Some Tried and True Gift Ideas for Kids

A friend was telling me she wanted to be extra thoughtful about Christmas this year, not go crazy buying "junk" and really stick to her budget. We bonded over the fact that we have both experienced the start of a good plan, panicked last minute, and bought too much. We exchanged thoughts and gave ourselves a pep talk about showing restraint with children's gifts.

Last year was my first truly successful year of getting a modest amount of the right things, gifts my kids actually used for more that 12 minutes. One of them commented, "We didn't get a lot of stuff this year, but it was still a good Christmas." They couldn't deny they were satisfied with what they got. They were all smiles!

Motivating us to have self control was the fact that we were staring down the nose of a job search and months of living off our savings. My husband was in the middle of a major career change, which turned out great, but not a fun process, FYI.

The cool thing is that most of those gifts received last Christmas are still loved and enjoyed literally - today - bikes and helmets, colorful puffer coats, and Alexa that constantly has an audio book going in my son's bedroom.

I know that every blogger and their brother has a gift guide this time of year.
These ideas are my 2 cents. These gifts are actual things we have gotten and loved. Tried and true.

 Here we go.

1. The start to a classic book series
Can't go wrong.

2. A sturdy water bottle
These are the best. Keeps the water cold and doesn't have a bunch of parts.

3. For and older child, an Echo Dot is great!
My 10 year old got one last Christmas. It's was the perfect way to give him some tech freedom without giving him a screen. He enjoys listening to music, podcasts, books, trivia. All parental controls are in place.

4. A watch
My 8 year old wears one every day. She always knows what time it is.

5. An awesome pair of cowboy boots.
My daughter has this exact pair. They are great looking and so well made.

6. Costumes. We love a costume.
How cute is this pioneer girl get up?!

7. Magna-Tiles
Go on and get the 100 piece set. The more the merrier. This is truly my #1 toy recommendation.

8. Favorite character/movie T-shirts.
We gave my nephew this Star Wars shirt for this birthday. He wears it a lot, just sayin.'
Great for stocking stuffers.

9. High quality art supplies. Faber-Castell makes my favorite water colors. I think things like this make the perfect gift for when you don't know what to get!

10. Also, in the art department. Kwik Stix paint sticks. These make the best kid art. The colors are highly saturated and mess free! We've loved these for years.

11. Did someone say balance bike?
These things are miracle workers. It will teach your kid to ride a bike. Great for ages 2-5. Don't fret if they don't take to it right away. They will come around to loving it.

12. U.S. States puzzle. Already mentioned it before, but it's the best puzzle.

13. A tin tea set. For half a decade we have adored this exact tea set. Still going strong.

14. Water Wows! Caroline received one of these for her birthday, and all my children fought over it constantly. So fun and only uses water. Great for restaurants or car rides.

15. Lastly, this swing is up there with the Magna-Tiles as far as I'm concerned. We have this particular one, and it's great, but there's lots of good ones out there.

That's all I've got. What's your best tried and true gift recommendation?


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Strategy for Reading to Little Ones - Linking Habits

I confess, I don't always enjoy reading to my children. But like exercise and home cooked meals, it's one of the things I value most, and I try to make it a priority.

Since I'm reading so much to my older kids, it's particularity challenging to read to my 4 year old. I never feel like it, and I certainly can't rely on myself to stick to a bedtime story. After dinner I'm a shell of a parent, here in body but not in spirit.


My strategy: linking this habit (reading) to a non-negotiable activity (in our case, leaving for school)
This is also called habit stacking in some circles.

4 days a week, I take Caroline to nursery school. About 20 minutes before we walk out the door, I tell her to pick out 2 books. We cozy up in a chair and I read to her for about 12-15 minutes. It's become a part of our routine as we prepare to leave the house. It's a sweet moment to connect before she leaves for several hours, and it's short!! There is an ending point. Ok, time to go to school.

I wish I had implemented this strategy with my other kids when they were younger - short and sweet read alouds linked to a habit. In the past I was hot or cold. It was 10 books or none. I think persistence and building the habit are preferable to occasional marathon sessions.

Other things you could link the reading habit it to:
read while the kettle gets hot or your tea steeps
read in the the carpool line when picking up an older child
read right before bath time
read during snack time
read when you pour your second cup of coffee, not the first - that's sacred 

Do you implement any strategies like this? How do you fit in reading aloud with multiple children?


Need a Gift Idea? We Love This United States Puzzle

Christmas is two short months away. Talking to some of my mama friends the other day, we were brainstorming about what to get our children this year. The consensus is we don't want junk! We want toys that will actually get played with and are enjoyed for more than a day.

I immediately thought of this United States puzzle. My mom bought this puzzle years ago for my kids to play with at her house. I asked if we could borrow it because of homeschooling.

This states puzzle is beloved, even by Caroline. She's 4. If you need a good gift to give your own family or a niece or nephew or grandchild, I can't recommend this enough.

What are your thoughts on Christmas this year?

This Spanish/English word shower curtain caught my eye for my kids' bathroom. Can't get my brain off educational gifts! Ha!

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Goodwill Jeans

I have not been a big fan of thrifting or buying second hand clothes in the past.* The stores smell weird. You have to dig. Who has the time?


But as time has passed and my shopping skills improved, I've been willing to give it another go, especially because my kids need so many new clothes this season. #stickingtoabudget

I've discovered that kids' jeans are great to buy secondhand. They hold up to lots of wear and there is actually a really decent stock of jeans at my local Goodwill, all for $2-3.

Also, I am loving taking my older kids in Goodwill with me. I like that they see me "saving" money, and also we just have a good ol' time, laughing and joking around.

going for the cropped look

 model and photo bomber :)

She also found this super cute purse $2


Do you buy secondhand clothes?


Best Advice I've Ever Gotten on Kids' Chores

The most genius advice I've ever gotten about kids and chores came from this book, How to Be a Happier Parent. I don't have a copy of it anymore so I can quote, but I'll share the concepts.

1. Get your kids to do chores that actually need to be done.

Making their bed every day (don't really care about that personally) or getting them to fold dishrags (don't really need that done either) are great for teaching them how to work. But there are more important chores that we actually need done to keep the house in working order. Get them to do those things. For us, that's feeding the dogs (George), unloading the dishwasher (Stephen), and starting a load of laundry (Laurie) each day.

action shot

2. Get your kids to do the same chores every day for many months, even a year, then switch. This teaches them to be proficient in their chore, and then they can move on and learn a new one.

Laurie fed the dogs for 6 months every day. Then we switched, and now George does it. They are really good at feeding the dogs. They are actually helping.

I  emotionally and spiritually shut down at the thought of a rotating chore chart. I can't manage that! But reminding kids to do their one, important daily chore, I can do.

On weekday mornings, each child does their assigned chore. They've each been doing that same chore since the beginning of the summer. They are really proficient. When helping helps! Amen!?

The best time to do the big chore switch is Christmas and summer breaks when you have plenty of time to work with them and help them get through the learning curve of a new chore, especially with the more advanced things like laundry and dishes.

What are your thoughts? Do your kids have chores?

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Celebrating Fall in Small Ways

Seasonal living is good, clean fun. If you're a mom, you are most likely the gatekeeper of all your family traditions and celebrations. But there's a down side. It can get real expensive real fast.

Pumpkins are as much as $15-$20 apiece some places (and my kids think they each deserve their own). There's Halloween costumes - of course everyone wants a new one even though we have buckets of costumes!

The fair costs $1 million.
There's wardrobe updates.
Gourds ain't free.

I like it, but I don't like losing control of my budget! I've learned to embrace seasons in subtler (aka cheaper) ways.

Looking around my house today, it felt very fall-ish. For the first time it's not 99.9 degrees outside. There's a breeze in the air. The light is different.

Here's a couple of snapshots of how I'm celebrating fall in small ways, using restraint, and using what I have.

1. Aldi mums $4 each

2. Walmart mini pumpkins $2.98

3. Earl Grey Tea (from my tea stash)

4. fall nails , Essie drive-in and dine  (bought last year)

5. Pumpkin bread - I feel like I'm cheating on old faithful, but I usually make this recipe now. It's so orange and delicious. 

How's fall treating you?

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Insta Sabbath

Back in 2011, I had a bee in my bonnet to get an iPhone. Really, I wanted Instagram. I wanted an iPhone so I could get Instagram. I had no idea that IG had a feed and people could actually see your photos. I think I thought it was a photo editing app. Clueless.

Times were different then. The noise of the internet was mostly on Facebook and blogs and Pinterest had just started to take off. Instagram was quiet believe it or not. There were no ads, no stories, and the colors in the photos were muted. I'm pretty sure they didn't even have captions. I'd go days without checking it.

Fast forward to now. Instagram is the most exciting, addictive, and confusing space. It's a love/hate situation for most all of us. I have failed so many times, losing all self control, and literally reaching the end of the internet when I should have been doing so many other things.

As life sucking as it can be, I still want to be a part of it all (happy moments, Chatbooks, filters!), but in a healthy way. How can this be?

 Hilariously, one of my very first Instagram pictures 
#proud #imightframeit

After lots of experimenting with time tracking social media apps and long breaks from Instagram (neither broke the spell it had over me), I landed on Insta Sabbaths.

It goes like this, every Saturday night, I delete IG from my phone. I spend all day Sunday Insta-free. Usually, I don't put the app back on until Monday evening, after all my Monday work has been done.

I have been doing this for months, and it is truly freedom. FREEEEEDOM! I'm in charge of my phone, not the other way around. The weekly practice reminds me that this is an ongoing "issue" and discipline and self-control are more the solution than totally abstaining. Compare it to any vice. One glass of wine is ok, six, not so good.

I don't keep many other interesting apps on my phone besides IG. Without Insta, my phone doesn't have much appeal. It's dead to me. The spell is broken...at least for a day and a half.

How do you control yourself?

On this topic

This podcast episode #209 was excellent. Tsh and Andrea discuss Andy Crouch's book, The Tech Wish Family. I loved the book.

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Hello, long lost friends. I'm aliiive!! ((hugs))  x x
I've missed you all.

We are homeschooling our kids this year. To document and keep myself motivated and accountable I started a private Instagram account @spooner_school. In response to that, a couple of kind people asked me to blog about it. So here I am!

I'm here to talk about homeschooling, why we are homeschooling our oldest 3 kids.

Reason 1 Finances

Previously, our children attended an amazing classical Christian, private school. We loved it and still do. In fact, we are participating in school sports there which is a really wonderful way to keep up with friends.

In January of this year, my husband began pursuing a career change, so our income was totally uncertain. January is also the month you sign up and pay a nice deposit on your spot at private school. X 4 kids. With so many unknowns, we made the decision to commit to homeschooling during this major career shift. It was a relief -- and exciting!

Stephen has since found a new job that he loves, and it's been a wonderful fit for him. We are so grateful.

Reason 2 I have always been interested and kinda wanted to homeschool.

On the side, I have been tracking and following homeschool gurus for years. Given reason #1, it seemed like for such a time as this....God had long ago planted the seed and desire for homeschooling.

Reasons 3-9

No homework!
free afternoons
more time for family read alouds
time to teach life skills - chores, cooking, etc.
ability to travel in the off season
time to follow our interests
free play

My oldest child is 10. These are the last of our "little years" as a family before the tweens and teens. I see this homeschooling gig as the sweetest gift. We are soaking it up.

There are so many wonderful aspects to homeschooling, some not so wonderful ones, too. Believe me we've already had our share of tough days.


And you may be wondering why no public school for us. Well, our school system is...let's just say... complicated. We have many friends in public school, and we totally respect their choices.


Happy Birthday to Me

[I started writing this on my birthday, March 27th, but I'm just now getting around to hitting publish.]

Today, I am 36 years young!

I'm making myself a flourless chocolate cake (it was too die for, btw), and I told my husband that the only thing I want for my birthday is a gift card to the Aveda salon where I get my haircut. He delivered.

I am living my best life, and I am being totally serious. I love spending my days taking care of my family and home. I adore my smart, funny, oh so sweet and ridiculously good looking husband. I do not take my health for granted.

Every Tuesday when I get my Walmart pickup order and fill my car up with gas, I think, "Wow, I have a good life!"

I have all that I need and most of what I want. Not that everything is perfect, far from it. But the good far outweighs the bad.

My theme lately, a phrase that keeps going through my mind is "edit, edit, edit."

Keep the main thing the main thing. "Throw off everything that hinders."

What's most worthy of my time?

God's word/church
people/ family/ relationships
the work I'm called to do/ home

Put the phone down!

I'm thankful. Happy birthday to me!

 P.S. dress - Walmart


#zerofoodwaste Cinnamon Toast

One of my favorite things to make with the ends of the bread is cinnamon toast as an after school snack. I literally used to throw every end piece of bread to our dogs. 

Now we go through way too much bread to justify not doing something with the ends.

So it's cinnamon toast or oven baked French toast.

Not wasting food is a discipline and a learned skill that I have not always been good at. It takes organization, practice, and a willingness to eat leftovers and food that you may not be totally in the mood to eat.

Debtkickinmom has a great meal planning video about not wasting food! I highly recommend it if your are legitimately interested in reducing your food waste and saving money.

Having a regular shopping day helps me avoid waste. Instead of going to the grocery store on a whim when we run out of food, I have a set day that I evaluate the food we have and make a plan. The regular grocery day also helps me learn how much food we go through in a week. I learn our rhythms and routines which is especially helpful when buying produce or any food that spoils quickly.

2 gallons of milk
3 loaves of bread
a bag of apples
1 head of lettuce
8 bananas
3 avocados
1 jar peanut butter
18 eggs

I know these things because I've been keeping track. It makes it shopping easy and I don't over buy.

Of course we all have to throw food out occasionally. We don't have to get it perfect. But it's worth thinking about. 



an old post on this topic


Winter Faves

We are having some lovely winter weather over here, sunny but cold (my absolute favorite). As I type, I'm sitting by a fire in my slippers in a mostly quiet house smack dab between coffee and cocktail hour. I thought it was a fine time to share some of our best wintry things.

