Families With Grace

Helping Christian moms create homes filled with grace, love & faith

Living in a new reality

Life during quarantine

The following post is all about my personal mental health experiences. For the latest information on COVID-19, please visit www.cdc.gov.

While life during the health crisis has been real for me over the last couple of weeks with the kids home from school and our contact with the outside world very, very limited, today the new reality set it for me even more. I’m processing information, which I best do through writing.

Life during quarantine

Right from the beginning today was different. My husband had an early morning post-op appointment with his surgeon. When he had his rotator cuff surgery on March 11, we received the paperwork that included today’s appointment time. I remember thinking that an 8 a.m. appointment meant we’d take the kids to school then go to his appointment.

Life has changed in those two and a half weeks, though. And it has changed dramatically for such a short time. Like all of us, I am off-kilter. The kids are no longer going to their school building and instead e-learning from home.

Venturing out

As we headed to the appointment today, we wondered why there were so many cars out. We assumed they were people headed to jobs our governor deemed as essential.

At the orthopedist’s office, I was turned away at the front door; only patients were allowed in. While I completely understood and respected the decision, it was yet another reminder of our new reality.

I don’t always go with my husband to doctor’s appointments, but he’s still in a sling and not allowed to drive. I knew he was having stitches removed, and I wanted to be there in support of him as he’s done for me so many times. Instead, I was sitting in the car. I wasn’t upset, but it was definitely a new reality.

Going to the grocery store

His appointment was pretty quick, so we made a quick trip to the store on the way home. We’re down to about half a pack of toilet paper. It should get us through this week, but it gets a bit dubious after that. We were hopeful that being early in the day would mean we’d find some.

However, no toilet paper was available. We did pick up a few other things, though. I happily noticed the shelves were better stocked than they had been on my previous visit about two weeks ago. I was thankful for that and relieved to see that things weren’t staying so dire.

I was thrilled to get some napkins since I’d just lectured my kids about how we needed to start rationing them since I hadn’t been able to find any to buy.

Many people were wearing disposable gloves. Most were careful to stay at a distance from each other. In the car, we used hand sanitizer. I even coated my phone with it since I’d used it in the store to look at my grocery list.

Different home life

When we got home, I pulled out items to stay in the garage for our deep freezer and pantry shelf. The rest came into the house where I wiped it down with bleach wipes, threw away the sacks and wiped down the countertops.

I used hand cleaner two or three times then washed my hands incredibly well. While I’m always vigilant about cleaning my hands after being in a public place, wiping down my groceries and cleaning my hands so many times is definitely a new thing.

I settled my kids at the kitchen table with schoolwork while I got to work on my laptop for my annual Monday morning deadline. Usually I work in my home office, but while I’m also playing the role of homeschool teacher, working at the kitchen table is easiest.

At lunchtime, my daughter and I moved to the home office so she could Zoom meet with her fourth grade class while I finished my last half hour of work. Many conference calls have happened in the home office I share with my husband, but this was the first one that was for my 10-year-old.

By dinnertime, my head was pounding thanks to the weather change and my delightful fibromyalgia symptoms. I made some food and we watched a science video while eating.

A public faith display

After dinner, we turned on our local radio station just in time to hear our pastor begin talking. This evening was a prayer event at our local hospital. We opted to stay home and pray. I was overcome with emotion as I listened to my pastor and heard him praying over the airwaves. I never would have imagined this local top 40 station would even be broadcasting a very Christian prayer, yet here we were.

My husband, children and I all prayed together. My son came over and snuggled next to me. Just as he did so, my pastor was praying for God to give us strength to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves during this crisis.

God reminded me that I am needed to take care of my children now more than ever. At 7 and 10, my kids no longer need me as dependently as they did as infants, but they certainly are not able to take care of themselves through this crisis. I am needed also to take care of my husband who is still not at full capacity from his surgery. I take all of those responsibilities very seriously.

Feeling all the feelings

This is the new reality. It isn’t forever or for always. We don’t know when life will start to get back to normal. We are talking about things like whether to keep the kids enrolled in their ninja and gymnastics classes that are now meeting virtually. We’re speculating on big events that might get canceled.

The current reality is challenging for its newness and suddenness. For me, it has less to do with not being able to get out and go places, though even an introvert like I am gets cabin fever. It has more to do with a total shift in my thinking and reality.

I find myself being careful to not waste food.

I find myself thinking about how long we can truly go before we need to get out.

I find myself rationing some items to last longer before I get to the store again. (I forgot to get more mouthwash, for example.)

I find myself wondering how this will affect my kids.

I find myself wondering if everyone I love will make it through this.

I find myself noticing when my neighbors are leaving and wonder why they’re getting out.

I find myself being thankful that my son’s good friend in the neighborhood lives a block away and not right beside us so they don’t see each other and want to play.

I find myself noticing full grocery shelves on television and in commercials and wishing that was still reality.

I find myself feeling raw sometimes for seemingly no reason and then realizing that it’s for all of these reasons and new-ness that I’m having all these feelings.

I find myself overwhelmed at the outpouring of love and prayer from a community that doesn’t always show respect for Christianity.

I find myself utterly exhausted more than I’d like to admit from trying to be mom, teacher, wife, homemaker and professional writer.

I find myself feeling God in the moments when I most need Him. I hear Him speaking through the prayer of my pastor as my son snuggles next to me. I am reminded of Him as I listen to a video lesson with my children. God opens my heart and eyes to His presence as I listen to worship music.

I remember that even though this is a difficult time of global proportions unlike anything I’ve lived through before, it is not the hardest thing I’ve personally lived through. The same God who has always been with me is still with me.

I have learned to trust in God and His faithfulness even when things don’t make sense.

I have learned that if I keep my hope in Him, I won’t be disappointed. Life may not go as I want it to. God may say no to some of my prayers, but He won’t change who He is and He won’t leave me. I just have to look for Him.

Want to read more? Check out these posts:

Moms on a Mission: Stacey Pardoe

Profiles of moms who are making a difference

You know how sometimes you “meet” someone online and feel a connection with them? That’s how I’ve been with Stacey Pardoe — and it’s not just because we share the same first name!

