Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Love is in the air: Four February Family Home Evenings

I love themes. A lot. Since I couldn't select just 1 Valentine's theme for Family Night, we have been enjoying a whole month of Love-themed lessons! I realize by the time this is posted, ya'll will be way over Valentines Day. The heart and red/pink/white images popping up all over social media for the past 4 weeks might have something to do with the V-tines overload--- or perhaps it is post-raspberry-chocolate-cheesecake guilt? hmmmm...but it was worth it! I digress. If these lessons don't fit this month's ideas, feel free to pin this post so you remember 4 great LOVE lessons for next year!

1. Wrinkled Heart

Focus: Using kind words
song: Let Us Oft Speak Kind Words to Each Other (232)
scripture: If we love one another, God dwelleth in us (1 John 4:12)
lesson: Wrinkled Heart
activity: write nice notes to each other
dessert: 'heart' chocolate dipped pretzelsmerengue hearts, or other favorite V-tines treat

The original idea came from here, but we simplified it considerably. I had the kids share experiences of getting their feelings hurt. Eric and I contributed experiences of our own to help illustrate. With each example, we folded the construction paper heart. After all the ideas had wrinkled our heart up pretty good, I asked how we could remove the wrinkles. (for older kids, it would be fun to give each child a chance to try...) Then we discussed how saying sorry is essential, but sometimes damage is already done to tender hearts. Conversely, kind words make a huge impact. I shared this story about the power of kind words (it is short and sweet). 
I really wanted to encourage the kids to think before they speak/act. To be more intentional with their words, aware of the impact, ya know? The poem sums it up!
 I love the poem, so I made one up and printed it on deep red card stock before embellishing with hearts and silver Sharpie. I'm happy to share my ink-saving b&w version if you want it (print on colored cardstock and embellish as desired). Just leave your email in the comments!

After the lesson about positive words, we wrote nice notes to each other. I found a free printable for heart-shaped 'I Love You' notes at FabnFree if you are interested, but we just colored on printer paper for ours. 

 2. Love from Heavenly Father

Focus: Heavenly Father loves you!
Song: I Feel My Savior's Love (CS 74)
Scripture: "He took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them." (3 Nephi 17:21... read verses 11-24 for older children)
Lesson: Heavenly Father and Jesus show their love for us
Activity: raining hearts (each time you tell something you are grateful for, you get a heart. Once pile is depleted, we throw hearts in the air and let them rain down on us like blessings from Heaven)
Dessert: merengue heart cookies or heart dipped pretzels

I had 10 or so hearts printed (link to free printable below--keep reading!) with various blessings received from Heavenly Father (everything from temples and family to prayer, scriptures, and the Holy Ghost-- a great selection!). We scattered them face down and each member of the family took turns picking one. They then got to say what they loved about that blessing (or bear their testimony of it). For older kids you could deepen the concept by asking them how this blessing shows Heavenly Father's love for us. You can see Emmett REALLY wanted to hold this commandments heart!

Emmett loved the lesson! He was all over trying to grab hearts and ribbons. Can you tell he was excited?
We had leftover pink camo cake for dessert because Caroline requested it.

I wanted to emphasize that the greatest blessing Heavenly Father has given us--- the most beautiful way He has shown us how much He loves us--- is through the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. I cannot imagine teaching what LOVE truly means without pointing to the Atonement as the greatest expression of love. 

Neither of the above pics gets the colors right (with the flash it looks purple, without flash is too orange). These free printable hearts from OCD Primary Chorister have lovely rich colors. They are intended for Primary singing time, but why limit the application? After our lesson, they made fabulous chandelier decor above our kitchen table-- like blessings raining down on us!

3. Home Filled with Love

 Focus: Loving your family
Song: Love is Spoken Here
Scripture: John 15:10-12
Lesson: read the poem, talk about loving family
Activity: heart and house game
dessert: merengue hearts, pretzel hearts, heart jello jigglers or other dessert

We read this poem by Jane Lamb entitled My Home:
My home is not the wood. My home is not the brick.
My home’s a loving mother who soothes me when I’m sick.
My home is not the garden, or the place we park the car.
My home’s a gentle father who loves us as we are.
My home is not the windows. My home is not the doors.
My home is my big brother who helps me with the chores.
My home is not the chimney or the smoke that billows there.
My home is all my family as we bow our heads in prayer.
My home is more than just a house with walls and roof above.

My home is where my family lives in peace, in joy, in love.

