Monday, January 25, 2016

More Than One Way

Emma had just had a little potty training accident. Jake had been in super-awesome-helper mode that day, so he quickly volunteered to take care of it. (I was trying to make dinner and was incredibly grateful for the reprieve.)

Minutes later I saw Jake heading toward the living room with his super soaker. And this is what I saw next.

I might have gone at things with some wipes, spray bottles, and a vacuum. But boys do things differently. It's January and his super soaker was apparently feeling undervalued.

Where there's a will there's a way. And if it's cleaning up potty training accidents, I'm not going to complain about the way that's chosen.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Keeping the Sabbath Holy (with Young Kids Underfoot)

I love the Sabbath. When I was younger I loved the time for peaceful reflection that the Sabbath gave me. Years flew by, Cameron and I became parents, and my leisurely Sabbaths of quiet and peace were gone. How do you make the Sabbath beautiful with young kids running here, there, and everywhere around you?

Learning to keep the Sabbath as a young family has been a process for us. We now have a small repertoire of activities that are spiritually and emotionally nourishing that we enjoy together on Sundays. Of course, we are all human, and this doesn't mean the Sabbath is stress- and contention-free around here. But we enjoy the effort to cultivate a Sabbath spirit among the little squabbles along the way. Here are some of the activities we regularly choose:

1. Family history--Years ago for Christmas I gathered stories from relatives and compiled a book of Grandma and Grandpa's bedtime stories. It is a simple binder full of stories placed in plastic page protectors. I wrote the stories for a kids' audience and included pictures and a few illustrations provided by Cameron's talented brother. A year or two later I added several more pages of my mission stories with some old pictures from my mission. Through the years my kids have loved those stories. Recently Cameron's grandma passed away, and we pulled the book out to read all the stories from her life. I love teaching my kids about their ancestors. In a few more years when Jake gets good at deciphering people's cursive I want to teach him to index. For now, we love to fill the kids with stories. Cuddling up on a Sunday with the kids and this book is a wonderful bonding opportunity.

2. Reading--A few years ago we picked up on a good example from Cameron's cousins and started only reading our kids Christ-centered literature on Sundays. We have a couple magazine boxes stuffed with years of LDS Friend magazines. We also have all the scripture stories the church publishes and a few books we've picked up through the years. I love reading these uplifting stories to the kids on Sundays. It provides a great opportunity to discuss gospel principles in our lives and brings a wonderful spirit into our home.
3. Family scriptures--Cameron remembers poring over a big family Bible as a kid that was rich with pictures. When Jake was young we started looking for something like that for our family and found a lot of very expensive (though beautiful) options. We decided to make our own. We bought an extra-large LDS Bible and triple combination and started filling them with pictures we cut out from old Ensign magazines. We paste a picture on plain white paper, run a glue stick along the edge of the picture, and then insert it carefully into the appropriate place in the scriptures. We then highlight the matching scriptural passage. Through the years we have built up a beautiful variety of artwork, and we love looking through these with our kids and telling them stories.
4. Sunday games--When our kids were little we developed a game of scripture charades. We start by setting out three to five scripture pictures (we use ones from our old Gospel Art Picture Kit, but old pictures cut out from the Ensign would work just as well) and the kids then scamper off to choose which of the pictures they are going to act out. This has led to some delightful scriptural re-enactments! Giving them a few stories to choose from makes it easy to guess but also reminds them of scripture stories they might not think about otherwise.
Sometimes on Sunday little bodies need to be up and moving, and the Sabbath should be joyful and not drudgery. Several years ago Cameron invented a game we call prophet tag. We go out in the backyard with a soft, foam ball and start running around. The person with the ball throws the ball at another person. When it hits the person, the thrower has to name a prophet. If he blanks out and can't remember one, he keeps the ball and tries again to get someone else. This is fun and interactive but helps them remember scripture heroes.

5. LDS Conference talks--We recently started watching a conference talk together every Sunday--this keeps the previous conference fresh in our minds. If the kids pay attention we all enjoy a treat together afterwards. We check to make sure they were paying attention by asking what they remember from the talk, and this has led to some sweet gospel discussions.

6. Family council--I blogged about our family council a few years ago, but it is the cement that holds our family together. Every Sunday evening since our two oldest kids were toddlers we have gathered around a big bowl of popcorn to discuss family issues, calendar items, disciplinary concerns. etc. Throughout the week we write agenda items on the white board that hangs in our kitchen. These meetings give our kids a voice in family matters and let them feel heard. We write our decisions down in our family binder, and our kids hold us to them! We end family council each week with our family cheer and group hug, and it is a wonderful way to end a Sabbath.

Just because it's Sunday doesn't mean our children are suddenly willing to sit still for long time periods. We find it works best to constantly move from one activity to the next. Maybe we will read family history or gospel stories for a while, play a fun Sunday game, watch a conference talk, and then eat a snack. We sometimes mix things up a bit with individual parent-child time or an occasional family testimony meeting. We have our best successes when we keep things moving from one activity to the next.

