The Water Habit: Moving Way from Sugary Drinks

Last week, I wrote a post over at Babble where I talked about the fact that my kids exclusively drink water. A lot of people replied, saying that they had difficulty getting their kids interested in drinking water. I thought I would share what has worked for us.

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It's probably too late for the first tip for parents with school-aged kids, but I think what helped the most with this is that I’ve never offered anything but water as a drink at home. When they were small I had some concerns about getting into the juice-drinking habit. A part of this was based on the fact that I was raised drinking sugary drinks as my only form of hydration. I grew up in Florida, and my parents served sweet tea with every meal. Sweet tea was also constantly available in the pitcher in the refrigerator. Drinking tea full of sugar was what I was raised on. I reached for this drink anytime I was thirsty, INCLUDING BREAKFAST. It seriously makes me shudder to think how much sugar and caffeine I consumed in a typical day when I was a child.

I know that natural fruit juice is not in the same category as caffeine-and-sugar-laden tea, but I still didn't want my children to get in the habit of thinking that a drink needs to be sweet. Once each of my kids weaned off of the bottle, I started offering water in their sippy cups exclusively. In addition to not wanting to get them in the sweet drink habit, I also didn't want to be shelling out cash for fruit juice. I have a high value for kids eating fruit, and the problem with juice is that while it provides a lot of the vitamins of fruit, it strips it of the fiber, which is just as important. I decided I would hold off on buying juice, and to this day we rarely have it in the house.  Fruit? Yes. But not fruit juice.

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(I did not mean to have that wine glass in the picture, but yes. Technically there is some occasional “fruit juice” in the house, but only for me.)

I do the same thing at restaurants, only offering the kids water as a drink. I know some people might think this sounds stingy, and that's because IT IS.  I don't want to be paying an extra dollar when we go out to eat for all six of us to have a drink. But also, we go out to eat pretty regularly, and I want to stay with our water habit. There are a few occasions when we offer our kids sugary drinks like soda or lemonade: at birthday parties, when we are in other countries, or when we’re in an extreme weather situation where they need to stay hydrated. They know that it's a special occasion, and so they never got in the habit of begging for something other than water when they are thirsty.

I also send them with water in their lunches. Again, the juicebox habit gets expensive. Sending them to school with a reusable water container is better for the environment, and better for their help.  I send these to school at them, and we also have them available in the fridge at home.  Each kid has a cut in a specific color, and they can refill it themselves and store in the fridge so that their water is always cold.

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How do you deal with keeping your kids hydrated? Do your kids turn their noses at that water? Have you found any good solutions forgetting kids to choose water over other drinks? And what is your policy on sugary drinks? I'm curious to hear how other families handle this one.

Negotiating Screen-Time with Kids

How to negotiate screen time with tech-obsessed kids

It seems like I’ve been writing about screen time all over the web this month, and probably for good reason: many parents are figuring out how to maintain some balance with our tech-obsessed kids. This has been an issue in my house ever since the kids have been old enough to operate the computer. My kids are huge technology fans, which is no big surprise given the fact that they have two parents whose phones are tethered to their hands 24/7. I think technology can provide some great educational opportunities for kids . . . after all, I credit the website Starfall.com with teaching my daughter to read. At the same time, screen time that goes unchecked is concerning to me. I think that kids need a good balance, and boundaries have to be put into place to make sure that kids don't end up staring at a screen all day long when they could be playing or interacting with family. 

I thought I would share one of the tools we use for screen time. We call them “screen time sticks”, but it’s really just a token system to try to tangibly help the kids understand their limits in regards to the t.v. and computer.  In our house, screen time is a privilege, not a right. Each of my kids have the chance to earn screen time for the following day by being respectful and following the rules. If they aren't towing the line with their behavior, the screen time privilege is lost.

How to negotiate screen time with tech-obsessed kids

Each day, the kids have the opportunity to earn 2 screen-time sticks for the following day.  One is good for 30 minutes of tv time, and one is good for 30 minutes of computer/phone time. At the end of each day, we have a quick family meeting where we discuss whether or not these were earned based on the obedience and respect each child exhibited.  If they earned it, the stick goes into the jar for the following day. (There is a video of me explaining the system in action over at Babble).

The next day, the kids can redeem the stick with screen time. I set the timer to 30 minutes, and what's that rings, their time is up. It is simple but it works. When they decide that they wants to redeem their screen time, they turn their stick in to me.

Kids can choose to use their screen time together. For example, my kids might decide to watch a Jake and the Neverland Pirates episode together. But if they watch together, then all of the tokens must be relinquished. If they don't want to spend their token and another child is watching a show, they have to do an activity in another room.

Any symbol can work for this kind of token system: a marble, a star sticker, a laminated paper certificate . . . but the key is something that represents a child's screen time, and that they must relinquish once they have decided to use it. This is a concrete way for parents to keep things in check, and also for kids to understand limits.

How to negotiate screen time with tech-obsessed kids

Over at Huffington Post, I’ve got a few more ideas on screen time management, including using timers and the “clean before screen” rule. You can read those here.

(And in this video, you can see me admit that I’m not always perfect at this because, HELLO. I get some benefit from the glowing screen of distraction as well).

 

How to do negotiate screen time with your kids? Are you comfortable with the amount of scree time your kids watch, or would you like to implement more controls?

TALK BACK: How Did You “Do” Christmas?

I’m curious to hear how other people celebrate Christmas.  When do you open gifts? Do your kids believe in Santa? Do you have Christmas at your own home, or do you visit parents or in-laws?

Growing up, we did the same thing every Christmas . . . we drove from Missouri to Florida to visit my grandparents, and we opened our gifts on Christmas morning.  I remember having friends who attended midnight mass and opened their gifts on Christmas Eve. That blew my mind – how did Santa come if the gifts weren’t opened in the morning?

