Apr 18, 2014

{this moment: haircut}

Inspired by SouleMama

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savour and remember.

"If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves."
~ Maria Edgeworth ~

Wishing you an amazing weekend full of memorable moments!

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Apr 16, 2014

10 Sanity Savers While The Husband Is Away

10 Sanity Savers While Your Husband Is Away #parenting #tips

With my husband's new job he's out of town for a few nights twice month. At first I thought I was going to go crazy! How single moms and military wives do this all the time is beyond me... kudos to you ladies! After doing this routine for six months, I feel I have a grasp on what to do during these periods that my husband is away.

Plan your meals
I always plan my meals but when my husband is away, I try to plan really simple, easy to prepare suppers. If you have time, make a few "freezer meals" ahead of time. Making supper while you're solo parenting can be overwhelming, so make it as easy as possible for yourself.

Do the grocery shopping before he leaves
Stock your fridge and cupboards as much as possible prior to your husband's departure. Make sure you even have a supply of those necessities that you should require if someone gets sick (i.e. ginger ale, children's fever medication, sports drinks, etc.). Running errands with children is challenging enough as is, you'll want to keep such outings to a minimum. 

Get out of the house
This is especially important if you're a stay-at-home mom. You don't want to be cooped up all day, every day, and every night with your children. Take them to your community park, visit your local library, or take them out for ice cream. The change of scenery will do all of you good.

Make some plans
Prior to my husband's business trips, I try to plan some special activities for my girls. As I mentioned previously, it's important to get out of the house. It's always nice for you and your children to look forward to a play date with friends, a trip to the zoo, a movie night, or a sleepover at a grandparent's house. 

Planning craft activities is also a good idea. If the weather isn't cooperative, you'll be thankful you had the foresight to gather some supplies for a few art activities!

Get help
Make a list of who you can call on for help. Even if it's having Grandma watch the kids while you go out for coffee and pick up some groceries... you need a break! Let these individuals know ahead of time that you will be on your own and that you may call on them if you need assistance.

Enlist the help of older siblings
Pull out your loose change and pay them for their efforts if you have to! Older children can help with preparing dinner, cleaning, and can help occupy younger children. Prepare them for the prospect that you will be relying on them for help and put them to work!

Have some special toys in reserve
I know I've shared before how I have bins of toys for desperate occasions. These toys definitely come into the play rotation when my husband is out of town.

Drop the cleaning obsession
Even if you absolutely LOVE a clean house, this is not the time to obsess over it being spotless. Let go of some of your regular chores and conserve the energy for dealing with your children.

Take care of yourself
It may feel like there's no time to take care of yourself but this is critical. When the children are sleeping, do some Yoga, take a hot bath, sip some tea, and/or read a book. Do what makes you feel happy.

Do what you love to do
Make a list of things you want to do while your hubby is away. Is there a romantic comedy he refuses to watch? Pop some corn and watch it without him! Dedicate time to a craft. Do some gardening. Look at this time as a blessing and when the children are not underfoot, do what you love to do.

Do you have any survival tips or sanity savers when your hubby is out of town? Please share them. 

I just read "10 Sanity Savers While The Husband is Away" by @DeliberateMom #parenting #tips

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Apr 14, 2014

Homeschooling Reflections

About Homeschooling Challenges and Reflections #homeschool #curriculum

As I indicated last week... I'm striving to become the deliberate mom I want to be. With those efforts, there is a lot of reflection and sometimes, the awful rut of self-condemnation. That being said, I ask that you read my honest reflection on homeschooling without judgement. I am hard enough on myself... trust me.

I stood over my daughter and the words came out of my mouth: "You are not doing anything else until you get this work done. Get. It. Done."

It didn't take long for the guilt to overwhelm me. I distanced myself. I walked away. I cried. 

Homeschooling is not what I expected to be
I had all these big plans. I had ideas. I had visions of a creative learning process. This is one of the reasons why we chose to homeschool! I may sound like a broken record here but I am becoming the teacher I was afraid my daughter would get if she did go to school.

The prospect of this frightened me. 

