Sep 21, 2014

Little Things

Today was a crazy day. If you don't know, I manage running the Sunday morning children's program for one of my church campuses. Victories were had, my nine o'clock service was fully staffed for the first time in weeks, but the next service was severely short-staffed and unfortunately the victory of the first was dwarfed by the exhaustion of running the second. I came home and slumped into the couch, grateful for neighbors and friends who had my kids over to play.  While I grab moments of purposeful reflection on Sundays, they generally aren't my day of rest. I looked over from my comfy cocoon on the couch to find teeny little flowers on my succulents. Some days are like that. God blesses with many beauties in the midst of everything else.

So here are some joyful moments grabbed with my iPhone this week. Two little girls were heard not sleeping. They were found under a blanket on the top bunk with a book light with big sis reading to little sis and giggling. Precious. So I let them alone. Never mind the peed bed I had to change in the morning because a certain little girl can't get down the ladder in the dark. I forgot about that.

It's just still stinkin really hot out. No fall weather in sight. But the boy and I did manage to grab a game Battleship right here on the front porch. That boys love language is quality time so I grab it when I can. Even if we're sweatin' on the front porch.
Hunter said he had to memorize a verse this week for youth group and it has to be his parents favorite. So I doodled it while waiting for a certain 2nd grader to stop dawdling on her phonics page. It was a good reminder to me that only three things were required of me and that is all. Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God. Keepin it simple.

I may or may not have made the bed on more than one occasion and kept up with laundry. Never mind the rest of the house.

Tomorrow is the first day of fall. While I don't think Cali got that memo yet, my house needs to get there stat. This display is SO last week and had to go. I'm still working on this side of the room but the other side is satisfactory now.
See? This side is now happily up to speed with the deer head picture rescued from a trash heap last year making its mantle comeback.

His mercies are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness O God. 

Sep 13, 2014

Cup of Joe

So two years ago I succumbed.  In a big way.  Total failure really.  I started drinking coffee.  
I made it through hours of study at college, early mornings with toddlers, early hours teaching at school with no coffee.    Why am I drinking it now?  I have no idea.  But I do know this: that I have no idea how I did all of that before without my wakey-wakey juice.  It's my morning treat.  I put some super unhealthy creamer in it (don't even knock it), and drink to my heart's content.  
The signal to start school for the day?  Momma is sitting down at the table with her full cup of Joe. Everyone knows at that point, I mean getting down to business. 
On the other hand, my daily treat is probably the one thing that I feel really really good about buying and sticking in the pantry.  Why?  About the time we started drinking coffee, my husband started ordering ours from Lanna.  It's delivered to our house and it's pretty good coffee.  It's not acidic at all and it's super tasty.  It's waaaaay better than Starbucks (which is now another habit of mine, FYI).  I know, this failure in healthy living snowballed pretty fast. Whatever. But besides all of that, we buy Lanna coffee because of work some people in our church are doing with this company.  

Do you know why Lanna exists?  Some visiting missionaries to the hillside tribes in Thailand noticed that the people there were desperately poor and were in the grip of drug cartels and human trafficking. They taught the people there to grow coffee, brought in clean water, provided education and now the tribes who grow the beans for Lanna are self-sustaining.  All because of some people with vision and a lot of love.  

So lots of times I feel guilty for wasting money on treats.  But not this time.  This time, I drink every little sip knowing that those little sips are going towards giving people great freedom.  Want to try some yourself?  Go to, read their story, and get yourself some!

Sep 8, 2014

Opportunity not Limitation

This Sunday saw me per usual rocking babies in the nursery and taking a crying two year old around the courtyard for walks.  In between walks, the special mom bounces (you all know the bounce-walk), and wails, I listened to the sermon coming over the loud-speaker.  This was our "Get Connected" Sunday and the invitation was sent out to the congregation to get into something.  Join a lifegroup, serve, get involved.  In short, get invested in other people and get hands messy.  I was having a connecting  moment with a wailing kid.  Was that what he meant?

We heard that message moving into our new house in a new city and a new church seven years ago.  We felt brave.  We flung our doors open in our nice new house and our cavernous rooms that were yet to be filled with much furniture. We felt so courageous and generous.  And we were so surprised when people actually came.  And STAYED. Then they got to know us even more and saw our ugly sides too.  And STAYED.

