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Lifestyle

We’re nearly there! Pat yourself on the back for reaching the finish line! You are a superstar – a champ! Most homeschooling parents like to take a summer break of some length even if it does not last a full 3 months. And we’re so close, we can almost touch it. But with the sun shining brightly outside and the weather warming up, it can be difficult to stay focused and finish the school year strong.

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Here are 3 ideas to add some “kick” as you approach the finish line:

1. Change it up! Do something new to keep interest high as you compete for your kids’ attention. We asked our friends on Facebook what they do to regain their children’s attention or to stop fighting for it. Here are their ideas:

  • Go outside and run!
  • Turn up the music and dance!
  • Read aloud a chapter from an engrossing book
  • Do a unit study (like the free New Zealand one here)
  • Take a hike in the woods and collect something
  • Do push-ups or laps
  • Go to the park
  • Go to the library
  • 10 minutes on the trampoline
  • Play a board game
  • Take the dog for a walk
  • Do an art project
  • Watch educational videos
  • Play educational computer games
  • Play Globalmania

2. Look Up! If you have been homeschooling your kids since August or September, then you might have your head down with your shoulder to the wheel. Sometimes we are just putting one foot in front of the other, homeschooling by rote, just to get by. Sometimes that is all we can do. But I encourage you to take a deep breath and look up!

Look into the faces of your children and truly see them. Take a hard look at your schedule and determine if it needs tweaking for your final weeks of school to make it work better for you (it’s okay to lighten it up). Open your eyes to the opportunities around you and make the most of them. Sometimes we are in so much of a hurry or so determined to accomplish something, that we lose the joy. Don’t lose the joy!

3. Throw an End-of-the-Year Party! We like to throw historical feasts 2-3 times a year, with one to finish up the school year. We dress in costume, cook period appropriate dishes and follow the social customs of the day. On our final day of school, we will also give out evaluations for our students up through 8th grade and updated transcripts with grades for our high school students. It is a fun night of recognition and makes for very fond memories. These memories last throughout the summer so that the idea of starting back to school is pleasant and doesn’t produce groans from the kids.

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Question: What are you doing to finish this year strong?

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If your home life is anything like mine, then you deal with chores and messes around the house on a constant basis. This is a fact of life for everyone, but for the homeschooling family, a messy and loud household with many opportunities for cleaning up is an ever-present reality.

How can we best manage our homes and maintain our sanity?

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Here are my 5 Best Tips for Keeping Your Home and Your Sanity:

1. Remember that this is a season!

I know that you hear it all the time, words like… “Oh, they grow up so fast!” and “This too shall pass,” and “It’s just a season.” It’s easy to just stop hearing these wise words and not really believe them anyway. As someone who has been raising kids for 20 years, I have now reached that place where I can say with emphasis, “Oh, they do grow up so fast!” But I am still raising little ones too, so I also know that 18-20 years of raising kids and helping them manage their life and messes is a long, LONG process!

Here is where I have landed on this issue… I like a clean house. I just do! But I also realize that living with children means that I will live with a little bit of a mess, sometimes a lot of big messes. My husband and I find ourselves looking forward to a home with less stuff, where everything is almost always in its place, but know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we will miss the squeals and the fingerprints when we get there. So, we have resigned ourselves to a “lived in” look in our home, cherishing these years with all the mess and work that they bring with them.

But that doesn’t mean that we give up and decide that all is lost when it comes to keeping an orderly home. We have daily and weekly chores that must be done in our home both by us and by the children. Here’s how we tackle them and the big question that we ask ourselves when faced with an untidy or even downright messy house:

2. What Can You Do in 5 Minutes?

When I look around the house and I find it not up to my standards of clean and tidy, I try to ask myself this simple question… what can I do that would make a difference in the next 5 minutes? Sometimes, it’s doing a load of dishes or a load of laundry. Sometimes, it is clearing off the dining room table or the bathroom counter. Sometimes, it’s interrupting the kids and doing a quick 5 minute pick-up of the living room. If all you have is 5 minutes, you can make a measurable difference in one small portion of your home. Will your house be spotless in such a small amount of time? No, but you’ve made a difference.

When the children and I work together, we place bets on how long it will take us to accomplish a certain job. I usually hear the kids shout out anything between 2 and 10 minutes. We then work as quickly as we can, timing ourselves by the clock and see whose guess came the closest. We are always surprised by how quickly we can get a job done when we work together.

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This shot was candid and not staged!

3. Delegate, delegate, delegate!

You are not the housekeeper of your home, you are the homemaker. Big difference! Teaching our kids how to work is one of our primary jobs as “homemaker” and “parent”. In our home, our children have pets that they care for, daily chores to accomplish and weekly cleaning that usually gets tackled on Saturday. They also have to clean their rooms on a regular basis, but are encouraged to keep it tidy all the time (some children do a better job at this than others, that’s for sure!).

