes of the tents, trees and bodies–no details at all!

Grandma Moses sketch 001

Now, confession: this sketch is presented as a compromise. Not all painters sketch in pencil, and this project could/should be done just in paint (especially considering the time given)–but I was not able to jump directly to paint. So I offered my students the option.

Step 6. I showed my painting (done at home) next:

Grandma Moses mimic 001

This is not something I ever do, so it was stretching to paint something like this. I pointed out a few things: 1) My sketch was too ambitious for this project, so I cut out one of the figures when I moved to paint. 2) My colors are very basic–as they should be. 3) We’re not going for exactness. 4) I should have made it simpler still.

Most of my students wanted to dive into this with the paint. Many painted pictures of kids sledding.

My thoughts when the class was over were that: 1) students seemed to enjoy just being able to use paint and 2) we did not have enough time for students to even put paint down on their entire painting. I sent them home, stressing that we just scratched the surface! I encouraged them to continue at home.

Suggestions untried: To do this lesson for another group of students, I plan to try first telling them the assignment of drawing, then painting, a landscape or scene, so they can start sketching that with pencil as I introduce the artist and her work. That would give them more time drawing and painting.

Those who have tried this project, any tips or suggestions?


Other blog posts:

Disney at Christmas: a Review of 7 Favorite Things

I’m NOT that Crafty Mom

Eleven Tips for Making/Tweaking the New Homeschool Schedule

My Dad, Monsanto and Christmas Trees

Creating Edible Chocolate Mice Treats

Finding an Editor: Genre Matters (And sometimes, maybe you just have to do it yourself!)

Posted in art lesson, homeschooling, teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

I’m NOT that Crafty Mom

Anyone else finding they are not a crafty mom–even though they thought they would do such things with their children: have a craft for every holiday and make unique gingerbread houses worthy of competitions?

I imagine people who grew up with me imagined that I would be a crafty mom. I thought I’d be. Circumstantial evidence: I taught arts and crafts at camp (basket-weaving, jewelry-making, etc.)! I took art all 4 years of high school, I was a crafty big sister who arranged such activities for the littles in my house, I love(d) making intricate patchwork quilts (though I’ve done narry two stitches together on one since baby number 2), I was an art minor in college, and I often teach drawing to students in our homeschool group.

But now I’m fully 10 years into parenting, and I don’t even look at Pinterest (or least not in about 18 months….) Do you know how many holiday crafts we’ve done together? I’ve managed almost one every year, usually in the form of a gift we give to relatives for Christmas. But every other holiday?

My oldest child is not a lover of crafts. He’s a fine artist–into drawing and painting and doesn’t care for the activities involved in crafting. So perhaps that just got us into the trajectory we’ve been on. And I share his proclivity. When I did teach kids arts and craft classes, I was always pushing for a way to increase the skill level, to teach something more specific, more skilled. I really never have been good at the crafts designed to help kids develop motor skills and such–cutting out construction paper, etc.

BUT now I’ve got two younger kids who LOVE crafting. More than LIFE! My middle kid, a boy, crafts all afternoon from his Highlights magazine and anything he can get his hands on. He’s done it all without my leading. It’s just who he is. He’ll find a toilet paper roll, ask for paper clips, and the next thing you know, we’ve got a Spanish armada or robot. My youngest delights in any time she can use a glue stick and scissors. At the beginning of the school year, in my new-year attempt to do more, do better, I let them cut out a boat and a settler dressed as  Mohawk Indian and glue a tea bag onto the man’s hand (someone else’s idea) while learning about the Boston The Party,. They were ecstatic. My girl kept asking me to dry and save my tea bags after that because she wanted to make that over and over.

