Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My Year at Home

Today marks the 1 year anniversary of my "last day at work" -- that is work outside the home.  It's been such a joy-filled year of learning for me, and I wanted to share a little of how I have grown and developed as a homemaker -- mainly to encourage myself to keep going and growing!

First, I want to say that even though women who are stay at home moms work very hard (or should, it's certainly a temptation to be lazy without any deadlines), nothing can compare to how hard I worked while I was a working mom, especially with an infant (which was most of the time).  Perhaps it's easier to be a working mom if you have a nanny and pay someone to clean your house and pick up your groceries, but I couldn't say since I didn't have those things (and most working moms don't).  So I want to give a little shout out of encouragement to the working moms that I do not think my life is harder now.  NOooooo, quite the contrary!  I certainly think my life is easier!  It's hard to even remember the details of that crazy, rushed around time in my life, packing my lunch and storing breastmilk, and carrying so much stuff to the car each day for my kids and for me.  It's probably hard to remember because I was still so sleep deprived getting up with Chippy every couple hours at night and bringing HUGE mason jars of iced coffee to work to get me through the day!

So when this year began, my babies and I were on detox mode.  Susie had a rather rough adjustment to me going back to work after my maternity leave with Chip because her world just kept flipping over and over, and now she was with different babysitters every day.  Josh was so gracious to me as I seriously spent so much time in my days snuggling on the couch with my kids.  We were making up for lost time, and Josh understood that my priority was just being with them!  He would say "I understand, 'Babies don't keep'." (I had that poem framed in the kids room).  We spent several months of very loosely scheduled days, with tons of trips to parks last fall, often just the 3 of us.  I have lovely sunny memories of sitting on a quilt at the park eating lunch with Susie and nursing Chip, and not missing grown up conversation! I didn't do much at that time to develop my homemaking skills, other than maybe menu planning and little bit of frugal living stuff.  But that was ok!  I knew it was our "honeymoon period".

Then it seems like the next 6 months were pretty much solid holidays, one after another.  It was really wonderful to be WITH my kids during all of those, and I did quite a lot to try and make them special.  I took on more crafting and sewing projects -- starting with Christmas and all the way to Susie's birthday at the end of May, I was always working on some sort of project for a holiday or event, though I usually did so during naptimes or in the evening.  Yesterday I was working on some sewing and realized that I've gotten a LOT faster and more confident sewing than I used to be, and that's just because of my practice!

Brother and Sister Playtime
At some point in the spring, I started having Chip and Susie have "Brother and Sister playtime" in their room after lunch.  Susie would call "come on, Chippy, it's brother and sister playtime!!" and he would crawl like crazy to follow her in there.  Some days they would play together longer and better, and I would get more cleaning done than usual, but typically, I would have them play for about 20 minutes while I did the dishes and cleaned the kitchen.  Chip went through a little phase where he didn't like to go in there without me, so I just let Susie play by herself (it seemed like punishment for her to make him wail in there!), but mostly they are happy for a while that way.  It was pretty much still the only consistent thing I had in my housekeeping schedule, other than making dinner! 

This summer I realized to have some sort of cleaning system was going to be better than having nothing at all, because even if I deviated from it or just mostly failed at it, I would probably do more trying to keep it than I would otherwise.  So I found a sample schedule on Pinterest and printed it off, and have tried to follow the best I can.  While it doesn't address deep cleaning or decluttering or anything, it's actually been simple to follow!  My main trial was vacuuming because my kids are both freaked out by the vacuum cleaner and it's so hard to find a chance to run it when they are getting stuff out all over the place -- to both tidy and vacuum seems overwhelming at times, so I would usually do it when Josh was home or when it was my day for an errand swap!  Well, for about a month now I've been having them read books together on the couch while I vacuum and it has worked really well!  If Chip gets anxious, I tell Susie to cheer him up by smiling and saying "it's ok, brother!!' and she is usually so focused on how happy he is that she has gotten over her own anxieties!  My house has CERTAINLY been looking better these days, even though I am usually not able to quite do everything on the housekeeping schedule, it still gives me a framework.

I have been thinking about starting my kids on a "play alone time" -- we did it yesterday afternoon so I could change the sheets on my bed (side note -- our bed is totally their fave place to be!  If I go into my room, Chip follows me and stands by the bed reaching up and whimpering for me to put him up on it!).  It didn't last long, but I think Chippy may be big enough for it now.  It might take Susie a while to adjust to the concept since she is pretty social, and she already has her alone time reading during naptime (which does not include any sleeping for her).

It may seem like I am a pretty slow learner -- that it was almost a year before I started a cleaning schedule!  It's true, I was slow.  You know how it is -- life just goes on: teething followed by sickness then some other bump in the schedule.  Chip didn't start sleeping through the (whole) night until he was nearly 14 months old, so I really did cut myself some slack.  Maybe too much, but I don't think I will regret it in the long run.  I know I did spend plenty of time just devoted to my kiddos and enjoying our life together!

