Faith Like a Ketchup Packet

In case you missed the news I’ve attempted to broadcast to the entire world to ask for prayer, my eight-year-old son has had a very big week. It started last Sunday (September 1st) with a severe, sudden onset headache at the pool and progressed to the diagnosis of an aneurysm inside an arterioventricular malformation that has been in his precious little brain for who knows how long. The story has continued with the insertion of drains to get the excess blood out of his brain, the constant measuring of intracranial pressure, and every other thing that can be measured about the human body from sodium to potassium to pulse, blood pressure, oxygenation, urine output… I’m not close to the entirety of the list yet.

At present our beautiful Blake is stable, and being kept in a medically-induced coma and soon we’ll be beginning the process of reducing those meds to wake him up. At which point he will still need some type of surgery/therapy to deal with the AVM that got this party started.

So friends, you’re used to hearing from me on Wednesdays. And here is the one thing I have thought of over and over this week that I think I need to tell you today.

God is very kind in helping me understand things in simple ways. And this is one of those moments where a simple analogy has spoken volumes to me.

I’ve been thinking about ketchup packets. The kind they toss in your bag at the drive thru. Mustard packets. Mayonnaise packets. The ones I like that have salad dressing. The hot sauce ones.

All those packets have something in common: what has been put into them is what will come out when they are squeezed.

If you accidentally step on a ketchup packet as you cross a parking lot, you can be sure you will not see mustard on the bottom of your shoe. Unless something strange happened at the factory, I suppose. Every analogy has its limits.

But friend, your soul and mine are a lot like those sauce packets. What we are putting in is what is going to come out when we are squeezed.

And this week? I have been squeezed. The hubs has been squeezed. We have been squeezed in a way we didn’t know we could be squeezed. Our hearts have been squeezed so tight we felt sure they were close to bursting.

But what is coming out? Well, I think what is coming out is what we’ve been putting in.

First, hundreds of people have been praying for us. And I think that has helped fill our packets with strength and hope and a sense of peace that surpasses understanding this storm.

We’ve also cultivated a life where we try to look for goodness and give thanks for it. We look on the bright side and do our best to find it.

We’ve cultivated our hearts to try to see the good in things and people and to try to see life from someone else’s shoes.

We’ve learned to look for the handprint of God in things that other folks might call “coincidence.”

We’ve also tried to put God’s Word into these hearts of ours. And we’ve tried to listen to God’s voice, to learn how He speaks to each of us, the ways that we learn to hear Him that aren’t like chatting with a friend across a table at a coffee shop, but are just as real and meaningful.

So we are being squeezed and what’s coming out is the fruit of the Spirit others have been praying for for us, and it’s what we’ve been trying to cultivate by living in and through and to the Lord. We are being squeezed and finding a deep reserve of a patience we didn’t know was there. We are finding joy in the midst of the most profound hardship we’ve ever faced. We are finding gentleness to handle each other, our children, our caregivers, our extended family and friends — at a time when your heart is so sensitive a word spoken with the wrong inflection could cause offense — we are finding gentleness somewhere in those deep wells, available to extend to those around us.

We are being squeezed. We are pressed but not crushed. We feel persecuted, but we do not feel abandoned. We feel struck down with shock and fear and pain — but we have not been destroyed by these things.

Second Corinthians talks about it this way:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.

This is not because we have goodness of our own to offer. We do not have patience in our nature. These things are the fruit of living hard into faith, and leaning on the Spirit, in Whom we can find everything we need. It is the power of Christ at work in us — and I can only point to Him, and to us clinging to Him in all the hard places we’ve faced before this one.

He is the peace. He is the hope. He is where we’ve placed our faith. Not in the miracle we’re believing for itself — but in the goodness of an unfailing God with unstoppable love.

Are we scared? Terrified.

Are we hurting? Yes. In ways we didn’t know we could hurt.

But I’m so grateful somewhere in the midst of the conglomeration of things inside the ketchup packets of our souls, we made room for a faith that does not run screaming when life gets hard.

We don’t know the outcome of this journey but we believe in a good God, and we trust in Him.

Give some thought this week to what you’re putting in your ketchup packet. In ten minutes, life can change from completely normal to a squeeze you never saw coming. I pray you’ll put your hope in the Lord. We believe He is at work — calming this storm in our lives. And He is the reason we are able to walk on the water of this trial, through this storm, keeping our eyes above the waves.

