Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Children are NEVER too Young to Serve and Bless Others

A number of years ago, my husband and I became actively purposeful in teaching our children to serve and bless others.  I want my children to always think of others, and so we purposely teach them to do so. There is always going to be someone you can help, even if you yourself are not in the best position yourself.  Helping someone doesn't just mean money.  It can mean your time, energy, love, words of encouragement, passing on something you no longer use, and others.  At no point is a child "too young" to begin learning to love others, and at no point should "I have young children" ever be an excuse for you to not help others.  Ever.

Since how we serve others often DOES change because of the ages of our children, I wanted to do a post with some of our practical ways of serving, loving, or helping other people.  Children learn through hands-on experience.  The more they can be involved, the better.  So, here are 5 ways were are currently helping our children learn to serve others.  There are many other ways, we do others, too, and I'm sure you have some ideas to add to the list (I'd love to hear them!).  For reference, our children are currently 8, 7, 5, and 2.

1.  Donating used toys and clothing.  Although I will often gather up some of their un-used belongings and throw them in a donation box myself, I regularly ask them while cleaning, "is there anything in your room that you aren't using anymore that another child without toys might enjoy?"  So rather than it being about them and their clean room, I turn it outward-towards other children and how they can help make someone else happy.  This gets their little heads thinking about how they could bless another child, instead of always complaining about getting rid of stuff (they still regularly complain, don't worry).

2.  Allowing gift bags and tissue paper to be readily accessible.  My kids all know that the gift bag closet is totally available to them.  I have one child, who I think may be more of a "gifts" love language, who will regularly find a gift bag and wrap up a toy of hers to give to her friend.  This is a totally free and easy way for her (and all of them) to learn to show generosity and love through gifts.  Who doesn't love gifts and knowing that someone thought of you?  (Tip: Save gift bags and tissue paper from parties...this way, you don't have to spend money to have these available.)

3.  Serving food to the homeless.  For a while, I stayed home with the little boys while Ben took the girls to feed the homeless on Sunday, simply because of their ages and it was very difficult.  But in the past few months, we have all been able to wake up early every Sunday morning and head downtown to feed the homeless.  We serve at the Reno Sparks Gospel Mission in our city, which I love because it is a safe environment for my kids to join in with us.  There are others in our city (and yours too, I'm sure).  Some of them are in open spaces outdoors (not as accommodating to young children), and others are at a specific location.  Some places allow children to serve, others do not.  We choose to serve food because it is a very tangible way of helping others, and our children get to actually interact with the people they are serving.

4.  Give random gifts. So, for anyone who knows me, this will not come as a surprise.  I am a gifts love language person.  I LOVE giving gifts to show my love and appreciation to people.  We'll do things like call an employee or teacher at our child's activity before hand and ask what their favorite coffee drink might be, and then we'll pick it up on the way to class for them.  Sometimes I'll see something that reminds me of someone at the store and we'll pick it up for them "just because." I often allow a child to be the one to pass on the drink/gift/whatever. It makes them SO happy to give a gift.

5.  Random acts of kindness.  There's always something you can do for someone else.  During the recent heat wave, we kept cold waters on hand and my children stalked the window for the mailman each day.  They'd run out with a cold water and totally make his day! It was just SO hot outside, and they walk a ton each day.  You can send someone a sweet note, have your kids draw them a picture, or bring a neighbor some goodies you baked.  If you have a skill, use it!  My husband offered to fix our neighbors fence that blew down recently.  It's a little bit of labor, but blesses someone with his kindness.  Bring your children along with you.  Let them hand you the screws or hold the boards in place.  Teach them that being kind is never a waste of time.  It is always important.

There are SO many other ways to bless, serve, and show love to others. Bring your kids along in the process, and we can raise a generation of children who think beyond themselves and can easily spot ways to help others.  I'd LOVE to hear your ideas!  How do you currently teach your kids to serve?

Friday, August 5, 2016

Why I Don't Lesson Plan Ahead of Time for our Homeschool

Even in the summer, we do a good amount of school! 

