HS #277 Keeping the Spark in Dreary, Depressing Indoor Days with Jessica Smartt
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This episode features Jessica herself! Jessica is a wife and a homeschooling mom to three who lives in beautiful North Carolina. She’s the author of Memory-Making Mom and her most recent book, Let Them Be Kids. Jessica loves to encourage parents to be present in making memories with their kids.
Hello and welcome back to another installment of the Homeschool Solutions Show. My name is Wendy Speake, and I am one of the many hosts we have here on the podcast. Each week you'll hear from one of us inviting one of our friends to join for a conversation about this busy blessed season as we educate our children at home.
Now, the title of this show is Homeschool Solutions. While we don't have the answer to every question, we know that all the solutions to every stress and every struggle can be found in the Person and presence of Jesus Christ and His living and active and applicable Word.
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And now, on to today’s show.
Hi everybody, this is Jessica Smartt, and I am talking about how to keep the spark alive in dreary, depressing, indoor days. And boy, have we had a lot of those. It feels like this whole year has been kind of fighting to keep the spark alive, and so I have some really practical tips for you today.
This is my first solo show. So, feels a little bit like I'm not wearing clothing to a meeting or something, like somethings missing. But we'll see how it goes. You can find me online at Smartter Each Day. Smartter has two T's. And on Instagram, I'm @Jessica.Smartt, with two T's. And my two books are Memory Making Mom, Building Traditions That Breathe Life Into Your Home, and then Let The Be Kids. And there's a lot in those books that overlap with what I'm speaking about. In Memory Making Mom, I actually have a whole chapter on sickness. And the funny thing about this podcast is, I jotted down the title of, you know, the idea of fighting dreary, inside, quarantine kind of ideas, and about a week later my husband called and, this is just true fashion for my very laid-back husband, chatted for about thirty minutes. And then said, so I wanted to tell you I'm not feeling very good. And he's said that all of one time in our marriage, which was then. And I said, well, what's hurting? And he said, well, I just feel, like, really achy, and my lungs kind of hurt.
So, obviously, you know this is 2021. We're recording this in COVID-19 history time, so I sent him, you know, go to urgent care. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Go directly to urgent care. And sure enough, he has the coronavirus. And a few days later we tested the kids and they were also all positive, although they are just doing fine. And you wouldn't hardly even know. So, I'm kinda the last man standing. Or maybe have already had it. I'm kinda crossing my fingers on that, but the point of that is, I was laughing to myself because, you know, I obviously have been kinda living some of this stuff very knee-deep in it. And I know so many of us are experiencing that, whether it's just the normal dreary of weather, you know, winter weather, or feeling, you know, you have to quarantine for this reason or that, or just kind of feeling a little bit depressed this time of year. There's so much going on, and so it can be really difficult to plunge on and have, you know, a good attitude and not all get burned out and bored.
And so that's what I'm trying to offer some tips for. So, without any further ado, I'm going to get started. And I want to share, this first thing is not really very practical. It's more abstract, I guess. But I walked through a time this fall where I was really struggling with anxiety, and that's something that I've had kind of on and off. But in speaking to the counselor that I've used on and off over the last ten years, he had some, what I thought was really good advice, and he kind of asked me, you know, how long does the anxiety flare usually last? And I kind of gave him an idea and he said, well, you know, I'm not going to be able to give you any magic fix, but I think a lot of it is just, you said that, you know, time in your mind and you know that there is going to be an end, and then there are a lot of little tiny things that will probably help you along the way.
And so, in a way, it's just a very day to day, making it through the day and finding those little things that help a very little bit. And so, that's kind of what we're talking about, I think, like, there's not a perfect cure for, other than no COVID-19 and summer in heaven, you know? So, we just kind of step further, one step in the right direction, and maybe one of these little things will be a help.
