Our 2016 Homeschool Plans

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This is technically our first year homeschooling (although I played with it last year) as my daughter is now kindergarten age. We sent her to a Montessori preschool at age 3, and it was simply too much. Love the methodology, but not the 4 days/week program.

When we moved to Indiana, I decided to keep her home and reclaim simple childhood. You know, lots of play, fairy tales and make-believe, and open-ended toys and games. Lots of time in nature and storytime at the library helped to reset my girl.

This year we have a loose plan as I am more and more convinced that formal academics are not needed until age 6-7 (as is customary in other countries), although I recognize some children are simply ready for it sooner. Realizing what my daughter needs and meeting her where she is has all been part of this journey.wp-1472054423594.jpg

My dear friend Melissa gave me her kindergarten Oak Meadow curriculum, which is Waldorf based and intentionally slow-paced. We’ll combine that with Math Lessons for a Living Education Level 1 and my other sweet friend Calli’s nature study program based on Nature Anatomy. We’re also going to slowly make our way through Jessie Wise’s The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading, but I’m not pushing it.

So much of our philosophy on homeschooling intertwines with our desire to keep our home and lifestyle simple. In the past I would have been eager to jump into serious academics straightaway. But as I’ve adjusted to a minimalist lifestyle, I’ve realized that there is beauty and wisdom in slowing down and enjoying the present moment. Rushing childhood shouldn’t be the goal, but meeting the child’s learning needs–whatever they may be–is.

Gatherings | Our Summertime Visit with the Risenhoovers

Do you have a gal pal that you talk to more than your family? Melissa Risenhoover is kinda my BFF and the mama that I turn to for advice, support, and lots of belly laughs. She’s got my back, and I have hers, and oh, we also happen to be business partners for Cohesive Home.

So earlier this spring she asked if she and her fam could spend their summer VACA with us in Indiana. My response? OF COURSE.

At the time we didn’t own a house and lived with my parents. But we definitely weren’t going to turn down a visit from our old neighbors from OKC. (Did you catch that? We all used to live on the same block in a post-war neighborhood nestled between the twin temptations of Target and Whole Foods.)

So back to their visit: they arrived on a Thursday, and we spent the weekend visiting the beach, getting ice cream, and hanging at the park.

Friday we play at the playground across the street from our house, walked around our small downtown, and ate lots of ice cream.

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Saturday we made a huge round of eggs for everyone for breakfast.  Melissa and I actually got ready so we could take new headshots for Cohesive Home while at the farmers’ market. Then we packed up our market basket and tablecloth so we could have a picnic in the park.

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Did you know there is such a thing as organic and dye-free cotton candy? Well, there is, and it is AWESOME. I may have bought a 1/2 lb. of dark chocolate sea salt caramels. And totally don’t regret it.

We also stocked up on our favorite locally roasted, fair-trade and organic coffee. It is so delish.

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My husband, Kirk, watched the kiddos so that Brandon could take photos of us on the lawn. I don’t have any to share with you (yet!), but I’m pretty sure people thought Melissa and I were having our engagement photos taken. #BFFS.

And did I mention my husband is a saint for chasing 5 kids around?

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Melissa and I knocked out some Cohesive Home-work in the afternoon, then ran to the local Italian deli to stock up on beach picnic fare. It was so hard to limit ourselves because everything looked amazing.

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We drove over into Michigan and let the kids play in the sand + surf while we toasted to the weekend with wine.wp-1472054568405.jpg

 

We watched the sunset from the beachside playground and let the kids burn off steam before heading back home. The weather was absolutely perfect, high-70s and sunny.

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Sunday we mostly hung out on the front porch drinking coffee and watching the kids draw on the sidewalk with chalk and make fairy houses in the neighbor’s flower bushes. Don’t worry–she didn’t mind.

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wp-1472054553854.jpgWe had such an AMAZING time with the Risenhoovers! We weren’t sure what it would be like to have 9 people staying in a 675 square foot little house, but it actually went so well. I think the key to entertaining in a small house is keeping your expectations low and your home welcoming. More on entertaining in small spaces in a later post.

