Birthday Ideas

A cute cutting board for making fruit salad. Kids younger than 6 or so can use butter knives (not these sharp paring knives) and can cut bananas, apple slices, and strawberries with help.

I love when God just orchestrates things so I have a few extra hours to get things done. A friend ended up watching my two little ones today so our sons could play LEGOS (and argue about Battleship). I got to wrap birthday presents and now even have time to sit and write this blog post that I’ve been thinking about for weeks but haven’t had time to write!

I was sort of dreading getting birthday presents this year because I feel like we already have so much stuff that we don’t even have time to use. I prayed about birthday gifts and traditions this year for the first time and God gave lots of great ideas.  Here are some I thought I’d share:

1. Special Birthday Book – I got a journal for my son and daughter and my husband and I wrote a note to my daughter (and plan to do my son’s tonight) on her birthday. We mentioned skills she’s learned this year, areas we’ve seen her growing, gifts we see in her, and verses we are praying for this next year. I really want to take the opportunity of a birthday to cherish the uniqueness of each of my children, not just let it be a day for gifts and cake. I want them to feel so important as a part of our family.

2.  Post-It Notes with Encouraging Words - my husband, my son and I all made seven sticky notes (my daughter was turning 7) and put them all over the house for her to find when she woke up. The look on her face was priceless as she woke up and started finding all these notes with things we love about her. The ones from her brother were especially precious, since many days they doubt whether the other one even likes them! :)

This is mainly a gift of time. We probably spent two hours the night before my daughter’s birthday writing the notes and in the book.

3. Gifts that encourage a wholesome interest - Sometimes it seems like all the toys are violent, or battery-operated plastic junk, or just encourage frivolous things. We try to give books or toys that encourage a wholesome interest – this year for my daughter was horses, and my son it’s train tracks. We found several books on horses, and asked Grandma and Grandpa to give horse riding lessons (my daughter said that was all she wanted in the whole world) instead of a toy. She got a stuffed horse, a horse-shaped purse, etc. My older son surprisingly wanted wooden train tracks, but I jumped all over it because I think he will enjoy building intricate tracks and my younger son will enjoy lining up the trains. We found a Thomas train table with tracks, trains, buildings, etc. for $50 on Craigs List.

For toddlers, I love the Melissa and Doug wooden dolls, wooden fruit and vegetable and other foods (healthy) to play with, play-doh, balls, and stickers.

SOURCE: Lessons in something, Educational Stores (typically have more wood, better quality toys), Craigs List

4. Art/Craft Supplies - These are the kinds of things that encourage creativity. My daughter got play-doh, Grandma got her a doodle book, sometimes she’s had jewelry-making kits, paint, watercolors, and paint-a-birdhouse or model airplane type projects. For my son this year I got a real sketch pad, graphite pencils, erasers, pencil sharpener, and a little art box to put it all in. It was fun to get to pick out some “real” artist supplies.

Fabric can be interesting for dress up. One year we gave my daughter about two yards of: floaty rainbow fabric, blue sparkly fabric, and red satin fabric. The fabric has been made into capes, dresses, tents, and room decorations and is still used.

SOURCE: Hobby Lobby or Michaels, JoAnns for fabric

5. Tools that teach a useful skill  - For example, cooking, building, gardening tools. My son is turning nine this year, so I’m getting him kitchen knives and a cutting board to help make fruit salad and to acknowledge his growing responsibility to handle things in the kitchen. In the past we’ve gotten him a hammer, screwdrivers, duct tape, heavy string and other building supplies. I like that gifts like these encourage kids to develop useful, helpful skills, and not just look for things to entertain them.

In the past we’ve gotten gardening gloves, small spades and watering cans for both my son and daughter. My daughter has received cute aprons, pink spatulas, and mini-muffin tins for past birthdays.

For toddlers I LOVE to give mini-squirt bottles, cute broom and dustpan sets, and tiny aprons. They love to be big helpers.

SOURCE: Pier1 has great broom and dustpan sets, kids scrubbers, and other cute kids stuff. It can be pricey, but they often have an area for end-of-season marked down stuff. I get most of our friends’ birthday gifts at Target, not in the toy section, but in the cooking or tool section.

6. Books. I love these, but feel so behind with great books that we haven’t even had time to read yet that we haven’t done these as much lately. I like to get the more unusual ones that the library doesn’t have, like the missionary biographies at Grace and Truth or the easy-reader ones at Mardel. My friend had the brilliant idea of audio books, which I meant to do but didn’t get around to this year. She says they also do this at Easter and other holidays, and specifically mentioned Focus on the Family radio theater as being excellent. My sister sells Usborne and I can’t help myself at homeschool conferences and used book sales, so we’re usually covered on great books.

