a day on the farm

A few weeks ago, we finished reading Charlotte’s Web. I promised the kids that we would go to a farm after we finished reading the book. Since Avery never forgets anything, and is quite possibly the world’s most persistent child, I had to make good on my promise….If only to save my sanity.

I’d seen some photos of the family farm of a high school friend of mine and decided that it would be the perfect place for our first field trip. Falcon Ridge Farm is a good drive from where we live, but was totally worth it. It’s a beautiful farm – and thankfully, I picked the most beautiful day ever for our outing…the weather was perfect-o.

Charlie’s buddy and his family met us there – along with a few of our other precious homeschooling friends.


The kids were pretty jazzed about the jumping ball area. I have to admit, so was I. Those things are super fun. I need a giant gated area with jumping balls for our next house.

ImageThe farm had so many fun areas for the kids to play. Lots of swingsets, slides, and play grounds. The Corn Box was a huge hit with my kids. They spent a ridiculous amount of time in there. I may need one of those for our next house too…

Avery had fun making “Corn Angels” and I spent most of my time yelling at Charlie for throwing corn. Boys and danger…two things that always, always, go hand in hand.

Image…on second thought, maybe I’ll skip the corn box.


During the week, Mr. Ray gives a “Horse Talk” to the school kids who come to the farm. We arrived just in time to hear his lesson. Avery was super interested to hear all about the horses. She’s convinced that she will have her own one day. If I know anything about my girl, she’ll find a way to make it happen.


At the end of his talk, Mr. Ray asked if anyone had questions. These two had no business asking questions.

ImageWhen Mr. Ray called on Charlie, I have to admit that I was a little nervous about what he would ask.  Most kids were asking questions about how to ride a horse, or what a horse likes to eat, but Charlie asked, “Where is the corn maze?”

Not exactly on topic, Bud.

After the lesson, Mr. Ray taught Avery and Charlie how to pet a horse the right way.




Falcon Ridge Farm has an awesome petting zoo area. They have every kind of animal that you would expect to find at a farm: sheep, goats, pigs, ponies, horses, cows, chickens, a donkey, and a turkey. They even have a few things you don’t normally find at a farm like peacocks and a llama.

These little guys were my favorite. I wanted to put them in my pocket. Adorable!


Charlie and his partner in crime are obsessed with punching everything. Including each other. Naturally, as soon as they saw this “Hay Spider”, they decided that it needed a good punch too.


Avery begged me all morning to ride a pony. When she got on the pony for the first time, she was super nervous. In fact, she told me she wanted down almost as soon as she got in the saddle. Knowing how disappointed she would be later that she hadn’t been able to ride, I made her stay on the horse. I walked next to her and held her hand while she rode and she loved it. Charlie opted not to ride on the pony and watched instead.


We took a hay ride to the pumpkin patch

hay ride

and each of the kids picked out a pumpkin to take home with them.



ImageDon’t ya just love that new pose Avery likes to do for the camera these days? Silly kid.

The boys loved the giant Hay Fort.


…and tried to get the cow to come close by “mooing” incessantly at it. The cow wisely ignored them.


After lunch and lots more play time, the kids were nice and tired for our drive home.


piggy back - notjenny.com

If you live in our area and are looking for a fun place to spend the day – check out Falcon Ridge Farm. I can’t wait to take the kids back at Christmas to pick out a tree!

farm sign - notjenny.com

perfectly imperfect

Homeschooling and home selling are two things that are not compatible. I’m not going to lie – the rope is fraying quickly and I’m definitely at the end of it.

The good news is that my house has never been this clean. I’m a raging clean-aholic. I’m totally obsessed. Not a good obsessed, either: like crazy-OCD-psychotic-obsessed. It’s bad.

The other night, our family was talking about how everyone has special gifts and talents. At the end of the discussion, David suggested that we name each of our family member’s gifts and talents.  Avery said, “Daddy’s gift is singing. I’m a good artist. Charlie has a good imagination and is brave. And mommy is a good cleaner.”

