Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Have You Popped Over to UpsideDown Homeschooling?

I have.

In fact, as I got to know UpsideDown Homeschooling's Heather through Facebook and her blog, I began to feel a bit connected with her.  Thus, when she put out a call for contributors for her blog, I wanted to answer quickly: Yes!

I did not, though,  Instead, I prayed over it.

I had just wrapped up another blogging commitment that I had had at Catholic Mother's Online, which ended when Angie decided to make that blog go static.  I had recently reduced my commitment to two other places I share at: Signature Moms and at Special-ism.  I  was trying to increase my focus on homeschooling, improve my abilities at homekeeping, balance my commitments to paid work and attend to sundry other things that moms like me manage as a part of our call.  So, how could it be prudent to answer Heather's call?  

I may have wanted to, but was I supposed to.

Yep.  I prayed.

And, fairly quickly, I sensed an answer:  The details will work out with prayer and trust.  God has laid it on my heart to increase the energy I spend encouraging and ministering to other Christian homeschool wives and moms (and being encouraged myself!)  That is what UpsideDown homeschooling is all about.

So it was that I answered Heather's call and she, in turn, chose me to be a part of the team.

I am excited to see how God uses this new opportunity in my life and in the lives of those I come to know and to share with.

I'll continue to see you here weekly and look forward to sharing with you -- and other readers -- at UpsideDown Homeschooling monthly!

If you ever have specific requests or questions you'd like me to write about here or there, just let me know!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Solving the Snack Problem! {with a free printable}

Sometimes, simple is best, right?

That's what today's free printable is all about:  a simple solution to a common problem that we had in our house, and, that I suspect, that some of you might have in yours. 

Being Montessori-inspired, we believe in allowing each of our children the freedom to "do it myself".  However, some time ago,  "do it myself" somehow turned into a near-constant  habit of "help myself" to anything in the fridge, which drove me crazy!

Worse yet, before my children helped themselves to self-selected snacks, they often spent long, lingering moments peering into the fridge, thereby doing damage to energy efficiency and household bills.

Most certainly, my children needed some limits to their freedom and I needed those limits to be clear cut and easy.

What was the "Problem"?
Click the image for a free printable.

What was our solution?

You know that saying, "inside every problem exists opportunity"?  I decided that was the case with this "problem".  In fact, I decided that our "problem" was really five opportunities in disguise:

  • An opportunity to chat about why we eat:  The children and I talked about the fact that our bodies need healthy foods in order to grow (and heal when we are sick.)  So, I have no problem with them choosing healthy snacks whenever they are hungry.  However, sometimes we eat for other reasons.  For example, sometimes we eat when we are bored or thirsty.  Before we eat between meals, then, we should think about if we are really hungry or if there is another reason we might want to east.

  • An opportunity to encourage better habits of tidiness:  Tied to our "why we eat" chat, we discussed the idea busy hands often negate falsely hungry bellies.  Together, we decided that when we think we want a snack, we should first make sure we aren't just bored.  We should busy our hands with something else.  Then, I suggested that if we still want a snack, we should tidy up what we were doing before we go to the fridge.  

  • An opportunity to remind ourselves to drink water:  In our home, we drink water with all of our meals, but, for some odd reason, we do not always drink water in between.  That's not good, I know.  So, I used our "why we eat" chat as a way to encourage drinking more water.  

  • An opportunity to discuss conservation and bills:  Yes, despite my children's young age, I decided to discuss with them the fact that the refrigerator does its job best when its door is only opened for short periods at a time and that every time we let the door "endlessly" hang open, we let cold air out.  To get back to the right temperature, the fridge then has to use more energy.  Energy costs money and, so, perhaps the best thing to do is to decide what we want before we open the fridge.

  • An opportunity to practice courtesy:  We talked about the fact that Mommy plans our main meals and sometimes Mommy has foods in the fridge that are set aside for specific meals.  Thus, it is only courteous to ask before helping ourselves to some of the things in the fridge.  To help us with this habit, perhaps we should just ask each time we want to enter the fridge.

And with these ideas in mind, together, the kids and I came up with four super simple steps to remember for snack times:

  • Do a Tidy Time.
  • Drink water.
  • Ask
  • Enjoy.

Since we are visual, chart-types, the kids also helped me choose clip art to help our non-readers remember these steps.  We made a chart, hung it on the fridge, practiced with it and built new habits! 

Please feel free to try out our Want a Snack chart in your home, too.

A few things we learned...

  • Our oldest needs things to be very concrete.  So, over time "Do a Tidy Time" came to equate not simply putting back whatever we were doing or finding some other things around the house to tidy up, it became "Tidy five things."

