Posts tagged parenting
7 Ways to Get Back to You in Back to School Season
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Back to school season can be the perfect time to return to you! Try these seven ways to refresh.

Back to school season can be the perfect time to return to you! Try these seven ways to refresh.

We've put a pretty bow around the end of the first week of school here! The final rush for school clothes, supplies, extra sleep, and final hoorahs came to an abrupt end to make way for backpacks, planners, extracurriculars. And though my children were not exhausted after their first day, I was!!

I love back to school season, don't get me wrong. As a former teacher, I get so excited for the year ahead. And as a mom, I love the return to order and a little predictability.

So, now that the kids are happily settled into school, and I've had a few nights of sleep to recover from the back to school prep, I am ready to get back to me a bit. The beauty of having all three in school for the first time is that, although I am still busy with work and the business, I have a little wiggle room for self care and a recharge of spirit.

Maybe this season is a great time for you to get back to you, too! Perhaps you aren't affected by the start of the school year or maybe you're only sending one or two off to school. It doesn't matter. This transition to fall might be just what you need to kick back in to gear. Here are 7 ways to go back to school and back to you:


As someone who doesn't go through transitions quickly (or easily), I can safely attest to the need for patience with yourself. A sharp change in schedule or an adjustment to people moving in and out of our lives can cause more disrupt to our day-to-day than we might expect. Give yourself some time to adjust. 

2. Get yourself moving:

Whether you have a wealth of time on your hands now or just a few moments to spare, use them to get yourself up and about. It is oh so tempting to fill our time with more coffee dates or TV or blog reading. But the benefits that come from exercise and being in a new surrounding will redouble their effect on your well-being.

So pair the podcasts and binge watching with a walk, a run, or a yoga class with friends. I've been running during lunch, getting myself out into the fresh air. Do something that makes sense for you.

3. Invest in some beautiful office supplies for you:

Students don't have to be the only ones to get organized! Grab yourself a new organizational tool or a chic daily planner to inspire your commitment to take care of yourself and put your priorities in place.

Wire baskets are a new love of mine, for catching all that doesn't look wonderful sitting in piles and corners of my house.

4. Get your learn on:

Dig in and take on that e-course you've been thinking about! Take a trip to the library or local bookstore and feed your mind with possibilities. Start a new journal or notebook. Spend a few moments where you can in active learning.

5. Take time to laugh with people you love:

Who knows you better than your loved ones? Make a date with your girlfriends, your mom, or your favorite couple and get laughing until your sides hurt. Somehow in the midst of happy tears, I always find myself.

6. Be still:

I have been craving stillness lately. Some of us need it more than others, and I know I seek it after a busy period. We had a packed summer, full of fun but still full, and now I'm ready to downshift for a while and recharge in the normal. At the times when I might have worked alongside music, I'm now giving myself an open window and bird noises to minimize the noise and allow myself to be still.

7. Celebrate the new phase:

If we can make national holidays for hot dogs or lemonade, you can certainly create a reason to celebrate you. You might not know what the next phase holds so maybe you celebrate the unknown. Give yourself something special to mark the occasion of restarting. 

What is there worth celebrating? Over here I'm excited to grab a morning coffee every so often with the hubs! 

How will you make the most of this season? How do you get back to you?

xoxo, MJ

The Good Stuff Jar: Parenting Ideas
My kids know when I reprimand them that they've done something wrong. But do they know how much good they do? Use a good stuff jar to bring the best out in your family.

My kids know when I reprimand them that they've done something wrong. But do they know how much good they do? Use a good stuff jar to bring the best out in your family.

Parenting is tough stuff. No surprise there.

"Stop teasing your sister."

"Get away from your brother. Can't you two just spend some time apart?"

"Would you please pick up your dirty clothes? All of them."

Dialogue, or I suppose more like monologue, like this happens all the time in our house. As a mom, I feel like it's my job to prevent battles, to maintain some kind of order, and to foster loving relationships. We express a lot of emotions in our house, and I try earnestly to say and to show my children how much I love them.


There are still those times. The witching hours, the frayed nerves, the tight schedules, the incessant teasing. And my parenting focus becomes more "do no harm" rather than "love real big."

One night, after a particularly taxing parenting day, I noticed my daughter, crying softly on her bed (she is typically a dramatic crier, so I knew something was really bothering her). I took a deep breath and went over to sit next to her. "Mommy, I've done so many things wrong today. I don't know what I'm going to do." And in her sincere, seven-year old angst, she looked down with a sigh.

Oh, man. I glanced over at her soft, little hands, and I replayed my commentary to her throughout the day. I had declared nearly a chapter's worth of to do's, reminders, reprimands, declarations, insistences, and warnings.

My kids know when I reprimand them that they've done something wrong. But do they know how much good they do? Use a good stuff jar to bring the best out in your family.

My kids know when I reprimand them that they've done something wrong. But do they know how much good they do? Use a good stuff jar to bring the best out in your family.

But, that's not what hit me (thank God) at that moment. My daughter had done SO many good things that day - from speaking gently to her little brother who needed some assistance with his drawing, to setting the table without being asked, to singing and dancing throughout the house and lightening our moods, to asking her sister how her day was.

Blech. She had forgotten all of that and now felt reduced to her actions that I corrected.

That's not the kind of parent I want to be. That's not the kind of human I want to be.

Because for every mistake or failing, there are at least double if not triple the amount of goodnesses occurring every single day.