This morning I thanked the Lord for the wonderful responsibility of caring for my kids and home full time and asked him to enable me to be faithful in my calling!  A clean house is not my goal, but rather living out Christ in front of my kids, and loving my family by serving them.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Happy Birthday Chip!

Our boy was sick the weekend before his birthday, so we had to postpone his party until the weekend after.  It turned out great, and of course we much prefer to have a healthy happy birthday boy enjoy his party!  I wanted to have it at the park because we were having a woodland themed party -- seemed perfect for a boy named Chip!  Here are a few pictures of Chippy's woodland party.

Big sister helping me carry the decorations
Table all set and pretty!

Mommy with her birthday boy
Closer look at the bunting

I made the cake stand with an old candlestick glued to this 1970's wood cutting board

We ate sticks and berries, tomato toadstools and cupcakes -- all the clever sandwiches had to be tossed a week later and I wasn't going to rebuy and remake them all! There was really no room on the table anyway.

Not interested in the cupcake.  Just eating blueberries.
Singing Happy Birthday.  We love our Chip!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

So Thankful for My Boy

On his first Easter
I just wanted to write a little post in Chippy's honor since his birthday is a week from tomorrow.  I cannot believe how quickly this year has gone.  I cannot believe how big he has gotten.  Sometimes I still cannot believe I'm the mommy to a little boy!  

When we did our gender reveal party and I cut that blue cake, I COULD NOT have been more surprised.  A boy?? A BOY??  Did not see it coming!  I couldn't imagine how it would be to have a boy!  I feel like his young life so far has been rather full of surprises!  He was supposed to be a scheduled c-section on May 31st -- a full week before his due date.  I almost wrote it in the baby book!  But as time passed and I never grew bigger than I was at 28 weeks, my doctor was concerned that he was perhaps not growing either.  So on May 9th just before 36 weeks, I went in to have him.

Chippy, I will never, ever forget that day.  I walked into the hospital, not knowing what we'd face, but resting in God's grace and trusting his goodness.  He who knit you together in my inward parts was sustaining your little life -- I could tell that something was wrong, you weren't moving as much as you had been even just a few weeks before.  You seemed to be resting, just tiny kicks here and there.  I lay there during the operation, waiting for a flurry of activity and my baby being whisked away to medical treatment, but instead heard a cry, and Josh saying, "oh, he's little! He's so LITTLE!"  In just minutes you were snuggled up to my face. You were ok.  Just small.  The Lord had protected your life, sustaining you all the way, even though I was no longer supplying just what you needed to grow.

You had BLONDE hair!  My teeny 4 pound 5 ounce blonde hair boy was a blondie!  I still can't get over it when I see your chubby cherub face with your huge blue eyes and blonde hair.  You couldn't be cuter!  Your smile is so winning -- with a little dimple on your cheek and those four gleaming white Chicklet teeth.  When you lean your head back and chuckle you can see your sweet fat chins and all your teeth at the same time and it seriously COULD NOT be more adorable!

And you still surprise me because although in many ways you are so much like your sister -- pretty happy and fun, loving to play outside and read books, easy to get a response out of, ready to laugh and ready to snuggle -- sometimes you do something that is just YOU. Like figure out toys all by yourself, and manipulate your pacifier, and crawl like a speed demon to something you think about and STILL wake up (and wake up and wake up) at night!  You are awesome at entertaining yourself, even though you would much rather have everyone at least in the same room as you (or better yet, watching you proudly).  You still take a morning nap at church during Sunday school!  You beat Sissy on that by about 6 months!  You have been a pretty great eater, and able to feed yourself from a pretty young age.  When I sneak you some avocado, though, you fish it out of your mouth immediately with a look on your face that says "VILE WEED!" like Newman on Seinfeld.

You love to sing and bop when you hear music.  You go nuts when we turn on Laurie Berkner -- singing and bopping like crazy and getting as close to the TV as possible!  I'm always impressed when I see you play.  What are you thinking about?  You consider what you are holding.  You turn pages, take objects out and put them in containers, push buttons, and move parts with extremely nimble fingers.  You pretend to draw like Sissy, with her markers, with her magna-doodle.  You pretend to cook, you stir and stir, and even pretend to eat play food making tasting noises!

You hate getting dressed.  You hate getting your diaper changed.  You do NOT like me to keep you from throwing your food.  You have strong opinions about these things.  You love baths!  You love pouring cups of water.  You love taking bites of our food. You love snuggling in bed with Mommy and Daddy and giving hugs and being held and played with.  You love to wave and say hi to people and pictures, mirrors, and animals at the zoo.  Sometimes with both little hands.

Chip Neisler, you are a GIFT.  A precious, amazing, surprising gift from the Lord.  He is so so good to lend you to our family for a season.  We praise him for your first year of life, and celebrate the Creator and Sustainer of all things by celebrating your birthday.  May your life be lived to the praise of His glory!


Saturday, April 21, 2012

My Greener Life

Over the past year, I have bit by bit changed some things in my life/household/family that has enabled us to live more resourcefully and frugally.  I was felt concerned about the waste in my life, and caring for our planet, which God has given to us stewardship over and while I'm sure I have plenty of room for improvement, I just thought I'd write about some of the changes we've made and how the adjustment has been.

