What are you Reading These Days?

Ladybug was determined to celebrate Leap Day with all kinds of festivities, including ice cream sundaes for dessert. Dimples was at Aunt Michele’s, so she isn’t in this picture, but we saved her some treats.  And for those of you who commented on Honeybee’s natural hair – doesn’t it look fantastic!  I have something special to share about hair this Sunday and I think you’ll like it.

One of my favorite things I get to do as a mother is read aloud to my children.  Russ also often reads to the kids when he tucks them in at night.  We are making slow progress on our list of books this year, but despite that, we are still reading and enjoying it.

It Was No Small Feat

We have a new family photo!

What a relief! I have new photos for my blog, new photos for speak engagements, and best of all — our Christmas picture is done.

I have to confess that it was not easy to get this accomplished. With fourteen of us, there were so many details to cover, the first of which was selecting a date when everyone agreed to be present, including the photographer.

Next we had to coordinate our clothing and find shoes that fit the kids. I tried to look through the kids’ clothes several times during the week, but the days flew by and although I knew what a few of them were wearing, there were many gaps in my plan. Saturday found me digging through closets, dressers, and bins of hand-me-downs, sure that I would find something.

Twenty Real-Life Tools for Gifts

As I was writing the post of our Top Twenty Toys, I realized there is another category of favorite gifts worth mentioning. Many times rather than buying our children toys, we give them useful tools.  These aren’t necessarily tools in the sense of hammers and screwdrivers, although we’ve given those too, but something that can be used to accomplish a task or purpose.

Here are some of our favorites.

[This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.]

1.  Apron and Cookbook/Recipe Notebook

On Honeybee and Ladybug’s 11th birthdays, they each received an apron and a Recipe Notebook that had page protectors and dividers for the basic types of recipes:  Breads, Soups, Salads and Sides, Main Dishes, and Desserts.  I put copies of simple family favorites in each section.  They have loved this gift and continue to regularly add recipes.  It cost nearly nothing to make and has given them a sense of satisfaction as they learn to cook.  We have also given cookbooks, especially to Sweet Pea who loves to cook.

Other fun things are cake decorating tools and special baking pans.  Mimi was the french bread making champ at our house for years and a friend gave her these nice pans.

2.  Backpacking/Camping Equipment

When Russ and the boys first got involved in Boy Scouts, we began giving equipment for Christmas and birthday gifts.  After a few years they had most of what they wanted, which makes Russ sad because he would rather shop for gear like this than for anything else.  If Russ were home, he could recommend all kinds of great gifts, but I’m not qualified.  I can say, we’ve given backpacking stoves, sleeping bags, tents, backpacks, hiking boots, backpacking dishes and cookware, wool socks, and more.

3. Toolbox

We’ve given a toolbox for the car with tools necessary for quick repairs, a toolbox with general tools, and even a toolbox with a small hammer, level, and picture hanging supplies. A friend gave me a picture hanging tool kit for my birthday one year, and I have used it many times. I also have a small hammer that I keep in the laundry room; it’s the little things that make me happy.

4.  Small Table and Chairs, Toddler Chairs

When Sweet Pea and Mimi were little we took grandparent money and bought a small table with two chairs.  We still use it today! We have also used gift money to buy new bedding and decorative items for bedrooms.  Last year we gave Eby and Little Man toddler chairs from IKEA and they’ve been great.  We can fit the boys around the corners of the table and their chairs don’t take up unnecessary space.  Space gets tight when we have all fourteen of us around the table.

5. Knitting Needles and Yarn

I love to knit, and in a former life I never left the house without a project tucked in my bag.  In fact, I put “knit a hat” on my 50 Points of Joy list and just might pull it off over Christmas break.  Ladybug and Honeybee know how to knit, but I need to help them learn to follow a pattern and create things they will love.  I have a particular love for a book called Sunny’s Mittens that is now out of print. It is the story of a grandmother teaching her granddaughter to knit mittens and hats and is a wonderful teaching book. I had a copy that disappeared, but I recently found one online and ordered it. If you ever see it at a used bookstore or yard sale, buy it!

