No Guts, No Glory

With only a couple weeks left of our summer break, I wanted to get a couple more thematic learning opportunities in at home to break up the monotony of our endless tech saturated days. A couple of very cool interactive books were added to my son’s bookshelf from various birthday and/or Christmas gifts, so we used that as a focus and spent today learning a bit about the human body.

There are so many wonky and amazing facts to learn about how our bodies work that we could easily spend several days on this topic! For example, today we learned that the hair we can visibly see is actually dead and only under the skin is it alive. Besides the weird and gross stuff we found in one of my son’s favorite books, we skimmed through the basics of the muscular, skeletal and digestive systems. As described in one of the books, we timed our resting heart rate and then raced around the living room for one minute before checking our pulses again. Luckily, I have a bizarre double-jointed situation with one of my elbows that enhanced the discussion on our bones and we did a touch of yoga to point out how our muscles are strengthened. Lastly, I’ve been holding on to last month’s Kiwi Co. box because I knew it would go perfectly with this theme and it was a hit!

I would highly recommend checking out this layered book that gives such an amazing view of how the body is put together. It’s very sturdy and loaded with cool information.

In my most recent Usborne book order we received this more advanced Lift-The-Flap book on Biology that I thought would intrigue my son. He was semi-forced to read a handful of facts to us as we finished our lunch, but that’s when we learned that we share 99.9% of our genes with every other human and only the last 0.1% is what makes each of us US.

Our Kiwi Co. box allowed us to make a stethoscope that really works! We also stuffed and laced up cute little felt organs, and using glow-in-the-dark paper with bone stickers, we created an x-ray and huddled in the closet to see it glow. It also came with a really cool life-sized poster. Although we weren’t in love with a couple of the other Kiwi Co. boxes, this one knocked it out of the park!

Dr. Brady checking on his patient’s heart.

The last activity that my son really got into was using this Squishy Human Body. His little sister had gotten into this box very quickly after receiving it as a Christmas gift and scattered all the squishy guts around the living room, so this was his first attempt at putting the body back together. Success!

We’re in the process of selling our home and moving soon, so almost all of my Usborne Books are packed up, so we missed a chance to peruse several of the cool human body books that are normally on our shelf. Here’s a direct link to all of UBAM’s human body books.

Now we’re off to check the cat’s heartbeat and then have plans for a rousing family game of Operation that we borrowed from the neighbors! Move that body and drink your water, folks!

Checkmate!

We carved out designated tech-free time this morning to play dress up magnets with R and a game of chess with B. I’d forgotten which direction my pieces could move and pulled out this book from my Usborne collection. I hadn’t looked into it yet, but it’s quite cool! It’s interactive with stickers and would be excellent for older kids to really understand strategy and the ins and outs of the game. Although we got off track with vacations and whatnot, I’ve challenged my son to work through it this summer (although that means he’s going to kick my butt even faster than he did today 😳)

Pairing this book and an inexpensive chess set would be a really great gift! B learned to play about age 9 and I’ve been surprised by how much he took to it and he even added a session of it for summer camp a couple of years ago! If you have a master chess player in your crowd, take a look at the Usborne Books & More website for a couple more fun options, so you don’t end up in a stalemate. 🙂

*As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sticker Book Magic

With my daughter Rachel’s age and personality, for some time now, we have been heavily into sticker books. I’ve tried them all! The silly faces from Wal-Mart, Melissa & Doug from TJMaxx, Disney and other varieties, etc. I’d say one of the top reasons I sell Usborne Books & More is for their stinking sticker books! They are like none other. Melissa & Doug has some really great ones and they’re creative, but Usborne’s are amazing; educational, excellent quality of both pages and stickers, & exquisite pictures. I’ve included some pictures below to give a sample (mostly girly ones, of course). If you want to see more, there’s a gazillion on the website.

These sticker books are top notch. Great quality, beautiful illustrations and lots of variety in themes from monsters to unicorns. The picture below shows my little one working through the pixie sticker book. Not only were we getting the chance to practice numbers with matching the stickers to the pages, but we’re learning about fun adjectives like “dart” “leap” and “flutter”.

I’ve found myself enjoying the sticker books much like the adult coloring books are found to be soothing. In addition to Usborne, another more advanced sticker book that I really enjoy are the Paint by Sticker that I’ve found on Amazon. They have itty bitty pieces that won’t be ideal for very little fingers, but certainly a calming activity to try for older kids. I recently purchased a more advanced one (but by no means truly “advanced”; it remains low stress) was one called Masterpieces that end up creating a sticker version of beautiful, well-known works of art.

