How to Start Your Day Like a Three Year Old

There comes a time in every person’s life when they must throw off the shackles of sadness in difficult times. I was thinking to myself how much I used to love writing about funny things, and how I haven’t been able to do that for quite some time now. But today will be different. I said to myself,”Remember LAUGHING, Mary?? Laughing, of all ridiculous things. Laughter, I miss you. Let’s get together again.”  So this is my attempt to bring some hilarity back to my life and my blog, drawing upon my very own real life experiences.

ESSAY: How to Start Your Day Like a Three Year Old

First, it is very important that you wake up before everyone else in the entire household. This is key. Any time before 6:30 am will do just fine. Do not feel the need to be quiet so as not to disturb the others. Completely unnecessary. Push the bathroom door open with all the force your small arms can muster so the door slams into the wall/doorjamb/bathtub. Use the bathroom and whatever you do, don’t flush. You do remember, however, that it’s kind of fun to wash your hands. Pull up the step stool, turn on the water, and use approximately 37 pumps of soap. That should do the trick. Your hands are clean when there’s a foot-high mound of soap bubbles rising above the sink. Wipe your hands somewhat dry and don’t forget the throw the towel on the floor. Very important. It’s time to bust into your parent’s room. If your mom has her act together, she won’t be there; she’ll be in the basement moving around like a crazy person. She calls it “working out”. You call it HOW DARE YOU BE ANYWHERE BUT WHERE I THINK YOU SHOULD BE. But if your mom stayed up too late the night before reading (like she usually does), you’ll find her in bed. Demand breakfast. Say please and ask nicely when you are told to. Now listen closely. This is key. When your mom asks what kind of cereal you would like (this is First Breakfast, people. Don’t judge me.), don’t answer. Stick out your bottom lip and snort just a tiny bit. You can see that your mom is tired, needing a shower, and basically looks like Alice Cooper in the morning. None of this is important. What matters is that you withhold this vital information of cereal choice as long as you can, so as to make your mother lose her mind just a little bit more than yesterday. Unfortunately, your mom doesn’t play this game for very long. But it sure was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it?!? You sit down to your cereal and fruit while mom dashes upstairs in hopes of a shower. Soon, your brothers will come down to join you. Whatever you do, don’t forget to spill your milk! When your brothers get their First Breakfast, make sure you scream at the top of your lungs (at 6:40 am) as long and loud as you can when they get too close to your stuffed purple monkey. They have no interest whatsoever in Monkey Girl. But screaming sure is fun! And it’s kind of like marking your territory! Now that First Breakfast is completed, it’s time to Avoid Getting Dressed and then Make a Huge Mess. When your mom is being smart, she sets out your favorite crayons, paper, and books before she runs upstairs. But sometimes she forgets. That’s okay! That means you and your brothers get to destroy the basement closet! It doesn’t matter that your mom makes you clean it up every time. What matters is that you ensure that Monopoly pieces are flung into the farthest, deepest corners of the basement, cards are scattered everywhere, and every pair of dice mysteriously disappears. This is your Art. This is YOU, right now. Embrace your Three Year Old self. I could go on, but by the time all of this is cleaned up, it’s nearing mid-morning, and, well; it’s not as much fun when everyone is awake. Just think: tomorrow morning, you get to do it all over again! P.S. I almost forgot- when you are Avoiding Getting Dressed, don’t forget to squeeze a massive blob of toothpaste in the sink. It just adds a really nice touch. Till next time, my exhausting-and-really-wonderful-beautiful-Three Year Old-child-who-I-love-with-my-fiercest-love. xo, Mama.

How to Homeschool When Your Life is a Horrible Mess

I have debated, nay; wrestled with conflicting thoughts about whether to write this post or not. I’m going to come right out and say that I am slightly terrified to write this. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s this: Vulnerability is strength, and it deepens our ties with other people in the deepest, and yet most basic way. To know that there’s someone else out there who can say, “What? Me, too!” somehow lessens the threat of the issue du jour. So I’m going to do the thing that frightens me the most, and I’m going to be vulnerable and share my mess with you.

Sometimes life throws us a sudden curveball. It’s a fast punch in the gut, and it’s all we can do stumble to our feet and get back on track. But sometimes life is a slow train wreck, and it takes us a long, long time to realize that we are actually standing in the wreckage, and we’ve been there a lot longer than we ever knew we were. That’s kind of where I am right now. And homeschooling through it all has been terribly hard and terribly wonderful at the same time. In many ways, it has kept me going. So the burning question is this: How do you keep homeschooling when your life is a freaking mess? 


Just kidding. Sorry. That was a terrible joke. But here’s the thing: It’s kind of true. 