Stacey is a fellow blogger and freelance writer who I came across in faith-based blogging groups and gotten to know a bit. Stacey’s blog posts are encouraging and uplifting. Her blog, StaceyPardoe.com, is all about encountering God in the ordinary.

Along with being a blogger, Stacey is a certified special education and elementary education teacher. Right now she’s is taking a break from the classroom to focus on raising her three little ones. When she isn’t writing or taking care of her babies, Stacey also mentors other women.

I know her insights and journey will inspire you as well!

Families with Grace: What is your God-given mission or passion?

Stacey Pardoe: My passion is to walk in Christ’s love and make His love known to the world. I believe all ministry should flow from a personal relationship with Christ. My hope is to encourage others with the hope Christ gives to me on a daily basis.

FWG: How do you work to live out that mission right now?

SP: Right now, most of my energy goes into raising my own little flock of three blue-eyed children. Bekah is 9, Caleb is 5 and little Aiden will be a year old in May. While there are days that drag on – days when the mission of motherhood feels too hidden and humbling – I regularly remind myself that shepherding this little flock is among the highest callings in my life. 

In addition to long stroller walks down our country road, afternoons spent chasing frogs in creek bottoms and campfires under hemlock trees with the kids, I also lead Bible studies, mentor women and spend the in-between moments writing. 

Writing fuels my soul in a quiet way that fills me up while I pour out. I began my freelance writing career three years ago. This opportunity to share the hope of Christ with the world nourishes my soul as I follow Christ into vulnerability and the uncomfortable realm of authentic, heart-level sharing. I have learned that one of the greatest gifts I can offer the world is the gift of my vulnerable, authentic self.

FWG: What are some of your biggest challenges in living out your mission?

SP: I love being a mom, but if I’m completely honest, there are days when the mission of motherhood is very challenging. While I thrive on routines, the cyclic nature of performing the same tasks again and again sometimes wears on my soul. 

I thrive in the warm months of the year, when we can get outside for long days in the woods, but there are winter days when the walls close in. There are days when I lose my patience and forget all about being thankful for this calling. 

There are also times when I struggle with balancing the callings to write, mentor and parent. At times, I find myself stretched thin from ministering to the world and neglecting home; however, at other times, I am restless from too much time pouring exclusively into my own little flock. I’ll share more about this below.

FWG: What have been some of your biggest blessings in living out your mission?

SP: I am very blessed by this mission of motherhood. After seven years as a high school Life Skills Support special education teacher, I am grateful for this season of pouring into my own children. The miracles of watching them grow, teaching them about Jesus and simply enjoying them are true blessings to me.

I became a mentor somewhat by accident. Throughout my years as a high school teacher, I was also a youth group leader at our local church. I led countless Bible studies and joined teens on mission trips and retreats across the country and beyond. Most of the younger women I currently mentor are now in their 20s; they are the teens who once helped in my classroom and bunked next to me on mission trips. I am blessed to count these young women as friends in this season of life. 

When I picked up writing a few years ago, it quickly became a wonderful ministry that fuels my soul in a different way. God uses writing to nudge me to look at what He’s teaching me and articulate it in a way that speaks to the needs of others. I am deeply blessed by writing.

FWG: How do you balance motherhood responsibilities with your work/mission?

SP: There are certainly times when I struggle to keep a balance between how much I’m ministering to people outside my family and how much I’m pouring into my own family. This is a week-by-week journey. I generally find that God whispers to my soul based on how stretched I’m feeling. 

I can tell when I’m pouring out too much outside the home. I snap at my kids, feel a low level of anxiety and feel like I’m always in a hurry. 

In the same sense, I can tell when I’m not reaching out enough. I have a restlessness in my soul and deep desire to connect in community. That can mean heading to the local university campus to take a walk and mentoring a younger woman or slipping to a quiet spot in the house to work on a writing project.

FWG: What’s the best advice you have for other moms who are following their passions?

SP: Don’t lose sight of your passions. There will be seasons when you might need to put them on the back-burner as you tend to your family, but this doesn’t mean you have to throw them away altogether. There is no formula for finding the balance between ministering to the world and ministering to your own family.

The key is to stay close to the heart of the Father.  He will whisper to you – through his written Word but also through your energy levels, or just a deep place of “knowing” – about when it’s time to push out and offer more to the world and when it’s time to pull back and give more to your family. The key is a relationship with Him. Keep your love for Him first, and He will help the rest fall into place.

Read more from the series

Moms on a Mission: Dr. Karen Dowling

Moms on a Mission: Erin Mayes

Moms on a Mission: Mari Hernandez-Tuten

Moms on a Mission: Kathleen Brooker

Moms on a Mission: Sarah R. Moore

Moms on a Mission: Kristin Billerbeck

Moms on a Mission: Crystal (aka InnieMom)

Moms on a Mission: Pastor Stefanie Hendrickson

Moms on a Mission: Amy Cutler

190 Non-candy Easter basket ideas

Easter basket ideas your toddlers to tweens will love that aren’t full of sugar!

Affiliate links are used in this post. If you make a qualifying purchase via my link, I receive a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products and services I use and love. It helps support my blog, so thank you for your support! Read my full disclosure here

I remember waking up as a kid on Easter morning to find an Easter basket beside my bed filled with all sorts of goodies. My kiddos find their Easter baskets in the living room, which now means by the fireplace.

Plastic eggs are hidden throughout the downstairs with a note telling them how many eggs to find and indicating which color of eggs belong to which kiddo. The Easter Bunny likes to give them their own color since they have different finding abilities at different ages.

The plastic eggs are usually filled with smaller candies that I’m more likely to say yes to letting them have a few of. And while their Easter baskets have a bit of candy in them as well, I also like for their Easter baskets to include a good number of non-candy things.

But, let’s face it, Easter also isn’t Christmas morning, so I don’t want their Easter baskets to have lots of high-priced toys or large items. I do like for them to have toys and items the kids will actually like rather than a bunch of little trinkets I find at the dollar store.