I didn’t believe in Santa very long. I remember asking my mom at a young age if he was really, and she did the classic, “What do you think?”  I’ve followed the same routine with my kids. In fact, I’ve never told them about Santa – anything they know they learned from school.  We “play Santa” but my kids know it isn’t real. Though I’ve given them stern warnings not to share that info with other kids.

Since we weren’t a big Santa house growing up, my mom always signed the tags on our gifts from random people. At first, she pretended the gifts were from whatever teen heartthrob we were crushing on.  I had many a gift under the tree from Kirk Cameron and Ralph Macchio in the 80’s. As we got older she also started signing them from boys at school that we thought were cute. It was equally mortifying and hilarious. To this day, she still signs some of the gifts from my ex-boyfriends. Or Brad Pitt. That was fun to explain to my husband the first time he visited for Christmas.

Mark and I habitually procrastinate the wrapping so that we are up until the wee hours.  We usually leave the big gifts unwrapped so that there are a few visible toys as they run out in the morning.

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Christmas morning, we typically do stockings, then make pancakes, then open gifts. We usually go to Mark’ parent’s if we are in town, though we often travel on Christmas Day. Fares are cheaper and it’s less hectic than other days.

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Of course, much of the day seems to be consumed by taking toys out of the packaging. I got the traditional Christmas packaging flesh wound this afternoon.

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How about you . . . how do you celebrate? Do you do Santa? Or do you do Hanukkah or Kwanzaa? Do you host or do you go to your parents? Does your family have any unique traditions for the holidays?

A Tangible Way to Bless Sandy Hook Elementary

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We all wish there was something we could do. More importantly, we want a way for our families to process this together.

The National PTA has shared news that while the students are away on Christmas break, a team of volunteers will be decorating the school and turning it into a Winter Wonderland so that when they return it feels fresh, new and different.

Isn't that what God does in our lives - His mercies are new every morning.

I am thankful for fresh starts.
New mornings.
The clear skies after the rain.
The start of a New Year.
Fresh beginnings.

We can help.

If you are a teacher, you and your class can make snowflakes to send to Sandy Hook to decorate their school.

As a family, create snow flakes as a family activity.

You can go old school and fold the paper and make the cuts. Or, you can go new school and use coffee filters or popsicle sticks, or whatever else you want to create.

Each snow flake will be unique, just like each precious student who has ever graced those halls is unique, and uniquely loved by God. When you are done - hold those snow flakes in your hand and say a prayer for hope and peace and comfort. Here is a tutorial for making paper snowflakes, which I found on pinterest.

Please send all snowflakes and donations to:
Connecticut PTSA
60 Connolly Parkway
Building 12, Suite 103
Hamden, CT 06514



Turn this MERRY into MIGHTY Christmas



It is difficult to escape the heaviness that lingers in the air right now.  The tragedy in Connecticut stands in heavy contrast to the "Christmas spirit" that 'tis the season.

I have a 6 year old son.

It's hard not to see his face when I hear the news and contemplate how this could have happened.  It's difficult for me to shut off the questions that come as I think of him ever being in a situation like that.  I cannot even begin to process the pain of searing loss if I were dealing with the aftermath as these parents are.

I am a teacher.

I am entrusted these beautiful children, these souls, to instruct and shepherd as they are in my care.  It is unfathomable to ponder a moment like that in my classroom.  Innocence shattered.  Fear unbridled.  Ugliness and evil screaming out.

I have prayed many prayers over the past few days.  Small prayers whispered under my breath as my brain tries to wrap itself around this news.  Prayers of gratitude for messy craft tables and sticky fingerprints.  Prayers of gratitude for "one more hug" at bedtime.  Prayers of comfort for the families experiencing this searing loss and unfathomable pain right now.  Prayers of protection for my own children and the children I teach.  Prayers for peace that transcend our understanding.  For, truly, this is something no one can understand.

The one thing that I continue to come back to is my favorite line from one of my favorite Christmas carols ("O Little Town of Bethlehem"):

"The hopes and fears of all the years 
are met in Thee tonight."

For the past two weeks I have been sharing this line with my students as we work on our Christmas art projects.  It is awe inspiring to me.  I think about all the hopes and all the fears from the beginning of time to the end of time, and I try to stack them on top of each other in the tallest tower that stretches higher than the heavens.  I then see Jesus, and he knocks it over and they crumble.  He came to be Emmanuel and to know and share in our highest hopes and the deepest fears.  He came to live with us the mess that is this life, and ultimately defeat those ugly fears.  He knew longing like we know longing.  He knew pain and loss and brokeness and ugliness.

The fears in that classroom in Connecticut alone are too much for my heart and mind to comprehend.  And yet, this Jesus, my Jesus, takes those, and the fears of the mothers through the ages, the whispers from the darkest moments of the Holocaust, and all the other crazy painful moments in history, and he carries them on his shoulders.  It makes the gift of the cross bigger today.  I cannot even sit in the reality of what that classroom must have felt like for longer than a few seconds - it is just too much.  Jesus doesn't walk away.  He doesn't say, "It is too much."  No - he walks towards it.  And more.  And he carries it and he defeats it.

The celebration of the angels and the stars blazing in the sky at His birth make more sense now.  Light in contrast to darkness.  The hope that arrives in contrast to the darkness that has lingered is just so beautiful.  I believe heaven shudders at these ugly moments in history.  It aches to see pain and darkness and evil.  That moment in time when the plan for redemption was put into motion - that moment when Jesus was born - that was the moment that heaven celebrates that an end to the darkness is near.

