Finding a Wealth of Free or Cheap Audiobooks

2831212101_9e9fc3bbdb_zTaking a short break from our Homeschooling with Littles & Real Life series today to bring you these awesome resources!

We are huge audiobook fans at our house. Every afternoon we each cuddle up in our own quiet time areas or beds and enjoy a few hours of delightful imaginative adventures, myself included. I take naps on a regular basis while dozing off to an audiobook. It works wonders. I also love listening to books while I make dinner at night, or while washing the dishes throughout the day.

When each of our children have turned around five years old and no longer needed a daily nap, we have purchased a refurbished Apple Ipod Nano (which are usually under $100) for them. These have become their most treasured possession I believe, because of all the fun adventures they have enjoyed while listening to them. We do limit content to audiobooks, with the occasional music track for things we were working on memorizing. But it has no other ability to access internet, photos, or videos.

So where do we get all the audiobooks?

Librivox

Librivox is a free audiobook service providing thousands of old classics in the public domain. You’ll find Anne of Green Gables series, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz series, Thorton Burgess animal stories, and so much more. The quality of these recordings can vary, and the selection is limited, but still worth checking out Check out our recommendations here: Librivox audiobooks for Children. Our favorite narrators include: Mary Anderson, Karen Savage, and Mark Smith. Check out Read Aloud Revival’s list of the Best Librivox Narrators. I’m currently enjoying Eleanor Porter’s Just David on Librivox. Gene-Stratton Porter’s books have been some of my favorites too!

Overdrive

Overdrive is a free service offered through local libraries across the nation,  that allows you to borrow and download a wealth of audiobooks for 21 days each. You can borrow up to 15 titles at a time. You just need a library card and make sure your library offers the service. Sign up for a free account and start borrowing online.  It is easy to download the Overdrive app onto your computer in order to transfer audiobooks to your devises. For iPhone, you can use the Overdrive app directly on your phone for listening. For my local friends, you can check it out through Multnomah Library. Overdrive also provides the ability to borrow kindle/digital book titles as well. We’ve enjoyed Roald Dahl titles (one of our family’s favorite authors), Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes series, Mrs. Piggie Wiggle series, Anne of Green Gables, Beverely Cleary books, The Boxcar Children, N.D. Wilson, and much more through this service. All of Read Aloud Revival’s Best Audio Book Recommendations (with the exception of the Little House series) I found available through Overdrive.

Hoopla

Hoopla is another service offered by through the library that has tons of audiobooks as well. You can borrow 8 titles each month. Hoopla has a lot more Christian Audio titles, so you can find books like For the Children’s Sake, Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga series (my current personal favorite!), John Piper, Gloria Furman, Elyse Fitzpatrick, G. K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and many other fabulous authors. I also found audio versions of many Shakespeare plays. I just finished listening to The Man Who Was Thursday by Chesterton with this service. Delightful. Currently listening to For the Children’s Sake before launching into the new school year. They also have a wealth of classics too. Hoopla also offers movies for borrow.

Kindle/Whispersync

Another good option for cheap audiobooks is by using Amazon’s Whispersync for Voice Ready deals, which is basically Kindle books with Audible narration. And you don’t need a kindle device either. You can read Kindle books through Kindle apps on your computer or phone. If you find a kindle title you would like, look underneath the Buy Now button to see if they have a check box that says “Add Audible narration to your purchase for just $1.99/etc”. They offer this audio addition feature at a great discount from buying it separately, but you are still getting the complete audiobook that can be used independently or together with the kindle book edition. You can actually find many classic kindle edition books that Amazon offers for free or just $0.99 and add audio for just $2.99 or less. Charles Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities, for example, is just $0.99 for kindle and audiobook! Check out Amazon’s list of Kid’s Titles with up to 80% off narration. This uses the Audible service without the membership cost. Titles can then be downloaded through Audible.com or using the Audible app on your phone. I discovered you could buy YWAM’s Christian Heroes Then & Now biography series for the very best price by purchasing them this way. You can get the kindle edition for $7.50, and add the audible narration for just $3.49…which equates to getting the audio book for $11, which is the best deal around on this series (they normally sell around $15-20 for each audiobook version).

So that’s how we enjoy hundreds of audiobooks for free or little cost!

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Quiet Time for Mommy is a Good Thing (Homeschooling with Littles & Real Life – Part 3)

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How do you find rest amidst the busyness of homeschooling and maintaining a home?

I look forward to our afternoon quiet time, which comes, Lord willing, each day. So do my kids actually. It is a daily scheduled time of rest in our home. Time to cultivate peace in our home, quiet in our souls, and renew our minds and bodies. For some, the 5 and under crowd, this means a nap. For older siblings, this means reading, listening to audiobooks, coloring, painting, legos, and other quiet time activities. They each go to a separate area, outside or inside, on the bed, couch, or table, or in the hammock or blanket in the yard. I’ve even seen them take their quiet time in a tree. For myself, it also means a short nap, personal reading, and/or writing. Napping while listening to an audiobook is my favorite. :) This gives me scheduled time to cultivate my own continued learning.