Susie in a Econobum diaper -- so cute!
1. Cloth diapering -- this is probably the biggest step I've taken.  Last year I had $30 free to spend at a local little store that sells a small variety of diapers because of a Living Social deal, so I figured it was a no-loss venture!  If I didn't like them, I could resell them or pass them on, and not lose any money.  Well, I liked them better than disposables right away!  I had one bumGenius and 1 pack of Econobum (which is a cover that comes with 3 prefolds) so I could try out a couple different styles.  It wasn't long before I invested a bit of money in 2 more Econobum 3 packs (they were only $11.95!) and then a friend shared some extra prefolds and made me another cover, and suddenly I was cloth diapering Susie full time.  The adjustment was not hard at all.  I imagined that she wouldn't fit her clothes anymore because of the CD booty she now had, but actually that wasn't a problem, and she wore more skirts and bloomer-type shorts as summer came.  By the end of the summer, Chip was big enough to wear cloth diapers as well, and so I had 2 in CD!  The main problem (for me) was how/where/when to wash them.  We don't have a w/d in our home, which is one reason I had shied away from trying CD earlier.  My kind friend Sarah (who had lent me some extra prefolds) lets me wash them at her house weekly.  It's not as easy as if I could do them at home, but she does live nearby, and often lets me throw them in with her diapers.  She even stripped them for me!  I never would have guessed how much I prefer cloth diapers to disposables, but I really do!  I love how much money I've saved, I love reusing them over and over and feeling like I'm putting $ in the bank each time I put one on, and I LOVE my kiddos CD booties in them. :)  Susie pretty much self-potty trained, and I do think CD was a huge part of that -- she had learned to hold it so she didn't feel the wet.  I could go on and on about cloth diapers, but I'll draw the line there.
2. Switching to Norwex -- for sure the 2nd biggest change in our greener life is using Norwex products.  6 months ago I hosted a party for my friend who just started selling Norwex, and earned quite a few products for free, and I am HOOKED!  This company sells household and personal care products that aren't made from chemicals.  Among other things. I have several microfiber cloths that I use with water to clean the house with, and I use their detergent for our laundry.  My other favorite product is a mattress cleaner I spray on our beds/pillows/upholstered furniture that has greatly improved our sleep because we aren't coughing and sneezing from the dust and dust mites anymore!  I really think switching to Norwex has helped Chip's eczema because it's reduced the allergens in his environment.  I do not have to buy paper towels or household cleaners anymore and I'm SO glad I don't have a cabinet full of poisons for my kids to discover.

3. Natural personal products -- my friend and I made our own deodorant which I think works pretty well.  I use coconut oil to moisturize (I just started using it for Chip, but borrow it myself too!) most of the time -- though I do still enjoy Bath and Body works lotions!  I use the Norwex toothbrush and Tom's of Maine toothpaste -- but I think I may try making my own toothpaste as well before too long.  These things are all cutting down on the chemicals in our house and also are really cost-effective!

4. Sewing/upcycling/reusing -- I'm a pretty novice sewer, but I did make a set of cloth napkins out of a bedsheet to expand what we already had.  Now we use cloth napkins almost exclusively!  I'm trying out a few more sewing projects because I do like making things with my own hands rather than buying disposable items (like birthday banners and tablecloths for my kids birthday parties -- they are special and reusable!). I also sewed myself several sets of nursing pads.  Probably the biggest reusable part of our life is the kid's clothing.  The majority of what they wear are either hand-me-downs, from our church's Essentials room where I can get free second hand clothes or if they are purchased by me, I frequently buy them at consignment sales.  Obviously this is a big money saver!  I find I'm pretty picky about the new clothing I buy because I know I can usually find at least SOMETHING usable for free!  I only buy a few special items or necessities.
Got these second hand for Susie and now Chip wears them

Do you have any greener life ideas for me to take on next?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Kisses from Katie

I finished reading Kisses from Katie in the middle of the night last night because my 11 month old was awake and so was I.  I've read her blog for a couple years now, and have been taught by her lessons in motherhood, suffering, and loving in Christ's name.  I was eager to read this book and learn about her whole story.

Katie Davis lives in Uganda, where she moved after high school to serve the poor and suffering (mostly orphaned) children there.  Several years later, she has adopted 14 orphaned little girls and works long days feeding, caring for medical needs (she has to look up how to do things online since she doesn't have medical training) and visiting the poor and needy in their affliction.  She is certainly being the hands and feet of Christ and the stories of human suffering that she has seen first-hand -- and so often been instrumental to help relieve -- are astounding.  Her ministry, Amazima, pays to enroll extremely poor children in school, provide the uniforms they need as well as school supplies and medical care.  She also feeds the children at least weekly in her house -- hundreds of them!

