Where There’s a Will…


I’ve been sick this week. So sick, in fact, that I begged the kids to help me keep the house from absolute disaster. Of course, my illness came about the day after my husband went out of town for a week.

Not to worry, though. My sweet boys are on the job! They usually need my help to get laundry in and out of the dryer up top. I suggested a step stool, but I guess their way was more fun.

Teaching Chores to Little Ones


In our house, we have chore zones. They currently rotate weekly, so if the bathroom is your zone, it’s your responsibility to deep clean it once and make sure it isn’t haz-mat level gross the rest of the week. If guests are coming, you wipe down the mirror and counter so they’re not horrified. The others will do the same kind of deep clean plus maintenance in the kitchen, dining room & hall, or living room & entry.

My girls are old enough to be able to handle most of the chores on their own. We have a set of chore cards that I made on heavy paper, so if they ever forget exactly what I’m looking for in a clean bathroom,  they can check the card for a reminder. My boys are younger, so my expectations are lower. They need to check the card and make a good attempt, but I often need to follow up, especially if they have kitchen zone. Keeping up with the number of dishes to be washed is enough to drive an adult crazy, so I understand when my 9 year old struggles.

But they’re learning! In a few years, I expect the boys will be able to accomplish their chores like professionals. When they move out, perhaps their bachelor pads will not overflow with dirty dishes and dust.

One positive change I’m seeing with the zone system is that the kids are beginning to think before leaving items on the floor. It’s not perfect yet – they’re still kids. But when one person sees how frustrating it is to have other people’s belongings all over their recently cleaned zone, they’re more likely to think twice about leaving their own stuff laying around.

Collin is only 3, so he doesn’t have his own chore zone yet. He is expected to pick things up when asked, and to help with his own messes. When the older kids do their zone chores, Collin picks one and helps. Today he “helped” Maya scrub the shower in the kids’ bathroom. He held a scrub brush and moved it around, while she did most of the work. When the shower was rinsed and sparkling, though, Maya was happy to share with him the pride of a job well done. Even though he is not old enough to scrub a shower on his own, he’s learning that it feels good to see results from hard work.

Sometime during the week, I try to have some sort of a reward for anyone who did an excellent job on their zone. Tonight, for example, is ice cream party night. All kids who have completed their zone chores may enjoy the ice cream party. There’s no punishment if they don’t get the job done, but there’s a reward if they do. That’s what’s working in our house right now.

The Big Curriculum Post – January 2015 Version

homeschool curriculum winter/spring 2015

Working hard and hardly working.

There’s nothing a homeschool parent loves more than reading and/or talking about curriculum! Actually, maybe they love talking about schoolroom renovations a little more. I can’t be sure. Regardless, I’m here today to talk about the curriculum we’re using with Levi for the next few months, probably through May. We use the pre-made curricula as guides, and explore whatever topics interest Levi in greater depth using our science and history encyclopedias, books from the library, and videos from YouTube or Amazon.

So without further ado, I present the winter/spring 2015 offerings for Lone Pine Collegiate School. (This post contains affiliate links.)


Social Studies / History:


Language Arts:

Critical Thinking:


You might be thinking, “how many years does all of this take to accomplish?” Truthfully, Levi is often finished with his main schoolwork by lunch time. It takes a lot less time to do all of these subjects with one kid than it does with a classroom of kids. Also, we don’t do every subject every day. He does math and language arts every day, without fail. Science and history are 3 to 4 times per week.

I try to tie art in with history. He does his handwriting lesson, mind bender puzzle, and task cards first thing in the morning to get his brain going. These are quick and take maybe 15 minutes.

Drum practice, typing practice, and listening to chapter books usually happens later in the day. Don’t tell Levi that counts as school work. He thinks it’s just for fun. Same with his sports practices. The life skills, agricultural learning, and Russian are not scheduled, formal schooling. They happen as part of our regular life.