In our home, our goal is to finish our school subjects by lunchtime, and then we have set aside a two hour period after lunch in our home for this purpose. I guard against the temptation to fill up this time with other demanding obligations, such as cleaning and such, because I know my soul and spirit needs this. I am weary by the time the morning school and chore period is over. Its draining. I’m an introvert. I need some alone time, so I can renew myself to face the rest of the tasks ahead of me after quiet time. There is no guilt or condemnation here. Why? Because it is a little safeguard against getting overtired which can feed frustration and anger. It is a time to fill my cup of grace again, so I can continue to outpour the grace and love of Christ out upon my family for the remaining hours of the day. It gives the children time to rest from one another and give them opportunities to read and enjoy story in their own little worlds. We all come back together more refreshed and happy again. It’s a gift.

In our day and again, it is easy to overbook our schedules, filling them with too many outings and scheduled activities, often leading to grumpy overtired children. This is especially true when your children are young. Even if you have to keep the actual napping portion short, and then allow these little ones to look at books or color, it is still hugely beneficial. I did discover that if my kids nap past a certain time in the afternoon, they would have a harder time going to sleep at night, so we moved naptime up a bit, or I woke them up sooner. It was easy to flex and adjust as needed. It’s worth it!

In addition to our daily quiet time, I try to schedule a 1-2 hour outing once or twice a month for myself to get out of the house and have some quiet time at a local coffee shop. I use this time for planning, journaling, and reading. This might be after my husband comes home from work, or while a family member is over watching my littles. Or maybe you could trade babysitting with another mama to help you cultivate this space. The quiet and getting out of the house is so refreshing and revitalizing. We need it. This is good.

So, yes, you can homeschool and still have quiet breaks. I am a strong proponent of keeping this mama sane and joyful. It may not work for all, and that’s okay. Try to carve in some quiet time in your day wherever you can find it. But starting when your kids are young does make it easier to uphold this practice. We are going nine years strong!

The Lord will fight for you, and you can hold your peace and remain at rest. (Exodus 14:14)

How do you find time to have quiet rest and refreshment as a homeschooling mom?

To return to the series index, click here.

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Keeping Kindergarten & Early Years Simple (Homeschooling with Littles & Real Life – Part 2)

IMG_0333One lesson I have learned over the brief years of my homeschooling experience is…don’t start too early. I was that over zealous excited mama of a smart little 4 year old. I was super pumped with the idea of homeschooling my own little flock, that I was confident beginning early would only help my children become smarter, more developed, and more prepared for life.

What could it hurt to start teaching her to read? She might be that brilliant one who picks it up early and will be reading The Hobbit at age 7 or 8. I loved browsing the curriculum catalogs and breathless at all the amazing curriculums available for my preschooler. SO many wonderful options…So I began investing in many different glamorous curriculums.

Most of these struggles really birthed out of my own pure vanity. I wanted to have the smart child that memorized amazingly lengthy poetry and recited it confidently before an audience. I wanted the child that learned to read at 4 years old. Aww…what a nice pat on the back I would get. It was all about me.

Fast forward several years, and you see a strained relationship between mother and daughter because I pushed too hard and too early. Reading lessons became a daily battle. Her love for learning was quickly eliminated. All in the name of getting a head start. This head start quickly became a huge step back. I had to learn the hard way to let go and give my child opportunity to just learn and explore. To play and observe the world around her. When I let go of our vigorous academic load and just give her more time, I found much more peace and joy flowing in our home.

If was only after this time, that I stumbled upon the wisdom and educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason. She strongly recommended that you do not start any formal academics till 6 years of age, and I have definitely seen the wisdom of this advice with my second child. She recommended these early years be a time devoted to developing good habits, character and obedience training, and filling their minds with wonderful good books and living ideas. In this way, the rest of the homeschool journey will be more smooth and peaceful as their little hearts are in submission to the authority in their lives. I am so thankful I have been able to allow my second child and subsequent children enjoy the journey without the pressure.

In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother’s first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it spent for the most part out in the fresh air” (Charlotte Mason’s Home Education, Vol. 1, p. 43).

Isn’t that a freeing idea? Can we let our children spend their early years in the fresh air?

Simply Charlotte Mason has a great series about A Parent’s Chief Duty – Early Years that I’d encourage you to read.

What does the early years look like now in our home? 

Preschool and kindergarten and well into 1st grade are simply a time of reading fun picture books, lots of playing, and a few fun basic workbooks when they feel inspired to join in with the older siblings.

I found my littles love to do what big kids are doing, so having some simple workbooks on hand were really convenient for feeding this interest. We have used the Rod & Staff preschool ABC workbook series a couple times now and really recommend it. (They call them “preschool”, but the content is very much kindergarten materials. We skip the Bible stories ones because we use other Bible resources. We use the A-F set only, as they usually are ready to move on to something else after F. The G-L set are good for 1st grade, if you want to continue.) It is cheap and effective.

Most of what the average kindergarten curriculum include is just picked up through osmosis, so it really can be a waste of money to invest in a full preschool/kindergarten curriculum. The $20 workbook set from Rod & Staff just strengthens the knowledge they picked up through observation of the world around them.

