Something New Saturday: Homemade Dog Chew Toys

Back during Advent, when our family sought to give a gift a day, we tried a new project with old t-shirts:  dog chew toys. We gave the toys to friends with pets and also took several on our Christmas travels to share with family members who are dog owners.

The process was one that we did as a family–but the boys learned to create these on their own, as well. In fact, in a knapsack back in their closet at home, they have fabric pieces awaiting transformation into more dog chew toys. Both boys envision making a little side business out of these efforts.

five dog chew toys
Our first batch of chew toys last December:  blue, gray, and white t-shirts knotted and braided together.

Besides t-shirts, the only other tool needed to make these is a pair of scissors. We cut off the shirt sleeves and then cut the shirts into strips. We knotted together 9 strips at one end–three sections of 3 fabric strips each–and then proceeded to braid the sections. (Tip:  The tighter you make the braid, the better.) It helps if one person holds down the knot while another person does the braiding. Then knot the ends, and you have a toy. We also snipped off sections that hung longer than the other strips once we had a finished product.

Here’s a link to instructions for the DIY dog chew toy (slightly different than the ones we used). Besides presenting these as gifts to pet-owning friends and family or selling them, these toys might make great donations to animal shelters–as a project for your family, church group, Scout troop, etc.

The act of creating is always a joy. From my family to yours, may you have tons o’ fun with whatever you create this summer.


The Adventurous Life of a Boring Mom

When I was 8 or 9, my family and I visited some extended family members in a small town near Vicksburg, Mississippi. While there, my distant cousin, Dru, who was the same age I was, had a soccer game. Her step-mom invited me to go along, so I went, happy to be included.

I’d never been to a soccer game before, ever. At that time, the sport of soccer had not made its way to my rural hometown. I had to sit alone during her game, since her step-mom had to work the concession stand or keep score or some other job.

The weather was hot, and I got bored. So, near the end of the game, I occupied myself by turning cartwheels on the sidelines. Over and over and over. I kept myself busy by moving–and moving a lot–but always coming back to the exact same spot.

primary colors plate

Last school year, I read a book aloud to the boys:  Carry On, Mr. Bowditch. I did a fair amount of research before reading that to Woodrow and Garfield, because I couldn’t figure out how to pronounce the name “Bowditch.” I finally discovered it’s pronounced like “bough,” as in “take a bow.”

The story centers around travels on a ship, so the pronunciation makes sense:  like the bow of a ship. Some of the phrases, particular to those seafaring men, connected with me. When a sailing vessel has insufficient wind to move it along, that ship is said to be “becalmed.” Another phrase that struck me:  Swallowing the anchor. Which refers to the time when a sailor retires from sea-going life and settles down.

There are times, whole seasons, in life when I feel this so acutely. When I feel that I’m where I’m supposed to be, but I’m just cartwheeling myself along the sidelines until the game finishes. When I feel I’ve lived with steps of faith and taking risks that led to adventure, but that those days, whole seasons, are passed–and that I must swallow the anchor and settle down to life ashore. These feelings ebb and flow with the natural push and pull within my own soul.

A genuine contentment {most of the time} at being at home:  home school mother, stay-at-home mom for right at 11 years now. My life truly revolves around our home–parenting, teaching, hours of reading aloud and playing games and listening to countless stories about Garfield’s favorite Hot Wheels and Woodrow’s ideas for new inventions. And all the serving that goes with this life-orbiting-around-the-home–from giving haircuts to piggy back rides to birthday parties. This is what I want.

Henry Ford drawing by Calvin
Garfield’s recent portrait drawing. My boy is a Ford truck man.

A genuine restlessness {once in a while} at being at home:  My husband travels to New York for a week, serving others in his ministry role, while I stay back and home school and take the boys to Scouts and fix meals. He eats at fancy restaurants and sees a Broadway musical, and I think to myself–pettily, I know–But I loved New York first! I lived there for a summer during college, serving with Cru on an inner-city mission project. I went back for a week during my time serving with Cru at Mississippi State, leading a group of college students to serve in and learn from inner-city ministry during spring break. Then I also spent a few days there right after 9/11, involved with Cru service there. Mike thinks he doesn’t travel much for work (and compared to others, he really doesn’t), but he gets on a plane numerous times a year. I haven’t flown since 2012.

