Summer Book Reviews

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When summer break began, I had a couple books in mind at that I wanted to read, but seeing as I don’t really like to read (I know, I’m an English teacher, it’s weird.), I wasn’t too sure how far I’d get.

Well, I amazed myself and read a couple more than I had originally intended.

I really want to dedicate more time to reading, but my motivation is low.  Even with the most exciting of books, I seem to end up falling asleep!  I can’t help it!  Really, I can’t, I totally blame my astigmatism.

Though, since I’m coming off of the high of surpassing the goals of my summer reading list, I have high hopes that I’ll keep up this pace for the school year.

Anyway,  here’s a compilation of what I’ve read and my mini-review on each selection. All books are linked to Amazon, so if you’re intrigued by a title and want to see what other people think about the book too, click and follow the link to the Amazon reviews!

1. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom and John and Elizabeth Sherrill

 I set out to make this my first read of the summer because 1. I had a few copies laying around at school and 2. several of my students had read it during the past school year and they really seemed to enjoy and be inspired by it.  I knew I would like The Hiding Place because it falls into the non-fiction category, which I can’t seem to get enough of lately, but I really was uplifted by the story and all of the “coincidences” that happened throughout.  Corrie’s faith pulls her through the Holocaust, and her complete reliance on God provoked me to consider how I would think and act if I were in her situation.  I have read various stories on this topic, but Corrie’s view was different for me because it began as a comfortable story about her family and slowly spiraled into chaotic, war-torn scenarios.  The way the novel unfolded was relatable and made it seem like a situation in which anyone could find himself.

 

2.  This is a Book by Demetri Martin

 

This little gem caught my eye at the library, so I just had to snatch it up.  Demetri has been a favorite comedian of mine for a long time, so I will pretty much read anything he writes.  This is a book; however, it is written as if you are at a comedy show…kind of?  That’s the best way I can describe it.  Jokes, scripts, charts, and drawings fill the pages and they will keep you laughing, chuckling, smirking, and wondering.  One reason I have always been drawn to Demetri is because of his quirky, WAY-outside-the-box thinking.  That being said, this book probably isn’t for everyone, but if I’ve ever made you laugh, then it’s possible that you might laugh at this book too.

 

 

 

 

3.  Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

This is another book that I put on my list because of my students.  I heard great things about this true story over the year so I had to check it out myself.  Unbroken is the story of Louis Zamperini and his incredible life.  This guy was an Olympic distance runner, survived a plane crash as well as being stranded in the ocean for 47 days, and he endured ridiculous levels of torture at various Japanese POW camps.  I couldn’t believe the events that Louis lived to talk about, and I found it really cool that he also realized that he couldn’t have gotten through any of them without the help of the Lord.  I haven’t decided if I want to see the film version of his story or not… I’m betting (like usual) the book tells it best!

 

4.  I Want My Epidural Back by Karen Alpert

Eeeek!  Mrs. Alpert has quite the potty mouth!  But, if you can get past that, this book is pretty entertaining.  Karen definitely “goes there” and writes about the things that moms try to keep to themselves because they are too taboo.  As much as I love reading about the “right” way to parent, and researched procedures about how to deal with your child in every situation possible, and the optimal diet for your little one at every age and stage—-sometimes my brain needs a break.  I Want My Epidural Back gave me that breathing room I so needed and helped ensure that there is no right way in the momming world; we’re all just doing the best we can.  Might as well laugh about it along the way!

 

5.  Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

This was my favorite read this summer.  The story is about Chris McCandless, a young man who attempted to journey into Alaskan wilderness but is found dead just a short while later.  Jon Krakauer puts the pieces of this real-life scenario together by talking to friends and acquaintances of Chris, and adding his own investigation and research to provide the answers to all the questions surrounding Chris’ death.  I found the story line intriguing right off the bat, and once I got into the book, I couldn’t get enough.  Just. Read. It.

 

6.  Frida Kahlo by Gerry Souter

If you like a lot of pictures, and not a lot of words, this book is for you! 😉 Frida’s paintings are displayed across from a paragraph or two of text on each page spread.  Initially when I got this book I had hoped that the text would give background information on the corresponding painting, but it does not.  The text tells an abbreviated biography of Frida Kahlo and occasionally refers to the images included in the book.  This was a quick read, and I learned a couple details about her life that I did not previously know.

 

7.  The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

This is my current read, I’m about 1/3 of the way through, and so far, so good.  This is another true story (see a pattern here?) about the construction of the World’s Fair held in Chicago in 1893.  The book is split between the story of the fair’s production including architectural design and details, but then switches to a story line about serial killer who was also working quite tirelessly during the fair’s construction.  I look forward to reading the rest.

 

 

I’ve got a few books lined up for the fall, but I’m open to suggestions!  Drop any you have in a comment below!

Self-Care Sundays

This post contains affiliate links as well as sponsored content.  Thanks for your support.

Through the craziness of the work week and time spent with family and friends, it is easy to just rush into the next week without batting an eye.

The older I get, the more I realize how crucial it is for me to carve out time to myself.  Self-care used to be plentiful.  But now, as a wife and a mom, my me time isn’t always mine anymore.  There’s not much I would change about that, though! 😉 But, in order to do my best in all of the roles I play in life, I make an effort to relax and recharge over the weekend.

Whether it is all rolled into one, beautiful Self-Care Sunday session, or it is taken as a few 10 minute increments throughout the week, make it a habit to recharge.

Here are a few ways to start:

Skin

Normally I wash my face with hand soap.  I have been doing so ever since I can remember and I have been fortunate that my skin is not problematic.  It kinda puts up with whatever I put it through.  (I’ll wait while you roll your eyes.)  A few times a week, though, I like to treat my face with something special.  After I do, I always feel like my face is more fresh and bright.  Here are some of my favorite pampering products:

Visanti Brighten Up!vasanti

A little bit of this stuff goes a long way!  It has a very sandy, gritty texture and I just can’t get enough of it.  Exfoliation!  Yaaaas! I squirt a bit out onto my fingertip and dot it around my face, then I take a little water and lather it up all over my face and jawline until my little heart’s content.  After rinsing it off, my face feels amazingly soft and I can almost see my pores exhaling little sighs of joy and contentment. Almost.

