Purposeful At-Home Activities for Kids (aka chores)

With recent school closures, I’ve seen a lot of moms (and dads) posting ideas on what they can do with their kids over these next few weeks as we bunker down and practice social distancing. I love all the free educational resources that are being made available as well as online museum tours, art lessons and schedules to help us temporary “homeschoolers”.

One of the things that I’ve done with my kids during extended breaks (and should probably implement on a more consistent basis) is a chore chart. We’ve been doing this for the past two years and it helps give more purpose and structure to our long days at home.

The chores include things like making their beds, cleaning up toys, doing dishes and laundry. I try to keep their ages in mind, and so for the little one (5 years old), helping with the dishes is helping put away the silverware while the older one (8 years old) loads the dishwasher. You can find a lot of charts that show age-appropriate chores for kids. Click here to find one with a lot of different ideas sorted by age groups.

In addition to the regular chores, I also included reading, doing homework and a “parent’s choice” option. Reading looks different for each of my kids because right now they are all at different stages in their reading development. My 5-year-old either looks at books on her own or I read to her, my 6-year-old reads to me while I help guide him with sounding out words, and my 8-year old reads independently. Since we don’t really have “homework” over the break, I have my kids either work on workbooks, activity books, or other worksheets that you can print off online to help with spelling, writing or math. The “parent’s choice” option is where mom or dad gets to choose something extra they need to complete. It might include helping prepare a meal, working on a special project for school, making cards for seniors in a nursing home, helping a sibling with one of their chores, or quiet time (this especially comes in handy when everyone needs time to just chill out and not be in each other’s faces 24/7).

Our kids must finish all of their chores before they are allowed any screen time and if they complete all their chores for the whole week, they receive an extra bonus. It can be a special treat, toy, or additional money. It’s basically just anything that would be an incentive for your child to get them to want to complete their whole chart.

I’ve thought about laminating the sheets so we can reuse them, but since my kids are still relatively young they enjoy choosing their own stickers to put in each spot once a chore is complete. I got a booklet of over 1000 stickers for pretty cheap on Amazon, so for now, I just print out a new sheet once the week is complete.

In addition to the chore chart, this year we also added a piggy bank that is separated into three different slots: saving, spending and giving. It was suggested by our children’s ministry leader at church to help encourage tithing. I got it from Target’s Dollar Spot and it’s also a great way to teach your kids about budgeting and how to divide up their money into different categories. I tried to make it into a math lesson about percentages, but that didn’t go over too well. The important thing was to show them how to budget their money into saving, spending and giving.

If you’d like to use this chore chart for your family, you can download it for free here.

For those of you who are on lockdown, just remember to be flexible. Give yourself (and your kids) a little grace if you get off track. This is a trying time for everyone. Hug your kids. Reassure them that everything will be okay. Remind yourself that everything is in God’s hands. Oh…and wash your hands!!!

DIY Tinted Glass

I try, like really try, to be artsy-fartsy. Sometimes things work out, sometimes it’s an epic fail. But there is one thing about my stubborn persistent personality that never fails…I am no quitter!

Such was the case in my mission to make DIY tinted glass.

What started off as a simple desire to recycle some glass bottles, ended up being a true test of my perseverance. All the blogs and videos I researched said how easy it was. In fact, it was so easy, it was even a great project to do with your kids (say what?).

Well…this was no easy project for a craft-challenged person like me. It took days of trying one thing, adjusting, and then trying another thing. Over and over it went.

So, if you are “special” like me and want to avoid the same mistakes I made, here are some lessons I learned in my quest to make DIY tinted glass.

  1. DON’T use spray paint labeled “sea glass”. It’s a lie straight from the pit of hell. I have never had any luck using specialty spray paint. EVER! I shook that can like there was no tomorrow, and it still came out splotchy.
  2. DO wear gloves. You might think you are a pretty neat and tidy person, that is until you have to mix 50+ drops of blue food coloring into your glue. Your hands will look like a smurf for a couple of days.
  3. DON’T be impatient. This project takes time. If you rush the process, it will end up being a waste of your time.
  4. DO make sure you use the right amount of food coloring. Anything less than 20 drops won’t look like you did anything.

