Ideas for you and your kids while it feels like summer but it’s colder, there’s no camp, and you can’t play with friends


As an extreme extrovert, staying at home for days-on-end is not typically something that sounds like a good time to me. But we’ve so far been making this coronavirus quarantine work. (I mean, I’m at the start of day four, so if you ask me again in a week, I might change my tune.) I’m curious for more ideas on things to do, so PLEASE share yours in the comments!

  • CRAFT A DAILY CHORES CHART OR SCHOOL SCHEDULE – Put your home craft supplies to work and have your kids make their own schedules (or do it for them if they’re too little).
  • TEACH YOUR KIDS TO TYPE AND WRITE – I’ve harped on how much our kids need to learn to type without doing a good job helping them along. My older two are enjoying typingclub.com – which is free – and they will be working on it during this “homeschool” break. My youngest needs to work on his handwriting, so I’m doing that with him. If you have ZERO teaching skills, you can still help a child learn to write letters.
  • MO WILLEMS DOODLE HOUR – When Greg sent me this link yesterday, I knew we’d tune in. At 1 p.m. Eastern every day, Mo Willems will be offering FREE online doodle drawing classes to the world. He will also be posting them on YouTube so you can watch at your leisure.
  • COOKING AND BAKING – Now is a great time to peruse your cookbooks, food magazines and the Internet for recipes you’ve forgotten about, always wanted to make, or want to teach your kids. It’s also a lot of fun to try to make things completely from your pantry if you just can’t get your hands on fresh items you might need. Here’s a list of baking substitutions that has saved me before.
  • FAMOUS MUSEUM TOURS – Want to watch something educational? A friend of mine asked for suggestions on Facebook and this was by far my favorite one (and we will be watching!)
  • THE MOST DANGEROUS WAYS TO SCHOOL – That same friend (thanks, Chelsea!) found this while searching Amazon Prime. What better way to educate our kids on how blessed they are to have access to great schools than to show them what it’s like for kids in other parts of the world?
  • CLEAN OUT TOYS, CLOTHES, AND BOOKS – Whenever I empty our bookshelf and ask the kids to go through it, the most amazing thing happens: they rediscover all sorts of books they haven’t read in a while. With many libraries closed, this is a great way to both clear out the old and get your kids reading. We also began cleaning out our playroom yesterday. My boys rediscovered their Magic Tracks.
  • ASK THE NEIGHBORS IF THE KIDS CAN HELP WITH SPRING CLEAN UP – If you have some rakes, your kids can stay six feet away from their elderly neighbors, make a few bucks, and help others.
  • GARDENING – Yesterday I went to a family-owned, local garden center and bought a few things for the kids and I to plant. Not only that, but if you can get your hands on some fruit or veggie seeds and starter kits (or you have tiny pots and soil), you can start growing them in your house near the window – now is the perfect time to start! You can buy almost anything you need online on Amazon.
  • CONNECT WITH ORGANIZATIONS THAT ARE FEEDING HUNGRY CHILDREN DURING THIS TIME – Check out these websites with your kids and find ways you can comfortably and safely help together.

Be sure to video chat with family and friends daily as well, because that helps with feeling connected to others. Now it’s your turn – send me more ideas!!!

Parenting lesson #35: We’re all hypocrites.


“Mom, where’s the whoop cream? I can’t find it!” rang out as the bathroom door swung open.

The voice in my head responded with, “Whyyyyyyy? Didn’t I JUST tell you I was going to use the bathroom and then come to the kitchen? You couldn’t wait another 30 seconds?”

But out of my mouth came, “Sweetie, it’s there, I’ll help you in just a minute.”

Hundreds of similar questions have rung out as my children have barged into the bathroom over the years. “I can’t find XYZ” is a top offense. So are interruptions about so-and-so not doing such-and-such, along with requests for screen time, food, candy and any other thing they think I might acquiesce to simply because I’m indisposed and want them to go away quickly.

This time, though, the real issue for me was not the interruption itself. Nor was it my impatient child. The real frustration in that moment was my befuddlement at why my son couldn’t see the “whoop cream.” It was in PLAIN SIGHT on the fridge shelf exactly where I had explained it would be.