Sweet. My kid thinks that I’ve been gifted in the area of cleaning. Awesome.

If that’s my gift, I’d like a refund.

While my house may be squeaky clean these days, I have no desire to be “gifted” in the area of cleanliness. I can’t stand the stress I feel to keep our house “perfect”. Perfection and I are not friends. We have a long, complicated history together. In my experience, “Perfection” is Regina George and I’m the nerdy band girl who isn’t allowed to sit at her lunch table.

The problem is, random house-buying-types expect perfection when they walk into your home. They don’t understand that my little boy likes to throw his pull-up in the corner of his room every.stinking.morning, or that four year old boys have no clue how to properly aim for the toilet. They could care less that seven year old girls collect “treasures” like band-aids, gum wrappers, broken robin’s eggs, hair clips, glittery chap stick tubes, and stickers and proudly display them in their rooms . They don’t have the back story on that red stain on my carpet that mysteriously appeared after a play-date of epic proportions. They like clean, neat, tidy perfection.

So – here’s what “perfection” looks like when you’re the nerdy band girl and you’ve got 30 minutes before Regina George heads to your house for a showing:

Clean laundry gets stuffed back in the dryer…

laundry piles

When that’s completely stuffed full, I usually just throw it back into a random hamper.

more laundryAfter that, I usually have to clean the toilet area for the 50th time that day. See the bubbles? That’s the little chemical reaction that happens when Clorox bleach hits pee. Busted.

DSC_0626I’ve seriously considered rigging that bleach bottle to a holster of some sort and carrying it around the house with me.

Charlie usually does this while I clean:

helperThis next photo just makes my soul hurt when I look at it. It’s the one thing that is never, ever, ever, finished…


One of the last things I have to do before we leave is to get my dog out of the house. It’s no biggie, though. He only weighs 92 pounds…and can’t jump into the car without my help.

giant dog in the carPreparing for a showing is a major workout. I’m pretty sure that I have scarred my kids psychologically because I’m such a meany pants these days. I feel like the only words coming from my mouth these days are “hurry up”: hurry up and get in the car, hurry up and get dressed, hurry up and put away your toys. The other day, in a moment of frustration, Charlie told me that all I do is “boss, boss, boss”.

I’m no fun. No fun at all.

As hard as I try, I just can’t seem to find the balance between being a good mom and a good housekeeper. My attempts at perfection always end with me feeling like a super jerk instead of super mom. I feel stressed, frazzled, and just plain mean.

Deep down, I know that attaining perfection is impossible. When my goal is to be “perfect”, I don’t really perfect anything. I certainly don’t perfect the godly mom thing.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that the only thing I’m close to perfecting is the “Mommy Dearest” thing.

Not exactly the legacy I want to leave.

I don’t want my kids to grow up and remember that I was always cleaning. I want them to remember that I played with them. I don’t want them to see me on my phone all the time. I want them to see me coloring with them. I want to experience life with my kids, not just live with them.

Being a stay-at-home mom doesn’t automatically mean that you are doing some great or noble thing for your kids. It’s not the “staying home” thing that makes a difference in your children’s lives. It’s the intentional time invested that makes a difference. Investing in your children requires discipline, effort, and a willingness to put aside your own agenda.

Many times, at the end of a particularly stressful day, I find myself replaying all of the jerky things I did or said on a loop. Every impatient moment, every harsh word, and every frustrated sigh plays over and over in my mind. It’s during those moments that my inner voice typically tells me how bad I’m failing at this whole motherhood thing.  All I do is boss, boss, boss.

Not long ago, I had the privilege to hear author/speaker Jon Acuff at a conference. One of the things he said that really struck home with me is that no one has a positive inner voice. It’s always negative. It likes to tell us that we are failing or that we aren’t good enough. That’s why it’s important to replace that negative inner voice with truth: truth from God’s word.

God’s truth is that even though I’m a hot mess, I’m still His child.

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” – I John 3: 1

God’s truth is that I am perfectly imperfect, and perfectly loved by my Creator.