1. Primary puffer coats

The kids got these for Christmas. These coats are so fun! They come in bold colors and are light yet warm. I sized up so they hopefully can wear them next year, too.

2. Budget Bytes chicken and wild rice soup with mushrooms added. This soup is for your body and your soul. My whole family raved about it and I was shocked. I knew at least 1.5 children would hate it. But to my surprise it was a win all around.

3. A good book

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan

This book is about the relationship between Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis.  Their love story is truly remarkable, and I think this book really does it justice.

4. Relaxing TV

Jerry Seinfields's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Stephen and I started watching this for the second time through, and it is straight up therapy for us. If feels good to laugh our cares away after the kids are tucked in bed.

5. Revlon Super Lustrous Pearl lipstick in the color red lacquer. This time of year all the color is lost from my face. This orangey-red brightens it up and is a nice contrast to winter colors. It's the perfect bright, but not too bright.

I'm cautious with my recommendations. I like them to be vetted, tried and true things I've used,  bought, watched, read, eaten, tried, or worn.

What about you? What's your favorite wintry thing this year?

Favorite winter things post 2016


It's a New Year!

Happy New Year!

I hope your Christmas was merry and you are rolling into 2019 with a smile. Our Christmas was in the good-to-great, full of it's usual tensions but in the end the kids were happy. Adults, too.

Truthfully, I grow weary of the holiday and crave normal life by the time December 25th gets here. A friend of mine confessed that she too loves the mundane. "I shine in the boring," she says. Yes, I feel the same!

January, I'm your girl. I'm thrilled to get back to regular meals, cleaning routines, and exercise regimens. There are only so many cinnamon rolls you can enjoy in this life.

This time of year is always fun to look behind and look ahead with some reflection. What worked in 2018? What would I like to work on in 2019?

Let's start with what worked -

1. Theme days + weekly routine

meal plan Monday
to-do Tuesday
catch all Wednesday
busy Thursday
play/relax Friday
prep for rest Saturday
rest Sunday

I have never felt so regularly on top of things as an adult since giving each day of the week a theme!
Especially To-do Tuesday when I handle all administrative duties that I normally put off as long as I can.

2. Running

When my 4th grader signed up for the school's cross country team in September, I took up running to help him train. Much to my surprised I loved it! I found it to be so therapeutic and a great way to just run it out - the stress, the carbs, the general irritations that come with parenting and family life. I try to go 3-4 times a week for a couple of miles at a time. It's the best! I don't dread it at all. In fact, I crave it.

My husband started running, too. We even ran on a vacation. Who are we?!

3. Marco Polo

Marco Polo is a video app that lets you leave video messages for friends. Two of my best collage friends and I got on it this summer and we have messaged each other nearly every day since. It has been the most soul satisfying thing to connect with these dear friends. We talk about literally everything...marriage, parenting, style, parenting style, and our cats! We all have fabulous cats.
4. Quitting wine

I'm not saying I will never drink another glass of wine (I love wine), but for the most part I quit wine. Since I was 12 years old I have had on and off migraines. They are hereditary. My grandmother and 2 of my aunts have had a similar life long struggle. I have pin pointed that red wine is a big trigger. So I quit drinking wine and the headaches are GONE. It's funny - I've switched to liquor, enjoying a gin and soda or a bourbon on the rocks. Never felt better. Cheers!

5. Minimalism

I have long been a fan of a good declutter. I read Marie Kondo in 2014. But I would have never claimed minimalism as part of my identity until this year.

In 2018 I was ruthless about not only getting rid of unnecessary things but also about not acquiring new things. I did a 5 month "fast" from buying clothes for myself and I essentially quit shopping except consumable goods or to replace worn out items. I'm looking at you, new sheets. I worked hard on re-wiring my brain and habits. (This deserves its own post.)

With Christmas just behind us, I'm compelled to share that because I was so restrained about not buying things this year, all the Christmas gifts were much more cherished and enjoyed - both the gifts we gave among our immediate family and the ones gifted from extended family as well. Also, we have 2 winter birthdays and instead of being grossed out by more gifts, there is actually room for these new things.

I want to manage my stuff, not have my stuff manage me! This was a breakthrough year for that.

Looking ahead. I don't have a New Year's resolution, but I chose a word for the year.


My whole life I have struggled to be a good sleeper, even in infancy and babyhood. So this year I want to focus on sleep. Everything about life is easier and better when we have rested well. I'm not quite sure if I will master the art of good sleep this year, but by golly I'm going to try! Tips?

What about YOU? What were your successes in 2018? Your ambitions for 2019?

Thanks for hanging around this little ol' site! Love and Happy New Year to each of you!

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