My daughter, Eden (who just turned 5 years old) and I, will be reading through the books pictured above as our Kindergarten reading list this year. I love spending 5-15 minutes first thing each morning filling her little love tank (as my mother used to say). My toddler often snuggles up with us two. Our list includes some fabulous picture books that we’ve enjoyed a few times through now, and are in hardback editions, so they have good longevity. I love the collections style format, because they are so many stories in just one lovely hardback book. You don’t have to deal with flimsy individual titles cluttering up your shelves. Most of them are also very reasonably priced, especially if you compare to purchasing the titles included in each collection individually. This list could easily carry us well into first grade…we’ll see how far we make it. I am so excited to read these books once again with Eden.

After our reading time, she may or may not work on a page or two in her Rod & Staff workbooks while big siblings do their independent subjects. I never push it. That’s it. Reading aloud to your littles is the best early years curriculum.

Here are our “must-read” of the titles pictured above (from left to right):

Eloise Wilkin Stories (Little Golden Book Treasury) - This is our favorite beautiful collection of children’s stories about being Mommy’s helpers, seeing God in nature, and so many more sweet stories.

Frog & Toad Storybook Treasury by Arnold Lobel –  Who can get enough of Frog & Toad? Probably my all-time favorite children’s book. Everything by Arnold Lobel is delightful.

Harper Collins Treasury of Picture Book Classics - Some of our favorites in this collection include From Head to Toe by Eric Carle, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Crictor, and Caps for Sale

Make Way for McCloskey by Robert McCloskey – Make Way for Ducklings and Blueberries for Sals can’t be missed!

The 20th Century Children’s Book Treasury – selected by Janet Schulman – This collection includes such titles as Madeline, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Goodnight Moon, Millions of Cats, The Story of Ferdinand, and more.

The Berenstein Bears’ Big Book of Science and Nature by Stan & Jan Berenstein – This is such a fun introduction to science and nature concepts, including calendar, seasons, weather, animals, plants, and the earth itself. Love this book!

A Child’s Book of Character Building (book 1 & 2) by Ron & Rebekah Coriell – A great introduction to various character traits and how to apply them at home, school, play, and displayed in the Bible.

The Complete Adventures of Curious George by H.A. Ray – These collection has been read and re-read numerous time. Lots of laughter and fun.

Mike Mulligan and More: A Virginia Lee Burton Treasury  - Another of my favorite children’s collections!

The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne – What’s not to love about Winnie-the-Pooh?

Fairy Tales and Fables by Gyo Fujikawa – one of the most beautifully illustrated collected of classic fairy tales I have ever seen. We also love his A Child’s Book of Poems and A Child’s Garden of Verses.

James Herriot’s Treasury for Children – lovely true animal stories from a veterinarian.

A Beatrix Potter Treasury- the collection I have appears to be out of print, so I linked to another similar complete collection.

Aesop’s Fables for Children illustrated by Milo Winter – definitely the best Aesop’s Fables collection with a wonderful CD as well. Just wish this edition was hardcover.

Uncle Wiggly’s Story Book by Howard Garis – This collection of wonderful stories of the “bunny rabbit gentleman” and his adventures is a great transition from picture books to chapter books. Each story has a lovely emphasis on serving others and character building. The stories are magical and so engaging for kids. We will read this towards the end of the year. My Father’s Dragon (although not pictured) is another favorite transition book.

A Little Book of Manners: Curtousy and Kindness for Young Ladies (or the boy version here)- Emily Barnes

God’s Wisdom for Little Girls or God’s Wisdom for Little Boys – Elisabeth George

A Treasury of Mother Goose illustrated by Hilda Offen – our list would not be complete without this fun collection of Mother Goose.

I also would like to add one of Shirley Hughes Alfie collections to our set this year.

When our littles turn 6 years old, and they begin to express interest in learning how to read, we begin All About Reading pre-reading curriculum, and gradually work about 15 minutes each day through this program, progressing into All About Reading Levels 1-4 over time (usually finishing by the middle of 3rd grade). Alongside phonics instructions, if they desire, we just use a basic 1st grade math book (only if they really want to start math, otherwise waiting longer is just fine too). And then they just sit in on morning time read-alouds with the older siblings. So freeing and sweet. Just another way that we eliminated until there was peace in our home, and the littles still learn so much through simple exploration and observation. Dress ups anyone?

Above all, these early years are a time to allow these littles ones to grow, explore, play, and just be a little child.

If you need more proof as the benefits of delaying formal education, please check out Raymond Moore’s studies, Better Late than Early and materials by Charlotte Mason. As to the benefits of reading aloud, you can’t miss The Read Aloud Handbook and the wonderful resources and podcast put out by The Read Aloud Revival (I don’t use the membership, but the reading lists and podcast are fabulous and free). 

To return to part 1 and the index for this series, visit here.

