The Sabbath in a Time of COVID-19

For the last 6 months my church congregation has not met traditionally because of the lockdowns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. In the coming weeks and months we are anticipating starting to hold more regular meetings – even if it still looks different than it had been. Before we go back to these more normal settings I wanted to record some of my thoughts and feelings on what I’ve learned about the Sabbath and church over the last six months.

I will start with a description of what our Sundays looked like pre-lockdown and post-lockdown. I have a feeling that even after all of these lockdowns finish church might never go back to being the same as it was before. I’m hoping that there are things that we’ve learned from this experience that will help us to make our church attendance even more meaningful in the future, so I want to record now what it has been so I can remember in the future.

Pre-Lockdown Sabbath

Ok, so this picture is from my brother’s wedding and outside the temple rather than outside a church building, but you get the idea πŸ˜›

This year our ward met at 10:30am (which is my favorite time for church, I’m really ticked that COVID has robbed us of so many months of that meeting time). Each Sunday morning I would need to get all 6 of us showered, dressed, hair done, fed, diaper bag packed, lessons prepared, shoes on and everyone in the car by about 10:20am.

Since my husband rarely gets up before 9am (and I try to avoid traipsing the kids in and out of our bathroom while he sleeps) the whole rigamorole had to happen in less than an hour and a half. I would try frequently to get as much organized on Saturday night to avoid the scramble, but most Sundays still found us sliding in a little late and a lot frazzled just before the sacrament if we were lucky… just after it if we weren’t.

Sacrament meeting was frequently spent trying to keep our 2 year old reasonably reverent and the kids quietly occupied with coloring or snacks in the hope that my husband or I could glean a little bit from the 3+ talks in the meeting. I have the rule that no distractions come out until after the sacrament, and that if I have to take a child into the hall they don’t get any freedom to move around. I try to be careful not to reward misbehaving in sacrament meeting with the freedom to play in the halls. Although a lot of what I’ve written about deals more with discipline, I really did enjoy those sacrament meetings. Even when I couldn’t pay full attention to every second of the talks I pretty much always walked away with a few moments that touched my heart and had a message for me personally. Attending sacrament meeting always was a boost for my week and well worth the hassle of bringing my circus to it.

For second hour my husband would head off to Sunday School (he’s our ward’s Sunday School president), my older 3 would head off to primary, and I would go to nursery with our youngest (my current calling is as a nursery leader). I have the younger class of nursery kids so our main goal was to minimize crying for the full hour πŸ˜› We would squeeze in a super brief lesson and have some fun with singing time, but primarily the kids played with toys and I would chat with my partner and the other parents that were trying to acclimate their kids to nursery.

I love little kids so I don’t totally mind being in the nursery but I really miss attending Relief Society. I like Sunday School well enough, but I miss Relief Society. Having the opportunity to connect with the other women in my ward is something my soul needs more than the discussions in Sunday School. It has helped at least to have another teacher that I enjoy visiting with and that we have lots of parents that end up staying around to help their kids acclimate to nursery – but it’s not the same. When I was growing up I probably would have thought that was crazy but I cannot adequately express how grateful I am for the organization of the Relief Society. Not just for the Sunday meetings but just for the unity of sisters and the support system we have. I love being a member of the Relief Society.

Having been in nursery since my oldest was in nursery (my youngest is the only one who has been good at going to nursery on his own… so of course he’s the one that I was called to be a nursery leader for :P) I have to say that I super appreciated the change from the 3 hour block to the 2 hour block for nursery kids. It’s SO much easier to keep nursery kids happy for 1 hour than 2 – not just half as easy, like 100x easier. I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to serve and I’m really grateful for the friends that I’ve made connections with as a nursery leader.

After church we would gather everyone back up, drive home, and eat lunch. By the time lunch was over I was typically EXHAUSTED and as much as I would try to stay awake I almost always would fall asleep for most of the afternoon while my husband took care of the kids. Then it was time to make dinner and feed everyone. In the evenings we would sometimes do games as a family, or go outside, or just leave everyone to their own devices. Then bedtime as usual and that’s our Sabbath.

Lockdown Sabbath

When the lockdowns started we began doing virtual “church” with my family. We would meet for about an hour on Zoom with my parents, grandparents, some of my siblings, and a rotating selection of friends from my parents’ ward that could use a group to meet with. For the first couple of months we assigned out talks and tried to make it like a sacrament meeting. About halfway through we switched to making it more of a Sunday School lesson and had a less structured Come Follow Me discussion with a song and a prayer on either side. The Come Follow Me style was much more successful and we wish we had done that from the beginning, but you live and learn πŸ™‚

My bunch all dressed up for church at home, with the 2yo holding our speaker phone πŸ˜›

Our virtual “church” meetings have had different start times but mostly between 11am and 1pm. I have still insisted that my kids get dressed nicely for church – however shoes have not been required. It was actually funny the first time we were able to attend a sacrament meeting with our ward again because I hadn’t realized that my kids had all grown out of their church shoes – oops! It has been much more leisurely getting ready for these meetings – particularly knowing that if someone still has wet hair, no shoes, is still eating some toast etc. they can still participate in church. With the extra time/reduced stress I’ve found that I’ve been better able to do some personal Come Follow Me study before church. I’ve gotten SO much more out of our meetings and my scripture study in general with just that little bit of study time before church. After our services ended our family would hang out on Zoom for a little while showing off whatever we were working on – gardening projects, my brother’s chickens & puppy, my dad’s woodworking, my nephews’ new squishamellows etc. It’s been fun to have a few minutes to just connect with family since we all live far apart.

We’ve had permission from our church leaders to administer the sacrament in our home. So after we finished socializing with family we would gather the kids back up on the couches and my husband would bless the bread and water and distribute it to each of us. It’s my 2yo’s favorite thing, he’s always asking us to do “prayers on bread? prayers on water?”. Even though he refuses to eat the bread, he gets SO excited to drink the water.

We found that our little multicolored Ikea cups fit nicely in our little muffin tins and so we’ve had the sacrament cups in muffin tins and the bread on a plate. I will say that I will have a hard time getting used to tiny pieces of bread and tiny cups for the sacrament again after having a 1/6th of a slice of bread and a decent drink of water each week! Distributing the sacrament to just 6 people doesn’t take very long so I instituted that after the sacrament we would do 2 minutes of meditation. That sounds fancier than it is, I just required my kids to sit quietly and take deep breaths for 2 minutes. I just wanted to still maintain a sense of reverence and pondering with our sacrament even though we didn’t have to wait for anyone else.

I found that without the anchor of church my kids had made Sunday just a play day so I instituted a new rule for our family. No friends or electronics (besides Veggie Tales/Animated Scripture videos) until 3pm. Yes, it was a super arbitrary rule but my kids needed a line of demarcation to make Sunday feel different from any other day besides the Sunday dress and the <1 hour of Zoom church. To be honest it was more of a limitation on quantity of electronics time than anything else – my kids could easily play on electronics ALL DAY and I wanted them to stop and find other things that were positive that they could do.

I’ve actually really liked this rule for our family. I like that I’m not saying NO electronics or friends, just that they need to first focus on church things. We’ve also for a long time had the rule that they can play with friends if those friends are already outside on Sunday but they cannot knock on doors and lure friends out. I didn’t want my kids interfering with other families’ sabbath day observation. I’d always felt like this was a really dumb rule until I was sitting with a group of moms in my neighborhood and discovered that most of them had a similar rule in place- great mom minds think alike!

I still will frequently nap after church but I don’t have the same level of exhaustion that I would come home from church with. I don’t know how much of that was just a Pavlovian response to coming home from church. However, my Sunday naps are really just a tool for me to catch up on sleep from the week so you wouldn’t think that attending church would affect it either way. I like going to bed at the same time as my husband even though he stays up later than I should and gets to sleep in at least an extra hour every morning than I do and I’m the one who is up with the 2yo in the middle of the night. The cumulative sleep deficit between us by Sunday is at least 7 hours – so that nap is a good way to reset to be ready for the week. However my favorite thing to do is to institute “Early Bedtime Sunday” where in lieu of taking a nap I go to bed at like 9pm (instead of 12am-2am) and consider that my “nap”… and let it roll into a full night’s sleep. For awhile I’d convinced my kids that Early Bedtime Sunday was an exciting thing but they don’t buy it anymore πŸ˜›

Sunday evenings and dinners haven’t really changed that much. However we have more frequently done virtual family activities like JackBox games with our extended family.

Things I’ve Learned

Obviously in a lot of ways our Sundays haven’t been all that different either before or after the lockdowns. Our desire to avoid commercial activity has remained the same, trying to make it a family day has been the same and our focus on the Savior has been the same. However the ways it has been different has been enlightening to me and I thought I would share some of the things that have stuck in my mind.

Sabbath Attire

The most interesting thing to me has been to see how I personally have treated getting dressed for Sunday services. Since I was a little girl General Conference has been my FAVORITE because we could wear our pajamas to church! I’m not one for loving to get dressed up all the time so you would think that home church during lockdown would have been the perfect opportunity to just stay happy in my PJs while feasting on the word of God. However, I have put on a dress for church every single Sunday of the lockdown. Before lockdown I would probably have told you that I dress up for church mostly because of societal expectations, wanting to conform etc. However I recognized that just that small shift of what I was wearing changed my mindset towards feelings of reverence and respect. My attire may just be an outward symbol but it means something to me about the respect with which I approach the day.

My kids watching conference together, aren’t they the cutest?

However I also realized that this won’t change how I approach General Conference. Even though by all accounts General Conference should inspire even greater reverence, I approach General Conference the way that I would approach a movie marathon. Ten hours of soaking up the words of the apostles and prophets calls for stretchy pants and snacks! I know it sounds backwards, but attending those meetings in my pajamas is part of how I show respect for them. The pajamas are part of the feeling of conference for me – cozy, at home, wrapped in the word of God – when I get dressed up it feels like any other Sunday. Obviously for the times I’ve been able to attend conference in person I’ve done everything to be dressed appropriately for the venue. However, at home I need to be in pajamas, with my laptop, a blanket and something yummy to munch on so that I can be fully engrossed in the learning at hand.

Reverence

It’s also been interesting to see that my focus during church time for my kids shifted from reverence via silence to reverence via participation. In sacrament meeting with so many people meeting together it was most important that my kids weren’t distracting others. Bring on the fruit snacks and coloring books! In a virtual meeting I can mute our family easily so that I’m less concerned about their volume and more concerned that they’re getting something out of the meeting. It’s caused me to reflect on what things I bring to church for my kids – are they meant to help them focus or keep them distracted? And how can I balance the two needs? Obviously my kids need to not disrupt the quiet of the meetings, but how can I instill in them a desire to be attentive and not just tuned out?