>>>

Years ago, a friend of mine gave me a “pat the bunny” parody book called “pat the husband.” One of the pages details how the husband thinks there is a conspiracy to hide things from him. Then it instructs you to help him find the ketchup in the refrigerator, which is in plain view but also slightly hidden by the milk. I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is there more to this? Is there science to males not being able to see things that are clearly in front of them?”

The journalist in me took over and I was overcome by an insatiable need to find research that supported my theory. I wanted hard facts and was willing to go eight pages deep in Google search results to find what I knew had to be out there somewhere. My hypothesis: women can see things better than men can. If I had a nickel for every time I told a male in my household exactly where to find something, was told “It’s not there, I looked,” only to physically point out that it was indeed right where I said it would be, I’d … well, I’d probably have a dollar. Maybe even two.

My research validated my feelings rather quickly. It turns out that this has been studied, and *generally speaking* there is some evidence to back up that men can see movement at a distance better than women, while women can differentiate colors and items right in front of them better than men can.

Armed with my new evidence, I had every intention of sitting down and writing this blog post to prove my point, not necessarily to win, per se (which I love to do), but to help us all grow as parents who need to better understand that maybe our boys simply can’t see the things that are so obviously right in front of them.

A few hours after the “whoop cream” incident, it was I who couldn’t find something. I can’t even remember what it was because that’s what our memories do for us when we’re the ones in the wrong – they make our memories fuzzy. But what it was doesn’t matter much. I asked Zach to look for it for me because I was in a rush. And within seconds, he calmly said, “Mom, it’s right here.” And he pointed at it.

Right where I had already looked.

After a brief moment of us looking at each other and realizing what had just taken place, Zach laughed. I laughed. His ability to laugh with me instead of chastise me or point out the obvious was sheer beauty. But for me, there was another voice in my head that spoke gently. “This changes the blog post, doesn’t it?”

We are all hypocrites sometimes. My high horse slipped and I crashed to the ground, imagining myself covered in sweet, fluffy “whoop cream.” And it is in this place where you learn there is possibly nothing more humbling in life than parenting.

Parenting lesson #34: You are an expert in everything, and when you’re not, you’ll make stuff up.


Photo credit Carl Donohue

When you become a parent, you don’t realize you know all that you know until your kids start to do really unintelligent things and you have to teach them how to stay alive. It starts really young, as is evidenced by all the child-proofing we do to keep our infants from sticking their tiny fingers or other conductors into electrical sockets.

And once they can talk, our kids ask questions constantly, so we feel obligated to answer them. Some days, we can pat ourselves on the back for a job well done, amazed at all we were able to explain to our curious little humans. Gold stars all around.

Some days, we make stuff up.

And some days, we simply make up stuff. We do it to end the conversation, we do it because we’re afraid to not have all the answers, we do it to be funny, or we do it to prove a point, like I did last week. It began with the basic knowledge that leaving the lights on when they’re not in use wastes precious energy, costs money and compounds our global CO2 emissions issues. Despite sharing this knowledge with our kids at least 89 times (and knowledge IS power, right?), the information doesn’t seem to motivate action. This is when we as parents start to get creative.

I went upstairs to shut off the lights that I knew were inevitably left on by some children. Sure enough, two kids’ rooms had lights that were on, as well as the playroom, bathroom, and hall light. As I muttered to myself under my breath, “How many times do I have to tell them to turn their stinking lights off,” I headed back downstairs and began stage one of the lecture: the empty threat.

I’m going to make you pay.

“Guys, I just went upstairs and found your lights on aga– OH. MY. GOSH. I turned off that light before I went upstairs and it’s on AGAIN. Go turn it off! I’m going to start deducting a dollar from your bank account every single time I know you left on a light.” There it is. The mostly empty threat, because there’s NO WAY with all the other parenting responsibilities tied to getting in and out of the house that I’ll remember to do this in the moment. (Also, I’d like to point out that Greg is so tech savvy, he has trained Alexa to turn off all the lights in the house. But she’s only about 79% accurate.)

The second part of the lecture escalated pretty quickly into make stuff up territory:

“You know that leaving the lights on is killing the polar bears, right? I just want you to think that every time you leave a light on, you just killed a polar bear. Because that’s essentially what you’re doing. Stop killing the polar bears!!”

You just killed a polar bear.