We’re looking at Jesus.

xCC

P.S. You can see updates on Facebook here to know how to be praying for Blake and our family in the days ahead. We’d be so grateful if you’d take the time to pray, and Raise a Hallelujah for Blake by singing this song right here. And some amazing friends of mine wanted to do something to encourage this Hallelujah chorus and made t-shirts right here. We’ve been overwhelmed with the prayer and the tangible support of our friends and family through this storm. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

If you’re new to With Love, From Here and want to subscribe to receive a weekly dose of encouragement via email, click here.

Four Things to Consider If You’re Still Thinking About an Instant Pot

I know. If you haven’t decided to ride the Instant Pot wave you’re probably tired of hearing about it and ready to move on with your life.

I would probably feel exactly the same way if I was in your shoes. I like not being a joiner sometimes.

But two and a half years ago, the hubs read a blog post by a prolific tech blogger friend of ours raving about the Instant Pot. And the hubs, being the Hero Hubs that he is, thought “If this guy, who sees all the new tech that’s out there, is raving about this thing, I believe him.” So he bought me one.

I, on the other hand, was terrified — daunted by the idea of pressure cooking, daunted by the idea of learning a whole new appliance in my kitchen and maybe? Just downright scared I was going to blow something up or I’d forever have a red stain on our ceiling and scars to boot.

I finally got brave enough to get it out of the box and read the manual. Then read some step-by-step recipes online until I felt like I understood how the thing worked. And when I finally got to that step, and gave it a shot, I discovered that truly, it is an incredibly easy way to go from ingredients to dinner’s ready quickly. Win.

A friend texted me this week to let me know she was still on the fence about the Instant Pot and I thought I’d share here some of the thoughts I shared with her (and some extras) for why it has been a game changer for our family.

  1. The Triple/Double Effect
    This has probably been the biggest game changer for me of all. I have carefully worked my way through dozens and dozens of IP recipes online, and have consistently discovered that I can double or triple SO MANY of them with amazing results.

    And I treat those leftovers like gold, y’all. I’m a homeschooling Mama of four and we have 24 Tuesdays of Community Day in our school year. I’m FOUR meals away from having the base for 24 meals in my freezer. That means the main thing, the hard work, is stored in my freezer (in a labeled yogurt tub, mind you) and all I’ll need to do is heat those leftovers I thawed the night before, throw the rice in the rice cooker (I love this one) and throw together a salad, or bake the tacos or cook the broccoli — you get the idea — and dinner will be ready. Even on Tuesday. {mic drop, gasp, huzzah!}
  2. The One and Done Effect
    I can be a pretty fancy lady in the kitchen. Shrimp and Grits with sautéed peppers and bacon fancy. Chicken Piccata with Angel Hair Pasta and a delicate salad with homemade dressing fancy. I can tell you which of my kids like capers. But I don’t like the thirty pans and bowls I mess up to make that glorious Chicken Piccata. It can stay in the rotation, sure, but I also need some meals where I get to just throw everything into the IP and walk away. Like Erin’s Instant Pot Mexican Casserole, where everything is right there. Meat. Rice. Veggies. Yes!

    I hear you asking: CC, Isn’t that the same as a slow cooker? Well, yes and no: the slow cooker requires my attention at 8:00 am for things to work out between us. But so do my kids and our homeschool routine. The Instant Pot, sweet gal that she is, will wait for me and when I dump everything in at 4:30, walk away and can still shout, “Come get your dinner, kids!” at 5:30, life is just that lil’ bit sweeter. Or spicier.

    (And by the way, the Instant Pot is a slow cooker, too… so for recipes where you need to sear a big pork loin before it slow cooks, or cook the bacon and sausage for Zuppa Toscana, you can do that on the sauté function, take the meat out and switch gears for slow cooking, and put it right back in the same pot to slow cook the rest of the day. Can you tell I don’t like dirty dishes?)
  3. My Fast Food Goal is HAPPENING
    My goal with fast food? Is to pretty much never eat it. My little town doesn’t have a lot of healthy fast food options. I don’t like how much trash a family of six creates when consuming fast food either. So I make a plan (more on that below) and already have the week’s meals on the calendar. Tripling or doubling means I can grab those leftovers in emergencies. Real emergencies! But if I just forget to thaw the chicken the night before, I know I always have a handful of ingredients on hand, and there are recipes where I can start from frozen, throw in those totally frozen chicken breasts, and an hour later have chicken that is falling apart with deliciousness.
  4. Brave is Good. And Can Be Tasty.
    I think it’s really easy to get comfortable — stuck with what makes sense, what’s easy, what doesn’t require extra effort. At the outset, I didn’t like the idea of trying this new thing. But as I’ve consistently worked towards healthier lifestyle choices, especially in my kitchen, I’ve realized that the Instant Pot could be a really great companion for the journey. There are so many fantastic websites full of great, healthy recipes just waiting to be discovered. Hiding veggies, and making them palatable in plain sight, has been taken to another level. And I never would have found my new favorite recipe (Moroccan Chicken Bowls) or my sweet Blake’s new favorite (White Chicken Chili) if I hadn’t set out on a path to discover some new and fun ideas for us to enjoy as we gather around the table.

