Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Hot Chocolate Sensory Play!


Late January + February always seem to be the dreariest months in Iowa, so we're cozying up and making the best of it.  I tend to be a home body anyway - no complaints here!  The kids do tend to get stir crazy, though, so this little sensory kit comes in extra handy on the longer days.


I went to the Mexican food section of Wal-Mart and bought a bigger bag of the brownest looking beans.  I wish they were a smudge darker yet, but life goes on I suppose!  Add a few white pom-poms for marshmallows, half of our Melissa + Doug tea set, a few toy cookies, and you've got yourself a sensory, kit people.  

Easy-peasy.


I've seen other mamas use brown rice instead, and have also seen additions of chocolate tea bags and/or chocolate extract to make it actually smell like chocolate too.  While this would be delightful, it's best for us when things do not smell edible.  My little ones are still a little tempted to put things in their mouths.


If you've never done a sensory kit before, this is a great one to start with.  You can't mess this one up, folks!  

Have so much fun.  Cheers!




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Monday, January 16, 2017

The War on Panic + Anxiety: My Perspective


The more I have shared openly about struggling with panic + anxiety, the more people have commented, written letters, and shared with me that they, too, are fighting the same fight.   First off, I'm honored that so many of you have shared your stories with me.  Thank you!  Secondly, I'm thinking of continuing to chat on this topic in hopes that...

1) ...more and more of you would know you're not alone.

2) ...in ripping this thing open, and shining some light on the situation, we'll beat the enemy at his own game.

3) ...we can share some ideas and strategies with each other and learn from each others' struggles.  I'm guessing we're better off fighting together!

I almost titled this post "The Battle Against Panic + Anxiety," but quickly remembered how crazy LONG the struggle has seemed - two steps forward, one step backward, good days, hard days, and horrible days when I've felt completely defeated.  Instead, I think it's probably better to look at this whole ordeal as a drawn-out war - filled with many battles, some won, some lost...  But, all the while knowing the overall sure + sound victory is coming, despite some ground lost here and there.

And, speaking of victory...  I am not a victim.  Don't get me wrong - there are plenty of days I feel like a victim to panic.  Many times I feel like the suffering will never leave and that it will be my lot in life.  I feel like I will eventually be utterly defeated and lose my mind to anxiety - until I will no longer be able to care for my family or do ministry or feel joy ever again.

But those are ridiculous and horrible lies from the pit of hell.  The sooner and quicker I can reject them as such, the quicker I can stand my ground - the ground the Lord has given to me.

I am not a victim.  God is for me.  Trouble and hardship and persecution will not separate me from His love.  Though I face fear and death all day long, I am more than a conqueror through Him who loves me.

In all of this, I have been reminded and encouraged to let my language reflect this.  Once, in venting a bit, a friend caught me saying, "My anxiety is making it tough..."

My anxiety?  As if I am content in owning the panic?  Embracing it and calling it mine?  Identifying myself with it?  Affirming that it is an integral part of who I am as a person?  Table for two?!

No thank you.

Sure, I struggle with panic, but I will war against it, taking the offensive and believing in ultimate victory and freedom.

Before I end this post, I want to reiterate that I am not writing as someone who has this all figured out.  I know panic and anxiety can take on many forms, have roots in many different things, and can be a completely different and unique experience for every individual.  I'm not sure if what I'm saying will resonate in any way with your personal struggle, but again - just know you're not alone in the war against...  If nothing else, I hope you'll find more courage and space to be vulnerable in sharing your journey - and story - with the world.

And, about courage...  In my life, courage doesn't mean I don't cry and fall down and fail and get really dirty and messy.  Courage isn't super glamourous.  Even if I lose some ground and feel defeated today, it just means I'm committing to try again tomorrow.  I'll try again to choose truth in the next five minutes, and I'll try to stand back up and wield my sword once more.

I know the battle is absolutely exhausting, friends, but it's still worth fighting.  Take courage!
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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Toy Rotation + Organization that WORKS


You guys.  I finally found a toy organization system that works for us.  

Please cue the light bulb ding and some “aha” beams of heavenly light…

I have always been annoyed by the millions of toys scattered around every nook and cranny of my house, but lately it’s reached a new level of horrible.  The older the kids get, the MORE toys we obtain and the more TINY PIECES they have.  
This is been a really pressing issue because of two things…

Do you remember that scene in Home Alone?  With the matchbox cars on the steps?  Yes.  Yes you do.  And you know what happens.  Serious, practically life-threatening injury.  

I like to think my children are appropriately sheltered for their age.  We don’t watch scary movies and we monitor their screen time.  We are careful about the things we say in front of them.  But let me tell you.  When you are on a mission to get out of the house in a hurry and you step on Queen Elsa’s tiny but extremely sharp crown with your bare feet…  Words come out.  They come out of your mouth without any filters.  And then suddenly, my kid is the one at preschool that teaches all the other sweet, innocent children what the s-word really is.  AND, I am a pastor’s wife, so there’s that…

As you can see, toy organization has been a real priority for me.  I haven’t the slightest clue if this same strategy will work for you, but I will pray for your “aha” moment in toy organization all the same, because, let’s face it… Toy organization changes lives, friends. 

