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THE WHOLENESS OF SICK DAYS

THE WHOLENESS OF SICK DAYS

This morning, I woke up with a headache. Even before my head left my pillow, my eyes were having a harder than usual time.

It was the opening they couldn’t do.

Now, as I sit wide-crosslegged on my carpet, typing away at the coffee table in my living room, I think my early morning experience is kind of funny. My eyes were having a harder than usual time.

Lately, it’s everything else that has been having a hard time. I have felt like I can’t do anything. I can’t process things correctly. I can’t think or organize (well, the non-organized part is pretty usual for me). I can’t respond. I can’t focus.

Why? Maybe because of this hectic world I’ve created. Too much on the plate. Not enough calm. Not enough space. Not enough rest.

Because my life is like yours. There are too many crumbs on the floor. Too many dirty clothes. Too many questions. Too many mouths and not enough spoons. Too many dishes and not enough hands. Well, sometimes there are too many hands too.

Like tonight.

But before we get into that story, I’m going to back up.

I woke feeling terrible. I was forced to step back. To put on The Magic School Bus Gets Lost in Space and lie down on the couch so I could close my sore eyes. To make whatever food was easiest. To back away from the kitchen as soon as possible so I could stop using my legs.

Right before lunch, my 4 year-old (who never stops jumping and has tantrums like The Hulk) said he wanted to go to bed. He said that both his stomach and the back of his neck hurt. These were my exact symptoms.

“Okay,” I said. “Would you like some pizza first?” Today’s lunch was homemade frozen pizza, and Super Healthy Kids jello. And cucumbers. All foods that this boy loves.

“No. I just want to lie down,” he sagged down the hall to his bed, hugging Red Monkey all the way.

After naptime, I was feeling better but this boy had a fever. So we snuggled and played cards.

What took my attention was the fact that he did everything right while he was sick. He didn’t get impulsive and flip over our game of war. When he went to the bathroom, he didn’t pee on the floor, and as soon as he came out of the bathroom he told me that he washed his hands and flushed the toilet. He didn’t once raise his voice. Not all afternoon or evening.

So, he does know what he needs to do. He just chooses not to do it.

Kind of like me. I know that I need to rest. I need to stop focusing on what my life should look like. I need to use more paper plates and I need to buy more packaged foods. I need to let go of the desire for homemade, at least in a few areas.

After dinner, we were all feeling somewhat better. Our bellies were full of eggs and bacon and sautéed kale and fruits. (Well, only mine was full of sauteed kale. Kale goes with everything. No? 🙂 )

I decided to step in the kitchen and empty the sink so we would have some clean dishes. My feverish boy brought a chair and helped as best he could. Ah! How does a 4 year-old help wash dishes? Some of you probably know the answer, but in that moment I was shaking with uncertainty.

But his chair was already there and his voice was so sweet.

“Can I help you, mom?”

I have been thinking lately that maybe it’s not the daily chores, but how I do them. I often rush through chores with speed, trying to get them done before one son slaps another. Before voices are raised. Before toys are thrown. I rush through tasks because I don’t have enough time to slow down.

But there is no lack of time. There is a myriad of time. And rest requires that revelation.

As a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom, it would benefit my whole family if I slowed the chores down. These are teaching moments. Learning to make a dish clean is learning to love. Caring for a home means caring for the family, for the people. Though tasks are numerically abundant, they can hold another kind of abundance, too.

This is the kind of abundance that makes our hearts flow at night’s end, and uncovers joy within the chore of a.m. eye-opening.

FUN WITH FOOD: FEAR AND LOATHING ON PIZZA NIGHT

FUN WITH FOOD: FEAR AND LOATHING ON PIZZA NIGHT

Around here, we love crispy pizza crust. The kind that is so thin you’re not even sure how it’s holding all that cheese. We also love pepperoni, though half our pizzas have sauteed kale and onions or mushrooms and feta. I like to experiment, and I love veggies on pizza, but as a whole, the family loves pepperoni best and I will suffer if there is none.

Homemade pizza sounds like one of those meals that should be easy to throw together, but around here it always becomes complicated. We make the crust right after breakfast so it can sit and rise and get a little sour. We stir the sauce together and let it simmer on the stove. We grate the cheese ourselves.

The first step though, is always the crust.

I love making homemade crust, rolling it, stretching it, letting it dangle from my hands, throwing it in the air pretending I’m a real Italian chef, watching gravity do it’s work. I love making homemade sauce, too. A can of crushed tomatoes, oregano, garlic, red wine vinegar. I usually use the basic recipes found on The Fresh Loaf.

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Parchment paper makes the transition from table to HOT HOT HOT pizza stone way smoother!

Before finding The Fresh Loaf, I had tried to make pizza crust so many times, each one an accomplishment because we hadn’t dialed a number to get pizza on the table. When I made it at home, though, it was always lacking. It was chewy and thick, and just not that great.