  • Asking does not mean Mommy or Daddy will always say "yes".  If we have not eaten well at our last meal or if it is just about time for the next meal, Mommy or Daddy may say "no" and we should respect that!

  • It's hard to ask for a specific snack when you don't remember what is in the fridge.  Yep.  That inspired  us to make another chart:  a snack menu, which we use in conjunction with the "Want a Snack" reminder on our fridge.

  • Habits must be built over time.  The first few days we used the "Want a Snack" chart, we all did fabulously with it.  Over time, the neglected to follow it consistently and I forgot to ensure they did.  So, periodically, we have had to "retrain" ourselves.  For the most part, it works.  The children can "do it myself" and I can stay peaceful without them constantly hanging out  with an open-fridge door!

What strategies do you use to solve snack problems by creating freedom within limits?

This post is being shared at Living Montessori Now's Montessori Monday where you can find many other helpful games and activities.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Enhance Your Child’s Saint Studies With Ease! {A Review of A One Year Study of Saints for Kids}

{This post contains affiliate links.}

 I did not grow up learning much about the saints and have, thus, been thrilled to discover more about them along with my children. In fact, celebrating saint days has become part of our regular rhythm of life here. We celebrate our Name Days, enjoy liturgical teas, host saint playdates, do faith-based crafts... And, now, with thanks to Heather Bowen of Upside Down Homeschooling, we will be notebooking about the saints throughout the coming year with My Journal of Saints: A One Year Study of Saints for Kids.

Like me, Heather is a homeschooling momma who often creates tools that she feels will enhance her children’s learning. Recently, that meant putting together a journal for her children to use alongside the Illustrated Book of Saints by Rev. Thomas Donaghy. Heather gifted me copy of the journal to review and I am delighted that she did!

Saint Study Made Simple and Flexible! 
My Journal of Saints: A One Year Study of Saints for Kids contains 79 pages of saint journaling pages in chronologic order by the date on which each saint’s feast day falls throughout the calendar year. As I already mentioned, the journal was written to be used in conjunction with the Illustrated Book of Saints by Rev. Thomas Donaghy. However, due to its design, the journal can be used alongside any saint book or website, which is how my family will be using the journal. 

On most pages of My Journal of Saints: A One Year Study of Saints for Kids, there is an image of the saint.

On all pages there are blank lines for students to:

  • write the saint’s birth date (if known)
  • note where the saint lived 
  • capture facts about the saint’s life 
  • explain how the child can be like the saint 

There is also a brief prayer on each page that can be prayed aloud, used for copywork on a separate sheet of paper or used as a model for praying one’s own prayer.

Each page of the journal is simple and uncluttered, which, in my opinion, is a bonus for three reasons:
  1. Children can then focus their attention on writing out their thoughts about the saints without distraction. 
  2. Children can decorate the borders and white space on each page with signs, symbols and ideas related to the particular saint, thereby personalizing their journals. 
  3. Unnecessary decorations on each page will not eat up your ink! (Honestly, I love images and design details, but, all too often, I cringe at the amount of ink some printables take. So, I am quite happy to see that Heather’s journal includes “just enough” on its pages to keep the balance between effective and frugal-friendly.) 

Are there any drawbacks to the journal? 

I have printed out pages of the journal to use with my children this week and throughout February. In doing so, I noticed that the amount of saints per month varies so there is not, say, at least one saint a week. However, this, I think, is due to the fact that the journal was designed to match up with the Illustrated Book of Saints. My thought is, then, that if I want the children to focus on more saints I can always just create a few additional pages for their journals on our own.

When browsing the rest of the pages of the journal, I also noticed something that I know that my detail-oriented oldest son is sure to point out: not every page has an image of a saint on it. As I understand, the reason that some pages lack images is due to copyright permissions and, quite frankly, I’d rather see integrity than an image on each page. So kudos to Heather for researching which images she could include in a journal she would be selling at a fair price. I will use the journal knowing that integrity stands behind it (and that my children can always create their own images of saints on the handful of pages that don’t already include them!)

Finally, I noticed that on the permissions page of My Journal of Saints: A One Year Study of Saints for Kids it states that families may print only two copies out for personal use. For families with multiple children this might mean having to contact Heather for special permissions or purchase more than one copy of the journal.

Would I recommend that others invest in My Journal of Saints: A One Year Study of Saints for Kids?  

In a word: yes.

Heather has done folks a service by taking the time to find okay-to-share (and often traditional and beautiful!) images of saints, to format journal pages and to include concise, yet meaningful prayers on each page. I know from creating my own family’s resources that doing things like this takes time. Lots of time.

