Come Follow Me Family Home Evening for little ones- Feb 2019

Can you believe it is already time to start preparing for February?!?  How are you adapting to the new schedule and new curriculum?  I’m still kind of weirded out by the short schedule, granted I’ve still been at church at least 4 hours between choir practice and conducting Ministering Interviews, but at least it’s not 5!  At home the kids are doing pretty well with Family Home Evening, but admittedly our plant that we planted for the Sower lesson is already dead…  I’m not sure what happened, plenty of water, plenty of sun, maybe too much sun? maybe it froze over night?  I don’t know, luckily keeping plants alive is not a pre-requisite to Salvation because I would be burning in the bad place!

Thank you so much for the overwhelming response to last month’s post, and if you’re new this month then welcome.  I was shocked, amazed, humbled, over-joyed (basically had all the feels) when January’s FHE post hit 1,000 views in the first 24 hours, and about 3,500 views total.  So thanks for reading and sharing, but even more I’m so grateful and glad to know that we are in this together to help teach and inspire our kids.

If you’re looking for more ways to make February meaningful with your kids check out my Family-centered Valentine’s Activities.

But on to Family Home Evening!

Feb. 4-10 For the Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me

Prep Materials: masking tape, preferred toys and treats, picture of Christ, picture of Sun, big prize or treat

Song: Choose The Right Way pg. 160

Create a path through your house- masking tape on the floor works well.  Review the story of Christ being tempted.  Tell the kids they need to stay on the path to get to the special prize at the end.  Place some of their favorite items or small treats just out of reach from the path.  Have one parent be the “Holy Ghost” reminding them to stay on the path and the other one try to get them to step off.  Have a picture of Jesus and a picture of the sun to represent the Celestial Kingdom at the end.  Explain that returning to live with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ is the best gift we can receive, and then give them a prize or favorite treat.

 

Feb. 11-17 Ye Must Be Born Again

Prep Materials: pre-made Valentine with picture of Jesus, supplies to make Valentines (construction paper, glue, markers, etc.)

Song: As  I Have Loved You pg. 136  or God Loved Us, So He Sent His Son Hymn #187

Make a big Valentine card for your kids from Heavenly Father with a picture of Jesus in the middle.  Read John 3:16 together and explain to the kids that Heavenly Father showed his love to us by giving us Jesus.  Now have the kids make Valentines for Heavenly Father and Jesus.  I’ve made a simple printable with pictures they can glue on to Valentines, you could also encourage them to draw some of their own ideas.

Valentines for Heavenly Father

Feb. 18-24 Blessed Are Ye

Prep Materials: flashlights, candlestick (an actual one or made out of a paper towel roll or pvc pipe to fit the flashlights you will use), bushel (either a basket or a small box will work), pictures or objects to find

Song: I Am Like a Star Shining Brightly pg. 163

Pull out those flashlights from last month again!  Hide a few objects or pictures for them to find.  Read/ summarize Matthew 5:14-16.  Take the kids outside in the evening or in a dark room in the house.  Mom or dad should go first with the flashlight, turn it on and look around for a second and then place it under your “bushel” and keep trying to guide them.  Take turns being the light, give them the option to use a “candle stick” or a “bushel” as they guide the family to find things like a picture of Jesus, scriptures, a picture of Pres. Nelson, the temple, etc.

 

Feb 25-March 3 He Taught Them As One Having Authority

Prep Materials: containers (tupperware or casserole dishes), large rock, sand, small houses (you could just draw or print them on paper or make them out of legos), pitcher of water

Song: The Wise Man and the Foolish Man pg. 281

Using two large containers place a large rock in one and a pile of sand in the other.  Make two small houses.  Sing the song together and place the house on the rock, when you get to “the rains came down….” pour water around it.   Repeat for the sand.  Discuss what happened to the houses.  Read Helaman 5:12 together and talk about how you can build your house on the Rock of our Redeemer.

 

Combined Materials List:

masking tape

preferred toys and treats

picture of Christ

picture of Sun

big prize or treat

Valentine with picture of Jesus

supplies to make Valentines (construction paper, glue, markers, etc.)

flashlights

candlestick (paper towel roll/pvc pipe)

bushel (basket or a small box)

pictures or objects to find

containers (tupperware or casserole dishes)

large rock

sand

small houses

pitcher of water

Come Follow Me Family Home Evening for little ones- March 2019

March 4-10 Thy Faith Hath Made Thee Whole

Prep Materials: bandages (or toilet paper), laundry basket/ sturdy box, blindfold, robe

Song: Tell Me the Stories of Jesus pg 57

Use pictures, Bible videos, and acting out to tell the story of some of Jesus’ miracles.  Pick and choose your favorites/ what your children would enjoy and relate to best, or spread this over multiple nights.

Heals a leper- wrap the kids up in bandages (or toilet paper) to look like a leper

Stills a tempest- use a laundry basket or large sturdy box as the boat, turn on the Bible Video or the Animated New Testament Story, shake them around during the storm then stop when Christ calms the sea

Man sick with the palsy- show the picture at the end of manual and tell the story (unless you want to lift your kids in the air and lower them down!)

Blind men- use a blindfold to cover their eyes as you read them the story in Matthew 9:27-29

Jairus’ daughter- have a child lie down and explain that the family was told that their daughter had died but Jesus came, touch her hand and say, “Talitha cumi.”  Explain that it means, “Daughter, arise.”  Have the child get up.

The woman with the issue of blood-  Tell the kids that there was a woman who had been sick for a long time, she heard about Jesus and thought that if she could just touch His clothes she could be healed.  Have a parent dress up in a robe (anything long that can trail behind a little), have the kids reach out and touch it as the parent walks by and then say, “who touched me?”  Finish up the story explaining that she was healed after she touched his clothes.

 

March 11-17 These Twelve Jesus Sent Forth

Prep materials- back packs, heavy objects (rocks/books)

Song: I Feel My Savior’s Love pg 74

Fill backpacks with heavy objects, have the kids put them on and try to walk around.  If it’s still too easy for them add more weight.  Then help lift the backpack and walk with them.  Ask them if that’s easier.  Explain that burdens are hard things in life (help them come up with some hard things they have to do), then tell them that Jesus said he will make our burdens light.

 

March 18-24 Who Hath Ears to Hear, Let Him Hear

Prep Materials: Blindfold, ear plugs

Song: Reverently, Quietly pg 26

Sing Do As I’m Doing, Children’s Song Book 276.  Do a few rounds normally, taking turns with who decides the action.  After a few rounds pull out a blind fold, take turns wearing the blind fold and trying to follow along.  Now attempt to do a sing along of favorite primary songs but take turns using ear plugs (or have a parent cover their ears).  Talk about how it was hard to follow along when they couldn’t see or hear.  Paraphrase Matthew 13:13-16.  Talk about how we need to use our eyes and ears while being reverent to learn about and follow Jesus.

 

March 25-31 Be Not Afraid

Prep Materials: laundry basket/ sturdy box, blanket, picture of Christ

Pull out that laundry basket boat from a few weeks ago.  Use a blanket to make waves.  Have the children act out the story by stepping out of the boat into the waves, pull the blanket up towards their face to symbolize sinking.  Hold up a picture of Jesus, when they look away from it have them “sink” when they look at the picture pull the blanket back down and then reach out a hand to help them out.  Show them the picture at the end of the lesson, remind them that when things get hard or scary Jesus will help them.

 

Materials List

bandages (or toilet paper)

laundry basket/ sturdy box

blindfold

robe

back packs

heavy objects (rocks/books)

ear plugs

blanket

picture of Christ

 

What does Come Follow Me look like in your home?

