Make Way for Breaks: Scheduling around Chronic Illness

Ah the beloved break. Spring Break, Winter Break…Summer vacation. Many of my favorite childhood memories are inextricably linked with the nostalgia of school breaks. A nostalgia that I do not want my children to miss out on even though we have the freedom to break away from the school schedules that accompany them. I love the idea of traditions that make their home within a specific break. The feeling of adventure as you look forward to days or weeks of unscheduled freedom, which is why I schedule my entire year around such breaks.

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I absolutely love that as a homeschooler I can control how we set up those breaks and how often we get to have them. I love being able to plan special breaks around family birthdays or events happening in our life. The children love knowing that if one week has been especially hard on us, there is always the option of having a slower week soon after. However, there’s another reason I love being able to schedule breaks whenever I need them at this season of my life. Quite frankly, my health demands it.

My body physically demands some kind of reprieve from the responsibilities that go along with being a homeschooler. I just cannot do it all, all of the time. It is too much for me. Trying to homeschool, keep house, volunteer, be a wife, a writer, feed my creative hungers and intellectual curiosities all while fighting my own body and it’s limitations absolutely requires that I prioritize my time. For me it is a constant battle between the chronic fatigue and body pains of fibromyalgia, the eye fatigue, headaches and migraines of IIH and the debilitating effects of seasonal depression that absolutely demand that I listen to my body and be proactive rather than reactive.

Reactions mean days in bed with no ability to meet the needs of myself, let alone my children. Which  I feel is not fair to them or my husband, who is wonderful enough to pick up my share as well as his own during those rough patches. That is not the kind of mother or wife I want to be, my own personal expectations are far too high for that. So instead of reacting to piss poor planning, I actively schedule and prioritize my time, knowing my limits and abiding by them. Knowing that I need a certain number of down days per week and not over scheduling my time. Knowing that certain situations, lightings or atmospheres trigger headaches. Knowing all of these things and above all, planning for them- which is especially hard when you also enjoy being spontaneous and adventurous.

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First things first. My first step in planning out my time is to plan out a rough yearly schedule based on the times of year that work with me and not against me. We choose to school year round in order to best accommodate my needs in this regards.

For us this looks like a year round schedule that is broken up into six terms. These terms are very loosely based and can last anywhere from six to eight weeks. At around six weeks I evaluate our current mood and condition; if all is well we go ahead for two more weeks, if not then we stop and take a week off. This way we don’t overdo things trying to just push through. However, unlike most term based schedules I make one slight distinction – we have what I call our Holiday Term and Summer Vacation built into the term system.

Our school year looks like this:

Term 1: July &August

Term 2: Sept &Oct

Term 3: Nov &Dec- Holiday term

Term 4: Jan & Feb

Term 5: Mar &Apr

Term 6: May & June – Summer Vacation

During the four regular terms we do the vast majority of our studying, we take field trips, go to plays or performances and take part in local classes. The short breaks between terms allow for little reprieves that are just right for clearing our minds from time to time. On the other hand, the two  middle terms are our big breaks. Rather than me preparing everything and laying everything out we go with what feels interesting. We follow passions and build our independent study ability because my children love learning so much that they just don’t stop, even if I tell them that we are on vacation. I still record our progress during this time but I don’t set up any requirements. I don’t ask the children to do math or copy work, we don’t read off of our scheduled readings. We do check out science books at the library (usually because someone wants to know how something works), we do go to museums, create art, watch documentaries…all things that I record through pictures, receipts and end products but any thing that happens during this time is occurring spontaneously and is done out of pure curiosity or desire.

As much as the kids love all these breaks, the best part about this schedule is that it allows me time during my hardest months to move into survival mode without affecting our overall year.

November and December are very hard months for me. My mind has a horrible time adjusting to the light changes, and the weather changes affect how my body moves as well. During these months I just cannot keep up with everything so instead I plan for my focus to shift away from schooling to things like dishes, laundry, and meals. I know that I can spend the time with my children baking and reading without worrying that I have enough written down for the reviews. The children also love the freedom to enjoy the first snows and the changes of the seasons outside without worrying about written math lessons. In addition, because it coincides with Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and Three Kings Day this break allows us to focus on traditions and joyful holiday fun rather than finishing up a test.