So friends, especially that one friend who asked and is still on the fence, if you’re considering the Instant Pot, I think it’s worth your dollars and your time. Save up for it and save a ton of money by eating out less. Look forward to discovering you can make amazing Greek yogurt at home or take a spaghetti squash from raw to perfectly stringy in less than twenty minutes. And then google a recipe to find out why you would want to do that. (One answer is this Paleo Spaghetti Pizza Pie.)

Convinced yet? You can click here and grab an Instant Pot on Amazon right now.

You can also enter your email here and I’ll send you my free Five Step Meal Plan System and a Month of Weekday Recipes including of course… lots of Instant Pot Favorites. (And a weekly dose of food for the soul for good measure.) THIS is the aforementioned meal planning that has made the IP work for me hard, and often. Having a plan is KEY, y’all!

Regardless of what’s for dinner, I hope you’ll remember to keep the main thing the main thing: enjoy gathering around a table with the people you care about. Share food. Talk about life. Encourage each other. Hopefully this one tool will make it a little easier for you to make the time, and make those relational investments that happen in the presence of food like nowhere else. That’s the real sweet stuff anyway.

xCC

Psst! Don’t forget to grab the Five Step Meal Plan System freebie and stock up on unlimited free weekly encouragement… right here!

In case you’re wondering, Instant Pot did not sponsor this post. I would totally welcome their sponsorship but ya know, I just haven’t heard from them yet. My posts do sometimes contain Amazon Affiliate Links. When you click those links to make a purchase, I receive a teensy bit of compensation, which is a blessing to keep With Love, From Here posts coming! Thank you!

The Good Words: How Good Friday Bought Paul’s Contentment {And Ours!}

On the Christian calendar, yesterday we celebrated the day we call good. Good Friday, the day we remember that an innocent God was pronounced guilty, taken to a cross at the hands of men, and was crucified. It is counter-intuitive to think of such evil and call it good — but when we remember what was accomplished on that day, the punishment that purchased our peace, the death that gave us true life, we know that God pre-ordained it for our good, and good, so good it is.

This month, if you’ve been following along, we’ve pondered the Apostle Paul’s outrageous claim, “…I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” {Phil. 4: 11-13}

Paul basically says “No matter what… I’m okay.” Wow.

One chapter earlier, it seems Paul gives us a clear picture — not a subtle hint or a mysterious clue — but a very clearly spoken explanation for why this kind of contentment is possible. In chapter three of his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes about all the reasons he has to boast if the competition for holiness has anything to do with what he has done in service to God. After a long string of accolades which would have been very impressive to the Jews of his day, Paul writes with a surprising commentary:

“All the things that seemed super-awesome before, all my achievements…” {a modern equivalent might be “my multiple PhDs from Harvard, Stanford and Oxford, my decades on the mission field serving the poorest of the poor in India, my world-renown last name that is proof of status and wealth”} … “all of it is trash. Refuse. Worthless.”

The NKJV translates Paul’s word choice “rubbish” — scholars seem to think a worse word might be appropriate — but why is everything he could boast in rubbish?

This is the explanation:

“Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith…”

And this is the clue that unlocks the mystery. The plain truth made manifest on a Good Friday two thousand years ago:

Christ is where we can find our contentment. Our hope. Our joy. Our peace. Our everything. And if we truly understand what He accomplished — how His perfection paid for our foolish, selfish sin — then we know that we truly do know a God who has already supplied all that we need for life and godliness. Paid for by His death on the cross.

This is the hope that we have, the hope that is found when we recognize the glorious goodness of Jesus dying for us–the gift that is the one thing we need most and have no chance of finding any other way.

This was my thought at the start of all this pondering:

Paul looks to Christ to find contentment — so that whatever life brings his way, he is able to trust, to survive, and even thrive because Christ is his sustainer, and makes contentment possible in any circumstance.

