Stop Keeping Up

There is this idea I’ve noticed lately that we absolutely must be doing more things, particularly new things, with our kids in order to get them to learn.

We must always be creating new sensory experiences, new invitations to play, new craft ideas, for our little ones or we consider ourselves to be failing.

Can I be honest with you? You do not need to put so much pressure on yourself.

Really.

In our pre-internet parenting days, my husband and I kept things simple with our oldest daughter. We read to her. We coloured and drew with her. We played with play dough. We made snowmen. We dug in the sandbox. We arranged alphabet letters on the fridge. We went for walks. We climbed monkey bars and slid down slides. We played dress-up with funny hats and boas. We had tea parties. We played dolls. We cut with safety scissors. We picked out colours and shapes around us.

I didn’t concern myself with what other people were doing because we were doing what came naturally to us.

And you know what? Our daughter turned out fine. She’s an honour roll student. She’s a critical thinker. She’s creative.

We did much the same with her brother and sister when they came along. And they’re just as smart, just as creative, and just as good at thinking things through that she is, in their own unique ways.

I get bogged down some days with the overwhelming amount of ideas on Pinterest and Facebook. I actually have to take breaks from looking for more, I get so exhausted. I want to introduce all these amazing opportunities to learn to our toddler, that I sometimes forget to just do what comes naturally.

We can be that way with teaching our kids about the world around them, about discipline, and even about God.

We search and search for ways others have done things because we don’t have the confidence in the very abilities God has given us to raise our kids.

Yes, it is wise to look for resources when we don’t know. Or when we need encouragement. I believe God has gifted some very talented people for those purposes.

But when you find yourself in the comparison trap, when you find yourself overwhelmed, when you find yourself feeling like you just can’t keep up one moment longer, consider taking a break.

Grab some crayons and draw stick people. Crack open Dr. Seuss. Smush some play dough. Make sandcastles or snow angels.

Just because you can.

Setting Right Priorities

I admit it.

I am a list maker. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Lists are very helpful in keeping us organized, setting priorities, and staying on task. And some days, I just really need a list with crossed-off items on it to help me see that yes, today actually was a productive day.
Which is why on those days when I make my list, I include stuff on it that I’ve already done so I can cross them off immediately. And then have a cup of coffee.
Sometimes, though,  I get a little crazy about the priority setting. Sometimes I find myself making my lists the priority instead of allowing life to happen.
I’ve made it an unofficial rule of late that when my kids are home on a school break, my routines take a break, too. I don’t worry if my house isn’t tidied by 9:30, or if I haven’t showered before lunch. I want my kids to know that they are more important than whether or not the laundry is finished or the floors are swept. (Of course, this can backfire on me when I realize at 9:37 the night before small group that it’s my turn to host and the house is in complete shambles!)
I need to work on this, though, during the rest of the year. To remember that sometimes it is more important to cuddle with my little guy than it is to get the dishes done that exact moment. Or that checking Facebook can wait when my preteen needs to talk. I am still a work in progress!
I once wrote an article eons ago about setting priorities and putting first things first. I wish I still had it, but it was on my old old desktop that I thought we had backed up, only to find it didn’t save the things I actually wanted. (Not too long ago on Twitter, someone posted that it should be the new standard for being considered grown-up to actually save things to an external hard drive. To which all I can say is Amen.) While I can’t remember all the particulars, I do remember this:
In all our list making, priority setting actions, we need to make sure that we are including Jesus in every single item.
We have a tendency to rank things in order of importance. God first, family second, work third, etc. My argument with that is you can’t compartmentalize God. You can’t say He’s first without including Him in all the other things. Rather than saying God is first, it makes more sense to say above and in and through all these things, He is.
And maybe that’s the heart of knowing our true priorities. When we allow God to be central in our lives, He helps us to set aside the things that can wait and focus on what truly matters.
*****
Because I do enjoy a good list, check out my Organize Pinterest board, containing several that I really like. I also once designed my own list, but um, I lost that one on my old laptop, too. We really need to go shopping!
Linking up with Angie and Jen.

P.S. Remember when I mentioned that little tab up at the top of the page called “Joy(full) Knits”? You can go ahead and click it now for a preview. Or not. I’m not at all freaked out or anything!

Who doesn’t love a giant dice?

One of the teaching tools I really enjoyed using at preschool was a giant dice. Customized to fit the activity, a big dice can be useful to teach your little one not just counting and number sense, but can be used to encourage gross motor development, colour recognition,  and even as a conversation starter for small groups of kids (think Circle Time or Sunday School).

Since I don’t have Circle Time at home, I wracked my brains trying to figure out how to use a giant dice at home to engage the little mister. Last year I found a great physical activity dice idea where I drew a different gross motor skill on each side of the dice. Ty and L love it. I used short word directives, but I also (poorly) drew a picture on each side so even Ty can tell what action he should do!

