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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Annual Reader Survey

Hi friends!

In the past 7 years this blog has gone from a personal diary of sorts to a broader gathering place where stories of motherhood, family life, faith and everything in between are shared. Your comments, emails and encouragement are the reason I keep at it and I appreciate you guys so very much!

In the interest of giving the people what they want and making sure this place continues to grow and thrive, I would LOVE it if you would take 5 minutes to fill out the 9 question survey about this blog over at the following link:

Crazy Joy Reader Survey

If you are a VIP email subscriber and already took the survey - thank you so much! (If you're not an email subscriber - just type your email into the box at the very top of this page or over to the right of this subscribers get the latest news first and never miss a post.) 

Finally, if you are on Facebook, I would also love it if you'd "like" the new Crazy Joy Blog Facebook page, which you can do by clicking HERE, and then "liking" the page. Having all of my readers follow me on Facebook means I can keep the Crazy Joy stuff off of my personal account and widen the audience for the blog stuff - which is important as I pursue writing as something more than just cheap therapy.

Thanks for reading this business-y post - and please take the survey (it's so quick!) and do like my Facebook page (there will be funny stuff, serious stuff, and you'll be so glad you did.)

Nothing but love for you,

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

6 Tips for Reading Chapter Books to Young Kids

"A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest."      ~ C.S. Lewis

Being the book-lover I am, I couldn't wait to start reading books I remembered and loved from my own childhood to my kids. You can imagine my disappointment when at 18months old, my firstborn wouldn't even sit in my lap to look at touch-and-feel books or let me show him the wonder of a lift-the-flip book. An inauspicious start to say the least.

When the same kid was three years old (and now regularly sat still for a picture book before bed) I decided it was time to move on to the classics. Bless my heart. I have no idea when it's the right time for my oldest kiddo to do anything so my default mode is typically yesterday.

Three was way too early for Elijah to sit through, let alone understand most of the content I was trying to read to him. I let it go for a while but we picked it back up again sometime between the age of 4 and 5. By this time I also had a 3 year old and an 18 month old, and although they didn't sit still and listen attentively, they toddled around us and picked up on the fact that books were exciting and this extended reading time was special.

We're now in a solid routine reading from chapter books daily to my 7, 5 and 4 year old. We typically save chapter books for just before bed so that my 20 month old is already asleep, but every now and then we'll read at lunch time or after dinner so he can catch our love of literature. I think it's working because just the other night when BJ was reading, he reached for the book and said, "I ona see" (I want to see).

Here are six things that have have worked for us as we have tried to make reading aloud a daily part of our routine:

1. Find transitional chapter books that keep their interest with occasional pictures.
I found this edition of Pippi Longstocking at the library to get us started, every other page has an illustration, so it's a great transition from picture books and only tests their sweet patience the littlest bit. The links in this post all lead to editions with great illustrations, so if that's important to you, make sure you read the reviews/look through the book for pictures before purchasing.

2. Pick a book that YOU like and are excited about.
Duh. How are the kids supposed to get excited if you're yawning and falling asleep through the story? If you love the classics, start with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  If history is more your thing, why not start with Little House in the Big Woods from the Little House on the Prairie series. For those of you who want read-aloud time to be full of laughs, Roald Dahl does the trick for us every time. The BFG and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were enjoyed by my kids at early ages.

3. Give little ones a silent activity to keep their hands busy and their minds focused.
When Elijah was younger I'd read to him while he played with Play-Dough or Legos. Now my oldest ones sit still and listen without needing something to do, but puzzles or coloring are great activities as well. Anything that is quiet and that doesn't require your intervention.

4. Remember that kids can listen and understand books at a higher level than they can read.
Don't be afraid to read a book with a subject matter they haven't learned about or with words they aren't familiar with. Listening to a story is one of the best ways to pick up vocabulary and learn a subject in an engaging way. My daughter can still tell you exactly how maple syrup is made from the very first book in the Little House series, which we read when she was three!

5. Get recommendations when you don't know what to read next!
Pinterest and blogs are a fabulous source of great recommendations. One of my favorite blogs, always ripe with selections for kids (especially picture books) is Everyday Reading. The blog What Do We Do All Day has a slew of posts dedicated to book selections for kids - suggestions for pre-schoolers, kids with special needs, reluctant readers, etc. I love this post on How to Choose Early Chapter Books for Kids - (hint the age of the protagonist is a good clue as to what age the book was written for.) I also picked up The Read-Aloud Handbook last year, which is an amazing resource, not only for specific book recommendations according to the ages of your children, but the entire first half of the book lays out the incredible importance of reading aloud to your kid and makes a very strong case for why you should do it early and often.

6. Don't leave picture books behind just because you start reading chapter books!
Picture books ignite the imagination and the rhyming verse of many picture books is essential to kids picking up the letter sounds and phonics skills they need when they begin independently reading. It is encouraging for early independent readers, when all they can read are the easy picture books, that you still read picture books to them as well. For us it helps take away the idea of "baby" books and "big kid" books.

And finally - my one and only rule when it comes to reading to your kids - if at first you don't succeed, try, try, again! One day they'll start listening and then the adventure will begin!

Any thoughts or tips you have to share with me? I'm all ears all the time when books are the subject matter.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

My Go-To No-Brainer Healthy Lunch

These days I am short on time, short on energy and low on brain cells by lunch. Which explains why I've become obsessed with quinoa bowls. 95% of you know what a quinoa bowl is, but I actually have some readers who do not live within a 5 mile radius of a Whole Foods and/or who aren't Millenials.

For their benefit, a short lecture on quinoa (pronounced keen-wah). Quinoa is a superfood which has been around for thousands of years. A staple of the ancient Incan diet, the Spanish tried to eradicate it when they conquered Peru in the 1500s.  Fortunately for you, me and Whole Foods, quinoa is a resistant little crop and made a major comeback in the late 20th century. Quinoa is gluten-free, rich in protein, high in fiber, low-calorie and low-carb and stacked with vitamins and minerals. Basically everything fit people are always telling us we ought to be eating.

Your basic quinoa bowl recipe is quinoa + veggies + vinaigrette dressing. This can be eaten warm or cold. It can be made in advance and kept several days in the fridge. These bowls are perfect for an office lunch, a lunch on-the-go or a lunch eaten-hastily-at-the-counter-while-making-PB&Js-for-preschoolers. In other words, this is a good option for everyone. So jump on the bandwagon and make yourself a quinoa bowl STAT.

I've currently got the three recipes below on regular rotation:

Copycat Publix Quinoa Salad 
I picked up a take-and-go quinoa salad from Publix about a month ago and was instantly sure I needed to figure out how to recreate it. This one definitely benefits from at least an hour in the fridge to get all the flavors mingling.

Serves 2
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed 
1/2 cup chopped fresh spinach
Handful of Craisins
Handful of edamame (cooked and shelled)
Handful of pumpkin seeds

1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tsp olive oil
1 Tsp honey
1/2 Tsp orange zest

1. Cook quinoa according to package. (If the package does not tell you to cook quinoa in chicken or veggie broth, then disregard package directions and cook quinoa in chicken or veggie broth. You enhance both the flavor and nutritional value of your quinoa for about 2 calories. Do it.)

2. While quinoa cools, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, honey and orange zest.

3. Mix quinoa and the add-ins together in a bowl, then toss lightly with vinaigrette.

4. Enjoy!

Southwestern Quinoa Salad
I apologize in advance to those of you who are uncomfortable with ambiguity, this recipe is super adaptable and my measurements are more like approximations. 

Serves 1
1/2 cup cooked quinoa
1 roasted or baked sweet potato
1/4 cup black beans (drained and rinsed)
1 chopped scallion
Dash of cumin
Dash of paprika

2 squeezes of lime juice
1 drizzle of olive oil
A sprinkle of cilantro 

1. Cook quinoa in chicken or vegetable broth according to package directions.

2. Pull a leftover cooked sweet potato from your fridge.
If you don't have leftovers then it appears you will have to cook a potato. This is why you should always cook a little more than you're planning to eat for one meal, especially when we're talking roasted veggies. Baking your sweet potato or roasting it is fine for this recipe. It's really a texture thing. Roast if you want a little more bite to your bowl, bake the darn thing if chopping it is really too much work. I get it. If you decide to roast the sweet potato specifically for this recipe, now is the time to use your spices. Sprinkle the cubed sweet potato with cumin and paprika before tossing in olive oil and roasting at 375 degrees for 20ish minutes. Obviously skip the spices post-roast unless you are the type to walk on the wild side.

3. While quinoa cools (and/or sweet potato), whisk together your lime juice and olive oil. Alternatively skip this step and just drizzle both directly on top of your bowl. I warned you about this recipe.

4. Mix together quinoa, sweet potato, black beans and scallions, then sprinkle with spices to taste and toss with the lime-olive oil dressing.

5. Finish with a flourish of cilantro - because you're fancy.

Thai Veggie Quinoa Salad
This recipe originally found HERE. Yes there's a lot of chopping and yes it's worth it. 

Serves 2
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
1/4 bell pepper, diced
1/2 carrot, grated
1/2 cucumber, seeded and diced
1 scallion, chopped
16 cilantro leaves (joking, I'm joking. 15 is fine)

2 limes, or 4 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp white sugar
3/4 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tsp Asian fish sauce
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

1. Cook quinoa in chicken or vegetable broth according to package directions.

2. While quinoa cooks, chop those veggies.

3. Whisk together the lime juice, sugar, fish sauce (if you like Asian food, please always have fish sauce on hand. It keeps forever) and red pepper flakes.

4. Mix quinoa and veggies together, toss with the vinaigrette.

5. Scarf!

A few more thoughts on the general topic of quinoa bowls:
  • Do yourself a favor and make a large batch of quinoa at the start of the week. Pick up some limes and/or lemons and one or two of the veggies listed above. Even if you don't pre-make multiple bowls, a healthy lunch will only be 5 minutes away. 
  • These proportions are all written for one or two salads, which is entirely too much work for one dang lunch. But I wanted you to be able to dip your toe in the waters of quinoa bowls without fear of ruining perfectly good ingredients on something you hate. If you find yourself similarly obsessed, scale these recipes up twice or even 3 to 4 times to make enough for the week.  Like I said, they'll keep perfectly. 
  • Your vegetarian friends will really appreciate you adding a hearty, healthy, meat-free dish like this to your arsenal.
  • Your carnivorous friends (ahem, or husband) will be appeased if you throw some grilled chicken and or shrimp on any of these. (Marinate in extra vinaigrette for bonus points.) 

As always, I love hearing if you make one of these and how it turns out!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Kids Cooking School

Even though homeschooling is officially over til September, over the next few weeks the kids and I are going to spend some intentional time each day learning together.  Instead of math, writing and reading, we'll be tackling cooking, cleaning, art, woodworking and dinosaurs. The idea is to use this time when we don't have school work going on to focus on learning some life skills. (Okay so the dinosaur topic was the kids' idea and knowing a T Rex from a Stegosaurus is not exactly a life skill, but we're going with it.)

We're starting in the kitchen by learning a few basics. Just some simple things that will give them confidence and lend a (HUGE) hand to BJ and me throughout the day.

This week we're tackling the following:

1. How to crack an egg
Elijah can crack an egg, but my 5 and 4 year old are definitely old enough to learn as well. It's a little thing, but it takes practice and this year when we've baked together I've been too irritated to slow down enough to teach this simple thing to them. 

2. How to make a sandwich.
It's the spreading that causes all the trouble and really, this is just another practice thing. I've been too much of a neat-freak to really let them make the mess that learning requires, so I'm going to be intentional about letting go of my clean countertop and letting them do it themselves. 

3. How to wash and cut an apple, a carrot and a strawberry.
These are their favorite fruits and veggies that require "prep" and it would be huge for them to have the knowledge to serve themselves healthy foods. (And for me not to have to help every time someone wants a snack!) 

4. How to turn on the stove-top and use the built-in griddle to cook grilled cheese, hot dogs and quesadillas.
So this is a little more advanced/dangerous, but they are all old enough to understand the directive, "DO NOT do this without Mom or Dad around" so I think we're good. Since the above foods are their favorite dinners and they are all made on the stovetop, I figure the pay-off is worth the risk. Knowing how to make your favorite dinners is really winning at life isn't it? 

5. How to make Rice Krispy treats.
Dessert that doesn't require anything but a bowl and the microwave. I don't think you need this explained further. 

On Friday night they'll show off their skills by making our whole family dinner. The kids currently think Skills School is "so awesome". We'll see if they feel the same way next week when we tackle Cleaning!

What Life-Skills could you teach your kids this summer?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

School's Out For Summer! (A Homeschool Wrap Up Post)

The finish line is in sight. Tomorrow will be our last day of school for Elijah! Woo hoo!! Cue the parade and throw some confetti up in the air for good measure.

We survived. There were delightful days and there were dreadful days. Mostly our days flitted from misery to mundane to magnificent. I am getting the picture from other homeschooling moms that that's pretty normal.

It was not the idyllic year I had aspirations it would be. There were tears (his and mine) over reading books. There were arguments and bribery to get work done. After Christmas break, Jude dropped his nap and things got really messy. Suddenly I had a toddler on the loose all morning, intent on destroying everything my big kids were working on in the schoolroom. Truthfully, it has been hard most days.

BUT - Elijah can read. That's a pretty big deal for me, so I'm going to say it again. Elijah is reading. He could read this sentence without trouble. He could even spell most of the words in the previous sentence nearly correctly. I can't even express how HUGE that has been for us. I started the year off with 6 year old who had trouble consistently sounding out words like can, bad and stop. This now 7 year old still doesn't like to read, but he can. And for a mama who considers herself a bibliophile, that has been a bitter pill to swallow. It has been a learning process for the both of us. For me, accepting that I need to lower my expectations and for him to fight through something that doesn't come easily.

As a family we read, read, read. Roald Dahl was a favorite this year. We read James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Great Glass Elevator and the B.F.G. We finished two more Little House on the Prairie books, leaving us with just the last book in the series to go! We read the first Harry Potter book and started in on the Boxcar Children series just this month.

We sped through the first grade Singapore Math curriculum and finished in April. I don't think I spent enough time appreciating that it came easily. Personally, I loved figuring out how best to communicate the concepts of number families, regrouping and multiplication to E.

We discovered the Ancient world, from the early civilization of Mesopotamia to the fall of the Roman Empire. We tried our hand at writing hieroglyphics, built siege towers out of Legos and created a working aqueduct model to bring our knowledge of Roman engineering to life. Our schoolroom is now decorated with a timeline that covers the perimeter of the room documenting our knowledge.

We visited the Georgia Aquarium, went to the Chattahoochee Nature Center and toured the Atlanta Zoo all this fall during our study of the animal kingdom. During our study of the human body we used bread to discover what happens inside our digestive system- a graphic lesson I don't think me or the kids will ever forget! We planted seeds and learned a lot about (how to kill) plants during our spring-time study of all things green. (I'm truly grateful my mother-in-law has been able to teach them how to actually grow a plant.)

Most importantly there was so much play. So many hours spent in pretend castles, role-playing family and heroes and re-enacting their favorite story lines again and again. On nice days we went to the park, on cold days we sat with our books in front of the fire.

We had time to lay in the grass and watch clouds move across the sky. We had time to visit my grandmother during the final months of her life. We were able to leave on a dime and go on a "field trip" to Greenville SC when BJ had to travel for work. Slowing down to enjoy these moments with the kids does not come naturally to me, so for us homeschooling has been a gift. In a 12 hour day at home, I end up snatching a few priceless minutes with each child just because there's so much time on our hands.

So yes, we will be staying at home again next year. I'll have a Kindergartener and a 2nd grader, a pre-Ker and a 2 year old. Let the summer fun begin!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

This Above All, To Thine Own Self Be True

I have always been someone who LOVES a good quiz. Back in middle school when I used to sneak read my friends' Seventeen magazines, I'd always flip to the quiz section first. (Which by the way, they still include in every issue. If you're dying to know which Prom Dress is Right for you, click HERE. Something Classy/Preppy is just perfect for me this year.)

Nowadays I prefer quizzes that tell me what kind of homeschooler I am (Classical Unschooler) or what my home decor style is (Eclectic Transitional). There's just something about discovering myself that I cannot get enough of.

So I guess it's no surprise that when I found Tsh Oxenrider's Upstream Field Guide included as part of the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle this year, I jumped into it. The Field Guide is an 8 part e-course designed to help you live holistically with your life's purpose. The beginning of the course is focused on defining who you are and what you're about.

This week, as a part of Session 2, I was directed to take the Myer's-Briggs personality assessment, the Strengths Finder test and an Enneagram test. I've done all of these multiple times except for the Enneagram test. I've seen a few bloggers I follow talk about it, so of course I took it as a part of this process. Surprise, surprise, I'm a Type Three. If you're an Enneagram junkie you know exactly what this means, but if not, it's "The Achiever" type.

Threes are self-assured, attractive, and charming. Ambitious, competent, and energetic, they can also be status-conscious and highly driven for advancement. They are diplomatic and poised, but can also be overly concerned with their image and what others think of them. They typically have problems with workaholism and competitiveness. At Their Best: self-accepting, authentic, everything they seem to be—role models who inspire others.

Threes want to make sure their lives are a success, however that is defined by their family, their culture and their social sphere. In some families, success means having a lot of money, a grand house, a new, expensive car, and other status symbols. Others value ideas, and success to them means distinguishing oneself in academic or scientific worlds. Success in other circles might mean becoming famous as an actor, or model, or writer, or as a public figure of some kind, perhaps as a politician. A religious family might encourage a child to become a minister, priest, or rabbi since these professions have status in their community and in the eyes of the family. No matter how success is defined, Threes will try to become somebody noteworthy in their family and their community. They will not be a “nobody.”
To this end, Threes learn to perform in ways that will garner them praise and positive attention. As children, they learned to recognize the activities that were valued by their parents or peers, and put their energies into excelling in those activities. Threes also learned how to cultivate and develop whatever about them is attractive or potentially impressive.
I've never heard myself described exactly that way before, but the downside to being a "Three" is spot on in my own life. I figured out early on in life which activities garnered me positive attention and praise and stuck to those things. Threes are terrified of failure. This whole assessment (particularly the downsides to this type) parallels precisely with the experience of feeling worthless and insignificant that I spoke about here.

Of course as I dive into all this self-reflection I want to know more about all of my people!

Are you an equally split ESTJ/ESFJ like me? Or are you an INFP? (If so I need more of you in my life.) Is Input or Communication one of your greatest Strengths? Have you ever taken the Enneagram test? Let me know what/who you are in the comments or in email! Because Input is one of my strengths, I get a ton of enjoyment out of knowing who the people around me are. :)

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