DIY Chalk-Rubbed Sand Art

“I’m bored.” It’s July, so surely you’ve heard this at least a million times, because it seems to be a pretty universal phrase in the summertime.

We’ve had a nightmare of a summer week here; it’s been the hottest week of summer so far, and our city’s aquatic center has been closed due to a broken pump. Repairs have dragged on, and while it’s set to open today, it didn’t spare us all of the boredom of not getting to go to the pool. Because really, if I have to watch Frozen one more time instead of splashing in the water, I’m going to lose my mind. Olaf’s Summer song is so not as fun when it’s that hot in reality!

Luckily, I had the perfect craft to keep Zach entertained for awhile… DIY Sand Art that took white sand and turned it all kinds of pretty colors with one simple outdoor craft item– Chalk! The best part is the craft is so affordable if you have chalk and glue on hand already (and even if you don’t, it’s still pretty darn cheap!), and it’s so much fun.


A Global Perspective: How Foreign Exchange Programs Shaped Our Family and Changed Our Lives Forever

It was Kindergarten, and Jeffrey’s teacher was speaking to geography. With a map of the USA, Kansas City area centered, she asked the students “Where does someone you know live?” Many kids listed off nearby towns. A few listed other states, where grandparents lived. Then my brother raised his hand and said “I know someone from Germany.”

The teacher needed to get a new map.

I was blessed to have a great cultural experience in high school. Jeffrey was lucky in that he grew up with that cultural experience– from the time he was a small child, family around the world was a part of his everyday life.

It all started really quickly. My mom and I were working out at our old gym, winding down in the cool down area and saw a flyer about hosting a foreign exchange student. We skimmed over it and saw the descriptions of the great students who were available, so we decided to write down the number. On the way home, we laughed and said “Man, wouldn’t that be fun?” We knew dad would shoot down the idea, so we didn’t get our hopes up too much, but we considered it, thought about which room she would take, and wondered if Jeffrey would be too young for us to host a student. Would it be worth it for him?

We got home and casually asked dad “Hey, could we host an exchange student?” He simply said “Sure.”

…wait, what? But then we realized that it doesn’t necessarily mean a student would be available… just that we could call and find out. We called, and we had our interview with the coordinator. He seemed really excited and, after a background check and short application process, we were approved. Only a few days later, Carolin arrived. I don’t think we realized how much our lives would be impacted by foreign exchange even when she arrived.

Our year with Carolin was great. I honestly only remember bits and pieces of her first time here because it seemed like it went by really quickly; we all grew to love her so much. Carolin had no fear. No, really, she had no fear– one time in gym class, she was trying to get the ball in a pickup game of basketball. She did manage to get the ball… and some stitches. Carolin was a bright spot of sunshine for pretty much everyone she knew (except the kid she collided with in basketball, who I think was probably afraid of her after that…) and she really worked hard to give herself a successful year in the USA. I remember when she left, it was one of the only times I had seen my dad cry. He didn’t even cry at his parents’ funerals, but he cried– hard– when Carolin went home. She was truly a part of our family, a part of our home, and saying goodbye just didn’t seem like an option– it was horrible to think that Carolin was leaving after we had spent ten months growing together as a family, as I’d spent ten months growing closer to her as a sister.

Carolin’s parents reached out and offered to bring me to Germany for a visit. It was the trip of a lifetime, one I’ll never forget. Looking back, it’s been nearly a decade since that trip, but the ways it shaped me and gave me a broader perspective are things that time won’t fade. It was my first trip away from family, my first trip away from home really, and it seems that in some ways, the things that could go wrong, did. When I arrived in Germany, my luggage didn’t… it means I spent my first day and a half in a new country wearing my sister’s underwear. It was silly, but I didn’t mind, because the opportunities to see how Carolin lived, see her life and the city she lived in, as well as the town she spent her childhood in and other cities we got to travel to, the opportunity to taste the food and experience her culture and life made things like lost luggage seem insignificant. They tracked the luggage down, and all was well. I spent 3 weeks eating Eis, playing Rummikub, and riding a train to see different exciting parts of the country my sister lived in and loved.

It wasn’t long after I got home from the best overseas experience I could ask for, that my family decided to host again. So, about a month later, Sabine moved into our home. We had a great experience with Carolin being from Germany, and Sabine was from Germany, too, so they couldn’t be that different, right?

Oh, we were so wrong. While Carolin could spend 3 hours shopping and come out with maybe a pair of jeans, Sabine could spend that same 3 hours amassing four or five VERY large shopping bags. Two girls, one country, and they couldn’t be more different. At first, Bee and I had a rocky start. We didn’t run in the same social circles in high school, which made us clash a lot. But even through some of the turmoil we experienced together, eventually, we snapped out of it and grew together as sisters, too, spending countless hours watching chick flicks and buying enough junk food to cover a bed so we could snack, gossip, and lust after hot movie guys.

While I was growing, learning, experiencing culture and listening to foreign music, talking about other countries, and learning about different ways of life, it felt like hosting exchange students was tailor made for me as a high school student. My family quickly realized, though, that hosting was for all of us. Jeffrey was in early elementary school when my family was hosting our first two students. For many kids his age, the world consisted of the places nearest to them– where they went to the grocery store, the parks they played at, perhaps a distant relative or a vacation spot. For Jeffrey, the world was massive. It consisted of people and places halfway across the globe, of other cultures and languages and distances that many kids only dream of, or sometimes, don’t know of at all until they’re much older.

After Sabine left, which also left us in tears, we took a year-long break from hosting. After all, it was my first year of college, and it was just a big time of transition. It didn’t take long for us to realize that our home, our lives, felt emptier without students there to stay. It was during this time that Carolin came back for her first of many visits, one of which was a 3-month long stay with us for an internship. During this visit, we really got to solidify in our minds that this wasn’t a 10-month commitment where you host a kid and move on. It was a forever bond, a forever love that continued long after these students were gone. Carolin was still my sister, and when she visited again, we picked up where we left off. Our bonds aren’t broken when a student leaves, not in the slightest. And the thing is, this was 10 years ago when there wasn’t a constant ability to Skype or use a smartphone app to text back and forth. This was during the early years of Facebook when communication globally was still fairly hard and limited to calling cards that charged a fortune a minute or long-distance emails when you had the time.