Even the rough ones.

I counted.

So working from a very concrete level, where we sometimes need to with ourselves and young children, I developed the Good Stuff jar. It sits right by our front door, near our only staircase, right in the center of our home. My three kids fill it with their goodness. By this I mean, every time they see one another or we see them spreading goodness, they put in a gem (our name for the colorful glass beads). Once the jar is full, we all get to decide on how we want to use this goodness - special time together? something special for someone we know? something for our home?

And I've loved that they are seeing just how GOOD they are.

A few things about the Good Stuff jar:

  • It's not a behavior system. It has not eliminated poor choices or bad behavior in our family. It wasn't intended to do so.
  • It's used only to show goodness. We don't take beads out when the teasing starts up or the hitting ensues. The Good Stuff jar is not a score-keeping tool.
  • It's an all-for-one that when the 5-year old is kind, we all benefit (because we really do), and if he does great things ten times today and the 10-year old is in a mood and feeling like she needs her time away, than it's all good. No one "wins" for having the most gems in the jar.
  • The celebration for a full jar of goodness is decided as a family and enjoyed as a family.

But it has made all of us (me included) aware of all the many, many ways children are sweet, humble, generous, and delightful. I need to remember that and celebrate that. And I want my children to see it in themselves and all the other people they encounter.

Because that's just the kind of parent I want to be. And that's exactly the kind of human I want to be.

Would you consider a Good Stuff jar at your house?

xoxo, MJ

Modern Parenting Challenge: What Type of Parent are You?
Modern parenting poses a new set of challenges. Labels are limiting but can also offer insight into your preferences. What type of parent are you?

Modern parenting poses a new set of challenges. Labels are limiting but can also offer insight into your preferences. What type of parent are you?

Before I became a parent, not yet pregnant with my oldest daughter, my husband and I would dream of what type of parents we wanted to be. These were long conversations (like you have before children) over coffee or wine, with lofty plans tossed onto pages of a pretty journal, writing it all in one place to show our dedication and commitment to this new thing called parenthood.

Spin us ten years forward and here we are. Gold-leafed journal pages of lofty ideals are not a daily reality. The core beliefs contained in those writings remain the deep undergirding of big parenting decisions and family goals. But, the weekly grind of homework and bath/shower schedules, mood swings, and tantrums can soften those strong footings... leaving me sometimes feeling a bit off course.

In lunch conversations and cocktail parties, I hear all the labels and buzz words like Tiger moms or Helicopter parents or the newer throwback, free-range parenting style. It all feels like a bad pop quiz from a teen magazine. I often find labels exclusionary and typically unhelpful. Simple classifications put neat bows on situations and people which are far more complicated and dynamic.

But maybe, by spending a post (or five minutes in your case) thinking about what we do not want to be as parents, we might be able to go more boldly, more intentionally, in the right direction?

Try this.

Do you know in your gut that your child is strong but needs pushed to fulfill his/her full potential? Are you strict to keep him/her on schedules for school and sports and extra curriculars, making sure that he/she accomplished all that they can?

You have a hint of a Tiger Mom to your style.

Do you find yourself concerned about your child's well being? And because of this worry, insert yourself into situations at school or with friends to make sure your child is safe or seen in the best light?

You're breaking into Helicopter parenting.

Do you think that kids should be kids and be able to explore the world? Do you reference your own childhood stories of independent trips to the store or late nights with friends as the way you want to your young children to experience life?

Label yourself a free-range.

Of course, there are limitless possibilities for other "types" and characteristics that we as parents float in and out of as our children age and we learn and grow.

I've been thinking a lot about the people our three children are becoming and what influence I have in that process. I'd like to think of myself as a caring and attentive parent, ready to make the world magical and beautiful, especially when it seems anything but that to my children.

But, as we enter adolescence with our oldest, and peers and other influences play a larger role, I realize more and more that I cannot prescribe or create the world for my children (I know, silly that I thought I could). My job is to show them their own unstoppable courage and beauty, get them to trust in it repeatedly, and make the little choices that lead to larger choices that will fit in line with the incredible people God created them to be.

I also need to keep them hydrated and hold them accountable and a few other tasks along the way.

From fairy tale dreams to Cosmo labels, I'm not sure what my style is, but I do know that it deserves further reflection and continued development. And I will give it so because I get to be the mother of three amazing people, and they deserve nothing less.

Are you a parent? If so, how would you describe your parenting style? Could you categorize the style of your parents?

xoxo, MJ

PS. While you think, let me toss you one of my favorite reflections from Thomas Merton that speaks to me on parenting:

“For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.”


Snow Day Essentials with Kids

When the Weather Channel starts the warnings and extended coverage of the next big snowstorm heading our way, I avoid the grocery store. Meh, we might not have enough milk or eggs to get us through. BUT, what we will have is entertainment.

With three children under the age of 10, I try to keep our creativity cabinet(s), closets, and shelves - yes, we have a lot crafting supplies - ready to go.

Don't be caught unprepared on a snow day! Here are 8 items to keep stocked so that the small set is entertained all day long.

Don't be caught unprepared on a snow day! Here are 8 items to keep stocked so that the small set is entertained all day long.

While I have nothing against TV or movie watching, snow days, at least in Indiana, are rare enough that they need to be savored and treated with extra special care.