And even though I want to get them things they can use (Easter is a great time for buying warm weather items), I also want to get them things they’ll LIKE and be excited about. While they could use short-sleeved PJs or shirts, chances are they wouldn’t be so excited to find them in their Easter baskets!

So, I’ve put together a list of some great non-candy ideas for Easter baskets that also won’t break the bank! I’ve organized them based on age, but peruse other age groups than what you’re looking for. Some ideas work for multiple ages!

This post was written before the COVID-19 became a pandemic. Amazon is doing its best to get medical items and other necessities to people during this time. Choosing no-rush shipping for items you don’t need right away is a great way to help them be able to get necessities to people more timely.

For toddlers and preschoolers

Board books:
Check out this list of more than 100 children’s books worth reading for more ideas!
“I Love You Through and Through”
“Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?”
“Chicka Chicka Boom Boom”
“Hippos Go Berserk”
“Peek-A Who?”

Of course you can do a standard bottle of bubbles that has a wand, but there are some fun options as well!
Fubbles no-spill tumbler with bubble solution
Automatic bubble blower
T-rex bubble shooter (um, my 7-year-old would totally love this, too!)

12 cans of Play-Doh (4 ounces each)
Play-Doh Kitchen rolled ice-cream set
Trolls World Tour Rainbow Hair Poppy Play-Doh set

Sidewalk chalk:
Yoobi sidewalk chalk paint rollers (3-pack)
24-pack dustless colored chalk
10-piece chalk set with holder

Bath toys:
4-piece mold free bath squirters
Wind-up swimming penguin (available in blue or pink)
Caterpillar stacking and straining cups
Basketball hoop with floating balls
Fishing pole with toys

Stuffed animals:
Plush brown monkey
12-inch stuffed teddy bear
Unicorn (also comes in a dragon and pegasus)

Slap bracelets:
4-pack “Frozen 2” slap bracelets featuring Anna, Elsa, Kristoff and Olaf
5-pack (or 8-pack) of superhero slap bracelets
Plush animal slap bracelets (a wide array of animals, including dinosaurs, are available)

Art supplies:
Toddler scissors
Melissa & Doug jumbo triangular crayons (10-pack)
Alphabet coloring book
Paint with water coloring book of puppies
Crayola Color Wonder coloring set (These are amazing because the markers really don’t show up anywhere except on the coloring pages!)

O-ball with circles for little fingers to easily grip

Knobby balls (pack of 12)

Expandable ball (set of 2)

Lego Duplos:
Town pizza stand (ages 2 and up)
First fish (ages 18 months and up)
Construction bulldozer set (ages 2 and up)

For early elementary

Check out this list of more than 100 children’s books worth reading for more ideas!
The boxed set of books 1-4 in the Junie B. Jones series
“Charlotte’s Web”
“The Big Book of Silly Jokes for Kids”
“Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing”
“Dog Man: Brawl of the Wild” (or any book from this series)
“Minnie and Moo Go to Paris” (or any Minnie and Moo book)

Silly putty:
Original Silly Putty (3-pack)
Heat sensitive lab putty
Glow in the Dark Silly Putty

Lego Friends Olivia’s flower garden
Lego Creator 3-in-1 propeller plane
Lego City monster truck
Lego Friends heart box

Pool toys:
Fish dive sticks
Water guns (2-pack — no pool needed for these!)
Scoop-a-Diving pool toys

Hot Wheels:
5-pack of Batman vehicles
1:24 scale monster truck

Classic 1980s-style sunglasses (available in 12 colors)
Polarized sunglasses with straps (available in 17 colors)
Rhinestone cat eye sunglasses (available in 20 colors)

Swim goggles:
Anti-fog eye goggles with nose and ear plugs and a case (available in 3 colors)
Anti-fog eye mask with a snorkle (available in 4 colors)
2-pack anti-fog eye goggles with nose and ear plugs (available 9 color combinations)

Digital Anna and Elsa watch
Digital Spider-man watch
Silicone analog watches (available in dinosaur, firetrucks and butterflies, each in a variety of colors)
Analog watches with the hour and minute hands labeled (available in Batman, Minnie Mouse and Disney Princesses)
Analog sea turtle slap bracelet watch

Arts and crafts:
A how to draw animals book
A draw-and-write gratitude journal
A dinosaur or unicorn activity book
A set of crayons, markers and colored pencils

8 sheets of cute animal stickers
160 cars and trucks stickers
Paint by sticker zoo animals
Make-a-Face stickers

Dover sticker activity books (At $1.50 to $1.99, these are the cheapest item on the list and super cool! You can find a little sticker book for just about anything your kiddos would like including making ice cream sundaes, Noah’s ark, decorating Easter eggs, baby animals, dinosaurs and so much more!)

Barbie rhythmic gymnast doll with two batons and a ribbon (also in brunette with darker skin)
Babysitters Inc. baby (with blanket and bottle)
Fashionista Ken
Swimsuit Barbie (The swimsuit is painted on, so it’s ideal for the bathtub, pool or anywhere your kiddo wants to play in water!)
Rockstar Chelsea with guitar, microphone, headphones, VIP tickets and star-shaped glasses

Barbie kitten with accessories
Barbie day spa accessories
Barbie barbeque grill with food
Barbie gardening accessories with plants and more
Barbie house cleaning supplies
Barbie breakfast tray with food

The card game War for kids
Simon micro series

6-pack of puffer balls
4-pack mesh squishy stress balls
Nee Doh stress ball

Blind bags:
Ooey Gooey pickin surprise (slime)
My Little Pony Magical Surprise
Disney Princess Secret Style Surprise princess
Power Rangers Micro Morphers
Dreamsworks’ Trolls World Tour Tiny Dancers (wearable figures)

Polly Pocket sets:
Dolphin trainer set
Barbeque set
Playground set
Rock star set

Water snakes:
5-inch long water snake with glitter
Long 9.5-inch long water snake
4.75-inch water snake with dolphins inside

Action figures:
12-inch superheroes like Spider-man, Superman and Captain America
7-inch Imaginext DC characters like Black Bat & Ninja Batman, Flash & his cycle or Joker & Harley Quinn
Pokemon figures like Pikachu and Grookey
2-pack Fortnite Battle Royale action figures