So, today, I pause to reflect on that beautiful thought.  That He came to cover the fears, and to know the hopes.  We still see the ugly because we are stuck in the now and not yet.  It is not yet perfect, but in the now, we can still see that HE CAME.  He entered this yuck, for the purpose of carrying the pain.

My dear friend, Tim Timmons, has written two songs that have become my soundtrack for the last few days.  They are Christmas songs and they are timely.

The first is his version of "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" with his own flair added in.
To listen, go here.

The chorus says,
"Rejoice!  Rejoice! Emmanuel, God is here.
Rejoice!  Rejoice!  If God is for us, we won't fear.
Take joy in the comfort of the Prince of Peace,
And joy in the power of the King of Kings,
Rejoice!  And, again we say Rejoice!"

The second in on the album "A Christmas Together", vol 3 and it is called "Mighty Christmas".   The phrase "Merry Christmas" is viewed in our present days as happy, jolly, twinkly.  But, "merry" in the old school language was more along the lines of "mighty".  Robinhood and his MERRY men were not happy men giggling through the forest.  They were MIGHTY men.  A force to be reckoned with.

This song is all about the need for this year to be different.  For Jesus to turn the merry into a Mighty Christmas.  For the hopes and fears and doubts to be broken by the power that is in Him.  If ever we needed a mighty Christmas, I would say it is now.  That is one of the prayers I continue to whisper.  That God, in the way that only He can, would show up for these families.  That He would bring mighty  peace and mighty hope into a very dark and broken place.

To play "Mighty Christmas", click on the play icon and it will take you to Tim's myspace radio page: Mighty Christmas
Here are the lyrics to "Mighty Christmas".  If you are someone who is at a loss for what to pray right now, pray these lyrics.  God is listening...

What if all of this were true?
Emmanuel, how God came through
Is this more than Christmas cheer?
Is this just a story, what if it's real?
Would I still be lonely,
Would I know fear,
Would my worry hold me
Could I be healed?

Crying out loud,
This year Like never before 
Jesus reveal a little more to my soul
Would you show me just how powerful 
You are more than a manger
Jesus the mighty Savior 
in my soul, turn this Merry into Mighty Christmas
Turn this Merry into Mighty Christmas

What if in my silent nights
You were enough 
You were the light
Angels saying do not fear
Is this still the promise?
You still come near

Meet me in my lonely
Tear down my fear
Hold me through my worry
And, Lord would you heal

Crying out Loud - 
This year like never before, 
Jesus reveal a little more

Would you show me just how powerful 
You are more than a manger
Jesus the mighty Savior 
in my soul, turn this Merry into Mighty Christmas
Turn this Merry into Mighty Christmas


Stronger than the weight of gravity
That whisper in my bones reminding me
Everything I'm not, and I try to be
You are


Meet me in my lonely
Tear down my fear
Hold me through my worry
And, Lord would you heal

Crying out Loud - 
This year like never before, 
Jesus reveal a little more

Would you show me just how powerful 

You are more than a manger
Jesus the mighty Savior 
in my soul, turn this Merry into Mighty Christmas
Turn this Merry into Mighty Christmas



I am wishing you a mighty Christmas.

Raising Awareness About a Rare Childhood Disease


Allow me to introduce you to Jacob Maren, a 13-year-old boy who's working hard to raise awareness about a rare but often catastrophic disease called Infantile Spasms. In Jacob's own words:

When I was six months old, my mom noticed that I was making these small, jerky movements that didn’t look right. She took me to my regular doctor, who didn’t think anything was the matter. But my parents continued to be concerned, and they brought me to a pediatric neurologist. On that day, I was diagnosed with Infantile Spasms (also known as IS, or West’s Syndrome). It was a terrible and very scary day for our family. 

Infantile Spasms is a rare disease that affects only infants, usually striking at about six months. Left untreated, the seizures become steadily worse, causing severe damage. Seven out of a million infants are diagnosed with IS and only 15% of them emerge unscathed. I was very lucky. I responded to the medication and the seizures went away. Most kids aren’t so lucky. Many doctors don’t recognize the symptoms of IS until it’s too late. And even today, because of how rare the disease is, there isn’t a lot of money available for research. 

 For my Bar Mitzvah project, as well as my Hero’s Journey project for 7th grade at The Washington Montessori School, I am trying to raise money through NORD (The National Organization for Rare Disorders) to fund research into Infantile Spasms. NORD has set up a page for The Jacob Maren Fund for Rare Disease Awareness. Today I am a musician. I play the piano, guitar, and ukulele. And I sing. I play basketball and tennis on my school’s teams. I am grateful that I can do all these things. I hope that other kids who will be diagnosed with IS will also be able to say these things some day. 

I met Jacob last March in Italy at the Sirenland Writers Conference, founded by his parents, writer Dani Shapiro and journalist/filmmaker Michael Maren. (In fact, Jacob was so polite to me in the elevator that he gave me hope that my own kids will eventually grow into some manners.) He's put together a music video full of information about IS, plus some gorgeous Italian scenery. I hope you'll take a look, and consider donating to his charitable fund. Jacob hopes to use the proceeds to get more information about this scary but treatable syndrome into the hands of pediatricians.

Last Minute Mother's Day Gift Ideas -- Think Fair Trade



It's almost Mother's Day, and if you're still shopping (or suspect that your spouse or kids haven't quite wrapped up your gift yet) take a look at the socially responsible Mother's Day Gift Guide over at Fair Trade USA. This nonprofit certifies  and promotes products that support fair wages and better lives for millions of farmers and workers in more than 70 countries worldwide. Whether you pamper mom with breakfast in bed or a bouquet of roses, you can show that you believe that "Every Mother Matters" by buying Fair Trade food and products.



