Category Archives: Pep Talks

Pep Talk #3: Home Sweet Home

Ice Cream Cone Tree and Graham Cracker Cabin

What does it mean to be a homemaker? Can you be one if you have a 9-5 outside the home? Can you be one if you have no training, if your mother wasn’t a Donna Reed or June Cleaver type? Have you found yourself suddenly surrounded by children and/or a spouse with needs you are struggling to meet? Are you trying to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing at home during an extended quarantine, when all the things on which you depend are disrupted?

Even we on the homeschool front, the ones who chose this lifestyle, are challenged right now. Just because we homeschool does not mean we were at home 24-7. In fact, usually, we find it hard to juggle curriculum and academics with all the other aspects of life: activities and sports, household chores and meal preparation, family obligations, social engagements, and making a living.

But here we are, as a nation, as a species, brought to our knees by something as small as a virus and as large as our worst fear. We are in our houses, but are we at home? What’s the difference?

I suggest that a house is a dwelling where people share space, while a home is a safe and productive environment created by people who love each other. My husband and I chose to live unconventionally—to homeschool our five kids on a sailboat—and we prepared for it by changing the way we lived over a long period of time. We learned how to live off-grid, how to work from home (wherever the home traveled), how to cook creatively and how to teach our kids what they need to know (sometimes with limited internet access), how entertain ourselves when we are isolated or bored, and how to resolve conflict peacefully.

Perhaps you are beginning to make some of the same adjustments—but you may be doing it suddenly and involuntarily, without the necessary mental, emotional, and financial preparation. Stocking up on toilet paper does not prepare you for being at home all the time with your family. The learning curve is steep, but it’s sink-or-swim, so you’d better start doggie-paddling. Here are ten ideas for making your house a home:

  1. Accept the situation. We may have to accept that this is going to last a while (not a storm cloud that is going to “blow over”), which means hunkering down and toughening up. You might have to accept an old-fashioned view of family (think Little House on the Prairie) because it’s what will help everyone make it through this tough time. Or you may have to do something unconventional that takes both parents out of their comfort zones. Accept that some sacrifices will be necessary: that’s what love costs.
  2. Ask for help. I start my day with prayer and a devotional reading…and coffee, lots of coffee. I do this because otherwise I am the Wicked Witch of the West. I call a friend when I’m in over my head, and I answer the cry for help when a friend needs me. I have homeschool heroes—moms who have done this before—that help me figure things out. I read books. And, of course, I use the internet, but I often find it overwhelming, so I’m choosy about my searches—I usually go looking for something specific.
  3. Develop a routine. Not necessarily a rigid schedule, but an order of operations. It provides stability for the whole family and sanity for you. It should include regular mealtimes, chores, school subjects, free time, exercise, and work. Try to do the same things in the same order, accepting disruptions, but always going back to the next thing on the list. Get the family involved. Make a plan. Write it down. Tape it to the wall. And stick to it.
  4. Focus on one thing each day. This is something I learned while living aboard my boat. Trying to do too much results in doing nothing well. So, Monday I do the shopping. Tuesday I do laundry. Wednesday I have an early morning Bible Study (now on Zoom). Thursday is music practice. Friday is cleaning day. You get the idea. Of course, this “one thing” is in addition to the daily routines of homeschool, work, and chores.
  5. Make a meal plan/menu for the week. It helps with shopping, meal preparation, and managing expectations. Get everyone to make suggestions, learn recipes, and take turns with cooking and cleaning. My eight-year-old can make homemade tortillas by herself. Our kids are capable of so much more than we usually ask of them.
  6. Create an orderly space. If your kids are home all the time, they are like tornadoes leaving messes in their wakes. Try to create a zone of peace in at least one room, a place where order exists within the chaos. Maybe it’s your private retreat, maybe it’s the living room sofa. Clean something—it will make you feel better. At the end of the day, enforce a 20-minute tidy-up. Many hands make light work.
  7. Enjoy time with your kids. This is a special time—stressful, yes—but also amazing. Someone pushed the PAUSE button and we have a moment to enjoy all the things we’ve been working for. Go outside. Play a board game. Play cars. Play Barbies. Read aloud. One of the reasons we homeschooled in the beginning is because we wanted to enjoy the kids we made. Yes, being at home all the time together is hard, but it is also fun and rewarding.
  8. Be creative. Weave art into your daily life: music, dance, drawing, cooking, poetry, home décor—whatever floats your boat. See if you can spruce up the academic curriculum your kids are using with kitchen chemistry, musical parodies, or homemade games.
  9. Establish discipline. Without some semblance of order and mutual respect, all this advice is pointless. Your home will be in chaos. You and your spouse will be pitted against each other. Your kids will fight constantly. Making a house a home requires fortitude and teamwork. We just use good-old-fashioned rules, complete with rewards and consequences. And consistency.
  10. Offer grace. To yourself, to your spouse, to your kids. I don’t know your specific situation or challenges, but we all have this in common: we need to forgive ourselves and others for mistakes and failures, pick ourselves up, and try again.

