Monthly Archives: January 2016

Preschool Playdate: A.A. Milne

Play date: January 21, 2016
Theme inspired by A.A. Milne’s birthday (January 18, 1882)

— Welcome song in English (emphasizes printed name recognition as Sweet Peas find their card in a line-up and place it on our Name Ledge)
— Welcome song in Spanish (reinforces names as Sweet Peas sing to their peers)
— Discussion of theme: talked about the characters in the series
— Storytime: Tigger’s breakfast
— Unsquiggle activity: “take the ants out of your pants”
— Poem/Song before we break for Centers

Thank goodness for all our dollar store flash cards! I had purchased these when Puma was a preschooler because she adored Winnie-the-Pooh.  They came in handy today, after a good dusting off!

Today’s craft and discovery table were inspired by the Sugar Aunts blog.  The take-home mask craft was printed from the Surburban Mom blog.

We got these little books for Puma’s first birthday party so that guests could share a little story time with their Sweet Peas.  I selected a story that recounts Tigger’s search for the perfect breakfast. I emphasized that he tasted everything until he found the food that tasted just right to him.  We also had our stuffed animal friends help us tell the story!



We had two options here – both games created out of the cards.

Activity 1: Word Match
It could be played as a memory game, or very simply as a “show and find the match” for the younger children. If they were playing the “show-match” version, I encouraged the parents to emphasize the first letter/sound as their child searched for the matching card.

The second activity was for word correlation.  It was a self checking game – if they matched the words correctly, they would form a picture on the reverse side that incorporated the two words that they had matched.  This is a great game to reinforce the “go-together” concept, and also to do visual recognition once the items were shown on an illustration.

We had two card games for this center as well…

Activity one: Shape or Color Match
This could be played as a “show and find” or a memory game.  We added the same shapes in orange if the Sweet Peas wanted to play memory.  Otherwise, we stuck to the primary colors to reinforce the colors as well as the shapes for the younger Sweet Peas.

Activity 2:  Number Match
The Sweet Peas matched the number to the card with the corresponding number of pots. To further emphasize 1-to-1 correlation, they could pin the “honey bee” clothespins to the card to match the number of pots.



Another use for the “honey bee” clothespins! There are several ways to play:
Level 1: fine motor skills only – celebrate picking up a flower with the clothespin!
Level 2: Pick up flowers of a certain color
Level 3: Name a number to pick up of a certain color.  This could be done progressively: take out 1 pink, 2 yellow, 3 blue, etc.,
Level 3a: Name a size of flower to take out…you could also request a certain amount here, too.



ARTS & CRAFTS ~ Make & Take
We made a couple of adjustments to the craft as suggested by Sugar Aunts.  We have lots of younger siblings that come to play date, so wiggly eyes were definitely out, and, there was absolutely no way we were going to plug in a hot glue gun for the wings…so we put out markers for the Sweet Peas to draw faces on their “bees”, and we used tacky glue for the wax paper wings.  They ones we made as samples and for the centers all held up pretty well; here’s wishing that they survived once the Sweet Peas took them home!



We finish our Preschool Playdate with a sharing time: each child that wants to share gets to say what (s)he enjoyed the most about the morning.  We close with a good-bye song where children are welcome to give hugs.  It helps to set a formal end to the time together so that parents have a clear reason to insist that it’s time to go if they have somewhere to be afterwards.

Join us next week when we share all the fun we had today for our Australia theme!

Motherhood Journey: 11 years and counting

Puma was born in the wee hours of the morning, eleven years ago today.  It has been quite the ride.  As the day started yesterday, I thought about the fact that we were already in labor with her on the 24th, and how we had to wait 24+ hours to find out if we were having a boy or a girl.

It also made me reflect on the many lessons I have learned as a mother over the last few years. I am not going to write them all down…here are some highlights.

Everything is better with sleep. We first learned this in her birth journey.  We had to make some decisions for her birth that we wouldn’t have had to face if I had given into the exhaustion and slept. The lesson has remained with me since that day. If either myself or the Sweet Peas are not “ourselves”, then it’s off for a nap-time or an early bedtime.  The household is much gentler when we are all rested.