I am sacrificing my relationship with my daughter
I am sacrificing my relationship with my daughter by "teaching" her in this manner. I love my daughters with all my heart. It pains me to see that I am teaching in an unloving way.

Workbooks and worksheets
Why have we gone back to workbooks and worksheets? Last fall I swore them off. I thought they could be integrated sporadically and I decided they would not become "everything" we do. However, months later, worksheets have become everything we do. 

I have realized that the worksheets aren't for my daughter... they're for me. They are a confirmation that I'm "teaching" my daughter, that she is "learning", that we are getting the work done. She's not "learning" from the worksheets, she's answering without thinking. She's jumping through the prescribed hoops to get to the destination that I've determined.

An intervention
After spring break we returned to "school" and things fell apart. On the first day, while we were homeschooling, my youngest gave herself a haircut. On the second day, my youngest got into the junk food cupboard and filled her belly with candy and cookies (resulting in a late night puking session). On the third day my youngest dug around the cupboards again and gobbled down at least four candy canes.

Something had to change. I started thinking of the option of doing evening and weekend homeschooling. I started thinking of waking my oldest up at 7 (she's usually up at 830) so that we could get some homeschooling done earlier in the day.

We were so close to being done our Grade 1 curriculum! However, I was feeling convicted about the way I was teaching and the impact that it was having on our entire family. 

My youngest daughter's behaviour facilitated an indirect intervention. 

Every few weeks our homeschool association gathers and the children get to explore a project together. Meanwhile, the parents and some facilitators gather and discuss curriculum, challenges, etc. I ended up speaking with our own homeschool facilitator. She sympathetically listened to me and then she uttered the words I needed to hear. "You're done. You've done so much already. You're done."

I had to question... "Don't we have to do all the work and fill out all the sheets?"

"No Jennifer."

2+2= 4   and   3+1= 4   and   4+0= 4
I recently shared how I am working on letting go of control. I have been reading Karen Ehman's book, Let. It. Go. In the book, Karen shares a friend's wisdom: "There are many ways to get to the number four."

There are a variety of ways to teach my daughter the curriculum she needs to learn. I don't need to follow a textbook, we don't have to do it like someone else. We can arrive at the same outcome by a different route and by our own educational journey. Indeed, there are many ways to get to the number four.

Moving forward
The challenges, the reflection, and the reassurance has made me completely change the direction in which I want to proceed. Even though we're "done", I will be using a fully integrated, everyday learning approach for the rest of the "school year."

This past weekend I scrawled out pages of plans. I wove my own curriculum on the foundation of a gardening project and incorporated social studies, math, writing, reading, health, Bible, and art into the curriculum. This is what is natural for me! This is what I know.

So for the next little while we will be rolling up our sleeves and getting dirty. I can't wait!

I just read some honest reflections by @DeliberateMom on the challenges she's faced while #homeschooling

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Apr 12, 2014

Make Your Blog Stand Out

Tips to make YOUR blog stand out! #blogging #tips

First impressions count. Here are some tips on how to make your blog stand out from the rest.

Blog name and description
If you haven't selected a name for your blog or you're planning to rename your blog, make sure its name is clear and easy to recall.

The description should be simple. Who are you and what is your blog about? If you need help figuring this out, maybe you need to work on a strategic plan for your blog. Check out this post HERE for more information. 

Page load time
You need the opportunity to make that first impression count! Readers won't stick around if it takes a minute for your blog to load. I use Pingdom to test my page speed. They offer unlimited and FREE page speed tests on their website. Not convinced page load time is important? According the Akamai study published in 2009:
"47% of people expect webpages to load in less than 2 seconds and 40% of consumers will wait no more than 3 seconds for a web page to render before abandoning the site." 
Obviously web stores are different than blogs but this study shows how impatient we are... so make sure your website loads fast!

*Bonus tip: Sometimes an outdated widget will completely slow down your blog. Remove anything that is not working. Regular monitoring of your page speed will help you keep on top of potential issues.*

As nice as a blog logo is, a smiling face to associate the blog with is integral. Even if you hate to have your picture taken, this is key to a reader's first impression of your site! Most people want to see the face behind the blog... it makes it more personal.