First off, STORE MOST OF THE TOYS.  A handful of takeaways in this category...


1) Store toys in drawers, if at all possible.  At first, I bought cheap stacking tupperware from Wal-Mart with lids, hoping to save a buck, but found out quickly it wasn’t worth it.   Stacking tupperware with lids means unstacking, restacking, messing with millions of lids and, overall, lots of hassle.  Drawers make for quick and easy clean up!  

2) I store at least 3/4ths of our toys.  The more toys I have out and accessible, the more mess, and the LESS my kids actually see, notice and play with them.  And, you guessed it - the LESS toys I have out, the LESS mess and the MORE my kids stay occupied and interested in playing with them.  Rotating toys also helps a lot, but I will cover rotations more in depth in a little bit.  Please hold.


3) Don’t label the drawers.  I know this will drive some of you nuts-o, but for me, it works.  I am constantly reworking drawers, so a NO label system promotes flexibility.  Case in point: A month ago, I devoted a tiny drawer to some of Will’s Daniel Tiger toys, but after Charlotte and his birthday, we were gifted several more Daniel Tiger-themed toys.  Because I didn’t have labels to mess with, I could easily switch up some drawers and opt for a bigger one.  Now that I think about it, it probably helps that my drawers as see-through, so even without labels, I can pretty quickly see what’s inside at a glance.

4) Lock those toys up!  Pretty early on, my kids realized I was storing most of their toys and got curious while I was busy doing something else.  I should have known.  I came back and saw every tiny piece and toy scattered throughout the whole toy room.  And, of course, they weren’t PLAYING with the toys, they were just having fun THROWING the toys and emptying out every blessed drawer.  I bought cheap locks at Wal-Mart and never looked back.  Bam.


And now, TOY ROTATION...

As I mentioned earlier, I store about 3/4th of our toys.  25% of our toys are rotated in and out for the kids to actively play with.  I don’t really have much of a system for this - it’s not really rocket science.  About every couple of months - either when I have the time or when the kids seem to be getting bored with their current toy selection - I go down to the basement, put the “old” toys away and bring out “new” ones.  


It’s so fun for the kids to have “new” toys out.  I always look forward to the first couple of days after toys have been freshly rotated - they play so well independently and are so excited.  It’s like Christmas morning!  The toys really seem completely NEW to them, even if they’ve played with them last just a month ago.  Hooray for short-term toddler memory!  
I have four “areas” I rotate toys into.  



  • Large basket for free-play toys.  These are the bigger toys that the kids play with and clean up independently.  Bigger tractors, Charlotte’s dolls, balls, stuffed animals, etc.  There are no small pieces and no need for categorization.  Just dump them all in together and let the kiddos help themselves.
  • Book basket.  This basket usually includes some of our own books and a handful of library books.  Because my kids are still young and hard on books, I usually only include BOARD books in this area.  Again, these are books they help themselves to and usually read/look at independently.
  • Chest of drawers for small piece toys + special activities.  These drawers are where I rotate smaller bins full of smaller-pieced toys.  Sets of magnet dolls, sets of cars or construction vehicles, Daniel Tiger play sets and figurines, sets of blocks or shape sorters, etc.  This is also where I keep puzzles, play-dough sets, any sensory bins, games, and art supplies.  Overall, these drawers store things that need a little bit of guidance or assistance.  The kids ask for “special” toys, and it’s extra fun to pull out a new playset or bin day-to-day.  I stash another basket of regular books (books with paper pages vs. board books) in our closet too.  These are books we read together, or they play with and look at while I’m around.  This seems a little over-controlled, but I am SICK of paying for ripped books at the library.  My kids are crazy.  I’m telling you.

  • Toy room.  Our toy room is in our basement and is just a more “free for all” area to play.  I usually rotate some centers and small groups of toys here, too, but am not as worried about organization.  It’s usually messy, and we leave it that way and shut the door.





Phew.  That was a lot.  It was a long time coming, but I’m so glad I found something that works for us.  What works for you?  Have you found any tried and true ways to organize and strategize your kids’ toys?


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Friday, January 6, 2017

Coffee with Charlotte


Mark had Christmas Eve through New Year's Day off this year, so we decided to make the most of it. We've checked so many things off our Winter Bucket List already!  Saturday, we decided to make a trip to Sioux City to do some shopping and spend a few hours at the children's museum.

While Will went with Mark to Menards' to have some dude time, Charlotte and I went to TARGET.  

(Otherwise known as the best place on earth - especially since they added a Starbucks. Praise You, Jesus.)


Will and Daddy took longer at Menards' than we did at Target (please mark that down in history and remember it forever), so Charlie and I had some time to kill.