Even with those challenges for communication, we were able to stay connected and keep in touch, making that distance feel so much smaller.

After our year-long hiatus, my family decided it was time to host again, and in a much bigger way. During our year off from hosting, my mom had become a coordinator for foreign exchange and helped guide students through their American year, leading meetings and helping when there was a struggle with homesickness, or to help get the students enrolled in school. She walked them through any challenges they might have faced, and it was all the encouragement we needed to decide that we couldn’t resist another student.

During my second year of college, I moved to the dorms, and my parents chose to host Marius. Living at the dorms meant I really didn’t think I’d have a relationship with our student– after all, I was gone a lot at school, even if it was local. Hosting, we were sure, was purely for Jeffrey, so we got a boy who was interested in the same things Jeffrey was, like soccer. Jeffrey got a ton out of the experience, and getting a boy was a great choice for him. Marius and Jeffrey connected and bonded so quickly. But the real surprise was when Marius and I bonded, too. After all, I was in the dorms and only stopping by on weekends or school breaks.

My mom had a great group of girls, a bigger group that year, and as we grew close and connected, I got the opportunity to invite the girls over for a dorm sleepover. It was so great realizing that even in the dorms, these students were a part of my life. And the best part was knowing that even though I wasn’t necessarily hosting these students, they were still friends, people I connected with. In fact, even years later, some of these same girls who came to my dorm sleepover are doing amazing things that I get to see as I follow them on Instagram or we take peeks at each others’ lives on Facebook.

Marius and I had this great love-hate relationship. We joke that it mostly consisted of hate, and we still tease each other and give each other heck today. But the fact of the matter is, we don’t hate each other at all. We poke fun, like true siblings. One of my best memories of Marius comes from a time in my life when things weren’t perfect. On the day of my wedding to my now ex-husband, I was so devastated because my siblings couldn’t be there. Obviously, it was expensive, and just too difficult for them to fly out. I’ll never forget Marius saying he wished there was a live feed online where he could watch the wedding. It made my heart swell to know that he cared and wanted to be there, even though he couldn’t.

It was hard going through the preparation for my wedding knowing parts of my heart were missing from my wedding day that I wanted desperately to share with family. As I put on my dress and was struggling to zip it, I heard someone ask “Do you need some help with that?” I turned, and there was Marius, looking so dapper. He had flown halfway across the globe to surprise me for my wedding. (In hindsight, I probably should’ve known the marriage wouldn’t work out when I was more excited to see my brother than my ex-husband). Marius, through all of our heckling, truly blessed me with so much love and respect, and still continues to.

Not long after Marius was home, Lucas and Sebastian joined our family. Lucas, sweet Lucas from Brazil, and Sebastian from Sweden, they branched us out of Germany. After mom had worked with the students and grown to love them, we realized that there was so much love in our heart for so many countries, and cultures, and students, and that as much as our German experience had shaped us and grown us, we were ready to grow even more.

Lucas and Sebastian were two peas in a pod. The two of them connected instantly with each other, and they had a unique experience in that they were living with someone going through the same struggles and same excitement that they were experiencing. When they missed home, they could talk to each other about that and find ways out of it. When they were excited about prom, they could get dressed together and look forward to it. They had an unshakable bond as brothers that allowed them to have a deeper connection than many students have with other students they know here. But it isn’t just about students who live together. Just yesterday, a girl who had stayed in Kansas 4 years ago, Theresa, visited. She said that Vera, another student from the year she was here, is still her best friend, and they get to see each other a couple of times a year. These are lifelong friendships, lasting experiences that change lives.

After my divorce, I moved back home, and later, experienced the birth of my first child. My exchange siblings were there with me during that experience, sending love and encouragement.

When we hosted our most recent student, Nicholas, I wondered how Zach would react. After all, he was brand new to the world. I also wondered what an exchange student would think of being in a home with a brand new baby. After all, babies can be loud, and a little overwhelming at times. But Nicholas latched on to Zach almost instantly, and they had a bond that was really special, as well. It seemed like no matter what situation these students were in, they immediately responded with love and attachment… when Carolin and Sabine entered a home with a young child and a high school student, they grew close to both of us. When Marius was living with an elementary schooler and had a host sister occasionally home from college, he adapted and loved it. When Lucas and Sebastian were paired in a home with another exchange student, they grew closer to each other and had a great year. When Nicholas was tossed into an extended family environment with host parents, a host sister with a new baby, and a host brother, he adapted, too.

In all of these ten years, my life has been shaped and changed. I have stories to tell about every single one of these students, who are so close to my heart and mind. We’ve been blessed with students joining us on vacation even years after they’ve been here. We’ve had students come for short visits. My grandmother still gets phone calls and facebook messages on her birthday from the students.

There’s no distinction, really, between my actual sibling and my international siblings, when I talk to someone. They’ll ask “How many siblings do you have?” I’ll respond, without any hesitation, that I have 7 siblings. Because I do, I do have 7 siblings– Jeffrey, and my 6 international siblings who I love.

But my exchange experience hasn’t just included the great students we’ve hosted. So many students have been brought into our lives, our community, even our home, by my mom’s work as a coordinator at Foreign Links Around the Globe. We’ve had the opportunity to get to know students from dozens of countries and backgrounds, and each year when I get to see the profiles of the students spending their year here in my community that I grew up in, I get so excited.

The past few years, I realized that my mom being a coordinator didn’t just mean that it was on her to hang out with the students. I realized that I wanted so much more and collaborated with my mom and the exchange students on a series of videos that really brought home the message of how amazing foreign exchange is.

These students aren’t just a part of their family’s life, but they’re a part of sports teams and volunteer organizations and churches and classrooms… they’re amazing individuals with hobbies and interests that allow them to connect with others so quickly, forming lifelong bonds.

I’m so lucky that I’ve gotten to know each and every one of these students, and every year, I have more students to add to my heart and my mind.

As a host family, we’ve celebrated birthdays and holidays, endured heartbreaks and homesickness, and exchanged so many hugs, tears, memories, friendships, family bonds, family game nights, and so much more….