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Homeschooling with Littles & Real Life: Part 1

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A reader asked: I have a 5.5, 4, and 9 month old and we are beginning to homeschool this fall. I am really nervous. I was wondering if you would consider doing a blog post about your daily rhythms with schooling and having various aged kids. My 5.5 year old is just starting kindergarten, so I know it’s not going to be “that big” of a deal…nevertheless, in my years as a stay at home mom, I have come to covet my alone time and chore routines and I am anxious, knowing that I will have to sacrifice some of that. Specifically, how do you get chores done? When do you prepare food? How do you entertain the other kids? How do you keep kids from being bored at home?

First of all, be anxious for nothing, dear sister. The Lord gives peace. He is the Giver of all Wisdom. When in doubt, He is the Giver of peace. When you have too many choices before you, seek His face. When you don’t know how you will handle it all, simply knock and ask for His grace to know what you should do. Seeking the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and direction day by day is my main help and companion for my homeschool journey. He’s got the best homeschool advice. Pray through your daily schedule – pray through each planned encounter with your children.  This work is hard. It is more than we can do on our own strength.

The beauty of homeschooling is that you have the freedom to adjust and flex to your own family’s needs. You don’t have to look like a public school. Your kids don’t have to be doing formal lesson six or more hours a day. It’s okay to stick with the basics (the 3R’s as they are often called) during busy seasons of newborns, starting a business, or moving. I’ve done it. It’s really freeing to just let go of the pressure and snuggle up to read aloud while nursing. Give yourself grace…because God has poured it out in abundance for us to embrace. You have many years ahead. You don’t have to cram in all the subjects, every single year.

If you can see learning as a lifestyle, rather than restricted to certain “scheduled” school hours, you will be able to witness learning happening as siblings work through squabbles, do basic chores, visit with a neighbor, explores in the yard/garden, or looks at a picture book.

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As Durenda Wilson, in The Unhurried Homeschooler, says, “There have been seasons when I wondered, ‘What am I really teaching them?’ At the time it seemed like all we did was make meals, change diapers, and try to keep the house from falling apart. But somewhere in those moments of working alongside each other and just being together, they learned. They learned about life and love, honor and respect, hard work and play.”\

Must of the struggles I have experienced while homeschooling come when I am listening to too many outside voices, too many wonderful podcasts, books, or homeschooling friends. Sometimes you just need to pull back and sit at the feet of the Savior.

You don’t have to fit your homeschool into a box, a prescriptive curriculum, or educational philosophy. Each of your children is a unique person with a different learning style. If I see them as a unique and beautiful child of God with a specific calling for their lives, I will treasure the journey and not checking off the boxes. But give yourself time to find your groove. Most of my homeschool friends, including myself, testify that it has taken three or four years to figure out what works best for their family. That’s okay. You don’t have to figure it all out at once.

With that in mind, how do we get things done over here? Homeschooling does take a bit of organization and planning to keep life running smoothly, but you will still have grace for those days that will come when you need to put the books aside and take a nature walk instead. Eliminate until there is peace in your home. If there is no peace, there is no learning going to be happening either.

IMG_0530I do believe it is good to have a few books on hand that offer encouragement and perspective now and again throughout this homeschooling journey. I highly recommend you pick up a copy of any or all of these books, as you will reference them again and again. I re-read at least one of these each summer before a new school year. Highly recommended. They are all nice and short too, so very manageable to read through. Everything I have to say comes from these lovely ladies. :)

Teaching From Rest – Sarah MacKenzie

The Unhurried Homeschooler – Durenda Wilson

For the Children’s Sake – Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

Homeschooling with a Meek and Quiet Spirit – Teri Maxwell

 “God doesn’t call us to this work and then turn away to tend to other, more important matters. He promises to stay with us, to lead us, to carry us…What that means on a practical level is that we have to stop fretting over every little detail. We need to stop comparing. We’ve got to drop the self-inflated view that we are the be-all and end-all of whether the education we are offering our children is going to be as successful as we hope it is. After all, our job is not to be successful – success itself is entirely beside the point. It’s faithfulness that He wants. God is good! He isn’t going to let us pour out our hearts for our children only to be left choking on the dust of our mistakes.” – Sarah MacKenzie, Teaching from Rest

I’m breaking my response to this question into a mini series:

Keeping Kindergarten/Early Years Simple
Quiet Time for Mommy Is A Good Thing
Getting Chores Done – Train Your Kids as Young as Possible
Daily Homeschool Rhythms: Our Three Blocks – Independent Work, Circle Time, Tutor Time
Keeping Littles Busy: My Three Favorites: Include them, Pack n play, & Workbooks

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Homemade Mint Chocolate Chip Ice-Cream (Sugar free!)

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One of my favorite family fun activities every summer is making homemade ice cream! I absolutely love my Cuisinart ice cream maker for its functionality and simplicity. Its a wonderful investment for blessing your family with yummy healthy treats. Keep an eye on the price…it fluctuates all the time. Homemade ice cream is a breeze to make and yummy! You can use various milk options due to your preferences, and can adapt your sweeteners as well. I use almond milk and xylitol because it is sugar free and on the Trim Healthy Mama plan that I follow loosely. It doesn’t spike your blood sugar, and easily adapts to all recipes because it is a 1:1 ratio, so its a great option if you want to go a bit more healthy. :) This recipe is considered low-carb on the THM plan (if you use sugar free chocolate chips). I prepared this mint chocolate chip recipe for my husband as his request for our Father’s Day dessert. We were all delighted with the results! It was fabulous!

