Homemade Play Dough

When I was growing up Mama made a lot of my stuff and although I wasn’t okay with it at the time — because I thought other kids would think I was weird — my favorite memories are playing with the homemade doll closet, play dough and learning to cook. As I got older, life experience taught me about the things that really matter. I appreciate those things much more.

Since my oldest was in pre-school we have been making play dough (we have store bought sometimes too). Here is the time tested recipe that we use. It uses simple ingredients and today, we added essential oils to make it scented. It also doesn’t take very long at all and keeps her busy! Sometimes I let my daughter measure and scoop the ingredients for a bonus session for Fine Motor skills.

Homemade Play Dough

1 cup of flour

1 cup of water

1/3 cup of salt

1 Tablespoon of oil

2 teaspoons Cream of Tartar

Food Coloring (optional)*

Essential Oils (optional)**

1. Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan.*

2. Cook over medium heat. Stir constantly until mixture forms a ball. (It will be lumpy at first, keep stirring!)

3. When cool enough to touch, knead until smooth.

4. Let cool on wax paper for about 30 minutes. Store in baggies or air tight containers.

* If you want to make smaller portions of different colored dough like we do, don’t add the food coloring to the sauce pan. Then follow cooking instructions. Before the kneading step, divide into desired amounts and add desired colors of gel food coloring to each ball.

**Add essential 2-3 drops of essential oils during the kneading step.

Note: The food coloring will get on your hands, but if you keep kneading it will come off of your hands and work back into the dough. Wash your hands between batches to prevent muddy colors if there is any left on your hands.

COVID-19 and Writing (or, not writing)

close up photography of cows

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I’m sitting here trying to type words. I had a great idea. That is until it vaporized when one of the last 29 questions or 36 weird noises that my kids have made. 8-year-old girls and 14-year-old boys are weird. And I’m not alone much these days. It makes me realize how important solitude is. It’s not only best for me, but I can be a better mama when I am able to find it regularly. Or, if not regularly at least more often that I can. As my patience dwindles at the excessive plastic baggie rustling coming from the kitchen.

#StayingAtHome has taught me lots of lessons. I learned how to Zoom for the first time, I’ve learned how to practice therapy online and probably the most important, it has helped me identify concrete needs and set some boundaries. The first two, while not instantly mastered, were easy compared to that last. When it comes to identifying my needs and establishing actual boundaries with other people, I’m pretty terrible. I tend to push those needs further and further aside neglecting them for the urgent and immediate needs that face me as soon as I wake up. Think reheating that first cup of coffee 3 times before finally giving up on it. And for me, very much and introvert, being alone is critical.

My discipleship group leader was talking about her need for this. She said that it is even difficult for her to find solitude even if there is anyone in the house with her, even if they aren’t popping in and asking for something (else) to eat or fighting over the remote.

I realized that this is also true for me. When anyone is at home I’m constantly listening, smelling, scanning the figurative horizon for something that needs my attention. Mothers are wired that way. We need to be, but I also think about how the momma cows would go off grazing with the rest of the herd while the calves were left in the care of a younger cow or heifer. They would be happily munching in the best pasture while the calves would be up in the corner laying around or playing. She knew that they were safe and that she didn’t have to worry about them for a sweet, solitary meal. When she returned her calf would run up and start nursing, happily swishing his tail. She had had a rest, her bag had a chance to fill up and they were both better for it. This takes a lot of assertiveness. I’m bad at that when it comes to my own needs. I have to remember that their feelings might be hurt, but it’s better for all of us.

Some readers might be offended by being compared to cows. I guess there is some negative connotation floating around out there. But this is really none of that. Those momma cows are peaceful and they know what to do when they are drained and need a few moments to recharge.

Finding that time to recharge is more challenging now than ever. It’s already taken me 3 times as long to write this much because I’ve had to: pour more milk, go see what all the yelling outside was about (it was nothing serious this time), go find a child who had wandered outside, engage in a legal battle about how we aren’t getting the Barbies out of storage right now, and ask someone to be excused because drinking fruit punch is apparently an audible activity.

