Thursday, April 30, 2015

Read Alouds

Read Alouds

As I mentioned in last Friday's post, you can't afford not to read aloud to your kids.  Reading aloud to your kids means quality time spent together, an expanded vocabulary, and exposure to different types of relationships.

Finding the perfect read-aloud can be tough, and believe me, we have struck out plenty of times.  Sometimes I have found a series that appeals to Carson and not to Jonah, so Carson and I spend some time together reading aloud.  Once we stumbled upon a series that we all read aloud together, and then Jonah liked it so much that he read the next few books in the series on his own.

Here are a few titles we have enjoyed...


I still like Carson to read aloud to me, but reading aloud is not his favorite thing.  I have found that for the reluctant reader, books that are silly or have activities to do hold attention and help reading to be more fun.

This book is fun because each poem is set to a a familiar tune, so you can take turns "singing" the story out loud.

This one is popular with my eight-year-old and my two-year-old.  And it's an awesome book to read aloud to a group of kids.  My sister took it to read to her five-year-old's preschool class and they LOVED it!!!  Each page asks you to complete an action with a dot that may multiply, change color, or even grow!  I could read this one over and over.

And this one is fun to read and has a good message about how important it is to listen.  I used to read it to my first graders and they would crack up.  I was so excited to hear Carson reading it aloud to Justin the other night, doing the voices just like I do.

And when all else fails, and we can't find a good read at the moment, ABC books always hold my boys' attention.  Jonah, Carson, and Camden are always happy to look at pictures of themselves and to read the stories of their lives.

What are your favorite read alouds?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What's Up Wednesday

I thought this sounded fun, so I'll give it a try.  I found this cool idea on Pinterest Told Me To.  So here goes...

What we're eating...

You can read all about it here!  Tonight we are having Chicken Sausage with Apples and Farro.  Yum!

What I'm reminiscing about...

My husband sent us this picture today with the caption, "Mahalo."  We were in Hawaii one year ago today.  Good times.

What I'm loving...

The Boy Sandwich.  They love to do this lately.

What we've been up to...

We've been having lots of good family time lately.  It's been awesome!  Here we are on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

What I'm working on...

I am going to a blogging conference this summer.  It is a DIY type of conference, so I am trying to DIM (do it myself) more.  My goal is one project per week up until the conference, whether I blog about it or not.  Here is a picture frame I painted.  It was black with a white mat.  Now it's white with a purple mat.  Excuse the crazy iphone picture.

What I'm excited about...

APPLES!!!  We planted two apple trees last summer.  They are actually Carson's since he is the one who has always wanted them.  He has taken good care of them and guess what we have this year???  First buds, then flowers, and now actual apples are forming!!!  It has been amazing to watch.  And FYI, it's a great time to talk about the birds and the bees with your kids.  One of our trees is the wife and the other is the husband.  Perfect illustration for setting up the talk.  Try it.

What I'm reading...

Too many books!!!  I have been on a reading frenzy lately.  My book movie club finished Wild, by Cheryl Strayed (awesome book) and we met to watch the movie.  Both book and movie are fantastic!!!  My bible study is reading The Mission of Motherhood, by Sally Clarkson.  It is also a great read.  We had to take a week off due to busy schedules so I picked up Pastor Furtick's Crash the Chatterbox.  I have read part of it before, but never finished, so I am glad to be able to return to it.  My boys and I just finished House of Robots by James Patterson (did you know he writes kids' books?) and we are looking for another great read-aloud.  See my post here on the benefits of 
reading aloud.

What I'm listening to...

My ten-year-old playing Somewhere Out There on the piano.  One of the most beautiful sounds in the world is our little people playing away on our piano.

What I'm wearing...

I can't get enough of these pants!  I wear them at least once a week.  They were definitely a smart purchase.

And this top.  My good friend Lori took me shopping at Versona in the Arboretum.  I could get in trouble in that store.  I wish I had taken a pic of the back of this shirt.   It is sheer and very unique.  Since I needed a plain white shirt, this was also a smart buy (at least that's what I tell myself).

