Sunday, August 27, 2017

living simply: toys we love

Last year I wrote about some of our favorite things. Most of those were things we had around the house, and I'm a firm believer that kids will play with any old thing, if given the time and opportunity to be creative.

But! But, having a few really good toys is a great privilege, and one I do not take for granted as I care for two young children. Most of these are made to last, and though some are fairly expensive, I definitely think they are worth the cost. In no particular order, here are the toys we love.

1. Magna Tiles. I cannot recommend these enough. I think everyone should own these, and the more the better, in my opinion. Charlotte and Asher have had these for at least nine months, and they have been used in so, so many ways. For awhile we were building giant towers that Charlotte said were animal hospitals. They had garages and potties and parking lots. These days, both kids call them "ice cream" and Charlotte sorts them by colors and puts them in her "freezer," while Asher carries the triangular ones around pretending to lick them. We also use Magna Tiles along with our wooden barn and farm animals to make "cow houses" for Asher, who loves to drive a little tractor around his farm.

2. Play kitchen. This is BY FAR the most used toy in our home. Joel's dad made ours from an old TV stand when Charlotte was tiny, and she definitely dominates it so much that Asher really only gets a chance once she's asleep. ;) But we love it so, so much, and it's worth its weight in gold for how many playtime hours have been spent in creative play there. I also recommend some play food, and some other kitchen supplies, preferably wooden or metal since plastic gets kind of gross and also is easily smushed by not-so-careful toddler hands. (On my wishlist for the kids: this adorable wooden tea set)

3. Doll house and/ or wooden barn. I'm planning to make a doll house using this cool tutorial. Our neighbors asked us to store their giant doll house for a few months, and my kids played with it a lot. However, it was so big that it got difficult to store once they lost interest and I really think kids get tired of staring at unused toys after a while. Once I make ours, I plan to move it around to different parts of the house, and eventually I will retire it to use as a regular old bookshelf. I also plan to buy just a few pieces of furniture; another friend has a cool house but there are SO many pieces of furniture that someone Asher's age can easily get overwhelmed and just not play with it at all.

We bought this classic wooden barn from another neighbor's garage sale, and along with this set of animals from Asher's first birthday, it has gotten a lot of use. There's SO much creative play that can come with well-made, basic toys.

4. Schleich animals. We asked Asher's grandparents to give him a set of animals for his birthday and they've gotten a lot of use. There are sooooo many cool Schleich animals on Amazon, so do a bit of searching to find ones that your kids would like best. I hope to expand our collection in the coming years (this wildlife set looks awesome!).

5. Outdoor toys: swing set, kiddie pool, Strider balance bike. (Note: we have this balance bike in green and it took a loooooong time for Charlotte to love it. But we all persevered, and now she's definitely ready for a pedal bike. I'm just feeling intimidated about deciding which to buy!)

*Let me say that we have A LOT more toys than this in our house.. Mostly because people give us toys, which can be good and bad. Good because it's nice to have free stuff, but also bad (sometimes very bad) because-- as I said in my last post about simplicity with kids-- there's a lot of junk that disguises itself as children's toys, and some things we've been given aren't good quality and don't get used. I try to move things out and pass them along if they aren't beautiful or useful or well-loved.

But it's not always easy. Both of my kids adore stuffed animals (which I can't really stand!) and they use them and I just can't de-stash those darn things as much as I'd like, since they love and use them a lot. Also, I bought two used sets of Littlest Pet Shop toys (which are plastic and gaudy and not beautiful at all!) from my neighbor (for $3!!) and gave them to Charlotte for Christmas last year. She has spent countless hours playing with those things, and Asher really likes them as well. So there's that. Ha! :) BUT I'm so, so glad I bought those used and didn't pay full price!

Now let's share! What are the most loved and used toys in your home? Do you have any of these that my kiddos love? 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A time for listening, and a time for speaking up

About nine months ago I started listening to Upside Down Podcast. I can't quite remember how I found it, except that the Internet and social media are a tangled, mixed-up web, and one thing (or one blogger) leads to another :)  I think the timing lined up with this past presidential election, a season of shock and disgust for me personally, and of tumult and unrest for our country overall. Sadly, it took that election and the immediate aftermath to snap me to attention.

The first few episodes of Upside Down Podcast hit me hard.

The hosts were discussing poverty and race and the Church in ways I had never considered, mostly because my own experience and education are rooted in my own privilege. Anyway, I listened. I prayed and I thought and I listened some more. I shared aloud with Joel a little, but mostly I tried hard to listen. And to listen well, with ears and a heart that were ready to be softened and convicted and challenged.

The last nine months, for me, have been a season of listening, and of coming to understand (a teeny, tiny bit) the reality of racism and poverty and marginalization in our country. The reality of the role I have as Christian, and as a parent of the next generation of Americans. Though I desperately want to change hearts, and actions, all over, I have the most influence on the heart attitudes of my own children and those within my personal community.

So. The time for me to speak up is now. I have listened and will continue to listen and learn.

But I know enough to be confident that I cannot be silent, and carry on as usual. I must speak to my children, and those within my sphere of influence, about God's word and what it says about people and how Jesus came live and die and rise again... to set them (us) all free. I must be honest about our country's history of prejudice, and I must expose my kids to the beauty of diversity as much as I can. I must tell them that racist acts and attitudes like we witnessed in Charlottesville this week are despicable in the eyes of the Lord. I must guide them toward seeking justice and looking out for the downtrodden of society, and for those in their lives who need an ally or an advocate or a friend.

