Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Spiritual Thought: Live After the Manner of Happiness

Last Sunday was our ward conference and a member of the stake presidency taught Relief Society. The topic of her lesson was "Live After the Manner of Happiness" and we talked about what that statement means to us.

The part that stuck out to me was "after the manner" ... as in... there's a pattern to follow. The way to find happiness is not unknowable. That's why it's called the Plan of Happiness, right? So if we are feeling unhappy, we have been given a guide of things that will bring more happiness into our lives. Maybe won't cure the unhappy, but will certainly help. The ones we talked about in class were the primary answers (read scriptures, say prayers, keep the commandments, attend your meetings) and others like keeping a journal, expressing gratitude for what you have, endure with faith and hope.

It was a good lesson for where I'm at right now. A reminder that Happiness is up to me.
Choose to see the mess or see the happy. Love this printable from LostBumbleBee.
Side note: I turned to my good friend Ashley and said "My Plan of Happiness has two steps: cookies and then a nap."
Thank goodness for Girl Scouts.
Be happy, friends.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

End of the 20s

Awww... so cute.
It's a little Hans!
This guy turned the big 2-9 on Friday and we tried to make the day as special as possible.

We took Daddy balloons and cookies at work. Em was so proud to have picked out the balloons by herself.
These are the BEST.
Sweet baby was so patient at dinner.
We had an amazing dinner at Jack Allen's. That key lime pie was amazing!
Helping daddy blow out the candles!
We are so lucky to have such a great guy in our lives. Happy birthday!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Tot School: Letter C and Patterns

Happy Monday, Mamas!

A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of teaching our tot school coop for the first time. It was exhausting and, at times, frustrating, but it was also so fun. I love those sweet, curious little minds. It was definitely a learning experience for me as well as I figure out what works and doesn't work in a "classroom" setting. We talked about the letter C and patterns and here's our basic outline (and resource links).
Singing Time
  • Old McDonald - I brought in different little plastic farm animals (cow, sheep, horse, cat, pig). The kids each got to hold one and when we got to their animal they would hold it up in the air and make the noise. They all love the song, but adding the animals made it extra fun and helped involve even the ones who weren't interested in participating.
  • Who Stole the Cookies - We used the felt picture I had of a cookie and we sang the song and passed it from one child to another. They didn't know the words, but they all wanted a turn to have the cookie.
    • Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?
      Who, me? Yes, you!
      Couldn't be! Then who?
      {Child's name} stole the cookies from the cookie jar.
      Who, me? Yes, you!
      Couldn't be! Then who? {pass the cookie}
Story Time
  • Clara Caterpillar - This whole book uses words that start with the letter C. It's a cute story and Emma really likes it, but it didn't work in this setting. It was too long and they lost interested. So we read the beginning and the last couple pages. Hopefully they still heard all the "C" sounds!
  • Caps for Sale - This was a fun one for patterns! I used it in conjunction with the felt board and they could practice putting the caps on the peddler and the monkey's heads. We actually made two attempts at reading this one. The first during story time did not go well, so we put it away and came back during snack time and then they all really enjoyed it. It has fun motions for the kids to do (shake finger, shake fists, stomp feet). They all thought it was hilarious. Story Time with Miss Tara has the cutest felt pieces to go with this one. I did not have the time or skill so I just printed out coloring pages onto card stock and glued felt to the back.

