In the mind of a three-year-old

Just for fun, here is an interview with Princess, on what life is like at three years old.

My beautiful, darling Princess - the light of my life.

Me: Can you tell me about your life?

Princess: Um, no. I don’t want to tell you about my life.

Me: Oh – okay.  Well, what are your favourite things to do?

Princess: I love to read these [Usborne books]. And I love to read the Tiger book that has lots of things to open in it.

Me: Nice.  What else do you like to do?

Princess:  To draw. Play.

Me:  What do you like to play?

Princess: Playmobile.  And I like to draw.

Me:  What do you like to draw?

Princess: Animals and princesses.  Even that.

Me:  When you get up, what’s the first thing you like to do?

Princess:  Draw.

Me:  What do you like about drawing?

Princess:  I like about drawing – drawing!

Me: Oh! What makes you happy?

Princess: God.

Me:  That’s a good answer 🙂  What makes you sad?

Princess:  Having my jumper on.

Me: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Princess:  A mommy.

Me: A mommy?

Princess:  Yep, a mommy.

Me:  And what do you think about dying?

Princess:  Come back to life again!  And Grandma and Papa die, and we die, and Timmies goes there, and we can meet Grandma and Papa.

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Of men and muscles

For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.
1 Timothy 4:8

Every night I watch my brother and husband work out in our lounge. This started about two weeks ago, due to their desire to flatten their tummies and grow their muscles, and they are pretty faithful to do it every evening. Sometimes they even cajole me into joining them, but I have to admit I prefer to just watch… 🙂

We live in a world where health and fitness is seen as somewhat of a god. People join gyms, buy protein shakes from health food shops and sign up to all kinds exercise classes. Children are taught about the value of regular exercise, cigarettes are legally obliged to come with huge health warnings, and mothers are given information on post-partum ways to work out as soon as possible after giving birth.

Now there is nothing wrong with being healthy – if you’ve read my previous posts you will know that I myself am concerned with helping my family to stay healthy by eating the best kinds of food we can afford. Being healthy is great – but it’s value is a limited-time offer. You see, we can be the healthiest, fittest person on earth, who never gets sick and avoids cancer, diabetes and heart attacks. But in the end, health is only valuable for this life. When you die, health and fitness won’t be an issue! Godliness, however, has eternal value.

Prince takes every opportunity to strengthen his physical muscles. Do we take every opportunity to strengthen our kids’ spiritual muscles?

As parents, we need to keep this truth in mind as we train up our kids. It’s easy to spend hours of time researching how to give your kids the best nutrition for their growing bodies. It’s easy to spend money and time enrolling them into sports and gymnastics, knowing that you are supporting their physical well-being. But more than all that we need to be seeking after ways to regularly feed them spiritually nutritional food, and find ways to encourage them to exercise godliness.

One of the reasons people seek after health is to avoid getting sick. They don’t want to go down with the flu or risk a heart attack by clogging up their arteries with grease. In the same way, we need to exercise godliness so that we can avoid falling into sin. We should be aiming for peak spiritual fitness – for ourselves and our kids. We need to give our families the best spiritual nourishment available to strengthen their souls, so that they will be able to resist the harshest of temptations.

My little boy loves to compare his muscles to Daddy’s muscles. He take joy in seeing how strong he is, and even takes it upon himself to exercise in the hopes of getting stronger as quick as possible! My hope is that I can teach him to have the same kind of passion for developing spiritual muscles, because this will last him for eternity.

A joyful heart

A joyful heart is good medicine, But a broken spirit dries up the bones.
Proverbs 17:22

The life of a child is like a swing – they seem to go from having the best of fun to total disaster in one quick swoop! One of the challenges as a parent is helping them learn to moderate this roller-coaster of emotions, identify what the important things of life are, and make the choice to have a positive outlook.

My prince is going through a time of particular challenge in this area at the moment. It seems as soon as something doesn’t go the way he would like he reacts as if his world has just come crashing down. I don’t say this in jest – in actual fact it is something I find hard to deal with. It is tough to balance understanding that little things are important to children, with teaching them to respond well to disappointment.

In hopes of encouraging both myself and others, here are seven ideas for dealing with the emotional downs in our children’s lives:

  • A joyful heart is GOOD!

    We love the Steve Green ‘Hide ’em in Your Heart‘ Scriptures songs. One that we often use when one of our kids is feeling down is ‘A Joyful Heart is Good Medicine’. This reminds children that being joyful can work like medicine, making us feel better.

