2016 STEM Toy Gift Guide

Recently I received a Facebook question from a friend:
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This was such a fun question to answer!  I’ve spent the last year combing catalogs, blogs, and conferences for this very thing in order to stock the STREAM Lab with engaging tools and toys.  I’ve been able to watch how my students react to each of these items, plus what my own kids (5 & 8) choose to play with each day after school.  So in case there’s another mom or teacher out there trying to navigate the multitude of STEM toy choices, I offer you my kid-tested, teacher-approved list:

A Definite YES:
My top 6…

 

 

  • Sphero SPRK Edition Around $80sphero_sprk_edition
    This works with easy to use, free apps.  Don’t ever buy a remote control anything again…buy this instead!  My kids are getting another Sphero product for Christmas, the Ollie, because you can use it outside.  (Shhh….don’t tell them!)

 

  • Ozobot 2.0 Bit Around $50ozobot-bit
    I like this one because not only can kids code using Ozobot’s apps, but it also reads code drawn on paper with regular Crayola markers.  And it’s so darn cute.  Check out what my students created for our Ozobots in class!

 

 

  • Microscope Around $85microscope
    This microscope had great reviews on Amazon when Grandma was picking one out for Chica, and it didn’t disappoint.  We have quite the collection of dead bugs and plant parts in containers around the house thanks to this gift.  These prepared slides turned out to be fascinating too.

 

  • Zoobs $55 or lesszoobs
    Like the Keva planks, these are virtually indestructible and hard to lose.  With a little imagination, you can make almost anything, but hats and glasses are a favorite in our house.  The set I’ve linked is what I have in my classroom, but you could easily get by with a smaller set for home.

 

  • Prime Climb Around $30prime-climb
    I found this game thanks to a tweet for a Kickstarter campaign.  It’s a math nerd’s dream.  If a board game can be beautiful, this is.

 

Yes, But…$$$
These are all highly recommended, but I feel like they are a little pricey.  I would suggest holding out for a good deal.

  • Legos Price Varieslegos
    In our house, one can never have too many.  One of the best deals I have found is Black Friday at Walmart.  They usually have a really big set of basic blocks as a door buster.  It’s worth waiting in the line.

 

 

  • Magna-Tiles or Magformers Price Variesmagnatiles
    If either of these are ever the Amazon Deal of the Day, let me know!  Bubba has a small set, but I want more for the lab.

 

  • Big Ball of Whacks Around $25big-ball-of-whacks-6-colors
    I have to admit, I think I like this toy more than the kids do.  It’s great for anybody that likes to fidget.

 

 

 

  • Goobi $100 or lessgoobi
    Hmmm….do you see a pattern?  Three out of four of my “too expensive” items are magnets.  Stay away from this toy if you have a little one that still put things in his or her mouth.

 

Yes
All of these are things I highly recommend, just not enough to make my Top Six list.  

  • Marble Run Around $40marble-run
    This particular set is good quality and has lots of interesting pieces.  Bubba especially likes this toy, but he still has a hard time building it on his own.  This is a favorite toy to pull out when we have a babysitter or Grandpa over to play.  You HAVE to watch this!

 

 

  • Makey Makey Around $50makey-makey
    If your kids are into Scratch, this is a great add-on.  Chica still needs some help with this one, so I’d recommend it for older kids.

 

  • GeoPlay  Around $25geoplay
    These seem to take a while for kids to get into, maybe because they don’t go together in the same way as other building toys.  I think the longer kids play, the more they like them.

 

 

  • Snap Circuits $18 and up
    The fourth grade science teacher in me loves these sets.  The mom in me worries about the pieces being broken or lost.  I would recommend them for at least 8 and up, and check out this adapter that lets you bypass the need for batteries.
  • Sewing Kit, Price Variessewing-kit
    I taught Chica how to sew by hand a couple of years ago.  Then she kept wanting to borrow my stuff and leave it all over the house.  If I ever wanted to use my materials again, I knew I had to get her her own.  I didn’t find a pre-packaged set that I really liked, so I put one together for her.  It included a sewing box, good quality scissors, thread, needles, pins, big scraps of fabric, a seam ripper, measuring tape, pin cushion, and a yo-yo maker.  (That last one was thanks to our CrossRoads friend Peggy!)
  • Root-Vue Farm Around $30root-vue
    This is not exactly a toy, but it’s such a neat contraption for learning about germination, roots, and how plants grow.