*Bonus tip: Have the exact same profile picture on all of your social media sites. You want people to be able to easily identify you.*

If your blog doesn't have a logo, you should consider getting one. By pairing your logo with a consistent profile picture, you are building a strong, personable, and consistent impression of your blog. 

Brand your blog with a profile picture and a logo. #blogging tips

Clean design
A clean, uncluttered blog is essential. Your visitors should be able to find your search bar and additional pages easily.

Be intentional about your design. If you're using a template, spend time customizing your fonts and colours. Design a header with a pictures. Make it appealing and keep it simple.

If you participate in blog hops or monetization programs, consider placing the buttons for those on a page of their own rather than cluttering your sidebar. 

Speaking of clean design, consider how many ads you'll have on your site. Lots of ads doesn't necessarily mean more payout. I used to have 8 - 125 x 125 ads on my site. I didn't receive any money from them.

I dropped the eight smaller ads and placed 3 higher paying 300 x 250 ads. I have received regular payouts from the three ads. I also run advertisements along the bottom of every posting but those only appear on the post's page, not on the home page.

Something to note, too much "above the fold" advertising will be penalized by Google and can affect where your blog shows up in search results. If you're not sure of what "above the fold is" you can use this nifty little tool HERE.

I personally find an ad-heavy site is often too distracting to read.

Give your readers a snazzy headline picture for each post. If possible, include pictures throughout the post. *Warning: pictures should be of good quality. Most readers don't like fuzzy, out-of-focus, and/or poorly lit pictures.* 

404 Page
What does your 404 page look like? Many big companies have been jazzing up their 404 pages as an additional way to advertise and build relationships with their customers/readers. Why not do so too?

Screenshot of The Deliberate Mom's 404 page. Make your 404 page original. #blogging #tips
Screenshot of my 404 page

Since my blog is hosted on Blogger, I can't do too much to my 404 page but I can make it a little more interesting. Here's a Blogger tutorial on how to customize your Blogger 404 page.

Don't have it. If you want a song on a post, include it in a player or video that the reader has to click on in order for it to play.

Content is king! We hear it all the time. Think about the content you write and make your postings count. Also, make sure to highlight your more popular content (i.e. on a rotating header or in your sidebar).

Be authentic
You are one of a kind. Your story is yours alone. Your blog is a unique reflection of you. Don't try to emulate the big blogger that "made it"... be yourself. Your commitment to authenticity will be rewarded.

This is the last installment of my blog building series. However, this isn't all! After the Easter long weekend I will be back with more blogging-related posts. They may not be weekly like this series, but when they are published, they will appear only on Saturdays.

Now it's your turn. What do you think makes a blog stand out?

Come visit the @DeliberateMom for tips on how to make YOUR blog stand out! #blogging #tips

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Apr 11, 2014

{this moment: sisters}

Inspired by SouleMama

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savour and remember.

"If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves."
~ Maria Edgeworth ~

Wishing you an amazing weekend full of memorable moments!

PicMonkey Photo editing made of win
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Apr 9, 2014

Life In These Parts

Last week was spring break. Even though we homeschool, I like to schedule my daughter's holidays at the same time as the school system. It makes scheduling a lot easier (especially when your child is friends with children who attend a "brick and mortar"school).

We didn't do anything spectacular, which made the week particularly enchanting. We lived our week being with each other and engaging with our community. Here are some moments from our week together.

On the first morning of spring break, I brought out some canvases and watched as the girls painted with acrylics. They worked for such a long time on their paintings.

My oldest daughter wanted to do a clean up of our neighbourhood. So I bundled the girls up and we went outside for a walk to pick up trash. We gathered one full bag of litter from our community.

My youngest recently got a new pair of rubber boots. She has been wearing them often, even while riding a tricycle, through the living room, in her pajamas. She can now pedal the bike all by herself.

One morning, my oldest daughter told me she wanted to surprise me... "the queen of our house". She told me to stay in my room and to come down when she called me. She intermittently appeared to ask me things like, if I could help her and her sister get dressed in their fancy princess dresses. Then she showed up to ask me how long she should microwave chicken nuggets for and what do queens like to drink?