While I don't necessarily share all of Katie's views theologically (she often talks of missing God's will or being in the center of God's will), she is clearly being used by God in a place where most of us would not even want to VISIT.  Reading about her life shows me how very easy mine is.  I see how it is petty to complain that my baby woke up last night. . . because he wasn't awake dying of hunger or fighting HIV, so my care for him was pretty easy.  I often lament not having a washer and dryer, but I am only caring for a family of 4, not 15, and not in a place where everyone gets really dirty each day.

I'm so thankful for Katie's work and her writing!  May the Lord bless this modern-day Amy Carmichael in all her endeavors!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Holy Week and Coloring Eggs Naturally

This year I spread out my "Holy Week" celebration a bit so that we did some Easter-focused activities over the course of Lent.  But this week, a few special activities seemed the most appropriate (such as the Easter mountain, which I am planning to do tomorrow). On Sunday we celebrated Palm Sunday by waving palm branches and singing and painting a picture of Jesus on a donkey.

Just beginning -- not too messy yet
Today we colored Easter eggs, and I made the dyes out of vegetables and fruits with some water and vinegar added.  I liked not buying the chemical dye since my kids are so young and apt to put the colored eggs in their mouths, and lick their fingers while dyeing them.  I took the whole operation outside so it was handy to just let the drippings run off the table and then pour out the cups in the grass.  The bees were pretty interested in the grape juice dye that was covering the entire area, but fortunately Susie was (in her words) "pretty brave of bees". :)

The dyes were really easy to make, and CHEAP since I just used stuff I had on hand.  I found the recipes I used here, and adjusted a couple of them.  I chose what I made based on what I already had, so I didn't have to go buy anything.  We did brown (coffee with a bit of vinegar), purple -- which turned gray/blue (grape juice with vinegar), orange -- this one turned out the best (simmered onion peels), blue -- which didn't look much different from purple (frozen blueberries) and yellow (spinach simmered in water -- I made this up myself because I had wilty spinach on hand).  The main drawback is that to get a deeper color at all, you had to leave them in a long time, which is a little hard with a 2 year old who kept grabbing the white eggs and popping them in cups and then popping them back out. 

But I still think they turned out pretty, and since Susie didn't know the difference, she wasn't disappointed that they were lighter colored.  She LOVES them, and LOVED the activity.  I gave her total freedom to play around with them because I wasn't concerned about the mess or her tasting them.  So as we leisurely colored eggs, we talked about how the colors made me think of Jesus (grape juice was perfect because we've been teaching her about the Last Supper so much). I will totally do this again next year!  

Finished product!

I let them play with them for a bit after we were done
Final note -- I did get the book Petook, and I liked quite a bit, but I think it was a little too old for Susie.  The wording is kind of flowery, but on part of it, I just told about the story and pointed at the pictures.  Maybe in a couple years it would be worth buying, and certainly if you have school-aged kids.

Tomorrow is big for us, since we are traveling this weekend -- so we're fitting in a bunch of stuff early.  We're doing the Easter mountain, and having a special Easter supper to celebrate.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Easter Decorations and Redeeming Easter Baskets

Easter table
Tonight we cut some branches off a dogwood tree and completed our Easter decorations.  I'm excited about how pretty it looks and also how I'm going to use the branches as an "Easter Tree".  Starting tomorrow morning Susie will get to open an egg and hang what is in it on the tree -- I have 12 symbols or trinkets that have significance in the Easter story.  I was suddenly inspired when I remembered my milk glass chicken to use that to "hide" the egg in each morning.  To go with the chicken/egg, I've ordered the book Petook, (a tale based on the hen that gathers her children under her wings that Jesus refers to when speaking to the Jewish people) from the library.  If it's good, I'll let you know and maybe buy it for next year!  The cup on the table holds the paper scraps I cut for Susie to add each day to our paper chain (which is now long enough to hang over the mirror by the table).  And one of Susie's Easter watercolor paintings is under the mirror -- I've been adding her Easter pictures to our decor as they are completed for several weeks now.

Another decoration I made this year was a banner out of scrap fabric with verses for Lent clipped to it.  I like the way the fabrics look together, but I think next year I will improve the way I did the verses -- I'm open to suggestions!  I would also love to hang this by the table -- maybe next year that will work out better.  For now, it's hanging over the couch, which is ok.

I'm almost done with gathering up what is going in my kid's Easter baskets!  Since Susie was tiny I decided to do an Easter basket, but to redeem them by making them focus on Jesus and the real reason for Easter!  In the past couple years I've just given her one or two books with a plush lamb and maybe one piece of candy. . . but this year I bought in advance, so the amount is building! :)  I still need to get Chippy a lamb (I kind of want one that rattles but not shaped like a rattle, if that makes sense), but otherwise, everything else is at least ordered.  I may end up giving them one or two of their books early.  In addition to the books, I have a big stuffed sheep for Susie and a chocolate cross (which she spotted in the grocery store and began singing "Easter Friday" at the top of her lungs).  Here are the books I giving this year:
The Big Picture Story Bible with audio CD by David Helm

The Easter Story by Patricia Pingry

Jesus is Coming --board book about the triumphal entry

I got/am getting all my books from LifeWay -- if you are in the Louisville area, the campus store has or will have all of these if you want to pick any of these up!  Also, please join us for storytime on Good Friday morning at 10:00 am --  I will be reading the account of the passion of Christ and resurrection from The Big Picture Story Bible!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Countdown to Easter

Tonight I was looking for Christian or religious themed Easter stickers in a big chain craft store to use with my kids in counting down to Easter Sunday -- basically just planning to stick on on the calendar each day. . . not overly exciting, I know, but I wanted to do something!  Not surprisingly, there were NONE to be found -- seriously nothing whatsoever.