Women who work on Fair Trade Certified farms and in Fair Trade factories are guaranteed access to healthcare and maternity leave. They are given opportunities to earn a decent living, work in safe conditions, invest in their own homes, and take on leadership roles in their cooperatives and communities. When you choose a chocolate bar, bouquet of roses, bottle of wine, or yummy-smelling lotion bearing the Fair Trade logo, you can feel confident that you're helping women and families.

If you live near a Whole Foods Market, you can find plenty of Fair Trade Certified flowers, chocolates and beauty products for mom there, along with Fair Trade coffee, tea and more for a Mother's Day brunch. If Target is more your speed, consider grabbing a bottle of Wandering Grape wine -- not only is this winemaker Fair Trade, their 2008 Malbec Merlot received 88 points from the Beverage Testing Institute!

For more great gift ideas and online shopping resources, jump over to Fair Trade USA's gift guide. 

If you're interested in seeing how Fair Trade helps women and families around the world, take a couple of minutes to watch this video. Maybe even watch it with Mom.



Eliminate & Concentrate





I recently got to hear an amazing woman, Anne Ortlund, share her thoughts on navigating life well with a group of women. Anne is definitely in her "golden years", and I don't know about you, but when I have the opportunity to listen to someone share about living life well who has lived a lot of life, I lean forward and really listen. She had so many morsels of wisdom to give us. But one thing she talked about has really stuck with me.

She was talking about managing time and she said her two favorite words to implement in time management are "eliminate" and "concentrate".

These two words are gnarly. They are weighty. I feel like they belong in a board room. They sound strong and definitive and driven, don't they? They are not wishy washy or touchy feely.

And, I am trying to apply them to my life and love the direction they give me.



I know that there are things in my life that need to be eliminated.

Straight up.

There are a few places that I see this word doing surgery on my life.

In how I spend my time, and how our family spends our time. There is a whole vortex around me sucking me and my time towards it. I am a people-pleaser and a do-er, which means that I want to say yes to everything because number one, I don't want to hurt your feelings or upset you, and number two, I like doing things. But, when I say yes to everything, I end up doing nothing well. And, I end up frazzled, frustrated, bitter and ill. Yes, ill. My body has been pushed to the breaking point far too many times for me not to own that I do damage to my physical body when I take on too much.

I need to eliminate.

I also see this in my kids' lives. They have countless involvement opportunities as well. They are in school and have homework. They are invited to play dates and birthday parties. They can do brownies, cub scouts, be in school plays, play soccer, football, baseball, swim team, water polo, tennis, golf, dance, gymnastics, music lessons, choir... The list could go on and on. And, hear me when I say this - they are 6 and 8.

I want my children to be active.

I want my children to try hobbies and sports and find what they are good at.

But, more importantly, I want them to be peaceful, humble and to live in a family environment that is not frenzied and frazzled and out of control. These are all "good things" - who doesn't want their kids to play the sports that the kids are around them are playing? I have heard the saying "good is the enemy of best" so many times recently and my soul knows this well. When my children and involved in too many "good" things, the BEST for our family is sacrificed over and over and over. It is easy to say that we will be a "one or two sport" family but more difficult to stick to those guns when all the kids around you are playing multiple sports and you feel like your children will be left behind and made fun of for being the only ones who cannot throw a basketball right. But, I have to step back, focus and remember what my long-term values are for these little humans.

I need to eliminate.

I also see the need to eliminate in where I let my heart go. This may sound really, really crazy to a lot of people, but I have learned that Facebook is not for me. I have no judgement for those who love this corner of social networking, but FOR ME, I have learned that Facebook does wacky things to my emotions. Aside from the general "time vacuum" that it always ended up being, I found that Facebook pretty much left me in a very melancholy place.

I would log on to catch up with the happenings in my friends lives and I would log off feeling like I was out of the loop on far too many happenings (excluded from events that I really did not expect to be invited to, but seeing all the people tagged in the photos and the list of comments that praised how epic it was left me feeling lonely), not funny enough (other people have so many likes and comments on their status updates), like my family doesn't have as much fun as everyone else (everyone else is posting photos of their AMAZING moments from their day), and just generally discontent.
My purpose in going onto Facebook was to feel connected and I would always leave feeling more disconnected and just a bit angsty (totally a word). I had to learn that Facebook is not for me. I still have an account that I can use to message people, but I rarely, rarely go on there. This little life shift has served me well. It was truly the best for me.

Am I completely anti social networking in general? No. I would buy stock in pinterest tomorrow if I could. And, I have even seen that Facebook and other social networking sites have been used for a ton of good in a lot of ways. I do have some pretty big concerns for what all of this means for our kids and our society. I feel like people are losing an important part of human interaction, which is face to face connection. I feel like there is something to looking in a friend's eyes and just knowing that they are having a tough day and digging a little deeper to make sure they are ok. I feel like Facebook and Twitter can make us a little too ego driven sometimes. I mean, should all of our followers really care about where we had lunch? Should we even take the time to post that? Why are we posting that? Would that time be better spent in another way? How are my kids honored by how often I reach for my phone or laptop to update the world? These are all questions I continue to ask myself with regard to technology and how we choose to engage it as a family. At a bare minimum - I have seen the fruit of my decision to eliminate Facebook as part of my daily connection with the world.

I also need to learn to eliminate certain thoughts before they start to spin in my head. A wise counselor I know says this: "The birds will land on your head, just don't let them nest." I cannot stop my brain from thinking, but I have the choice in whether they nest or I shoo them away when they are not life giving or helpful.


I need to eliminate.

This "elimination" concept has all sorts of practical applications with regard to living in simplicity (getting rid of excess stuff that clutters and could be used elsewhere), and even with regard to a healthy diet. I need to eliminate a few more chocolate covered almonds from my daily eating patterns if you know what I mean.