  • Make it a habit to talk about what the most important things in life are – not just when the kids are upset, but also when they are enjoying something. Reinforcing this over and over will – hopefully! – help them learn to let the little things go and keep their minds on the big picture.
  • One of the top ten children’s movies from yesterday’s post was ‘Veggie Tales: Madame Blueberry‘. This teaches the motto that “a thankful heart is a happy heart”. We use this phrase (and accompanying song) from Madame Blueberry to help the kids remember to find things to be thankful for in every situation, and show them how this makes them happy.
  • Take time to acknowledge and understand that things can seem important to children even if they are not important to us adults. Reinforce the idea that sad emotions are okay – but that we must learn to deal with them in the best ways. By making our children feel heard and understood, we will help them to move on towards joy.
  • Something we invented is a ‘blessings walk’ – or a blessings drive, blessings lunch, or whatever else we happen to be doing at the time. When a child is tempted to be sad about something they don’t have, we take turns naming blessings in our lives and pretty soon the discontent disappears.
  • Model appropriate emotions yourself. Kids learn to imitate what the see, so as parents one of our greatest teaching tools is our own behaviour. They say actions speak louder than words, but I think what speaks loudest is actions matching up with words. When we model appropriate ways to deal with disappointment, and a heart focussed on the things that truly matter, our kids will be able to see the good fruit in our lives and be more likely to follow suit.
  • Teach the concept of choosing our emotions. Even as adults this can be tough, as we often think we are at the mercy of our feelings. Training our kids from young that we have a choice about how we feel will set them up for a more positive future.

To TV or not to TV

Different people have differing views on how much TV time to allow their kids – ranging from none at all to unlimited amounts. It’s one of those issues that each family has to work out for themselves. I wouldn’t like to say our decision is the only correct opinion, but – at least for now – it is what we feel is right for our children.

Two God-given blessings.

Our family have taken the approach of allowing what we consider to be a middle ground ‘reasonable’ amount of TV time. We have reached this decision because, in our experience, banning any TV altogether can result in binge watching when they do eventually get the opportunity to watch. We also feel that to allow an unlimited amount is in contradiction with the idea of moderation, and can cause kids to develop a dependency or addiction to TV to be entertained. The way our decision works out practically is that our kids usually watch anywhere between none and three programs a day.

One of the earliest decisions we made was to not have a TV licence. We feel that there is such a lot of unsuitable advertising and program choices on TV which are very difficult to avoid when TV is available in the house in this way. Rather, we stick almost exclusively to DVDs, with the occasional use of “catch-up” TV for particular programs. A bonus of this is that it also works out cheaper 🙂  (Please check the TV licencing laws in your own area if you are thinking of taking this option.)

Here are my top ten favourite programs that my kids watch:

  • Veggie Tales: Pistachio
  • Veggie Tales: Jonah
  • Veggie Tales: Madam Blueberry
  • Veggie Tales: Sweetpea Beauty
  • Veggie Tales: Little Jo
  • Veggie Tales: Gideon
  • Word World
  • Sesame Street
  • The March of the Penguins
  • Octonauts

Whatever your stance on TV for your children, make sure it is made carefully and prayerfully.

From the lips of children

My precious Prince - my gift from God.

Yesterday I was working on my computer at the table in our lounge. My kids brought out almost all of their cars, and set them up near me in rows, like a large audience. Prince had one car at the front, facing all the others, and up on some kind of makeshift platform.  Then he put on his ‘car voice’, and began the announcement:

“Everyone, I have something amazing to tell you: Jesus died on a cross.”
[shocked gasp from the audience]
“No, don’t worry – you don’t need to gasp.   Jesus died…”
[another gasp]
“…but then after a few days he came back to life again!!!
[cheering from the crowd]

Amen.

Pressing on

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:7-14 (NIV)

Paul had his priorities right. He valued Christ above all else.  In chapter 1 he says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (v21)  Here in chapter 3 he says that if anyone has a right to boast in the flesh, it is him – and yet he considers his worldly advantages to be as “garbage” compared to belonging to Jesus.  This is Paul’s goal: to attain to the resurrection from the dead, which Christ Jesus has offered him.

“There is nothing I want more than for my children to love God and give Him first place in their lives.”

I, too, have this goal.  But as a mom, it is not just for me, but for my children also. There is nothing I want more than for my children to love God and give Him first place in their lives. Yet daily I mess up. I fail to live up to the opportunities given to me; I make selfish choices; I prioritise worldly values; I model sinful attitudes. I am sure you fail too. And God knows this. He knows we are helpless – so he gave us a gift: infinite grace.