It's ok, though, because I was struck with a GREAT idea for counting down to Easter!  This would have worked great for Lent, and I'm counting that -- the season of Lent is kind of long for a 2 year old to keep up with, but in future years I'm planning on using my idea during the entire Lent season.

It's very simple -- make a paper chain by adding a ring of paper each day leading up to Easter.  The chain will grow longer and longer as Easter draws close.  You can talk to your children about sin, and their sin, as is appropriate for their age, and that our sin is like a chain on us, putting us in bondage.  If your kids are older, you could write verses about sin, or even sins they are fighting and confessing during this time.  Then on Easter morning, they can rip the chain all up because Jesus triumphed over sin!

I'm sure this idea is not totally original, but I do not remember seeing it anywhere before.  It's really simple, but I think it's fitting for little or big kids -- and I think kids will enjoy tearing it apart on Easter Sunday.  We are starting ours tomorrow morning!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

More on reading to younger siblings

Chip celebrating Dr. Seuss' birthday with us
I've been continuing to work on building read-aloud into Chip's daily life -- I want him to grow to love books just like his big sister does.  My friend pointed out that her second daughter is introduced to much older books than her first one was, but she also has a hard time making sure she reads to her.  I think this is a pretty common issue -- the older sibling is able to vocalize their desires and the younger child can take a back seat to those demands!  So here are a few more ideas for teaching the younger child to love reading time.

1.  Let them move -- have you ever had your baby scoot away while you read to them?  Ahhhhh -- why not read why they jump in their jumperoo?  Yes, you may have to be loud (not a problem for me), but let's face it, you certainly are associating reading with excitement!  My kids have both been BIG jumpers, and they start kicking their legs in a jumping motion as soon as they see I'm putting them in it.  The other day we read 6 straight books while Chippy jumped and jumped and clapped and grinned and laughed -- and LOVED IT.  When I saw the pile we'd gone through, I was stoked.  He certainly had fun during that storytime!  

2. Make sure they get access to the pictures, even if it seems like they aren't really paying attention.  I have to consistently tell Susie to sit down and not block Chip's view of the book.  Like all things, she is learning that she is not the only person present who matters.  She is usually so excited about the book that she jumps up to see the pictures.  It's easy to mentally go "oh, he's not really listening anyway. . . " but it's a good pattern to set to teach the older sibling to include the younger one in reading time.  It's a good skill to learn for when they listen to a story in a classroom setting as well.

3. Help them learn to explore the book with their hands -- you may need to start this by putting something in their mouths.  The other day Chip sat on my lap and turned the pages while we read a short board book together.  He didn't stop to bite it at all!  I've always let him explore our books with his wet little teething mouth, but I read to him several times while he had his pacifier, and so he learned to look at the pictures while I read.  It's really exciting when kids start to look at the pictures and get it.  I let him rip up junk mail when it comes, just so he can explore the paper and pictures and the other day I noticed he was touching the faces of the kids on a fold-out postcard we'd gotten.  He recognized what he was looking at!  This takes TONS of practice!  And babies may have that ah-ha! moment at different points.  

Chip with Big Red Barn
4. Pay attention to their favorites -- I could have easily told you what Susie's favorite books were at 9-10 months.  But Chip reads. . . what Susie likes, pretty much.  And obviously that's not all bad, but I think it's good for me to see what stuff he likes to read and even choose books just for him at the library.  In honor of this, I'm going to add a column to my blog sharing his current faves, as I come across those.  Maybe your baby likes the animal books when you make all the funny noises.  Maybe he likes the faces, or the rhyming books you make into a song.  

5. Make literature available for their destructive little fingers.  We have piles of books everywhere, and I trust Susie to treat them well.  But since Chip isn't mobile yet, he can't just crawl over and choose a book from the bookshelf.  So I've been putting various board books and cheap/free books from kids' meals or even sometimes mail or other pictures/paper in a clear box that once had spinach in it.  He loves the box because it makes a crunchy/crinkly noise, and he can see in it, even if he's on his belly because it's clear.  This is my current method for making them available to him.  Something else may work well for you -- so get creative!

Here are the posts I wrote about reading to babies when Susie was little if it is helpful to you!

Part 1 -- which I wrote when Susie was 10 months
Part 2 -- which I wrote when Susie was 18 months

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Talking to young children about death

Many people struggle with talking to little children about death, heaven, or even Easter because it means discussing Christ's death on the cross.  I have friends who are very good parents who have avoided even introducing those words to their children because they fear that they are not emotionally ready to deal with such painful things, and I can't say I necessarily disagree with that.  However, my children, and many others as well, encounter and even are born into situations where they must learn about death sooner than their parents might wish.  

