10 Indoor Activities for Pre-Schoolers

1. Free Printable Postcards for Kids
I LOVE my friend Gina’s new blog homepage, Listening in the Litany.  She makes this postcard idea so simple by offering a free  template.  Keep a stash on hand and pull one out on a cold, indoor day.  The recipients will love it!

Supplies: colored pencils, postcards

2. DIY Magnetic Play Set
The blogger used a book of pre-cut paper dolls, but I’m going to attempt drawing the dolls myself on card stock so I can make them look like my daughters and their friends.  Yee!

Supplies: Adhesive Magnetic Sheets, a book of pre-cut paper dolls OR card stock and markers, scissors, cookie sheet

3. Rainbow Rice Sensory Play 
rainbowrice_thumb[1]While this seems a little tedious on the front-end, once you’ve made the play box, the kids can enjoy it over and over again.  Plus you could swap out the toys you put in it to give your play box different “themes”–fairies, ponies, dump trucks…etc.

Supplies: white rice, Ziploc bags, food coloring, rubbing alcohol, plastic container, toys

4. Balloon Rocket Launch
36b8734885de92f363bb32b381f12a8fThis just looks cool.  It’s easy and entirely mess-free.  The only downside is if your kids are really young, like mine, you’ll be the only one blowing up the balloon over and over for the launch.  Hmmm…maybe this is one activity Daddy would like to do with them?

Supplies: balloon, straw, paper, rubber band

5. Fizzy Vinegar Fun
This is the sort of thing I’d never think of myself, but could easily do with the kids on a boring afternoon.  It has the feel of a cooking/baking project, but with a little bit of art and science thrown in.

Supplies: baking soda, vinegar, food dye, dropper, casserole dish

6. Threading Beads Alphabet Activity
I love this idea from the Imagination Tree.  My 4 year old has been working on writing her name and struggling with two tricky letters.  What a great way for her to form the letters with her hands before she learns to form them with a pencil.  Not to mention anything to do with beads is fun for a preschool girl!

Supplies: variety of beads, pipe cleaners

7. Bottle Top Count & Match Game
playing+with+bottle+top+gameWant to help your preschooler learn to recognize numbers?  This game is cute, colorful and easy enough for a toddler to play along too.

Supplies: variety of bottle tops, box lid, markers, 2 sets of stickers with numbers on them 

8. DIY Face Paint 
homemade face paint 30You can let your kids paint their own faces, or try your hand at turning them into fanciful creatures.  Plus, making the paints at home ensures they’re non-toxic.

Supplies: cornstarch, lotion, food coloring or washable watercolors

9. Create a Reading Log
bookdiary41Here’s a revolutionary idea for cold, indoor days–reading!  This is a really cute idea for organizing and recording your favorite seasonal stories.  And once again, Gina’s done the hard work for us by offering a free printable!  To check out some of her favorite winter picture books, click here.

Supplies: library books, free reading log printable

10. Upcycled Artwork Lanterns 
Childrens-art-lanterns-680x453Finally, with all the indoor artwork that’s bound to come out of this cold front, this is a fun and easy idea for turning it into something extra special.  I think I’ll string them up in my kids’ rooms once we’ve made several.  Oh boy!

Supplies: several sheets of kids’ artwork, scissors, glue


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Getting Real about the Girl Behind the Grin

Remove-Mask_sepiaSometimes I feel like a total mess.  I’m not talking about day-old mascara and greasy hair.  Those things may have bothered me in a distant teenage life, but now?  Please!  I’m just thankful I still have hair after the number of times it’s been chewed, yanked, and caught in zippers.  No, when I say I feel like a mess it’s not on the outside.  It’s on the inside.

Anybody can take a hot shower, tidy the kitchen, and put on a bright smile.  But beneath the smile I often feel like a frazzled storm of unfinished tasks, thinly concealed irritations, throbbing inadequacy, and weary battles to believe God.  It’s as if my outside and inside are disconnected:

“Yes, sweetheart, Mommy’s listening.”  (Say my name one more time and I’ll slam my head in the dishwasher.)
“Can I get you more manicotti?”  (Good gravy, I’m going to be doing dishes til midnight.)
“We’re just waiting on God!”  (Who I’m beginning to fear is never going to show up.)

