Cultivate Community with a Midsummers Soiree

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Each summer I host a dinner for 12 in my backyard. Months of planning go into the event: theme, decor, menu, no detail is overlooked. I figure if we can invest so much time and effort into celebrating events like baby showers, engagement dinners, or birthday parties, why not take one night a year to celebrate the people we appreciate simply for the role they play in making our lives more rich and full. Why not celebrate community itself?

8In selecting the guest list, which varies each year, I deliberately try to bring together a group of ladies who vary in social circles. In fact, many of the guests share only one thing in common when the night begins: they know me. A guest of this years event summed it up perfectly when she posted a photo on social media with the caption, “We ate appetizers with strangers and dessert with friends.” Sure, there’s always a little initial awkwardness as people get to know each other, but by the time the sun had set and the table was lit by the string lights overhead? The conversation was rich, the connections ran deep, and the authenticity with which these women spoke and shared was vulnerable and brave.

This year I used a floral theme, inspired by my desire to create a floral table runner to feature as the centerpiece of my tablescape. I waited until Michaels had a great coupon to combine with the clearancing of their spring seasonal decor to make room for summer. I grabbed some mixed bouquets from the clearance section that caught my eye, trying to keep to a believable color palette to better imitate the look of fresh blooms, and then supplemented with some greenery and single stems from the floral department. When I got home I disassembled everything and placed them all in piles so I could see all of the varying styles I had to work with. 90 minutes later, after placing each bloom individually on the burlap open-weave ribbon I was using as a base,  I had a beautiful faux floral table runner that set the tone for whole evening.

4The 2 sets of china were thrifted at low cost, the glassware was from my own collection but had also been thrifted, and the beautiful gold flatware was actually PLASTIC! Can you believe it? You never would have known until you picked it up. Thanks to some Amazon sleuthing I was able to invest in a very low cost grey table cloth and white linen napkins that are sure to get future use. One of my favorite finds those was probably a set of beautiful flickering led taper candles, so we didn’t have to worry about candles blowing out in the wind. (The set I purchased is no longer available, but was very similar to this set, which actually includes a remote as well.) The beautiful menu cards were designed by the talented Freshmint Paperie on Etsy, and I simply printed them on cardstock at our local copyshop and cut them to size. Yes, there was some cost to the event as not all of the items came from my existing collection, but one of the benefits to planning all year is that you can space out the costs, as well as use the time to search for the best deals. In the end, this is one of the ways I give back to the women in my life who have blessed me over the past year, so the cost is something my husband and I consider a worthwhile investment into the people we care about most.

Here are some photos from this years event:

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Easy Letter Play with Alphabet Stamps

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With Jack being three, we’ve begun to take on a little bit of homeschool preschool. We’re not using a strict curriculum or even a set schedule, it’s mostly just following his interests and his lead and getting him comfortable with school-like activities, pre-literacy skills, shapes, numbers, etc.

Today’s activity was a real hit! We had purchased a jar of alphabet stamps from the fun in a jar collection by Recollection (available at Michaels) earlier this summer. I’m unsure if this item is still available, but I found this gorgeous option on Amazon for only $7.96 with free shipping for Prime members! I’m tempted to get one of these for the boys since it has both upper AND lower case options, as well as numbers and some punctuation as well.

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Jack enjoyed spelling out his name and Aidan’s with the stamps, as well as copying words from his Melissa and Doug See & Spell puzzle set by stamping each letter on his paper. It was great to see how comfortable he was getting with the idea of sounding out letters phonetically into words without the frustration of needing to write each individual letter.

Some quick and easy ideas for incorporating alphabet stamps into your own homeschool routine or letter play:

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Why I’ll Never Teach My Children About Stranger Danger

stranger dangerWe hear it all the time: “It’s just not the same world out there anymore.” The world is supposedly a much scarier and more threatening place than the days of old when we would ride our bikes to the store with no parents in sight and blow our allowance money on candy and silly knick knacks with hardly a care. “We know better now,” we’re told. Keep a close eye on your kids at all times. Be aware of the dangers of others adults when you’re at the park or using a public restroom. Be wary of anyone who’s too friendly. Teach your kids about “stranger danger.” The world is so much more perilous these days and you simply cant be too careful when it comes to our precious children.