Tears and fun do not go together. Whether it’s playing a game, reading a book, trying out a new concept in school…if someone is crying (including me!), then it’s not the right time for whatever we are doing.  Sometimes we need to refer back to No.1. Other times, especially when it’s school-related, it means that I need to check my gut and see if maybe the Sweet Pea isn’t ready for the concept, or if I need to get creative and present it in a different way.  If I pay attention, then the day turns around quickly.

Anger is an unmet need. Our chiropractor, Dr. Ross, gave me words to express this little nugget of wisdom!  Inevitably, our Sweet Peas forget that I am not a mind-reader.  Or that I can’t hear more than one thing at a time…when they are all talking to me I will miss something, and then down the line someone is angry or upset…because I didn’t hear them!  When I see that one of the children is angry or upset, then I get right down to their eye-level and ask them, “What did you think was going to happen?  Can I help make it better?”

Find time for connection.  As parents, we have a running “to-do” list. I can become focused on it to the point of forgetting to spend meaningful time with our Sweet Peas.  It helped me to realize that what I think of as “time” and their concept of “time” are two completely different things.  Five to ten minutes of undivided attention means the world to them.  Whether it’s asking them to bring me their favorite book, or telling them I can play dolls…Legos…kitchen…cars….with them until the timer rings; that time when I am on the floor with them means the whole world to them, and it only takes me a fraction of the day.  After all, I had them with intention, and they are the most important “work” of my life.  When I flip my perspective, it makes me realize how the rest of what I do is mundane and time with them IS the most important time I will spend in the day.

Parent individually. Each child requires you to be a unique mother. Each one has a different “love language“. Recognize, honor and respect their individuality. They need something different, and you one size does not fit all, even within our own family. Along the same tangent, if I spend my time trying to mother “better than ___”, everyone loses. Don’t look forward, don’t look back, resist the temptation to look around – look down.  What does the little person in front of you that moment need from you right now? Then give it to them with your whole heart. I have found that nothing is as rewarding as the spontaneous hug or kiss because I am there. Present.

Peaceful Mama rocks motherhood. This mama is well-rested, centered, joyful, and handles the upsets of the day with panache.  Crazy Mama is just how she sounds…CRAY CRAY!! She yells at the smallest provocation, she’s generally loud, and nobody likes her; least of all, me.  I took some time to reflect and some personal coaching I did with Blue Russ helped me realize that at the crux of all the yelling was lack of sleep.  When I get more sleep, things are automagically better.  To enhance the peacefulness, I start off my morning with a meditation and a prayer for the day’s intentions…those are the keys for Peaceful Mama to reign.  Finally, I top it off with flower essences and chocolate every day.  Magic happens!! The daily upsets of life happen, and a reasonable woman shows up to deal with them…even when yelling might be construed as appropriate.  Now, in my fantasy world, Peaceful Mama shows up every day.  Realistically, she shows up about 80-90% of the time, which is better than it used to be.

Ask for forgiveness – it matters.  For the days when Crazy Mama shows up, the most compassionate thing to do is own up to it.  I owe it to my Sweet Peas to acknowledge that I messed up and that it is my fault, not theirs.  It gives us a chance to re-set and do better for the rest of the day.  By being humble, it also shows them that humility is not to be feared.  They learn that sometimes we need to be forgiven, and that respect is earned, not given or demanded.  All these lessons are ones I hope they will remember as they grow in their own personhood and forge lasting relationships in their own lives.

Ask for help – it makes a difference.  To borrow an idea from Pam England, we have this myth in our culture that women need to do everything, do it well, and do it with a smile on their face.  It is one of the most dangerous myths we embrace, for it is asking the impossible.  Here’s an example that also reflects back to the idea of teaching humility: when I know I haven’t gotten enough sleep, I confess it to the Sweet Peas as soon as we are all up in the morning. I state up front that I am going to need help that day, and that I will also need to take a nap at some point during the day. Then we proceed through the day, with them helping instead of me just doing for them all day long.  They take on more than their usual chores. I hang up the myth of having to be Super-Mom. We all have a real day, and chances are that if I take care, Peaceful Mama can still show up through all the tiredness.