These aren’t even daily occurances. All this happens within an hour and there are easily twelve of those during the day that moms have to contend with.

So here are some things we have implemented and/or enforced a little in the past couple of weeks so I don’t lose it and blow gremlin slime all over the house.

  • Everyone eats at the table and we all wait until the others are seated to begin (this means that our son now fixes his plate very last)
  • Bedtime. Because I need to not see or hear them by the end of the day
  • Mandatory Recess. My words “Don’t come inside until I call you for supper.”
  • Limited screen time. This was always true, but my kids get along remarkably well when they are playing games or playing outside and fight like cats and dogs over the remote.
  • Arts and Crafts. This includes making play dough. Although I’m present for some of it, I choose projects that they can do mostly by them selves and that will keep them busy for a good while.
  • Insisting that they make their own food if it is within their ability. This mostly applies to our daughter. There are a few things that we help with, she’s eight. Like helping with a full milk jug.
  • Adjusting my expectations. I always add this and I’ve gotten more negative comments on this one than anything. But it’s true, I need to be able to set reasonable expectations for my own productivity. It’s just not going to be as good most days. And I need to give myself grace.
  • Being faithful to my need to get outside alone. Giving myself permission to rest and recharge for a few minutes so that my grace bank fills up and I can be nice to my people again. It takes discipline and assertiveness. Areas that are really hard for me. And if I take my own advice when my students tell me something is hard, “Well, we found something we need to work on.”

What are you doing to maintain your balance, whether it is connecting more or carving out alone time?

I don’t have much to say that hasn’t already been said on the internet somewhere, but if you stumble on this post today, I hope it helps you. I hope you know that you aren’t alone and that we will get through this and be stronger and better because of it.

In Christ,

Amber

Grace-Filled Speech

honeycomb insect bees honey

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“Gracious Words are like a honeycomb,

sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”

(Proverbs 16:24)

 

We all know grace-filled speech, don’t we? Think of an example, quickly. If you can, great! But when I read this question off the leader’s guide at my home group on Sunday, everyone was silent. No one offered a single example with context of gracious words. Maybe they were all filling the “quiet member” role in that moment or all being respectful and letting someone else answer. Maybe they were like me, imagining all of the ungracious things I say to my loved ones, all the ways I can get under their skin and cut the line of communication like too much ice on a telephone wire. 

 

As a beekeeper, I was instantly intrigued with a verse that I hadn’t noticed before. In the 16th chapter of Proverbs, I’ve probably skimmed over it a time or two. I remember specifically a day after staring at my streaking hair in the mirror, desperately needing to find that verse about gray hair being a crown of glory. But I wasn’t a beekeeper then, and I didn’t really like honey all that much, so to me, it didn’t hit home. This time it was different. Monday morning the silence and that verse were still on my mind. I did a quick search in my bible concordance to see how often honey and honeycomb are mentioned. I found two entries. Proverbs 16:24 and Song of Solomon 5:1. 

 

As you may well know, Song of Solomon is a love song, and is a conversation primarily between a man and his bride. It is filled with metaphors and euphemisms for intimacy in a relationship. Intimacy that would not be possible without good communication between the lovers.

My home group is currently going through a study about communication between married couples. As I was sitting there trying to think of examples of gracious speech that I’ve used toward my husband, I could think of way more times that I’ve nagged, whined or been cranky with him. 

 

But presented here in front of me was a picture of what excellent communication between a couple can look like. It starts in chapter 4 when the man compares his bride to a garden. This metaphor is extremely rich and deep in meanings from our relationship and communion with God and Jesus redemption of the church. The superficial (on the surface, no fake) meaning is the marital relationship. She produces fruit abundantly (think spiritual fruit here) and her gates are locked (she is pure and reserved). Then, she invites him in — she makes herself vulnerable and available. Which brings us to the opening of chapter 5 and the honeycomb. The husband engages in communion with her and gives us a look at her traits in the following stanzas of verse 1. He says she is spicy! I interpret that to mean interesting (but she probably smelled nice too). She is sweet (pleasant) in her words and her demeanor. And she is comforting and relaxing to be with. Everything about her invited good communication and intimacy in their relationship.