Do you need to tend to the basics? Math, reading, and writing? Yes, of course. Sorry, there’s no shortcuts for that. But when you find yourself somewhere new and different and your heart is hanging heavy? It’s time to put down the heavy history books and go out and explore the crap out of your new environment with your kids. Go out and play, play, play.  I cannot even begin to emphasize how important this is to surviving hard times. This does not have to be expensive. It can be as frugal as you want it to be. Do these things as much as possible:

  • Go to the beach, weather permitting, at least twice a week. Find new beaches. Search for little beach critters while you are there. Science/Nature Study? Boom, done. Take pictures and look up your discoveries on your ipad/iphone/laptop when you get home.
  • Go for walks or hikes with your kids. Pack the basics and do not freak out about getting dirty. Dirt is the least of your worries right now. Look at the trees, bushes, dirt, rocks, etc. Bring small field guides. Botany? Geology? Boom, done. ALSO…have your kids sketch their nature discoveries. Art? Boom, done. You don’t have to bring your art supplies with you on your adventure, although you most certainly can if you’d like. They can draw when they get home. Remember- LESS STRESS.
  • Explore your city/town/village/hamlet. Find “your place” with your kids. We developed a new routine of finding a place to park, giving the kids quarters (math!) to figure out how many we’d need for our outing, then walking to a used bookstore, hanging out there for a bit, then walking to my favorite coffee shop, and THEN walking to the donut shop for a treat. This simple routine brought us a lot of joy in the midst of hard times. Routine. Community. We all know it’s a lifesaver. Make a new routine as soon as possible.
  • Do something for other people. My oldest son asked me if we could make “care bags” for some of the homeless people around town. So we did. It wasn’t fancy, just some snacks and toiletries in a gallon sized ziploc bag, but it was a great experience for the kids to hand them out, and it sparked great conversation between us about homelessness and contributing factors and why compassion and kindness are so important, no matter what.
  • Listen to music. Whatever brings the most joy to your heart. Never, ever underestimate the healing power of music and the bond it can forge between people.
  • Ask your kids what they would like to do! When things are hard and feel out of control, giving your kids a choice helps them feel valued and esteemed (for the record, this is so important to do even when your life isn’t falling apart). Say. YES. This thing is hard for all of you. Movie night with popcorn? Yes. Go for an evening walk even though you are so tired you could. just. cry? Yes. An extra episode of Octonauts on a rainy day? Say yes. But…
  • Maintain a home routine. Make your bed. Put your dirty clothes in the hamper. Brush your teeth. Get dressed. Bring your dirty dishes to the sink. Pitch in. Don’t shut down. Remember it’s the everyday, small moments that propel us forward. 

All of these things contribute to healing, adapting, and moving forward. I have no idea what the future holds for us. None of us do, whether our lives are coasting along beautifully or not. But sometimes, all you need to remember is this: Do the next thing. No matter how small that thing is. Do the next thing.

A Brief Word on Depression: You can’t presume to know.

I fully realize that this post may seem to come out of left field, but after few recent conversations I’ve had with people concerning this topic, I realized that I feel much more strongly about it than I was previously aware of. Last night I scribbled away in my journal (yes, I keep a written journal. Nothing helps me process things quite like the physical act of writing. My heart and brain literally feel scrubbed clean after I write.), and I cannot help but feel I need to share some of my scribblings here.

So here goes.


You cannot ever, ever presume to know the depth of a person’s hurt. When a hurting, depressed person is told that they are not really depressed, but simply faking it, or worse yet, being a baby, the pain of this invalidation is far worse than the actual pain itself.

I’ll say it again:

You cannot presume to know the depth of a person’s hurt. 

That is more painful to them than the hurt itself. 

When you are depressed, it is like drowning. Desperately clawing your way to the surface, coming so close, so very close…

And then someone puts out their hand and shoves you back down. Over and over again.

It is a cycle of hurt. Different levels of hurt for different people, different reasons. We do not know how deep the hurt goes, and we can sit by in arrogant presumption, or we can reach into the murky water, grab their hands, pull them out, and say:

Breathe. You are safe. I will be a safe place for you. No judgement, no assumptions. 

And that is all.

Be with them in the most loving way you can. Don’t try to “fix”. Don’t try to get them to talk. Be a safe place, because right now, everything hurts. Everything is frightening and painful, and they can hardly begin to allow themselves to dare to imagine that life may not always be so incredibly painful.

Let me be clear:

Life will always have moments of pain. Life will not be without pain.

