Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mrs. Couch Potato Head

I love watching television. I hate that I love watching television. Yet every time I have a free moment, usually when the kids are asleep, I look for the remote control and turn it on. Even if there’s nothing on. Channel up, channel down, channel up, channel down. I think it’s an addiction—I don’t know why I do it. Maybe it’s because I’m with the kids all day and when they’re asleep, it’s my time to indulge in frivolous activity. Maybe it’s because my brain is so on the go during the day that at night, I just need to vegge and watch aimlessly. Whatever the reason, I can’t stand it. Maybe that’s one reason I started this blog—to prevent me from watching television.

The funny thing is that I’m not lacking in things to do. There’s a pile of books that I want to read. There’re art supplies collecting dust in the garage. There’re knitting needles waiting to be picked up. And, of course, the endless laundry and cleaning that never seems to get done. But when I think about these other activities, I know they’ll take more use of my brain then I really want to apply unfortunately.

I know there’s nothing wrong with watching television, but when I calculate how much I watch and compare it with the amount of time I say to myself, “I’m too busy” for some other activity, my heart cringes. Because honestly, fulfilling Mom-time is essential to a mother’s life, especially a stay-at-home mom. And watching television isn't really fulfilling Mom-time. We need to continue to develop who God’s made us to be—individuals with God-given gifts and talents, dreams and pursuits. As great as being a mom is, I don't believe that that's all that God has for us. The arts, volunteer work, ministries, music, cooking--any of these activities add to our being better moms and wives. If we don’t take care of ourselves and build up ourselves in the midst of taking care of our family, our family won’t be taken care of to it’s fullest.

So I have just made up my mind to watch only 1 hour of television a day. For some of you, that’s not difficult, but for me, that will take some will power. Now, I won’t have any excuses for not reading, not studying the Bible, not pursuing some creative art form, not getting enough sleep and so forth. This is the beginning of a new era! Then in the process, perhaps I’ll have more activities to post about! Maybe at some point, I’ll be able to cancel our cable and save some money! Well, at least until Project Runway’s new season comes around—then I’ll have to reactivate it again.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Dr. Seuss on the Loose

My new year’s resolution is to teach Ellie, my 3-year old, how to read. As of now, she knows her letters, she knows most of her phonics, and she knows how to sight read about 20 words. When I tell my friends of my goal, some think I’m a little overambitious. Nevertheless, I feel that reading is the key to a successful future. Some friends compare me to Rick Moranis’ character in the old 1989 movie “Parenthood”. I don’t mind the comparison except I think the difference is I’m the totality of his character in the beginning of the movie and his character at the end of the movie. In other words, as long as I both have an academic focus and a playful, childlike focus, I’ve got a well-balanced goal for my kids. My ultimate goal is that my children always have a love for learning, no matter the subject.

So how did I get my child to learn the alphabet and beginning reading? Here are some things I’ve tried, although not exhaustive. It may or may not work for you because of the various learning styles and personalities that every child has. But to identify their style, you need to go through a trial and error process. Hopefully, these tips will give you a good starting point.

1—Read, read, read. I’m sure you’re already doing that. You can find a plethora of books at the library or at the bookstore teaching the alphabet. Our favorite is Dr. Seuss’s book “ABC-An Amazing Alphabet Book.” It’s a silly, fun book to read to your child to help her learn her letters and phonics. Other early reading books in our library include:
-Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
-Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss
-The Honey Hunt by Stan and Jan Berenstain
-Put Me in the Zoo by Robert Lopshire
-Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman
-Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb! By Al Perkins and Eric Gurney
Most of the Dr. Seuss Bright and Early or Beginner Books are great reading practice.

2—Sing the “Alphabet Song” any and every chance you get.

3—Buy simple flashcards or write the alphabet on index cards. At a young age, children can recognize many things even if they can’t say it. Large visuals will help them identify letters.

4—Get the LeapFrog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Set. Although these alphabet magnets are more expensive than other alphabet magnets, they’re worth the buy because there is no little magnet in the back that can’t fall off and cause a choking hazard. Also, the LeapFrog set teaches kids phonics and sings the alphabet song.

5—Buy learning puzzles that build words with pictures. Our favorite is the Learning Journey’s Fun with Spelling Puzzle.

6—Make crafts using cut up magazines or newspapers. And whatever craft you do, write your child’s name on it so they can see the correlation between letters and their name.

7—Finally, whatever you do, make learning letters and reading fun and an everyday experience. Let your children see that letters and words are everywhere and needed to function in the world. Find letters and simple words when you’re on the road or at the store. Read to them letters or emails from friends and family. Let them watch you write grocery lists or letters or anything. Reading and writing go hand in hand, but we’ll leave info on teaching your kids to write for another post.

For more information, check out

The Art of Accountability

“No man is an island.” ~ John Donne

In my younger years, I’ve sometimes assumed an island identity. The immaturity of youth and the pride of self made me believe I was only accountable to myself and to God. Yet as I’ve grown older, I’ve found peer accountability invaluable.