If you’re life is anything like mine, more often than not, time is short. Heather’s journal then can save you time and at a $2.99 introductory price, an e-copy of My Journal of Saints: A One Year Study of Saints for Kids is quite worthwhile, I think!

For those who do not like to be bothered by printing and assembly, Heather also offers a printed, bound copy of the journal with a $2 introductory discount, making the journal $12.99, plus shipping and handling.

My bottom line, then, is that, if you have some money in your budget and little extra time in your days, My Journal of Saints: A One Year Study of Saints for Kids is a simple-to-use resource that promises to compliment your family’s saint studies! I know it will do so for mine! If you’re interested in learning more about the journal or want to order it, hop on over to UpsideDown Homeschooling, where you'll find other helpful products, too!

If you're looking for saint books, besides the Illustrated Book of Saints to use with the journal, a few the books we reference regularly or will be using in February are:

What are some of your favorite saint study resources?

(If you receive this post via email and cannot see the linky, be sure to actually click over to the blog to read browse the rich catalog of ideas there.)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

You Can Make a Clementine Candle!

Please excuse the black ink.  It is from a prior project: making expressive citrus fruits... but that's a post for another day.
We did it! And it was so easy and fun.

When I was poking around online for ideas for our Our Lady of Altagracia playdate earlier, I found this video:


Perfect! I thought. We have oranges and hubs can easily pick up some cheap olive oil and a stick lighter while on his way home from taking Nina to an appointment.  And so it was, we were ready!

We watched the video.  We brought out the knives.  We sliced, and inadvertently squirted one another eyes' with orange juice while trying to slip the skins from the oranges (which, I might add, was not quite as easy as the video makes it appear to be!)

Separating the skin from the rest of the orange was a challenge!

And, then, we had success!

Grrr.  It really was lit even if you cannot tell in this shot.


Our other orange candles did not work so well.  They either would not light or did not stay lit.

Determination only goes so far.  Luke's candle would not stay lit.

So began a quick review of what fire needs to burn (heat, oxygen and fuel), some suppositions and suggestions and a few attempts at getting our second and third candles to burn brightly and consistently.

Our efforts were without much luck however.

Not to be chagrined, we decided to try a similar fruit we had handy:  clementines.


The skins came off so easily.  The wicks lit quickly.  The candles burned to everyone's delight.   

In fact, our success motivated us to try our orange candles again to see if we might have luck with another go.

The one on the plate is a clementine candle.

Nope.  Only the first one, which had worked right away stayed lit.  The rest would not.  But, our first clementine one did and so did the ones we made later in the day.

Later in the day, we lidded the clementine candle with the other half of the peel like the orange candle video suggests, but I forgot to snap a picture of it.  It really was charming -- a lovely, natural warm light on a cold snowy evening.

Making clementine candles is so easy and fun.  We'll definitely be doing it again!

What other fun, quick and easy ways have you found to make natural candles with kids?

Sharing at Frugal Homeschool Family and Family Fun Friday.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

An Our Lady of Altagracia A Gift of Gracias Book Study

 A Note of Explanation and Thanks Before Sharing the Free Book Study Filled with Academic, Enrichment and Sensory Ideas:  I read this week that bloggers are supposed to disclose affiliate links BEFORE the links appear in their posts, not at the end of posts.  I did not know this before, but want to comply now that I do.  So, please forgive the fact that many of my posts will begin with a disclaimer now.  I aim to blog with integrity as I share freely and, in doing so, earn a few dollars for my family!  Along these lines, thank you for choosing to click through the A Gift of Gracias links in this post should you have any Amazon shopping to do today.  Doing so  costs you nothing extra while blessing our family with a small percentage of your sale.

This Tuesday our family will celebrate our 4th annual Lady of Altagracia Day, a day which I count as special since it marks the anniversary of our first liturgical tea.  That anniversary, in turn, marks the beginning of our much-loved forays into beautiful faith-inspired picture books.

Oh how we have loved reading and re-reading the gorgeous book, A Gift of Gracias, year after year during our Lady of Altagracia celebrations!

It is has truly become a family favorite for us, rich in inspiration for prayer, learning, fun and faith.  Today, I thought I would share a huge list of ideas that might help you and yours treasure A Gift of Gracias, too!

The Story
 In A Gift of Gracias, Julia Alvarez tells the legend of the Lady of Altagracia, a vision of Our Lady who is said to have appeared in the Dominican Republic in the early 1500's.  In Alverez's telling, a young girl named Maria is inspired by Our Lady of Altagracia to help her poverty-stricken farming family. 