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

Each summer we travel to North Carolina to visit family and escape the heat of Florida. With each visit over the last several years and as our children have gotten older, we’ve tried to explore more of the mountains and surrounding areas. This year we were able to purchase a travel trailer and took a trip that looked a little different with not having to be tied to a hotel room. While packing for the trip, I gathered up a handful of outdoor themed books and easy activities that I found on Pinterest in my never-ending attempt to weave learning and reading into our summer. It’s a struggle and sometimes like pulling teeth for my kids, but every once in a while, I get a smile of interest or excitement over something we’ve learned. Because we were stopping at campsites and had nature at our fingertips, I brought along the Usborne’s 1,000 Things in Nature and tried to find critters and natural items that we discovered in the creek or ground coverings. We also used The Usborne Outdoor Book to guide us on our adventures.

Using Pinterest’s wonderful suggestions, we used glass jars to magnify some of our treasures and also learned about photosynthesis in such a beautiful and simple way!

PHOTOSYNTHESIS: https://www.kcedventures.com/blog/how-do-leaves-breathe-a-simple-science-experiment-for-kids

While the big kids were river rafting, my daughter and I had a wonderful time lifting rocks to find critters, looking for creatively shaped stones, and shuffling along until our feet were numb from the refreshingly cold creek water. Here’s a sampling of some of the treasures we found:

Although I forgot to take a picture of them, we used some of the findings to create the most beautiful “nature ladies” using leaves, pebbles, paper and glue sticks. Here’s where I found the inspiration.

Because we spent a lot of time in the travel trailer and I love a good theme, I used the National Parks as my inspiration for decorating the trailer and trying to make it feel like home. As a part of that, I gathered books from home and created a book nook behind the seating area:

Although summer is coming to and end, I hope we can fit one more weekend in for a trip in our travel trailer. With the Florida heat at this time of year, hopefully that will involve a trip to a crisp and chilly spring!

Happy Summer and Happy Reading to you!

Would Ya Look at That View!

Right now I’m sitting in a cozy chair with one of the most beautiful views in my hometown. My in-laws live in a stunning home on the river with spacious windows that allow you to see the river out back (does that sound like a real estate listing description, or what?) 

I feel almost completely content and generally hopeful. Because of its rarity and because my brain is usually busier, I do not take this for granted. I’ve sat here many times before and this morning, I’m reflecting on just how terribly awful I’ve felt during those times. As you know, often and disappointingly so, the yucky times tend to nab a more prominent part in our memory bank. 

We are here this morning because our home has just been put on the market and we’re staying out of the way this weekend to keep it tidy. Ironically, the emotional and mental breakdown I had sixteen years ago occurred in this beautiful home. While my in-laws were living in their seasonal home, we briefly moved in here while our home was being built. Upon moving in, I wrote a joyful journal entry expressing all I hoped to accomplish and in which creative outlets I planned to dabble. Quite drastically the next entry spoke of complete confusion and misery. Just like the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, “my life got flipped, turned upside down” and constant, intense anxiety ruled every hour. 

I feel uneasy as I type because of how sensitive I am to those memories. My OCD wants me to stop typing it for fear that “it’ll come back”. So, I type some more! The heavy tears, shivering as though I had a fever, drastic weight loss, the fears over taking Zanax to get to sleep, a dear friend encouraging me and watching to be sure I a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, waking at 5:00am to immediate nerves…it was such an awful time. 

Over the years, I recall sitting in this chair at times to hide away during social gatherings, as I did my best to put on a smile and hide the heaviness or strong anxiety I had coursing through my insides. I remember sitting here crying on a beautiful Easter Sunday, but I was not able to see the beauty. 

Even though it feels heavy to recall all of these memories and I somewhat regret bringing it back as it puts a damper on my initial cozy contentedness I referred to at the beginning, I think it’s vitally important to do so because I want to possibly bring HOPE to someone that may read this. I don’t feel that way today. Yes, there is always the possibility of doing a crash and burn tomorrow and my OCD takes a liking to that idea, but I am not in misery. I’ve had great difficulty and pain over the last sixteen years, but it’s also been a time of up and down learning and growing. Life is hard. If you struggle with a mental illness of any kind, it may be something you have to manage for life, but it is not a death sentence. There is help. With practice and consistency, there are tools and habits that can help us learn to make space for discomfort so that we don’t make those feelings worse. There is always HOPE, dear reader. 

