the perfect fall salad

It's the most wonderful time of the year... fall! I don't even know what that Christmas song is talking about. Autumn makes me feel the warm fuzzies like nothing else. When September hits, I only last a few days into the month before I start busting out the fall decor, looking up fall recipes on Pinterest, and dreaming about wearing booties and cozy scarves. Yeah, I'm pretty basic and easy to please.

One time my sister told me, "Whitney, you're so funny. You always talk about how much you hate cooking, but then you have so much fun making beautiful meals!"

It's so true! I really do have a love/hate relationship with cooking. I love making delicious, special, unique meals for the people who are most important to me. I hate the cleanup, lack of counter space, and those adorable grumbles from my kids, because once again, they don't like what I've made for dinner. Sigh. Ah well, autumn is the perfect excuse to do just that! Last night I made butternut squash soup and this gorgeous autumn salad with a maple dressing, of which I may have had four helpings (and only one of my kids complained!). It's simple and delicious and contains all the flavors of autumn. The dressing is adapted slightly from a recipe I found on The Yummy Life.

I made the salad by combining the following ingredients. You can use as much of each as you want. Just go with your instinct!


no more small, cheap toys!

Does anyone else hate tiny, cheap China-made toys like me? I'm pretty sure I just heard a chorus of mothers from around the world shout a resounding YES. Why are my kids always drawn to the dollar section at Target? Oh... probably because I am. (I just can't resist those tiny ceramic pumpkins!)

I'm not going to pretend to live a perfectly sustainable life, or as though we only buy fair trade items... not even close. In a perfect world, I wish! I am totally supportive of that lifestyle, but it's not really one we can afford, so when possible we buy used items. We are huge fans of thrift stores! But you can still have a consumeristic mindset, even at a thrift store. You know what they say; money can't buy happiness... even if that happiness seems to appear in the form of a gorgeous vintage copy of that particular book I've had my eye on, priced at only $2. Happy sigh. My kids love to play in the toy section at thrift stores, but I almost always say no when they ask to bring those toys home. Games, puzzles, and books are things we are always on the lookout for, but toys... not a big fan.

We have a few boundaries surrounding toys in our house. We have to, or things get crazy. Typically, we ask that people don't bring gifts to birthday parties. We have limited room and plenty of play things, and my kids really don't need more stuff. We would rather just invite friends over to have fun and celebrate our little people with us. And my kids know we don't buy toys for them unless it's a birthday, Christmas, or Easter. Ever. We just don't. I feel like it took a good year for my kids to stop asking for little things when we were out of the house, but eventually they did stop... for the most part.

With these boundaries in place, we can avoid the house filling up with useless junk. (And yet, we still tend to have useless junk laying around... how?!) The less toys my kids possess, the more fun they have... ironic, but not really surprising at all.

However, we still have this little problem of when they have pocket change. So far, we don't give our kids an allowance. I know it's a great way to give kids an experience with budgeting and wise spending, but I don't really have the desire to send my kids lose with $10 a month, or whatever. I think I'd rather them come up with creative ways to earn money instead. But I digress. Every once in a while, they might receive $2 from a family member, or find some change on the ground. It adds up, and eventually, they want to spend it.

I inwardly groan as I walk them through the toy section at Target or the aisles of Dollar Tree, which contain just about every disposable, cheap, plastic toy that I try my hardest to avoid bringing into the house! But now, we have a new rule, and everyone is happy.

Only buy activities.

This means no dolls, animal figurines, cheap tiaras, or Matchbox cars. Only things you can actually do. This rule works wonderfully because there's an end. No more tiny toys lying around. Sometimes there's the added bonus of getting my kids to actually work the little gears in their brains, or getting their hands busy.
Here's a list of inexpensive things they are allowed to purchase:

  • Playdough
  • Sparklers
  • Glow sticks
  • Puzzles
  • Coloring books
  • Maze books
  • Sudoku
  • Word searches
  • Crayons, colored pencils, markers, etc.
  • Paint
  • Other craft/art supplies like felt, pipe cleaners, etc.
  • Notebooks, paper
  • Balls (I feel like one can never have enough balls, our always seem to go missing!)
  • Jump ropes
  • Healthy snacks
  • Calculators 
  • Books (only quality books... "twaddle" can be borrowed from the library)
  • Beads
  • Stickers
  • Wooden toy kits
  • Pegs to turn into dolls
  • Seeds
  • Bubbles
  • Gardening tools
  • Chalk
This worked out splendidly for us, and the other day after the first time I implemented this new rule, my kids enjoyed a fun 10 minutes of sparklers outside after the rain stopped yesterday. Austen bought herself a word search book that is helping with her reading, and Chase picked out a coloring book. Wins all around!


secret life of mothers

Me with my mom (far right) and sisters, Sky and Emma

I wrote this a couple years ago, but wanted to update it with a photo of my mom and I and a link to a rich, encouraging podcast. This story still rings in my heart to this day, and it frequently crosses my mind when I make little, daily sacrifices for my kids - some normal and almost missed, and some harder and more emotional.