SOURCE: Grace and Truth Books (Christian hero bios and Christian heroes DVDs), Amazon, Focus on the Family radio theater.

7. Coupons for Mommy or Daddy Time – We did this last year, but this year didn’t because spring is such a busy time for us I can’t think about adding another event right now. But things we have done in the past include: Date with Daddy to a regular restaurant, then a fancy one for dessert, laser tag with Dad, tea party with Mom, and I can’t remember what I did with my son! Something boyish, I’m sure.

One thing that has been completely magical to the kids is Moon Walks. I want to write a whole post about this. Twice a summer I get up at the unkind hour of five o’clock, grumbling in my head the whole while about how crazy this idea is, wake up ONE child, and take a special walk with that child as the sun rises. We live in the city, so we just walk to Quik Trip ( a gas station near us), but we walk hand in hand looking at the stars and moon, talking and listening, and then hear the “first birds of the morning” begin to sing. Sometimes we see ducks, geese, or rabbits. I try to ask my children heart questions and just connect with them. We then get juice and donuts (those nasty packaged ones that I think are disgusting but they think are the hugest treat ever) and walk home. This is honestly one of the things they remember and talk about and we should do it more but I hate getting up that early! I’m trying to rope my husband into doing it to double our moon walks without further encroaching on my sleep time.

Another related special time we do doesn’t have a name, but it’s Sit Up on The Fort, Snuggle In a Sleeping Bag, and Watch The Sun Come Up Time with Mom. Again, this involves getting up early (maybe that’s the appeal to them? I mean they are virtually never up when it’s still dark outside, and certainly not sitting outside on the fort). For some crazy reason we did this when it was freezing, thus the sleeping bag part. Anyway, my kids just shine with joy being there with me all alone and having that amazing experience of watching the sun come up. (If you go camping, this probably would happen very naturally. Maybe some day we’ll go camping again.)

My whole point with that is just: make a special time with your child. It doesn’t have to cost anything. Just a few hours of your sleep and a quiet time (maybe outdoors) with them is one of the greatest gifts you could ever give.

That’s all the ideas I have for today. What are the most special or well-loved birthday gifts you give at your house?

Priorities (and What I Need to Cut Out)

I love to set goals for the new year. This year as I was thinking about goals though, I had to think first about what my priorities were going to be.

Here are the areas I want to be HIGHER priorities for 2013

1. Health – healthier food, slower pace, more sleep, a bit more exercise for Mom. The big one here is healthy dinners though. I’ve made some progress in this during the fall (like, actually cooking dinner) and the kids have been helping as Dinner Buddies (huge help!) but I want to do better about planning a menu and cooking each day. (Which results in less fast food and less money spent as a bonus.)

2. Spiritual Disciplines- I have been reading my Bible some mornings, but I want to be more consistent in this, pray with my kids each night before bed, and work on teaching them how to read their Bibles and actually get something out of it. I also want to work on memorizing a verse for myself each week or so and reviewing old ones somehow.

3. School- It’s time to raise expectations. I’d like to have the kids know what they need to get done each day and, with help when needed, be responsible to complete that work before playing. I’d also like to read more with them in the afternoons.

4. (Also, being nice to my family. No yelling. No annoyed voice. But this is more a matter of the heart than time.)

Here’s the hard part: I have to cut some things out to make room for the kind of life I want.

Activities that need to be LOWER priorities:

1. Computer time – I sit down to “check Facebook” and end up an hour later wondering where the time went . The computer is like a black hole that sucks my time right away.

Many times I’m not goofing off; I’m actually doing profitable things related to the book, blog, or Facebook. The problem is, I’m allowing the computer to distract me from what’s most important.

2. Reading – I love to read, especially researching recent Christian fiction, or interesting writing books, or non-fiction books on whatever topic I’m obsessed with that day. The problem is I can get swept up in a book (or pile of books) and not emerge for hours.

Again, nothing inherently wrong with what I’m reading, it’s that it can take away time from my other priorities, especially time with my husband because I have my nose buried in a book. I am going try to keep a Books to Read list that I can dive into during the summer. Also, I’m going to try to get audio books so I can listen while I’m working in the kitchen.

3. Writing-This was a tough one, but I’ve decided many times over the last six months that writing really isn’t one of my top priorities right now. I hope to write more, but it’s going to be a while. Last year writing was higher on the list, but it’s time for it to move back down.

In order to keep those lower priority items in their place, I have found I have to

Give Myself Boundaries

Computer stays off until 2 o’clock. This assures that I’ll focus on school and home before I let the computer monster get its claws into me. (I don’t know about you, but once I turn it on and start checking, my mind just keeps going back throughout the day, even when there’s no reason to. Do other people have this problem? I think the technical name would be “technology addiction” or something.)