But the first thing I wanted to say was, when I was a teacher at a Christian school before I was a mom, the head minister had a policy in place for what he called mental sick days. And I thought it was so brilliant. You know, we have physical sick days, but he actually gave us permission to say if you aren't, if you're just in a bad spot, you can take a mental health day. And I think as homeschooling moms, maybe we need to give ourselves permission to do that. And in the past, I've done different things. I don't think I actually gave it that wording, but there have been days where I have actually just cleaned the house, and I felt a lot better at the end of that. And I know that's not everyone's personality type. Maybe there are days when you need rest and quiet for a minute. And I'm going to speak for a second about how I think you could try to get some of that with kids underfoot, but maybe there are days where you need to plan and you're kind of getting backed up with planning. And so, I think giving ourselves permission to break up the routine and take a day off, especially if you're the type A who doesn't, is okay, and you can take a mental health day.
So, I always do a planning day in January and I usually go to Panera and take my Bible and my journal and my schedule and, you know, everything. And it really, I love that time.
But this year, for a number of reasons, that was not going to be in the cards. So, I thought, how am I going to get some of this planning done that I need to mid-year? And what I ended up doing, now my kids are, I have two boys who are eleven and nine, and then I have a daughter who is six. And so, they are, we're really approaching this stage where they are getting a little bit more independence. And my daughter's kind of a little mommy-type, so that helps, that, you know she's not the wild card that the other two were at age six, if you get what I mean?
But anyway, I sat them down and I said guys, I'm going to do some planning and I need to concentrate in my room. And so, you guys are in charge today. And they just were so excited. It was just like, these lights came into their faces. Obviously, you know, take this with a grain of salt, like, I had the door cracked open and my husband was in and out. But I kinda let them...I said you're going to make breakfast. That was just a little bit scary. But we've kind of been building up to that, so they have a little bit of independence in the kitchen, and make breakfast and lunch, and again also lunch, like we kinda had like the grab and go system, so that's always, that's already been in place. But I kind of let ‘em do their thing. I told them they had an hour of watching a show that they had to do, you know I listed out some chores. I gave them some suggestions. And I put them in charge.
And it actually ended up working out pretty well. It's a long, maybe about 1:30, I did have to actually step in and, you know, really do some hardcore moderating, but I got a good couple hours of it. So, there's always an idea that you could try. And if you have a little one who's napping, maybe you could kind of give him, you know, two hours in charge kind of thing. So, who knows? Hopefully, that is a, not a terribly dangerous idea to try in your own house, but one thing we did on that day is, I gave them a Chopped Junior challenge. My kids love watching Chopped Junior, and so I did a little bit of legwork the day before and picked out three ingredients for each of them that kinda went together and put em in bags. And, I've heard people say you could do this during, like, as a family activity at night. I did end up bringing, at that point I had my calendar and my Bible and I did actually kind of sit in the kitchen just so it didn't actually get burned to the ground.
But they, my oldest, said that was some of the most fun he has ever had, which I was so surprised to hear. But I gave em their ingredients and they, we had some real interesting concoctions. The winner, actually, was scrambled eggs, guacamole, and green beans, was the surprising add there, but, honestly, the green beans were good. That's what I'm going to say. So, it worked out.
But anyway, a Chopped Junior challenge is my first idea, and there's actually a couple different websites online where you can get some ideas for things to put in the baskets. And you could certainly do, everyone has the same ingredients. I did different, just to mix it up, but. Anyway, so there is an idea to kind of bring some spark and a little twist on that that I know my sister does is, on an easier scale, is to do, like, a cookie decorating challenge and give them the supplies, and then you could kind of have, like, send pictures to family members to have them vote, or post them online, or just Mom and Dad vote for the best decorated cookie. So, there is a twist for younger ages.