Before we had children, I discussed with my then-team leader our plans to go to New Zealand for a year and join a team ministering to college students there. I pondered that, if we were going to do this, it might be better to go before we had babies. His response:  “You better get while the getting’s good.” It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that his comment terrified me. What did that mean for my life one day as a mother?

butterfly drawing

I have ten years left–only ten!--to finish laying a foundation in my children’s lives, before they are (more or less) launched into the world. I will not wish away a single moment. I will continue to stop what I’m doing and make eye contact with the child who has another question, another story. I will sacrifice the travel and give up the adventure for time–lots and lots and lots of time, for there simply is no substitute for it–with my children.

Yesterday, we spent a half hour finishing an elaborate game of Memory that Woodrow had made up. Before bedtime, we spent almost half an hour reading, even though I’d already read a chapter from that book in the morning, too. If time is money, I’m investing it in these boys.

When my sons and I spend a morning packing homeless care bags together, or shopping together for socks and underwear and t-shirts to send to a ministry to men engaged in survival prostitution, or cleaning together at a friend’s condo as she prepares it for a new tenant, my eyes of faith crack open a bit wider, and I can see more clearly:  This IS the adventure. 



Kindness In the Books

When I coached P.E. classes at our home-school co-op for a few semesters, several students blessed me with gifts on Teacher Appreciation Day. Often, those gifts took the form of chocolate–one fellow home-schooling mother handed me a bag of chocolates on one of those days and whispered, “You don’t have to share these, you know?”

This pink-hued message has been one gift that has lasted longer than the sweet treats of those Teacher Appreciation Days. The student who presented me with this told his mother that I was his favorite teacher at our co-op’s Tuesday afternoon classes. Maybe the sentiment behind the gift prompted me to hang on to it–and to keep it in such a prominent place (my nightstand) in both our old house and the one where we’ve lived for a year and a half now.

Where There Is Love, There Is Life

Currently it rests atop my great-grandmother’s Book of Common Prayer, next to a shell the boys found recently. I’m honored to continue cherishing this gift of my student’s kindness from a few years ago.

And speaking of kindness…a story I wrote about giving and generous living appears in the recently-released book Chicken Soup for the Soul:  Random Acts of Kindness. My word of the year for 2014 was “gift,” and the story I penned for this book revolves around how the word “gift” helped me remain mindful of opportunities to serve and bless throughout the year. We all have those opportunities for blessing others in our lives, if we have the eyes to see them and the heart to engage in them.


If it were colder here in Orlando right now, I’d curl up with a cup of hot tea and peruse the stories shared by the 100 other writers contributing to this book. Instead, I’ll get comfy under the ceiling fan and read their inspiring words.

I hope you’ll be inspired by these stories, too!

February: The Month of Love

It’s February, the month of Valentine’s Day and pink and red and cupcakes:  the month of love–although shouldn’t every month be one filled with love? I digress.

I’m blogging today about things I love. Maybe you’ll love them, too!


Hoopla for audio books. I read aloud for hours each week to the boys:  in the van (if Mike’s driving, of course); before bed; often during school hours. But I also like to play audio books for them, and in this way, they get to hear more great stories. In December, they heard The Jungle Book on audio. In January, we finished The Secret Garden and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. They’re currently listening to Swiss Family Robinson. And it’s all for free with my library card through Hoopla. This site offers e-books as well as audio books, for adults and for children. This site offers a map of Hoopla-participating libraries, so you can discover if Hoopla titles are available to you, too.

My apron. For Christmas, I asked for (and received) an apron–purchased second-hand, of course. In fact, we had gone to Goodwill during a break between 2 shifts for a Cub Scout fundraiser, and I spotted the apron while browsing. I slyly handed it to my husband and suggested he ask the boys if they wanted to get this for me for Christmas. They balked a bit at first–I think it was only September, to be honest–but he convinced them it might be the easiest present they’d ever buy. They acquiesced, and I’m proud to have it (as we might say in Mississippi). Here I am wearing it during a morning of baking orange-pumpkin bread with the boys, using an orange (satsuma, technically) grown by my grandfather along with pumpkin that I pureed and froze last fall. {This pic is prior to my haircut of last month.}

Doesn’t everybody have a world map in her kitchen?

The apron does more than keep flour or olive oil off my clothes; it reminds me to be intentional, mindful. When I take a moment to tie on my apron, I think about being fully engaged in the moment, thoroughly involved in the act of kneading bread or chopping celery for a soup or shredding cheese for chicken taco chili. I put on my apron and, thus, put on a mindset of focusing on the task (and joy–well, mostly joy) at hand.

Tim Tam cookies. When we lived in New Zealand, Mike and I became fans of a cookie called Tim Tam (I always refer to them as “Tim Tams” when I talk about them in the plural form–but the package just reads “Tim Tam.” Anyway…) For years, we could enjoy these only if we knew somebody visiting South Africa or Australia who might bring them back for us. Well, these treats apparently have crossed the pond. Mike and the boys bought these in Orlando (at a national grocery chain) and presented me with this package for my birthday last month:  


If a person can find happiness in a cookie, I suppose it’d be this cookie. If you want to have the full Tim Tam experience, you can try a Tim Tam Slam:  nibble off opposite corners of the cookie, one on top, one on bottom–i.e., bite off the top right corner and the bottom left corner–and use it as a sort of straw for drinking up coffee or hot chocolate. And give your drink a chocolate infusion. So far, I haven’t tried this with hot tea, and I don’t anticipate giving it a go, either. I’ll just take my Tim Tams plain, thanks.

It’s only February 1st, so I envision finding lots of other things to love this month. I hope you find many lovely things this month, too.

Celebrating Winter

Winter seems to be hitting much of the U.S. in full force this coming weekend, but here in Florida, we’re still wearing shorts. Since we couldn’t experience winter outdoors, we decided to have a bit of it inside this week. We did that by making play snow–which requires only 2 simple ingredients, both of which I had in abundance:  hair conditioner and baking soda.


We found the recipe here, and although it seems to be designed as a sensory activity for younger children, my 2 boys enjoyed it. Until the aroma of conditioner began to be a little overpowering, but the smell faded after a while. Garfield even played with it 2 days in a row, but I don’t think this play snow has another day left in it.

Mike brings home copious amounts of travel-sized toiletries from his ministry trips, and we have a grocery bag full of them in our bathroom cabinet. I’m the only person in the house who uses hair conditioner (and I haven’t washed my hair daily in…well, I don’t go through it very fast). So this ingredient was free! The other supply–baking soda–I had on hand because I bought a 13-pound bag of it at Costco last fall. I use it to make washing soda that then goes into homemade dishwasher detergent and laundry detergent–as well as for baking needs, of course.

Overall this play snow felt delightfully squishy, and the boys played with it for a long while as they listened to an audio version of The Secret Garden. I love providing them with audio books to hear as they have a few minutes of “feet off the floor time” after lunch during our school days, while they build with LEGO bricks, or–in this case–play with sweet-smelling pretend snow.

Besides creating our own winter experience, we also celebrated Epiphany on Friday (January 6). The 12 days of Christmas aren’t just a song title–although we as a family don’t do much to celebrate Christmas after December 25–but those 12 days lead up to January 6, which is honored as Epiphany, or Three Kings’ Day–the three kings (or wise men or Magi) who brought gifts to worship the Christ child. Our celebration involved baking a cake with this recipe from the Pioneer Woman (and substituting this homemade icing recipe, called ermine icing, that I used in making Garfield’s birthday cake last October). {Thanks to friend and fellow blogger Aimee for sharing the cake recipe.}

What makes it an Epiphany cake is the hiding of trinkets inside it. We didn’t buy anything special, just used (non-plastic) objects from around the house:  a pearl, a metal pendant from a necklace, even a cap from a bottle of Red Stripe beer (the boys like to collect bottle caps, for some reason). I looked up Scripture verses inspired by each object. The bottle cap, for instance, pointed us to Isaiah 1:18, since the cap’s colors are red and white. Isaiah 1:18 speaks about our scarlet sins being washed white as wool–I thought it was fitting.

Woodrow found 2 trinkets in his piece of cake, so we read the verses I’d assigned to the items he discovered. Nobody else found a buried treasure, but there’s plenty of cake left (with 6 remaining trinkets). And I made both the cake and icing with less sugar than the recipes called for, so when I watched the documentary Sugar Coated about the dangers of sugar on Netflix tonight, I didn’t feel quite so bad.

I didn’t grow up knowing much about the liturgical church calendar, but I appreciate being able to mark celebrations in our family–and even start new traditions–centered around our faith. Valentine’s Day goodies and Super Bowl parties might result in tasty food, but I cherish the idea that our celebrations can draw us to gaze more upon Jesus (instead of on a football team, for instance).


There’s so much joy to be relished in the prosaic moments of life:  a game of Go Fish with a child; finding edible weeds in one’s backyard; and a cake that offers up its own little treasure hunt as we talk about how God revealed His redemption plan through Jesus.


Our Holidays So Far

Mike took off this week from work, and although we had a ‘regular’ home school day on Monday–as ‘regular’ as they can be, I suppose–we did something different on Tuesday. We went gleaning–gathering left-over crops on a farm to help people in need, alongside some friends of ours and in conjunction with the Society of St. Andrew.

I felt confident side-lining academics for this, since it’s not only educational but also gives us an opportunity for service. And I want our home school experience to be fleshed out not only with academics but also with serving others.

After helping bring in almost 5000 pounds of acorn squash, butternut squash, and eggplant, we spent today [Wednesday] doing a great deal of Christmas reading:  several selections from Lois Lenski’s Christmas Stories along with a beautiful book called An Orange For Frankie and The Story of Holly and Ivy. We rounded out our night-time reading with a quick picture book called The Gift of Nothing.

But wait, there’s more! This morning, I picked up Garfield for a delicious cuddle. He had a toy in his hand while I held him, and, unbeknownst to me, he had twirled the handle of it into my hair while we were hugging. When I set him down, we both realized that this thing was stuck in my hair. By the way, I hate this toy and have tried or asked to give it away multiple times. To no avail. Here’s where it ended up this morning:

What’s in my hair?! Oh, no! I can’t look!

No, it’s not resting on my shoulder, nor is it a huge dangling earring (I don’t have pierced ears). It’s in the strands of my hair. I almost got fussy about it, but Garfield apologized profusely, and I saw the humor in it. I cut it out, Garfield pulled out the remaining strands of hair, and all was well.

Then right at bedtime–after our lengthy reading session while piled up on the parents’ bed–the boys went to the bathroom once more before bed. I heard some unsettling words coming from there and inquired about it. Here’s what went down.

Woodrow had exhibited his Cub Scout knot-tying skills and tied a LEGO shark to a piece of para cord. He told his little brother he was going to dip the shark in the toilet and then put it in the water cup that they share in their room (for those thirsty wake-ups). Garfield was understandably perturbed by this, so he told his big brother that he was going to pull Woodrow’s nuts off if he followed through on that.

The shark did go into the toilet (But I rinsed it off afterwards! says Woodrow) but not in the cup of water in their room. The water is safe. All body parts are safe.

And that’s our holiday week so far! Gleaning, reading, enjoying Christmas stories…and living real life. Merry Christmas, y’all! 

A Better Question: What Do You Do For Love?

Sunday afternoon, now that Mike is home, we had some family fun time. We went fishing and then took the boys to Bass Pro Shop. Both Woodrow and Garfield love that place: climbing on the 4-wheelers, talking about which boat they like the most, ogling all the fishing lures.

Bass Pro Shop near Christmastime runs a free mini-carnival, with a carousel and craft table and bow and arrow range (rubber arrows and miniature bows). Included in the festivities today was a face painter, who did a beautiful job creating art on the faces of children. As we passed her, for some reason I thought–“There’s a skill that I really don’t have.” And I guess because balloon artists usually appear at events where there are face painters, I also thought about people who can create animals out of balloons. I know a person who did this as a part-time job for years. So I thought, while walking past rows of camouflage clothes in Bass Pro,“Balloon animals–another skill I don’t have.” 

