Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Counting the Real Blessings of Gratitude

Katy, Clare's little sister guest posting again. I told Clare I wanted to guest post this week because I'm a research assistant in a psychology lab that studies gratitude and November seemed like the most appropriate time for me to share some interesting tidbits I've learned about gratitude.

I've seen quite a bit of well intentioned pseudo facts about gratitude floating around as we approach Thanksgiving. I thought I'd share some real empirical facts about gratitude that go deeper than the fact that you have 28 easy Facebook statuses for November.

It is pretty easy to mock the lame people who post/talk/tweet about the world's most obvious things to be grateful for. They are nearly as irritating as the kid in Sunday school who answers all the questions with "Jesus", Jesus is good, but it can be nice to see a little depth. However, research indicates that people who are grateful for the big things like their health and family can more easily retrieve positive events from their memory than ungrateful people which increases the grateful people's overall sense of well-being.

These lame people seem to post the most trite and banal statuses imaginable. No one on Facebook, except perhaps your mom cares to see you sing the praises of your iPhone or Netflix. Newsflash, everyone else has those too. But Simple Sally, who is writing sonnets about the McRib, is actually doing something great for her positive affectivity. There is a plethora of new research that shows that being grateful for simple pleasures is one of the core components of happiness. People who can appreciate Candy Crush cope better when their dreams are crushed, because they are in the habit of looking for good in everything and it has become a cognitive reflex.

I'd probably unfriend someone who cluttered up my wall with such a dramatic status (not really, but you get my point). However there are two good things to be learned from this status. First, grateful people really are grateful for all the things. By consistently showing gratitude they have trained their brain to encode events in a positive way and to use gratitude to cope with the bad things in their life.
Secondly, this may come as a surprise, but you can fake it till you make it with gratitude. In studies where the researchers forced students to write down a certain number of blessings every day in order to receive extra credit even the students who said they did the activities purely for credit with no personal interest they still got a bump in happiness and well being that lasted for weeks and even grew in intensity.

Last, here are a few quick tips to train your brain to be grateful.

  1.  List your blessings. Every day just write/post/tweet/graffiti  a new one, even something simple, just try and not get stuck in a rut of only writing down "my family" etc.
  2. Write thank you notes. Showing gratitude towards others prevents feelings of indebtedness and inhibits narcissism.
  3. Be grateful for yourself. Think of your strengths and why others might be grateful to you, it's a proven mood booster 

 If gratitude research interests you at all I can suggest some great articles and books that are readily available on the internet (I'd love to bore you with direct citations and links, but most are stuck behind academic paywalls).

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

To Josie, on Her 8th Birthday

Dear Josie,
               I suppose maybe I should have started this letter with "Dear Jocelyn", because mostly that is what you tell people your name is now. It is funny that I am the mom, and I am not using your full name, but I suppose that is because somehow it makes you seem a little less grown-up. I wouldn't say I am dreading you growing up (I know the opposite would be much worse-*not* growing up) but it is coming faster and faster. The beautiful thing about you, though, is that you are not really trying to rush it at this point.

   Because if there is anything I can learn from you, it is about enjoying the moment. You were so excited for your birthday, but you didn't beg and plead for it to come more quickly. And today, you were your usual cheerful self, helpful and happy, without being a nag. I love that about you. Everyone tells me how happy you are-and I am so thankful that you are so positive and sweet. You don't let much get you down!

   And I know that your joy really comes from the Lord. You just can't seem to get enough of Him, or His house or the Word. You have a zest for all those things that is inspiring.Last week I asked you about going to breakfast for your birthday and you told me, "Mom, can we just pick up donuts on Saturday night, so I don't have to miss church?". You thrive on Awana, and Sunday School, and VBS- you would be there any time the doors are open, and often your perception of spiritual things amazes me. I am so thankful that you let the Lord have such control over your life!