Shortly after two hour church and the Come Follow Me curriculum were officially announced in General Conference I was perusing Facebook and saw that an old friend from Elementary school had asked in a Latter-day Saint mom group how people thought they might implement it in their home in the new year.  A lot of moms were excitedly sharing their different ideas, and then I saw one person comment, “Honestly, I probably won’t.”

It broke my heart, had she not just heard all of the blessings promised?  Pres. Nelson said it would “unleash the power of the family.”  I don’t know about you, but every time I hear that I just picture us dressed up like the Incredibles.  But she indicated that she wasn’t even going to try.

That comment has stuck with me, and was a big part of why I started sharing my Family Home Evening ideas on my blog.  I realize that life is overwhelming and this could feel like adding one more thing to your plate, so my hope is that by sharing ideas and compiling a list of materials, those that feel overwhelmed can at least have a springboard.  We’re not perfect at it by any means, we missed a week while traveling, and I’m sure we’ll miss weeks here and there in the future.  But, we’re trying and that’s a big part of it.

I’ve also seen a lot of questions about “the right way” to do it.  Is your Sunday lesson supposed to kick off the new week or wrap up the last week?  Should Family Home Evening be separate?  Do you read personally or as a family?  How do I get through these scriptures with kids when they have no attention span?  How do I fit in Book of Mormon as well?

The answer is- there’s no RIGHT way to do this.  The only wrong way is to do nothing.  The introductory materials in the Come Follow Me for Individuals and Families manual says, “Use this resource in any way that is helpful to you.”  ANY WAY!  In his talk introducing these adjustments, Elder Quentin L. Cook said, “there is flexibility for each individual and family to determine prayerfully how and when it will be implemented.”

So really what it comes down to, is they don’t want to command us on exactly how to use it.  They recognize that each family works differently and they don’t want to give a structure that’s not going to work for everyone.  We need to use our agency, seek personal revelation, and do many things of our own free will (D&C 58:26-27).

That being said, it can be helpful to hear about others experiences as we figure things our for ourselves.  So here’s how we are implementing this in our home, for now.  I’m sure we will make adjustments as needed in the future.

We do our Family Home Evening after church on Sunday wrapping up the current week.  We don’t have a set time of day on Sunday because I frequently have to stay after church for my calling.  We also regularly go to visit my parents or my in-laws on Sunday.  Those weeks I just bring my FHE stuff with me and we do it with them.

This last week we had a beautiful experience as we had a combined Family Home Evening with my parents, my younger brother who attends an Episcopal church, my Grandma who is not long for this world*, and my aunt who was visiting from out of state.  Talk about unleashing the power of the family!!!

Throughout the week we read the assigned set of scriptures with the kids at bed time from the New Testament Stories book published by the church.  And by read, I mean they typically watch them on my phone.  It’s also typically a fight to get them to hold still, but regularly my son surprises me by talking about something we read in the scriptures later in the week.  The stories don’t always align in the same order as the lessons. I realized this week that me missed some that went with a previous week, so we’ll just be catching up and then I will look through a little better in the future.  On the weeks when we have more days than stories we either re-watch or supplement with related stories from the Book of Mormon, or just let them pick a story they want to watch.

My husband and I read the assigned chapters together which typically takes a few nights, and then we read through the study material together and discuss the questions.

Something that is not happening yet- here’s where I could use your help.  I really want to use my study journal and go through the study material by myself as well.  My initial plan was to do this on Sunday afternoons, but like I said, I regularly stay after church for my calling and then we frequently go to see family for dinner.  Also my children don’t like to give me long stretches of uninterrupted time to study.  So Sundays haven’t been working out like I had hoped.  And I haven’t seen or taken the opportunity to fit it in on a different day.  So, if you are doing this, help me out!  Leave me a comment with how you fit this in to your week between kid nurturing, cleaning, cooking, exercising, ministering, flossing,  breathing….

 

*Update- My Grandma passed away just a few days after posting this, a week and a half after that Family Home Evening.  That was actually the last time we saw her alive.  What a beautiful closing memory to have been learning together from the scriptures with 4 generations present.

Family-centered Valentine’s Activity Calendar

If you have followed my Christ-centered Thanksgiving and Christmas activity posts then I hope you love this one as well.  I wanted to put together activities last year to make Valentine’s day more meaningful, but then my Grandma died and life got crazy and I didn’t have a chance to get to it.  This year I started early, because February is actually going to be crazier this time around with a wedding and a baby blessing, but those have been planned with ample notice, whereas funerals just happen when they need to happen.

As I was thinking through incorporating the wedding and the baby blessing into the calendar, lines from the Family: A Proclamation to the World kept coming to mind.  Initially I put it out of my mind and thought it wasn’t really related to Valentine’s day, and then it hit me that if I want to make Valentine’s Day meaningful then really Valentine’s Day is ALL about the family and the teachings in the Proclamation.

Obviously some of our bigger activities are not universal (unless you also have a family member getting married in February and another family member who recently had a baby, in which case we should be friends!), so I’ve tried to include a few ideas for alternate or extra activities that go along with the same theme.  And if you are a member of another faith, I’m sure you can still incorporate these ideas based on your beliefs, and I think you will find more similarities than differences in the beliefs outlined in the Proclamation on the family.

  1.  I love to see the temple- walk around the temple (or if you live too far away look at pictures) and explain it’s importance.
  2. THE FAMILY is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan… The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.” Wedding time!
    • If you don’t have a wedding to go to this month, or even if you do, you could pull out wedding albums, pictures, that wedding DVD you watched like once, and any other mementos from your wedding and show them to your kids.  Talk to them about your wedding day and how special it was.
  3. “Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.” Baby blessing time!
    • Pull out baby pictures and any mementos from when your kids were blessed (or Christened).  Tell them about their blessing and how much of a blessing it is to have them in your life.
  4. Learn the song Love One Another, Children’s Song Book pg. 136.  Including the sign language could be really fun.  This is a really great activity to throw in on a day you know will be very busy.
  5. HUSBAND AND WIFE have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. ” Trade off date nights with the kids.  Obviously this is going to look different for each family depending on the number of kids, but for us we’ll do this over two nights, I’ll take one kid and my husband will take the other and then the next night we’ll switch.  Go as simple or as big as your budget and your calendar allow.  Maybe it’s just a walk or ice cream (or a walk to ice cream so it cancels out!) or maybe it’s bigger like a performance or game.  The biggest thing is that it’s dedicated time to them and their interests.
  6.  See above (and if you’re family is big enough you could just do one on ones the rest of the time until Valentine’s day and ignore the rest of the list!)
  7. We love our cousins!  We’ll be blessed to have cousins visiting so we’ll party hard with them, but if cousins aren’t available you could make Valentine’s to mail to them.
  8. We love our grandparents!  Make Valentine’s for grandparents
  9. “Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.” Do a wholesome recreational activity as a family.  For us this will probably be the Renaissance Festival.
  10. Heavenly Father loves us so he gave us a Prophet.  In Arizona we will have a special fireside with President Nelson and President Oaks this day.
    • If you’re not in AZ you could talk about going to church to take the sacrament and read John 3:16.
  11. Make a fun heart craft
  12. “Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.” Focus on compassion, do some kind of service project.  We will probably take a meal to a refugee family through Gathering Humanity.
  13. Make Valentine’s for friends and classmates (and by make, I mean write their names on little store bought cards, but if you’re crafty and into really making cute Valentine’s for everyone then POWER to you!)
  14. Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself- take treats to neighbors.  We started this a few years ago and our neighbors LOVE it.  Christmas time always gets so busy and we always end up getting sick so I decided to stop pretending like I was going to take around Christmas treats and now we just do Valentine’s day treats.  It’s way better than hunting down a babysitter and trying to get in to an overcrowded restaurant.

Happy Valentine’s Day!  I hope this helps you make the time very meaningful for your family!

Come Follow Me Family Home Evening for little ones- Jan 2019

Can I just say how excited I am for this Come Follow Me curriculum.  There’s a lot of reasons:

  • studying the same material across age groups
  • home focus- which goes right along with some of my feelings about deliberate parenting
  • multi-modal learning- it’s making my educator heart sing
  • lots of opportunities to use my laminator- also making my teacher heart happy 🙂
  • FHE whenever works best for your family (which relieved all of the guilt I have had about having community choir on Monday nights!)
  • Family Home Evening ideas!

I keep thinking I should film the craziness that is Family Home Evening at our house but my 4-year-old is typically in his underwear and I’m not going to put that out there for the internet.  It’s kind of a circus and I’ll admit that I have gotten to the point of yelling, and threatening, and time out.  I’ve been better recently about keeping my patience and the kids have been a tiny bit better about listening.  One of the things I noticed was that they could smell fear and lack of preparation; the weeks where we were just throwing something together went really badly.  The past few months we started just using the Behold Your Little Ones manual, and that’s when I noticed that things started getting better and I think it has everything to do with my husband and I having a plan and being organized.

With the new curriculum I want to get even more organized and I figure if I take a day and get everything prepped for the coming month then we can have super low stress family home evenings after church on Sundays.  And if I’m already doing the work, I figured I’d share with others and hopefully make things a little easier for you as well.  So I’ll give you ideas for how to take what’s in the curriculum and make it work with little ones, and at the end of the post there’s a combined materials list for the whole month.

Dec. 31- Jan 6  We are Responsible for Our Own Learning

Prep Materials: plant, rocks, thorns/weeds, pot for planting, print/ laminate sower game

Song: Faith pg. 96

Lesson: Review the parable of the sower found in Matthew 13:1-23.  If you are a super overachiever you could plant seeds ahead of time in rocks, among weeds or thorns, and in good ground and compare how they have grown.  I’m not so good at the growing things from seeds thing, so I’ll probably just fill a cup with rocks, show the kids the weeds in the front yard (maybe pull some while we’re at it!), and buy a plant already growing in good soil.  We’ll compare how things grow in different types of soil and talk about needing to listen well at home and at church so we can learn about Jesus really well.  Then we’ll  dig a hole (a favorite activity for my kids), put our new plant in, water it, and get it some sunshine (but not too much!).

Activity: Sower game

 

Jan 7- 13 Be it Unto Me According to Thy Word

Prep Materials: Christ’s lineage print outs, Pictures of ancestors, optional names and titles for game

Song:  Family History- I Am Doing It pg. 94 (or go to the Family History Section in topics, there’s a surprising amount of songs in this category)

Lesson: Christ’s lineage is laid out.  Below you will find an attachment with His ENTIRE lineage, do with it as you please depending on your kids’ reading and comprehension level.  Then there are pictures that just have His most famous Ancestors.  I plan to print those out, laminate them, and turn them into ornaments.  I will do the same with pictures from our own family tree.  I’m just going to go ahead and leave our Christmas tree up until we get to this activity, but you could make a tree out of paper, or just do the activity on the floor.  We’ll first talk about Christ’s lineage and then put our own family tree together.

Christ’s Lineage Pictures

Christ’s Lineage (this is the entire lineage given in Luke 3 as a list, if your kids can read and have a decent attention span you may want to put the names in a bigger font and print them to put together as well)

Activity: Let the kids play with the print outs.  I am going to print out 2 sets of our ancestor pictures and Christ’s lineage pictures and play a simple memory game.  If your kids can read you may want to have them match the picture with the name and title (great grandma, great-great grandpa, etc.)

 

Jan 14-20 We Have Come to Worship Him

Prep Materials: Kid friendly nativity set

Song: Picture a Christmas pg. 50 or Nativity Song pg. 52

Lesson: Hopefully they remember a lot from having just gone over the story, it’s like Christmas Eve round 2!  Use a kid friendly nativity set, if you don’t have one, you might be able to find one on clearance right now, or, I just have this little printable set.  Put the characters (yes even the animals) in a bag and have the kids pull them out at random then talk about that character’s contribution to the story.  Then have the kids tell the story the best they can (probably good to have the camera ready!!)

Activity: Just let them play with the nativity!

 

Jan 21-27 We Have Found the Messiah

Prep Materials: Flashlights (with pictures of Jesus if you want), Objects to find (could be church related, could just be for fun)

Song: Teach Me to Walk in the Light pg. 177

Lesson: Explain that Jesus is the Light of the World.  Either make a room in your house really dark or wait until it’s dark outside.  Give the kids a flashlight (you could tape a picture of Christ to it to help with the visual), then send them on a scavenger hunt.  You could do church related things like a picture of the Prophet, scriptures, church clothes, etc. or just fun items, or a mixture.  The final item could be some sort of Celestial treat!

 

Jan 28- Feb 3 Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord

Prep Materials: two mason jars, food coloring, water, bleach AND/OR a tea bag (with a string), a cup with water, a lighter

Song: When I am Baptized pg. 103

Lesson: You could do either of these object lessons or both to teach about baptism

#1- super simple and guaranteed to work.  Fill a mason jar with water, the other one with some bleach.  Talk about mistakes that we make and drop food coloring into the water with each mistake.  Then explain that when we are baptized our sins are washed away- dump the bleach in and the water will return to clear.

#2- sorta complicated, and sometimes it doesn’t work quite right- you should definitely do a practice run!  We used to do this on the mission a lot and would turn it into kind of a story and get really into it- until our mission president told us we had to stop playing with fire, I’m sure he didn’t expect to have that conversation with a set of sisters, but it’s really cool.

Take a tea bag (it can be any kind of herbal tea but the bag needs to be the kind that is folded in on itself with a staple and a string (as opposed to sealed around the edges) and preferably individually wrapped)

Tell the kids that the bag wants to get to heaven but it can’t.  Toss it up in the air a few times to show that it can’t get there.  It will need to go through some steps to get there.

1- It needs to have faith so first off it’s gotta leave the comfort of it’s wrapper (or box if they aren’t individually wrapped).

2- Now it’s out but it still can’t get there, put your finger on the string to “weigh it down.”  Explain that it’s going to need to let go of the things holding it back by repenting.  Take off the string.

3-  Toss it up and down again, see that it’s doing better now but still can’t make it to heaven.  Even though it repented and let go of the weight it still has some things that need to be washed away.  Carefully take out the staple and empty the contents into a cup of water and explain that baptism washes everything away (but do NOT get the bag itself wet!)  Now you should have a tube, carefully stand it on one end.

4- Explain that now it’s standing taller, it’s getting closer, but it still needs one more thing, the gift of the Holy Ghost.  Sometimes the scriptures call this the baptism by fire because fire also purifies.  Light the top end of the tea bag tube on fire and as it burns it should suddenly float into the air “up to heaven!”

Activity: Set up a washing station in the sink or bathtub with toys that are dirty.

 

Full materials list for the month

plant

rocks, thorns/weeds

pot for planting

Sower game

Pictures of ancestors

Names and titles for ancestor matching (optional)

Christ’s Lineage Pictures

Kid Friendly Nativity Set

Flashlights (with pictures of Jesus if you want)

Scavenger Hunt objects

2 mason jars

food coloring

water

bleach

AND/OR a tea bag (with a string)

cup with water

lighter

 

 

#LightTheWorld Countdown for Little Children

I am so excited about this year’s light the world campaign and the opportunity to combine it with our annual tradition of having a Christ-centered advent calendar.  My kids call them circle activities because we use muffin tins to create our calendar so they take a circle off each day to find out what our activity is.  I have been doing them for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter the past couple of years (hoping to add Valentine’s day this year!) in order to keep our celebration meaningful, deliberate, and focused on the Savior.

I’m by no means anti-Santa, I love Santa, we do Santa.  But, I have had to DO nothing in order for my 4 year old and 2 year old to learn about Santa. He’s everywhere- in fact he knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake…

However, I do have to be deliberate and intentional in making sure they learn the true meaning of this time of year.  It’s not all strictly “religious” but I make sure that we find ways to tie the “just for fun” things back to the Savior.

As I mentioned I love the #LightTheWorld campaign for this year especially.  This time it’s broken down by week:

1- Light the World (global focus)

2- Light your Community

3- Light your Family

4- Light your Faith

As I sat down to start brainstorming our calendar I struggled a little to figure out how we could make sure the kids were actually involved in and understanding global service.  I reached out to friends for help and got some great ideas to incorporate into our calendar.  A really cool idea that didn’t make it on the calendar is the Light the World vending machine.  There is one in Gilbert by the water tower (also one at Temple Square in Salt Lake, Manhattan, London, and Manila- and if you can’t get to any of those there is a way to donate online at that hyper link).  This is a vending machine for charities- you choose to donate a pair of glasses, or a chicken, or clean water, etc!

Additionally- we’ll be kicking off our celebration before the calendar actually starts, I could just add it but it would throw off the perfect 24 spaces on the calendar and that might make my slightly obsessive brain explode.  But, we’ll be attending a local Live Nativity on November 30th at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church.  It runs the 30th-1st.  There is also the Walk through Bethlehem in Chandler that sounds amazing but as I looked at our crazy calendar for the month I realized I needed to pair down a little and the time and distance on that was going to be a little too much for us this year.  That one runs the 14th-16th.

I’ve had a lot of fun thinking through how to incorporate these ideas for my little ones, and I really hope this helps others find ways to serve and make this season meaningful no matter the ages of your children or if we belong to different faiths- together we can Light the World!

 

1- Jesus said, “Rejoice and be glad!”- We’ll be attending a Christmas party- this is an example of how I incorporate a “just for fun” event and still make it meaningful.  This day has also been set aside as a Day of Service.  We will be bringing food and toy donations to the party as our service for the day.

Week 1- World

2- Jesus speaks to the world through His prophet- watch the Christmas Devotional

3- Missionaries are sent around the world to share the gospel- color pictures to mail to a missionary in a foreign country

4- Refugees have had to leave their homes in other parts of the world and come here to be safe.  Take a meal or other donations for refugee families.  If you’re in AZ then Gathering Humanity is an amazing organization!

5- Jesus created the world- Decorate the Christmas tree and talk about the days of the Creation

6- Jesus is the Light of the World- go to a light display (probably Glendale Glitters for us)

7- We believe in a God of miracles for the whole world.  Tell the Hanukkah story.  I’ve purchased this children’s book which tells the story and has beautiful illustrations.  I include Hanukkah each year for my kids because one of my best friends is Jewish and while we won’t be able to celebrate together this year, I have cherished memories of lighting the menorah with her growing up.  Also, I want my children to know and understand that God loves ALL of His children and provides them with miracles even if they believe differently than we do.  This also fits in so well with the global focus, no coincidence that Hanukkah lined up with week 1 this year, amIright??!

8- Asylum seekers come from different parts of the world and arrive here with nothing hoping to find safety.  Make and donate a backpack asylee kit.  We will have the kids pick the backpack and stuff it with the necessary items (my 2 year old LOVES backpacks right now so this will be a good way to get her involved).  We will be partnering with Gathering Humanity again for this one.  And special thanks to my cousin for guiding me to this idea!

Week 2- Community

9- Donate to the Humanitarian/ Fast offering fund.  We typically just do this online, but in order to get the kids involved we are going to go old school and use the paper slip and envelope and actual cash then have the kids hand it to the Bishop.

10- Angel craft

11- Jesus said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Make little ornaments and take them to our neighbors

12- Nativity Craft- I bought a cute little foam kit at Hobby Lobby.  They have a few different ones depending on your kids skill level (and your capability for handling messes!)

13- Take toy and clothes donations to Maggie’s Place.  One of our Thanksgiving activities was to clean up and clean out the playroom- this is where those will be going.

14- Jesus was born in a stable- go to a petting zoo to see the types of animals that might have been there.  We will be heading over to Superstition Farm.  This might seem silly, but we have done this a few years in a row now and the kids LOVE it.  Two years ago my son ran around the petting zoo yelling, “Jesus, where are you!”  Apparently when I told him we would see animals like the ones that were there when Jesus was born, he figured we would also see baby Jesus.  Last year we went after we saw The Star and they started calling all of the animals the names from the movie.

15- Jesus healed the sick- take treats to the NICU.  Our daughter was a NICU baby so we make sure and take treats to current NICU parents this time of year.  Be aware if you decide on a NICU for service it is best to call ahead and you really will just drop off the treats with the desk.  Small children will most likely not be allowed into the NICU.   We walk to the door together as a family and then my husband takes the kids to a nursery viewing window while I take the treats in to the actual NICU.

Week 3- Family

16- Jesus said, “Ye shall meet together oft.”  Church!  It might seem like cheating because we do this every week anyway, but I call it being creative with my resources.  Also, I think it’s good to periodically talk about WHY we go to church.

17- Light your family- Make little gifts for Grandparents

18- Cards for cousins

19- Jesus asked us to pray together as families- have family prayer and review how to pray

20- Gingerbread Stables

21- Family Movie Night- The Nativity (8 minutes- live action) Christmas Story videos (more very short videos telling the story) Joy to the World (about 45 min total), and we’ll probably do a VeggieTales or The Star

22- Make memories with Family- activity with extended family and open presents with them

Week 4- Light Your Faith

23- Sing Choirs of Angels- sing Christmas songs at church and with our opera singing relatives coming into town!  My husband’s brother is engaged and we will finally get to meet his fiancee this day!  Their common interest in opera brought them together!

24- Bethlehem dinner- I make lamb and other foods similar to what they would have eaten at that time in Bethlehem.  I’m hoping this year to eat it by light of a candle from that era as well.  Then we’ll read the story from Luke 2 and hopefully have the kids act it out!

 

Merry Christmas!!!  I hope this has given you some good ideas to incorporate in your own family’s celebration!

Thanksgiving Activity List

It’s that time of year again! Time for another round of holiday circle activities!  A lot of these are similar to last year where I also gave an in depth explanation of why and how I do this.  But to sum up I make a calendar using muffin tins and have an activity each day for my 2 and 4 year old kids.  This helps make our holiday prep and observance more deliberate and meaningful and to prevent going straight from asking for candy to asking for presents and forgetting to be thankful in between.

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I live in Phoenix, so the outings are naturally Phoenix based, but they are pretty easily adaptable to wherever you live.  And if you do live in the Phoenix area then I would LOVE to have you join us on any of our outings.

Thanksgiving Activities 2018!

  1. The Pilgrims came to America in a boat called the Mayflower- I think I’m going to be brave and try to fold boats out of paper this year- but if I chicken out or if you’re just not that brave either then just use a bath toy.  We have a water table so we’ll float a boat in that on the back porch, but it’s also fun in the bathtub, sink, or a large tupperware.
  2. Hand turkeys
  3. Pilgrim coloring page (I’ll be at Time out for Women so this will be an easy no prep activity for daddy to handle)
  4. The Pilgrims came to America for religious freedom, they wanted to go to the church they felt was right without being persecuted- go to church
  5. We are thankful for our bodies- go for a walk
  6. We show gratitude for our food by sharing with those in need- donate food- depending on the schedule we will donate to a food drive or take a meal to a refugee family through Gathering Humanity, maybe both 🙂 that link will take you to their sign-up genius where you can sign up to deliver a prepared meal for a family’s first night in their new home, purchase two weeks worth of groceries (both of those can be done using Wal-Mart pick-up if your schedule doesn’t allow for drop off, or you can sign up to set up an apartment or help in the warehouse- this has been an amazing and simple way to serve the community
  7. Begin Thankful Tree- I bought a thankful tree last year at Target, it has paper leaves to write on, we will start it today and then add to it throughout the month
  8. We are thankful for cousins- color pictures to mail to cousins
  9. We are thankful for animals- go to the zoo
  10. We are thankful for Primary/ Nursery- color pictures for their teachers and deliver them the next day at church
  11. We are thankful for the brave men and women that keep our country safe- color pictures for Operation Gratitude, this group sends care packages to active duty soldiers and veterans, they have some specific guidelines so look them up before you start
  12. We show gratitude for our home by keeping it clean- pick a chore
  13. We are thankful for our food- color a picture for the cashier (we’ve done this a few years in a row and they are always surprised and so grateful)
  14. We are thankful for Preschool- make a card for the teacher
  15. We are thankful for our minds and imagination- go to the Children’s Museum
  16. We are thankful for Grandparents- color pictures for Grandparents
  17. We are thankful for the earth- go to the Botanical Garden
  18. We are thankful for the temple- walk around the temple grounds
  19. We are thankful for friends- make a treat for a friend
  20. We are thankful for daddy’s job- take him lunch at work
  21. We show gratitude for our toys by cleaning them up and sharing with children in need- pick up and select toys to donate (bonus of getting ready for new toys coming in a few weeks for Christmas)
  22. Thanksgiving feast!
  23. The Native Americans helped the Pilgrims- visit Native American ruins, we’ll be heading up to Wupatki National Monument near Flagstaff (it’s connected to Sunset Crater National Monument so you get to see a volcano while you’re at it!)
  24. We are grateful for our family- fun family outing, for us this is going to be attending a horse race- I tried to find a way to make horses fit into Thanksgiving but all I could come up with was family time 🙂

 

You may be wondering how we afford the Zoo, the Children’s Museum, the Botanical Gardens, a National Park, and a horse race all in one month.  We’re not rolling in the dough, and those that know me know that I’m pretty cheap.  So here’s how we make it work- the kids get a zoo membership from Grandparents as their birthday present and the Children’s museum as a Christmas present.  For the Botanical Gardens, I watch for a culture pass at the library which gets two adults in for free so we’ll only have to pay for the 4 year old (they also have a free day once a month but it’s a Tuesday and I wanted to go as a family so we’ll use the culture pass to go on a Saturday).  The National Monument is $15 (per car) for both the ruins and the volcano and the horse race is only $2 admission.  So we’ll be able to do all of these things in one month for about $35 out of pocket.  While we’re thankful for daddy’s job and the financial security it brings, we are also thankful for all the money saving ideas we can find!

IN the World

This post is an extension of remarks I offered in a recent sacrament meeting.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not have paid clergy or preachers.  Rather, each week different members of the ward (congregation) are asked to speak on a specific subject.  I was recently given this opportunity with the prompt “How can we be in the world but not of the world?”

I feel that we frequently focus on the end of that phrase- not OF the world.  Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, succinctly and eloquently taught us how to do this:

“We will have to stay calm under peer pressure, not be impressed by popular trends or false prophets, disregard the ridicule of the ungodly, resist the temptations of the evil one, and overcome our own laziness.”

This is so important especially in our day where so many lines are being blurred and crossed, however, I think we sometimes pay too little attention to the beginning of that phrase where we are asked to be IN the world.

While this exact admonition is not found word for word in the scriptures, the idea is certainly there and similar commands are made both anciently and in modern times.

In Matthew 5 we read:
14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Additionally, Elder Quentin L. Cook said:

“We cannot avoid the world. A cloistered existence is not the answer. In a positive sense, our contribution to the world is part of our challenge and is essential if we are to develop our talents.”

We are not to be cloistered, or under a bushel.  We need to be on a candlestick and contributing.

Why is that important?

President Russell M. Nelson taught:

“True disciples of Jesus Christ are willing to stand out, speak up, and be different from the people of the world.”

I don’t know about you, but I would like to be counted as a true disciple.

President Spencer W. Kimball offered these thoughts:

“Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.”

While that was specifically directed towards the women of the church, it does not take the men off the hook.  Missionary work is driven forward as we are different, and articulate.  As we stand out and speak up, and as we are a light.

How then can we appropriately be IN the world to be this light?

We can:

Be Involved

Be Inclusive

Be Informed

Be Inspirational

 

Where do we do these things?  Sister Neill F. Marriott taught that we carry a circle of influence with us wherever we go.  I want to discuss 3 circles in which we can carry a significant influence.

 

First in our communities.

Do you know your neighbors?  Are you involved in their lives to any degree?  Do you include them in yours?  My uncle once said that the garage door opener was a destructive force in neighborhoods.  And it’s kinda true, we never have to talk to our neighbors because we don’t have to spend time in our front yards unlocking our doors and it feels awkward to just ring our neighbors’ doorbells for no reason.  Which is why I love Halloween…I get to ring my neighbor’s doorbell, they give my kid candy, and then we chat for a second.

Other Holidays are a great opportunity to connect- I used to make plans to carol to our neighbors at Christmas, but to the dismay of my high school dreams of eternal duets, my husband doesn’t like singing in public, my kids don’t sing on command, and it’s a little less cute for me to sit there and solo on the porch.  Also, we always get overbooked and sick right around Christmas.  So the last 2 years I scrapped the Christmas caroling idea and now we take treats to our neighbors for Valentine’s day.  They love it.  We have an older, wheelchair bound gentleman down the street and he loves our visit.  This last year we met a new neighbor on Valentine’s day, she was actually crying when she opened the door because she was going to have to put down her dog the next day.  I followed up with flowers a few days later to make sure she was doing ok, but I would have had no idea what was going on if I hadn’t taken her a Valentine treat.  Find a reason to knock on your neighbors’ doors periodically, and spend some time outside- in your yard or out for a walk so you have opportunities to meet and talk to your neighbors.

Additionally, the Church Handbook of Instruction states:

Members are also urged to be actively engaged in worthy causes to improve their communities and make them wholesome places in which to live and rear families.

This will depend greatly on your season of life and time availability, but find ways to serve whether on a regular and scheduled basis, or simply donating goods.  There are many opportunities to serve refugees in our community depending on your time and resource availability you could set up an apartment for an incoming family, make and drop off a meal for their first night in the country, stock them up with groceries- you can even do a clicklist and someone else can pick it up if you have the money but not the time, or you can simply donate goods as you declutter your home.  You may be involved on the PTA, or HOA.  Join a club or sports team.  I’m part of a community choir, I’m the only active member of the church in the group- which is completely opposite of any other choir I’ve ever been a part of, but I’ve had many opportunities to answer questions, and share experiences with other members of the choir.

Get in the world by being involved and inclusive in your community.  Avoid being of the world by being offish.

 

The next sphere I want to talk about bridges both locally and nationally.  And since we’re already discussing one taboo topic- religion- let’s just go ahead and discuss politics while we’re at it.

Again from the handbook:

“As citizens, Church members are encouraged to participate in political and governmental affairs, including involvement in the political party of their choice.

Members are encouraged to register to vote, to study issues and candidates carefully, and to vote for individuals whom they believe will act with integrity and sound judgment. Latter-day Saints have a special obligation to seek out, vote for, and uphold leaders who are honest, good, and wise.”

In the last Presidential election, which as you might remember was a little heated to say the least, and an incredibly close call in the end, 45% of adults in the US did not vote.  Please don’t be part of that 45%!  We just had an election about 2 weeks ago…did you vote?  We have another one coming up in about 2 months, will you vote in that one?  And more importantly, will you be an informed voter?

Getting informed is time consuming and can be frustrating as it can be difficult to find unbiased information but it’s SO important.  Take a look a multiple sources, including looking into the other side of the argument.  It may or may not change your opinion, but it will certainly help you make a more informed decision.  It will also help you engage in more civil and constructive discussions on the topic.

We also need to decide what principles will guide our decisions and stick to them.  May I suggest that one of these guiding principles would be to follow the prophet, even, and especially when he may say something that goes against our typical political line of thinking.

Earlier this year I posted something from President Nelson that went against the grain of a certain line of political thought.  The topic and political side are unimportant, but I want to share an exchange that occurred with another member of the church that I knew from my mission.

She responded:
“I’m alarmed that the prophet would make such a [leftist or rightist] and non-sensical comment.”  She went on about her thoughts on the topic then concluded with: “Why do people… now apparently including our prophet!, think that laws impact people’s choices at all??? Utterly ridiculous”

I was a bit shocked that a fellow active member of the church would speak out so derisively of our prophet.  Even to go so far as to call him ridiculous.  But, while this example was extreme, I had noticed multiple examples of a similar attitude when the church made an official statement that went against someone’s political leanings.

I responded to her with these thoughts:

“I don’t think of this as a [leftist or rightist] view. I think that the Prophet is the center, and sometimes the right aligns to center, and sometimes the left aligns to center.

I think the most important thing is to look introspectively and make sure that we are aligning our political views, the policies we support, and our general behavior with God and His teachings rather than trying to make Him and His teachings fit into our political views.”

With the recent statement on the Medical Marijuana bill in Utah, a friend and fellow blogger published an amazing article on this exact same subject of following the prophet.  I highly recommend reading the post, but here is a quote I stole from it by Elder Neal A Maxwell from 1978:

“Discipleship includes good citizenship; and in this connection, if you are careful students of the statements of the modern prophets, you will have noticed that with rare exceptions—especially when the First Presidency has spoken out—the concerns expressed have been over moral issues, not issues between political parties. … But make no mistake about it, brothers and sisters; in the months and years ahead, events will require of each member that he or she decide whether or not he or she will follow the First Presidency. Members will find it more difficult to halt longer between two opinions (see 1 Kings 18:21).

President Marion G. Romney said, many years ago, that he had “never hesitated to follow the counsel of the Authorities of the Church even though it crossed my social, professional, or political life” (CR, April 1941, p. 123). This is a hard doctrine, but it is a particularly vital doctrine in a society which is becoming more wicked. In short, brothers and sisters, not being ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ includes not being ashamed of the prophets of Jesus Christ.”

Please be IN the world by being involved and informed politically but avoid becoming OF the world by putting party above Prophets.

 

The last sphere of influence I will discuss today is our potential global influence via the world wide web.

Social media is a two edged sword, on the one hand it can turn into a major time suck which can take us away from real relationships and higher priorities as well as turning into a war of words and tumult of opinions.  On the other hand, it offers a convenient way to keep in contact with friends, family, and associates and gives us the opportunity to share goodness on a large scale.

 

Elder David A. Bednar, in his address that began the #sharegoodness campaign, taught the importance of our online presence:

“The Lord is hastening His work, and it is no coincidence that these powerful communication innovations and inventions are occurring in the dispensation of the fulness of times. Social media channels are global tools that can personally and positively impact large numbers of individuals and families. And I believe the time has come for us as disciples of Christ to use these inspired tools appropriately and more effectively to testify of God the Eternal Father, His plan of happiness for His children, and His Son, Jesus Christ, as the Savior of the world; to proclaim the reality of the Restoration of the gospel in the latter days; and to accomplish the Lord’s work.”

Sharing goodness isn’t just about always sharing church related material.  I feel it’s more about HOW we share than specifically WHAT we share, and should certainly extend to how we share our opinions on secular matters such as politics, current events, and really any issues that are argued on the internet.

He offered these guidelines to help us as we post on social media:

Be Authentic and Consistent and Seek to Edify and Uplift

“Our messages should be truthful, honest, and accurate.  We should not exaggerate, embellish, or pretend to be someone or something we are not.”

Last year I posted an “end of year review” detailing some of the fun things we had done throughout the year.  We had gone on several trips, etc.  After I posted it, I just didn’t feel well, authentic.  The post made it seem like 2017 was this beautiful fairy tale year.  When in fact, 2017 was a really hard year.  I was struggling with post partum depression, we had 3 ER visits, found mold- hence the ER visits, and my car basically exploded.  Yes, it had a lot of fun moments as well, but I realized in only sharing the fun, I failed to share the goodness.  I failed to share how we had learned and grown and the miracles we had seen despite the challenges.  So I wrote a blog post end of year review to be more authentic and accurate.

From Elder Bednar:

“Our content should be trustworthy and constructive. And anonymity on the Internet is not a license to be inauthentic.”

“We and our messages should seek to edify and uplift rather than to argue, debate, condemn, or belittle.”

Before you post something, make sure it comes from a trustworthy place.  Unfortunately, many entities put together posts and click bait articles that are not entirely true (or just outright lies) and specifically intended to stir contention.  Before you share stop and check that it is true, and then think about how it is worded, will it be informative and potentially inspirational, or will it primarily come off as judgmental and offensive?  A good guide can be to ask yourself if you would say it or share it if the person you disagree with was standing right next to you.  Name calling or insinuating that the other side is stupid is by no means constructive, it merely tears down and creates a bigger divide.  It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

Consider the example I gave earlier of my friends’ response to what I posted from Pres. Nelson.  She used words like non-sensical and ridiculous to describe our prophet, even if it wasn’t the prophet, but someone else I held in high respect it would still be rude.  She also insinuated my stupidity which immediately put me on the defensive.  Perhaps a better way to have worded her post could have been:

While I respect our prophet and your opinion on this issue, I am confused by this statement.  The church often emphasizes the need for personal responsibility, and I’m concerned that more laws would not change behavior.

That would have gotten her same point across without being offensive.  You can and should boldly share your opinions, but you ought to do it pleasantly. Because…

“Authenticity is strengthened through consistency. The gospel messages you share will be accepted more readily if your Christlike example is evident in the ongoing pattern of your posts.”

If your other posts and comments do not follow His example and demonstrate His love, then people will not be keen to listen when you share a message that is specifically gospel related.

Elder Bednar went on to say:

“Brothers and sisters, share the gospel with genuine love and concern for others. Be courageous and bold but not overbearing in sustaining and defending our beliefs, and avoid contention. As disciples our purpose should be to use social media channels as a means of projecting the light and truth of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ into a world that increasingly is dark and confused.”

Let’s be in the world wide web by being inspirational but not of the world by being offensive.

In closing I want you to consider the many temples we have in the world.  While we have temples in many areas that are primarily known for their high Latter-day Saint populations, we also have temples in places like New York City and Las Vegas which are certainly more well known for their worldliness.  Temples are here IN the world, but are certainly not of it.

Sis. Marriott shared this insight:

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” We too as [children] of God have been placed all around the world, like temples, and we each have our own unique look and outward design, like temples. We also have a spiritual light within us, like temples.

We have our own roles on the earth.  Each is influential. Each role will have moral power as we reflect gospel truths and temple covenants in our lives.”

I invite you to consider how you can individually be more IN the world by being involved, inclusive, informed, and inspirational then having the integrity to not become OF the world.

What my auto-immune disorder has taught me about privilege

A few months after my son was born I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s Disease.  While Hashimoto’s might sound like it would be associated with cool Asian ninjas or something like that, it’s not.  It’s an auto-immune disorder in which my body fights against my thyroid gland so it doesn’t produce enough of it’s thyroid junk (I know super medically technical here) which causes a range of random issues.  I mean really, the list of symptoms for low thyroid is long and random.  I experience everything from sluggishness to increased cold sensitivity to depression.  Other symptoms I’ve been lucky enough to skip over include hair loss and infertility, however I have a good friend who experiences these struggles.

The most obvious symptom for me, and perhaps my favorite (not) is unexplained weight gain.  Quick crash course in Hashimoto’s, one of the major associated problems is low metabolic rate, and digestive issues that prevent your body from absorbing nutrients properly.  When your body doesn’t receive enough nutrients it thinks it’s starving, so it goes into this like hibernation mode and starts hoarding everything it DOES get, in case the apocalypse comes tomorrow.  Seeing how the apocalypse keeps not coming all it does is make me gain weight, or prevent me from losing weight.

Now, I know what you may be thinking because before I was diagnosed, and frankly before I started seeing a specialist, doctors kept telling me the same thing.  Losing weight isn’t that hard, it’s just a matter of eating less and exercising more.  Hahahaha, shut up.  It’s not actually that simple.  I typically eat less than 1500 calories, I exercise regularly, and I’m on my feet either cleaning or chasing children for a decent portion of the day.  So if it was a simple math equation I would be pretty darn skinny.  But it’s not that simple and I’m not that skinny.

Now here comes all the but it’s the type of calories you eat, and you need to try this work out, and have you done this cleanse.  You need to be Vegan.  You need to be Keto.  Go dairy and gluten free.  Sugar is a tool of Satan.  Eat this super food and try this shake.

And I’m sure all of those things would probably help, but here’s where we start talking about privilege.

It has come to my attention that there is a decent amount of the population who eats normal foods in moderation (including dessert) and exercises moderately who stay at a pretty normal weight.  I’m not talking about body builders and fitness fanatics, I completely recognize that they work really hard to keep their bodies at peak performance.  I’m talking about your run of the mill human beings who have normal lives with normal sized bodies who can shop in the normal section of a clothing store.  They might have 5-10 pounds they’d like to lose, but overall they look fine and feel fine.

Now don’t tell me these people don’t exist, because I know some of them.  I see slender people post pictures out getting ice cream with their spouse or friends.  A few months back I walked past a room full of thin ladies sharing a box of doughnuts, they are all still thin.

Here’s the thing, I spent a lot of time meticulously counting calories consumed and expended.  I’d be so good for several weeks and lose a couple pounds, just to have one moment of weakness, eat two cookies, and gain 3 pounds.  It’s a vicious cycle and those cookies didn’t weigh three pounds.

It’s excessively frustrating to be putting in extra effort and achieve no results while watching others put in normal effort and achieve normal results.

That’s a privilege, that normalcy.

That doesn’t mean that I think naturally slender people should have to share some of my fat to be fair.  No one owes me their healthy thyroid.  And I’m not going to sit around whining about my crappy thyroid (ok, I take that back, sometimes I do).

So when someone brings up other aspects of privilege- race/ethnicity, socio-economic level, upbringing, gender, etc. please don’t take it as an insult or a threat to what you have.  Don’t assume that they think it should be taken away or that you didn’t work for what you do have.

But…please be aware that there are unseen forces that can cause different groups a unique set of challenges.  And as Margot Lee Shetterly put it in her book Hidden Figures they may “need to be twice as good to get half as far.”

If you can’t do anything else, just respect the challenge.

When the boy from the inner-city school who was raised by a single mom with a GED ends up in a low paying job; rather than pointing out the obvious that his life might have turned out better had he gone to college, respect the challenge!

When the child of immigrants didn’t complete their homework because they were translating for their parents; rather than assume they were lazy, respect the challenge!

When a woman is passed over for a potential promotion for which she was well qualified, rather than pointing out that she took time off for her children when the man did not, respect the challenge!

Once you’ve got that down, then we can start to look at potential changes to level the playing field.

Last summer I finally reached a point where I had to see a specialist for my thyroid.  Literally the first thing he said when he walked in was, “Let me guess, they keep telling you that you are low side of normal.”  I nodded my head.  Then he said what I had been thinking for YEARS.  “Well if you’re developing nodules and can’t lose weight then obviously that’s not enough thyroid.”  Over the next several months and under close monitoring he more than doubled my dose of medication.

And guess what…I lost 40 pounds.  And I didn’t even have to do anything crazy.  Suddenly with a normal amount of effort I began achieving normal results.  I didn’t even have to force my fat on innocent skinny people.  With a small change that just evened the playing field, I was suddenly able to succeed.  I didn’t have to be twice as good to get nowhere, I could be normal and get somewhere.

There are many programs and groups that attempt to level the playing field with varying results.  I’m not here to debate each approach, but I do think we need to start being aware and considering what can be done as far as supporting ways to level the playing field.  This will be different for everyone but it may come in the form of voting in favor of certain programs, donating time or money, or just starting by changing your heart and attitude.

One last lesson I learned.  Don’t use your challenge as an excuse to make it worse.  Like I said, it’s very frustrating to put in effort and not see real results so at certain points I ended up using that as an excuse to self sabotage.  While losing weight was extremely difficult before my doctor fixed my meds, sitting around eating ice cream definitely did not help the situation.

I read this great blog post comparing privilege to cars sharing the road with bikes, “What my bike taught me about white privilege.”  The basic analogy is that being white or otherwise privileged is like driving a car and being underprivileged is like riding a bike.  While it’s legal and gets you where you need to go, the road is not designed with bikes in mind and favors cars a great deal, even if not by law by social practice.  You really should read the post.

However, after I read it, I thought about the times I’ve been driving when a bicyclist has put themselves in a very dangerous situation by not obeying the laws.  Most often by riding against traffic and not wearing a helmet.  Everyone retains their personal responsibility to do what is in their power to make their situation better.

So while it is so important for those with privilege to respect the challenges of others and reasonably attempt to level the playing field, it’s also so important not to make the situation worse by eating all the ice cream or riding against traffic.

 

 

 

 

#RedforEd…now let’s talk budget

As a former educator in Arizona I’m super duper #RedforEd.  The pay is terrible, and even when salary comes up a little they kill teachers in other ways, like ridiculously high insurance premiums.  High stress + terrible pay/benefits = High teacher burn out.  I quit so I could stay home with my children.  Everyone’s favorite question to ask me is if I plan to go back once my children are in school or grown.  The honest answer is:  No way in HEdoublehockeysticks would I go back to that level of stress for so little money.  I do keep my certificate active in case it became a necessity to return, but I have no plans of going back.  That’s sad, and I know I’m not the only teacher that feels that way.  We are losing good teachers, or people that could be amazing teachers are avoiding the teaching field because it’s just not worth it.  I could soap box on this for a long time, but suffice it to say that I think a lot of issues in education could be improved if teachers were paid a competitive salary.

So Arizona teachers- I stand with you.  I would strike with you.  I support you.

But… we need to have a serious discussion about where this money is going to come from.  Unfortunately money doesn’t grow on trees (and if it did the inflation rate would be atrocious!)  There’s only two ways the State can increase the amount of available spending money- raise taxes or cut money somewhere else.  Unfortunately no one can agree on how to do this, which is really at the heart of so many political battles, not just education.

Propose that we raise taxes (whether that’s income, sales, sin, or luxury) and someone is going to throw a fit, propose we cut back on this or that budget and someone is going to lose their job and extra people are going to throw a fit, propose that teachers just suck it up and you’ve got strikes.

This is going to require coming together, looking at priorities, and making some serious compromises on several levels.  It’s not going to be easy, but it’s long overdue and it’s gotta be done.

There’s no one tax or cut that will solve the problem, it needs to come from multiple places.  I’m going to attempt to give pros and cons for suggestions I have heard from others or have thought of myself.  As I’m not an expert on State expenses I am very open to suggestions, in fact I’m writing this with the purpose of getting the conversation started.

TAXES

Income taxes

I don’t love this idea, because if you raise salaries and then tax them more then what was the point.  Also, I kinda like having the money that we work for.  But, I think we could handle a small increase in taxes, a little bit from each household could go a long way.  It wouldn’t solve it, but in conjunction with other measures it’s a viable option.

Sin/ Luxury taxes

Maybe I like this idea because as a “saint” with a non-luxurious lifestyle it doesn’t really impact my budget.  But the point of the luxury taxes is that those buying the luxury items won’t be hurt as much by the relatively small increase in price.  Sin taxes are sort of weird from an ethical point of view.  On the one hand I’m saying don’t smoke or drink because it’s bad for you, on the other hand, if it’s supporting education then please don’t stop because we need your money.  Also, I know a lot of people who drive to the reservation to buy their cigarettes to avoid taxes so there are ways around it.

This could be extended to raising the fees on police citations, but again, it’s almost begging people to speed so that we can increase revenue, and it brings up other issues with cops being more likely to issue citations to certain groups of people.

I think there is definitely some room for discussion here, but it’s by no means a full solution for funding.

Cut spending on other state funded programs

Public Safety and Department of Transportation

These are a no go for cutting in my mind.  My dad used to be the head of traffic for ADOT and now he’s a teacher (glutton for punishment much?)  And I’m pretty sure he would start twitching if we started trying to take more money out of the transportation budget.  Turns out that people like driving and having less traffic issues.  And public safety- well, I for one prefer that there are officers available if I need them.  So let’s leave these alone.

Parks and Rec

I like parks, I like having clean and well maintained parks.  We make use of parks on a regular basis.  I’m not suggesting to let the parks go.  But…the park we go to got a giant face lift this last year.  It’s nice, and my kids really like it, heck I really like it.  But, the old equipment was fine, it was not presenting a safety hazard.  So if it came down to brand new playground equipment or a little more funding to education- I definitely would have chosen to stick with the old equipment and send that funding to the schools.

An episode of Parks and Rec is running through my head right now, and I know Leslie Knope would hate me for saying this, but I would also be ok if they cut back or got rid of Parks and Rec classes especially if that meant more funding to extra-curricular activities at schools.

SNAP/EBT

A lot of the requirements on the SNAP or EBT program are federal mandates as far as what can and cannot be purchased using the card.  By federal mandate they can not be used for alcohol, tobacco, pet food, etc.  However, what many have deemed as “non-essential” food items such as ice cream, soda, etc. are not excluded by the federal mandate and can not be excluded by the state.

However, the amount of money put in by the State is not mandated on the Federal level.

Hold your horses, before you flip your lid and think I’m suggesting that the State stop funding EBT.  That is not what I’m suggesting.  However, as it has come down to teacher pay or people being able to afford ice cream with state funds, I’m going to ask them to sacrifice the ice cream before I ask the teachers to sacrifice their pay.

You could also consider that if my family were still living on my teacher income alone, now as a family of 4, we would qualify for these benefits.  So if you pay teachers higher than the poverty line for a family of 4 then you might have fewer people in the system anyway.  And if education improves hopefully we will have less in the system as well.

Cuts within education

Extra-Curricular Programs

Doug Ducey has suggested a giant decrease to arts funding as part of his solution.  Honest question here, and hopefully someone can help answer this: Why do they always jump to cutting the arts, and not sports, or at least balanced between arts and sports?  Follow up question, where does the money made from sporting event ticket sales go?  What budget does it fund?  Would ticket sales, or “suggested donations” to concerts do anything to help the situation?

I realize I’m super biased here, being all arts and no sports, but I will fight you on why the arts are an important part of a well rounded education, and that sports are no MORE important than the arts.  So if we are going to look at cutting back on extra-curricular programs could we take it off both ends, but mostly could this be the last resort instead of the first.

Top down approach

Can we take a serious look at the district level and determine if there is anything there that could be cut or combined?  As an extreme example- Tempe has 3 school districts (two elementary and one for the high schools), it is not a very large city and they were actually having to consider closing some schools while I was living there.  That’s 3 superintendents that are being paid about 5 times the amount I was being paid before I quit.  If they reduced to one district and therefor one superintendent that would open up $300,000 to the budget.  You could give 30 teachers a $10,000 pay increase right there.

But it’s not just the superintendents at the district level, on one of my more frustrating days as a teacher I stopped by the district office after work (on my way to my second job) to drop something off to one of the many district level supervisors.  First of all the person I needed to talk to wasn’t in her office because they were having an office party (paid for out of the district budget) and as I walked past the secretary to leave a note in the supervisor’s office I noticed that the secretary was playing Candy Crush on the computer.  I just about freaked out.  Here I had spent the day literally being beaten on by my students, had been using my own money to buy supplies for my classroom, and had a to-do list a mile long and the district level employees were having a party and someone was getting paid to play Candy Crush.  I. Just. Can’t. Even.

Combining

In addition to looking at the district level to find places to cut, I think a serious look could be taken at combining some smaller schools.  I’m not talking rural schools that are small and far between.  Again I’m going to pick on Tempe.  Tempe High and McClintock High, are only about 2 miles apart.  In their prime they were probably larger, but while we were living close to them they were both going down hill pretty fast on numbers and with low numbers their programs (mostly art, but also sports) were starting to suffer.  I’m sure there are probably other areas facing similar issues.  Why not shut one of them down, keep the academic subjects teacher to student ratio similar at one school, but now you have the opportunity for 1 thriving arts and sports program instead of 2 dying programs that can’t really be justified.  You also could have fewer administrators.

Downside, I just eliminated a few jobs.  That’s an issue that is going to have to be considered- it sucks, but it’s a discussion that needs to happen.

In conclusion

There’s only so much State Funding Pie and if you want a larger piece then other pieces have to get smaller or you have to make a bigger pie.  Every option to do that will hurt someone somwhere somehow.  It’s going to have to come down to open minds and compromise.  If every side keeps digging in their heels then we will continue getting nowhere.

I am sure there are so many ideas that I have missed and concerns that I have not adequately addressed.  So, here’s what I want from you.  Please comment with your top 3 ways to find the money, and your top 3 absolute no-ways.

For example:

My top 3 ways to improve the budget:

  1. Top down
  2. Combine
  3. Cut back on other non-essentials from state funded programs

My 3 no-ways

  1. Cut the arts
  2. Cut back on roads or safety budgets
  3. Status quo

 

Please keep all comments civil, fighting will not solve this, discussing will.  If you disagree with someone you could say, “I respect that you feel that way, but have you considered……”  “I see your point, but based on _______ I think there is a better way.”