Collin has joined our little school recently. He’s quite mad that he doesn’t get to ride the school bus every morning like his older siblings. I’ve placated him by telling him he has his own awesome Guppy School (the siblings call him Guppy), and have put together an alphabet and numbers study for him with crafts and online games. He’s 3, so the majority of his learning is through play, and books, and songs. Collin’s fall birthday means he still has two full years before he’ll enter kindergarten. He already counts to 15, has a killer vocabulary, and is making outstanding progress on the alphabet. I suspect I won’t get away with the lack of formal curriculum for long with him. The kid wants to learn! Of course, he wanted some books like Levi has, so I’ve procured some coloring books and preschool skills workbooks from Dollar Tree and Target. Guppy School is Guppy-approved. For now.

Teaching Borrowing in Subtraction (For Free)

We’re using a fantastic math curriculum called Math Mammoth for Levi. The vast majority of math concepts are self-taught with Math Mammoth, which makes it very easy for us to use. Even with Levi’s dyslexia and processing disorder, he is able to follow the simple text instructions with pictures for each lesson, and he can complete much of it without even asking me for help. I can’t say enough good things about Math Mammoth! I’ll have a review of the curriculum for you soon, but for today, I’d like to talk about one concept that Levi had a little more trouble with – borrowing or regrouping in 3-digit subtraction.

Teaching Subtraction BorrowingHe can usually manage two-digit subtraction with borrowing or regrouping, but tends to get confused when three digits are involved. The way it was explained on the three-digit regrouping and borrowing Math Mammoth lesson was a little confusing to him. Frankly, I wasn’t sure if I could adequately explain it based on the MM instructions, either. The point, of course, is to know how to do the equation, not to do it in a specific way, so I went in search of other ways to explain the concept.

Here are a couple of videos that show various ways to handle three-digit subtraction. The first is from Khan Academy. I like how the numbers in the ones, tens, and hundreds columns are shown in different colors so that it’s more obvious where you’re borrowing from – the visual help is important for kids like Levi who struggle to focus on the information they need.

I found the second video on WatchKnowLearn.org, which is an amazing site with videos on almost any educational topic. I liked “Subtracting – Working With 3-Digit Numbers,” but there’s also a good one about subtracting with 1- to 4-digit numbers and another about using addition to check your work. Levi likes to watch videos, so we watched several until his attention started to wane.

Regrouping in Subtraction Reminder Poster

Print out this handy dandy sheet to help your student remember how to regroup for subtraction.

On Pinterest, I found loads of suggestions for teaching regrouping with 3 digits. We have some Cuisenaire rods and some sets of Legos that we reserve just for math manipulatives, so we tried making a page with three columns and using the rods or Legos to represent tens and ones. That method was similar to the picture instructions on his Math Mammoth lesson.

Lately I’ve tried to add memory aids around our workspace, to help ideas stick in his mind and to help him refocus when he gets confused. There are lots of versions of this mini-poster around the web, but none of them were quite what I wanted. The best one specifically said it was for 2-digit subtraction, though, and concrete thinkers (like my Levi) might then struggle to get past that 2 sitting there when they’re working on a 3-digit problem. Fixate much? Yes, we do! ;) That may be hard to understand if your child doesn’t think that way, but trust me – it’s a thing. Hand some kids a poster that says it’s for a specific thing and they will not be able to translate that skill to a similar task. Hence, my newly created poster.

If you’d like to use this fun, colorful regrouping reminder in your homeschool, I’m offering it to you free. You can print it on a regular 8.5×11 paper, or if you want to get a little crazy, it would work on larger paper, too. Click for the PDF – Subtraction Borrowing Reminder Poster.

I can see that a lot of you are finding this post through search, and I’m really excited that you’re here. If the poster or video suggestions were helpful to you, please leave a comment and let me know, or consider sharing the post on your social accounts. I’d love to hear from you!

The School Room Project

Levi at the table

With his toy dinosaur, which he can play with when he needs some sensory help. He’s working on a set of Common Core task cards, which I will write more about later. Love them!