So here’s what I ended up doing:


  • glass bottle
  • Mod Podge
  • water
  • food coloring


  1. Wash bottle. If it has a label on the outside you can also use Goo Gone to remove the adhesive.
  2. Mix together approx. 1 Tbs of water with at least 20+ drops of food coloring. The more drops you use, the darker your tint will be.
  3. Pour Mod Podge into a small bowl or cup. The amount will depend on the size of your bottle. You will need enough to coat the inside of the bottle.
  4. Mix a small amount of the food coloring mixture into the Mod Podge
  5. Pour a small amount of the colored glue mixture into your bottle and swirl around until the entire bottle is covered. If you put too much glue mixture it will take longer to drop and you run the risk of having streaks.
  6. Turn the bottle upside on a paper plate to remove any extra glue mixture for 1 hour.
  7. Flip the bottle right side up to allow the color to return to the bottom of the bottle.
  8. Place bottle on a cookie sheet and heat in oven at 185 degrees for 1 hour or until the bottle is dry and transparent.
  9. Once cooled, decorate with twine, ribbon or leave as is.

We decided to wrap the top with twine and put a cotton stem in the bottle. The kids (yes, once I figured it out, the oldest helped me) gave these to their teachers as a cute little teacher appreciation gift.

I’m an Overcomer

I recently started seeing a Christian therapist to help me cope with some of the things our family has been through recently.

The night before my appointment, I cried.

I told Shelby that I felt like a failure because I needed to see a counselor to help me deal with my issues. That somehow going to therapy meant that God wasn’t enough; because if God was enough, then why did I need someone else to help me.

Which is just dumb, because I have friends who are in counseling and I don’t view them as failures or weak. But strangely this is how I view myself.

I find that sometimes I can be much harder on myself than on others. I put more pressure on myself to be strong and just “suck it up”. I don’t give myself enough grace.

It came to a point where I just felt broken and I didn’t want to be broken anymore. I wanted to be whole. I was repeating past thoughts and behaviors that I didn’t want to be held captive to anymore. I wanted to break the cycle and be free.

Sometimes we need other people in our lives to point us to the truth that we can’t see for ourselves.

So, I went, and it’s been good. Challenging, but also a relief to know that I don’t have to carry this burden alone.

One of the assignments that I’ve been given is to make a timeline of the things that have happened to our family over the past few years.

That’s really hard.

I don’t want to relive the past. It makes me cry. It makes me sad. It makes me angry. It brings up old hurts and causes my heart to ache. It reminds me of how things used to be and how they are now.

But strangely, as I wrote out my timeline, I didn’t see it as a list of all the brokenness in my life; instead, I looked at it as a list of accomplishments.

As I read through each event that I had been through, I thought, “You did it. You made it through. You survived this. You overcame that.”

A lot of times we look back at the things we’ve gone through with fear or dread. Maybe even with anger or sadness. Some of the things in our timelines are hard and painful; things you never want to experience again.

But it is also a reminder of God’s faithfulness in how He carries us through those times. How He gives us the strength and courage we need to overcome each obstacle that we face.

It’s also a good reminder, that just as God brought us through those hard times, He will bring us through whatever storm or valley we may be currently facing or will face in the future.

My timeline is not something I am ashamed of; it is wholly a part of who I am today. It’s my reminder that I am an overcomer and there is nothing too big that I cannot accomplish with God on my side.

Pay It Forward

While waiting in line to pick up some items at the craft store yesterday, Ellie saw a display of Easter candy. She commented on how she’s never seen the purple-colored version of the candy before and asked if she could have some. An older lady in front of us overheard what Ellie said, turned around and said, “Oh, she really wants that candy!!!” Not thinking much of it, I told Ellie, “Easter candy already?! It’s not even Valentine’s.” Quite innocently she said, “Well, can we get it for Easter?” Before I could even respond, the lady said to Ellie, “Well, if it’s alright with your mom, I’d like to get that candy for you.”

We were both in shock. I thanked the lady for her generosity but kindly refused.

She then said, “I’m a grandmother and have grandchildren, I’d like to get that candy for her if it’s okay with you.” So, I turned to Ellie and told her she could pick out the one that she liked but she needed to share it with others. To which the lady responded, “Why don’t you go ahead and pick out another one; it’s easier to share that way.”


We were just completely floored and thanked the lady for her kindness.

I didn’t know people like this still existed. When all you see in the news is how selfish and evil people are, it’s hard to believe good still exists in the world.

When we got in the car, Ellie and I talked about what just happened. I told her never to forget this moment. Since she had been treated with such kindness, from a complete stranger no less, it was now her turn to pay it forward. She needed to treat someone with the same kindness that she had been treated with.

Ellie agreed and she said, “Mom, I didn’t even do anything to deserve that candy.”

I told her that that’s the same way with God’s grace. We don’t deserve God’s grace, but just like this lady, He freely gives it to us. We don’t earn it or try to work for it, but He blesses us anyway.

So, I asked her, “What did you learn from this?”

She replied, “God provides.”

And that He does. God provides in some of the most unexpected ways. He blesses us beyond our comprehension and He gives us good things that we don’t deserve (even if they are full of sugar and artificial food coloring!).

What an amazing display of kindness and grace. I’m so thankful for this lady. It provided a great example for my 8-year-old to see kindness and grace in such a tangible way. I don’t think she will ever forget it…and neither will I.

So, if you have a chance to pay it forward to someone today, know that it won’t be lost or forgotten. Perhaps we can be the good in the world and not just show kindness and grace to each other but also be the teachable moment for future generations to see what it means to pay it forward.

*** One of the other things Ellie said she learned from this was not to “whine in line”. I also like that life lesson, too! ***

Faithfulness is Success

A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with my 8-year-old daughter about using the gifts and talents that the Lord has given her and not hiding or being afraid to use them, but instead using them to bless others and give God glory.

I was reminded of the Parable of the Talents. It’s a story about a master who entrusts different amounts of talents to his servants while he is away. When he returns, he asks them what they have done with the talents they were given. The first two servants took the talents they received and doubled what they had. The master’s reply was, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21)

Then he came to the last servant, and the servant told his master that he was afraid, so he hid his talent in the ground and did nothing with it. The master was upset and took away his talent and gave it to the one who had more talents.

I told my daughter that she can’t hide the talents God has given her. A lot of times we “hide” our talents by thinking, “I’m not good enough. Someone is better at this than I am. I’m afraid I won’t be successful at this. I am afraid of failing.”

After sharing this with her, I walked away from that conversation and realized that I have a lot of the same fears that she does and that the servant had. I’m afraid I’m not good enough. I’m afraid of failing. I’m afraid of someone else being better. I’m even afraid that I don’t have a talent. I’m not a designer; I’m not an artist; I’m not crafty. There is nothing that I have to offer.

It made me realize that I’ve been trying to hide and bury my talent. While my talent may not be as glamorous as others, I need to be faithful with what the Lord has given me. No matter how great or small that gift may be, whatever the Lord has entrusted me with, my success is found in my faithfulness.

Ruth Chou Simons says it so eloquently:

What you do may not look like titles, badges or letters behind your name, but God’s pleasure in your everyday faithfulness will be your name graven on His hands and His welcome when it matters most.

Beholding and Becoming, p. 113

Maybe you are like me and you’ve buried your talent and hidden it away. Maybe it’s time to get out the shovel, start digging and be faithful in using the gifts and talents the Lord has entrusted you with. Praise God that His mercies are new every morning. Today is a brand-new day and the possibilities are endless. Let’s see what the Lord will do when we place our trust in His nail-scarred hands.

Dairy-Free Living: Cashew Milk

Shelby recently went to see a holistic chiropractor and discovered that he might be allergic to dairy. So… for the next three weeks, we are going to go dairy-free to see if it alleviates some of his symptoms.