A shift in expectations can make all the difference in the world.  I just heard a great phrase from one of the grandmas that I have had the pleasure of meeting through our birth work.  She shared this nugget with me, “Every time we brought a baby home, our expectations went down another notch.”  Brilliant!!! Have you seen THIS meme from The Perfect Mess blog?

HappyKids Meme

Such a great thing to keep in mind. Back to that super-woman myth…we only hurt ourselves and continue the myth with our children by trying to do everything all the time.

It’s impossible.

Even the people who look like they have it all together have skeletons in their closet.  Trust me. There is a messy room, drawer, life skill…something that they are really good at hiding.  Which brings me to the next lesson…

Be yourself. Be comfortable in your own skin, in your own priorities, and live your life the way you were meant to live it. That is the best lesson I feel I can teach our children – not perfection, not super-ness…just realness – living, learning, loving and growing every day.  As you can see, there are lots of links out to lots of people and resources in this post…they teach me and I am grateful for their lessons. There are countless other people who make up my tribe who I haven’t linked to, which brings me to…

Find your tribe. Once you know who you are and which “hats” you want to wear, this becomes more apparent.  Who are the people that nourish you? Who are the people who accept you as you are, who you don’t have to put your “face” on for?  Spend time with them. Build each other up. Encourage each other. Life’s journey is much easier when you are traveling with people, instead of comparing notes and one-upping. So. Much. Easier.

So, happy birth-day to our original Sweet Pea. She is a wonder to behold – I cannot wait to see where her life journey leads.

Which lessons have you learned as a parent?

Preschool Playdate: Dragons

Playdate: January 14, 2016
Inspiration: Appreciate A Dragon Day

— Welcome song in English (emphasizes printed name recognition as Sweet Peas find their card in a line-up and place it on our Name Ledge)
Welcome song in Spanish (reinforces names as Sweet Peas sing to their peers) Skipped this week since we got a late start…everybody had to get back in the habit of getting out of the house on Thursdays 🙂
— Discussion of theme: Other animals with scales
— Storytime: Puff the Magic Dragon
— Unsquiggle activity: not necessary since they squiggled through storytime!!
Poem/Song before we break for Centers



I read selections from this book to the Sweet Peas. Everyone was so excited to see friends they hadn’t seen since December (the Peas+Pods – lol) that it was hard to get everyone settled.  Instead of reading the whole book, which is an illustrated version of the song (repetition of chorus every other page!), I read the pages that told the story of Puff’s friendship with Jackie Piper, Jack growing up, and Puff making a new friend.  I used the finger puppets to add interest to the storytelling.


I also shared the book pictured below with the moms in attendance as a suggestion for bedtime reading.  “My Father’s Dragon” by Ruth Stiles Gannet is the delightful story of an ingenious little boy, an old cat, and the quest to find a dragon.  The little boy follows the cat’s instructions to rescue a dragon, that then carries the boy off to new adventures. Jungle animals are introduced in each chapter, and the boy applies creative problem solving to get him one step closer to rescuing the dragon, chapter by chapter.  There is a hilarious rescue scene at the end. All of our children have enjoyed this book.


My favorite part of this center was finding a dragon font HERE.  It’s a free download…since we are a preschool group I kept it simple.  I am guessing we will find many more applications for this font going forward!

Activity 1: Unscramble
I had both upper-case and lower-case magnets available for the Sweet Peas.  They had to organize the letters to spell out, “dragon”.  Since the print-out is tucked into a page protector, they could also use a dry-erase marker to trace the upper-case letters on the page.


Activity Two: Trace or Outline
I used puffy sticker letters for a sensory experience. The Sweet Peas could start by tracing the uppercase letters with their finger tips.  I added the beans to the table so that they could work on their fine-motor skills, so helpful to help them hold a pencil or other writing/drawing instruments.