One of the last pictures of my mom
Since my mom died right before my first child was born, Susie has never known her grandmother.  When she was a baby, I wondered how I would tell her about my mom, or if she would wonder why she had 2 grandfathers but just one grandmother.  I mentioned my mom, told her that she was named after her, but one day I met my upstairs neighbor in the hallway and she told me her mom was dying.  I absolutely broke down in front her and my kids, and later that afternoon, when Susie said "Mommy was sad when she was talking to Miss Jodi" I knew I had to tell her.  I had to tell her that my mom got sick and died.  And that I miss her.  And then I got out a book about Heaven and we read it together (I helped the words along a bit -- we were somewhat just enjoying the pictures).  And now she knows.  And we can talk about it.  And we do quite a bit. Grandmommy is in heaven.  She used to live at Grandad's house but then she died and now she lives with Jesus.

Here is the beautiful part for me: my mom is now known to her.  Susie recognizes her pictures and talks about Grandmommy.  The other day she was pretending about her.  We still haven't even pulled out the home videos, but when we do, I know she will be even more present in her mind. And when we visit my childhood home next, I will be able to point out even more special things that I know she will latch onto.

When Susie heard me say that Miss Jodi's mom was dying she said "like Jesus died on the cross."  I am so thankful that her first reference with death is Christ's death -- because he triumphed over death!  And it is because of his death that we who have lost our loved ones can have hope -- and can pass this hope on to our children when we teach them about death.  I am not suggesting being overly morbid or trying to push children into emotional situations they are not ready for, but I am talking about creating a category for my children in which we weep but we hope in Christ when we are facing a difficult situation.  This is why I bring my kids to a visitation -- perhaps not yet to see the casket unless it was someone they knew particularly well, and we haven't had that situation yet -- but to see what mourning looks like to people who hope in the gospel. 

The truth is, there is not an age in which we can discuss death and not feel the sting it brings.  One of the elders at my church, Bruce Ware,  lost his mother shortly before I lost mine and he told me "Gretchen, my mother was 90 years old and ready to see her Lord.  But she was my mom. And I miss her tremendously because she was a good mother."  It is also true that we cannot control when and if death will encounter our children -- it is outside our control.  Your child may lose a pet, or a grandparent, may deal with a miscarried younger sibling or may witness the sickness and loss of a family or church friend, as many children at our church witnessed when our music pastor Chip Stam battled cancer and died. My encouragement would be to begin at a small age to explain just a little bit, and be open with them when someone is sick or passes away.  And even more important -- be sure to teach your children, even very very young ones, that Christ died once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous that he might bring us to God.  It is the ONLY way we can also then explain that we have hope that one day we will be able to say "oh death, where is your sting? Oh grave, where is your victory?"

So I would encourage you in the upcoming Easter season, to use Holy Week as a time to instruct your little ones about Jesus' death on the cross and resurrection from the grave!  Teach them songs, read them books (you may want to be choosey about the pictures so they aren't overwhelmed with images of Christ's death they aren't ready for), and celebrate that He is ALIVE!  In the upcoming weeks I hope to post more ideas for the little children during Holy Week, but for now, here are several posts I wrote last year when Susie was almost two.  Please leave me a comment if you have input or ideas for me!  

Little hands

Saw this little poem on Pinterest and wanted to post it on here -- it's such a good little prayer that moms of young children really and truly need to pray.  I don't know the author or anything, or I'd give the credit!

Oh give me patience when wee hands
Tug at met with their small demands.
And give me gentle and smiling eyes.
Keep my lips from hasty replies.
And let not weariness, confusion or noise
Obscure my vision of life's fleeting joys.
So when in years to come my house is still -- 
No bitter memories its room may fill.
This messy activity will not always fill my rooms! :*)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine Books and Reading with Chip

I took Susie to storytime at our local bookstore on Saturday, and she had a great time listening to Valentine's stories, eating cookies and making a little craft.  The store is called A Reader's Corner and just moved to a new location on Frankfort Avenue, which is great!  They give each child a free book for attending the reading. . . WOW!  When I flipped through the basket of free books, I was delighted to come across a little flocked book about a deer named Tuffer from 1959.  It has a chipmunk in the story, so I knew it was the one for us.  I knew that if I took Susie to the bookstore, I'd probably let her choose a book, but I ended up choosing one for Chip as well. :)  Sus picked a Strawberry Shortcake Valentine book, which is ok, but I found a cute board book called "Kiss Kiss" for Chippy.  The baby hippo forgets to kiss his mommy until he sees the other baby animals kissing their mommies. . . ohhhhh, so cute!  This is a CHIEF reason to shop at your local bookstores!  They will have a variety of books that you didn't even know about, and it is ohhhh so fun to discover a new book.