Admittedly, it’s not the first time I’ve conjured images of cute little bears to try to get them to do something. The thing is, we will often try almost anything to get our kids to take our lessons to heart. We cajole, bribe, reward, manipulate, discipline, do-over, punish, threaten … am I missing anything? And when one method fails, we try another, and another, then another. The morning after the polar bear incident, I don’t think anyone left on any lights. It’s a small victory, but I’ll take it. And a few days later, my two oldest were brushing their teeth at the same time and one said to the other, “Stop killing the polar bears! You don’t need to turn on BOTH bathroom lights just to brush your teeth!” It warmed my heart. But this morning, after getting home, I found a bedroom light on. So often, change and habits need way more time than we want to give to materialize.

It is important to realize when to let things go as a parent. I have a lot to learn in this area, I’ll admit. But turning off the lights is important to me for many reasons. So when it’s important, those are the times we keep trying until something sticks. I also sometimes ask the the kids to come up with the solution – and it’s amazing how creative they can be! I actually told them I thought we could make it a family affair, and if the kids catch Greg or me leaving on a light, they could all have 10 minutes of screen time during the week. I think that has great promise.

When it’s important, we keep trying.

Or maybe next I’ll try heeding my own advice and have the kids practice turning off the lights when leaving a room 21 times in a row. But while that experiment worked for a brief period, I have to confess that it wore off quickly and shoes don’t usually make their ways into their baskets anymore. So I’m back to lecturing about shoes. Lights, shoes, doing homework, turning in homework, wet towels on the floor … I’m starting to feel like a professor with all the lectures I give. But I’m definitely mom. Just a mom who knows a little about a lot and when I don’t, I should probably learn to keep my mouth shut — or the boogey man might get me.

Parenting lesson # 37: When dealing with curve balls and change-ups, you have to roll with the pitches.


The Washington Nationals have made it to the World Series for the first time ever (arguably). Our region is abuzz with excitement, and even if you don’t care about baseball, hang with me while I compare parenting to the sport.

For example, baseball games can seem long. There can be lulls without anything exciting happening, and then – bam! – something changes the game, for better or for worse. And each batter has his own battle to fight against the pitchers, because batters generally face the starter, then a reliever, and maybe even a third hurler. And within each at-bat, it’s impossible to know whether a pitch will be a ball or a strike, nor if it will be a fastball, curve ball, change-up, slider, or some other pitch I don’t know the name of.

Like baseball, parenting throws these things at us that we don’t expect. But we have to keep coming to the plate. Sometimes, we strike out. Sometimes, we get lucky and get on base because of an error. Sometimes we help a “teammate” score by sacrificing ourselves. And sometimes, we hit it big – a grand slam.

Like baseball, parenting throws things at us we don’t like. But we have to keep coming to the plate.

This week has been a series of at-bats against pitchers who just came up from the minors, so I haven’t been sure what to expect. One of our kids has been sick for nine straight days, every day having a fever above 101. And every day it seemed like things were getting better, but then they worsened again. This child has been home from school for six straight days. We also traveled to Miami in the middle of it all for my brother-in-law’s wedding.

So much of parenting is finding a way in the stress of the moment – facing down the pitcher – to settle in, let go, and take what’s coming at us whether we like it or not. What we sacrifice is not a bunt or a pop fly, but it’s our plans, our desires, and most definitely, our money.

No judgment for anyone who typically buys gourmet food … we all have our things!

>>>>>

Allow me to introduce exhibit A. This is a $25 key lime pie. The first thought that probably comes to your mind is, “That sounds like a very expensive pie.” It was. And then maybe you wonder, “Who would spend that on a pie?” I would, and did, but wouldn’t under normal circumstances. This pie represents my change-up pitch from yesterday.

<<<<<

We managed to make a homemade key lime pie on Wednesday in preparation for Greg’s birthday. The sweetened condensed milk looked a little funny but I used it anyway, only to discover later that the two cans expired in 2011 and 2015. So after day eight of dealing with illness, I bought that pie on the way home from urgent care about 9 p.m. so we could have a small family celebration despite everything else. (As a side note, I’m slightly concerned someone’s trying to kill us, because we moved in 2017 and I cleaned everything out of my pantry that was expired. So if it’s you, I’m onto you … )

>>>>>

Exhibit B is my curveball from today. It is the $40 of Amoxicillin I just bought. “Don’t you have health insurance?” is, I’m guessing, your first question. Yes, I do, but insurance only pays for one prescription of a kind.