  Flash forward, seven years, and things aren't the same.  Instead of brave, we are comfortable.  Those new people became best friends.  Our house in hanging in there by a thread from the damage three kids have incurred on it and it's jam packed with all the trappings families bring with them over the years.  It's no longer cavernous, it's scrunchy.  Inviting people over feels like a tight fit.  Being generous with my house means that I have learned to no longer hold anything sacred.  When you weekly for years throw open your doors to families with young children who shriek, playing tag up and down the hallways with light sabers, and eat messy family meals, there truly is nothing sacred anymore.
 Two small kid bedrooms, a filled-to-the-gills playroom and a dining room table that you can barely get around because of the narrow space we calling the "dining area", well, we're pretty maxed out here. I was starting to see all of this as a limitation and not an opportunity to throwing my doors open. But, honestly, it's all in perspective.  I keep making the invites and people keep coming.  Some days it just blows my mind.  People don't seem to mind my tight spaces and the kid-friendly (read messy) spaces and keep coming by and I keep slapping down the coffee in front of them.  We keep telling deep stories and consuming cups, and shoving snacks at kids, as kids keep shrieking and laughing and crashing down my long hallways.  And somehow, I've grown so much and am all the better for it.

 We also had maxed ourselves out with people in the last couple of years.  We didn't have room for anyone new, and well, we were just feeling comfortable.  It was time to take inventory. So Tone and I took an inventory this last year and decided to scrap some things and go a new direction this spring.  We quit leading the lifegroup we had led in our home for the last 6 years and jumped into new groups. At a certain point, sometimes you just get too comfortable, ya know, and quit challenging each other to dig deeper and grow more. I don't mean quit friendships, no way (best friends for life!), but allow space for new.  I took on the role of Kids Co Director at my church campus (our children's program) which means organizing and knowing about 80 volunteers and I still need a bunch more.  And yet, that's nice church business stuff, but really, can we branch out beyond that, we wondered?

I decided not to get involved with a Monday night Bible study so that I can get involved more with Hunter's Scouts.  I decided to start attending a card making club with women in my neighborhood.  I'm the only Christian in the bunch, and they are a really tight bunch (I'm the newbie), but yet they kept inviting me and I was even able to host them this summer while all their kids came and shrieked and laughed and crashed toys down my hallway.

Tone decided to help lead and be involved in our church's Regeneration group which is a group for accountability, grace and learning; how the gospel can touch deep areas of hurt and sin in our lives and change us from the inside out. It's a place for those who have a sickness or hurt deep in the soul that needs a Savior's touch.  So really, we should all be grabbing a seat at that table to drink in the message there.

But then we wondered, can we do more?  So Saturday saw me sitting in an orientation for the International Friendship Program at Fresno State University.  We are eager to invite an international student into our home for meals and friendship while they are far from home.  If they'll let us, we'd like to be their family away from home.  We are eager to know someone who can share another culture with us and make our world just that much richer.

We keep asking God for more.  In our maxed out little house we keep asking for more.  More opportunity to be seized, and for limitations to be weeded out.  More stretching, more growing, more bravery.

 If you come over, I'm kinda in this watermelon phase right now.  It's pretty much a staple.  The summer heat is hanging on and a watermelon out of the fridge is just so yummy.  I'll slap it down in front of you on my classy plastic pink platter, wave a cup of coffee your direction, and we'll have a chat.  Bring your kids, there is nothing sacred here but the conversation (as evidenced by Tessa feeling completely comfortable by plopping down on my table top).  But the conversation, the conversation could be oh so good.

I've learned that between the wailing babies, the toys being dragged up and down the hallway, and the snack crumbs, much is sacred and holy when you are willing to show your messy underbelly and dig in deep to a person. 

Have you flung your door open yet?  I promise the pay off is huge! 

Sep 3, 2014

B is for birthday! PreK ideas and Links

Today I am 35!  Middle age, yeah me!  So moving on, because that's all I'm going to say about that, and also, B is for Birthday!  It is also B week at our house for one little girl in preK.  So many people have asked me what I am doing for preK that I thought I would share some links and ideas with you.  Because the way I roll is that I never do just one program.  That would be too neat and tidy and confining, you know?  No, I'm all mishy mashy, but it's working really well and Tessa is learning and busy and totally in her happy element.  That's success.PreK ideas and links
Let me start out by saying that Tessa doesn't stick very long to work pages. She likes loves them, but only about two a day.  And it's mostly just to be like the "big guys" because she sees them pull out their workbooks every day.  I bought a couple of fat preK books at Costco and about a million at the Dollar Tree and have called that done.   I don't feel like that's where she does most of her learning anyways.  Most of her learning comes from little hands-on activities and manipulatives that I use with her.  My goal is to have enough different manipulatives so that I can rotate them in frequency about every 3 weeks.  That way nothing really becomes "old".