We went to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s to try a few of their dairy-free products. Holy Smokes! I did not realize there are so many alternatives to dairy. Almonds, cashew, coconut, oat…yup they all can be turned into milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream and any other creamy treat your little heart desires.

Not gonna lie, some of the things we bought have me a little skeptical, but we’ll see how they compare to the real deal and to each other.

Cashew Milk

Our first test was trying cashew milk. It’s a popular nondairy alternative and may have many additional health benefits:

  • Boost immunity
  • Fight inflammation
  • Lower risk of heart disease
  • Improve eye health
  • Improve skin health
  • Help blood sugar levels
  • Prevent iron deficiency anemia
  • Stop the spread of cancer.

You can both buy cashew milk or make your own (which apparently is not very difficult). The benefit of store-bought cashew milk is that it’s usually fortified with vitamins and minerals, however, it doesn’t include fiber and often includes added sugars and preservatives.

There are also many different brands that offer cashew milk:

  • So Delicious
  • Forager Project
  • Silk
  • Trader Joe’s

And I’ve heard making your own is as simple as soaking the cashews overnight and then blending it with water, maple syrup, cinnamon and salt. Now even I can handle something like that.

Trader Joe’s vs. Forager Project’s Cashew Milk Yogurt

Our first taste test was two different types of cashew milk yogurt. One was Forager Project and the other was a Trader Joe’s brand. They both had a more watery consistency than regular yogurt and had a little cashew aftertaste (at least I thought it did), but they weren’t that bad. It was also a little tart and not that sweet. If you couldn’t have dairy and this is your only alternative, then it’s not a bad one.

The real test will be if we can trick our kids into eating it. Now that might be a fun experiment!!!

Cashew Milk Yogurt Rating: C+ (Shelby), B (Marissa)

Clear Eyes, Pure Heart, Can’t Lose

As the new year approaches, I just can’t help but think of 20/20 vision. Maybe it’s because I’ve worn glasses for practically my whole life, but whenever I hear “2020”, I can’t help but think that next year will be the year where I want to see things clearly and have perfect vision for what lies ahead.

I want to have more clarity in life. Where decisions and choices that need to be made professionally, financially, spiritually, and relationally are not made carelessly or haphazardly, but have intention and precision. That my life is one that is lived with passion and purpose.

A while back there was a show called Friday Night Lights, and one of the things the football coach always told his players was “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.” It was their rally cry before every game and what was said during halftime when they were behind. It inspired and encouraged them. When they felt defeated, it helped them to keep going and never give up.

This is going to be my motto for next year, but instead of “full hearts”, I want to have a “pure heart”:

“Clear eyes, pure heart, can’t lose.”

The only way to see things clearly is to remain in Christ. To abide in Him and have His words deeply rooted in you. God’s vision for your life will never let you down. He’ll never fail you…never.

Psalm 24:4-5 also talks about how the Lord will bless and reward the one who has a pure heart. I’d like some of that in my life next year, don’t you?!

So, I’m going in to 2020 asking the Lord to grant me clear eyes and a pure heart…because with Him by my side, I can’t lose!

He Will Restore

My theme word for this year has been “restore”. We experienced a lot of brokenness the past few years, so I wanted this to be our restoration year.

What I didn’t realize was how much work restoration takes. I wanted things to be put back together and made whole again, but I didn’t know how much it would require of me.

When something is restored, there is a process it must go through in order to go from its current state to return to its original state. When you restore a piece of furniture, the first step is to strip off the old paint. It’s a messy process, but you can’t move ahead with the new until you remove the old.

The same is true when there is restoration in our lives. Old habits, relationships, and mindsets must be stripped away first before we can begin again with a fresh start. This refining process is tough, grueling work. Letting go of things that have been in your life for months, years or even decades is no small task. Yet, it is absolutely necessary.

While this year has been filled with things that have been stripped and removed from our lives, we have also seen the end result of restoration. The stripping away of relationships, financial security, earthly comforts and destructive environments has been hard. It has taken a toll on us mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. However, those things that were once dust and ash have been restored into something far more beautiful.