So, my next idea was, you know, a lot of times when we're experiencing the doldrums and just feeling that sense of boredom in our house, what we're longing for is a change of scenery. But what I've realized is you can have newness in different ways. So, you may not be able to leave your house or, you know, you're going to the same places. You can't go on a vacation or really get out of your rut. But there are other ways to have new experiences, and I thought of it in terms of the different senses. So, new taste. Okay, so you could have a really special dinner or a really special breakfast. If your family is a, we can't do takeout because we have food allergies, but if you can do that, you know, and kind of make it special, maybe decorate the table or set everything out and eat it on the floor, like, that's just a way of kind of tricking yourself into feeling like you're in a different place.
And I've heard a lot of different people do eating across different countries or cuisines. And we just got a book in the library that had a recipe for every different state, which we're looking forward to trying. So, things along that line, where you're kind of all experiencing something new but not leaving your home. So, you could obviously experiment with different smells.
We have oils. I grew up and my mom had cinnamon sticks on the stove. And if you haven't done that, you know, it's just kind of a different way to make home feel cozy. So, for, and along those lines, I love the people who leave up the Christmas lights all year. And I told my kids that, with this quarantine, we were going to go get our Christmas lights out and put them back up on the walls. So that's another way to just make it a cozier home.
So, for your touch, one thing that, and this sounds kind of crazy, but my kids have always loved, is, if I'm just really desperate, I clean out the bathtub because it probably hasn't been cleaned out in a while. I dry it out. And then they dump all of their stuffed animals and pillows and blankets in there for kind of like a stuffed animal sensory bath. And it's a big hoot. I mean, it usually can, with two boys, get a little bit rowdy. So, then I have to do, like, your individual bath time. But it's really hilarious. So, there's one for touch. Water beads. If you don't have some on hand, they are, like, one million for about twelve dollars, so it's a great bargain because you have a lifetime supply. And those are super fun for almost any age.
You know, sounds cliche, but building a fort. My kids just built a fort that went from the, basically covered the whole upstairs. So, they had it going through the hallways and all that and it's just as, a giant fire hazard. But you know, good old-fashioned fort. And maybe letting em do things that they don't normally, do you know? Use all the couch cushions or take special fluffy bank blanket or, I don't know.
And lastly, okay, if you get super desperate, it's not a bad time to get a pet. And what I mean is, like, go get a hermit crab, get a lizard, get a hamster, even a fish can brighten a dreary day or two. So, there's that.
And then, for see, my mom reminded me how much fun kids have when the furniture is rearranged. So in the living room, and I remember that as a kid, it honestly felt like you were in a new house.
It was such a big exciting day. Or rearranging their rooms, you know, just moving it around and getting a different feel. And then, as a plus, you also get to see all of the stuff that's underneath the couch or in the cushions and there's always a lot of like exciting reunions or treasure finds there. So, there you go.
And let's see. I think exploring a new show together. I wanted to share a couple of ours. I had mentioned Chopped Junior and Master Chef Junior. I love those because I feel my kids enacting that kind of play when they're done. They'll go play Master Chef with, outside with sticks and leaves and make little dishes. Or they'll use the pretend food even. And this is even my older kids. I'm honestly surprised. Or as I said, with real food, they, I find them wanting to create so that's why I feel like it's a valuable kind of show.
And then we've done American Ninja Warrior and that is along the same lines. They've done a lot of, oh, guys, they've designed some courses around our house and we just start kind of letting that happen because we're in quarantine. We've, you know, outlawed a couple of things. I saw someone standing on the door handles. Like, climbing over the top of the door. So that one seemed a little much, but they've come up with some very exciting courses and they time each other.
And the last thing I wanted to recommend was, if you haven't watched the Dude Perfect documentary and your kids are into Dude Perfect, it's about an hour and a half long and it is really awesome. It talks a lot about their faith and just their beginning journey. Kinda some inside peaks and it's really kind of good to watch as a family. So that's just...then there's also the Great Amazing Race, which, disclaimer, I've not watched. But I've heard really good things about that for a family, so.