I've tried to be more intentional about reading to Chip and giving him books to play with.  I read to Susie quite a bit at his age, and sometimes he gets left out because Susie chooses longer stories that he can't always enjoy, or that he wants to grab and bite or tear.  As you can imagine, Susie is not a fan of this!  So here are my little tips about reading to a baby when he is your second child:

1. Read during 1 on 1 time.  Chippy has time alone with me in the afternoon while Susie is still napping.  That's when I give him books to play with and read him little board books where I let him turn the pages, or take it away from me altogether.  It is book exploration, and it will lead to him learning how to turn pages, and enjoy the pictures on his own.  

2. When you have together storytime, try to situate the baby like this -- have him sit by older children, maybe on a blanket, and give him a small book to hold, or maybe a toy to chew on.  Then sit across from the children, and hold up the book facing them.  Chip has caught on quickly to direct his attention to the pictures and turning pages, so we have enjoyed several medium length books like this.  I wouldn't do our Winnie the Pooh collection just yet, but something with lots of big pictures and frequent page turns.  He, at 9 months, is seeing that reading together is something we enjoy as a family.  I include him in the questions and sound making (for example -- "can you make a kiss sound Chippy?  Can you make a kiss sound Susie?").  Of course he doesn't answer but Susie does and I do it, and often he grins at us.  He will join in before long.  I don't want to just ignore him as if he's not sitting there reading with us.

side by side exploration
3. Side by side exploration -- this is where I give them both books to look at while they are playing together.  This way he can see what she's reading, and have something of his own.  Now sometimes this will fall into him trying to get her book, or her deciding to take his to read to him (which he gets ticked about, understandably), so I have to facilitate this time.  Generally it works well, and he will explore his book while she "reads the pictures" of her own.  Here's a precious picture I snapped of them reading together this morning.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Valentine Fun with Toddlers

QUITE a bit of the cute Valentine stuff out there is for school-aged kids, which is understandable of course.  But since I told Susie about Valentine's Day, she has been randomly sharing the news with just about everyone we meet:  "Guess What?  It's going to be Valentine's Day and we're going to make a heart cake for Daddy!"  She's also going to have a small party with some of her friends, and I wanted to have a few special activities for them to do together.  Today she had over a friend who can't come to the party, and we did a little test run of the activities I came up with -- here's what they did!

1. Valentine Storytime -- we read Biscuit's Valentine's Day and Snuggle Puppy.  Chippy read with us, and they all seemed to enjoy the books.  We also sang "Oh How I Love Jesus" and told all the people we love (basically listing all family members).

2. Sweethearts Color Sorting -- I saw a paper version of this, but it seemed like a big pain to print and cut out lots of colored paper hearts, when instead you could just use the real candy, which is quite a bit. . . sweeter!  I was impressed that the girls caught on to the activity immediately (they are both several months from being 3), and maybe even more impressive, they didn't really try to eat the candies!  There were a few licks involved, but mostly they concentrated on the task.  We did it twice, and then I let them eat some of the candies.

3.  Hide-the-hearts -- I made felt heart bean bags to do a tossing game, but it was a bit out of their league, so instead I had them go in the other room while I hid them in the living room, Easter-egg-hunt-style.  You could obviously do this with paper hearts or candy or something as well, but bean bags worked well, because they prop up against things well.  

4. Heart picnic -- I spread out a heart blanket and fed them heart-shaped peanut butter sandwiches and strawberries.  Very simple, of course, but something about a picnic makes it SPECIAL. :)  I think for Susie's party, I will pull out her picnic table that we have stored away during the winter and have our indoor picnic on that.  With multiple kids, it will be a little less crazy.  

5. T-shirts -- it seems terribly popular to dress up for Valentine's day in a special outfit, so I did little applique shirts for my kids.  I actually just used plain shirts they already had, so it was very cheap!  I think they turned out super cute!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cooking up some fun

In light of my recent post on cooking with toddlers, I thought I'd share a fun meal we made for supper tonight -- funny face pizzas! 

They are made on bagel halves and faces designed from olives, mushrooms and peppers.  We hosted a couple neighbors to munch on these yummy treats with us!  Susie loved making them!  I've found homemade pizza is a REALLY good thing to have toddlers help with -- spreading sauce, sprinkling cheese and arranging toppings is difficult to mess up, and if it falls off, it's just on the tray.  The hardest part was convincing Susie not to eat all the olive eyes as they went on! :)

Cooking with her Strawberry Shortcake cookbook

Happy with the results!
Ready for the oven.  These faces look like something from a Roald Dahl book!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Cooking with your toddler

If you are anything like me, the hour before dinner is the witching hour.  I am trying to get supper on the table, keep the teething baby happy and occupy my toddler so she doesn't trash the house right before my husband walks through the door.  I also have the goal of tidying up the house (at least somewhat) before we all sit down to dinner, so that adds one more thing to the "to-do" list, and everyone tends to be somewhat grouchy because they are hungry and tired.

So why would I want to add something else to the mix?  Why would I cook with my toddler when it certainly would get done faster if I do it myself?  Well, at the very least, it does keep her occupied, but far greater are the benefits than just that!  She is learning valuable work at an age when everything is like a fun game.  She is experiencing healthy food and making her more likely to eat it since she helped in its preparation.  Best of all, she and I are bonding during our time together -- mother and daughter -- which is precious!