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But for now, let me just say you don’t need to give up entertaining when you move into a tiny or small home. We all feel so much closer as friends having had this experience together!

We’re looking forward to more gatherings with their family, hopefully exploring a new location together. And now that they left, we’re getting back into the swing of things and settling back into our home just the four of us.

Until next time…….

4 Big Reasons to Consider Small House Living Instead of a Tiny House

 

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Several years ago I read a book by Tammy Strobel about living in a tiny house. Totally enamored with the idea of >350 square feet to clean and maintain, I set out to convince Kirk. Although we didn’t end up with a tiny house, we did find a compact and well-designed small house to call our own. Although we’ve only been in the house for about a month now, I already see the positives of this simplified lifestyle.

If you’re considering the leap to a tiny house, let me share with you a few reasons why I’m so happy we chose a small (>1,000 square foot house) instead.

Availability | We found our 675 square foot home in a regular neighborhood in a desirable section of downtown. Homes like ours are typically found in most communities and are usually post-war (1950s) or older. Ours was built in 1948 and the neighborhood is filled with charming small homes similar to ours. We didn’t need to hire a builder or buy land, just purchase an already available home. We were overwhelmed with the steps necessary to build a tiny home and find a place to park it, but buying an existing home allowed us to sidestep those issues.

Our town also requires new homes to be a minimum of 900 square feet and prohibits trailers from being parked on land longer than 6 months. I’m not much of a rule breaker and didn’t really want to move somewhere else for the sake of a tiny house. We got creative instead with our idea of living simply and found our home. If you look around your own community, you may be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

Affordability | Now, this is obviously relative to where you live, but less square feet often means a more affordable price. Many of the custom tiny homes we researched were not much less than what we paid for our already constructed home on a spacious town lot with mature trees, sidewalks, and proximity to restaurants and parks. The red tape surrounding tiny homes can also make it difficult to get a traditional mortgage. If we already owned land, we may have made a different decision.20160717_081005

 

Livability | I think we could have happily lived in a tiny house (probably.) But for the long-term, having a smidge more elbow room feels simply luxurious. Although we’re in a two bedroom house, we have room for house-guests (having already had guests our first week living there) as well as traditional furniture. I love multi-purpose furniture, but also appreciate being able to use traditional and widely available furniture instead of needing to create custom options.

Privacy | Although I haven’t lived in a tiny house (but have traveled with my family in an >100 square foot Casita travel trailer), I imagine privacy is scarce. While our house is small, the older construction has remarkably thick walls. There are also more nooks and corners for us to all retreat to when we simply need a break. Rather than having a tiny house loft bedroom in the mix (which sounds cool, but seems to lack privacy) we have bedrooms with locking doors. Definitely a plus with little kids underfoot.

But because the house is still so little, we can hear if our kiddos need us in the night or yell from the bathroom if one of us runs out of toilet paper. It’s the little things, friends.

If my husband had been on board perhaps we would now be living in a tiny house in Montana. Or a yurt in the mountains. Or something else totally unconventional that I previously believed would fit our family perfectly. If you’re intrigued by downsizing to something smaller, you may want to consider renting one on AirBNB to test it out. If you have land available or somewhere to park a tiny house, that may be a better option for you. But if you have a growing family, want a simpler process, or crave being in a traditional neighborhood (like we did) then a small house may be a better choice.

 

 

Small Home Design: The Before Photos

20160503_093549When we first made an offer on our house several months ago, I began dreaming and planning the tiny rooms. How could we make room for all of our favorite activities in a house not much bigger than a studio apartment? Home is greater than the sum of the rooms or the sizes of them; these walls hold the collection of our memories being made as we interact in the space.

In other words? We make our home, not the other way around. Size doesn’t matter with the right perspective and willingness to apply ingenuity to designing a small house.

A few points about this house: it is designed like a square cut in fourths; the two bedrooms occupy the back two squares, and the living spaces are in the front. The living room is about 13’x15′ and will need to serve many purposes: dining room, living room, library, homeschooling space, and playroom. Although we do have a large basement, we do not have plans at this time to finish it out for extra room.