Okay, so my next one is to have a sleepover together in a new spot. Obviously, the parents could join if they wanted to, or you could just, like, let the kids all have a sleepover together in one room, if they don't always together or downstairs in the living room or in the basement or something like that, And also, we have, at a desperate time set up the tent upstairs somewhere. And that's a huge win as well. So definitely buys you a couple of hours. And you could sleep in that, you know, have a kids camp out, Father-Son camp out.
So, the next thing I wanted to tell you was a game that I made up during the very early stages of quarantine. You know, back when we thought it was going to be like, two weeks in March, and it was a game called FaceTime Race Time. So, you get with another family that you get along with and, you know, the kids are friends. And I just kind of came up with a little indoor scavenger hunt kind of list. So, I would say okay, ready, set, go. First person to find something red. And then each family runs and grabs something red. And you can either have the winner be the first one or you can say like the most creative items. So, I just honestly, I think I Googled, like, an indoor scavenger hunt list and FaceTime/RaceTime is a beloved activity for us and some of our friends. So, there you go.
The next one is an escape room. You can download, I'm going to link it in the show notes, but there's an escape room that you can do as a family. You can create the whole scene as a, you know, for your kids. Like, decorate and all that. We actually didn't do that because we picked it spur of the moment when our New Year's Eve plans got cancelled and there's a way to play it online. There is a charge for it, the one that we did. There may be others that are free, but it was excellent. It was really neat.
You print off the papers and then kind of work through the puzzles together. So that was, I would highly recommend that.
So, the next one is, okay, you can plan your vacation or plan your garden because hope is so powerful in brightening things. And, or maybe even, like, a birthday party or a special trip that, you know, Mother daughter, summer trip kind of thing. Or a birthday party that's coming up. And I just think that is a very powerful thing to lift the mood, even if, dare I say, the event doesn't ever come to pass. You can brainstorm and dream and look online and say where would we want to go? And if we traveled across the country, where we want to go? And give somebody the project of doing that in an afternoon.
So, my next one is actually to go on a vacation. You know, just head South, and I realize that that sounds flippant, and unrealistic, but I think that there are times when things get so desperate that you just have to do what you have to do. And why not? Just throw everyone in the car and drive to warm weather. I know everyone can't do that, for a lot of different reasons, but if you could. We are fortunate to have a camper. We had been saving for years and years and were able to buy a used camper and so we actually haven't in quarantine yet, but we have talked a lot about, you know, let's just go get the camper and go somewhere on the weekends where we just think we can't take it anymore. So, you know, you could always get a cheap hotel or a, you know, or Airbnb or something like that, and actually go South.
My last idea is to create blessing bags. And I have a link for that on my website. You can also find it other places online. But what a great idea to, if anything can get you out of a rut, it's focusing on someone else. And so, this is something we love to do in winter and then also in the summer.
And I'll pick up some things at the Dollar Store that you could pass on to someone experiencing homelessness. Or, you know, just, that you might see along the road. And so, I'll swap it out.
You know, we'll have some for the summer and then some for the winter with is different supplies.
So, creating that together and I always like to write a card with a phone number of a homeless shelter or crisis center that people could hopefully, be able to find, or directions to there, that they would be able to access that so.
So, there are some ideas for ya, and I'd love to hear some of yours as well. All of these ideas that I mentioned are linked in my blog post, which is in the show notes. If you want links to anything that I said, and I've kind of summarized that. So, you'll find the links there. And as I said, there are some awesome, a lot of these things are mentioned in my Let Them Be Kids, and Memory Making Mom, and, you know, reading a good book is a great way to escape as well, so I hope that you and your family are doing all right, and it's been a pleasure to be with you today. Blessings today and enjoy your family. Go make some memories.
Thank you for joining us this week on the Homeschool Solutions Show. As always, you can find show notes and links to all the resources mentioned at homeschooling.com. I hope you'll take a moment to subscribe to the podcast, and if it was especially meaningful to you, share it with your friends via email or social media. This is just another way we can all encourage and love and support one another.
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