But to live a life in which you do not feel as though your heart is constantly breaking…

They need to know and feel that this is a very definite possibility, because sometimes it’s that split second of imagining that possibility that causes them to see the smallest sliver of light, the draw the smallest gasp of air; to slowly, very slowly…

Begin to heal.

I do not know what your healing journey will look like. Healing from depression comes in many ways, many forms. Give yourself the grace to do whatever is necessary to bring about healing. Seek out a wise counselor. And those people, the ones who heap hurt and guilt upon you because “you’re not trusting the Lord enough” or “If you were really seeking the Lord, you wouldn’t be feeling this way”??

They say those horrific things because you and I both know they have no clue what it is like to be depressed. They are toxic and have no place in your journey. 

Depression is very, very real. People who were very “spiritual” dealt with it all the time in scripture. Psalm 69  has often been my own cry for help:

“Save me, O God; for the floodwaters are up to my neck. Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire. I can’t find a foothold. I am in deep water, and the floods overwhelm me. I am exhausted from crying for help; my throat is parched. My eyes are swollen with weeping, waiting for my God to help me.” v. 1-3, NLT

Even King David faced many times when the hurt of life was too great for his wild heart. But we also have the immense beauty and hope of God’s promises:

Psalm 71: 20-21, NLT: “You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but You will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth. You will restore me to even greater honor and comfort me once again.”

There is always hope. Believe it, friend. Don’t try to do this alone. Find your tribe of support. Dismiss the naysayers, because they don’t have a clue. They do not know your hurt. Say it to yourself: I am not alone in this. I am not alone in this. 

Psalm 18:4-6, NLT: “The ropes of death entangled me; floods of destructions swept over me. The grave wrapped its ropes around me; death laid a trap in my path. But in my distress I cried to the Lord; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from His sanctuary; my cry  to Him reached His ears.” 

God hears you. He sees you. He knows. Take heart. You are not alone in this. 

Homeschooling with littles: There is hope.

Recently, I had a rare moment in which my older kids were working diligently on their respective schoolwork without any badgering from me (!), my 2-year old and 4-year old were happily lost in a game of make-believe, and the baby was immersed in a toy for more than 7.5 seconds. It was one of those moments where I thought,”Whoa. I’M DOING THIS!!!” It was a truly spectacular feeling, and I’m happy to report that those days are happening more and more often. Rest assured, we still have spectacularly awful days. But I am here to tell you that THERE IS A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE BABY TUNNEL. To be fair, this year has been very difficult for reasons other than having a wee pwecious newborn (hello, moving 2,000 miles away from home), but I am emerging from the fog of survival to talk about homeschooling with littles, specifically newborns and toddlers. I am well aware that I am not the first mom to write about this, but hey, I had 5 kids in 6.5 years, so I’m  qualified to contribute to this field. Deal with it.


First, let us discuss survival. When you are trying to teach Billy to read with a baby on your AHEM and there are other small, wild, lovable creatures roaming about, you need to remember one extremely important thing: Survival. Thriving will come soon enough, but right now, please hear me out on this, because I was way, way, wayyyy too hard on myself in those early years. Resist the urge to buy some huge, very expensive curriculum-in-a-box for your preschooler, especially if you are pregnant/nursing/dealing with other little ones. Seriously, all you need for those early years is lots of good books (the library is your friend!), a fun project or two per week (at the most), and tons of time outdoors. Say it with me: The outdoors is your friend…the outdoors is your friend…AND IT’S WORTH THE STRUGGLE. Are you going to flawlessly execute a highly detailed nature walk with a newborn snuggled against you in a baby carrier and your 2 and 4 year old trying to run into the street? No. No, you are not. But all they need at that age is a little walk around the neighborhood. Pick up some treasures. An acorn! A nifty rock! A stick! A pinecone! The possibilities are endless. Be okay with doing less. This was really hard for me in the beginning. I do not know how to not work insanely hard at something, so putting forth the effort of packing up half of the universe in order to enjoy the great outdoors for a few scant moments was extremely frustrating at first. But…I slowly began to relax a bit more, and I realized that that’s just how things were going to be for a while. And that’s OKAY, friends. If you are enormously pregnant, just play in the backyard, if possible. We were so blessed to have a fenced-in backyard, and during those very painful, final days of pregnancy, I would haul my large self to the backyard, plop down on the patio steps, and watch my babies play, chat with them, show delight in their little discoveries, and maybe do a little snack outside (think small bowl of pretzels and sippy cup of water- nothing fancy whatsoever). The key is to simplify and be okay with that.

