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What I learned this month… what I do is art

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I love art. I might (in my own mind) consider myself a real artist, but I’ve never been paid so I’m thinking I’m just someone who enjoys painting, drawing, sewing, photography, building, and well any kind of creating. So it is easy for me to feel like that is my art, that is the art I do. And well that is it, the rest of my life is my life. My cooking (really less than par), my cleaning (even worse than the cooking), and my parenting and wifing (if that’s a word) and even my engineering are all really just my activities, how I’m spending my time. Then I started reading A Million Little Ways – uncover the art you were made to live by Emily Freeman. On a very high level it talks about that we are art (made and created by God) and we make art (not just my narrow definition of it.) Now usually I stay clear of such heady, deep books like that. I’m in a stage where I like to read practical books like The Connected Child and other adoption books. However, I am often taken by Emily on the Simple Mom podcast and subscribe to her blog and thought I should try it out. I was wrong about it not being practical. I’m not really sure how she does it, but she is really helping me uncover my art. She is showing me that “There are many ways, a million little ways, that Christ is formed in me and spills out of me into the world.” (p.29).

This is hard for an engineer like me. Even though I think of myself as creative and out of the box, I also put things into categories all the time. This is my work time, this is my play time, this is my time to be with my kids… etc. But I’m realizing that if I stop that, if I am fully present in what I’m doing if I pursue the things that God gave me passion about and pursue them in His ways, I’m creating art. So here is my art..
homeschoolI am a homeschooling mom now. I wasn’t before and I won’t be after this year. You see we are adopting and my two daughters go to an amazing, small, loving Christian school. It’s probably not expensive in the realm of private schools, but it is still a good percentage of our income. My husband and I chose together that I would homeschool the girls this year to save that money instead of starting a job. It is a pretty big change from staying home with a preschooler and one kid in school full-time, it takes away a lot of my free time, it often makes our house a disaster place, and it almost always leaves me pretty tired and a lot less patient by 3:30 pm. But lately I’ve been letting it be my passion. I love crafts and activities and fun. I love my daughters. I love reading with them. I love being outside with them. I love all of these things. These things bring me joy so I’ve decided to focus on them through out our day. We don’t worry about crossing every T and dotting every I, but we sometimes read for two hours in their bed before they’ve even changed, we frequent the park, we’ve cooked so many things (they’ve cooked so many things on their own, our watercolor paints now stay in our diningroom permanently… and so do our smiles. Somehow all the spelling gets learned, and we make sure we do the minimum… but don’t get me wrong they (we) are learning so much more. We learned about a whole bunch of presidents, had fun learning capitals, learned to embroider, charted our families favorite types of oatmeal cookies, made our Halloween costumes, are known by name at the library and get to do a quiet time together everyday. The laundry no longer gets put a way… I literally clean the clothes and put them on the guest bed and we pick out what we need.  I cook the same 5 things over and over, and well even though I try to keep the kitchen clean, the other rooms are proving entropy (tending toward disorder without the addition of outside energy)  to be true.  But that isn’t my art. The bond that I’m growing with my two girls is my art. Learning Amharic together as we prepare for their brother is our art, tickles and laughs are my art, letting them be more responsible is my art, and teaching them how to be a mom is my art. Even though my mom and I are growing closer as I become an adult, I lived with my dad as a child, I often grew up wondering if I’d even be able to be a good mom, there was pain and hurt there…  but it’s healing now. Jesus shows us that He fills us up and He comes out of us in a million little ways (in art)… even ways we didn’t ever think we’d be able to do, even ones we were never prepared for. Emily says – What if I look inside and I’m a hot mess? Then states… you are. I am a hot mess, but I’m a hot mess who is learning that Jesus is helping me find my passion and making art that is affecting the world even if it’s just starting with those in my home.

Father’s Day Card

I’ve talked before about my card club. It’s really a glorified talking club, but it is fun to make cards and get rid of my old scrapbooking supplies since it’s been years since I’ve used them. Last year I made a card similar to this card, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to top it. I don’t think I topped it in humor but I do think these little shirts are adorable, and they use up all of the ugly scrapbook paper that comes in packs that you would never use for anything else.
doubledadsdayJust think that any paper you have that could look like an ugly, fancy, Hawaiian or flannel shirt. I added bow ties and mini buttons to some and long ties and pockets to the others. To make the shirt I followed these directions… and when I couldn’t do it with those directions I watched this youtube video. I made the insert in photoshop,here is the pdf dadsdayinsides , you can print it out and it works for three cards… To make the shirt I used a 12 x 12 piece of scrapbook paper and cut it to be 7.5in x 12in.
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Fun stuff to do with your kids in the summer

I made a website when I was pregnant with my second daughter. It was about things to do where Chair-on-beach we use to live – it was called norristownmom.com. It was an annotated list of all the things to do in Southeastern PA with kids it had park maps, shows, library events, everything. It was a labor of love but it also made me a walking encyclopedia of what was going on when. We moved and I sold the website – it is now www.playgroundbuzz.com and it’s really awesome. The woman who took it over put a zip code feature in so you can see what is in your neighborhood.

Now I’m not so much in the know. But I’ve learned enough to set up a workable system to keep the midsumer blues at bay. So here are my tricks:
1.The girls and I always make a Summer Bucket list – We do this so that on the fly if we have nothing to do we can pick one and start planning on how to accomplish it. There are thousands… literally thousands of bucket lists out there. Here is ours (summerbucketlist ) and here is our summer activities list on Pinterest. Here is a link to pinterest boards just on bucket lists.
2.We also print out a blank calendar of June, July, and August and put down any visits or camps or VBSs.
3.So lets talk about VBSs. Vacation Bible School. It’s like camp but the kids learn about God, and well it’s awesome and free. We always go to our church’s VBS and then there is another one that is pretty much the coolest one ever, we go to that too… and sometimes we go to one more… okay that may sound a little ridiculous but we don’t usually send them to camp and it is only half day, or at night. Definitely go to a church you know or where someone you know goes, and  try to send your kids with a friend.
4.Science in the summer – If you are lucky enough to be in the greater Philly, Pittsburg, or DC area then you can go to Science in the summer. It’s a one hour class every day for a week. The kids absolutely love it and they learn so much. Also it usually takes place in a library so it’s an opportunity to get out some books.
5.Libraries – Going to the library is easily our number 1 activity in the summer. Granted not every kid loves the library – but in the summer it is way more than just a library. We always join the summer reading program and then look at the library calendar for their weekly summer programs. Last year we saw an amazing science presentation at a library about 10 miles away, it was totally worth it!
6.Geocaching – This is so much fun and if you’ve never done it should definitely make it to your bucket list. If you have a smart phone they have a free app that makes it incredibly fun. You find the cache that you want to look for. The cache is usually a small container hidden in nature that has a log book and little treasures inside. So when you go out make sure you bring some trinkets (happy meal toys or little balls or packs of crayons) and you traded them for the ones in the cache.
7. Playgrounds – I love running and playing. My kids and I took a map of our area and started crossing off all the parks in our area. It was so much fun, and then we were keenly aware of where the cool parks were. Our personal favorites besides the two that are ridiculously huge, are the ones by libraries. We have two in our area which makes them awesome for a whole afternoon of activity. If you live in Southeastern PA check out this page. We keep a playground bag in our car – socks, sneakers, sunscreen, and nonperishable snacks. We also like to go hiking at one of the parks.
8. Nature Activities – Sometimes it is beautiful out – not too hot, just warm enough that you have to be outside. We love digging in the dirt, looking for bugs, and going through streams. Again there are lots of resources out there if you would like some ideas in this area. The key is to have your kids lead it, sometimes they could just sit for an hour or two or sometimes they are done in like 15 minutes… we go with the flow. Again if you have a smartphone there is a free app called Leaf Snap. You can use it to identify any leaves that you find – it isn’t always 100% reliable but the kids liked it.
9.Kids Bowl Free – Definitely sign your kids up for this. They get two free games a day for the whole summer. At our bowling Alley the kids get free shoes if it’s under size 1, so that means free all around… but ironically enough don’t go on a rainy day it is packed and it’s not really fun.
10. Schedule – This sounds silly but we have a summer schedule for days when we are just at home. Monday – cooking, Tuesday – science, Wednesday – sports, Thursday arts and crafts, and Friday is friends day. If we are going out or we are only out in the morning or just in the afternoon we do one of these activities the other part of the day. I print out about 10-15 of these activities and ideas for the subjects and then pick one to do.
11.Kindness & Giving Back – Summer can quickly become all about what are we doing – heck this post is all about “What are you going to do with your kids?” The girls and I really like to brain storm this. I start off with – Okay how can we help others? Kids can help out at a food bank, visiting a senior center, making a craft for neighbors, donate toys to GoodWill, do a walk for a cause, have a lemonade stand for Alex’s lemonade, have a bake sale for a local charity, clean up a local park, plant a tree, and so many more ideas.  I love the Artist Helping Children Website (except for all of the ads). Last summer the girls and I had The Family Cafe. It was so much fun and we collected a car full of good for the local homeless shelter. I’ll have to write a post on it, but the way it worked was we invited all of our friends to come over and have lunch at our house, we made a menu and cooked the food and the girls were the waitresses (It was adorable to see the kids sitting at little tables on the deck). The kids paid for their lunches with items off of the wanted list for the local foodbank. The girls and I brought the items over to the food bank, which was also a huge blessing. You will be surprised at the great ideas your kids will have about how to help others – give them some guidance but go with it… even the crazy ideas. Letting them learn to love volunteering is definitely worth sometime. This is my Pinterest Kindness board to give you some ideas.
12. Projects – Projects are awesome and can take up lots of time as you plan, get the materials, build and actually use. This past summer we made a kid car wash (here is the pdf KidWash ) and an outside water bed. They were totally worth the time and we had about every kid in the neigborhood came over to try them out. You can see us building it in this post. And here are some pictures of the girls playing on the waterbed… note to all… if you are going to only make one of these the kidcarwash can be used year after year and is awesome. The waterbed can really only be used once and it’s annoying to make, but oh it was gloriously fun while we had it. You can check out directions here.
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Here are some other great resources –
If you live in the Norrisotwn Area you have to check out the ACPPA – it is the most amazing community art center with the most reasonable prices.
Teachmama Smart Summer Challenge
Kindergarten Here I come – I actually have this whole calendar. It is an amazing resource for preschoolers, each month is full of fun, silly, and simple activities to do with your kids. It is a treasure trove of ideas. unfortunately it’s old so this is the only place I could find a digital copy. It also has kindergarten Here I AM  which is great to have themed books for topics. You can do one topic a week.
100 Free things to do with your Grandkids – This is a great pdf with lots of little ideas to get you through those inside the house times.