 

So I turned back to Proverbs with the bride’s image in my mind and expanded my reading to either side of this verse, I found what I was looking for in verses 21-23. “…Sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.”, “Good sense (insight and understanding) is a fountain of life”, “The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious (intelligent)”. The Hebrew words for “good sense” and “judicious” are related. This insight is viewed as God given and provided at his will. And then 25 – 30 provide us first with a warning to not overthink our situations and to value good communication so that we are willing to work for it. Then, we are given a concise list of “To-Don’ts”: 

  • Digging up evil
  • Dishonesty and gossiping
  • Picking fights
  • Negative body language

 

These “Communication Killers” are precisely what will extinguish intimacy and communion in any relationship. Conversely, vulnerability, availability, pleasantness and being relaxed and comforting will go far opening up lines of communication. 

 

Getting honeycomb is hard, hot work for the beekeeper and it took the work of thousands of bees to create. It takes discipline and dedication. Just like building and maintaining good communication in a relationship.

 

Challenge and Application

1. Read and memorize* Proverbs 16:27-30

 

2. Make a list of seven ways that you can open up or maintain the lines of communication with your spouse. 

 

It could look something like:

  • Don’t ambush them with grievances as soon as they walk in the door
  • Keep your topics pure
  • Be truthful, yet loving; don’t be manipulative
  • Don’t shake your head or cross your arms
  • Look them in the eye
  • Maintain touch while talking, etc.

 

Each individual and each couple is unique and will develop their own pattern of communication, so this list is just an example. It can be longer or shorter, and can include good habits that you already have, as well as areas that you need to improve. 

 

3. Pray with me, that we can use these verses as a mirror to see ourselves and create grace-filled speech that invites communication so that we can grow together with our spouses in Christ Jesus. 

 

Be sure to post some of your ideas in the comments so that we can learn from each other!

 

*At least memorize verses meaning even if you aren’t able to get them perfectly word for word. 

Confessions of a Packrat: My Organized Life

Magenta Mushrooms

I wanted to write this post old fashioned style first so that I could lay it out in a logical way. I wanted it to make sense and not dissolve into an rambling mess of words and half described images. But I can’t (ironically) find my notebook of blog post ideas and drafts.

I stand in the doorway to my dining room-turned-office. Most of the time I just throw the bill stubs and EOBs on the desk or other flat surface (aka a plastic tote holding more keepsakes) I turn out the light and quickly walk away, listening and slightly wincing at the soft cascade of paper that was the proverbial last straw to that stack.

My office it that room. The Room of Requirement. Only mine doesn’t disappear when company comes. And most of what is hidden inside will never be required again. Ever.

When I stand in the center of the room, the midpoint in the trail from the door to the desk, I can hear the ghosts of the past echo. Two actually, in a patronizing tone after I had been talking about making/maintaining a daily schedule for my kids. “Wow!”, they both said, “you must be really organized.” Their words sound patronizing to me. From my perspective they had never been to my home and seen mounds of laundry of all the kinds, clean and dirty, in baskets and on the couch, folded and crumpled. They hadn’t heard the soft whisper of falling paper from my office. They didn’t know about the sink and the dishwasher and the floors.

The truth is that in some areas, I can be very organized: Legal paperwork, recordkeeping and the like. I don’t miss regulatory deadlines, only library due dates and the occasional bill. I’ve learned those skills out of necessity of performing job duties and a little bit thanks to Abby on NCIS. She inspired me to make a manual for duties at one place I work. When I left I didn’t even really have to train the guy that replaced me. It was pretty cool. I’m sure nobody remembers it, but at least it’s a moment where I mentally shine my fingernails.