I used to spend time at the start of each school week lesson planning and plotting out our whole school week.  When teaching classes of students this was a necessity, and since it was habit for me, I just continued doing it.  The problem was that I am much more flexible with my own homeschooling kids than I could ever have been in a classroom setting.  I'd find that one day we would never get to history, and at the same time one child decided to do three lessons worth of language.  Maybe we'd skip the whole day for a field trip for hands on learning or the book I planned was terribly boring and we nixed it altogether.  Nothing in my lesson planning book EVER lined up like I thought it should.

I quickly found that lesson planning really did not work for me.  And yet, at various times in our four years of homeschooling, I've given it another shot (with the same frustrating results).  Lesson planning simply does not work for us like I want it to.  It looks nice and neat, until nearly everything has to be erased, added to, moved, etc.  And then I just end up annoyed. 

There are so many "awesome homeschooling planners" out there-both in book form and in digital form, that it seemed like I just couldn't figure it out.  Or maybe, there are so many out there because it doesn't work for many others, either. 

I am a total type A personality.  I like things in order, and I like a plan.  But specific lesson planning in my homeschool simply does not work for my easy-going, follow my kids' lead, let them dive into the things they are curious about now attitude.  Instead, I've found that I like to lesson plan AFTER we do school.  I know, it sounds ridiculous, but let me explain...

I keep my lesson planner handy while doing school, just like I would if I were going by the plans inside it.  But instead of a full planner, I start with an empty one.  Instead of "subjects" at the top of my planner, I fill in my kids names:  Ellie, Zoe, Aaron,  and "Altogether" (Levi doesn't need a section yet).  

As I go about the day, I fill in what we've done.  Books read, lessons finished, lessons started, topics explored, etc. all goes into my planner.  This allows me to see where we most recently finished off (no more guessing about where we stopped the previous time) and pick up in the correct spot the next time we return to that subject.  It also allows me to track things that I otherwise forget about.  Those weeks where you feel like you didn't accomplish much in your homeschool?  You can look back and see that you DID accomplish something and find encouragement from that.  I often forget about the books my kids have sat and read or about the topics we explored online.  This allows me to remember exactly what we spent time on during the week.  

I love not having to erase, move, and rewrite that dang geography lesson that we couldn't seem to get to during the week.  I love being able to easily track how many math lessons we completed or how often each child spent reading.  I love that my planner accurately represents our school day, and that instead of feeling let down that we didn't finish everything inside it, I can rejoice in knowing that everything inside it IS finished.  

It's important to note that I have not thrown planning to the wind.   I still set goals for progress, write down topics we'd like to cover, and reference our curriculum books for what's next, but I simply do not plan out the details of any of it.  I often find that when I wait for curiosity to start a topic, we can easily spend hours on the topic, completing many of the lessons all at once.  Why not wait for their curiosity and make it easier on myself?!?!  

Because I allow this flexibility in our homeschool, we are often on various lesson days of each subject.  Currently, my 8 year old is on lesson 50 of 3rd grade math, while on lesson 79 of 4th grade language.  All of my kids do history together, and so we're on lesson 1 (when we officially start back to school) of 4th grade history.  I could easily lose track of where each child is at in each subject (which I've done many a time).  Lesson planning as we go gives me a visual reference to where everyone is at.

So if you are frustrated with lesson planning and are feeling defeated because you can never stick to what you have written down, I suggest you give lesson planning as you go through the day a shot.  It really has helped me feel much less stressed as I go throughout our week, and has given me more freedom to follow my kids' lead. It's made me MORE organized, because I can quickly glance at my book and see exactly which lesson I need to do next.  

I realize this may not work for everyone, but hopefully for some of you, it will give you the freedom you've been looking for in your homeschool lesson planning pursuits! 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Rodan+Fields GIVEAWAY! (And My Two Month Results)

Who's ready for a super awesome giveaway?!?!?!  Let me first give you a quick update on my seriously awesome results after using Rodan+Fields skincare products for approximately 2 months.  As a reminder, I had been super interested in these products, but really wondered about the cost and whether it was worth it.