Do you remember your childhood snow days? Whether they were spent outside in the white, fluffy hills or pretending indoors, there's something magical to the one-of-a-kind snow day. {Side note: I do not mean to discriminate and say that only snow days are special. When living and teaching in South Carolina, we experienced hurricane days, and those were memorable - in a different way!}.

For a spattering of independent time and a mix of togetherness, here's what we have:

Snow day fun encapsulated in crafts, imaginary play, and some good old-fashioned games! Make it special for everyone AND keep your sanity.

Snow day fun encapsulated in crafts, imaginary play, and some good old-fashioned games! Make it special for everyone AND keep your sanity.

Imaginary play

Snow days are amazing for the surprise as well as the great expanse of free time! Take advantage of the time to go big on pretend play. Build the forts and pull out all the train tracks. Your children will be entertained in their own creations for hours with no worry of needing to clean up any time soon. Also, adults, go ahead and jump in the fun and pretend you're the Big Bad Wolf or Nemo in the ocean. Your children will forever remember your smiles, laughter, and silly accents.


Sometimes adults have to get some things done during snow days, too! Have simple games at hand. We love ones like UNO and Spot It that work well for all three kids and cause few sibling arguments (bonus all around). Also, two-person games are right up our alley right now so that two people can be engaged and not "need" the third to enjoy the game.


As my children grow, I see them gravitating to projects and final creations. Time that they once spent endlessly in process with playdough or sand, they now focus on getting something accomplished. This is natural to maturation I suppose, but snow days are the right time to abandon the usuals and bust out a homemade playdough recipe or warm up the modeling clay. I find it completely relaxing, too, spending time feeling the textures and making/remaking creations with no real end goal.


During long expanses of time together, we burn through a lot of projects so keeping the supplies stocked is not always so easy. We always have a mound of construction paper and white paper as well as scissors with different blades and different sizes for every little hand. Perler beads and other small craft projects are right in our family room, easily accessible for anytime crafting. Also, we have a stash of cardboard tubes from paper towel and packaging supplies on hand just in case someone might need to create a magic wand, a scary scepter, or an impromptu bowling game.

MAKE a special treat

The Snoopy Snowcone Maker? The Easy Bake Oven? Snow days afford the perfect opportunity to break them out . . . or the beloved cookie recipe. The divine smell of brownies baking as everyone takes some individual time to read makes the whole house cozy.

What are the essentials for a great snow day at your house? I'm always looking for a new trick to stuff up my sleeve.

xoxo, MJ

Simple lessons: Jack O'Lantern feelings

Happy Friday, friends! Every now and again I'll be featuring a new series on Pars Caeli called Simple Lessons. These are not projects as much as they are easy ways to connect and to teach your children. Many of them might not be Pinterest beautiful, but they are quick, approachable ways that you can use what's going on around you or in your home to enhance your role as a parent.

We were eating dinner the other night, my husband was away for work, and the topic of war came up. As a family, we haven't really delved into war, figuring that our children (9,7,4) aren't quite ready for that kind of catastrophic topic. They, especially the 4- and 7-year old, had clear and tough questions.

  • "Why would anyone go to war?"
  • "How do you know who wins a war?"
  • "Do we know anyone who has fought in a war?"

We talked about these issues for about 10 minutes when one of them asked if we knew anyone who had been killed in a war. And then they all got a little anxious. Death, killing, violence are not our usual conversation topics. They all became a little unsure that we should be saying these things out loud.

I assured them that we should never be afraid to talk about any of this...even the things that upset us, worry us, and scare us.

And it made me think, that especially with my youngest, I should spend some more time talking about emotions and HOW TO talk about emotions. He had recently drawn a sad face in one of his pictures and felt the need to draw over it with a happy face... he didn't like seeing the sadness.

Enter Halloween and all the ghosts and ghouls and jack o'lanterns. Halloween can serve as a great entrance into tough topics of death and the afterlife. I decided that pumpkin art might be an easy way to open the topic.

I gave him a stack of small pumpkins and asked that he draw all sorts of emotions on their faces.

  • What does happy look like?
  • How about sad?
  • Can you draw surprised?
  • And frustrated?
  • How about angry?

He made patterns with the various faces and enjoyed lacing them together with twine, and I was able to sneak in some good conversation about his feelings. I wanted to help him understand that it's good to feel all of these. Sadness is good. Anger is good. Happiness is good.

It's all a part of being human. We want to express our emotions.

How we express our emotions is really important. We never want to harm anyone with our words or our bodies - that's where the trouble comes in. But it's right to feel sad when something bad happens to us. And it's good to get angry when someone has upset you. Feelings of all varieties have meaning.

And I wanted him to know that no matter how I might express my feelings, I always love him. Even if my face might show something different, my love is stronger than a feeling. He seemed to get it, likely telling me he didn't need this lesson in the first place...

but maybe I did.

Consider taking advantage of the fearful and haunted of Halloween to talk to your kids about how they're feeling.

Have a bright weekend!

xoxo, MJ

Texting and Children: What to do

I was away on Tuesday, sorry to miss you all! I was away from my husband and children for the night. My kids had the day off from school, and my husband took the day off to hang with them. They enjoyed bookstores and the movies, and I was missing out.

During my morning activity, I received a series of texts back and forth from both of my daughters. They went something like what you see to the right.

Love notes. Check ins. Even silly jokes.

Their messages totally made my day, and I thought about how glad I am that my seven- and nine-year old children have Ipods and text me.