But no amount of self-loathing has allowed me to parent out of myself the overwhelming stacks of “important” papers that come with running a household. And then there are the school projects and coloring sheets and work that show my beautiful babies’ progress through the years. When I look through (and I do every few years) I get to relive the moments that so rushed by me, the ones I missed because I was stressed, working on school work, working 55 hours a week,  or forgot because I was just surviving. I think about how many moments I’ve forgotten and keeping those relatively few papers gives me the feeling of control over the time that’s rushing past me so quickly that I haven’t even had time to savor it. Living in the present is a very difficult thing to do, as it happens in several places at once and I can only be the one. in The End-All Guide to Getting Out From Under Your Office Crap, Jason Fitzpatrick writes that hanging on to stuff, for some of us, is fear of scarcity. I can say beyond a doubt that the majority of my sentimental attachments are due to the overwhelming realization that time really is scarce and will be increasingly more so as I get older.

clear glass with red sand grainer

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The conflict of this story is that I love beautiful things. My soul craves the peace of an orderly environment. The condescension that I hear in their statements is really from my own feelings of inferiority. I know how hard I have to fight my desire of sentimental attachment with a desire for a peaceful and organized home and my tendency to procrastinate the mundane tasks of filing and sorting paperwork.

Neither do I have the desire to dedicate hours and space to all those stupid EOBs and bill statements. I know I don’t need to keep them all. But I don’t have an industrial shredder just to process all of the mail we get in a year. I will add here that I broke my last shredder trying to stick an unopened envelope from the cell phone company in it. Turns out that 5 or 6 pages folded in half plus an envelope really is more than a small home office shredder can handle.

We are in the process of listing our house and ultimately can’t finish the process until my office is as beautiful as we are making the rest of our home. I’m not even going to start on how frustrating it is that we work so hard to finally finish our DIY projects just so we can sell rather than completing them 5 years ago so that we could enjoy them. :brain sizzling emoji:

But to rev up my motivation and inspiration to tackle this Everest of a room, I’ve rounded up a couple of posts with insightful and practical advice. Not too many because it’s better to get to work that sit reading about it!

The End-All Guide to Getting Out From Under Your Office Crap – Lifehacker.com

An 8-Step Guide to Decluttering Your Office Once and For All – Inc.com

I’m not sure if I’ll ever be brave enough to post a before picture of the office, but I will be sure to post one of the result.

 

**Our office is also where my sewing maching, papercrafting and knitting storage is. It is a crazy kind of place!

***We will probably use Jason’s method of pulling EVERYTHING out of the room due to that it is in our home AND we have to repaint the walls and trim going from the dark spice to the neutral gray that we have slowly bathed our home in.

Do/Did you have a Room of Requirement? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

True Love

I can still see him standing there saying those four little words. A simple sentence with eternal implications that I wasn’t old enough to truly understand. I can feel the passion as he would point at us with his thumb, his fingers curled, emphasizing the first and last. He would look us each in the eyes with the unspoken demand that we obey this commandment. Continue reading

It’s been a good minute.

I took an unplanned break. I meant to write. Really, I did. I had all these things to say and yet, somehow, weeks and months and a whole year went by. If I’m truly honest, and I will be with you, I stopped writing long before I stopped typing posts because I was playing that comparison game that I fall into so often. I, being my over-critical and over-thinking self, thought that what I had to say wasn’t important, or polished, or edited, or well-planned, or proof-read enough to put out there for someone to read. And so I stopped writing.

I have many unpublished posts, or skeletons and even more scribbles on paper, notebooks and index cards. All of them great ideas at the time and then pushed aside as I let Self-Doubt and Fear talk me out saying what I really had to say.

But I want to write again and here’s why. I miss the old blogs. I miss the friends I made and the realness of them all. The days when we just told our story without all the affiliate links and SEO and worrying about stats and who was seeing us (or not visiting, landing or otherwise spending time on our site.) I got caught up in the stats (I’m a sucker for stats). Ha! I just typed status, and maybe that was a Freudian typo. Don’t we all love status in some form or another? I got caught up in statistics. I measured the worth of my words by how many clicks and looks I was getting. And that’s really not why writers write. Not because we want to know that everyone loves our words. We do it because we have a story that must be told.