The Individual Nature of the Sacrament & Atonement

In a typical sacrament meeting the ordinance is performed for the masses – a whole congregation with probably 200+ people in attendance. While I still take the sacrament individually the prayers are said just once and the distribution happens on a large scale. However one week while we were in lockdown my husband and I were on a getaway by ourselves in a hotel room. We partook of the sacrament and when he said the blessing on the bread and on the water it was just for the two of us. It really felt like the sacrament was being done just for me. The sacrifice of our Savior felt so intimate and personal. Yes, He died for everyone, but He also died for ME. He took upon Himself the pains and sins and struggles of ME. He cares about our whole ward, but He also cares about my little 6 person family. The production value of our at home sacrament service with muffin tins and Ikea cups might not be the highest, but the personal connection between the Atonement and me has never been stronger.

Gratitude for the Priesthood

On the topic of partaking the sacrament at home – I have never been more grateful to be married to a faithful priesthood holder. As the lockdowns started I watched several of my friends of other Christian faiths lament the loss of the opportunity to receive communion. I don’t think there has been a single week since the beginning of the lockdown that I haven’t been able to renew my baptismal covenants with my Heavenly Father. In fact, I have probably missed the sacrament LESS during lockdown than before because it was impossible to be late for the sacrament when my family would wait for me to start. I am so grateful to be a member of the Church where priesthood power is not reserved only for a few but is shared freely with every worthy man who is willing to live righteously and serve others.

It has also made me very grateful for a church with no paid clergy. Certainly ministers in other churches do not go into the profession for the money, but I’ve been especially grateful that my church leaders weren’t motivated to push boundaries and pressure people to come to meetings because their livelihood was jeopardized otherwise. This has given me great confidence as things have slowly been restarted that the decisions are being made solely for the interest of the congregants and not influenced by the amount of money in the collection tray. That’s not meant as a jab at ministers and priests in other churches – goodness knows I’ve watched so much of the pro bono service in my own congregations and thought “so-and-so deserves a salary!” It’s just been interesting to see other churches scramble to find ways to get back together while watching members of my own church take a step back and a deep breath, then redirect their efforts towards personal ministries rather than pushing to get back to the church building.

Church as a Social Activity

Filipino women participating in ministering.

The final thing that has been an interesting discovery for me is how much attending church – with the exception of the actual ordinance of the sacrament – for me is really a social activity more than anything else. A few months into the lockdowns our ward began sacrament meetings again that are shorter, physically spaced out within the chapel and require masks. We were permitted to attend every other week based on which half of the alphabet our last name was in. Our family attended the first week we were able to go but after that decided that we were better fulfilled by partaking of the sacrament in our home. The value for us of being IN church is the other people! It’s the opportunity to talk with other people about their struggles and share our burdens and work together. It’s the chance to smile at someone, give them a hug, and see how they’re doing. The talks in sacrament meeting are great, but I have every general conference talk for 40+ years that I can listen to online in addition to podcasts, scriptures, books… I don’t need to attend sacrament meeting to enhance my gospel study. But I need church for the support and structure that it gives to me and my family.

I think before this experience I would have been totally affronted by someone suggesting that church was a social experience rather than a spiritual one. However now I understand it differently. The social aspect IS the spiritual aspect. We attend church to renew our covenants, but that can happen in 10 minutes. We could administer the sacrament through a drive-thru and it would have the same effect. But church gives us the opportunity to LIVE those covenants. We can mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. Church is where we are given the chance to lift the hands that hang down and strengthen the feeble knees. Church lets us not only hear the word of God but help teach it to one another in our classes. Plus, it gives other people the opportunity to do the same for us. I read a quote once that said that the people around us are the portion of humanity God has given us to love. While certainly we ought to reach our circle of love beyond those who share our faith, I do believe that God gives us these church organizations to assign us some particular people who are especially in need of the love we have to offer.

Conclusion

In the end I’m grateful for the opportunity that I’ve had these last few months to reexamine how I approach the Sabbath. I will really miss our lockdown church services and avoiding the Sunday scramble. I hope that there’s some way to preserve some of what we’ve had while church hasn’t been in session. I will definitely miss this special experience that we’ve had in the midst of all of the turmoil in the world right now. It’s neat to see the blessings and the ways the Lord reaches out to us, even in the darkest of times.

When Will I Be Ready?

A few years back my mom was in some sort of regional church meeting with one of our worldwide church leaders (neither she or I can remember what the meeting was exactly or who the leader was – sorry for the vaguest context ever). The leader was taking questions from the audience and one woman asked him something to the effect of was it ok to delay having children until they had financial stability. The leader told the congregation – “You don’t have babies with money, you have babies with faith.”

That quote has stuck with me a long time. I think there are a lot of times when we feel as parents and in so many other situations that we don’t meet the basic qualifications. Whether from a standpoint of finances, spirituality, emotional wellness, education, age, time or any number of other factors in our life – it’s easy to feel like we should be more prepared before diving in. But the truth is, we are never fully prepared for the things we face in life.

We weren’t meant to have all of the answers before we start out – we’re meant to show up with faith and willingness to work and find the answers along the way. No one is ever really ready to have kids, or get married, or go off to school on their own, or go on a mission, or make a change in their career. You can’t have enough money, experience, education etc to be ready to take on any of these major challenges. Certainly none of these things ought to be taken on recklessly, but there will never be a time when you’re truly ready. Not being perfectly prepared should not stop us from doing the things we were meant to do. The Lord will help us as we have faith. If we show up with our woefully inadequate loaves and fishes He will work miracles with us to accomplish whatever we have before us.

My Tech High Reimbursement Tracker 2.0

My original tracker is still up and running and updated to reflect current budget amounts as of 29 July 2020, if you’d prefer to use that one, or want to understand more about My Tech High and the history of this tracker click here.

I have been maintaining this tracker for a couple years now and I’ve been so happy to see it help so many people! This year as My Tech High announced funding increases for their students I decided it was time to update my reimbursement tracker too. I started by just updating the formulas to reflect the new amounts. I tried to convince myself I was done then… but then I spent a week totally revamping the whole process and basically rebuilding the whole thing. So let me tell you what’s new and how to use it πŸ™‚

New Features

  • Multiple Students in One Workbook: This was by far and away the biggest add. You can now manage the schedules and budgets for all of your students in one workbook (assuming you have less than 20 students, if you have more than 20 students then I really hope you have better organization skills than I do and heaven bless you!)
  • Budgets Categorized by Class instead of Budget Block: Maybe no one else ran into this but it would bother me all the time. In my old workbook all expenses were matched up with their budget block. So if you had a combined custom core for Math/English/Science that was one category. This was fine unless you changed your Science class from being custom built to being 3rd party. Then you’d have to go in and change all of your expenses to be associated either with this new 3rd party science class or with the new “Custom Core – Math, English” category. Now you simply select the subject the expense is associated with and it will follow that subject into whatever bucket you have it in at the time.
  • Custom Formatting: This may not have been the most important, but it was the most satisfying part of the process! I’ve changed the font to be a little prettier, added lots of color coding and generally made the whole thing more visually pleasing.

So let’s jump in to how to use it. If you don’t want to read through all of this I’ve made a little video tutorial that you can watch that shows you all of the steps.

The first thing you need to do is make a COPY of my spreadsheet. I frequently get edit requests for the master spreadsheet from people who miss that step, and then you have to wait until I see the email and respond to it… and I will tell you to make a copy πŸ˜›Β  So save yourself some time and don’t skip that step! Ok, here’s the link to the Google Sheet- MTH Reimbursement Tracker 2.0.Β  Let’s start with how to make your own copy.Β  To do this you go to File->Make a copy…

After you do that a box will pop up asking for a name for this document.Β  I usually name it something like “MTH [school year] so that I don’t my workbooks mixed up in future years.

Once you click OK your copy will pop up and you’re ready to begin filling it out.Β  I’ve tried to lock as many of the ranges that you shouldn’t be changing as possible so you don’t accidentally mess up something that you won’t be able to fix, so if you get a warning box saying not to change something – please try to heed it!Β The first thing you will do is enter your students’ names and grades in the Students sheet. You can also pick a color for each student which will just make the rest of the workbook prettier – and making it pretty is what’s most important right? Once you’ve done that go to the bottom of the page and click the “Schedules” worksheet.

You will see that your students’ names have already been populated and options corresponding to your students’ grades will show up. I like to go to the bottom and hide all of the schedules that are for non-existent students – just to make the experience a little bit cleaner for myself. To do this simply select the first row of empty schedules and then select all the way down to the last row. Then right click and you will see the option to “hide rows”, click that and all the extra schedules to disappear.

In the first column the only selection you need to make is whether your student is doing History or Science this year. Don’t change anything in the 2nd column. In the 3rd column you will select whether the classes are going to be custom built, 3rd party or My Tech High Direct. You will notice that as you change these selections that the funds in the second column change to correspond with the budgets you will receive from My Tech High. The 4th column is optional but it gives you a space to write out your course descriptions. You can use this as a place to take notes of things you want to do or to write out your official course descriptions that you will submit to My Tech High. If you use it for writing your official descriptions you might notice that in the last column there is a character counter. It will tell you how many characters you have left before you exceed the course description character limit in InfoCenter. You’re welcome to write more characters in the worksheet, no one will see this other than you. Ok you’ve finished the hard part now on to where the magic happens! Open up the budgets worksheet and we’ll continue on πŸ™‚

On the right it shows a budget breakdown for each of your students. At the top it tells you how much money you have remaining to spend. You will not need to make any changes to these columns because everything will be calculated automatically. Here’s what my kids’ budgets look like right now. You can see that I’m over budget for Sam in a couple of categories but it doesn’t take those negative amounts away from the total available to spend because you can’t spend over the limit for any particular category.

Let’s go on to the purchase list. Here you will simply enter in the items you have purchased, the price paid and then select the student and subject the purchase is associated with. As you do that you will notice that all of the “remaining” balances will update to show you how much is left in each category. If you select a subject with a student that doesn’t have that subject on their schedule the item will turn red and you’ll get an error message off to the side so that you can make sure to put that expense with a valid student/subject combination. Ok one last worksheet to go! Go ahead and click on the “Reimbursement Cover Sheet”

You won’t need the reimbursement cover sheet until it’s time to submit your receipts but I find this to be really handy. At the top of the page you can select a student and a budget and then the rest of the workbook populates with all of the purchases for that period. I will print this page to a PDF and then use it to help me make sure I have all of my receipts together before submitting them at reimbursement time. I use the free program PDFBinder and put the cover sheet first and then add all of the receipts in the order they’re listed on my cover sheet. This makes it easy for MyTechHigh to see at a glance what all of my expenses were and help me get reimbursed faster. Once you’ve already made one submission and you need to make another then if you go back to the Budgets worksheet and check off the “Submitted?” boxes on the expenses that you’ve already been reimbursed for, then when you go back to the Cover Sheet worksheet you’ll see that it only displays the receipts that you haven’t yet been reimbursed for. So that can be handy for helping you keep organized.