And then I hesitated. Wait, what? I'm glad that my kids are texting?

Insert moral mom dilemma.

Oh, geez, is this good for them? What does this mean for their budding communication skills? Are they focused on what's going on around them or are they zoned into a device?

I try to limit my kid's screen time, generally. No one can take their device to school, and the kids ask us before they take them anywhere outside the house.

If I'm being honest about it, I love getting their texts. It's another tool in the belt for seeing inside their minds, another avenue to talk about what's on their minds. As long as it doesn't dominate or even become a majority of communication, let's meet each other there, too. How can we as parents use this form of communication to help foster positive relationships and parenting with our digital kids? 

Research and data isn't everything, but I'm prone to lean my ear toward it. Here are some interesting aspects to digital communication with our kids, tweens, and teens. 

Industry research shows that 61 percent of those on the internet are 3-11-years old, and a full 22 percent of children 6-9-years old have their own cell phone (whoa).

Between the ages of 8 and 13, kids are developing key relationship and communication skills, and typically want to spend as much time as they can with peers. Technology just gives them new ways to do that. Texting, in particular, seems tailor-made for the tween psyche. Not only does it allow users to perma-connect with their social group, it also gives them all sorts of new ways to either include others (by sharing peeks at the screen or using slang) or exclude them (by typing silently while next to Mom on the couch).

Danah Boyd, Microsoft researcher and fellow of Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, notes that there are a number of reasons why kids aren't connecting with one another the way we used to (with lack of neighborhoods, busy after school schedules, worn out children).

The difference is that when we were kids, we got on our bikes and checked in every once in awhile at home but weren’t expected to be connected to parents all the time. Young people just want to be with friends, and that is no different from any generation. But they have fewer opportunities to connect with friends.

I see that already with my kiddos. And I support strong friendships, not at the cost of family time or other communication, but I support them. Texting can only be an additional, and not the main, source of communication.

While the Pew parents were happy to be able to reach each other and their kids while apart, they were less likely to eat dinner as a family than were other households, and tended to report feeling dissatisfied with family and leisure time. A study by computer software maker Norton made a similar finding: When total time spent online increased beyond a certain point, both kids and parents reported feeling less connected.

So here are our general rules:

How do you do it? What are your guidelines? Do you text your kids?

xoxo, MJ

P.S. Love these creative ways for teachers to incorporate texting into a lesson.



A Family Objective

Photography by Brittani Renee Photography

In teaching, I wanted to be clear about my objectives. Write it on the board, "Students will be able to..." Let them know what our end goal was. No need for mysteries or secret reveals. This is what we want to learn.

I've been thinking a lot about this question that Sara Moore posed to me,

What do you hope your children will learn from you?

In the list of 11 questions that she asked, it was the one that took me the longest to answer. The question made me reflect upon my thoughts on sharing my parenting objectives. 

  • Do my children know what I want them to learn?
  • Do I know what I want them to learn? What is it again?
  • Why am I keeping it a secret to be uncovered at a later point?

The question is as deep as it is simple. The whole cycle of parenting involves the activity of what we want our children to learn from us. Our ideals, our beliefs, our dreams become a part of their upbringing. These things "rub off" in our interactions. 

Are there other areas and lessons that I want my children to learn that might not come up so naturally?

My husband and I created a family mission statement late one night when my second daughter was an infant. During one of our innumerable sleepless nights with C, we felt like we were veering off course, or, at least, meandering a bit more in our parenting than we wanted. We wrote out these simple statements to remind ourselves of these goals as we changed diapers and soothed teething cries.

Now two of our three children can read, and they can all express themselves quite clearly. They are perceptive; they are good listeners. I wonder how I am communicating these broader and more important family values. To Sara, in her interview, I said:

I hope my children learn that they are always loved by us, their parents, and by a generous God. I hope they learn to go after their passion and to work consistently to point that passion towards the greater Good. I hope they learn that tenacity and enthusiasm can accomplish almost everything you need. I hope they learn to laugh at themselves (a lot) and help other people do the same.

And now I'm feeling challenged to revisit our original statement or post this new one for my children to read. And to remind me, everyday.

What do you think? How do you let your children know what is most important?

xoxo, MJ

Struggle with the Juggle

Happy back to school week, friends? Last week was the week of projects, and this week the rubber hits the road as my older two start back. Summer is frenetic with camps and playdates, and I have to admit that I'm yearning for a bit of routine and flow. It's a different balancing act.

As a work from the office and work from home mom (too many hyphens to make it worth the effort), I struggle to make time for everything and everyone. I should have perfected the juggle now that I'm nine years into it, and in some ways, I have. I've learned to go easier on myself, and I've learned how much I have to learn...and how much my children teach me. But I also have moments every single day where I wonder how I will get it all done...and with what kind of quality. I love it, and I struggle with it.

I'm over at Sara Moore's charmed blog today talking with her as part of an ongoing series that I love:

She interviews maker mommas from all over and inquires about all the things you'd really want to know.

I hoodwinked her into sharing a little bit with Pars Caeli readers on this series. Here is Sara and her gorgeous family:

Why did you start this series?