Because of grace, reaching our goal does not depend on us achieving perfection here on earth. We will not be saved on the merit of our motherhood, our ministry, or our self-imposed laws. We cannot save our children, either, no matter how many hours a day we spend teaching them of His love (don’t mistake me here – we should teach them this, it’s just that we cannot save them). We, and our children, can only gain the prize of salvation by accepting it. Christ Jesus came to offer us freedom and eternal salvation because of His perfect life. When we begin to understand this concept, we are blown away.

None of us have reached this goal yet, but there is hope. I want to encourage us all, to forget what is behind, and press on to what is ahead. Start each day – even each hour, each minute – anew.  Accept the grace of God, and look forward. Don’t dwell on the mistakes and failures of the past. Persevere in your faith; pray for your children. There is hope in the future.

Tricks of the trade

Parents, over the years, find themselves picking up some useful ‘tricks of the trade’, and often wish that SOMEONE had told them this before. So if you are a new parent then consider yourself (at least partially) forewarned, because here are some that I have learnt along my journey as a mother:

  • Use distraction wisely. When you child scrapes their knee in the park, the pain can often totally disappear when you suddenly point out – in your most fascinated voice – that “That cloud over there looks just like a dinosaur!”
  • Most children respond better if given advance warning about things. My kids take it better if, for example, I say, “We are going to leave the playground in five minutes…. in two minutes… in one minute… okay, choose your last thing to go on and then we are leaving.”
  • Children love choice.  Instead of saying, “You can’t have a chocolate – have an apple” try, “Can you choose which apple you like best from the fruit bowl?”
  • Entertain their imagination. I am often amazed by how much better my kids will respond to instructions like “time to for bed” if it is said by one of their soft toys, race cars, Octonauts characters, or anything other than just plain old me!
  • Make water the norm.  Water is cheap and healthy. If you want your children to drink water without fussing, then make it their usual drink from young. It’s much harder for kids to enjoy water if they are used to the strong flavours in juice.
  • Use sign language to reduce early frustration. Both of my children could sign before they could talk. Signing is much easier than talking for babies, and it has been shown to reduce frustration and tantrums as the child has a way of communicating their needs and wants. It is also a very special thing, as you gain insights into their sweet little minds that you might not otherwise have had. If you live in Canada or the USA then I highly recommend the ‘Signing Time‘ series.
  • Use a toothbrush from early on.  As soon as the first tooth peeps up – or even before – get them used to having a toothbrush and paste in their mouths.  For some unknown reason, brushing teeth can be a real battle with little kids.  I recommend starting with something like this.
  • Speak gently. I find that children respond much better if spoken to in a gentle, positive way. This has its place, of course – I am very firm on disciplining when needed – but often I find undesirable behaviour can be avoided if the right tone and approach is taken by the parent in the first instance. For example, instead of saying, “Right – pack up those cars now” I prefer, “Okay, guys, we’re going to pack the cars up now, because Daddy is about to come home and we love to have a tidy house for him, don’t we?” This gets a faster and happier response 99% of the time.

I would love to hear some more tips from others; what tricks of the trade have you picked up as a parent?

Homemade garlic hummus

My first experiences of hummus were not good ones. Pasty, dry chick peas blended up. Yuck! However, my stance on this dip/spread changed when my mother-in-law introduced me to garlic hummus a few years ago. Suddenly it took on a whole new – and much nicer – flavour! Since then I have grown to love it, and find it to be a great condiment to keep in the fridge and snack on with some raw vegetables or spread on homemade wholemeal bread.

I don’t think I have ever actually bought hummus from the shops; I prefer to make my own at home. This is partly for health reasons, because I first started making it when I lived in Canada, where all the hummus I could find had genetically modified ingredients. It is also partly just because I enjoy creating it to taste exactly the way I like it!

My first attempts at homemade hummus were made following a recipe I found in a Google search. Over the years I have changed and tweaked this to suit my own taste. For those interested, here is the recipe I now use:

Homemade lemon and garlic hummus

Ready to make homemade hummus.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 – 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper (I use freshly ground)
  • 2 tbsp cold-pressed virgin olive oil
  • 4 – 5 large organic garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (I use the juice of one fresh organic lemon and then top up with bottled lemon juice)
  • 1/2 tsp Nando’s garlic peri-peri sauce
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter (wholenut gives the nicest flavour)
  • 1 tin organic chick peas

Method:

  1. Combine olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, peri-peri sauce and peanut butter into a blender (or a bowl/cup if you are using a hand blender).
  2. Peel and crush the garlic cloves using the flat side of a knife blade. Add them to your blender.
  3. Blend until smooth.
  4. Drain about half the water from your chick peas. Add the rest of the water and the chick peas to your blender.
  5. Blend again until well mixed in.
  6. Pour the mixture into a Tupperware tub with a lid and refrigerate for about at least hour.
  7. Enjoy!

The finished hummus, ready to eat with some fresh vegetables.

Following this recipe will give you a very strong garlic hummus, so feel free to play around with the quantities and make it to your own personal taste. I always test a bit on my finger after mixing in the chick peas to see if I need to add more of any ingredient (note: the hummus tends to taste stronger after sitting in the fridge for a while, so do be careful). Fresh lemons add the nicest flavour, but can be a bit time consuming and expensive to squeeze, so I tend to use a mixture of fresh and bottled juice. Also, you can also use tahini instead of peanut butter, but I usually don’t have that in the house.  Another option is to make it without either of those.  I have done this and it still works, it just ends up a bit thinner.

Homemade hummus is a healthy and cheap choice. Because it is fresh, it’s free from preservatives, artificial flavours and other additives. I find it to work out about the same price as shop-bought hummus, though maybe slightly more expensive than non-organic varieties. Look around for deals on the ingredients to save money. I have found organic chick peas cheapest in Asda, although I suspect that buying dry and soaking your own would work out cheaper still. This is something I plan to look into when I get time.

My favourite way to eat hummus is as a dip with fresh veggies – white cabbage being my all time top choice. It is also nice as a spread on bread, or added to other meals as a flavouring. Some ideas I would like to try as varieties of this recipe are: using coconut oil instead of olive oil, and adding tomatoes and herbs instead of lemon and garlic. What other ways do you enjoy hummus? Have you got your own favourite recipes? I would love to hear more ideas for ways to enjoy this yummy, healthy condiment.

All things bright and beautiful

Yesterday the kids and I went with some of our homeschool friends to the Natural History Museum in Tring. It was incredible! If ever you need a reminder of the awesomeness of creation, this is a great place to go. By the end of the day I had a renewed appreciation of the beauty and wonder God has put into the world, and of His majesty and power.

The green field - I caught it on camera on the way back home.

Tring is about just over an hour away from us, but due to rain and road works the journey took us two hours to get there. It was a pretty grey day, and I was looking out the wet windows as we drove along the motorway, not seeing anything of particular interest. Suddenly, as we rounded a curve in the road, a gorgeous bright yellow-green field came into view. It took my breath away! I was awed by the simple beauty of the crop, as it stood out bold and cheerful though dull, damp air. Wow – God can sure paint a scene!

The view across the hills as we left the motorway.

As we drew nearer to Tring the weather cleared up a bit. The blue sky brightened the day as we turned off the main motorway and began to drive along the winding roads. The countryside here was soft and green, with rolling hills, grazing sheep, and dandelions providing spots of yellow colour. I wished I had time to stop and walk though it all, and really take it in. As it was I had to simply enjoy it as we whizzed past, and attempt some pictures with my HTC phone camera!

God is amazing!

By the time we arrived I already knew that I would have to share this wondrous beauty with you all today. Little did I know what was waiting inside to confirm that decision! The car park was tiny and subjected to construction work, and the building looked like it could hardly hold anything of value. I gathered a few of the kids while our driver kindly went to look for a parking space further afield, and we walked into the building. We were greeted by friendly people, who showed us where to buy some activity sheets for the children. After spending £1.50, gathering pencils and drawing boards, and checking I had the right number of kids with me, we entered the first gallery.  Wow.

I could have stayed in this gallery for hours. I think we did spend about 45 minutes there. It was a small room for a museum – hardly bigger than the square footage of my flat – but it was packed from floor to ceiling with animals. There were bears, wolves, gorillas, big cats and birds of all kinds. Up above we could also see glimpses of safari and ocean creatures, which we saw in more detail when we got upstairs to gallery three.

It’s hard to say what my favourite part of the museum was, but I can narrow it down to three top experiences:

  1. Seeing the incredible beauty of a huge variety of birds up close.  I  have never been particularly interested in birds, but I’ve been getting more taken with them as I get older. Yesterday upped my interest a lot!  There so many varieties, and all so beautifully and intricately designed.
  2. The delighted cries and amazed faces of the children.  From the moment we entered until we left the children were moving from display to display, calling out for us to look at each new amazing discovery. They loved being so close up to the animals, seeing what they really look like. They took time to learn new facts, compare and contrast species and draw their favourite creatures.
  3. The ocean gallery.  Prince is very into ocean creatures at the moment, and whenever he is passionate about a topic I find myself being drawn into it too. The coral, crabs and sharks were particular favourites of mine in this section.  There was such detail, beauty and power in these creatures.

