The Bell Family

Random ponderings on God, life, and the humor all around us


How We Prepare for the New Year

I’m always looking for new ideas for both holidays and planning/organization. I’d love to hear how you plan for the coming year and how you plan ahead for special occasions and holidays. And for those interested, I thought I would share what Bill and I do together the last two weeks of the year in preparation for the year to come.  There’s no magic to it.  It’s simple and works for us.  Here goes:

  • We always like to begin by answering  Don Whitney’s “10 Questions to Ask at the Start of a New Year” (oddly enough, there are actually 31 questions)–We do this to help refocus our spiritual goals and hearts for Christ
  • Next we work to come up with a financial plan of how to handle our “extra” money– I begin by budgeting each month for less than Bill makes in his full-time job. This leaves us some additional money from those paychecks along with the money from his part-time job salary, and our tax return.  Then, as best we can, we break down where we want all that extra to go (homeschool, conferences, vacation, sports, home improvements, etc.). We find this to be helpful in making sure we don’t see money in our account, spend our money impulsively, and then not have money for things later that would have been greater blessings for our family. 
  • After we know where all the “extra” is going, we plug important set dates (visitors, VBS, meetings, etc.) into our calendar.  Once we know what dates are taken, we begin to work on putting potential dates into our calendar for the new year.  We do this for things that might not happen if we aren’t intentional about planning ahead.  For our family that means we schedule two romantic weekend getaways for Bill and me, without the kids, one week-long family vacation, one long-weekend family vacation, conferences we’re interested in attending (which we determine after working out our extra finances), and finally, two personal retreats for each of us.  
  • Once the budget is done and the dates are all set (as much as we can) I go through each and every file folder to clean out what we no longer need.  If this didn’t happen each year, we could seriously buy a second house just to hold our paperwork.
  • I always find it helpful as a homeschool mom to re-evaluate my homeschool schedule to see if changes need to be made for the next semester.  This can include dropping, reworking, or adding a subject to better fit our needs, making changes for developmental changes in the children (one child may now be mobile who wasn’t at the beginning of the year, so I would schedule in activities more suitable for her needs; a nap may be dropped so I now have to find 1-2 hours of additional things for a child to do, etc.), or a circumstance change.  The biggest change we’re making for next semester is going to a four-day home schedule because of a co-op we’re involved in every Monday.  It wasn’t working for me to try to do school at home in addition to school at the church building on those days.  
  • And finally we continue with lots of habit training (taking time out to work on a specific habit using games, books, etc.) with the kids. This involves  mainly reminders about previously learned habits (hygiene, interrupting, obedience, etc.) and working on one or two new things  (potty training, cleaning, drinking from a real cup, etc.).  Though I attempt to reinforce all of this throughout the whole year (we don’t ever have a time we don’t expect obedience, for example), I find it difficult to take as much set-aside time for hardcore training on some of these during the school year, so work during breaks usually makes things run a little smoother when the new semester begins. 

Like I said, not very magical, but it has really helped us set up our home for more peace in the new year.  What do you all do?



Recipe Organization

Since we will be moving at the end of September into our new home, I have been working extra hard to try to organize a few more things so the move will be a bit easier.  The recent project I have almost completed is my recipes.  Recipe books are great, but who only has recipes around that are in a nice binding?  It seems that half of our family approved recipes are cut-outs from magazines, prints from the computer, or sheets of paper or note cards from friends.  Many are even just scratched down on whatever scrap I could find at the time.

When it comes to menu planning, my lack of recipe organization was one of my biggest hindrances.  I would spend too much time looking for that recipe that I knew was around here somewhere.  So with the help of other resources, I came up with a better system.

My first rule is that the recipe books I use a lot get to stay as is.  Everything else goes.  I started by buying a set of 3×5 note cards, tabs that are the same size, and a small storage box made for the note cards.  I then began tackling the stray recipes.  I took time out to write each recipe that was tried and true with our family on one of the note cards and then filed them behind the tabs under such categories as appetizers, breads, main dishes, etc.  I made the categories according to what worked best for me to find the recipe quickly.  A lot of the transferring to note cards happened during dinner prep.

After finishing all the “we know we love this” recipes, I actually went through my cook books and wrote down recipes that I use a lot.  This isn’t really necessary, but it has helped to save time trying to remember which book each entree is in.  Recipes I don’t use as often stay in the book.