Ingredients:

3 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup unsweetened almond milk (or milk option of your choice)
1 cup xylitol (or sweetener of your choice – white sugar, rapadura, honey, etc – I buy xylitol through Azure Standard, but it is also available through Amazon)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 cup chocolate chips (I used Trader Joe’s semi-sweet chocolate chunks, but Lily’s chocolate chips are a true sugar free option for the purist)

Directions:

Combine all ingredients, except chocolate chips, together in a blender. Pour into your ice cream maker and allow to combine according to manufacturer recommendations (I do 30-45 minutes). Add chocolate chips in the final 10 minutes. Transfer to a freezer container and place in freezer till firm. Enjoy!

Check out our recipe index for more ice cream recipes!

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Reflections from Our Homeschool Year

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We finished up our school year this week! What a joy it was to celebrate our final day of school with a Medieval feast. We have made a tradition of the last day of school being a celebratory feast where we make dinner loosely themed according to the historic time period we studied for the year. Its become a favorite annual memory. So in celebrating a fun year of studying the Middle Ages, we had a feast of roast chicken, eggs, salad, medieval gingerbread and pudding on trenchers (stale bread that they used as plates) with spoons and our fingers and goblets of grape juice/wine with daddy and mommy serving as the Lord and Lady of our castle! We took the opportunity to speak words of affirmation to the kids specifically addressing the progress we have seen in their lives and hearts this past school year, and then we toasted to their graduation into the next grade.

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We also visited a local elderly care facility with some fellow homeschool friends and shared various poems and verses the children memorized, along with instrumental pieces they had learned this past year. It was really sweet to love on the elderly while giving the kids a fun means of presenting their hard work in a more formal and yet less intimidating atmosphere. And of course, the elderly just loved interacting with the kids. I hope to make this a regular event – a great way to combine ministry with teaching the kids to speak/present before others.

IMG_3603 As we finished up the school year, I’ve been reflecting upon the struggles and successes of this past year,  our fourth year of homeschooling. I’m so thankful for God’s grace in giving us a fruitful and enjoyable year. It’s so easy to forget all the good because they often get drowned by the difficulties.

Our daily morning circle time, a short time set aside each morning for all of us to sit down together to pray, read living books together, and memorize beautiful things, was a delightful time. We’ve used this format for a few years now (see Cindy Rollins, Teaching from Rest by Sarah MacKenzie or Your Morning Basket podcast for more details). We were inspired by living books of characters from the Middle Ages. Our eyes were open to the needs of the world, by praying through 40 Days, 40 Bites: A Family Guide to Pray for the World. We were blessed to learn rich theology about God and the world through the beautiful resource, The Ology: Ancient Truths Made New by Marty Machowski. We loved learning character qualities in poems, songs, and stories through the excellent free resources at Character First Education.

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We adopted a weekly poetry tea time into our weekly routine. My kids fell in love with poetry and tea. A fabulous combination. (It all started with listening to this podcast of Julie Bogart on Read Aloud Revival). It was a fun opportunity for my daughter to practice her enthusiasm for decorating. Studying a famous selection of art work pared nicely with our poetry time as well.

We were amazed by the life of artist, Michelangelo, and his unique fascination of the human body, in his towering sculptures of David and Moses. We used the beautiful Art Portfolios by Simply Charlotte Mason. We read about and listened to classical composers, Brahms and Schubert (with the wonderful Opal Wheeler biographies).

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We established a good morning routine where personal devotions, chores, and independent school work (math and handwriting) had to be completed before 9:00am for a little prize (amazing how they can work when you reward them with a jelly bean!), and it became such a great habit and routine. We’re maintaining this rhythm year round because it has worked so well.

I am so thankful for the ability to educate our children at home, and that the Lord is always faithful to lead and guide us, even when I feel completely helpless and clueless how to train and disciple them, or how to best meet their needs and various learning styles. He is always near to hear my prayers. And all these successes are simply his merciful answers to those prayers. Homeschooling is truly delightful when I focus on all these sweet memories made together, seeing my children learn to read, hearing their thoughtful comments, and knowing that I get the privilege of learning all of this right at their side.

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I had many tearful days, struggling with one child’s ongoing battle with maintaining a joyful heart in school and chores and prayerfully laying this child before the Lord day in and day out, pleading that the Lord would change both our hearts and give wisdom and grace. There were many frustrating moments of repeatedly reminding of another child to stay focused and be attentive and diligent in their work, and encouraging the other to practice self-control when they are tempted to freak out at the first sign of difficulty or messiness. We have seen great progress in these areas, and God has been mercifully guiding me in ways only He can. I battled against many lies from the enemy that I wasn’t doing enough, that I can’t do this anymore, that so and so’s kids are so much smarter than mine, and on and on. The enemy is a deceiver, and we have to be active in speaking truth to counter his lies. He only wants to make me loose my joy and fruitfulness in the traps of comparison and feelings of failure.