Then I learned some things about making pizza. The most important thing I learned is that you have to preheat the pizza stones while you preheat the oven, and your oven has to be hot. And not just hot, but HOT HOT HOT! 500 degrees is just about perfect.

Have you ever cooked anything in a 500 degree oven? Smoke goes everywhere, creating this thick fog in the air, and no matter how many windows and doors are open, no matter how many fans are blowing, it’s never enough, and I’m always nervous because I’m trying not to let anyone’s skin come near the heat.

Oh, the things we do for good food!

I’m trying to let my kids help but also intermittently screaming for them to back up and raise their arms in the air. We need to make sure no one gets set on fire. It’s truly stressful. (Please note that I’m dramatizing this a little. Though my kids get excited and a little rambunctious when it’s pizza-building time, I have enough common sense to ensure that my kids aren’t playing with things that could burn their skin clear off. When I do let them help, I pay close attention and am often guarding their arms so they don’t accidentally drop their precious skin onto the fire stones.)

Then, the pizza gets topped and I stick it in the oven and everyone breathes with anticipation.

Because about 10 minutes later, this slides onto our plates:

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And everyone smiles and everyone chomps. I’m happy because almost everything we’re putting into our bodies is made from home.

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Here, we value homemade foods and we often strive for them. When you live like that, though, even the easy meals become difficult. But for us, it’s still worth it.

What kinds of “easy” meals do you make? Have you ever tried homemade pizza?

I recently discovered How to Make Skillet Pizza. This has made pizza night a little easier. I’ll start tiny pizzas in skillets, then top the pizzas and let the cheese melt in a 425 degree oven. Those 75 degrees don’t seem like they would make a huge difference in the realm of smoke creation, but they really really do.

7 Ways to Help Your Kids Love Books

7 Ways to Help Your Kids Love Books

First of all, a while ago I wrote this post called Why You Will Not Find Tutorials Here, and I stand by it. Yet I also think I have some insight on helping kids love books. It’s so easy today to let kids do anything but read books, but I hope you will shower your children with books so that they will learn to love reading!

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I thought about doing a bunch of research so I could give you statistics about kids who read a lot, but I don’t think that’s necessary. (Read these Benefits of Reading if you want to know more about that.) You know it’s important to read. And “a lot” is such a generic term. Who cares if someone else reads more than your kid? Lots of people read lots more than I do because I’m a pretty slow reader. But I love books, and I want my kids to grow up loving books too. So far, they do.

Do you want to help your kids love books too? Here, I’ll share some things that could help you. Of course, every child is different, but perhaps some of these will be helpful, or at least interesting.

Don’t Go for a Marathon

While I’m pretty sure my 5-year old could listen to me read an entire book in one day, my 3-year old and my 1-year old would not allow it. Believe me, it’s tempting sometimes to lock my other children in the bedroom while my 5-year old and I cruise through stacks of books.

But that’s not necessary. Small spurts of reading are very empowering.

Teaching Quiet Time

We all know that most kids are loud. And if they’re not loud, they probably love to make some kind of noise and move around. But it’s okay to have 15 minutes of focused reading time. I’m still working on this with my kids, but I believe it will one day be an easy reality! I think so much of parenting is just continuing. I haven’t yet seen the results that I want, but I think that’s because I have an 18 month-old, and a very active, very kinesthetic 3 year-old. But I will keep going because this is important to me and I believe it will benefit my children too.

Read About What Interests Them

I know you probably want to read those beautiful old books from your childhood. “Little Women” or “Nancy Drew” or whatever. But letting your child go to the library with you and choose a book (probably based completely on the cover) can be great fun for them. I have one son who will always fill our bag with Clifford or Berenstain Bears. While there aren’t many books that I oppose, I would always choose the original Curious George over Clifford and Berenstain Bears. I still let my son bring these home because these are books that he will sit with at home and look through, even if he doesn’t read every word. Which brings me to another point…

Let Them Look

It is absolutely, perfectly fine and acceptable for children to look through books before they can read. This will build their interest and make teaching them to read easier. My boys love to check out the “Lego Star Wars Visual Dictionary” and they will sit together and look at it for hours. (Sometimes I have to break up a fight, when one boy takes more than half the book for his lap, but they’re usually pretty civil due to their mutual intrigue.)

Give them Access

I think that part of the reason my kids love books is because they have always had access to books. In our old house, we had a half-wall of built-in bookshelves and they were mostly filled with actual books. Not knickknacks or empty vases, not even very many photos. Just books. Books of all ages and styles, all sizes and genres.

From the moment my children could touch things, they were touching books. When my firstborn was as young as 1-year-old, he would sit on the floor quietly and page through a book, looking at the pictures and feeling the paper. My younger two children are total book-destroyers. They have even torn up several of our cardboard books, so I have to watch them a little closer. But all of my children love books and I think that’s because they have always had access to books. Books have always been considered toys to them. Whenever they handed me a book, I would open it and read, even if my child walked away after a few words.