For all the other recipes, I purchased a few full-size file folders and found a box that they would fit in.  I wrote “Recipes To Be Tried” on the outside of the box in a black permanent marker and labeled the file folders with the same categories I used on the 3×5 tabs.  Then I simply stuck all the rest of the loose pieces of paper under the appropriate category in the folders.  The box is not on public display but is in a closet.  I almost always pull it out when I am planning the menu each week.


Schedules–Part 6

It’s time for the final post on scheduling.  I will try to wrap up with a few more explanations of things that may not be clear.  If you look at my schedule, you’ll see that I have very few times for to-do’s throughout the day.  As I have previously stated, this is mainly because my children are more important than a perfectly cleaned, organized home, so there are few times I get to work on these things.  I have heard it said that the most important things to have ready for your family are food and clothes; therefore laundry, menu planning, and shopping are always my first priorities each week.  Once those are done, I begin to work down the list of other priorities, doing as much as I can.  Usually on the weekend, Bill and I will work together to finish up what was absolutely necessary.

After a little outing I nurse Ariana, and Liam has quiet time.  This is comprised of him sitting on the couch listening to a Bible story C.D. and looking at the pictures in one of his Bibles.  He then has blanket time for 15 minutes (I set a timer so he knows when he can get up) where he gets to sit on his play mat and play with a toy he usually doesn’t get to play with.  I have heard of many people using this for their younger children while they are homeschooling.  I then put a gate up to keep him in his room where he plays while I prepare lunch.  Ariana plays in her crib during this time.

After lunch, we all take a nap.  Yep, me too!  Because of my early morning start, I need this power nap to make it through the rest of the day.  It’s amazing what 15-30 minutes can do.  When the kids get up, Liam and Ariana both eat and then Liam watches a video for 15 minutes.  We are very careful about the videos he gets to watch.  For instance, he never gets to watch something where the kids are always outsmarting the parents.  It’s a poor view of the Biblical family and can teach children to disrespect their parents and elders.

When Bill gets home, we have 15 minutes of couch time.  We sit and talk while Liam plays (usually with Ariana), and Liam is learning he is not to interrupt.  It’s important for our children to know Mommy and Daddy’s relationship comes first, so we feel this is a good way for us to catch up after a long day.

We have family worship (and family clean up) during the dinner hour.  We actually are revamping this a bit.  We are now teaching Liam songs that teach him about God (our favorites are songs from the Awesome God C.D. by Sovereign Grace), and Bill is teaching him Biblical truths.  Then we all play as a family and Bill reads to the kids (one of the most anticipated times of the day–it really is entertaining). 

After the kids are in bed, Bill and I read together (currently When I Don’t Desire God by John Piper) and pray.  Then it’s beddie-bye for us.  Yeah!

Hopefully, this has been of some use to some of you.  It was definitely helpful for me to evaluate once again why I do what I do throughout the day.  Again, I am always changing things to meet our needs at the time, and I am always open to suggestion from those much wiser than me.    

P.S.  Bill is still going to post his follow-up on humility.  He had to come home early yesterday (yes, our anniversary) and play nurse to me and babysitter to the kids since I was sick.  This has been one of those crazy weeks where nothing has gone as planned.  Can anyone relate? 😉 

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Schedules–Part 5

Before I continue my schedule series, I think it’s important to say again that a schedule should never be a source of pride.  Things can only be in order and get done by God’s grace.  Your schedule should also never cause legalism.  Many times when I don’t have a good day or if I decide to sleep in, I think I have failed and am no longer worthy of God’s love.  The truth is, I was never worthy of God’s love.  He chose me apart from all my own works so that I could never boast, and He chose me when I was spitting in His face with my sinfulness.  What’s more is that He bought me by sending His son, Jesus, who had never sinned, to take my sin upon Himself, and He faced the wrath I will never have to face–death and being separated from God.  His is true mercy.  Praise you, Lord Jesus!  It’s imperative to remember that truth in all we do if we have accepted God’s gift of salvation.  If you have not, I appeal to you to throw your burdens at the cross, make Christ and Christ only Lord of your life, and give your life in service to Him, glorifying Him in all you do.  It is the only way to true joy.

Having said that, I will continue explaining my schedule.  While Ariana is nursing in the morning, Liam “reads” books in bed for 30 minutes.  This gives him a little private play and gives me a little more time to get things ready.  When he is a little older, and especially when he moves out of the crib, I plan on having a clock in the room and telling him he can leave the room when the clock says 7-3-0.  If he leaves before this time, he will be disciplined.  It’s important he learns to play alone and learns patience.