When it was finally time for the surprise to be revealed this was the scene I beheld. My daughters (the princesses) had made lunch for their "queen".

There's always something for us to learn and explore.

My oldest daughter has been working hard to sell her Girl Guide cookies. We went on a family walk, and knocked on doors, eagerly asking people to buy these yummy treats.

It was a lovely week. I find some comfort in our return to routine. School is back in session and our schedule is once again on track. However, the time off has reminded me to keep the whimsy, the joy, and the spontaneity of our spring break. The time off reminded me once again how learning happens through the little things of living life in your community and exploring our world with the ones you love.

Wishing you a lovely day.

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Apr 7, 2014

Becoming The Deliberate Mom That I Want To Be

My journey to become The Deliberate Mom that I want to be.

700 blog posts.

Yes today is a landmark. A milestone. A big round number.

Even though The Deliberate Mom is the title of my blog, it is not me 100% of the time. I don't walk around hearing songbirds and seeing beauty in every little thing my children do. I don't have all of our meals planned, our activities scheduled, and my cupboards in order.

I doubt my ability to homeschool, I question my approaches with guiding my children's behaviour, and I reflect on everything I do (and question it).

I have moments of brilliance and moments of utter devastation.

Sometimes I raise my voice. Sometimes I walk away from a conflict. Sometimes I go to the bathroom when I don't have to go... just so that I can cradle my face in my hands and cry.

I have learned that being a deliberate mom is not about perfection but rather intention. With prayerful intention we practice becoming. We practice a deep breath before speaking. We practice listening to the issues and navigating the conflict. We practice smiling even when we don't feel like it.

The practice is daily and some days are better than others.

I am not The Deliberate Mom... I am becoming The Deliberate Mom that I want to be.

Thank you for being on this journey with me... for reading, for encouraging, for loving and for praying. Thank you for commenting, for sharing, for being honest, for lifting me up, and for holding my hand.

You see, you're not just a reader... you are a friend. Whether you are a mom, a sister, a daughter, or a grandma, a dad, a brother, an uncle, or a grandpa... you are cherished. You are not one of several readers, you are you! The fact that the "no-one-like-you", "one-of-a-kind-you" wishes to read about my journey, means the world to me!

So thank you, with all of my heart. You are treasured.

"Being a deliberate mom is not about perfection but rather intention." @DeliberateMom #parenting

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Apr 5, 2014

10 Tips To Get Your Blog Posts Read

10 Tips To Get Your Blog Posts Read

I envision the internet being like the real estate market and this market is HOT! Everyone wants a piece of the pie. With the amount of "competition" to get your posts read what can you do to boost their visibility?

It all starts with a title

I know this sounds obvious but this is what's going to make people who aren't necessarily regular readers visit your post. Check out this fabulous posting to learn how to write great blog titles.

Flashy pictures

Whenever possible, include a picture with your posting. I use PicMonkey to edit most of my photos. I paid for the deluxe membership but I've gotten more than my money's worth out of this service. Sometimes words speak louder than graphics (like in this posting). Experiment and have fun designing pinnable images for your blog.

Visit other blogs

I know I mentioned this as one of my 9 Tips To Build Your Blogging Community posting, but visiting other blogs is critical! Plus the blogs you visit and comment on often return the favour!

Capitalize on keywords

When you write a post, do a little keyword analysis before publishing it. You want to use keywords that have higher search volume but lower competition. Have a couple keywords in your title and ensure they appear intermittently throughout your posting. I use a free service, Wordtracker, when I am doing keyword research.

*Bonus tip: Did you know that you can customize the permalink URL of your postings in Blogger? There are many benefits to creating a custom permalink. Read the next tip to find out more!*

Become familiar with SEO (search engine optimization)

If you're on Blogger there's a great posting over HERE on how to boost SEO for Blogger blogs. It's brilliant! I never knew prior to reading her post that it was possible to change the permalink URL on your postings! Once you know how to select keywords you could have 1 or 2 keywords in your blog title and an additional keyword can appear in your permalink.