Levi has officially been part of my exclusive private school for almost a year. The meetings with the doctors and specialists are done for now, and we have recommendations on how to proceed with his education. A secret: I truly thought they would all say he needed to be back in public school where teams of experts could help him. The reality, though, is that more than one of his doctors said he’s better off at home for now. At home, I can spend hours with him on a particular reading or writing problem. The typical classroom distractions and the social skills traps are eliminated. And he’s thriving here.

With diagnoses come special sets of books and letter tiles and other stuff to help address specific needs. Levi has dyslexia and dysgraphia among other learning challenges. He’s as excited as I am to finally have names, and therefore possible solutions, for those challenges. Together we dove headfirst into basic phonetics again, and Levi is determined to write more, even as I tell him his doctor suggested writing less to minimize frustration. He’s listening to audio books, and proudly showed me a short book he read today. I really believe that giving a name to the challenges has helped him.

All of the excess school supplies and the realization that we could be doing this for years has made it quite clear that we need a more permanent home for all of this magnificent learning. I envision building a whole new school wing onto the house, but my husband has informed me that, sadly, as with most school systems, money for new buildings is not forthcoming.

Workbox SystemRight now, Levi does most of his work at the dining room table. The plus is that he’s right near everyone else and can interact easily. The downside is that he can interact easily, and as a 9-year-old boy with ADHD, he does so constantly. The dining room table is also within view of the television, so if anyone else wants to watch TV, Levi is compelled to watch along with them. He also can’t leave his school work out, because we need to use the table for meals, and if he leaves a pencil and paper unattended, it will be toddler-ized by Collin.

Our workboxes are in the living room. They don’t take up that much space, but they do always look cluttered. Extra books end up on top of the boxes, along with papers and folders, and there’s usually something hanging out of one of the drawers. Toys end up underneath the workboxes, too. Collin leaves them alone for the most part, but on days he wants to annoy Mama, pulling papers out of the workbox drawers is a sure fire way to do it.

School Room BeforeWe need a dedicated space. In the basement, I moved some things around and decided that this little space would do. It looks super-tiny in the picture, but the whole space is about 10 by 13.

I have another desk like the one shown there, so Levi can have his own desk, and I have one for my office and teaching supplies. We’ll add a small table and some chairs for the other kids to use for homework, or for Levi, Collin and I to sit together for projects. If there’s room, I want to put one of my rocking chairs in the school room, too. We do a lot of reading together, and it’s so much more fun to read in a big, comfy chair!

Our basement is a constant construction zone right now. There are bedrooms going in down there, slowly but surely, so the school room walls will not be finished right away. I don’t feel like waiting, though, because I have a vision of a living room without workboxes and now I must attain it at any cost. I’ll put up some large maps and Kansas history posters. The open end of the room will be partitioned off by a set of 5 doors held together by hinges to make a portable wall. I have some bright area rugs to cover the boring, scuffy concrete floor. We will forge on. No lack of walls will stop us!

Did you create a school room in your house? Is it an actual room or part of a larger space?

2015 – Embracing Minimalism


I don’t believe in making resolutions for the new year. However, the start of 2015 happens to coincide with my desire to declutter our whole life. For those who know me well, that’s probably a shock. I love stuff. I love purses and shoes and jewelry, and art, and books, and so many more things. I have a busy schedule but not enough time to just enjoy my family and friends.

While I’m lucky to have been able to acquire lots of things, and my family has pretty good health that allows us to participate in many activities, all of this mental and physical clutter has become a prison of sorts. I don’t like feeling that we’re drowning in belongings and appointments.

We’re going to do better. We’re going to evaluate whether or not we need more things before we go shopping for fun (OK, I will, since I’m the only one here who shops for fun). We’re going to learn to say no to over-packed schedules. And we’re going to get rid of the things that are stuffed in closets and drawers and under beds, so we can enjoy our home instead of feeling that we need to pick up every half hour.

