Activities for kids: structure vs. freeform

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In today’s post, I would like to elaborate a bit on Lisa’s question:

I was wondering how you structure indoor activities. I don’t know if I should expect my children to do quiet or individual activities for longer periods of time, they are 10, 8 and 5 (one girl and two boys). I find they want to be with me or doing things with me all day which I love but I would like them to find settled indoor activities they can do alone. I appreciate any thoughts you may have! 

Like you, I love to sit and do all sorts of interesting and creative stuff with my kids. I can easily lose myself in watercolors, a game of monopoly, a puzzle, or a good book. But how much is enough, and how do I strike the balance between a helicopter mama and the lazy parent who can’t be bothered by anything?

I homeschool and work from home, so the boundaries of work, school and play tend to become kind of blurred. It’s easy to assume that if you’re at home, you must be at leisure, but if I let people (including my own kids) get away with it, I would never be able to get anything done. Therefore, I try to foster independence and individual activities from an early age.

My older girls love to read, draw and paint, which they can do for hours on end. Sticker collections, slime, and modeling clay are popular with the 4-year-old too. Often the older girls will read to or entertain their little brother. Israel also loves construction toys such as Lego or blocks. The kids also do spontaneous dress-up plays together, which is adorable.

I don’t really structure indoor activities beyond making all the equipment – books, art supplies, board games, etc – readily available and keeping them in good order. I just sit back and let things happen. I have taught my children that, although I might be home all day, I’m not always available to play (well, the baby does still have some learning to do on this!). I do not, however, disappear on them – whatever I’m doing, whether it’s in the kitchen or on my laptop, my kids can see me and talk to me if necessary. Hope this helps!

Between the drops

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We’ve had so much rain here lately that I’m seriously considering to go into hibernation mode until it’s all over. I know, I know. It’s unfair to complain about a bit of rain and mud when the country needs water so badly, and when my friends in the northern states and Canada are snowed in, but I do love sunshine with a passion and absolutely need lots of it to feel happy.

In the meantime, we are going on with our indoor diversions of baking, reading and crafts. In the photo above, you can see the cute little throw-on vest I had just completed (the loose ends still need to be tucked in!). It’s made from alpaca wool blend and was a joy to work on. I imagine it would also work great with pure alpaca yarn, such as this lovely yarn from LoveCrochet.

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On a rare sunshiny afternoon, we went for a walk to take some photos of these beauties – almond trees in bloom, the typical local herald of spring.

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And this last one is my favorite – this old stump looked quite dead until new green shoot began to pop up all over it. Now it’s teeming with life. So hopeful!

I hope you are all staying safe and warm and successfully battling cabin fever. Soon enough, it will be time for working in the garden, gathering wild edibles and, perhaps my most dreaded feature of the season, spring cleaning.

Writing with my children

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The exciting day is here! Dragon Diplomacy, my first Middle Grade novel, is available in print and on Kindle, to my immense joy and satisfaction.

Let’s face it, with how little time I have, writing is often a guilty pleasure for me, and I go back and forth a lot on how long I can allow myself to spend it without neglecting my family. This book, however, had a different birth process. It was written with my children’s active contribution, and the reading aloud of each chapter was beautiful family time I can fondly look back on. We also drew the characters and made maps (not included in the book) and thought of ideas for sequels (working on that now).

The most important lessons I learned from writing this book are probably, 1) Kids love dragons, and 2) Kids are a brutally honest audience. My daughters had no qualms to say, “this is boring” or “change the ending”. I followed their advice, of course. What choice did I have? 

And it rained, and rained, and rained

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For the past couple of days, it has been cold, dreary, windy and rainy, and we’ve been shut inside, doing our best to spend our time productively and pleasantly indoors. I started some seeds, did some baking, and went on with my crocheting projects. The little poncho/capelet is coming along nicely.

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I’ve also ordered some yak wool blend, and I’m excited to try it – I’ve never worked with yak wool before, but it sure feels very pleasant to the touch.