On the flip side of this May and June are my best months. The weather is perfect for spending the entire day outside. Gardens can be planted. Nearby nature preserves are full of life waiting to be explored. Most schools aren’t out yet so it is also a perfect time for a family vacation or special outings. We love having the freedom to use these months (and my extra energy) doing the things that are harder to do the rest of the year without thought to school. It also works out nicely that our last few weeks of summer vacation perfectly coincide with the schools release so that we can have fun with cousins as well.

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Now that my year is planned out (roughly), I move my focus on to my weeks and terms. Before this year my terms were based entirely on our interests at that time. I would ask the children what they were interested in and then we would explore those things together- taking every rabbit trail along the way. However, because this year is so different I’ll keep it short and sweet. First of all, because I am following a Charlotte Mason education this year, this part of my planning process is very specific to this style. I have my list of subjects and my topics within each subject for each child that I want to complete over the year. I then break that list into the four terms that I have going on during the year. Because I know that each term can last from six to eight weeks I plan for eight weeks from the get go knowing ahead of time that we may be starting the next term picking up at the unfinished end of the last one. As for subject matter…well that is a whole other post and one that relies heavily on mixing and matching what works for us based on established resources like Ambleside Online, Simply Charlotte Mason, Charlotte Mason Help, A Modern Charlotte Mason, Sabbath Mood, A Delectable Education, and AfterThoughts. This year I spent about a month preparing for our upcoming year but even then I only prepared down to the weekly level of each term. I stop my lesson plans at the week level specifically because I know that each week will require a different rhythm to best fit my health at that time.

 

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So, moving onto the how. How do I plan ahead regarding my day to day when I also know that I am no good at keeping schedules and when I have to plan ahead for any possible unknown flare ups? For me, it means multiple open plans. I never have just one schedule or routine, instead I have a cycle of options that fit together making up the perfect week or term or year.

For this year these are the options for my days.

  1. The out of the house day, Full Day: Basically these are the days when we leave the house. We wake up earlier than usual, we need to have planned meals for the day, outing bags need to be packed the night before, weather needs to be checked… this also means that no other schooling will occur, dinner needs to be easy and tomorrow needs to be at home because this kind of day is exhausting, for all of us.
  2. The out of the house day, part day: These are the days that include some kind of outing that is close to home and less than 3 hours long, including driving time. Piano lessons, Art class, Science class, Playdates, Nature Study, Library trips… all of these options are part of our school day and the rest of our day flows around them. Readings, math and copy work still happen although when they happen depends greatly on the schedules required by outside forces such as other people, open/close times, weather issues, etc…
  3. The home school day: This is a typical homeschool day and normally only lasts 3 hours. We wake up when we wake up and follow a basic routine, which often look like this: breakfast, readings together, math and copy work, lunch, tea time, outside time, free afternoons, tidy up, dinner and family time.
  4. The home chore day: These are the days when I just can’t stand the mess any longer and I need to deep clean. We still do math, copy work and about half of our regular readings but the focus is on our house… these days usually precede house guests and are the reason my children ask who is coming to visit when they see me pull out the cleaning supplies.
  5. The lazy day (I name this with a warm, fuzzy attachment to the term lazy, not at all a negative one): When we have had a particularly harrowing week or weekend we throw one of these days in (usually on Monday or Friday) just to help us refresh. These are usually an anything goes kind of day and we rarely get dressed on them. You will often find mommy in yoga pants, the middle girls in tee’s n shorts (regardless of the weather outside), Itty bitty running through the halls in underwear (her preferred mode of dress) and Little Man is usually in pj bottoms with a tank top (he would also prefer to be in underwear alone but alas being the only boy in a house full of girls requires that he be clothed at lest marginally). You will almost always see a slew of art supplies scattered across our living room, a stack of books beside a crumb filled tea set and more than one electronic device huddled with a blanket. Mommy’s nose is most likely firmly stuck in the pages of a book for a good portion of the day. These are our favorite days.