Finding Nemo

Due to technical difficulties and a wonky life schedule, I’ve not been keeping up with posting, but I’ll be slowly catching up and hopefully, sharing ideas that may be helpful and also encouraging those of you trying to share the love of learning and reading, but hitting a few (or a lot) of bumps along the road. With little tidbits of time, I have been updating my sweet website, learning about converting HEICs to JPGs (huh?), and navigating the ins and outs of expanding my book business, blog, and the social media that goes along with it. It’s nothing fancy and will never be, but for now, it brings me joy and allows me an outlet to share what suits MY fancy 🙂

As we moved further into the summer schedule, I tried to weave in summer learning with more themes. I rapidly found out that it was more difficult to do without the structure of the homeschool day. It turns out it’s much harder to do anything “learning” related when you don’t have to 😉 The first theme I tackled was oceans/underwater. Because of learning curves on how to incorporate activities that intrigue both a 12-year-old boy and 5-year-old girl that are used to copious amounts of technology, it was a slooooww process. I had grand plans in my mind that were filled with curiosity sparks and lightbulb moments. Nah. Not much of that. Plus, there was some Mom barking and a wheelbarrow of whining and grumbling. I didn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater on this idea of adding a touch of learning to our summer, especially considering the strange Covid season and need for a bit of structure. Sometimes kids need a little nudge and that’s just what I did! I’ll link what I can below, but some of the underwater fun we had involved:

We looked through these themed books I already had on my kids’ bookshelves:

https://amzn.to/2VA180R
https://amzn.to/2DasDb7

Who knew puzzles could be such fun? We diligently finished a cool Usborne puzzle and enjoyed the beautiful book that came along with it.

https://z7527.myubam.com/p/…/under-the-sea-book-jigsaw-puzz…

My oldest built models of sea animals from an interactive book I found at Costco.

We watched very cool YouTube videos about the ocean zones and sharks and played mellow calming jellyfish videos on Youtube for a few hours! highly recommend!

We created a ocean zones in a jar science experiment (they really liked making this!)

Last but not least, we made a very poor ocean diorama where the kids slapped some blue paint inside boxes and we tossed some plastic sea creatures in there and called it a day (won’t do that again).

As a reward for all of us, we made reservations online, threw on our masks and visited the Florida Aquarium for what I might consider my favorite visit ever simply because of the smaller crowd sizes. It was such a treat to casually chat with my kids as we strolled through and actually made connections to things we’d previously learned (yahoo!)

Hopefully they won’t remember that bit about the sharks when we have our beach week vacation in a couple weeks 😬

Legit Letters

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to attend BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) once a week, which is an international program for women and they do a study of one book of the Bible each year. The program includes an absolutely amazing children’s program and my littlest one was able to learn a mini version of what I was studying each week. Another gift was the interaction and support from the small group of women you meet with each week. We had a beautiful woman as our leader who encouraged us and prayed for us. Although I have not participated since, it is something I highly recommend and look forward to doing again as things settle and both of my children are in school.

I happened to land on the year that they were studying the book of John, which I feel was just perfect for me. It allowed me to hear the clear basics of the Gospel in such a helpful way. I was encouraged in many ways, but the most valuable piece to me and what kept shining through is the validity of this Gospel message. There were several times that I found myself thinking, “this just sounds so real” or “you just couldn’t have made this up” (P.S. I tend to naturally approach my faith from a skeptic’s view. I wish I were more of an easy believer, but I also know doubts can strengthen faith, too, so it’s not all bad).

As I recently looked back in my notes, several tidbits jumped out to me, but a common theme I love is how cool it is that the patterns and traditions (albeit seemingly strange to us) of the Old Testament were some of the ways God prepared people to understand the significance of Jesus’ crucifixion. He was the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” and Jesus died at Passover as the Passover Lamb.

I love the genuineness and humanness of the people mentioned in the book of John; especially Nicodemus and Peter. Nicodemus was a fancy-pants religious leader at the time, but was so curious and knew there was more to life. He suspected great truth in Jesus and risked his high status by going at night to visit Jesus in order to learn more. He’s become one of my favorite biblically historical figures. I can’t help but love and have compassion for Peter because of his passion and humanness. I can very often relate to him and look forward to meeting him in eternity.

I’ve heard it numerous times, but if you are a new believer, a wonderful place to start is the book of John. I still have very simple bible basics because I continue to prioritize many other things above scripture reading, but each time I’m given the opportunity to really dig into a book of the Bible, I find myself both challenged and soothed by what I learn. I’m finding that opportunity through recent bible studies within my church’s women’s studies and I’m incredibly thankful for the hope and encouragement it provides.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

It’s Christmas Time, All Over the World

Christmas Eve is here at last. Or should I say, Christmas Eve is already here?! I’ve been involved in numerous conversations surrounding how “weird” this Christmas season feels because it’s come so quickly after Thanksgiving this year. Of course, we are usually feeling scrambled and a bit frantic this time of year, but this time felt different and I don’t think many people were keen on it, especially considering how much work it is!

I’ve been grateful to have been slowly learning over the last few years to better anticipate life to simply happen and “mess up” any grand, magical plans I’ve created in my mind over what the holiday season should look like. Sometimes that’s still tough; i.e. the tears shed over broccoli at my five-year-old’s birthday dinner (by both mother and daughter. don’t ask) I’ve written about this before, but some things bear repeating. We can blame society, social media, and the Hallmark Channel, but the expectations many of us place on ourselves and families for the “perfect” holiday experience can really be detrimental. We can be going at a rapid pace trying to fit in all of the experiences that we’re “supposed” to do and completely lose sight of the point. Yesterday, I was internally complaining about all of the gifts I still needed to wrap and I’m so thankful that I then had the thought that I get to wrap all of these gifts. What a GIFT!