Of course there are those moments when the inside erupts onto the outside:
“For the love of all things sacred, give me some SPACE!”
“I just don’t feel like God loves me!”  *sob, sob, sob, sob, sob

But for the most part I’m pretty talented when it comes to the outside.  I know how to put on a cute outfit, camouflage the mess, and get the job done.  And that’s what scares me.  Because unlike most people, Jesus has never been fooled, nor impressed by the outside.  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” He cries in Matthew 23:27.  “For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.”  How’s that for a metaphor?  So what do we do when our whitewashed exterior is as thin as a coat of nail polish and our interior is daily filling with decay?

Dear sister, we limp back to the cross.

The cross reminds us that life was not always this way.  That once, long ago, there was no outside/inside disconnect.  Once, all the joy and perfection we pretend to have on Facebook was truly felt in our souls.  Mankind was at peace with God, with one another, and with self.  Then sin entered the picture and just like that, all of creation broke.  Nature, animals, mankind–together we began to groan under the weight of our own brokenness  (Rom 8:22).  And nothing could remedy the problem.  Not outward appearances.  Not religious practices.  Not cute guys, or big homes, or double-stuffed Oreos.  Nothing, except the cross.  When Jesus died on the cross He absorbed the full weight of sin–the penalty, wrath, bondage, and brokenness.  And He rose victorious.  That single act has the power to obliterate the outside/inside disconnect.

As Tchividjian wrote, the cross reminds me that “Because Jesus was strong for me, I am free to be weak.  Because Jesus won for me, I am free to lose.  Because Jesus was someone, I am free to be no one.  Because Jesus was extraordinary, I am free to be ordinary.  Because Jesus succeeded for me, I am free to fail.”  You and I don’t have to pretend we’ve got it all together on the outside.  We need only draw near to Him by faith, and in His sufficiency find our rest.

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5 Dating Tips for Single Guys

Dating011-medium-newLet me begin by saying I realize your lot in life is as far as Fiji from mine.  I have no idea what it’s like to be a single guy in 2014.  But you and I do have one thing in common.  Both of us care about single girls.  Recently, some of my favorite ones have opened my eyes to the terrors of dating in the 21st century.  WIth that in mind, I thought I might offer a little insight into wooing the fairer sex.  I’m certainly no expert–my only qualification is this one extra X chromosome.  But for what it’s worth, here’s some advice from a girl:

Be confident in who you are.  I know it’s cliché, but nothing exudes insecurity faster than showing-off.  Trust me, no matter how politely she smiles, she knows you don’t really have $100,000 to invest in an up-and-coming business, knows you didn’t once date Katie Holmes, and is probably groaning inside if you’re telling her how much you can curl.  If there’s one thing she really will be impressed by, it’s sincerity.  Being genuine and humble demonstrates confidence.  Ego brags.  Confidence doesn’t have to.

Focus more on the “connection” factor than the “cool date” factor.  In other words, don’t drop $150 on a botanical garden carriage ride and then stare at her like a mute statue or *shudder* text your friends the whole time.  Sure a cool date’s great, but it will never make up for a lack of connection.  Which means you need to plan more than the date–you need to plan the conversation.  I once read a marriage book that said women long to be explored.  It’s the reason girlfriends can talk for hours at a coffee shop.  We want to be discovered…more than we want to smell botanical flowers, or perhaps best yet, while we smell botanical flowers 🙂

Err on the side of being a gentlemen.  With the rise of the women’s-lib movement, I can see why it’d be confusing to know whether or not to open her door or pay for her meal.  But you’re a lot less likely to offend by being more of a gentleman than less of one.  If she tells you, “I’ve got it” when you open the door–no big deal.  But if she’s looking for a gentleman and ends up having to pick up the tab, don’t expect a second date.

Adjust your expectations.  If you’re waiting for a girl who looks like J Lo and loves college football, don’t hold your breath.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t have standards, just consider them carefully.  That shy girl from church may just need a cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll to become the most interesting person you’ve ever had a conversation with.  That really un-athletic friend of your sister’s may look at you like you’re Lebron James when you play basketball like Kevin James.  Or maybe not.  The thing is, there’s only one way to find out.

Don’t be afraid to stand up to her.  There’s a big difference between a control-freak and a leader.  One is rooted in pride, and the other is rooted in love and service.  Once you’ve built a trusting relationship with her, be brave enough to speak into her life in ways that will challenge and edify her.  At the end of the day, no matter how much we balk, (most) women don’t really want a yes-man.  They want a man they can respect.