Flannel Board
These are gold. I made one following this tutorial. All you need is a cheap-y canvas, some felt/flannel, and a staple gun. I found the canvas and flannel at Michaels, the former on sale and the latter with a 40% coupon. Just stretch it around and staple it on!
Words that Start with C - You can download my images here. The set includes cow, candle, carrot, caterpillar, car, cloud, cat, cookie, crayon, and cup. I printed them on cardstock and glued them to felt.
Basic shapes patterns - I cut out squares, hearts, triangles, and circles, with two colors for each shape. I gave each kid a shape and had them take turns bringing them up to alternate colors and make a pattern.
  • Color the letter C - Coloring is always a win. They all did so great with this. Download the printable from Mr. Printables.
  • C is for cloud cotton balls - This was a surprising hit! All I did was cut cheap paper plates in a letter C and they used Elmer's Glue to stick cotton balls to it. At first they would hold out the cotton balls and we would dab glue on it, but eventually we switched to putting glue spots on the plate and they just added the cotton balls. Either way, they really ran with it which was so fun.
  • Popsicle stick patterns - I found these foam sticks from Michaels and opted for them instead of popsicle ones because there were more in the package for a cheaper price, and they are soft, to boot! I printed cards from Learny McLearnerton (can we talk about how I love that name, too?) I only used the first page. The kids didn't use them at all, but they loved playing with the sticks. So we just let them do that and hopefully they got an idea about color and patterns?
  • Sticker sheet patterns - These pattern cards have spaces for the kids to match stickers underneath. All you need is some cardstock and those round, colored label stickers.
  • Cardboard bead threading - This idea comes from The Imagination Tree. It took a decent amount of prep work, collecting empty toilet paper and paper towel tubes and painting them. (Tip: I cut them first and then painted them. Dumb. I should have painted each tube and then cut). I spread them on the table and gave each child two pipe cleaners twisted together, with one tube tied to the end as a stopper. 

What I learned:
  • Use snack time to your advantage. It's the only time they are sitting down and being quiet! And they pay attention so well. It's great to bring the flannel board back out and re-visit an earlier lesson or read a story to a captive audience.
  • Have several different activities to try. It amazed me how some kids absolutely LOVED one activity and had no interest in another. Em and M totally loved gluing cotton balls, J hated it because it got on his hands. Lu and Linc were so into threading the beads, and L and J were coloring fiends (while M didn't pick up a crayon!).  Having multiple activities means that there will be something for everyone.
  • Take a few minutes (no more than five) to sit down and explain each activity to the kids, let them try, and then move on to the next one. After you've done them all, put them all out and let the kids go back to the one that interests them and interact with it in their own way. Some kids really gravitated back to the flannel board, while others kept coloring, gluing, or threading. They were all spread out, but they were all doing something.
  • Patterns are probably too advanced a concept for our barely 2-year-olds. It was a great review of colors and maybe a good introduction to patterns, but definitely above their heads. I just keep telling myself it's all about exposure and repetition over time, right?
After one month of tot school, I can truly say that we are loving it. We have gotten to the point where most of the mamas drop their kiddo and go, to run errands, tend to another little one, do homework, workout, etc. It's a great sanity break for us, and the kids are having a blast. The first few weeks there were a few tears, but now they are all excited to come and see each other and they are familiar with the general format (20 min. free play, clean up, 30 minute lesson, snack, 20 minute activity, end with more free play) and they are transitioning well from one thing to another. I love having the rotating teachers and seeing the different methods they try. I'm already excited for my next teaching turn in March! Let me know if you have any suggestions for the Letter I or Counting/Numbers.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Love list: Little pick-me-ups

First of all, nothing's wrong. So when I say that it's been a bit rough over here lately, I feel a little silly about it because there is nothing major or serious or anything. Just seems like a struggle to get through the days lately (mostly a severe lack of sleep, I think, for all three of us). So this week's Love List is a tribute to the little pick-me-ups that have brought a some cheer into life lately. Celebrate the little things, right?

So she found this old hat (from when she was like six months old), jammed it on her head, and started playing Angry Birds. Doesn't she look like the girl from Despicable Me? I love these little moments that just make me laugh.
Um, you know I have a Torchy's addiction, right? This month has my absolute favorite taco - the Scallywag. Soooooo good. I think I need to eat at Torchy's every day this month.
Zulily had Toms yesterday!! I got Em a couple pairs, and one for Hans, too. They were a killer deal, plus a had a $15 credit, making this a total steal.
My sweet hubby took baby duty one night last week so I could have a little girls' night out with a friend - pedicures and ice cream. Love this color!
The Nike outlet had sports bras 40% off... that never happens! Silly how excited I get about something like that. Also, tell me about your favorite workout clothes. What do you recommend? Maybe I'll hate working out less if I feel cuter...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

TFOT: On The Sacrament

Yes, that was my child. The one who dumped her 64 crayons and the metal tin they were in on the hard gym floor during the relative silence of the sacrament prayers. Sorry, folks.