Now let’s discuss schooling while nursing. Since this is obviously a non-negotiable, here are some ways you can manage:

-When it’s time to nurse, make sure your other children are safely contained. Baby gates up? Basement door closed? Doors locked? (my boys are insane. Don’t judge.) Once you’ve made sure the environment is safe (at least, as safe as it can be), then you can…

-Bring out some toys for the littles. You can change things up for variety, but don’t kill yourself over toy rotation. I am also The Worst at toy rotation.  Then…

-Grab your books and get comfy on the couch with your school-age children and READ READ READ until the toddler breaks something you didn’t even know existed in your household. Seriously, though. Some of my most precious memories of those early years are reading to my boys on the couch while I was nursing the latest newborn. It really is an amazing time for bonding, too. The boys would stroke the baby’s sweet, fuzzy head and give little kisses while I would read. If you are trying to teach a child to read, take a few minutes while the baby sleeps to do some simple letter worksheets, but don’t feel like you need to go crazy. It’s the reading of good books that’s the really important thing at this time. The mechanics are important, but don’t underestimate the importance of developing a deep love for reading and books at this age. I want my kids to fully understand how books can be a lifelong companion. If they have a deep, true love of learning, they will be undaunted as they navigate their way through life, learning new things every step of the way.

Remember, dear mommas, there are so many ways to can be kind to yourself during this wonderfully exhausting time. Keep it simple. Use your crockpot. If all else fails, order a pizza. Do not feel for a second that you have to do it all, because you most certainly do not, especially in this challenging season of your life. And potty training while homeschooling? Hire someone else to do it. JUST KIDDING. Kind of. That’s a separate blog post for another day. Take heart! This season with littles can be brutal, but I promise you one million times over that it really does get easier, and you will miss the tiny newborn days when they are gone. You really will. In the meantime, gird your loins, get some rest, and make the best of your time with the littles.

Starting Where I Am

The start of this blog did not come at some great moment in my life when I felt that all was achievable, that I was able to “handle” it, that life was calming down enough so that I could manage this. Indeed, as I type, it is 5:53 am, and I have been up since 5:30 am, due to some miscreants who stole the iPad, hacked into it, and were having themselves a Minecraft extravaganza. My 2 year old daughter just shuffled down the stairs five minutes ago because she went to bed at 6:00 pm and is now ravenous, understandably so. My youngest is 18 months, and I have now joined the elite ranks of parents everywhere who suddenly realize that despite the fact that I no longer have a nursing newborn, this parenting gig is still just so hard at times, and certainly not for the faint of heart. I’m still at a point in my life where I have a lot of “junk” going on, and I feel as though I am the least qualified to be spouting homeschool advice, but here’s the thing:

I desperately missed writing.

I could not ignore this fire in my heart to write and share my thoughts and heart about homeschooling and our lives, and how they intertwine.

And so I asked myself, what am I waiting for?

For things to “calm down”?

For things to “get better”?

What if I’m not supposed to wait for that?

What if…I just need to put my head down and share through the struggle?

And that’s what I’ve decided to do. Share in the struggle; share through the struggle, for better or for worse.

In a community of homeschooling moms, there’s always unspoken comparisons, no matter how we try not to let our hearts go there. But I feel the winds of change afoot, and with this amazing, modern age of technology, I have learned that I am not alone, and there are other mommas out there who think in the same vein, who have that deep, wild longing in their hearts for their children to know the depth of an education that is more than just a booklist to slog through and standards to achieve. We want them to know that education is a life. Charlotte Mason wrote those words long ago, and they ring true today and permeate my thoughts as I gather our books and materials for the day. It’s so much more than checking off the to-do list for the day. I can tell you first-hand that the best way to kill the joy of your homeschool and suffocate your children’s love for learning is to let the checklist rule over all. Our obsession should not be to finish school by June, like all of the other kids. Our obsession should transcend those types of constraints, especially as we consider educating our amazing children as a holistic approach. Life as a whole education. Not compartmentalizing what “school” should look like. Isn’t that one of the finest reasons to homeschool?

As I look back on my own homeschool education, I sometimes laugh at how it was a very Charlotte Mason education, but in a rather accidental way. I don’t remember everything I read in my textbooks, but I remember every single classic, living book I read and how they made such a deeper impression on me than a bland text. I remember spending hours outside with my brother, sprinting across the corn fields (we rented a very old, very much falling apart farmhouse on 45 acres when I was growing up in the Midwest. I never realized until I was older that it is not normal for the pipes to freeze every winter, but you do what you can, right?) towards the creek in the back of the property because we could not wait to try to build another fort, a bridge, and raft, anything to the soundtrack of our imaginations. I remember climbing trees and spending hours just sitting in them, chatting away with my favorite tree (I was a very whimsical child. And a little weird.) I used to tell my mom I could live in the trees. I nearly passed out with excitement reading The Swiss Family Robinson, because the idea of building the most epic tree house in a forest sounded like heaven to me. My point is this: All of the CM components of my own personal education are what have stuck with me the most, and those books and memories are what I treasure the most and desperately wish to impart to my own children. It seems only natural. I sometimes have a little ache in my heart that my kids do not have an old farm to grow up on, but I remind myself that they are getting to experience other things I never was able to as a child, now that we are living in the Pacific Northwest (more on that later).