Can you tell I was puffy-sticker inspired today??  The cards were printed with dragons that alternated designs between the odd and even numbers.  I also added green dots to each card so that they children can start seeing the odd/even concept.  Finally, we added the puffy foam sticker numbers to the back of the cards so the kiddos could do more tracing.  I also added the “dragon’s treasure” for the Sweet Peas to use as counters.  Lots of ways to enjoy this Math Center today!

Activity 1: Identify the numbers

Activity 2: Order the number cards

Activity 3: Explore odd and even: point out the cards that show each set and ask the child to tell you what is different about the dots on the odd cards (always one dot left over) and the even cards (all dots are matched).

Activity 4: Trace the foam numbers

Activity 5: Use the “dragon treasure” to count out the amount to match the number on a card



Activity 1: Scale match
This built on the discussion of the theme.  I printed out images of animals with scales.  It let us talk about familiar animals (crocodile, snake, fish, chameleon) and introduce a couple of new ones (pangolin, tuatara).  I printed a matching set of cards with the scales magnified.  The Sweet Peas had to match the animal with it’s scales.


Activity 2:
Sensory Play: These are dragons we have collected through the years, plus Toob knights.  These could be buried and found, sorted, counted, arranged into epic battles…lots of ways to play with these.

What always fascinates me about the sensory table is that Sweet Peas of all ages enjoy digging in and playing with the rice and whatever is buried in it that week.  The toddler guests and my upper elementary helpers are equally entertained whenever we do a sensory activity like this!!


ARTS & CRAFTS ~ Make & Take
Taking inspiration from the Ed Emberley fingerprint books, here are some of the dragons the Sweet Peas and their imaginative Mama Pods created:


I also laid out this Melissa & Doug dragon vs. knight puzzle for the children to enjoy as they waited their turn or they were finished with all the activities:


We finish our Preschool Playdate with a sharing time: each child that wants to share gets to say what (s)he enjoyed the most about the morning.  We close with a good-bye song where children are welcome to give hugs.  It helps to set a formal end to the time together so that parents have a clear reason to insist that it’s time to go if they have somewhere to be afterwards.

Join us again next week when we share the activities we use to celebrate the birthday of A.A. Milne, author of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.

Making Meaningful Moments


Our family is transitioning to a new work situation for Daddy Bruss. While he is still mostly working from home, most of that time is spent on the phone so the Sweet Peas can’t pop in to see him as is their habit. His office has quickly gone from an open-door to a closed-door situation. He has also stopped eating lunch with us…and there may be some travel coming up this year.

They are already starting to feel like they are not seeing him enough. So, one evening when he was gone for dinner, the Sweet Peas and I had a good conversation about why this new situation was going to be a long-term benefit for our family, and how to make the time we do see Daddy Bruss more meaningful.

Through the course of the conversation, they came up with the idea of creating a “Daddy Fun Jar”. Instead of rushing through clean up after dinner to watch their favorite streaming episodes, the Sweet Peas all agreed they would rather do something fun with their dad. (Screen time after dinner is a habit that formed from convenience; I cannot say I am sorry to see it go by the wayside.)

They came up with several ideas of fun things to do with their dad after dinnertime. And, they got to experience what “brainstorm” means! It was so neat to hear their ideas and have them peek over my shoulder to make sure I was getting everything written down. It also afforded us the opportunity to talk about the ideas and get consensus…team-building 101!

I intentionally did not make the jars or the cards “pretty” or “fancy” because I know I see things on social media, and then I don’t do them because it’s intimidating to try and get it “perfect”.   I am sure that this could be done with a fancy printable label and beautifully printed and laminated cards…mine are old address labels from an obsolete printer and index cards from the dollar store, taped over with packing tape so that they don’t bleed or smudge when they are inevitably handled by messy hands, or if they land on a wet counter!

Here are the ideas they came up with:


I labeled two jars from our stash: one is “This Week” and the other is “Next Week”. We pick from the “THIS” jar on a nightly basis, and then we drop it in the “NEXT” jar so that we have an opportunity to run through all the cards once as we empty the “THIS” jar. Once all the activities have been enjoyed and transferred over to the “NEXT” jar, we will switch over the lids and the fun starts all over again.