After two months of using Rodan+Fields, I. Am. Hooked.  My face FEELS better and cleaner, which is a huge plus, but my skin also looks clearer.  MUCH clearer.  My redness has been drastically diminished, and my chin (my notorious spot for break outs and redness) has finally been reeled in to something much more manageable.

Check out my two month results:

My "before" picture.  Notice how red my skin was, and how my chin would regularly break out! And see those eye wrinkles...that's the reason I'm excited for this eye cream.

And these are my after 2 months pictures!  What a difference!  Redness is much more controlled, and with just a little make up, I am now able to cover it completely!  AND, I don't fee like I HAVE to wear make up on my skin to go out anymore...it's SO much better! 

What have I been using?  I use the full Soothe regimen morning and night.  While in the shower in the morning, I first use the Umblemish Wash.  When I get out, I do the full Soothe regimen.  It has made such a huge difference!

Just a couple weeks ago as I was taking some progress pictures, I told my husband through squinted eyes that I really needed the eye cream to take away some of my almost-30 year old eye wrinkles.  I actually don't mind most of my facial wrinkles, because they're clearly from laughter (or squinting my eyes when my kids break my sunglasses).  But lately, man!  I've suddenly got a lot more!

I am SO excited to add the Rodan+Fields Redefine Multi-Function Eye Cream to my daily routine.  This cream includes "powerful peptides to minimize the appearance of crow's-feet, helps reduce the appearance of both puffiness and dark under eye circles while special optical diffusers noticeably brighten the eye area."  Sounds pretty great, huh?  (Read more about this product or other R+F products HERE).

Well, what if I told you we could BOTH start this eye regimen at the same time?!?!  Would you try if it were totally free to you?  You should definitely be saying, "yes!"  Well, my sweet high school friend, Cassie, sells R+F and she is offering one of my readers the chance to win a FREE (yes, FREE) Eye Cream!

Over the next week, I'll be hosting this fabulous giveaway on my blog.  This killer results eye cream, at regular cost, is $60 ($54 for preferred customers)!  And you can totally win it for free!  So who's it going to be?  I've included a variety of ways to enter into this contest.

Are you ready?!?!  Here it is! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, July 15, 2016

How We Started Our Kids' Savings Accounts AND Scored Some FREE Money

We're a little behind the curve on opening savings accounts for our kids.  But hey, better late than never.  One problem I had as I searched around was that so many banks required a certain amount to open an account.  Since these accounts are for my kids to invest their OWN money into, a "big" starting amount for them was challenging (because they're currently really great at the "spending" aspect of money, but not so much the "savings" one).  I really needed a bank with either a low starting amount, or required starting amount at all.  And no fees.  Fees are bad.

I had been hunting for quite a while, and had actually even set this aside for quite some time.  But recently I came across some info on Capital One 360 savings accounts online, and after some research, ended up choosing them for my kids' accounts AND one for me, too!

Here's what I love:

*If you go through someone's referral link, you get a $25 credit upon making a $250 deposit and leaving it there for a month (and they get a little credit too!).  That's FREE money people!  So I set up a "Disneyland" savings account, with auto debits from my main bank account so that this fund can start to build, and started it with a $250 deposit. I instantly got my $25 bonus-score!

*These account have a higher interest rate of .75% APY.  I don't know about you, but this is WAY better than my regular bank savings account!

*No fees and no minimums.  I love that there are no fees at all, and that none of the six accounts I opened had to have any minimum opening balance (minus the $250 in my savings since I wanted the bonus).

*You can deposit checks directly into your account using your phone!  I haven't done this yet, but this will make depositing checks that the kids receive SO much easier!

*Kids can open up to 25 different accounts to save for multiple items!  I love this option.  It makes it easy for kids to make "small" item goals AND "big" item goals and save for both at the same time.