I’m not brave enough to pare down to 33 wardrobe items as the 333 project suggests. The idea of limiting to a set number of items, a capsule wardrobe, is fantastic, though. The 40 – hanger closet is a similar idea. I could probably get rid of half my clothes and still need more than 40 hangers. That’s excessive,  and it makes laundry more difficult. My daughters have overgrown wardrobes, too, and my sons have enough toys for 25 children. Enough is enough.

But this is not a resolution! It’s a slow embracing of simplicity. Kind of like the difference between a diet and a lifestyle change. Resolutions rarely last.

One thought in the back of my mind as I’ve pondered this change is that all of the things we save for later may never come out of storage. My children may not be as sentimental as me, and might not love receiving a box of kindergarten school papers, stuffed animals, and decades-old baby clothes when they buy their first home.

Faith from Minimalist at Home said, “A dead pack rat has miserable children.” Will the things I’ve saved make my kids feel tired and sad when they have to sort through my estate some day? Hopefully not, but this return to simplicity and adventure in minimalism should ensure that there isn’t so much junk left behind when that day comes.

Except the shoes. Sorry, kids.

Perfect New Year’s Eve Rum Cake Recipe

This amazing, rum-soaked cake is a holiday staple in our house. Since I started making this cake for holiday parties, several years ago, I now get requests along with party invitations. “Hey, are you coming to our New Year’s party this year? And if so, could you bring some rum cake?” This year, I’ve made 11 of them so far, to give to friends and family.

The funny thing is, no one asked for the recipe until this year, and it never occurred to me to give it out before now. One of my friends said, “I just assumed it was a secret family recipe that you kept for yourself.” Huh. It is a family recipe in that my mom has been making it for the holidays as long as I can remember. But beyond that it’s just plain delicious. See those pecans in the top? They let the rum glaze soak down into the cake so you get plenty of flavor in every bite.

Rum cake recipe - ThisNotSoSimpleLife.com

Mmmmm. Rum-glazed cake rings in the new year right!

Wanna make a delicious, fluffy, rich, boozy cake for your New Year’s Eve celebration? Or just for yourself? Or for any holiday, really. Or for dinner on a non-holiday. Just don’t eat the whole thing and go drive around, OK?

Cake Ingredients

  • 1 box of yellow cake mix
  • 1 small box of vanilla instant pudding mix
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup rum (any rum will do, but I’m partial to Captain Morgan or another spiced rum)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (if you’re allergic or don’t care for nuts, you can omit these)

Cake Procedure

1. Preheat the oven to 325.

2. Grease and flour a standard size Bundt pan. Sprinkle the chopped pecans into the bottom of said pan.

3. Mix all of the cake ingredients together. No fancy tricks. Just throw it in a bowl and mix it.

4. Pour the batter over the nuts into the Bundt pan.

5. Bake for 1 hour. Cool for 10 minutes and then invert onto a serving platter. Make sure the platter is slightly larger than the cake, because you’re going to pour glaze over it and you don’t want to run out of room.

6. Use a straw or chopstick or something similar to poke holes all over the top of the cake, so that the glaze sinks in all nice-like.

Glaze Ingredients

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup of white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup rum

Making the Glaze

1. Melt the butter in a saucepan.

2. Stir in the water and the sugar.

3. Bring to a boil and keep it there for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

4. Remove from heat and pour the rum in slowly, stirring carefully. If you pour the rum in fast it may foam up.

5. Drizzle the rum glaze over the cake slowly. I use a small ladle or a large serving spoon to pour it slowly.

6. Let the glaze soak into the cake, and then use a small spoon to scoop up what ends up at the bottom and pour it over the top again. Repeat until the cake has absorbed most of the glaze. It’s OK (more than OK, it’s delicious) to have a bit of glaze left at the bottom so the cake has a bit of extra rum kick for a few bites.

Let me know if you make this cake for your New Year’s Eve celebrations! Or whenever. It’s good all the time, I promise.

