Back to OneNote

It’s funny how things work.  Sometimes you use a tool forever and then you realize there are a whole slew of features that you never even knew existed!  Take OneNote for example.  I used this the good majority of the year for keeping track of the children’s homeschooling lessons.  I wasn’t very familiar with the tool so my notes were rather convoluted and messy.

I had a notebook for each child… so that was 6 notebooks.  I had to keep and sync 180 days of school for 6 different notebooks.  It’s no wonder the android performance was horribad with OneNote!  Not to mention, the littlest boys all essentially had the same assignments so I was clicking in three different notebooks, navigating to the pages, and then checking off the same assignments.  No wonder I was hating OneNote!  I liked that it was cross platform, but I was not organized with it.

Fast forward to the end of the year, several articles and videos later, and here I am.  I have learned about OneNote addins and installed a couple of different ones to assist me in  creating a much better OneNote experience.  I use Gem for OneNote to copy entire folder structures because seriously, this functionality should already exist in OneNote.  Kind of crazy it doesn’t.  I also use OneCalendar so that I can easily insert calendars into OneNote.  Now granted, you could create the table yourself, but time saving tools are always a plus.

Now, instead of a notebook for each child, I have ONE notebook!  Technically there are two notebooks for each child – my Master Notebook with all the lesson plans and such which I will describe shortly, and then a notebook for each child to put their work in.  I read about this concept not too long ago and I thought it was awesome.  Right now only Matthew, Lilly, and Sierra have digital notebooks.  But no longer will I have to worry about lost papers, or claims of completed work.  Now there is a place to store all of that.  We will be purchasing a scanner before the school year so that the kids can scan any paper work and paste it into their OneNote digital notebooks.  They can also add voice recordings (for Foreign Languages, for example), or screenshots, or even doodles, so I could in theory give them a worksheet right in OneNote.  I don’t know if I’ll do that, but it’s there as an option.


Now onto the description of my Master Notebook.

  1. First of all I plan to have one for each school year.  Therefore, I am naming them by school year (2016-2017 School Year) for next year’s notebook.
  2. Sections are useful!  I have several large sections.  Included are:
    • Attendance
    • Book List
    • School Calendar
    • Answers
    • Template
  3. Section Groups are just as useful as sections!  For large groups of material that would have been overly cumbersome to have as sections, I made these sections into Section Groups.  It keeps my UI cleaner, and it’s much quicker to navigate to the areas I need.  My section groups are:
    • Gradebook
    • School Material
    • Term 1
    • Term 2
    • Term


AttendanceMy attendance section is fairly straight forward.  I have a simple table for each day of that week.  I have a page for each of the 36 weeks of school.  It’s easier for me to think in terms of “Week 1 Day 3” instead of “Wednesday” because I have holidays that fall in the middle of weeks, or push my weeks out of alignment.

Book List

booklistI really like the idea of a book list.  I have never really used one before, but it really is useful.  Too often I gather up these awesome book for use in the school year but then I forgot that I got them and they go to waste.  This year, however, I wrote down all the books I downloaded and bought, and put them in the book list.  I have one page for each subject, and on each page is a table with the child, and the books they will be using.  To further increase the usefulness of this section, I also including apps and such that they will be using.  Nothing more annoying than trying to think of a fun game to assign and forgetting all the ones I’ve found!  No more!

School Calendar

This section isn’t really anything other than pretty.  I created a school calendar for the entire year using OneCalendar.  Then I added a legend to color code for holidays, birthdays, and vacations.  I also added a link to my Google school calendar, where I not only track this information but also the day that school is.  Mostly I wanted something pretty that I could see at a glance where we were in the school year.  As I said this section is done manually – it’s not synced to Google or anything which sucks, but at least I have the link to Google so I can see that if need be.



I don’t have anything in the Answers section yet but how I intend to use it is as follows.  Too often I need to check the kids’ work, but then I have to go find the book, find the answers, blah blah blah blah.  So instead, when I have assignments I need to grade, I’m going to just use OneNote’s screen capture feature to port in the answers into the Answers section.  It’s conceivable this section may become a section group depending on how much I need to use it.  But the beauty of this page is that even though the kids will have access to this notebook, in order to get to their lessons and such, they will not have access to this section because I have it password protected.  I love that feature.  Now I can have everything in one place and not worry about kids getting stuff they shouldn’t have!


This section is just a template for my Week’s lesson plans table.  I created a template because I have them all sized the same and color coded and I’m OCD enough that it annoys me if they aren’t the same size.  So I created a template to just paste into each new page.  All of my weeks for this year are already pasted in but I plan on using this structure in future school years too and I figured it would be easier to paste a blank template than go through 180 days of school and erase all the content in the tables.  I have the template set so that I can copy all the pages and paste directly into a new week (when you see how I have my Terms you’ll understand what I mean).  I also used my template to set up my weekly schedule.  For example, Music is only for Matthew, Lilly, and Sierra, and it’s not every day of the week.  So any children who will never have lessons on that day for that subject, I blacked out the day, so I don’t forget when I do my weekly lesson plans.



My Gradebook is a section group.  I have one section for each child, and within each section is a page for each subject.  On each page I have a table with the date, the description of the assignment, the points earned, the points possible, the percent, and the grade.  This will all be manually entered, but this organizational structure made sense to me because when I do report cards it’s easier just to have one of a child’s items all together.  And I really wanted a date and description of assignment area because not all assignments will have grades, so I needed to be able to distinguish.


School Material

Shane has agreed to do Prepared Dictation for me – that is, using the Charlotte Mason method, I will present the children with a passage each week to study and learn, and then he will read the passage aloud for them to write down with correct spelling, punctuation, etc.  In order to facilitate this process, I made a Prepared Dictation section and put it under the School Material section because I thought I might have other things like this that will be useful.  In the lesson plan I link to this page so that it’s easy to get to the prepared dictation for the week.  I have a page for each passage, and I just used OneNote’s screen capture feature to capture the passage from the web.  No need to browse to a site and get distracted now!