So here we are, Thanksgiving week, and I’m light on planning for our homeschool anyway, due to other big demands on my time at the moment, but I think how we’ve never, ever made a turkey out of construction paper. It’s like an obligatory rite of passage–and my kids have been deprived of that! So Monday, in the moment as I called kids to the table for Spanish vocab review (a subject for which I had no great idea and was admittedly lack-lustre in), a sudden idea lit in my head. I told them to each pick 10 vocab cards–10 things they were thankful for. I grabbed construction paper (glad I had it–wasn’t sure I did!), and made a quick pattern for a turkey body and head. I explained my oh-so-pre-planned idea: for each turkey feather we cut out of colored paper, we’ll write one Spanish word. We’ll write “Happy Thanksgiving” across the top, but in Spanish. (Yes, that’s reviewing Spanish vocab AND it’s acknowledging we have a holiday AND doing a craft, all-in-one!)

I showed them a picture online–the result of a 30 second google for images, deciding to wing it. Here’s the final products–which reveal another reason I don’t often plan art/craft lessons: my kids resist following instructions on creative assignments. Only one did what I proposed. The other two did their own things. (How do you try to intentionally teach little artists? Sometimes the answer is, you don’t. You simply let them explore.)


I helped my youngest on this one–this was my proposed idea.


My middle wanted to do this instead.


My non-crafty kid did his own thing. What amazed me is that he actually put TIME into this, working well past the time I’d dedicated to it, insisting he fill the paper with well beyond 10 items to be thankful for.

So this non-crafty mom is feeling rather accomplished this Thanksgiving season; we actually stopped and spent part of 2 days crafting and focusing on being thankful.


Other things I write about:

11 Tips for Making/Tweaking the New Homeschool Schedule

Finding an Editor: Genre Matters (And sometimes, maybe you just have to do it yourself!)

Week 6 “Final Project” Drawing Lesson: Character and Landscape

Posted in homeschooling, life with kids | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Finding an Editor: Genre Matters (And sometimes, maybe you just have to do it yourself!)

Hiring an editor. It always makes me feel like things are progressing. (And believe me, spending many years on the same book makes you really look for indications of forward progress.) But how do you find the right editor?

Here I am, nearly done with my novel (it’s heading to its final proofreading), and I’ve already worked with three editors. Three. THREE!

I did not think it would be that difficult to find an editor who was a good match for my work. I did not foresee how LONG it would take–how many months and years it would take to get what I wanted/needed in the editing department. How many tries until I found someone who got what I was doing AND who could help me attain my goals and maintain my vision.


photo by Amanda Foote, via flckr

After three different experiences, a lot is still a mystery as to how to land the right editor, but I’ve gleaned one take-away: genre really matters. What genre the editor likes to read matters. What genre the editor likes and understands really matters. And the editor having read your genre a lot and widely is really invaluable to be able to have the vision for how a writer can succeed with difficult plot challenges, true to the genre.

And let me say, I am a freelance editor myself–so I know what it’s like to be on either side of the contract. And STILL, I was amazed how difficult it was to find just the right person for a given need of a manuscript.

I’ve been working on the same novel for many years. The lifespan of my oldest child. (Ugh. Yes, I need to give myself grace–I had three babies and multiple chronic illnesses, all of which took turns making me desist writing for months at a time). During that time I needed editors for different reasons. Somewhere in the middle, I hired a friend who has a Masters in writing because I was so impressed by what she revealed in a friendly edit of a single chapter for me. I KNEW I needed what she had!

And I did learn a lot. But genre got in the way. She admitted she just does not like to read the kind of book I’ m writing. She loves YA fiction and children’s literature primarily; Oprah’s Book club type books with heavy drama are just not her love. I can appreciate that. For me to consider her  a friend and supportive, she doesn’t have to love the kind of book I write. But I found it really did matter for my book. As a very straight-forward editor, she told me 5 places where she’d have put the book down and discontinued reading it–except she’d agree to read a certain number of pages for me, for pay. She did not like a certain character or the heaviness of one story line. Our relationship on this project was always finite–and that turned out to be fitting. She could not have been the best to help me finish the book with a story line she did not enjoy. My book is literary fiction, with a dark vein in one story line, and it’s not for everyone.