What I'm doing this weekend...

Celebrating my birthday with Justin's parents!  My birthday was April 10, but we have been so busy, traveling for Spring Break and playing baseball, it has been hard to nail down a weekend to get together.  They are coming here.  We cleaned off the porch and put the pillows back on the furniture, and we can't wait to hang out there and let the kids play in the backyard while we relax.

What else is new?

Still trying to get over how big this guy looks with his new haircut.  I do like it, but he looks like a big boy instead of a baby.  He's growing up so fast!!!

Happy Wednesday!!!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Menu Planning Monday

I am going to begin this post with a picture to which you moms of toddlers can relate.
Sometimes I don't care where he eats, I am just happy he is eating!!!  This defines my little man lately.  He has about five things on his menu: "beets" (aka grapes), edamame, cheese, chips, and goldfish.  Healthy right?  BUT, this being my third time braving toddlerhood, I know next week it'll be five different foods, and I just may be able to wrangle him back into his highchair.  We'll see.

And since we're checking in on Camden, how about a little haircut action?
So big.  Something about his haircut makes his features stand out more, and I can't even get over how much he reminds me of Carson now.  But, how did he get so big???

On to meal planning.  It's been a while since I have posted our weekly meals, and I have missed the organization and sense of being prepared that I feel when I take the time to plan out my weekly meals.  Sunday night we are grilling hot dogs on the grill (even though it feels like winter has returned--WHAT IS UP???).   I am making a big pot of homemade mac and cheese to go with our dogs, so we will have that to eat for lunches and as a side Monday night when we have a ball game.  Here is the plan...

Macaroni Monday

Meatballs (recipe from the side of the parmesan cheese container--only ingredients are ground beef, parmesan cheese, garlic, egg, and parsley--my kind of recipe).  I'll probably mix in some kind of veggie puree for good measure.
Leftover Skillet Mac and Cheese (FYI, I shred my own block of cheddar cheese instead of using processed)
Steamed Edamame

Taco Tuesday--Fish Tacos

Trader Joe's fish nuggets, broccoli slaw, and special sauce {cilantro (to taste--we like about 1 Tbsp), ranch (1cup), lime juice (1 tsp), and chopped jalapeno pepper; blend ingredients well).
Sweet Potato Puffs (Alexia brand in freezer section)

Wednesday--Chicken Sausage with Apples Over Farro

Thursday--Slow Cooker Pork Shoulder with Apple Relish and Egg Noodles

Slow Cooked Pork Shoulder with Apple Relish and Egg Noodles

Friday--Pork Sandwiches

Pork Barbecue Sandwiches with leftover pork from Thursday night.  All I'll need is some buns.
Apple slices and carrot sticks.

What are you having this week?  Do you have any quick, creative meals for rushed weeknights?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Why You Can't Afford to NOT Read Aloud to Your Kids

I have mentioned on my blog how important it is to cuddle up with your kids with a good book.  But it seems like lately I am being reminded of the tremendous benefits of reading aloud.

Reading The One and Only Ivan.

I have three reasons you should begin this habit, tonight, with your kids.  The first is obvious--spending quality time together.  The second is the exposure to new vocabulary you can give them, and the third is the opportunity for them to observe relationships between people.

When Jonah started first grade, he stopped wanting us to read aloud to him.  I think part of it was just the independence of a seven year old, but I also think he was so excited about reading, he didn't want someone to slow him down by reading aloud.  He would devour books in no time, and I was left feeling kind of sad that we didn't have that special time anymore.  I tried reading aloud to both the boys, but I seemed to always chose the wrong book or the wrong time of day to introduce it.  I have learned over the years that there is an art to choosing a read-aloud, and the time of day to ask them to sit still and listen is not right when they get home from school!  After I read an article in Parent magazine that encouraged reading aloud and suggested titles, I got my hands on The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate and Jonah, Carson, and I laughed until we cried reading it.  I discovered the best time to read was right before bed (preferably after Camden has gone to bed, but sometimes his wiggly self joins us), and for some reason, they think it is exciting to read in my bed.  The other title we enjoyed from that list was Alvin Ho, Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things, by Lenore Look.  But after this book, we couldn't seem to get into any others, and our read-alouds stopped.

Then, about a month later, Jonah said, "Remember when you used to read aloud to us in your bed at night?  I want to do that again."  So, guess what we did?  We went to the Overdrive app I had just installed on my ipad, and we searched for an eBook we might like.  Have you heard of Overdrive?  It is one of the coolest things ever!  I love that from the comfort of our home, we can browse titles, read samples from the books, and have access to the one we choose instantly!  They selected House of Robots, by James Patterson.  I knew it was appropriate for their age, but I didn't know anything else about it.  This book has turned out to be one of our favorite books, and one we quote and refer to often.

On to reason number two to read aloud to your kids.  I am reading a book called The Mission of Motherhood, by Sally Clarkson.  In this book, the author tells about how she used to listen to Charles' Dickens book, Oliver Twist with her children on long car rides.  She mentions having to stop the recording to explain to her children complicated ideas and unfamiliar vocabulary words.  She says she was "impressed by the high literary quality of the book, which was created for the average reader of his [Dickens'] day." She goes on to say that "Today, many average readers find his reading hard to follow--if they have the patience to sit down and read it (or listen to it) at all."  Clarkson feels like the reason for the difference in readers' understanding is the fact that we are not forced to stretch and exercise our brains quite like the people in Dickens' day were.  They did not have xboxes and DSes, iPhones and DVRs.  They had to read, talk to each other face to face, or sit and think, and the result was a vocabulary higher than most teens today.

I have found that when I read aloud to my kids, we often stop to make sure we understand what is happening (I am most guilty of this when my mind wanders) and to look up words.  Sometimes Jonah knows what a word means and Carson does not, so Jonah gets to play the role of big brother teaching little.  Sometimes I know what the word means and I explain it to them, and there are occasions when I do not know the word and we look it up on my dictionary app (they love to hear the pronunciation the app provides).  As a result, the boys are building on their vocabulary.  Just the other day Carson was telling Boompa (his grandpa) how glad he is that he has siblings.  My dad looked at me with an interested look and said, "When I was his age I'm not sure I knew that word, much less would I think to use it in a sentence!"

Speaking of siblings brings me to my third point...learning from other people's relationships.  We were only a few chapters into House of Robots when the boys pointed out the relationship between the main character, Sammy, and his sister.  He describes her as his first best friend.  He also talks about how he has to take care of her since he is her big brother.  The boys were amazed by their relationship, noting that most sibling relationships they see on tv revolve around annoying and teasing each other, not on being best friends.  I was happy they picked up on this, because I want them to be best buds.   Observing healthy relationships like the one between Sammy and his sister, Maddie can help them realize that it is very normal to be buds, and that siblings can love each other and be friends.

These two are enjoying reading "together" already, and I look forward to the day when all three boys can enjoy the same book with me.  But for now, I am happy my two year old is already reading. :)

Next week I will share a few other titles that are good for read-alouds, along with some of my favorites.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Be Who You Are

I'm going to tell you something today that I hope will set you free.

I just finished listening to Pastor Furtick's message from a couple Sundays ago for the second time.  I heard it in its entirety on that Sunday, but there was so much good stuff I was trying to get written down in my notebook that I was afraid I had missed something.  I walked out of the sanctuary and told Leah, "He wrote that sermon for me."  C'mon somebody...if you go to Elevation Church you know what I'm talking about.