One last tip for anyone who considers themselves lightly advanced. If you want to sort your purchases – Select all of the purchase list cells by clicking on the “Item Purchased” cell and dragging your mouse until you are down to the submitted column on your last row. Then go to the “Data” menu and select “Sort range”.

Check the “Data has a header row” box and then you can sort things however you like. I usually like to sort by student, then by subject and then by cost high to low. The sorting won’t stay as you enter in more items, but I find this to be handy as I’m trying to keep organized – especially when I’m getting ready to submit.

And that’s it!Β  Hopefully this helps you to better keep track of your MyTechHigh expenses and budget in the coming years!Β  If you notice anything that I’ve missed please comment below so that I can get it fixed!Β  If this is useful to you consider making a donation to my site, or making a purchase through one of my affiliate links to help me keep this site going.Β  If you’re looking for more ideas on what curriculum you want to use check out my curriculum recommendations post or if you’re looking for ideas on how to schedule your day check out my homeschool scheduling post. Happy Homeschooling πŸ™‚

Here’s a link to the spreadsheet again, just so you don’t have to hunt through the article to find it – MyTechHigh Reimbursement Tracker 2.0.

Side note: Everything above shows actual items I’ve been reimbursed for and course descriptions I’ve had approved.Β  Feel free to use the descriptions and purchase list for inspiration for your own child’s schedule.Β  Just a quick plug for a couple of things we’ve especially loved –

  • Kiwi CratesΒ – these have been SO much fun for all of my kids and they’ve learned a ton from them.Β  I’ve gotten 1 subscription and made my three kids share it and it’s been great. I thought I was going to like the Kiwi Crate but it’s been so much better than I’d expected.Β  If you use my referral link you get $10 off of your subscription πŸ™‚
  • Tuttle Twins these books are AMAZING at teaching your kids about the role of government and how laws work. They are definitely from a libertarian perspective and they’re very engaging – I’ve even had lots to think about and discuss after reading them! As of the time of this writing promo code FORTY works to get you 40% off of the retail price.

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with My Tech High other than as a parent to students within the program. This tracker is provided free of charge and without warranty. I intend to keep all formulas and information current and accurate however I accept no liability for any faults in the program. Use at your own risk.

Mourning the Loss of Little Things

Sorry this isn’t going to be a happy post but I needed somewhere to put these feelings. I’m just feeling really sad right now. We got accepted today back into the homeschool charter we’ve been with for the last 4 years – yay! But now that I got that official acceptance I had to officially withdraw from the school my kids were planning to go to this year. We were all SO excited about this school year because this new school had so many really awesome programs. They would let us keep homeschooling using pretty much whatever curriculum we wanted, but with 1 day a week with the kids going to school and getting to be with friends, another half day a week of a real world adventures and planned field trips. I was going to have 1 day a week at home with just my 2 year old! The kids have been so excited, especially my 11 year old who has really struggled since the start of COVID as his friends have outgrown him a little bit and he doesn’t have great outlets to go make new ones. This school year was going to be awesome!

… But then the new plans came out for the year. The half day adventures and the field trips have been cancelled for the year. The on campus days were all going to be totally socially distanced (wearing masks, 6 feet apart from the other kids all day long – the right call for the situation at hand, but it sounded like the most miserable way to spend a day). While we were considering all of that our previous charter school announced changes to their funding that basically opened up an extra $1200 in reimbursement for educational supplies for our family… which pushed us over the edge. It wasn’t necessarily that extra amount in and of itself, but it gave us enough pause to *really* look at the two options side by side and see what the trade offs were with circumstances as they are. When we really considered it we knew we had to withdraw from the new school and go back to our old school.

I feel like it’s a little hard to be sad about something like this though. We are SO blessed! I’m not being pushed into homeschooling against my will. I actually feel so comfortable homeschooling and have been able to help some other families get their bearings in unfamiliar territory. We’ve all been healthy. We have a safe place to live, steady employment, family that we love. We have amazing technology to keep us connected and great support systems that we can reach out to. I’ve been grateful to live in a state that has allowed us quite a bit of freedom while giving strong guidelines and leadership to curb the spread of this disease. (I know I have friends who will disagree with this on both sides, but I’m still grateful and that disagreement isn’t the point of this post, pick another post for that battle πŸ˜‰ ) I have a great yard, a house with lots of diversions, friends to connect with, family to visit with, technology savvy to get through all this… but I’m still sad.

In a parenting book I read recently it emphasized the importance of recognizing your child’s feelings and not brushing them off or putting them down. The guidance was to accept them, name them and validate them. I think it’s important for us to do this with ourselves too even as adults. I’m not saying to dwell on negatives and put yourself in a downward spiral. However, I think there’s importance in recognizing and saying “I’m sad and this is hard.”

It’s been almost funny the things through this pandemic that have gotten me to small breaking points. Back in April I was putting together snack bags for my kids for general conference. I wasn’t able to go out to the store and as I was putting their bags together I realized I didn’t have Capri Suns. I never have Capri Suns, but it’s something that I usually will get special just for General Conference. It was the dumbest thing to be upset about, but in the moment that was super hard for me. It wasn’t really about the Capri Suns, but it represented that I didn’t have the ability to give my kids the things I wanted to be able to give them. Stability, safety, fun – it was a mark of my lack of control in the world and it was a really hard realization. (Don’t worry, we had a miracle of the loaves and fishes and I was able to cobble together snack bags from things I didn’t even know I had and some random drink mixes took the place of the Capri Suns in the end – my kids didn’t even know they were missing)

That’s sort of how I’m feeling now. What I wanted to be able to give to my kids – and thought I *would* be able to give to my kids – has been taken away. It’s not anyone’s fault, it’s lots of things out of anyone’s control. It’s just hard. We have other great options, but I’m still sad about it. I will be ok. I can see all the bright sides of what we can do instead and it really is going to be fine. But I’m still sad, and it’s ok to be sad. It doesn’t have to be the biggest thing to be sad about. Being sad is not a contest. It’s ok if you’re sad over something big and I’m sad over something small. We’re still both allowed to be sad and my sadness doesn’t diminish your sadness, nor does your sadness negate mine. They’re just the feelings we have and we’re allowed to have them.

I just thought I should post this because I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling this way. This is hard. It is ALL hard. Regardless of who you are or where you’re at I’m sure there are things that you’ve lost in this pandemic – whether it’s loved ones, or trips, or school choices, or a feeling of safety, or even just some Capri Suns. It’s hard. It’s ok to feel like it’s hard. It’s ok to be sad about those things that you’ve lost – whether they’re big things or little things. It’s ok to be sad about the little things too. We will get through this, and I believe we will all be better and stronger for it. But right now, it’s ok to recognize your sadness, your sense of loss, and give it its proper place before you let it go. {Hugs} to all of you out there in whatever hard things you’re facing. I believe in you, you can make it πŸ’—

COVID-19: Tips for Homeschooling Under Duress Part 2 – Curriculum

When I started this post series it was under the assumption that most students would be back in their regular classrooms within a couple of weeks. However, as things are progressing it’s seeming more likely that families are going to need more long term educational solutions than just a couple of weeks. With that in mind I thought I would chime in with some of my curriculum recommendations.

There are more different curriculum choices out there than you can even imagine and the process of deciding on a curriculum from scratch can be truly daunting. However, as most parents that are diving in right now aren’t necessarily looking for super long term solutions (just a couple of months rather than a full educational career) I thought I might chime in with some ideas for curriculum that is easily adaptable without too much hassle.

Most of my kids’ schoolwork is completed online which means that I am not actually the one teaching them. I know lots of parents have different feelings on using technology with kids. For me, this is a critical element of any curriculum that we use – that my kids can largely go through the work with little intervention on my part. Especially as many parents are working from home now while trying to get their kids through their schoolwork this seems extra critical. I will look over my kids’ schoolwork but the only actual teaching I do in a typical day is to do a 15 minute reading lesson with my kindergartner and once a week I will facilitate science and social studies – and none of those require any real prep on my part. I might work out problems on the whiteboard with my 3rd grader, or help my 5th grader through his grammar lesson – but I don’t actually prepare lessons or teach. While my older kids are working on school work I can mostly work on other household tasks, or entertain the 2 year old.

I’m also personally opposed to curriculum that has a lot of worksheets. Our first year of homeschooling we used K12.com which is a public-school-at-home curriculum – all free, and the actual curriculum was pretty good – but it was SO many worksheets. It killed my 1st grader’s love of learning and it was at least a year before I could even mention the idea of a worksheet without him melting into a puddle in a PTSD tantrum. I’ve heard the same from many others who have used K12. I will use worksheets but I’m very particular about the ones I use – it can’t just be to keep someone busy, it needs to have a really good purpose behind it.

Our Curriculum Picks

I use different curriculum for different subjects. I will break down below how I cover each different subject in our homeschool, as well as some resources that I’ve used in the past or ones that I’ve seen highly recommended. If you’re just looking for a specific subject I’ll link to the different subjects here –

All-in-One

Before I jump into my personal favorites though I should give a plug for Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool, The Good and the Beautiful, and Family School Online.

Easy Peasy is a free, complete homeschooling curriculum. You can go in, print out the assignments, and be off to go. They have workbooks that you can buy, and books that you could purchase if you don’t want to look for them at your local library. I know lots of people who have used their curriculum and love it for being easy to just open and do. It didn’t fit our personal style but I know lots of people love it. And did I mention that it’s FREE? Free is always a best seller πŸ˜‰

The Good and the Beautiful is not free, but the curriculum is low priced and very modular so it’s not a huge investment like some other curriculum are. I’ve heard so many great things about how well their units integrate many different aspects of learning as well as incorporating a spiritual side of things. Lots of people LOVE it, but again, it didn’t fit our personal style so we haven’t used it ourselves.

Family School Online is FREE through the end of June! This is a faith based curriculum geared towards members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I haven’t used this curriculum before in large part because it’s usually fairly pricey. It is definitely a more hands-on curriculum than I usually go for as well, but the quality is excellent. Everyone who I’ve heard that has used it has been very happy with it!