Just over a month ago, I started a new life job. I loved working with the older adult population in the setting that I was in, but that + all my other roles = me being really exhausted, sick all the time and a wee bit crazy. I’m working in a school setting now, summer looming around the corner and having the same schedule (roughly) as my own kids and it’s pretty fantastic.

My dream of writing and working and being a real live wife and mother is looking very possible and I’m super excited. And guess what? If you read this post and love it, great! I hope we can be friends. If not, that’s ok, there’s still room enough for us old-fashioned bloggy types. I know you probably miss those days too.

P.S. We are beekeepers now! We expanded to our second hive this last week with a swarm from the wild bee tree in our backyard so, I’ll probably mention that every once in a while too!

 

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Dyslexia and Sequencing

We were outside a few minutes ago. It was 10 o’clock and getting pretty dark. We saw a flash in the sky to the east. Then more and more. We came in since our yard has a track record of lightening strikes. Now, I’m sitting inside hearing the thunder roll in. I love thunderstorms, mostly. Less when they send 30 million volts into my big oak tree and flower bed shattering limbs, bricks and concrete. Maybe I’ll post more on that update to our landscaping later.

We’ve finally settled into the summer routine. I love not driving an hour round trip to drop the kids off at school. I love even more that they spend two nights a week at my mother’s. Bliss.

I suppose storms always make me pensive. Since I recall that I made a tiny list of things that I’d like to post about, and the first that my mind settled on was dyslexia, dyslexia it shall be.

I have far more frustrations and questions than answers when it comes to dyslexia. Even though my credentials say that I must have a wealth of knowledge on the subject including coping strategies and activities to improve skills, I feel dumb on most days when it comes to my own child. All that stuff is hard to put into practice when your kid can’t seem to do any of his every day tasks without getting steps out of sequence.

I’ve read that a lot of people think that dyslexia just means that a person can’t read. In fact, the word means reading dysfunction. Since most dyslexic kids struggle with reading on some level, and reading is the most visible affected deficit during school hours, the misconception is understandable.

The truth is, that not being able to read is just a symptom. It’s the result of not being able to match sounds with letters and not being able to get those sounds in the right order. Putting things in the right order = sequencing. Sequencing deficits affect every single thing we do every day. Everything we do from tying our shoes to fixing a PB&J requires steps that have to be done in the right order. A break down of those steps and you have peanut butter on the counter and the bread sack lying there open and shoe laces flopping getting the ends frayed as he walks back to the living room (against the rules) to eat his sandwich.

At school, kids with sequencing issues may have problems with reading, writing (including handwriting) and math. Yep, that covers just about all they do in school. All of them involve complex sequences of steps that must be done in the correct order, not to mention the classroom procedures of turning in works, going through the lunch line etc.

The answer to correct sequencing issues? It’s not as much accommodation as it is practice. And practice. And MORE practice. Developing actions until they become automatic just like a quarterback practicing throwing that perfect pass.

As a mom, I have to bear the brunt of all the crankiness that comes from asking for all that practice on things that he isn’t particularly good at. I mean, we like to do things we are good at. That’s a fairly common human trait. On the other hand, most of us get tired of having to constantly work on things that we are really terrible at. And, honestly, I get tired of having to remind the kid of the SAME exact thing EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. By tired, I mean the bone deep emotional exhaustion.

I don’t have and answer on how to ease the weariness that comes with parenting a child with a learning disability. Not a good one anyway. The only one I have is, I can’t give up today. And tomorrow the answer will be the same.

The thunderstorm is already gone. I wish life calmed down that quickly.

Where I’ve Been and Why It Took So Long

Today is the first day, in a very long while, that I’ve even attempted to write something coherent for the public to read.

In May 2015, 3 years and 3 days ago, I received my acceptance letter into that Occupational Therapy Assistant Program. The excitement of that day, dampened by my grandfather’s death a few days before, held nothing to foreshadow what school would do to hijack my life.