And, I need to concentrate.


I need to concentrate on what I know to be important so that I can make wise choices in what to eliminate. I need to concentrate so that I prevent needing to eliminate. How wonderful it would be if I just knew my limits and really was thoughtful as I walked life and did not get to the place where I have to make those surgical cuts.

I need to concentrate on my children. This time is so fleeting. They will not always be here, and I know that but I still live as though they will. I live as though there will be tomorrows for the life lessons that need to be taught today. I have these moments with them and I want to "mine" these moments well, as it says in the very definition of the word. To sift these moments and separate the metal from the ore. To purify them and make them stronger.

There are countless reasons why it is important to concentrate in this time that feels like a breeze blowing through my home ...

Because there are these moments that will build their foundation of love for each other as brother and sister for the rest of their lives. We are crafting our family's legacy in the moments of everyday life...



Because he only turns 6 this one time (and soon, he will no longer pronounce "Actually" as "ackshly") ...


Because I am going to wish that she would sit and hug me and want to talk to me about all the details of her world in 7 years ...


Because I am only going to be able to carry him like this for a wee bit longer, and she will only dance and twirl and sing in the background without being self-conscious for a wee bit longer ...



I have this moment that replays in my head that causes me to feel such remorse. A few weeks ago we were getting ready to go on a trip to Lake Arrowhead for a family getaway. My to do list was a mile long and I was frantically trying to get all the games and activities packed up before I had some children arriving at my house for tutoring. My daughter came over and started to hug me as I was sorting card games and packing. I literally brushed her off gently and said, "Honey, I don't have time to cuddle right now. I have got to get this stuff packed up." The look on her face still hurts my heart quite a bit when I recall it. She recoiled and looked as though I had slapped her. "You don't want to hug me?" she said. And, her eyes filled up with tears.

I immediately stopped and apologized and told her mommy made a bad choice and tried to make it right. And, she was gracious and received my hug but I could tell I hurt her and it wasn't all totally perfect. There was still that hurt place where she realized that I made a choice and it was not to love her first. It was my stupid to do list.

Oh man, how I want to concentrate.

I need to concentrate on my marriage and my husband.


He so often gets the left overs of me. He gets the wiped out, emotionally shut down, exhausted version of his wife at the end of the day. I need to evaluate what in the world is going on here if I value us staying a connected, vibrant and in love couple well into our golden years. I need to concentrate on showing him that I am present and still listening. I need to concentrate on affirming him and speaking words of love to him, especially in times where he needs that bolstering. I need to concentrate on being his love who is there for better or worse, richer and poorer, in sickness and in health - that pretty much means BEING there our whole life. All of life pretty much fits in those descriptions and I said I would.


I need to concentrate.

So, these are two words that I carry with me in my days. I use them to make decisions and process how we are doing as a family. There will be an ebbing and flowing of activities and time. There are seasons for hibernation and seasons for a flurry of activity.

But, I will endeavor to learn to live these words out well.

How about you - what do these words evoke in you?

mama love: pinterest edition


There is no doubt that one of my favorite things to do is to check my daily Pinterest feed. It is eye candy and provides inspiration for crafts, recipes, decorating and a little daydreaming (especially my dream kitchen on the home that I will probably never have but like to think about).

Here are a few of the things I have pinned lately that make my heart swoon ...



I am excited to do some sort of version of this craft with my kids today. We have so many things that make us lucky. Another way to practice gratitude as we count the blessings in our life!



I made this Rosemary Garlic Chicken in my cast iron skillet this week. I would use a little less lemon next time, but it was really good. I love cooking with my cast iron skillet. It makes me feel all little house on the prairie. And, it makes me think of my Grandma since she gave it to me. She's good people.




I wish pinterest had been around when I still had napping babies in the house. This idea is brilliant! It never failed that the moment I cracked the door to check on my sleeping wee ones, that they would wake from the sound of the door being opened.



I will be trying this out today - simmer lemon, vanilla and rosemary with a little water as a natural home deodorizer. One pinned said it smells like Williams Sonoma stores.



I cannot wait for this kitchen trolley to arrive at IKEA in April! It will be such a great art cart, or drink station for parties, or kitchen cart ... It's about time IKEA added a little turquoise to their rainbow of colors.



Who wouldn't want to start their day with Breakfast Enchiladas? My kids. But, just ignore them because these looks amazing for me!




I want a big bowl of this Quick Chicken Enchilada Soup (by real mom kitchen) right now! I guess I will have to settle with making it this week. It looks so good.





I dig this St. Patrick's day surprise. My kids would love the rainbow licorice!




Umm, cutest cake ever. Who wouldn't love to have a rainbow cake with lollipops on top? Especially if it is served on an adorable turquoise table.





I am loving this brilliant housewarming gift idea - a lime tree along with some mexican beers. It would go well with the Quick Chicken Enchilada Soup!

Thank you, Pinterest, for all the lovely ideas and tips. You are something this mama loves.

What are your favorite pins from this week?

Lent in Everyday Language

I have never really practiced Lent. I have engaged it on the level where I have given something up like sugar or chocolate or sweets. But, I have never really taken the time to explore what this tradition means on a deep level and taken the time to practice it.


As a nearly life-long Christian, I find myself in a season where I am trying to see aspects of my faith through new eyes. Perhaps it is the season of life that is stretching me beyond myself so I look for new tools that the disciples of Christ have utilized for years in their soul formation.

What I love about my learnings about this tradition called Lent is that it meets me right where I am. In need of a Savior every single day, in every single moment.