As far as an all-in-one option that I’ve actually used – Time4Learning. I don’t currently use Time4Learning but I have in the past and I think it’s a great option if you want low effort, complete, online learning. For $19/month for your first student, and $15/month for additional students in your household you cover all of your basics – math, language arts, social studies and science. I wasn’t thrilled with the assessment process – I felt it was too easy for kids to keep progressing through many of the activities without mastering them. I also wasn’t overwhelmingly impressed with their social studies and science curriculum. They were fine, but nowhere near as involved as their reading and math, and not as high of production value. However I haven’t found any other single online curriculum that covers all the bases at such a low price so I felt I needed to start with that recommendation.

Math

We have used so many different Math curriculum through the years. Currently each of my kids each use a different math curriculum so I’ll try to break down those three, plus a great free option.

Khan Academy – Let’s start with the biggest selling feature – Khan Academy is FREE! I also really like their learning model. Khan Academy is all mastery-based learning. To move on you have to really prove that you understand the material. It’s easy to move at your own pace and the videos do a great job of explaining the material – albeit in a bit of a dry manner. Khan Academy also offers other classes in many subjects (all still free), but I’ve only used their math courses personally. Their math curriculum includes representation of same gender relationships. I’ve found that their courses can be a little bit difficult for kids to navigate and they’re not really easy to work with if you have a struggling reader. I actually like using Khan Academy for myself because it’s a great way for me to brush up on my math skills without much investment or time. One day I hope to make it to higher levels of math than I completed in school, but with 4 littles running around… it hasn’t made my top priority πŸ˜‰

Beast Academy – This is my current favorite curriculum for Math! It costs $15/month for your first student and $7.50 for additional students – but there are discounts if you pay annually rather than monthly. Also right now they have a coupon code for $15 off a new subscription (i.e. a free month if you’re paying monthly!) – FLATTENTHECURVE. The program is set up with comic books that explain the concepts as well as short, engaging video lectures. I like this curriculum because it does a great job of teaching logic as well as math. It includes lots of great problem solving skills which I think is awesome for kids to learn. This is what my 11 year old is currently using and he’s loving it! My 3rd grader was too set in the curriculum he was using and wouldn’t really give this one a fair shake, but I think if I were starting him fresh this is what I would put him in too. It’s a little higher level though than my kindergartner is ready for – it’s geared for ages 8-12. They have a partner curriculum – Art of Problem Solving – that’s for grades 5-12. So if you have a student that’s grades 3-12 this is where I would start!

Teaching Textbooks – This is the curriculum my 8 year old prefers. It’s super straightforward – a short video lecture, a few practice problems and then 22 problems per lesson. There are quizzes sprinkled throughout. It’s not quite as “fun” as Beast Academy but it’s very clear and not dry. You have to purchase this curriculum by the level rather than having access to the whole curriculum for a subscription fee, but it’s only about $43/year for the lower levels up to $67/year for pre-calculus – so on a monthly basis you’re only looking at between $4-6/month which is a pretty good deal. They also offer FREE access to the first 15 lessons of any level, so you have a good chance to try it out before committing. Teaching Textbooks is taught on a spiral method – which means that they keep coming back to earlier concepts if you didn’t get them the first time which I really like. They also have the clearest grading system and the ability to reassign different work for your kids which I think is helpful. Their style is definitely the closest to a traditional school setting for better or worse – I don’t think it’s the most innovative, but it’s clear and easy to use. My 8 year old loves that he knows exactly what will be required of him. I have him go through the lecture and the problems on his own. When he’s done I will review with him any problems that he got wrong and we will discuss them. When he finishes a full level I save a copy of his gradebook and then I go through and delete all of the problems he got wrong (this takes forever because it’s a super manual process). Then I make him spend a few days going over each of the problems he got wrong until he gets them ALL right. That may sound like cheating, but I’m more interested in him learning all of the material before moving on than any grading system.

MathSeeds – If you have a student that’s K-2 this is my favorite curriculum for them. It is also paired with their ReadingEggs curriculum which I’ll talk about below. They offer a free trial but a subscription is only $59/year – or less if you hold out and wait for good coupon codes (they’ll start emailing them to you when your subscription expires) plus you can get even more money back if you use Honey. The activities are fun and easy to do. It’s all approached as a game so if you’re sneaky about it you might even be able to convince your kids that it’s not work at all πŸ˜‰ I like that it won’t let your child move on until they master an activity – however sometimes my kindergartner gets frustrated when she’s stuck on an activity. I find that if I keep an eye on her we can get through things together though when she gets frustrated. The reporting isn’t as complete as I would like and it’s not as easy to send a kid back for a single concept or lesson, but for the age level and the price, I think it’s fantastic and I would highly recommend it.

Language Arts

Language Arts covers Reading Comprehension, Handwriting, and Language Mechanics. For my kids my goal is that we’re making progress in each of those three categories and I design their assignments to cover those categories. Language Mechanics covers a few different disciplines and in my mind the progression roughly goes Phonics -> Spelling -> Grammar -> Composition – but there’s a lot of overlap. I don’t really have a full curriculum that I follow for each of these but I will explain what I do to cover these subjects.

Reading Comprehension

This is probably the easiest one – READ! If your kids can’t yet read on their own, then read to them. If they can read provide them with great reading material and let them loose πŸ™‚ I’m not very structured in how we do reading. I don’t assign particular books, there’s no worksheets or quizzes – I just want them reading and enjoying it. My oldest can’t be kept from reading so he has no requirements set on him. I have set him up with a GoodReads account and ask him to review his books and track them there. My 2nd son struggles with reading so I have him set a timer each day and he’s expected to read for 30 minutes – lately he’s been enjoying his dad’s old Boxcar Children books and the Magic Treehouse series. My kindergartner listens to a lot of audiobooks. I try to discuss books with my kids and we’ve set up a small book club with some other families so the kids can discuss their books with other kids – but that’s really it.

I have an Audible account and each of my children have an Echo Dot in their room. They all listen to books as they go to sleep at night, and sometimes throughout the day as they’re doing chores. My oldest has a Kindle Paperwhite and it is his most prized possession – we check out lots of digital books from the library and I’ve purchased him a lot of books with Prime shipping credits and off of sales through the years. We check out lots of books from the library and I buy books all the time. Reading is hardly considered a chore in our house, I feel like my job is to facilitate a love of reading and learning.

Handwriting

Handwriting Without Tears has been my favorite handwriting curriculum. I should follow it more closely than I do but I’ve mostly just had my kids fill out their workbooks. I set a timer for 15 minutes and expect them to work through whatever they get through in that time. I like making handwriting a timed thing rather than a completion thing because it doesn’t incentivize them to rush through and do sloppy work – if they get through 1 page or 25 pages they still have to write for 15 minutes, so they might as well do a good job πŸ˜‰

Right now none of my kids are actually actively using their HWOT materials. My 11yo combines his handwriting practice with his grammar curriculum which I’ll talk about below. My 8yo is assigned to write a journal entry every day. His entries are to have the following things in them –

  • The date written out long hand (i.e. Thursday, March 19, 2020)
  • A brief report on the weather (he’s been struggling with associating months and seasons so this is his practice for that)
  • His 5 spelling words
  • A paragraph of free write that must be at least 30 words long (I have to be really specific with him so he doesn’t try to pass off crap work with me πŸ˜› )
  • His full name written out

My kindergartner has very simple handwriting worksheets that I printed out for her. I googled “kindergarten handwriting worksheets” and I’ve printed different ones from different sources. She would probably be better off doing the HWOT workbooks, but this is working for us right now.

Language Mechanics

Reading Eggs is my favorite online tool for teaching language mechanics. It goes from preschool through about 6th grade and it has great phonics, spelling and grammar. It’s combined with the MathSeeds curriculum that I mentioned in the Math section, and it’s only $60 or less per year for the two programs which is a fantastic price! Plus you can add on extra students for even less. Right now only my kindergartner uses this, but I’ve used it with all of my kids in the past and I would use it again. The only reason my 8yo isn’t using it right now is that he gave me too much push back and I surrendered and got him Reading Kingdom instead. Reading Kingdom is $15/month and does not include a math curriculum (I’m realizing while writing this what a ding dong my 8yo is and how much extra his stubbornness is costing us in different curriculum… we might be having words πŸ˜› ) but my son is making really great strides in his reading so it’s probably been worth it.

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons is one of my favorite resources if you have a child just beginning to learn to read. It’s only about $15 off of Amazon and it is SO easy to use. I recommend reading through the introduction before starting as it explains a lot of the methodology – but once you do that it is a no-prep reading lesson that is very effective! The lessons take about 15 minutes to get through and they’re really easy. I found though that sometimes the lessons get too hard suddenly. When we get to a point where we’re struggling too much with the lessons I will sometimes go back 5 or 10 lessons (or sometimes back to the beginning) and re-do the lessons we’ve already completed to build confidence and get more practice before moving on. You don’t need any other supplies to use this curriculum and it’s a one time purchase that you can use with multiple children. However I purchased these pointer fingers because reading is much more fun with ridiculously oversized pointer fingers πŸ˜›

Fix It Grammar has been great for my 11yo for working on his grammar and handwriting. At the beginning of the week we introduce a new concept that he will be working on for the week. Then each day he has a sentence that he’s supposed to correct using that new concept and each of the concepts from the previous units. Then he rewrites the sentence to practice his handwriting. At the end of the week he takes all 4 sentences and rewrites them into a clean copy. The sentences all connect together to make a story that goes through the whole book – so it’s fun each week to get a new part of the story.

Social Studies

The Tuttle Twins books have been my favorite resource for teaching civics/government/economics to my kids. Their books are fun to read and easy to understand. I have learned so much from them and my kids have impressed many people with the complex concepts that they’re able to discuss. Each week we will pick one of the books, read it, discuss it and then maybe do a couple pages from the workbook. They’re super easy lessons and they’re great! Right now you can get 35% off their combo pack with discount code COMBO – which includes all of their current books in the series as well as the pdf workboks. I’ve also purchased the audiobooks so that I don’t even have to be the one *reading* to my kids (I’m a pretty lazy homeschooler πŸ˜› ). They also have a great economics curriculum that’s on sale right now for only $5/month – they will email you a new unit study each week which has a short lesson, activities and discussion questions. I’ve been doing this with our kids and I’ve been very impressed with them. I would probably start with the books to set a really good foundation before moving on to their Free Market Rules curriculum.

Story of the World is a really great history curriculum for kids. I like it because it ties in many different cultures and histories together. I also like that you start at the beginning and work your way through to modern times so everything feels continuous instead of chopped up. Again with these books I’ve purchased the audiobooks and I’ll have my kids listen to a chapter and then we’ll do a worksheet from the workbook and discuss. No prep beyond printing out the worksheets. There are other books that are recommended that you can purchase or check out from the library to enrich the study, but the books are pretty great as standalone material.