 

 

  • Qwirkle & Blockers Around $20 each
    blockersqwirkleThese are two strategy games that our family likes, but they’re definitely best for older kids or adults.

 

 

  • Drill Around $50drill
    I’m a fan of letting kids use real tools as soon as they are able to do it safely.  Papa built Bubba his own mini workbench, and he received a hammer, measuring tape, and screwdrivers that he uses with supervision.  He’s used my cordless drill from school recently too.

 

  • Hot Wheels tracks  Around $60hot-wheels
    A few years ago I stumbled upon an offer for a free classroom set.  I pulled it out for two different classes this week, and I remembered again how much kids like it!  The exact set I have is not available anymore, but you could create something similar with the one I’ve linked above plus these extra track pieces.

 

  • Tumble Trax Around $25tumle-trax
    This is probably the most used toy in the STREAM Lab.  We mounted a huge piece of metal that we got for less than $40 from BMG Metals, much like this tutorial, but a big fridge would work well too. Together with this folding stool, you have hours and hours fun.

 

Quality toys….but not our favorite
So many times I pick out something just knowing that my students or my own kids are going to LOVE it, only to be surprised when they quickly lose interest.  That’s the case with each of these final 4 toys.  Your kids might love them, but they haven’t gotten much play in our house and/or my classroom.

  • Goldibloxs  $15 and upgoldiblocks
    I love the idea behind this toy, but the kit we put together seemed difficult to modify beyond the design offered in the instructions.  I like toys that encourage kids to keep trying new things.  We had one of the very first kits made, so it’s possible that newer models have improved.

 

  • Gears! Gears! Gears! Around $40gears
    This toy seemed great for little guys, but it turned out it was harder to make interesting designs than I had expected.  By the time kids are able to really build with it, I think it seems more like a baby toy.

 

 

  • Q-BA-Maze $25 and upq-ba-maze
    These look SO cool, but both my kids and I find them hard to manipulate.  Because the connections are a bit confusing, the most interesting pieces seem to get broken easily when kids try to force them.  This is definitely geared to older kids.

 

  • K’Nex Price Variesknex
    I bought a bunch of these at yard sales over the summer.  Now I know why I could find K’Nex and never Legos…..kids are so much more drawn to Legos.  I have a brand new classroom set that I plan to break out soon in a small group…maybe I can change a few kids’ minds!

One Final Suggestion
Haven’t we all witnessed the fact that some of the best toys are not toys at all?  They’re trash…..shoe boxes, wrapping paper rolls, bubble wrap, etc.  Check out a leftover Kindergarten small group project that kept Bubba busy most of the afternoon one day this week:

So if you haven’t already, you may want to consider collecting a bin of supplies that could be your kid’s own mini engineering kit.  For tools I’d suggest tacky glue, glue stick, low temperature glue gun, hole puncher, small scissors and big scissors, a ruler, masking tape, Scotch tape, and duct tape.  I’d also get a box cutter, but store this away for only supervised use.  For basic materials consider popsicle sticks, string, cotton balls, rubber bands, clay, straws, and pipe cleaners.  Finally, get a big empty tub where your budding engineer can store all sorts of interesting recycled materials until they’re ready to create the next project.

Then sit back and watch.

How about you?  Which STEM toys are your family’s favorite?  Which weren’t worth it?  Which toys are you considering but aren’t quite sure yet if you’re going to pull the trigger?  I’d love to hear from you!

Two Months of Stories

_MG_3447This sweet guy turned three in November.