And it seems that Good Friday cross is the place where the Truth became a crucified reality. His death purchased our life. And this is what it means for us:

Once we realize we have everything we truly need in Him, we can find contentment anywhere, anytime, in every circumstance. Abasing or in abundance… when Christ is our all, when we embrace the idea that He is able to work all things together for our good and His glory, our trust leads to greater contentment. 

Our Good Friday was marked by a guest missing from the table, a broken window at the back door and a trip to Urgent Care for stitches. Every day is an opportunity to suffer under the struggle of wishing things had happened differently. And every day is an opportunity to choose to say “Yes” to God instead, as Mother Teresa said, to “give whatever He takes and take whatever He gives with a smile.”

Next month (tomorrow!) we’ll dive into thinking about that “with a smile” idea, but in the meantime I hope you’ll take a deep breath, open your eyes to the circumstances around you and know that no matter what they are, contentment is yours for the choosing.

Because of Good Friday… and because of the Good Sunday around the bend.

xCC

P.S. If you want a sneak peek of April’s Good Words, you can click here to view and print a small version, or click here to view and print a large version!

The Good Words :: Kindness Has a Thousand Flavors

“Years ago I began to pray over all those God brought into our home a prayer I had often
whispered to Him in regard to my daughters: ‘Father, give me Your eyes for them.
Give me your eyes for this man, this woman, this child. Show me how You see each one.‘”
***

Katie Davis Majors — the Katie of Kisses from Katie who moved to Uganda at 18, adopted thirteen daughters and founded a ministry in an extremely impoverished community — wrote those words in her new book, Daring to Hope. Her bravery inspires me, her heart inspires me, and she is certainly a living, breathing example of kindness.

The beauty of Katie’s story, as she continually shares it, is that she walks with Jesus, listens to His voice, and does her best to do what He says. And maybe that is kindness broken down into its simplest form?

Asking God to help us how He sees each person. To give us His eyes for them.

If I remember those thoughts — oh heavens how might it change my communication with my children?

How might it change my attitude toward strangers and friends and neighbors alike?

If under my breath, I whispered, “Father, give me your eyes for them.”

While I might initially look at incorporating a word like kindness into my life more fully and think it means big things — the truth it is really about doing the next small thing, like Mother Teresa said — doing the small thing with the great love. And the smaller the thing, the greater the love.

Our country is grieving this week, frustrated and sad and hurting — because one kid who maybe didn’t find the world a particularly kind place decided to drive to his old school and open fire with a semi-automatic weapon.

Do you ever wonder what it was? Was there one big thing — or were there a hundred small things — that made the difference between “I’m okay” and “I’ll show them?” Could kindness have been the thing that made the difference? And why did he tell one kid to get out of there before things got messy? Where did that kindness come from?

We will probably never know what made the difference, what set him over the edge, what set his course in the direction he chose to take it.

But could we change this — could we prevent this from happening again — if we chose kindness as a rule? If we asked for God’s eyes for one another and treated each other accordingly?

How do we become a kinder, gentler society?

I can only think of one way to start — as Michael Jackson so eloquently put it, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror… I’m asking him to change his ways.”

We cannot overestimate the importance that our small acts of kindness can have for those around us.

There’s an old proverb that says:

“For want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; for want of a horse the rider was lost; for want of a rider the message was lost; for want of the message the battle was lost; for want of the battle the war was lost; for want of the war the kingdom was lost; and all for the want of a horseshoe nail.” 

We will never fully know what our small acts of kindness could mean to the world around us, the world of difference they could make for the person who receives them. But we have every reason to assume that even the smallest acts have the possibility of meaning the biggest things.

There are more ways to be kind than we can count… a thousand tiny opportunities to be generous with our souls every day. Ask for the eyes to see. Kindness has a thousand flavors and our world needs every one of them.

Keep smiling and keep loving and keep giving and keep letting me know how it’s going – I have loved hearing from some of you about your acts of kindness. This! The world needs this right now!

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. {Ephesians 4:32}

xCC

P.S. I highly recommend putting BOTH of those books from Katie on your reading list! 😉 View them on Amazon:

Kisses from Katie    :::        Daring to Hope

In case you missed it: I shared a bit about my experience with the Instant Pot and my ten favorite things to do with it on the blog this week!