 After the poem we discussed some of the concepts about what makes a loving home described in the poem. We made sure to point out some of the things our family struggles with in the discussion. We've had sick kids for about 15 days and have seen A LOT of each other during this period of quarantine. There were times in the day or two leading up to this lesson that I seriously contemplated my qualifications to teach it, as I have struggled right along side my kids with patience in the face of so much arguing/pestering each other. But after much prayer, I was reminded that Heavenly Father wants our effort and the Savior's Atonement enables us to overcome our shortcomings. We just have to keep trying. That is the message I shared with my kids and it went well. We talked about what kind of home would be happiest, what kind of home Heavenly Father and Jesus would like us to have, and ultimately what kind of home WE would like to have. It was an easy transition to a fun game about filling our homes with love.
The kids chose a heart, read it (or had it read to them), and had to decide if it was a loving heart or not. If it was something that would 'fill our home with love' then it went right in the little house. Otherwise, it was tossed aside. After a while, we actually started discussing what a better choice would be for those non-loving hearts so that they too could become loving and go in the home. I LOVE the examples selected for the hearts. Some include things like 'tell your brother something you love about him' and other applications that the kids really enjoyed. 
The original idea with free printable game is from Little LDS Ideas and includes the hearts with loving/not loving examples on them and a link to the free printable house template. I used that template for our card stock house and thought it was easy to put together--- though I should warn that it is very small and I had to make sure our hearts were cut pretty precisely in order to ensure they fit (lamination and all) through the slit in our home's roof. Adorable, though. And since my girls are obsessed with 'tiny' things, I knew they would love the cuteness of it.

 Emmett was pretty excited to participate... and really wished those hearts were just a TAD closer! But his efforts at nabbing one only scooted him farther away. I'm sure that convenience won't last much longer with the way he's going, though! Right now we'll just enjoy that he only scoots backwards. :) 
 Caroline, who can't read, immediately assumed that each heart told her to tell a family member how much she loved them. It was adorable! (She did get pretty offended when Gwen didn't reciprocate after picking up a heart. We had to explain that Gwen was following the instructions on the heart but that OF COURSE she would love to tell Caroline lots of things she loves about her! Caroline was comforted after we finally 'altered' what Gwen's next heart said and asked Gwen to tell Caroline why she loved her. Much kissing and hugging ensued!)
 Gwen was pretty intent on getting her hearts in there just perfectly. 

Fondness for the "climb on the dad-gym" game was followed by 

 a rowdy bout of tickle torture! She never tires of it!
I love seeing a lesson permeate our home. For the past week since we had this lesson, I find myself (and have overheard others) saying "is that going to fill our home with love? Is that something we want in our home?" and the wonderful part is seeing behavior modified almost immediately without a fight. They are trying. Trying so hard to follow the example of Jesus Christ. I couldn't ask for more since that is what I'm working on too!

4. Show Love through Service

Focus: Serve others like Christ
Song: Love One Another
Scripture: "When you are in the service of your fellow beings, you are only in the service of your God" (Mosiah 2:17)
Lesson: Show love through service (based on Pres Monson's talk here) 3 meanings of love: feeling in heart, word spoken, action shown. poem about who shows greatest love. 
Activity: family service project and/or secret service (take 3 hearts. Leave a heart behind after doing an act of service within the family)

Greatest Love Poem
(could also simply be summarized as a brief story:

“I love you, mother,” said little John;
Then, forgetting his work, his cap went on,
And he was off to the garden swing,
Leaving his mother the wood to bring.

“I love you, mother,” said rosy Nell;
“I love you better than tongue can tell;”
Then she teased and pouted full half the day,
Till her mother rejoiced when she went to play.

“I love you, mother,” said little Fan;
“To-day I’ll help you all I can;
How glad I am that school doesn’t keep!”
So she rocked the babe till it fell asleep.

Then, stepping softly, she fetched the broom,
And swept the floor, and dusted the room;
Busy and happy all day was she,
Helpful and happy as child could be.

“I love you, mother,” again they said—
Three little children going to bed;
How do you think that mother guessed
Which of them really loved her best?
I prepared a delightfully illustrated 'family' last year as a visual aide for stories about kids/parents. I got these free illustrations from Susan Fitch Designs and just adjusted the size relationships for the 'ages' of the children I wanted my 'family' to have. I found that some of the characters I made last year fit PERFECTLY for the poem above--- Eric even asked me afterwards if this was the story that originally inspired her illustrations, they fit THAT perfectly! I have used Susan's illustrations for many other projects too, including our Plan of Salvation chart, our morning routine flow chart, Primary assignments for talk/scripture/prayer, certificates of accomplishment for Article of Faith, and a family chore chart I'm working on (but that will be for another post) because I absolutely love her style! All of the things I've used have been completely FREE and I HIGHLY recommend Fitch Illustrations for their quality. Go check it out!