Deep Sea mask

mask
There’s something about the thick, clay texture that makes me feel like I’m lounging at a luxurious spa when I’m only really bent over the bathroom sink.

I love the balancing effect this mask has.  Whether my skin is seeming a little oily (summer time) or extremely dry and flaky (middle of winter), wearing this clay mask for 10-15 minutes a week seems to even out my complexion.

 

Derma Roller  
rollerI’m new to the Derma Rolling world, but after my first treatment, I was already hooked.  If you’ve never heard of a Derma Roller, no worries, let me fill you in.  The rolling device is full of tiny needles that help with a variety of skin issues when used regularly.  I use a 1.0mm needle which helps for most conditions, but there are many varying lengths that you can check out here.  Generally you’ll want to stick to .5mm or 1.0mm, go any higher and you should to consult a professional first.

I first tried the Derma Roller on my face.  Yes.  Needles.  On my face.  Think of it like acupuncture..sort of.. 😛  I won’t lie to you here: it is not comfortable.  However, I don’t think it is uncomfortable either.  It feels just like you think it would: tiny little pin-pricks rolling across the surface of your face.  But, because of the rolling motion, it also gives a tingly sensation that takes away from any discomfort the needles bring on.

After rolling the device in all directions across my face, I put on an Aloe mask that came face.jpgwith my Derma Roller kit.  I had never tried a mask like this, but like the Derma Roller, I. Am. Hooked.  The mask is so silky and cooling, and after taking it off my face just radiated.  What?  Did she really just say her face radiated?  Yes, I know, it isn’t like me to be this giddy about skincare.  Honestly though, after one Derma Roller treatment, I saw a noticeable difference.  Be cautioned, though: the Derma Roller should be used lightly, and never turned on side to side on your skin or you risk tiny tears in your skin’s surface.  Additionally, do not wear any makeup, lotion, or sunscreen for the following 24 hours after using the Derma Roller.

Because of the effects the Derma Roller had on my face, I decided to give it a try on my stomach.  The Derma Roller claims to help the appearance of stretchmarks, so I thought: well, it can’t make my stretchmarks worse!!  I took a before picture (which I will keep to myself for now), and I’m only a two treatments in, so I don’t have final results to mesmerize you with, but I will say that, similar to my face, the skin on my stomach seems a lot softer, so I have high hopes that things in that region will smooth out even more!
derma

I got my Derma Roller from http://www.dermarollersystem.com/  so head there to read more about the product if you are new to it, or ask me any questions in the comments section here.

 

Hair

My skin treats me pretty well, but my hair, I’m convinced is out to get me.  I used to love it’s texture before I had my daughter, but post pregnancy, I just seem to get more and more frustrated by it.  And, pregnancy was almost four years ago, so you can imagine my grief!  Aside from just chopping it off a couple times over the past several years, I have decided to make a commitment to my hair by giving it some extra love on the weekends.

Dry Shampoo

I feel so gross if I don’t wash my hair.  For whatever reason, I just get so nervous about greasy hair.  Any expert would tell you, however; washing your hair just a couple times a week is plenty.  Say whaaaat?

Marie Claire and many other women’s magazines explain that washing too often can strip hair of its natural oils and moisture. And, maybe that is my problem.  Though I frequently wash my hair because I worry that it is too oily, what it really becomes is dry, frizzy, and full of tangles.

I decided to relax on all the washing in the past couple of years, and it has proven that my hair can, indeed, last longer than a day without getting too greasy.  In order to reassure myself though, I always use “dry shampoo.”  When I say “dry shampoo” I really mean baby powder!  Seriously, this stuff is great.  I put a little on my palm and rub all around my hairline, and then a little more on the top of my scalp where I part my hair.  It’s important to really scrub and rub it in so that your hair doesn’t look powdery.  What I love even more than the de-greasing effect is the added volume.  Adding powder to my hair is one of the only surefire ways I’ve found to pump up my hair’s volume and make it last all day.

Some people purchase dry shampoo, but you really don’t need to.  Baby powder is an easy option, but if you want to step it up slightly without overspending on actual dry shampoo, try my sister’s recipe and make your own:

recipe

Leave-in Conditioner

Just before a shower on Sunday night, I try my best to remember to apply leave-in conditioner.  I load the stuff on my hair, kneading it around until every strand is saturated, and then I clip it up in a bun and forget about it for a half hour or so.

I shower as usual and then after my hair is dry and styled, I just smile and nod to myself as I gaze at my majestic hair in the mirror.  Just kidding.  But after a leave-in conditioner application, my hair-game is really amped-up for the next week or two.  The ends are soft instead of dry and brittle; no static in sight–even in the dead of winter; and my hair is so much more voluminous.

Pictured here are my two favorites-but, I admit, I haven’t tried a wide variety of brands of leave-in conditioners, so if you have a favorite other than these two-leave me a note in the comments!

Body

Most times I feel like sleep and rest are the things my body needs most, but if I really think about it, that isn’t really the case.  If I’m being honest, my body feels the best when I put it to work!  Getting in an intense workout leaves me feeling fabulous.  Instead of just resting my body and forgetting about it when I do slow down, there are a couple of self-care techniques I use to

Nail Care

This school year has been pretty dull in terms of my fingernails.  I think I’ve done them twice… (maybe?) since August.  The easiest route for me is always Jamberry.  Nail wraps just last so much longer than anything else.  If I paint my fingernails, my polish chips by the end of the day-no joke- I’ve tried all types of brands and finishes, and that statement still stands.  I think I wash my hands too much or something.  Not that I’m OCD about anything… really.. 🙂 augustnail

However, a 10 minute Jamberry application leads me to not think about my nails’ appearance for at least 10 days.  There’s also no dry time like there is for regular polish, which is something that every mama will appreciate.