<<<<<

When your sick child gags on and cries about the meds, the pharmacy tries to add flavor to them to make them palatable. When the kid is still nearly vomiting from the flavor, you have a decision to make. The other pharmacy with the pink bubble gum Amoxicillin is 40 yards away, but you’ve already used insurance to fill the barf-inducing prescription. I imagined force-feeding 19 more doses, and the choice seemed obvious when I reminded myself this kid can’t afford to throw up any medicine, let alone calories.

Having kids is costly in every way. But we pay because the thrill of “getting on base” is worth it. Being able to play the game at all is a blessing. Scoring runs, winning games, making the play-offs – these are all analogies for watching the school performances, seeing your kid do something brave, and being blown away by a kind or selfless moment that reminds you why you work so hard in the first place.

Sure, parenting, like baseball, especially at times like these, can be tedious work. But you do the hard stuff for the love of the game.

Parenting lesson #26: The best toys often aren’t toys


Ethan’s “pirate ship.” Points for the words “poop” and “butt head” on the flag.

A month after the holiday gifts have been unwrapped, they remain strewn everywhere but where they should go – and for some of us, we can’t even figure out where that is.  I won’t even mention decluttering and how that sparks joy. And what are my kids playing with when I’ve said no to screens?  Bubble wrap.

For Christmas a few years ago, I created a “Wish List” on Amazon of things the grandparents could buy for the kids.  I was not surprised when no one bought the little broom set that included a hand brush and dustpan.  I purchased them instead, and once they arrived, the kids ran around the house in search of messes to clean.  I’m pretty sure that Eliza purposely knocked over an orchid so she could clean up the broken pot.

And later that week, a huge box arrived with pillow inserts in it.  The kids immediately wanted to hide in the box together and have me close them inside, only to pretend I couldn’t find them before “realizing” where they were.  The box was then turned into a fort in the living room where they played with couch pillows and throw blankets.

This winter, the kids have played with blankets and made forts, which is something they’ve been doing since they were old enough to run and it still hasn’t gotten old to them. They turned my scooter (that I use get around on one leg) into a race car, and turned trash into art.  It’s amazing how today, we find all these things we “must buy” for our kids that in generations past, didn’t exist.  It’s not only easier on your wallet, but imaginative play is good for their growth.

***

Things that crinkle, float and make noise can all be toys.

***

I am pretty sure that even for infants, there are so many toys meant to intrigue them.  But you don’t even need those.  When Eliza was about 6-months-old, she spent at least 5 minutes giggling at the scrunching sound we made with a bag of gummy bears.  You can turn chop sticks into drum sticks and walrus husks, and silverware into little people who talk to each other.  Things that crinkle, or are safe to throw down a set of stairs without breaking, or float in the air a little before falling to the ground are awesome.  My kids will play “keep the balloon off the ground” for long spurts without getting bored.

So before you toss that appliance box, or the bubble wrap inside, or even the styrofoam pieces that can be used as building blocks for a spaceship, have some free fun with your children.  Then warn them the night before trash collection that they are heading out the door.  I say, spark joy and then declutter. At least until the next package arrives.

Parenting lesson #41: You have to clean up your messes.


Being essentially bedridden (on the couch) with my injury, I’m amazed at how many messes my children make that they don’t clean up, especially when all three are home all day.  Have I not taught them how to clean up after themselves?  No, that’s definitely not it.  I’m certain I’ve shown them millions of times.  They.  Simply.  Don’t.

While sitting here in wonderment about the clean socks strewn all over the couch, I have stumbled upon this two-year-old piece I wrote called “You have to clean up your messes.”  And I am marveling at how much repetition is required for teaching young ones … as well as old ones.  One of the most cyclical parenting lessons is how our kids show us daily how little we know and how much we still haven’t mastered.  Because we are constantly learning and evolving and becoming.  Enjoy!

***

January, 2017

Last week, I had to teach Zach a lesson, and it was really painful for both of us.