Here are some of my tips for making cooking with your toddler more manageable so that you can enjoy this time of teaching and learning together.  WHAT you cook is up to you!

1.  Throw away your concerns of things being perfect.  Guess what?  Your kiddo is probably going to spill.  Oh well!!  Shreds of cheese may fall to the ground.  Oh well!  When Susie stirs, I can pretty much guarantee that she will slosh a bit.  After getting wet a few times, she's realized that she needs to use a bit of a lighter touch!  Decide ahead of time to instruct in a sweet and patient voice and be ready to laugh if things get a bit messy.  You don't want to teach your child that cooking is about perfection and they cannot please your demands by gasping every time they reach for the spoon.

2. The slow cooker is your friend!  I finally joined the rest of the majority of American home cooks and got a crock pot for Christmas.  It's really great for toddler cooking because it's not hot (until you turn it on) and usually things are getting dumped into it cold, in random order and there is lots of stirring involved (my daughter's favorite part of "making").  You can make something earlier in the day, let your child stir till their hearts' content while you wash the dishes, and then you are FREE as a bird during the witching hour except maybe heating up some bread!  I am determined to use the crock pot as much as possible during this stage because I can chop and she can do the rest!

3. Food prep -- last night I made egg tacos, and did not have much for Susie to help with.  So I gave her bowls and had her fill them with the toppings -- cheese, lettuce (it was a package of pre-washed greens), avocado, etc.  Now, normally, I do not ALWAYS put things out in bowls because that is a step I tend to skip so save on dishes, but it gave her a job, and she REALLY LIKED IT!  Plus we were having company, so might as well make it nice.  

4. Give yourself time -- I've found that it will probably take a little longer to cook when I am instructing and overseeing Susie's help.  So I just plan on starting earlier.  Many things can stay warm in the oven while you wait for dinner time.  You can also split up your cooking time, if you need to keep an eye on the stove like this -- I tell Susie that I'm going to need her help making supper when the timer rings.  She can play or read books or whatever until it rings, but then I'll bring in her climbing thing and have her help me.  This works great, because it keeps her from pulling my legs and saying "I want to help you cook" while I'm frying tortillas or something because she knows she can help me a little later.  Then I get done the stuff only I can do, and I'm free-er to oversee her work.

5. Bring in the whole family -- so in my case, this would mean the baby.  Now sometimes when we cook in the crockpot, it's during his morning nap, so this would not apply (that's actually a FANTASTIC time to cook!).  But if we are fixing supper in the late afternoon, I drag his seat into my crowded kitchen and give him measuring cups, a wisk, or a wire pastry cutter to clank around and gnaw on.  He can't quite snack yet, but I do pop Cheerios in one at a time if he's really fussy.  I have worn him in a sling while I cook, but now he's pretty grabby, so I'll need to figure out a way to hold him in the back so he can just watch.  That may or may not work!  If you have other kids, then you can give them jobs while still letting the littler one help.  I had my niece who is five do all the dumping and let Susie do the stirring (it's nice to have an accurate dumper -- haha!).  Sing together, talk about the food, chat about how fun it is to make supper for daddy, or whoever will be eating at your table.  Susie often pretends she is cooking for family members who live far away. 

Susie in her mommy helper aka "climbing fing"
6.  Safety and cleanliness -- these are probably two big objections to letting really small kids help with food, but it's actually a great chance to educate them on these things.  So when I let Susie whisk eggs, I emphasized that eggies could make us sick if we got them on us and that she needed to make the whisk touch the bottom of the bowl (I also gave her my largest bowl so she would be less likely to slosh).  I don't let her eat cookie dough, but I do let her taste just about anything safe.  She has a great "mommy helper" that her grandpa built her for Christmas that I bring into the kitchen while we cook.  It is much better than standing on a chair, and this means I do not have to bring all the food to the table (which is lower, allowing her to kneel) in order for her to see it.  When she is up in that, it also means she is not underfoot, so I can open and close the oven without doing the "blind spot check" like I'm changing lanes in traffic. :)

Stirring the lentils
I hope this is helpful to someone!  Imagine all the colors, flavors, textures, fine motor skills, language, and social skills your little one can learn in the kitchen!  Please post your ideas here if you have any!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Keeping Memories

I have made baby books for each of my children, and of course have framed pictures of them everywhere, but I wanted to post an idea I had for keeping a few of their special baby things for them to have when they become parents.

In each box I have saved a few things from the hospital and a few really special baby outfits.  They are things that I would let a sibling wear (if they have another brother or sister) but probably would not lend out to others.  They are set aside for Susie and Chip to keep.  I will probably add a couple more things as time goes on (like shoes or a favorite book), but for now I've got this at least.  

The picture I have is not awesome because I can't find my camera charger and had to take this with my phone.  I labeled the boxes with baby cards I'd saved (I'm a borderline packrat when it comes to sentimental items).  I'm so happy with my precious boxes!