Draw up a chore chart so your children know what chores they are responsible for on a daily and weekly basis. This will make your job so much easier as you can just check the chart if kids need reminders. Better yet, they can check the chart and not even need reminders. It seems to take maturity and diligence to get them to this point of responsibility though.

4. Shoes Make You Feel More Energetic

I learned a long time ago from the Flylady (is she still around?) that wearing shoes make you feel more ready to do work. You feel more like you are “on task” with shoes on your feet. I don’t always obey this rule. I find myself wearing slippers quite often during the winter months. But I do keep this in mind if I have some significant house work to accomplish in a given hour of my day. If my husband takes the kids on a field trip or out for a hike, I will get jazzed up by the idea of an empty house, lace up my shoes, tackle extra housework in record time and then enjoy some much deserved R&R in the solitude of my empty home.

5. Get Help

After 24 years of cleaning my own home with the help of my husband and children, I did something radical (for me!). I asked my husband if I could hire a teenager to come over every other week to clean the house. We actually argued over this one because Todd felt like we were “giving up” or not managing our home well enough by employing help. He also felt that it would make life too easy for our children if someone else did so much of the heavy cleaning. After I pleaded with him for a few weeks, he gave in and allowed me to give it a try.

We now have a young lady come over twice a month to deep clean our house. I must admit that I love it! We still clean thoroughly on the off weeks that she doesn’t come, but it gives me the breathing room that I need to focus on some other things, like school and our business.

Many people cannot or would rather not hire a maid, but it is working really well for us in this “season” of my life. She does a fantastic job and she works for a smaller fee than the large housecleaning services available. So, if you find yourself drowning in housework, employ some of the tips above. I’d rather give up some of my housekeeping duties and focus more on other things that seem more important right now. Besides let’s face it, a family of 8 will always keep me plenty busy with cooking, teaching, driving, piano practicing, and listening.

Question: What are your best tips for maintaining your home and your sanity?

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People have been asking me how I get so much done. I would love to tell you!

In the past year, I have written and published a book (A Child’s Geography: Explore the Classical World), created a new magazine (Quest Magazine) that publishes a brand new issue consistently every month, developed a new site (Map Center) where you can download Map Trek maps by the piece, and am nearly ready to launch a new web application (Map Studio) where you can create exactly the maps you want for your homeschool lesson, workshop, sermon or classroom. Oh, and I am also writing a 4th volume of A Child’s Geography: Explore Medieval Kingdoms.

How in the world can anyone get this much done? I have 5 secret weapons! And they are:

1. I will hire or outsource the stuff that I cannot do, such as coding or editing for example. It just makes good sense. Why should I learn something that will take me hours to learn when someone else already knows how to do it and can do it quickly and hopefully, inexpensively. (Guess what? I also outsource my housecleaning twice a month to a high school girl who works both quickly and at a great price!)

2. I get up early! Yes, I can get more done in 2-3 hours in the wee morning than I can the rest of the day. And staying up late usually doesn’t cut it. Those are your most worn out hours of the day. Get up early and use your freshest hours to accomplish what you really want to accomplish, whether that be writing a book, assembling a digital scrapbook, planning your curriculum, etc.

3. I get away (very occasionally). If you really need to get something done, like you have a looming deadline whether self-imposed or imposed by others, get a hotel room for 24 hours and just get it done. It’s best if you don’t take your spouse along, unless the object of the get-away is to connect with each other. Those are highly valuable times but different from what I am talking about now. I am due for a solo get-away so that I can tackle more of my book. I just need that quiet and interrupted time (on a rare occasion) to get some momentum.

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4. I walk every day. This time not only gets my blood pumping, but it recharges me. It also feeds my creativity. I will usually get some fresh insight while walking that I can use to push my productivity. I also use this time to pray, which is very good for my soul and emotional well-being, not to mention good for those who are being prayed for.

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5. I have an awesome husband that will help me carve out time to get something special accomplished. He really is an amazing man! And, in my work life, I have an incredibly talented administrative assistant, and it’s almost like having another “me”. Wow, what would I do without these two?

While I realize that most people do not have an admin assistant, nor does everyone have a supportive spouse, everyone still has the exact same 24 hours each day. To become more productive, you just need to know how to use those hours to your best advantage. Focus on just points 2, 3 and 4 and you will get more accomplished than you thought you could.

So, go out there and get something done!

Question: What is on your to-do list that you really need to carve some time out to accomplish? For me, it’s writing my book. What’s yours?

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This is post #3 in a blog series on how to tackle writing a book. If you are planning to write a book or are already deep into the process, I invite you to follow along with me.

See Post #2 for help in finding the time to write. This post will help you get started with your research.