My second editor, I met a conference years before. One thing I loved about her was that her first step was to talk to me about genre–pin down what it was. (Wow–is that ever the right move for an editor–I’d just learned how important this is!) I ended that conversation with my heart singing that I’d found the perfect editor for what I needed!

Her recommendations also hinged a lot on genre. What I  heard from her what was not new: that I could take my book into the realm of a thriller. Yes, I see that. I could shift focus and play up an element and make a psychological thriller. It’s all there in one story line. But that’s not my book. It has that element–but that’s not my whole story.

The second editor moved forward knowing I was firmly entrenched in the literary fiction genre. Now, to be clear, I’d hired her for a very specific task. I’d spent years writing a book that had bloomed beyond its borders. At one point, I had over 250,000 words for a market that caps a book at 100,000 words for new writers. Yes, I hired an editor expressly to recommend/show me how to get the word count down. I asked this editor to help me shorten my 150,000 word novel by one third.

After reading, she came back with a recommendation. It was a good one. Perhaps the easiest/least time-consuming way possible. It was doable. It could leave me with a good story.

But it would not have been my story. Not the one I wanted to tell. Not the big idea that had spurred me on to write it in the first place.

My story, titled Still House at this moment, is a family saga of two generations–one story in the 1970s intertwining with a story in the 2000s. This editor suggested getting rid of the earlier generation’s contribution to the story. True, that would have solved the word count issues entirely. It could work. And make a good story.

But my story was not about one generation PLUS the other generation. It wasn’t that the editor was suggesting I cut my book in half. Really, it was asking me to cut it by 2/3s, plot-wise and meaning-wise. You know how sometimes 1 + 1 is not just 2? (Not mathematically speaking!) The whole is sometimes more than the sum of its parts. My story was about the interaction and interplay between the two stories–one that created its own over-arching story that can only be told by seeing through both the two story lines of the two time-periods.

Amicably, I broke with that editor in mid-project. What she could do to reach my goal of 100,000 words or less was not the final product I wanted. With equanimity , I don’t see this as wrong or that she was a poor editor. To the contrary. I think it’s simply a reflection of one way to achieve the word count goal and the way she knew best.

However, I was convinced that there had to be a way to tell my very large story with fewer words. I was just exhausted from tying to figure it out on my own all these years. I’d done multiple edits myself and cut 30,000 words one time, 40,000 words another, etc. But I was at my wit’s end.


by KMSphotos via flckr

What I was attempting to do–dual timelines–has been done many times before in literary fiction of multiple generations. Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club. Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitte and Sweet. Tracy Chevalier’s Virgin Blue. (I could go on.) These works did it in different ways, but they all did it.

I began to wonder if I’d had an editor who read these books as much as I would have an easier way of seeing the vision for it. If an editor who read literary fiction would find it easier to solve my problems than one who didn’t.

I sought out a highly recommended editor whom I had years ago decided I couldn’t afford. She had done the editing (including cutting a substantial amount of words) for a friend.

But my budget was tight. I couldn’t afford having her actually DO the edit in the text.  I could afford only asking her to read and tell me HOW she would solve my problems, and then I’d do the work to the text myself.

The recommendation that came back was not what I wanted to hear. I wanted a list of paragraphs, scenes, chapters I could cut that the editor ascertained would not damage my plot. Her recommendation was to cut my book in half at the mid-point.  She thought the second half could stand alone as its own story.

I noticed some huge problems with that–so much from the first half did need to be explained. I also had a huge structural element going on in the first half, setting up a mystery that throws the plot in motion. If I cut out the entire skeleton of the book, as well as the setting-up of the mystery, my story would collapse.There was no such thing as simply deleting the first half of the book; taking that off meant needing to create a new structure and figuring out a new way to set up the mystery in a different timeline.