   I can't wait to see what He has planned for you this year. Eight was one of my favorite years, so many good things happened in my life, and I hope that it is the same for you. You have matured so much this last year. You haven't lost any of your creativity or playfulness-instead you are really learning how to direct it. Watching you sew Barbie clothes from scratch was hilarious-you really have a talent for that kind of thing! You love to make things- and while I definitely don't love the mess, your artistic abilities never cease to amaze me.

    I am looking forward to seeing your relationship with Carson as it changes, too. You were instrumental in helping to lead Carson to Jesus-and that thought makes my heart overflow. You are a great big sister, (almost) always willing to play and teach. You helped him with a reading lesson the other day, and it was so sweet. You sometimes get aggravated with his people-pleasing tendencies, but usually you get along splendidly. I love your love for each other!

    I just really love you. I don't always understand you, but I'm glad that you are such a marvelous creation. I keep praying that the Lord will show me how to parent you just right-because you don't deserve anything less than the best. Your dad is so proud of you- he tells me often how much he likes you, and you know that is saying a lot. We both love you so much, and a day never goes by that we don't thank the Lord for you. I love you, my sweet Josie-girl. Happy Birthday!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

10 Minute "Thank You" Turkeys

       We started homeschool co-op this year, and we have absolutely loved it. The kids' teachers have been wonderful, and we are sad that the semester ends this week. I wanted a special way to say, "thank-you", but everything that I found was Christmas related. I guess we don't give "thanks" for our teachers? Just kidding-but I decided that I would come up with something on my own.

    Handprint turkeys are nothing new-I remember making them as a kid! But I made these different by layering my kids handprints, and adding a candle in the center. I was a little surprised that my 5 year-old has a hand almost the size of my 8 year-old (well, she will be on Sunday!), but this project will work regardless. You could even do it with just one child, and simply overlap the prints so that the colors will show on the finger "feathers". You could do it with more than two children, and you would have a really fine feathered bird!

Start by cutting out a handprint from the smallest child. You will want to overlap the prints to make sure that the fingers are spaced fairly evenly, and the best way to do that is to have the bigger children lay their hands over the other handprints to cover them.

      Jocelyn's hand is completely covering Carson's smaller handprint cut-out, so I knew that it would work when I overlapped the foam pieces. I tried doing their handprints separately, and the fingers turned out all wonky! One child splayed their fingers, while the other kept them closer. It didn't work well, this method turned out much better. Label your handprints if you are doing this with more than one child.

  Once you have all your handprint patterns cut out, you are ready to get started. You will need:

-foam craft sheets in your desired colors. I chose orange and brown for the turkey bodies, and then used a tiny bit of red for the "wattles".
-candles, I used "Glade" candles because they don't have any writing or labels on the jars, and they smell good.
-something for eyes. You could use google eyes, but I didn't have any on hands. I used stick on rhinestones, from Michael's dollar spot.
-hot glue gun, or if your children are doing this project (which would be very easy!) use craft glue or glue dots.

  Trace your pattern onto the craft foam. I realized after I took this photo that I should have traced Carson's hand first. Because you want the turkey's "head" to be brown, you will want the smallest hand to be brown. Cut out the print. Then trace the larger "hands" onto the rest of your foam in varying colors- I did Josie's in orange.

I free-hand cut a triangle "beak" from orange foam, and a squiggle "wattle" from red. Don't overthink it-you are just going for concept, not perfection! Stack your hands with the brown on top, making sure to place the top thumb close to the edge of the bottom handprint, so that there is no orange (or other colors) showing at the bottom edge of the thumb. That will make it look more like a head.

   Then glue your beak and wattle in between the top and bottom layers, and glue both prints together. Stick on an eye in the appropriate spot.

   I added a hand written note on the back that said, "Thank you for teaching my 'little turkeys'." I also added a snippet of 1 Chronicles 16:34, "Give thanks to the Lord". You could definitely write on the feathers on the front, I think it would like nice if you used metallic Sharpie, but I didn't have one, and I didn't think ink would show up especially well on the brown. Plus, I kind of liked the simplicity of the plain turkey.

And there you have it, a simple personalized Thanksgiving "thank-you"-because there really isn't a more appropriate time to tell someone you are grateful! This is a really frugal craft, too. 
It cost:
$3 for the foam sheets ($0.89 each at Hobby Lobby- although I had the red on hand)
$1 for the rhinestone stickers
$0.75 each for the candles (I purchased them with coupons at Target, but they are only $2.50-$3 regularly, and they frequently offer a $5 giftcard with purchase, so you can get them for around $1.50, or you could purchase something similar at Hobby Lobby or the Dollar Tree!)

I made 5 with my supplies, so the cost for each was about $1.50. I also included a box of scrapbook paper wrapped matches to make it even cuter. 

     It is super easy, just wrap the box with a strip of scrapbook paper, leaving one of the striking edges exposed when you glue the paper to the box. You should always be careful with matches, but be extra cautious with the paper on the box. I have never had any trouble, but it is easy to remove the paper if you are wary of problems! I attached a button to the top to add a little embellishment.  The matches cost an extra $0.20 so you will still be under $2!

    These are so simple, but they add a nice touch to what might seem like a run-of-the-mill gift. I actually timed making these, and if you plug in your glue gun first, it takes less than ten minutes from start to finish- frugal and fast? Sign me up! Hopefully it will make the recipient that you are grateful for extra thankful.

Linked up at:

Monday, November 11, 2013

Tips for Teaching Kids Gratitude

      I don't think my kids are perfect. They don't have perfect parents, so they didn't really have a chance in that department. However, one thing that I think they are really good at is gratitude. They are fairly thankful, and content in most ways. That didn't happen by accident, it is something that is very important to Joel and I and something we have spent a lot of time talking about and working on, both for the kids and ourselves! I think everyone starts to think more about gratitude with Thanksgiving coming up-and that is a great time to begin working on habits that are beneficial the whole year 'round. Christmas provides lots of opportunities for practice!

So, what are some of the intentional things that we do to instill an attitude of gratitude in our kids?

1. We model it. Of course, we try to say, "thank you" frequently, and express thankfulness for the blessings that we have. But we also do some things that are a little more subtle. Neither of us believes in lavish celebrations for our own birthdays or other holidays, like our anniversary. We prefer to do those things for other people, but my kids know that for Mother's Day I don't expect flowers, tons of gifts, a spa trip and dinner at an expensive restaurant. I request a limit of one small gift from each child (usually around $10) and sometimes Joel buys me something and sometimes he doesn't. Then we pick up KFC for dinner and usually have a kite-flying picnic in the park. We don't exchange gifts with each other for Valentine's Day, and sometimes we even skip our anniversary. That doesn't mean we don't have fun, and it doesn't mean that we don't make it special, but we try to help them to understand that extravagant amounts of money doesn't equal more happiness. Joel and I are really united on teaching our kids to be grateful.

2. We share. This may seem elementary, but the key is to help your kids understand that you don't just share because you "can't afford it". We actually try to never use that phrase around our kids-first, because I think it scares them, and secondly, it usually isn't true. We tell them the truth: we choose not to afford it. It may be because we don't need it, it may be because we don't want it. But we don't just share for monetary reasons. Often we ask the kids to share because it is good for their character. Yes, we could get them their own cookies, but it teaches them kindness and compromise to choose a cookie together. It also helps to eliminate waste- splitting a fry means that all the food gets eaten. They see their dad and I share regularly, too. And they get to see that we don't count out the chips to make sure the piles are "even". We try to always ask the other person whether they would like the last one. Sharing is good for everyone. I think it helps to avoid the "me" syndrome that is so prevalent in our society and helps kids to recognize that they are not the only ones in their world!