The Sweet Peas have had so much fun doing one fun thing a day with their dad. They have had the opportunity to hear some of his childhood stories and have conversations with their dad.  These meaningful moments wouldn’t have happened if they were playing in their rooms or camped out with their electronic devices.

It has actually become the highlight of the weekdays.  I had a hard time convincing them that  we didn’t really “need” to do a jar card on the weekends when we had spent the whole day with him.

If your family does something like this, I would love to read what kinds of activities your Sweet Peas think of to do with a parent that they see less of throughout the day. Leave me a comment with your ideas!

Mama Cloth and More

Here is some food for thought for those of you with biologically female children: feminine hygiene products. Do you know what you are going to do about them when it’s time for your daughter to start her monthly cycle?

Being that we offer childbirth classes that appeal to people striving to live a natural, green lifestyle, I tend to hear about all the latest in green living trends from my colleagues. About four years ago, one of my colleagues asked me if I have ever heard of menstrual cups, and since I hadn’t she proceeded to tell me all about them.

My first thought was, “GROSS!” Why on earth would I want to deal with that when there was the convenience of hygiene products available at the pharmacy?

Some of the reasons she gave me were that tampons were not made with organic cotton, so there was the possibility of exposing the body to chemical pesticides, the cotton was bleached during the production process (more chemicals), and then she mentioned reducing the amount of waste in landfills.

My mind was more open to the idea, however, I wasn’t convinced that I should make the switch and deal with more of a bloody mess every month. Then…little by little, I learned some more and started to re-think my stance.

The next time I learned more about alternatives to feminine hygiene products was when I participated in an event with my friend Shannon Gusé. She was a selling her “mama cloth”, another alternative to conventional products. Her reusable pads are made with love from soft flannel and PUL (super absorbent and leak proof). Here is an excerpt from her blog on Shannon’s Cloth & More:

“My own journey began several years ago when I was looking for a solution to painful, heavy menstruation, and I discovered the idea of cloth menstrual pads.  My research led me to discover that disposable products often times have chemicals in them that alter the body’s chemistry, leading to heavier flow and longer duration – necessitating the purchase of more products, much to the manufacturer’s delight.”

When she mentioned that it might be possible for my cycle to be less painful and shorter, I was finally ready to at least try something different. I approached it as I do with many other things: I might as well try it – the worse that could happen is that I would get a no, and at least in the process, I would learn something.

So I bought a few mama cloth pads, and sprung for a menstrual cup. Much to my delight, my monthly cycles were shorter within a couple of months. Unfortunately, I was having “user” challenges with the menstrual cup, so I settled into a routine of using mama cloth at home and tampons if I was leaving the house.

My big “a-ha!” moment was last summer when we were traveling. I decided to forgo the reusable products for convenience sake, and even forgot to bring the tampons I still used when we left home. I ended up buying a different brand and figured it should be fine.

By day two of using those tampons, I had a horrible headache that would not go away and I was having terrible cramping. I couldn’t figure out why I was so sick…until I realized that the difference was probably the product. I went back to simple sanitary pads for rest of the cycle, and not surprisingly, the headache went away and the cramping subsided after I stopped using the tampons.

After that experience, I was more committed to figuring out how to use the menstrual cup and definitely making more use of the mama cloth. Last week, THIS article and linked video started making the rounds on social media.  It’s nice to see that this kind of information may be starting to reach people beyond those that like to do things the “natural” way simply for the sake of being green and natural.

We are now in a time when fertility issues are experienced by more and more women, and I have to wonder, how much of it is related to the fact that we are putting chemicals next to our reproductive system since puberty, for going on three generations?