We are doing secret service hearts with our family to reinforce the concept (I 'inherited' a TON of fuzzy red fleece fabric from my mom a few years ago. To make this project economical and easy, I just cut out hearts from the fleece. No sew project. Maybe someday I'll sew 2 together and lightly stuff them. Of course you could come up with something cuter, but this works for us.) I also plan to recruit my children's help for some meals we're taking to friends-in-need this week. These service examples fit the ages of our kids, but I look forward to doing more labor-intensive service with older children! The idea for this FHE came from FabnFree, but I used her ideas as inspiration rather than 'outline'. She had videos and coloring pages also that you might be interested in, so go check out her collection of materials. 
 Everyone's favorite family member to serve... not much sacrifice required to do nice things for this adorable face!
and I think he knows it. :)

 I'll be the first to admit that my camera doesn't take the best pictures in poor lighting. And I'll also admit that my food photography leaves much to be desired. :) So forgive the quality of these strawberry thumbprints (cake mix cookies) that are super easy and fun for kids to help make! The recipe is photographed with much more appetizing results on the blog where I found the recipe. 

I love my family and I love the Gospel of Jesus Christ! I hope you are inspired by something you've seen here or a resource I used to go and share with your loved ones!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Valentine's Day Awesomeness!

Valentine's Day dawned with coughing, snotty-nosed kids and tired parents. We had special French toast (the Kneader's style chunky kind, but we used Pepperidge Farm apple cinnamon thick-sliced bread that I got for a dollar per loaf--- I adore our PF outlet and the 75% off savings there!) with caramel syrup and strawberries. Oh man, it was divine. But we didn't really savor it because we had to go drop off one car for an 'exam' early. By the time we went back down in the afternoon to pick it up and came back home, we'd probably spent at least an hour and a half in the car going back and forth. The rest of the day we tried to take it easy (we all needed rest to boost our immune defenses) and just enjoy a quiet day at home.
 Eric brought each of his girls a rose (I got one too)-- Gwen and Caroline loved them!
But I think they loved the surprise things from "Cupid" even more! Eric's family has a tradition of Cupid visits on Valentine's Day (kind of like ding-dong ditching only you drop-and-run at your own house switching doors while the kids try to guess where Cupid will hit next) This year our wing-ed naked baby friend brought balloons, elephants, Elsa/Anna rings, and chocolate. Exciting!

 Since Emmett is not going to bed early enough for us to put him down BEFORE a date out and we didn't want to bring him WITH us (because nothing says romance like a crying baby ruining everyone else's quiet evening, right?), we decided the least stressful way to spend Valentine's Day was at home. We've done this a lot (almost every year, actually) and we enjoy cooking for each other. We like to surprise each other, which really makes it quite fun and exciting! It worked out perfectly this year since we had sick kids at home anyway and going out would have been problematic. I was in charge of dessert and Eric took charge of the meal. Here he is preparing shrimp (which I wasn't supposed to really see...). Most of the ingredients were either thawing under towels (so I couldn't peek) or were in tupperwares in the fridge that I was instructed not to open. It was fun to be working together in the kitchen (I was preparing the girls' food) without knowing what he was up to.

The girls got a special dinner early so we could have a date dinner all to ourselves. Apparently the best part was the pink strawberry milk (which was chalky and gross in my humble opinion, but hey. Whatever floats your boat).

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to confess that I accidentally deleted ALL of our romantic dinner pictures from Valentine's Day off my camera. Irretrievable. I feel sick about it. So the following pictures are 'posed' the day after and do not quite capture the magic achieved for our special date, but at least the amazing food is documented!

On the menu: 
Gorgonzola risotto with pear-oregano puree
Castelvetrano green olive salad with red pepper flakes
Prosciutto wrapped pork loin pan-fried in rosemary/garlic olive oil and served on a bed of baby spring greens tossed with balsamic vinaigrette
Macadamia nut crusted Jumbo shrimp skewers deep fried and served with mayonnaise 
Some of the ingredients were quite challenging to find. Eric went to several stores before successfully locating the Italian green olives. And he wanted the best brand of risotto grain so he ended up ordering it online when he couldn't find it in stores. The things my husband does to impress me in the kitchen! Seriously, the man is amazing!