We had recently moved to a small town in Oklahoma away from my family, friends, nanny, and my other momma friends that would keep me sane while I was "juggling" motherhood and my small business. I found myself in a fairly desperate place of needing encouragement and advice on how the heck I was going to make it through every day without any of those people. I know a lot of "mompreneurs" and thought they could help not only me, but others as well. Motherhood (or parenting in general) can be very isolating these days. We have everything we need at our fingertips to have and do it all yet what we really need is each other to lean on for support. It takes a village, right?

What you have learned from the many posts?

I've learned that I'm not alone in my struggle. I've learned that balance is defined by you, not society or someone else. And I've learned countless (and genius!) perspectives on being a working momma. I'm so very thankful to all of my guests and readers who have contributed so much of their heart to this series!

Head on over and check out what I have to say about mommy guilt and what I want my children to learn from me (gulp!)

Also, check out these two that I enjoyed: Amy's interview and Erin's interview.

Here's to a kickin' week, my friends.

xoxo, MJ

Lunchbox Whiteboard: Back to School

Celebrating back to school around here means that we're getting a whole host of lunch box notes ready to go. These little love notes have become a treasured part of my communication with the kids while they're away at school. We retell jokes on roadtrips, and my oldest is challenging herself to come up with original jokes all the time.

When they heard that I was going to be doing a back to school project, they asked for a little something special for their lunches. Hence the birth of the lunchbox whiteboard.

This project is a breeze to make (you can even have your kids make it themselves), and it will bring smiles for a long time to come!


Grab an inexpensive, small frame (we bought ours at CVS, and it's 3"x3"). Painting is not necessary, but we wanted chalk paint on the frame so that it could be decorated for special occasions like holidays and birthdays.

Trim a piece of notebook paper to fit in the frame. Assemble.

Write your note, create your joke, or draw your doodle with a dry erase marker.

Top the note with a piece of transparency trimmed to the size of the frame. This helps to keep the note from wiping off while it's in the lunchbag. It also allows your child the opportunity to write a note back to you. My children have already discussed a rating system for my jokes. :)

I recommend keeping the frame in the front pocket of a lunchbag if possible just to keep the food and drinks away from the frame. If that's not an option, consider wiping down your frame and pen as you pack the lunch.


If you're looking for joke ideas, follow me @parscaeli on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook to see a daily joke. We'll begin a fresh school year of giggles next week. And you can always search the archives by following #pc_lunchboxnotes (over 100 in there to get you going).


I have one more awesome surprise today. We're making chic mouse pads as a part of this series. Head over to Frock Files to see the incredible work of Joy. So good. The watercolor effect and the perfect typography.

Thanks to all who helped out with this awesome week of projects. It's been a blast to see how everyone gets ready to school in their own very cool way.

Are you ready to head back?



Upcycled Camping Lanterns: Endless Summer Projects

This post is sponsored by Bing.

Summer is the perfect time to travel, even if it's just to your backyard. Last weekend, we even perched our tent in my son's bedroom so that he could have a special sleep over with his sister. Since then we've had camping on the brain. Staycations are always great on the budget, and here's an idea to up the imagination on your next adventure at home. I'm delighted to share my last (how can summer possibly be coming to a close?) Endless Summer Project for this season: an upcycled camping lantern.

Using oatmeal containers that a friend had given to us for our crafting, we painted and doodled our way to a working camping lantern. To create, grab:

  • A battery-operated candle (pull out a few from the Christmas stock)
  • An oatmeal container with the wrapper and plastic ring around the top removed
  • Acrylic or poster paint and paintbrush
  • Wire, rope, or heavy string
  • Transparency sheet
  • Construction paper

1. Hole punch one hole on either side of the top of the canister.

2. Cut large rectangular holes on either side. This is an easy job for an X-Acto knife, but even child scissors can cut through the cardboard cylinders with some assistance.

3. Put little hands to work on painting. We chose campy green to make our lantern look like official camping gear.

4. Cut a large circle out of the construction paper. Cut a line into the center. Overlap and glue the excess paper to form the cone top of the lantern.

5. Cut a letter-sized transparency in half. With a permanent marker, doodle your design. Remember that the light will shine through these two panels so color to your heart's desire. Consider even making shapes to create special shadows on your tent wall.

6. Attach the transparency to the interior of the canister with invisible tape.

7. With double-sided tape or a hot glue gun, attach you candle to the bottom of the canister. *If your candle has an on/off switch at the bottom, cut out a small hole to reach the switch before gluing into place.

7. String wire or rope through the holes punched on the canister and through the cone roof.

The warmth of the candlelight makes a charmed evening feel like one of the best of childhood.

The kids are excited to use theirs inside and outside. We haven't yet done an overnight in the tent (outside), but these upcycled camping lanterns might be the inspiration we need to stay brave in the dark.

We've had such a blast sharing these creations with you throughout the summer, and there's still more to enjoy! Join in next Wednesday for another great Endless Summer Project! Here's the entire list in case you missed them:

Here's to the last glorious weeks of summer, friends!

xoxo, MJ


The Value of Companionship

Life is sprinkled (sometimes saturated) with challenges and hardships. Companionship is a lost art that our children need to be encouraged to foster. As adults, we often look for quick ways to alleviate our own struggles and take these disappointments away from our children. We learn to keep our problems to ourselves unless we need help solving them.

What does it mean to just be WITH someone as they struggle?