Fifty Fun Ideas to Make Summer the Best Part of the School Year

If you’re a subscriber to With Love, From Here, you’ll know this isn’t a typical devotional/inspirational post… but I had all these ideas swirling around in my head that I wanted to share with fellow Moms & Dads trying to decide what to do with their kiddos over the summer… so I had to create a post to share or the ideas would never have stopped swirling! We’ll resume the usual good stuff shortly, but if you have kiddos and summer break is looming ahead of you, I hope this is an encouragement that will be helpful to you, and you’ll share it with friends! xCC
—–

Guess what!? If you live anywhere near my neck of the woods, this is the time of year where teachers are crossing off days on their calendars (or high-fiving because they already made it), while parents are scrolling the internet frantically for summer camp information. Yes… that long-awaited, (or sometimes dreaded?) special event is upon us:: Summer Break!

Now I’m a homeschooling Mama, so summer for me is kind of like… regular life, in some ways. But we do take a break from our usual school schedule between June and September, while finishing up any of those pesky lessons we just haven’t gotten to the end of. I’m looking at you, Math!

But here’s the thing. Summer is honestly an opportunity for some truly amazing learning to happen. It’s also a time for you to connect with those precious faces you might have felt like you were only seeing ever-so-briefly during the school year. With a few good tools in the arsenal, summer can be a time of fun, connection and learning, all rolled into one!  I’ve compiled a list of some of the things that have delighted and inspired my kids to love learning (often outdoors — bonus) and I am confident you will at least find a half a dozen gems on this list that can entertain and engage your crowd, too! And you can be as hands-on or hands-off as you want… know that encouraging a little creativity can take your kid a long way!

Shall we hop into the list?

{See what I did there? Photo by my eldest, nature-loving son}

Nature Study Books & Tools

A few days ago an unusual insect appeared on the wall next to our back door. My husband called our eldest over to have a look and encouraged him to get out the Insect Identification book to identify this creature. Our son amazed us by 1) Not getting out the book and 2) Identifying the Bug: “Oh that’s a ladybug nymph.” Like it was no thing, chicken wing. We were amazed. It did not look like a ladybug! It stayed put for a few days, just there on our wall, and then climbed out of its shell…a ladybug! Why am I telling you this? We’ve invested in some great Animal & Insect Identification Books, and our kids are obviously putting them to good use!! Here are some favorites…

  1. Kaufman Field Guide to Insect Identification :: Before my second son could read, he was flipping through this thing to show me bugs we were spotting outdoors because he’d gotten so familiar with it!
  2. National Geographic Guide to Birds of North America :: I’ve learned the names of birds I’ve been seeing my whole life thanks to this! Do notice what continent this is for and adjust accordingly!!
  3. Nat Geo Pocket Guide to Rocks and Minerals :: This one is not super extensive, but a great starting point for identifying rocks. I’m honestly flabbergasted by how loved this particular book is. The boys are constantly picking up rocks and trying to identify them on the fly now.
  4. Nat Geo Pocket Guide to Mammals of North America :: This one is pocket-sized and has less information than the traditional larger options, but is a great starter for getting kids interested and engaged.
  5. Pocket Microscopes :: We stuffed a couple of stockings with these little gems we got for less than $10 the Christmas before last and… drum roll please… these puppies have survived, and have given us a chance to look at feathers, spiders, bugs, tree bark, fingertips and so much more up close and personal. We’ve loved them.
  6. Binoculars :: When my eldest broke his first pair of binoculars because he wasn’t being careful with them (they were in a book bag he “dropped gently” on the ground) — it was a sad day. They were “grownup” and not the pair I’ve linked to here. He hasn’t been super careful with his second pair either. So the pair I’ve recommended here are appropriate for kids age 7 to 14, and parents with younger kids seem to be happy with them, too. However… if you think your kiddos will be gentle and careful with their binoculars and you’d rather make an investment in a better pair, it might be worth your while to get better views and more clarity.

{This art was not directed by Art For Kids Hub… but it’s hard not to love those long-necked people, right?}

Art for Moms Who Don’t Like Pulling Out Paint (Me Neither)

