Finding Our Place | Grace Table

Have you heard of Grace Table? It's a beautiful website that focuses on food, faith and community. I'm privileged to be sharing there this week and I hope you will check it out.

 Image Credit: Grace Table

Image Credit: Grace Table

It was just a few weeks before Thanksgiving and we didn’t have a table.

Well, technically we did have table. An old one we had bought through Craig’s List that fit the small space in our old house perfectly. It was distressed cream and snuggly seated six.

But we’d moved into a blessing: a spacious house that boasted a huge dining room. We were hosting our first Thanksgiving and were expecting eight guests to add to our family of five. We didn’t have enough room around the table for everyone to have a seat.

We wanted our first official holiday hosting experience in our new home to be welcoming. I don’t think we were motivated to impress, but instead to nourish. We wanted everyone to have space, to find their place.

Continue reading over at Grace Table.

How to Prepare Your Family for Easter

A few weeks before Easter I start rummaging around for our Easter-themed books and decorations. I pull out picture books like The Colt and The King and The Tale of the Three Trees to stack in a basket on the coffee table. I find the plastic eggs. I cut branches off the dogwood tree.

The grey buds will be knobby and tight—not yet open. They look dead. I will pull my green pitcher from the shelf and arrange the bare branches in some water. Now they are ready to be transformed into a Resurrection Tree.

As a family, we’ve looked for ways to celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection in tangible, hands-on ways. To prepare our hearts during the busy organizing of Easter baskets and planning of a Sunday dinner. Ways that build up to Easter morning, so that we have a clear idea as to why we celebrate. 

And it all starts with remembering.      

Join me over at iBelieve to read more.

Family Fun for Valentine's Day

I love Valentine’s Day. Growing up my mom always made the day special with pancakes for breakfast and an afternoon tea. Now, I love making the day special for my kids too. I also enjoy the fact that there’s no “right” way to celebrate it. No need to travel, buy gifts, or host a dinner. It is a fun day that brightens up winter and celebrates love. And is an opportunity to eat chocolate. Can’t pass up that opportunity!

Today I’m sharing our traditions for celebrating Valentine’s Day as a family. I hope they may inspire you to create some fun memories with your family too.

Come join me over at For the Family.

What Valentine's Day traditions do you and your family share?

Creative Play for Toddlers {A Gift Guide}

I love seeing my kids play creatively. Kids do it so naturally, and yet they really do need us to foster it sometimes by taking away the screens and handing them cardboard, blocks, or paper and crayons.

I've been amazed at how quickly Ava has learned to navigate our iPad which we only purchased this year. She can skillfully find her way to "her" apps and become mesmerized for a long time if I let her.  

As a homeschooling family, our mornings have been more of a challenge to keep Ava busy, creative, and occupied while we accomplish some school tasks. Now that she no longer takes morning naps, I've rearranged our routine so that the subjects that need concentration are done during her afternoon nap time, which has helped. However, she is an active little lady who loves getting into make-up, the trash, and coloring on the table if I'm not mindful of her. I have to resist the temptation of always taking the easy way out and handing her an iPad or turning on Netflix.

So I was delighted to partner with Baby Cubby to try some of their toddler toys that encourage creative play. Both Josh and I were impressed with the quality of these toys as well as the mission of the company. The toys we received are durable, well made, and encourage open-ended play that engages the imagination while practicing various skills.

Today I'm excited to highlight the toys Ava has been enjoying the past few weeks and hopefully give you some ideas for any toddlers you have to buy Christmas gifts for in the upcoming weeks! 

PlanToys My First Camera

Ava is loving this adorable wooden camera! It has a little button to push and when you look through the lens it is a kaleidoscope! It is the perfect toy for car rides. I also love PlayToys' mission to create sustainable, eco-friendly toys.

pipSquigz by Fat Brain Toys

These toys are so fun that my 9 year-old boys like playing with them too!

They are BPA-free silicone rattles that can be chewed and played with individually or suctioned together into one toy. The toys also suction to flat surfaces so you can secure them to table tops, high chairs, or even the wall! Ava loves to try to pull it off of the wall and thinks it's hilarious. We took them with us on a recent trip and they entertained her during the car ride.

Tegu 6-Piece Pocket Pouch Prism

Another travel-friendly toy which comes in a convenient pouch, these blocks are so much fun! Again, my older kids enjoy them too, so they have a long life-span. These beautifully colored blocks magnetize to each other to create unique patterns and are less frustrating for the younger set.

Plan Toys Happy Puppy

Ava loves this little wooden pull-toy puppy. It has felt-like ears and is easy to pull and it wags it's tail. She takes it in and out of the house and kisses it while saying "Awwww." Once again, this toy is beautifully made and could easily become an heirloom toy.

And since Ava loves to destroy my make-up any chance she gets, I have Little Cosmetics Essentials Toy Make-up on my list for her in the future. Then she can pretend all she wants without making a mess!