I usually make my dice out of recycled cracker boxes, and last week I happened to have another one. This time I made a more traditional dice, with dots representing one to six on each side, but in different colours. I can use it for counting games with Ty, for colour scavenger hunts (we roll the dice, look for things all around the house that are that colour, and see how many we can find), or whatever else I can think of at the moment.  Since I really like making these (almost as much as I love knitting scarves!), I thought I’d share the instructions with you so you can make your own.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is only appropriate for toddlers/preschoolers. The big kids in my house are constantly playing with the giant dice. I just had a thought – doesn’t a life-sized board game outside in the summer sound fun?

What you need:

  • cracker box (I usually use a big Goldfish crackers one), or any box that can easily be made into a square. Or you could go buy a new tea kettle and keep that box, like I did on the weekend!)
  • utility knife (if your box is not square)
  • packing/duck tape
  • paper to cover the box
  • markers/crayons/bingo daubers or whatever you would like to decorate the outside
What you do:
  • (If you have a square box, skip to step 2.) Remove box flaps on top of box. Measure at each corner to a point that you will cut to to make new flaps (to make the box a cube). Draw a score line on each side from corner to corner to make folding easier; fold flaps down.

  • Fill box loosely with crumpled newspaper to make the dice roll evenly. Secure flaps closed with tape.
  • Cover box with paper (or paint). I also cover the edges of the box with tape, but that’s the perfectionist coming out in me. I don’t like the unfinished paper edges. You can skip that if you want.

  • Decorate box. If you’re simply putting dots on, bingo daubers work well, although you need to let one side dry before you flip it over to do the other side. I learned the hard way.

  • Have fun!
I’d love to know what activities you use your dice for if you make one. Feel free to email me or comment below!

Book Review:: The Fringe Hours

I’ll admit it. I chose to read this book because I really wanted some more time for myself.

As a mom of four, that’s practically a pipe dream. I mean, what mom truly has time to herself? Between the laundry and the cooking and the potty training accidents and the working and laundry and the requests for help with homework (did I mention laundry?), some days feel like I either need more hours or more me.

As it turns out, I really do have more time than I thought.

Jessica Turner’s book, The Fringe Hours, is a helpful tool to getting your priorities back on track. She tackles finding and maintaining balance, ridding yourself of guilt and comparison, ridding yourself of time wasters (or at least managing them) and learning to embrace the small pockets of time, a.k.a. the fringe hours, to invest in your own self-care.

I struggle a lot with the whole concept of investing in me. I feel rather selfish about it – I mean, I’m already pretty self-centered, is it even possible to think of myself more?

But as I continued to read about the value of making time for the things we love to do, I realized it wasn’t a selfish concept at all. Truly, when we take the time to do things we love to do, for however short a time, we finish feeling refreshed and ready to face that never dwindling pile of laundry with new energy.

The Fringe Hours has made me really analyze how I use those small moments in my day – and I was surprised by how many I actually have. It’s made me think about the things I do and whether they are life-giving or life-taking. And more importantly, in doing so I am able to begin to look at the have-to’s as things I get to do, because I am more able to be thankful for the mundane again.

I was provided with a free, digital copy of The Fringe Hours from Revell Publishers for my honest review. You can also join the (in)courage Bloom book club to check out what other readers are saying about this book.

On refreshing

I mentioned a few days ago I am currently reading the book, The Fringe Hours.

I’ll admit, at first I was mildly skeptical. It just seem so selfish of me to try and carve out more time for just me. I’m already pretty good at that.

But as I keep reading, I’m beginning to understand the heart of what she is saying. In order to have more to pour out on others, or even just enough, we have to be taking care of ourselves, spiritually, physically, and mentally.

So here’s the thing. I’m usually pretty good at carving out quiet time first thing in the morning for just me and God. And I’m usually pretty good at taking care of myself – you know eating properly and exercising (although I could probably eat a little less chocolate. Just keeping it real!).

But when it comes to how I spend the rest of my down time, I’ve realized that the things I am doing are more draining than life-giving.

I love to craft. I really do. A few months ago, I grabbed my hot glue gun, some sticks, and a couple of old votive holders and made the cutest little rustic candle holders ever to grace my piano top. It took me maybe a half an hour, but it rejuvenated me for days. I still smile when I look at them.

As a rule, however, I tend to spend my extra moments wasting time online, or playing the most annoying solitaire game on my iPad (I say annoying now because I am stuck on a level. When I’m winning, it’s not so annoying). Too much of this leaves me feeling drained and empty and unable to cope with daily stresses. Like a three year old melting down because yes, his big brother really does have to go to school and can’t stay home and play trains.