I got to help by making the risotto, which was lots of fun! I LOVE cooking with expensive ingredients, (I'd only prepared REAL risotto once before, in a cooking class), so this was a real treat.  Eric still wanted me to be surprised, so he asked me to focus on the 'fussy' risotto lest I see everything he was fixing up. So we were together laughing and enjoying each other's company all while NOT watching Eric too closely. There is something about cooking together that just deepens a relationship. Quite miraculous and wonderful. 

Eric removed a leaf from our table to make it cozier for two and we had lit taper candles. It was quite funny to have our private romantic dinner with Emmett next to me in the bouncy chair cooing and gumming his plush knight and the girls watching Pocahontas just a few feet away from us in the living room. :)

After the kids were in bed, we had dessert and some non-alcoholic drinks. 
 I was worried that my gift to Eric-- this dark chocolate cheesecake with raspberry-chocolate sauce-- would pale in comparison to the fabulous dinner we'd just eaten. I needn't (altered per Amber's suggestion!) have worried. The cheesecake (recipe from Seriously Bittersweet) was an adventure. Only my second cheesecake ever (the last one attempted 5 years ago), but it was delightfully simple to follow the recipe's instructions and tips... and it turned out beautifully! Not too dense, nice and fluffy yet moist and rich... I am pretty certain I'll be making more cheesecake in the future! My waist might not like that so much because I could eat this whole thing myself. Good thing Eric thought it was divine so he will end up eating it up before I can give in to temptation... at least, before I give in TOO much! :)

 Eric loves to fix up drinks for special occasions. He has collected some really amazing recipes-- all non-alcoholic!-- with wonderfully exotic flavors and combinations. 

 This beauty was a Tuscan Fresco: rosemary (muddled), white cranberry juice, peach nectar, lemon juice, simple syrup, and a hint of club soda. Wonderfully bright yet balanced with herbal depth... a foodie's non-alcoholic delight! The round ice cubes are especially aesthetic, don't you think? He does it for me. Aesthetics are romantic in our household. How bout yours?

I'd say it was a pretty successful Valentine's Day! The food was especially delicious and will be hard to top next year. Good thing we've got a full year to come up with something amazing!

We "Heart" Preschool!

Our Valentine's themed week was wonderfully rewarding! Caroline was especially excited for preschool and Gwen enjoyed it as extra fun when she got home too. I love it when the kids ASK to play with educational materials! At the end of the week we sadly had to cancel our Book Club Valentine's party because Caroline was contagiously sick with a nasty cold (some love should NOT be shared!). But we squeezed in all the learning activities during the week before she got apathetic and wanted to lay on the couch all day with someone rubbing her back. So here is what went down:
Capital/lowercase letter match. Just as simple as it sounds. I used a heart punch and card stock for durability and wrote the letters on myself. There are printables out there, but the ink saturation just seemed a waste. This was the easy alternative. 

Caroline is still challenged by lowercase letters, so I began with the easiest approach: I named the lowercase letter as I handed it to her and asked her to find the mommy. Next step up was to put 2-3 lowercase letters for her to choose from and then ask her to identify the "f" before pairing it with the "mommy". When she had that down, we transitioned to the hardest way: putting a large number of lower case letters out there and asking her to find their matches. We don't stay too long on challenging ones like this because Caroline still gets frustrated. So usually this is the 'crowning' activity before we move on. 

Another ABC/phonics activity we did was to put the heart over the letter that makes the phonics sound I was doing. Basic. I made this ABC sheet generic so that I can re-use it for all kinds of themes. You can use any kind of 'marker' to cover the completed letters, which makes it perfect for year-round use!

Caroline was singing "Red Heart Pink Heart" (a song we sing at her music class) throughout the lesson. Adorable. 

We did rainbow writing 'L is for Love' and 'H is for Heart' during the week. Caroline is getting pretty adept at this. I just have to remind her repeatedly to begin her letters at the top, otherwise she wants to start at the bottom of each.

This was our second time to do patterns. I originally introduced patterns in October, but she was NOT ready for the concept and it was a terrible failure. No big deal, I set patterns aside until last week when she tried out duplo patterns (during construction week. Sorry I'm all out of order on blogging) and she was getting the hang of it. So I brought them out again this week and she NAILED it! Just goes to show: if your kids don't like an activity, don't bang your head against a wall. Give it a rest and come back to it later! What fun it was this time around!

Gwen loved it too and spent a lot of time after school doing patterns. Candy heart patterns available for printing free from PreKinders. You'll notice I have a HUGE bag of conversation hearts. I needed a ton for a group game for our V-tines party that we didn't end up having. So now I've got a stash. :) I see science experiments in our future. :) Oh, and one last side note. Gwen laughed and told me she found one that said 'Pugs and Kittens' and I thought she was mis-reading 'hugs and kisses'... but nope. It said "Pugs and Kittens". How funny. 