“The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness. ‘Again I will build you and you will be rebuilt, O virgin of Israel! Again you will take up your tambourines, And go forth to the dances of the merrymakers’.” -Jeremiah 31:3-4

God’s truth is that He makes old things new again. Even mean old crabby things like me.

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” – Isaiah 43:19

Did you read that? He’s making streams in the wasteland! The mercy in that truth makes me so happy…and allows me to show a little grace to myself when that loop starts playing in my head.

Thankfully, all of this house-selling nonsense is just temporary. Before long, our house will be sold and all of this stress will be a distant memory. My laundry pile will return to it’s former mountainous glory, my microwave will once again be polka-dotted with food bits, and I’ll sigh instead of scream when I find that used pull-up under Charlie’s bed. Life will be less than “perfect” again.

And I can’t wait.

avoiding homeschool stress: lessons learned in week 2

It’s our third week of homeschool-ness and here’s what I’ve observed: Avery is a typical kid.

Every teacher knows that the first week of school is not a proper indicator of how the year will progress. A kid who is quiet and shy during that first week may end up being your biggest challenge later. Conversely, a child who misbehaves the first week may end up being your brightest student. Maybe the kids are on some euphoric high from the the smell of new crayons and glue sticks, but that first week is always the same: students are wide-eyed, excited, and eager participants in the learning process.

Then Week 2 rolls around. Week 2 is when reality sets in. Things aren’t so new and exciting anymore and the kids realize that they are going to have to stretch their brains, listen, and focus. After a long summer break spent sleeping late, watching t.v., playing, and generally not thinking – Week 2 is no fun. For anyone.

Avery is a typical kid.

Week 2 was hard. Week 2 consisted of a lot of whining, complaining, and general fussiness. If I weren’t the most amazing mom on the planet, I would have almost lost my “Jesus” a couple of times. I might have led a firm “discussion” in which I threatened to march her right over to our neighborhood school and drop her off. There might have been tears…if I weren’t the most amazing mom on the planet.

Just call me Task Master Tillman.

Anyway – we survived the dreaded Week 2, and have found our groove. It’s a groove that involves a behavior chart and a bit of bribery, but it works. For now.

Workbooks and textbooks are unavoidable in the educational realm, but since Avery seems to be allergic to them I am trying to avoid them as much as possible. That calls for a little creativity. One of the things that is really cool about homeschooling is that I have the option to cater to my child’s specific learning preferences and style. While workbooks create stress for Avery, hands-on activities create excitement and interest. Excitement + interest = no whining. Score.

Avery loves to label stuff. I’m constantly finding her name written on walls, doors, and even this ancient relic that we inherited when we bought our home:



This week, in honor of Avery’s love of labeling and dislike for workbooks, I had her write her spelling and sight words on construction paper and post them in the playroom. I let her put them wherever she wants them to go, the only rule is that she must write them herself and read them as she places them on the wall.

writing words

wall words

Tomorrow, we will play a game where I’ll call out the word and she has to run to touch it as quickly as she can.

Here’s a little Art project we did to go along with our Charlotte’s Web book study:

charlotte's web art

Don’t you just love Googly eyes?  I don’t know what it is, but I’m kind of obsessed with them. They make me smile. Charlie joined in on our project and cut out the spider by himself. I thought he did a pretty good job! It always surprises me to find out what interests him. He loves listening to chapter books and doing art…when he’s not playing ninja and terrorizing our dog.

One of our lessons called for teaching about apostrophes, so I decided to incorporate some possessives from Charlotte’s Web. I wrote the names of characters from the book on a strip of paper, and an item that is associated with that character on another strip. Avery had to match the character to the appropriate item and then write an apostrophe + s between the word strips.


finished apostrophes

Avery isn’t too crazy about the Early Reader that she has to read as part of her curriculum. So last week, (after a particularly stressful reading lesson) we went to the Library and picked out Early Readers that are just right for her. Since she chose them, she was actually excited about reading them. She even read them “teacher style” to David, Charlie, and me after dinner.