Toenails are a whole different story.  I’ve done many Jamberry applications on them as well-which is great because those applications last for 4+ weeks-but, there is nothing like a good salon pedicure.  I try and treat myself to a couple pedicures a year, but if I had the extra cash, I’d go every week.  They. Are. Heavenly.

Not only does polish usually last longer on your toes, (and when done at a salon it could last up to 3 months if you let it-not that I have of course 😉 ) but you also get an hour or so away from all the stresses in your life, a fabulous foot and calf massage, and just a generally more optimistic view of life when you leave a salon after a pedicure.  Being the start of sandal season, Mother’s Day is a perfect time for a gift certificate to a nail salon – so start dropping hints to your hubby now!

Muscles
 During the workweek I try to get in several sweat sessions.  A lengthy neighborhood walk, a little Zumba, or weight training in the basement are all great ways to make me feel better physically and mentally.  After a workout, I stretch for a few minutes, but when crunched for time I always fit in more heart-pumping moves as opposed to a lengthy bout of deep stretches.

I know better.  Stretching your muscles is so, super important!  I’m working on allotting more time to stretch during the week, but on weekends I always leave my ‘crunched for time’ excuse at the door.   Fitness Magazine notes that each static stretch should be held for about 30 seconds.  Much less than that, and you won’t be
lengthening your muscle fibers.  After a workout during the week I pick a stretch or two for each muscle group I worked and I leave it at that.  During the weekends, though, I try and pick several stretches for all parts of my body and I really focus in on relaxing and breathing through each stretch.

Another great way to help muscle performance is by incorporating dynamic stretching into your fitness routine.  Dynamic stretches are typically done before a workout whereas static stretches (the kind mentioned in the previous two paragraphs) are performed after a workout as a cool-down.   Focused on warming up the muscles, dynamic stretching uses a rhythmic movement that you perform several times until your body starts to loosen up. Runner’s World outlines a great dynamic stretching routine, and if you’re not a runner-have no fear- dynamic stretching can work for anyone.

No matter which type of stretching you go for, the even better part of building in some extra time to give your muscles attention comes with the foam roller.  After a heart-pounding, sweat-inducing workout, rolling out my muscles is the most indulgent treatment I can give them at home.

There are several varieties of foam rollers; softer, firmer, ridged, etc.  Once your muscles loosen up, and you no longer feel any discomfort from rolling, you can advance to a firmer roller. But, at the beginning, just go for something average, like the one pictured above.

Whoa. Back up.  Did she say “when you no longer feel any discomfort?” Foam rolling will bring discomfort?

Yes.  It might even be pretty painful at first.  Do your best to just roll with it. (See what I did there? 😛 )  The pain comes from muscle tightness, to put it simply.  And, with more rolling, that tightness slowly goes away.  foam-roller-exercises1

Check out the images on the right for guidance.  Hit one of these poses on your foam roller, and start rolling side to side until you span the entire length of the muscle you’re trying to target.  You can also rotate the joints in play to hit your muscles at all angles.  Another great reason to have a foam roller around the house is that it helps rehabilitate strained or injured muscles as well.  After a Sunday night foam rolling session, I feel totally relaxed and ready to face another workweek.

Mind

If I address no other area of self-care during the weekend, I always make sure that I cleanse my mind so that I can begin the upcoming week organized and relaxed.  I’ve found that getting my mind right is the most important when it comes to self-care.  When crunched for time, other areas may slip away, but I always always always make sure to do something for my mind.

Organize

Nothing makes me feel more accomplished around the house than organization.  It could be straightening out my pantry, going through old clothes and forming a ‘donation pile,’ creating new boards on Pinterest, or meal-prepping for the week.  I love it all!

Last week I was in a teensy bit of denial that the weekend was coming to a close, and I didn’t organize myself at all for the week.  Let me just say: Never again!  I felt lost each day scrambling to make lunches and staring at piles of dirty laundry.

Two of my favorite ways to organize the food in our house are making freezer meals, and portioning out fruits, veggies, and breakfasts.  Most of my freezer meal recipes come from this website.  With so much variety and printable recipes and shopping lists, it makes freezer meal prep so simple.

I make a batch of freezer meals about every three months.  After shopping early on a Saturday morning, I fill my counter with all ingredients, and I just gooooo!  I prep 10-20 meals at a time depending on the amount of space in my freezer, and it usually takes me about two hours.  Then, during the week, I pull out a meal that I want to use the next day and place it in the fridge.  In the morning, I put it in the Crock Pot and don’t think about it again until it’s dinner time that night.  We usually eat 1-3 freezer meals a week, and if we didn’t, we probably wouldn’t eat!  Just kidding of course, but they are just so easy, why would I do anything else?

Something I do every Sunday is portion out fruits, veggies, and breakfasts.  I find that if all the healthy stuff is washed, and ready to go in containers there is really no excuse not to eat it.  We also don’t eat breakfast at home most of the time, so if that is taken care of before the morning of, it also saves a ton of hassle.  Whatever the type of organization you are into, completing it over the weekend is ideal.

Unwind

Did someone say adult coloring book?  Why, no, I didn’t.  But this is close.

I bought a planner like this one at the beginning of the school year, and I can’t get enough.  It combines my need for organization (like I mentioned above) with my need to unwind.  Every week there is a new page to color and I indulge in this relaxing pastime after a long day at work, or when I’m crabby and need to just zone out, or as a way of spending time with my daughter when she wants to color in her own coloring books.

Another unwinding activity I’ve gotten into recently is Sudoku puzzle books.  I feel kind of like a granny admitting to this hobby of mine, but I really enjoy the challenge that puzzle books bring.  A lot of times I feel stuck on my phone or the computer because, let’s face it, everything is tied to technology these days.  Even my Bible reading is accompanied by an app.  (Okay, it doesn’t have to be that way, but it helps me feel organized….)