Mixing and matching these different kinds of days into a week , month or term allow us to focus on the atmosphere of our learning. The flow we had as unschoolers stays intact even if I now have readings or assignments that we want to finish within a specific week. I try to have at least two #3 days and no more than one #1 or #5 days per week. Most weeks we have three #2 days and two #3 days and occasionally we will have a full week of #3 days, these, though not often enough, are often what I feel are my most productive weeks.

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While certain aspects of this plan are specific to CM, it has not always been. This is the same plan that I used when I unschooled. The only difference between this schedule and our unschooling one was that our homeschool days were entirely child led and sometimes looked similar to our lazy days. I didn’t come by way of this over night either. Over the years I found our rhythm. There were seasons where I pushed too hard and crashed shortly after. There were times when I over scheduled our weeks and sometimes months, leading to an in ability to get out of bed. If you look through my past posts its easy to see where depression took over, where fatigue left me empty, where I just couldn’t handle the day to day of life. Every one of those hard or dark times was taken into consideration when I built this schedule over the last three years.

Last year was my first full year without a complete burnout. For me that means I found what worked. What worked was this. As of now this is the way that I can schedule things in the most productive way while also being aware of my own limitations. This is how I get everything to fit without burning myself out. I have to create blank spaces in our year. I have to schedule in room for wiggling. To put it in a nutshell, scheduling for me, is all about how I Make Way for Breaks.

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When Plans Fail

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Remember this photo? Yep, that’s the hallway from my bedroom to the kids rooms. It has every toy we could find in any of the three rooms stacked about two feet high… Ok fine I’ll be honest, thrown about two feet high.

I have struggled for years (since my oldest was born) with my OCD nature and the sheer amount of messes children…even newborns… Create. What is it about these little creatures that causes such chaos?

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Everything gets destroyed, including my plans.

As I lay in bed this morning I created my mental to do list:
– wash the dishes
– get started on the laundry
– organize the toys
– give the kids a bath (this a morning event for us, mom n dad are way to exhausted to handle this at night)
– go to the library
– go to the lake
– fold the laundry (not even put it away, just get it folded)

So that was my idea for the day, I didn’t even plan any “school” because I figured that was enough to fill our day, and going to the library and lake really ends up being enough school for a day.

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Well it’s quiet time (230 pm) and we went to the library and the lake. Oh and baby girl got a bath. That pile of laundry has been staring at me for almost two weeks. The three oldest were told at 0830 over breakfast of the days events. They were told to take quick showers and get dressed. I then took my shower and bathed the little one…we were bathed and dressed by 0945…the three oldest were naked playing in their rooms. Showers were canceled and I told them to get dressed. 1015 rolls around (breakfast has been cleared from the table, diaper changed, kitchen wiped down but dishes are still in the sink) two kids have on clothes but no socks or shoes and the third is in panties running around like a chicken…seriously, she was clucking. By 1030, with mom standing right there, all three were dressed and searching for coats. We left the house at 1055.

This doesn’t happen every morning but it happens more often than I would like to admit. We have all gotten better about time management when we have a time limit, but if it’s just a whatever kind of thing, like the library, then this always happens!

Anyway, we finally get underway and find to our great surprise four huge Turkey Vultures eating something in the field around the corner from our house! I should have taken pictures but we were to busy analyzing the situation (and watching for cars as we blocked the road).

Who knows if we would have been able to view such an amazing sight had we left any earlier! It was wonderful and fascinating! The kids spent the rest of the ride asking questions about birds, scavengers, predator/prey relationships and about the anatomy of vultures! We have spent hours bird watching and in nature but to see a scavenger that they had only seen on Wild Kratts only five feet away and interacting with other scavengers was a great start to our day!

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The Library was even better! The girls met another homeschooled little girl (in first grade) and played for a full hour while G and I found every book he thought we could use this week as we learn about birds and pirates (he felt that we should break up winter animals into bird and mammals because they probably act differently during winter).

Jo and Ana had so much fun playing that they actually asked twice to stay longer! It’s such a rare treat for them to get real play time in with a girl their own age so it was fantastic. As the kids said their goodbyes, I decided we would do something totally different from our norm.

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Picnic Lunch at the Diary Farm! We had never been here before, and it is not a working dairy farm anymore but there were parking spaces, playful horses and cows in the distance to watch as we ate our lunch.