Some things on my schedule after this don’t require explanation, so I will only touch on the things I feel should be explained.  MM stands for minimal maintenance.  This is time I can empty the dishwasher, make beds, do a general pick-up if needed, etc.  This usually doesn’t take very long and makes things less stressful later in the day. 

I’ll briefly define the next few activities below:
School Time–read books and work with learning toys (i.e. anything that teaches about ABC’s, numbers, colors, etc.)
Game Time–activities appropriate for his age that teach various things; my  favorite site for this is Fisher-Price 
Table Time–crafts or coloring; again one of my prefered sites is Fisher-Price , but I also use Crayola, Family Fun (this is also my absolute favorite magazine), and Wondertime (this is a good site that is just for young children–it also has ideas for activities)
Computer Time–There are a few sites with online games for toddlers where they basically only have to push a key to play; big surprise, but my favorite for this is Fisher-Price (can you tell I visit this site often?)
Circle Time–I don’t know why, but toddlers usually will sit still longer in a circle, so we make a circle with stuffed animals and learn a Bible story.  Liam probably doesn’t get most of what we do, but I would rather start too early instead of too late.  He likes it because we use a lot of music and play-acting.

Things rarely go as planned, but as I said before, I try not to stress about it and just pick up where we left off. 

There’s only one more post in my schedules series, so I would appreciate any more suggestions you all can give me.


Schedules–Part 4

I said earlier that I would take some time to explain parts of my schedule, so I’ll begin with the top.  Most of you were probably thinking, “4:00 in the morning?!”  Let me explain.  First, I am the most productive and joyful toward my family when I rise early.  It gives me plenty of time to spend with the Lord and get some energy before the kiddos wake up.  Second, Bill goes to work at 6, so in order to serve him by spending some time with him and helping him get out the door smoothly, I make sure I wake when he wakes.  For him, that’s 4:00 each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  The other days we don’t wake until 4:30, and sometimes if we feel we need the rest we sleep in on Saturdays; however, I will say that those sleep-in days usually feel a little yuckier because the day starts with a bang and seems more rushed and stressful. 

At 4:00, Bill runs and I prepare coffee, make his lunch, stretch to prepare for running, and read from the M’Cheyne Bible reading plan.  We are reading through For the Love of God by D.A. Carson as a family, and it uses the M’Cheyne plan which means 2-3 chapters of private reading daily.  Then it’s off to the track for me (or rather parking lot).  I just began running a couple of weeks ago using the Cool Running plan one of my friends recommended to me.  Until I began this, I had never been able to run very long without wanting to quit.  I h-a-t-e-d it.  I have loved using this interval training plan, though, and actually look forward to running each morning.  I’m up to running 9 minutes each day and have already lost weight.  Yeah! 

Then I come in for Bible study and prayer.  It may seem a little strange that I have my quiet time so broken down, but I love to study too much and tend to leave out other important aspects that strengthen my spiritual life if I don’t limit some things.  I begin with an Inductive Bible Study (I’m currently working through Matthew), then I read a devotional (right now that’s Life As a Vapor by John Piper), and then I read a commentary (Genesis by Bruce K. Waltke).  I find it helpful to do my own study (the Inductive Study) and then learn from others (the commentaries and devotions or something like that). 

Next, and this is the most important, is prayer time.  This is the part I will skip for the sake of study if I’m not careful, but this is the part that most reminds me I can do nothing apart from God’s grace.  I like to use The Valley of Vision (a cross-centered book of Puritan prayers) as a guide , not a substitute, for prayer time.  I journal after that which usually is just a couple of lines about what impacted me that morning and what I most want to meditate on that day.  I then write that meditation at the top of my planner page and take a couple of minutes to plan for the day and prioritize what needs to be done.  Most of this has already been done because Bill and I put our calendars together each Sunday and plug in activities and to-do’s for each day that week.

Finally, it’s shower time, and I’m ready to see my babies.  


Schedules–Part 3

Now that we have spent some time evaluating our priorities and praying, it’s time to plug activities into a schedule.  Again, you can use my worksheet if you wish.  You want to begin with things that can’t move (i.e. church, school, work, etc.), then move on to your priorities.  You want to plug your highest priorities in first, then work down the list.  Use whatever time you have left to put in additional activities.