6.  Sewing Machine

Along the same lines is a sewing machine.  I’m not much of a sewer, but I have done a little quilting, made lots of curtains, and years ago I made simple clothes.  Our sewing machine died a couple of years ago and my girls have been pleading for a new one.  I know they would enjoy creating things for their dolls and with a little bit of help, for themselves.  I also suspect that Honeybee might be willing to mend things. I’ve been watching the deals on Amazon for sewing machines like this one.

7. Sports Equipment

A trampoline, basketball hoop, soccer goals, lacrosse equipment, running clothes, have all made their way into our home (or yard) as gifts.

8.  Musical Instruments

We love to encourage musical knowledge and ability, so we’re always happy to assist our kids in buying an instrument, or give them music and other accessories they need. In our home we currently have a piano, cello, viola, violins in various sizes, three acoustic guitars, one electric guitar, and various drums we brought home from Ethiopia. I also got a killer deal on a classroom set of children’s instruments years ago that has been lots of noisy fun.  Every once in awhile I’m tempted to buy a lap harp, and I have a weird desire to own an autoharp like the one my elementary school music teacher had.

9.  Techy Toys

My guys love techy things, and often ask for them for gifts.  One handy gift Rusty got last year was an Eye-fi.  It is a special memory card that automatically uploads photos directly to our computer.  I love that.  A new version of Photoshop is also on his wish list.   We’ve given small cameras, tripods, digital photo frames (to grandparents), and lots of iPod earbuds (I like the colorful ones so each child can have their own).

10.  Art and Craft Supplies

Art and Craft supplies are great consumable gifts if you are trying to keep clutter at bay.  I wrote about these on my Top Twenty Toys list, but also would like to add a wood burner, calligraphy set, and  scrapbooking supplies.  Once you head into the world of scrapbooking, the options are endless.  My kids also love having an easel.

11.  Magazine Subscriptions

Kids love getting mail! At various times our children have had subscriptions to Ladybug, Spider, Muse, Our Big Backyard, American Girl, Money, Kids National Geographic, and others.  We have also enjoyed Family Fun magazine, which is a great bargain.

12. Gardening Tools and Supplies

We bought two great sets of kid-sized, real gardening tools when our oldest kids were elementary age, and we still have many of them.  We also have given gardening gloves, hand tools, watering cans, and seeds.

13. Travel Gear

The year we did our big American History road trip, we gave each of the kids (six back then) an LL Bean duffle in their own color with their initials monogrammed on it.  Since then Sunshine was born and our four children joined our family from Ethiopia, so we’ve been gradually giving them theirs.  They are very handy and much easier to store than suitcases.  We have also given our kids tote bags and toiletry kits.  With all of our trips to Seattle, I love knowing that the girls have a  kit with a toothbrush, toothpaste, etc. already packed and ready to go.

14. Headlamp, Reading Light, Flashlight

I just asked Samuel to name the one tool that has been his favorite gift.  His answer was a headlamp.  Our guys use these all the time for camping and backpacking, but also for feeding cows, or doing any chores in the dark.  Along the same lines, but not quite as adventuresome are reading lights and light wedges.  I keep one in my suitcase that we take to Seattle and another in my bathroom cupboard for reading when the rest of the room needs to be dark.  They also work well in the car and kids love them.  You can also never go wrong with a good flashlight.

15. Office Supplies

A stapler, jumbo paperclips, label maker, page protectors, scissors, a ream of paper, pens and pencils — what’s not to love? I bought a classroom electric pencil sharpener over a year ago and it has made my school days so much easier. We love it.

16. Stationery

Remember when we used to write real letters?  My girls like to send letters and there is nothing like a box of pretty stationary along with an address book and stamps to encourage them. I’ve also given my kids calendars.

17. Cleaning Tools

Little Man loves to use the Dustbuster, Eby does a decent job with his small broom, and I read a blog post about a little guy who had a blast with a Power Scrubber – I may have to get one for Eby. If you really want to make someone happy, get them a Shark Steam Mop. My floors are the cleanest they’ve ever been and Honeybee is particularly happy because she no longer has to use a bucket and mop for her Saturday chore.

18. Pocket Knife

We have a well-loved tradition of giving our children a nice pocket knife for their tenth birthday. Nobody has needed stitches yet — at least not from their pocket knives.