Fake Letterpress

I belong to a card club. Not the kind where we play Bunko or Bridge but the kind where we make homemade cards together. There are nine of us and we each make 9 of the same card and then we give one to each other so that we have 9 different cards to use. It has saved me so much money in buying cards and it gives me a wonderfully creative outlet for a useful purpose. It doesn’t hurt that we were all in the Moms club together when our kids were babies and now that most of them are in school it gives us a good reason to still get together and talk and laugh. It is amazing to see the different ideas and techniques used. You can see some of our cards in the pictures below. Every now and then we have an original idea but most things have been inspired or directly copied from something we’ve seen on pinterest.
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I copied the design from this awesome card maker and then I used this image for the envelope template and now I’m pretty sure I’m going to ask for that punch for my birthday… it is really the cutest. I got the digital paper for the inside of the envelope at Free digital scrapbooking paper . I had gotten some winter cards at Joanns on clearance so I picked some of the blue ones that didn’t have snowflakes on them. I went with a white envelope instead of the craft brown just because of the color palate and I nixed the ribbon – mostly because I was tired.
Here is a template of the envelopes. (envelope template)
cardtwoBut by far the coolest thing I learned by making this card is that you can print pretty easily on the premade cards you can buy at craft stores using Microsoft word. This is huge for me since I don’t have a lot of stamps so I’m stuck printing on cardstock and then cutting it out and pasting it on the cards… why didn’t I just think of printing right on the card? I found the tutorial on how to do this here.

Something fun at dinner time?

My girls can talk. I mean really talk. You might not know it if you’ve met them because Sassy Pants is pretty shy and a bit of an introvert, but that really just means that she saves all of her words for us. Last year when I was homeschooling it had gotten so bad that I started getting books on CD to listen to because it was nonstop chit chat from both girls at the same time everytime we were in the car. So it is their joy to have fun stuff to talk about at dinner time. We have been very happy with How Does She’s family dinner questions. These help us all have a focused conversation togther listening to each other’s answers, it’s a great skill to practice. We have almost finished all the questions, and I never made them cute I just left them on printed sheets. Then yesterday I got Paper Coterie’s free journaling prompts. They are graphically adorable. I thought I would use them for a little weekly journaling for my project life scrapbook, but then I realized they would be perfect for our dinner time questions. I set up a jar like they instructed and it’s adorable – see! If you are interested in having questions to talk about at dinner these are great, but be forewarned they aren’t really for the preschool set, more for elementary and above. If you have preschoolers you should check out the How Does she link (they even have fun facts like… how long can an adult Kangaroo jump? 30 feet – can you believe that?) or I found this link about 100 questions to ask your kids.. this would be great too.
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Sharing Christmas

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This is my first link up (thanks Megan for suggesting it!)… It is a little intimidating having a certain topic to post on…  well here goes.
These are a couple of shots of the Christmassy stuff around our house.
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1. This is our super simple advent calendar. I took a frame that I used to put the girls art work in and hammer finishing nails into the side and connected with craft wire. I then use little clothespins that I got at Michael’s to hold up printable cards from 1-24. I got the printable at the Sanvie blog (so simple and beautiful). Then I used post-its on the back so that I can use the calendar over and over again. I think I saw the idea somewhere last year but I can’t find where it was. We usually use our sock advent calendar, but it tends to get so messy and droopy by the end, this was a nice clean calendar!
2. This is our little online advent activity that has some fun interactive thing for my kids to do everyday. If you leave it open there is a little snowglobe that is constantly snowing in the lower right hand corner of your desktop. It makes me smile. A big bonus is the kids played with it for an hour the first time we uploaded it – $3 well spent.
3. This will be our second year hosting an ornament making to raise money for a cause. It was super fun last year, and I’ll write a post about it soon. But at the moment, our living room looks like the staging area for craft wars.
4. This very unique gift that we received two years ago is a nativity from China. It is hard to determine the characters and it had 4 wise men but my kids love that you can spin it from the top.
5. This buffet top is our most decorated space. The whole scene kind of happened by accident. I wanted to make a space for our very awesome new nativity from Azizi Life, but the rest was a mess. Our dining room has a bunch of random hooks left over from teh previous owner so I hung the star ornament on one and then centered the nativity under it. The garland goes up every year some p;ace random and the frame was an after thought to cover up another unsightly hook. I have to admit I really like it – happy accident. It is kind of like our family – cute and quirky – not perfect but can make you smile.
6. That is our jesusnotes printable. The girls have been working on trying to think of “gifts” they can give Jesus and writing it down on paper and putting it in his stocking.
7.This was a random buy two Christmases ago. It’s just nice to move the ornaments onto the little hooks.

 

Other than that we’ve done a couple little crafts and Christmassy snacks as well as some little services. Mostly we’ve been enjoying eachother in a joyful way.

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Some Christmas things that I might do next year