  1. Art for Kids Hub :: Do yourself a favor and bookmark this YouTube Channel! We have fallen in love with Art for Kids Hub and my kids have created so many masterpieces thanks to the step-by-step instructions here! They talk you through it one line at a time, and use a lot of the tools listed below…
  2. Oil Pastels :: Wowzers these things take coloring to another level. Some of the posts on AFKH will specifically demonstrate how to layer in colors with oil pastels to create different effects. There was a 15% coupon for this item when I created the link… I hope it’s still there for you!
  3. Pip-Squeaks :: Art For Kids Hub uses Sharpies (ya know, the permanent markers?) for a lot of the drawings that afterwards get colored with oil pastels or colored pencils. I do not like Sharpies because… I mean do I even have to explain? They’re permanent. So we draw with pencils sometimes, and other times with Pip-Squeaks. The eldest got this tower for Christmas a year and a half ago and it is still going strong. He has only drained a few colors so far, which is impressive.
  4. Colored Pencils :: Also awesome to have in the arsenal. Way better than Sharpies. And can I just say? We tried “Watercolor Markers” which seem like a kind of hybrid somewhere between oil pastels and markers… and dang if those aren’t the messiest things I’ve ever seen. Don’t go with that option, mmmmkay?
  5. Origami Paper :: Great News! Art for Kids Hub has instructions for making lots of cool things with Origami Paper! You can definitely cut some construction paper into squares getting started, but once you move beyond the most simple pieces, having some actual Origami paper will really, really make a big difference. I’m amazed at how quickly our eldest can (without following instructions now!) whip out a dragon, a ladybug, a popper frog, yoda… the list goes on…
  6. Ralph Masiello’s Drawing Books :: These step-by-step guides are easy to follow ways to learn to draw new things like Robots, Dragons, things in the Ocean, Dinosaurs, and even those Bugs you’ve been viewing with your pocket microscope!!
  7. Side Note: If you have any friends who deal Usborne books… they have some amazing Travel Activity books that we really love. You can sometimes find them on Amazon, but I have a feeling they’re not really supposed to be for sale there… so I’d say look for a local dealer! 😉

Writing & Calligraphy

  1. Handwriting Practice for Boys: If your younger students need help tidying up their print, summer is a great time to practice. This book has sentences for copying that will make boys laugh, like “No girls allowed” and “It would be so cool to have super powers.”
  2. Handwriting Practice for Girls {I’m sure it’s obvious — think pink and sweet and sparkly, right?}
  3. Cursive Practice: Some school systems have done away with cursive, but I totally believe in the value of learning it! How sad our kids would not be able to read the original Declaration of Independence or other important documents if they never learned cursive?! This cursive practice book has jokes to keep the kiddos smiling while they scribble!
  4. Calligraphy Book: Your older kids who’ve already mastered print (and maybe cursive?) may delight in learning beautiful writing with calligraphy. My kids haven’t made it here yet, but I’m thinking about starting this summer!
  5. Calligraphy Starter Set: This looks like a great starter set for jumping in with first-timers!
  6. If you’re just getting started with a writing kid, I highly recommend Handwriting Without Tears for print or cursive… and they have a keyboarding program, too!

When You’re Traveling (Kids Under 6)

  1. Melissa & Doug’s Water Wow :: I have no idea how long we’ve had these things, but they are survivors. Truly, you do just need to add water to the little pen provided. Number Three asks to do this at home on a regular basis. And if you lose the pen? Grab a regular paint brush and a medicine cup. Cleaning up a tablespoon of spilled water (as opposed to a whole cup) will make you feel like a genius. That link was girly. Here’s some boy stuff.
  2. Spot It, Junior :: This small, simple, easy to take-along game is great for identifying matches and developing thinking skills! For younger learners there is a Shapes and Numbers version. For older kids, there is also an Original Spot It game which is a little bit more difficult.
  3. Mini-Magnetic Tangrams :: My kids have an old set similar to this one that they will pull out and play with again and again.

Traveling With Any Age

  1. Primary Journals/Composition Books :: This might be my favorite travel idea EVER. Make sure you get the journals that have the space at the top for drawing a picture and the lines for writing underneath! Use a glue stick to stick on a Slice of Construction Paper and trim the edges to fit. Then print a little label like “Sarah’s Trip to The Beach” or “David’s Summer Adventures.” Invite your kiddo to draw a picture each day and write a few of their favorite things about that day of the trip or that summer activity (or you can help them write/explain what they’ve drawn). We’ve been doing this for a few years, thanks to a thoughtful Preschool Teacher creating one for us — and these books are like gems that remind us of all these funny, wonderful things we would’ve forgotten from our adventures together!!
  2. The Kindle :: We aren’t excited about screens for the sake of screens, and entertainment. So we decided to buy our kids the super basic black and white Kindles that do not have apps or games. We check out books from the library for the Kindle (I’m still amazed by that) and we also borrow books via Kindle Unlimited. If you have an eager reader and the spare cash for this investment, I have to say, we’ve been amazed to see how much more the kids have read, simply because we can check out new books without leaving the house. Note:: They make the all-singing, all-dancing ones cheaper but beware: I think the only reason our kids are using the Kindle to read is because it does not have games and apps. They will probably cost you more in the long run! Our eldest was given a Nook (which died) but he hardly ever read on it! Also note: the Paperwhite is backlit, the traditional Kindle is not — ponder whether you want your kids to be able to read at night or not. (And know clipping a little book lamp to a Kindle also works and saves $40 I think.)
  3. Kids Atlas :: This is a super-engaging little workbook that combines a heap of educational information with activities, and walks you through the states in the US. Includes maps, facts like state birds, flowers, and trees. #1 says, “There are lots of fun puzzles and mazes and it sort of helps you with Math a little bit.” 🙂
  4. Are We There Yet? :: Similar to the Kids Atlas, this is a travel activity book that will help your kiddo pass the time while learning new things at the same time! Win win!