A few lessons I’ve been learning this year:

1. Eliminate Until There is Peace

You can have a whole list of great books, activities, and amazing outings planned, but if there is no peace, there is no joy, and no lasting learning will take place. Nancy Kelly’s simply challenge to “keep cutting back until there is peace in your home” (quoted in this fabulous article), struck a cord in my heart that I won’t soon forget. I am an over zealous homeschool planner, so I love to pick the best from multiple different curriculums and make a HUGE book list and lengthy homeschool plan. I want my kids to experience all the best options, right?! But our schedule became a little over packed and over scheduled pretty fast. We had to let go of my unrealistic expectations. Less is more. (Another fabulous resource along these lines is Sarah Mackenzie’s Teaching from Rest – I’ve read it three times already!).

2. Stay Closer to Home

One of the things that was causing unrest in our home was an over scheduling of outside the home extra-curricular activities. I discovered through trial and error, that having to pack up the kids for activities (wonderful educational opportunities, no less!) is super stressful for me in this season of life. It feeds my temptation to burst out in frustration at my kids for the time and effort required, and thus damaging relationships. I also noticed a growing discontentment in the hearts of my children after all these fun activities (feeding expectations for more?). How could I guard against this?

I had to make a deliberate choice to stay closer to home for our well-being and to practice cultivating contentment. We set aside Fridays each week for the necessary grocery shopping trip (twice a month), and a monthly field trip and a monthly service opportunity (visiting elderly neighbors, serving a family in our church, etc), which sometimes fell on a different day of the week and we adjusted accordingly. There is real beauty and rest in just staying close to home. It fosters peace, consistent routines, and contentment.

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3. Pick Something and Stick With It

It’s so easy to pick one curriculum and then throw it out at the first sign of difficulty. But there is sweet reward when we persevere through the challenges and stay committed for the long haul. I am so guilty of this. I have used four different phonics curriculums, two different spelling programs, and four different math programs in the last four years! I’ve wasted a lot of money before the light bulb finally came on. So thankful for my patient husband. There is no perfect curriculum. Nothing out there is going to be perfectly fun and engaging all the time. I learned that it was time to make prayerful choices and determine to stick with it. There is grace to make changes, but there came a point for me personally that I needed to make a decision and be faithful and persevere. My kids need to learn this mutually. It is so good for our faith and character development.

It’s more important to remember that you can adapt the curriculum to your family’s needs, but its not necessary to throw it out altogether. You don’t have to be a curriculum slave either, thank goodness. It felt so good to see my daughter complete the All About Reading phonics curriculum this year. The fruit of making that necessary commitment. These thoughts have been instrumental in leading us to make the decision of using Heart of Dakota this upcoming school year, adapting to our needs, but then sticking with it for the long haul, Lord willing! I’m honestly really excited and at peace, not to mention all the time I’ve just freed up from piecing together my own perfect curriculum. ;)

It’s been a good year! Do you homeschool? What lessons have you gleaned this year?

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Designed to Laugh

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My hormones have been seemingly on strike these past weeks while my baby has been weaning, sleep lacking, my emotions creeping out of control, and my spirit has been tempted to wallow in self-pity, discouragement, and despair. Why is it so easy to loose my joy at the bad attitude of a child, or a seeming unproductive day where nothing was checked off my to-do list, or at the late hours required of my husband to get a business off the ground?

Because I keep forgetting what is true and real (Philippians 4:8), and not loving God with all my mind.

Our God is the author and creator of laughter. He rules in the heavens in perfect control of the future. He controls the striving of the wicked who arrogantly fight for their own glory and success. Psalms 2 reminds us of this truth. The nations are raging war against the Lord, and yet “the One who rules in heaven laughs, the Lord scoffs at them” (Psalms 2:4).

Our God sees and knows all, and yet He laughs.

I am His daughter, created and fashioned in His very image (Genesis 1:27). Laughter is a part of my design! One of the ways I can imitate God is by practicing and walking in a spirit of laughter. Laughter is a distinguishing mark of a strong godly woman.

Proverbs 31:10, 25 describes this woman. “Who can find a virtuous woman? She is more precious than rubies…She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.”

She can laugh, because she is confident that God is fighting for her (Exodus 14:14).

She can laugh, because she has rejected fear, and has cast every care upon the God who desires to carry her burdens (2 Timothy 1:7, 1 Peter 5:7).

She can laugh, because she is confident of God’s control over all events and circumstances past, present, and future (Isaiah 14:26-27).

She can laugh, because she is confident of God’s everlasting and adoring love for her (Jeremiah 31:3).

She can face tomorrow with a smile, because she knows without doubt that her God and Father will always be working all things together for her good (Romans 8:28).

She can delight, because her future is secure. Her eternal future is being prepared for her. (Psalms 16:5, Psalms 23:6, Jeremiah 29:11, John 14:1-3, Philippians 3:20-21).