Both of these I think are great for all levels. I will have all 3 of my older kids – kindergarten – 5th grade – working through the curriculum and discussing it together. They all get different things out of it but there’s appropriate content for each different level.

Science

Kiwi Crates have been one of our favorite ways to do science. Each kit comes with reading material, lots of expansion activities and a few building projects. I have purchased a single subscription for my kids and we have fun building the kits together. I’ve been impressed with how much they pack into each kit and my kids have learned a lot. I can stretch a kit out over a full month if we do all of the activities but we have a lot of other places we go for science as well.

Mystery Science has a lot of great “open-and-go” science lessons. They have a limited number of free accounts that they give away each year, but even if you miss those it’s only $70/year for your whole household. We have a subscription but haven’t used it as much as we should – only because we cut off access to YouTube on my kids’ computers which made the site unusable πŸ˜› But the lessons that I’ve done through there have really been great. I really need to get my kids back into Mystery Science!

We watch a lot of YouTube science videos and other science videos. I mentioned these in my first post but they’re worth repeating here –

  • Mark Rober – I can’t say enough good things about Mark Rober’s channel. He is by far and away my favorite YouTuber, everything he publishes is high quality and teaches complicated concepts in ways that make them seem simple.
  • Wow In The World – This podcast is SO much fun for kids! My almost 9 year old (he won’t accept being called 8 anymore) LOVES this show so much – he insists on listening to it almost every night and talks to me about what he learns all the time.
  • DIY Sci – Steve Spangler has long been a staple in the children’s science world. If you have Amazon Prime I highly recommend this series as well. My kids have learned so much from this and I’m always interested to hear what’s in their brains after watching these episodes!
  • Magic School Bus – If you didn’t watch Magic School Bus growing up I’m sad for you. These shows are fun, engaging and they teach kids a lot! The series is available on Netflix – along with a new remade series which I find every bit as enjoyable as the originals!
  • Smarter Every Day – Another great YouTube channel with lots of interesting things for kids – and adults too!

I feel like science is the easiest subject to get in. Kids are naturally curious and love learning about the world around them. Of course, my mom is a scientist so maybe I just inherited her love of science πŸ˜‰

Technology

Technology can cover a huge range of things but I’ll limit my suggestions here to some of my favorite computers & programming curriculum as well as one more hands on product. I should note that I have worked as a computer programmer since 2004 so I have a little bit of experience in this area πŸ˜‰

Kids Typing Bundle – if your kids are learning to type I think this is the way to go. You get two different programs for about $25 total, and you have access to them for all of your kids forever! The programs that are in the bundle are both fun and easy to use. There are free programs out there but I’ve never found anything that my kids have liked as much.

Tynker – if your kids are ready to get into programming I think Tynker is a great place to start. They teach programming and a lot of the courses are based around programs that kids already love like Minecraft! My kids have loved these courses. Plus, right now they’re offering FREE access during all of the school closures so you really don’t have anything to lose by trying them out!

CodeCombat is my favorite resource for teaching serious programming. It’s a game that kids play by programming their character to do different things. It’s free for the first couple of worlds – which is actually quite a lot of material before you’d need to pay. The game does involve swords and killing monsters so if that bothers you then this won’t be for you. None of the game play is graphic at all though so it’s not something that bothers me personally.

Snap Circuits are great if you’re looking for a more hands-on approach to technology. Their kits have lots of fun projects with electricity and building circuits. These are a great place to start if your kid has any interest in robotics or electricity. My kids have really had fun with their snap circuits kit!

Music

My kids have been enrolled in music lessons that are in person which obviously doesn’t work so well during the shutdowns. But I still feel like I need to put in a plug for Let’s Play Music. I’ve enrolled my 8yo and 6yo in their program and it’s been AMAZING. The only reason my 11yo hasn’t gone through the program is that he was too old for it by the time I found it. But my kids have learned so much great musical theory and had so much fun doing it. By the end of the 3 year program my 8yo was able to *compose* his own piano piece and perform it. I can’t say enough good things about their program.

During the shutdown we’re trying out Hoffman Academy which offers free online piano lessons for kids. I’ve heard great things about it from lots of people so we’ll see if those recommendations hold true in the next few weeks.

Art

I wish I could say I had good recommendations for art curriculum… but I don’t. For art we do a lot of coloring sheets or google for art projects. I should come up with something more concrete for art for my kids but it hasn’t been a priority for us.

Social Thinking

Social Thinking isn’t necessarily a subject explicitly covered in schools but I have some kids who struggle with behavior and social interactions. We have purchased the “Social Thinking and Me” book as well as the Thinksheets workbook. We read one chapter from the book together and then over the next several days my son will work through at least one thinksheet each day. When he finishes all of the thinksheets for the unit I will go over his thinksheets and we’ll discuss his answers. I feel like these have been so helpful for us – it helps teach my son and it’s given us all a shared vocabulary to talk about these behavioral problems.

Foreign Language

DuoLingo is a great FREE resource for learning a foreign language. None of my kids are currently actively using it but my 11yo has used it before, we’re just focusing on other things right now. My husband and I both use it though and I’ve been reasonably impressed with it. My dad also uses it and frequently tries to impress us with how many lingots he has (lingots are the in game currency… they aren’t good for much except bragging to other people about how may you have πŸ˜› ). This curriculum also includes representation of same gender relationships. They do have a premium membership that’s you can purchase on a monthly basis if you don’t want to have ads interrupting your learning. I’ve really enjoyed making my foreign language practice a game!

Conclusion

Wow did you stick with me through all of that? Great job! Whatever you choose to do I would generally recommend starting out with the shortest subscription or a starter set of any new curriculum. You’ll notice that I have several recommendations for most subjects – that’s because we’ve changed curriculum several times and chosen different things for different kids. Even within the same family what works for one kid doesn’t work for another – and what works for me might not work for you! Pick one and give it a try for a couple weeks, and if it doesn’t work for you then try something else. You know your kids and you’ll figure it out. You got this!

COVID-19: Tips for Homeschooling Under Duress Part 1 – Schedule

I’ve been intending for some time to write a post to share some of the things that I’ve learned in my 4 years of homeschooling.  Today school was cancelled for the state that I live in for the rest of the month due to the COVID-19 outbreak.  Knowing that I have many friends who will now be homeschooling under duress I figured now was the time to share some of my experiences!

For starters let me tell you the most important secret of homeschooling – HOMESCHOOL DOES NOT LOOK LIKE PUBLIC SCHOOL!  If you’re dreading spending 6 hours instructing your kids – you’re in luck! If my kids are moving along through their schoolwork like they’re supposed to then we can easily be finished before noon and then they have the rest of the day to themselves. That sounds crazy to most public schoolers, but the truth is that if you don’t have to account for all the time lost with lining up to go places, settling down other kids, waiting for others to finish their schoolwork, travel time, unpacking belongings etc – you make up a lot of time. Plus, all of the instruction can go at the child’s individual pace so they’re never left behind because the concepts were too difficult or bored because they understood the material faster. Being done by noon is one of my kids’ favorite parts of homeschooling. Especially since they know that they have all the power to do it and it’s their choice if they’re finished by then or not. They just know that there’s no electronics time and mom will keep nagging them until all of their tasks are finished. They each have a checklist that they fill out and review with me in order to know if they’re “free” or not each day.

Also, you do NOT have to be the instructor.  Most of my kids’ schoolwork is completed online which means that I am not actually the one teaching them. I know lots of parents have different feelings on using technology with kids, but for me, this is a critical element of any curriculum that we use is that my kids can largely go through the work with little intervention on my part. I will look over my kids’ schoolwork but the only actual teaching I do in a typical day is to do a 15 minute reading lesson with my kindergartner and once a week I will facilitate science and social studies activities. I might work out problems on the whiteboard with my 3rd grader, or help my 5th grader through his grammar lesson – but I don’t actually prepare lessons or teach. While my older kids are working on school work I can mostly work on other household tasks, or entertain the 2 year old.  I will share some of my favorite resources for curriculum in another post, but just know – it’s not all on you.  I think the biggest thing to keep you from going crazy during these couple weeks is to try to set up a reasonable routine.  Do what you can but don’t feel like you have to hit every single subject every day.  So without further ado, here’s what we try to hit each day – 

  • Morning Chores
  • Exercise & Meditation
  • Math
  • Language Arts
  • Music Practice
  • Daily Special Subject (Science, Social Studies, Technology, Art or Music)
  • Daily Chore

KISS – Keep It Simple Smartie! You don’t need to do any more than this in a day, and if you do less – YOU’RE DOING FINE! I’ll break down below what each of these might look like in a typical day –

Morning Chores – These are super basic things that your kids probably have to do before they go to school anyways – get dressed, brush their teeth, brush their hair, clean up their rooms, make their beds. Easy enough? K, next!

Exercise/Meditation – You can skip this if you want but I think it helps to get some physical activity in before we get started for the day. It gets the blood flowing and their brains working better. All we do is use the free app 7 Minute Workout which runs us through a little routine of jumping jacks, sit ups, push ups etc. Our 2 year old thinks it’s the best thing ever and he wants to “Ex-er-cise with us?” all day long – he’s a nut. Our meditation is nothing fancy, I have my kids sit still for two minutes and focus on taking deep breaths with their eyes closed. When we finish we usually try to have our family prayers before jumping into school work.

Math – I use exclusively online curriculum for Math because I think that’s easiest – the lectures are done for me and computers are unsurprisingly good at grading math problems πŸ˜‰ My kids’ math usually takes them less than 30 minutes to get through. You can use Khan Academy for free and set your kids up with an account. Just set them a timer for 30 minutes and let them get through as much as they can. I have other curriculum that I like better but for a few weeks of homeschooling I think Khan Academy is probably a great solution. Another great option would be to let your kids play Prodigy – it’s a free math adventure game that my kids love. It’s not a full curriculum but it will keep their math skills up for a few weeks πŸ™‚

Language Arts – I have a few different things that I try to focus on with my kids – grammar exercises, reading and handwriting. I would probably not worry about grammar for these few weeks – there are great curriculum out there but you probably won’t get far enough into one to make it worth the effort. I would just encourage your kids to maybe write a journal entry and spend some time reading whatever they would like to be reading – or listening to books. My 3rd grader’s journaling requirements each day are supposed to have the date written out, a simple weather report, each of his spelling words written out and 3 sentences (with at least 30 words in those sentences) about whatever is in his brain that day. (I had to give him very prescriptive requirements or else he tries to talk his way out of doing anything at all πŸ˜› )

Music Practice – Unless you already have your kids doing a musical instrument or something just go ahead and skip this. This is just when my kids have to do their regular music practice.