I did find during December though, that if I went a day or so without even turning the computer on, it seemed to lose its hold over me. I sort of forgot about whatever was going on online and got plugged back in to my life. So that’s good.

• Writing confined to 2 hours on Monday nights. Whatever writing/blogging I can get done during that time is what gets done that week.

Listen to audio books in the kitchen. I realized during December that one reason I get on the computer is I’m kinda bored and wanting adult interaction. But listening to the radio or an audio book feeds my brain and makes me happy. I’m quite content to empty the dishes or get dinner started if my brain has something interesting to think about. (I also want to work more on my verse memory during that time.)

Not read too much about writing. I’m trying to cut back on reading blogs about writing because that just sends me straight to plotting a novel, and I don’t have time for that right now!

So far, though I’ve only been working on these things for a few weeks (I sort of started in December), I do have to say life is much more relaxing. I know I’m doing the most important things, and I’m not getting hundreds of ideas online for things I’ll never have time to do anyway!

How about you? What is one thing you want to CUT OUT (or cut back on) in 2013 to make room for the things that are really important to you?

Tooth Trauma (and Drama)

I was having a bad day. Last night I found a dark spot on my daughter’s molar, after all my meticulous tooth-brushing mania of late, and I was feeling like a failure at motherhood, wondering why someone hadn’t fired me yet.

I went through the stages of grief. (I think there are six, but I only remembered four when I was thinking about this and four is really all the energy I have to write about anyway.)

1. Denial-It’s not a cavity. It’s just a brown speck. We just went to have her cavities filled less than two months ago. It can’t be!

Okay, it’s not brushing off. Maybe it’s the filling! Maybe they make brown fillings! Maybe it’s an off-whitey brown.

(A bit of history: at the last visit my six-year-old daughter had FOUR cavities. I could sort of understand since it had recently been Valentine’s Day so we were drowning in candy, but I had also been vigilant about their brushing twice a day, with my husband or I finishing up afterwards. After that distressing month of fillings, however, we had been trying so hard! We’d been brushing twice or three times a day, plus eating hardly any sugar, and brushing after any sugar at all. The thought that she still had a cavity after all that work was completely depressing.)

2. Anger – How can this happen? I’ve been trying so hard! Why didn’t that dentist tell me what to do! Something’s wrong! Maybe she’s malnourished! Why aren’t they helping me figure this out!

This progressed to anger at myself: I am a terrible mother. I can’t even keep my kids’ teeth from rotting out of their heads. I can’t do any more than this. I’m going to give up. Wait, I can’t give up. Why can other mothers clean out their vents and closets and cook freezer meals and go running and homeschool and blog, and I can’t even keep my children’s teeth from rotting?

What’s wrong with me?

At this point I called my friend sobbing and she prayed with me and told me I’m a good mom. That helped a little. My poor toddler kept looking at me with tears running down my face and asked, puzzled, “Wha happen?” I felt even worse for traumatizing my children, but I couldn’t help it.

Okay, I realize I sound like a complete basket case at this point, but I’m so tired. It’s my husband’s last (maybe) hardest week at work, so he leaves before we get up and doesn’t get home until we are all in bed. Half of the lightbulbs in the house are burned out, and the back doorknob fell off this morning when my daughter tried to open the door. Things are falling apart all over the place.

So, this was just confirmation in my mind that I was failing and couldn’t really pull this whole motherhood thing off. And, while I was thinking about it, why could I think I could homeschool my children when I can’t even take care of their basic needs? If I put them in school I could afford to spend an hour a day brushing teeth. (I know none of this is logical, and I knew it then, but I didn’t care. It was how I felt. )

3. Grief- I cried and cried, and cried some more. We had lunch with my husband and I told him the news, and that we had a dentist appointment at one o’clock, and that I was clearly a failure as a parent. He told me I did a good job and who cares about cavities anyway. He pointed out that my teeth are full of cavities and they still work, which is true. We’re doing the best we can. Which was nice of him and all, but he sort of had to say that; he’s married to me. It did help a little though.

4. Acceptance – As we drove to the dentists’ office, I resigned myself to the fact that she had at least one cavity, and I had to just try more to use that blue rinse I just ordered. And the plaque tablets. And the firefly toothbrushes. And the tiny flashlight to inspect. (And floss, and rinse, and three times a day supervision of brushing.) It was just what we needed to do. And I almost believed it didn’t mean I was a failure as a mother. I was getting there.