Case in point. My oldest daughter, M, had her braces put on over a year ago. She was seven and worked through expanders on her upper and lower teeth. She's been a trooper through it all, nevertheless she's been counting down the days until she can get her braces off. We planned a "Chewy Party" of completely indulgent food - saltwater taffy, gummy bears, jawbreakers - to rejoice with all the foods she's strayed away from with her orthodontia. I was excited to be there with her when they came off, and see her face as she put the mirror up to her new smile and felt along the surfaces of her teeth with a fresh joy.

As we pulled up to the orthodontist office, my heart began to sink. Only a few cars were parked in what is normally a packed lot, filled with tweens, teens, and parents hustling and bustling to appointments. With a growing sense of dread, we walked in, and the front office assistant informed us that the doctor was out this week. They had tried to reach us (what?), and that we'd have to reschedule. I looked down at M, who suddenly looked so little and sad, and tried to calm my momma-bear instinct to lash out at said assistant. How could this be? We had planned on this day? Make him come back from vacation!

End of interaction: We're scheduled for an appointment a month and a half from now.

M and I solemnly walked back to our car. My mom brain was going 200 miles an hour trying to imagine how I was going to make this better. She cried, I consoled. I offered an ice cream. No, thanks, Mom. What if we went and sat at the bookstore and read together for a while. No, thanks, Mom. Could I get you the chewy candy anyway... those braces will be off soon? No, thanks, Mom.

I hadn't caused this disappointment, but I apologized for it.

I tried to supplement her once joy with other joys from the past.

Nothing helped. Nothing worked.

So we sat. She talked and teared up, and I talked and teared up.

And I remembered what a gift just being with someone truly is. I was initially disappointed with myself that I hadn't created anything magical to overcome this disappointment. I was gradually pleased that I could be the person to sit with her during this time. And listen. And relate with my own stories. And listen some more.

I wonder where I lost the instinct to sit and keep someone company. Perhaps it got tossed aside during the growing process and realizing that sometimes pain can be buffered by temporary distractions. Perhaps feeling with someone takes too much time. Perhaps it got dampened with my human survival instinct to run from pain, to avoid pain, even when I see it in those I love.

It's terribly difficult to sit (for me), to just sit, with someone when they are suffering, even over a minor disappointment like a delay in getting your braces off. I want to fix. I want to create new joy where it once was. I want to move forward.

I know only a handful of people who are really amazing companions. These people know the ability to be quiet and regularly practice listening and keep check on their need to advise or change the subject. They are comfortable with silence, expression, and pain. They are true gifts.

I want to teach my children how to be good companions and go along with someone, through their joys and their struggles. I'm grateful I had a chance to practice companionship myself and to be encouraged again to find more ways to walk with someone.

My persistance wore down my daughter eventually, and we drowned our sorrows in fries and shakes from Sonic. And we talked of life's challenges, of those people we know going through major disappointments and we remembered that feelings matter but braces would still come off... just not by the time we might like them to.

And she thanked me for being there with her.

And I thanked her for letting me be a companion.

xoxo, MJ







Awesome ways to end the school year

Hello friends!

It's the last week of school around here, and I feel like we are barely limping across the finish line. I want to share and reshare these great ideas for how to end your school year with fun and celebration! Here are three activities we're doing this week to make the start of summer a treat.

Teachers are busily signing these sweet books for each of our children. I'm keeping them a secret (shhh!) until their high school graduations, but I love reading the thoughts from special people in their lives. I did a post on this project if you want to try something similar for your littles.

We're making final thank you presents for the best teachers and attaching these tags. By the time the end of the year rolls around, these hard working individuals could use a laugh and an extra treat. Click on over here to get your own set of printables to add to your gifts. They also make great final lunchbox notes for the students in your life.

If you're looking for a quick, meaningful, but inexpensive final gift, try crafting some of these chalkboard frames for your teachers. We've made them the past few year, and they've been a big hit.

I have this printable from Classic Play all ready to go for my preschooler and big kids to run through! There's nothing like the feeling of crossing the finish line and accomplishing another year. I wonder how I ended up with a 4th grader - yikes! But I'm so excited to have them in summer mode to enjoy the warmth and sunshine together.

Have any great ways that you're wrapping up the academic year and welcoming summer? We'd love more suggestions!

xoxo, MJ


Endless Summer Projects: Scavenger Hunts

One of my most favorite activities ever? A scavenger hunt. My favorite birthday party (in 6th grade) was a complex scavenger hunt that my dad and brother planned for me. And for my husband's last birthday (which falls on April Fool's Day) we planned a silly scavenger hunt for him to find his presents.

Scavenger hunts pique curiosity and extend problem solving skills in wonderful, new ways. I'm so delighted that Alexandra has decided to make one as part of the Endless Summer Projects series! And I mean make the entire hunt for you, ready to go, just press print.

My preschooler has his final day next Thursday (before his big sisters do), and I'm planning this adventure to kick his summer off the right way! Hop on over to Alexandra's blog to get the hunt for yourself!

And if you missed them, catch up on our first two posts in the Endless Summer Projects series!


We have something really great up our sleeves for next week! We'd love to see what you're doing this summer, too! Share your projects using the hashtag #endlesssummerprojects, and we'll show off your creativity.

Have a bright one, friends!

4 must-try ways to enjoy art museums with kids

What are you planning to do this summer with the kids? Water parks or amusement parks? Day trips to historic monuments? Camping? How about hitting the local art museums!! They can be a whole lot of fun, too. Kids and art are a fabulous pair.