Daily Special Subject – We try to hit each of these subjects just one time each week. We do Science on Mondays, Social Studies on Tuesdays, Music lessons on Wednesdays, Technology on Thursdays, Art on Fridays. I probably wouldn’t go that complicated, I’d just do some Science and maybe Social Studies for this limited amount of time. If you want to do something for Social Studies I can’t recommend the Tuttle Twins books enough – read one with your kids and discuss it or do the workbook pages that come with the books. I have learned so much from these books and they are my favorites by far and away. For Science, there are some AWESOME science videos out there that will keep your kids engaged – pick one or more and let your kids watch them and call it a day πŸ™‚ Here’s some of my favorite YouTube Channels and other resources –

  • Mark Rober – I can’t say enough good things about Mark Rober’s channel. He is by far and away my favorite YouTuber, everything he publishes is high quality and teaches complicated concepts in ways that make them seem simple.
  • Wow In The World – This podcast is SO much fun for kids! My almost 9 year old (he won’t accept being called 8 anymore) LOVES this show so much – he insists on listening to it almost every night and talks to me about what he learns all the time.
  • DIY Sci – Steve Spangler has long been a staple in the children’s science world. If you have Amazon Prime I highly recommend this series as well. My kids have learned so much from this and I’m always interested to hear what’s in their brains after watching these episodes!
  • Magic School Bus – If you didn’t watch Magic School Bus growing up I’m sad for you. These shows are fun, engaging and they teach kids a lot! The series is available on Netflix – along with a new remade series which I find every bit as enjoyable as the originals!
  • Smarter Every Day – Another great YouTube channel with lots of interesting things for kids – and adults too!

Daily Chore –  Each day I have a household chore that my kids are responsible to accomplish.  If they’re going to be home have them make your life a little easier!  The chores I give my kids are – cleaning laundry, folding laundry, cleaning a bathroom, vacuuming bedroom, & cleaning up the playroom.  Just one of those each day and in theory our household runs smoothly ;P

That’s it! In a nutshell you can do a fairly full school day with a quick workout, an online math lesson, some form of reading, a journal entry, a science video and then put your kids to work keeping the house! Then let them have the rest of the day to do legos or board games or building forts. I refuse to entertain my kids and they find plenty of good things to do with their days. I made a simple printable that you can print and laminate and then let your kids check it off each day to keep them accountable.

Download PDF version here

Good luck friends! Stay healthy and enjoy this time with your kids!

Tomato Soup Miracles

Several weeks back I was sitting in stake conference when one of the women speaking told a story about taking freezer meals to others. While listening I had the thought that I ought to make freezer meals for my ministering sisters and take it to them for the first day of school. For those of you not familiar with the ministering program – in our church pairs of women are given assignments to watch out for other women in the congregation. We call them ministering sisters and generally each woman in our church has a companion, two sisters she ministers to and two sisters assigned to minister to her. It’s a wonderful way to make sure that every one has someone looking out for their needs and caring for them on a personal level. This freezer meal idea was weird because I felt like I was supposed to do this for the sisters who minister to me and not the ones that I minister to. I tried to brush it off. I thought I was being too suggestible and trying to steal the speaker’s inspiration. Just because that is what this speaker had done didn’t mean it was what I needed to do.

As the meeting went on the thought kept coming back to me, but I kept pushing it off. I tried to think instead about how I could bless the lives of the sisters I minister to, but my mind kept coming up blank. Finally as the last speaker stood up he said that if we’d had any impressions during the meeting that we needed to act on them. His words cut through me. I knew then that I needed to do this so I filed it away.

School starting was still a week and a half off, but I felt like I needed to wait until the first day of school to take these meals. That was a little annoying since for our first day of school we were going to be packing to leave on a family vacation. Also, we homeschool so the first day of school is more of a working day for me than a break. I didn’t really think I had extra time that day. Besides, it was a freezer meal. By definition it shouldn’t matter what day I took it because the whole point was to put it in the freezer and pull it out whenever you needed it. Taking it sooner only meant that it could be helpful sooner as well as later – right? However as I tried to fit it into the week before I couldn’t seem to make it happen. So I ended up pushing it back to the first day of school anyways.

The other weird thing was that I felt distinctly like what I needed to take was Tomato Basil soup. That might not seem too weird, it’s a really yummy soup and not too difficult to make. However it is not something that I had a freezeable recipe for! I’ve made it a lot of times, but it’s not even a crock pot recipe. It’s a recipe that calls for sauteeing and boiling ingredients separately and then blending with a blender before serving. So it didn’t seem like it would be easy to convert for a one step, dump and cook freezer meal. Plus, it’s not the most filling soup it usually requires a sandwich or something to round it out as a meal. It didn’t seem like the greatest all-in-one kind of meal to bring as a freezer meal. I tried to think instead of another heartier recipe that I could easily freeze. I considered making my Chicken Tortilla soup which would have been super easy to put together as a freezer meal – and a much more hearty soup. But every time I thought of it there was an insistent thought that it needed to be Tomato Basil soup. I finally relented and picked up those ingredients.

Finally the first day of school came. It turned out I was able to get a lot of my trip preparations done in the days earlier. I also decided that our first day of school wasn’t going to be academic and we would wait until after our trip to kick off schooling. I surprisingly had time that day. Even still, I was only half convinced that I was actually going to follow through with this. I had promised my kids that we would go get smoothies that morning in honor of their friends starting school and felt like I had other things that needed to be done. However I woke up with the motivation so I told the kids they’d have to wait. In all honesty the whole endeavor seemed doomed. Who makes 8 batches of a recipe in a way they’ve never tested before to give to 5 other families?? But we got it done and in the freezer. I texted my ministering sisters as well as the sisters I minister to and let them know that I had a batch of soup for each of them. Then I headed out with my kiddos to get their first day of school smoothies – despite it being nearly noon.

That afternoon I got a text back from one of my ministering sisters and took her over some soup. I honestly felt so dumb taking over an untested recipe on a day when I was sure families probably had other plans. I almost apologetically handed over the soup feeling like I had done this more for my sake to get the feeling to go away than for hers. When my friend invited me in she told me that their fridge and freezer had gone out and they’d lost all of their cold food over the weekend. They had to wait until the end of the week to get their new fridge and she hadn’t known what she was going to do for dinner that night. The soup came just at the right time so she could have a home cooked meal for her family. I was especially touched to realize that if I had taken the meal the week before (which I’d thought would be more convenient for everyone) then she would have lost it along with the rest of her food. I guess Heavenly Father knew what he was talking about when he said to wait until the first day of school.

Later that afternoon I took a batch to each of the sisters I minister to. I hadn’t felt as compelled to bring them a freezer meal as I had for my own ministering sisters. But I felt like I was doing ministering wrong to take a freezer meal to my ministering sisters and not to the sisters I minister to. So as long as I was making soup they were going to get some too! It was a good excuse to see them and I’m guessing that it was helpful for them to have a meal in the freezer for when they needed it. I felt good about it, however they hadn’t had the same sort of extenuating circumstances that my ministering sister had and I realized that the prompting I had received was right as it was. I was intended to go to my ministering sisters with the soup.

In the evening I was able to take another batch to my other ministering sister. As I’d been preparing the soup I remembered that she’s a vegetarian. My tomato basil soup is one of my only recipes that – if I substitute vegetable broth for chicken broth – is vegetarian. I felt again that I had been guided in what I prepared. We talked for awhile and she told me she was excited to have a home cooked meal as she lives alone and doesn’t do a lot of cooking. I felt glad that I had followed the prompting to make something that she could eat at home that would make her happy. I felt happy to have been able to bless someone in a personal way.

I thought that was the end of the story and honestly I felt like it was more than enough to have been a part of these tiny tender mercies. How cool that the Lord knew what these women needed and had allowed me to take part in it. I finished packing and went on our trip to the Grand Canyon with a full heart.

Later that week I looked at my phone and saw that my second ministering sister had tagged me in a post on Instagram. Curious I signed in and saw that she’d posted that she had just come home from surgery. She posted a picture of the soup all prepared and talked about how having a meal that she could make at home was such a blessing that day so that she didn’t have to go out while she was recovering. You guys – I didn’t even know she was having surgery. But the Lord did. He knew she could really use having something warm and comforting to eat at home that day. He had put in my heart in advance the exact thing that needed to happen so that this woman would have what she needed when she came home.

I felt really humbled by how well the Lord knows us. He knows not only the things we are going through – but the things we *will* go through. He knew to give me enough lead time to psych myself up to make a freezer meal I didn’t know how to make. He knew to hold me off until after my friend’s freezer went out so that the soup wouldn’t go bad with the rest of her food. He knew that I needed to make a meal that was vegetarian. He knew that my ministering sister was going in to surgery and would need something she could eat after the fact. He KNOWS us, and He loves us. He has a plan that is greater for each of us and He is ready to use us to bless the lives of those around us in meaningful ways.

If Not a Mormon, Then What?

In October General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson spoke to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about the name of our church. He asked us to use the proper name of the church when referring to ourselves as members as well as other entities associated with the church. There was a lot of surprise and backlash from this request, especially as it included re-branding several existing entities such as Mormon.org and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir which had very established branding.

Personally, I was happy to hear the re-emphasis on the proper name of the church. I remembered President Hinckley giving a similar charge back in 1990. Even though I was only 5 years old at the time that call had stuck with me. I went back and looked up President Hinckley’s talk. I found this portion especially interesting –

Six months ago in our conference Elder Russell M. Nelson delivered an excellent address on the correct name of the Church. He quoted the words of the Lord Himself:
β€œThus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (D&C 115:4.)

I was interested that it was Elder Nelson who had originally inspired President Hinckley to give us that charge. Now that same Elder Nelson has the role of President of the church and he’s back saying, “Ok guys, I’ve said this before almost 30 years ago but let’s do this again. Maybe a little louder for those of you in the back?” Far from being something new, this is something he has been saying for literally decades.

All through my school years I was dogmatic about using the proper name of the church. The prophet had asked us to be careful about how we referred to ourselves and it was something that my family took very seriously. In fact all through my growing up years to call ourselves “Mormons” was akin to swearing in our household. All the way through college I don’t think I once called myself a Mormon without having first used the proper name of the church. I remember introducing myself to friends at school and stating my religion as “I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” and then if I got a look of confusion I might follow up with “Some people call us Mormons but we don’t really like to be called that.” Believe me, if you’ve had that whispered conversation in French class in the few minutes before the bell rings, while trying not to trip over the many words in the name of our church – it sticks with you πŸ˜›

So in 2010 I was a little dismayed to hear that the church was starting a new campaign introducing the website Mormon.org. I was confused that after all these years of really trying to eschew the nickname of Mormons that we were suddenly changing paths. I imagined President Hinckley rolling in his grave at the introduction of this new website.