3. We "major in the minors". We make a big deal out of the small things. We don't always stop at Sonic for happy hour-which helps our kids appreciate it more when we do. We try to surprise them by occasionally allowing them to buy something in the Dollar Spot that they have desired for more than just one trip. The other day I bought a dessert. They were so cute, and didn't ask or beg for some, so I wanted to reward them-I let them split over half the piece. They weren't expecting it, so it made it more special.We try to give them little rewards, a piece of candy, a quarter for unexpected things, and often times we "ignore" some of the bigger things. I sometimes think that we start a little too young with "special" things- every Daddy/daughter date doesn't have to be at the most expensive restaurant with flowers at the door and a new dress. Sometimes a quick trip to Sonic for half-price shakes is just as meaningful-and it doesn't raise expectations sky-high. Is it wrong to do things up in a big way? No, but we like to keep our kids guessing. We try to not do "everything" "all the time".  Mixing it up helps to keep their expectations manageable.

4. We give back. We don't have a ton of money (seriously, who does?) but we like to do what we can with what we have. Again, we focus on the small things. We bring canned goods to the Awana food drive. We pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. We give to the homeless. And one thing I really stress is giving thank-yous. We try to remember thank-you notes, but I also like to help the kids prepare gifts to give, little ways to show their appreciation with an actual "something". It doesn't have to be huge, and a thank-you note is often plenty, but to make it extra-special, can you include a "little something"? A candle, nicely wrapped candy (even Hershey's kisses are great!), a little framed Scripture or quote, or something *you* would appreciate! My kids love to surprise their teachers (Sunday School, Awana, etc.) with gifts. It is really fun-you might find once you get started that you will start to look for ways to give thank-you gifts more often! Plus, it provides a great opportunity to talk with your kids about why you are thankful for that person.

5. We say it. To each other, to the kids, to everyone. I told Josie from a very young age, "it is never wrong to say, 'thank you'". And we still say that. Can you think of a time when it is inappropriate to express gratitude? It's pretty tough! Saying, "thank-you" is such a small thing, so we often overlook it. Don't neglect to tell your kids, "you're welcome" when they thank you, either. That lets them know that you recognize what they said. We say thank you to people who hold the door, the cashier at Walmart, the nurse at the doctor's office, to someone who drops off a package. We prompt our kids quietly when they may be feeling shy (the guy who draws pictures on the back of the receipt at Costco when he checks it at the door seems especially to strike fear in their hearts), but we don't embarrass them by chiding them loudly. Usually we try to talk about why it is important later, when it is just us.

   Most of all, we say it to God.

"Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts."
Colossians 3:16 (NIV)
He is the One from whom "every good and perfect gift" comes (James 3:17). "His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness." 2 Peter 1:3 (NIV). Who is more deserving of our thanks? We say it in our prayers, we acknowledge it to each other-"this or that blessing is from God", we sing about it. We encourage the kids to memorize Scripture to remind them of it. If you ignore every other thing-this is far and away the most important one, it will enhance every other way that you try to encourage them to be grateful.

So, what do you take away from this (other than that we obviously love Sonic!)? Well, you can't just expect kids to be born with a sense of gratitude. As a matter of fact, it is quite the opposite. However, start by being grateful yourself, and be intentional with speaking it and showing it around your kids. Encourage them to show their thanks in small ways. Don't worry, just be consistent, and sooner or later you will find you have grateful kids! And that will definitely make *you* more grateful.

Linked up at:
"Teach Me Tuesday" at Growing Home Blog 
"Titus 2 Tuesdays" at Cornerstone Confessions 
"Whatever Goes Wednesday" at Someday Crafts 
"Blog Stalking Thursday" at The Crafty Blog Stalker 
"THE Pin-It Party" at Not Quite Mom of the Year 
"Pin It Thursday" at Sweet Bella Roos 
"Craft Frenzy Friday" at Craft Dictator

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Easy Does It

     Sometimes, (okay, most of the time) I just want things to be easy. I like simple, uncomplicated, no-fuss. I do make exceptions (especially when it comes to party planning) but for the most part, I just want things to be easy.

   I like to make crafts, and I have some rules. To be easy it:
  1. Can't take more than about an hour (somehow I have equated easy with instant gratification)
  2. Can't require a sewing machine (mostly because I don't have one because I couldn't use mine, so I returned it!)
  3. Can't involve drawing or painting (other than just actually covering an object with paint-if you want the paint to look like something, say a person, I am *not* your girl.)
  4. Can't require anything that I can't find at Target/Hobby Lobby/ The Dollar Tree or a combination of the three.