Mighty Beanz
4-pack Hatchimals collectibles with 4 accessories
Magic ring bracelet toy

U.S. map 60-piece puzzle
A metal or plastic neon slinky
DIY Scratch art bookmark kit (makes 12 bookmarks)

For tweens

Check out this list of more than 100 children’s books worth reading for more ideas!
“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”
“The Girl Who Drank the Moon”
“The Lion, the With and the Wardrobe”
“A Wrinkle in Time”
“The Lightning Thief”
“The Best Kind of Magic”

Arts and crafts:
How to draw books like Pokemon, Harry Potter or Unicorns, Mermaids and More
A fashion design sketch portfolio
4,000-piece set of multi-colored Perler beads (separated by color)
Perler bead with patterns: Harry Potter, Spider-man, Zelda, emojis or a dog

Lip balm or gloss:
6-count Sweet Tarts lip gloss canister
8-count M&Ms Lip Smackers
8-count Starbrust Lip Smackers
8-count Coca-Cola Lip Smackers
5-count Lip Smacker liquid lip gloss
8-count Sour Patch Kids flavored lip balm
8-count Skittles Lip Smackers

Blind bags:
Funko Mystery Minis: Marvel Venom
Lego Unikitty collectibles
Mandalorian foam 3D clips

Necklaces: A cross necklace or an initial necklace
Bracelets: An initial charm bracelet, a leather charm bracelet (available in 36 options) or 6 colorful beaded bracelets
Earrings: ladybug earrings, cross earrings or 9-count earrings in various design options

Monopoly Deal card game
Clue: the card game
Uno: Emoji

Wet Brush:
(My daughter and I LOVE this brush for her ultra-thick hair. It works on both wet and dry hair to detangle without pulling and hurting. We have one upstairs and one downstairs!)
Floral design Wet Brush
Disney character Wet Brush

100-piece animal selfies puzzle
100-piece sea turtle puzzle
300-piece Pokemon fan favorites puzzle
350-piece puppies in sneakers puzzle

Water bottle:
50 Strong Kids sports squeeze 22-oz. water bottle (available in 14 patterns)
Contigo auto spout straw water bottle (available in 24- and 32-ounce; 24-ounce bottles are under $11)
DIY Color stainless steel water bottle

Lego Technic toy tractor
Lego Marvel Avengers Ironman mech
Lego Star Wars Millennium Microfighter

MadLibs: (all under $5)
“Dog Ate My Mad Libs”
“Sleepover Party Mad Libs”
“Camp Daze Mad Libs”
“Goofy Mad Libs”
“Unicorns, Mermaids and Mad Libs”
“Diary of a Wimpy Kid Mad Libs”
“Marvel’s Avengers Mad Libs”

Hair chalk
Zoya nail polish (free of harsh chemicals, lasts so long and comes in tons of colors) Some fav pinks for spring: light pink, medium pink and bright pink
OMG Little Live Pets dogs in ballerina and rainbow pop

Looking for more Easter ideas? Don’t miss these easy DIY Resurrection Eggs with a free printable!

15 Ideas for spending time at home with your family

Advice from an introverted work-at-home mom on self-isolating

Affiliate links are used in this post; if you make a qualifying purchase via my link, I receive a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products and services I use and love. It helps support my blog, so thank you for your support! Read my full disclosure here.

In an effort to contain the COVID-19 virus and keep from overwhelming healthcare facilities and workers, a good portion of the U.S. population is at home for work and school right now. Along with that, health and government officials are recommending that we self-isolate — basically stay home and avoid contact with other people.

And that is pretty much a normal day in the life for me. I work from home and have since 2003. The last couple of years, my husband has joined me in working from home as well. Add in that I’m also an introvert who recharges with time alone and have chronic health issues that sometimes keep me from being able to get out, and I’m pretty much the poster child for self-isolation.

As my kids get older, I get out of the house more often to take and/or pick them up from school. They each also get to pick one extracurricular activity a week that we take them to, but even that my husband and I usually divide so we only are going to one activity a week.

But my happiest days are the ones where I never leave the house. I love to find ways to be productive and to be lazy. I feel most free at home.

Of course, my feelings are not shared by everyone. Statistically speaking, introverts are a minority (and even among introverts, my INFJ type is the least common). So I can only imagine that there are a lot of extroverts being told to stay home right now that are kind of at a loss.

Folks who are constantly on the go and seldom home. I once joked that our neighbors (who have since moved away) were a family who was almost never home and they probably thought we were a family who was always home. I’m sure we seemed different to them in the opposite way they seemed different to us.

So, I’ve been thinking about what to do at home. What do I enjoy about being in my own house with my husband and kids? What makes this my happy place? The answer has nothing to do with the actual house itself and everything to do with the people inside it, my attitude about it and the activities going on within it.

1. Do some work.

This is probably a no-brainer. Right now, people are working from home and schools are sending home assignments. So, clearly one of the the things you can do at home is work. One of the things your kids can do is schoolwork.

Finding the motivation to do that while at home can be a challenge for some, so I offer things I’ve learned through the years.

Get dressed. You’ll be more likely to be productive in clothes versus PJs, even if it is yoga pants and a T-shirt.

Designate a work area. If you have a space dedicated to work then your mind will go to work when you get there.

Work together when you can. While I usually work in my home office, when the kids are doing e-learning, working at the kitchen table is easier so I can help them. (Plus it creates a feeling of solidarity that we are all working together!)

Minimize distractions. Keep the TV off and, if you play music, go for something not distracting. Instrumental music works really well!

Have set work times to help you stay motivated to start working when you’re supposed to. Set work time also helps you stop and switch to home mode.

Communicate with your family. If you have a time busier than others or calls scheduled, let your family know ahead of time. Work out a system for what they should do if they need you during that time.

Keep realistic expectations. When my kids are home for e-learning or off on a break, I know that I will not be able to get quite as much done as when they are not here. I modify my priorities accordingly.