So. Let me wrap this up by saying:

If you are waiting for things to get easier, stop. It’s not going to, at least not for many years. Why wait? If you have a fire in your belly about something, anything, just start where you are. I’m saying this to myself over and over again. Let’s share in the struggle, through the struggle. 

P.S. I am beyond thrilled to share that I will be attending the Wild & Free homeschooling conference in Portland, Oregon in May!! I am still pinching myself and cannot wait to meet other homeschooling moms that I’ve “met” through wild & free and Charlotte Mason Living homeschooling communities on Instagram. Get your tickets now, because it’s going to sell out super fast. Let the anticipation begin!

Pictures: A Week In The Life

Every Friday, I post some pictures of our life around here. Captions may or may not be included (gasp!). But rest assured, if a funny story goes along with a picture, it will be told.

A most successful field trip to the West Valley fire department.
A younger sibling captured real-life school time. Sitting on the couch reading, cards from a game strewn all over the floor and toys laying around.
Someone found the iPad and had a riotous selfie session.
Sweet girls getting ready for bed. Brushing tiny teeth is hilarious.
Curls Forever.
Curls Forever.

A Time To Begin Anew

While I am certainly no stranger to the blogging world, this is my first official post of a completely fresh, flawless (for about 2 seconds), and brand-new blog. Why the new blog? Why the blog name “To Do One Thing Well”? Well, dear reader. I shall tell you without further deliberation.

Nearly one year ago, my very tall husband and I along with our five wild children moved 2,000 miles from our home in southeastern Wisconsin to Yakima, Washington for my husband’s new job. The first six months felt like a long, tiring, yet fun and different vacation. And then, I hit the wall of “Oh, nuts. I live here now.” It has easily been the most difficult and painful year of my entire life with many, many watershed moments and wake-up calls. So many reasons why we thought we were moving out here- better hours for my husband, better life/work balance- well, nothing has quite turned out the way we were told it would be. We house-hunted like mad. And…nothing. Just nothing. After months of wrestling with God, I have come to a place of (mostly) peace. I don’t know what the future holds, but I no longer struggle with why God brought us here. I now know that if we had not come to the literal deserts of central Washington, we never would have left our comfort zone, our happy distractions, our tidy lives. God stripped all of these things away and said,”I love you guys. Let’s get to work.” He has pressed hard into my soul this year, and I have finally hit the wall and am now making the turn. After this past year, I just could not
write in my old blog. I tried many times, but it no longer felt like it was mine, and let’s be honest- I am not the same person I was one year ago. None of us are.  Hence this new blog. Not only to document the start of something new, but to document with greater intentionality our homeschooling journey. Homeschooling has been one of my greatest struggles this year. It has mostly been one child (we all have that one child; yes?) but still. It has been a most intense time of soul-searching and “why exactly am I doing this??”, but I have come to the conclusion that in my heart, I really, really, love and desire to homeschool. I don’t want to quit. I know God has called me to do this, and He has brought me through this time of intense soul-searching and re-evaluating everything in my life. As a mother of five young children- ages 8, 6, 4, 2, and 17 months- it is rare and extremely challenging to accomplish a tremendous amount in any given day. Having a large family has been, um, extremely REFINING for my type-A personality. Before I had kids (and even in the early days of having only 2), I was a total neat freak, and I still struggle with the delicate balance of learning to care for a home together as a family versus “Clean this up. You are not doing anything else until this gets cleaned up!” But God gently reminded me of 1 Corinthians 13, and I slowly began to realize that I can do all of these great things and clean like a crazy woman, but if I’m being a big meanie and the kids are bearing the brunt of my frustration, well, that doesn’t count for much, does it? If all I manage to accomplish in any given day is to love my children well and show them how to love others well, I think that counts for a great deal more than a Pinterest-perfect house. To do one thing well- Love. That’s what it really comes down to. It has become my new life manifesto, and may God grant me the grace to carry it out.

I don’t know what the future holds for us. We were extremely fortunate to find a wonderful rental home, and that is where we are right now, and it’s looking as though that is where we will be for a while. I am perfectly okay with this. I will continue to share our journey and adventures here, and I hope that I can encourage those who read. Let us begin anew.