Our lives expand to fill available space, and I am not in a rush to add more space to be filled to the brim. We’ll find satisfaction in the small spaces available for the time being.

And a few more words on how we plan to design our home: I am not a designer, nor will I pretend to be. This writing space won’t turn into a decorating blog either. I am, however, drawn to certain textiles, patterns, and types of furniture. We are trying to pay cash for everything we buy for this house, which admittedly is difficult. The challenge of working with what we have, while valuing what we can purchase is making the process of creating a home much more enjoyable. When the temptation to design a home that reflects the latest trends is cautiously ignored, the result is a home that feels more like us. At least that is the goal.

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The Hall Closet (View from Living Room)

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And that is it; four rooms total, 675 square feet, and beautiful potential. As we work on the house, I’ll add additional posts for the curious few. I have often searched the internet for other families living in small (but not tiny) homes, and it can be difficult to find other families choosing to live simply.

One Year Later….

20160704_191516Nearly one year ago in May 2015, we sold our 1950s one-story ranch in Oklahoma City and moved north with only the slightest idea of what we were doing. We had some specific ideas, a handful of dreams, and a short-term plan. My husband Kirk didn’t even have a job yet! We took a huge leap to change our lives and this is the outcome (so far):

Original dream: to travel and explore the country full-time in a travel trailer, preferably an Airstream.

Outcome: we bought a Casita Freedom Deluxe travel trailer, and we have plans to visit Yosemite, Sequoia National Park, Joshua Tree, and the Grand Canyon this summer as well as a few places in Michigan. We are working toward traveling 3-6 months a year by the end of 2017.20160626_101827

Original dream: build a small (but not tiny) house in our small beachside community that we could live in when we’re not traveling and rent out when we are.

Outcome: next week we close on a 675 square foot brick cottage in our beach community that is walking distance to everything (more on that in another post) and will make a perfect AirBNB rental when we’re traveling. It is small, exactly what we need, and won’t derail our future plans but actually make them more likely.DSCF1357

Original dream: to write a children’s chapter book by the end of 2015.

Outcome: I am just a handful of chapters away from being finished, with the bulk of the work behind me. Although I’m behind on my original schedule, I’m still happy with my progress. I’m hoping to finish it up by the end of June 2016.

Processed with VSCOVerdict? Our plans haven’t turned out exactly how we envisioned when we pulled out of our Oklahoma City driveway with a 6’x12′ Uhaul, but so much better. We have a more thorough grasp of what we actually want for our lives, what we value deeply, and how to get there. No one EVER said that change is easy or that you can get everything you want. But I do believe that the harder we work at it and continue to strive for our dreams, the closer we get.

There are so many small moving parts beneath the surface, but isn’t that the case for everyone? There is so much we want to do, so much we want to see! But we’ll get there. And I’m guessing if you’re reading this, you’re striving to change your life too, to find your adventure and fulfill it. Keep reaching for it! It can be a long path, but sometimes the path is just as enjoyable as the outcome.

More next week on the new house. I cannot wait to share pics and our plans for our unconventional, but happy little house!

 

Casita Freedom Deluxe Camper Remodel Plans

IMAG6383Happy New Year, Friends! I’m currently battling pneumonia, so no big plans tonight besides some 2016 goal planning and dreaming about our upcoming year of travel.

Since our poor Casita is in winter storage, and we’re not currently traveling, I’ve spent some time planning how we’re going to remodel it. It’s actually in near perfect condition, so most of these updates will simply be cosmetic and to make it feel more like home.