Term 1 – Term 3

I have divided out my school year into 3 terms of 12 weeks each.  Accordingly, I have 3 section groups, one for each term.  Within each Term section are the weeks for that term (Term 1 – weeks 1 through 12, Term 2 – weeks 13 through 24, Term 3 – weeks 25 through 36).  One each week section, I have a page for each subject.  On each page is a color coded grid with each child and the day of week.  Then the lessons are listed within.  I have check marks so they can check off the items as they finish, and I have added links to OneDrive, and other places in OneNote for their material.  Where appropriate, I also linked to the particular pages in their digital notebooks, so for example when they have a written narration to do for a selection of reading, it should go right to their notebook, so their won’t be lost work, or can’t find this or that.  I’ve noticed this feature doesn’t really work on the android tablets, but they do their work on their computers anyways so that shouldn’t be an issue.  Another thing I did, which helps me use the templates with ease, is that instead of continuing the numbering of the days (for example going from Day 5 of Week 1 to Day 6-Day 10 on Week 2) I just kept it as Days 1-5.  This makes copying templates much easier.  Again time saving for the win!


The beauty of doing my lessons this way instead of how I’ve done them previously is that ALL my children for the ENTIRE week are all on one area.  Of course you could organize it differently if you looked at data differently.  But I want to see who all is doing the same subjects because a lot of them overlap.  It makes copying and pasting a lot easier this way than having all of a child’s subjects on one section, and then a page for each child.  If I want to see who has what work left I do have to tap or click through each subject, but it’s much easier to prepare lessons this way and that’s where my time crunch is.

I just love my discovery of the new functionality in OneNote.  I never thought about section groups before, or color coding, or having 1 notebook for my school year.  The ability to password protect sensitve sections, and my usage of linking to OneDrive and even other notebooks within OneNote is very useful for keeping kids on track with their assignments.  Being able to clip data from an external source and paste right into OneNote makes creating digital curriculum a breeze too.  And then the organizational prospects of having all of the children’s work in their own digital notebooks is much better than the pen-and-paper way we do it now.  Lilly in particular is horrendous at organizing her work.  One page will be a history narration, then on the next page she’ll do math problems.  This way will somewhat force her to organize her work better which is a plus for me.  And as usual – digital lesson plans means no papers getting lost, which is always a plus!

A Day in the Life of a Working/Homeschooling Mom

I really enjoy reading posts about “A Day in the Life of” things with regards to subjects I’m interested in – like homeschooling!  And I also know that before I was a homeschooling working mom, I wondered how it could even be possible.  So maybe seeing some insight into how I make it work will help someone else out who is wondering how they can make it work.

I’ll preface by saying a few things.  First, I have a big family.  Seven kids, five of which do school in some form or another (and next year I’m planning to involved all 7!)  My eldest, Lilly, has ADHD and so she has serious issues focusing, which presents its own interesting set of challenges.  Finally my boys are… loud.  They are active.  They are most certainly NOT the sit still and do book work type, yet if I don’t include that they throw a fit so… more interesting challenges I had to resolve.  I think I’ll do a few posts over the next few weeks about homeschooling and the issues I’ve had to deal with.  But for now, on to my day.

I wake up at 6am.  My phone is my alarm clock and so I always wake up to it.  I resist the urge, some days more than others, to hit the snooze button, but instead hop out of bed.  I turn the fan off, and hope that while I’m getting ready in the morning, the lack of white noise will wake up Shane, Mark, and Luke.  Usually it just wakes up Luke.

So after I’m out of bed, I go to the bathroom, get dressed, rinse the sink out, and on Monday mornings, I do a quick 5-10 minute clean of my  bathroom.  This involves windexing the mirror, cleaning the counter and sink, cleaning the toilet, and cleaning the bathtub.  If it’s a monthly cleaning day, I’ll do those tasks on Tuesday so I don’t spend my whole morning cleaning.  After all I am on a time limit!  Either way, by 6:15 I’m up, ready, make-upped and good to go.  So I plop back in bed to wake up whoever hasn’t woken up yet.  I usually don’t succeed at that until around 6:30, sometimes later.  After everyone is up and out of bed, I quickly make the crib and bed (on Mondays I change the sheets so it adds about 5 extra minutes to that routine.  Then I gather up the laundry from our hamper (and sheets if it’s Monday) and go rotate the laundry.  This is usually the only time I mess with the washer/dryer during the day on a weekday.

After that, I go to the mantle, which has our family charging station, and grab whatever devices haven’t already been grabbed by kids.  Usually Jordan and David wake up before me and get their tablets and go upstairs to play video games.  I then head upstairs with Luke in tow, popping him over the makeshift baby gate and make sure he gets up the stairs ok.  I yell at Lilly and Sierra to get up if they aren’t already up and then to my seat.  The homeschooling seat lol.  Lilly gets Luke in his seat and I’m getting all the kids started with XtraMath on their tablets.  They all have the app on their devices.  It was about $4 on the play store, but being able to block the web and still let them do their XtraMath was worth it to me.  While they’re doing XtraMath, I’m looking at my lesson plan for the day and pulling out the worksheets that are needed for everyone.  I print my worksheets a week ahead and plan lessons several weeks ahead usually.  If kids still aren’t done, I open up the various apps and such that will be needed in the next few minutes.

It doesn’t usually take them long to finish XtraMath.  Jordan and David usually finish first and so I give them their worksheets for the day.  Some days it’s coloring sheets, some days it’s a craft, and some days it’s a find the letters.  Today it was a find the letters.  They both finished pretty fast and then I gave them their Math activity which today was a cut and paste shape sorting activity.  While this was going on I opened up Google Play books and got the Goop Directory ready for their daily character lesson.  I also gave Lilly and Sierra their copywork sheets to get started on.

By now it’s around 7-7:10 and Shane has come upstairs with a mug of coffee for me (he’s so awesome!) and he gets breakfast ready.  I plan breakfast in advance and prepare 3 days of  breakfasts on the weekend.  The other two days are grits or oatmeal.  Today was an oatmeal day.  Jordan loves oatmeal.