At the same time, as a web professional I understood the value of taking ownership of the name and search term. Hopefully rather than someone running a google search for Mormons and finding sketchy websites run by detractors from our faith – they could come to our site and see for themselves what we believe. That to me made sense from an SEO standpoint. Ideally we would want people to call us by our proper name but you have to play the hand you’re dealt not the hand you want. There was a lot more “brand recognition” if you will for Mormon – and can you blame people? One word is a lot easier to remember than the whole string that titles our church. We still weren’t calling ourselves Mormons, just using the term as a way to help people find out more about us. That seemed justifiable to me.

If I was dismayed with the introduction of Mormon.org I felt almost betrayed a year later in 2011 with the introduction of the I’m a Mormon campaign. Again, I understood the motives of wanting to take ownership of the term. I liked that the people who worked with the church were saying “Look, there’s nothing bad about being associated with the church, let’s not allow others to take this term and use it as derogatory. It isn’t a derogatory thing to be associated with the church so let’s take this and be proud of it.” I really do think the motivations were pure and good and I think a lot of good came from that campaign. Despite my confusion at the change in course, I am proud of my faith. So I filled out a profile on Mormon.org, stuck an “I’m a Mormon” badge on my blog and proclaimed myself as a “Mormon” on my social media profiles. If this was what our church leaders had approved then I was all in.

Image result for i'm a mormon

After that I dropped the crusade of using the proper name of the church. I had done my part to use the proper name for so long, but if it wasn’t going to be taken seriously even at church headquarters then there didn’t seem to be a point in me taking it seriously either. To be honest, the word Mormon is a lot easier to use. From a brand perspective it’s easy to fit “I’m a Mormon” in a 160 character Twitter profile. To write “I’m a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” takes 63 characters as opposed to 12 – leaving more room to make other statements about why someone would want to follow me. In conversation it’s easier to talk about our community as “Mormons” rather than “members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”. In a recent conversation a fellow member used the term Mormons about a dozen times and I didn’t stop her because I recognized the impracticality of adding over 100 words to what she was saying.

Then of course President Nelson reiterated his previous statements about the name of the church. I believe strongly that it was important that the name we took upon ourselves was Christ’s name – not Mormon’s name. I’ve been told in the past that I was not a Christian because Mormons are not Christians. Which bothered me deeply. It’s much more difficult to tell someone who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that they are not a Christian than it is to think that “Mormons” are probably a weird cult that believes in totally out there things.

Logo of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

However, I still struggled with the return to the doctrine. For 20 years I had personally worked very hard to not use the term Mormon and always use the full name of the church – and after all that even the people at church headquarters had given up. I know what a mouthful the name of the church is and how regardless of my willingness to say all of that I knew others – especially those who don’t share my faith – would not be so willing. I feared that this would be destined not to stick just as it hadn’t before.

As I pondered on this I composed in my head an open letter to President Nelson to express all that I’ve posted above and to ask him to inquire of the Lord for an approved nickname for church members. I totally agreed that we needed to eschew the use of the nickname Mormon to describe our people and that it was of utmost importance that the name we use was the name that we took upon ourselves at baptism – Jesus Christ. I knew that the correct term was that we are Christians, but that term is so broad and encompasses many different sects of Christianity – Methodists, Catholics, Baptists, Evangelicals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, 7th Day Adventists, Anglicans, Amish – it wasn’t a term we could claim that would show our differences. We share our belief in Christ with all of these, but each sect has important differences that distinguish us from one another. I wanted to find a short name that could explain who I was that still kept the focus on Christ.

I have a background in marketing so I decided to also take the challenge on myself. I figured it was wise to take a leaf out of the Brother of Jared’s book and present a possible solution, not just a problem πŸ˜‰ I found it interesting to note that of the different denominations of Christianity, the only one whose nickname involved a direct reference to Christ is the Jehovah’s Witnesses. As I thought through it the best name I could come up with as an alternative for Mormon was Christian Restorationist or perhaps Latter-day Christian. The thing that sets us most apart from other Christians is our belief in the restoration of the priesthood keys, prophets, apostles and all of the things that were practiced in Christ’s church when he led it personally on the earth.

Peter gives Paul the priesthood by the laying on of hands.Β  Image courtesy of ChurchOfJesusChrist.org

This is of course what is supposed to be conveyed in the name of our church – Latter-day Saints is supposed to refer to the fact that we are practicing the same religion as the early saints. We are little s saints meaning followers of Christ who have been sanctified through baptism – not big S Saints like those revered as being holy in the catholic church. Latter days refers to the fact that we are just doing this in a more modern time – a latter day from the original church. Unfortunately that gets a little lost on modern ears and saints has been co-opted so much by the Catholic church that to say that you’re a Latter-day Saint sounds presumptuous – as though we believe we are perfect on a level with their revered Saints. Although it should, the name no longer conveys necessary ties to Christ’s name without the rest of the church’s name.

My degree is in linguistics and I understand that languages change through time and meanings of words are not static. You have to express yourself in terms that are understood by the people receiving your communication. Linguistic success is achieved by conveying meaning, not by using the word you like. I was pretty pleased with this moniker of Christian Restorationist with the only problem being that there are other faiths (Jehovah’s Witnesses, 7th Day Adventists etc) that would also fall under that category, but I felt like it at least got closer to the mark. There would be the issue of adoption outside the church, but it was at least a name that was short enough that I thought it had a chance. But I continued to mull over options and mentally compose that letter.

A view of the Draper Utah Temple in the evening. Image courtesy of ChurchOfJesusChrist.org

That has been rolling around in my brain for several months. Then, a couple weeks back I was sitting in the temple and pondering on names. I was reminded of a post that a friend made on Facebook. She had been reading the Book of Mormon and had gotten to 4 Nephi and read about how after Christ’s visit to the Americas there were 200 years of incredible peace and prosperity among the people. She was bugged that we have over 500 pages of the Book of Mormon that discuss all of their wars and disputes, but only 24 verses that tell us about this time of amazing peace an prosperity. She pointed out that what she really wanted to be reading was all about how they did the peace and prosperity! Twenty-four measly verses wasn’t enough to teach us all that we needed to know about how to achieve that! Her words stuck with me and I agreed with her wholeheartedly. I decided to go back and re-read those 24 verses to see what I could glean out of them. Here were some of the verses that I read –

15 And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
16 And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.
17 There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.

4 Nephi 1:15-17
Christ in the Land Bountiful, by Simon Dewey. Image courtesy of ChurchOfJesusChrist.org

It struck me that a major portion of what helped the people gain this amazing peace and prosperity was this idea that there was not “any manner of -ites”. They were able to have peace in the land because they allowed what united them – their faith in Christ – to be stronger than what divided them. I went on to read that not only was that what caused their peace, but it was a departure from that which led to their downfall. If you read on you see that the people divide into many different churches with each one focusing on one doctrine or another and ignoring those that didn’t suit them. From there they go from having 200 years of peace and prosperity to (spoiler alert) completely destroying the church and their civilization in the most gruesome ways within the next 200 years.

I pondered on this idea of “ites”. The thought came to me that isn’t this exactly what we do in modern times? Rather than uniting ourselves as followers of Christ under the name Christians, we divide ourselves into our many different denominations. We decide that our differences are more important than our similarities. I had been thinking that the Lord had called us to be a “peculiar people” as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that we needed a name that reflected that. However when I went to look up that scripture I discovered that it wasn’t a calling given to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but it came from the book of Peter in the New Testament. We are peculiar for being Christians, and the name Christian IS what sets us apart.

Image courtesy of ChurchOfJesusChrist.org

After reading all of this I no longer feel inclined to find a better nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Certainly I would gladly accept one to be able to distinguish ourselves culturally with linguistic efficiency. However, we have taken upon us the name of Christ – we are Christians. That’s enough. If that means that we are lumped in with all of the other denominations of Christianity – well isn’t that wonderful? I don’t believe Christ wants us dividing ourselves, he wants us united in living our faith as best as we can. Yes, your faith might be practiced differently than mine, but that can be as true between members of the same denomination as it is between denominations. If you believe in Christ and are working out your salvation with Him, then I want to stand with you. Whether you wear a cross or a CTR ring. Whether you listen to the pope or the prophet. Whether your baptism was performed with sprinkling or with immersion. I don’t care. We are followers of Christ and that’s the only name we need to take on ourselves.

So who am I? I am a Christian.

I believe in prophets and apostles, both ancient and modern.

I believe in the power of God given to us through the priesthood.

I believe in the scriptures as the word of God given to us to guide us.

I believe in temple ordinances and the power to bind families together forever.

The Resurrected Christ, by Wilson J. Ong Image Courtesy of ChurchOfJesusChrist.org

But above all else – I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in His atonement to cleanse us from our sins. I believe in His resurrection and that through Him we can all live again. I believe that He is the way, the truth and the light and that all who come unto him can find peace and everlasting life.

I’m a Christian, and I am proud to share that name with anyone else who wants to it take upon themselves.

How I built a library of over 550 audible books without breaking the bank

Maximizing Your Audible Account

How I built an Audible library with over 550 titles without breaking the bank

I’m a major book junkie. I’ve loved reading ever since I learned how to read. I remember as early as first grade staying up regularly until 1am reading quietly in my bed. However, I’ve found that as a mother it’s much more difficult to justify snuggling up in a chair all day with a book – for some reason my kids seem to require a bit more attention than that.  I missed the chance to expand my horizons without leaving my home, but couldn’t justify letting my house become a disaster and my kids run wild while I kept my nose stuck in a book.  

Luckily, I found a wonderful compromise – Audible.  With Audible I can enjoy fantastic audiobooks and still have my escape to other worlds while my hands and eyes can be busily occupied with laundry, dishes, cooking – or any of the other tasks of motherhood.  My husband is a similiar bibliophile but also found his reading taking a backseat. However, with audiobooks he’s been able to turn a monotonous commute into a small escape.  My kids have also really gotten into listening to books, especially at bedtime.  We have Amazon Echo Dots in each of their rooms and they are able to enjoy many wonderful books this way – although it sometimes tends to keep them up later than I would like.  I guess they must be like me after all πŸ˜‰  To say that we are Audible fans in our household is an understatement – we LOVE Audible around here!