*It was super easy to link my main bank account and to set up auto debits for my Disneyland account.

I am thinking that I may eventually set up a few more small savings accounts with Capital One 360 and set up auto debits for some of my sinking accounts (i.e. things that happen periodically such as car registrations, car maintenance, homeschool supplies/books, etc.).  This would ensure that all of my funds are always fully funded when I need them, and so it doesn't kill my budget by forgetting to save throughout the year for car registrations or whatever.

If you are looking for a new system of savings accounts for you or your kids, I really do like our new Capital One accounts!  You can get your free $25 bonus by following my personal link HERE.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Prepping Food for the Week #2

Prepping food ahead of your week is one of the easiest ways to save time and money throughout the week.  I love freezer crock pot cooking, and find that it makes my life SO much easier, especially with our current summer schedule (which involves 3 evenings of swim lessons for my big 3 kids, 2 nights of gymnastics team for daughter #1, one night of gymnastics for daughter #2, one night of karate, a church night, and one music class that I teach).

Last night while I cooked dinner (this one pot pasta dish...a delicious past meal that costs less than $5 to make), I prepped food for the week.  In total, I probably spent around 2 hours prepping yesterday.  Here's what I prepped for the week:

Passion Tea Lemonade

*Half gallon of Passion Tea Lemonade (one of my favorite summer drinks)

Homemade Peanut Butter

Sides & Snacks
*4 cups brown rice for meal sides
*6 cups of crock pot refried beans for enchiladas and/or tacos in the coming week
*2 cups peanut butter

*8 cups of granola for cereal of yogurt add-ins

Freezer meals, granola, and granola bars

*Black Bean & Salsa Chicken ($8...I crock pot this and shred it for tacos)
*Teriyaki Chicken ($10...Crock pot meal, served over rice)
*Stuffed Bell Peppers ($9...Enough for two separate meals)

Also on this week's menu is Lentil tacos, a favorite meatless meal, and enchiladas since I never cooked them up the last time I put them on my menu :) 

Do you cook ahead for the week? What are your favorites to prepare ahead of time? 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

When Parenting Days End in Tears

Parenting is probably the toughest job on the planet.  There's no training manual, no "right" way of doing things, a million people to judge your "style", decisions, and more, and no paycheck at the end of the week.  It's an often thankless job, one in which lasts a lifetime, and has very few breaks.  One that is challenging, and frustrating, and expensive.

Some parenting days are easier than others.  Some end with wonderful smiles and thankful faces and a full heart knowing you helped your children grow just a little bit more that day.  And others....end in tears.

Some days, the answer to your husband's, "how was your day?" question leads to a silent tear-filled face.  Some days you feel like you just helped your children take two steps back in terms of growing into healthy adult people someday.  Some days you feel like a failure, and like you can't possibly find the right answer to guide your child through their problems.  Because there is no correct answer, no perfect solution, or no fitting consequences.

And it's hard.  Really hard.  Hard to remind yourself that you're not a failure.  That other parents don't have it all together, that there really isn't a perfect answer, and you really can't be a perfect parent anyway.  Even if you tried. That we are going to mess up.  Sometimes big time.  That "I'm sorry's" are okay and quickly forgiven by gracious children.  That sometimes the right answer is to just love them through it all and not worry about the "mess" of life and how things will work out.

In the tear-filled parenting days, it's good to let it all out.  To remind ourselves that we CAN'T do it all, be it all, and fix it all.  To remind ourselves that it is, indeed, an incredibly difficult journey, fraught with challenges on the daily.  To remind ourselves that we are human, with mistakes-a-plenty today...and the next.

And then, through the tears, to remind ourselves that we are enough.  That giving our kids our best is enough.  That making mistakes, and apologizing, and making adjustments are not only okay but are a part of life.  And that our kids will turn out just fine.  They'll be fine.  They are loved, and we are loved, and we'll make it.

Parenting is hard.  Grace is needed.  And hugs.  Always more hugs.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Dear Barnes & Noble...