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A batch of super simple granola bars, thrown together in 5 minutes, out of the oven in 15 – a healthy snack to keep up our energy in the afternoon.

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A kitty who found the coziest spot on a cold morning. Behind, you can see our crafty center, where we keep all our art supplies, paper, glue, modeling clay, etc.

I look forward to sunny days and puttering around the garden, but in the meantime, there’s so much to be grateful for – for instance, the fact that we repaired the roof and the air conditioning before this last cold and rainy spell.

Under the weather

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Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

It has been windy, rainy, dreary and cold (yes, I can hear you folks in the northern states and Canada laughing all the way to here) and, to top it all off, the kids and I have a nasty cough. I have been up with poor little Hadassah half the night, doing my best to help her cough up phlegm. So today is officially dedicated to being under the blankets, snuggling and nursing her. I’ve put everything else aside. Please remind me to get out of the house when the sun shines again and I can comfortably work in the garden without wearing a jacket.

For now I feel like I’d be more than happy to spend the next couple of months at home, drinking gallons of tea, reading books, baking cookies, doing crafts and playing board games with the kids. I guess it’s probably a matter of time before cabin fever hits, but for now we’re all snug and cozy.

An exciting event I’m preparing for is the release of my first ever children’s book, Dragon Diplomacy, which is going to take place early next year. I actually first wrote this book just for my children’s enjoyment, without the thought of publishing it at all, but it has been such a big hit around here that the girls have been pestering me for a long time, saying “You should publish this, Mom. Everyone will love it.” So I took the leap, did a whole bunch of revision, and am now counting the days till its launch into the world.

Now please excuse me while I grab a tissue and make another cup of tea …

Random ramblings on finances

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This post has been brewing at the back of my mind for a long time, and though it’s going to be long and rambling, I do feel that I need to share it.

Before I was married, my husband and I had it all figured out. We would raise our family in a peaceful rural setting and live a very simple life. We would give up the luxuries and extras that come with a second income in favor of having a stay-at-home mother who is always there for her children.

It worked well enough for a couple of years, but then our family hit a rut of unemployment and under-employment, and our financial situation was further worsened by unfortunate decisions that made us lose a lot of money.

I had become an expert on pinching pennies, buying second hand clothes, frugal cooking and baking, doing all I could to minimize the electric bill. We had a vegetable garden, chickens and goats that provided us with eggs and dairy products, and we gleaned what we could from the wild-growing bounty in our area. We ate through the stockpile we made in better days. We stopped going to weddings and other festive occasions because we couldn’t afford to give the presents in money that people expected. As a matter of fact, we could barely afford the gas to get there and back.

Saving money helped. It helped a lot, and it taught me that it’s actually possible to live, and live well, on an income far below average. But it wasn’t enough.

There comes a point when you just need some cold hard cash to pay your taxes and utility bills and to buy some basic groceries, and no degree of frugality can get you around that one. You need some sort of income… And, at that point, we had none.

I was incredibly frustrated. First off, I spent way too much time griping about how things are not the way they are “supposed” to be. Then, when I began to look about me and see what I can do to bring in some money, I saw flexible and convenient positions opening just a short drive away, but they might as well have been on Mars for all the good it did, because I had no car and no public transportation in the area. I didn’t even have the smooth uninterrupted phone and Internet connection needed for most telecommuting jobs.

I did what I could, of course. I got more serious about my writing, both fiction and nonfiction, approaching it for the first time as more than a hobby. I published and sold books and articles. I began providing editing and proofreading services.

Finally came the move here, which allowed us to cut down on gas and car use, and gave us a roof over our heads (we live in a house that belongs to family). We still retained our own house, and were lucky enough to get very good, responsible renters and a steady trickle of income. I now have a reliable Internet connection, which has enabled me to set myself up as an independent contractor with several translation, transcription and proofreading agencies. I am still right here at home for my children, but I now see I can do a lot more than I thought, and it’s incredibly empowering .