Once you have completed your schedule, pray over it and then take it to your spouse or someone you really trust to get their opinion.  One time when I did this, Bill felt like I had not made ample time for him and was trying to fit too much into one week.  His wisdom helped me cut back and make him more of a priority.

As promised, here is my daily schedule.  This schedule basically stays the same from day to day with a few exceptions such as church, community group, family day (every Friday b/c Bill gets home early), and a weekly date with my honey.  I’ll begin to explain some of it today and continue in the future.  I want to say first that most of my day before Bill gets home revolves around the kids.  The reason is that if my schedule revolved around me and what I “need” to get done, it would look something like this: read (let Liam play by himself), clean (let Liam play by himself), exercise (stick Liam and Ariana in the stroller), talk on the phone (let Liam play by himself), etc.  Get the point?  The fact is, my greatest ministry and priority right now besides pursuing godliness and being a loving wife is to be a loving mommy who points my children to Christ.  A clean home, my social life, even my physical health all come after that mission.  And the fact is, I only get a few short years with them.  Bill also helped me realize that.  So my day is filled with a lot of activity with Liam, especially since I am his only playmate.  At this age, Ariana still spends most of her day eating and sleeping.

Many people don’t use a set schedule with allotted times.  Instead, they make a list of what needs to get done each day and begin with the top priority.  There is much wisdom in doing this, and I would advise it for many people.  I keep a fairly rigid schedule for 2 reasons.  1) I feel that children need a set routine each day.  It keeps expectations clear and helps with many discipline issues.  We say “time” at the end of almost every activity (i.e. blanket time) so Liam knows we are changing activities and what’s coming up next.  He now knows his schedule so well that he will go to the next activity without me saying anything.  2) I can be lazy and irresponsible if I don’t have a detailed schedule to follow.  A set schedule keeps me more productive than a list because with a list I will say, “Oh, that can wait until tomorrow.”  A set schedule leaves me with no options (especially when your child is holding you accountable).  The constant change in pace also keeps things interesting for Liam and me.

The last thing I want to say is that I rarely follow the schedule perfectly, and that’s O.K.  When you have children (or if you don’t), things hardly ever go as planned.  There are always mishaps or activities that take longer than planned.  I said above that the schedule is rigid, but I am flexible in keeping with it.  If something happens to throw our schedule off, I just make quick adjustments and pick up where we left off.  You must continually search your heart in this area because a schedule can become a quick source of pride, thinking that things are going smoothly because of your planning.  When my schedule is off (and it always is), I try to laugh and be reminded of what a weak creature I really am apart from God’s grace. 

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Schedules–Part 2

As Bill, my earthly treasure after God, said last week, he made time for me to go on a retreat for seven whole hours.  Some of you may be thinking, “Big deal.  Seven hours isn’t much time.”  But if you are saying that you probably are not a stay-at-home-mom with small children.  Five minutes away is glorious if you are.  It was an amazing, refreshing, and convicting time. 

Lately, I have been very discouraged about being a mommy because it stops me from doing what I want to do.  I was becoming so selfish that I knew I needed some time to get away without emotions being an obstacle.  So, I left and went to a park, Books a Million, and Panera Bread bringing along a reflection written by Carolyn Mahaney with me .  You can see the reflection here

You may be wondering what this has to do with schedules, but it is the most important part–reflection and prayer.  See, before you can make the “perfect” schedule, you must pray for God’s grace and evaluate your priorities.  You need to see where you are with these priorities in your season of life and pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal areas that need improvement.  Carolyn breaks your priorities into seven catagories:  growing in personal holiness, serving in the church, fellowshiping with believers, evangelizing unbelievers, loving my family, attending to my work, and caring for my physical health.

Once you have spent this time with the Lord, you can begin to make a plan.  I would encourage you to make a chart (you can use mine if you would like) and write down how you would like to spend time with each priority daily, weekly, and monthly.  I got this idea from my “Redeeming the Time” class in Seminary Wives Institute (SWI) at Southern Seminary, though their priorities are slightly different:  the Lord, husband, children, yourself, church family, and others.  You can catagorize your priorities however you wish and add whatever you like.     

The next step–spend more time praying over these priorities, asking that the Holy Spirit would give you wisdom and show you more ways to prioritize your life.  Then and only then will you be ready to begin putting activities into specific time slots.

More to come next week…Sorry, because of the pause, I won’t get my schedule up until then.