{The eldest really wanted this lizard to make an appearance.}

Rainy Day Read-Alouds

We all know we should probably be reading aloud with our children. And when it comes to picture books, I have no trouble pulling three dozen off the shelf at the library, and then realizing I’m going to have to put some back until next time.

But we’ve arrived at chapter book stage, which is awesome and daunting. Every book feels like such a big commitment! Now the hardest part of reading aloud with my kids — especially when it comes to chapter books — is just picking a book that we’re actually interested in reading together. I’ve found that reading aloud with your kids can create this bond like nothing else… pass heaps of time… and be educational, all at the same time. It has proved to be SO worth the effort.

You can pull out the Legos and let them build while they listen. Pull out some coloring books and let them create while they listen. Don’t be afraid to put one book down and try another… but don’t judge a book by its cover! *Make sure you see my notes below about engaging kids with the book/movie combo!!

Remember to check with your friends… (maybe try a book exchange?) check at the library… check the used section on Amazon…

Here’s a List of Some of Our Recent Favorites

    1. The Mouse and the Motorcycle
    2. The Chronicles of Narnia (We started with the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, took a break to let them grow up a bit, and are planning to start again soon… excited squeal) — I haven’t found a set I love yet to recommend — but you can check the library, find a set you like on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble… or on Kindle!
    3. The Butterfly Lion :: This is a sad story, and is by a British writer, which means some aspects of it may take a moment or two longer to be understood by American ears. But it is a beautiful, meaningful narrative. (Bonus… I think it’s on Amazon for less than $1!)
    4. Mr. Stink :: This one is hilarious. But be warned: It has a bit of “potty talk” which I just skipped over and substituted for some words that I liked better. 🙂 Also British.
    5. Story of the World :: I thought this would seem like an overly educational suggestion, but this is a book actually requested by my kids as a Read-Aloud on a regular basis. It also serves as a wonderful history curriculum, but it reads in an engaging way, and often tells stories to help the kids picture the time period being discussed.
    6. Sassafras Science, Biology :: These books are truly a science curriculum disguised inside a page-turner story. We have loved reading about the adventures of the Sassafras Twins and learning lots of new vocabulary and Geography at the same time.
    7. Those are a few of recent favorites. Sarah MacKenzie at Read-Aloud Revival has a great list of her Favorite First Novels to Read-Aloud with Kids that you should also check out! (She is awesome.)

Here’s a List of Some Favorites that You Can Read and then Watch the Movie!!

When we were first trying to encourage our kids to sit still and let us read aloud together, it wasn’t a super easy task. But we started out picking books that also had a movie version. Once we finished the book we watched the movie together. Suddenly, the kids were so much more engaged in listening to the books. We could talk about how they were alike and different from the movies, what we liked and didn’t like about the changes… so many things that were great conversation starters.

Side Note: We buy ginormous bags of popcorn on Subscribe & Save on Amazon and use this stove-top popper that we love. (You can pop popcorn for reading, too, ya know?)

  1. Charlotte’s Web :: We watched the live-action version instead of the cartoon version {from my childhood} after reading this one and everyone was delighted. And then we watched Babe because it just felt like it fit in.
  2. Pippi Longstocking :: I remember watching the 80s movie for this wonderful book in FIRST GRADE. It is kind of cheesy, but the kids, especially number three, ate this one up!!
  3. Charlie & The Chocolate Factory :: Much to my dismay, the kids preferred the newer version of this film to the one I watched as a kid. But I guess the Johnny Depp character makes more sense to this generation than Gene Wilder?
  4. The BFG :: So many wonderful laughs are packed into this book! We are still repeating funny things that the BFG would say. (We loved this new movie, but some scenes might be scary for sensitive younger viewers!)
  5. Mary Poppins Oh my goodness I loved watching this again with my kiddos after reading the book! Having just seen the movies as a child, I had no idea Mary Poppins was a book series until I checked the first book out at the library. They are different from what I expected having seen the movie first, but just as fun and whimsical, and of course, mostly better than the movie. Even though I love Julie Andrews.

Last but not least… Math stuff.

I know you’re like… what? But there are some math tools in the arsenal at our house that our kids really enjoy getting creative with. Tape a blank piece of paper to a drawing board and give your kid a 30/60 or a 45 degree triangle and a T-square… and watch them amaze you!!

  1. Drawing Board – If you already have something flat like a good-sized clipboard, this is not necessary!
  2. T-square
  3. Ruler
  4. 30/60/90 Triangle + 45 Triangle
  5. Montessori-Style Tangrams

So there ya go, friends! I hope you found some gems in that list that will help make summer a fun time of learning, creativity, and kids being engaged in doing good stuff that’s good for the brain.

Have an amazing summer making memories with your kids!
xCC

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A Blue Period and My 2016 Reader Survey

They say it comes in different ways to different people. To artists like Van Gogh and Picasso, to authors like Jack Kerouac. It’s this place where it feels like a blanket of sad lays down on a life. It’s heavy and it’s confusing and it might make you question just about everything, including your self and your gifts. Do you still have anything to offer the world?

Jack Kerouac said, “I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.”

Maybe it’s a place most folks who tend to live life as a “creative” go through. I sat around a table with a few photographers last week and was amazed at how people working creatively in a completely different sphere can experience the same sufferings. Do you have anything worth giving?

Maybe for me, it was the “baby blues” that often come to visit when a new baby’s made an appearance, and they’re so full of joy and the world seems like a big mess. Maybe it’s the state of the nation I live in — looking at things and wondering how the heck this whole mess can get cleaned up, made right. The justice and the love and the mercy — how do we find them and live them? Maybe it was the four months I spent trodding word-by-word through Les Miserables. Maybe it’s trying to figure out how to do all the things I hope to do when there are all the things I need to do. But probably, all these things swirling together with a dash of discouragement and a whisper or two from the enemy of my soul combined to create my own little blue period.

KittyCat1

Phone

Seems to me that almost every time God whispers something deep and purposeful to my soul, my enemy is likely to come with his own clever ways and ask, “Did God really say?” 

So I’ve floundered and failed and fallen short for what feels like ages but is probably more like a good solid handful of months. And I’ve wondered and worried and asked — what about the miserable? What about the racism? The rioting? The troubles nearby? And the ones I know of, so much like these, back in countries I love on opposite sides of the globe?

Do I really have anything worthwhile to say?

Did God really say?

On a beautiful Sunday morning in a community of believers, we sang these old words made new — a hymn from the 1800s, remade for this century:

Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal.

And I remembered those whispers from God’s heart to mine at the beginning of the year. He didn’t ask for the moon or a million prayers or my firstborn.

He certainly didn’t ask me to fix the world’s problems. He just whispered: Faithful. Be faithful.

And this is the truth that is changing the blue to a bright and hope-filled green for me: I can’t heal the world. On our own, We won’t heal the world. But heaven can. And if we’re faithful — if we will faithfully live out the radically counter-cultural love that God calls us to, we’ll pave the way for heaven on earth.

So these are the ways I’m moving forward right now. I’m asking forgiveness for my lazy, hope-less soul, and gratefully receiving new measures of hope, which are my own choice to take after all. And I’m asking, Lord today, today, help me to be faithful.

In a desire to start afresh with an eye toward faithfulness, I’ve created a little reader survey. Just 9 super simple questions, to help me understand what would bless your heart, and help you on your journey toward faithfulness, and ultimately, toward Jesus. I’m hoping to be faithful with the gifts I’ve been given, and to encourage you in yours, too. I hope you precious and dear readers and friends will forgive me for the ways I’ve been unfaithful, and pray for me, as I pray for you, to keep turning to Jesus and finding His will and His way. We will fall short, we will be forgiven, and we will keep going deeper into Him.

Will you please take a moment to take this survey? Your time and your genuine honesty would be a gift to my soul, friend!

I’m excited to start this journey afresh, and praying that in the days to come, it will bless your heart…

Be encouraged today. Earth has NO sorrow heaven can’t heal. And our part in the story? Is faithfulness.

xCC

Please click here to take my 2016 Reader Survey