That's why I was pretty amused by the topic of my lesson this week - making the sacrament a more spiritual experience.

"Really?" I thought. Most weeks my goal is a) actually make it in time to take the sacrament and b) keep the kid from having a meltdown and disturbing everyone around her. But a spiritual experience? That's asking a lot.

Yes. Yes it's asking a lot. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. This was an extremely humbling (and timely) lesson and caused much introspection and re-evaluation for me. I'm grateful for the amazing comments we had that gave me ideas for how to adjust and strive to fully experience and appreciate the sacrament each week.

(The comments were so inspiring and helpful this week that I am including as many as I can remember in my outline. They are indicated in italics)
The Sacrament and the Atonement By Elder James J. Hamula

Obviously, we are talking about the sacrament today. I read both these talks several times, trying to decide what direction this lesson should go in. I kept coming back to one quote from Elder Hamula: “The ordinance of the sacrament has been called 'one of the most holy and sacred ordinances in the Church.' It needs to become more holy and sacred to each of us.”

So I will use that quote as a bit of an outline for today’s discussion. First, we will talk about the ordinance of the sacrament - break down what it is and why we do it. Then we will discuss how to observe it more fully.

First, let’s talk about the wording of the prayers.

In the sacrament prayers, what are we asked to do?
Take upon us his name
Quote #1: “Speaking of this promise, President Henry B. Eyring taught: “That means we must see ourselves as His. We will put Him first in our lives. We will want what He wants rather than what we want or what the world teaches us to want.””

How do YOU take upon you his name?
  • Do not be afraid to call yourself a follower of Christ.
  • "With his name, you are a representative of Him."
  • This is our declaration that we BELIEVE Jesus is the Christ: Elder Hamula gives, in his talk, some background about the first institution of the sacrament ordinance. It was done at Passover, a meal that has previously symbolized the salvation of the Jews from slavery and death. Christ gave his disciples instructions on how the sacrament should be observed from that point forward. Elder Hamula says: In this simple yet profound manner, Jesus instituted a new ordinance for God’s covenant people. No longer would animal blood be spilled or animal flesh be consumed in anticipation of a redeeming sacrifice of a Christ who was yet to come. Instead, emblems of the broken flesh and spilled blood of the Christ who had already come would be taken and eaten in remembrance of His redeeming sacrifice. Participation in this new ordinance would signify to all a solemn acceptance of Jesus as the promised Christ and wholehearted willingness to follow Him and keep His commandments. To those who would so signify and conduct their life, spiritual death would “pass over” them, and eternal life would be assured.”

Always remember him
Quote #2: “As we partake of the sacrament, we witness to God that we will remember His Son always, not just during the brief sacrament ordinance. This means that we will constantly look to the Savior’s example and teachings to guide our thoughts, our choices, and our acts.” - Esplin

Keep his commandments
Quote #3: “Obedience to the commandments brings the power of the gospel into our lives and greater peace and spirituality.” - Esplin
  • "This is the ACTION we are require to do, the part that continues after we leave the church and go about our daily lives."
  • "This is the way in which we are able to earn blessings. It's an opportunity"

And what are we promised in return?