For Christmas I asked for a puzzle book because I just wanted to get away from technology a bit and have a paper and pencil kind of thing to do.  Turns out, I really enjoy it.  I feel like I’m ‘keeping my mind young’ as those grannys probably claim as well, and I also find my puzzle book relaxing after a busy week.

Rest

The best for last.  Rest is the easiest and probably most important self-care routine.

The advice you are given after having a baby: Nap when the baby naps.  I don’t know about you, but I barely could give into this.  I always felt guilty; how would the dishes get washed if I was napping? But, I’m telling you now, just nap. Go to bed early.  Turn on a 1/2 hour cartoon for the kiddos, and shut your eyes for those 30 minutes.

For whatever reason, on Saturday night I get wild.  Around 10 p.m. I get this burst of energy and I just want to clean, and organize, and write, and dance, and eat, etc., etc., etc.!  And, as tempting as it is to stay up late and get everything accomplished, instead I make myself a list of all that is spinning around in my head and tell myself, “But first, sleep.”

There has never been a Sunday morning that I have regretted going to bed instead of staying up and giving in to my wild streak. 😉


I hope after reading through my ramblings, you find some inspiration to take with you and create your own self-care routine.

If you’re unsure of how to begin, I have created a free printable with an easy way to start a self-care routine that fits your life.  You can devote one weekend a month to each area of self-care and then start again the next month, tweaking activities as needed.

Get the free printable here — selfcareblue

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Snowman Button Counting

This post contains affiliate links.  Thanks for your support.

 

This lovely counting activity is not new to the internet, but I wanted to share it because I think that it’s so cute!  I’ve included a free printable in this post too-scroll on down so that you don’t miss it!

Simple enough: Match the numbered hat with the correct amount of buttons.

img_5956

This counting activity works well for any little kiddo aged 1-3, or for others who may need reinforcement.  My three-year-old knows her numbers well, but still enjoyed this activity.  Besides the benefits of counting, children are also enhancing fine motor skills, and can practice concepts such as sorting and classifying when choosing which buttons to place on the snowman.  You can help that along by asking “can you find three large buttons” or “try finding five orange buttons,” etc.

If you don’t have a collection of buttons in the family, I highly suggest getting some because they come in handy for all sorts of projects and activities. Here are some really inexpensive ones that will do the trick Blumenthal Lansing Favorite Findings Basic Buttons Assorted Sizes, 130/Pkg, Citrus

 

If you want a little more variety at a slightly higher cost, I would personally go with these:
Bag of (100) Very Assorted Buttons. Assorted Colors. Sizes Range From 3/8″ to 1-1/2″ Whatever you choose, they will get used time and time again!

 

 

I came up with a couple variations to this snowman activity in order to stretch it a bit for kids who may need a challenge.  

  1. An easy switch: Try counting in a different language.  You can Google the pronunciation for almost anything these days, so even if you don’t speak another language, you can always let Google help you out.  You and your child can learn how to count in a different language together!
  2. You can also work with prepositions and ask your child to place the buttons under, on top of, next to, around, or beside the snowman.
  3. A third idea is to do simple addition or subtraction with the hats and buttons.  Place two hats on the snowman (as pictured below) and have your child place the total number of buttons as you say something like, “One button plus two more makes three.”  Flip it into subtraction by taking a hat away as your child takes the appropriate number of buttons away.  You can talk through what is happening, “When you have three buttons and you take away two, only one button is left.”

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I fashioned this cute little snowman out of some shiny photo paper we had lying around, and I cut the colorful hats from some thin foam-like paper. (Is there a name for that stuff?)  But, if you want something quick and easy, I have a quick download for you below. It includes a snowman template, numbered hats, as well as blank hats that you can number yourself if you choose.  Enjoy!

Here is the link to your free snowman-printable 🙂

snowmancouting

Want more fun activities and printables like this straight to your email?  Enter your info below!

 

Gift Guide 2016: 20 Toys and Books Under $20

If you are giving gifts to the children in your life this holiday season, I have a few recommendations for you.  Some of the books and toys we use at home are complete flops and only get a few minutes of attention, and then there are those that get used over and over again for hours on end.  I decided to pass along a list of some books and toys that we have enjoyed this year.  I will also toss in a few ideas that we don’t have yet but that I have read about or plan to purchase soon.

This listing is divided by age and ranges from 0 to about 8 years old.  Enjoy, and make sure to leave a comment about what books and toys your family loves.  This post contains affiliate links from Amazon.com



Ages 0-2

Toys

Baby B. Glow Zzzs Whale

My love for the B. brand is endless; here is a find for a younger crowd.  I spotted this whale in Target and I was instantly drawn to it.  The whale attaches to the crib, and plays soothing music along with putting on a light show that your sweet baby can dose off to.  Similar devices I’ve seen can have really strong, bright lights; but, after trying out this whale soother in the store, the lights seem nice and soft.  A timer is built in and can be set to 23 or 45 minutes. This adorable sleep-inducer is for babies ages 0-24 months.

 


The First Years Stacking Up Cups

My daughter still plays with these colorful stacking cups.  This gift is truly one that keeps on giving!   From pouring water at bath time, to scooping sand at the park, to giving dolls each their own cup to drink out of, to sorting buttons
and other goodies, these cups encourage imaginative play while also fostering math and science principles.  I have also found a version for older kids (or adults!) pictured left.  These plastic beakers are for measuring baking ingredients, but they could easily be used for the young scientist in your life.

 

 


Books


Time for Bed

If there ever was a perfect bedtime book, I think this would be a close contender for first place.  The words are simple-sweet, and repetitive: It’s time for bed.  The repetition of these words coupled with the soft, sleepy animal illustrations shape this book into a lulling rhythm that is sure to get your little bambino eased into a bedtime routine.  I gift this book to newborns any chance I get.  As my daughter grew with this book, she also enjoyed naming each different animal in the book as well as trying out all of the animal sounds.