Then we went ahead and prayed it wouldn’t be a cavity, which is sort of a dumb prayer because either it is or it isn’t, but I figured God could retroactively answer my prayer and make it NOT be a cavity, because He is God, after all.

Then we went to the dentist, and I waited for the news, pretty certain that I wouldn’t cry because I’d gotten all my crying out. Guess what?

It wasn’t a cavity.

What? What else could a brown speck on the surface of her molar be?


I know! What?

Apparently some of the latest filling had “leakage,” whatever that is, and got stained, so they just scraped it off, put more filling on, filed it down, and it’s done. Even typing that, the whole thing doesn’t make sense to me, but the important thing is: it isn’t a cavity!!!

And I know that I’m doing the best I can and there’s more to being a good mother than dental hygiene, but I just wanted to tell God Thank You. That was really nice of Him. I really appreciate it. It was a very nice surprise.

And also, as all this was going on, we had to run home and put some milk in the fridge, and I had to check my email because I’m obsessive like that lately, and I had an email from San Francisco Book Review saying they had chosen my book for a review and it was ready. I was thrilled that it had been chosen for a review, because that is a feat in and of itself, but also terrified. This is the service our library uses for reviews; they review all kinds of general audience books, and they would probably tear it apart, I thought. They’d call me out as an amateur.

I was thinking, as I clicked on the link, that probably it would say that I had no business writing and that I shouldn’t quit my day job. But little did they know I was actually failing at my day job, I thought wryly. Then the page loaded.

Five stars.

What? Was I on the right review? Yep. That was it.

Again, relief. Again, thanks. Not feeling adequate, but very thankful and humbled.

Because… “They did not gain possession of the land by their own sword, nor did their own arm save them. But it was His right hand, His arm, and the light of His countenance, because He favored them.” Ps 44:3

And I just wanted to say Thanks.

I am so grateful these days for so many things.

In Christ Alone? Really?

What would you do if you had been told you have a  debilitating disease and you wonder how many more years you have? Let’s say  five. Five years.  What would you do?  What would you say? How would that change the way you see the morning sunlight,  the soft cheeks around you, the mess on the couch?

Where would you go and what would your priorities be?

I mean it.

What would you want to do if you had five more years? Think about it.

I’ll tell you what I wouldn’t do. I wouldn’t worry about  cleaning out my refrigerator, or coming up with a marketing plan, or Ten Goals to Make Myself The Perfect Mother. And I would NOT blog. (I’m not saying I’d never clean out the refrigerator or clean up the books on the couch, but I’d realize they really didn’t matter all that much. They aren’t the important things.)

I’d hug my babies. I’d kiss my husband.  I’d resolve to speak gently to them all. And I’d
pray for the grace to do that each moment. I probably wouldn’t get as annoyed
with my kids. Because the thought that would be in my head would be: How do I
want them to remember me when I’m gone? Do I want their memories to be of being
yelled at or constantly corrected because they weren’t perfect? Or do I want
them to remember being cherished, gently taught, and given wisdom about God’s
world and those in it?  I want them to know they were deeply loved.

I won’t be here always to guide my children. What will my legacy be? I can’t teach them every verse. There will be gaps in theology, just like in education. But is the fabric of their days loving God and loving others? I wouldn’t be able to do it all in five years. But I could teach them what I know and let them know, always, and forever, that they were deeply loved by a mother who adored them.

That is my prayer. Whether I live five years or fifty. Our time here is short. Who knows how long we have? Our days are numbered.

Teach us to number our days, that we might gain a heart of wisdom.  Ps 19 11:13

And also, I would want our family to go to Kenya. By way of Egypt, and maybe Israel. I want my kids to know more about this world than our comfortable corner.

What would you do? Where would you go? What do you want to teach your children?

And, if all were stripped away, like it was for Gracia Burnam, could we really say:

In Christ alone
In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm

What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From a life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Could ever pluck me from His hand
‘Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand

While I’m on the subject, another song from church this
week that made me cry. What about this one:

I’d Rather Have Jesus

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands,
I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hand.

Than to be a king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin’s dread sway,
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than world-wide fame,
I’d rather be true to His holy name.

Would I? Really? Would you?

(And no, I’m not dying. Today, anyway. I’ve just been thinking.)

Power of Moms

I love this post. I’ve been reflecting on this as I’ve been more in the world of blogging lately, and realizing there’s a lot that’s awfully discouraging on blogs, and I get a little tired of seeing everyone’s perfect activities, smiling children, and clean houses. I don’t want to do the same. If I have to write something (and maybe I don’t), I want it to be above all honest, then encouraging. And if it happens, some days it might be beautiful. And some days it might be a huge mess. Because that’s life.