We stopped for a yummy indoor picnic half way through our exploring, and then made our way around the last galleries in the museum. After browsing the gift shop (Prince bought a pen for drawing with his own money), and a last trip to the loo, we walked back to the car. It was parked down a little village street, opposite fields where a few handsome horses were grazing.  Just lovely.

In our bedtime prayers we all thanked God for the amazing day out, and for the creation which we were blessed with witnessing that day.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Romans 1:20 (NIV)

Why we homeschool

Our family has made the choice to home education our children, rather than put them in the school system. Below is an outline of the ‘why’ behind our decision. This is certainly not an exhaustive list of our reasons for choosing to homeschool our kids. It is also not intended in any way to make others feel guilty for sending their kids to school. It’s simply an overview of some of the most important and outstanding reasons we believe that – for us – homeschooling is the option we must (and desire to) choose.

Spiritual Training.  Just as a solider training for war should go where he can be BEST trained, so we – training our kids for the spiritual war they will engage in as they grow – want to train them in the BEST possible place. In our opinion, this is not a school setting.  Why?  Because:

  1. We want to create an atmosphere where prayer, Bible study and unconditional love are a central part of their learning process, as we believe this creates a solid foundation for a life of love. (Deut 6:6-8)
  2. We want to be able to frequently and consistently show them how the Biblical principals of love, kindness and responsibility should influence thoughts and behaviour, and train them to make this a personal habit for life.  (Proverbs 22:6)
  3. We want them to be totally immersed in an atmosphere of love, acceptance, affirmation of who they are, and be the ones to provide consistent and loving discipline. At school we perceive that they will be too exposed to anger, bullying, discouragement and lack of discipline which can negatively impact character development.
  4. We want them to regularly observe adults and children who model love, integrity and diligence – characteristics we feel they should be aspiring too. Kids imitate what (and who) they see the most.
  5. We want them to be comparatively free from the long and daily peer pressure to conform to worldy standards. We want to control such exposure so they learn to love those they disagree with, rather than imitate them.

Academic excellence.  With ratio at almost always close to 1:1, we believe that education at home is far more likely to be of good quality than education at school. Even without formal teacher training we believe this is achievable. How?  Because:

  1. We can work hard at developing and maintaining a love for learning in our children. This (which is so easily and quickly lost in school settings) will help them to be life-long learners, and people who are diligent to search out whatever they need to know in the future.
  2. We are able to be very in tune with what subjects and topics each child enjoys, finds easy, or struggles with in some way. We can tailor their education to these strengths and weaknesses, moving ahead quickly when they excel, and taking the time needed when they would otherwise have struggled.
  3. We can focus on true understanding rather than test scores. Learning can be put into context and become meaningful, rather than abstract.  Long term learning is the goal.
  4. With the responsibility on our shoulders of educating our children, we tend to learn alongside them. This means that we are able to weave threads of learning easily through-out life as whole.  Learning becomes a natural part of life, not a 9am-3pm chore.  It also becomes a shared process of enjoyment and mutual encouragement.

Personal development.  There is no need to fear a lack of socialisation in homeschooled children – in fact the opposite may be true. Homeschooled kids are constantly around a variety of ages, and learn how to interact in everyday life, rather than the artificial situation which a class, year or grade makes up at school. With homeschool co-ops, clubs, music, art, swimming, church, camps, etc, there are no shortages of opportunities to socialise. But apart from this, there are other personal developmental benefits to homeschoolng:

  1. Self-discipline.  Opportunities to learn by one’s own initiative come up frequently in home education, and this promotes self-discipline, a huge benefit for life in the adult world.
  2. Problem solving.  While this can certainly be learnt at school, it may not be taught as specifically as we would like. We want to be around to teach loving and peaceful ways to solve both interpersonal and situational problems.
  3. Acceptance of others. Unlike the cliques which develop so easily in school settings, we can encourage children to play with, help and engage with people of all ages and abilities.
  4. Personal conviction.  Children should be free to question and challenge ideas and beliefs in an atmosphere of open-mindedness and honesty. We will not teach them just one view as right, to be taken as fact without question, but rather encourage them to examine and search out the evidence for themselves.  We will explain what we believe and why, and actively help our children to make their own decisions based on accurate interpretation of the available evidence.

Ultimately, we feel that God has given us (not teachers, day-care providers, babysitters or anyone else) the responsibility to bring our children up “in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph 6:4), and feel that we will best carry out that responsibility by educating our kids at home.  We believe that education at home can be first-class, and that the personal skills instilled will best prepare them to go into the world as loving, useful members of society.

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