After the family's olive crop fails, Maria fears that they will have to leave their farm.  However, when Maria's father returns from the city with oranges from his hometown of Valencia, Spain, Our Lady of Thanks enters Maria's dreams and inspires her to ask her family to plant the orange seeds.  Maria shares her dream with her family, and, together, they begin planting seeds, offering thanksgiving as they do.  Soon thereafter, the family farm is transformed into a rich orange grove, where later, the stars on an image of Our Lady of Altagracia  twinkle brightly enough for the family to pick a huge orange crop throughout a night, thereby saving the farm.

The Illustrations

Beatriz Vidal used watercolors and gouache to illustrate A Gift of Gracias with warmth and cultural charm.  My children and I often pour over the illustrations in the book as we read it, pausing to discuss what picture clues tell us about Maria's life and culture; noting how we might imitate some of the elements of art we notice Vidal used so well; or just, genuinely, enjoying the simple splendor of each page of the book.

Faith and Virtues Connections

Our Lady of Altagracia Day, or our Lady of Thanks Day, is celebrated in the Dominican Republic every year on January 21, and an image of Our Lady of Altagracia there has had the privilege of being crowned twice during papal visits: once on August 15, 1922 during the pontificate of Pius XI and, again, on January 25, 1979, during  Pope John Paul II's visit to Santo Domingo, where he personally crowned the image with a gold and silver tiara, as a gift to the Virgin, the first evangelizer of the Americas.

The author's note at the end of  A Gift of Gracias briefly explains the background of Our Lady of Altagracia's background as well as the approach the author Julia Alvarez chose in weaving legends together to tell her own Lady of Altagracia story.  The University of Dayton's Marian Pages offer more details about Our Lady of Altagracia.

The A Gift of Gracias book itself offers a variety of direct faith and virtues connections:
  • Honor Our Lady by creating a Liturgical Table display.

  • On the first page of the book, Maria anxiously awaits her father's return.  As Christians, how do we anxiously await reuniting with our Lord?
  • On the fourth page of the story, Maria lays in the dark whispering, "Remember my gift, Papa."  Do we ever lay in the dark whispering to anyone who is not present or that we cannot see?  Isn't prayer just a conversation with our unseen Father?
  • Think about the relationship of Maria, her family and Quisqueya.  What bonded them all together?  What virtues do they show and share?
  • Our Lady comes to Maria in a dream.  Can you think of Bible stories when angels came to speak to people?  Can you think of more modern stories when folks have been spoken to through dreams and apparitions?  What are these?  How did each story unfold?  What virtues did the people who were being spoken to demonstrate?
  • Maria obeys Our Lady of Altagracia's prompting to say thank you as she plants the orange seeds.  How can we show obedience and thanksgiving as we go about our daily tasks?
  • Maria's father always asks her what he can bring back from the city for her.  What sorts of gifts might you ask for, or give, someone to show your love?
  • Maria whispers, "Gracias, Alatagracia," as she concludes picking oranges.  She, then always keeps Our Lady at her side.  How can you keep Our Lady ever-present in your own life?  What prayers can you say?  What sacramentals might help?
  • The author of A Gift of Gracias traveled to a chapel to ask for help before writing the story.  Do we pray before beginning new endeavors?  Where are some places we can feel close to our Lord?  Our Mother?

Curriculum and Activity Prompts

A Gift of Gracias is rich in inspiration for Academic and Enrichment pursuits, such as:

  • In the opening pages of the book, Beatriz Vidal depicted, "The orange sun...sinking below the horizon" on Maria's farm in the Dominican Republic beautifully.  How might we illustrate a local sunset? 
  • How might you illustrate a robe twinkling with hundreds of small suns as the robe of Our Lady of Thanks did in Maria's dream.  Could you create one embroidered cloth it?  A cut and paste project?  Quilting?  Watercolor?  Collaging?  Or some other way?

  •  An image of Our Lady was "as if painted on (Quisqueya's) cloth."  What can you paint on cloth?

Cooking (Multi-Disciplinary)

  • Do a Power Foods Lab in conjunction with reading the book, exploring oranges as a power food in order to make a number of items.
English Language Arts:
  • Note all of the different verbs used instead of a simple "said" in the text?  How can you use, without overusing, varied speech tags when writing to add interest and detail to a story?
  • What new-to-you words can you find in the story?  What words that you already know were used particularly well in bringing the story to life for you?
  • Many beautiful similes and metaphors are used in the book.  Can you find some?  Can you create any yourself?  If you were expressing how someone's face glowed, how else could you describe it other than, "his golden face glowed like an indoor sun"?  Why was that description perfect for how Quisqueya's face glowed in the story?  
  • Metaphor is also used well in the text.  For example, "the branches had woven a roof hung with hundreds of small suns."  Can you draw an image of what the orange grove may have looked like? Can you create metaphors about your yard or a favorite outdoor locale?
Foreign Language
  • What do the words finca, bandidos and muchas gracias mean?  What language are these words in?
  • Do you know other foreign words?
  • How can an author weave foreign words into a book, offering context clues as to what they mean?