A few insights:

1. Being a wife and mother, and running a home, is a full-time  occupation. I really don’t need anything else to have my hands full, but I realized I can juggle if necessary. If I didn’t have to think about money at all, I would just focus on my family and my fiction writing.

2. Looking back, I would probably think twice before agreeing to live in a location where I would be utterly and completely unable to get anywhere and would depend on my husband for every little errand, including the post office, the doctor and the bank. It eventually led to feelings of extreme frustration and helplessness. Remote rural living in a cheaper area can potentially save a lot of money, but when it comes to making money, you can find yourself stuck with no options.

3. It is no use to sit around and mope about how things should have been, what you could have done differently, what your spouse could have done… Just get up, shake off the dust and move on. I wish I had realized this sooner, and had been more flexible and less dogmatic. It would have saved me a good deal of grief.

So what next? The future is foggy, but things are infinitely better already. We have a steady roof over our heads. We live in a place where we are close to everything we need. And it’s still rustic enough that I can hear roosters crowing every morning. Life is good.

Who is looking for perfection?

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Today, just after the holiest and most awe-inspiring days of the new year, I was so happy to discover this… it’s something I wrote way back, when I was a new mom, and it rings just as true today.

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God is not looking for perfection, and though I always knew this, in my mind, I think that it only began to sink into my heart not so long ago. It cost me a great many tears until I reached this realization, but the reward was infinitely wonderful, because it gives a sense of security and confidence each one of us, as His precious child, deserves.

He is not, and cannot be, looking for perfection, because He did not make me perfect. He left room for improvement, and He delights in, and appreciates the efforts I undertake to improve.

Yes, there is the standard (vast and challenging) set of commandments each practicing Jew sees him or herself committed to. But other than that, He watches and appreciates me according to my own abilities and limitations – not those of other people.

For example, even though I am dedicated to – and know my place is in – my home, with my family, caring for my children, even though I have never been happy and content anywhere the way I am in my home throughout each day, the practical truth is that I’m challenged when it comes to everyday domestic tasks. And I mean, really challenged, which is why, when I say “if I can do it, anyone can”, I mean it most sincerely. I think the reason for this is a combination of natural clumsiness and forgetfulness (I’m prone to knocking things over, and I’d be lost without my notes and lists), and not being required to lend a hand around the house when I was a child, which could have formed helpful lifelong habits (but which undoubtedly would have been frustrating for whoever tried to engage me in helping).

So, if someone stops by one day and examines my house with a critical eye, perhaps some lingering undusted spots may be noticed, and some lack of order. But God doesn’t see this. He knows what my house had been like before, and knows the effort I put in to achieve a certain measure of tidiness. He knows the long hours I spend working in my home every day, long after the baby goes to sleep, scrubbing floors, ironing and working in my kitchen. He knows I do it all with a happy heart, thinking about how to make life more comfortable and orderly for my family. And he appreciates it, even though I might be forever and always lagging behind someone else’s standards.

He doesn’t want or expect us to be perfect. He wants our dedication, our faithfulness to the important tasks handed to us, our willingness to improve, our best efforts, our cheerfulness, our joy in being with Him, our appreciation of the blessings that adorn our lives. And He wants, appreciates and loves us, just the way we are, with our weaknesses, our misconceptions and our failings.

He sees us through eyes of compassion and love, which is how we are to be with our own children: to value and cherish them for what they are, never compare them with others, but celebrate their achievements as they make progress at their own pace. Who knows how many children’s souls have been terribly wounded, not by lack of care or provision, but by constant remarks about some other child, who speaks three languages and plays the violin. Thankfully, God is beyond human failings. Yes, He will never fail us.

We should know that each and every little thing is rewarded, even when it is seemingly noticed and appreciated by no one. He sees, He knows, and that is why pleasing people or measuring up to other people’s standards is not supposed to be our primary goal. He looks at our heart, and may we ever and always be strengthened and comforted by this knowledge.