As a mom of two small boys you might be surprised to hear I disagree 100%. And whats more – I have never, and WILL never, teach my kids about “stranger danger.” Never. In fact, I hope to raise my kids to be ready and willing to interact with strangers in safe and appropriate ways, and I regularly encourage them to do so. I’m not a “free range parent” as they are currently known, but I admittedly make some parenting choices that would make many people these days more than a little uncomfortable.

Now before anyone starts calling CPS (or filling my inbox with hate mail) try to give me a minute to explain.

First off, I just want to take a minute to point out that the idea the world is less safe that the one we grew up in is a common misconception. You might be surprised to learn that all of the crime statistics actually show our children are SAFER today than we ourselves were back in our days. Don’t believe me? The folks over at Free Range Kids have compiled an incredible amount of independent research and statistics on this helpful page to show just how much safer our world really is. So why does it seem so much more dangerous? It all comes down to perception really. Crimes are more widely covered by the media these days in a way you simply didn’t see in our childhood. A child goes missing in a small town in Idaho and it can be national news coverage in the same day, and instantly flooding every social media feed for weeks. Statistics agree though: stranger abductions are remarkably rare, and the alarming majority of all crimes committed against kids are by family members or close friends. In short, the likelihood of a child being grabbed while walking to school or playing at the park is almost negligible.

crowdatparkOn top of all this media coverage we also need to take into account how much internet hoaxes have exponentially compounded the problem. Have you seen the story making its way around Facebook for the past few months about supposed attempted sex trafficking of a child in a Target store with their mom? A little internet sleuthing quickly reveals the story is 100% false, and that both the store manager and the local police have absolutely zero record of any incidences even remotely related to the one described on Facebook (despite the story clearly describing the authorities being the one to tell the mom about the sex trafficking ring.) And this is far from an isolated incident: urban myths have taken on a new level of reach in the social media world, and parents everywhere are bombarded with messages of supposed dangers around every corner. It’s pretty understandable why parents everywhere are feeling afraid.

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Contentment Friday: A Meaningful Tradition to Replace “Black Friday”

Last year I was honored to share one of my family’s most important traditions on She Lives Free. This year I’d like to share it again in hopes that it catches on amidst the craziness of the ever more commercialized holiday season. 

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Wednesday morning, the day before Thanksgiving, and my laptop finally decides its long slow death march is finally coming to an end…  right as I sat down to make my deadline for submitting this very blog for publishing. Lovely. So we pile the family into the car and head over to Best Buy, to buy the family computer we were planning to acquire in the next week or so anyways. As we make our way to the front of the store, what should come into view? A line of patrons and their tents, already camped out for the upcoming Black Friday sale. My heart actually dropped in my chest. Really? THIS is what we’ve come to now? Not only are we opening more and more stores on Thanksgiving day and beckoning them away from their family tables with $9.99 Elmo dolls and discounted Playstations, now we are setting up metal crowd control fencing to contain the line of people camping out in a parking lot days before the sale even starts? It was all I could do but desperately hope my kids didn’t ask about what they were seeing, cause I was tempted to tell them that some very silly grownups were playing “lets pretend we’re on an explorer expedition” and had brought their fun campsite toys to add to the overall effect. And Im not sure how convincing that really would have been.

You see, my children don’t know about the insanity now known as “Black Friday.” Crazy, I know, but my husband and I made a choice some years ago that we would commit to abstain from Black Friday and the total circus it’s become. I hated the idea that we would gather over a Thanksgiving table on Thursday, and profess our great gratitude for all God has given us… and then run out the door so soon after in an panicked rush to “buy all the things!” It simply doesn’t compute for me. So we decided that Black Friday would cease to exist for us, and in its place a new holiday was born: Contentment Friday.

Contentment Friday isn’t just a sweet little term we’ve coined to excuse missing out on the cheapest shopping of the year. No, Contentment Friday is quite possibly second only to Christmas in terms of holiday importance for our little family. It’s a BIG deal around here. The basic premise is simple: in order to focus on our hearts and minds on the idea of contentment, we abstain from spending money in any way, shape, or form on that Friday after Thanksgiving, and we instead fill the day with family centered activities in our home. We stock up on all groceries and essentials in advance (to ensure we never have any reason for unexpected spending,) we block off the date on our work calendars as a holiday, and we prepare to spend the whole day celebrating as a family. This year will be no exception. We’ve bought cinnamon rolls to bake for breakfast, stocked up with some great new board game options, made plans to cook our favorite bacon appetizer and devour it during a family screening of Stars Wars: A New Hope (my 5 year old is especially excited about that one,) and we have all the supplies to bake sugar cookies to frost and decorate. We never feel like we’re missing out, because Contentment Friday is usually one of the fun filled days of the holiday season for us.