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3 Ways to Raise a Pharisee

kid-stressIf anyone could do a fantastic job raising a Pharisee, it’s me.  I have always identified more with the elder brother than the prodigal son, a dangerous association indeed.  Recently a mom contacted me to ask for advice about helping her two-year-old daughter recognize her need for Jesus.  I was so touched by this mom’s passionate desire to point her young daughter to Christ as the only hope for righteousness.  It is the exact opposite of Pharisaism, which looks to oneself for righteousness.  The question got me thinking about the three biggest mistakes I’ve made as a parent that point my children toward works-based performance:

1. Get more excited about what they do, then who they’re becoming.
“Mommy look, I drew a stick.”  “OH MY GOODNESS, IT’S FABULOUS!!!!!”  That’s me.  A year ago a statement in C.J. Mahaney’s book Humility changed my perspective.  He wrote that he reserves his highest praise for examples of true greatness–sacrifice, humility, love, service–the things Jesus has deemed great.  I realized I do cartwheels over my kids’ artwork and say, “that’s kind” when they share their toys.  I still show delight in their artwork and dance moves and all the other skills they love to show me, but I try to reserve greater excitement for evidence of Christ at work in their lives.  Because at the end of the day it’s not about what they can do.  It’s about what Christ has done, and continues to do, for them.

2. Give them credit for acts of righteousness.
Around the time my firstborn turned two years old, I began exclaiming “Good girl!” whenever she obeyed.  Since obedience from a two-year-old can be a rare commodity, the words were like honey on my tongue: “Good girl!  You obeyed Mommy!”  One day she walked through the house declaring, “I a good girl!”  And just like that it hit me.  No.  Actually you’re not.  My little girls are many things–precious, beautiful, sensitive, smart…but they are not inherently good.  The Bible teaches that there is none righteous (Rom 3:10), that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23).  The last thing I want to do is make my daughters foolishly believe that they don’t need God, when in reality, apart from Christ, all their good works are filthy rags before God (Is 64:6).  I started saying, “Wise choice!  Jesus helped you obey Mommy!  He helped you make a wise choice!  Isn’t He great?”  Two years later, that same sweet child has caught me giving her praise multiple times and said, “Jesus helped me do it, Mommy.”  I’ve never been so blessed to be corrected.

3. Compare them to others.
As an education major in college I was taught that a “positive” method of correcting wrong behavior is to praise right behavior.  So when you notice Steven acting like a hooligan, you loudly say, “I like the way Johnny is sitting quietly.”  At best it’s manipulative, at worst it’s Pharisaism in training.  But it’s so tempting because it’s effective.  Johnny’s chest puffs up, Steven’s shoulders sag, and the hooligan is back in line.  At home it looks like this: “Look at your big brother.  Is he swinging from the chandelier?”  Before long, every time you correct the little brother, the big brother will point out his obedience for you.  “I am not interrupting.  I am sitting still.  I am listening.”  You want to raise a Pharisee?  This is one of the fastest ways.  And I confess, I’m guilty as charged.

Final Thoughts
Lest any of this discourage you, let me remind you of what I remind myself almost daily.  I am journeying by grace.  This whole parenthood thing is hard.  So often I make mistakes without even realizing I’m making them.  And even when I know what I should be doing, often I fail anyway.  I don’t know any greater hope than the Truth that Jesus is sovereign over my parenting.  If He could use twelve weak and broken disciples to build His worldwide church, He can use one weak and broken Mama to demonstrate the glory of His gospel to the children He has entrusted to her.

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2014 Book List


I’m really excited about my line-up this year.  Some of these books come highly recommended by friends, others deal with topics I want to grow in, or subjects that simply interest me.  As usual I will keep the fiction section small because it tends to mushroom throughout the year.  Feel free to make recommendations.  As I cross books off the list, I’ll write a brief review here.  Happy reading this year!


1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp  This book has been recommended to me numerous times by people who think I will not only love the content, but the author’s unique writing style.  Having visited her blog, I think I will agree.

Choosing Gratitude by Nancy Leigh DeMoss  If there’s one thing I want stamped upon my heart this year, it’s gratitude.  Deep, whole-hearted, God-exalting gratitude.

Fierce Women by Kimberly Wagner  This suggestion came via Challies’ top books of 2013.  In his words, “She writes about the beauty of fierceness, the beauty of strong women who use their strength to honor the Lord by honoring their husbands.”  Sounds good to me!

Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson  A carry-over from my 2013 list… The husband has agreed to read this one with me, so hopefully that will be accountability to cross it off the list this year!  From what I hear, it’s well worth it.

Glimpses of Grace by Gloria Furman  “Sometimes life feels a lot like a burden—day-in and day-out its the same chores and tasks, challenges and discouragements, anxieties and responsibilities.  So where is God in all of this? Does he care about the way we unload the dishwasher or balance the budget? Do the little things like changing diapers or cooking meals make a difference? And how can we use our spheres of influence for God’s glory and our joy?”  My husband recommended this one…I wonder why he thought of it for me?  🙂

Heaven by Randy Alcorn  I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it, but I’m part of a wonderful little book club.  One of the members, a beautiful friend of mine, lost her father in a biking accident this year.  The tragedy has prompted us to pick up this book and explore our many unanswered questions about heaven.

Radical by David Platt  I have long feared this book…which is exactly why I think I need to read it.  True confession–I’ve already dug in, and let me just say, yowzers.  It is powerful, inspiring, and painfully spot-on.  For every chapter I read, I need about a week to pray and process.  And I think that’s a good thing.

Resisting Gossip by Matthew Mitchell  This is one of the books I’m most eager to read.  I think the subject matter, as well as its importance, is self-explanatory.

Tempted and Tried by Russell Moore  I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Moore speak a few times, and cannot wait to read his book about temptation, the triumph of Christ, and how it applies to us today.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families by Stephen Covey  While my family is probably a little bit young to put all the principles of this book into effect, I figure it can’t hurt to hear what Covey has to say.

What is the Meaning of Sex? by Denny Burk  This is my final non-fiction choice, also highly recommended by Challies.  Here’s what’s being said about it:  “This book clearly explains the truth about sex and winsomely responds to society’s evolving views on human sexuality and gender.  From marriage to birth control, homosexuality to singleness, What is the Meaning of Sex? sets forth a distinctly Christian perspective, equipping you to engage our confused culture with a God-glorifying vision of human sexuality.”


11/22/63 by Stephen King Ever since reading King’s book On Writing, I’ve wanted to read one of his novels…but been too afraid to do it!  My sister recommended this one since it’s not horror.  It’s the story of Jake Epping, a 35-year-old English teacher who discovers a portal into 1958.  Thus begins his life as George Amberson.  His mission?  Kill Lee Harvey Oswald and prevent JFK’s assassination.

Into the Free by Julie Cantrell A New York Times Bestselling Christian fiction novel about a girl from Depression-era Mississippi who joins a band of Gypsies to escape her family.

Swimming in the Moon by Pamela Schoenewaldt I loved Schoenewaldt’s first novel, When We Were Strangers, so I thought I’d give her second a try.  It’s the story of a mother and daughter in 1905 Italy who immigrate to Cleveland.

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom A friend recommended this New York Times Bestseller about a white servant girl from Ireland who is sent to live with the slaves of the kitchen house.  Despite the color of her skin, she becomes deeply bonded to her adopted family.  Later when she is accepted into the big house, she must choose between two very different worlds, with risky consequences.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey “Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees…”

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Making Peace with Family Systems (or Why Everybody Fights So Much Over the Holidays)

Years ago in a Marriage and Family class, my professor drew big circles on the whiteboard to represent family systems.  He talked about “closed” systems and “open” systems, and all sorts of other terms that eventually filled his circles with arrows and scribbles and a general sense of disorder.  This holiday season I found myself thinking a lot about those circles.

Every day I live in my own circle.  It’s the “Me and Husband Family System.”  It has its own set of priorities, entertainment preferences, conflicts, and agreements.  This Thanksgiving we loaded up the minivan, drove four hours, rang my parents’ doorbell, and stepped back into the “circle” that raised me.  Mom and Dad’s family system.  It was as familiar as my mom’s fried rice, and yet it fit like skinny jeans after a pregnancy.  How can something that made you who you are, no longer fit who you’ve become?  

My answer came three weeks later when Christmas rolled around and we spent a week living in another “circle,” the one that raised my husband.  I realized that marriage is a little like tossing two family systems into a bag and shaking it until they smooth each other out.  In the end what you take out of the bag is entirely new.