It’s causing me to step back and really evaluate how I am using my fringe hours. I usually avoid dragging out my scrapbook albums or my knitting or the book I am reading because I dread the interruptions, or I feel like I won’t get enough done to feel like I’ve accomplished something.

But I think I need to do just that. Not to selfishly wile away hours while neglecting my family or leaving chores undone. But to spend even just a few moments refreshing my spirit in ways that are meaningful to me.

I forget that sometimes those little things can be every bit as spiritual, because God created us with the desire to do them.

(instant)joy: pipe cleaner activity

As a mom of four one thing I really, really appreciate is activities and crafts that are easy to set up and easy to do. I’m all about simple in our house! But I also really like it when I can find something that literally takes seconds to throw together to keep the little mister busy for a few minutes while I get something done.

Like last night when I was baking cupcakes for Hannah’s birthday and he kept trying to steal them because I was also in the middle of making supper and he was hungry. Definitely a good time for an instant activity!

I’ve been wanting to introduce this one to Ty ever since he was a baby, so I was really glad to dig it out.

What you need:

  •  pipe cleaners in various colours, cut in half
  • colander

What you do:

 

  • Show your toddler how the pipe cleaners fit in the holes of the colander.
  • Let them try, helping if necessary at first.
  • Once they’ve mastered it, you’re good to go!

Ty’s a pretty quick study – it took him watching me twice and me helping him once to figure out how to do this activity, but it kept him busy for a good ten minutes. Once he finished fitting pipe cleaners in, I encouraged him to take them out and do it all over again. He loved it!

And the cupcakes? Whisked away to the safety of our freezer, waiting to be devoured by a gaggle of preteen girls this weekend.

Mission: accomplished!

Stay tuned for more (instant)joy ideas coming your way soon!

 

(instant)joy: Easy Beef Dip

One of the hardest things I’ve encountered as a wife and mom is finding easy to prepare meals that everyone likes that are healthy and do not come in hot dog form.

And if I ever find one, I will share it with you. *grin*

But I have come pretty close! Allow me to share this incredibly easy, practically instant recipe I found that has become a family favourite.

(Please excuse the lack of photos today – as soon as I’m done posting this, I’m off to get it ready for us for supper tonight. I didn’t think you needed a picture of a raw hunk of beef!)

What you need:

  • slow cooker
  • beef roast appropriate to the size of your family (if you want, you could make a big one and freeze half for later)
  • dry french onion soup mix – one package
  • box beef broth (I use no sodium to make up for the french onion soup mix)
  • optional can of beef consomme (I use it if I remember to pick it up, but I don’t really miss it if I don’t)
  • water
  • buns (toasted if desired)

What you do:

  • Place roast in slow cooker 7 to 8 hours before you plan on eating supper. It can be totally frozen.
  • Pour in beef broth, beef consomme (if using), and french onion soup mix. Add enough water to cover the roast half way.
  • Cook on low for 7 hours. Turn off your slow cooker and let stand for half an hour.
  • Pull the roast apart with two forks – it should easily fall apart.
  • Strain out the onions and save the broth for au jus dipping sauce.
  • Pile beef on buns, serve with au jus on the side, along with your favourite side dishes (we love homemade fries and/or fresh veggies).

See?  Easy peasy. I love that I can throw this together in just a few minutes and go about my day while our supper is cooking. Plus, the house smells yummy all afternoon. I love that.

What is your favourite easy supper to serve your family?

Five Minute Friday: Encouragment

Five minutes. To write. To silence the inner critic. To build community.

*****

It was so easy to be a cheerleader for my kids when they were little. Every little accomplishment, every little milestone, they deserved to be applauded. And it gave them the confidence to keep pushing, to keep moving, to keep growing.

But when did it become easier to criticize than encourage? This thought puzzles me constantly. Why do I, their biggest fan, find myself picking on the things they do wrong instead of applauding the things they do right?

I’m working on this, this cheering for my kids. Most days I can do it effortlessly.

But then the quarreling gets the better of me. Or the messes. Or the pushing back as they try to expand their boundaries just one more inch.

Yesterday I was telling my husband how I think I may have finally gotten over the hump of acknowledging how much closer our teenager is to being an adult. That it’s finally starting to feel just a bit easier to give her the freedom to blossom. And I find that in my shift of attitude, I can encourage her more freely.

I can applaud her accomplishments that aren’t so little, cheer her through her milestones even as I grieve knowing that each one takes her a little further from me. I can let her know I believe in her and she believes me. There once was a day where I know she didn’t, where she thought I only saw the negatives.

I want her, I want all of our kids, to have the confidence to keep pushing, to keep moving, to keep growing.