There is so little I can do; one person in one family in one small, mostly white, suburban town.

But my children and my friends and my children's friends should see in me the love of Jesus.

They should see in me a heart that is open to hearing hard truth.

They should see in me a mind that is willing to confess my own sin and my own role in calling racism what it is, and in stopping the spread of hateful attitudes and acts toward people of color.

I've compiled a list of great resources below, particularly for Jesus followers who may be in the place I was nine months ago or the place I am in today.

These folks are clear and relevant. They've been incredibly helpful to me as I wrestle through the things I've learned, and especially following the events of this past weekend.

1. Upside Down Podcast (My favorite episode is their interview about "The Talk" that black people give their children, with Tyler Burns, which aired last December. Search for it right away. So eye opening!)
2. This sermon, given by a friend of mine who pastors a church in suburban New Jersey.
3. A poignant article by Jemar Tisby, a man I've recently started listening to (on another great podcast, Pass the Mic)
4. A personal, practical blog post (the author writes as a mother of black, and white, children)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

on living simply, with children

I cannot count the number of times I've heard this statement: "My kids don't play with their toys. They make messes, and make noise, and their toys are all over the house, but they don't really PLAY with any of them."

This is so, so common. It's very sad, and, I think, a serious problem with our culture as a whole, and with my generation of parents and children specifically. Let's chat about the issue a little.

First, two great resources for anyone interested in dealing with this problem directly:
1. The Simple Families website and podcast.
2. The book, Simplicity Parenting, by Kim John Payne.  

Second, this is one of my own personal "soapbox" topics. I feel extremely passionate about raising kids well, and (probably because of my background in education) I'm hyper-sensitive to the positive/negative affects that parenting choices have on children in their present and future lives. I think simplicity is important, but also really, really difficult.

Third, this is not in itself an issue of real spiritual significance. As a follower of Jesus, there are some absolutes that I hold onto without question. This is not one. Though I think creating a safe, creative, simple space for children is valuable, it doesn't in itself point them to the cross of Christ, and thus, this topic of conversation isn't an absolute for me.  The issues of biblical simplicity, in the sense of sharing things in a community, and living with less, and giving to the poor, are different than what I'm writing about now. Though maybe they can be a discussion here some day, now that I'm thinking of it... :)

Alright, so with those three important notes, here are some ideas and points that I've been mulling over in the last year. Some will be their own separate blog posts in coming days (or months.) I'd love to continue the conversation in the comments below, if you'd like. :)

  • There are many things that are awesome for babies and children to have. And there are many, many things that make parenting easier (hello, high chairs and baby food pouches!). But, there are many, many, many things that are absolute junk. They clutter up our houses and our children's minds. And this clutter, this excess, actually becomes a serious imposition to children developing the way they should... children in general aren't spending enough time outside, are watching way too much TV, and are failing to learn basic life skills such as independent play, sharing, conflict resolution, and problem solving. Teachers notice. Grandparents notice. The society as a whole notices. And we parents often notice, but we aren't sure what to do to combat the problem. This includes me. I'm not speaking typing in judgement here-- I'm working through this in my own home, and with my own family. But as parents, we are our children's protectors and their advocates. For their good, and for the good of future generations, we need to combat this culture of excess and waste and general overwhelm. 
  • I cannot recommend the book Simplicity Parenting enough. It is so, so practical and relevant and wise. 
  • Some future blog post ideas: great toys that we love and use and highly (highly!) recommend; how I've set up / how I maintain a relatively simple home (and life) for our children; how we spend our time and develop a simple schedule for our family; activities and creative play that my kids do regularly; conversations to have with children regarding our choices toward simplicity. What else? Leave post ideas below!
  • Bonus! A few ladies who lean toward a simple way of parenting, and whose blogs I really love... Lindsay Kubly, Erin Boyle, and Erin Loechner

Thursday, August 10, 2017

back to blogging. and, Amazon links


There's no easy way to jump back into blogging after six months. I don't have much in the way of an explanation, except that 1. I don't want to add to the noise that often IS the internet, so I found myself at a loss for (written) words, and 2. the blogger app is terrible and doesn't work on my phone or ipad, which are the only two devices we use regularly at home.

So, there we have it. Explanation done and done.

Well... also, I have two kids. And another on the way. (Yes, that is my way of announcing that Baby 'Berts #3 is on the way. Most readers probably know already, and somehow, sadly, the third child doesn't end up with as much fanfare as his/her siblings. Healthy dose of reality for us all. :) ) I will share more about this new little life sometime in the near future, but for now let's just say that though he/she gets forgotten in the chaos of life with other kids, he/she was very much hoped and prayed for, and we are absolutely delighted to be adding another bean to our bunch.

Now, on to the second bit from the title of this post. I've signed up to be a part of Amazon associates, which I hope will generate a (teeny, tiny) bit of income from this hobby of blogging. I think that if I post links to things that we love, or that I would recommend, through this blog, I can earn a little bit of money back if those items are purchased by any of you. I haven't tried yet, and I really don't expect this endeavor to be at all lucrative, but I wanted to be upfront about that right away. At no cost to you, Amazon might give back a little bitty bit to me, and to my growing family. We use Amazon A LOT, and expect many of you do as well, so let's all benefit from this part of the system.