Dear reader, wherever you are, as one of my favorite podcasters says, I want to give you a “big, fat virtual hug” this Christmas season. You are exactly where you are for a specific purpose today. I’m truly sorry if you are feeling heavy and sad. Life is so hard. I personally cling to the hope that comes through the promise of Jesus Christ that this is not all there is. If you are reading this now, close your eyes and take a few simple, slow breaths. Gently remind yourself that all is well just as they are, even if they are not well (for example, my dear friend and her children that have been vomiting the last couple of days. sigh). It is OK to feel that disappointment. One of the better tips I’ve heard through counseling is to tell myself something along the lines of, “Things are not as I wish they were, but I’m going to look for the tiniest bit of good, be kind to myself, and practice gratefulness even if I might not feel like it.” You are a gift. Merry Christmas!

OCD is Not an Adjective

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the 26th Annual OCD Conference in Austin, Texas. If you read my first post about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, you’ll know that I painfully struggled for over a decade before being correctly diagnosed two years ago with OCD. This disorder is greatly misunderstood and this isn’t helped with media’s portrayal of being “so OCD” about organizing and germs.

Throughout the weekend’s events, I met people from all walks of life and from different parts of the globe that are affected by OCD; sufferers, parents and siblings of sufferers, and the therapists and doctors that serve in that field. I met several doctors and therapists that have been extremely influential in my journey with books they’ve written or podcast/Instagram postings. The sessions covered a variety of topics with panels of both experts and sufferers that shared their experiences. Because OCD can reveal itself through many different themes (contamination, intrusive taboo thoughts, relationship, etc.), there were specific support groups scheduled for the evenings. This quickly became my favorite part because I was sitting amongst men and women of different generations and from all over the country and world that knew exactly what it was like to think with a “sticky” OCD brain. There were laughs and tears and conversations that went late into the night. Without getting too dramatic, it was beautiful.

OCD is not an adjectiveI think I have always known that there is relief and hope found when you know someone else understands a similar struggle, but that became magnified through my experience at the OCD Conference. I’ve made friends and will keep in contact between different time zones so that we will know and be reminded that we are not alone. I plan to attend each year so I can learn about new advances in treatment, ideas and encouragement on learning to live with OCD, join forces to advocate for mental health awareness, but most importantly, to gather with others that understand.

If you or someone you know struggles with intrusive thoughts and/or obsessive thoughts that lead to compulsive behaviors, inward rumination, seeking reassurance or avoidance, look further into OCD as a possibility. The International OCD Foundation’s website can give you more information and help you find the support you need.

Restoration

Just yesterday I was reading about a fresco that was being restored and in the process, the colors revealed were much brighter and more colorful than anticipated. It was debated as to whether they should continue to restore and reveal the more vibrant colors or keep it dark and familiar. I don’t know what the final verdict was, but the story was being compared to how we can treat our own inner “restorations”; what we allow to be revitalized or renewed, or what we would rather keep covered.

As with most of my blog entries, this one originated from an aha moment I received somewhere over the last several months. When we compare our lives to someone else, it’s very easy to go one of two ways: either “they have it way better than me” or “I’m really not that bad off after all”. The first one is generally slathered in envy and the second could sound either grateful or prideful. When we focus on the latter, there is sometimes a temptation to downplay one’s own struggles or life experiences.

“Oh, I haven’t had it as bad as her/him”

“I don’t really have anything to complain about”

“My childhood really wasn’t that bad compared to theirs”

Do any of those sound familiar? They have been engrained in my brain for at least a decade as I’ve muddled through mental health counseling. Unbeknownst to me, I carried a fanny pack of guilt that told me I should just get over this already because I shouldn’t need, AKA don’t deserve, to seek counseling. It wasn’t until recently when I heard someone say that the healthier route is to validate our hurts. True, maybe ours aren’t as “awful” as someone else, but they could still be impacting our choices even today. I’d encourage you to recognize the wounds, big and small, that bother you. Don’t minimize them or push them away. I don’t mean we should put all of our focus on our hurts and dwell or discuss them all the time, but respect them for what they are. Just like the fresco, you deserve to be restored and revitalized, too. If we give respect to our hurts and honor them by doing so, maybe we can lay them down in a healthy way that may free us up to live lighter. Get a bit of counseling if you think it may help. I personally believe that every single human being should seek occasional counseling to help us “stay on top of our game” in life. It has the potential to give us perspective on circumstances, relationships, goals, etc. You are worthy.