If your kiddos don’t have schoolwork sent home with them or need additional ideas, finding educational apps they can use or things you can print out for them to work on while you work. Check out the following:

Scholastic Learn at Home
– Free weekly broadcast with do-at-home activities through the Cincinnati Zoo’s Facebook page
12 museums that offer virtual tours
List of over 30 virtual field trips
PBS Kids Daily weekday newsletter

2. Enjoy family meals.

Eating together for dinner can be a challenge for some families. Having a chance to eat breakfast and lunch together is impossible for a lot of families. Times at home are great for togetherness over food. Even if you’re just having bowls of cereal together for breakfast counts. Turn off electronics and chat.

3. Read together.

Even if you’re kids can easily read on their own, reading a book out loud together is special! Check out your local library’s website to download e-books or consider signing up for Kindle Unlimited through Amazon, which I LOVE! If you need ideas of books to read, check out this list of more than 100 children’s books worth reading; it has ideas for toddlers to tweens.

Another great option is Epic!. Right now, Epic! is offering a month free. It has all sorts of books for school-aged kids and includes the option to have the book read aloud, which is great for early readers and non-readers. We love Epic! so much that we’ve had a monthly subscription for a couple of years.

You can also have a nice time just sitting snuggled together or in the same room reading to yourself.

4. Watch movies together.

Thanks to streaming services like Netflix and Disney Plus, you don’t have to leave home to watch a movie together. We love movie nights at my house and having a chance to have them more often when we are all home together is nice. You can combine it with mealtime or snack-time with easy finger foods while you watch. And then, of course, you can also snuggle together!

5. Find new television shows to watch together. (Or watch family favs you are behind on!)

We’ve found a few shows our family enjoys watching together through the years. Recently “Green Eggs and Ham” on Netflix was something we all four enjoyed. We also like baking competitions, “America’s Funniest Videos,” “LegoMasters” and pretty much any of the Scooby-Doos series.

You can also get some culture in by watching one of the Metropolitan Opera’s free nightly broadcasts being offered right now.

6. Cook together.

My kids have loved helping in the kitchen since they were toddlers. They like a chance to bake with me in particular, but even doing meal prep can be fun for them. Cooking with kids usually takes a bit longer, so times being at home are ideal to do so. This is also a great time to try out new recipes or old favorites you haven’t had time to make for a while.

Some of our favorite foods to cook or bake together include the following:

Pumpkin bread
Whipped pudding pie
BLT pizza
Peanut butter honey nut cereal clusters
Pizza subs
4-ingredient lemon squares
Cookies, especially toffee cookies

7. Organize or clean together.

Cleaning isn’t so fun, but the more time I have at home, the better condition my house is in. Time at home is great for cleaning and organizing. Work on tasks you need to do but never get around to. Clean out and organize your pantry. Sort through your kids clothes and pull out things that don’t fit. If you feel really ambitious, clean out toys!

In the end, you’ll all feel satisfied with a job well done and be able to do something fun afterward to relax like watch a movie and eat snacks.

8. Get creative together.

Remember all those Pins you saved on Pinterest of stuff you want to make with your kids? Being home together for a while is a great chance to do them. Or pull out craft kits your kids have forgotten about and finally have time to do.

If crafts aren’t your thing (they aren’t mine), then make art together in a low-key way. My family enjoys coloring together. We all work on pictures we want. I use crayons and don’t get detailed. My husband uses high-quality markers and adds lots of detail and shading. My daughter and son each have their own styles as well. But we all have fun!

9. Play games together.

We love games! Being home is a great time to pull out board games, card games and even video games you can play together. We have a wide variety of games our kiddos like. Various types of Uno card games are one of their favorites at the moment. (If you’ve got a younger kiddo, consider getting a playing card holder to help them out. My first grader loves it!)

My kids also love Story Cubes and Toilet Trouble, which are easy for non-readers to play as well! If your kids are solid readers, consider Fluxx, which is a fast-paced card game where the rules constantly change.

Another family favorite of ours is Mad Libs. These are bonus, educational fun because your kiddos have to identify parts of speech!

10. Have unstructured play time together.

Having time at home without other things going on is great for just playing together. My kids’ love any chance for one-on-one playtime with us. My husband and I will set a time for 30 minutes or an hour and play with one child during that time. When the timer goes off, we switch and do the same with the other kiddo. My kids absolutely love it!

11. Make a list of independent activities.

I’d love to say that having extra time at home means we will be doing fun and productive things with our family all the time. But that’s not reality. We still have to do things like work, shower, clean and even just relax! I’ve found having a list of ideas (either written or in my head) that my kiddos can do on their own helps when they come to me and tell me they’re bored.

This can include chores, things they want to do, activities you know they’ll like, etc. You could also encourage them to do something nice for others. Maybe they could make cards to mail to extended family members or those in nursing homes right now.

12. Shop online together.

Sometimes our downtime at home involves online shopping. With warmer weather coming, my kids are going to need some new clothes. While my 7-year-old son doesn’t care so much about his wardrobe, his 10-year-old sister does! Having a chance to look online at some clothes together is always good. Showing my son a couple of options to pick from or scrolling through items with daughter works.

You might not buy everything right now. (Hello, budget!) But, at least you’ll know what you need or want to order over the next couple of months. It can also be a good time for kids to plan what they want to save for or how they’re going to use their spending money.

13. Have spa time.

OK. Maybe not spa time, per se, but being home is a great time to do some beauty sort of stuff you don’t usually get to do or don’t always have time to enjoy. You can do this with or without kiddo involvement.

My daughter and I have recently started doing face masks together and it’s so fun! We also enjoy painting our fingernails. Once I did temporary hair color gel in my kids’ hair. It doesn’t have to be complicated or over-the-top. Just have fun with it!

14. Blare some music.

When my kids were toddlers, they loved dancing around the house with me. Even now at 7 and 10, they still do sometimes. If you’re bored or doing something physical, crank up some fun music and let loose. I can’t tell you how many times I have danced around while baking. One of my favorites is the soundtrack from the musical “Wicked.”

15. Just be.

My favorite thing about time at home is the chance to just be. I love having a chance to just fully be myself. Home is the place where I can be dorky, crazy, quiet, silly or anything else. I can be me.

Some of our best memories have been made during times we aren’t doing a darn thing. We all pile onto our bed or the couch and giggle over silly things. These days the puppy get into the mix and adds some craziness. We just have fun together.

My goal is to let my family just be themselves at home. Of course there are rules to follow and chores to do and all that responsible stuff. But above all, I want them to feel free to be who they are in their own spaces.

School lunch ideas even your pickiest eater will love

Delicious lunch ideas to get out of the sandwich rut

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As I told you in my 8 tips to reduce the stress of packing lunches, I try to do as much lunch packing the night before as I can. I also try to stick with a same general theme for my two kiddos and switch things up so that they don’t have the same thing every day.

While we do have lunches like peanut butter plain or with jelly or honey on sandwich bread with a side of potato chips and fresh fruit, that isn’t our everyday fare.

I decided to put together a few examples of some of our more creative lunches that aren’t any more difficult than PBJ sandwiches and don’t take any longer to make.

For more information on my lunch packing system and all our favorite lunchbox essentials, check out this post:

Get creative with your bread

One way I’ve learned to break up the lunchbox sandwich monotony is with different bread. Some of my kids’ favorite alternatives to bread are flour tortillas, Hawaiian rolls and Bagel Thins.

I have one kiddo who will eat pretty much whatever I make for her and another who wouldn’t have any protein in his diet if it weren’t for nuts and dairy.

My son has been recently obsessed with bagels. He would eat a toasted bagel with peanut butter pretty much every meal if I’d agree to it. But, a toasted bagel doesn’t pack well for lunch, so we go with Bagel Thins. They’re lower calorie and taste great not toasted.

My kids also love applesauce. The Go Go SqueeZ pouches work well for their lunches because they have no added sugar and the twist top is super easy for the kids to open.

My son’s lunch: A Bagel Thin with peanut butter, an applesauce pouch, baby carrots with Ranch chip dip (lower calorie with some protein and less messy than Ranch dressing) and Goldfish crackers.
My daughter’s lunch on the same day: A Bagel Thin with peanut butter and strawberry jelly, an applesauce pouch, grape tomatoes and Goldfish crackers.

Another favorite of my kiddos is Hawaiian rolls. I use them both to make sandwiches and served solo with peanut butter on the side. We don’t do these quite as often because they are a bit higher calorie and such, but they are a nice every so often to shake up lunches.

My daughter’s lunch: thin-shaved turkey breast with shredded cheese, mayo and honey mustard on a Hawaiian roll, grape tomatoes, strawberries and raspberries and sour cream and onion potato chips
My daughter’s lunch another day: Thin-shaved turkey breast with shredded cheese, mayo and honey mustard on a Hawaiian roll, baby carrots with ranch dip, Jif power-ups and fresh pineapple chunks
My son’s lunch: a Hawaiian roll, peanut butter in a dip cup with a plastic spoon to eat it, Cheez-Its, frosted animal crackers and grapes

Tortilla shells also make another great alternative for sandwich lunches. My daughter, in particular really likes wraps. I also sometimes buy a package of individual baked sides to make packing lunches even easier.

My daughter’s lunch: Baked potato chips, grapes, a wrap with thin-sliced turkey, shredded cheese, mayo and honey mustard and grape tomatoes
My daughter’s lunch: White cheddar popcorn, a fruit and veggie pouch, frosted animal crackers, a wrap with sliced salami, provolone cheese and a bit of mayo and raisins

Think outside of sandwiches

One of both kids’ favorite lunch days is what we call a “snacky lunch.” I usually send a snacky lunch on Tuesdays and sometimes Thursdays. Granola bars work well on these days. My son especially LOVES sweet and salty peanut bars. He would eat them each meal and for snacks, too!

My son’s lunch: Peanut butter in a dip cup, Ritz crackers, a sweet and salty peanut bar, blueberries and a homemade cookie.
My daughter’s lunch: Fruit and grain bar, teriyaki beef jerky, Ritz crackers, grapes and grape tomatoes

Snacky lunch options for my daughter can also be a sliced boiled egg. I put it in a silicone cupcake holder. Sometimes I include crackers on the side, but lately I’ve been including croutons, because she loves them so much. I usually include a dip cup of ranch dressing for her as well.

Another option I’ve sent for my daughter is salads. I fill her large container with lettuce and top it with things like shredded cheese, boiled egg, onion and tomatoes. Then I add bacon bits and croutons in a separate container and a dip cup of salad dressing she can pour on as well. I usually send along some peanut butter crackers and fruit to complete her lunch.

Get creative with hot lunches

Hot lunches take more time on the morning of in order to heat the food and make them. But I do usually get the sides put together and in lunchboxes the night before.

My kiddos like breaking up the lunch monotony with hot lunches. I usually do a hot lunch for them on Wednesdays. I love the Thermos Funtainer food jars.

You can find more details on how I use them by warming them with hot water for 15-20 minutes in my post on how to make packing lunches easier. While I sometimes use leftovers for hot lunches, most often I use other options like the ones below that I took a few different days.

My daughter’s lunch: An applesauce pouch, Lean Cuisine Swedish meatballs, peanut butter crackers and frosted animal crackers
Part of my son’s lunch: frozen pancakes, cut up into quarters (This is a favorite for both of my kids! My daughter dips hers in applesauce, so I send an applesauce cup with hers. My son just likes the applesauce on the side, so he gets a pouch.)
My son’s entire lunch: An applesauce pouch, frozen pancakes cut into quarters, peanut butter crackers and frosted animal crackers
My daughter’s lunch: Smart Ones tuna casserole, an applesauce pouch, a granola bar and raisins

More lunch ideas

These are just a few days’ worth of lunches I’ve packed for my kiddos lately. Just a bit of creativity can shake things up and get them from getting bored. Here are a few grocery ideas to add into your lunch rotation:

60 Motherhood truths

You’ll relate to these truths about motherhood that are both poignant and humorous!

Once I became a mom, I suddenly understood all the unsolicited motherhood advice that other moms dole out. You just have all this information inside of you that you want to share with a woman about to have her first baby. You want to chat about it with other moms to make sure you aren’t the only one with these feelings or struggles.