contentmentfridayquoteOn Saturday, we continue the fun celebrating our official opening day for the Christmas season. By abstaining from anything Christmas related while we’re still focusing on a season of gratitude and contentment first, we get to experience a whole day dedicated to welcoming the yuletide season into our home. This is the day each year when the Christmas tree goes up, the holiday music finally gets played, the decorations come out, and those great claymation classics like “The Year Without a Santa Clause” are screened. And Im pretty sure we drink more cocoa then the rest of the year combined. Best of all, our hearts are truly prepared for the fullness of Christmas’ joy because we’ve really given heed to the gratitude from which it springs. Simply by being intentional in recognizing all we have to be thankful for, we find ourselves content with the life we already lead, and this in turn births an abundance of joy in our hearts – the very joy that the Christmas season should ultimately be about: not a quest for more things, not a stressful march to simply get through this season with what sanity we can manage, but a season of joy to the world and peace to all men.

My heart’s dream would be to see Contentment Friday take hold in more families then just our own. Imagine the impact it would have on the retail world if even half of Black Friday demand just simply went away? There wouldn’t be a need for crowd control fencing or a website to track the Black Friday death toll each year (oh, how I wish that wasn’t a real thing,) and perhaps some stores wouldn’t even be able to justify calling in all those of employees away from their families without all these customers clamoring for their attention. Because the hidden truth of Black Friday is this – it’s not the retailers’ faults; we have nobody but ourselves to blame. If the demand wasn’t there, the stores wouldn’t have a reason to continue the craziness any longer. So the power is ultimately ours. Nothing battles the current of consumerism more than the value of contentment. When our hearts are focused on being content, we see the virtues of the life we already live and the numerous blessings we already possess – and suddenly no amount of discount seems high enough to give that up to go sleep in a Best Buy parking lot.

 

Terrorism, Tragedy, and the Autistic Child

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With the news from Paris on every channel and reports of horrible acts of terrorism splashed across every headline, the anxiety can weigh especially heavy on parents with small children at home. For parents of children on the autism spectrum attacks like these bring a whole wealth of additional challenges and considerations. My son Aidan, for example, has been able to read any newspaper headline with ease from about the age of 3, so shielding him from events of terror has been nearly an impossible feat. And since he is already prone to severe anxiety and oversized emotions, and both his age and his diagnosis cause him to struggle to understand complex social constructs like religious extremism or even politics in general? Events like these have the potential to rob him of much needed structure and security and plunge him into total chaos. Here are some valuable tips for helping these special kids cope with such difficult issues.

Resist the temptation to be anything less than honest.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of fudging the truth to keep our kids from their fears. Why not simply answer questions about unimaginable evil by somehow explaining it away all together? Although this tactic can buy some quick relief in the short term, it creates much bigger problems in the long run – especially with these children who often have extraordinarily gifted memories. Set a history now of being an honest communicator with your child when they have questions or concerns, rather than risk being permanently characterized as likely to offer less than truthful information.

Avoid offering extraneous details – stick to the facts.
Sure, we might see the clear connections between terrorism and religious extremism, or see how the history of US politics in the Middle East may contribute to modern day extremism, but is this all necessary information for a child who’s seeking to get their mind around some already complex ideas? When your child is presented with details of an attack or asks a question about something they have read or heard, its important to address only their specific area of inquiry and not offer any new information into the equation. Keep it simple, with age appropriateness in mind, and wait to see what their next questions may be before offering up new info unprompted. Your child may be satisfied with far less information than you think.

10173594_10152161556649818_2724005321082070142_nProvide safety in routine.
It can be tempting to try to appease difficult emotions with treats, privileges, or even easing off on normal requirements and expectations, but for the autistic child this can actually make the situation much worse. Provide comfort by sticking to familiar routines and predictable boundaries. When your child see’s that everything is still normal on the home front, it helps reinforce the idea that their world is still the same as before these terrible events, and that they don’t have to worry about total upheaval. Life will go on, and a strong routine is the best way to communicate this right now. 

