The Tasks That Smooth My Days

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“Tis the season of activities! Lessons, co-op, soccer for two, dance for four, church, Sunday School…. I’m tired just typing the list! The busyness of the schedule feels chaotic and the days spin by on their own until I don’t know which end is up. Somehow I need to bring sanity to it all.


Sanity has to start with me. When the children are whirling through the house unsettledly, I can’t calm things effectively unless I am calm and settled myself. So I make a point of taking the 5-10 minutes I need to settle my own spirit. I let everyone stay and extra fifteen minutes in their quiet time spaces so I can have an afternoon cup of tea and I try hard to place things around the house to remind me to parent calmly and gently.


Some times of day are harder. Lunch time, the end of afternoon playtime, when we transition from outdoors to in and play to work, the evening when tired, hungry toddlers and preschoolers can no longer cope…these times act as triggers for yelling, fussing, tantruming, and impatience for Mom and children alike. Here I need to be intentional and proactive.

I write the afternoon’s jobs on the board before I call the children in. I try to make sure they’ve at least eaten an apple sometime between lunch and afternoon jobs. I plan to keep the grumpiest children close by and let service dispel the self-centered disappointment over the end of playtime.



I work ahead too, trying to do some chunk of my housework or dinner prep at times when the children are happily occupied. Often this means that dinner prep is done in spurts, a bit while I’m making lunch (meat taken out to thaw or something put in the crockpot), another little bit while I’m making my afternoon cup of tea (it’s amazing how much I can do in the seven minutes it takes the kettle to boil!).

I’ve let go of the concept of working at a large task until it’s done. For one thing that method doesn’t work well with my highly distractible brain, and for another I rarely get more than twenty minutes to work at something. Instead I keep a running list of projects and pick a couple to work on each day.  Ten-twenty minutes of concentrated work can actually accomplish quite a lot and I don’t feel as if my task is never ending.

I keep a running “to-do” list and remind myself that it is a RUNNING list. I expect to cross off a few things and add a few things and that’s OK. Some weeks I cross off a great number of small tasks and some weeks….I don’t, but having the list frees me from having to remember all that needs to be done.

I try hard to notice the moments of calm, even when they only last for sixty seconds and to point them out to the children. If we don’t recognize calmness and peace, then we don’t know what we are working towards and I find it all too easy for the chaos moments to run right over the peaceful ones, obliterating them from our memories.

These practical steps and intentional attitude adjustments keep us going, and little by little we reclaim the crazy moments as moments of living fully.

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Finding His Conscience

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Lately the four year old, Jack, has been becoming very distraught when told he did something naughty. There have been tears and tantrums, and throwing toys over consequences like sitting for four minutes that he used to just calmly do.

We’ve had a fair number of new things lately so I thought he was reacting to those. Several mornings of doing stuff that doesn’t involve “his best Mama” was stretching him (as I intended it too) and I thought he was just a bit emotional. Certainly his declarations of “I’m just a boy who needs his mama.” would seem to indicate some self- recognition that he needed to anchor himself. Or did it?

Today was grey and cold so I lit candles on the mantel in the living room. Wide, stable pillars that will burn for hours, well up out of the reach of little hands. This is normal for fall and winter here, and I don’t even recall that I said anything to him about not touching other than to remind everyone not to leave a stool or chair where Daisy could climb up and touch (I’m not even sure she’s noticed them, actually).

After supper Jack came into the kitchen and informed me in a proud but sheepish way that he “could touch fire and not be burned”.

“Did you mess with the candles?”


“That was very naughty and you will have to sit for a long time. ” (which means six minutes instead of four, plenty long to him!”)

Oh, the heartbroken wailing!

I knew he was low on sleep after a long weekend so I asked if he needed to go to bed instead?


So I carried him up and calmed him down so I could “hear about his day” and at that point I suddenly understood.

He’s reached the beginning of being accountable for his actions. His conscience had told him not to touch, he’d touched anyway and now he felt like his relationship with Mama was all messed up!