Accountability in any stage of our lives is essential, but even more so as we are parents. I know I am indebted to strong Christian women in my life who have poured and are pouring into me with prayer, advice, instruction, and rebuke. But what does true accountability look like? Is it just sharing what’s going on in our lives? I don’t think so. Here are my 5 C’s to effective accountability:

1-Choose an intimate group. Whether there’s just two or five, it depends on you and your group. But a small group is needed for intimacy and transparency.

2-Clarify confidentiality. Make sure everyone in the group knows that what’s said in the group, stays in the group, unless mentioned otherwise.

3-Care for one another. This is basic enough. Be good listeners, show compassion, share with honesty.

4-Confront each other on tough issues. If you have concerns about another peer’s thoughts, actions, or character, true accountability necessitates calling each other out and speaking the truth in love. “As iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another” ~Proverbs 27:17.

5-Commit to prayer. Share what’s going on in each other’s lives and commit to praying for each other.

If you have these five components in your accountability group, you are on the road to success in forming accountability that truly sharpens.

** To help you get started, here are a few suggested questions:

-How is your spiritual walk going?
-How is the communication between you and your husband and children?
-How are you showing love to your husband and children?
-In what area(s) would you like to improve in your parenting or marriage?

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Haircut

Titus, my 15 month old, had his first haircut this week. But unfortunately, it was from his sister! I was cleaning in the kitchen and they were playing in the other room. The kid scissor's are usually in reach for Ellie, my 3 year old, because she's usually good at using it properly... except for this time.

While I was doing dishes, Ellie came pouncing in exclaiming, "Mommy, look at this!" She was holding a large clump of hair in her hand. I wasn't sure whether to scold or laugh. After the shock, I merely chuckled and said, "Ellie, is that your hair or Titus' hair?" "Titus's," she responded gleefully. I went into our play room and found clumps of hair everywhere. "Ellie, you can't cut Titus' hair anymore, do you understand? Scissor are for crafts only," I said firmly but gently. "Okayyy," she droned.

Lesson accomplished, discipline averted. In instances like these I am tempted to scold and be more harsh on Ellie but when I give it some thought, I realize she was never told not to cut Titus' hair so should she be disciplined for ignorance? I don't think so, at least not in this case. Different scenarios may cause different outcomes.

When I tell this story to my other mom friends, the first question I get is "What did you do?" or "How did you respond?" I answer, "I laughed, told her not to do it again and cleaned up the hair that seems to keep magically appearing everywhere I go in my house."

I believe that kids are kids and they sometimes will do childish things. We should keep that in mind when we discipline. Don't get me wrong-- I do understand that truth and grace come together. I try to discipline for outward defiance not brought on by extraneous circumstances. For example, if you've overloaded your child with activity, or skipped a nap, or let them go hungry too long and they act up, is that their fault or yours? Be constantly aware of external circumstances in your child's life. When those factors are involved, a little bit of grace needs to present. When it's sheer will, then yes, truth needs to be present.

But there needs to be a proper balance of the two. How do we know if we've got it balanced? Read books from noted authors on parenting. Ask older men and women whom you admire whether they agree with your discipline style and tactics or not. Ask peer moms and dads that you trust what their thoughts are. And ultimately pray that your discipline style is honoring to God.

Of course, you will get varying opinions on your specific style. However, you are not looking for complete agreement; you are looking for a general thumbs up or thumbs down--a "I don't think you have anything to worry about" or a "I have a few concerns..."

Ultimately, you are accountable to God on how you raise your children. But God has placed godly men and women in your life to sharpen you. Be open, be humble, be teachable--the things that you want to instill in your children as well. Be what you want them to be and act how you want them to act and all will be well. They are watching and learning and storing every bit of information in their little heads for a lifetime.

While cleaning up Titus' hair clumps on the ground, I asked, "Why did you cut Titus' hair?" Ellie responded, "It was too long." And I immediately remembered conversations with my husband recently before the incident in which we said to each other, "Titus' hair is too long. He needs a haircut."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Presents and a Tree for Easter?

So today is Thursday and we continued our Easter celebration by buying presents to wrap to open on Easter. Let me just say that I don’t plan to do this for the rest of the kids’ lives but since they are only 3 and 1, to balance Christmas and Easter on the same level, my husband and I decided that it was a good decision for the time being. We told the kids (well, mostly Ellie, my 3 year old) that they get presents because Christ gave us the biggest present of all, giving His life for us. So we wanted to give each other gifts to remind ourselves that Jesus gave the biggest gift. My daughter loves to wrap presents too so it was a thrilling morning.