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G decided we needed to know all about the latest Captain Underpants book he had read so he divulged the parts he found hilarious between mouthfuls of hot dog.

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Jo moved from one side of the car to the next giving her stuffed kitty a nice view.

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All while the youngest two are to their hearts content!

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We headed towards the lake and found a gaggle of geese! The were everywhere, and the kids loved exploring the lake while looking for signs of spring. According to little G it must be coming soon because there are so many more birds out than usual!

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By this time it was almost 1400 and mommy was exhausted, even though the littles were ready to explore some more, so we headed home. After a beautiful bluejay, four young white tailed deer and countless scurrying squirrels, the children and I were shocked when one of the vultures was still in the corner eating!

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Mesmerized, we sat there watching this vulture eat what was left of a squirrel! We were three feet away from him and we were able to see some amazing details. No cars came our way for almost 15 minutes as we parked in the middle of the road to watch nature take it’s course. It was better than any movie and even little Ellie was ecstatic!

So here I am exhausted, with half of my to do list unchecked… Yet completely comfortable with how our day has progressed. Sometimes, life has plans of its own and you can choose to embrace the ride or complain and miss out! I’m so glad that for once I embraced the chaos today and experienced the unadulterated joy of just choosing to be content!

A Tale of Mice and Men

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While going through my new nightly routine (little by little I’ll figure out this whole adulthood/ responsibility/ homemaker thing) of cleaning up the kitchen I found a sight all too well known by these eyes. Tiny black dots scattered behind my microwave and along the edge of my sink. I move the microwave to find a pile more of these disgusting little dots next to a chicken bone that I KNOW was thrown in the trash.

I do what every modern, independent women does when they see such obvious signs of Unwelcomed guests… I screamed. Not a panicked girly scream…although I have no doubt that if the originator of those dots had been behind my microwave that is exactly what would have exited my mouth…no this was more of the kind of scream that is usually followed by obscenities… but quickly adapted for little ears.

The little ears showed up first, then Man of the House.

His response was more manly and far more sarcastic.

The little ears were curious and clueless.

We explained that somehow a (hopefully) small mammal of the rodent species (gosh I hope so) had found it’s way into our house and was hiding behind appliances eating our food.

The littles immediately asked if this was a new pet. I’ll stick with daddy’s response “not unless it’s food for our new snake!” …and no we did not buy a new snake, much to my husbands chagrin. We went into the danger of these kinds of visitors and sent the littles to bed excited about a new adventure.

I cleaned the kitchen from top to bottom, swept out from under the oven and fridge, disinfected and wiped down everything in sight. My kitchen was now cleaner then when we moved in! We went to bed and I awoke to more little presents from unexpected guests.

Now my pantry was by no means messy, I had worked hard to organize it and keep everything just so in my dollar store containers. I swept it out daily and regulated the tiny feet trying to empty it of snacks.

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Not messy at all and I thought it was pretty safe… Until our little guest proved me wrong! That little rodent ate through the packaging of several food items!

Enter yesterday morning: all pain had dissipated in the rage that clouded my senses! My exhaustion melted with determination! This uninvited guest put this witch on a rampage!!

The rampage has seen to a new era of cleanliness and order … Which have been sorely missed by the parental units that abide within these walls. I have spent the last 24 hours (minus normal human needs- like sleep) cleaning and organizing EVERYTHING in sight!

I have even made new messes while cleaning others.

In fact, I have made it my mission to organize this house from top to bottom!

Thanks to some shopping trips to Target and Ikea along with the use of every mason jar in my possession, I have remedied the packaging issues.

Housing has come to the house to set traps and seal holes.

In a way the guest problem is on it’s way to being fixed!

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Heck, my pantry looks even better than before, my house has not been this clean in months, our closets actually have clothes hung on hangers instead of piles on floors. Bathrooms are spotless, sheets have been changed, corners and knick-knacks have been dusted!

But my hallway looks like the picture above…and so I guess this tale of mice and men has lead to an early spring cleaning! So thank you little guest, don’t come back, but thank you for helping me find my motivation to make this house an orderly home once again!

Letting go of Perfection

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Everyone has a day like that. Everyone gets frustrated. Everyone gets angry. Everyone has a day where they just want to quit!