So we talked. I explained what his conscience was and how when he did things his conscience told him not to, he then was upset because he knew he’d been naughty and his relationship was messed up. We talked about asking for forgiveness and about how right now he’s just accountable to me and Papa but that in a few years he’ll be big enough to also understand how naughtiness breaks his relationship with God and then he’ll be big enough to go to confession.

I’m not sure how much he got, but he was a much happier boy after apologizing and being forgiven and came down and sat nicely for his minutes with his conscience clear!



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Three Soups…One Ham Bone!

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It must be fall. All of a sudden, we are eating soup again, and the oven is doing double duty as a house heater and cooking device (I will confess to having turned on the heat for an hour or two a couple of times).

I’ve been shopping at Aldi lately, and the other week bought one of their bone-in, smoked, hams.  These are a good deal for us, and I’ve been putting it to many uses.

The day after I bought it I sliced the meat from the bone and put together three bags of slices for sandwiches or frying. Two went into the freezer and one into the fridge to be used for the week’s sandwiches (I pack lunches for everyone on co-op day and on gym day so that we can eat in the car on the way home and not end up with starving, cranky, children). I also put the bone in the freezer for later use, along with a bag of scraps that weren’t really good for sandwiches.

This week I pulled out the bone and put it in the crockpot to turn into broth on Tuesday morning.

S had cooked a quart and a half of white beans over the weekend and put them in the fridge, so for supper on Tuesday night we had ham and white bean soup, with the broth and the little bits of meat that had fallen off the bone during the day. I used about a pint and a half of the beans along with the ham broth, some dried fried onions (like the kind that go on top of green bean casserole) that had been hanging out in the pantry for a while (because I was TOTALLY out of actual onions) and seasoned the pot with salt, pepper, Spanish smoked paprika, Chipotle, Ancho, and a dash of Cayenne to make a dish that was warm with a hint of smoke and spice. A pot of soup and a baking sheet of rolls made a lovely meal.

I put more water on the ham bone and simmered it overnight to provide more broth for Butternut Squash Soup.

This required cooking two butternut squashes (rinse them off, poke holes in them, and put them on a tray in the oven at 450 until they are soft (about an hour). Let cool, peel, discard seeds and mash.)

The squash went into the pot along with the ham broth (about a quart), the rest of the white beans, Oregano, smoked Paprika, dried fried onions, parsley, Chipotle, and Cayenne.  I was out of roll dough so we had a pan of biscuits instead and not a scrap of food was left.

Back the bone went into the pot, along with some bits of fat from the ham I had pulled for sandwiches. I made another batch of broth and S started some more beans, little red kidneys instead of white beans for some variety!

Last night’s supper was: ham broth, red beans, finely chopped ham, a can of corn, the last of the fried onions, and spices (cumin, rosemary, parsley, chipotle, smoked paprika, salt, and pepper).



Along with it I made cornbread, pouring a drizzle of local maple syrup over it when I took it out of the oven. The soup came out a bit spicier than I had intended so the children added milk to their servings to back the heat off a bit.

The ham bone is completely used up at this point. The marrow disintegrated into the broth and I’ve thrown the bone away. I’m pretty pleased though, three meals with an average cost of >$10 is awfully nice when feeding this crowd!



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Free Time or Free For All?

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Free time is an enormous benefit if homeschooling. Play and creative endeavor help make children well rounded and are an important part of the “whole child” approach to education. By providing ample free time I am giving my children the chance to use their knowledge, to experiment with activities and with their reactions to things working or not working and to grow. Most of the time free time is a wonderful gift and a treasure.

Sometimes though, free time can become a source of conflict, boredom, and discontent. It can really be counter-productive to character formation as the children come to see free time as their right and all other uses of time (lessons or chores) as annoying intrusions. Bad attitudes develop and mom is left wondering what is going on.

Often the children are also feeling frustrated with their available time as they try to decide what they should do, or drift aimlessly about the house and yard without settling to some play or creative endeavor.