My friend Amy is embarking on a journey over on her blog called Soul Simple to explore "Lent in Everyday Language" and has a new post each day where she offers two questions to process and she beautifully shares her own processing. I love that lent is this opportunity to pause and lean a little closer to being formed in Christ's image. I have been exploring a lot of Genesis and love hearing about God creating man and woman in His image. I feel like the rest of the bible centers around God pursuing us in order to make us into His image again. Sending Jesus so that we can be reconciled and made into His image (holy and blameless). I am leaning into this aspect of formation. If you are interested in taking this journey, you can start today - on Day 6. No need to panic and try to catch up. Just start right where you are. I am.

My very simple understanding of Lent is that it is the act of preparing the heart for Easter. Historically, this has taken shape in a form of sacrificing. You hear people saying what they are "giving up for Lent" and it is about sacrificing something so that we can become more like Christ and how He sacrificed His life for us. But for me there is another layer - I am viewing it not solely about forfeiting, but also about formation. It feels like an invitation to step further into being formed in Christ's image. Ann Voskamp wrote that "it is to be dispossessed of the possessions that possess - in order to be possessed by God." To empty the soul in order to know the filling of God.

So, maybe it is not about possessions like stuff (although it could be). Maybe it is more about our way of being and the thoughts, actions, emotions and routines that fill us with the opposite of WHO God is (His image).

If I know that the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control) are the fruit of being connected to God and are reflections of who He is, then I think I should be able to look at my life and see what the opposites of those attributes are that are on display in my life. That would be the area where I need more image forming.

If lent is about my emptying my soul of my own stuff in order to know the filling of God - well, then, "To the brim!" is what my soul cries out. I want to be filled to overflowing with His love and joy and peace. I can see where I need to make room for Him. Do some soul house keeping.

But, it is so hard. So hard to empty myself of my love of me and the habits that shape me into me. Hard to wake up early to find quiet time. Hard to give up that "down time" of senseless media that makes it so easy to check out in the times when I need to check in. Even those twisted sisters: fear and worry - they beckon my soul to snuggle up with a blanket of self-pity.

Isn't it true that Lent and our quest to sacrifice and "work out our salvation" will reveal how truly broken and useless we are. It is like asking for a flashlight to shine on our failures and flailing, because I will fail in this attempt! How incapable I am of walking a road of sacrifice like Jesus. Maybe one of the gifts of Lent is realizing, yet again, how in need of a Savior I am. I could work with every fiber of my being to do this perfectly, and I would fail. I need a Savior. I can see clearly that even my best attempts will result in failure. I see Jesus with a new found awe in His perfection and the gift of grace that He extends to me.

These were Ann Voskamp's words that say it so well: "Lent gives me this gift: the deeper I know the pit of my sin, the deeper I'll drink the draughts of Joy."

Doesn't Jesus say that with different words when He says, "He who is forgiven much loves much."

I found this quote on Ann Voskamp's blog. It is by Walter Wangerin, on the subject of why we celebrate Lent when it may not fall into our denominational traditions:

"But in the economy of God, what seems the end is but a preparation... The disciles approached the resurrection from their bereavement. For them the death was first, and the death was all. Easter, then was an explosion of newness, a marvelous slitting of heaven indeed.

But for us, who return backward into the past, the Resurrection comes first, and through it we view a death with is, therefore, less consuming, less horrible, even less readl.

We miss the disciples terrible, wonderful preparation.

Unless, as now we attend to the suffering first, to the cross with sincerest pity and vigilant love, to the dying with most faithful care - and thus prepare for joy."

Yes, Jesus rose and defeated death and that is central to my faith. I am risen with Christ and there is no part of my salvation that I can boast in because it is all gift. That is made clearer to me even as I attempt to hone areas of my life and fall short time and again. I don't deserve salvation based on anything I have done. I fall short. It's all grace.

I do not want to miss the gravity of His death, or my need for His death, as I walk in a "Christ is risen" joy parade. Even the elements of communion, the bread and wine, symbolize this sacrifice and Jesus encouraged us to do it in remembrance of Him. I feel like my kids get this a little better than I do. It never fails that as we read the story of Jesus' death in their Jesus Storybook Bible that they will be moved to tears. They feel that moment of Jesus dying and the pain and sorrow that live in that moment. And I often find myself very quickly saying, "Don't be sad, guys! Jesus rises again! He doesn't stay dead!" But, they get it right. He died. He endured a lot of pain. For me. And, that should be felt deeply because if I don't feel that deeply, then I don't really get the sacrifice of it.

So - this season of practicing Lent, for me, is about walking toward Easter with a heart that is bent toward knowing how very much I need this Savior. It is about slowing down so I can see where God is forming me in His image. It's about having eyes to see where I am full of me and doing the work to empty that out to clear space for Him. It is about seeing every day that I need a Savior!

I loved how timely my reading from Jesus Calling was the other day.

"... Your awareness of your constant need of Me is your greatest strength. Your neediness, properly handles, is a link to My Presence. However, there are pitfalls that you must beon guard against: Self-pity, self-preoccupation, giving up. Your inadequacy presents you with a continual choice - deep dependence on Me, or despair. The emptiness you feel within will be filled either with problems or with My Presence. Make me central in your consciousness by praying continually: simple, short prayers flowing out of the present moment. Use My Name liberally, to remind you of My Presence. Keep on asking and you will receive, so that your gladness may be full and complete."

I hope that you will join me and Amy in this journey. Here is to living with an awareness of how much He loves us and how much we need Him.


My Daily Allowance


One of my morsels of daily encouragement is the "Morning & Evening" writings from Charles Spurgeon. I get them in my daily reading plan through my Bible app on my iPhone. Today's was particularly fitting.

These words penetrate deep.