read aloud

read aloud 2

Dear goodness. Homeschooling definitely has it’s up’s and down’s…and it’s amazing that you can experience all of those high’s and low’s in just one day. Here’s to avoiding Week 2 for at least another year.

creating our homeschool space


Before I had Avery, I was a first grade teacher. After she was born, I spent 5 years teaching  Junior Kindergarten in a Preschool. Since I have some experience as a teacher in a typical school setting, I thought that choosing curriculum would be fun and easy. Unfortunately (or fortunately – depending on how you look at it) there are a million online resources out there for home education. While I enjoyed researching my options, I found myself quickly falling down the curriculum rabbit hole. It was totally overwhelming… and way less fun than the Pinterest Rabbit Hole, or the Facebook Rabbit Hole, or the Candy Crush Black Hole.

Maybe it’s just me, but the very first moment that I looked at my perfect newborn baby, I had the frightening realization that there are at least 8 million ways that I could screw that kid up. I find myself constantly worried about feeding my kids the wrong things, letting them watch the wrong things, making sure they eat their vitamins, whether they are really brushing their teeth correctly… the list is seriously endless. Screwing my kid up educationally was NOT something I wanted to add to that list. People will look the other way if your kid has a cavity or two, but if you mess your kid up educationally, I think it’s safe to say that you are generally considered a truly terrible person. As a first year homeschool mom, I needed easy. I needed less choices. And I needed to be absolutely positive that I wasn’t going to mess my kid up.

Thankfully, I found a few highly rated, all-inclusive options. I realize that the word “all-inclusive” probably isn’t “academically correct”, but that’s what I’m going with. It was like having an “easy” button for homeschool. I clicked the mouse, whipped out my debit card, and all my lesson plans were written and all major subject areas were covered. Everything was included. Even math maniuplatives and science equipment. Easy peasy.

The two options that fit our needs the best were My Father’s World and Sonlight. In the end, I chose Sonlight because it seemed to be the best option for my little girl. It fit her interests and her personality best. She’s a deep thinker, loves to listen to chapter books, and thrives on structure and routine. Once I made my decision about which distributor to go with, I had to choose the curriculum path that I would take. I decided to choose Sonlight Core B curriculum because I thought it was really cool that it teaches kids all about the history, cultures, and people of the world. Global Outreach and Missions are two things that really speak to David and I and the thought of intentionally instilling a love for the people of God’s world was exciting to me. This year, we decided to sponsor a child through Compassion International. The little girl we chose to sponsor has the same birthday as Avery. Because our curriculum addresses different cultures and places, talking about our new friend in Peru will be much more natural and fun for Avery and Charlie. We can even write to her as part of our writing lessons.


In addition to Math, Reading, Spelling, and Phonics, I teach Social Studies, History, and Science every day. When I was teaching in a typical school setting, I was lucky if I had time to cover Science and Social Studies twice a week. When our big boxes of curriculum arrived, I was so excited to discover all of the beautiful chapter books that were included in the lesson plans. So much variety!  The reading nerd in me is just giddy when I look at this picture:


While I like Sonlight Core B curriculum for our basic subjects, I was kind of bummed to see that there really isn’t a lot of opportunity for creative journaling or fun art projects. Evidently, Sonlight has some supplemental curriculum that you can add for Art and other electives, but I think I can manage to find cute art projects on my own. I added a daily “Calendar Time” to our lesson plans since it’s such an easy way to incorporate math and life skills and I plan on adding daily journal writing activities in September. While it sounds like I may be adding a lot to our curriculum, none of the activities I mentioned take more than a few minutes to do when you are only teaching one child. In fact, our entire school day is finished in 3 hours or so. It’s amazing how quickly we can get through all of our subjects.

We have our “school” set up in our downstairs playroom. I know that there are lots of theories out there about how and where you should do school. Most of them seem to argue against having a “structured” area in the home for schoolwork, since it can be a little too rigid. The beauty of Homeschooling is that I get to decide how and where I want to educate my kids. I made the decision to have a more structured space for my kids this year because I think that they really need it at this point in their life. Early learners are so literal and thrive on routine and structure. Having a “school” space for my kids seems to help them transition from “hanging out/relaxed time” to “listening and learning time”. We may end up changing that one day, but it’s working really well for now.