One of the things I desire to teach my children is the wise use of time, and I find that a relatively easy thing to do during school hours or at chore-time. Then lessons and chores are complete and I turn them loose expecting them to make good use of their free time but without offering the guidance necessary to help them use their time wisely and feel within themselves that they have used it wisely. When I see the evidence of a poor use of time in bad attitudes I correctly identify free time as being part of the problem, but instead of offering training I often just cut back on free time or give other consequences.

How do I guide the children into using time well, while still keeping free time an open ended block of time to learn, explore and play?

First of all, I have to model it. When I sit in front of the computer or spend my afternoon on Facebook , or even reading an actual book, I am not showing the children how I discipline myself  to enjoy the things I enjoy but not let them become a huge focus of my life.  When I grumble about having to clean the house or cook supper when I would rather please myself I should not be surprised when they also grumble when asked to put their pleasures aside and serve and love the family.

Secondly, I need to instruct the children on the dangers of too much of a good thing. Around here we talk about “brain candy” a good bit; the books and games that we enjoy but which don’t engage us in ways that help us grow. These activities are like candy for our minds and spirits. A moderate amount is good, but too much gives a mental and/or spiritual stomachache (which generally shows itself as a bad attitude or a diminished ability to do good work)

Thirdly I find that having more frequent but shorter periods of free time is better than a whole afternoon to do whatever they want. Following times of sitting and doing things alone with times of being active and together also helps considerably. So “nap time” only lasts an hour and a half, and the half hour afterwards is spent running and playing outside. Those two hours of free time are followed by a time of working on some household project together, then another little block of free time, followed by evening chores. If evening chores are finished before supper, there may be more free time, but that time is clearly the natural reward of hard work and so tends to be appreciated and used well.

I do give some guidelines for the use of free time- giving options that include creativity or nonfiction reading most days for “nap time” as that helps keep the children from focusing only on their own pleasures.

Finally I try hard to notice and comment on the good uses of time that I see and the good transitions from free time to lessons or chores. This is difficult for me as I am very much focused on accomplishing the goals for the day and have to make myself stop and admire the creations or say something to the child bustling at jobs.

Slowly I am seeing an improvement in the use of time and the attitudes that go along with our various activities. My hope is that as habits are built of creativity and productivity and holding time precious that the children will grow to neither squander or hoard it but instead spend it freely doing the things they have been created and called to do.



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Five Ways to Help Struggling Writers

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We’ve all had it happen. Your students enthusiastically read the material but when it comes time to write about what they’ve read, there are blank stares, sighs, dawdling, and sometimes tears! What happened?

Last night while they were supposed to be clearing the table they couldn’t stop telling Dad all about the discovery of the importance of sterile fields in medicine…

“Can you believe it? People thought that meat just spontaneously grew maggots!”

Put a piece of paper in front of them and give them a sharp pencil and suddenly they can’t remember a thing!

Don’t give up.  Learning to write is complicated and feels overwhelming to many children.  Take your time, be patient and they will learn who to takes the words out of their heads and put them on paper.

Here are a few things I find to help with that process:

1. Start with dictation early. Even preschoolers love to tell stories, so have them tell you a few sentences. Write the sentences as they speak. You can have them draw illustrations and you can point out certain words, or the capitals and punctuation, but the really important thing is to get them telling things in order.

2. Don’t expect an early elementary aged student (1st-4th or 5th grade) to be able to think of what to say, write, and remember how to spell, punctuate etc. all at once. Keep letting them dictate to you, with you writing for the first couple of years. At some point you can transition to writing what they dictate on the blackboard and having them copy it into their books.

Dictation from the older two for their history notebooks. The teacher clearly needs lines drawn on the board!

Dictation from the older two for their history notebooks. The teacher clearly needs lines drawn on the board!

3. Write often, even if it’s just a couple of sentences. Each morning the children have to write a few sentences about the history they read the day before. Sometimes this turns into a couple of paragraphs, sometimes it’s just a brief highlight. History is a subject we do across grades so the second grader dictates to me and the fifth and sixth graders write their own sentences.

4. Provide a word bank. I find this particularly helpful for science writing or for history when there are unfamiliar names or other vocabulary. Having to stop to figure out spelling interrupts the flow of thought, so simplifying that by providing the words that might be tricky keeps the words coming.