I asked him if he could take out the trash for me.  I warned him it was heavy and he might not be able to get it up and into the can.  He came back in and said he did it.  I said, “Wow, you didn’t have any trouble?”  He said he didn’t.

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Late that night I was ready to go to bed but the dog had not returned to the door to come in.  Greg was out-of-town and it was 20 degrees.  I was not about to go looking for her.  I turned on the lights in the back; no sign of life.  I checked through the windows to make sure all the gates were closed.  They were.  Since she’s 14 ½-years-old and deaf, I couldn’t call her name and get her to come.  So I waited.  And waited.  Finally, I caught her right out the window, got her attention, and had her come in.

The next morning after I got the kids off to school, I looked out the dining room window and realized why I couldn’t find her.  She had been tearing apart the trash bag that Zach left outside next to the trash can.  There were vegetable and fruit skins, used tissues, and of course, the plastic wrap that had encased a now-consumed bag of rotten fish I had never gotten around to cooking.  (RIP, Abbey.  If you had one, your tombstone would say “stomach of steel.”)

I was fuming, not only because the dog had gotten to the trash, but because Zach had lied.  I decided to leave the mess for him to clean up.

We didn’t get home until just before dark that afternoon, and I told him he had to hurry.  In my unending graciousness, I decided to help him.  As he looked at the trash, he fussed and moaned and groaned and whined.  We got our large dust pan and broom and I began to help him.  As tears streamed down his face, he agonized, “This is SO DISGUSTING! I’m going to BARF!!!” Perhaps the worst part was that I had cleaned out their art supply caddy the day before when they were at school.  What that meant is I threw out some “priceless gems” without telling them (as we have ALL done).  As he choked back tears and bile, he also wondered aloud how I could get rid of his Frankenstein notepad without telling him, and why I would do such a horrible thing in the first place.

***

It’s these moments when doing the right thing can feel so wrong.

***

It was probably the worst 10 minutes of my week.  It made me feel bad about cleaning out their stuff, and it made me feel like I was a bad mom to make him clean up the mess.  It’s these moments when doing the right thing can feel so wrong.  Our kids are so good at making us feel like we’re bad parents when the opposite is true.  There are consequences to lying, and when you make a mess (or are responsible for one), you have to clean it up.  These are life lessons we must teach.  If we do these things for them, we’re doing them a disservice.  College is not the place to learn that your trash goes in the can, you have to put it there, and if you leave it out and a dog noses through it, you have to clean that up, too.

I’ve been called the worst mom in the world.  That happened a few days later when I made two of my three stay home with me for bickering while the other got to go out with friends who were visiting.  And I told my child, “When you say that to me, I know it means that I’m actually a good mom.”  And later that night, I got some of the best cuddles from that very same child.

Everybody lies sometimes.  And we all make messes.  The mess I had to clean was owning up to throwing out Zach’s prized art materials.  I apologized and he forgave me.

I did not promise not to do it in the future because I know I probably will.  If we kept everything the kids brought into this house, we’d be featured on “Hoarders.”  And so, as an adult, I’m capable of making that judgment about some items.  But I have learned, after many tears, that I should check about some items first and give the kids the chance to store things in their rooms if they truly cherish them.

I also know better now that if I’m going to secretly trash a Happy Meal toy, I’d better be the one who takes out the garbage.

***

Learning, growing … becoming.  I can’t wait to do more of these things in 2019!!!

Slowing down


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I’m so glad I got a pedicure

Me: “What are the odds that if I take my MRI and x-rays to another orthopedic surgeon that he’s going to tell me something different from what you’re telling me right now?”

Dr. Cooper: “Not a chance.”

Me: “Okay.  Can you do the surgery next week?  My parents are going to be here.”

Dr. Cooper: “I’ll call your bluff.”


Here I am, day seven of nearly 100.  On December 20th, I had major surgery on my right ankle.  I will be in casts for three months and unable to drive.  Let that sink in.  I can’t drive my kids to school, appointments, activities … nor myself to the grocery store, Costco or Home Goods.  I have crutches and a scooter so I can move from place to place.  For those who don’t know me, the appropriate response is a gasp, followed by a deer-in-the-headlights look of disbelief.  Thank you for your empathy.