 

Quiet Loud (Leslie Patricelli board books)

Leslie Patricelli creates such bright, fun books that also promote language development.  These books have simple yet distinct illustrations that sure can capture a wiggly toddler’s attention.  In books like Yummy Yucky or Quiet Loud, the words are repeated on each page along with a corresponding illustration.  After a few readings, my daughter was able to speak these words, and now at three years old, she can read these books to herself.

 

The Pout-Pout Fish

Hands down this book was THE favorite in our house the first year of my daughter’s life.  We read it every night for MONTHS!  The key with this one is use funny voices for all of the characters that the Pout-Pout Fish meets. 😀 There are many variations of this book now that document Pout-Pout’s other adventures, and we have checked out a few from the library, but the original one, pictured here, is still our favorite.

 


First 100 Words Bilingual (Spanish Edition)

I’m all about language development, and that means books in other languages are a must.  This book find is also printed in English, but why not pick up the Spanish version?  The visual layout of these 100 Words books makes object labeling very clear for your toddler.  Just like the cover, each colored box contains an object and its word.  Even a parent with no Spanish experience can catch on.  (And learn something, too!) Later on, a book like this can be used as a spelling reference for an older child.



Ages 3-8

Toys


Kangaroo’s Original Super Cool Slime (3-Pack)

These jars of slime are a slight upgrade from the Silly Putty that I used to play with as a kid.  Not only does the slime look cool, it also feels cool.  My daughter received a similar slime variety from a birthday party treat bag not long ago and played with the stuff for about three days straight after that.  The slime for ages 5 and up (I think younger kids can also enjoy this with supervision) is super fun with minimal clean-up.  Another tactile toy is Kinetic Sand.  More messy than the slime though, so I’d recommend playing with it inside of a plastic tub, or place a towel on the ground to help minimize clean-up time.  Kids can build with the sand in a similar way to Playdoh, but the feel is a powdery, sandy texture.


B. Toys Pop-arty 300 Pieces13628266_632024916975570_1163432795_n

We absolutely can’t get enough of these snap together beads made by B.
While my daughter thinks that she is just freely playing with
the abundant variety of colorful shapes, I secretly am smiling inside knowing that she’s improving her fine motor skills, as well as developing math skills by sorting, classifying, and building.  These are recommended for ages 4-10, but my 3 year old does perfectly fine with supervision.  Price ranges depending on the package you choose, and I believe there are some smaller, add-on packs for around ten bucks, too.

 


WolVol Take-A-Part Toy Dinosaur with Lights and Sounds, Equipped with two Screwdrivers for Assembly

Isn’t this cool?  I came across these take apart toys this summer and purchased the dinosaur version for my nephew’s birthday.  There are other versions including the WolVol Take-A-Part Toy Motorcycle with Lights and Sound, Equipped with Two Screwdrivers for Assembly.  These kits are a step up from the basic toolkit because after assembly, your child can watch their creation in action as it lights up.  This toy is best for ages 3-6.

 


Click N’ Play Pretend Play Cosmetic and Makeup Set

My daughter watches me intently every morning as I apply my makeup before going to work.  She has a little set of brushes that she uses to pretend with, but I have been hesitant to get her a play-makeup set because those that I have seen have actual makeup inside.  When I discovered this one, I liked it for two reasons.  One: there is no actual makeup inside which means no mess!  Two: the look of these pieces is very authentic.  My daughter will love the similarity between her makeup set and the products that I use in my morning makeup routine when she opens this one for Christmas.

 


MECO Figure Spelling Game Platter Puzzle Spell Words Children’s Early Learning Toys

Around three years old, children are ready for games!  This spelling game is for children three and up which makes it a perfect selection for your child’s first game.  And while is is a lot of fun, learning will also commence.  The bottom of each picture card has a corresponding word spelled out.  Each player works to correctly spell the word using the white letter tiles.  The word can be covered up to add a challenge for more advanced players.

 


SainSmart Jr. HeaUp Wooden Tetris Puzzle, Wood Burr Tangram Jigsaw Toy, Educational Game (40 Pieces)

I’ve been drooling over this toy for months now.  Looking at it’s colorful tiles brings me straight back to the long days and nights I played Tetris on my family’s desktop computer in the 90s.  There are so many variations to this puzzle (they truly may be endless) that kids and adults could be occupied for hours.


Melissa & Doug My First Daily Magnetic Calendar

Okay.  This.

Night after night my daughter and I do “Tell Yous.”  I don’t remember how long ago we began this, but every night at bedtime I tell her what we are doing the next day.  We also talk about what day it is and what day it will be when she wakes up.   Depending on the next day’s plans, we also discuss seasons and weather, etc.  It has been a wonderful, recurring, teachable moment.  When I came across this magnetic calendar, I was so excited for her to finally have an age-appropriate visual for all of the months, seasons, and days we have been talking about for so long.  Since my little girl is not yet in preschool I think she will greatly benefit from having such an interactive calendar like this at home.  If the little one in your life already has calendar experience or is a bit older, Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Magnetic Calendar With 134 Magnets is another great option.


Books


One

This book teaches about bullying by using numbers as characters.  I loved the message weaved through the simple story, and though it is recommended for ages 4 and up, I think slightly older children would get even more out of it.  I read this to my daughter when she was almost three, and obviously didn’t connect the story to bullying, but she still felt empathetic toward the characters.  Kathryn Otoshi also has penned the books Zero and Two that are equally as impactful.  We have read Two which I would also recommend, and have yet to check Zero.