Coffee date, here we come!


This was her very first Starbucks drink, and it was a little against my better judgment, knowing the sugar high she'd be on the rest of the afternoon, but #yolo, guys.

You should have seen her eyes when I handed her that red cup...

Suffice it to say, it ranks in my top twenty LIFE moments.


One lady in line smiled at her and said, "hi."  Charlotte proceeded to tell her that she got some "hot kock-litt" with mama and that it was "berry tasty."

"Dis my coffee, Mama!  Wook!"


I can't remember spending $3.00 and having as much fun.  Hopefully this will be the first of many Starbucks runs with my gal pal.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Star Wars Play Dough Kit


The day I worked on this kit and eventually took its pictures was the same day we all found Carrie Fisher had died.  It seems a little more fitting and special now, knowing hours of fun will be had in her memory.

I never really followed her personal life, however I did gather, over the years, that she was insecure, mentally ill, and a little crazy - but never afraid to speak out about it.  To me, this means she was brave and bold, endearing and approachable, and always beautiful.  

Oh, Carrie...  We will miss you.  You're my very favorite princess.


I would also like to say I am a little miffed at how hard it is to come by a Leia action figure.  We love Playskool's Galactic Heroes series, but all the Leias seem to be really rare and, like, ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS.  Are you kidding me?!

I'm no feminist, but for heaven's sake, do us all a favor, and make more Leia action figures, Playskool. 




No surprise, but this kit was heavily inspired by Mama Papa Bubba again.  Gosh, I love that blog.  Spend two minutes perusing her posts, and you won't be able to STOP yourself from making play dough creations.


I had three little mini-themes going on here...

Galaxy/Space - Black dough with glitter and confetti stars...  Also, glow in the dark stars and the Millennium Falcon to play with.

Tatooine - Plain, non-colored play dough with some play sand added...  Also, some rocks and Luke Skywalker.

Forest Moon of Endor - Green play dough with some green glitter...  Also, plastic trees and Han.  This would have been even more perfect if I'd have had Ewok action figures, but alas, Han was influential on this planet in taking down the shield generator.  Good enough!


My sister was getting rid of some Darth Vader and Storm Trooper Easter Eggs, so I threw those in, along with some thematic cookie cutters (Circle (for a planet, maybe?), a star, and a tree (for Endor, obvs.)



This has been our absolute favorite kit thus far, by a landslide.  So. Much. Fun.


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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Monkeys Jumping On the Bed


Slumber Party night at our house means pulling Mama + Daddy's bed out of the back bedroom and out onto the living room floor.  It also means lots of jumping on the bed in your superhero cape and lots of giggles.


We are a jump-on-the-bed kind of family.  We are also a throw-the-couch-cushions-all-over-the-floor sort of family.  We like it that way.


Our family slumber party night was great.  Jumping on the bed, giggles for an hour, leftover peppermint stick ice cream, Ice Age with the kids, hours of family cuddles, and Star Wars for Mama + Daddy.


Another Bucket List adventure on the books.  Boom, baby.

And MAJOR yeses to monkeys jumping on the bed.



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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Princess Play Dough Kit


I love making new sensory kits.  It's the best thing ever.  EVER.

I rotate new ones about 3-4 times a year - somewhat seasonally, but really, whenever I have the time and creative space.  Though the themes thus far have been fairly gender neutral, I decided to make a really girly Princess kit for Charlotte and a Star Wars kit for Will this winter.  

Because, come on, winter is hard with toddlers.  And the more options we have for inside play, the better.


Most of my kits are inspired heavily by Pinterest and especially the Mama Papa Bubba blog - this one is no different!  One piece of advice here, though...  Let Pinterest and blogs inspire, but then shop your house, and use what you already have on hand.  From there, fill in gaps with approachability.  

For me, this meant not making my own sparkle dough - especially when it was so cheap on Prime and the holidays were busy.  This also meant making use of some princess "littles" my mom had given me a few years ago, and some used jewels my sister was getting rid of.

I have been including some sort of pipe cleaner in just about every kit for a while - I've been amazed at what toddlers can do with them!  They're especially fun to stick in play dough to make antennas, trees, arms and lots of other creative things.  I have no idea what they will use these sparkle pipe cleaners for, but I'm sure they'll be put to good use.  


I also throw in large popsicle sticks in the majority of our kits because my kids like to use them as cutters or knives and for prying play dough out of the containers.  The rolling pins came in an old Melissa + Doug kit that has more than paid for itself over the last couple of years.


Again, I purchased pre-made dough for this kit, but Mama Papa Bubba blog has some great recipes and ideas for making your own!  There'd really be no need for this many colors, either.  Two or three usually keep our kiddos busy!


I hope Charlotte squeezes hours and hours out of this sparkly little kit this winter.  I'd love to hear from you!  What fun ideas are you using for inside play this season?
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