With toys at various price points, Baby Cubby provides beautiful, creative, well-made toys that you won't find at your local Target. We were sincerely pleased with each item. All opinions and images are my own.

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This post was sponsored by Baby Cubby. Baby Cubby is made up of a team of parents who are passionate about encouraging and inspiring parents about how important their role is. They do this by finding the best and safest baby gear and providing it to parents in a fun shopping experience. 

They also offer free shipping nationwide for orders over $49 and price match (even Amazon!) and actively engage with parents via social media and their cubby community blog to discuss some of those hard topics of parenting. You can receive 10% off your first order by signing up for their newsletter.

To find out more about Baby Cubby, check out: http://www.babycubby.com/about-us/

Celebrate Advent with Sacred Holidays

Less chaos, More Jesus. Would that be awesome this Christmas?

I think so. Even as I type this post I'm shocked by the fact that in 18 days, Advent begins.

18 days!?! 

This autumn season is going by like a swish of the leaves.

Every year I like to have some Advent themed book or study to go through. In previous years I read Ann Voskamp's The Greatest Gift and last year I used She Reads Truth's study.

This year I had the joy to participate in writing for Sacred Holidays' Advent study, He Is: The Attributes of God. They have studies designed specifically for women, families, teen girls, and men (I contributed to the family study). Each study focuses on the same attribute each day, allowing friends, co-workers, churches, families, and communities to gather around The One we are celebrating at Christmas--Jesus!

If you are looking for an Advent-specific devotional this year, I recommend previewing these studies over at Sacred Holidays' shop.

And to guarantee the study arrives for Advent, you must order before November17th!

Don't forget to use the promo code WELCOMEBACK to get 10% off your order.

I hope you'll join me in studying God's character this Advent season.

Ladew Topiary Gardens

2016-05-14_001 On Mother's Day this year we visited Ladew Topiary Gardens. We had experienced a ceaseless string of cool, rainy days, so we were excited that Mother's Day dawned warm and sunny, allowing us to spend a whole afternoon exploring Ladew's expansive gardens.

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The kids loved all the little fountains and pools.

One was stocked with big colorful koi and we discovered a snake sunning himself on the rocks near another pond.

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The azaleas were in full bloom. I think I loved the Japanese-inspired gardens the best. The shrubs cut like a boat in the middle of a little island with red sails was so whimsical!

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My mom joined us for our visit, which was perfect since she loves gardens so much.

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This topiary above was shaped to look like a dog house with a dog leashed to it. It was a big hit with the kids!

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The building above was a tea house! It reminded me of something out of Pride and Prejudice where some rich Regency family would have tea that the servants would prepare after a turn in the gardens.

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How cool is this topiary giraffe?

There is a house one can tour as well. I toured it the last time I visited, some 10 plus years ago. This time we did not. I would love to visit Ladew as the seasons change. Perhaps we can visit again in the summer when the roses are in bloom?

Shakespeare's Birthday Party!

"All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one man in his time plays many parts . . ."

Last week we partied Elizabethan style! We celebrated Shakespeare's birthday!

It was something I'd wanted to do for a long time. I was so inspired and must first give credit to Ed Snapshots, My Little Poppies, and the Poetry Teatime websites for the wonderful ideas and resources they link to in their posts about Shakespeare.

We invited a bunch of homeschool friends over for a day to celebrate the Bard. First I gave a little introduction about who he was and how he is still influencing the way we speak. Then we watched this video produced by Shakespeare Birthplace Trust so they could get a look into Shakespeare's world.

Then it was time for some activities!

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The kids took turns at various "activity stations." There were Shakespeare word searches and coloring pages, a rousing game of Blind Man's Bluff, and a game of "pin the head on Bottom."

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Then it was time to watch this animated summary of Romeo and Juliet to give the kids a taste for one of Shakespeare's most famous play. After this final video it was time for lunch! Everyone brought their own packed lunches and afterwards we ate Elizabethan-inspired honey cakes and sang Happy Birthday! While the kids were munching on their cakes I read a few sonnets from Shakespeare's Seasons.

2016-05-02_0032016-05-02_004This party was a lot of fun for me and I hope the kids enjoyed it too! It served as an introduction to Shakespeare for my kids and we are going to start reading this lovely Usborne Shakespeare Collection next year as part of our morning reading routine.

Have you introduced your kids to Shakespeare yet? If so, how did you go about doing it?

 

Poetry Teatime

2016-04-11_008I pour steaming water over tea bags in our favorite mugs and tea cups. Earl Grey in a blue willow china tea cup for me. Sophia chooses the Tom Kitten tea cup and the boys pick out the mugs they painted in an abstract expression-like style a few years ago. The kids all select Constant Comment as their tea of choice. We've spent some time in the wind-blown spring air checking to see what new flowers have pushed their way through the soggy earth. The daffodils are beginning to die away but the tulips are just starting to unfurl. The boys played soccer and Sophia road through puddles on her bike. But now we've stomped back inside to warm up to tea, cookies, fruit, and poetry.