Be vigilant about media exposure, but give yourself a huge measure of grace.
Children on the spectrum have a wide range of skills and areas of struggle, but many of these kids have hyperlexia, which is marked by not only unusually advanced reading abilities but a often a compulsion to read any and all written materials around them. It can be next to impossible to shield these kids entirely from events that are dominating the current news cycle. Give yourself grace and be prepared to answer any questions if and when they may arise. However, be aware of the media sources your child may come in contact with and take steps to filter them to the best of your ability. Avoid watching the news while your children are still awake, even if you think they aren’t paying attention. Don’t leave newspapers out or laptops open to newspaper websites. Ensure parental controls on computers, tablets, and/or smartphones your child may use keep news outlets from their access. I’ve even been known to flip over a copy of Newsweek or two when standing in the checkout lane, or hide them behind the Martha Stewart Living. You may not be able to shield them from the event entirely, but you can take steps to keep the coverage from being overly prevalent in their view.

Watch for nonverbal signs of anxiety
Even if your child has questions or concerns about events on the news, its not a given that they will verbalize them. Stay educated about various nonverbal signs of anxiety and keep an eye out for any new behaviors or changes to your child’s overall emotional state – even if you think your kids are still totally unaware. It’s impossible to know for sure what they may have overheard, seen in passing, or even been told by others, so never assume that the news isn’t playing a role in any behavior changes you might see.

Reach out to your resources and get support
Get in touch with your child’s teacher. Reach out to your ABA. Talk to your child’s counselor or psychologist – or consider contacting one if you don’t already see someone regularly. These issues can be extremely difficult to navigate, and it’s essential to have as many resources and tools on your side as possible. Build a support team around yourself and your child, and never hesitate to admit if you’re feeling out of your depth. It’s always ok to ask for help.

Take Charge of the Internet Once and For All

Im so excited to finally be allowed to share this with you all that I just might burst. Its been the hardest secret I have EVER been asked to keep. When the incredible folks at Circle approached me to tell me about what they had created, the potential was obvious and my expectations were pretty high. Yet when I actually got my device and set it up? Expectations were so far surpassed you guys.

I am so incredibly honored to get to tell you guys about the one device I firmly believe EVERYONE who uses the internet should have in their home.

 

 

Now that you’ve seen a little taste of what Circle can do, let me tell you a bit about why I’m so head over heels in love with this tiny little device.

MULTIPLE USERS ACROSS ALL DEVICES: Circle is unlike any internet management tool I’ve seen, because rather than installing an app or program on a single device, Circle sets up an easy to use system for our entire home. Every single device that interacts with our home wifi connection is identified by our Circle, and each member of our family has a unique user profile that has its own customized settings.

SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE: Although the most obvious applications for Circle appear to be in the area of parental controls, don’t let that fool you! This device has something for EVERYONE. Whether you’re single, married, childless, or parenting a variety of ages, Circle provides a variety of tools for more intentional use of internet enabled devices. It can shed light on online habits that may have gone unnoticed, it can promote a new sense of intimacy in a marriage invaded by screens, it can even foster conversations with loved ones about how we use the internet and where it can take us in the future. Circle ultimately gives you what you make of it, no matter where you are in life.

TIME LIMITS: You can use Circle to easily set daily time limits for a family member on any app or category you want. You can also customize how much time your kids spend on each platform and even set a total online time for the day. The time limits are easy to adjust, and when a limit is reached that user and I both receive a notification, so I’m always in the loop and in the know. This sets up a great opportunity for my family to communicate regularly about our habits online so we know where to tweak and adjust these limits as we go.

FILTER CONTENT:  Circle has 4 preset age levels (Pre-K; Kid; Teen; Adult,) but it allows for further customization by platform, app, and category. I love that I can fine tune exactly what each member of my family sees online.

PAUSE THE INTERNET:  You read that right – the internet now comes with a pause button. With the push of a button I’m able to pause the internet on the fly, whether its family dinner time, date night with the hubby, or simply time to unplug and get to work around the house. The internet doesn’t have the power in my family anymore – I do!

SET BEDTIME:  With Circle, both our kids and their devices share the same bedtimes. I don’t have to collect devices from my kiddos or hide them every evening to ensure a good nights sleep. Their devices now disconnect automatically each evening and reconnect at a set time each day.

BLOCK ADS: Circle can block ads for any user or device. Ad Blocking was of huge importance to me for my impressionable kiddos, so this is a major plus.

STINKER PROOF: I have a genius and a stinker in my house, so I was concerned that either (or both) of them would find a way to circumvent the device. Luckily the folks at Circle are one step ahead of my little brood of schemers. Circle remains active even when unplugged and has no off button; the only way to adjust or change Circle’s filtering and time management settings is through the iOS app, which is password protected and can only be downloaded on a single smartphone.