Read What Interests You

I know that a few points ago, I said to read what interests your kids, and I stand by that. But it’s also important for your children to see the books that you love to read. Of course, discretion needs to be made here. If you’re reading racy or inappropriate books, it’s probably best not to share them with your kids.

Earlier this year, I read “Ghana Must Go”. This is in no way a book that my children should be reading. But one day, I was reading it during nap time and my 3 year-old woke up. He came and sat on my lap and asked  me to read it to him. And I did read a few pages, censoring anything that he didn’t need to hear. Luckily, those pages were pretty serene so I didn’t have to sensor much.

Challenge Them

This year I have been inspired by Ellen from Cutting Tiny Bites to read chapter books to my children. So far this year, we have read “The Mouse and the Motorcycle”, “Peter Pan” (adapted), “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” (adapted), “Stewart Little”, “Gulliver’s Travels” (adapted), and “Space Taxi”. While my 3-year old still wanders around while I read long books like these, that’s okay with me. Often I’ll read while my children finish their breakfast, while they color, while they build blocks. They don’t have to be sitting still, cuddled next to you, in order for you to read. (Though it’s awfully lovely when they do.)

When I’m reading, I find it helpful for my 3 year-old to have something to color. He thinks it’s especially funny if the picture he’s coloring goes with our book. For instance, a pig or a spider when reading “Charlotte’s Web”.

If your child is still at a very sensory-explorer age, that’s okay. You can still read to them and encourage them to read, too!

Do your children love books too? What tips would you give?

Fun With Food: Twizz-Literacy with a Side of Generosity

Fun With Food: Twizz-Literacy with a Side of Generosity

First, you must know that Twizzlers do not show up on our table very often.

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The idea for Twizz-Literacy started with this marked down bag of Patriotic Twizzlers.

I have never been the kind of person who buys candy or desserts of any kind. Except when I’m pregnant… then I’ve been known to purchase 5 cartons of ice cream at once to fulfill a lingering craving. (It seems that taking advantage of a “Buy 2 Get 3 Free” sale saves some money by preventing me from going to the ice cream shop twice a week.)

I’ve also been known, when pregnant, to eat half the Now and Later’s before arriving to the Halloween party.

But I am not pregnant right right now, so sweets are not in abundant supply around here. But my kids love candy, and every once in a while I give in to their cute little faces.

You know, candy was just made for kids. It’s sweet, it’s sticky, and it’s colored to look festive and bright and wonderful, even though it’s really kind of evil.

Anyhow, Patriotic Twizzlers were $0.60 a couple weeks ago at Food Lion so I snagged them, thinking that we could do a little literacy activity with them.

I had recently purchased two of these sheet protectors from Dollar Tree:

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I thought they would go perfectly with the Twizzlers. I thought my kids could peel the Twizzlers apart, cut them up and use them to make letters. Originally I thought I would print off 26 letter sheets. I thought I’d make my kids say each letter, then what sound it makes. Maybe a word that begins with that letter, too.

When it came time, though, I hadn’t printed off letter sheets and we all just needed a fun activity, so I just left the original papers in for inspiration and let them make the letters they wanted. Because right now the goal is just to make learning fun!

It definitely worked. My kids loved this activity! I sat with them to ensure that they actually made letters and didn’t just stuff their faces with sugar. I let them get creative, too! I’m a big fan of creativity. I love when my kids figure things out on their own. I did have to peel the Twizzlers apart because they were too sticky for my kids to do on their own. Maybe that’s because they’re from 4th of July, or maybe that’s how all Twizzlers are. I don’t know. I don’t usually try to peel Twizzlers.

Now, the thing you’ve all been waiting for:

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My kids made brains.
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And more brains.
Snakes!
Then they made rattlesnakes.

Oh yeah! We made letters too:

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A few days later, we made lemonade and we colored watermelons onto paper plates and gave them away as “Happy Summertime” gifts, one for the girl who manages the office at our apartment complex and one to the most wonderful maintenance man anyone could ask for (these people receive gifts from us a lot because we love them and it’s super easy to just walk over and brighten their day. Maybe you have a neighbor or a co-worker that you could start showering with gifts?) This was a hurried activity so I don’t have pictures of the finished summertime gift bags. But here are the watermelon cards the boys made for their dad. You probably know what lemonade looks like, so just use your mind to add it into this picture.

Can you tell which one my 5 year old made?
Can you tell which one my 5 year old made?

These are not quite as elaborate as the ones we made for the people who manage our home, but maybe you get the idea. I circled the inside and told my kids to color it pink. My 3 year old decided the inside of his watermelons were going to be multi-colored. Originally I thought we would cut these in half, but then we decided to just fold them like cards. We pasted pieces of green tissue paper around the edge for some texture and to add interest, and we added seeds and a little note.

When we were packing the gift bags, my oldest son suggested we include some Patriotic Twizzlers and I was fully on board. Guys, he wanted to give away his candy!

Now go, and spread forth your own generous, creative, genius children!