Sometimes it’s beautiful, like a stone polished with friction.  And sometimes it’s broken.  Sometimes we realize the pieces we were given were never whole to begin with, and trying to build something healthy is like assembling a bicycle with broken parts.  Even if we can make it look normal on the outside, it will never race down a road.  So how do we make peace with family systems?  Here’s what I’ve been mulling over:

Recognize that every family system is flawed.  From the moment sin entered the world, nobody had a shot at doing this “family” thing perfectly.  So, what if we just admitted it?  What if we gave our parents, and our in-laws, and our parents’ parents the freedom to be human?  To have made mistakes that impact us and yet to be treated with dignity, love, and forgiveness–the same way Christ has treated us?

Acknowledge the specific failings of the family system.  I think there are two unhealthy tendencies for dealing with the failures of a family system.  We either want to sweep them under the rug, or we want to frame them on the mantel.  Neither is beneficial.  Think about your own children.  Would you really want them to pretend they haven’t been hurt or negatively impacted by the mistakes you’ve made?  To quietly grow bitter toward you?  Or worse yet, to repeat those mistakes?  As terrifying as exposing the failures of a family system can be, when it’s done with a commitment to love one another, it can be liberating.  Messy as a bachelor pad, but liberating.

Lay the past to rest.  None of us own a time machine.  Which is why framing past failures on the mantel is so devastating.  Nobody wants to be defined by their mistakes, nor made to pay for them again and again.  At some point we have to deal with the ugly under the rug, then forgive and lay the past to rest.  Throw it in the trash with the turkey carcass and all the other things we’re officially “done” with.  That is grace.  And we all need it.

Accept personal responsibility for the family system you’re creating.  Believe me, I know how comforting it can be to blame someone else for all the things you dislike about yourself.  Your inability to trust.  Your penchant for shutting people out.  That anger problem you have.  But the hard truth is nobody will be held accountable for our lives except us.  The beautiful side to that truth is we’re not slaves to the past.  In Christ we have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pe 1:3), everything we need to grow, to change, and to overcome.

As I move into this new year, I’m reminded again that Jesus is the essence and the fullness of Hope, one of my favorite things about Him.  There is no hurt He can’t heal, no relationship He can’t restore, and no failure He can’t redeem.  His presence within us is our hope of glory (Col. 1:27).  Our only hope of glory.

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January Favorites

January 1.  The buttermilk pancakes are gone.  Little girl giggles and screams are at fever pitch, which means only one thing–Daddy is home!  Earlier this morning I asked my husband for his opinion about an article I’m working on and he said, “I’m so excited you’re getting back to blogging!” 🙂 Me too, honey.

I have thoroughly enjoyed all this family time, and I thank God for the kind of refreshment that gears us up to face a new year.  Here are some of my January picks.

ACTIVITY: Handprint Art
When my kids brought home these crafts from MMO, I was smitten.  Not only is hand (or foot) print art adorable, it’s a way to capture a moment in time.  The moment when their hand was this small!  Turns out the sky’s the limit when it comes to handprint art.  Check out this  link for dozens of ideas.

I especially like this one using an adult's hand and a child's hand!
I especially like this one using an adult’s hand and a child’s hand!

ARTICLE: Dear Kids: What You Need to Know About Duck Dynasty, Justine Sacco, and Christmas by Ann Voskamp
TV-Duck Dynasty

Voskamp uses current hot topics to teach her children about the power of the tongue and the grace of Christ.

PRODUCT: The Mint App
Here’s something free after the toll of December.  Once you synch the Mint App with your banking accounts, it tracks and organizes your spending for you.  The app provides graphs to help you see where your money is going, creates a budget for you (which you can edit), and emails you when you’re in the red.  For security sake, I suggest installing it on an iPad, not an iPhone.

MOVIE: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
If you’ve ever daydreamed about courage and adventure and telling your boss what you really think, you’ll love Walter Mitty.  And here’s my favorite part–the movie comes full circle, reminding us that all along, the boring, mundane, faithful plodding is beautiful too.  Thoroughly enjoyable and refreshingly clean.  I cannot wait to watch it again–especially the “Ground Control to Major Tom” karaoke scene.  Go Mitty!

BOOK: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
All you moms of 10-15 year olds, this was my favorite book to teach in middle school.  Sixteen strangers gather for the reading of eccentric millionaire Sam Westing’s will, only to learn that whoever can solve the mystery of his death will be granted his entire fortune.  The novel is hilarious, and a great case study in personalities and family dynamics.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!  May you find joy in His presence, strength when you are weary, and hope when you need it the most.

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