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Here’s a little disclaimer: My blog series will be most helpful for those who are writing non-fiction. I’ll be honest, while I love to read fiction, the idea of writing it scares me to death. I’m sure that I will have some nuggets of wisdom for fiction-writers in terms of organization and scheduling, but I cannot help with plot or character development.

A little background…

In August 2012, I began writing my first full length book. In the past 12 years, I have written a handful of short biographies, illustrated an entire book of maps (actually several) and published over 35 titles, so I definitely understand the book creation world. I already knew how to research my subject and tell a story. I also understood the diligence required in completing a large project. But I had never really written a book before. A real, full-length book, from beginning to end. I didn’t really know what that would look like for me.

So, I mapped out a plan and followed it. In that my book was a book on geography, I decided to write about one country a month. I was covering 10 countries, so I expected to finish up in May of the following year. I’m excited to say that I not only stayed on schedule, but finished the first draft a month early.

Now, I’m doing it again. This time, I will be covering 11 countries, so I am giving myself 11 months to complete the first draft of A Child’s Geography: Explore Medieval Kingdoms.

Here are My 5 Top Tips for Starting Your Book:

1. Break down your book idea into chapter subjects. Using sticky notes, write down topics that you want to cover in your book. Begin to organize these ideas by category. You can use a white board or a table to organize your notes by subject. Once you have them clustered by category, you can determine how many chapters you plan to write. I read a book by Dan Poynter years ago called Writing Non-Fiction. This may be very helpful for you in organizing your material.

2. Determine your writing schedule based on your content. If your chapters will be long, then plan a month to write each chapter. If they are shorter, then maybe you can write a chapter every one or two weeks. Make appointments with yourself to write. Mark it on the calendar. Take yourself out for coffee, if that helps. Look forward to these times. I like to write early in the morning snuggled up in a blanket on the couch before anyone else is awake.

3. Pick a chapter to write and begin your research. You do not have to start writing Chapter 1 first. Pick the chapter with the content that you are most excited to dive into. It’s important to gain momentum early and the best way to do this is to write the chapter that looks easier, maybe you have less research to do or maybe you just visited a place that is fresh in your memory to write about. My favorite places to research material are my local library and the internet. Always fact-check by verifying the information on more than one site. Wikipedia, for example, has been known to be riddled with errors. Always double-check your facts.

I just started my research a few days ago. Before diving into Spain, I knew there were certain topics that I wanted to cover in this chapter, such as the historical significance of the Strait of Gibraltar, the UK holding of Gibraltar, the Moor kingdoms, Castile y Leon, Ferdinand and Isabella, Christopher Columbus, Basque Country, travel by train, bullfighting and origins of Spanish dancing. Who knows what I will find, but I am exciting to dive into these topics!

4. Start a Pinterest board. I’m a visual person. I like to see what I am writing and refer back to images often during the writing process. Last year, I started a Pinterest board to capture images of places I was writing about. I have just begun to do the same for this book. Here is my very new Pinterest board for Explore Medieval Kingdoms. I am looking forward to filling it up more.

5. Begin writing. Once you have picked your chapter to write, just start writing. Do not edit while you write. Do that later. The writing and editing processes are conducted from opposite sides of the brain – one function interrupts the other. So don’t do it! Write first, edit later. Don’t worry about grammar and flow until you have a good chunk of words on a page. Tip: One tool that makes writing topics and chapters out of order easier is Scrivener. With this software, you can write in your book at any place you want. It’s brilliant! You can even reorder chapters and keep track of your research links right inside the writing software. Check it out here – http://www.literatureandlatte.com/ – and download a free trial version.

I’ll post next week with my progress on Chapter One… Spain!

Question: Have you started your book? How’s it coming?

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Follow along and I’ll show you how!

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It’s a new year and time for a new project. I am ready to write a new book!

Do you have a book rolling around in your brain that you would like to get out onto paper this year? Follow along with me on my journey and by this time next year, you should have in your hands (or more likely, on your computer) a complete manuscript ready for publication. Sound like fun? It is, but it’s also hard work. But you can do it!

Let’s get started… (ready? then roll up your sleeves!)

The first thing we need to get out of the way is scheduling a time to write. I mean, let’s face it, if you are like me, you have many demands on your time, several people that need you all day long, a house that doesn’t clean itself and cupboards that continually need to be refilled with trips to the grocery store.

And no, we are not going to write in the bathroom with the door locked and the shower running!

It’s time to take a hard look at your schedule. What do you spend time doing that doesn’t really need to be done? Um, Candy Crush? Exactly, those little time-suckers are the kinds of things I am talking about… the modern, young to middle-aged woman’s acceptable addiction. This is going to sound cruel, but trust me, I’m doing you a favor… Delete those addictive apps from your device! Just do it now while you are feeling strong. Besides these are the kinds of games (as fun as they are) that take more time than you want to give and more money than you want to spend. Get rid of Candy Crush! Or Facebook. Or Pinterest (ouch). Or whatever your little habit may be.

Second, look at how you spend your evenings and your mornings. I’d like to make a case that the ABSOLUTE BEST time to write is between the lovely hours of 5 and 7… AM! I’m serious and this is coming from a very NON-morning person. Read my 2-part blog posts on how I became a morning person last year after being a NIGHT person for 45 YEARS!

Becoming a Morning Person, Part 1

Becoming a Morning Person, Part 2

Okay, I think this is enough to think about for now. Here’s your assignment for the week:

1. Work hard at retiring early so that 5am feels wonderful, not dreadful.

2. Start writing during the early morning hours. Don’t worry about organization just yet. Write down what you want to write about. Write down what you think you know and what you think will require some research.

Next week, we are going to break down our projects into bite-sized chunks and begin tackling this project in earnest. For now, just get used to some new routines. If the blank page is intimidating you, then spend your lovely, lonely morning hours reading the Bible (or an extra chapter or two than you usually do) and praying/meditating. Write out a short to-do list for the day, brew up a pot of coffee for you and your hubby, or pick up that book that you wanted to read last night, but didn’t because you determined to go to bed early.

And I’ll see you back here next week as we break down your book idea into manageable parts to tackle in earnest.

Question: Are you ready to join me and say to the world next year that YOU ARE AN AUTHOR?

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The beginning of a new year…

I love the fact that each new year brings with it a fresh, clean slate. This year can be anything you want it to be. Well, within reason, I guess. Last January, one year ago exactly, was a life-changing month for me. I decided to make some changes in my life to improve my health, my sleep, my relationships…

No, I didn’t lose any weight (although I could afford to lose a few), but I gained some great habits… habits that I will continue into this new year. Here are a few:

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In the process of forming new habits, such as writing out a to-do list the night before, getting to bed earlier, walking daily, taking vitamins and smiling more, my sleep improved dramatically. Hugging and kissing my family always has great benefits. And spending time with my Lord is the best time ever spent.

Do you need some new habits to get your day started in the right direction? Download this printable and post it to your fridge, or pin it to your Pinterest page (click “pin it” button above) or post it to Facebook (just copy the link in your browser or click any of those little icons below). Located in these places that you frequent often, it will serve as a good reminder to continue good, healthy habits all year long.

10 Habits Printable

Question: Which habit do you want most to change/start this new year (remember, a new habit or goal should be realistic and measurable – don’t get too lofty or theoretical or it probably won’t stick.)

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One word at a time!

Do you have a book rolling around in your brain? Are you ready to get it out of your head and onto paper? Join me as I begin to write a new book starting next week. I will outline what I am doing so you can follow along.

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Last year, I wrote the third volume of A Child’s Geography. It was a huge project, but I took it from idea stage to physical book in just 11 months. I’m ready to do it again!

That volume was titled Explore the Classical World and covered several of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Now, it’s time to tackle volume four – Explore Medieval Kingdoms.

Here’s the basic outline:

  • Spain – 2 chapters
  • Portugal – 1 chapter
  • France – 3 chapters
  • Andorra – 1 chapter
  • Switzerland – 1 chapter
  • Austria – 1 1/2 chapters
  • Liechtenstein – 1/2 chapter
  • Germany – 3 chapters
  • Luxembourg – 1 chapter
  • Belgium – 1 chapter
  • Netherlands – 1 chapter

That is a total of 16 chapters across 11 countries. That works out nicely. I will write about one country per month. Most months, that means one chapter, but other months will be more challenging with two or three chapters to write. I’ll give myself an extra week or two for those larger projects. But I should be done by next December to close out the year with a finished book.

Next week, I’ll post my actual plan of attack for writing each chapter. I’ll write about how I stay motivated and when I get my best writing done. Stay posted for that.

(Here’s the link to the next post!)

Question: Do you have a book you would like to write? Would you like to join me?

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Egyptian-Fashion

Ever wonder how men and women dressed in Ancient Egypt. The January issue of Quest Magazine delves into this topic, providing beautiful photos and descriptions of the most common Egyptian clothing worn during the height of the Ancient Egyptian empire. This issue is filled with all kinds of fun and thought-provoking articles that you and your kids will really enjoy. What did Cleopatra really look like? If Cleopatra lived today, would we think she was beautiful?

Also, best-selling author Susan Wise Bauer explores the distinction between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period. Learn how laundry was done for hundreds of years, what medieval cooks were serving up and how to become an inventor like Thomas Edison.

Sound fun? Download Quest Magazine for ipad today. No ipad? No worries! An Android version is coming very soon.

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