As I try to wrap my brain around the “whats” and the “hows” of this winter – as it will truly be all winter – I also hear a still, small voice in the background that is excited.  This is going to be a teaching season for everyone in my family.  There is always a purpose for disappointment.  The kids are all going to have to do more around the house and less outside of it.  Greg, already blowing my mind with his servant’s heart, is going above and beyond and his patience and stamina are mind-blowing.  And me?  I’m going to have to learn to be still and let go.

As I face these months of slowing down and I allow my expectations to be molded into reality, I pray I will take the time to learn what God is teaching me, write about all that’s been on my heart, and heal an ankle that has ailed me since middle school.

I’m excited and reluctant, afraid and annoyed.  I’m sad that I won’t be able to ski or do any of the fun winter activities I love to do with the kids.  But I am determined to take advantage of this time.  And if anyone wants to hang out, you know where to find me.

I’m particularly interested in catching a ride to – well – anywhere, but especially Home Goods.

Gifts that give this holiday season


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Costco, August 21

As I entered Costco this summer and passed the beach towels and swim goggles at the door, I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw Christmas wrapping paper on sale.  I took a picture and sent it to my husband with the caption, “It’s August.”

It seems as though each year the stores we frequent are pressuring us earlier and earlier to remember that “consumption season” is coming.  Everywhere I turn, the message is clear:


BUY MORE THINGS YOU DON’T NEED TO SATISFY A PERCEIVED OBLIGATION THAT YOU SPEND MONEY YOU DON’T HAVE ON GIFTS THAT MUST BE EXCHANGED INSTEAD OF FREELY GIVEN.


No matter your beliefs or the holidays you celebrate, I imagine we can all admit that it’s easy to get wrapped up in unwrapping gifts.  I love a good gift as much as the next person, and if Greg were reading this, he would find out I would love a new espresso maker.  (Hint, hint, the one we have is broken.)  For me, it is so easy to forget that the reason I celebrate this season is the ultimate no-strings-attached-gift-ever – the gracious birth of the Savior of the World. If the meaning is different for you, I think we can agree our culture pressures us earlier and earlier each year to consume more.

I’ve wrestled with how to point my children to the giver of every good and perfect gift during this season, to make our faith the focus instead of an afterthought. We can all do better in this area.  Here are a few ideas:


  1. Do a gift exchange within your family so you buy a gift for one person instead of for many.

  2. Give small, homemade gifts to friends and neighbors such as baked treats, homemade body scrubs, or flavored simple syrups. Pinterest is a great place to go for ideas that are both from the heart and won’t break the bank.

  3. Focus on gifts of time instead of gifts of stuff. Buy your bestie concert tickets so you can go together, or museum passes.

  4. Look for gifts that give and serve the purpose of life-sustaining work to those in need. Some of my favorite companies are ABLE (livefashionable.com), 31 Bits (31bits.com), Purpose Jewelry (isanctuary.org/purpose-jewelry), Raven and Lily (ravenandlily.com) and Noonday Collection (noondaycollection.com).


But perhaps my favorite focus shift for the season is not in the gifts we give, but in daily Advent service projects.

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Years ago, my mom gave me an Advent calendar in the form of a house.  It has little drawers for treats that can be discovered each day in December leading up to Christmas.  I decided to include notes with an act of service my children could do (with help). When I started this, I had a four-year-old and a nearly three-year-old, so our first one included pretty simple tasks such as “go through your toys and find some to donate” and “give a friend who is sad a hug.”  Today, of the 24 drawers we open, those two acts still make an appearance.  But as the kids have grown, we’ve added age appropriate service items.


TO START YOUR OWN, HERE ARE SOME ADVENT CALENDARS:

VARIOUS GROUPON ADVENT CALENDARS – https://gr.pn/2Qwlfsw

AMAZON ADVENT TREE – https://amzn.to/2AQZb6d

TARGET ADVENT HOUSE – https://bit.ly/2Qs1LIN

ETSY ADVENT BAGS – https://etsy.me/2D7Ajc2


Around Thanksgiving, I come up with the list by looking at our calendar.  I look for days when service projects are already scheduled and include those.  Then, I think about the various activities we do annually and where they might fit best based on everything else that’s going on.  For the busiest days on our calendar, I choose activities that won’t take up a lot of time. Here are some examples from years past:

  1. Send Eliza to school with underpants and white shirts for the orphans in Kenya.
  2. Stack our cord of firewood so we can enjoy fires.
  3. Help mommy weed the garden.
  4. Pack six homeless bags to keep in the car so we can pass them out at traffic lights.
  5. Pack a basket of snacks and water bottles and set outside for delivery people.
  6. Go through your toys and games and pick at least three to give to Toys for Tots.
  7. Go through your books and pick at least three to give to Milk and Bookies.
  8. Choose a pair of your old shoes to donate for children in Sierra Leone.
  9. Go to Build-a-Bear, make bears, and put them in the donation bin at the store along with our other Toys for Tots donations.
  10. Build our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes and deliver to Samaritan’s Purse.
  11. Write letters to your teachers to thank them for all they do for you.
  12. Write thank you letters for all your coaches and music teachers for all they do.
  13. Write a letter to our Compassion International child and mail it to her.
  14. Bake cookies and deliver them to our neighbors.
  15. Pack backpacks for the kids in need at our local elementary school.
  16. Volunteer at A Wider Circle’s North Pole Holiday Program.
  17. Collect hats, mittens, gloves or scarves to donate to a local coat drive.
  18. Take a meal to a family with a new baby.
  19. Clean up all your messes in the house today without being asked.
  20. Make a care package for a college student we know who’s taking finals and mail it.
  21. Send a care package to each of the deployed military members we know.
  22. Shop for our Angel Tree selection and take it to church.
  23. Take some canned goods to Starbucks and donate them in the collection bin.
  24. Deliver Christmas treats to daddy’s co-workers.
  25. Make a casserole and deliver it to a local homeless shelter.
  26. Forgive someone who hurts your feelings today, even if the person isn’t sorry.
  27. Make your siblings feel special today.
  28. Spend the day with friends and be kind to them, putting them first.
  29. Visit a nursing home and make crafts with the residents.
  30. Deliver breakfast to firefighters or nurses in a hospital.
  31. Throw out a piece of trash you find outside.
  32. Take the dog for a walk and play with him in the yard.
  33. Bake a birthday cake for Jesus.

Of course, the list will continue to change over time as the children become teenagers and perhaps come up with ideas of their own.  They – now 10-, eight- and five-year-olds – receive a lot of gifts.  I do love the wonder of Christmas morning and of unwrapping gifts that have been carefully made or bought with each other in mind.  But it warms my heart every year when I pull out the Advent house and the kids get more excited about it than any other Christmas decoration.

May this Advent season be filled with the wonder of gifts well gifted and graciously received.

*****

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Treasure family dinners


Growing up, it was a rite of passage.  If someone could survive an “Elliott family dinner,” the person was okay in our book.

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What happened at these dinners?  We shared stories.  We made fun of each other, even berated each other, but in love: I don’t think any of us is in therapy because of them.  We all had the chance to laugh at my dad’s perfectionism and my mom’s quirks, as well as each others’.  My brothers and I played out movie scenes we memorized, all taking on different characters such as those in the “Coming to America” barber shop scenes. My older brother always had a quick-wit, and we laughed hard.  My younger brother was funny and a performer who kept us giggling.  I was simultaneously the most studious child in my family and the one with the least amount of common sense, asking stupid questions in an entirely unsafe environment where I paid dearly for it.  And the stories we share of these family dinners still get repeated over and over again when we are together.

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My own experience – along with scientific proof that family dinners are impactful – are reasons why having dinner together as a family is something I work hard to make happen.  To name a few benefits, family dinners help with health, brain growth, vocabulary and family relationships, as well as promote good behaviors and stave off bad ones.