I considered.

In the end, I told the editor that I was not on-board with plan A, and did she see another way? While waiting for her assessment, I went to the bookstore myself, got another copy of a multigenerational story I loved, and studied. Analyzed its structure. Checked how long it stuck with one story-line before switching to the other. Looked through the engrossing story to its bones.

I was convinced that this type of plot and structure worked and was what my book needed, even if no one else said so.

The editor’s final advice was: If I wanted to keep my big story, I would have to be brutal in cutting a lot of words, scene by scene, chapter by chapter.

I already knew that. The advice sounded like my initial complaint when I was trying to hire an editor to do just that.

And such was where I found myself after 3 editors: with a book a third longer than it was allowed to be to get past gatekeepers and the knowledge that I STILL, after paying $$$ to multiple editors, had to do the work myself that I felt too close to do myself. And without the time to do it. (Who has time for that? I homeschool my kids and tutor! I had a toddler as well!)

Combing through my 150,000 word manuscript to edit words and phrases here and there to cut my word count was monumental and beyond my doing. But suddenly, doing that kind of comb-editing seemed much more doable than figuring out a whole new timeline and structure! I felt like it was suggested that I cut the most successful parts of my novel that beta readers loved in order to see if I still could salvage a story.

In the end, I spent the better part of a year doing at least three more, complete, cover -to-cover revisions of my book, shedding thousands and thousands of words each time. Each time amazed I could find more. Each time sure I had done all I could. A few months later, I started over, again amazed I could find stuff to edit out, ways to pare down my story and still keep its bones.

Panful. Exhilarating. Torturous. Empowering.

Today I have my novel not quite at 100,0000. But I’m below the maximum outer-limit of 109,000. And I got here, in the end, by doing it myself. I spent years trying to find just the right editor who could see my story more clearly than I, who could identify solutions I couldn’t, who could save me time.

I found editors really good at what they do. I learned extremely valuable things from each. But I still never found an editor who had my vision and could help me arrive at it. It’s not a fault. It’s just true.

(But for my last edit, proofreading, I’m going back to one of them because I know she knows her stuff!)

So maybe I learned two things from hiring 3 editors: 1) Genre matters and 2) Sometimes you just have to do it yourself anyway.

“What you are doing is going to be difficult. But you’ve gotta figure it out.” That is the advice I was given 5 yeas ago by a best-selling novelist at a conference who ran a 3-day intensive for a handful of novelists in the thick of it. She had read a few of my chapters and my story’s summary. While other experts kept repeating that I should simplify, cut POV characters, story lines or the entire concept of a dual timeline, she said, no, none of that would do. I just had to do the hard work to figure out how to tell something that complex.

Five years later, I guess she was right.

Well, my manuscript is off for its last edit–the proofread. That’s more straightforward. (Thank goodness!)


by Dave Morrison Photography, via flckr

Any writers out there have any tips for finding editors or take-aways from their experiences?

Posted in writing life | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Eleven Tips for Making/Tweaking the New Homeschool Schedule

Is there anything more quintessential to the homeschooling mom than figuring out how to manage the family schedule in this huge, wide venture? So often I see moms of forums or facebook pages asking to see others’ schedules.

Every summer I do multiple drafts (usually while sitting in conferences…), feeling each year more and more like I’m completing a question in the logic portion of the GRE to get into graduate school. “Child # 2 has to have reading first thing in the morning, but he’s the least likely to be dressed and ready; child #1 can do writing at 9 but that’s also a good time to have child #2 doing spelling on the computer–but then, child #2 cannot do spelling then because he needs to clear the breakfast table before child #3 needs to do preschool activities… ” Add 10 more conditional statements of need and then sort it all out. Ha ha!

But I finally hacked out my new schedule and put it into place, to test it out the first week–with wariness. I want to convert it to a circle graph that I prefer for easy reference (how I do that, see Making Your Homeschool Schedule (and the revelation of a circle graph)), but I know this is TEMPORARY! All plans, no matter how seemingly perfect in theory, have flaws! Whatever I tack on my kitchen wall will have cross-outs and switches and new ideas within the week! And that’s really ok. (As a writer, I’m a big fan of the idea that having something written is really just so you can finally SEE how you can improve it–as a novelist, hey, you have to have a strategy to become acclimated to living with years of revision!)


Then I began the school year. We’re 7 weeks in. And there was a surprise of the unexpected variety. It’s working. I’m ENJOYING the time with my children. I’m having more fun than I did last year. I’m actually teaching from a place of rest. (And I’ve barely gotten through the first chapter of that book…)

Let’s just say, last year was not like this. I was stressed. I’m a former public/private school teacher, and teachers always lament the lack of time to simply go to the bathrooom–and I was living that life again–having to go to the bathroom for hours and saying no to opportunities to do so because, no, if I didn’t get someone started on X, Y, Z right away, we’d lose time or attention, etc. That’s when you say to yourself–why am I do this????? The biggest problem with being  a mom is that everyone wants your attention all the time–and being a homeschool mom increases that–nothing can happen without me, and going to the bathroom means three kids talking through the door, asking questions/instructions. Simply put, it can be maddening, stressful and down-right crazy-making.

I expected this year to be the same. Why is it better?

Below is my schedule. (I know some don’t like the idea of scheduling; I like the idea of that. But having a schedule is the only way I can keep myself accountable–and it’s a necessity for us as I also work-part-time from home and have an end-time we must arrive at in the afternoon.  And–like rules–schedules are made to be broken. Were fortunate it’s not a school with a bell blaring in your ear to mark the end of a class; we can adjust however I deem necessary, any day, any hour.

This is our plan for three days a week. One day, we are involved in a Classical Conversations homeschool community, where my kids take classes. Another day, we’re gone for a few hours so the kids can take art, dance lego robotics. (On that day, we do only reading/writing and math.)

After you see my schedule for three kids, I’m going to reflect on why I think things are going better with it this year.

Take #1: 2017-2018 School Daily schedule:

time               elder son                              younger son                   daughter*
8:10                                <– Breakfast/prayer/verse/Bible reading –>
8:30 Personal devotions                             chores                       preschool activity
8:50 (review, CCC, research,              <–CC Review –>         (review, worksheets, timeline cards, map)                                                                  crafts, maps)





Essentials of English              spelling (computer)                    chores


Reading or math                               break

10:00 Ind. Reading                                   Reading                                       break

break when done

10:30                                                           Unit Studies

anatomy, PA history, Art history, math/art connection,            nutrition/cooking….



11:15 on computer                                <–Spanish–>                                                for this some days


11:30                                                <–American History–>

or World History for Eli only           break                                     break

12:10 Spelling                                                break                                     break
12:30                                                                lunch
1:45                                       <–Read aloud and free-drawing–>
2:15 Math                                                      math                                      break

Do math, cursive, Eli do writing,  and their own projects

                                                        <–quiet time–>

*My daughter is only 4. I’m a big proponent of not pushing kids to formal education this early and of delaying kindergarten age. But this child of mine defies the mold her brothers made and she has been begging to be involved with “school” as much as possible since she could express herself. She has been at the table doing history crafts (in her own capacity) or at least coloring/scribbling while we do school for years already. She’s not required by me to do ANY of this on her schedule. (Well, yes, her chores!) So her involvement is strictly as a volunteer.

These tips are the changes I made this year compared to last year.

Tip #1: Balance goals with reality for start time. Last year breakfast was at 8. I just couldn’t quite make it happen without putting a lot of stress on myself. Aiming for 8, I’d often make it by 8:10 or 8:15. So 8:10 it is. I am learning I have to reasonably avoid things that make me begin the day with my kids already stressed that I’m “behind.” (Ah, nostalgia–I remember when we breakfasted at 9! Ah the good days of having only a kindergartner!)