I also have some rules about cooking. To be easy it:
  1. Needs to take me less than 30 minutes to put it together. I don't care how long it has to cook-in my oven, on the stovetop or in the crock pot, but I don't want to prep it for more than 30 minutes.
  2. Preferably it is cooked in my crock pot, because I don't need to attend to that in any way.
  3. It can't require weird ingredients-especially spices I don't keep on hand. Like coriander, or cumin. Or pretty much anything that isn't taco seasoning or Italian spices.
  4. It shouldn't require a thermometer. Candy, meat or otherwise. Those things hate me!
 I also have some rules about technology. To be easy it:
  1. Needs to have explicit directions that my 5 year-old will understand. It should not include any type of instructions beyond: copy this, paste it here. 
  2. It should pretty much be something I can do on my iPhone. See above. 
    Are you picking up on what I'm putting down? To me, easy equals proficiency, and clearly, that is limited on my part. I don't like to be out of my comfort zone, I don't necessarily like to learn new things. I hate to admit it, but it is true. However, that doesn't seem to be the life God has called me to.  And then, I read things like this:

"He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join Him in the work He does, the good work He has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing."
 Ephesians 2, roughly verse 10, (the Message)

      God's work is simple-but it is not easy. Getting up every morning, schooling my kids, being kind when I don't feel like, doing laundry, making dinner-those concepts aren't complicated, but sometimes they are beyond easy. And sometimes He calls us to even bigger things- weathering a serious illness, or death, working on the mission field, heading up a major project. And those are even more complicated! But that is when I have to remind myself: this is what I was created for. Maybe those things are not always monumental, but they are important. 

   When I consider salvation- it is so simple! Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. But it certainly wasn't easy:

  Going a little ahead, He (Jesus) fell to the ground and prayed for a way out: “Papa, Father, you can—can’t you?—get me out of this. Take this cup away from me. But please, not what I want—what do you want?”
Mark 14:35-36 (The Message)

    I will be honest- I had forgotten that I was searching in The Message (I use for my translation work, if you were wondering.) when I looked this up. And when I read it, it just blows me away. "Not what I want-what do YOU want, Father?". Oh, for that to be my heart. That I would quit longing for easy, and long instead for simplicity: to simply be what God wants me to be. Trusting that He will provide all I need- that instead of my proficiency, I would rely on His provision. Instead of my competency, I would trust His compassion. Then, I think I will be surprised. Because then won't it really be so much more easy?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Hospital "Busy Bags"

          I have the quite possibly the world's most boring medical records-I rarely see the doctor, I have never stayed overnight in the hospital (besides, of course, the birth of my children!) or had any type of surgery. I can only imagine what it would be like to be chronically ill, or to have a child with serious health issues. But, since I have a pretty vivid imagination, I can guess that it has to be pretty stressful, and scary and exhausting.

     And boring, in some ways. There is a lot of waiting, I'm told, when you have a loved one undergoing surgery or other intense medical procedures.  And while I can't necessarily make the waiting shorter, or less scary, I am pretty sure I can try my hardest to make it less stressful and boring! Remember the butterfly shower? The sweet woman it was for delivered the most precious little girl-one with some weighty medical problems. The little girl is having major surgery this week-and I can't really know what the family is going through. But I wanted to help.

    So I suggested to our Bible study group that we put together hospital care packages-for the family! There is also a not-quite three year-old little boy- one who doesn't really understand what is going on, and will be missing his mom and his sister while they are at the hospital for possibly up to several weeks. My group was beyond generous, and I wanted to share what we came up with-in case you know someone with a similar situation.