Participate in link parties

I mentioned this last week but link parties are an awesome way to get your postings read. Select a few blog hops that you can regularly participate in and submit your posts every week. Here's a great overview on how to participate in link parties.  Stephanie's posting also provides a list of parties which occur on specific days of the week.

*Bonus tip: Sometimes link parties showcase a set of popular posts from the previous week. If your post is selected, you may get even more visitors to your blog.*

Showcase your content

While you've got someone reading your blog, why not keep them engaged with your content? There are several ways to do this too!
  • Have topic-based pages for your blog (i.e. have a page entitled recipes with all your recipe posts listed on the page). If your readers find a niche they're interested in, they may spend a significant amount of time reading through old content.
  • Create a related-links widget below your posts. This often entices your readers to check out similar content. I used to have the Linkwithin widget on my site but I was found that the widget wasn't all that intuitive. I was getting recipe recommendations on parenting postings, homeschool recommendations on DIY postings, etc. I removed Linkwithin and installed a custom code which works off of your blog post labels. I have been very happy with this custom widget (it takes a bit of fiddling with HTML but I promise if you follow the steps it's easy to do). If you're interested in installing it, you can check out the webpage I obtained the code from HERE.
  • Have a popular posts widget in your sidebar. I have mine set to the most popular posts in the past seven days, this way, fairly new content is regularly showcased.
  • When writing your posts, link to relevant postings (like I did in my third tip "Visit other blogs"). 
  • Have a search bar and place it above the fold of your page. This way your readers can easily seek out the content they are interested in.

Share your content and make it easy for others to share!

We often think of sharing our own content but we also need to make it easy for others to share our content too. The more that your content is shared, the more likely it will be read. This has been a work in progress for me, but right now more than ever, I am seeing my content being shared. I think the main reason for this is because I have made sharing a lot simpler for my readers.
  • The default Blogger sharing buttons are tiny! I removed these and I utilize AddThis as my content sharing "host". I love it because their buttons are big and simple. AddThis has built-in analytics as well. Every Sunday I receive an email highlighting how many shares, clicks, and follows I received on my content. I love it.  
  • My "tweetable link" has been outstanding for increasing the sharing of my posts. Ever since I installed it, tweets about my posts have increased by at least 600%. If you would like to install your own tweetable link, the step-by-step HTML code can be found HERE
  • Once again, make those pinnable pictures for your posts. Pinterest is huge right now... you want your content to be pinned. 
*Bonus tip: Every time you publish a new posting, update the signature in your blog's email to feature your last blog posting. Your email recipients may be intrigued by the title and click through to read the posting. An example is pictured below.*

Make it an easy read

It's critical to make your postings easy to read.
  • Numbered lists, headers, and short, simple paragraphs makes it easier for your readers to navigate your posts. Many people speed read when surfing the web... work with this and your readership will increase. 
  • Pay careful attention to your font size, font style, font colour, and formatting of paragraphs. Make your blog postings as accessible as possible to readers so that interacting with your content is pleasurable. 

Write, write, write (and be consistent with it)

You can't expect to write sporadically and have your readers follow along. Try to commit to posting at least three days a week. Be consistent and publish only on the days you decide upon (i.e. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday). It took me a while to realize that my postings on Sundays were rarely being read, so I dropped Sundays from my editorial calendar.

Also, when I started this blog building series, I informed my readers that I would be posting about this specific topic on Saturdays. I did this because:
  • I wanted those who were interested in the series to know when to expect the posts. 
  • I wanted my readers who were not interested in the blog building series to know when to expect this content. If the blog building posts appeared sporadically, I may lose my family/parenting readership. This way, they know up front, which day to not engage with my blog.
Would you add anything to this list of how to get your blog posts read? I would love to hear from you!

I just read 10 tips to get your blog posts read by @DeliberateMom! #blogging #tips

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Apr 4, 2014

{this moment: toddler style}

Inspired by SouleMama

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savour and remember.

"If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves."
~ Maria Edgeworth ~

Wishing you an amazing weekend full of memorable moments!

PicMonkey Photo editing made of win

Click Here To Read More