I love the fact that Zach is now nearly the age Jeffrey was when we started hosting, and I am realizing that he is having those same startling experiences in that his world is HUGE. In our spare bedroom, we have a full-wall map of the world. If you take Zach into the spare room and say “Where do we live?” He’ll point at Kansas in the USA. If you ask him, “Zach, where does Gabi live?” He can point at Brazil. You can ask him where various students live and he gets them. While I’m sure to him, the world hasn’t quite made total sense, as he grows, he’s going to grow up knowing different countries and cultures, feeling different experiences, understanding different accents and even knowing more languages, because we’ve had the opportunity to open our hearts to students, not just those who live with us, but all of the students we’ve grown to love over the years.

I remember one student that we didn’t host that really sticks in my mind was a guy named Sergio. Sergio was a kind-hearted, talented guy. And Sergio had quite a few opinions. The thing is, Sergio and I didn’t really see eye-to-eye on many things. But the thing I loved most about him was that he was so open-minded. We could sit there and disagree on a topic, and he’d hear me out, he would listen, and he would be very polite and hear my side of things. All he asked in return was that he could share his opinion, and receive the same respect in return. We had so many great discussions, long conversations, and I loved getting that experience.

It seemed that no matter what I did, whether it was shopping with Sabine or talking with Sergio or asking Candy to sing her favorite song of the moment on camera, I had an unending bond and connection with each of these kids who have touched my heart.

Because of that, when someone asks me “So, since you hosted in high school, do you think you’d host someday?” there’s no hesitation when I say “Yes.” Because I will host. When I was in high school, I thought I was giving someone else the opportunity of a lifetime by opening our home for them to spend a year abroad. I thought “Wow. I’m really helping her.” What I didn’t realize was how foreign exchange would change ME, help me, grow me, give ME the opportunity of a lifetime. Because my heart now has so many students– well over 100– that I’ve gotten to know personally, and the best part is that there’s SO much room for more.

As placement season for FLAG winds down, I look over the profiles of the students who are still available to be hosted, and I know that there is a place for each and every one of them. I know that there is a home who is going to love them, and form that lifelong bond, the way I have gotten to with all of our students.

There are still students who are available for placement for the upcoming school year. If you’d like to host an exchange student, you can visit FLAG’s website to find out more information, or email me for more information!

15 Tantalizing Summer Reads for Kids

Ahh, summer. Between cloud gazing and visiting the beach and swimming at the pool, it seems like there’s so much excitement during the summer. Sometimes, it’s hard to forget to slow down, take a break, and just soak up summer. I guarantee that these books, though, will do the trick and help your kids take a few minutes for their imagination. Whether you’re curled up on the couch reading together, or you prepare a book basket for your young one to explore solo, these books are the perfect picks for summertime.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. 


Summer Lunch Week: Grocery Store Games and Math to Get You Through the Store Without a Fight

Guess what? In case you missed last Friday’s post, today is the official start of Summer Lunch Week here at DigitalEraMom. What’s Summer Lunch Week? Well, it’s a week where I can try to make your life a little easier with ideas, printables, recipes, and more that can make summer lunches more fun, less expensive, and a little easier to prepare. Don’t forget to come back all week long– there may even be a giveaway coming, so stay tuned!

After the third supermarket temper tantrum, I realized I was about at my limit. I had tried everything, from bribery to that free grocery store cookie the bakery section usually hands out. I knew that, as Zach approached 37 pounds, there was no way carrying him kicking and screaming through the store was an option. I knew there had to be a better way.

Then, I realized as we were going through the store that he was very interested in the products on the shelves, particularly ones we bought regularly. I also started noticing that, while he was a great eater that preferred fresh produce to cookies 9 times out of 10, that the packaging grabbed him, and he was after something visual.

I wanted a way to distract him, help him have that visual, and still make healthy choices.

Want to read more?

7 Rainy-Day Boredom Busters for Kids

I have always loved a good rainstorm. The soft pitter patter of rain on the roof as I indulge in a nice cup of coffee and a good book…. oh… wait… that was pre-motherhood. I’ve quickly learned as a mom of a high-energy almost-three-year-old that rainstorms are one of the worst things that could happen to a day. A rainstorm is the opposite of getting things accomplished and not pulling your hair out.

Where there is rain, there is boredom and that spells lots and lots of energy. I had to do something, so I came up with any method I could, and these are my top seven tried-and-true rainy day boredom busters for kids.

Play a fun game of Shape Squish! Cut out a variety of shapes from different colors of construction paper, then tape them to the floor (if you’re wanting to use them again and again, laminate them first!). Give your child directions, such as “Put your hand on the yellow circle!” or “Sit down on the blue triangle!” For younger kids, you can tailor the game a bit simpler by asking them to go stand on a yellow shape or put a foot on a triangle, for example, allowing them multiple choices. For older kids, try something more complicated, like “Put your right hand on the yellow triangle and your left foot on the pink rectangle!” This is a fun way of quizzing kids on colors and shapes while also practicing gross motor skills. Consider making silly requests, like asking kids to place elbows or ears on shapes and watch the giggles ensue! It’s a perfect boredom buster because it’s an active play game, but keeps kids cornered to one spot, it’s educational in nature, and it can be played in a group or solo, depending on how many kids you have.

Create an Indoor Obstacle Course. This is probably the most tried and true method out there for getting kids to stop losing their mind on a rainy day. Set up couch cushions, pillows, blankets, hula hoops, and masking tape. Do activities like jumping from blanket to blanket, walking a straight line on the tape, and doing a somersault on the pillows. Go around the course and vary the actions. It’s a fantastic way to get kids moving, and by providing plenty of cushions, it’s pretty safe with supervision. After giving the kids the chance to play in an obstacle course, leave out the pillows and blankets and see if an impromptu blanket and pillow fort materializes!

Make a ramp from some cardboard, a long board, or a wrapping paper tube to use with cars or small balls. Slide the cars down the ramp, then vary the height to see how the speed changes at different heights. This is a great physics activity where kids are learning without realizing that they’re learning. It’s fun to show how things move on a ramp. With an older child, you can reinforce this later by having them watch the spedometer as you go up a hill versus down a hill in the car. Does the speed increase going downhill if you don’t apply the brake? What does your child observe?

Create a toy bank. Cut a wide slit in the lid of a coffee or oatmeal can, and put poker chips, play money, or other objects into the slot in the can. You can count as you drop items in, open it up, and take them out. It’s a great way to practice counting skills, and you can pretend it’s a piggy bank. Let kids play kitchen and use the bank as the cash register, or even consider re-using the bank as chore allowance in the future.