Not just me going back to school at 38, wait, WHAT!? Yes, I did. With 2 kids and the extraordinary help and support of my family — my WHOLE family. We ALL got me through that 2 years. We enrolled our son in Montessori School and now our daughter attends there as well.

For the last year, I’ve been working, learning the ropes of my new career.

I’ve missed writing. I haven’t written anything in so long that I was a afraid that I had forgotten how. But, just like everything else. I’m jumping back in. No planning ahead today. Just making a renewed commitment to pick up my keyboard again. And, oh does it feel good!

I want to take what I’ve learned on this sabbatical and share how it has helped and changed our lives for the better. Inside and out.

Some topics that I’m planning on covering are:

  • Occupational Therapy (what it is and who we are)
  • Montessori Education (especially the public school to Montessori transition)
  • Teaching Independence
  • Work, Life Balance
  • The Caregiver Role

My goal is to start conversations. I want to hear from you. I want to know what you think and what will help you live a more fulfilling life.

Post your questions in the comments below.

Pink and Purple Hearts

image

If life is about compromise this year has been full of life. 

I’ve said before that birthday cakes might be my love language.  My baby girl turns four tomorrow.  My helpful,  sassy,  thoughtful baby girl. 

I don’t have time to bake her cupcakes this year.  I can’t stay up until 3 a.m. making fancy cookies for her school treats.

She stood right beside me while I pulled the store bought sugar cookies from the package and piped fake strawberry flavored frosting into little heart shapes. She counted down how many I had left.  She cheered for me when I got done.  And then her eyes sparkled and her mouth opened like a baby bird for some of the leftover frosting. 

The grace and acceptance that this girl gives never fails to amaze me –even when I’m not living up to my own standards, or especially when. 

She really doesn’t care that she won’t have fancy cupcakes.

I saw Jesus in my baby girl tonight.  She accepted those pink hearts not because they were perfect, or beautiful,  or gourmet flavored, but because I gave them to her.

Jesus accepts our hearts,  bruised and broken that they are.  He loves us because our brokenness is the best we have to offer. Then he takes it and gives us a way to love others.

Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day: 1 in 4

psalm-100-5-squareI don’t talk about it much anymore. I didn’t even know there was a day for remembering pregnancy loss. It’s been a long time — twelve years, in fact. My days of remembering are usually December 26th and March 22nd.

Today, I saw a shared post that said that October 15th is Pregnancy & Loss Awareness day. But, I felt like today would be a good day to post since I haven’t in so long. I finally have a day off from school, though I probably should be doing homework.

Like I said, it’s been twelve years. I’m still a little sad after all this time. I think more than anything the time has allowed me to realize that the loss was more real when I was going through it. Sure, I felt it. I thought my heart had been ripped out. But it took years to see that there is hope even in the loss of a child. And even more years to finally understand that I lost more than a tiny life that I was carrying. Two lifetimes of daydreams and expectations disappeared instantly. That was when the grief came full circle.

The hope came, of course with our third pregnancy. Fear came too. But before that came a person who taught me what prayer was really supposed to be. With the simple gesture of giving me a slender pink book, she opened the door for me to tap into God’s grace, and freedom from fear. Just by reading over his promises and committing them to my heart.

The verses that I learned are still some of my favorites. Over time, speaking his truths changed my life… and healed my heart.

Psalm 137:3

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

If you are grieving a loss today, let me tell you, first, that you are not alone, and that you are not being silly or over-dramatic. Second, I want you to know that there is hope for healing even without all the answers. It’s OK to be angry and confused. There are people out there who understand. Find them.

I also want you to know that I’m praying for you today and that you are on my mind often. I understand your heartache — how your arms feel empty and how you wish you could look in your baby’s eyes. I want you to know that the love that you feel is genuine. Love is never wasted. No matter how small, love changes this world for the better.

I can’t make you any promises except one. God, Our Father, understands what it’s like to lose a child. He hears you when you call out. He is always listening. If you call to him, he will be there and with time, you will recover.