And not only are the chemicals next to our reproductive system, but they are sitting on some of the most absorbent membranes in the body. Really – they are…

If you have read down to this part of the post, you may be shaking your head in disbelief like I did the first time I heard all of this information. However, good on you for reading anyway, so I am going to leave you with this excerpt from an article by the National Institutes of Health:

The Vaginal Route of Exposure

“Female sex organs evolved to be self-cleaning.6 The vaginal canal is richly endowed with blood vessels and produces mucus that protects against and washes away harmful microorganisms.7 As a mucous membrane, the vagina is capable of secreting and absorbing fluids at a higher rate than skin, as are some of the external portions of the vulva, including the clitoris, clitoral hood, labia minora, and urethra.7,8,9

“Most of the vagina is covered with multiple layers of dead and dying cells that do a lot to protect it against infection, but [this] is nowhere near the thick leathery surface of our skin,” says Cone. “The vaginal epithelium … is highly water permeable in a way our skin is not.”

Because mucous membranes in the vagina and vulva rapidly absorb chemicals without metabolizing them, researchers have even explored the possibility of delivering drugs vaginally.10 One study found that vaginal application of estradiol, a synthetic estrogen, resulted in blood serum levels 10 times higher than those following oral dosing.11 But while rapid absorption works well when a patient needs a drug delivered rapidly, it may also expose women to higher levels of chemicals from feminine hygiene products than manufacturers intend.”

Read the complete article HERE 

I hope this has opened your heart and your mind to the possibility that maybe your family can start exploring alternatives to conventional feminine hygiene products. Even if you don’t make the switch yet, I encourage you to start reading more and seeking more information.

What do you think?
Let me know your thoughts about all this in the comments – thanks!

Tuesday Tip: Household Help

Ah, the new year!! Lots of promise and commitment to home organization….ring a bell?  I am so encouraged by this new season of having four capable children that I am jumping on the home organization bandwagon lifestyle this year.

The idea for this started brewing when I saw my friend’s system for having her children help with chores around the house. She made hers super-fancy: typed out the chores, pasted them on colorful cardstock, laminated the cards…I am not very ambitious in that regard…I just wanted something that I could use for our Sweet Peas.

Daunted by the idea sitting down and coming up with a chore list, I did nothing.  Then along came a tweet yesterday, with a link to THESE amazing home organization charts from

I printed out the “Daily Cleaning Checklist” thinking that this would be a good list for my jobs to do after I finished homeschooling for the day…and then lightbulb!! Here was a good working list to start with for the chore rewards I had been wanting to do!!

So I sat down with my index cards from the Dollar Tree, a sharpie, and started writing.  I did not use all of them for the children…there are some that I want to do (sort mail) and some that are part of the daily chores they already do as part of helping out because we are a family (making the bed, clearing up after meal times).  I did put a couple of kitchen items in there so that the Sweet Peas would have incentive to really clean other areas in the kitchen after they had finished with the dishes in the sink.  And quite frankly, since little hands are typically helping with meal preparation (read: things get spilled), the kitchen floor can use a good sweep after every mealtime.

I started by making 15 cards so that each of my five homeschoolers can pick out three chores a day.  The expectation is that they will do their chores before our school day ends at 3:00 pm.  When they are finished, they hand me their cards, I check their work, and then record their daily “pay” in my planner as long as everything is satisfactory, or they get a chance to re-do it with or without my help as the case may be.  At the end of the week, they get to collect their “wages”.

And…I was so excited by our first day results yesterday!! I love having the house tidy, I love having the Sweet Peas help, and they are so excited to be earning spending money!  Puma and Busy Bee are saving up for their Europe trip, the boys want to save for Pokeman cards, and Otter just likes the idea of having money.

I hope that you are blessed by the handy charts as I have been.  I was also inspired by the chart on 31 days of decluttering.  After experiencing the loss of family members, and seeing all the work that goes into closing down their homes; and just the waste of energy and time trying to filter through all the accumulated possessions of our lives, I really want to get on top of this in 2016. I adjusted the 31 day chart for a year, and then every day THIS year, I will start paring down what we have.  I am looking forward to releasing the things that we do not use for someone else to enjoy who might actually enjoy them rather then letting them sit in a closet or drawer or box for another year.

Want more inspiration?  Here are some charts that show age-appropriate life-skills, kitchen skills, and chores from 30 Handmade Days: