We started it as an energy-burning game for my hyperactive second-born son.


Run up the flight of eighteen stairs…

Tag the wall…

Run back down…

And tag the couch…

Four times.

Now see how fast you can do it.

Motion? Speed? Noise? Ticking timer? Oh my. He loved it.

And then his brother had to get in on the fun. And then his sister.

We called it Running Shuttles. When the game stopped bringing joy, we dropped it, but recently it resurrected, bringing grins again. It used to take them nearly a minute. Now the boys have carved down their time to 30 seconds total for four runs. It sounds like the end of the world and the destruction of all flesh, even with thick carpeting.

But afterward they collapse into heaps, panting and smiling.

Mission accomplished.

Stoplight system for the road

Speaking of children…

Probably yours are always well-behaved. Probably yours never squabble over dinner, or while doing chores, or (my personal favorite) in the backseat of the van on the way to church? Probably you just say “Love one another, dears” and they drop their quarrels?

I thought so.

But mine are human, and riding in the van is at times my own personal torment. We’re in a space the size of a closet and no one can move without bumping someone, speak without rattling ear drums, or step out for a moment’s peace. We have five opinions about music choices (“I want the OLD Kings’ Singers!”), game selections (“I am SICK of I-Spy!”), volume levels (“Guys, I can’t hear myself think!”), temperature controls (“I’m so hot I’m gonna die. Can you open the window?” “No sweetie, it’s blizzarding so hard I can’t even see the road…”), and a myriad of other domestic matters.

Irritations grate harder, words and actions get out of control, and parents are immobilized by seatbelts. Consequences are postponed and therefore not much to worry about, apparently; and if anyone is in a bad mood or predisposed to pick on a sibling, there is no escape.

I have a little piece of magic to tell you about.

A stoplight system on the sun visor.

sun visor 1

All you need is garage sale stickers and a paper clip. The clip starts off to the side, and is moved by the parent as needed. Green light is a warning—please stop what you’re doing. Yellow light is a warning and a moderate consequence when we get home—they know what it is. Red light is a warning and a stiff consequence—yup, they know that one too. We have a stoplight for the 4-year-old and another for the 7-year-old, and sometimes a verbal one for the rest of us. All colors are reset when we exit the van.

sun visor 2

I can’t tell you what a relief this has been. It’s concrete and visual: a powerful motivation. No hounding: just moving a paper clip. No forgetting to enforce: the tale is right there.

To those who will think this system hopelessly lenient: no, I do not always warn my kids three times before letting the hammer drop. And to those who think it impossibly strict: no, I don’t believe in letting children act as they please without a reckoning. But we could all use an extra dose of grace, especially in the van, and including Mommy… I’m still learning.

What do you think? Anyone up for a road trip?

Seven homemade gifts for Christmas

Oh me, oh my!

Our homemade gift exchange brought out some delightful creativity in the family. We had homemade log cabins and furnished doll houses for little girls, wood-framed Lego baseplates for boys, gift baskets of treats, personalized T-shirts, denim blankets, wooden shelves, pretty scarves, knitted slippers, and more…

Here are a few our little family made, most of them super-simple. I share them to spark your thinking. I’m going to say this only once: Do not try them all. I had to make a mental note for 2014–no more than (x number) of homemade gifts!

1. Prepaid dates basket

12 dates

Inspired by this website and armed with funds from a personal project, I created this for my husband: twelve envelopes containing plans and gift certificates for date nights, one for every month of the New Year. You can be as extravagant or frugal as you wish in planning time together! I interspersed bigger dates (an IMAX movie, dinner out, or a mini-golf spree) with no-cost fun (a hike, a picnic, a free concert, an intimate rendezvous). He was delighted, and the planning and scheming brought me much joy.

2. “Fun in a Box” for couples

fun in a box

Using an idea from thedailydigi, I made a list of spunky, low-cost, slightly tacky activities for couples to do together, and gave them to our brothers-and-sisters-in-law in Christmasy little boxes. View or print my list here: Fun in a Box (for couples).