First up are pattern blocks.  Most manipulatives I inherited but all of these can be bought on Amazon or the school supply store. However, this link is wonderful for getting work mats to use with them:
Picture work mat link which is pictured below has tons of pattern block mats.  I keep them all in a file and pull them out for quiet busy work.

Here we are in B week with a lot of my resources laid out.  The other pattern block set I have is a set that has a pattern for the letters of the alphabet.  You can see it in the middle here below.  The link for that is from Confessions of a Homeschooler and can be found HERE.

Also picture above are large outlines of the letters.  I printed those from The Measured Mom. Printable block letter link here.  We fill them in with things that begin with that letter.  Today it was butterfly, bee and bug stickers; buttons; band aids; and blue crayon The Measured Mom also has a whole unit with ideas for each letter of the alphabet here.

Zoo phonics is the resource I use for the flashcards.  Each letter is in the shape of an animal with a corresponding handmotion to go with it so that it helps kids kinesthetically as well. I love zoo phonics and we always begin with flashcard review and handmotions. In the activity below, I have letters written on the paper clips.  This manipulative I use for lots of upper and lower case matching.  Here Tessa is matching the lower case clips with the upper case letters on the sentence strip paper.

You can also see the book pictured, "Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons" (oh and pizza from lunch - we're keeping it classy!).  It's a bit dry, the book I mean though I'm pretty sure that pizza is too, and Tess doesn't hang in there too long for most of it. But she likes it for about 5 to 10 minutes.  We are going slower and doing maybe half a lesson each day.  It is helpful though to start the book when your child has a good grasp of at least half the letters.  Start teaching letters and get through most of the more common ones before starting this book.  However, we make the exercises a game and make them exciting and we call it her "reading book".  

You can do this one easily.  It's playdough and dollar stamp sets from Michaels.  I bought one upper and lower case set and she loves to press them into playdough to make words or match upper and lower case together.  If you want to take this activity a step farther, check out this link for making simple words.

A large part of what I use is in a large file drawer.  I have a file for each letter of the alphabet that I inherited from a retired kinder teacher.  The files have pictures cut from magazines and calendars and photos taken for each letter of the alphabet.  It also has crafts and work pages inside.  It is gold, and unfortunately, unsharable over this blog.  I definitely pull that out each week.  However, I can give you the next best thing: three books I recommend for workpages and crafts that are fun and lots of picture cards to color.
A is Amazing by Dale M Timmons, an amazing resource book for crafts and activities
Alphabet Theme-A-Saurus by Jean Warren, activities and colorable picture cards for each letter
Jumbo Fun With the Alphabet by publisher Evan Moor, crafts, picture gluing activities, and more ideas
They are all very fat books and while I gave the Amazon link, it might be easier to find them somewhere else, I don't know.  I think some might be out of print.  I love and use all three all the time.

We are also learning how to spell the colors.  Tessa already knows them all, but we are working on identifying the sight word.  Here she has "red" written on a sentence strip and she is finding stickers out of our sticker bin that are red and sticking them to it.  Then we sing the color song.  I use songs from  Here is the link for a CD of sight words.  However, here is a free printout of the lyrics and tunes.  This week was actually blue so in the first picture on this post you can see her blue word with blue stickers stuck all over.  Red was soooo last week.  By the way, having a bin of Dollar Tree and  thrifted stickers is wonderful for all kinds of things.  I use it for patterning and sorting too.
I made this next set of gem letter manipulatives below.  I got the idea from here at totschool.  She uses milk caps which would work great...if we drank that much milk.  So I went to the Dollar Tree and got large gems.  I made a page of upper and lower case letters, printed and cut out the letters and modpodged them to the bottom.  They turned out great and I only spent $3.   Right now Tessa just matches them to the milkcap mats that totschool provided.  However, she has other ideas for matching them to words, putting them in alphabetical order and eventually making words with them.  Right now, Tessa just matches them to the worksheet or to each other.  It took about an hour to make them but it was worth it.  By the way, I don't always laminate everything though I do have a laminator.  I just slip the pages into sheet protectors and file them in binders.  It's very fast and easy to find what I am looking for that way.