Word bank for science on ways to defend oneself against bacteria.

Word bank for science on ways to defend oneself against bacteria.


5. Ask leading questions to get the ideas flowing. Good questions lead to good writing because they make the writing more interesting. Instead of asking “Who did you read about?” ask “Why was Louis Pasteur’s work important to the study of bacteria? or How did he prove that germs caused diseases?” Why and How questions tend to be more interesting that simply retelling the facts and a higher level of interest helps the students to want to write and explain.

Above all, be patient. Let your students know that writing is important to you, and that it is something that you will help them develop and grow into. Use your judgement about grading. It is sometimes better to give a student a “well done for effort” with some gentle corrections on usage, than to give a grade that makes them feel their hard work was pointless.

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Mom Has A School Uniform Too!

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6:00 am

Sitting on the bed, drinking a cup of tea, and thinking about the plan for the day.

I woke the children up a few minutes ago and now Buggle, stumbles past on the way to the bathroom where he left his school pants last night.

School pants?

He’s homeschooled, isn’t he?

Yes, but the children wear uniforms on school days, during school hours.

Navy blue or khaki bottoms (pants for the boys, and these wonderful uniform skirts with built in shorts for Mouse!) and a polo shirt, or a cotton button down shirt or blouse.



We’ve done it for a few years now. Actually, as I look back through the archives it seems we’ve been wearing school uniforms since Jack was a baby! It helps everyone to be focused on lessons as our primary work for the day. It cuts down on the “what do I wear?” questions in the morning which helps our morning dressing and chores to run more smoothly. We run less laundry as school uniforms can generally be worn for a couple of days in a row, and play clothes can be grubby (and therefore worn for a couple of days) since we don’t wear them anywhere that looking clean and tidy matters.

Errand running gets school uniforms as we are much less likely to get questions when the children look like they are supposed to be in school (I wonder if people just assume that we are coming from a doctor’s appointment or if it’s just that school children in uniforms during the day is such a normal sight here that my children sort of fade into the background? (if that’s the case it’s the only time they ever do!!).

Extra curricular activities get school uniforms too (which means that today Buggle took his pants off at noon and ran them through the laundry so he had a clean pair of pants for choir practice this evening, as he only has one pair right now due to an tripping and ripping out the knees on the other pair last week) since dressing neatly shows respect for the teacher and classmates of your chosen activity.

This year I’m joining them in a “mom uniform”!

I stumbled across a couple of skirts in khaki and blue at the thrift store the other day, and I have polos and button down shirts. So now I put on my skirt and top every morning and am “dressed for school”. My clothing shows that I am ready to get down to business and that I respect my students and our mutual task of learning.

When school is over I often change into jeans, although some days I stay in a skirt if we are going to go out for some reason.

What about you? What are the things that you do to show that lessons and learning are important “work times”?

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Rotations (or how to harness ADHD for housekeeping)

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A few years ago someone casually mentioned to me that if they had to stick a “label” on me it would definitely be ADHD!

I got to thinking about it and found that I am much more productive (and therefore happier) when I approach projects from a “I am only going to work on this for fifteen to twenty minutes” starting point. At about the point that focus starts to wane, my timer rings and I’m done! Awesome! Check it off and move on.

But what about the jobs that really need more time? Housekeeping is notorious for those and I get super stressed even thinking about them.

Enter the Rotation System.

Five days a week..

Four tasks a day..

Fifteen/Twenty minutes apiece!

Pretty straight forward when I’m talking about the public rooms of the house (Living Room, Dining Room, Kitchen, and Bathrooms). They get picked up and swept every day anyway as part of the 20-30 minutes General Tidy so they can only get so bad, even when we’ve had a weekend of in and out, and people dumping things.


But the basement?

It’s a dumping spot! And a playroom and I don’t go down there very often so it both looms large in my mind (a never ending project) and it gets worse and worse.


Basement Toy Area

Basement Laundry Area

Basement Sewing Area

are on the Rotation for Tuesdays.