 


Some Monsters Are Different
My then 2 year old was beginning to realize that people are different.  She started to point out that people have different noses or different voices, and often it got embarrassing for me because she usually brought these observances to light in earshot of the individual she was talking about.  I tried to explain to her that God made everyone different and special, and she was beginning to understand, but this book really helped push the conversation further.  I wasn’t looking for it, but I just happened to notice Some Monsters Are Different on our way out of the library one day so I grabbed it hoping that it would be the book I thought it would.  It is.  It goes through different types of monsters and never qualifies how they act or look as good or bad; the book just states what they are.  It is a great book to get the conversation started about everyone’s uniqueness and the acceptance and tolerance that goes along with that.  Perfect for preschool through early elementary.

 


The Beginner’s Bible: Timeless Children’s Stories

On my first day back to work last summer, I found this book on my desk.  I still do not know who put it there, but I am forever thankful for their thoughtfulness.  The Beginner’s Bible is excellent for ages 3-8.  My daughter will sit and flip through this rather thick book retelling all of the stories to herself as she goes.  A toddler version is also available from this publisher, but I think this version could be used for toddlers as well as extend through early elementary.  The toddler version has very few words per page which limits it to just being used with very young children. The Beginner’s Bible Kid-Sized Devotions is a devotional that goes hand-in-hand with The Beginner’s Bible pictured above.  The devotional relates stories of the Bible with what they tell us about who God is and about His love for us.

 

Jesus Calling for Little Ones

This is another devotional for little ones of the preschool age.  There are many Jesus Calling daily devotionals, and they come highly recommended.  Two of the more popular ones are: Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence and Jesus Calling: 365 Devotions For Kids.

 

 

 


Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book: Make a World

I can’t remember where I saw this book recommended, but after checking it out for myself, it does not disappoint.  In books like this by Ed Emberley, children can follow along step-by-step and learn how to draw almost anything imaginable.  Each book revolves around a theme such as Make A World which explores things like planes, people, boats, and buildings, or this other one about animals: Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Animals.  Books like these are recommended for ages 7-8, but I think the could be used easily by someone as young as 4.  It all depends on their interest in drawing and pen-control.

 

 

Look Inside Your Body

One of the most important areas of reading is non-fiction.  Think of it, as an adult, most of what we read is non-fiction.  Articles, cook books, direction pamphlets, blogs like this one, etc.  We can’t forget to introduce children to non-fiction since it will make up a lot of what they read for the rest of their lives.  At our house, Look Inside Your Body is a favorite for several reasons.  The illustrations are well done and basic enough for a preschooler to understand, yet the tidbits of information can keep an early elementary kid in awe.  We also like the lift-up flaps as well as the lift-up flaps INSIDE the lift-up flaps.  That’s right, there are LAYERS of information here–literally!  The link for this book will take you to the Usborne Books website and you can search for non-fiction books on an abundance of topics for ages 3-8+ .

Bonus:


Pinkalicious

I know Pinkalicious has been around for a while, but we just delved into the books at our house, and I have to say: They are so cute!  I adore the illustrations and the books have plots that can open conversations about hard to deal with topics such as bullying.  There are tons of Pinkalicious books other than the three pictured here.  These are great for kids 3-8. 

 

 


gift-guide1There you have it!  Leave a comment about your favorite toys and books below.

dear-sister

Sister Girl,

You are not ready.  You won’t be ready next year, or the year after.  In your whole lifetime, really, nothing prepares you for this.

No matter how intensely you’ve thought about it or arranged your life around it, bringing a child into this world is something that no one can ever really be ready for.

 

You will not be ready for your first glance at that tiny miracle that you now call your own.

But, you can rest in this: Whether tears, smiles, or nerves, it’s a split-second you will never forget.

 

You will not be ready to rise to your feet and make your way to your little one at all hours of the night.

But, you can rest in this:  A beckoning from your babe will fill you will a strength you’ve never known.

 

You will not be ready to see your groom change into a father before your naked eyes.

But, you can rest in this:  Transformation provides a new layer to your love.

 

You will not be ready for the advice every woman, mother or not, will spout at you.

But, you can rest in this: There are still more women who have your success as a mother in mind, and you will be thankful for that support.

 

You will not be ready to make decisions about your tiny bundle’s future.

But, you can rest in this:  Insight is only a prayer away; so pray sister, pray, pray.

 

You will not be ready to hear the sounds of your sweet babe coughing and sniffling through the night.  

But, you can rest in this:  That babe has a mother who will tend to her incessantly, how much more blessed could that sweet child be?

 

You will not be ready for the heartache that lingers long after you’ve left your little one for the first time.

But, you can rest in this: Time will reunite you both, and those moments will be even sweeter than most.

 

You will not be ready for your baby to become a toddler, nor your toddler a child, and the list goes on…

But, you can rest in this: Though we have to keep moving forward through this life, at the same time, these will be the best memories to look back on.

 

And finally, mostly, you will not be ready for the unending, inconsolable tears that will be shed.

But you can rest in this:  That sweet baby will be too young to remember you crying all the time. 😀

 

With Love,

Your Big Sis

sister

 

Fall Sensory Craft Using Oatmeal and Coffee Grounds

pinterest-pic

After running across the idea of using these oatmeal and coffee grounds for a simple fall craft, I decided to put my own little twist on the original idea by making a colorful fall tree.

 

You will need:

  • Newspaper to cover your work surface
  • 1 piece of Cardstock (your choice on the color and size)
  • 1 pen or pencil
  • A spoonful or two or ground coffee
  • 1/4 cup of rolled oats
  • Elmer’s glue
  • 1 paintbrush
  • A few drops of food coloring OR watercolor paints in these colors: green, orange, yellow, and red

 

Process:

Lay out newspaper so that your entire work surface is covered.  (This also helps with a quick and easy clean-up.)  Sketch an outline of a tree on the piece of Cardstock, or if the children you’re working with are old enough, let them draw their own trees.  You can also grab my free tree-template or request another free template at the bottom of this post. image

Squeeze out a little glue on the trunk of the tree and, using a paintbrush, spread it over the entire area that you want to cover with coffee grounds.  Make sure this is a semi-thick layer of glue, if you go too thin, the coffee won’t stick.  Spoon on the coffee grounds and then tilt your paper back and forth until coffee completely covers the gluey area.  Dump excess coffee onto newspaper.