Tip #2: Remember your primary  goal for your child, and make sure you give it time in your day. Having my oldest go off on his own to focus on his own spiritual life at his own pace is new. My biggest, over-arching goal for him–beyond academics–is to know God. And that doesn’t happen just by downloading knowledge as though faith is just a matter of having data. One of the best things I learned in grad school, getting my M.Ed, is the concept that you, as teacher, should devote class time to whatever you say/believe is priority. If you say it’s priority, but never devote time to it, and expect kids to do it alone at home, it’s not really priority. I realized this summer that I needed to give my son TIME–some of MY scheduled time–to pursue what our number one parenting goal is for him: to work out his own relationship with God, by himself.

Tip #3 Choose your first student wisely. After praying together, reading from the Bible and going over their memory verse for church, we then split ranks for one-on-instruction while two other kids do morning chores. I made sure the slowest-eating kid is NOT schooling right after breakfast, as I erroneously did last year! (Again, eliminating my stress in reasonable ways.)

Tip #4: Start with a combination that is positive: subject, personalities, etc. For the first time, I’m doing preschool activities for my daughter who demanded it! She is so eager, enthusiastic and full of sunshine–starting my day teaching her is good for the soul. It’s so low-key and just fun. For years, I’ve been all about making sure the first subject I teach is something I find easy or enjoy–my not-a-morning-person brains needs the kindness–but starting by teaching a person who is in LOVE with what you are doing is a new level of advantageous scheduling.

Tip #5: Take more off your plate, Mama, for what you think you can accomplish during a meal while eating, and give it it’s own designated time. This year, I actually scheduled CC review. (We’re part of Classical Conversations, a nation-wide homeschool group that has local communities that meet for classes once a week.) Last year, I did not incorporate reviewing into our school day; I planned that we’d review the flashcards as part of lunch. Sometimes that was OK. Sometimes that was annoying, and just one more thing for me to do when I was the last person to get a bite in the first place. Again, stress. (Not enough time to chew your food–another complaint of teaching in a brick-n-mortar school? Why is homeschooling better???)

This year, I added it in, and for the first time, I have printed out worksheets. (My younger two love them though–thanks CC Connected! But it would never have flown with my oldest!) Other days, we’ll practice drawing maps or watch something related to the history or science. My oldest child, 10, I often have doing something different. He has Memory Mastered multiple times, so today I had him choose a timeline card to read and then explain to his siblings, then I chose 5 cards at random and asked if he could find any connection or comparison between any of them. This is very new and stretching, and good. (Other days, I plan to have him practicing multiplication tables or maps among other things.)

Tip #6 Sometimes the computer program can be your friend. Adding in spelling for another child this year, as well as preschool for my girl, put serious questions about my time into play. But my second child, needing the spelling lessons, loves computers. I nearly jumped up and down in the aisle of a second-hand curriculum store when I found his spelling program, Sequential Spelling, on a CD I can insert into the computer. A voice and a screen give him instructions on what to spell and show him the answers and walk him through all the goals of the program! This frees me up to work with his brother on Essentials of the English language and writing.

Tip #7 Make compromises between the hard choices. My oldest can read independently. But I don’t really want to give up our reading time together. It’s my favorite part of homeschooling–reading a book with him and talking about it. So my compromise this year, for reasons of time: reading with him for 10 minutes, then leaving him to finish the assignment alone as I teach his brother reading.