  1. I definitely will sign up for this Online Advent activity in November and send it as a gift to my far away cousins. This adorable advent countdown by Jacquie Lawson is precious. You have to download it to your computer but it doesn’t take too long and everyday the kids click on the ornament with that number and a new scene in the village opens up. To be totally honest the first day was kind of boring, but the next day they got to build a snowman, and in one they made stockings and a wreath. It held the attention of my 5 and 7 year olds for over an hour the first day because we had to catch up. It’s also adorable that there is a little snowglobe on the corner of your desktop to remind you to use it. It was an easy inexpensive way to get things rolling.
    Hallmark website
  2. I found Hallmark’s advent calendar of activities (through Nurture Store)  with downloadable and adorable pdfs too late into December so I’m hoping that they will have it again so that we can do it, especially on advent days where our activity is not as interactive. Some of the days are more for adults with the recipes and some videos but there really are some cute printables.
  3. For the past 4 years we have stopped sending out traditional Christmas cards and instead use the money that we would send out to buy a gift through World Vision. This year it was a goat. We do send out a year worth of pictues through Smile Box. It’s a cute, free and easy way to send a slide show with music, you can even add short videos. There are a couple of ads if you do the free version, but it is still really well done. I highly recommend it. Since we’ve been sending out ours lots of our family members have been sending out their own. Some of the slide shows allow up to 100 pictures so it’s great if you have people on your list that will actually look through that many – ours has about 40 pictures and I always wonder if people really look through the whole thing.wvgoat
    All that to say since this is our fourth year doing it and deservedly so we hadn’t been getting as many picture Christmas cards in the mail so I was telling a friend and she did an amazingly wonderful thing. She sent us a card everyday for like 7 or 8 days. Everyday it would be signed by someone else… The little Drummer Boy, Frosty, Rudolph etc. My girls adored it. We would get other cards but we always opened their first. They knew who it was from but that just made it all the better they felt very loved and cherished. I would really like to do that for someone next year. By the way,  we sent her the online advent activity… not as cool as what she did but we were hoping to return their outpouring a little bit.
  4. Small Notebook is one of the blogs that I subscribe to through email. She often just makes sense. She does a list of things to make Christmas easier and there are several I had never even thought of.. check out her post here. But one thing that I will definitely be doing next year is to read the Jesus StoryBook Bible Advent Reading plan from The Mommyhood Memos. We love our StoryBook BIble and even though we will never stop doing our Luke 2  reading during Christmas time I think this will be a nice addition to our nighttime routine.
  5. And finally I’d love to have more sit down time with my girls – just more still time – we tend to jump, run, play and generally bounce around. This year I showed them both how to embroider… real simple stuff. But I would like us to try and sew an ornament together a little each night. I don’t want to try and make one a day, but that we would work on it everyday. I love these simple shapes from Homemade by Jill.Maybe your days and nights be Merry and Bright.

 

 

 

 

National Cocoa Day

… Dec. 13th is National Cocoa day. This is usually something that would totally fly under the radar for me – I’m not really a huge chocolate fan and I didn’t even know it had it’s own holiday. Well that is until I started to read Rage against the Minivan – which really should be in my blogroll. She did a post on the truth about where your cocoa comes from. The videos were horrible. I have a soft spot for orphans (shouldn’t we all) and well since we are adopting from Africa this information cut way too close to home. Please watch the videos… well watch them if you want to be convicted. Pretty much children are being bought or stolen and forced to work in the dangerous field of cocoa, but there is so much more… watch the videos and read Kristen’s blog.  So I went through me cupboard. My oldest wouldn’t take regular milk as a child. I nursed her to 14 months hoping that eventually she’d change her mind. We finally started spiking it with trace amounts of Carnation instant breakfast and the problem was solved… fast forward to over 6 years later and she still was drinking the Carnation instant breakfast in her milk. Nestle is a huge culprit in the supporting child slavery issue. Okay so they don’t support child slavery – I don’t think anyone would actually come out and say that – but they continue to turn a blind eye to the practices of the farms that they buy cocoa from. So I needed to get rid of my nestle stuff  and our Hershey stuff (but take note that according to Raise the Bar Hersey they will be 100% fair trade certified by 2020!). Hershey has chocolate called Bliss that is Rainforrest Alliance certified. Some people still don’t want to buy that because Hershey hasn’t been moving as quickly as they could be, but for us it is somethig we’ve needed to do in some cases. The hardest thing is deciding on wat to do for Miss Thing’s milk (Miss thing is my oldest). Along comes pinterest. I found out how to make homemade chocolate sauce from the Maker Girl. It tastes exactly like the store bought stuff, but it should be said I had a huge thing of Hershey cocoa and I’m still using that until it’s done before we buy fair trade cocoa to start making it. I just couldn’t see wasting it since it was already bought. The girls and I have discussed it, I started to watch one video with them but they got upset, so we stopped and they don’t mind the changes we’ve made. So no more Carnation instant breakfast, no more nestle chips, and no more Hershey’s cocoa. A friend bought me sunspire chips , but my kids liked the Bliss better… I’m going to keep looking for the best solution! Happy National Cocoa Day.