3. Grapevine wreath with seeds

For a sister-in-law who loves to garden, I saved seeds from my flowers and herbs, packaged them in little envelopes, and hung them with ribbon on a homemade grapevine wreath. You could buy seed packets instead of making them yourself; but if you live in the Midwest and have access to woods, chances are you can find an abundance of wild grapevine. The wreaths are sooo fun to wind up.

4. Chocolate chess set


With a simple chocolate mold (available here from amazon), we made black and white sets of chessmen, gluing the chocolate halves together with caramel. And of course, here’s how to make the board if you want a playing set…

5. Sock puppets

sock puppets

This was another favorite project—forgiving, low-cost, and open to infinite variation. Simple instructions at wikihow… and then, the sky’s the limit!

6. Jar mixes

For another SIL, my son layered gluten-free food mixes in Mason jars.

For the fourth jar in the set, we combined bath salts with fragrance oils and a drop of food coloring, for layered relaxation.

7. Framed word art

And finally, you know the rage with photos of alphabet letters in nature, to spell inspirational words? Believe, Rest, Love and so on? We shot our own, with the kids forming the letters to spell our word of choice. Turned them black and white, added simple black frames from Dollar Tree, and called that project complete.

We even got our cat in on the E!

E b&w


F b&w


G b&w


Are you inspired? Tired? Haywired? I’m singing Christmas songs…

Two experiments

Confession: I’ve been meaning to organize the closets and corners of my house for weeks and weeks now. I kept scheduling it in my planner and it kept getting bumped. This couldn’t possibly be my fault… surely someone else is to blame?

With the holidays approaching and a schedule that is unrelenting, I decided to give my house an organizing once-over today and call it good.

Here were my guidelines:

  • Set a timer and spend 15 minutes per room
  • Ask “What drives me nuts here?” and work only on that
  • Keep three containers handy for
    • Trash
    • Donations
    • Items to mend or put away elsewhere
  • Keep a clipboard handy for notes: what clothing is needed, what tasks to return to later

It worked pretty well.

Except the fifteen minutes.

By then I was just getting started…! Sigh. But some rooms took only five, and so it evened out okay. I managed a serious overhaul in some trouble spots: my pantry, my hallway, and my daughter’s bedroom. I have two or three rooms to finish up tomorrow, and I feel quite happy about this.


In other news…

We have some major sibling rivalry going on in our house. Son #2 is full of ire toward his little sister. She cannot do anything right; she is small and stupid; she doesn’t even know the words to that song!

I could try to put a light spin on this and make you think I’m laughing, but I actually feel very worried and discouraged about it. We have instructed and disciplined and praised and interceded to no avail.

We are trying one thing, remembering it was a helpful analogy for him a year ago, with a school friend he was scornful and jealous of—the same one who is now his best friend! We told him a relationship is like a tree, and must be tended… that harsh words and bad attitudes are like pouring salt on the tree and snipping its leaves… that kind actions, gentle words, and a giving heart are like the rain, the sun and the fertilizer that make the tree grow. We made him a poster to illustrate this. When he is unkind to her, he must hang a withered leaf on the tree. When he is kind, he may hang a green leaf or pluck off a withered one.

regan's tree

He grumbled the whole time we cut out leaves together, but as soon as the poster hung on the fridge he was smiling and ran off to invite his sister to a peaceable game of Life.

We shall see… It seems such a small thread, but I don’t know what else to do.

How did you train your children to love each other?

The house of tomorrow

I always say that Ryan is the one who had fostering in his blood, not me. But tonight I remembered a poem I loved before I was married. I used to sing it to myself, because it got inside my heart and tugged. Maybe it was a premonition. I never thought so then.

Foster Baby Bye
Judy Ann Unruh

I did not cry when they came for him,
my goodbye was suitably gay;
as if it were not a jagged-edged piece of my heart
that was torn
that was torn
torn away.

This is my goal with every foster child I keep:

To see inside.
To get a little glimpse into the heart of the real person, and to love him forever.

I have never kept a child long, and have not seen how hard it will get, after months of loving. In the meanwhile I find it deeply fulfilling. And this helps, when I pack the carefully-chosen outfits and write a note to go along, and wave goodbye: I know I got to meet an awesome kid, and he will be a part of me as long as I live.

On Children
 Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.