Over the next two months, I will be:

  • Painting all of the cabinets and door fronts bright white. This will hopefully brighten the interior and help the cabinets blend in with the white fiberglass bases.
  • Finish building the gaucho/couch/girls’ bed. We built the 73″x24″ base, but are going to attach a second panel with hinges. During the day it’ll be folded up to make the couch and at night we’ll flip it over, put detachable legs on it, and create a sleeping surface that is 73″x48″. We went back and forth on how to best create a bed for the girls, and we think this is it. I’ll post an update on this once we’re underway on it.
  • Remove the bathroom door and add a curtain/shower curtain panel. I really hate the idea of removing the door, but if the girls’ bed is fully extended we won’t be able to get into the bathroom at night. We’ll see how this works out, but I think the loss of privacy will be worth the extra space.
  • Wallpaper the divider wall between the couch and the dinette. It’s currently a light-colored veneered wood, and I’m looking forward to using a modern and bright print.
  • Add storage. I have a few ideas for covertly adding storage, but I’ll have to cross that bridge once I get there.

Once I complete all of those updates, we can have some fun decorating. This is what I’m thinking (prepare yourself!)Casitamoodboard

So to address the elephant, er wombat in the room, yes, that is a pillow of a wombat’s bottom. I’ll blame that silly choice on Kirk. Most of these items are from Target or Cb2. We already own the orange herringbone print blanket on the right. The rug is Safavieh Amaganasett from Target. The print is for the wallpaper divider wall, and I found it on Spoonflower. It’s playful, and I think the girls will love it. The blue solid throw pillows are also from Target and the gold one is from CB2, as is the mug. And finally, the wire/canvas basket is a Circo basket from Target.

I’m excited to see all of this come together very soon and to share the final results with you!

Here’s hoping your New Year is bright and full of exciting promise for a year of adventure and dream-seeking.

 

PS. Have you signed up for the Cohesive Home newsletter? Cohesive Home is a new Instagram minimalist community for intentional families. It launches tomorrow, and you can sign up here.

Practicing Patience

Embrace living slowlyvalue Patience

Impatience is a visible symptom of busyness, but not the cause. It often stems from dissatisfaction, and the remedy is actually acceptance of the situation. Do you struggle with patience like I do?

Most of my life I’ve fought the hard fight against impatience–slow drivers on the highway, bank tellers taking too long, employees and co-workers dragging their feet on projects, and much later, my children acting like, well children.

And really, can anyone blame you and I for being a tad bit impatient? It’s socially acceptable, perhaps even admirable, to rush around and to be consumed with business and feigned importance.

But over the past few years I’ve embraced slowness.

Accepted that people will drive slowly and have become a bit of a cautious driver myself.

Relaxed my expectations of others and myself.

Embraced the way time dances around and slows for my children and not the other way around.

Today the girls and I went to IKEA, which is normally a very stressful and frustrating experience. But the store was empty, our perusing smooth, and check-out easy. The woman ringing me up noticed the girls running around me as I attempted to corral them.

“You sure are patient!” she said, surprised. “Even your voice is calm.”

And it was.

I’m not always calm. I can be anxious, overbearing, and definitely impatient. But I am striving toward taking the slower route, to be calmer in my reactions to my children and others, and choose satisfaction over discontent in situations I cannot control.

So as you enter this holiday season, consciously choose patience and contentment, and I’ll be striving to do the same.

 

Will you do me a favor? First, send this to a friend who would needs to hear this message and secondly, join my new Instagram group Cohesive Home, a community for (aspiring) minimalist families. It’s a laid back, no judgment kind of place for families seeking to create a happier, simpler home. See you there!

 

On NOT Doing it All

Motherhood is a calling.But sometimes what we think we hear within that calling is the push to do more, to be more, and to live more.

Motherhood is a calling.

But sometimes what we think we hear within that calling is the push to do more, to be more, and to live more.

Instagram, Pinterest, and blogs often create an idealized version of motherhood, and it can make the most level-headed woman throw her hands in the air and ask “how can she possibly do it all?!”

I know I’ve asked that question too many times to count when I’ve read blogs by moms who homeschool their kids in their beautifully decorated home while running a WAHM business and adopting a few kids along the way with their handsomely devoted husband.

Usually I find these Instagram accounts and blog posts when I’m elbow deep in dirty dishes, my youngest is running around pants-less (again), and I’ve missed another day of homeschooling V (again) because I was up late the night before trying to catch up on grading for the students I never actually see (online.)