Quote #4: “Elder Melvin J. Ballard taught how the sacrament can be a healing and cleansing experience. He said: “Who is there among us that does not wound his spirit by word, thought, or deed, from Sabbath to Sabbath? We do things for which we are sorry and desire to be forgiven. … The method to obtain forgiveness is … to repent of our sins, to go to those against whom we have sinned or transgressed and obtain their forgiveness and then repair to the sacrament table where, if we have sincerely repented and put ourselves in proper condition, we shall be forgiven, and spiritual healing will come to our souls…”

Who has strong memories of their baptism, and could tell us about how you felt?
  • "it was just an awesome feeling"
  • "the water was cold. I remember that and then it brings to mind the rest of the baptism"
  • "I remember the interview and feeling like such a grown up. This was my choice, something i had chosen to do"
  • "just felt happy."
  • "i wanted to jump up and down with extreme joy"
  • "calm and peaceful"

Now I would ask, do you feel that same way after partaking of the sacrament? Why or why not?

Enabling power
Sister Esplin tells the story of a young woman’s leader who was doing a value project about taking the sacrament with more purpose. Her self-evaluation was actually making her feel gloomy because her introspection showed she kept making the same errors over and over again.

Quote #5: “But then she had a distinct impression that she was neglecting a big part of the Atonement—Christ’s enabling power. She was forgetting all the times the Savior helped her be who she needed to be and serve beyond her own capacity. With this in mind, she reflected again on the previous week. She said: “A feeling of joy broke through my melancholy as I noted that He had given me many opportunities and abilities… As I thanked God for the Savior’s enabling power in my life, I felt so much more optimistic toward the repentance process I was working through and I looked to the next week with renewed hope.””

Have his spirit with us
Quote #6: “After administering the sacrament to the Nephites, Jesus said:
“He that eateth this bread eateth of my body to his soul; and he that drinketh of this wine drinketh of my blood to his soul; and his soul shall never hunger nor thirst, but shall be filled.
“Now, when the multitude had all eaten and drunk, behold, they were filled with the Spirit.”
With these words, Christ teaches us that the Spirit heals and renews our souls.”

How has having the Spirit with you been a blessing in your life?
  • "it guides us"
  • "it helps us to overcome temptation"
  • "it brings us peace and comfort"
  • it's a method of communication. You can't receive the answers to your prayers without the conduit of the Spirit

Sister Esplin’s talk seemed a very straight-forward look at the sacrament. Elder Hamula’s seemed, to me, to take it to a more symbolic level. He looked less at the actual words of the prayer, and more at what they mean.

Conquer Death
Quote #7: “With torn and broken bread, we signify that we remember the physical body of Jesus Christ—a body that was buffeted with pains, afflictions, and temptations of every kind, a body that bore a burden of anguish sufficient to bleed at every pore, a body whose flesh was torn and whose heart was broken in crucifixion. We signify our belief that while that same body was laid to rest in death, it was raised again to life from the grave, never again to know disease, decay, or death. And in taking the bread to ourselves, we acknowledge that, like Christ’s mortal body, our bodies will be released from the bonds of death, rise triumphantly from the grave, and be restored to our eternal spirits.”

Conquer Sin
Quote #8: “With a small cup of water, we signify that we remember the blood Jesus spilled and the spiritual suffering He endured for all mankind. We remember the agony that caused great drops of blood to fall in Gethsemane. We remember the bruising and scourging He endured at the hands of His captors. We remember the blood He spilled from His hands, feet, and side while at Calvary. And we remember His personal reflection on His suffering: “How sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.” In taking the water to ourselves, we acknowledge that His blood and suffering atoned for our sins and that He will remit our sins as we embrace and accept the principles and ordinances of His gospel.”

Quote #9: “Thus, with bread and water, we are reminded of Christ’s Redemption of us from death and sin. The sequence of bread first and water second is not inconsequential. In partaking of the bread, we are reminded of our own inevitable personal resurrection, which consists of more than just the restoration of body and spirit. By the power of the Resurrection, all of us will be restored to the presence of God. That reality presents to us the fundamental question of our lives. The fundamental question facing all of us is not whether we will live but with whom we will live after we die. While every one of us will return to the presence of God, not every one of us will remain with Him.”
  • One thing we did not get to talk about because of time, but I wished that we had: The bread prayer asks us to do all three things: take on name, remember him, keep commandments. The water prayer just says remember. Why? Is it related to this distinction of one representing death and the other representing sin?