After the boys finish their worksheets, I start the android tablet lessons.  Usually it’s one or maybe two apps on their, for example the Starfall app to learn about the letter of the week we’re working on.  That takes maybe a minute and then it’s back to me.  On days when they have math games, I save those for last because they like to linger over the games a bit and I’m on a time limit.  The good thing is that David’s tablet is my old phone so it’s pretty good quality and can hold all of the games I give them for school.  So after everything else is done I can give Jordan my tablet and David can use his and they can both play their math games at the same time.  (Of course he lost his tablet yesterday so we have to find it now…)  Just prior to any math games they may have, I do the other thing I save for last – the YouTube videos.  ALL the kids like listening to the YouTube videos, even Lilly.  She channels her inner preschool and watches.  I can’t say I blame her, I pick out interesting songs and videos.  I have several YouTube playlists for different grades so I can easily find the videos I need.  There is almost always a video to listen to.  While the boys are doing their school, I open up Sierra’s math – she’s doing SplashMath on my tablet and she does her daily lesson.  If there’s time she plays on the aquarium of the app after her lesson.  Lilly will work on her copywork and toast and prepare a bagel for me to take to work for breakfast, assuming Shane hasn’t beaten her to it.

I save the Bible reading for the absolute last.  I used to read the Bible to them myself, but I guess I’m boring and they prefer my app to read it.  So I open up the LifeTV Bible app on my windows tablet (which is paired to a bluetooth speaker to increase the volume) and play the reading for the day.  After that, boys are done.  By this time it’s usually 7:20 or so.  Sometimes it’s closer to 7:30.  At this time, I do a quick Scripture memory review with the girls.  They’re pretty good at it.  I give them index cards and they glue the verses onto the card and then keep them in their folders for review.  Sierra really likes keeping track of her things and reading the cards – she’s really proud of her newfound ability to read.  Lilly mostly just looks at it once and then never looks at the card again but still memorizes it over time, listening to me and Sierra recite it.  Then, the last morning activity I’m involved in is to do the Hymn study.  I’ll play 1-3 hymns depending on time and mood and we’ll sing them together.  Sometimes David joins in cuz he’s just good like that.

After all THAT is done, it’s time for me to leave.  I open up a Librovox recording of Pinocchio (that’s the book we’re currently reading in literature) on my Windows tablet for Sierra to listen to, and then I try to leave her with another activity.  Sometimes it’s phonics, sometimes a game, sometimes Math if we were running behind.  It just depends.  I leave her with both tablets though and she finishes up those two activities and her worksheets while I’m at work – or at least she’s supposed to.  Sometimes she “forgets” and we have to do it when she gets home.  She’s pretty good about finishing the tablet work though.

So then I go to work.  I TRY to get there by 7:30 but it just doesn’t happen.  I usually get to work between 7:45 and 8.  I keep facebook messenger open all day for kids to message me questions or work.  Next year I have a better system which I will reveal in another post but the current system is facebook messenger.  Matthew will do his work independently and then send me attachments and screenshots of his work via messenger.  Lilly is SUPPOSED to do that but she keeps forgetting and then I have to have her do her work later.  Some days she remembers but a lot of days she acts as though I never before told her to put a screen shot of her work on messenger… even though that’s the way it’s been every day this year.  Ah well c’est la vie.  Matthew’s assignments are currently in OneNote, and Lilly’s are on my tablet, which she can view when Shane opens up my tablet for her.  Matthew usually finishes in a couple of hours, I print out the files he sends me and take them home later.  On Mondays, I prepare and print out anything needed for their lessons, in between work assignments!  I have everything organized in OneDrive so I don’t have to hunt for things and this takes almost no time to do.  I’m really specific in my lesson plans so that I can find stuff later (print page 100 from such and such a book).  Then if it’s a boy’s lesson, I know both boys need that lesson.

I leave work around 4 every day.  Assuming I have no appointments, I head home.  I’m usually greeted by our Labrador retriever, Bruce.  I pet him for a few minutes, and as soon as the little guys hear me, they all stream out of the bedroom to greet me.  I had one my coffee mug, and one my lunchbox because they like helping and they scurry off to make my lunch (which just involves putting the stuff I already made into my bag.  I make my lunch a pay period at a time so that lunch making is super fast).  I then have to go see Luke because he’s screaming his head off at being left alone in the room while the other guys all hopped the gate.  So I pick him up, drop my purse off in my room, sometimes change clothes if my work clothes aren’t that comfy that day (they usually are comfy lol), and then I plop on the bed for a bit and hang out with kids and Shane.  Talk about our days, etc.  After that I get dinner going, unless it’s a crock pot meal in which case there’s nothing for me to do usually because we prepped everything ahead of time, so I get on my computer.  I spend a few minutes playing my game (World of Warcraft… lol what can I say!) and then Sierra will come ask me to do school.  Usually there’s a game or something independent I can give her – sometimes it’s PE depending on the day so I’ll send them outside for a while.  Just depends on the day.  Yesterday it was PE.  Today it will probably be tangrams on my android tablet.

I spend the next hour trying to play WoW, hold Luke who climbs up and down, across my computer, and being a general nuissance, cute thing that he is, and working with Sierra on her school.  After work, I generally have to read her her science and history lessons, and have her narrate, and then she reads her reading lesson to me.  There is also usually another miscellaneous lesson.  Yesterday it was an artist picture study.  Today it is health and music study.  She’s supposed to listen to the music compositions during the day with Lilly but that doesn’t always happen.  So I play them after work.  Sometimes her lessons take until bedtime.  It really is flexible depending on the environment of the day. If Luke is really fussy, or if kids are acting like maniacs, or if there are a lot of chores to be done, then my after-work-routine varies a lot.  Add in to that my game takes precedence on Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 for in-game events, and it adds to the interesting factor.  I have done school while playing my game with Sierra during the downtime.  It’s pretty funny to see it happen.  But she’s good to go with the flow.  I try to finish Sierra’s school early in the evening though so I can dedicate the rest of my attention to helping Lilly finish her school.  On a good day she’s done before I get home.  On an ok day she can finish before bed time.  Sometimes though, we just have to carry over school to the next day.  Today, for example, Sierra and Lilly both have makeup work from yesterday to do because they were busy with chores.  Shane was making sure kids did chores correctly for once so there wasn’t much time for school.  Even still, the little boys finished, as they always do.

We usually eat dinner by 7.  I TRY to get dinner done by 6 but it just almost never happens.  It kind of sucks too  because Luke is usually screaming his head off by 7, but sometimes life just doesn’t cooperate.  After dinner, Matthew and Lilly clean up the kitchen while I get Luke in the bath and send boys in turn to the shower and brushing their teeth.  I put Luke and Mark in bed between 7 and 8 usually and send the Jordan and David to bed as soon as their showers are done, or as soon as I get done putting the little boys to bed, whichever is later.  After dinner cleanup, Lilly an Matt fold up the clothes I set to washing and drying earlier in the morning and if I still have school with Sierra I finish it up during this quiet part of the evening.  I send Sierra to bed around 9 and then have 1-2 hours to myself.  I TRY to get in bed by 10 but a lot of times it’s closer to 11 before I actually close my eyes because after I close my computer for the evening, I take a shower or bath and brush my teeth before bed, so that takes a bit of time.  Plus if I opt for the bath rather than the shower, I’ve been known to watch Netflix on my tablet for a few minutes at the same time…  Multitasking and all lol.

Finally around 10-11 I climb into bed.  I check the calendar for tomorrow and make sure all of my to-do list items were checked off that were completed.  Then I zone out until another day.

So as you can see my morning routine is really structured, but my afternoon/evening routine not nearly so much.  Whatever we don’t finish during the week we finish up on the weekend.  There have been weeks where Lilly is still doing school on Sunday.  I really try to push her to finish by the end of Saturday but you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink.  Same thing with homeschooling.  You can present the lessons and sit them in front of the work, but you can’t stop the daydreaming and not doing the work.  We can motivate her in various ways to finish (no playing on the computer till you’re done) but it only works so well as her desire for that activity versus her desire not to do her work!  What works for us may not work for everyone, but that is how we make homeschooling work with me as the primary teacher and the sole breadwinner.

Timesaving Tricks for the Frugal Homemaker

When you’re a parent you’re busy.  This is true whether you’re a stay at home mom or a working mom.  I’ve been both so I know.  And when you’re trying to live frugally, you’re spending more time to save money.  But it can be worth it if you use some timesaving tricks.

  1. You can make your own brown sugar in the food processor.  Before I was taking sugar and molasses and mashing it together with a fork to make my brown sugar.  It worked but it was time consuming.  Last weekend Shane took pity on me as I scrambled around doing baking day and he threw it all in the food processor.  It turned out absolutely perfect.  He said it was like store bought brown sugar and I have to say, I agree.  So you’re talking about a couple of minutes for a big batch of brown sugar.  And cost wise it’s totally worth it.  We buy a 25 pound bag of sugar for like $12 and change and a jar of molasses for around $2.  Considering that a tiny bag of brown sugar costs upwards of $4, you can see the financial savings.  And now there’s time saving too!
  2. Making crock pot meals during the week is great, but not without planning ahead. Shane convinced me that I needed to spend less time cooking.  He said he was at home during the day and he could work on some crock pot meals.  So over the past couple of months, I have worked on finding some good crock pot recipes, and learning some follies along the way.  One of the things about crock pot recipes is they like to use convenience ingredients, such as canned beans.  I almost never buy canned beans because they’re usually more expensive than dry beans.  However having a bag of dry beans doesn’t really help if you’re wanting to do a crock pot meal that morning.  So I have started to incorporate crock pot prep into my baking day routine.  On Mondays when I plan out my meals for the next week, I look through the recipes for things that need to be prepared ahead of time for convenience on that day.  So far I have found:
    • beans – I soak them in the morning and then set them going around midday until they’re done, drain them, let them cool, and put them in quart or gallon size baggies depending on the recipe, and lay them flat in the freezer.  Good to go for crock pot meals
    • cream of <fill in the blank> soup – I NEVER buy condensed soup.  Instead, I googled and found some generic cream of soup recipes where you can add additional ingredients depending on the type of cream soup (mushroom, chicken, even cheddar!)
    • biscuits – We recently did a chicken pot pie in the crock pot.  It. Was. AWESOME!  And in preparation of the meal, I made biscuits and left them frozen and uncooked in the freezer.  Biscuits are so easy to make I make at least a batch every weekend.  Here’s the general idea for the biscuits I use, and when I don’t have buttermilk I use milk or water + creamer or just water:
  3. HAVING a planning day saves time.  There was a time when I didn’t plan my meals a week in advance, and I didn’t think about my grocery list.  There was a time when I played school by ear each day, and when I didn’t set out my clothes.  But each of these impromptu events cost time that could have been saved to do other things.  So now I plan.  Every Monday I plan out my meal plan.  I use Wunderlist to keep track of my shopping list – then as I’m backing, I put it on Wunderlist when I run out and when I do my grocery shopping online, it’s right there and I won’t forget that we were out of something.  I plan my homeschool out so I have the materials I need on time.  It really kind of sucked when science experiment day came and I had to find a video instead because I didn’t have the right supplies.  So now I try to plan ahead.  Sometimes life still happens.  Sometimes we ran out of a food I thought we’d have for a dinner and we have to reorganize, but by planning out my homekeeping, we’re able to make these adjustments in stride.
  4. Getting enough sleep is a must.  It might seem counterintuitive to end the day when so much is left to do, but consider an alternative perspective – approach it as a per week instead of a per day.  When I approach my to-do list and tasks as a per-week, then I know hey, I can go to bed on time tonight because I can finish up tomorrow or the next day.  I do this with chores, school, anything really.  So long as I finish my tasks before Sunday preferably but definitely before Monday I’m good.  Because sometimes life does get chaotic.  Maybe you’re sick that day and so you get behind.  But on Saturday when you usually do nothing, maybe you can catch up.  We have to use Saturday a lot to finish up the last bit of Sierra and Lilly’s school because sometimes I just can’t get to ALL of their school ALL of the time.  I try but it doesn’t always happen.  Sometimes Luke is being a pain and so I have to stay in the bedroom putting him to sleep for two hours and then I don’t have time to finish Sierra’s school.  It has happened when, by the time I get done putting Mark and Luke to bed, that I come out and Sierra looks like a zombie and says she’s tired and can she go to bed?  How could I say “no, you have to stay up for another hour so we can finish school!!”  Instead, I tell her to go to bed, and we finish the next day, or the next.  There have been weeks where it took us until bedtime Sunday to get through all of Lilly’s work, because she will daydream.  It happens.  But by setting a bedtime for myself and going to sleep, I can be sure that *I* am well rested and ready to tackle the day.  And by making sure my kids get to bed on time, they can make better use of the time they’re awake and get done with their tasks more effectively.  When I’m tired it’s all I can do to stay awake, much less try and be productive.  When I’m rested though… I knock out tasks like there’s no tomorrow!
  5. Have a running budget through the next few years, if need be.  My budget is in an excel spreadsheet and it currently runs through to 2019.  Yes there was some initial set up to finagle the numbers, and yes sometimes I have to adjust them as life happens, raises happen, deductions happen, etc.  But I have every pay period planned out for every plannable expense we currently have.  That would be all of the medical bills that we still owe, paying my dad back, our car we had to get when our old one died, as well as regular expenses like groceries and gas and insurance.  The way planning out the budget saves time is this – on pay day, you don’t have to worry about what goes to what bills… it’s already planned out.  I use GoodBudget to utilize the envelope system and I am still working on padding all of the envelopes a month ahead so that whenever I take from one envelope it’s already refilled again come pay day.  That’s peace of mind too, and it helps you make the hard choices.  We’ve had to cut out of some budgets to make room for bills that came up.  I’m able to plan for my giving – which I’m just now beginning again and want to get better at.  And I have Christmas and savings budgeted.  So even though it’s only April, I’m putting money aside for Christmas.  By the time Christmas comes, unless something drastic happens, we’ll have another $2000 saved up for presents and such, even though each check it’s only maybe $20 here or $30 here.  Sometimes there are large contributions, but a lot of times it’s small.  Some weeks it’s a few cents.  But it adds up over time.  And not having to spend all that time collecting bills and running around like a chicken with your head cut off trying to remember if you paid this bill or that bill saves time.
  6. Also, I record due dates for bills on google calendar, along with the meal plan for today, and any chores that need to be remembered (like whose kid duty it is on that weekend day!).  I also record the school day we’re on, and any school holidays, and I can see any appointments.  Being able to see my entire day at a glance on google calendar is a big time saver.
  7. And back to the kitchen again… I multitask when I do my baking day.  But I do it in a smart way.  I usually have about 3 mini session on baking day.  Every baking day I have 3 breakfasts, 3 sweets, and any dinner or accessory items to prep for the week (things like barbecue sauce, or brown sugar, or maple syrup).  So I look over my baking list, which I prepare on Monday with the meal plans.  I know now which items cook at 350, which at 400, etc.  I also know which dishes I’ll need for which meals.  So I try to group them together.  For example… I will start maple syrup on the stove – it’s mix, whisk, and ignore basically until it boils for three minutes.  So while that’s heating up, I might drain and get some beans going for crock pot meals during the week in my big 16 quart stock pot.  I just fill that sucker up, sprinkle some salt on, and turn it on high for a while.  It’s big enough I can kind of ignore it for a good long while, usually until the beans are done.  Then I might start cooking some sausage for sausage biscuits on the front eye.  That still doesn’t require my full attention, so I prep a coffee cake, and save the egg yolks from that in a bowl for french toast in session 2.  All of that will take me about thirty minutes to do in total.  When I’m done with session 1 I will have finished maple syrup, coffee cake, beans are good, and half of my sausage biscuits are done.  Session 2 would be maybe chocolate pudding, french toast, muffins, and biscuits, so then 3/3 breakfasts are done, 2/3 sweets are done, and all of my extra list is done.  Then I will mix up cookie dough and let Lilly babysit the cookies cuz really the cook 10 minutes, let rest 5 minutes thing annoys me and she will sit up there on her tablet and happily do it.
  8. Finally, I always make sure I’m ready for the next day.  One of the best ways to start my day is to make sure there’s not a lot of crazy time in the morning.  So I always make sure my clothes are set out, I make sure all the devices are plugged up and charging so school will go smoothly, and I try to make sure my bedroom and bathroom are tidy, though lately I’ve been leaving my bedroom till the morning because Jordan and David will go in there to get clothes after their showers, then go to bed, and I won’t notice the gigantic mess of clothes they pulled out till I go to bed, and we’re trying to teach them to clean up after themselves.  So I have him clean up in the morning when he gets up.

That’s probably not everything I do, but that is at least some of the things I do to help me save time during the week.  Hopefully some of these ideas will help other people save some time too!

Sometimes you really do have to do it yourself

I’m a working mom, so I have to delegate stuff.  There is just not enough time in the day to get everything done while I’m working outside the home.  But there are some things that I actually have to take upon myself.  No delegation allowed.  Because if I don’t take these things upon myself time to time they just won’t get done, or they won’t get done correctly.

Some of these things are chores.  Every month there are some recurring chores I do myself because I feel like I’ll do it right and it needs to be done right.  For example – reorganizing the clothes.  I love my kids – they help out a lot – but they all are really really bad at putting clothes where they go.  By the end of every month, all the clothes are mixed up.  You have Sierra’s clothes in the boys drawers, Luke’s clothes upstairs in the girls stuff, my stuff in Shane’s drawers, his stuff in Jordan’s drawers… it’s crazy.  Some of this is due to kids not knowing whose things belong to who and then just picking a random drawer or a best guess drawer to put things in.  Like yesterday Shane pulled my pants out of his drawer that Lilly had put there because she didn’t know whose they were, and rather than asking she guessed… incorrectly though.  This happens a lot.  Or the boys will need to get dressed and apparently to do so it requires dumping ALL the clothes into the floor and when I have them pick it up, they shove it all into one drawer, no matter whose clothes they are.  I have found wash rags in their drawers before, as well as toys.  So once a month I have a task to go through all the clothes in my room and refold and reorganize them all.  It sounds like a monumental task, but knowing that the clothes won’t stay folded perfectly, I don’t expect perfection in my folding, so I save time there.  I quickly fold and organize all the clothes.  It’s pretty easy – I just start at one side of the room with David’s drawers and work my way across.  It takes me about half an hour to do it all.

Another thing I often have to do myself to get it done correctly is cleaning and organizing the fridge and pantry areas.  I don’t know how many times I have to tell the kids that all the measuring cups and spoons go together in the cabinet where I can easily reach it before they’ll actually remember.  Maybe they’ll never remember.  Going into my kitchen is always like a big scavenger hunt.  Where will my spatulas be today?  Will I find a whisk where it’s supposed to be or is it hidden in a drawer it has no business being in?  Too bad I’m not a big fan of surprises and adventure or cooking in my kitchen would be a daily blast!  I’m seriously considering creating inventory stickers and putting them on different storage areas.  I think I’d need printer labels though because I can’t fit everything on my little label maker tape.

Then there are the non-chore tasks that still require me to put my effort towards in order to get them done correctly.  Things like brushing Lilly’s hair.  She’s almost twelve and still will let her hair get to the rat’s nest stage if I don’t brush it time to time.  I keep telling her to put her hair up so it won’t get so tangled, but I guess she doesn’t like the feeling of pony tail holders or something.  She used to not like them when she was little because they would bother her during naps, which I could understand, but now that she doesn’t take naps I don’t understand her aversion to them, but it’s her choice.  Her choice to have mommy brush the rat’s nest out rather than avoid getting them.

Homeschooling is another area that is a me-only area.  I dabbled in delegating homeschooling before, and while I might need Shane to reinforce the doing of school during the day while I’m not there, as far as the actual assignments and checking of completion and teaching of material, I like to do that.  I feel left out of the loop when it’s done without me and then I feel disconnected from the home.  Homeschooling is one of my roots to the home.  Makes me happy to know I can do that for my kids, from the planning of lessons, to the daily completion of lessons.  Plus I really enjoy seeing how much they’ve progressed over the years.  It’s amazing watching that growth.  I look at Sierra, who at the beginning of this year was practically having meltdowns over trying to read “The cat sat on the mat.” and now she’s reading McGuffey’s Second Reader, with stories usually around a page long, and doing so in almost no time at all.  It warms the heart.  I see even Mark, who when I tried to do school with him earlier this year throwing tantrums, breaking crayons, not coloring, and generally being a big butt, now ASKING me for coloring sheets and to do school with his brothers.  So it looks like someone will be ready next year for preschool.

There are jobs around the house that if I didn’t do them, no one would because no one would care enough to do them.  Like I change our sheets every week on our bed.  They might not need it, but I read somewhere that you should change your bed linens weekly or monthly just because living people spend time in it and it needs cleaning.  Same with our bath linens.  I wash the towels and wash rags every week.  Once a month I wipe down the base boards in our bathroom and windex the window, clean the walls, etc.  I call it deep cleaning but really it’s the stuff that if I didn’t have it on a list it would never get done.  I try to get the others to be as involved in cleaning as I am, but I guess the thrill of a clean house hasn’t really settled in their mind yet.  If it were up to me the house would be essentially spotless all the time.  When Lilly was pre-mobile that’s the way my house was – books lined up perfectly straight, knick knacks aligned in just the right way.  But kids have a way of changing perspective and priorities.  It’s ok though.  Eventually I’ll be the grandparent and I can have my house orderly again.  So I haven’t dismissed the notion of having a clean house again.  I just bide my time, enjoying life as I can knowing that one day these little guys will be all grown up with their own little guys.  I won’t be able to see Luke shaking his head as he dances to homeschool music, or Mark coming to me “I want up you Mommy!” or Jordan with his impish grin repeating everything everyone says, or even Lilly staring into space dreaming about unicorns and kittens.  Well, ok, that one might never change but who knows!

I think it’s important to have a good balance.  Figure out what YOU have to do.  Make a list of everything that needs to be done, and determine what must be done personally.  Then delegate the rest.  The way I have my system set up is that I have everything in Wunderlist.  I like Wunderlist because I can access it from my android devices and from the web.  I can invite people to lists too.  So I have personal lists with my private to-dos, craft projects, and routines, and then I have shared lists that Shane, Lilly, and Matthew are members of.  So all of the delegated tasks and chores stay on the public lists where they can be assigned by Shane or volunteered for by the kids and done, and my private list that must be done by me is there for me to keep track of.  This way I have a good overview of what I can do to do my part, while not overburdening either myself or anyone else in the family.  I think it’s fair this way and that the chores are more evenly distributed, even if the kids do complain about having to do chores.  I chalk that up to kids being kids, but when it’s all said and done, they do enjoy a clean house, so it’s not all bad!

Slowing Down

Friday when I drove home from work, something got me thinking…  I watched a car tailgate one in front of me, jerk into the next lane as soon as possible, pass, and then immediately get stop and turn.  It made me think… why are we in such a big friggin hurry?  That guy saved what, half a second?  But you see this all the time.  We’re always busily rushing from point A to point B, working hard, for what?  The idea being that you would work hard to relax and enjoy.  But truly, how many of us do?

Think about parenting….  We raise our babies, looking forward to the days they’ll sleep through the night.  But then by that age they’re screaming, throwing tantrums, and coloring on the walls, not to mention tearing up everything in sight.  So we look forward to the day they grow out of this phase.  Then they’re in the lying about everything, I-can-do-no-wrong phase and you wait for that phase to hurry up and end.  And so on and so forth.  It’s a constant stream of hurrying through where we’re currently at, but there’s never an end in sight.  Life goes on, phases notwithstanding.

If you’ll notice, my post for “this week” is late.  I actually plan to do this week’s post this week also, as this is last week’s post.  But I needed a break.  I’ve run myself ragged, cheating sleep, hurrying through things, longing for the naptimes and bedtimes so I can have a few moments to myself.  But in that process, I forgot to enjoy life.  And I hit burn out.  I basically did nothing this weekend.  I rearranged the meal plans for this week so I didn’t have to do any baking, and I had Lilly do what little baking there was left (she likes cooking so this was kind of a treat for her).  We had leftovers/ramen/scrounge for yourselves nights for dinner.  I took naps.  I slept in.  I took time to enjoy my children.  I enjoyed my weekend.  And I’ve come to a decision.

I’m not going to rush through life.  I work hard so I can enjoy Sunday, but lately I’ve worked hard even on Sunday, and basically cheated myself out of a break.  So I’m done.  I’m setting a cut-off point.  In the Bible times, the Sabbath began at sundown the night before.  Granted it was Friday night to Saturday night but I think the concept is the same.  I’m going to make sure to plan crock pot meals from now on on Sundays, or leftover meals so there’s very little to do.  I might even consider investing in some paper plates and such so that when we do Sunday meals, there’s basically no cleanup.  That way the kids get a break too.  Something to think about anyways.

I’m also going to make it a point to spend those few moments with my kids, and to go to bed earlier than I intended.  Things are important, but all the work we do isn’t a permanent thing.  It’s good to have a clean house and dinner cooked, and it’s good to take time to yourself and unwind from a hard day, but not at the expense of other things that are good for your health like sleep.  It’s not good to stay up late “unwinding” because then the rest of your week will be messed up with sleep deficit.  I have experienced this and it’s just not a good thing.

So take the time to relax.  Take the time to hold your children – even the big ones!!!  I know Lilly loves a big hug now and again even though she’s almost 12.  Hard to believe but time’s a flying.  Besides, Jesus could  come back tonight.  And if that were to happen would it really matter if I stayed up till 11  finishing a quest on my game?  Or if I ignored the aches in my body to make that extra batch of cookies?  Things are good but it’s important to rest and slow down.  Even mentally stopping is important.  I know my brain goes a mile a second – a subway station of thought I say.  I have to force myself to stop thinking so much and calm my brain because I will keep myself up thinking.

So here’s to my new determination to slow down, smell the roses so to speak, and enjoy the little things in life that I’ve been working so hard to be ABLE to enjoy.

A New Recording Tool

So I’m a few days late posting my weekly blog entry but it’s not because I’ve forgotten!  No!  Actually I’ve been really busy trying to prep what I wanted to blog about this week.  If you’ll recall, I’ve mentioned how frustrating the lesson planning tools I’ve had are.  I mean they’re cool and all, but the best one is Homeschool Helper on Android and data entry on an Android is less than desirable.  Yes I can copy and create multiple lessons, but there’s SO MANY clicks it drives me crazy sometimes.  Not to mention that half the time I’d rather just enter the lesson on a pc.  OneNote was cool and all – I really liked it, but it did NOT sync well on Android.  Sometimes it would take ten minutes just for a page to sync and load on my phone and for a time-crunched me, that is not ok.  I considered EverNote, but their restrictions on monthly upload size made me wonder if, between me and 7 kids making changes to the file, if that limit would be reached.  It made me nervous making that my primary lesson plan/grade book/etc if that were the case.

So that brings me to why my post is so late this week.  I have spent a good deal of this week working on an Excel spreadsheet.  This spreadsheet, I think, is pretty cool.  I have a menu, a place for lesson plans for 36 weeks for all kids, calendars and dates that automatically adjust based on holidays and birthdays, etc.  It has report cards, places to record grades, a week at a time lesson view for any week you’d like…

Is it perfect?  No.  But I think it is pretty good considering 1) it’s excel and 2) I only spent a few days on it.  I took a hodge podge of templates, created a few of my own, and threw it all into a big spreadsheet to take care of my homeschooling recordkeeping next year.  I don’t know for sure that this is the end-all-be-all in homeschool recordkeeping.  I might find bugs.  I might change things up.  Who knows.  But for now I’m pretty pleased with myself.  The best part is that I made a version that is mobile-friendly.  I tested it on my Samsung Galaxy S4, and while I did have to zoom a bit, I can access it quickly on my phone using the Microsoft android app for excel.  On devices that have bigger screens it should work just fine on the excel online site.  As far as mobility, and the ability to access it from multiple devices… well I am storing mine on OneDrive.  I can access OneDrive from all my devices so I can keep a copy of this file pretty easily.

Eventually I would probably like to make some kind of cross platform app, or maybe get OneNote working so that it doesn’t take forever to sync.  But for now, this is good.  I think this will work, especially considering that the majority of the time I don’t access things on my phone anyways.  If I do though, it’s there, without having to resync and all that.

Here’s some sample screen shots:


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And if you would like to use these files, I figured I’d include them too.  There’s the mobile friendly template and then the computer-only template.  You can still sync it to OneDrive to access it on various laptops, but it will cause errors if you try to open it in mobile excel or excel online.

School Records and Plans Template

School Records and Plans Mobile Template

Feel free to modify these to suit your needs, but I warn you, they use a lot of formulas so if you change it too drastically you might need to spend some time re-working formulas.  I tried to make things kind of dynamic and I used the 3 term Charlotte Mason style layout.  I’ve locked all of the cells that contain formulas so if you need to make a change, just unprotect that worksheet and edit as needed.  The protections are more to prevent accidental data corruption.  Enjoy!

Charlotte Mason Homeschooling

Recently I’ve revisited a topic in homeschooling that I’ve read upon before but never implemented.  That is Charlotte Mason Homeschooling.  I don’t know all the specifics, and I’m by no means an expert, but what I’ve gleaned is as follows.  Charlotte Mason was a teacher in times past that had a certain philosophy on learning, similar to the other famous in homeschooling, such as Montessori.

From what I understand, she believed in exposure to a wide range of information to expose the child to lots of different information.  There are a lot of facets of her philosophy though.  For example, narration.  Basically you or the child reads a passage of a book (a living book, aka not a boring book) then tells back what they heard in their own words.  Or at least that’s how I’m understanding it and doing it.

Now I’m not 100% sold on this method.  It seems good, and I am trying it out right now but I’m reluctant to sell myself fully on a method since I tend to go back and forth.  BUT… it really does seem good.

Matthew, my tenth grade step-son, had horrendous grammar, spelling, and writing skills.  Seriously, it made me wonder what exactly they were teaching that poor boy in school because it obviously wasn’t showing in his work.  I’ve only been trying this method for perhaps two months now but I’m seeing a difference.  I no longer assign specific readings or topics to my children.  Instead, I’m picking out living books and have them read a chapter a day.  For Sierra, the books are much simpler and the chapters not as long so she is able to pay attention to the whole thing.  Then, for Matthew, I’m having him write me written narrations.  And it’s working… his spelling is improving.  His sentence structure is maturing.  He isn’t using words such as “bestestest” or “awesomer” in his writing anymore (no… those really were words he has used!)

Sierra seems better able to pay attention to her lessons.  Before she was complaining they were boring.  And to be honest, they kind of were.  It was straight facts.  Nothing interesting to relate to.  So I found her some older science books that tell stories.  After all, the anatomy of a frog hasn’t changed since the 1900s so a story telling about its body and describing it is still relevant.

We’re also doing family literature – I say family, but I don’t include Matt because I’m still kind of weird on that “you were public schooled and you’re not my biological child, how can I expect you to do all this weird type learning I’m experimenting with” phase.  It just isn’t quite right.  So I have him read his own material on his own.  Right now he’s reading Moby Dick, and from his narrations, he is actually absorbing the material, which I think is pretty awesome.  Lilly has surged ahead.  We were doing the Wizard of Oz for the family reading, but she already finished it and is working on the next book – Pinocchio.  I’m not complaining.  This curriculum works well for her because she loves reading.  I’m still working on the narration part with her.  She wants to work ahead and then give me a really bad oral narration, but I’m requiring her to write it – and I’m requiring her to write more than a sloppily scrawled one sentence narration that she keeps trying to give me.  I told her that as of today she’s required to give me at LEAST a paragraph, handwritten, in her best handwriting.  It’s not because I am being arbitrary or mean… it’s because she’s almost in seventh grade and her handwriting and writing skills are atrocious.  Math and writing are her two weakest subjects.  She has an amazing reading level, and she was carrying on a conversation in Spanish the other day with one of the guys we play World of Warcraft with, so I know she’s doing well there.  For her computer project, she’s creating a Five Nights at Freddy’s game in Scratch Jr on android and it’s looking really neat, so she’s good there.  I struggle with her ADHD because if it’s boring she tries to skip it.

I have some changes also I’m working on… Lilly gets really distracted with the digital curriculum.  By distracted, of course, I mean she blows it off entirely and spends the whole day reading Rage Comics from google…  SO….. I’m moving towards offline as I can.  I really dislike having to do that BUT… I’m having to come to the realization that with my family, what I want and what they will do are not the same thing.  I WANT beautiful wooden furniture and nice wooden bed frames, lovely quilts and all that.  I have to have cheap canvas furniture, metal beds, minimal decor…  I WANT to use workboxes and have tablets all around, and a family school workstation.  What I want and what happens just aren’t always the same.

I have some ideas for recording my lesson plans, too, for next year.  I like Homeschool Helper on android, but it’s a bit cumbersome since there isn’t a version for a computer and the android keyboard is “meh”.  I know I could always buy a bluetooth keyboard, but I still then, have to have my android tablet.  I’d rather have a multi-device option.  I like OneNote for that, but the performance on an android is horrendous.  I considered Evernote, but with their monthly upload limit, I’m afraid that I might get cut off with all my children using it to retrieve their lessons on their devices, and me uploading it on possibly 3 or 4 devices (work computer, home laptop, phone, and tablet).  So right now I’m considering Excel.  I can access that on the android devices with Kingsoft Writer.  I can edit it on the home laptop with Open Office (or Kingsoft Writer, but then I have a watermark on the printing… not sure about that one yet), and with regular Excel at work.  I can store it in OneDrive so it’s accessible by all devices.  I haven’t played around with it yet, but I have this image in my mind that I could set up all the lessons on one page, but display them in a user friendly way on another tab and use formulas perhaps to display the data.  It’s something I’ll have to play around with for proof of concept.  Basically, though, I want something where I can enter a lesson x number of times.  That was what I liked from Homeschool Helper – entering in the lesson for Read a chapter of Wizard of Oz the number of times that there are chapters in the book, done.  I also liked that it would skip holidays, and that I could declare custom holidays.  I do wish it was easier to see which lessons were on which days because it was difficult to do that from the lesson planning part of the app.  I’m hoping I can improve on that with Excel.  We’ll see.

I finished planning out the year today for the 2015-2016 school year so I have a bit of a reprieve now to try and plan out what tools and curriculum I want to use next year.  I’m not sure how much money we’ll have to purchase any curriculum per se, but I do want to try and purchase some.  Particularly in math.  I think if I could get Math-U-See that might help Lilly out a bit, what with the manipulatives and all that.  In any event it would be nice for the work boxes.  I’ll be doing some shopping, and I have some money set aside in August for the tax free weekend, though that is primarily reserved for school supplies themselves.  We’ll see what I can come up with and I’ll make sure to post my plans here!

I do think I’ll be continuing onward with some of these Charlotte Mason principles though.  I like the Artist study, and scripture memory, hymn study, poet study, etc…  It’s making it feel like they have a very well rounded education.  And I like the handicrafts… I suck at art and coming up with art projects is pratically torture for me.  However, coming up with a crochet project for them – piece of cake.  And that’s what handicrafts is – creating something useful, so sewing, crocheting, knitting… all of these are viable handicrafts.  Even the boys could learn these things, though I think I’m going to try and have some kind of wood working projects in there, and not sure what else when they get older.

Well until next time, hopefully my plans will be solidified soon!