Archive - 2015

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Screen Detox Part 2
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Screen Detox- 9 Days In
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REVIEW: Bluetooth Trackers (Never Lose Your Kids Again?)
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Community
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REVIEW: The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden
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My Kids are Riding the Bus
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DIY: Sliding Barn Door
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What did you eat in Uganda? A photo blog.
9
Gear for the Great Outdoors!
10
Photography

Screen Detox Part 2

It seems like there was a lot of build up to this moment. 14 days without screens ended on Friday, Elliott’s birthday and the day we left for a weekend in Gatlinburg. We didn’t use screens on the way there and I noticed lively (and loud) car games being made up in the backseat as we drove along. There were moments when I missed the silence of screen time in the car but I pressed on for the greater good. At this point we still weren’t sure what kind of TV viewing/screen using we wanted to return to. I had planned to let them watch a movie in the cabin that evening after all the exploring, swimming and birthday partying was over.

Once we arrived at the cabin the kids let loose exploring the bedrooms and game room and porches with breath-taking views. We went for a swim and then returned to the cabin to prepare the birthday dinner and dessert. (This was interrupted, in a good way, by a surprise visit from my sister and law with my brand new nephew) Who needs TV when you have a newborn to hold! The kids were enamored with little Jonah and enjoyed every moment of his little baby ways.

The kids did end up watching a bit of TV before they fell asleep that night. It was a treat, each room had a big television and it felt almost like their own personal movie theater. They were allowed to do the same thing the next evening. On the way home I did not allow them to use screens. Rather they made up games and talked about the fun things they had experienced that weekend. We dreamed about future adventures and asked each other questions.

Once home, with screen usage on the table again, it was time to set forth the new guidelines. The old guidelines were no TV or screens on week days. TV/Screens were allowed on Saturday and Sunday in moderation. However, as we said before… controlling that moderation sometimes got out of hand.

Our new guidelines are as follows:

No TV/Screens on week days. Instead choose books, building materials, crafts, science experiments, sports, books on tape or imaginary play.

One family movie night per weekend. This is a family event, something we choose together, make special snacks etc.

Possible 30 minutes of TV or screen on Saturday morning. This does hinge on behavior and attitude.

When we were detoxing we noticed better sleep patterns, more self-starting behaviors, less whining, and less melt-downs. And above all, we found better things to do. That’s the bottom line as a family with small children. There are much better things to spend our time doing than watching a screen. It’s not necessarily the easiest choice… our house is messier, our intentional interaction with four children must increase and we have to watch our own screen usage as well. The best choices for our family are not always the easiest, but I feel certain that we will continue to see the fruit of our labor when we intentionally invest in the lives of our children.

Screen Detox- 9 Days In

As promised I’m going to share about our TV fast, or detox as the professionals call it. First, let me explain our TV and screen rules prior to the fast. We only allowed TV and screens Friday through Sunday. Friday evening the kids typically viewed a movie together, and then watched about 2 hours of TV on Saturday and Sunday. They really enjoy getting up early and watching Netflix on Saturday mornings. I viewed this time as relaxing for them. However, it quickly became the very opposite of relaxing. They fought over which shows to watch, manipulated each other and sometimes ended up watching more than they were supposed to. Our oldest was also finding ways to sneak in screen time. He was playing a dinosaur role playing game on the ipad, each day an egg would hatch and a new dinosaur was added to his collection. He began by asking if he could check to see if his egg had hatched each morning. I saw no big deal with letting him take a quick peek each morning and consented to this “illegal” screen time. However, being the crafty sinner… I mean young boy, that he is, this quickly spiraled into 10-15 minutes of hiding somewhere and actually playing the game. We gave him a couple warnings and then finally put an end to the egg checking scheme. This decision was met with massive moodiness and disrespect. When challenged with his disobedience he was not repentant… instead he challenged us back with his disrespectful attitude.

This left Calvin and I thinking. We know screens are addictive. Our kids often have a hard time sleeping. Screens make everyone argue… everyone is cranky. Even with strict limitations we began to feel that screens were not healthy for our children.  Calvin pulled up a study from Psychology Today which suggested a two-week tv detox and we decided to give it a try.

We are now 9 days into our TV fast. I promise you, the first 3 days were the most difficult. No glancing at a quick funny cat video on daddy’s iphone, no checking to see where Megalodon was last spotted, no 30 minutes of Sprout for the 3 year old once the big kids headed to school, and worst of all NO Friday night movie. Nada. Nothing. No screens.

The first three days we battled with moody kids. Liam (3) even grabbed my phone and ran off. We began to see the effects of these little once in awhile screen uses. They begged and pleaded and we held our ground. And we did something else. We played with them.

We pulled out beads, and crayons and science experiments. We jumped on the trampoline. We played board games and read questions to each other from little card sets. We listened to more music, we read more. As we inserted ourselves into their lives more we found they complained less about their lack of screens.

The week days were not bad. They are not accustomed to watching TV on those days anyway. But as the weekend approached we knew we needed a plan. On Friday night Calvin drove the kids to the church where they ate a pizza and raw vegetables (gotta off-set that pizza treat!) and roller bladed and played basketball on the courts. On Saturday we spent the morning on the soccer fields and ate lunch together afterwards. We then cleaned up the house together and the kids rode bikes, made things out of sticks and had some crafting time. By the time Sunday hit they were actually breaking out on their own. Elliott and Liam spent HOURS outside playing with a nerf shooter and exploring the small wooded area behind our house. When Liam woke up this morning, Monday morning, He said “I want to play in the secret fort.” This is a drastic change from “I want to watch a sprout show when the kids go to school.” That one sentence alone showed me that this fast was effective in beginning to reset his brain.

I can’t wait to share more when we complete the fast in 5 days! We are coming up with new guidelines as we approach the end.

 

REVIEW: Bluetooth Trackers (Never Lose Your Kids Again?)

Disclaimer: The folks at XY Find It Beacon and My Buddy Tag very kindly provided their bluetooth tags for this comparison review. As always, the opinions are my own.

Probably like many of you, I have seen banner ads all over the internet for a product called TILE. Attach these trackers to things you don’t want to lose: keys, wallet, purse, laptop bag, camera, luggage, etc. Download the app on your phone and be notified whenever the item is out of range and be able to see just about how close (or far) you are to retrieve your belongings. What a great idea!

With four, very quick, little ones I began to wonder if the TILE would work well on kids. It could be great for camping or public parks… mainly for the older children as our attention is often on the youngest one. After searching the Internet, I discovered there are a ton of companies that make this type of product. Over the past month, I’ve been able to try out the XY Find It Smart Beacon and My Buddy Tag.

What both of these do:
You attach these trackers to things you don’t want to lose: keys, wallet, purse, laptop bag, camera, luggage, TV remote…or in my case, children.

Download the tracker’s app to connect the tracker with your iPhone or Android phone. If the tracker is within Bluetooth range — about 33 feet — all is well. If you and your tracker get separated, though, your phone lets you know with a message and/or sound.

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As you walk around, a graph on your phone screen shows you if you’re getting closer to the tracker or farther from it, like the old “warmer, colder” game. These products won’t tell you which direction an item is from you, just the general distance.

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Buddy Tag

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If your phone loses connection with one or more of your items, you will get an app notification or email with the time and map locations when your tag was last seen by the app.

Look and feel: The Buddy Tag is made specific for children so they have a variety of wristbands that you can choose from. The designs are not very good and actually call attention to themselves, where I’d rather them be as discreet as possible. You can remove the tag and attach it other ways but you’ll lose one of the unique benefits of Buddy Tag (read below). The XY Find It comes as a stand-alone tag. (They are both about 1/3″ thick and the width of a quarter)

Unique Features of Buddy Tag:

Water Alert: The Buddy Tag has a water alert feature that only works when the wristband is worn. The wristband has to be worn, and it has to be submersed into enough mass of water for the alarm to sound. We tested it out in a bathtub of water and an 8 year old. Every time his hand was submersed under water the alarm went off (it really did work!). It’s designed so you don’t get an alert to sound when the child is just washing hands.

Panic Button: Okay, this is also known as the button that you don’t want your kids to know about. Your children will be pressing the panic button non-stop just to annoy you. Ours did that, so I disabled the panic alarm feature in the app. I can see why they would want to add that feature but this would only work for older children mature enough to understand the importance of it. The XY Find It is not a product designed specifically for children so it does not have this feature.

Battery: The battery should last about a year. Because of the waterproof feature of the Buddy Tag, you cannot replace it on your own. They do guarantee at least 12 months of battery life so if a unit dies within the 12 months, the company should replace the unit.

Unique Features of XY Find It Beacon:

Built-in Speaker: Because the primary use of the XY Find It is using it for items like keys or purses, there is a speaker that you can set off in order to help find your item. However we found that it isn’t very loud. If you’re anywhere outside of your home, you may not even be able to hear it with all the background noise beyond your control.

Battery: The battery should last about six months. Unlike the Buddy Tag, you can replace the CR2032 battery on your own.

Summary:

Whether you’re trying to keep tabs on your keys or your kids, these little things are pretty cool. Neither of the brands I tried drained my phone battery a ton and for $25-$50, it’s worth preventing the headache of looking for keys or panicking over “lost” children in public areas. This would have come in super handy when Elliott silently hid under a futon at Nana’s house. We did in fact panic and almost called the police by the time he made his way out.

Check out XY Find It Smart Beacon and My Buddy Tag if you’re in the market for one.

Community

The idea and topic of community has been a well-visited thought for me recently. Recent events that transpired at the seminary I attended reminded me, once again, how much we truly need authentic community. There was something special about New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Most of us bonded through our evacuation/hurricane stories but aside from situational community we also benefited from what I like to call proximity community. We lived, stuffed into little apartments, at each others doorsteps. We often prepared meals together, drank morning coffee together and prayed together. It wasn’t uncommon to physically gather for prayer when we were struggling. As you can imagine it can be difficult to find authentic community after experiencing authentic “proximity” community. Staying plugged into our church, serving and leading small groups has definitely helped us but I’ve discovered, after being a part of many small groups, that community has to be intentional to be effective. Intentional in that you sacrifice, walk with, protect, hold accountable and love those you choose to be in community with.

Community without sacrifice is just hanging out. As the world changes around us, as the moral compass of our country declines; our community will become essential to our survival in an increasingly difficult climate. At times walking in close community with each other is uncomfortable. When we allow others to provide accountability they become privy to the sensitive details of our lives. We rely on them and they rely on us.

Human nature, at times, pulls away from anything that makes us feel vulnerable. But God’s design for the community of believers is clear.

Hebrews 10:24-25 “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  (good gracious! does this verse not speak to us in the present!)

Galatians 6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

1 Thessalonians 5:14 “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”

Acts 4:32 “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”

To be honest, there is nothing special I can add to the discussion about the merits of community. There are books upon books about why small groups and community are imperative to the Christian walk. However, I can say that I value my people more and more every day. My bible study girls on an ever-notifying group text. My small group, where sometimes it seems we have little in common but are learning to lean on each other through life and love each other deeply. My adoptive momma community that “get its” when no one else does. My “old friend” group where we don’t see each other as much as we should…. but when we do our conversations prove that our values align and we will walk through anything together.

Reading the paragraph above fills my heart with joy. There was a time when I found myself resisting these types of relationships out of fear, and even comfort. It is often easier to focus on the business of family life. But iron sharpens iron and sometimes I just need to talk to another mom in confidence and sometimes I can help one of my sisters as she struggles through doubt and worry. We are all hurting, sinning, hard-to-love at times people. But we are better together. We are better when we see that we were never meant to walk alone. And today and in the days that come we will need each other more than ever.

 

REVIEW: The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden

Disclaimer: The folks at Crossway kindly provided a copy of The Biggest Story for this review. As always, the opinions are my own.

When I first heard about The Biggest Story, I was excited to read through it with our children. The first thing anyone would notice is the beautiful illustration by Don Clark (co-founder of Invisible Creature). This has been great for Charlotte as she has recently been interested in art and illustration. But then you get to the eloquent use of words from Kevin DeYoung (senior pastor and regular contributor for The Gospel Coalition). In DeYoung’s words: “When you write a children’s book you don’t use many words, so you feel much more of the weight of getting them right.” Of course the 132-page book isn’t the Bible but it is one of the most well written summaries of God’s work of redemption for children and adults to engage with.

Conclusion: For us, The Biggest Story is more suitable for all kids with lots of illustration and short text. Children as young as three could follow along really well. We are definitely going to make an effort to build this book into our bedtime routine (we’ve done about half of the book so far). The Jesus Storybook Bible, which many people have, covers many more stories with quite a bit more text.

FYI – You can read the author Kevin DeYoung’s explanation behind the book at The Gospel Coalition.

My Kids are Riding the Bus

I have both awful and wonderful memories of my bus-riding days. Growing up, my bus was supposed to arrive early. It rarely did, but we always had to be there bright and early just in case the bus was on time.  I grew up in Charleston SC, which isn’t known for it’s bitter winters, but when you take middle schoolers with Southern blood and mix it up with a winter morning we could have sworn we were in the arctic. The boys started a ritual of lighting the neighbors newspapers on fire to keep warm and strangely none of us really found a problem with this… and we never got in trouble.

The bus ride itself was full of foul language and massively overcrowded. And I had the added burden of hefting a tenor sax back and forth to school everyday. If you’ve never seen a tenor sax just know that they are huge. And the case is even bigger, basically it looked like I was hauling a coffin to school. The bus was crowded so we were three to a seat and a tenor sax in my lap. Pot holes became the enemy as they sent my tenor sax crashing into my face. Sometimes… I would “forget” my instrument at school so I wouldn’t have to haul the crazy thing.

When it came time for my children to start school I looked back on my bus memories and decided there was no way I was going to place my kids on a bus. For two years I raced to the pick up line, hauled a crying, cranky toddler in and out and made sure that my kids didn’t labor a second trying to spy my van in the pick up line. Man. I was a good mom.

One day as I was doing this “good mom” routine I realized something. My kids need to learn to fight their own battles. They need to learn about difficulties and responsibility. They need to learn discernment and how to recover from bad choices. These are skills I had pushed to the future when really these skills were needed now. Things began to change when the reality of our current world became apparent to me. Our kids have to be strong. Not at the cost of their childhood, but to preserve their childhood.

I made a compromise. We drop the kids off at school in the morning… mostly so no one has the need to stay warm by the glow of newspaper fires. Then the kids ride the bus home in the afternoon where I watch from the front porch. This skill is especially important for Lola. Lola does not have the vision to drive and will always rely on alternate forms of transportation. This allows her to exercise independence from an early age.

They have been riding the bus for three weeks now. They have a sweet bus driver, who I have met and spoken to at least 4 times, and their bus ride is about 15 minutes total. They love the bus. It hasn’t been perfect. Elliott had a few name calling episodes and we talked through that. We talk about the bus ride every day. What was cool, what wasn’t. And if one doesn’t talk, the other two certainly do!

We’ve had great conversations centered around standing up for what you believe in, being kind and helpful to others, resisting temptation, being responsible (don’t leave your lunchbox on the bus!), and being independent and trustworthy. They don’t know it yet but, to teach them about perseverance, I have big plans to purchase huge instruments for them haul around. Mom, Dad…. that’s what you were trying to do right??

I realize my bus experience doesn’t sound great. But I learned to be strong, I learned when to speak and when to be quiet and I learned to take things 20 minutes at a time. Valuable lessons for much harder life situations down the road. I also had the thrill of my life throwing open the emergency hatch in the back and jumping out of the bus on the last day… but don’t tell my kids that.

Raising strong kids isn’t always easy or comfortable but how can we send kids into a dark world without the tools to defend themselves. It may not be a bus for you. But I challenge you to consider small steps you can take to build independence and character in your kids.

In fact! I would love to hear from you. What are you doing to help prepare your young kids for success?

DIY: Sliding Barn Door

What a week. Back to school and home improvement are in full swing. I’m a big fan of this project because it means we FINALLY have a bathroom (see bathroom reno here) door in the master bedroom. It took us some time to commit to the barn door but I’m very happy with the results and the convenience of the sliding door versus traditional door. We did choose to build and design our own door after pricing out several options. Hopefully this will inspire you to tackle some long awaited projects and design choices.

Part 1- Building the door
I headed to Lowe’s with Calvin and our youngest. We had a rough sketch of a door design and we needed to check out the wood selection for possibilities. We chose “whitewood” 1x10x10 boards which we cut to 82 inches long. The instructions from National Hardware’s hardware kit (more on the actual kit below) were good but we still took our time measuring and thinking through where the sliding track would drop the door and the distance we wanted between the bottom of the door and the floor. So basically, to get your length you measure from the hanging slider to the floor and take an inch and a half out for your floor clearance. We chose additional boards (2x6s) for our cross pieces. These were cut to 36 inches long. A trip down the hardware aisle produced a modern/rustic handle and I quickly chose a weathered gray stain by Rust-oleum that I’ve become completely obsessed with.

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Building the door was a very smooth process. I laid the boards out on a large table applying beads of Liquid Nails Wood between each board.

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I then attached the cross boards, after measuring the placement area, with wood screws. The wood screws should enter through the back of the door to ensure a clean look on the front. It is advisable to use a clamp or some other device while the glue dries, but I’m a short cut person and decided to quickly screw in the cross boards to hold everything together while the glue dried. It worked out great, I’m not sorry.

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I did not screw in the middle cross board because it needed to be stained and have a handle added before becoming a permanent part of the door. I traced the location and set to work with the stain and drilling holes for the handle.

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Once that portion was completed I began to work on staining the entire door. The Rust-Oleum stain I chose is a one coat stain, and it does indeed work very well for that method. However, I like to add details to the staining process. I brushed on the stain and rubbed it in. Then I used my sander to round the edges of the cross boards and top of the door. I also gave the entire door a quick pass with the sander and then rubbed another coat of stain into certain parts of the door to achieve the character I wanted. Once the door was finished I screwed in the center cross piece with handle attached. (I also cleaned off the stain residue with finger nail polish remover… it’s a messy process ya’ll)

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And then there was a door. A modern/rustic barnwood door. Once the stain was dry (1 hour!!) I applied 2 coats of clear polyurethane giving 4 hours between coats and lightly sanding as well.

Part 2- Installation

Installation was fairly painless. National Hardware provided a great kit with instructions for this project. It includes the track, rollers and stopper hardware necessary for a quick and easy installation. You can also combine two sets to create double-sliding 3 ft. doors, which we did not need.

National Hardware

I stained a header (National Hardware recommends a 2×6) to install above the molding around our bathroom door. The track for the rolling hardware is screwed into this beam. This provides a stylistic touch and security to the door system. Make sure you have your level for this step as you don’t want a door that slides open or shut on it’s own. Calvin and I took turns hanging with kids and working on installation. My hair just screams Saturday morning project.

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Once the beam and track were installed we added the rolling hardware to the door. They provide a template that makes drilling the holes into the door really simple. After installing the rollers the door slid easily onto the track and we screwed the guides into the floor, very simple.

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Conclusion: If you’ve been wanting to do this project but unsure of the cost and difficulty level, you have nothing to worry about. Building the door is easy (do all your measuring and math before you leave the house) and with two people, installation was a breeze. I don’t have any other hardware kits to compare against but the National Hardware system had clear instructions and the pieces were all sorted and labeled nicely. For two people, I would say this project would take about 3 hours. This doesn’t include the paint drying and the interruptions from kids who are constantly hungry and wanting to help hammer and drill things. Total cost for this project is $255

Our Material List (based on 36″x80″ door opening):

4- 1x10x10 boards cut to 82 in long
3- 36 in. 2×6 boards
1- 72 in 2×6 header board
20- wood screws (for door)
20- drywall screws (f0r header)
1- can of Rust-Oleum one coat stain in weathered gray
Liquid Nails for Wood
Paint brushes and old t-shirts for stain
National Hardware Rolling Door hardware kit
Door Materials: $85
Hardware: $170

 

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer: The folks at National Hardware kindly provided the sliding barn door hardware for this review. As always, the opinions are my own.

 

What did you eat in Uganda? A photo blog.

(I didn’t eat beef, no worries, my cow friend is safe)

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Gear for the Great Outdoors!

I’m so thrilled to partner with my blogging buddy Meghan Tucker today! I camp in a tent and she loves to pull her pop-up wherever the Summer takes her. We were reflecting on some of the best (and USEFUL) camping gear we’ve utilized this Summer and came up with a great list from both perspectives. Hope this gives you an idea of what you need to get started with your own camping adventures! (and hint, hint, you might see a trend, we both love Coleman products as they are both affordable and durable)

Meghan’s Picks:
Westfield Outdoor XL Zero Gravity Chair

Coleman Youth Mummy Sleeping Bag

Fox Outfitters Hammocks

Coleman Camping Stove

My Picks:

Fox Outfitter’s Self-inflating Sleeping Pad

Coleman Red Canyon 8 person Tent

CusineArt Portable Gas Grill

Coleman Instant Screen Tent (this literally sets up in 5 min or less)

IMG_3340Go Outside!

Photography


Past Mini Sessions and Family/Child sessions.

Pricing: $50-$150 depending on time needed

erica.mho@gmail.com

 

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