History / Culture / Geography:  
  • Maria's father introduces her to oranges, a food that she is not familiar with, but which comes from Papa and Mama's hometown, Valencia, Spain.  What other now common foods were once imports to the Americas?  What foods native to America are now common in other countries?

  • The illustrations throughout the story give clues to what Maria's lifestyle was like.  How does her home differ from yours?  What is her kitchen like?  What clues can you find in the illustration of it about what people ate, how they cooked and how they stored food? 
  • Quisqueya, Maria and Maria's family had a special relationship.  What were the variety of relationships between native peoples and Europeans like in the olden days?  
  • Quisqueya refers to the lady how has taken care of his people for years.  He saw his people's powerful Mother of the Earth in the image of Our Lady of Altagracias.  How do native beliefs and Christian beliefs differ?  how are they the same?  How did the Christian faith spread throughout the Dominican Republic and other areas?
  • Our Lady of Altagracia is celebrated in the Dominican Republic.  Where is the Dominican Republic?  What is life like there?  
  • Maria's parents came to the Dominican republic from Valencia, Spain.  Can you find Valencia on a map?  Can you trace routes that early settlers may have taken from the Old World to the New?
Math and Economics:
  • Oranges, trees, bags or oranges and more.  Can you count them?  
  • Find the illustration of Maria in the cart with the bags of oranges.  Can you estimate how many oranges might be at the top of all the bags together by counting those only in one of the bags and then using multiplication to figure out the total of oranges at the top of all of the bags?
  • Quisueya and Papa received oranges in exchange for helping unload fruit at a market.  What is this system of payment called?  What are other modes of exchange that have been used throughout history?  What types of payment are used today?

  • Our Lady of Altagracia's image has many stars.  Discuss stars and other geometric shapes.  Create some using paper, magnet rods and balls or other hands-on items.  (You might even use these shapes to decorate a feast day table, as we did in 2011!)
  • Our Lady of Altagracia is said to have appeared in the 1500's.  How many years ago was that?
  • The illustrator depicts the different stages of the orange grove's growth all on one page.  What is the life cycle of an orange?  Can you illustrate it or describe it in your own way?
  • In the story, the orange trees grow in a matter of months instead of years.  How long do orange trees really take to grow?  How long do other food-bearing plants take?
  • Oranges can make a great tool for experimentation.  Think about questions and explore them using the scientific process.  for example, do unpeeled oranges sink or float?  How about peeled ones?  Why?
  • How did the author immediately engage us in the story?  What makes a strong start for a story?
  • Julia Alvarez explains in the Author's Note how she incorporated inspiration from her own life, from history and from legend to create Our Lady of Gracias.  How can you weave inspiration from a variety of sources together to create your own stories?

Practical Life:

  • Peel and juice oranges.

  • Plant seeds of some sort.
Sensory Ideas

In my opinion, no book study is complete without some sensory savvy connections.  Some ideas and opportunities for sensory input connected to A Gift of Gracias are:

  • Characters in the book call loudly, call softly, whisper, wonder and more.  Practice voice modulation and expression in imitation of these portions of the book.

  • Maria found that oranges tasted sweet "like sunrise, tingling inside her mouth".  What do they taste like to you?  Do a food study of different familiar and unfamiliar foods and describe their tastes.  Try tasting some with a blindfold on.

  • Explore oranges consumed in different ways: as a juice, sliced into small pieces, eaten in sections, mixed into salad, etc.

  • As maria explored the orange, she noticed that, "It smelled sharp and fresh, like tickling inside her nose."  How would you describe the smell of an orange?  How about that of other foods?  Enjoy smelling different foods.  Try doing so blindfolded, describing the smells and guessing what the foods are.

  • Pile pillows high and then climb up on them, enacting Maria visually searching for her father in the opening pages of the book.
  • Place a large number of ball pit balls or other spherical objects in high places throughout your home.  Give children a bag or laundry basket and ask them to go "pick the oranges".