DISCOVER INSIGHTS:  This is easily the MOST important feature of Circle. Circle tracks and displays an amazing panel of insights that show me things like the total time each user spends online, where they spend it, and the top 5 sites each user visits most. I can see when my kids get filtered and exactly what they were attempting to access when it happened. I can track my own personal web habits and make sure I’m practicing what I preach and setting healthy examples for my family. Most importantly, the insights panel provides a jumping off point for important conversations within our family about how we use the internet and what we choose to do with our devices.

B8-7ZDNY6gNffocV2ESrxRrDRPVIBg8VjJLkGGFY3aYRISK-PROOF INDEPENDENCE: Thanks to Circle, I have been able to grant a new level of independence to my children in regards to electronic devices. This tiny little unit has been the key that unlocked my ultimate dream: children who are learning to manage their own online behaviors and screen time habits without requiring my constant interference or supervision. Tablets, computers, streaming devices… none of them hold any fear for me any longer as a parent. They have simply become tools to grant my kids access to learn about the world, gain valuable skills in the technology age, further their education from home, and communicate with friends and relatives who aren’t close by. My children are thrilled to experience their new found independence, and I’m thrilled to foster their sense of personal responsibility for their own habits online. It’s a parenting win-win.

ONE-TIME COST WITHOUT A SUBSCRIPTION: Unlike many of the alternatives who market internet management or parental controls, circle is a one time cost and not a subscription based service. And considering all Circle does? It’s really affordable! Circle is available for purchase for just $99.

Have your attention? I hope so! You can get more information about what the device can do, see answers to all sorts of questions, and even order your own Circle at www.meetcircle.com. It’s time to harness the power of the internet for good and live intentionally in a whole new way.

LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW TELLING ME WHAT MOST EXCITES YOU ABOUT CIRCLE, OR ASKING A QUESTION ABOUT THE DEVICE, AND YOU’LL BE ENTERED TO WIN A JOY PACKAGE OF SOME OF MY FAVORITE TREATS AND GOODIES!

Winner will be selected by random.org on Wednesday, November 18th.

An Open Letter to the Man in Grocery Store

Yesterday was tough day.

It’s the day the every special needs parent dreads in the pit of their being and desperately hopes they never experience. In a world thats come so far in terms of tolerance and acceptance, I had almost begun to believe the comforting naivetés like “people know better now” and “no one thinks that way anymore.”

Yesterday it all came tumbling down and reality came crashing through again.

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While exiting the grocery store my boys and I crossed paths with you when you entered to do your shopping. You were wearing your camouflage jacket, proudly displaying patches identifying yourself as a veteran, the very sort of hero that Aidan has begun to emulate all around the backyard on his various “missions.” You made eye contact with Aidan, who was walking in front of my cart happily babbling on about new shoes he had picked out and how the springs in the heels just might even help him jump over a building if he practiced enough. Now Aidan typically responds to direct eye contact from strangers in one of two ways: he is either resistant and defensive, sometimes even verbally demanding that patrons stop looking at him, otherwise he responds quite to the other extreme and establishes an immediate relationship with the person in his head and desperately tries to connect and interact. In this particular occasion, he fell into column B. When asking Aidan about the incident, he told me he wanted to “play soldier with the solider.” This played out in the form of jumping in place into a playful stance of what can only be described as “put em up tiger,” and an accompanying “grrrrrrrr” for good measure.

Now I want to be perfectly clear about something: I don’t for two seconds believe that simply because my child is on the spectrum, that he is entitled to behave any way he pleases in public. For every measure of grace we give, there is an equal measure of teaching and guidance. And ultimately as a parent of ANY child, isn’t that all we can do? It’s entirely unreasonable to assume that any amount of good parenting could keep our children from ever acting out in public. No a good parent is simply one who uses each opportunity as a teaching experiences and is consistent in guiding their children to better choices.

1488186_10152498341399818_7654703513818516301_nYou looked at my son menacingly, then mumbled something at me under your breath while shaking your head in disapproval. “Im sorry,” I tried to say politely with a meager smile, “my son is on the spectrum.” I wasn’t planning to stop there, leaving my statement to waft around as some sort of free pass to continue on with our day. In fact I was angling myself to come down to my sons eye level and ask him to offer you not only an apology, but the greeting he has been well taught to offer any in uniform – “thank you for your service.” But before I could speak another word you stepped in gruffly. “Heh, that’s one thing you could call it.” Your words were seething with disapproval, broadcasting your judgment of my apparent lack of parenting skills and my inability to control my children.