Anyways, over the years I’ve found lots of ways to get the most out of my Audible subscription.  I’ve built up a library of 557 books so far and have done it for surprisingly cheap.  I thought these tips and tricks might be useful to some of my readers, so here we go!

  1. Spring for the Platinum Annual Membership. I know this suggestion might not make sense for everyone but hear me out. Audible has a subscription service – you pay a certain amount of money to get a certain number of audio books on a monthly or yearly basis.  You can sign up to get one or two books a month and either pay for that many books for a year or per month.  The plans range from $14.95/month (for one book credit each month) to $229.50/year.  The platinum membership costs the most all at once, but it costs $5.39 less per book credit than the basic monthly plan.  In 16 months you would have paid the same amount going with a monthly plan but you would have 8 more books with a platinum plan than with the gold plan.  I think this is the hardest part to swallow is that large charge all at once, but I’ll give you some tricks for making that very worthwhile in my next few tips.  Whatever you decide, a membership is definitely the key to getting the most out of Audible but I’d highly recommend the Platinum membership.
  2. Share with a friend.  This is the trickiest tip to do properly, but it can really make that Platinum account make sense.  My husband and I actually have two separate audible accounts, even though we only have one membership.  What we do is have the membership in my name and whenever Eric wants a book that he doesn’t think I’d be interested in having in my library he purchases it on my account as a gift for himself.  He is then emailed a link that he can click on to add that book to his account.  So there are a few ways you could use this.  If you have a spouse, sibling or friend that you’re close enough with to share your Amazon password (and accompanying access to your credit card for purchases on Amazon/Audible) then you can split the cost and share that password.  I’ve also purchased books as gifts for siblings and friends and then had them send me money for it in return.  They get the book at the membership rate and I can more easily justify my Platinum membership πŸ™‚
  3. Never use a credit to get a book that’s less than $9.50.  Ok, do I need to spell this one out for you?  If you credits are only $9.56 each please don’t use a credit to buy a book that you can get for less than that!  As a member you get discounts on the regular prices of books so make sure that you take advantage of those discounts!  Just be careful at checkout to uncheck the box for using a credit because if you have credits that will be the default value!  I’ll tell you later how I get those books for free a lot of the time πŸ™‚
  4. Sign up for Daily Deal emails. Every day Audible discounts a book to $4.95 or less and emails anyone on their list to let them know what the Deal of the Day is.  I’ve gotten LOTS of great books this way!  If you were to try to buy most of these books on CDs it would cost you $30+ so to get the books for less than $5 is pretty awesome.  I probably only find a book that I’m interested in a couple times a month, but it’s well worth following for those couple times a month!
  5. Take advantage of coupon deals.  Frequently Audible will send their members “Buy 4 books get $10 credit” – this probably happens like twice a year.  I *always* take advantage of this!  If you have credits and a wish list it’s easy to pick out your next 4 reads and get a $10 credit.  I then use that credit to buy a few books that are either priced low or on sale.  It doesn’t get any better than free books!
  6. Maintain a Wish List. One of the greatest features about Audible is that if you keep your wish list filled with all the titles that you would like to get if one of them goes on sale they will highlight those books in their emails to you.  It also makes it easy when you’re looking for your next read to go to your wish list and find something queued up πŸ™‚
  7. Browse 3-for-2 sales, $4.95 sales, etc.  Probably about once a month Audible will have a sale of “3 books for 2 credits” or “any of these books for $4.95”.  I always browse these and have found some of my favorite books this way and stretch my credits even farther!  There’s a strong possibility that last month I spent over $90 and bought 15 new books for my kids – but at $4 per title how could I pass it up??  I was able to justify it since I’ll submit the receipts to my kid’s homeschooling charter school πŸ˜‰
  8. Check for WhisperSync titles. Seriously, even without a membership this is one of the greatest deals ever.  Sometimes the Kindle book will be free but because you “bought” it you’ll be able to get the audiobook for super cheap.  I’d recommend checking out this post on SlickDeals where you’ll find a bunch of books that you can get the Kindle edition for free and then buy the Audible edition for a couple dollars!  You can also check out this page on Amazon to find out what the audio upgrades cost for Kindle books you already own!
  9. Prime Shipping Credits.  To go along with the WhisperSync titles – if you have a Prime membership you will often be given the option at checkout to forego your 2 day shipping and instead be given a $1 credit that can be used on Kindle books.  I almost always will take that offer, then I take those Kindle credits and buy WhisperSync books that I want for free!  That makes the cheap audio addition an even better deal πŸ˜‰
  10. Holiday Gift Books and Audible Originals Every month Audible has a selection of free books for members!  You can pick up to two of them and I’ve gotten some really fun listens that way.  Occasionally Audible will also give away books for free as gifts for different holidays.  I’ve gotten new books for 4th of July, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and other holidays.  They’re specific titles that might not be something that I would have chosen myself, but it’s been a great way to get me out of my comfort zone and reading something new – and you can’t beat free!

So there are my tips and tricks to get the most out of your Audible membership. If you’ve signed up now and need a good listen you should check out my book recommendations list – I made it specifically from my Audible listens that I’ve enjoyed.  Happy listening!

The Loaves & Fishes and a Review of Unplanned

Never have I been so excited to attend a movie that I so desperately did not want to see. That’s how I felt going into see Unplanned today. I felt that this movie was important to see, I want it to do well and I thought it should be something everyone should go see – but I knew it was not going to be a fun happy experience. In fact, when I asked my husband when he wanted to go see it with me his response was that he really didn’t want to go see it – and I couldn’t blame him. But I still felt like I needed to go see it. I already knew Abby’s story but I felt compelled to go and see it played out on the big screen for myself.

So when I got my 1yo down for his afternoon nap and realized that I could make it to the next showing – that’s what I did. I quickly packed as much chocolate into my purse as I could find (stupid trying to eat healthy meant there wasn’t as much stock as I would have liked), wore my knit shawl as a socially acceptable excuse to bring a blanket into the theater, and left my husband home with the kids. I knew if I hesitated I would talk myself out of going so I just went.

This was my first R-rated movie that I’ve ever seen unedited. While I totally believe that the MPAA only gave Unplanned an R rating in an attempt to tank it – I also think it was deserved. The movie is heavy, though not dark. As someone who does not deal well with blood – particularly medical blood – it was a really hard movie to watch, and there were definitely several times when I found myself hiding under my makeshift blanket while I ugly cried. However, nothing about the bloodiness or the subject matter was gratuitous. It was real, and it told a true story, without overdramatization. But should it be a movie that kids under 18 are seeing without at least parental knowledge? Probably not. At least, I don’t think I would want my kids seeing it without me, though I think there are many lesser rated films that I would be much more opposed to them seeing.

However, while the movie dealt with things that I wished that I didn’t have to know about – there was a great deal of hope as well. Even though I left with a headache from crying so much over much of the heartbreak and horror of the movie – I did not leave feeling sad, or helpless, or overly weighed down. Instead I honestly left feeling hopeful and inspired. Definitely still saddened, but that feeling wasn’t overwhelming because of the hope and light offered in the film.

Many times throughout my becoming more entrenched in the pro-life movement I have felt like there was no hope. Yes, abortion was a terrible evil, but what could I really do about it? It’s legal, it’s not like I could turn these people into the police. Public opinion, at least as portrayed in the media has always seemed so pro-choice. How can you protect babies whose own mothers won’t even protect them? I’m a stay at home mom with 4 kids – I don’t have a fancy law degree, I don’t have deep pockets to lobby politicians. Is there really anything I could do?

I’d heard of several organizations in my own quest to find a way to fight against abortion, and among them was 40 Days for Life. To be honest when I heard what they were about I felt like their whole mission was too hokey and not action oriented enough. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the organization – they sit outside abortion clinics and pray. Their object isn’t to engage or protest, just to pray. Praying is great and all, but if I was going to get involved I wanted to do something – I could pray from home.

In our Come Follow Me discussion last week we discussed the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. I’ll give you a recap of the events. Jesus is teaching a multitude of five thousand men (plus women and children) and decides it’s time to feed everyone. The disciples look around and say “uhm, there are 5000+ people here, there’s no way we have that kind of food.” But Christ asks that they find whatever food is there. Finally a little boy comes forward with 5 loaves of bread, and two small fish. I can only imagine how I would feel bringing that kind of offering, “Oh, hey Lord, yeah I know you said you wanted to feed 5000 people but all I have is 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish – not even enough to feed 50 people really and you have 100x that here. But sure, take what I have, I’ll probably be hungry, but go ahead and see what you can make of it.” To be honest, I think I would have felt like an idiot offering that up. It’s probably why the only person who offered up anything was a young boy – he was the only one willing to offer what he had, regardless of how small it was. Then of course the Lord takes that laughably miniscule offering and not only feeds the multitude to satiation, but comes back with 12 baskets full of fragments – not only filling the boy, and the multitude but giving the boy back more than he even started with.

SPOILERS AHEAD. CONTINUE READING AT YOUR OWN RISK. (However, I don’t think the story is a surprise to most of the people seeing the movie so you can probably keep reading. I would just feel guilty not making the disclaimer πŸ˜‰ )

As I watched Unplanned I was struck with the characters of Shawn and Marilisa. I’m sure they must have felt much like that young boy – “Well, here we are, praying outside of Planned Parenthood again. We’ve been doing this for 8 years and we watch as week after week more women come in and abort their babies. It doesn’t make any difference, but it’s what we have that we can offer up so we’ll keep doing it.” I’m sure the defeat of it all was absolutely crushing, and that they felt heartbroken that they were standing by and doing what seemed like virtually nothing.

But then, after their long years of waiting. After their patience and persistence. Because they had faith, and showed kindness and “love unfeigned” towards Abby – a miracle happened. A miracle that I’m sure they never could have dreamed of. The clinic director who they had gone toe to toe with for so many years suddenly had a change of heart and not only leaves Planned Parenthood, but goes on to create an organization to help get abortion workers out of the industry. And the clinic they’ve been praying over for so many years closes for good.

I felt chastised for my faithlessness. Is not our God a God of miracles? Haven’t I seen those miracles in my own life? I was reminded of this scripture –

Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.

And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.

Alma 37:6-7

I have decided that I want to be more like the young man in the scriptures. I want to bring my 5 loaves to the Lord and see what he can make of my meager offering. Together perhaps our small offerings can bring forth something great.

If you haven’t seen Unplanned – go see it! Whether you’re ardently pro-life, more on the fence or even if you’re pro-choice – go see it. I’m not promising an enjoyable couple of hours. You will likely have your heart broken and handed back to you. But, you will leave with hope and a new perspective on the love that our God has for each of us. The story is not one of hopelessness, but of hope.