Dear Barnes & Noble,

Let me start by saying that I really do love you.  I love your smell, and the friendly faces throughout the store.  Employees always seem happy, and more than willing to help.  I love the kids programs you offer in store, and have even hosted one myself there once!  My kids love the train table and could stay there for hours if I let them (because I got rid of the one at home that they NEVER played with).  I love all the beautiful books, and I love and appreciate that the educators discount applies to homeschoolers as well, because homeschoolers tend to spend WAY too much on great books.

That being said, we need to have a talk.  About two months ago, I visited your store twice within a couple weeks.  I brought my four young children, ages 2, 4, 6, and 8 with me, as always.  We shopped and browsed and they each picked out a book.  And then we headed for the check out counter with books in arms and smiles on faces.

We waited in the long line (happily). We turned the corner and were SO close to our turn when my then 4 year olds asks, "Mommy? Why is this girl using her hands to cover her boobies?"  I look down, and smack in front of his little 4 year old face I see a lovely magazine with a woman dressed in just her swim bottoms and her hands for use as a bra.  Legs spread, and sexually tantalizing.  Perfect. Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition (or whatever this nonsense is called) is displayed at exactly eye level for children along the check out counter.  At Barnes & Noble.

Two weeks later, we head to the counter with books again, and what do I see?  A new magazine has taken its place, but is still just as sexually charged as the first.  And still, at children's eye level.  My children look towards the back of the store instead of up towards the counter.  Conversations with curious children about why people are selling (or buying, for that matter), magazines with "inappropriate"content on them.  I mentioned it to a store employee, who said several employees had raised the same concerns to corporate (sounds like many places where corporate dictates placement of product), but that nothing had been done.

Now look, we are anything but prudish in our home.  I freely breastfed (without covering at home) all my babies past their first birthday, have little boys who think being butt naked is the coolest thing since sliced bread, and littles who will still jump into the shower with me to get clean.  However, we do teach our children to value privacy and modesty and we talk about the importance of keeping our privates private and that we clothe ourselves appropriately, and "no you can't just wear a sports bra and shorts to the store" and our bodies are not for sharing with everyone and no one can touch you in any of your private areas and all that jive and on and on. And so my children, who really don't freak out over the naked human body in a safe context of in their home while changing or whatever, are already able to distinguish that what they were seeing was totally not appropriate.  And boy, were they curious and question-filled for the next 15-20 minutes.  Sigh.

Our children are being bombarded with our world's over sexualization from a young age.  And now, Barnes & Noble, you have joined the rest of the pack with placing inappropriate content right where children will be standing and staring for several minutes while they wait.  While we're fighting so hard to teach our children to reject the pressure to be like the photoshopped celebrities on magazines, or teaching them how to LOVE their body and not be ASHAMED of their body but still have RESPECT for their body, we all need to do our part to help them also stay child-like and innocent. My four year shouldn't have to learn to pull his eyes away from a beautiful, half naked woman on a magazine.  He's FOUR.  He should only be worried about his super cool book he's about to purchase. Our children should not be subjected to the hyper sexualized magazines that are being placed in front of them.  Playboy magazine's and the like do belong in their eye-sight range.

Barnes & Noble, you have the most fabulous place where children can fill their minds with the most wonderful stories and insights and info and all the things we would want them to read about.  I want my kids to LOVE being in your bookstore (and all bookstores, for that matter).  I want them to crave the written word.  But I am so disappointed at the lack of thought that has gone into this placement.

I recently heard a friend complain about the same problem, but yet a different magazine at the counter.  This is not just me.  This is other moms and dads, too, and I'm sure the placement is similar at other stores around the country.  We want our children to be children as long as possible.  Please, make a change in your magazine placement.  Help us as parents to protect our children's eyes and hearts and to make the bookstore a safe place for our children to explore.  Keep your magazines, I really don't care.  But please, please, please, put them back behind the counter again where their little eyes cannot see them.

Thanks Barnes & Noble,


Jessica Locke
A mom who loves her kids and books


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