Then I thought back to a week ago, when I picked up two of our family’s bikes from the shop where they were getting a tune-up. We had to wait awhile there, and I watched several of the men working, expertly fixing and tinkering and getting those bikes in order. I came home telling Mike what a great skill that was, that a person could use that anywhere–people all over the world ride bikes–that it could be a ministry to people in need. And I also thought, “Wow, that’s surely a skill I don’t have.”

It seems silly now, after returning from Bass Pro Shop, to gaze back on those thoughts and the sense of inadequacy they sparked. But they did foster that feeling, one that prompted me to think, “What skills DO I have, anyway?” 


Then I began to take stock. Here’s what I came up with:  I’m great at typing. Seriously, I’m a good typist. Fast, accurate…one of the most useful things I took away from high school.

I’m also great at reading aloud (though I say it myself). In fact, for quite a few years, I volunteered for a ministry to the visually impaired, reading books and Bible study materials onto cassette tapes–remember those?

For C.A.R.E Ministries, I read aloud books by Beth Moore and Amy Carmichael, booklets about dealing with depression and divorce, biographies of heroes and heroines of the faith such as William and Catherine Booth (founders of the Salvation Army). I’m also aces at reading aloud to my boys. Years ago, I gave a voice to a ventriloquist’s puppet in a kid’s book that my boys sometimes still want me to do. “Say that in your dummy voice,” they ask.

And I’m good with kids.

So, that’s what I’ve got–typing, reading aloud, good with kids. A decent writer. Oh, and I made my own sourdough starter about 3 years ago. Yep, that’s about the extent of my marketable skills.

At least that is how I’m profoundly feeling about myself right now. I believe it comes with the territory:  stay-at-home mom for almost 11 years, home-schooling mother for 6 years now (with 10 more to go, Lord willing). I plan and organize and research curriculum; create math lessons; teach my boys everything from how to skip to how to tie their shoes to how to read. I plan meals and grocery lists, cook, make homemade yogurt and homemade dishwasher detergent and homemade toothpaste. I can do some STUFF, y’all. But essentially, I’m “just” a stay-at-home mama. (P.S. I don’t believe anybody is “just” anything. I just know that’s sometimes how I’m seen.)

Our society values that to which we can attach a paycheck, and little of what I do makes the cut. (I do edit stories on a part-time basis for Cru, the interdenominational ministry with which I’ve been a part for almost 20 years–it’s a small role, and I’m more or less taking other people’s stories and just polishing them up.)

I have my hands full. Volunteering with Cub Scouts, editing those Cru stories, leading the Women of Vision group, raising and educating my boys, making use of that sourdough starter…

It’s hard, y’all, to be that straight-A kid, the college graduate with a major that makes people say “wow” when they hear what you studied, and yet feel that I don’t have much to offer in terms of something useful.

“Oh, nice to meet you. What do you do?” We hear that question, and we know people don’t mean “What are your hobbies?” or “What do you do for fun?” They don’t want to hear that you’re an avid collector of Beanie Babies or that you lovingly care for bonsai trees. They want to know–what do you do for a paycheck? 

I can write a resume of volunteer work that is wildly impressive. But a resume of “related job experience” that could earn me a paycheck? It would be slim. And part of me canNOT figure out why I even care. I’ve never wanted a “career” path. I will never regret the choices I’ve made for children and family. Ever. I think I just want to feel some assurance that I’ve got something to offer.

wedding sign 1

What I’ve discovered? Sometimes that “something to offer” is a Band-Aid to a child at a Cub Scout event who skins his knee. Or an extra grocery bag to a person at the store with her arms full of cans. Or a phone conversation with a dear friend who just needs to talk. In these moments, I think, “God picked ME to be the one to do something good here! Wow, even me!”

Maybe the right question, the better question, is not “What do you do?” but “What do you do for love?” And THAT wouldn’t even fit on a resume, anyway.