I’ve compiled a long list of motherhood truths. The first 35 I wrote when my kids were 3-1/2 years and 5 months old. You’ll find relatable truths that are sentimental, humorous or both! Keeping a sense of humor in motherhood is vital for survival.

(And thanks to a couple of readers who gave me some motherhood truths to share as well!)

Truths from the early years of motherhood

Motherhood truth #1: You’ll have many moments when your husband, your children and your dog all need something from you at the exact same time. This is usually when you’re doing a frivolous activity like making dinner or washing laundry or going to the bathroom.

Motherhood truth #2: Speaking of going to the bathroom, you’ll wonder if you will ever have privacy again.

Motherhood truth #3: Knowing that one day you will miss having an entourage follow you throughout the house and adoring fans crying for you from another room doesn’t make it any easier to deal with right now.

Motherhood truth #4: You will have moments when you’ll wonder why on earth you ever taught your preschooler to talk since she never stops talking. Ever. Ever, ever. 

Motherhood truth #5: You will be amazed at how many tasks you can accomplish and have no memory of when you’re sleep deprived.

Motherhood truth #6: You will sometimes tear up because you have so much love for your little people that your heart overflows and can’t contain it. This even happens at 2 a.m. when you’ve been up since 7 a.m. the previous day.

Motherhood truth #7: You will always feel guilty about something. You will beat yourself up over every single thing you do and every single thing you don’t do. Mommy guilt is ever-present and sometimes all-consuming. Watch out for it!

Motherhood truth #8: You will find yourself saying things you never dreamed you would like: “Your Crocs are in my bedroom with corn in them.” Or, “If you fall and hurt yourself, I’m not going to help you.”

Motherhood truth #9: You will have more fun playing with your kids than you did playing when you were a child.

Motherhood truth #10: You will be glad to have given birth and yet somehow miss being pregnant at the same time — even when you had a miserable pregnancy.

Motherhood truth #11: Just like mommy guilt, mommy worries are also always present, especially with the first baby. You’ll worry if she’s sleeping too much. You’ll worry she’s not sleeping enough. It won’t make any sense, but it will happen.

Motherhood truth #12: You will channel your mom. Enough said.

Motherhood truth #13: You will lose yourself for a while after the baby is born, but you’ll come back. Slowly, over time, you become more you again, yet different in a way you’re OK with.

Motherhood truth #14: You’ll have the super power of being able to touch hot plates without grimacing. I don’t know how this ties into motherhood, but it’s true. My hands can stand much more heat now than ever before. Maybe I’m just too tired to care about getting burnt.

Motherhood truth #15: You won’t remember a darn thing. Mommy brain is real. I keep multiple lists and set multiple calendar items and reminders on my phone to pretend like I’m organized. You won’t remember a darn thing. (Did I already say that? I don’t remember!)

Motherhood truth #16: You will need an extra half hour to get out of the house — at least. Because there is always a diaper that needs to be changed as soon as everyone is ready or a sippy cup that needs to be filled or a doll that needs to be found.

Motherhood truth #17: You will sing children’s songs in your head all the time whether it’s in the middle of the night when you’re up for the bathroom or to feed the baby or whether you’re on a date with your husband (and if your husband is like mine, he’ll sing right along with you!).

Motherhood truth #18: Speaking of husbands, you’ll be overwhelmed at how much more you can love him when you see him holding your baby. And you’ll also be overwhelmed at how irritated you can get at him, but remember hormones and sleep deprivation make even the best husband seem annoying. This applies to all relatives and even random strangers, too.

Motherhood truth #19: You have an inner mama bear that will come out when riled. I have stood up to folks I never speak up to when my child’s happiness was at stake. I would take on anyone who tried to mess with either of my babies and I mean anyone!

Motherhood truth #20: You won’t be grossed out very easily. In fact, you’ll do gross things and not even give them a second thought. Leaving the house with spit-up on your shirt is the least of them. 

When my son was a newborn, I literally caught a bowel movement in my hand as he started to go while I was changing him. My reasoning was that it was much easier to clean my hands off than have to clean it off the changing table pad. Only later did I even think, “Hey, that was probably gross.”

Motherhood truth #21: You’re on a long journey. You’ll have good days and bad. And sometimes they happen all in the same day. Don’t get bogged down by the bad moments. Know that it really is worth it and whatever phase you’re in really does end.

Motherhood truth #22: Life really won’t ever be the same again. Having a child changes you forever. Life is no longer about you but all about the little people you gave birth to. It’s OK to mourn the loss of life as you knew it. Just don’t get stuck there and miss enjoying the life you have now — or at least the really good parts of it!

Motherhood truth #23: You must have a sense of humor. Keep a sense of humor about the trials and challenges of motherhood, pregnancy and childbirth. Own it. Sometimes it sucks. Sometimes you will cry. But, sometimes you can laugh instead.

Motherhood truth #24: Keeping a sense of humor is also important because there is never enough energy or time for a good cry.

Motherhood truth #25: You will develop a keen radar and be able to find your child’s favorite toy in a pile of a million toys strewn all around your house. At all times I know where my daughter’s favorite doll is and my son’s favorite ball is. Seriously.

Motherhood truth #26: You will hone ninja-like abilities to move silently out of your baby’s room after a 30-minute battle to get him to sleep.

Motherhood truth #27: You will apologize to your parents for fighting sleep, talking back or simply just being alive after dealing with your children. Just this week I texted my mother to apologize for fighting sleep. She’s told me my son reminds her of me as a baby. I’m so sorry for that for her. I’m even more sorry for that for me sometimes!

Motherhood truth #28: You will wonder how you ever thought you were busy before. I remember before having kids I felt like I was so busy all the time. I laugh at that idea now. Heck, I thought I was so busy with one baby. Now when I have only the baby to deal with, it feels like free time. And he’s a much needier baby than my daughter was.

Motherhood truth #29: If you breastfeed, you’ll be surprised at all the places milk can end up. You’ll be equally surprised at all the places spit-up can end up as well. This is probably true for bottle feeding as well!