By the way, I ended up putting the tree back up (reference to my last post). We were at the store and Ellie saw these little Easter ornaments so I thought it would be cute to put them on our dying potted Christmas tree. I just wanted to correlate Easter and Christmas and if this helps in any way, the ugly tree has done it's job. I read somewhere that to help connect that two holidays, another family has the tradition of cutting two limbs from their Christmas tree and saving it. When Easter comes around, they make the limbs into the cross and the connection is made. I thought that was a great idea but unfortunately, we bought a small tree this year so it wouldn't be a hazard for my son. Maybe next year.

After decorating the tree, Ellie brought up the fact that she wanted to make more Easter crafts and “decorate the house” so we also made large construction paper crosses, eggs, angels, and lilies to hang around the house. I cut the shapes out and let her decorate them with stickers and markers. We hung them around the house with colorful pipe cleaners and Titus, my 15 month old, was in awe.

The activities continued through the night as we made our Easter cookies. I went to Michael’s and only found some Spring type of cookie cutters, and I thought that that would be all I had to work with, but while my husband was buying buttermilk for making pancakes on Good Friday morning, I found a cross, church, egg, and chick cookie cutter at Albertson’s! What a find! I was ecstatic! Ellie helped roll the dough out and decorate the cookies with sprinkles and other candies. (Note: Smarties are not meant for cookie decorating-- they melt.) We (I) wrote “Happy Easter” and “Jesus” on some of the cookies with edible markers found at Michael’s as well. It was an enjoyable evening. There’s nothing more adorable then your daughter with flour all over her face and clothes.

As I write about these activities, you can tell that our artistic ability is limited. But when you have a 3 year old, everything’s a masterpiece to them. If you are inhibited by your right-brain abilities or lack thereof, remember that you will always be a Van Gogh in your toddler or preschooler’s eyes. Don't shy away from crafts just because they might not look good. Remember that the process is more meaningful than the product.

Tomorrow I will head on over back to Michael’s to buy bags to put the cookies in to give to friends and neighbors so I can teach Ellie the value of giving and sharing. I hope you found this post helpful or inspiring in any way. Please share things you have done to make Easter meaningful for your family. Now, what to do about Good Friday?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Crosses & Crafts: An Easter Celebration

It is the Wednesday before Easter and trying to make the holiday season memorable for my 3 year old daughter and 18 month old son has been a task. We did the Easter egg hunt which was actually fun for both of them, with minimal output since we took them to our church’s Eggstravaganza. Many cities’ parks and rec programs also hold Easter egg hunts for the community.

But besides the eggs and candy, I found my 3 year old lacking in enthusiasm about this holiday season and I came to the conclusion that the one to blame was me. I further realized how different Christmas and Easter is celebrated, even though the greater event should be the latter. The incarnation of the Son of God was a grand feat, don’t get me wrong. But shouldn’t the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ be even more celebrated? I came to terms with society’s lack of enthusiasm and embarked on a plan to make Easter just as great as Christmas!

After telling my daughter that we will soon celebrate Easter and maybe we should decorate the house, she asked, “But where’s our tree?”

I thought about the dying potted Christmas tree in the front yard that we hadn’t watered since Christmas. We had bought a potted tree hoping that we could plant it and see it grow by the following Christmas. We had forgotten that neither my husband nor I had green thumbs and have killed many a plant. The thought still lingered in my mind to bring the tree in and make egg and cross ornaments for it. The thought is still lingering.

My daughter, tonight, had a great idea. She simply had some two paper towel rolls she found in my stash of “household items that may be someday used for craft projects” pile and was forming it into a cross. I then took a ribbon and tied the two rolls together and she proudly put it on top of the television, proclaiming, “It’s just like the church house!”

Then after dinner, she excitedly exclaimed, “Let’s make Easter crafts!” So at a wink’s notice, I resorted to my default craft: Dioramas with shoeboxes. So we glued a tomb inside the shoebox using crumpled brown paper and slit a hole in the box on the side to slip in a movable stone. Then we just decorated the back and added an angel and two women and the craft was done. Midway through, she found some pipe cleaners and had already moved on to the next craft at hand.

“Can we make a craft with these?” she asked eagerly.
“Um, okay,” I answered.

Pipe cleaners… pipe cleaners… what to do with pipe cleaners…: of course, lets make a cross. So I helped her form the bendable fuzzy material into a cross to which we attached a ribbon and made a necklace. Fortunately it was time for bed and I evaluated the object lessons of the day and was glad my daughter loves crafting with her mom.

Tomorrow may be Easter cookie day. Probably not the “Resurrection Cookies” being passed around Christian circles made with vinegar and walnuts. They didn’t sound too appetizing, but I may be wrong. We’ll just bake the sugar kind (probably pre-made) to be cut in shapes of crosses, eggs, and flowers. For a 3 year old, that’s more than enough excitement.

Now I need to think of something to do for Good Friday, the following Saturday, and Easter Sunday. And I think I’ll pass on viewing Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” as my husband suggests with a smirk.