And art transforms us, while helping us remember who we are. It defines us as human beings and sometimes even elevates our handiwork to show a sliver of heaven and Divine creation.

But even with all that beauty and awesomeness in an art museum space, a family excursion to a quiet, clean, monitored space can sometimes be a total disaster or at best a giant headache. Today I'm sharing our ideas on how to make these journeys peaceful, enjoyable, and can I even throw in... inspirational? Well, let's start at peaceful.


I know it's an obvious, but it deserves its very own point. Do not take children to a museum and expect them to have energy to walk and interest to look unless they are hydrated, fed, and relatively rested (that goes for the adults, too). Hitting the sculpture garden with a cranky, crying, tired child will leave you beating your head against the wall.

Enter the excursion with a sense of energy and enthusiasm and time it well. Early morning and mid afternoon can be a wonderful time to explore art. Side note: make sure you hit the restrooms before hiking up the stairs to the Renaissance wing.


If you're going to a museum you've never been, take the time to learn the highlights and find your own must-sees. Your children will feel your enthusiasm and want to discover right along with you if you set the tone in the right way. It will also encourage your children to find their own favorites and show them off to you! Let them know you're interested in the art they love.


Never would I have thought this was a good idea until I read this post from Gabrielle. So, we tried it. We went right in to the store (much to my children's delight), and it was a great way to see quickly the most

famous works in the museum. We had each child pick postcards of their two favorite pieces. With art museum map in hand, we made our way around to each of their picks and enjoyed what we saw along the way to these galleries. We then took each child's picture with their favorites, and these works became something personal and a special memory from the visit.


Many of the larger art museums ask that you check your bags. Smaller art museums are more flexible. When we can, we have the kids bring along their sketchbooks and colored pencils (easy to transport, harder to do damage). Whether it's on a bench or right on the floor, sitting and sketching can take the experience to another level for kids. Let them decide the art work that they want to draw and give them as much time as you're able to complete their finished piece.

Do you have any great ways to enjoy art museums with children to add to the list?

Let's get out there and explore these beatiful places... and bring our kids, too!

xoxo, MJ


Summer Banner Printable: Endless Summer Projects

I can hardly believe it! It's that time of year again?! Bring on the Endless Summer Projects! Jen, Alexandra, Melissa, Amy, and I have been working for months to put together a fun, creative collection of projects. Well, it wasn't all work...there was a fair amount of laughter, sharing, and good old-fashioned sarcasm thrown around to get us to today.

Over these next 15 Wednesdays, stretching us long into August, we'll be sharing some fabulous ways to spend time with your children this summer and soak up all the sun-kissed joy of summer!

Most of us are not yet into the official summer schedule. We have 19 days left of school (but who's counting, right?), and I'm always looking for memorable ways to celebrate the close of another year. Our typical tradition includes stopping by teacher's classrooms to thank them for a good year and enjoying a lunch out all together, since the last day is typically a half day.

Jen of Classic Play has a great printable banner ready for all of us to celebrate! Imagine the joy of your children breaking through the streamers as they run out for the bus or into the car.

Click on over to Classic Play to get the downloadable pdf and get it ready for your end-of-the-year party. I want to put one on our minivan and maybe one on their bedroom doorframe the morning of the last day.

What are your year-end traditions?

xoxo, MJ

P.S. I'm hosting next Wednesday's project, thanks to our friends at Wayfair. Grab a large canvas and some washi tape...


Summer Anticipation Printable

Anticipation of something amazing is almost as fun as the actual event, right? Well, that's certainly the way we feel around our house. I'm grateful that my children love school, but I also know that we are all ready for a break in projects and homework, a break in the weather, and a return to some of our favorite activities.

We try to mix in learning with our summer relaxation time so that our children realize again that learning is fun and a lifelong pursuit. About this time every year, as the school year winds down, and our plans for summer begin to solidify.

What do you want to learn this summer?

What do we need to make sure we do?

Where should we go?

It's summer daydreaming together, and it's also been a fun way to collect this moment in time for each of my their wishes change so much from year to year and mark this special time in their childhoods.

I also love sharing what I (and my husband) enjoy about summer and what we want to learn and do. It's a great way to pass along our family history and also to open up little eyes to big possibilities.

Start your summer conversation now. I've got a handy printable that you can download and make a part of  your summer memories! Bring it to dinner or leave it at the breakfast table for your children to complete. And enjoy the conversation and the fun activities that result.

Our Endless Summer Projects series begins tomorrow, and it's going to kick off the fun in a really big way. Make sure you hop back to see what we have for you!

xoxo, MJ

Make it together Mother's Day

May is a busy month with birthdays, year-end celebrations, sports, and Mother's Day! Sometimes special dinners out and shopping trips don't make the final agenda before Mother's Day. And though I sometimes enjoy the quite solitude when everyone leaves our home, I really love experiencing all of us together in this space - making and creating.

So why not craft together as an activity for Mother's Day? Or have your children to create alongside special grandmothers or aunts for a sweet Mother's Day experience?


This is an incredibly budget-friendly (slightly time intensive) craft that all three of my children enjoyed. Gather together:

  • Paper (we chose rainbow and only used one piece of each color paper to make all the beads here)
  • Scissors or paper cutter
  • Glitter glue (really, any glue is fine, but glitter makes everything better, right?)
  • Pencil or pen (to wrap the paper)
  • String or twine for necklace/bracelet/anklet creations

First step? Cut isosceles (ish) triangles out of your paper. Ours were about an inch at the thick end. Here's the important next step: begin with the thick end and tightly wind the entire triangle around the pencil. We made different shapes by doing this. Some beads were exactly symmetrical, some looked more like cones or party hats, and others looked like a wobbly top.