My Orphan Sunday Dilemma

I’ve come to dread Orphan Sunday, to be honest. Without knowing what might be presented at church, it’s hard to know whether it will be something that makes my kids feel bad, or like a charity project. While I love that someone made an effort to mobilize families to adopt waiting kids, I don’t like that it’s always with the orphan label.

ksu lake small

We don’t erase our family history when big changes happen. Why do we try to do that to waiting kids? Not all kids who need a forever family are orphans!

For a moment, just think about a newborn adoption situation. An expectant mother and father make plans. They have the baby. They select a family and sign papers. They’ve placed their baby for adoption with another family. Do you call that child an orphan? Would you put that label on them without asking if they liked it, or if they felt they were an orphan? I’m guessing most people wouldn’t, and for good reason.

Why, then, do so many people seem to be OK with calling other kids orphans when they really aren’t? Some kids who wait in the foster care system have birth families that didn’t have a choice in the removal of their parental rights. It just so happens that my kids have a birth mom who realized that she would not be able to meet the requirements to get them out of foster care, and she made the choice to place them for adoption. So why should anyone call them orphans? They have living biological relatives who love them. A birth mom who loved them enough to make a choice that must have been deeply painful. Calling these kids orphans is like trying to erase that part of their history.

Kids who are waiting in other parts of the world may be orphans, whose parents died or disappeared, but then again, they may not be. They may never meet the biological family that dropped them by the orphanage gate, but that doesn’t mean the family doesn’t exist. It doesn’t mean they don’t have a birth mom who thinks of them every day and wishes the circumstances had been different.

It’s wonderful that this focus on adoption is happening. It needs to happen. More people need to see and hear that adoption can be a viable option for many types of families.

We don’t need to push the orphan label, though. What is the point? Waiting children is a phrase that encompasses most of them, and doesn’t carry with it the notion that they’re a charity project. It also doesn’t attempt to gloss over that child’s history, which may be relatively unknown or rocky and painful. Either way, a person’s life story deserves to be told without others adding labels to change it.

As for the Orphan Sunday dilemma in church, I still don’t know what to do. I’m a big believer in changing things you don’t like instead of just complaining. It’s unlikely that the orphan Sunday movement is going to stop because of my opinion, but perhaps I can help make a change in a few local churches. Hannah is interested in speaking at what we call “Adoption Sunday,” which would be awesome. Who better to tell about adoption than a young lady who was once a waiting child? However, she still has major stage fright. We’re working on it.

In the meantime, I’m left with a vague discomfort over it. I want to continue to support adoption for kids who need it. I do not want to be part of an event where some adoptees or waiting kids are made to feel uncomfortable. If many of them don’t consider themselves orphans, then Orphan Sunday is either labeling them in a way they did not approve, or it’s excluding a pretty large group of people.

What do you think?

I have opinions on this subject. Wanna read more of them? Check out “No Orphans Here.”

Behold! A “New” Laundry Organization System

This post contains affiliate links.

There’s something about the cooler weather that makes me want to clear out closets and organize things. I suppose it’s because I know I’ll be spending more time in the house during the winter and I don’t want to stare at clutter the whole time. My main projects this fall are organizing my closet and getting the kids’ laundry situation under control. Their clothes get clean, and I spend hours folding and putting away, only to find the entire contents of the boys’ dresser on the floor the next day. This does not make for a happy Heather.

My own closet will be remedied by a lot of clothes purging. I haven’t worked in an office in more than a decade. It’s probably time to get rid of those suits that have gone out of style, come back in style, and gone out of style again. I’m definitely guilty of having a closet full of things I haven’t worn in the last year, so I’ll be hauling several bags of goodies to Goodwill. I also ordered another Floor to Ceiling Rotating Shoe Tree. This thing is awesome for your shoes or kid shoes. Everything is off the floor, there’s an accessories basket, and it rotates so you can gaze lovingly at every pair of shoes. If you use it for man shoes, it won’t hold as many, but it’s still functional. I only wish it had some boot spaces, but that would reduce the shoe space by a lot.

laundry system

This is basically my whole laundry system. A basket. I’m a visionary.