One to one correspondence activity with a beautiful do-a-dot heart. Supposed to be red, but I am almost out of ink, so this was how it printed. Available for free printing from Gift of Curiosity. Of course Caroline ate the candy afterwards. :)

Caroline got a set of wooden shape blocks for Christmas and ADORES them. I knew she would love this activity. I found it for free printing at Playdough to Plato, but as I've already mentioned, my ink is low. Yellow always seems to be the first to go. So I had to color quite a bit of this AFTER it printed so that orange and green looked right in addition to the obvious yellow. While I was working away with my markers, Caroline kept asking when it would be ready. I told her 'after laminating.' Well, when we DIDN'T pull this out for our first day of Pre-K, she was offended. So I got it out anyway (even though we were officially finished for the day) and she played for about another hour. Yeah. An awesome activity!

One of our math activities was counting. Just plain ole counting. She would draw a heart, each with a number from 1-15 on it. She had to count that many M&M's into the muffin cup. Then she could eat one, dump it out, and pick another heart. 

In retrospect, I should have saved out the 11-15 hearts until the end. Her first 3 draws were from the teens and it was a frustrating way to start out. She would have done better with a 'warm up', I think. She kept getting sloppy and dropping multiple candies in while calling out numbers rapid fire. When she did this I made her start over. I want her to practice the one to one correspondence of counting so that she recognizes numbers aren't just a 'sequence' that we chant along like lyrics to a song. They represent actual objects, especially when counting. 

A simpler math activity was to create the number of tarts that the heart specifies. This was fun because playdough is always fun. The cute Queen of Hearts play dough mat was a free printable from PreKinders. The link takes you to ALL their Valentine's mats, but the one I used was the 'Toddler' mat because it has an unspecified number of tarts. I liked the open-endedness of this one. I paired it with my home made number hearts. 

Caroline loves sticking toothpicks into her play dough and asked if her tarts could have candles. Which then morphed into suckers? I'm not sure. But she pretended to lick them. So. There you go.
Gwen spent almost 2 hours playing with this and making cute mini tarts! She said they had blackberry sauce, marshmellow creme, and glowing candles. I'd say this play dough mat was a hit!

For our gross motor, we adapted BINGO into Heart-O. Got the idea from Mommy and Me Book Club, which is one of my favorite sources for our book club ideas. 

(tune of Bingo)

"There is a shape and it means love. Heart is it's name-o. 
H-E-A-R-T, H-E-A-R-T, H-E-A-R-T, and heart is it's name-o."
blow kisses instead of clapping when you take the hearts away. Very cute!

Our favorite books were:
The Day it Rained Hearts (thank you Mama! You chose a great one to send us!)

We also read:
I Spy Little Hearts
Happy Valentine's Day, Mouse!
The Biggest Valentine Ever
Pete the Cat Valentine's Day is Cool

There were a few others that didn't get to us in time (that happens when everyone is requesting the same books from the library. Guess I have a few more to add to my own collection wishlist!). But if you can snag a copy, I've heard wonderful things about:
Brugal. Love Monster
Boynton. Consider Love
Sperring. The Shape of My Heart
Sheehan. Love is You and Me
Patricelli. Hugsy Kissy
Isop. How Do you Hug a Porcupine?

Happy Valentine's Day! Hope you had a LOVE-ly time with your friends and family!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Making V-tines and Goodies for Grands, etc

Eric's sister is serving a full time mission right now. She has a special relationship with both our girls (being young and fun has that effect upon kids!)
and when I told them we were going to make her a special treat for a care package, both girls EAGERLY volunteered their hands. It just so happens that this was a pajama day (to celebrate 100 days of school), so that is why they are both not dressed in regular clothing. :)
 Gwen was in charge of dipping the pretzels into the chocolate and she took her job VERY seriously, perseverating over each one (was that enough chocolate? Should she dip it in farther? Did she shake that one off too much or not enough?) before triumphantly placing it on the waxed paper where Caroline could reach it.
Caroline tired of waiting for Gwen sometimes, so I gave her a pile of pretzels to mess with (I actually over-melted the first batch of chocolate. No good for dipping and therefore no good for giving away, but perfect for spreading on our own family's pretzels. That was Caroline's other job.)

Caroline's first task was adding sprinkles to Gwen's dipped chocolates. My FAVORITE are those sprinkle-crazy ones... have some pretzel with your sprinkles, right? :)

They got to sample a few and gave their approval. 

We also made "hugs" using their handprints and yarn measured to their armspans. That was fun!