One of our first activities in the morning is to have “Calendar Time” together. This is our playroom/classroom wall.


Our white board is actually a large piece of shower board that I bought at Lowe’s. David and I measured the wall space and the good people at Lowe’s cut the board according to the dimensions we needed. That was the easy part. The hard part was getting that gigantic board home. I’m not going to lie, we may or may not have had an incident on a major road with some flying shower board. If we hadn’t lost our first board tragically, I think we would have only spent $30 for the entire thing. Did you know that a giant white board normally costs hundreds of dollars?  It’s shocking, really. Shower board is definitely worth a trip (or two) to Lowe’s. Once we got our it home, we bolted it to our wall with regular screws and it works beautifully.

While shower board is an awesome dry-erase surface, it’s not magnetic. I had to use painter’s tape or sticky clips to attach items to our board. I also added some pocket charts from my teacher days for our sight word cards, etc.

I bought my calendar pieces, alphabet display cards, sight word cards, number line, touch point number cards, and our vocabulary cards for Charlotte’s Web from Teachers Pay Teachers for just a few dollars. Whenever possible, I prefer to purchase school items from teachers on Teachers Pay Teachers. It makes me happy that I am buying a product from a real person…especially an under-paid teacher. I’m kind of obsessed with that site.

desk picture

We bought our desks this summer at Ikea. Since I needed two desks, I needed something inexpensive and the Micke desks seemed like a good option. The only problem is that the desks and chairs are grown-up sized, so Charlie and Avery’s feet don’t rest on the floor when they sit in them. As a result, we end up doing most of our work on the floor of the playroom. I plan on making some giant floor pillows soon.

I wanted to keep the other side of our playroom a “play” space. Play is a really important part of early childhood development and should not be separated from the learning process.  For that reason, I intentionally kept our play space in the same room as our learning space. I use the backs of the kids toy storage bins as a space for my pocket charts and our map.



I have two of these giant organizational tower thingys for our school supplies. They are amazing. And yes…I’m just a little type A. Just a little.

storage bin

What is fun about homeschooling a preschooler and a first grader is that while Avery is learning, Charlie is too. This year, Charlie will be learning one letter and one number a week, but there are so many things that he is learning that I’m not “intentionally” teaching him. He may be coloring a picture while we read chapter books, he may be playing with his cars while we count aloud…but he is learning.  He is learning about Nocturnal animals, he is learning to count to 100, he is hearing how letters merge together to make words, and how words work together to create books…

playing with magnets

David has his day off on Friday since he works on Sunday. This Friday, he spent the school day with us. Avery was so excited to show off everything she had been learning that week. David read the Social Studies lesson to the kids that day. As luck would have it, the lesson was about different tribal cultures and the materials that they used to build their homes. When the subject of “poop bricks” came up, there were plenty of immature jokes and giggles. Mostly by David. The kids loved it.


The first week of school has come and gone. We are still alive. Stuff happened. Kids got educated. I didn’t go insane. It was a good week. It turns out that this Homeschool thing may not be so scary after all.


why homeschool?

If you had told me one year ago that I would be Homeschooling our little girl for her 1st grade year, I would have called you crazy. And laughed.

The reality is that Homeschooling kind of snuck up on me. I had plans for this year. Plans that didn’t have anything to do with the “H -word”. But God saw things differently.

Last year started out really well for Avery. She was enrolled in a great neighborhood school, had a precious teacher,  and made sweet little friends right away. Things were looking good for her.

revised avery

Initially, she was really excited about school…but unfortunately, that excitement was short-lived. After about a week, anxiety kicked in. As a former educator, I realized that tummy aches and tears were totally normal for her age. I had seen it all in my students many, many times. It would stop. She would adjust. Things would be fine.

When I would walk her to school in the morning, she would hold my hand right up until we finally had to say “good-bye” at the school door.  It was painful to watch her stifle her tears as she walked down the hallway to her classroom by herself.