And after three weeks of giving each of those areas FIFTEEN MINUTES ONCE A WEEK, I can see that another three weeks will probably give us neatness since we are already at “usable space that needs some straightening and tidying” rather than ” enormous pile of unknown provenance”!

In fact it is SO much better that I sneaked down to the sewing area twice today to just do another ten minutes of straightening.

And the Tool Room and Freezer Room? Took me under ten minutes total to straighten today.  Two weeks ago it was impossible to walk across either room.

Bull starts the process of "removing foreign objects" by picking up every thing that isn't trash and sticking it in a bin for  later sorting.

Bull starts the process of “removing foreign objects” by picking up every thing that isn’t trash and sticking it in a bin for later sorting.

Three weeks into the scheme I’m finding the work actually gets done because I don’t dread it, since I know I’m looking at an hour of work at four similar but different tasks! So much easier for my focus and mood and so much better for working with the children to keep our spaces clean and neat.

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The Last Week

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End of August and time to finish all the projects that have gone unfinished! The painting of the downstairs is completed except for the bathroom and the little side entry alcove. Can’t decide what to do there so we’ll leave it until next year. The schoolroom got a fresh coat of paint too, and cabinets along one wall for storage. Hopefully the blackboards and bulletin boards will get hung this weekend and it will all be ready for us by next Tuesday.


Working the plan


This week I have one major project to complete, two service people to schedule, a couple of church meetings, a bunch of printing and organizing for school and co-op and hopefully a couple of expeditions!



Finish assembling and moving bunk beds around. This is halfway done since we started last night. The boys’ twin over full is out of the house (to be picked up by a friend later this week), the twin over twin that was in the girls’ room has been disassembled and moved into the boys’ room, and mostly reassembled. The new twin over twin for the girl’s room is awaiting assembly.

Clean up everyone’s bedroom and drawers and hang bulletin boards in both bedrooms.

Put the bedroom doors back on that Buggle and I removed last night when we were attempting to move the halves of the bunk bed without disassembling them. It didn’t work- 29 inch door ways just won’t accommodate 30 inch bed heads!

Do our Fifteen Minute Four Room Rotation (Dining Room, Living Room, Kitchen, Bathrooms). Plus one room from Wednesday’s rotation since hopefully we’ll be out of the house that day!


Finish organizing the schoolroom

Print stuff for school/ co-op

Make phone calls – schedule the tree work in the front yard and a chimney inspection/ cleaning, register four children for a combination gym and swimming lessons class at the YMCA, go past the pediatricians office and pick up Jack’s physical for preschool.

Attend Parish Council meeting in order to offer some input to the appointment of a new priest.

Fifteen Minute/ Four a Day Rotation for Tuesday (Porch, Basement Toy Area, Laundry Area, Sewing Area) and one from Wednesday’s Rotation.



Daisy can now wear a floatie so we’re going to go get one beach day in on the Long Island Sound in Rhode Island. I’m hoping to leave about 8 am so we can be there by 10 am when the beach opens and spend the day.


Keep working on organizing and printing stuff for school/co-op. I’m trying to have everything for the semester printed and filed before we start so there aren’t any holdups due to my not being prepared!

Visit Jack’s preschool and meet his teacher! He’s just going two mornings a week, but I think it is going to be so good for him to have something that none of the big kids do too.

Fifteen Minute/ Four a Day Rotation (Trash Area, Yard, Project Table, Bookshelves) plus one from Wednesday.

Soccer practice for Buggle (and maybe Bull, I haven’t heard from his coach yet so I’m not sure).


Finish the Schoolroom (we start Tuesday so I could do some stuff on Monday but I’m hoping to just have a family day then).

Go to Bible Study, run any errands that need running.

Fifteen Minute/ Four a Day Rotation (Schoolroom, Master Bedroom, Boys’ Room, Girls’ Room) and the last room from Wednesday’s rotation.


Boys have soccer practice.

Girls and I are hopefully going to go to a town wide yard sale nearby.

Hopefully we’ll get the blackboards and bulletin board hung in the schoolroom.