"A daily portion is all that a man (woman) really wants. We do not need tomorrow's supplies; that day has not yet dawned, and its wants are as yet unborn. The thirst which we may suffer in the month of June does not need to be quenched in February, for we do not feel it yet"

How many of my moments of worry are connected to my thoughts of tomorrow and the worries that tomorrow stirs in me. How often have I worried over the thirst that I would have in June while living in the month of February? For it is right now literally February, and I can feel my heart beating quickly if I start to think of June. But, it is February. This may be the secret that our children live - they are living today. This moment. And the reality is that the older we get the more we know of storms that lurk and that the winds can change and this causes worry because we know that there are variables that could change things. But, we have no control over those variables, so why give thought to them?

June may indeed be a scorching month with sun beating down heavily and we may indeed be quite thirsty, but I will face that heat when it is directly over head. Today - today is the day that I am walking in and I want to be all in on THIS DAY.

"...if we have enough for each day as the days arrive we shall never know want. Sufficient for the day is all we can enjoy. We cannot eat or drink or wear more than the day's supply of food and raiment; the surplus gives us the care of storing it, and the anxiety of watching against a thief..."

I think of that moment with Jesus and the crowd of people gathered around him (in Matthew). He can see the worry etched on their faces. My face is there in the crowd too. What if we don't have enough food? What if we don't have enough money? What if his company fails? What if...
And Jesus, this Jesus, looks at them and His heart is filled with love for them. For me. He sees them as sheep that do not have a shepherd to take care of them. The job of the sheep is just to follow the shepherd to the good pasture, and the safe places and the water. These people looked like lost sheep. So, Jesus shepherds them by painting a picture with words. The people sat on the mountainside and looked out at the glittering lake and took in the surroundings.

He points to the birds. Everyone looks to see the birds pecking the ground and eating the seeds that lay in bounty for them. Jesus points out that the birds do not worry or store up seed for tomorrow. They know that there will be seed tomorrow because God takes care of them.

"God knows what they need and He feeds them."

Then He points to the wildflowers. Picture the wildflowers growing around you on a grassy hill. Where do these flowers buy their lovely clothes? Do they make them? Do they work every day so that they can buy them? I can hear that laughter in Jesus' voice as He points out the absurdity of this concept. No - these flowers are clothed by God and not even a king could dress as well as these little gems.

Jesus declares it loud and clear - YOU ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAT BIRDS! MORE IMPORTANT THAN FLOWERS! They don't sit and worry about things. And God doesn't want His children to worry either. Your Father in heaven knows what you need.

Sufficient for the day is all we can enjoy.

What has God given me today. For that I am grateful. I am expectant for what He will give me tomorrow. To so many, even to myself as I write this, this is naive. Right? Aren't we supposed to work to prepare for tomorrow. Store up? Retirement, college fund, vacation fund, rainy day fund? Don't get me wrong - there is wisdom in stewarding our resources. But, where the worries begin and the furrowed brow and the anxiety over the what if's begin - it goes against everything God is teaching us through all of scripture. He says He provides. He says one of His names is "Jehovah jireh" - the Lord will provide. He has even provided His son that we would be free from the debt of our sin. How can I trust God for this massive gift of redemption and not trust for little details like food or money? What if the simplicity of enjoying what is before us today - today's bread, today's clothes, today's children, today's husband - what if we could be sheep today and just follow the path that the Shepherd is leading us on. The sheep do not worry about whether they are on the right path, or whether this grass will be there tomorrow. For the shepherd will scoop them up and place them in the right spot if they get off the path. He has that shepherd's staff that he will gently use to push them back into the right place.

What this season is teaching me is that at the end of me, I can only rely on God. I tell Him all day long. "God, you say you will provide. I trust You to provide. You say you will give wisdom. I trust You for wisdom. You say that You leave Your peace. Bring Your peace. You say You are the GOOD SHEPHERD. Be my Shepherd. Lead me to the still waters and good pasture. You say you will."

How gracious He will be when you cry for help! As soon as He hears, He will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden from you no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." - Isaiah 30:19-21

More than anything, my soul wants to hear the voice of my Shepherd, gently whispering, "This is the way; walk in it."





Easy Crockpot Chicken Curry and Coconut Rice


My kids are total spice wimps so I have to preface this recipe with the truth that when I make this recipe, I only serve the curry to my hubby and I (or my guests!). But, this curry is amazing! And, the coconut rice is so, so good. My kids dream about it. They go crazy for coconut rice and black beans with a little chicken mixed in, or just the black beans and rice. My cute son asks me to marry him every time I serve coconut rice.


You are going to want to double batch the curry because the leftovers are heaven. If your kids are not spice wimps, then they may love the curry too!

I like to start the curry in the late morning or just before lunch, but you could absolutely start it in the morning. Just cook on low no matter what so that your chicken is nice and tender.



Easy Chicken Curry
Ingredients:
Trader Joes Thai Yellow Curry Sauce
1 can Coconut milk
1 white onion, sliced into chunky pieces
2-3 sweet potatoes (scrubbed clean), sliced into rounds that are about 1/2 inch thick
1 package organic boneless & skinless chicken thighs (the cost of thighs is much less than breasts)
1/2 package frozen mixed vegetables
1 lime
cilantro (for garnish)


1. In a large crock pot, mix the coconut milk with the curry sauce. Place the onions and sweet potatoes in the bottom of the crock pot.
2. Add the thighs, and spread them out and mix into the curry sauce. Leave to cook for a few hours.
3. About 2 hours before serving, mix in the frozen veggies and let cook on low for a couple more hours.
3. Just before serving, use a wooden spoon to break up the thighs (the meat should fall apart it is so tender), and add the juice of 1 lime to the crock pot. Mix well.