I admit it, I was defensive at this point, seeing my sons face flashing with confusion and anxiety, desperately looking for cues from me on how to interpret a social situation that was simply too complex for his special brain to understand. My tone was less than polite at this point as I snapped back, “Excuse me? Do you even understand what it means to be on the autism spectrum?” I know, I could have shown more grace. I could have kept my patience. Maybe you were having a horrible day. Maybe you struggle with your own special challenges. I could have been kinder, but my words were sharp and pointed.

It was at this point you began to yell, each phrase bringing with it a wave of hot salty tears, each wave tossing me turbulently until I simply couldn’t tell which way was up and it was if my whole being shut down, lifelessly limp in the current.  “Of course I know what autism means!But then you should know better than to bring him into stores! It’s your own damn fault for subjecting the people to him! Next time keep the freak at home.

Did you see my son? Did you see when those final words left your mouth and that last syllable washed over his ears and into his tiny little heart? Did you notice him, rocking by the cart, hitting himself over and over repeating “Im not special. Im dumb. Im not special. Im dumb.” Did you even see? Because in that moment, my heart shattered into a million tiny pieces and I simply didn’t have the presence of mind to both minister to my wounded child and simultaneously find words to adequately respond. So I dropped to the floor to bear hug my son and attempt to soothe his restless stimming. You apparently interpreted this as some sort of check in the win column – proof I was the overindulgent parent endlessly catering to the child who wasn’t worthy of participation in mainstream society. You seemed to mentally pat yourself on the back with a little indignant hmph as you turned around and walked away, successfully putting us in our place and winning this battle against these clueless modern parents and their entitled spawn. And as quickly as you had crossed our path, you were gone, disappearing into the jars of pickles and rows of breakfast cereals, probably never to give us another thought.

In hardly more than a moment, you claimed to have examined all of my son and declared him unworthy – unfit for general consumption. You saw all you had needed to see, and you indignantly labeled him as too flawed to be worthy of redemption. You saw only a plague on the upstanding members of this fair society who know how to color properly within the lines, follow instructions, and wait patiently in lines with the others. You decided you knew my son, and you knew his apparent defects clearly outweighed his usefulness, and he belonged out of sight and out of mind where he wouldn’t be a burden on hardworking citizens like yourself.

But sir, you don’t know.

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You don’t know that Aidan has the most incredible mind for science. You don’t know that he spends hours exploring ideas like inertia and velocity and how colors are created in the spectrum of light. You don’t know that Aidan passionately poured over books and charts on chemistry for weeks, and ultimately committed most all of the table of elements to perfect memory. You don’t know that he draws charts of the order of the planets, identifies dinosaurs by enormous scientific names, and catalogs nature items in test tubes and jars for future study under his prized microscope.

You don’t know that Aidan has a grasp on logic and engineering that would make even the most adept builders and programmers sit up and take notice. You don’t know that he has already outgrown building legos with the instruction booklets and creates some of the most detailed and perfectly balanced structures and vehicles with whatever pieces he can find on hand. You don’t know that he has already mastered most of the basic concepts of computer programming logic and is hoping to start learning his first programming language this year. You don’t know that Aidan grasps complex math concepts like percentages and fractions and can explain them in ways that even some of his 5 year old peers could start to understand them.

10320379_10152178964994818_3365314110460915101_nYou don’t know that Aidan is one of the coolest 5 year olds on the planet. He has a passionate love for classic rock, placing the anthologies of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and the Who as some of his most prized playlist possessions. And don’t even get me started on his love for Queen. You don’t know he has an incredible sense of fashion, boasting quite the collection of vintage styled band tees and skinny jeans, and nobody rocks a beanie or a bowtie like this kid does. You don’t know that he used to idolize our old worship pastor, spending countless afternoons strumming on his guitar trying to be just like Mr. Robb someday. You don’t know that he mastered the art of comedic timing and a quick wit, keeping even the most celebrated minds on their toes with the quips this kid comes up with sometimes.