If I haven’t lost you already, I’m hoping you’ll stick with me.  My husband travels a lot and my kids have activities some nights that make eating together impossible.  This means we currently eat together as a family about three nights a week.  On the nights we can eat together, I work to make these count.  Here are some things I’ve learned:

  1. I keep our meals simple.  It’s okay if family dinner is Chipotle.
  2. It makes me SO MUCH HAPPIER when everyone enjoys their food.  That means I make a lot of the same meals for the sake of peace.
  3. I make big pots of spaghetti, chili, soups and stews so I can freeze the leftovers for a night when Greg is traveling or to give to a family in need.
  4. When I had babies and toddlers, I gave them what we were serving as early as possible.  Once a child is about 1, there is very little he cannot eat if you cut it into small enough pieces.
  5. I used the Deceptively Delicious cookbook when the kids were younger to help get more fruits and vegetables in them.  I’ll write another blog about healthy eating strategies for toddlers – someday …
  6. Now that they’re older, I often serve raw vegetables or a salad as the side dish and let the kids pick the ones they like.  They eat vegetables and there’s no arguing, gagging or nose-holding.
  7. Everyone has to at least TRY all the food.
  8. If you don’t like it, we’re not making something else for you.  I have a friend who grew up in a family with six kids, and the alternative if you didn’t like dinner was a microwaved, scrambled egg.  (That sounds more disgusting to me as an adult than an asparagus and Brussels sprouts pie would have as a child.)  Come up with something that works for you if you are concerned your child might not eat.
  9. Though we don’t always remember to do it, we have a “thankfulness journal” where we write down something each of us is thankful for at dinner.  This is a favorite for everyone, but especially our most reserved child, who gets a chance to be thoughtful and heard over the louder two.
  10. Another conversation starter is the “roses and thorns” concept.  Everyone goes around and shares his or her rose (high) of the day and thorn (low) of the day.  I actually got that one from the Obamas!

IMG_4135When I prioritize an activity in our family life, I often ask myself, “Will I regret doing this or not doing this when I look back some day?”  And then I remember my childhood family dinners – which sometimes went very wrong – and how they make me smile.  My mom’s spaghetti, roasts, chicken and dumplings … these foods take me back.  And none of my family will allow me to forget the night the Domino’s commercial came on television announcing (in my defense, with buffalo flying through the sky, flapping wings) that it was now selling buffalo wings.  And I looked at everyone, and before I could process the question that came to my mind, I blurted out, “Wait – do buffalo wings come from real buffalo?”

I want my children to have their own “Elliott family dinner” memories.  And based on our meals so far, I’m sure they’ll have plenty to talk about when they’re older.

Parenting lesson #39: Put it in writing.


The struggle to pack school lunches is real.

Today is my oldest’s first day of school, and my other two will follow suit next week.  Planning, shopping for and packing healthy, appealing lunches for the kids are not my favorite hobbies.  In my dreams, I would pack them kale salads with tuna, quinoa crackers and homemade fruit roll ups.  But real life limitations such as time constraints and needing my kids to actually eat their lunches means that the basic sandwich, pre-packaged chips I buy in bulk from Costco, a fruit or veggie and a few Pepperidge Farm cookies are what they generally get (because fewer preservatives = healthy junk, right?).

And while the food I pack is the opposite of Pin-worthy, I must say that I love including lunchbox notes for my kids.  (As an aside, does anyone actually make shapes or animals out of their kids’ food?)

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Since I began packing lunches six years ago, I’ve been including little notes, and I’ve enjoyed writing to my kids ever since.  It’s like sending a little part of me to school with them.  For pre-K, the notes were pretty simple, as the teachers had to read them.  But as the kids have learned to read, I’ve made them more interesting.  When they need encouragement on a particular day, I can provide it.

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My process:

On Etsy, there are some really talented moms who make inexpensive templates you can download.  (Just search “lunchbox notes.”)  Then, print them out on card stock.  Last, cut them with a paper-cutter (or scissors) and voila! – you’re ready for lunch packing.  This morning I printed out my Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter-themed cards as well as a stockpile of everyday ones so I’m not scrambling to have cards ready to go (which is the bottleneck in this process).

One of my favorite shops no longer exists (boo!), but here is a link for @LemonSqueezeDesigns, where I have bought a few.

To make packing lunches easier this year, I also printed out a food chart that is specific to our family.  It took me about an hour of thinking and using other lists on Pinterest for help.  I posted it in my kitchen today.

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The bottom line: What I want my kids to remember about school lunches when they’re grown is not that we had fights about them not eating what I packed.  (If I’m being honest, the owl one above is for tomorrow, because Eliza came home today with a full lunchbox.  “Mom, everyone was talking!!!”)  What I want them to remember is that I shared a little piece of my love, my humor and myself with them when I took 30 seconds to write a note.