  • Prepare foods with a variety of textures for hands and tongue to celebrate Our Lady of Altagracia Day. 
  • Make a sensory bin using a blue-to-black media for the sky and different textures of objects for stars.  or make one with a "soil" media, "oranges", etc. (Perhaps draw inspiration from our apple picking bin.)
  • With a group, play pass the orange, passing an orange or small ball from person to person without using any hands.  (Under the chin works well!)

  • Stars shower down onto Quisqueya's blanket and capture the image of Our Lady of Altagracia.  Create paper stars and have children toss and catch them.  Encourage large movements and turning. 

  • For a feast of color and visual tracking, super-size the concept of marble painting by orange painting! 

Other Times the Story Could Be Shared

Although January 21 is an ideal day to share A Gift of Gracias, the book would make a great fit at other times, too.  For example, when:
  • exploring Marian apparitions.
  • studying about the Dominican Republic.
  • doing a food study on oranges.
  • focusing on virtues, such as obedience, faith, trust, and, of course, thanksgiving,
  • talking about farming and crop rotation.
  • studying legends.
  • seeking inspiration for watercolor art works.

I would love to hear about how your family uses  A Gift of Gracias  or celebrates Our Lady of Altagracia.  I would also like to know if others find books study posts like this helpful, and, if so:
  • What books, themes, feast days or holidays would you like me to share about next?
  • Would you prefer future book studies be shared in long-post form like this or as a brief post with a printable that you could click on to get the full book study?  

Please don't be shy in letting me know how sharing what we do here can best bless your family!


(If you receive this post via email and cannot see the linky, be sure to actually click over to the blog to read browse the rich catalog of ideas there.)

*Again, as always, we thank you if you choose to click through the affiliate links in this post to make a purchase (or do so with other affiliate links on this site). Doing so does not cost you anything, but it may help us earn a small percentage of your purchase price to continue training up our children. Thank you!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

You CAN Manage Your Home and Balance Your Blog!" target="ejejcsingle
Look for the Giveaway at the bottom of this post!

Quick. Look around. Is your laundry basket empty? Are your dishes clean? Are your children happily engaged? Did you connect with your spouse today? Have you spent some quiet time in prayer? Are you online anyway?

If you’re like me, your answers to the first several questions may be “no”, while your answer to the last one may be “yes”. And, therein lies a trap that many of us fall into: We work and play online even when our homes and relationships beg for attention." target="ejejcsingle

It was for this very reason that I was ultra-excited when I was offered a chance to read Growing Your Blog While Managing Your Home The Ultimate Guide for Christian Mommy Bloggers in exchange for an honest review as a part of the book’s launch. For, as I have been listening to my heart and my head over the past several weeks, I have heard two conflicting message: “Get yourself, your marriage, your marriage, your homeschool efforts and – yes, finally! – your house in order.” And “Use your interests and gifts online more in the coming year in order to bless others and your family.”

To date, honoring myself, my husband, my children and our home has been challenging enough. Doing so while keeping paid employment contracts and blogging in balance has been even more difficult. I admit it. I find working and blogging easier to focus on at times than say, facing the fact that housekeeping is not one of my gifts. So, I was looking forward, to the direction and tips Growing Your Blog While Managing Your Home might offer, especially in light of the fact that they promised to come from a faith-based perspective. Since, for me, faith is the foundation for everything.

Does Growing Your Blog While Managing Your Home Live Up to Its Title? 

In Growing Your Blog While Managing Your Home, successful author Jacinda Vandenberg offers 60+ jam-packed pages of information and encouragement to help any Christians Mommy Blogger improve a blog without overlooking the more important aspects of life: husband, children and home. In fact, as I came away from my first sitting with the book, two takeaway messages reverberated in my head: “God, spouse, children, house. Then blogging,” (an order of focus that Jacinda reminds readers of more than once) and the idea that “When our priorities are aligned in accordance with God’s will, then we can expect His blessing”, even in blogging. I also came away with huge chunks of each portion of Jacinda’s book highlighted as parts I want to go back to reflect upon or dive into to put into action.

Where and How Does Blogging Fit into Life 

Part 1 of Growing Your Blog While Managing Your Home, Creating a Vision and Maintaining a Schedule, explored the big question many Christian Bloggers face at one time or another: "To Blog or Not to Blog?" and continued on to answer the question with practical tips for home and time management.

In Part 1, words I currently am reflecting upon include:

" ... a blog can be a tremendous asset to your role as Keeper of the Home! My blog enables me to contribute to the family income, minister to others, and pursue activities that benefit my family - all of which are characteristic of the woman in Proverbs 31."