Hosea 6:1-3 says…

“Come, let us return to the LORD.

He has torn us to pieces;

now he will heal us.

He has injured us;

now he will bandage our wounds.

In just a short time he will restore us,

so that we may live in his presence.

Oh, that we might know the LORD!

Let us press on to know him.

He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn

or the coming of rains in early spring.”

The Lord will respond; He will heal; He will bind up our wounds; He will restore, so we can live in the beauty of His presence.

Homemade Nativity Baking Soda Ornaments

A few weeks ago, Ellie was asked to pick out a Christmas craft for her 3rd grade girls’ book club. They were going to discuss The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, so we wanted to find a craft that went along with the story and was also age appropriate for 8-9 year olds.

I had never read the story before, so after she finished reading it on her own, we read it as a bedtime story for the whole family. It’s a fun story and gives a different perspective about the birth of Jesus.

After scouring the internet for just the right craft, we settled upon making homemade nativity baking soda ornaments. There was a little bit of trial and error, but I think the end result came out pretty cute. I love that these were homemade and also tell the story of the birth of Jesus.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch + more for kneading
  • twine, for hanging the ornaments

Here’s what to do:

  • Mix baking soda and cornstarch in a small saucepan. Add water, stir until smooth.
  • Cook on medium-high heat, stirring constantly for about 3-5 minutes.
  • Remove from stove once mixture is thick and doughy.
  • Transfer dough to a plate and let cool at room temperature.
  • Preheat oven to 175 degrees.
  • Knead into a smooth dough. Add more cornstarch if it’s too sticky.
  • Roll out dough to no less than 1/4 inch thick.
  • Cut out desired shapes and transfer them to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  • Use a straw or chopstick to poke a hole in the center top of each decoration.
  • Bake at 175 degrees for 1 hour.
  • Add twine.

We bought these cute nativity cookie cutters and each girl got to decorate them with sharpies. I’ve also seen ornaments that were just left white. We’ve made salt dough ornaments before and they come out a little off white, but since these are made with baking soda, they come out a really bright white. They actually look really stunning without decorating them, and are perfect for not so artistically inclined people (like me)!

This is also a great way to share the story of the birth of Jesus with your kids. As they decorate each ornament, you can read the story as told in the Bible in the book of Luke. The cookie cutters we purchased also had a little booklet in it with Bible verses that corresponded with each shape.


God with Us

While waiting in line at the post office earlier today, I was reminded of one of the most traumatic experiences our family has ever been through. A lady who was a few spots ahead of me had just given blood and said she was feeling light headed. Not long after she spoke those words, she passed out and people frantically began shouting, “call 911” and “it looks like she’s having a stroke”.

A rush of memories flooded my mind as I pictured Shelby lying on our kitchen floor in a pool of his own blood, convulsing and as white as a sheet. I thought he was having a seizure and remember being so terrified as I screamed his name over and over again. My screaming awakened our 3-year-old who innocently refers to that night as “the time daddy died”. After spending a few days in the ICU, doing multiple tests, and having surgery to remove a rare birth defect, he was finally able to come home.

While Shelby was in the hospital last year, one of the things we missed going to was to see ICE at the Gaylord Texan. This picture of our family from yesterday’s outing at ICE, is what God’s faithfulness and answered prayer looks like. It’s a picture of a God who never fails, who never gives up, and who works all things for good.

But even as I compare where we were last year to where we are this year, there is one thing that has never changed. We celebrate this season and remember Immanuel, “God with us”. It’s so easy to think that God is with us when things are going well; when we aren’t stuck in a hospital missing out on all the festivities. But as I reflect on this past year, I know that God was still with us even when things were hard. Through every valley, storm, and trial that we have been through, God was still there. His presence was always with us, even in our suffering.

I’m encouraged that even though we have had some very hard chapters in life lately, God is ultimately creating a beautiful story. What a comfort to know that bad chapters don’t mean the end of the story.