On my mind today is a story my mom recently told me. We were taking a walk around the neighborhood and I mentioned how much shorter a mile is to me now than it was when I was little. I recalled a memory, saying, "I can't remember where we were walking, but we had to park somewhere down town when I was eight or nine. I remember you telling me it was about a mile-long walk to where we had to go, and I thought it took us forever to get there. I couldn't believe it was an entire mile. It was so hot and I remember being miserable."

"Oh, I know exactly what you are talking about!" my mom exclaimed. She continued to tell me about that day. I was in Girl Scouts and our troop was going to be on a float in a parade. She was getting over a kidney infection, but she didn't want me to miss the parade and she was a leader in the troop, so she took me despite the fact that her back was still very sore. Since there was no parking in the area where the parade was going to take place, we had to park the car pretty far away. There was no sidewalk so she couldn't take the stroller and had to carry my chunky 18-month-old brother the entire way, in the middle of summer, in the Texas heat.

I never knew all she went through to get me to that parade! My mom never complained about being a mother. Of course, I know some days were hard, but I don't remember that my mom was in pain, or that she was uncomfortable with a sore back carrying my little brother for a mile; I just remember having a ton of fun at that parade.

I am so thankful for my mom today. I never truly understood or appreciated all she did for me until I was a mother myself, and I hope I am able to give my own children good memories, and that I do it with grace, as she did. I am so thankful and honored that God has trusted these three beautiful little souls to me.

Happy mother's day to all my beautiful mama friends out there... mothers with one or five or twelve children. Mothers who are going it alone and hardly get a chance to breathe. Mothers whose children were brought to them through adoption. Mothers with aching hearts, who have lost babies before they even took their first breath. To women who have lost mothers and spend this day in mourning and to mother who have lost children. And to women who long to be mothers. To women who act as mothers to the lost and lonely. I hope you feel loved and appreciated today, and if you don't, know that God sees the sacrifices you have made for your children with your bodies, your minds, and your hearts.


our transition from cyber to independent homeschooling

Oh my gosh y'all, I am so excited about this new school year! We are two weeks in and having so much fun. Toward the end of the last school year I started reading more about Charlotte Mason (CM). I've known about the method for years, but didn't know much about it. All I knew was that my mom had The Original Homeschool Series written by Charlotte herself on her bookshelf, and that I had a friend who was a CM graduate, and she was intelligent, well-spoken, a critical thinker, and just an all-around lovely person whom I really admired. When I started listening to these amazing, insightful, and delightful podcasts at the website A Delectable Education, I had the realization that everything I loved about homeschooling when I was young were things my mom took as inspiration from Charlotte Mason. I became enamored and completely hooked on the idea of quitting everything we were doing in homeschool so far and completely rely on the CM method for our next school year.

I grappled with this decision for four months. It was uncomfortable, to say the least. Calvert curriculum had been good to us; there was no denying that. River went from being able to read simple, three-letter words to reading on a third grade level in 6 months, and I didn't find it entirely insufferable (I never saw myself as a curriculum type homeschooler). But there was a lot in the curriculum, and it was tedious, exhausting, full of pages upon pages of seat work, and took over 3-4 hours to complete if we followed it to a tee (which we did... for about two months). I wasn't a fan of the math program they offered, and as someone with a legitimate phone phobia, I grew a little tired of the phone calls every two weeks from the school, asking how River was doing. My thought was always, "You see he's acing his tests. He's in cyber class once a week. Why are you calling me?!"

It would have been easy to stay in Calvert. It was a program that was completely free. They sent all the supplies to us, including a laptop. Paper, pencils, textbooks, workbooks, tests, laptop, PE equipment. All I had to do was scan his tests in once a month and upload them to the site. But even that little bit of oversight, with the calls and emails, grew wearisome. I wanted independence. Less expectations from people who are not in my children's lives and know nothing about them, because River's name was just letters in a system.

There were some positives to the curriculum, of course. Besides what I've already mentioned, following the curriculum showed me two things: one, that my son was learning. At home. With daily work. I was seeing progress on a daily basis! And two: that I could do this. I was doing it.