For more letter ideas you can go here for animal alphabet coloring pages.  These are detailed and beautiful.  My older kids really like these because of the gorgeous detailing.
Other letter of the week crafts can be found at Crystalandco where you turn the letter into a fun craft that begins with that sound.

I don't even need to mention that we go straight to the bookshelf for books books books and more books.  Today it was Blueberries for Sal since that had blue, berries, and bears in it.  Tessa also got a kick out of the fact that the babies switched mothers and there was a repetitive pattern.  If you do nothing else, read, read, read!  Talk about the story and pictures.  READ!

Ok, moving on to math concepts:
I have these laminated matts (homemade) that are just colored sticker dots in a row on card stock.  I like to use these with math and patterning because it gives the objects order and place to land.  It makes it easier.  Tessa is creating patterns here out of pattern bears.

The next link comes from Confessions of a Homeschooler.  I laminated these number dot cards below because we use them all the time.  Here Tessa is sorting buttons onto them.  I have a large button jar for sorting and patterning that we dump into this tray a lot. In fact, if you go to this link from confessions of a homeschooler, you can pretty much take all 10 math activities from there and save me from retyping.  We do all the activites from this link.  These cards are just one activity printed for free from that link.    Once again, the clothespins (with numbers this time) make an appearance and large number black outline pages to fill in.  Also included are number counting sheets,  number spelling sheets to use with magnetic letters (I have several letter and number sets - Dollar Tree again), dice games (Dollar tree sells large foam dice in their toy section that are great for this game), and I also buy pom-poms from the Dollar Tree crafting area to use with her counting dot pages.
Not picture here are my sets of linking cubes.  Also called unifix cubes.  There is a ridiculous amount of wonderful math concepts you can do with unifix cubes.  Adding, subtracting, borrowing, base ten, graphing, patterning, measuring objects, and that's just to name a few.  I have a VERY large bin of them.  For now, we are doing very simple activities with them such as counting, measuring and patterning.

Here are two other resources I have that I enjoy using.  The first is a flannel graph math set in gorgeous colors.  Little Folk Visuals still sells it, and my set is from when I was homeschooled!  Here is the link, and I think it's highly worth purchasing.  I have also used it in my public school class rooms and the students always LOVED it.

The other resource is Math-it.  It's how I really grasped math as a child, and it makes learning math concepts quick and like a game.  I have pre Math-It for Tessa's age, and I want to purchase the full Math-It for my older two kids.  It's ingeniously simple to learn math facts through the program.  I think it's super overpriced though and am glad I inherited it, though, it's almost worth it for the fact that it works so well.

For another fun, cheap, printable and monthly themed preschool program, you can get this one from currclick.  The August one is free right now for members and it is a month long apple themed unit study with everything from calendar to language arts, graphing, book suggestions and math skills.  They have a new one every month for about $3.  Totally worth it.

I have other fun manipulatives, but since I don't know where they are from and they can't be made, I won't bother to share.  It's mostly just more pattern shape, number, and alphabet magnets in all sizes and colors (even jumbo), many different types of letter and number tiles with work mats to go with them and various games.  At any rate, here is my school room all organized for learning.  I bought those file cabinets this week at ReStore and then spray-painted the heck out of them in copper and black. My hand is still sore!  They are absolutely filled to the gills with my teaching files from the years.  And I already dumped about 10 boxes worth when I cleaned out the garage!!!  Some letter, number and money magnets are on the front.  You can see some tubs of manipulatives on the top bookshelf. I used chalkpaint on the front so I can easily label the drawers with their contents.
Here is a close-up.  The basket is filled with all the manipulatives for preK in little baggies. Next to the basket is my binder of preschool/K book masters.  Again, a priceless treasure from a retired teacher.  If I need a make-it,take-it book on any topic (letter, shape, number, season, color, theme) it's in there.  And next to that is the Math-It binder.
So that's it in a nutshell.  That's preK at my house and Tessa stays as busy as the older two with learning.  Which means that I am essentially teaching three kids at three levels this year.  It's a challenge some days to bounce between all of them, but so far, we are loving our year.  The first thing I hear in the morning is a little four year old waking me up from a deep sleep.  
"Mommy, I want oatmeal."  Odd that this is her favorite food in the whole world, followed up with, "Wake up and do my school!"  She really wants to get on it most days.  I do not always ever share that motivation and need my cup of Joe first.

So if you are doing some preschool in your home, that's a birthday present from me to you!  I hope you can use some of these ideas, and if you have more to share with me that you just love, let me know!