Let’s talk about this part of the quote: “The fundamental Question facing all of us is not whether we will leave but with whom we will live after we die.” What are your thoughts and impressions about this?
  • "It makes me want to try harder. I don't want to be left out. I don't want all my family members to get there and I'm not."
  • "It puts the responsibility on us. It is truly up to us based on our actions and the choices we make."

We have talked about why its so important and broken down the actual WHAT of what we’re talking about. Now the hard part: How do we make the sacrament more significant? Please share your tips and tricks.
  • "Come early/don't be rushed"
  • "Participate in the sacrament hymn."
  • "Pray while the bread/water is being passed."
  • "Read scriptures while the bread/water is being passed."
  • "Young mom tip: come prepared with things for your children to do during the sacrament - scripture books or pictures of Christ. Quiet things that focus on the Savior."
  • "Young mom tip: explain to your little one what is going on, step by step. Explain why we are doing it and what everything means. Repetition is good for them and good for you."
  • "Mentally prepare yourself: throughout the week, do the primary answer-type things like reading scriptures, saying prayers, etc to keep yourself in tune with the Spirit before you come to church."
  • "Focus your mind. Don't just let it wander but really reflect on what you did that week and what you want to do differently in the upcoming week."
  • "You get out of it what you put into it. If you're not thinking about what you're doing, infusing the ritual with purpose and meaning, then you're just eating a piece of bread."
  • One sister shared an amazing story from her mission. She was supposed to be meeting an investigator for church that week, but had a prompting to go sit with a woman she noticed sitting alone in the middle of a pew. During the sacrament, the woman shook her head that she would not be taking it, tears streaming down her face. This sister shared how the woman desperately wanted to be worthy to take the sacrament again. She pointed out that too many of us take for granted that we can partake of it and what it means.

Elder Hamula closed by saying: “Brothers and sisters, the most important event in time and eternity is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. He who accomplished the Atonement has given us the ordinance of the sacrament to help us not only remember but also claim the blessings of this supreme act of grace. Regular and earnest participation in this sacred ordinance helps us continue to embrace and live the doctrine of Christ after baptism and thereby pursue and complete the process of sanctification. Indeed, the ordinance of the sacrament helps us faithfully endure to the end and receive the fulness of the Father in the same way Jesus did, grace for grace.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Day of love

Oh, Valentine's Day. I'm just not quite sure how I feel about you.

But this year was perfect, so I guess I love you.

I generally feel like it's kind of a silly holiday. I don't think it requires grand plans or extravagant gifts. I think it merits an acknowledgement. It's a nice opportunity to show a little love to our special people.
My funny Valentines. This is what trying to take a family selfie really looks like... 
She at least said "cheese cheese cheese!" for one with mama!
We started our day with a picnic at the park. Stunningly gorgeous weather, a blanket, some strawberries and some pastries, and a ball. It was two hours of nothing to do but eat and play. Can we just live at the park?
She's really into strawberries. And really into feeding us. That's fun.
In the evening, we returned to a long-standing tradition we have - an indoor picnic dinner. We set up an air mattress and pillows and blankets in the living room, get take-out, and watch a sappy romantic movie. This year we did PF Changs (our kid can pound some lo mein!) and watched Beauty and the Beast. She loved it and I love watching her discover the films that I loved as a kid.
Daddy got Em an Olivia doll (that she has hardly let go of since) and, of course, a balloon. This girl lives for balloons. And this one is a heart! It doesn't get any better.
My sweet guy got me chocolates (heck yes!), roses, and these lovely stacking rings. Do I have a great guy or what?
Thinks she's sneaky eating my chocolates. Not so sneaky.
I can't take this holiday seriously. So I made him these glasses.
If you can't read it, they say "I love your stupid face" and "I am keeping you." It wasn't hard to do, just a little time intensive - I may have to do a little tutorial on how to do it, if you're interested. I filled them up with three bags of his favorite chocolates. I probably could have just done the chocolates and he would have been fine.