Avery worried every single night, whined every single morning, and even cried during the day while she was at school. She tried hard to be a “big girl” because she knew that going to school was something that she had to do, but every time the topic of school came up at home, the tears would start again.

Early in the school year, Avery told me that she didn’t want me to come and eat lunch with her because she knew that she would cry when I had to leave again – and crying in front of her friends embarrassed her. Her sweet teacher would send me texts to update me on really tough days and even let Avery call me a time or two in an effort to help calm her, but nothing seemed to help. I felt so completely powerless. There was nothing I could do to make things better for her.

September came and went, but the tears remained. In December when there were still tears, I held out hope that the next semester would be better. When the tears lasted all the way through February, I started to feel concerned.

David and I prayed all year for Avery. We were stumped. She was our kid. Our responsibility. Our little blessing. Something had to be done.

For a while, we thought that the solution was to send her to a different school. We prayed about sending her to a Christian school with smaller classes. We tried to crunch numbers and make it work, but the numbers weren’t there to crunch. Sending her to a private school just wasn’t an option.

In the Spring, as I was praying about our dilemma, God gave me the answer I’d been looking for. It just wasn’t the answer I expected.

The day that we told Avery that she would be homeschooled for first grade, the tears finally stopped.  It was like a weight had been lifted off of her tiny shoulders. If I had any doubts that it was the right decision for us, they vanished when I saw her smile.

Why did we choose homeschool? For her: the sweetest little firecracker in the entire world. She needs me. She needs home.


times are changing.

Once upon a time I was in my 20’s and I decided that I knew just about everything there was to know about everything. I had stuff figured out.

For example, I knew that:

  • I would never drive a mini-van
  • My kids would be well rounded and enjoy music from impressively cool and varied genres. Barney would not be a rotating CD in my car.
  • My kids would never make giant messes in a restaurant
  • I would never talk about potty training in a Bible Study
  • My kids would never watch T.V. until after they were 3 years old.
  • I would certainly never allow my kids to be “babysat” by the T.V. so I could finish cleaning the bathrooms in peace.
  • My kid would never be the obnoxious kid screaming in Walmart
  • I would never appease him by opening a not-yet-paid-for box of goldfish crackers and allow him to eat it while I finish my grocery shopping.
  • I would never, ever, ever, home school my kids. Ever.

Oh, you silly, silly, girl.

Here’s what I now know (pay attention you 20-something-year-olds): never say never. Because God may have other plans for you, Missy.

Life is funny. And unexpected. And before you know it, you’ve opened that box of goldfish to calm your screaming kid in Walmart and find yourself singing along with Barney in the CD player as you drive home in your mini-van (I haven’t actually done the mini-van thing yet. But…all that space…and the automatic doors…and the magical DVD player…).

So now…after years of saying “No. Never. Nope.” to the H-word (I still can’t say it yet). I find myself saying a reluctant “yes” to homeschooling our little 1st grader. Oh my gosh. I just wrote it and now I feel a little sick.

In fact, today – instead of heading to the sweet little neighborhood school that’s just one block away from our house for Registration, I ordered curriculum. Online. And pressed “order”. It’s official. Next thing you know, I’ll be making my own bread, wearing long skirts, and making loads of babies. It’s just practical really… because I’m going to need more help for all those chickens I’m going to have in my backyard. And lots of kids sure will come in handy when I need help hanging the clothes on my clothesline after I clean them with the laundry detergent that I made from scratch.

Anything that I said I would “never” do is now on the table, people. That is reality.

Doing the thing that you said you would never do? It’s kinda scarey. But here’s another thing I know: God never asks you to do something hard without giving you the grace you need to do it. It’s freeing, really…knowing that I am really NOT in charge. How can something be scarey and freeing all at the same time? I’m not sure. But it is.

I’m going to be really honest, though, I’m still a little nervous about the time that I said (aloud) that I would never be a missionary anywhere without electricity and running water. Here’s to hoping that God will give me a pass on that one.