If you are using food coloring, mix each desired color into a tablespoon or two of the rolled oats.  We used small containers and a toothpick, but you could also knead the oats and coloring around inside a plastic bag. borderoats

*If you are using watercolor paint, read on…

Repeat the glue-spreading process to cover the top of the tree.  Sprinkle on the colored oats and shake, tilt, and dump, just like before!  Take your hands and press down on the oats and coffee grounds to make sure they adhere to the paper before setting it to dry.  Scoop up everything in your newspaper and dispose.  Never has there been an easier clean up process.

*If you are using watercolors to give the top of your tree some color, wait until the glue has dried and then paint away!  Be sure not to go too heavy on the water so that the Cardstock doesn’t become soggy and begin to tear.
image

My little one loved this project.  She enjoyed playing with and examining the ingredients as well as working through the multi-step process.  She wanted to try another tree on her own after working on the bigger one together.  She sketched this one out by herself:bordertree

 

Other shapes you could try:

A sunflower with coffee in the center and yellow oats around the outside.

A spider or bat made of just coffee grounds.

A turkey with alternating rows feathers using both oats and coffee.

Download the tree-template here!

Request a free template below!  Simply fill out your email address and tell me the template you’re interested in (Sunflower, Bat, or Turkey) and I will ship it to ya! 

oatmeal-tree

Growing Pains

You grew today.

I missed it.

You left this morning, and when you returned to me this evening, you were different.  Your mannerisms, your speech, forever changed.  Evolved.

Your time away filled your mind with fresh experiences, your ears with new expressions, and your heart with countless first loves.  What you were this morning is only a memory now.

This happens every now and then, and each time I’m caught off guard.  It’s no secret that you’re growing rapidly.  Changing from baby to toddler to little girl.  I can tell that you are taller now than when the summer began.  But still, occasionally, all this change happens in the span of one day.  I catch a glimpse of my grown-up-little-girl and my footsteps stagger; my breath is cut short.

I wonder if I will remember each stage; if I have enough photos to recount the moments.  I already know the answers: I can’t and I don’t.

Sometimes I think I should take more pictures, sometimes I think I should take none.

It is a day like today that becomes an encouragement for me.  Everything can change in an instant.  Often all the change only takes an instant. You come home and everything is different. Being present everyday is the only cure for this sometimes brutal truth.

Yet even when I prepare for this battle of the heart, consciously savoring every sound and smell, dressing myself in morning cuddles, focusing carefully on individual details…I still am perpetually conquered by my emotions.

But, I know that my feeling of defeat signals this: I am doing something right.

My daughter’s youth may be slipping past me, and memories are sure to be rapidly fading away from my mind, but the pain that comes from those realizations shows me that I’m loving thoroughly.  Enjoying fully.  Caring immeasurably.  Treasuring endlessly.

And living, completely.

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10 Things That Should Be On Your Summer Bucket List

With a heavy heart, I have to admit that summer is winding down.  July will be running on fumes by the end of next week, and once August hits, school will be back in session before we know it.

For the past several summers, I have made a “Summer Bucket List” in which I list all the places I want to go, chores I need to accomplish, people I should catch up with, projects I hope to try, etc.  While cleaning the other day, I found these lists from the last two summers.  I lovingly gazed through the items on each list and my mind filled with fond memories of the summers that once were.

This year, I did not make a formal list, but I scribbled down a few intentions of mine (one being to start this blog-check!) With the end of my summer vacation in sight, I decided to come up with a condensed version of my summer bucket list to help make the most out of these next several weeks.

10 Ways to Squeeze the Last Bit of Life Out of Your Summer

Get Outside – This one should be obvious- there are SO many fun activities to do outdoors during the summer.  Sand volleyball, a walk to the park, bicycling, rollerblading, sun-tanning, gardening-whatever you’re into, do it outside!

Get Wet – Another obvious one; it’s 90 degrees!  Find some water!  I don’t know if we’ll make it to the lake this year, but our family is all about spending time at the Splash pad. We have found a few of these local spray parks, but if all else fails, you can just hook up a sprinkler in the back yard.  Here’s another fun activity for the kids that we tried earlier this summer.  Fill containers with water, add food coloring, and hand out spoons and cups and let your kiddos pour, scoop, mix colors, and explore!13256580_922249897883440_1853070564_n

Get Together – I have a running list of people in my head who I don’t see often enough during the school year, or that I know I need to make more time for, and my summer break is a wonderful opportunity to play catch-up.  In such a fast-paced world, we have to make extra effort to plan out time to see everyone.  I try to keep balanced and schedule with people in these categories: time for family, play-dates for my daughter, girl-time with my close friends, and date (or double date) nights for my husband and I.

Get Away – What? A vacation is not in the budget? I feel ya.  But getting away doesn’t mean you have to go far.  Explore somewhere that you’ve never been before.  Experiencing something new and out of the ordinary helps you feel recharged and refreshed as opposed to going through the same motions everyday.  Check out a new hiking trail, park, or beach (Free).  Try out a children’s museum; the zoo; a local winery ($).  Travel to a state park, enjoy a concert, stay overnight at a spa in the city ($$) Whatever your budget, you have options!

Get Cooking – This is my fave.  (Maybe I should also create a summer bucket list just for cooking?! 😀 ) I cook no matter what, but the freedom of summer allows the time to cook more complicated dishes as well as breakfast and lunch options; whereas, during the school year, I’m typically just making dinners as fast as humanly possible (or not making dinner at all – don’t ask my husband about this one).  One thing I wanted to start this summer is a Sunday brunch.  Go to the early service at church, get home, and create a series of culinary masterpieces which fit in the breakfast and lunch categories. It hasn’t happened yet, but last Sunday I made a few pancakes..So by the end of summer, I should be able to get this mini-tradition together.

Get Eating – Well, if you cook, you’re going to eat what you make, I would think.  But, what I mean here is something a little different.  Try a new restaurant in town, invite friends over to enjoy a meal together, pack a picnic and dine amidst nature. My hubby and I have decided to visit the restaurant we used to frequent in college on our next date night, and our family is going to venture out for a picnic before summer ends.

Get Reading – I try hard to “read for pleasure” during the school year, but with (close to a million…okay maybe not quite that many) papers to grade, among other job-related literature I have to keep up with, it can be hard to find the time.  Extra free time in the summer months is perfect to check out a new best seller, a magazine that peaks your interest, or subscribe to a blog that you can’t get enough of.  Curl up with your new read in a lawn chair and ahhhh…life is good.

Get Creative – One way I get my creative juices flowing is writing for this blog, but creativity comes in all fashions.  Cooking, painting, building, playing, dancing, designing, whatever you are gifted with-go for it!  Set a day or two aside to explore your interests.

Get Cleaning – This item probably wouldn’t make your bucket list, so I made sure to put it on there for you. 😉 Besides the normal vacuuming and toilet scrubbing, it is nice to get some deeper cleaning accomplished.  I am good at coming up with organization projects, but not so great at executing them.  I’m sure you have piles of stuff on your counters and in corners of your house that need a forever home, but if you have trouble deciding which dust bunnies to escort to the garbage first, check out this handy cleaning checklist  I have pinned here.  And, if you want to enlist the help of your children, try the age appropriate chore chart pinned here.

Get In The Zone – By this, I mean the relaxation zone.  After all, it is summer.  There is a lot to be said about saying “No” and deciding not to over schedule yourself or your family.  Take the time to just be.

There you have it!  (Or if you like a more visual format check below.) Take what you need and add your own ideas and saturate the rest of this summer with memories.

Summer Bucket List

What are your plans for the rest of the summer?  Leave me a comment below!

Finding the GOOD in Mommy Guilt

Last night I yelled.  I have before, too.  That ugly, throaty, harsh tone that my husband had never heard before our sweet daughter came along.

But, last night, it was different.  Only two words were emphasized in this animalistic timbre.

“I’M TIRED”

It echoed throughout the walls of my mind, before striking my heart with its icy selfishness.

We had tucked the babe tightly in her bed at 8:30.  She flitted around upstairs for two more hours, wearing on my sanity.  After many minor battles, she abruptly drifted off to sleep.  Then it was my turn, so I climbed the stairs to bed and tucked myself in only to be woken up by her tiny voice about an hour and a half later.

“Mommy?”

“Can I come in your bed?”

Whatever!  Whatever at this point.  I trudged across the hall and unlatched her gate, urging her to follow me back to my bed.  She stayed put.  Yelling out to me, me -now snuggled back under my covers- yelling back to her.

Daddy stepped in to calm her down, but she would have none of it.  All she longed for were the comforts of mama.

Now boiling, steaming, and calculating the sleep I was losing by the second, I stormed over to her bed, scooped her up, along with the thousand animals she cuddles with each night, and marched back to my room as I ugly-yelled, “I’m TIRED!”

 

I thought that she needed to know.  I thought that someone needed to hear it in my voice just how tired I was.  Tired of the back and forth.  Tired from the day, now behind us.  Tired from the past three years of waking up at least once a night.

Or maybe this grunt of exhaustion was spewed out because I just needed to validate my own feelings; it’s stupid-late o’clock and everyone should be asleep by now- aren’t I right about this?

 

My blood still bubbling, we settled down together into my bed.  Her little voice whispered.

“Mommy, why you yell to me?”

“I don’t like you yelling because it makes me cry.”

“Please don’t do that next time, Mommy.”

Tears of my own begin streaming down.  My heart ached for how much I love her.  I called out silently to God:  Then what, Lord?  Do I just never sleep?  There have to be boundaries, and consequences; she’s old enough to know that it is time for bed.  I can’t stay awake like this and just keep talking, telling stories, signing, entertaining, can I? 

Yes, you can.

That was the answer.  Yes I can.  Suddenly everything faded away for me.  I saw clearly.  My daughter is a gift to me.  It is my job to take care of her.  Suddenly I could see that sleep didn’t really matter, what time we woke up tomorrow, was no longer a worry.

I had all of these fears in my mind about what would happen if I did not sleep as fully as I could.   Would we be able to check off all of the items on my list of chores and activities for tomorrow?  Would we be happy with each other and not crabby from a night of wakefulness?  Would we wake up early enough to get a nap in at the right time so that bedtime the next night could go smoothly?  And the day after that?  And the night after that?  Looking back, and in my time in prayer, I discovered just how trivial they were.

But more so than that, in this messy, tear-stained jumble of mommy-guilt, God revealed my true need for a Savior.  And just how special; how teachable, this ugly moment would become.  No matter how much of me I give to my daughter, how diligent I am in serving her and caring for her, I will fail.  Though heartbreaking, it is important that she knows this, too.

This lesson is almost unbearable to learn.  It is humbling.  Putting myself aside, and accepting that I am nothing-without Christ.  Submitting to the Lord and asking Him to change my ways of thinking; to slow my responses; to stifle my anger, and fully admitting that I can not do it alone.  Asking Him to show my daughter my heart and my intentions; to shield her ears and her delicate heart from the harshness of my yelling voice; to reveal to her that only with Jesus’ example of love, and earnest prayer and reflection can we be better to each other.

 

There will be days I am tired, days I am sick, days I am selfish, days I am lazy – the list goes on.  These days I will drown in guilt knowing that I should have done better for my daughter.  These days I will remember that with guilt, comes repentance and with that, redemption.Blog7

 

I am redeemed. Thank God. Redeemed.

 

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