"Schedules and routines are designed to serve you, not the other way around. Learn to be flexible and roll with the punches. It's good to have a vision (Proverbs 29:18) ... (but remember that) ...God often allows disruptions to teach us life lessons, bring blessings in disguise, remind us of our dependence on Him, and equip us with grace to overcome obstacles greater than our own strength could bear so that His name is ultimately glorified."

"Since I’ve committed to spending the bulk of my time online when the kids are sleeping, I have to manage it efficiently. I have a list of things to do, and only so many hours in which to do it!" coupled with "Commit to not going online unless you already know what you plan to say."

Between these quoted portions from Part One, Jacinda offers real-life examples, tried-and-true strategies and practiced perspective about how to manage a home and a blog. So, in a word, in Part One alone, YES, the Growing Your Blog While Managing Your Home lives up to its title.

Part One elaborates on managing your home while real meat fir growing your blog comes in Parts Two, Three and Four of the book.

I Know My Blog Needs Revamping, Now I Know How to Begin

Part 2, Content and Design offers a helpful list of considerations to guide bloggers in creating, or in my case, revamping a blog to be the best it can be.

I admit that when reading this part of the book I cringed, knowing my “failures” in certain aspects of content and design. However, my cringe quickly became a sigh of relief. For Jacinda not only lists considerations about what makes for effective content and design, but she also offers specific direction for making should do’s did do’s. With her guidance, if God wills it and time and energy align, I am confident that I can improve the experience of readers on my blog!

Can My Blog Really Bless My Family Financially While Maintaining Integrity and Helping Others?

Part 3 of the book, Growth and Monetization, encouraged me with a huge: Yes, I can, improve my blog, maybe earn some helpful income, and live and blog with integrity. For, in this portion of Growing Your Blog While Managing Your Home, Jacinda seems to answer all the questions I have ever had about blogging as a business, and, better still, she does so succinctly and effectively! No longer will I waste time trying to find how-to and what’s next answers online! Jacinda has put them all in one place for me. (Thank you, Jacinda!)

  • Social Media 
  • Link-ups
  • Giveaways
  • Subscriptions
  • Affiliates
  • E-books
  • Advertisera
  • and more 

Do’s and don'ts about these topics are all there." target="ejejcsingle

So, as I continue what I started Training Happy Hearts to do – recording experiences, sharing stories, exchanging idea and sharing resources – I can also pick areas of blog improvement to work on and, perhaps, add blogging to the ways I actually help my family’s income.

I also realize that even if God does not will the Training Happy Hearts become a bigger source of financial help to my family (which only time will tell), Jacinda's book still offers hope and help to me.  As I reference the practical Content and Design and Growth and Monetization ideas that Jacinda offers, I can approach blogging with more intentional focus. Thus, money-making or not, I will become more efficient with my online use, which in itself will be a blessing to my family. 

But What About All the Logisitics and Legalities?

Part 4 of Jacinda’s book, Logistics and Legalities starts with words I love and could echo:

"Ninety-nine percent of the time I love blogging.

I love my community of homemakers, the wisdom and insight that gets passed from older women to younger women, the ideas that get bounced around, and the refreshing of my own mind when my devotions turn into a few thoughts scribbled out on the back of an envelope and then into a some-what coherent post that the Lord uses to encourage another dear soul. There are other parts of blogging I could do without: spam, an inbox that's never empty, HTML, logistical stuff."

Aren’t they so true! And aren’t I happy to read Jacinda’s wisdom about such things!

From what to do about less-than-kind commenters to how to deal with it when someone steals your content to the basics of legalities, such as copyrights, taxes and affiliate links, Jacinda offers practical wisdom in Part 4 of Growing Your Blog While Managing Your Home. Wisdom which I am happy to have on hand.  As I have time, I plan to go back to carefully read this section in order to ensure that I am graciously dealing with logistics and complying with legalities, for a quick read-through let me know that I have some to do's to add to my list!

My Final Thoughts on Growing Your Blog While Managing Your Home

Of all the resources I have looked at lately for blogging, I truly feel that Growing Your Blog While Managing Your Home is the single most practical and encouraging for me where I am at right now. From the very start, the books speaks to me with messages that I always need repeated about where my priorities should be and how blogging fits into my greater balance of life. Then, it goes on to offer me concrete examples, tried-and-true tips and copious considerations for doing just what its title says.

I know I will be going back to Growing Your Blog While Managing Your Home time and time again in the coming year – maybe even years – as I continue blogging about our family.  I also can recommend the book 100% to other bloggers who began blogging as a hobby or ministry, but who also hope to earn some money for their families, as well as for those who began blogging with more professional intentions.  There is enough in this book to help most Christian bloggers improve their blogging experience and bless their families and readers while doing so.

Find Out More and Get Your Copy

It is obvious to me after reading Growing Your Blog While Managing Your Home that Jacinda is a successful veteran blogger whose seeks to bless others and, indeed, she has done so by sharing her expertise through the book.  To learn more about the book and to see its table of contents, please visit Growing Home.

If, like me, you would like to balance and improve your blogging, you can get Jacinda’s book in PDF or Kindle format at Growing Home." target="ejejcsingle

This week only Growing Your Blog While Managing Your Home is available for $3.99. After that, it will be available for its regular price of $7.99 

You can also enter our giveaway!  Jacinda has been kind enough to offer one copy of the book to a Training Happy Hearts reader.  Enter today in the Rafflecopter below! a Rafflecopter giveaway
(Thank you in advance for ordering Growing Your Blog through our affiliate link if you wish to do so.  We appreciate the blessing you offer our family by doing so!)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Count, Pray and Give (A Free Printable to Help Young Learners Pray for Life)

Next weekend, our parish is hosting a Holy Hour for Life service.  

This past week when I was on the USCCB site to do my daily readings, I noticed their Nine Days for Life novena and printables.  

Thus, I was inspired to add to the Count, Pray and Give sheets that I had made for my children's Advent and Christmas homeschool studies and to offer them as a free set here.

In this set, you will find a five different options:

  • one for a 31-day month
  • one for a 30-day month
  • one for a 28-day month
  • one for a 24-day Advent
  • one for the 12 days of Christmas.
(We also have a Lenten Count, Pray and Give sheet, but not in this set.)

Using Count, Pray and Give is super-easy.

Simply have your children choose a different thing in your home to count each day.  Encourage them to pick things like windows or doors when they need to get out their wiggles by running around.  Try small items that you can set out on a table for times when your children could use some seated concentration or fine motor work.

After counting, together, make up a prayer that connects whatever they counted to babies.  For example, when my children counted "big bowls", they thanked God for all the food we have to fill our big bowls and prayed that all babies would have enough to eat.

Next, ask your children to record the name and number of items.  The name of the item can be written in printing or cursive, depending on what your child is working on.  Likewise, the number can be written as a numeral, a number work or with tally marks.   Depending on what other math skills your child is working on, you can also do simple arithmetic and word problems in connection with the recorded counts.

Finally, pray the prayer written on the sheets and have your child place coins or bills equal in value to the number of items they counted in a donation container.  If you are still working on coin and dollar value amounts, you may wish to have your child empty the container occasionally to "trade up" the coins and bills in it for ones of higher values.

Consider Running a Spare Change - Spare A Life Campaign

If your parish, local homeschool group or other community group would be willing, you could connect your own Count, Pray and Give activities with a Spare Change Campaign.  Our church's Respect Life Committee sponsored such a campaign throughout this past December and early January, which is what inspired us to revisit our Lenten Count, Pray and Give, revising it for the season.  I am so glad they did!

More Resources
How do you and the children in your life engage in encouraging Respect for Life?

(If you receive this post via email and cannot see the linky, be sure to actually click over to the blog to read browse the rich catalog of ideas there.)

*As always, we thank you if you choose to click through the affiliate links in this post to make a purchase (or do so with other affiliate links on this site). Doing so does not cost you anything, but it may help us earn a small percentage of your purchase price to continue training up our children. Thank you!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Most Clicked On Post of All Time (cue drumroll...)

It's been one busy week here, so I am four day late joining in on:

But, I thought it would be fun anyway.

This month's category is your most clicked post of all times.  I was pretty sure I knew what mine was before I even checked blog stats to be sure.  And, I was right:

The Training Happy Hearts Post 

with the Most Clicks of All Time!

Alerting Activity ABC Cards

Alerting Activity ABC Cards came in on my Blogger stats just now with over 17,619 clicks, which is way ahead of the next two most popular posts here:

I guess that just goes to show that folks here like freebies, printables, resource lists and hands-on (or, in some cases, full-body-engaged!) activities.  No  wonder.  I do, too!  So, to make everyone happy, I will be sure to include more round-ups, printables and sensory smart body-engaging ideas in the weeks and months to come.  Be sure to check back, subscribe (using the feedburner tool in the right sidebar) or join us on Facebook so you don't miss any.  And, if you have any special requests, just ask away!

Plus, if you are more blog savvy than me, perhaps you could answer a question:  The numbers that I get on my Blogger stats page and those I get on my Analytics page are significantly different.  We're talking but up to a couple thousand at times.  Any idea why?  Thanks for chiming in if you know and also for sharing your favorite free ways for tracking your blog.


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