Tip#8 My biggest change this year: Use a rotating unit study format to accomplish many goals. One son loves biology and anatomy and it alone motivates him to learn anything else. They also love art history, and I have a fascinating book from Usborne on the relationship between math and art. We also need to fit in some PA history–and i have book of plays for them to read/act out, which I think they will enjoy for that. Oh, and while we’re learning about digestion, good segue into nutrition and cooking. I’ve never done such a thing before, but I’m doing each of those in one-to-two month stretch.  For science the past two years, I started a completely new subject in the spring–it was the best thing I ever did. So many things need to be done every day–writing, reading, spelling–it can get monotonous. Starting n entirely new science topic was such a good idea, I’m thinking it will be great to start entirely new, unique subjects throughout the year.  I’ll cover more anatomy than anything else, but I’ll break up those units with the other ones.

Also, a main purpose of this time slot is to explore things they’ve asked to learn about–and not all my children have a burning passion to get into the nitty gritty about internal organs. One is quite disgusted, in fact. So some units are for all three kids, others are for just one or two, giving the other kid(s) free time.

Tip #9 Differentiate. We joined the homeschool Classical Conversations for my 10 year old, back when he was going into first grade–literally because the program was doing its medieval history cycle that year, and my son was into everything having to do with knights. (That wasn’t the only reason, but a big selling point.) So for him, we’ve always dug into history.

We’re doing Story of the World, the time periods covered in the last 2 volumes. But the focus in CC is just the American history. So I’m doing something else new–for the chapters relating to American history, all 3 kids are involved, but for the other chapters about world history, my oldest only is engaged in that. My younger two love the SOTW activity book with its crafts, and my oldest one doesn’t care a lick for anything in that activity book. So, for the younger two, we’ll do American history–mostly for the opportunity to DO the crafts; for my older son, we’ll cruise at a faster pace through world history. It looks like there will be more days that history class will be with my oldest  only rather than with all three.

Tip#10 Finish the morning with a single student–not trying to herd all the monkeys or their mess. I used to end the morning with history. Ugh. And if things went well, then I had a couple so involved in a craft, they would not want to stop or clean up the mess for lunch! So I end with spelling for my oldest. That way the crafty ones have that time to clean up, and I can ask spelling words while I get lunch together. I’m into not wasting time AND fitting in as much before lunch as possible.

Tip #11 Quiet time. This is the only thing on the list not new. But it’s my biggest/best tip for any homeschool mom. If you’re like me, you need some quiet without demands. (I have work to do: I teach classes to other homeschooled kids, in CC’s Challenge program, and I’m trying desperately to finish my novel, Still House, finally.) And if your kids are like most kids, they might need some time away from their siblings just as much. We are on top of each other 24/7. For 1.5 hours, each person is in a different room, alone. This is when they do math worksheets, handwriting and copywork–all things best done alone. When they are done,  they may do any other quiet activity in that same room. This is also the time i let the preschooler watch her own Netflix shows–because, heaven knows, the brothers re not inclined to let her watch much Angelina Ballerina…

And as always, I don’t want the schedule to rule us, so it’s more of a guide. If we’re having a good conversation about something, I don’t want to cut it off just because the schedule says we should be doing something else. Now that I”m in my fourth week of this schedule, I’m finding it works quite well–better than any previous year’s first draft. I scheduled 45 minute blocks two times on there. I’m finding we don’t often need 45 minutes (but it’s scheduled for when we do–with some activity or craft.) BUT, I am finding that gives us daily grace so there’s wiggle room. I know I have two 15 minute blocks that may not be needed.

Negative: I still do not like the 1:45 read-aloud time in the afternoon. I used to do it before noon, but this year, there just wasn’t room.  Today, I clean forgot about it!! I’m often struggling with droopy eyes…so tired…but I’ve not found a better solution. I really just still don’t like that we are doing any instruction after lunch! But it is necessary now.

Other blogs:

Finding an Editor: Genre Matters (And sometimes, maybe you just have to do it yourself!)