You don’t know that Aidan has the most compassionate heart of any 5 year old I’ve ever known. You don’t know that he sponsors a child in Uganda, ran his own snack stand at our garage sale last summer giving every cent he made to funding education for kids in Kenya, and that he worries deeply about the homeless and the poor. You don’t know that although Aidan often struggles to correctly interpret what others are feeling without more obvious clues, that the moment he senses someone is feeling hurt or lonely or upset? Aidan’s the first kid to run over and ask if they are ok or if there is something he can do. You don’t know that he’s still just a great big teddy bear, not afraid to spend a whole TV show cuddling his baby brother on the couch or offer his mama unsolicited kisses and I love you’s, even in front of his peers.

10517974_10152350869364818_6568712365504512355_nYou don’t know that Aidan’s love for others is limitless and his propensity for offering forgiveness knows no bounds. You don’t know that when I had the worst day in my parenting life and screamed horribly at my son casting in him his room telling him I couldn’t stand to be around him, that when I went to apologize to him later he looked up from his book before I could say a word and said calmly and sweetly “I forgive you mommy, and Im so sorry I called you a jerk when you were being mad.” You don’t know that even though my sweet boy is still deeply wounded by the horrible words you said, that at bedtime prayers last night he chose to pray for YOU, sir. You don’t know he offered up a sweet sincere prayer that God would give the army man a good day tomorrow, and that he could have Jesus in his heart. You don’t know that my 5 year old son with all his challenges and struggles was hero enough to forgive YOU, a man that should have been his hero but instead broke his tiny heart to pieces.

You don’t know my son. You don’t know what the world would be missing if I didn’t choose to keep subjecting people to him as you put it. I have spent all year teaching my son the truth he is valiantly trying to cling to today: that He is made in God’s perfect image. We have taught our son that our big perfect God is simply so giant, so complex, and so beautifully multifaceted, that it takes a picture of each and every man woman and child on this earth to begin to see a reflection of His perfect being. That being made in His image means that without Aidan, we would miss some facet of Gods character, some immutable truth about His being, that somehow Aidan in his beautiful uniqueness has been chosen to perfectly showcase to us all. Aidan has a responsibility to keep being the amazing little guy God created Him to be, and it’s heart wrenching to me that someone like you would miss out on such beautiful truths and the absolute joy he brings every soul that really takes the time to get to know him.

You’ve probably forgotten about us sir, and there’s a good chance you will never see this letter. But we wont soon be able to forget you or your jaded words. I can only pray that God’s grace abounds and that Aidan be reminded how incredibly special and incredible he really is. And judging by his bold choice to pray for you last night, I am encouraged that God is holding my sweet boy safely in the shelter of his arms, and that somehow He will bring him through this stronger and better for it. We will keep reminding him of who he is, and try daily to undo the damage of your careless words. I pray that God will bring people to surround my sweet son and see him for the beautiful hero he is, facing the world each day with such determination in the face of his challenges and such a joy for each day he’s been given. And most of all I pray that your heart be softened, and that you never again have cause to tear down a child the way you did in that store. I’m hoping I can follow my sons incredible example and find forgiveness for you in my heart enough to wish you well, but I admit he is so much stronger and more compassionate than I am right now. If only we could all be a little bit more like Aidan. I hope someday my son is able to see himself for the truly incredible person he really is.

UPDATE: Want to help outweigh some of the nastiness Aidan is dealing with by participating in a good old fashioned viral campaign for good? Check out this post to see how you can participate in Project Aidan and help this little guy get a taste of just how special he really is.

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5 Quick and Easy Valentines for Procrastinator Moms

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If you’re anything like me you’re spinning 20 different plates at any given time, and its pretty easy for things to occasionally fall through the cracks. If you’re really like me, then you may have been one of the moms who suddenly realized their child has to bring in 25 valentines the next day only to run out to target and discover the seasonal section now looks like this:

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Mom fail. But have no fear fellow procrastinators! I have pulled together 5 super easy valentine ideas that are easily pulled off the night before the class party – and most of them are cuter and cheaper than the pre-made valentines too! As an added bonus ALL of these options are candy free.

1 – Star Wars Glow Stick Valentines

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These are actually the valentines that Aidan is bringing to his class this year. As an added bonus, most Target dollar spots are selling containers of bracelet sized glow sticks, so with these adorable free printable these valentines are incredibly low on cost and time, but certainly don’t show it. Boys are girls alike will be thrilled with their glow sticks, and parents and teachers will appreciate the candy free gift.