Motherhood is a calling.

It can drain you dry or it can fulfill.

Simplifying my home (well, selling it), my schedule and responsibilities, and  streamlining my things has helped me to better handle the day to day. But I still struggle to accept that what I feel I should do isn’t what I’m actually required to do.

And believe it or not, you actually need rest. Time to be alone and to do something that doesn’t involve 1)cooking 2)cleaning 3)entertaining/teaching your kiddos 4)working. But I know how hard it is to actually make that happen.

Most days I’m up by 6am, running around feeding ravenous children, trying to answer emails from students, and catch up on laundry. We homeschool, run errands, try to spend time outside, then it’s somehow dinnertime and bedtime for the girls. There are days that I hardly look at the clock until it’s 8pm. Then I do one of several things, until I’m too exhausted to continue: grade or answer student emails, write, work on projects.

Many nights I simply want to lay on the couch, watch How I Met Your Mother with my husband, and have a glass of wine. I’m slowly getting better about including downtime, but then there is always more work the next day.

But that’s truly the key there: we will always be busy and have responsibilities. The key is to consciously choose to slow down your day, ignore the unimportant, and focus on your priorities.

And that includes yourself.

Remember that those perfect Instagram pictures are only a tiny snapshot of another mother’s day. Instagram is not real life, and if I thought posting photos of my dirty laundry would make you feel more at peace about yours, I would  do it in a heartbeat.

Because here’s the deal:

Motherhood is a calling, but it is not a calling to meet another person’s idealistic (and often unrealistic) expectations. There is no perfection in motherhood–absolutely none–so don’t hold yourself to an unobtainable standard. Friends, my encouragement to you this week is to find peace with your To Do list and to give yourself some much deserved grace.

And then post a photo of the mountain of laundry on your bed and dirty dishes in your sink to Instagram so we all are on the same page that motherhood is more than just trying to do it all.

If you find yourself agreeing with this, I want you to do two things. First, send this to a friend who would needs to hear this message and secondly, join my new Instagram group Cohesive Home, a community for (aspiring) minimalist families. See you there!

 

How Living Simply Inspires Gratitude

How living Simply Inspires Gratitude

When I was younger I correlated lack of possession with identity. If there was something that I did not own that others did, I felt resentment, jealousy, and desire. Even if I was able to buy that *thing* that was so special, the happiness would inevitable fade, and I would find myself back at square one with desire and resentment.

Throughout the early years of our marriage, I desired a house with the force of a thousand suns. I spent more mental energy on this imaginary house than my actual priorities and values. It sounds rather pathetic typing that out, but what else can the hours that we collectively spend surfing Pinterest and Apartment Therapy mean? Owning a house was a never ending one-way street of diminished satisfaction. We had the house, but we didn’t have the furniture. Or the decor. Or whatever I convinced myself would make our home complete.

But I realized, in time, that the house, the things, the constant wishing for more, would never ever make me happy. My unhappiness, rather, stemmed from living a life that made consumption the ultimate goal. You can never consume enough to fill that hole.

Now we own very little, we live with my parents in their beautiful home, and Kirk and I are working non-stop between our actual jobs and the ones we are trying to create–and we couldn’t be happier. We chose family and experiences over stuff, and I am realizing how little I actually need to be content with my life.

I am grateful for the little things, the tiny objects and interactions that were beneath my gaze in the past.

Grateful for the magic of buying healthy food for my family whenever I need to.

Grateful for the job that allows me to stay home with our daughters and play with them every single day.

Grateful to see the changing face of nature out the window and for the camper that allows us to travel cheaply whenever we want.

And beyond grateful for the help from family in raising our daughters.

So if I could encourage you in one specific way today, it is to think about what truly makes you happy. Moments, people, experiences–these are what matter over the course of a lifetime.

Not houses, not clothes, not cars.

If those things are holding you back from living a life you are passionate about, let them go.

If those things are sowing seeds of resentment, jealousy, and desire, let them go.

Once you do, you’ll find, as I did, that true happiness was right in front of you all along. For free.

 

If you find yourself agreeing with this, I want you to do two things. First, send this to a friend who would enjoy this message and secondly, join my new Instagram group which launches on Black Friday: Cohesive Home, a community for (aspiring) minimalist families. See you there!

Live for Simply Enough

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Last Saturday afternoon I snuggled into the dinette booth clutching hot coffee in one hand and my kindle in the other, a fuzzy blanket keeping me warm against the light sleet falling outside the Casita’s windows. Kirk took the girls for a drive to give me some time to read and write, and I did, until my eyes became impossibly heavy. My notebook was mostly empty, just a few ideas scribbled quickly, the perfect mix of swirling thoughts and reading inspiration from a Shauna Niequist book.

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Earlier that day we hiked to the top of a sand dune at Warren Dunes State Park in Michigan. It was muscle blazing and chest pumping hard work to summit that dune, and I felt like I had climbed Mt. Everest. Climbing these days, even of the smaller variety, always feels like a victory with a 25lb+ toddler strapped to your back. The last section of the climb was all hands and knees, and I gratefully collapsed at the top, watching V run circles in delight at the epic view.

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Autumn frosted treetops encircled us in one direction, and in the other, aquamarine crashing waves smashing against the Lake Michigan beach.

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We hiked the rest of the way to the beach, V leading the way, barefoot and sandy, Kirk chasing behind, little C and I caboosing the end.

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She and I paused here and there to play in the sand, snuggling in the marram grasses. I asked her for a kiss, which she surprisingly obliged. I love you I said, like I had a hundred, a thousand times before. She smiled and said love you for the first time back.

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We ran, as fast as little toddler feet can dash, toward the beach and shelter as dark storm clouds billowed above the lake.

IMAG6293IMAG6316After it passed, we hiked back through the woods, pausing to study fallen trees and to pick up new specimens for our nature collection–bits of twig, broken acorns, stunning red leaves.

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We toasted that impossibly perfect fall day with dinner cooked over a bonfire and gooey s’mores by starlight.

The next day we packed up camp and drove to a nearby organic apple orchard where we picked a bushel, had lunch overlooking the fields, and played chase in the warm fall sunshine. Ice cream in New Buffalo wrapped up the trip, and we headed back home.

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IMAG6440The beginning of this week was hard for me. Laundry, bills, groceries, and catching up on grading for my university job.

What was so different?

The weekend was a taste of a simpler life, where nearly everything that we need was snug in a 17′ travel trailer. There was absolutely no room for excess or for “just in case.” Tidying up the Casita took a mere 5 minutes of satisfied work, and then it was time to play again.

IMAG6250Part of me wants to argue against myself: of course it was perfect, that’s what a weekend/a week/a month away is meant to be. It cannot be replicated, and it’s not possible to live that way long-term. Life is complicated, and you can only simplify so much. We all have to “get back to reality” and the grind of life at some point.

But we’ve met too many people who have figured out the secret to living with just enough. People who have found ways to craft a life with just enough work to support a courageously simple life. We’ve met families like the Currens of Currently Wandering, who travel full-time with their three kids in a 188 sq foot Airstream. They’ve found that life is simpler and more enjoyable when you take your home with you to explore the country–we got a small taste of that over the weekend, and now I understand why people pursue that lifestyle.

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Here’s the thing–and I’ll wrap this up before I get too long-winded–I am starting to believe that it is possible to live a simple AND enjoyable life. To have time for necessary work, but also for necessary play and adventure. I don’t buy it anymore that life has to be complicated, that is has to be a struggle overwrought with too much debt, too much stuff, and too much anxiety.

And in boils down to this. What is your north star? In what direction are you steering your life ship?

Traveling full-time or living in a small house is not the only way to simplify, and I encourage you to think about the happiest moments in your life. My guess is that they were also the simplest. Let those time guide you toward a life of simply enough.

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For when we become content with simply enough, there lies our freedom.