Because I really am their biggest fan.

*****

Thanks(Giving) Jar

My teenager is a genius.

Yesterday Em came to me and asked me for a spare jar. When I asked her what she was planning (she’s always planning, my girl is. She’s so creative!), she told me she was going to write one thing she was thankful for on a slip of paper every day for the entire year, and read them all December 31st.
I love that. And as I mulled it over in my mind for what I could do, The Thanks(Giving) Jar* was born.
It’s simple, really. As my daughter, I’ll be writing down one thing I am thankful for every day for the year. All those little things I take for granted. Like socks. And heat. And other mundane things. But I didn’t want to leave it at that – I wanted to put my gratitude into action. So I’ve also decided to add a coin with each slip of paper and at the end of the year take that money and give it to a ministry that provides for those who don’t have all those things I tend to take for granted.

I’ll also be inviting the other members of our home to do the same – I think our kids can definitely stand to remember that we are so incredibly blessed!

I’m so excited about this! And I really hope it is something you will consider doing with your family, too!

Of course, my printer is out of ink, so I can’t print off the pretty little label I made and add it to my jar, but just as soon as I can, I will share a picture of it with you.

Even better, here are some labels for you to print for yourself, if you’d like! I included four, just in case you have other members of your family would like their own jar. You know, those siblings who refuse to share anything. Not that I would know anything about that sort of thing. *cough*

*Edited to add: I changed the name slightly after the original post went live. Sometimes it takes me a few days to really shape an idea into exactly the way I want it! Thanks for hanging in there with me!

Bacon Honey-Mustard Chicken Nachos

First of all, above all else, I am NOT a food blogger. I can’t even pretend to be.

But seriously? These nachos totally told me to write an entire post about them. I kid you not.

I was perusing Pinterest for meal planning inspiration today, specifically for chicken dishes. I saw this yummy looking dish while on Six Sisters’ Stuff, and knew immediately I had to try it.

I was only a wee bit disappointed when I realized it wasn’t a nacho dish. For some reason, when I saw the photo, I started craving nachos. Maybe it’s all that gooey, yummy cheese. And bacon.

I heart cheese. And bacon.

So, I thought, why not make it my own recipe and turn it into Bacon Honey-Mustard Chicken Nachos!

I altered this recipe only slightly, so all credit goes to Six Sisters’ Stuff. Like I said. Not a food blogger.

1. Season 3 to 4 chicken breasts with seasoning salt (mine is MSG-free) and brown 3 to 5 minutes per side in a tablespoon(ish) of hot oil in a frying pan. (I like to flatten mine first so they’re fairly uniform in thickness. Plus, it’s a great way to get out any pent up aggression after being cooped up in the house for 10 days during the coldest Christmas break ever.) Place in a baking dish.

Clearly I am also not a food photographer. Tastes better than it looks!

2. Mix up 1/4 cup mustard, 1/3 cup of honey, 2 tbsp of plain, non-fat yogurt (Greek is best – it’s so thick and creamy!), 1/2 tbsp onion powder. Pour over chicken breasts and bake at 350F for 20 to 25 mins, or until chicken is cooked through.

3. Meanwhile, cook up 6 pieces of bacon via your favourite method. I prefer grilling mine on my new Griddler, or on a broiling rack in the oven so all the fat more or less drains away. But you can fry yours if you prefer. Make sure your bacon is nice and crispy because you want to crumble it up later.

Let’s see that bacon again. Yum.
It helps if you have a 22 month old sneaking cheese while you work.

4. Grate 2 cups of cheddar/colby cheese. (I like to use a mixture of Old Cheddar and Mozzarella.) Set aside.

5. After chicken is done in the oven, let it cool for a few minutes and then chop or shred it up. (I’m a shred kind of gal. Also, I only ended up using one of the chicken breasts for us, you could use more if you prefer meatier nachos. My hubby loves sandwiches, so we just set aside the rest for him. Come to think of it, you could totally take some chicken, some bacon, put it on a toasted bun, top it with some cheese, lettuce and tomato… yum. Or be healthy and make a salad with greens, tomatoes, and more bacon. Bacon can so be healthy!)

6. Place a whole bunch of nachos in a baking dish (that’s an actual measurement. I learned it in Home Ec.) and top with the chicken, crumbled bacon, and shredded cheese. Bake at 450F until the cheese melts and is bubbly. (You probably could do this step under the broiler, but I never do because I, um, tend to burn my food under the broiler. And set ovens on fire.)

7. Serve with your favourite nacho sides and enjoy!

They’ve got a bit of a sweet tang to balance out the smokey savory of the bacon. I can’t wait to finish them off!

Thank you, Six Sisters’ for the inspiration!