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2 – Popcorn Bag Valentine

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If you can find personal sized bags of kettle corn or even regular pop corn, then you have an easy and adorable option for class valentines! Just add these adorable free printables and voila! If you can’t find individual sized bags, grab a box or two of microwave popcorn and send one packet home with each child for a treat they can pop and share with the whole family.

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3 – Lego Valentines

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Now here’s a valentine that the kids will go crazy for! You can either buy some of the pre-bagged mini lego sets you can often find in the checkout lane at Target, go to a lego store (if you are lucky to have one locally) and buy loose pieces from the lego wall in bulk, or you can buy a large starter set from your local big box store and simply divide up the pieces between each valentine. You’re sure to be a big hit with the kids, and you’ll win extra points with food allergy families as well.

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4 – Color My World Valentine

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This idea is not only candy free, but it’s absolutely adorable too. Buy a large box of crayons in bulk, a roll of cute tape, and print out these free printables – and you have an adorable DIY Valentine that everyone will be copying next year. Super easy to put together and very low cost per child.

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5 – Apple Sauce Valentine

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If you want to give the kids an edible treat but still provide something that isn’t candy? These adorable apple sauce valentines are sweet and healthy – the best of both worlds. If you aren’t a fan of squeeze pouches, you could easily attach these tags to a lunchbox tub of applesauce and a plastic spoon, or even to a fresh delicious apple instead! The link below is an editable PDF, so you can replace “Charlotte” with your own child’s name, or for older kids you can delete the name entirely and let your child practice signing the cards themself.

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Crafting Your Legacy Online

Navigating the social media age certainly added a whole new dimension to the way we receive and perceive social stigmas.

Don’t have a Facebook page? You live in the stone age.
You do have a Facebook page? Instagram is now where it’s at, Facebook is passé.
Post a selfie? You have a vanity complex.
Never post any photos of yourself? You need help with your self esteem.

And then of course there is the unwritten commandment leveled at all parents with an internet connection: don’t don’t don’t post too much about your children.

From the thinly veiled flogging of the iPhone mom to overtly calling out such supposed taboos as adopting a photo of your kids as your personal profile picture, the message is clear: your online habits are now the new frontier for outsiders judging your parenting. And thanks to the marvelous connectivity of the internet, strangers with no tangible connection to your family or home life now have the unique ability to reach out and render their critiques with lightning fast speed and virtual anonymity.  It’s reminiscent of those classic women’s magazine spreads where unknowing pedestrians found themselves featured on the glossy pages with a black bar of shame plastered over their faces and the enormous “DONT” label calling out their crimes.

I’ve often found myself on the receiving end of some of the haplessly lobbed verbal grenades.
“I’ll bet your kids are so sick of having their pictures taken, right?”
“Put the camera down or you’ll miss their whole childhood!”
“How do you find so much time to post online? Aren’t you supposed to be watching your kids?”
“People who post so many updates about their kids online are just embarrassed they don’t have their own life or their own identity outside their kids anymore.”
“Posting a ton on social media is just pure narcism.”
Some are unintentionally pointed or mistakenly worded in haste, others are overt criticisms or outright mean spirited, but all of them hurt, and all of them have had the potential to alter my internet presence and change the way I express myself online.

Maybe it’s because I’m nearing my 30’s, or maybe it’s just God working a new growth in my character, but I’m learning to make a new peace with the naysayers and givers of unsolicited advice. I’m cultivating an understanding that every phrase and image I post online accumulates into my personal autobiography, and I would never allow anyone else to write that story for me. Every time I edit my online voice to serve the critiques of another, I essentially drop my folio into their lap and ask them to take their red pen to my life’s work. I would never surrender the power over to someone else to choose my next haircut or restyle my wardrobe, so why would I allow them to craft my online persona?

The internet is a powerful medium, and with every post we shape our legacy – images and strings of characters coming together to craft a story of us.

Photos of morning cheerios and gap toothed smiles.

Stories of potty training snafus and the little victories in the everyday.

Journals of travels and new experiences.

Testimonies of Gods provision in the unexpected.

Quotes from when the kids really did say the darndest things.

Status Updates chronicling the first date, the first home, the first steps.

If you post what you love and share the things that are meaningful, there simply isn’t any way to be wrong. Don’t give an editors pen to anyone you wouldn’t trust with your life’s work. So go ahead and share another story about that hilarious thing your preschooler just said, and don’t be ashamed to post the umpteenth photo of your baby’s newly tooth endowed grin. Its your story, and only you get to decide whats in it.