Keeping the Sabbath beautiful and uplifting with a young, large family isn't easy. But I love the feeling in our home as soft Sunday music plays and we discuss the gospel as a family. It is worth every bit of effort to enjoy that sweet spirit in our home!

Monday, January 11, 2016

One More Thing to Love

Last week was our first week back at the homeschool grind after a delightfully long Christmas break, and I was feeling fresh, pleasant, and energetic. So on Tuesday morning when I found out that Jake had slept in his clothes again, I skipped all my previous speeches on why we sleep in pajamas. (These finer points of etiquette seem to get lost on boys anyway.)

"You know," I said, "I would be happy to get some fabric and help you make some pajama pants." Of course, I was really offering to do it on our next homeschool break--a couple months away. But the conversation quickly turned when we realized we still had leftover remnants from the fabric Grace and Abby used to make him a bathrobe and slippers for Christmas.

So that morning after Jake finished his schoolwork and while Abby was doing her math sheet, I showed him how to pin, alter, and cut out a pattern.
 That afternoon I helped him sew it all together with a few basic pointers (and heavy involvement when it was time to put in the waist.
It was a great reminder of just one more reason why I love homeschool so much.

Throughout the day I had coached the kids as they prepared their own lunches (and scraped off the burnt pieces of the toast they cooked too high). 
I explained how to hard boil eggs and tutored Jake as he made scones for an afternoon snack. It felt good to empower my kids with skills and experiences. I love teaching them that they are intelligent and capable. 

Yes, any family can help their children gain kitchen and sewing prowess. But homeschool gives me more time to do it. It's just one more thing I love about homeschool. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

A Tour of Our Family Binder

Here is a little organizational tip that has kept me sane--in case one of your new year's resolutions is to be more organized. Last year I started keeping a family binder. I wanted a central place to keep phone numbers, family plans, and notes about our family values and family council decisions. I love having so many things ready at my finger tips. Here is a tour of our binder and all of our forms.

In the front I keep a list of handy phone numbers--places like KidCare, the grocery store, or other places I don't call enough to put in my phone but that are still handy to have around. I keep a list of favorite menu items here. And this is also where I keep our chore lists for Saturday morning cleaning.
These are kept in plastic protectors. The front lists the things they are supposed to do (with blank spots for me to fill in as needed), and the back is a reminder of what they need to do to clean their rooms well.

Also in the very front I keep our SODAS form. SODAS is a teaching tool advocated by Nicholeen Peck. If a child doesn't respond appropriately in a given situation, we might assign them SODAS. It gives them an opportunity to think through the situation, their response options, the disadvantages and advantages of the responses they might choose, and the appropriate solution in such a situation. We love SODAS! If a child needs to write a SODAS I give them this sheet (so they can't claim they don't know how to spell situation or disadvantage) and some time to think and write. It's glorious.
The first tab in the binder is for our family values. (I briefly explain that in this post.) Our values are as follows:

January--forgiveness & repentance
February--love & loyalty
March--service & selflessness
April--faith in Jesus Christ & the Restoration
August--courage & integrity
September--knowledge & learning
October--obedience & responsibility
December--listening & understanding

Every month we celebrate one of these through lots of discussion, scripture memorization, family activities, and family night lessons. This tab is where I keep notes of things we could do in the future or things that have worked well in the past.
Our next tab is where we keep our family council notes. (More about our weekly family council here.) Every week we keep minutes of what we talk about and what decisions we reached. This is really helpful in weeks that follow when someone says, "We talked about that in family council!" Then we can refer back and figure out what really happened and what people just imagined happened. (That never happens at your house, right?)
Our next tab is for our learning achievement levels. (That's discussed in depth in this post.) Here I keep track of what skills are supposed to be learned in each level and what each child is still working on before they can move on to the next level. I also keep our little Avery labels for making the kids "merit badges" for each skill.
The next tab is my sanity tab--planning. Here I keep all of my homeschool lesson plans for the year so I have them ready for quick reference and I know what I need to be ready for each week. I also keep blank budget sheets and our monthly planning forms. Our monthly planning form has items on it that we like to plan ahead for each month--when each child will get their individual outing with a parent, where we would like to go for our dates for the month, when we can attend the temple together, and a five-facet review grid that helps us keep track of how each member of our family is doing physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and socially.

Our final tab is for interviews. On the first Sunday of each month one of us sits down and "interviews" each child. We talk about how they're doing, who their friends are, what they like or don't like about life, or any other topic that seems appropriate. We also plan their monthly outing with Mom or Dad--they can choose anything they want within reason, but often it's just a lunch date or ice cream outing where we can talk to them and give them individual attention.

Whew! That was a huge download. Having a big family requires a lot of work and organization. Our family binder holds a lot of information and keeps me sane!

Monday, December 21, 2015


Another beautiful Christmas season is upon us. As always I am filled with the joy of the season. I love pondering the birth of a baby, a pure mother, a faithful stepfather, a bright star, heavenly angels, humble shepherds, and wise men. The beauty of the story overcomes me year after year.
                                     A black and white sketch of Mary and Joseph standing over the baby Jesus on Christmas night.
Perhaps it is because this year I have a two-year-old, and I am once again wanting to help my child (and her older siblings) grasp the truths of a God who loves us so much--a God who condescends, sacrifices, teaches, and loves. The best word I have is wonder.

I wonder at His love. We celebrate it at this season with His birth. He taught it throughout his life by miracles and ultimately giving His life.

I wonder at His life--freely given service, selfless care for others. He condescended to be born in a stable surrounded by animals even though He was the King of Kings. He lived in a world that He made for us, but He did so surrounded by the humble, the sinful, and the downtrodden.

I wonder at His mother, so pure and prepared.

I wonder at Joseph, so faithful, so in tune with God's will.

I wonder at shepherds who ran to see the baby then ran to tell everyone what they had seen.

I wish I could have been there to see it all unfold. I can't. But I can fill my children with the stories, the love, the joy, the peace, the hope, and the wonder of a Savior who loves us so much.
A Nativity figurine of Mary holding the baby Jesus wrapped in white linen, with colorful Christmas lights in the background.
Images courtesy of the LDS media library
He is wonderful to me.

Monday, December 14, 2015

We Need Each Other

In our bedroom we have a frame that Cameron's dad made for us years ago--our wedding certificate together with our engagement picture. When I look at our engagement picture these days, I see it as being rather symbolic.
Notice how our outfits are virtually identical? Yep, when we were engaged we thought of ourselves as being very similar.

Ten years later I think of us as being different in complementary ways. He is technically gifted, good at math and science and solving problems. I love to hunker down with beautiful literature or music. He's a night person. I'm a morning person. He loves rice. I love bread and pasta. But the truth is, we need each other's differences. Together we have balance and life is beautiful--much more balanced and beautiful than it would be for either of us alone.

On a recent Saturday afternoon our kids (and some of their friends) were running wildly through the house, brandishing plastic swords, hiding behind (and occasionally dismantling) furniture, and yelling names at each other. I squelched my first instinct, which was to shoo them outside so I could enjoy some peace, quiet, and tranquility. I thought of my sweet husband and how much we need each other's differences. And I realized that I also need these wild but sweet, boisterous but tender children of ours.

I crave silence. They love noise. I crave order. They create chaos. I crave alone time. They love to climb all over me. Together we achieve balance. Without them, my life would be oh so sterile and lonely. I need them.
Parenthood is about many things, but the process of becoming is certainly one of those things. These people God puts in my family teach me patience, understanding, sacrifice, and love. I learn to appreciate their differences--my way isn't always the only way or even the right way. God is slowly carving me through these people and experiences. In time He will help me be much more balanced and much more like Him.
Thank goodness God gave us families to mold and shape us and balance us out. I love my ragtag, noisy bunch--displaced furniture, disasters, and all!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Christmas Gifts to Jesus (A Wonderful Christmas Tradition)

One of our most-cherished Christmas traditions began back when we were a blissfully happy twosome, expecting our first child. It was Christmas Eve, and Cameron realized he hadn't gotten a stocking stuffer for me. So after I went to bed he stuffed my stocking full of notes. On Christmas morning I was greeted by sweet notes--like one he had written from us to Jesus, giving the baby boy we were expecting to Him. To this day, reading these notes still makes me emotional.
Now for as long as I can remember we have been gathering as a family on Christmas Eve to write down our gifts to Jesus. We like to remind the kids about this in the days and weeks leading up to the event so they can be thinking of what they would like to do.

When all the gifts have been written down we stuff them in Jesus' stocking--a simple hand-crocheted stocking that was made for me many years ago by a roommates' mom. Throughout the year the stocking hangs in our kitchen. Every so often we'll pull it down, get all the gifts out, and make sure everyone remembers what they've promised to work on.
This year Jake made a goal to read the whole Book of Mormon through by Christmas. He has developed a habit of borrowing our phones at night to listen to the scriptures on the gospel library app before bed. Often we have gone in and found it still running after he has fallen asleep. Last Sunday Cameron and I sat and read Moroni 10 with him to help him finish his goal. We are so proud of our boy!
 Abby took a cue from Jake's gift and wanted to read the whole Book of Mormon Stories reader. I have loved snuggling up with Abby (and anyone else who comes to join) to read through this throughout the year. We finished that last Sunday, too.
My goal was to memorize The Family: A Proclamation to the World. Wow, I love the pure doctrine in that document!

I love seeing different family members working on their gifts. And I love working on my own gifts and trying a little harder to be more like Jesus. That should be what Christmas is about all year long!