The boys’ closet is more challenging, because they are not very good at doing the folding and putting away, and I want them to be able to handle a lot of it themselves. I do the laundry, but I’d like for them to put it away. And put it in a laundry basket when it’s dirty again. Hence, our new, fancy boy laundry system. Each boy has two laundry baskets, square ones, and the baskets sit in their closet. One basket is for dirty clothes. Revolutionary, I know. The other basket is for clean clothes. That’s it. No folding and putting in drawers.

Honestly, I don’t know very many moms of many who don’t cop to having baskets of laundry that never get put away. I could find at least three such baskets in my house right this moment. We shyly admit to just picking clothes out of the clean basket to dress the kids. Everyone does it. I’m making it my total boy laundry system. No shame. No folding. The only rule is that they have to hang up their button-down shirts and church-type clothes.

If they want to go really hog wild, they can place their socks in the mesh zipper bag I provided, which hangs on their closet door. Then the socks are all still together after washing.

I can’t tell you how much easier this is on all of us. I no longer have to ask for laundry to be put away repeatedly. All they have to do is put the dirties in the washer. I clean and dry them. The boys return the clean stuff to their clean basket. Ahhhh. It’s so lazy and yet SO refreshing.

When I prepare laundry, my primary stain treatment is Norwex dishwashing liquid. I know, it sounds weird. But it works on lots of types of stains, especially food stains and greasy stuff. I keep a bottle of it in my laundry room by the detergent. However, one cannot simply leave stain treatment to the children when it involves a bottle of dish soap. Trust me on this. There will be bubbles. So many bubbles. Now I also keep a regular stain treatment stick where the boys can reach it. They can smear it on any stain they see, and it doesn’t cause a bubble explosion if they use a lot of it. We’ve been using Norwex Ultra Power Plus laundry detergent for the last year, and it’s amazing at getting rid of the everyday grime on the kid clothes. That’s helpful when the boys miss treating a stain. Note: The Norwex detergent can be used in any kind of washer, but I don’t think it’s cost-effective unless you have an HE machine. With HE washers, you only need a quarter scoop for a full load, so you get 4 times as many loads as are listed on the bag.

We also stopped using dryer sheets last year. Now I have wool dryer balls (mine are Norwex Fluff & Tumble) but there are several brands available) that reduce dry time and prevent static.

I’d love to have a perfectly organized house all the time, including nicely folded and matched clothes in drawers. The problem is that the perfection only lasts for 30 seconds in my house and then I feel like my time was wasted. So I’m letting go of this one. No more laundry perfection expectation. Baskets. That’s the laundry revolution.

No News, Good News

That’s what my son’s doctor keeps telling me, anyway. No news is good news. We haven’t found anything terribly wrong. And yes, I’m incredibly thankful that he appears healthy on all of the tests. But there’s also a little voice in the back of my mind, a constant murmur that we’re getting eve closer to the end of the list of doctors and hospitals and specialists who might be able to take a look at him and see if they can help. In the meantime, he’s forgetting common words and his working memory is getting worse. What if no one finds anything? What if no one can help?

Between his medical appointments and my deadlines, we’re laying pretty low for the next few weeks. Two of my four classes will end mid-October, at which point I’ll gain a very small amount of breathing room. Of course, by then, I’ll have at least a month’s worth of damage control to do in my house. Would you like to know how much decluttering and housework gets done when mom is taking 12 hours and working on more than her usual number of freelance projects? You guessed it. Pretty much none. The kids all make attempts at doing their zone chores, but without me coaching them, their efforts are, shall we say, lacking.

Do you ever feel like you’re just decluttering the same spot over and over and over? That’s where I am right now. Somehow, no matter how many times I clear that one section of counter, when I turn my back a new paper appears upon it. These are the days when it’s tempting to throw away everything and live as an extreme minimalist. But then I remember that I like my shoes and jewelry and sewing supplies. Minimalism will need to wait until I’m less vain and crafty.

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