19. Education

How about giving the gift of a cooking  or photography class?  Maybe one of your kids would love guitar lessons.  I once gave Russ fly-fishing lessons for his birthday and he loved it.

20. Experience

A number of years ago my Mom took all of her children and grandchildren to see The Nutcracker in downtown Seattle.  It was a fabulous and memorable gift. How about a concert or dinner out at a special restaurant?

What tools have you given your children, or would like to give them?  What tools would you like to receive?

Don’t tell my kids, but they are getting some of the things on this list for Christmas.

Oh, and two more things – binoculars and bird feeders!  Now I must stop thinking of things to add.  No more.  Done.

Have a great weekend everyone; we’re going to decorate our gingerbread house!


Top Twenty Toys

Need ideas for Christmas gifts?  In my nearly 24 years of mothering, I’ve seen many toys come and go.  As Christmas approaches, I hope I can offer some helpful suggestions. Some toys with longevity are expensive, while others cost nearly nothing or can easily be found at thrift stores and yard sales. You might want to put these on your “watch list.”

Here we go!

[This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.]

1. Educational Toys

I have to confess, I love these sorts of toys because they teach while allowing for creative fun.  Here are a few of our long time favorites:

Pattern Blocks (I have two large bins)

Peg Board (The Lauri one has been our favorite for years and years.)

Beads and Strings (Love them)

Geo Board (Over time we’ve lost most of our rubberbands, and I’ve had a hard time finding colorful ones.  I finally resorted to ordering them on Amazon – crazy. A crafty person could make one of these and they really are great.)

2. Leapfrog Toys


LeapFrog Word Whammer

Also educational, but in a different category are the LeapFrog products — love them. This Fridge Words Magnetic Word Builder,or “Word Whammer” as we call it, is a fantastic learning toy. Little Man got this for Christmas last year and it is still played with nearly every day.  I’ve been strict about keeping all of the letters on the refrigerator and I don’t think we’ve lost any.  The beauty of this toy is that it makes it easy for children to understand the concept of blending letter sounds.

The toy sounds out the letters and if they’ve built a word, it reads it to them. All of the vowels are red, and they know (from the Leap Frog DVD’s) that the vowels are the “sticky letters” that hold the words together. With a vowel in the middle, they can make lots of fun words. Little Man especially likes to spell Mom and Dad, which we like too. There is also a button that plays the “ABC Song” which Little Man plays a bit too often.

LeapFrog DVD’s

I know these aren’t toys, but I have to put in a plug for these great DVD’s.  Eby and Little Man learned all of their letter sounds with no effort, how to blend sounds, and even “silent e”, which is making teaching them to read a breeze.

3. Riding Toys

Noah got a Kiddie Car from Community Playthings for his second birthday — he is now 19.  That toy is still played with nearly every day and from the time he came home from Ethiopia, Eby claimed it.  When Little Man turned two, we bought one for him.  Sunshine, Eby, and Little Man ride these around the house, driving me slightly nuts, but, they have been great purchases.

We also had a very sweet Radio Flyer scooter that Sweet Pea got for her first birthday.  It had a sad accident when it was left in the driveway just a couple of years ago, but gave my kids many hours of happy riding.

Two years ago we gave Eby a Mighty Trike to ride on our gravel driveway.  He wasn’t ready to ride a bike, but the tires on most trikes didn’t work well on the gravel.  This trike has been a fantastic purchase, although the price was a bit much to bear.  Fortunately we had gift money from grandparents, so that eased the pain.  It is larger than most trikes, so Eby (5) and Little Man (4) will still use it for a long time.

All three of these are rather expensive, but they will last for many years, and through many children. They would be great suggestions for grandparents!

4. Blocks

We have a big bin of wooden blocks that get played with regularly.  Last Thursday the blocks formed a fence to keep the wild lion (Little Man) from escaping the zoo.  The kids also love to build big towers and make roads.

They also enjoy our set of cardboard bricks that we have had for many, many years.  They are light, inexpensive, surprisingly sturdy, and great for building walls to crash down with cars.