As you get close to the end of the wrapped paper, squirt a dollop of glitter glue on the front and back of the end tail and graciously smear it all over the end and the rest of the bead. This will help secure the tight wrap and spread the glitter around the whole bead.

Once the bead is secured, carefully remove it from the skewer and let it dry for a few minutes before crafting further.


String your handmade beads for necklaces and bracelets that are one of a kind. You'll have the finished product made from little hands, and the priceless memory of the entire experience as a special Mother's Day treat.


Happy Mama's Day! And happy crafting!

xoxo, MJ

Endless Summer Projects 2014

Friends! I have some exciting news to share!! Now is the perfect time to get excited about summer...and projects...and vacation...and extra time with our children. That combination of things doesn't always lead to shouts of joy and enthusiasm. But thanks to the fabulousness of four of my pals, we're going to turn the 15 weeks of summer into one big ball of fun.

Get psyched, lovelies, and join Melissa of Lulu the Baker (also BHG style spotter building her dream home), Alexandra of Alexandra Hedin (and those great Seattle TV spots), Jen of Classic Play (love her PBS series), and our new addition, the amazingly talented maker Amy of This Heart of Mine (the DIY-r behind so many Design Mom projects). I've been pinching myself, wondering how I got so lucky to work with these beauties, and I'm delighted that I get to share their minds with you! Treats all around.

Beginning May 12 and running every Wednesday throughout the summer, the five of us will be sharing cool projects to engage you and your children in the joys of summer loving. We're bringing aboard some fabulous sponsors and more than our fair share of suprises along the way.

Our first five weeks will star our Mini Makers, with activities that will get all hands on deck with some cool results. Throughout June and July will take the laughs outside for unique projects that will give you time to soak up some sun (SPF, please), and into August, we're making travel and vacationing something that brings on happy memories!


None of other than Jen Cooper of Classic Play designed our kicking ice cream cone logo. And guess what? She made it into these super cute baggies and temporary tattoos.

And as a special teaser to the Endless Summer Projects, she's showing us how to do the same today. If we're hanging out on Instagram later, you'll see my kiddos sporting some wicked cone tats.

Parents, what are you looking forward to about summer and, perhaps, a little extra time with your children?

xoxo, MJ

Dear New Mom of Two

Hey friends!

I'm sharing some advice, a practice I generally try to steer away from, over on Bunny & Dolly today. PJ is the new momma to Asa (and the proud momma of Levi, too)! Big congratulations to her and her gorgeous family.

I'm going against my general rule of thumb to offer my own 3 cents because the transition from mom of one to mom of two was a doozie for me. All the comforts of motherhood that I'd become accustomed to (AKA: focusing, relaxing during naps and bedtime, consistency) were tossed around during that first year, and I wish my wiser self would have come dancing in a bit more often.

So, if you know a mom preganant with her second or a new mom of two, send her over here. And if you've been through it and wanna laugh at/with me, I'm cool with that, too!

It's always such a privilege to spend time on someone else's blog so please click on over and get to know what Bunny & Dolly is all about!

xoxo, MJ

When you look in the mirror

I'm back, friends. Thanks for hanging with me during an unexpected break. This week is Spring Break for my kiddos, and we took a lovely jaunt to visit grandparents, but I also caught a mean case of strep throat. Good news: I've slept a ton, I'm on an antibiotic, and my husband is a rockstar so the kids are having a great break. Too much goodness awaits; there's just no time to be sick!

Spending time, extra time, with my children is always enlightening. Sometimes I learn just how far I can stretch, or not stretch, my patience. I often see parts of my husband or myself in their facial expressions or mannerisms. However, my most common experience is discovering something all together new and unexpected.

C, my 6-yo pictured above, is a hoot to be around. She's packed with energy, emotion, and unexpected wisdom. But before I gush any more mother bias to you, I want to pass along a hint of her magic from which we can all learn.

When you take C shopping, as she's looking for her favorite finds, she says things like, "that would look so good on me," "I bet I'd be gorgeous in that," and "I need to try that one on." She has a confidence about how she looks, how she acts, and who she is.

Once in the dressing room, she hastily changes into a new frock and exclaims, "Mommy, I look so good!" and continues to turn and smile at herself in the mirror.

Certainly I want my children to know that there is so much more to life than physical appearance. I recognize, however, we live in a society where image matters and self-image matters that much more.

Friends, I can't remember that last time (if ever) I looked in the mirror and thought, "I look gorgeous!" This is not a cry in self pity.

I am, by nature, a critic and a designer. I see things how they could be and often miss the beauty that they are. I know just how to tweak something to make it more pleasing, but what if its first state was itself the best of the best? Well, I might miss it.

Shopping, and spending life, with C's attitude in mind is not only refreshing; it's been a bit of a game changer for me. If I can somehow keep that precious spirit unharmed throughout tween, teen, and young woman angst, I will have succeeded as a parent. If I can somehow adopt that belief within myself, I will succeed as a human being.

So, let's give ourselves a little extra umph of awesome, and let's be sure to hand it out to those around us in extra large, heaping helpings.

xoxo, MJ