Sunday, August 31, 2014

When School Falls Apart

“The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men Are Apt to Go Awry”

            Veteran homeschoolers  know, and new homeschoolers will soon learn, that sometimes “life” interferes with “school”.  It’s two weeks into the new school year.  You’ve been cruising along on schedule.  Suddenly, the baby gets a cold, you have scheduled your bi-yearly dental appointments and found five cavities, you agreed to serve on the church's Sunday School Planning Committee, your husband is working major overtime, and everyone (beginning with you) has developed a crazy, bad, stressed-out attitude. 

            This situation, or a very similar one, has presented itself to me many times in the past thirteen years of homeschooling.  So, let's develop a plan of action!

1)       Take a deep breath, grab a cup of tea, and sit down.  Really!!  As your fractured nerves settle you’ll realize that “life happens”.  Some upheaval is inevitable.  I remember vividly being a newly married young woman and telling my mother-in-law, “Mom, we JUST got a little money saved and then something happened and we had to spend it.  I feel like we go two steps forward and take one step back.”  She smiled and calmly replied, “Honey, that’s life.”  You may not LIKE your current situation, but freaking out, being short with the kids, or curling into a ball will NOT make it better or different.  So, BREATHE and prepare to sort out fact from fiction. 

2)    Solomon 2:15 says it is, “the little foxes that spoil the vineyards,”  When we are stressed, our PERCEPTION of the situation can become blown out proportion to the actual facts.  It is, generally, not one BIG thing bothering us, but several LITTLE things.  So, grab a piece of paper to go along with that cup of tea.  Make two columns.  List of your current commitments and what is bothering you on the left hand side. Maybe you’ve explained long division to your third grader three times and he/she is still having trouble grasping the concept or your toddler is happy for the first fifteen minutes of the school day and is very unhappy or demanding for the next two hours.   Perhaps you have overscheduled your free time for the next couple of weeks.  

3)    Look at your list.  Determine which things you have control over and which you cannot control. Use the right hand side of the paper to brainstorm possible solutions to each dilemna. If a sick child is causing part of the stress, you don’t have a lot of control over that.  But, you CAN change your homeschool routine to accommodate that child’s needs.  You can rock a child, who needs extra “Mom time” while reading a great book aloud to the rest of the kids.  You can ask older siblings to help the younger ones stay on task.  The fifth grader can tutor the first grader in math or English.   Dad can help in the evenings after supper.  Always recognize that family comes FIRST.  If the toddler is unhappy, maybe he/she needs some more interesting “school only” toys or educational activities to work on.  When my youngest sons watched the “big boys” do school, what they wanted most was to feel included.  They wanted to “do school” too.  Give them something to do and then give them lots of praise for a job well done. 

4)      Next, prioritize. You may see that the calendar is over-booked.  You can call the head of that church committee and says, “I’m so sorry.  But, my schedule this week will not allow me to attend that meeting.  But, I would love to have an e-mail containing notes from the meeting sent to me later this week.”   Don’t’ be afraid to prune that commitment list!  Do what you must, to have time as a family.  Note:  reading to them during school time rarely counts as quality reading time.  I have had more than one child say, “Mom can you read me a book?”  I reply, “I read to you during school time.”  “Mom, that’s NOT reading time.  That’s school time.”  You are still a mom, not just their primary educator. 

5)     I tell new Homeschooling moms to decide what is necessary, what is optimal, and what is extra.  “Necessary” things MUST be done.  We need to eat three times a day (seven or eight times a day if you are raising teenage boys).  We don’t need to eat a five course gourmet meal.  Decide what you can do to lighten your load with meal preparation.  Make frequent use of children to prep food, set the table, clear the table, and do dishes.  “Optimal” things are still important.  In a perfect day, we would get them done.  But, some days optimal things may go by the wayside.  And that’s okay!  “Extral” things are just that – the extras.  This is a prime area for pruning when you are overwrought with “life”. 

6)    Finally, “this, too, shall pass”.  Crazy times rarely last forever and they seem to pass more quickly when we change our attitude, reorganize our schedule, and prioritize our time.  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Living Under the Median

Several years ago I saw a series entitled “Living Under the Median” on the Today Show.  It featured the stories of families living on under $50,000 per year in America.  Many folks not only live, but also thrive, while doing just that.  Our family is one example!

After being married just four months (in late 1988) we made a very important decision:  We would live within our income and save for future expenses.  Our goal was, and is, to remain totally debt free.  Since that time we have (after taking just one car loan in 1989 and paying it off in six months) paid cash for automobiles.  We bought our first home in 1992 and paid the mortgage off in five years.  Then, after living there an additional 13 years, bought our current home four years ago with no mortgage. It has been hard work, but it has been worth it! 

Here are some financial principles, which have served us well: 

  1. ALWAYS work from a written budget – and stick to it! Leave yourself “margin”.  Don’t spend every penny that you make.  
  2. Write down short, medium, and long-term goals and have a “game plan” for reaching them. Track those goals:  I have a monthly synopsis sheet which I show Larry at the end of each month so that we are both aware of “where are are” in terms of the budget and our goals. 
  3. Give generously – We tithe 10 percent of our income and do not count this money toward part of our spendable budget.  It encourages a grateful spirit in you, when you consider the needs of others.  Our faith plays a HUGE part in why we choose to live like we live!  We believe that our monthly income is a gift from God to meet our needs.  Therefore, we are responsible to spend it wisely and in a way, which brings Him honor and glory.   We have seen God meet our needs in amazing, and often unexpected, ways through the years. 
  4. If you are married, you are a TEAM!  Always remember that your spouse is not your opponent, he or she is your ally.  Together, you can accomplish so much more than if you are “at odds” about how, when, and where money should be spent.  If you’re not married, form a team around you who will support and encourage you in your goals. 
  5. Don’t let others define for you how you should spend your money.  (And don’t let them define you as a person, either, based on your income or how you choose to spend money.)  Don’t feel badly saying, “I’m sorry, we have spent our allotment of entertainment money for this month.  But, if you’ll ask us again in two weeks, then we’d be happy to go to dinner with you.”   Or:  “I’m sorry, dinner won’t work for us.  But, let’s meet for desert later in the evening.”  It’s okay to set parameters – It’s YOUR money.  You’d be surprised how many folks will admire your tenacity and actually tell you that they wish they had your self-discipline. 
  6. Practice delayed gratification. Practice delayed gratification.  Practice delayed gratification.  (Did I say that enough?)  Know who you are and where you’re headed.  It will help to keep the ultimate goals in mind when you are tempted with purchases which will side-line you.  When you are working within a limited budget, it really doesn’t take too many of those “little purchases” to add up to a big, fat “goal killer”! 
  7. Know when to “kill that fatted calf” and CELEBRATE!  If you’ve saved for your new living room furniture and found the perfect pieces (hopefully on sale or – even better – second hand) then joyfully spend that money!   Believe me, when we moved in to this house – owing no bank one dollar – we did a “happy dance”, whooped, and hollered.  Can’t imagine what the new neighbors thought.  J

Joyfully living under the median,