We have a sweet little village like this as well. I tend to save it for Quiet Hour when the pieces won’t get scattered.

5. Trains

We have had our train set since we lived in Ithaca, New York, which would mean about twenty years.  Little Man and Eby love it.  I keep it out for awhile, and then store it away, often trading it with the big bin of blocks.  Even college kids have been known to come over and build a train.  You can start small with enough track to make a circle or figure eight and add to it over the years.

6. Playdough

All of my children have loved Playdough; just yesterday I got out out large bin of Playdough toys for Eby and Little Man.  Kids will be happy with a small rolling pin and cookie cutters or something more elaborate.  You can’t go wrong with the basic Fun Factory which is inexpensive and fun.  My kids’ current favorites are the ice cream shoppe and a clown that grows “hair.’ In the summer, Playdough is an outside activity, but during cooler weather I do my best to have a good attitude about the mess and remember that most of it can be swept up when they are done.

7.  Dress Up Clothes

Timeless, inexpensive, and hours of fun,  kids love dress up clothes. Nearly every day at my home, somebody is an Indian, a princess, or an animal. Most of the dress ups we have were found at yard sales, thrift stores, or they were passed to us. When the girls were younger I often had to replace the all important dress up shoes, now their dress ups are more elaborate and often involve performances.

8. Puzzles

I like puzzles and have to resist buying more and more.  Our favorites are floor puzzles, Lauri puzzles, and beautiful Ravensburg and Melissa and Doug Puzzles.

9. Building Toys (Duplos, Legos, K’nex, Lincoln Logs)

We have two large bins of Duplos that have been played with for twenty years – I’m not kidding.  Eby is just beginning to move on to Legos, but the Duplos still get used regularly. Last week I dug out my older boys’ set of K’nex and Sunshine has gone completely nuts over them. She has been building creations daily, and particularly loves following the diagrams to create cars, etc.

10. Castles, Doll Houses, and Imaginative Play

My nephews who are now 21 and 19, passed their Fisher Price Castle and Pirate Ship to my kids many years ago.  Eby and Little Man call them their “bad guys” and love playing with them.  If I were to purchase a set today, I would probably go with something like this,although if you can find a used castle, my guys love theirs.

I didn’t originally list Playmobil because we have never owned it, but a friend commented that it is their favorite toy and my kids love to play Playmobil when they go to friends’ houses.  There are lots of great castles and other sets to check out.

We also have a dollhouse that originally belonged to my niece and has given my kids hours of fun play.

11. Dolls

With six daughters, you can imagine that we have had many dolls in our home.  We love baby dolls and big girl, American Girl dolls.  Dimples and Sunshine still love their Fisher Price Little Mommy dolls which we have with both light skin and brown skin. They are relatively inexpensive and quite sweet. The dolls from Melissa and Doug are similar.

12. Craft Supplies

My younger set will spend hours playing with paper, glue, paints (they love the little inexpensive watercolor sets), markers, crayons, scissors, glue sticks, and tape. Extra exciting items are fuzzy pompoms, foam stickers, pipe cleaners, glitter glue, and googly eyes with adhesive backs. This can also get super messy, but I give them a large plastic bowl for their scraps which helps with cleaning up. Rubber stamps are also a big hit.

13. Art Supplies

Good art supplies are more expensive than craft supplies, but they often last a long time. We still have a large set of Prismacolor pencils that belonged to Mimi years ago. We love our art sketchbooks and recently began experimenting with watercolor pencils in our nature journals.

14.  Toy Kitchen and Food

Our kids love having a toy kitchen; the one we have was passed to us by friends. We have a crazy collection of toy food and dishes ranging from old Fisher Price tea sets to Melissa and Doug wood food that cuts apart with a wooden knife (the pieces are held together with velcro). Since Little Man doesn’t read, I can tell you that I ordered the Birthday Cake set for him for Christmas. He loves making cakes for us with our Lauri pegboard and Duplos, so I’m pretty sure he’ll love this.

15. Outdoor Toys

We love having a trampoline and have not had a single broken bone in ten years.  Eby and Little Man spend hours jumping and playing games with balls.  They have fun with their hand-me-down Little Tykes basketball hoop and other sports toys. We also have a sandbox filled with buckets and old Tonka trucks, as well as a playset.  Right now we are doing a lot of sledding!

16. Wii and Wii Fit

[I borrowed this review from a post I wrote last year, Six Weeks Later.]

Another favorite gift that has seen daily use is Wii Fit Plus. After refusing to have video games for years, we were persuaded to get a Wii last Christmas (2008) with gift money from the grandparents. Because it can be used interactively, and you actually use your body to play many of the games, we decided this would be a good fit for us – especially during our long, cold winters. Overall, we have been happy with that decision. The kids lobbied hard for Wii Fit and this year we used grandparent gift money to get it.

Most of the kids have set up an account and are playing games to increase their balance, agility, etc. Russ and I had a hilarious time doing the Obstacle Course. I love the premise that exercise is fun; I want my children to love moving their bodies and breaking out in a sweat. I was a completely non-athletic, slightly overweight child, but I got hooked on running in college and haven’t stopped yet. So far the Obstacle Course is my favorite game, although I have yet to make it to the advanced level. I’m terrible at Skateboarding – Boo tried to teach me how to do it, but I think it is going to take practice.

17. Marble Runs

We got our Marble Run as a hand-me-down many, many years ago and the kids still love it.  Ours is from Discovery Toys and looks similar to this.

18. Lite Brite

I have great memories of playing Lite Brite with my sister, Laura.  We would hide away in our room for hours making pictures and then displaying them for our parents.  Our Lite Brite has been tucked away for a few years, but I’m planning to get it out and see if my younger children enjoy it.

19. Games

There are ten young people in my kitchen right now, so I just took a poll of their favorite games. These are the ones they spontaneously offered:

Candyland, Trouble, Guess Who?, Clue, Rat-a-Tat Cat, Uno, Dutch Blitz, The Amazing Labryinth, Connect 4, Life, Stratego, Settlers of Catan, Imaginiff ,Blokus, and Apples to Apples.

20. Cars and Trucks

This list would be incomplete without mentioning cars and trucks of all kinds. My older boys enjoyed playing with Hotwheels cars and track; Eby and Little Man have not discovered these yet, but I think they are just about ready. They also like big trucks, particularly the fire engine that makes lots of noise.

21. What would you put here?

Every family is different and we would love to hear what toys your children enjoy.  Give us suggestions and fresh ideas!

Have a great start to your week. Let’s get our Christmas shopping done so we can focus our hearts and minds on our families and the coming of Christ.  And for those of you who are done — I wish I could say the same!


He Gives and Takes Away – Empowered to Connect

Hi Friends,

I’m blogging today over at Empowered to Connect; my piece is titled, He Gives and Takes Away.  If you have a moment to pop over, I would love your feedback. Sometimes I struggle to get out of “blog mode” when I write; I assume my readers know me and my family and get sort of chatty. I’m trying to learn to write in a different “voice” for Empowered to Connect. Hopefully people will find my blog and get to know me in a more familiar way.

In other news, I was on Amazon this morning trying to do some Christmas shopping and saw that they have 50% off select Melissa and Doug toys.  I couldn’t resist and put two in my cart for Little Man, the Birthday Party Cake and 20 Animal Magnets.  We already have lots of toy food and learning toys, so I held back from ordering more, but the prices are fantastic.  The deal is only today, December 3rd, 2010.

[This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.]

I wish I had time to write more; maybe this weekend. I would like to share some of our favorite “tried and true” toys and gifts we’ve given our children over the years. Be thinking about what you can add to my list.

Have a great Friday everyone!


I Could Really Use a Wish Right Now, Wish Right Now…

Over Memorial Day weekend, Samuel, Rusty, my niece and two of their friends recorded an acoustic cover of B.o.B’s “Airplanes.” Greenstorm Film (an indie production company comprised of Mimi, her fiance Andrew, and their friend Jay) filmed and produced the music video. The recording of the song was produced by Samuel, who also played guitar. Rusty and my niece sang lead vocals, while our friends played strings.

Music, recording, and film became a significant part of Samuel and Rusty’s homeschooling this year. It is very fitting that they completed this project just in time for Samuel’s graduation.

Take a look!