She can rejoice, because she will never face condemnation, and can boldly reject every lie, guilty fear, and condemning thought from the enemy (Romans 8:1, 33-34).

She can laugh, because she is assured that her God is always watching over her and His ears are ever attentive to her prayers (Psalms 34:16, Philippians 4:6-7).

She can smile, because she has chosen to turn every wandering or negative thought about herself, her God, or her circumstances and turned them rather towards what is true, real, right, pure and beautiful (Philippians 4:8-9).

She can laugh, because she has been given the gift and privilege of God’s peace and she has embraced it (John 14:27).

She can smile at the future, because her hope is anchored in Christ (Hebrews 6:19-20).

“For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:5-6).

In a recent sermon, our pastor, Matt Cunningham, shared the following challenge: “A Christian woman is not one who puts her hope in her husband, and she’s not one who puts her hope in getting her husband. She is not one who puts her hope in looks, but she’s one who puts her hope in the promises of God…[quotes Prov 31:25]..The future doesn’t make her fearful. The future doesn’t cause her to be afraid. She looks at the future not with anxiety. She looks at the future and she laughs at it. She trusts in God so much, her hope in God is so secure, that she looks at the future, the uncertainty of it, and she laughs at it. Now that is a strong woman! That is a woman who finds her hope and her identity in Jesus Christ alone. She looks away from the troubles and the obstacles of life. She focuses her attention on the sovereign power and love of God. She looks at the one who rules in the heavens and does whatever he pleases. Whose favor is towards her, whose favor is towards her family, and she laughs at the future. How God longs for these kinds of women to be in His church!”

Oh Lord, help this to be true of us, your daughters! May we be known as women of God who laugh at times to come because we are confident in our identity in Christ, and are resting in a firm and unshakeable knowledge of God’s control of all things, including each one of our children, every penny and possession, every moment of our future, every circumstance, and every success or failure.

What beautiful women we can and will be by the power of the Holy Spirit! Who knows how it may impact a watching world around us? I believe without a doubt that they will be attracted to Christ as they witness our joy and confidence in the Lord!

That is the kind of strong woman I want to be!

Footnote: One of the resources that has really helped me through this journey of overcoming fear and my identity struggles, teaching me instead to take my thoughts captive to the obedience to Christ, is Elizabeth George’s Loving God with All Your Mind. I highly recommend this book along with the study guide to take it to a deeper heart level. It really has been life-changing for me. Really useful book for a one-on-one accountability relationship or small group study. 

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Quick & Easy Gyros

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It’s been a beautiful spring around here with a few glorious days of summer peeping through the window with warm weather, roses and iris’ in bloom, and the craving for summer menu ideas, those quick and easy recipes when I don’t want to start sweating in the kitchen cooking over a stove. This adaption to my favorite gyros recipe makes preparation time super quick and simple. I can get this dinner made in 15 minutes! That’s my kind of meal. :) Not truly authentic gyros, but still super yummy and we all love these! It’s a great way to stretch a pound of hamburger, making it pretty frugal too.

SUBSTITUTIONS: If you are gluten free, or following Trim Healthy Mama, layer all the ingredients on a bed of lettuce or a low-carb tortilla instead to make an S meal. I’ve also used goat’s cheese instead of feta.

GYRO MEAT:

1 pound ground beef (preferably grass-fed for highest nutrient value, but I also use Zaycon Fresh ground beef, which are primarily grass-fed)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2-1 teaspoon pepper (season to your taste)

TOPPINGS:

1 cucumber, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
5-6 green onions, chopped
Plain feta cheese, crumbled
1 head of romaine lettuce, chopped
1-2 packs of Mediterranean flat bread or pita bread (We love Trader Joe’s whole wheat flat bread. At other stores, it is often labeled mediterranean greek flat bread.)
Ranch dressing (this replaces the traditional Tzatziki sauce which is a yogurt/cucumber dressing)

For low-carb or Trim Healthy Mama adaption, serve over a bed of lettuce or a low-carb tortilla!

DIRECTIONS:

1. Cook ground beef in a medium frying pan until no longer pink. Crumble ground beef as it cooks. Drain grease if desired, and then add oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper.
2. Prepare other toppings, by slicing or dicing as described.
3. Layer seasoned ground beef on each flat bread (or bed of lettuce, low carb tortilla), followed by feta, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and drizzle ranch dressing over the top. Enjoy!

Serves 5-6 people.