And Em got Daddy a new bow tie. I seriously love it. Such a stud.
Hope you all got showered with love, too!

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Importance of Play

90 percent of a child's brain develops in the first five years of life.

I have heard this statistic cited several times as a reason for structured "lessons" for little ones and as a reason for "the best" preschool and an early start.

Let me just start by saying: I don't think those folks are wrong. Man, toddlers and preschoolers are just sponges. It's amazing to me how quickly they learn and the things they pick up when we don't even think they are paying attention. Why would you NOT want to take advantage of that? It's a prime opportunity to instill in your child, at a very young age, a life-long love of learning.

But at the same time, I think there can be too much of a good thing. I think we can get too caught up in the metrics of learning ("Well, my child was reading Harry Potter by the time he was six months old!"), and I know that we (moms in particular) have a tendency to compare too often and get a bit competitive about how our little ones are doing. Heck, just this past week during tot school, a cute little boy was making me feel anxious because he knows his entire alphabet (like, not just the song, can identify specific letters!), colors, shapes, and can count to 10. And he's younger than Em. Who sings the alphabet minion-style "Do-bee-Do-bee-Do-bee-Do."

That's when I need to take a step back, smack myself on the cheek a little, and remind myself that it doesn't matter. My child may not know those things yet, but I know she is incredibly smart, wickedly funny, independent, creative, ambitious, and determined. So if she thinks all colors are blue and counts "seven, eight, seven, eight" over and over again, that's just fine.

And so I'll keep doing my little lessons with her, and I know that she'll eventually start singing the right letters of the alphabet. But I don't want to get so caught up in drilling her that I forget another crucial part of learning - letting her just play.

I saw this article shared across social media several times this week: Blocks, Play, Screentime and the Infant Mind (NPR). It's more specifically about the differences in brain development between watching TV and playing with blocks, but it got me thinking more about Play and why it's so important.

I'm no psychologist. I have no background in childhood education. I have no expertise to write on a topic like this except that I'm a mom. I can look at my child's eyes while she's playing and see the wheels turning. I can see her dumping sand from one bucket to another as she grapples with concepts of containers, space, and gravity. I watch her as she thoughtfully observes other children at the park, and then tries to make her body do the same motions to climb, jump, run, and move.

This week in particular, I set her up on the patio with an easel and some paint and let her go wild while I just watched.
She explored the way the paint felt on her hands (and face, and legs) and then how it applied to different textures - not just the paper, but the floor, the grass, and the dog.
She mixed colors, she used different arm motions to see the different strokes that resulted, she got a little distracted and went running into the yard to pick up sticks and grass and leaves.
And all the while she kept babbling on in her little language I don't understand hardly a word of, wanting to tell me about everything she's seeing and learning.
Was it a crucial moment in her childhood development? No. But it definitely reminded me how important it is to just have some free time. No agenda, no end goal, just an opportunity to let my little one explore and learn on her own. To let her play.
And those little fingerprints on my backdoor? I can't bring myself to wipe them away.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Let's go fly a kite

This weekend was perfect. Like, blue skies, not a cloud in sight, warm, nothing we had to do and nowhere we had to be.

So we grabbed a blanket and a few fun toys and headed to Zilker Park. It was Em's first time to fly a kite and she absolutely loved it.
She wasn't sure what was going on, but she was excited. 
She kept trying to grab it out of the air. I think she thought it was a lot closer than it was.
She liked the tails a little too much. We had trouble getting her to let go sometimes.
But she finally got the hang of it and it got up in the air!
"Look, there it is!"
Mama got in on the action, too.
And then she was done and I was still left holding the kite haha
Uncle David joined us and helped with the bubbles
She has to do everything herself
And, of course, we can't go to the park without a ball
Let's fly a kite every day.