I was first introduced to the concept of Poetry Teatime by Julie Bogart on the Read Aloud Revival podcast. And now Julie and her team have rolled out a new website with resources to inspire families everywhere to start their own poetry reading traditions. I thought the idea was fabulous! Creating a language-rich environment with poetry and treats. And what kid will say no to treats?

Since then, we've been attempting to have poetry teatime about once a week. I'm stocking a few extra boxes of goodies, like Fig Newtons or Milano cookies in the pantry, and it's been a fun new tradition. Although these pictures look quiet and proper, poetry teatime is actually loud and messy. Kids interrupt and tea spills. The baby throws food on the floor and the dog gobbles up. But we're having fun and the kids are actually enjoying and asking for more! Owen even asked me, "So how do you write a poem, anyway?" It doesn't have to be particularly fussy. No need to always have tea either. Juice or lemonade works great too.

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Since beginning poetry teatime we've discovered some favorite poetry themed books we'd like to share with you. Some are collections of poetry. But I also like to include picture books about the lives of poets. Being someone who loves history and biography, it's wonderful to read the story about a poet's life and then go on to enjoy their work.

*This post contains affiliate links.

Our Favorite Poetry Collections:

Julie Andrews’ Treasure for All Seasons: Poems and Songs to Celebrate the Year

A Stick Is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play By Marilyn Singer This is such a fun-filled book with poems about Hopscotch and Hide-and-Seek and of course, sticks!

National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry, Edited by J. Patrick Lewis Our current favorite, many classic poem juxtaposed next to National Geographic's wonderful photography.

A Brighter Garden by Emily Dickinson Illustrated by the late Tasha Tudor, this was one of the first book of poems I ever owned.

The Poetry for Young People series

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Picture Book Biographies about Poets:

Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings by Matthew Burgess e.e. cummings' poetry has always enamored me. I love how he paints pictures with not just language but the actual visual organization of words. I love this poem and this one too. But I didn't know anything about his life until I read this picture book. It contains his poetry too.

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant Famous for "The Red Wheelbarrow" this book tells the life of doctor who is now best known for his poetry. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet, I love how she incorporated typography into the pictures.

Emily by Michael Bedard Emily Dickinson--mysterious and dressed in all white--has always captured my imagination. This book illustrated by Barbara Cooney sees her through a child's eyes.

Emily and Carlo by Marty Rhodes Filey A heart-warming story about Emily Dickinson and her dog, Carlo.

Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People by Monica Brown This story of Chile's beloved poet shows how poetry can speak to activism and influence social change.

Papa is a Poet: A Story About Robert Frost by Natalie S. Bober Robert Frost's story is told from the point of view of his daughter.

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Do you enjoy poetry? Who is your favorite poet?

Easter Books for Children

EasterBooks For a bookish family such as ours, celebrating a holiday means reading about a holiday. Christmas has many literary traditions attached to it: think A Christmas Carol, the Christmas scene in Little Women, The Night Before Christmas.

Easter, not so much.

However, I’ve discovered some wonderful faith-based picture books that share the story of Jesus, his crucifixion and resurrection, with young children. Some are retellings from Scripture, others are legends, fiction, or explain the history of the Easter symbols. The following is a list of books that I either own or I check out from our local library every year to help us celebrate the Easter holiday.

The Colt and the King by Marni McGee

On that Easter Morning by Mary Joslin

Simon and the Easter Miracle by Mary Joslin and Anna Luraschi 

What is Easter? Lillie James

The Legend of the Easter Egg by Lori Walbury

Petook: An Easter Story by Caryll Houselander

God Gave Us Easter by Lisa Tawn Bergren

The Easter Story by Brian Wildsmith

The Story of Easter by Aileen Fisher 

Sunrise Hill by Kathleen Long Bostrom

The Easter Story for Children by Lucado, Frazee, and Hill

The Tale of Three Trees: A Traditional Folktale Retold by Angela Elwell Hunt

Do you have a favorite Easter-themed picture book to share?

Resources for Remembering

I cut dogwood limbs from the tree in the front yard. Knobby grey buds are still tight, not yet ready to open. Pulling my earthenware pitcher down from the shelf, I place it on the table. The dogwood limbs go into the jug, along with some water.

The branches are now ready to be transformed into our Resurrection Tree. We’re getting ready for Easter by keeping Lent.

Traditionally, the purpose of Lent is to prepare one’s heart for the celebration of the Resurrection through prayer, repentance, fasting, and other forms of self-denial. Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter morning. It is usually forty days long, representing the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness before starting his public ministry.

As my children have grown I’ve looked for ways to involve them in celebrating Jesus’ death and resurrection in tangible, hands-on ways. Ways that build up to Easter morning, so that they have a clear idea as to why we celebrate. The following are some activities we’ve done as a family to prepare for the celebration of resurrection morning as well as some resources just for you. I hope they will be inspiring to you, if you are looking to create new traditions of your own.

To discover the Lenten resources I discuss, click over to For the Family.