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Three Years…A Little Update From Our Family to Yours

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Wow. Where do I begin? It had been an entire year and then some since I sat down and wrote words on this page. And then I didn’t feel ready yet, so it was saved in the drafts. I started it again last fall, and was all ready to publish, but then felt a check in my spirit once again. Now three years have passed. Three years of resting. Three years of stepping back. Three years of letting go of so many idols and strongholds in my heart, and seeing God move it and transform in ways no words can express. Of letting go and giving God freedom to prune. My eyes were opened to how I had tied so much of my identity into my blog and the approval received here and in my various ministries in our church body. Tis so sweet to see what God can do when you follow His lead in simply letting it all go completely without holding onto what might happen in the future. But it is now time for an update at the very least! :)

2013-2016 have included a new job for Aaron at a local web development firm. Then the courage gained to launch out again in starting his own business in the same field. He has now been running his own business for about one year. It included an awesome vacation with my entire side of the family to Mexico, and multiple trips to the Oregon coast and camping in between. Our little ones have turned 9, 7 & 4, and we have nearly completed another year of homeschooling with my Karis girl in 3rd grade, and my son Titus in 1st grade, and Eden joining in for the ride, and adopting a more flexible Charlotte Mason educational philosophy in our home. We love circle time, studying famous artists and composers, poetry tea times, and lots and lots of read alouds. We are coming up quickly upon our 10th anniversary (in May 2016), and we both turned 30 in the past year! It included finding true community in our church, with a godly mentorship and accountability relationship with another woman, meeting weekly and hashing through my strongholds of identity, anxiety, and performance mentality.

It included a difficult miscarriage in the Spring of 2014…where the physical issues carried on and on. My heart was stripped bare like it had never been done before. But God’s mercy is new every morning, and two more little feet were added to our numbers on March 2, 2015, with the arrival of Helen Shalom (“peaceful light bearer”). She is now one year old!

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These past years I have been experiencing more of God’s peace and trusting in Christ’s finished work on my behalf instead of putting my hope in my performance and striving for His approval through my perfectionistic tendencies.

A few of the lessons learned in brief (stated here for my own remembrance):

1. Never stop investing in your marriage. We are learning to think outside the box, finding creative things to do together on date nights on the town or at home.  But most of all, I’ve learned to stop trying to change my husband. That’s God’s job and not mine. With the embracing of that simple truth, I have found my love increase for this man and just enjoying him for who he is. It’s been beautiful and freeing!

2. Stop being a worrier and become a warrior for God instead. My soul has been meditating on Exodus 14:14 for many moons, “The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace and remain at REST.”

3. Make community a priority. Getting in weekly accountability with other sisters in Christ has been incredibly fruitful. If you want to see growth and freedom, this is one of God’s means of grace.

4. Cease striving and know that He is God. He requires nothing, absolutely nothing, that I bring, but simple faith and believing that He made the perfect performance so that t I wouldn’t have to. Don’t forget the gospel and who you really are in Christ.

5. God makes no mistakes. Even in my past failures, suffering, and business disasters, God has made no mistakes. My life and story to date is not plan B. Even my shortcomings are a gift, pointing me to the strength that God uniquely supplies for me. He has only good in store for you (Jer 29:11). The pain that is right before you is part of the beautiful tapestry He is weaving of our lives.

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God is good.

I’ve been praying a lot about his blog for quite some time now. I have felt a longing in my heart to begin again off and on. But I kept waiting. I honestly don’t know what it will look like from here. So many interests and passions have changed or been tweaked in my life. I no longer soak my grains or am stickler for real food 100% of the time. I still love cooking healthy whole food meals from scratch…but its no longer my top priority. Relationships are far more important. Last year I applied myself to loosing my baby weight and adopted a Trim Healthy Mama lifestyle and really enjoyed that journey and found it effective. I have loosened up in the last few months after reaching my pre-prego weight, but still love experimenting with sugar free desserts! I just hope to post little snip-its here and there of our journey faithfully embracing this simple, ordinary life. I’m going to let if flow naturally as the Lord leads and hold passionately to my boundaries. Maybe a sprinkling of topics on homeschooling (since that takes up most of my life right now ;) , book reviews (since I’m still a huge reader!), sharing recommended resources (my pet peeve is being a researcher!), and simple healthy recipes and home routines. But there won’t be any set schedule. Not sure if there is anyone still listening, but I’ll be waiting on the Lord and see how He leads. :)

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Till We Meet Again…

I have been richly blessed by all the feedback and encouragement I have received since I wrote my announcement early in January about how God has been leading me to take a sabbatical from blogging for an undetermined amount of time. It was a great delight to re-share some of the TOP 10 posts that have been published here over the last five and half years, and to see many more comments come in from ladies blessed again by these words. I hope you were blessed and encouraged and I pray that God will continue to use these simple messy words shared here to bring glory to His name! Be assured that the blog isn’t going anywhere, so you will have full access to all the archives and recipes for your personal use. Please utilize them to your hearts content! I don’t know what the future holds for now, but I’m excited to see what is the next step in this journey that God is taking me on. I will be disabling the comments sometime this weekend. You will still be able to view old comments, we just will not be accepting new comments for the time being, as they require moderation. Thank you for understanding.

Thank you for sharing this space with me and for coming back again and again, and for sharing your life, your heart, your tears, and your encouragement. This has been an amazing experience and I have treasured every moment spent here! Till we meet again – whether here or in eternity! ;) May God richly bless and sustain you and may you strive each and every day to live your life with intentionality for His glory and the furtherance of His kingdom in whatever season of life He has you in! Know that I am here striving to be faithful right along side you though we may be worlds apart!

Pressing on to know the Lord,

Lindsay

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