Serve the curry over steaming Coconut Rice (see recipe below). We serve it with some black beans and a sprinkling of cilantro on top (I go crazy with the cilantro on mine, but my hubby just gets a sprinkle). Definitely eat with a spoon because you will be in love with the sauce!

Coconut Rice

This rice is amazing, but is especially good served alongside spicy food (think curries and mexican food)! I like to add a few spoonfuls of left over rice to my salads. It is oh so good! You could also serve it as dessert if you add fresh diced mango on top and drizzle with a little coconut milk. I originally discovered this coconut rice recipe on the Pioneer Woman's tasty kitchen blog. I swapped the white rice for brown jasmine rice to give it a bit of a healthy punch.

Ingredients:
1 Tablespoon coconut oil
2 cups brown jasmine rice (brown rice has more nutritional value and the brown jasmine rice has way more flavor than regular old brown rice - trust me!)
1 can coconut milk (it is about 2 cups of liquid
2 cups water (or more to make 4 cups total liquid once you combine with the coconut milk)
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
sprinkle of sea salt (optional)

1. Heat up the coconut oil in pot. Add rice and sauté for a couple minutes until rice is slightly browned. Don't burn!
2. Add 4 cups of liquid (approximately 1/2 coconut milk and 1/2 water). Stir well.
3. Add your maple syrup and salt (if desired).
4. Bring to a slight boil and then put on low to simmer covered with the lid, but letting a small bit of steam escape.
5. I find that it takes about 30 minutes to cook so check after 30 minutes and make sure all liquid is absorbed, but you may need longer. Once all liquid is absorbed, let stand for 5 minutes and serve warm!

Enjoy!

Fair Trade Chocolate Winners!



Congratulations to the winners of our
chocolate giveway!


Sarah

Manda

Monica

Inkkinlala

Debra Lee

and

Meg


You've all won a delicious Alter Eco Dark Chocolate Quinoa Bar!

Originally we had just 5 candy bars to share with readers, but when I told the nice people at Fair Trade USA that 6 readers had entered the contest, they generously offered to share the love with all (including our Canadian fans!)


Winners, shoot us an email with your full name and address by February 21 to mamagiveaways(at)gmail(dot)com with your prize in the subject line, and we will hook you up!



Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Fair Trade Treats for Valentine's Day -- plus a CHOCOLATE GIVEAWAY



With Valentine's Day right around the corner, you probably have giving and/or receiving chocolates, roses and other goodies on your mind! But if you haven't actually started your shopping yet (like me!) you're in luck, because the folks at Fair Trade USA have put together a helpful and socially responsible gift guide.

When you shop Fair Trade, you're supporting products that come from farmers and workers who've been justly compensated. This is REALLY important when it comes to chocolate, since the bulk of the world's cocoa is harvested in West Africa by child and slave labor. Hershey's and most of the big candy conglomerates use slave labor to fill their heart-shaped boxes, but thankfully, there are sweeter alternatives.

Fair Trade certification ensures that cocoa farmers receive a fair price for their harvest, and also strictly prohibits the use of slave and child labor. This Valentine’s Day, you can support a better life for cocoa farmers by sharing your favorite Fair Trade Certified confection with your friends and family. There are plenty of delicious options out there, including Sweet Earth Chocolates Classic Red Velvet Box, Sjaak’s dark chocolate with raspberry bar, ChocoDream Spreads, Kopali Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs, TCHO "My Heart's Desire" Adigard 12-Bar Sampler, Alter Eco Dark Velvet Chocolate and sweetriot riotous riotBar gift set.

Fair Trade also matters when it comes to flowers. Americans will buy more than 189 million stems of roses this Valentine's Day, the majority of which will travel all the way from Ecuador and Colombia. You can make sure that your long-stemmed symbols of love positively impact the lives of farm workers (many of whom are women) by looking for bouquets bearing the Fair Trade Certified logo.



If your local flower shop doesn't offer Fair Trade blooms, Fair Trade Certified roses can be found at Whole Foods Market. Just look for the big, beautiful blossoms and vivid colors with the green Whole Trade Guarantee sticker in the floral department. Before you hand over these special roses, make sure to read up on the farm they came from to add a sweet story to the gift.

You can also find guilt-free Fair Trade flowers online. One World Flowers will deliver beautiful Ecuadorian roses direct from the farm to your loved one. In addition to traditional red and pink roses, you can select themed bouquets like “Helping Haiti” and “Honoring Japan” that support much-needed relief efforts in those countries.

More information and gift ideas for coffee, wine, baked goods and apparel are available at the Fair Trade USA website. The organization has also provided us with a couple of great offers:


Mama Manifesto readers who order from

One World Flowers can use the coupon code

FairTrade5 to get $5 off their

Valentine's Day order.


We'll also give 5 readers a delicious taste of

Fair Trade goodness with an

Alter Eco Dark Chocolate Quinoa Bar



To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment answering the following question:



Have you ever tried any Fair Trade products?

If so, what's your favorite?



To earn additional entries in this giveaway:

1. Follow our blog (publicly) and leave another comment (or if you already follow, let us know).
2. Subscribe to the Mama Memo and leave another comment (or let us know if you already subscribe).
3. Blog about the giveaway, and link back here. Post your blog entry before you comment.
4. Add the Mama Manifesto button to your sidebar.
5. Follow us on Twitter and Tweet about this giveaway: "Giveaway! Check out #FairTrade goodies for Valentine's Day & Win Fair Trade Chocolate from @MamaManifesto. Enter at mamamanifesto.com"
6. Become a fan of Mama Manifesto on Facebook by clicking the button on the left.


This giveaway will close Sunday, February 12, at 11 p.m.
We'll announce the winners on Tuesday, February 14. Happy Valentine's Day!



Prizes courtesy of Fair Trade USA



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