I used to have more of those days than good ones and I didn’t know why. I was struggling with my identity, struggling with my roles in life, struggling with selfishness and pride. I am a planner but not very good at executing the plan.

Not because I was lazy or unorganized but rather because something always seemed to come up. I would make lists. Organize materials. Prepare the kids, carve out time and then when the time came to do what was planned … Nothing! The kids would choose that moment to throw a fit, make a mess, get sick, fight and scream. You name it we’ve been there!

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It used to get to me, annoy me, anger me, depress me. But I’m learning and growing more comfortable with the art of letting go. It is after all an art and not a science. Knowing when something is worth the fight and when it just needs to be let go.

Some parenting gurus call it choosing your battle but its more then a battle. It’s a war with yourself. A war of expectations. A war between reality and fantasy. The fantasy or misunderstanding that there is such a thing as perfection. Or that there is only one way to do something.

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This is what school looks like in our family and it is not what I had planned. When I first started thinking about homeschooling I had this image in my mind of the children all sitting at the dining room table thinking great thoughts and discussing literature and science as an experiment bubbled in the kitchen. Where the house was cleaned, laundry finished or at least washing and we were all dressed. Then I started reading other homeschool blogs and realized that just doesn’t happen. So I began to think up a radically different school where my kids would spend hours everyday exploring the outdoors, digging in mud, creating collections as we read under trees.

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Somehow as wonderful as both of those sound they just are not us. Neither idea fits well with our family dynamic. My children love to play outside, they love to listen to stories but they also love to pretend and build. They are not great outdoors kinds of kids, they love to explore but don’t like to do it for extended periods of time… Unless its cold out, for some reason they love cold weather and dislike warm! So instead our days have become a hodgepodge mixtures of pjs, blocks, puzzles, and stories… or of computer games, field trips, outdoor observations and storytelling. We never really know what the day holds so we live each day looking for learning opportunities.

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I am trying to light the fires of curiosity and that requires an insane amount of creativity tailored to the learning styles and needs of each of my kids. So far this first month has had me scrambling to learn more about my kids. Some thrive in real world learning, some through exploration, some through reading, some through hands on activities and then next week it changes again! This is definitely a lifestyle choice. It’s not something that can be confined into a few hours of the day (although we only do structured school for about 2 hours a day). So here I am slowly learning the art of letting go. Living each day as its own. Carpe Diem.

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When “Simple” becomes “Overload”!

I love the look of simplicity. In theory Simplicity is great. Do more with less. Keep it simple. Less is more.

I’m a jeans n tshirt kind if gal. I decorate in solid neutrals with accent prints or colors. I thrift. I craft. Just not that often. I usually have genius ideas with zero time or drive to follow through and I know this about myself so I usually abstain from buying that awesome thrift store find that would look fabulous if I could just…whatever it’ll never really get done!

I do it with birthday parties too. I come up with these great ideas based on very rustic/simple concepts and then in order to create them I spend weeks freaking out over all the details!

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This time I promised my husband that I was keeping Ellie-Bell’s 1st birthday party simple. I bought frozen/premade foods so that the food prep would be easy, but that cost twice as much as usual. I bought premade party decor and carefully took it down so that I could reuse it several times over, it actually cost less than what I usually do. But I still spent several hours prepping and setting up. I thought it would look cute to tape paper flags on the individual straws and use washi tape to create penant toothpicks for the finger foods- my husband was right and both ideas were adorable but totally unnecessary!

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I think I might be done with big old birthday parties. Even though it was a success, even though she had a blast, it’s just too much work and too much money! So here’s my new theory…

Birthday trips! Go somewhere and do something fun and have a simple but awesome favorite dinner at home with homemade birthday cake or go visit family we don’t see often and do something fun with them (like the cousins my kids only see twice a year). Simple. Cost effective and way more fun for the WHOLE family!

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Well little G is up next and we will see how well the theory works in reality.

Up next ill have to simplify homeschooling ideals and redefine my expectations (of myself) and get rid of unnecessary fluff! Hopefully I can stick to some true simplicity and not just simple looking…after all I am prone to over analyzing and over thinking just about EVERYTHING!

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