Pep Talk #2: Don’t Panic and Always Know Where Your Towel Is*

Laundry Lines

I had a strange dream about ten days ago. Now, I am not a mystic or a prophet, but I am a believer in the miraculous, the existence of a loving God, and the meaning of life (and the answer is not 42!). I am occasionally (when I am paying attention), offered a word of comfort or advice, either through something I read, a song I hear, a conversation with a friend, a circumstance, or, in this case, a dream. It was so significant, and clear, that I got up at 4 in the morning to write it in my journal. Here it is, as best as I can tell it from memory and bad handwriting:

I am trapped in a burning building, somewhere near the top floor, six or seven stories up. Rachel is there with me (my 8-year-old daughter) and a group of strangers of all ages. I smell smoke, see the glow of flames, and look for an exit—blocked by fire. I feel the immediate sense of panic and doom: we are going to die in this burning building. But then I stop and pray out loud, “Lord, help us find a way out.” Despite my fear, I suddenly feel a sense of calm determination. I go out a door and find myself on a balcony, which is still wrapped in sheet plastic from recent construction. I walk to the end of the balcony and find some wooden scaffolding, descending like a spiral staircase—a way out! I know what I have to do.

I go back in the building, where people are beginning to panic, each in his or her own way. Some are screaming, someone is calling 9-1-1, some older ladies are sitting in the middle of the room, frozen in terror. I announce to the room that the building is on fire, that the main exit is blocked, but that I found a way out on the balcony. I tell someone to get everyone out on the balcony, and then I go to the people who aren’t moving, one by one, and speak to them individually: “What’s your name? Doris? Get up, Doris! There’s a fire! Get out of your chair and walk to that door! Go out on the balcony!” I do this for everyone left in the room, and then I go out on the balcony. I wake up as the first of the children, including my own daughter, are climbing down the scaffolding and to safety.

It took me a few days to process the dream and its images. What has stayed with me is the sense of calm-despite-fear. We are living in fearful times, trapped, if you will, in our own kind of burning building. The threat is real—of illness and death, economic disaster, societal breakdown. As a culture, we’ve watched too many horror movies and our imaginations are running wild.

But we do not have to let our emotions run our lives. We can tell them who’s boss and we can tell ourselves the truth. It’s okay to feel fear, but not always helpful to act on fearful feelings. In a dark alley, panic and adrenaline can save your life, but in a protracted emergency, keeping your cool may be a better survival strategy.

If you can calm your mind, breathe deeply, and slow your racing heart, then remember where your help comes from (the encouraging word of a friend, your family, a comforting sacred text, prayer, meditation, yoga, maybe God Himself!), you will be ready for whatever comes next. Perhaps you will be able to offer help instead of feeling helpless. All around you are people feeling panic in their own ways: who can you reach out to individually? Who is in your sphere of influence that might need a pep talk? It’s a good time to reach out by phone, by video chat, or even over the backyard fence, sidewalk, porch, or balcony (as long as the neighbor is 6 feet away!). If you’ve received comfort or encouragement in these tough times, don’t hoard it like toilet paper…pass it on!

*Advice from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Pep Talk #1: When Life Gives You Lemons

When Life Gives You Lemons

People are beginning to freak out here in Florida. Spring break was rudely interrupted by a global pandemic and vacationers have gone home in droves, leaving things here empty…including the shelves in the toilet-paper aisle. Unless they are facing a hurricane, people here are unaccustomed to seeing empty shelves at the grocery store, and the fear of want becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m hoping we look back at this and laugh at what we thought were emergency provisions, but it’s still too early to tell.

We were not always comfortable and complacent, fragile and fearful. All of us have immigrants in our ancestry—our forebears came to America with little more than the shirts on their backs. Our ancestors were used to discomfort, disease, and death. Faith in God, hard work, and community sustained them and helped them survive—not just the physical hardships of their lives, but the social and emotional ones, too. During many hard times in the last few centuries, people have relied on each other for survival, neighbor helping neighbor—sometimes in the form of churches and charities, but often person-to-person.

I am thinking a lot these days of those who are feeling isolated at home during this time of “social distancing” and quarantines. Aside from the economic repercussions of businesses closing, the cascading effect on families with thousands of children suddenly without the structure of school and extracurricular activities staggers the mind.

I am a homeschool mom of five, living on a sailboat. We make our own power, we desalinate water for drinking. I grind my own grain, I bake my own bread. We have an unusual kind of self-sufficiency in the modern world. I have a unique perspective on what it means to get cabin fever—and I feel sympathetic to all the parents out there who suddenly find themselves in my shoes—at home all day with stir-crazy kids. I chose the hard life of teaching my own children to read and do long-division, of cooking from scratch, of being in a small space with my family. Many of you have been thrust unprepared into this social situation. But you can do it. You can rise to the occasion. You can help your family survive this hard time. And you might even come out better and stronger.

I’m writing a series of pep talks, which you will find here. When you need a reminder to hang in there, or a word of sympathy, because I’ve been where you are (or will be)—crying and calling  a friend from behind the closed bathroom door—I’ll be here. When life gives you lemons, it’s okay to pucker up initially, but eventually you’re going to have to sweeten the sour in order to drink it down.