What’s your plan?




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Something for Mom

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Just 72 hours before the children and I leave for our annual trip to Virginia and the HEAV Convention! 

I’m working on putting together packing lists, lists of meals to prepare while we’re traveling and of course shopping lists for next year’s studies!

One of the areas that I want to be sure not to neglect is my own continuing education. I need to find materials to read and study that will help and encourage me in this homeschooling journey.

I’m looking for books in a couple of different categories:

High School and College: At this point I don’t know if we’ll homeschool for high school or not, but with a rising 6th grader this year I need to start educating myself on what’s available. I’m looking for guides to curriculum, information about keeping a transcript, and dual enrollment (one of my goals for example is for Mouse to take an EMT course in her high school years as part of discerning whether she should enter the medical field).


Mouse was fascinated by the medical displays- she touched a lung and listened to a baby with different kinds of breathing and heart issues!

Mouse was fascinated by the medical displays- she touched a lung and listened to a baby with different kinds of breathing and heart issues!

Special Needs: I’m looking for two kinds of materials here; books I can loan out and books for my own education and thinking processes. On that list are Judi Munday’s books on homeschooling special needs including her new book which should be arriving from the printer right to the convention.

Books For Encouragement: A few years ago I bought a couple of Heidi St. John’s books and found them very helpful. This year I’m looking for books on thriving as a homeschool mom as well as books about rhythm and routine in the household.

MP3’s: I’m going to go ahead and purchase the convention recordings and make a point of listening to them. I’m not planning to attend any workshops this year. The preschooler and the toddler tend to be distracting and I don’t think I’ll be able to pay attention. Instead I’m going to put an hour of continuing education per week on my schedule this fall and listen through the workshops. Plus having the recordings will give me material to loan out as well!

So tell me: What books do you recommend? What have you found encouraging, enlightening and challenging in this homeschool journey?

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Fewer Words, More Slowly

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Lately I’ve been noticing a worrisome trend around here. We have a lot going on as is typical for the end of the school year; special events, birthdays, annual doctor visits, and dentist appointments all seem to come within a three week span! As a result there is a great deal of needing to hurry and get out the door, hurry and get the regular jobs done, hurry and finish the last school assignments and a lot of children being tired of going places and not feeling much like hurrying.

Of course Mama is not real fond of all this going either and finds some of it downright stressful and there are clashes. Children dawdle, Mama fusses, children sometimes get moving and sometimes fuss back and on it goes.

But lately I’ve been noticing that part of the problem is almost certainly the number and speed of the words that pour forth from all of us (but particularly me) all day!

It’s not atypical for a conversation with a child to go something like this:

“Did you start the laundry?”


“Why not?”

“I was walking in circles.”

“You are wasting time, we could be doing such and such now, I really need you to focus and get your jobs done so we have time to do other things we want to do! You have to choose to focus……”

At some point I wind down and the child goes off to complete the job.

It’s not a good interaction. And it doesn’t actually result in the children being more motivated to do their work quickly.

I’ve fallen into this trap before. I love words and some part of me keeps thinking that if I could only explain well enough (or enough times) the children would suddenly “get it” and we wouldn’t have anymore dawdling! Of course, this isn’t true in the least:  they are children and learning to work diligently is something that I know they must develop over the course of their childhood as they mature.

Then too, no one ever learned anything by being nagged about it (!) and I fall too quickly into that nagging pattern, driving us all nuts and harming our relationships. I start to feel like all I do is scold, which must mean the children are exceptionally naughty when really the issue is my interaction and the way I am reacting to their dawdling and our busyness.

I’ve actually learned this lesson before (I thought!) and written about it here and here but it seems I need a reminder.

So I’ll be writing “Fewer words, Slower” on the whiteboard in the kitchen as a reminder and apologizing to the children for my fussing the past couple of weeks. I’ll be applying consequences as needed calmly and with few words.

“You are dawdling, I am assigning an extra job so you can practice working.”

I know this will result in a more peaceful home.

“Lord, set a watch over my lips.”


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