I don’t believe in birthday parties with friends and favors anymore.  I tried once, but I seemed to botch everything from the budget to the (lack of) pavilion to the sunburn.  So now Nana reminds me each March and November that there’s a birthday coming up in a week or so, and it’s about time to plan something.  And something always seems to turn out to be dinner and cakes at her house with just us.  I’m so thankful.

Bubba’s only request this time was a piñata.  This request, no doubt, was a direct result of la fiesta fantastica de su amigo Weston a few weeks earlier.  Can I just tell you that Party City has a most impressive assortment of piñatas?  Holy cow…..or pirate or bird or Elmo or….you get the picture.  After wandering the aisles trying to talk myself into spending twenty bucks to buy a cardboard Jake for my kid to decapitate, I finally found the perfect choice….

_MG_3422Not only was it a lot easier for me to stomach the decapitation of this creature, but his remains could serve as a perfect prop the following Monday.  Happy Birthday, Bub!  And Happy Dinovember to me!  : )

P.S. Pro-Parent Tip #1113  No need to buy piñata stuffing candies if you are lucky enough to have a November baby.  Just use the Halloween leftovers.  They’ll never know.

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We had a pre-Thanksgiving weekend getaway with my family at a cabin near Crabtree Falls.  No internet, lots of junk food, and game after game of Blockers at the kitchen table all made for a restful mini vacation.

_MG_3571 My favorite memory from our trip, however, has to be the spontaneous hike that I took with Chica and Grandpa after checking out the frozen creek.  On a whim we decided to explore the hillside that rose behind our cabin.  After a while of up, up, and more up, we could see what appeared to be the top of the hill.  Despite Grandpa’s better judgement, Chica and I just had to see what was on the other side.  When we finally reached it, we discovered a road!  This lead us to a new way back to the house and an exciting adventure story to tell when we returned.

Oh how it will make my mommy heart happy if at least one of my kids grows up to love hiking as much as I do.  This day was a start maybe.

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I think violin teachers have super powers.  My kid, who has only been playing for a matter of weeks, stood up there and played her special part of Jingle Bells, and no one ran away screaming.  It was all pretty magical if you ask me.

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My very literal kid insisted on wearing both red and green for the evening performance because these were Mr. Claytor’s directions.  “He said Christmas colors, and Christmas colors are red and green, Mom!”  Got it, Chica.  Got it.

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Jay went out of town at the beginning of December for his geek work conference.  Whenever I leave town, one of the kids gets sick.  When he leaves, I’m always the one that ends up under the weather. This trip was no exception.  I hurt my back, and after one teary Skype call with my parents, Grandpa was on the way to help me make it through until Jay’s return.

He helped make lunches, took Bubba to school, folded laundry, wrapped presents, and returned library books for me.  But perhaps the most miraculous of all was that I somehow convinced him to agree to put up my Christmas tree.  Wow.

So for weeks it sat in our living room, ornament-less but twinkling proudly with each branch curved just-so in the way that only Grandpas know how to do.  Every few days Chica would remind me that we needed to decorate it, and each time I gave her some lame excuse as to why it wasn’t a good time.  Finally I told her on the Saturday night before Christmas that it wouldn’t happen until the den was clean, and I sarcastically added that she was more than welcome to help me work on it Sunday morning.

Whadaya know?  That kid was up before the sun with her sweet little voice at my bedside, “Mommy, I’m ready to help you clean the den.”  Heart be still….and feet on the floor!  Chop, chop!

So we did it.  She made trip after trip after trip to the sink and Bubba’s room and Mommy’s closet as we put away all the junk that had accumulated at the front door dropping spot for weeks.

Then we were done.  And there was this…

_MG_3779 _MG_3782 _MG_3783 _MG_3788

Mostly Chica did all the work.  I fulfilled my obligation of getting the breakable ornaments sufficiently out of reach, but I let her do everything else.  Bubba lost interest pretty quickly, so the other three of us ended up snuggling on the couch while we encouraged her.

No worries that 3/4 of the ornaments are on the bottom 1/3 of the tree.  No worries that the tacky beaded garland crisscrosses in odd patterns.  No worries that more and more of the ornaments are made from recycled “treasures” like old CDs and toilet paper rolls.  It is just perfect if you ask me.

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And finally…

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Would it be crazy to say that this particular moment might be my most favorite memory of all Christmas break?

The week before, our life group discussed joy.  I must admit that that night I was so mired down and worn out by work funk and the never-ending back pain that I just couldn’t conjure up a memory that I could definitely name joy.  Happiness?  Sure.  Joy?  Not sure.

But this moment?  It was as if Bubba’s pink sleepy cheeks were screaming out to me, “JOY lady!  Right here! Look around you!  Wake up!”

Joy in…
This kid who never tires of snuggles.
That daddy who snuggles back so I could keep doing whatever it was that I was doing.
The other kid reading to herself in the other room.
A husband who folds laundry.
And that same husband who remembers to buy batteries well in advance of Christmas.
A tree strewn with presents that reminded us how to play together again.

But mostly joy in remembering in my core, in that moment, that not one of those things is something that I deserve, something I’ve earned.  Each is a gift from a Creator that loves me in a way that is oh so much deeper and truer than snuggles and folded laundry and batteries.  But He uses those things, the take-your-breath-away pink cheeks, to give us just a little taste.  To remind us.  To wake us up.

May your New Year be filled with moments that whisper or shout or just straight-up declare to you, “JOY!”  And may we together learn how to look and listen.

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P.S. I’m taking a Facebook break, friends.  Mostly it’s about regaining some of the enormous amount of time I waste there.  I’m thinking, though, that less time wasted means more sleep.  And more sleep might mean eyes wider open to watch out for those opportunities for joy.  I’ll try to let you know how it goes.

A Note to Self: The Wish List

Note to self:

Please, for the sake of your own sanity, ask the kids for their Christmas wish list in November.  Preferably before the day you go shopping.

Sincerely,
A Tired Santa

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photo5Every year it’s something.  At two it was a Spider Man ball and at three, a skateboard.  Last year it was a scarf.  This year, we got a handwritten list the last week of school.  As in this week.  As in after Santa has completely finished all the shopping.

And every year Santa manages to pull it off.  Barely.  The tiny finger skateboard instead of the full size one she was expecting didn’t go over so well, but it happened at least.  Rose’s in the Plaza turned out to be a great place to get a scarf on Christmas Eve….while she waited in the car.  This year the list has been a bit more challenging.  Here’s the rundown:

1.  Spider Girl Costume:  So, who knew there even was a Spider Girl anyway?  Chica, apparently.   I considered making one.  For about 17 seconds.  Ha.  Hahahahaha.  I owe all my thanks to Jay and Amazon for this one.

2.  Rainbow Dash:  The list says, “Pegasus.”  I sure hope this is the same thing as Rainbow Dash…??  Anyway, during one of our stops at Michael’s over the last month, Chica spotted a stuffed version of her most favorite pony.  Despite multiple methods of coercion from her (begging, whining, shaming, etc.), we didn’t walk away from the store with this toy.  Thankfully she has a gracious Nana who was willing to go back to the store and rescue Rainbow Dash this week.

3.  Wishbone:  Seriously?  Where does she get this stuff?  She wants a real wishbone.  Like from a turkey.  This week we happened to buy a whole chicken already cooked from Fresh Market when my mom was here visiting.  When I saw the list, I thought I had the wishbone covered.  Welllll, Jay never saw the list.  So, while fixing leftovers one evening, he called her in the kitchen to offer her the wishbone.  They broke it together, and she  made a wish.  Still not sure whether I can count this list item as covered.  We’ll see.

4.  Elements of Harmony:  Definitely didn’t know what this was.  Her first couple of attempts to explain it to me were rather vague too.  So, like any other clueless Santa, I took to Google.   Turns out the Elements of Harmony is some sort of book of necklaces from My Little Pony that contain magical powers.  There are six different elements, each with a different color and symbol.  Amazon failed me on this one…this is not something I could buy.  (Second note to self…I need to pitch this idea to some toy maker and get rich so that next Christmas I can afford a personal shopper to pull off this increasingly difficult Santa stuff.  Errr…I digress.)

So I realize full well that at some point Santa can’t pull off every wish that will be on the list.  But my wheels started turning, and Nana’s wheels started turning, and we knew Rachel would be here soon to help.  We decided to just make the crazy thing.

I’m not going for a Pinterest-worthy how-to post, but in case you ever need to pull off a similar stunt, here’s how we did it:

1.  Pour a glass of wine.  Or in our case, three glasses.  Put the extra in the downstairs refrigerator because you’ll probably need it.
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2.  Gather the materials:  A box disguised as a book, fake jewels, Velcro, scrapbook paper, scissors, ribbon, felt, glue, paintbrush, etc.
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3.  Get your husband to use fingernail polish remover to rub the shiny finish off the back of the jewels while he watches football.  He won’t fuss as much about having to participate if he’s distracted by the game and manly conversation.
4.  Get your mother-in-law to search her amazingly huge collection of scrapbook papers for the necessary shapes:  star, diamond, lightning bolt, balloon, butterfly, and apple.  Be prepared, however, that even if she has 1,290,387 pieces of paper, you may still have to draw a few freehanded.
5.  Get your sister-in-law to cut out the shapes and modge podge them to the back of the jewels.
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6.  While they do the hard parts, you can work on creating the necklace from felt and ribbon.  You can also line the box with more cool paper from her huge collection.  Then you can do the dangerous part of hot gluing the Velcro to the jewels and the box.  Be prepared to get burned.  It’s obligatory when using a hot glue gun.
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7.  Remind yourself many times that, in spite of how much fun you’ve had creating this one of a kind gift, your five year old may open the box and immediately pick up on one important fact:  the real Elements of Harmony have 6 necklaces and hers has one with interchangeable jewels.  Be prepared for the worst reaction, and then you can be happily surprised if she loves it.
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8.  Be sure to hide all of the evidence of your late night craftiness.  This includes deleting the pictures from your iPad after you blog about it!

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SO excited about Christmas morning now.  I know that the gifts are not what it’s all about, but I just can’t wait to see her reaction.  I know that there is this small window in her little life where the magic is still very real.  I plan to enjoy that with her as long as I can.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Oh…and Lynchburg friends…

I’ve still got one more thing to check off the list so that Santa can be 4 for 4.  Anybody cooking a turkey before Christmas?  : )

On Gifts and the Giver

Last week it was Jesus the Baby.

This morning at church it was Jesus the King.

Tonight it’s Jesus the Gift.

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IMG_1646If you’re getting a gift from me this Christmas, I’ll go ahead and tell you where it is.  If you’re one of my kids, it’s under the bed.  If you’re anybody else, it’s in one of those bags along the wall of my bedroom, in the same place I dropped it when I came home from my marathon shopping day on Black Friday.  I had great visions of wrapping everything that night or that weekend and putting them under my tree to admire for the month of December.  Well….exhaustion and a stack of ungraded papers and Facebook and previously aired episodes of the Voice overtook me.  So there they still sit, and I’m sure they’ll be there until school is out for Christmas break.  And one night, with the help of a glass (or two) of wine and more episodes of the Voice, I’ll get it done.

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One day this week while driving to school I heard the song, ”What a Glorious Night,” by Sidewalk Prophets.  It left me thinking about that night.  The night.

“I hear the angels singing, hallelujah.  Let the earth receive her king.”

I couldn’t help but think that the earth didn’t know what a gift they were getting on that night.  God knew, the angels knew, and Mary had some small understanding.  But God chose such a quiet way for our Savior to enter the world.  It was a glorious night, but no one around them knew just how glorious yet.

All of this left me thinking about God, the Gift Giver.  As much as I hate the wrapping, I am eagerly awaiting my night to be gift giver.  I’ve picked out things that I know my kids will like.  I can’t wait to see Chica’s reaction to both the things she asked for as well as the things she didn’t know she wanted.  Bubba…well, he doesn’t know to want and ask yet, but I anticipate he’ll be just as excited, if not more.

So I imagine that God had some of those same anticipations as the Gift Giver that night.  He knew that the Gift he had picked out was exactly what we needed.  It was exactly what we wanted (a savior, a king), but the form it took was unlike anyone had expected.  So as the earth slept, he delivered the Best Gift and waited for us to discover it.  Some days, most days, I feel like I’m still discovering it, still unwrapping it.

“I know that love has come.  Singing it out:  Jesus Christ is born!”

Just like the shepherds, I’m amazed.  Just like the shepherds, don’t let me hide it.

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So one more thought about the gift and the giver.  Can I just confess that a small part of my joy as a gift giver is the price at which I find my gifts?  I start my Black Friday shopping with a fairly tight budget, and I mostly stick to it.  I found Chica’s one “big present” this year at Ollie’s for $10.  Woo-hooo!  And Jay snagged Bubba’s during Cyber Monday on some fluke, two hour deal.  As much as I know this really isn’t the point, it sure has made the giving sweeter for me.

But what about The Gift Giver?  I keep rolling over and over the idea tonight that his gift was at full price.  The biggest price.  I wonder if his joy that night was also mixed with tiny pangs of sadness as he knew just how much it would cost him in the end.

Let the earth receive her King.  I eagerly await that glorious night.

Oh, what a glorious night.

 

Baby Jesus Has Been Sleeping in Bubba’s Bed

For some reason this morning, Bubba and I found ourselves curled up in the kitchen on a stepstool together.  In a rare moment of mommy nostalgia, he was letting me hold him like a baby.  I sush-ed him and rocked him and cooed, “Ni-night Baby Bubba.  Close your eyes.”  He would pretend to be asleep, I would surprise him awake, and he would laugh.  A lot.

As always goes with toddler games, I was done way before he was.  I wondered if he might keep playing with a baby of his own, so I fished one out of the bottom of Chica’s closet.  It was naked, of course. Chica apparently doesn’t believe in doll clothes.  I swaddled it tightly, surprised a bit that I hadn’t lost my touch.  Maybe it’s like riding a bike.

Bubba sush-ed the baby and rocked it and unwrapped it.  He wasn’t satisfied with a naked baby, so we had to find it a diaper.  I showed him how to hold a hand under its head so that he wouldn’t drop it…again.  By the time Jay came upstairs to fix us lunch, the baby had become Baby Jesus, and Bubba was kissing him goodnight, laying him in Bubba’s own bed.  (The baby started out as a girl.  There was a bit of pronoun mix-up at first.  Daddy was very confused.  I just rolled with it.)

IMG_1613So Bubba has spent the rest of his afternoon taking care of Baby Jesus.  Baby Jesus drank at least 27 bottles of “baby juice” and ate pretzels, but he didn’t really care much for the dried mango he was offered.  He listened to Bubba sing songs, looked out the window, sat with us while we did crafts, watched a Mickey Mouse show, and took a few more naps.  He has had at least two dirty diapers (which we conveniently have to change each time), and he as cried often.  Just now Bubba tried pushing Baby Jesus in the stroller to see if this would help.  I think it did, until he fell out and got rolled over.  He’s on bottle 28 now.  Juice makes everything better.

One of the songs we sang Baby Jesus this afternoon was Away in a Manger.  Daddy doesn’t do anything related to music halfway, so we of course began the second verse:

The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.
I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.

I couldn’t help myself.  It was as if, for the first time, I finally heard what the words really said.  I interrupted so delicately…

“What a load of crock!  ‘No crying he makes?’  He was a real baby.  Of course he cried!  He woke up, he was hungry, and he cried.  What was that person thinking?”

As Baby Jesus has spent this icy day with us, I’ve thought more and more about the humanity of this perfect miracle.  Like the author of this carol, we like to think about a glowing, swaddled bundle lying peacefully in a bed of straw.  But do you think it was just like that?  I think that he had his fair share of projectile vomiting, that Joseph walked laps around the stable while sush-ing him, Mary learned the hard way about a baby boy’s natural reaction to cool air, and she was likely miserable while figuring out how to nurse him.  And of course he cried.

Isn’t it amazing?  I’m still contemplating today what kind of love God has for us that he chose this way.  There were so many other ways he could have chosen to send our Savior, but he chose a baby.  A baby that was miraculously and mysteriously 100% human and 100% divine, at the same time.  So unexpected.  So humbling.

Come, Baby Jesus.  Come with your crying and your dirty diapers and your middle of the night feedings.  Come to our mangers and to our hearts.  Come with your life-changing miracles and your forgiveness and your love for the unlovely.  Come quickly.

The Best Piece (and a Giveaway!)

I’m trading in my ba-humbugs this year.  I’ve decided to upgrade to joy and wonder and peace.

I always feel like as a mom and a teacher that I’m supposed to be IN to Christmas.  But I’m just not.  If I had no tree in the den, no Christmas music on the radio, and no cookies baking in the oven, I’d be just fine.  Very fine, actually.  So much of Christmas feels like work to me.  So many lists to check off, traditions to carefully navigate between families, and don’t even get me started on the money.  Ugh.

But I’ve been feeling some gentle nudges this year to look at things differently.  Focus less on the have-to’s and more on the get-to’s.  I’m trying to listen.

So today I got to spend the day shopping with my mom.  I must admit we actually had fun.  We waited in a line outside a store for our first time, chatted with a few other crazy people in the cold, and cheered when they actually had the item we wanted on the shelf.  We made memories today while also making my list of have-to’s get-to’s shorter.

IMG_1565One of the things that we happened upon in Michael’s was this felt nativity set.  So while Grandma & Grandpa drove home, Daddy was relaxing, and Chica was busy making a paper countdown-to-Christmas chain, Bubba and I opened up our new treasure.  We dumped all of the pieces onto the sofa, then tried to rebuild the scene while I translated the story into two year old language.

That’s a stable.  It’s where the animals lived.

That’s a wise man.  He brought gifts to baby Jesus.  See it in his hand?

No, silly.  That’s not a horse.  It’s a donkey.  Hee-haw!

See the star?  God put the star in the sky to tell people where Jesus was.

That’s another wise man. He has a present for baby Jesus.

That’s Jesus’ mommy.  Her name is Mary.

There’s his daddy.  He’s Joseph.

That’s an angel.  He says, “Glory to God in the highest!”

Ohhh….here’s baby Jesus.  He goes in the manger.

Again and again we built it and dumped it, built it and dumped it.  Each time he would describe a few more pieces on his own.  Donkey?  Star?  Angel?  Jesus Mommy?

As I watched him and listened, I all of a sudden realized something so beautiful and obvious but profound.  Each time we dumped the pieces, he had to find the Baby Jesus first.  Where Baby Jesus go?  He would arrange Jesus just so on the straw and then on the manger before fiddling with any of the other pieces.  One time I even watched him lay Baby Jesus carefully over top of Mary like she was holding him.  Baby Jesus was his favorite piece.  The best piece.

And hasn’t it been that way with each nativity set for me too?  The old one at my Grandma’s house.  The white ceramic one on my parents’ mantle.  The plastic set I bought when Chica was an infant.  Isn’t baby Jesus always the best part?  The part you want to touch and inspect and put smack in the middle with everyone looking towards him?

So why not in my life too?  WHY NOT IN CHRISTMAS?!?!  Thank you, Bubba, for such a loud and clear message.  I hear you.  I get it.

Jesus, come be the most important piece of my Christmas.
The best piece.
The peace.

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125_bI heard about something this week that I think may help my little family keep Jesus in the center this Christmas.  It’s called Truth in the Tinsel, and it’s a Christmas devotion & craft e-book just for little guys.  I gathered all of the craft materials this week, and we are eagerly awaiting Sunday to start!

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Interested in joining us in this journey?  I’d love to give away a copy to one lucky reader.  All you have to do is leave a comment here on this post.  I’ll draw a random name at noon on December 1st  and e-mail the winner a link to download his or her own copy.

Merry Christmas, friends!