We wanted to provide some things for the mom while she was at the hospital- not just during the surgery, but also while she was staying there for the days of recovery. I figured she can share the snacks with her husband, although I don't know that he will appreciate much else! A sweet woman from our church made some excellent suggestions, she has a chronically ill child and really understands. Here is what we put in:

-nail polish and file
-fuzzy slipper socks
-snacks (she suggested food that could be microwaved or have hot water added, so we put in oatmeal and packaged soup, as well as pretzels, crackers, and trail mix)
-a book of word games and mechanical pencils
-a fuzzy blanket (sometimes those waiting rooms can be cold!)
-a small bottle of laundry soap (there are machines for family members to do wash)

not pictured: later the woman who made the suggestions added a towel (she said the hospital ones are horrible!) and some toiletry items. She suggested brown paper bags and a sharpie to label food with-there are often communal refrigerators, so it helps to keep things organized. She also said that a list of nearby restaurants that deliver would be helpful-especially since the hospital is over an hour away from our city. We included several gift cards for various restaurants- I figured they could use them while at the hospital or after they come home, but either way it helped out with a few meals!

We probably had the most fun putting together the bag for the little boy. I don't even have everything pictured-it was like Christmas! I think he will be able to be entertained for a long time. I figured he won't use everything at the hospital, but whoever is taking care of him during the days his mom is gone (his dad, or relatives) will appreciate having some new things to bring out to keep him occupied.

We put in:
-coloring book and crayons
-small picture book
-cardboard tray puzzle
-hand santizer
-Squinkies (little toy people)
-Play Doh (the round container in the back) that came with molds and accessories
-snacks (yogurt raisins, Go-Go Squeeze applesauce, perfect since it doesn't require a spoon, cheese crackers, fruit snacks)
-reusable/disposable cups
-Tummy Tickler drink- these are great because they are filled with apple juice and are reusable, and also one of the most spill-proof cups on the market.
-"army men" toys
-Play pack with stickers and activity book
-cookie tray, that could be used for holding snacks or coloring books, or playing with Play Doh. 

Not shown: fun mustache straws, socks, magnetic letters for the tray, and a bunch of other little things that I didn't have time to take photos of!

And I wanted some activities for him to do. I have been working on a "Busy Bag" board on Pinterest for a long time. My son is a little too old for most of them now, but I still like adding to the ideas. It turned out to be providential, because I found some great things to make for the bag!

I made:
-a button "snake" pieces of felt that you thread on a ribbon with a button stitched on the end. You cut slits in the felt and then the child can put them onto the ribbon. The button keeps them from falling off. I hot glued the angled end of the ribbon to make it more sturdy.

- "Pom Pom Stuff In"- I cut a small hole in the lid of a plastic container and covered the rough edges with tiny pieces of duct tape (so they wouldn't be sharp) and filled it with pom-poms. He can push the pom-poms in through the hole. The pom-poms can also be used with the number cards.

-Domino Counting Cards- I printed and laminated these. They can be used with the pom-poms or with Play Doh.

-Animal/Shape Matching Cards- I printed and laminated these as well. They can be used for simple matching or to play "Memory".

Not shown: I printed and laminated a cute "pie" activity mat from this site- click on "Pie Playdough Mat" at the bottom to download directly. You roll Play Doh balls for a counting activity.

I put each activity in a separate bag and labeled them with the suggested directions, that way no matter who is caring for him, they can help him to use each item.

I had all the materials on hand for most of these activities, and while it did take a couple of hours to put everything together, it gave a really handmade and *hopefully* thoughtful touch. I am sure the family has plenty to do with all the details of the surgery and real-life concerns, so I don't know that putting together bags like these is a top priority. We are hoping that they will know we are keeping them all in our prayers during this time, and when they use one of the gifts they will know they are loved.

Linked up at:
"Wow Me Wednesday" at Ginger Snap Crafts 
'"Whatever Goes Wednesday" at Someday Crafts 
"Wow Us Wednesday" at Family Home and Life 
"Pin It Thursday" at Sweet Bella Roos 
"Blog Stalking Thursday" at The Crafty Blog Stalker 
"Thrifty Thursday" at Living Well, Spending Less 
"Craft Frenzy Friday" Craft Dictator


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