I’m NOT that Crafty Mom

Personalized Theme Alphabet for Preschool/K




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Week 6 “Final Project” Drawing Lesson: Character and Landscape

For cycle three in our Classical Conversations community, the final project I used in my masters class gave the students a few choices. Some students asked for characters, but one asked for landscapes because we’d not done anything like that yet. So my final project was a combination of the two: choose a character AND choose a landscape, and combine them. And to the purpose of reviewing the skills learned in the previous five weeks.


frozen drawing 001

I drew this from a coloring page of Frozen’s Anna and then chose another coloring page of the forest and drew the trees around her once I was done with her figure. (Note: accomplishing both the landscape and figure is a challenge for the time available in class. You could focus on only the characters.)

I gave my students multiple choices, but I will walk you through one, different from Anna above. But first, what the goal is for this final project? I see the first five weeks as teaching skills to help students approach drawing. The goal for the final project is to give students a chance to approach a drawing armed with the five tools taught in the previous weeks. As I interpret them, the skills are:

  1. Finding the basic shapes in the form or drawing (week 1)
  2. Measuring the size of those shapes and the spaces between those shapes to achieve symmetry or replication, NOT that the student must draw a mirror image. Mirror-images are simply a great tool for practicing this skill, not the skill itself.  (week 2)
  3. Flipping a drawing to another angle to help trick your brain to see the lines and shapes as they ARE, not as we THINK they are (week 3)
  4. Breaking an image down to its essential parts, and then putting them back together differently or in an exaggerated or simplistic way, and/or using color to convey emotion, not reality (week 4)
  5.  Observing how the perspective of an object changes shapes and lines to convey distance; using shading to make images reveal their depth when light hits them (Week 5)


I had multiple students so ga-ga for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit that I figure fully five presentations throughout the year were on that topic! So I found the character of Legolas for them.

Step 1:Students chose the character and background from the multiple choices I gave for each.

Legolas coloring page 001

With these, as I instated as our habit since lesson 1, I instruct students to trace the basic shapes (and the geometric shapes they make up–triangles, rectangles, etc.). I’m hoping you can see my pencil tracing lines above on Legolas. Do the same for the trees of the landscape for the background.

Legolas background 001

Step 2: on a blank sheet of paper, draw the basic geometric shapes that were already traced on the original coloring page. (Note, choosing a portion of the picture is a good option–rather than the entire figure.)

His arm is arguably the toughest looking art of this drawing. I suggest walking students through what they see in this arm. I saw a series of rectangles and an oval. It doesn’t so much matter that the students find the same shapes I did–it matters only that they observe and break it down into smaller shapes so that they are noticing what is really there. A foreshortened arm plays tricks with expectations. Without close observation of how the arm shape changes, students draw a too-long arm because they get hung up on what they know about arms in another vantage point.

Legolas 2 001


Step 3: Go back into those shapes from step 2 and add details! As details are added, erase the guiding lines you first drew, if they are not exact enough.

Legolas 3 001

Step 4: Add a little shading to give the drawing depth.

As often is the case, the time runs out in class before students are finished–especially those students who are actively challenging themselves. I highly encourage students to finish it throughout the net week and bring it back in to share.

(As I’ve mentioned before in previous week 1 post, an idea from Drawing Demystified suggests giving students an amazing chance at tracking their drawing growth by giving them pictures to draw on week 1 (even just 10 minutes, outside of the officially drawing lesson), and then on week 6, those same pictures are given as the drawing project; when they are done with lesson 6, students can observe how much their approach to drawing has improve in this short 6 weeks. (I did this last year for cycle two and it was amazing.) Of course, this can be done with this lesson above only if you knew before week 1 to have the students draw the same images. OR, the flip: whatever students drew week 1, give them the same project again to see how much better it goes now.)


If you try this, please share how it goes! I find even the same lesson can go differently with different classes. Always something to learn.


Other blogs:

Perspective Drawing Lesson, Week 5, Lego Figures

Abstract Drawing Lesson, Week 4

Upside-Down Drawing, Week 3

Personalized Theme Alphabet for Preschool/K

My Dad, Monsanto and Christmas Trees


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