Motherhood truth #30: You will be surprised at how much you praise bodily functions. Sometimes that will carry over to others. I have literally said to my husband before, “That was a good burp-y.” Yeah. It happens.

Motherhood truth #31: You will share “looks” with other moms at Target when their child is whining. While before you might have looked on with judgment, now you look on with empathy and, internally, are just plain relieved your child isn’t the offender at the moment.

Motherhood truth #32: You will want to smack anyone who does anything to wake up your baby. You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’ve had to refrain from putting the smackdown on the pizza delivery guy who returned unannounced for us to sign a receipt right after we got the baby to sleep and were about to indulge in pizza and a movie on a date night. 

Or the family friend who insisted on stroking the baby’s arm when she saw us at a restaurant and our food had just arrived and he was happily asleep for once. Or the dog who stands outside the baby’s door and barks for no apparent reason. I could go on.

Motherhood truth #33: You will refer to yourself in the third person. Worst of all for someone like me, you will intermix third and first person. For example, “Mommy needs to take a shower. When I get out, we’ll make sure you didn’t burn down the house.” OK, I haven’t actually said that, but you get my point.

Motherhood truth #34: You will feel as if you should get awards for various things that no one would ever think of giving awards for. Like an award for showering, bathing the children, making dinner, doing laundry, paying bills or refraining from telling your child to shut up. Small tasks become so very monumental.

Motherhood truth #35: You will survive. Well, I’m pretty sure you will.  So far I have survived and it’s been just over 3 and 1/2 years. I also know plenty of moms who have grown children, so I like to think that survival of motherhood is possible. 

Truths from the school-aged years of motherhood

Motherhood truth #36: (From Kayla, a mom of four) Your kids will always ask you for what they need, even if your husband is closer to them. They’ll even call and ask you a question if you’re at work and their dad is home with them.

Motherhood truth #37: (From Kayla, a mom of four) You are the only one who can see dishes in the sink, laundry that needs to be folded and a house that needs cleaned.

Motherhood truth #38: (From Melissa, a mom of three) Parenting is harder than anyone can ever explain. (It never gets easier.) Just like no one can ever explain how much you will love your child.

Motherhood truth #39: (From Kayla, a mom of four) Motherhood is the hardest and most rewarding job ever!

Motherhood truth #40: (From Kayla, a mom of four) You’ve got to have downtime and evening snuggles while watching Disney is the way to go!

Motherhood truth #41: You will have parent homework, meaning projects and such that rely on you to organize and manage them. While you may think you have passed kindergarten or second grade before, you will find yourself helping with the work yet again. Don’t fight it and gripe about it — or you’ll just make yourself miserable. (I speak from experience here…)

Motherhood truth #42: You don’t have to be friends with the parents of your children’s friends. Being friendly with them and knowing them is a good plan, especially if you are going to let your kids go to their houses. But just because your kiddos are BFFs doesn’t mean that you will be, too!

Motherhood truth #43: Some truths about your children remain the same from the time they are little until they get older. My son — the challenging sleeper as a baby — still has trouble sleeping. My daughter — the chatty preschooler — is now a chatty 4th grader.

Motherhood truth #44: Even if you’re the first one up each morning, chances are really good you’ll be the last one to get ready since you help everyone else along the way.

Motherhood truth #45: Watching your children perform anything anywhere will make your heart burst with pride, even if they aren’t exceptionally great at what they’re doing. It doesn’t matter. They are up there and you’ll realize afterward that your jaws can get sore from smiling too much.

Motherhood truth #46: Even when your kiddos seem so big compared to the babies and toddlers they were, they still revert to those same sweet faces and want you when they aren’t feeling well. The only difference is now you soak it up all that much more because those moments are more fleeting than they once were.

Motherhood truth #47: Your son may have just turned 7, but you still have a bit of PTSD from his early days as a reflux baby who did very little sleeping at night. You will do your best not to hold this against him.

Motherhood truth #48: Traveling with your kids gets easier as they get older. You no longer have to lug half your household along and they are much more flexible.

Motherhood truth #49: If you kids are going to get a stomach bug, at least 90% of the time it doesn’t start until after bedtime and often after midnight.

Motherhood truth #50: You’ll plan what outfits your kids will wear for big events (or family photos) and then scramble around at the last minute deciding what you’re going to wear.

Motherhood truth #51: Watching your children play together is an awesome feeling. Seeing them treat each other with love and kindness is the best feeling!

Motherhood truth #52: Growth spurts will strike at unexpected times — like right after you just finished buying them clothes for the season or one month before the season ends. (I just had to start buying more winter clothes for my son because he got taller, even though warm weather is on its way!)

Motherhood truth #53: Once you stock up on a food your kids have been in love with for weeks, they’ll decide they don’t like it so much. OK, not every time, but many times!

Motherhood truth #54: You’ll get a better understanding of God’s love and greatness. I marvel at how much I love my children and can’t fathom how it’s possible He loves them even more.

Motherhood truth #55: Even being their mom first, you’ll have times you get to be their friend and it’s just plain fun. I love getting a chance to just hang out with my kids, especially one-on-one, and taking off my mom hat to just be with them doing something fun together.

Motherhood truth #56: You’ll wonder how shoes and socks can disappear so easily, even with set spots for them to go. You’ll begin to wonder if elves appear overnight and move things around!

Motherhood truth #57: You’ll have to work past grudges against other kids who didn’t treat your own very well even when they work through the issue and become good friends.

Motherhood truth #58: Great memories are often made in the small moments. Earlier this week, we spent a few days at an indoor water park on the kids’ spring break. They had so much fun, but I think the memory I’ll most hang onto is lying in bed with them, eating mini muffins and watching “The Golden Girls” (their pick!) on our last morning in the hotel.

Motherhood truth #59: You’ll learn so many lessons from your children. I have been astounded at the spiritual insights my kids have. I have been humbled and blessed in hearing them pray for me, our family and big issues in the world.

Motherhood truth #60: Being a mom is the most exhausting and draining job on the planet. But it’s also the best job you can ever imagine. The rewards far surpass the challenges.