His entire message was about assumption.  He used The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) to help us understand the danger in making assumptions.  To refresh memories, this is the parable where a master was going on a journey and entrusted five talents to one of his servants, two to another and one talent to a third servant.  The servants with five and two talents "put their money to work" and doubled it.  The man with one talent hid it in the ground and then only had one to show for it when the master came back.  Pastor Furtick said the trouble with the passage is that the servant who the master entrusted with one talent assumed things about the master (who represents Jesus) that were not true.   The English Standard version says, "I knew you to be a hard man."  He is describing his interpretation of the master, and not how the master really is.  A few verses before, the master said "Well done, good and faithful servant," to the man to whom he entrusted five talents.  Pastor Furtick said, sarcastically, "He sounds like a really tough guy."  In actuality, the master was not. The servant just assumed him to be a "hard man."  The one talent man missed out on an opportunity to grow his money because he feared his master.  Talents were given, "each according to his ability" (Matthew 25:15).  Pastor Furtick pointed out here, "Aren't you thankful God won't hold you accountable for what he doesn't give you?"

This all became relevant to me as I thought about my areas of insecurity.  Am I being a good enough mom?  Is my house organized enough?  Do I look semi-put together when I step foot out of my house in the morning?  Do I love my husband well enough?  Am I doing enough with the ability God gave me?

God may have given the talents each according to his ability, but that doesn't mean we can't take that ability and grow it.

I kept listening, which kept setting me free...

Just because you haven't yet doesn't mean you can't.

It's up to you how much you surrender and if HE gave it to you, you can grow it.

We overestimate what we would do with the opportunity we don't have and underestimate what we could do with the opportunity we do have.

I had become obsessed with several ideas I read about on a blog.  I could.not.let.them.go.  I wanted to totally reorganize our laundry room.  Paint it green, buy prints that said "laundry" in swirly decorative letters, purchase new containers that coordinated and concealed the items inside.

And then I realized...I read blogs to get ideas on how to make my house feel more organized and tranquil.  I can take bits and pieces here and there and use them according to my own ability.  My kids are little.  They need me to color with them, build Legos, and play catch.  They need me to read aloud to them, listen to them read, and call out spelling words.  They need me to make zucchini bread and hide veggies in their meatloaf because they don't eat enough.  They don't need their mommy repainting perfectly good walls and spending money on art for the laundry room.

What I realized after listening to Pastor Furtick's message is that while reading blogs is fun and often helpful in creating a clean, organized home, I can pick and choose what I want to do.  I don't have to have a complete makeover in order to feel good about my home.

All of this is so timely as two of my favorite bloggers mentioned the book, Love the Home You Have, by Melissa Michaels in their posts last week.  The summary I read about the book said Michaels is "the best contentment coach you'll ever meet."  Isn't that what we'd all like?  To be content with what we have?  To be content with our current abilities? I can't wait to get my hands on this book.  But in the meantime, I am celebrating the small changes I have been inspired to make as a result of picking and choosing...according to MY ability.

Before we had children, I read every best seller that came out.  I realized while it is entertaining to read current titles, it is more important right now that I read about how to be a good mother.  Right now, Parents magazine is on my nightstand, Real Boys, by William Pollack is playing on my ipod, and Wild Things, by Stephen James is my go-to reference.  Sure, I keep up with the books my book club reads--they're my collapse into bed at the end of the day good reads, and occasionally waiting in the car pool line books, but I know I need to keep my head in the game by focusing on how to be the best mom I can be.

I'd love my entire laundry room to look like Maria's (the one I obsessed over), but right now, I'll take her idea of putting a small trash can with a lid to hide the lint on top of the washing machine, and contain the items I reach for the most in a basket (which I already owned:).  I'll get to the painting one day.  That day is not now.

Our kids are little, but they need to know that Mommy and Daddy love each other very much, and want to spend time together.  So, we make a point of going on dates together, holding hands, and greeting each other with a hug and a kiss.  Even in the craziness of raising kids, I need to show my husband I love him.  I framed these pictures along with a sweet card my sister gave us for our anniversary as reminders to us to do the things we did when we were first dating.  Because when you're raising kids, those are the things that get harder and harder to do.

After listening to Pastor Furtick's sermon, and reading back over the parable in Matthew 25, I am content with my abilities in the right now.  

But I also have confidence in myself to know that I can grow my abilities.
And that is a good place to be.