Make a cup stack! How big of a cup tower can you make? Can you tear it down quickly? This is a great way of working on balance, and letting kids explore with a new building material. Whether you have a whole slew of paper or plastic cups, or have other kid-friendly reusable cups that can be used, this is a fun activity. Want to shake things up and continue the cup play after the stacking wears thin? Hide a ball inside a cup, move it around, and see if your child can find it. Start out with a few cups moving slowly, but as your child gets better, go faster, use more complicated transitions, and add more cups to make it harder to guess!

Play “Now You Do It!” with your little learner. You do an action, like spinning in a circle, jumping on one foot, or touching your nose, and then say “Now you do it!” Your child learns to listen and look while being active and playful. After awhile, switch roles and let your child lead the game, too! If you have more than one child, allow each to take turns leading their siblings. If you have older kids, you can give a series of actions instead of a single action; try two or three moves in a row, or a more complicated action, and see if they can follow the full series correctly. It’s way more fun than simon says because it gets you moving, too, and plenty of giggles start to happen!

Practice counting in a fun way! Use a marker to draw numbers on paper with the corresponding number of dots. Then, take small objects like cereal or cars or hair bows and put them on the corresponding dots– one object on the one, two objects on the two, etc. This is a great way to teach kids that the written numeral is representing something tangible, that the number 2 doesn’t just show the number two or look like the number two, but represents two objects, two shoes, two eyes, two carrots. Take care to count the objects and point out the numeral that matches. You can extend the activity by using different colors of paper and matching the color to the page for older kids– only putting blue cars on the blue paper, for example. The best part is, if you’re using toys to count, the activity seamlessly transitions into solo play so you actually can dive into that cup of coffee or good book while your child plays, happily entertained after the great mommy-kiddo time they just loaded up on!

Do you have a tried-and-true Rainy Day Boredom Buster? Tell all about it in the comments below!


Looking for more great boredom busters? Follow my Boredom Busters Board on Pinterest!

Salsa De Mayo Easy Fruit Salsa

Holy cow. It’s almost May. Seriously? How did it become May already? Just yesterday I was singing Christmas carols, it seemed like.

No. Wait. I literally WAS singing Christmas carols yesterday because I had Spotify on shuffle and couldn’t resist. But maybe it’s the April snowshowers or the Spotify confusion, or maybe it’s just my unwillingness to admit that summer is right around the corner and I still don’t have a bikini body, but it really is May and I’m really, really unprepared.

So, I decided I needed a festive treat for Cinco de Mayo to help get me in the mood for May.

I started by going to the store and buying any fresh fruit that was on sale and could add some color and texture to my special Cinco de Mayo fruit salsa. My picks were strawberries, plums, kiwifruit, and mangoes, but you pick whatever your family likes. Personally, I thought these tasted really great together and looked a lot like ACTUAL pico de gallo when chopped up.

So growing up, we were always pretty convinced that Cinco de Mayo was the Mexican Independence Day (or if you’re my dad, it’s the day the Titanic sank carrying a big load of Mayonnaise meant for the Mexicans, and they were so upset over the loss, that they mourned with a holiday– the Sink-o de Mayo).  However, it’s not either of those things. Cinco de Mayo, which is actually more of an American holiday than a Mexican one, is the commemoration of the cause of freedom during the early years of the Civil War in America for Mexican-American communities in the West, a way of celebrating Mexican heritage and pride, and a way to celebrate Mexico beating the French in the Battle of Puebla in 1862, on, you guessed it…. May 5.

To start a good fruit salsa, just peel and dice your first fruit really finely. I decided to start with a mango. I used 1, but you just add as many of them as you want for the amount of fruit salsa you plan on eating. You’ll know a mango is ripe when it gets that pretty red color on the outside, and when it’s firm, but not squishy (overripe). You’ll want to make the dices very small– the same way you would want your pieces if you were eating a regular salsa, so you can fit a lot onto a chip. Unless you’re a dipper and not a scooper, in which case, you are salsa-ing all wrong.

While making the salsa, I got curious. What was the Battle of Puebla? I mean, Cinco de Mayo NOT being Mexican Independence Day (which is actually on September 16) kind of blew my mind, and I wanted to find out more info. Basically, after the Mexican-American war in 1846-48… AND the MExican Civil War of 1858… AND the 1860 Reform Wars… the Mexican Treasury was super broke. Like bankrupt broke. The president of Mexico at the time decided to just suspend all of the payments on debt that was owed to other countries. Because hey, no money. So France, Britain, and Spain were VERY much not cool with getting no money. I mean, it’s the equivalent of loaning your kid brother lunch money day after day after day, and him giving it away, and then when it’s time for him to pay you back, he says “Uh… yeah, maybe in 2 years, bro.” You’d totally want to beat him up, right? Well, Britain and Spain talked to Mexico, negotiated, and left, figuring things out. But Napoleon III of France was like, “No way, dude.” He wanted a Mexico that would be favorable to France, and moved his troops right in, storming Veracruz.

Taking a break from the very intense history lesson I was getting, I started dicing my plum. To add a little color and texture, I left the skin on this one… you do what you like, and remove that skin if you’d prefer. To me, it was easier, and looked way prettier in the finished product.

Again, you want really small dices!

After the plum dicing, I realized I wanted to know more. I mean, they stormed Veracruz… but then what? Turns out that the French force was so intense that the president of Mexico, and his government, took off and retreated, basically letting the French gain a lot of ground. However, the Mexicans near Puebla were not cool with this, and said “No! You’re not getting in here, dudes.” The French army was big, strong, and had 8,000 people. It was literally considered THE best army. In the world. Anywhere. The Mexicans really didn’t stand a chance… there were 4,500 of them, and they were poorly equipped. No way they’d be able to beat France’s best army ever… things just didn’t look good for the Mexicans.

I was plagued with the feeling of impeding doom for the Mexican army… or, as impending as something that happened like 150 years ago could be… so I decided to take another break from my history lesson to dice up the kiwifruit. Tossing it into the fruit salad, it was almost done… but it looks like it needs something else, yeah? This isn’t quite enough like pico de gallo in looks to me…

Then, I just had to keep reading to see what happened next for the Mexicans vs. the French.

Somehow, against all odds, the Mexicans CRUSHED the French in the battle on May 5, 1862! It was a great morale boost, and the Mexicans celebrated! Call it stereotypical of me, but I get mental images of that taco shell commercial where they’re all lifting the girl on their shoulders and cheering. The Puebla victory was a huge deal! Not only was the battle the first time that the French army had been defeated in more than 50 years, but it was also the last time that a country in the Americas was invaded by European military force.

I cheered for the Mexican Army as I sliced strawberries to add to my festive fruit salsa. It would add the perfect red color to it as a finishing touch!

However, I was pretty dismayed to find out that not long after the great victory, the French defeated the Mexicans, winning the war, and establishing Emperor Maximilian I as the ruler in Mexico. Luckily for my love of underdog stories, that was a short-lived victory. The French were in power only 3 years before the US started giving more help politically and militarily so Mexico could get rid of the French. When the United States finished their own Civil War, they had the opportunity to give that money to Mexico, and it scared the French, who decided to give up and let the Mexican president return and re-organize his government once again.

My fruit salsa was finally complete, and the Mexicans were back in power after the French invasion. Thank goodness.

But then I started finding out that, had the Civil War not ended, or had the French gotten the chance, they would have pushed farther into the States, backing the Confederacy, and quite possibly changing the United States as we know it! Can you imagine what might have happened had France won the battle, defeating Mexico at Puebla, and then marching their way into the South? The United States may have stayed divided! That’s what makes Cinco de Mayo such an important holiday in the United States, as well. In fact, the Mexicans barely even celebrate it, with it being an official holiday in Puebla and Veracruz, but not in the rest of Mexico! Today, though, Cinco de Mayo celebrations can be found around the world, in Canada, the Caribbean, Australia, Japan, and ironically, even France.

When looking for the perfect vessel to get the yummy fruit salsa into my tummy, I knew that these Taco Bell Cinnamon Nacho chips from the Cinnamon Nacho Dessert kit would be perfect! Intended to be served with ice cream, I decided to shake it up, set the included caramel aside to enjoy at a later date, and just enjoy the chips with my fruit salsa. I even sprinkled the included toffee bits over the top as I indulged in the delicious Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Chips.

It is the PERFECT snack for Cinco de Mayo, no matter what country you’re celebrating from!


Do you want some helpful tips on easy cleanup from all your peels and pits while making the fruit salsa, and a fun way to use up and leftover fruit salsa? Don’t forget to follow @jengerbread88 on Instagram to find these two great tips appearing later today! Not an Instagram user? That’s okay, they’ll be on the DigitalEraMom facebook page, too, which you can access by “liking” it in the sidebar!


Do you celebrate Cinco de Mayo? Let me know how you celebrate in the comments below!


Tissue Paper Sun Catchers

My son is totally embracing his observation phase. He loves to pinpoint color, look through objects to see the light, and examine thing carefully. So finding a project that can cater to multiple interests is always fun.

The worst part of looking for a project is that so many have a major cleanup. Luckily, this project is pretty much mess-free. No paint, no glue. While those things are great sometimes, other times, it’s nice to have a quicker, easier project that doesn’t require a big cleanup or a lot of drying time before it can be displayed.

But first, a little tiny bit of prep work. If you have an older learner, of course, they can help or do this part, but for younger kiddos, you’ll want to do the prep yourself.

You’ll want to start out by cutting a circle out of construction paper pretty much the width of your paper in diameter. For me, that meant using my circle cutter at an 8″ setting, but you can trace the circle with a saucer, freehand it, or use whatever circle cutting method works for you.

Next, you’ll cut out the center of the circle, leaving about an inch remaining for your main sun body. Since Zach and I were each doing a sun, we decided to use two different colors to allow us to alternate the sun rays, but you can use whichever color you’d like. Be sure to save the inside piece to make the rays of your sun!

Cut the center of the sun into a pizza, essentially, creating several small rays. If you’re making more than one, of course, repeat this for each of your sun centers. I decided to use a straight-line paper cutter, but scissors work, too!

You’ll end up with an assortment of triangles (well, triangles with a curved edge, I suppose).

Arrange your rays around the edge of your de-centered circle. Of course, if you are making multiple suns, you can alternate ray colors by using some of one sun’s center, and some of the other. Or, you can keep it all one color. Get creative (or ask your child’s input).

To make the actual sun-catcher part of the suns, you’ll want to cut out some clear Con-Tact paper. I found mine in the cleaning section of my local store, since people typically use it for protecting shelves instead of crafts, apparently. If you’re using a circle cutter, you’ll want to set it about 1/10th of an inch smaller than the outer diameter of your circle, so it’ll hold the rays in place without overlapping the outside edge of the circle at all.

Peel off the backing carefully and affix the paper to your sun, making sure to hold the rays in place and smooth out wrinkles in the edges.

If you aren’t ready for your child to work on the project, or if you’re preparing your suns in advance for the next day, or a large classroom full of kids, you can easily re-attach the Con-Tact paper’s protective layer to the sticky side to keep it from collecting dirt or dust until you’re ready to start the project.

To finish your prep work, cut several colors of tissue paper into small pieces. I love to keep tissue paper on hand for projects like this, but you can also recycle any tissue paper you get in a gift bag– it doesn’t have to be new or flat for this project. You’ll want to make the pieces large enough for little fingers, but small enough that you’ll fit quite a few on the sun for variation.

When it’s time, peel off the backing and let your child go to work!

You’ll find that your child may be extra careful and pick up one piece at a time…

…or your child may pile the pieces on by the handful with no rhyme or reason. A lot depends on their age, and how they typically approach a project like this, but the beauty of it is there is no wrong way to do it! Whether they’re piled on or carefully placed, the end result will be really pretty.

Sometimes, little artists find out first-hand how the tissue paper sticks to the sun!

This is a great artistic process that allows kids to carefully examine color, and practice those fine motor skills in a beautiful way.

The end goal, of course, is to make sure you’ve covered as much of the clear Con-Tact paper as possible!

Because there is no glue or paint, these works of art can be displayed immediately on the nearest window! Zach decided he wanted to hang his up himself (with a little help from mom), and then spent a very long time pointing out the specific colors he had used on his project. He was so proud of it and showed everyone who entered the house “Look! My sun!”

These suns are so much fun, and a great way to celebrate the spring season. Plus, they’re versatile enough to stay up through summer if you just can’t bear to part with them! And my favorite part of this project is that you don’t just have to stick to suns– you can always pick any shape that interests you and your kiddo, and cut it out to make a special shaped sun-catcher of your very own.

I know we will be making plenty more sun-catchers soon, because Zach just can’t get enough of showing people this project!


What is your go-to mess-free project for kids? Tell me about it in the comments below!

The Educational Importance of Planting with Kids

Kids learn so many things without realizing it. Or really, without us realizing it. Every word spoken, every activity done together, every book read, it all adds up to experiences, educational opportunities, and memories for a child. But when you take time to be intentional about what you’re teaching and really focus on the educational benefits, you’ll be amazed at how much the “little stuff” is really BIG stuff when it comes to teaching children, regardless of their age.

Growing plants together is a big educational opportunity that is very carefully disguised as fun. I can guarantee that if you’re planting with your child, they’ll have no clue that they’re learning, but they’ll be gaining valuable skills, whether they’re 3 or 13 or somewhere in between. And the best part is that now, anyone can grow things. Even if you don’t have a big garden, there are many kits and container gardening options that allow you to grow your own plants, indoors or out, and they’re generally available at a pretty affordable price. We picked up this grow kit for our big kid, featuring sweet basil and parsley, from Buzzy Seeds.

But you can think even smaller with these mini greenhouses that are perfect vegetable starters, available from the Miracle Grow kids product line. Both options are perfect for getting kids (and teens!) involved in the gardening process.

One of the big benefits that is present in gardening, especially with kits, is the thought of following directions. An older student can read the directions themselves and test their reading comprehension as they measure the right amount of water in the right temperature and do the steps in the proper order. A younger child can test their listening skills by listening to when to pour the dirt, when to pour water, when to stir, and how to plant seeds.

Fine motor skills are really worked to their limit when it comes to smaller children and planting. From accurately pouring from one container to another, to pressing the seeds in gently, there’s a lot of fine motor work going on during the gardening process. It is a great opportunity to get those fingers flexing and allow those smaller muscles to get a workout.

Observation plays a huge role throughout the gardening process. When you consider soil factors (young kids can watch the soil pellets in a kit expand, older kids can consider the aspects of the soil that make it viable for plants, and how it undergoes the change from pellet to soil), how light and weather impact plant growth, and the finished plant product as it sprouts, grows, and possibly gets transplanted, there is a lot to be observed. Even during the planting process, it’s a great time to whip out the magnifying glass and take a closer look at the things going on, from the seeds to the soil, and see how all of these parts play a vital role in the plant’s life.

Volume is a lesson that young kids learn but don’t realize they are learning. Anytime a small child pours water from one container to another, scoops rice from a bowl to a cup, or fills a cup with the contents of another cup until it overflows, kids are learning about volume and how it works. This is no different. In the same way that kids should have plenty of time to explore and experience the kitchen, it’s also good to give kids a chance to focus on gardening and how liquid plays a part in the gardening process. If nothing else, the small children are getting the hang of pouring.

Planting is also great for math and logic skills. A younger child can count seeds and consider where to place them. An older student can use spatial reasoning– how far apart is an inch? Can I imagine where to place the next one without getting a ruler, or use knowledge I already have on what an inch looks like to figure out where to place my next seed? How can I use those determinations and measurements to determine how deep to plant my seed?

Planting is an amazing sensory experience for younger children and older students alike. Sometimes, it’s important just to take a step back and really dig into the soil and dirt, feel the texture of it, enjoy the scent of it, and really get your hands dirty. Sensory experiences like that can’t be measured, but they’re infinitely important to a child’s growth and development. By introducing kids to different textures, you’re allowing them to better understand the world around them.

Plus, planting is about long-term responsibility as well as long-term results. By making sure to water and tend to the plants, you’ll reap great rewards of food, flowers, or other plant life in the process. When you make sure you’re watering the plant and caring for it regularly, giving it the long-term maintenance it needs, it’s a great way to learn about how living things take care, whether you’re applying it to how a pet also needs constant care and attention, or helping a child understand that they, as a living thing, need their own care and attention, such as inspiring grooming habits. It’s a really great way to explain that living things need that extra loving care. The best part is the benefit you’ll reap from long-term plant care. When growing food especially, it’s a great opportunity to then include it in a meal. For example, sweet basil is a great ingredient for a pizza or pasta! The hard effort that goes into growing the ingredients instills a sense of pride, and that pride makes the food taste even better.

Finally, planting is a great way to start other discussions. Whether you’re taking it as a good start to jump into books about planting, using it as inspiration to start a compost bin or other green activities, or even launching into a discussion about God’s creation, you’re able to use planting and gardening as a great starting point to many different conversations to come, which makes it an activity you just can’t pass up.

Whether you’re using a grow kit like we did, or you’re getting dirty outside, you’re going to find that planting together is a fantastic way to spend time together, a great way to relax, and just a fun experience all-around that will stick with kids in lifelong ways.

Happy spring… now get planting!


Do you tend a garden at home? And do your kids ever join you in the planting? Let me know in the comments below!

Top 10 Can’t Miss Books for Spring

It’s spring! Finally. As Easter approaches, I’m sure many of you are looking for a great book to start the conversation about spring, or perhaps a treasure to ask the Easter Bunny to bring. All of these books on my top ten are perfect choices for your children. I’ve made sure to list the age range for books so you’ll know you’re getting the perfect picks whether you have a toddler, a teen, or something in between. I also have provided an affiliate link to the product on Amazon. While you should never feel obligated to purchase from one of my affiliate links, doing so is a great way to support!

Without further ado, here are 10 books you don’t want to miss this spring!

10. It’s Spring by Linda Glaser

This book is perfect for preschool through the middle elementary years.

This book is worth buying for the illustrations alone, which use hand painting and paper sculpture to convey the message. The lovely part is that this book is just one of a four-book season series, so if it becomes a favorite, of course, as spring dwindles, you can always switch to the summer book as well. This is a story about a child observing how spring arrives, and shows the animals, plants, and changes that occur during the spring months. The pictures bring the season to live, and it’s a great jump start to the season.

Purchase it here: It’s Spring

9. Little Seeds by Charles Ghigna

This book is a great pick for 2-4 year olds!

A beautiful springy book with bright colors and beautiful images, it’s a great way to teach all about planting flowers and the importance to them. It’s filled with beautiful colors that are perfect after cold and sad winter time, and it’s a fun poem, too! Definitely worth a read!

Get it here: Little Seeds (My Little Planet)

8. The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle

This book is a perfect book for preschoolers on up!

I think Eric Carle is really one of the first authors that readers grow up knowing. He’s an amazing author with very fun illustrations, and it’s always nice to see something special from him besides the Very Hungry Caterpillar we all know and love. This sweet book is a great tale about the life cycle of a flower, and the best part is that it comes with a piece of paper embedded with seeds that can be planted, so you can watch it grow into wildflowers, really helping ingrain the principles taught in the book! What better way to learn hands-on than to read this book and plant the paper inside? The book starts talking about how things happen to seeds, like being trampled on or eaten by birds, so it might be a little sensitive for some young readers, but otherwise, you’ll find yourself cheering for the Tiny Seed as he makes his journey to flowerhood!

Get it here: The Tiny Seed (The World of Eric Carle)

7. The Listening Walk by Paul Showers

This book would be good to introduce in preschool, but has great messages that even early elementary kids can grow with.

This book is a fantastic story all about listening to the sounds of nature. Revised from a 1961 classic, this story is all about a father and child listening to the sounds of what nature has to hold while going on a walk. It’s a great book to inspire a listening walk of your own! The value of this book extends far beyond the actual pages, because it helps kids tune into the sounds around them, be more aware of the subtle things in their surroundings, and listen to the amazing things that they encounter on the way.

You can buy it here: The Listening Walk

6. The Best Bike Ride Ever by James Proimos

This book is good for ages 3 and up, but especially perfect for a beginning bike rider!

This is a newer book that is definitely perfect for spring. Bonnie, the main character, begs and begs for a bike, and her parents finally surprise her with one! She
goes on an epic bike ride, over mountains, under animals, past major landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon. However, Bonnie realizes she never learned one important bike riding lesson– how to stop! When she takes a big tumble and learns a great lesson from her parents, Bonnie is back on the bike and ready for more adventure.

Find it here: The Best Bike Ride Ever

5. Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth by Mary McKenna Sidals

This book is great for ages 3 and up!

This is a fantastic (and rhyming) way to teach kids great things to add to a compost pile! Suggestions include eggshells, grass clippings, insects, and more, which will easily get kids learning more about Composting and creating very rich soil for a garden. What better book for springtime than one that rhymes AND acts as a recipe to create a perfect batch of compost!

You can purchase a copy here: Compost Stew

4. Duck and Goose: Here Comes the Easter Bunny by Tad Hills

This book is my top pick for toddlers and preschoolers.

What list of mine would be complete without a touch of Duck and Goose, right? I love these delightful, colorful, very silly board books that are so simple but very educational and happy. It’s so fun to watch Duck and Goose hide and wait for the Easter Bunny to arrive, and perhaps an inspiration to play a hiding game of your own. It’s a great pick for toddlers during the Easter season!

Buy it here: Duck & Goose, Here Comes the Easter Bunny!

3. Ducks In Muck by Lori Haskins

This is perfect for babies and older, and a great pick for a new reader.

Starting as an easy read to even the youngest children, it’s a great first-reader that will grow with them. I remember this book being a favorite of my little brother when he was young, and I enjoy reading it because it’s just so catchy– ducks in trucks, trucks stuck in muck, and you find yourself wondering if the ducks, and the trucks, will ever get out of being stuck in the muck! It’s a fun read with rhyming words that really helps motivate young readers to step into reading. A fun bedtime story, this is a great springtime story that turns into a year-round favorite.

You can get this title here: Ducks in Muck (Step into Reading, Step 1)

2. Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman

This is a good pick for 4th-7th graders, but even adults will get a lot out of it.

Another favorite from my childhood, this book is best geared at a slightly older crowd. A chapter book that would be a quick read for advanced readers, it may take a few days to get through, but it’s a great book about diversity, gardening, and the love that even strangers can grow for each other through a common interest. This book weaves together short stories, each narrated by a different character but with all of the characters woven through the book, of people living near each other and turning a vacant lot filled with garbage into a thriving community garden. People from so many different cultures, backgrounds, and stages in life all come together over a common interest, and that’s something worth reading.

You can snag this one here: Seedfolks

1. Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco

This is a good pick for kindergartners and older.

This is easily one of my favorite books from my own childhood and ranks in my top ten. As thunder starts to boom nearby, a grandmother comforts her granddaughter by helping her gather the ingredients for a special cake called Thunder Cake. Living in the great plains, storms were a part of Spring every year of my childhood, and they still are. While I still long to make an actual Thunder Cake just like the one described in the book (and yes, the recipe is given!), the story itself is rich and helps quell fears of storms. I look forward to when Zach is old enough to enjoy this treasure with me, whether or not he has a fear of storms.

You can buy a copy here: Thunder Cake


Obviously, some of my favorite picks on this list are the books that inspire more than just a story time together, but instead, give practical applications that extend past the story once the book is over. Books like Compost Stew, Thunder Cake, and the Listening Walk can get you engaged to do activities of your very own, getting kids active, exploring, and learning this spring and for many spring seasons to come.


What is your favorite book for the spring season, for any age group? Do you think the Easter bunny will bring a book for your little one this year?

Homeschooling Toddlers with Possibility and Practicality

I get questions sometimes about who my homeschool student is. Obviously, my role in teaching Jeffrey is just an occasional support role, helping with a project here and there. But truly, I do homeschool Zach. In the homeschool world, teaching toddlers from a very early age isn’t unusual, but it’s sometimes accidental; as older kids are learning the tot joins in with lessons. However, there are great ways, and great reasons, to be intentional about toddler schooling.

When I say to be intentional, I clearly don’t mean sitting your toddler at a desk from 8 to 3 and giving them lessons and worksheets for hours on end. That’s not how it works. Consider toddler schooling to be a bit like normal toddlerhood, with some educational opportunities thrown in.

You see, toddlers are going to learn whether or not you do any formal homeschooling with them. However, skills can come easier if you’ve trained them from a young age. Think about the recommendations on language learning, and how starting early, even from birth, is a good way to get kids to be fluent in multiple languages. As you get older, it gets harder to learn some skills. Not impossible, but certainly harder.

Those little things like fine motor skills, gross motor skills, language development, and social/emotional skills can all be fostered in a home environment, and that’s where homeschooling your toddler comes in.

Toddler school schedules are very loose, and tend to follow the interest level of your toddler. If you’re introducing something and they’re frustrated, it could give them a distaste for it altogether, so the best times to get them into an activity is when they’re in a good mood and open to the experience. Only you can tell when your child is in the mood and when they’re not.

Our day ideally starts out with reading our Bible lesson over breakfast. Now, I say ideally because this isn’t what happens every morning. But when it does, we enjoy breakfast with a short Bible lesson. We personally love this Little Boy’s Bible Storybook for Mothers and Sons, because it spells things out in simple language, while teaching the core stories and giving us things to reflect on and opportunities to pray and talk together. Of course, you can choose a Bible storybook that works best for you, but keep it simple. At that age, children love being read to, so even if they aren’t grasping some of the core Biblical principals, even just being read to is so important for language development and jumpstarting their interest in reading. Even if you don’t read a Bible lesson with your child, starting the morning with a book together during breakfast is great, but even just sitting down with your toddler and talking to them while you both eat is a great way to start the day off right!

After breakfast, we love to do our calendar. Zach looks forward to it every morning, and he sometimes wants to update the calendar’s weather 3 or 4 times in a day, even if it hasn’t changed. We have a great magnetic calendar. Magnetic calendars are great because at a very minimum, they test fine motor skills by getting the calendar set up each day. Additionally, kids learn about sequencing (if yesterday was the 1st, today is the 2nd) at an earlier age, and can help them understand earlier the days of the week. Obviously, when I toddler school, there’s zero pressure for getting him to understand concepts before he’s ready. However, it is an open discussion with him. “Look, Zach! Today is Thursday! On Thursdays, we meet Sarah for coffee, then go to Walmart, so let’s go get dressed!” It helps give him an idea of the sense of routine and helps me give him an idea of our day early on.

Breakfast and the calendar are plenty “school” to start the day, which means Zach is able to have playtime in his playspace. I set up his play space to allow him the most creative and imaginative play possible, inviting him to learn without realizing he’s learning. Some of the features his space includes is a “Construction Zone” complete with a small work bench and play tools that let him imagine he’s hard at work on a construction site, a music space complete with a drum set and guitar, and a climbing space that helps him focus on his gross motor skills with a safe place to climb and play indoors. However, no matter what your space and budget are, you can make sure your child has access to learning supplies. Don’t underestimate what a magnet board or cookie sheet with letter magnets can do, or a set of small hand-held instruments like a tambourine or some bongos. Giving kids access to play that stimulates learning is a great way to help them practice those skills, from fine motor to language development, and it makes it so kids don’t even know they’re learning! I try to give him a mixture of independent playtime and play with me.

I’ve learned to accept the fact that kids need technology; it’s just a fact of life, no matter how much we limit screen time, eventually we have to accept that computers will be a part of life as our kids grow older. We already live in an age of technology. So, before his naptime, to help him wind down, I like to give Zach 20-30 minutes of Kindle time, allowing him a slew of educational apps. Many of these apps have given him his basic counting skills, introduced him to his letters and numbers by sight, and helped him learn more reasoning skills. While obviously, I could have taught him these things, these apps make it fun, and he feels like he’s getting more playtime. Screen time isn’t your enemy; it’s too much screen time that can become dangerous.

After nap, Zach has had plenty of time to unwind and relax, so I like to have him do some worksheets. We like Kumon workbooks that teach him basic cutting and pasting skills, so I start him out with one page from either their Let’s Fold, Let’s Sticker and Paste, or Let’s Cut workbooks, then do an activity from our My Father’s World Toddler or Preschool set using some of the Lauri Toys included, before finishing with one more worksheet. This allows him about 15 minutes of worktime, but helps us not have too much time focused on any one activity. The key with toddlers is to finish before they get frustrated. When you teach, you should always leave them wanting more– which means stopping an activity while it’s still fun and engaging, and not trying to carry it on for too long. As you go through the year, you may find a growing attention span. What might have been only 2 or 3 minutes of interest in a task could turn into 5 to 7 minutes by the end of the year, so you’ll want to adjust time spent doing things.

Zach gets some more playtime, independently, and then as he winds that down, we may do a guided listening activity. One of our favorite ways to practice listening skills is with our Melissa and Doug Wooden Pizza Party Set or our Felt Sandwich set. I’ll make a request: “I want a sandwich that has bacon and peanut butter on it!” and Zach will build a sandwich with those two ingredients. As children develop more skills, you can try to request sandwiches in a particular order, or request some items NOT be on your sandwich. In fact, as kids gain writing skills, they can take your order on a notepad before making the sandwich. It’s something that will grow with kids and let them gain skills over time.

Finally, Zach and I will finish up our lessons with a dance party in the afternoon.  We love to just turn on some music and have fun dancing and singing together. We switch it up– Christian music one day, World music the next, maybe some folk songs another day. I have a selection of CDs in our curriculum that make great choices for exposing him to many kinds of music.

The basic thing is, yes, it’s a great idea to homeschool your toddler, particularly if you have a toddler who needs stimulation to stay entertained. Structure is a good way to get kids into a basic routine and help them expand their attention span. However, homeschooling your toddler or teaching your toddler doesn’t mean a rigid schedule. Play around with it, and keep things flexible. If you see your toddler is stressed out one day in particular, it helps to just take an afternoon off and cuddle. There’s no need to be forceful, and, with toddler schooling or pre-preschooling, there’s no reason that it has to take up more than 30 minutes a day– 15 in the morning, 15 in the afternoon, not including playtime. As kids get older and go through homeschooling, they’ll go longer during the day (for example, My Father’s World’s Kindergarten curriculum is designed to be 60 to 90 minutes of instructional time each day). At this age, 30 minutes per day is a great start, and a great way to get kids engaged.