But could I do it without guidance? Without phone calls from teachers checking in? Without a lessons planned out by someone else? I've never doubted my ability to teach; I've doubted my ability to stay focused. To stay on track. To raise an academically successful child, despite my own struggle to stay focused in school and college myself. It's not that I don't believe I am intelligent and capable... it's that my brain is always at odds with me, and the question of whether or not my brain and body connection will cooperate.

Armed with the evidence of River's progress, and the information I read that led me to believe a more relaxed homeschool environment was just what we needed, I emailed our advisor through PA Cyber and told her we were pulling him out. Perpetually fearful of nearly everything, I thought I would receive backlash, confusing paperwork, or some sort of questionnaire asking why we were leaving. Nothing of the sort! She emailed me back and told me good luck and that she was sending me a shipping label for the computer. At that moment, I sighed a breath of relief and felt both a weight off my shoulders, and a lightness in the thrill of realizing what I'd just done. We were no longer tethered to a system; no longer did I have the feeling of other people breathing down my neck, peeking in at my child's education. Freedom!

(By the way, if you're reading this and you happen to be thinking of joining PA Cyber, they definitely did not breath down my neck. That's just how I felt because of my personality and need for independence in homeschooling. They were great and supportive! And besides the twice-a-month phone calls, I was not badgered about anything, ever.)

Summer was a relaxing time. I'd spent so much energy listening to podcasts, reading blog posts and articles about Charlotte Mason, researching different lessons plans from Ambleside Online to Simply Charlotte Mason, and I came to a point where I was tapped out. I felt prepared enough for the time being. I'd literally spent full-time hours researching and planning for the past few weeks, and had put together a schedule and booklist on the computer, along with ideas of what I wanted to do that school year. I picked out a math program and decided what book I wanted to be our "spine" in history. I felt as ready as I could be, three months before the next school year. But oh my goodness, did summer pass quickly.

Before I knew it, it was two weeks until the first day of school, and I hadn't even opened my documents on the computer to go over my ideas, much less make a lesson plan for the first week! I was aware there was a deadline. I knew our school room wasn't organized. Heck, I hadn't even ordered any books. I felt that there was some sort of stress that I should be feeling, but every time I pondered the challenge that lay ahead and me and tried to conjure those familiar feelings of anxiety, they were not there. But in a few short days, I still scrambled. I tried to come up with the "perfect" school schedule. I doubted my choice of math program and considered changing the curriculum at the last minute. I tore apart all the shelves and baskets in attempts to get everything ready. And then, someone posted this magical video in a Facebook group I am apart of. And if there was an inkling of even feeling guilty about not feeling anxious, it was gone. If you are a homeschool mom, I highly encourage you to watch it!

As the first day of school approached, this time it was so very different from the last. I didn't feel the almost physical pressure mounting in my chest. I didn't have a nervousness of meeting expectations, of proving I was capable of giving my son a "perfect" education. (Mamas, there is no such thing as perfect. Not even public schools can teach a child everything there is to know, or everything they need to know.) I felt content. I felt... confident. Do you know when I have ever felt confident in my life? I'm not sure I can even share one instance. But y'all, I felt it. And I felt free.

And so, here we are. We are two weeks into school. Some days we have been up by 7, our morning flows smoothly, I sip my coffee for two hours and we begin and 9 am, and we are done with everything just in time for me to make lunch. Other days we have slept late, we did half of our school at 11, and then we did math just before dinner at 5pm. And you know what River told me after we cracked open his new math book and had finished a full week of school? "I love this school! We should do this kind of school forever."

He loves it because there is no pressure to perform. There is no test to tell him his worth. But I know his worth. I'm not only his teacher, I am his mother, and while I teach, I still must mother. It's not my responsibility to bark out orders, make sure he's following a schedule, make sure he spits out correct information by a certain day in a certain month, or even that his hair looks nice when he comes to school. It's my responsibility to nurture his mind, to create an enriching environment, and to make an emotional connection with him. To make him feel safe and accepted, no matter where he is in life, or in academics.

For the record, I also love this school and want to do it forever. Maybe in a few months, the pressure of homeschooling just right or in a certain way will rear its head again. Maybe I'll get overwhelmed with three kids at home and my spirit will grow tired. Maybe we'll struggle through a book and I'll question everything, and I'll consider packing them up and sending them all to school. But I hope I remember, despite those feelings and challenges, that today I have made the right decision, and remember that at home, they aren't just being schooled. They are being nurtured.


why we chose to homeschool : part two

Click here to see part one.

Even though we were six months into public school, it still didn't fit naturally into our life. I'd always planned on homeschooling and longed to pull him out, and my heart was restless; however, "it just doesn't feel right," didn't seem a good enough reason to make a drastic decision in the middle of the school year. As I said in part one, I began to pray a very specific prayer that something would happen to show me without a doubt that we should pull River out and start homeschooling, but that my little boy would be protected, no matter what that was.

One morning, a week or two into this fervent prayer, I lay in bed, the sunlight streaming into the room, my four-month-old peacefully asleep beside me. I'd spent the night sick, and John was getting River ready for school and out the door. I heard River's little voice outside my room, "But I want to give Mama a kiss goodbye!"

"Mama is sick, River. We have to let her sleep," John whispered back.

Thankful for John and also for the fact that Austen, who was three at the time, was still sleeping, I dozed off back to sleep. It must have been about 45 minutes later when I heard a sweet, little voice say, "Hi Mama." I turned around to see River standing beside my bed. I was momentarily confused -- John must have brought him back home, but why? "Where's Daddy?"

"He went to work," was his matter-of-fact reply.

Chase wriggled awake and I blinked as my sleepy mind tried to decipher what was going on. After a few more questions for River, I figured out that John saw him on the bus as usual, and from there, the kids were dropped off at the school; but instead of going to his class, River walked a mile home by himself in a neighborhood without sidewalks, down a street near a lake.

Immediately, my heart sank. One of the first things I had noticed about River's school at the beginning of the year is that drop-off and pick-up times seemed hectic. Although there was an attempted routine for these times, it was sort of a mess, and in the mornings I always noticed several children of different ages waiting outside with only one very distracted and busy adult to oversee things. It would be so easy for someone to snatch a child, or for a child to wander off unaccompanied, and for no one to notice in the midst of it all. I was always so worried that something could happen during these times, especially because my particular child has always been impulsive and off in his own little world, but I tried to ease my mind and not let myself worry; however, I knew now that this is exactly what had happened with River.

In spite of myself, I laughed wryly. Are you kidding me?! I thought. It was almost unbelievable... I had prayed for a clear answer, and that was exactly what I got. You may see it as grasping for straws, but I see it as a direct answer to my very specific prayer. "Let something happen to show us loud and clear that we should homeschool -- but please protect River."

I called John and was straight to the point. "River's here at the apartment. He walked home from school. I don't even know if anyone has realized that he's gone!"

"I guess we're homeschooling now," John said without missing a beat. We were on the same page!

After this whole ordeal, of course we had many talks with River about what a serious situation this was. He has always been impulsive and brave, much to my dismay. He is as friendly as can be, and I've always said, while shaking my head, that if a stranger ever came up to him and asked for his help to find a lost puppy, he would happily oblige. (I can say with confidence that now, at the age of nearly eight, he would not do this.) Thankfully, he didn't inherit my sense of direction, and was able to make the mile-long walk home without getting lost, even though we had only walked it twice.

Every family and situation, every mother and child is different. But for us, for me... I never felt at peace sending River to public school. I know to many people, walking a mile isn't a big deal. I know cases of child abduction have gone down significantly since the 70s. (And I know some people can't fathom a 5-year-old child "disobedient" or "out of control" enough to walk home from school without permission. I am not interested in talking to those people. Bye Felicia!)

But this is, and will always be, a part of our story. I entrusted the care of my child to adults -- several adults. Adults I had never met! That's a lot of trust right there. I know, I know millions of children go to school every day and are taken care of and have wonderful childhoods and never walk away from school unnoticed or harmed in any way, but I also know that now, River is where he needs to be, and I have never second guessed our decision. Despite the situation and the thoughts that filled my mind of a thousand different things that could have gone wrong on that walk home, I felt a sense of peace from the moment I realized I had my answer. I knew after that day, I wouldn't be sending my child back to school, and that it was going to be okay.

There were a lot of positives surrounding our public school experience, but I think I knew the answer all along, and that's why it never settled in my spirit. We were meant to homeschool. At least now, at least with these three kids, at least today... we are supposed to homeschool. That may change in the future! And I'm okay with this. I'm not scared, or worried, or concerned in the least. If, next year, I feel a complete change in my heart, do a 180 and send all my kids to public school, that's going to be okay, too. I'm confident that when we follow God's gentle nudges, he works in really cool ways. And when life doesn't work out the way we expect, he can still use these things for good.

There is no black and white when it comes to homeschooling. I am not interested in the school of thought (see what I did there?) that homeschooling is the only way! When we keep our minds open to the unexpected, we give God the "permission" to give us some pretty eye-opening experiences. I love homeschooling and I'm excited to see where we're going to go in the years to come.


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