Have you ever had people talk at you? They do all the talking and you can’t get a word in edgewise. If you do manage to say something, they’re so busy thinking of what they will say next that they haven’t listened to a word you’ve said.

That’s not a conversation.

It’s more like a monologue.

Or a lecture.

Or maybe even a speech.

If you’re able, you walk away with a commitment to avoid such people at all costs!

Yet this description often applies to communications between adults and children. Instead of talking with children, we talk at them.  And our messages are often contradictory.

Sit down. Stand up.

Be quiet. Answer me.

Come here. Go to your room.

Do we talk at our children? Do we talk down to our grandchildren?

Children learn conversational skills by observing and listening. If we’re rude to them, they’ll be rude to us…and to their peers. If we model respect for each other and for them, they’ll internalize that respect in their own conversations.

Conversation is a two-way street. We speak and we listen with consideration and respect…even when the conversations are with children.

Your Family’s Great Value

I’m writing this last night, after just returning a few hours earlier from a three-week trip to help my oldest daughter and her family after the birth of her second child. I still feel like I am riding in the car (it’s a 12-hour drive), and though I’m happy to be home, the house feels empty and too quiet.

I’m sure some of the events and insights of the past three weeks will find their way into future posts. But for now I want to share something I wrote after another family visit this summer. I hope you enjoy it!

Seeing Eternity in My Family’s Faces

“Family faces are magic mirrors. Looking at people who belong to us, we see the past, present and future.”–Gail Buckley

Especially after just returning from two weeks of being together with my grown daughters, their husbands, one grandson, and the two little cousins on the way.

I have a friend who sometimes says she misses her young children–even though she very much loves and enjoys them now as adults.

The past … can’t be retrieved or relived. I have a few of my daughters’ grade school photos in collages on a hallway wall … and sometimes when I glance at them, my heart catches. Where did those little girls go?

Ah, the present. Two beautiful young women. Not without struggles, but full of love. Each with talents. Growing in Jesus. Preparing to birth new life. Three marriages, my own included, each with its own challenges and blessings. A young boy with energy, imagination, and gifts.

And the future? Someday my daughters will be my age. Their children will be grown; they will have grandchildren, my great-grandchildren. What joys and sorrows will they have known? How will they have served and loved? What will my legacy to them be?

I love being with my family. It’s difficult for all of us that we live six states and hundreds of miles apart. Our visits are precious.

When I stepped into my house last night after two weeks away, I thought I felt the life of the days it had stood empty and silent.

There were the clean dishes I had left to dry near the sink. My plants had grown some. The ceiling fans quietly whirled, the answering machine beeped. The head of lettuce in the mostly empty fridge was still good. The pictures I want to hang in my office (rearranged after the demise of the beloved little bunny who resided there) still leaned against a wall. The lamp set with a timer clicked on, just as it had done each evening while we were gone.

That moment became a metaphor to me. Like my unoccupied house holding aspects of my past, present, and future simultaneously, my heavenly Father holds all my life. My past, my present, my future are all his. I think that is partly what eternity means.

And when I look into the mirrors of my family’s faces, that’s what I see.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.–2 Thessalonians 3:16 NIV


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© 2012, Diane Stortz


Christ’s Cake

Rating: :) :) :) :)

Christ’s Cake is the story of five-year-old Jackson, who is cast as an angel in a Christmas play. But Jackson gets a different kind of cast after he falls and hurts himself. Will a broken arm keep him from playing his part as an angel?

Through Jackson’s eyes, children are introduced to Jesus on a personal level, which may open the door to further discussion of faith. Jackson learns about the unconditional love Jesus has for him, stirring his heart to give back. Readers may be inspired to join with Jackson’s family in a holiday tradition – baking a special birthday cake to remember the true meaning of Christmas.

The illustrations added depth and emotion to the story. I especially enjoyed the expressive faces of people (and animals) throughout the book.

The book has one minor caveat related to food safety. When they baked a cake in the story, Jackson “got to lick the spoons.” Unless you’re mixing a cake without raw eggs, eating the batter is not recommended, due to risk of Salmonella.

As a bonus, there are two coloring pages in the back of the book. Parents can help children upload scanned images of their colored birthday cake pages to the author’s “online bakery” on the book’s website. Fun! :) I recommend this book for families, churches and Christian school libraries, at Christmastime or throughout the year.

This is my own honest opinion and I received no monetary compensation of any kind for my review.


How to Raise a Child Who Helps

We’ve all seen them, kids who clear their plates from the table and take them to the sink without complaint. Children who take out the trash without being told. Kids who genuinely seem to enjoy helping. How does that happen? A freak of nature? Here are a few tips to train your child to help.

  1.  Begin when your child is a toddler. When she’s taking the silverware out of the dishwasher as fast as you can load them in, compliment her. “Thank you for helping! Can you put the silverware back in the dishwasher for me?” Show her where it goes. Helping becomes a fun game.
  2. Give kids a voice in their chores. Write down the things that need to be done. Divide the list by the number of people who will be helping. Then let them take turns choosing the items they’d like to do. So, for example, you have four people in your family old enough to help. Divide your list of 20 items by four. Each person will do five chores. Have the youngest choose one item from the list first. Then the next youngest does the same and so on until all items on the list are crossed off. Obviously, not all chores will go on this list since you don’t want a five-year-old mowing the lawn.
  3. Provide training. Take time to teach them how to do a job. It’s easy to say, “it’s faster to just do it myself.” Of course it is. But it doesn’t help your child learn or feel valued. Accept the fact that for a few years, things won’t get done as quickly as they might if you did them yourself.
  4. Celebrate after chores are done. Give positive feedback or gentle correction if something needs more attention. “The bathroom you cleaned looks terrific! Oops! Looks like you might have forgotten to clean the mirror. As soon as you do that, you’ll be done!” To celebrate, choose a movie to watch together, go get an ice cream, take a bike ride, or call Grandma.
  5. Give age appropriate jobs. Nothing is more discouraging than always failing at something. So make sure your kids succeed far more than they fail. For a list of age appropriate jobs for kids, click here.
  6. Work together on some jobs. Sometimes a big job like cleaning a room is just too overwhelming. Help them do it if they seem to need a hand. And break big jobs down into small steps like make your bed, pick up your clothes, etc.
  7. For very young kids, make a list using pictures. Instead of just listing clean your room, give them specific directions like ‘pick up your toys’ and draw a picture of a teddy bear so they’ll know what that list item says. My kids loved having a list to work from that they could actually “read.”
  8. Show appreciation. This is a biggie. When a child helps in some way, whether asked to or not, thank them. Let them know you noticed and that their contribution is appreciated.

Raising kids to be helpful doesn’t come easy. It takes consistency, patience, and guidance. But I remember one day working in the kitchen with my ten-year-old daughter and realizing that her help was really helping, not hindering my progress. All those years of letting her work beside me were finally paying off. And it was worth it!

How do you get your children to help? How do you instill in them a good work ethic? What special tips would you add to this list?

Caterpillar hunt – a golden opportunity for parents and grandparents to get kids outdoors

Gulf Fritillary on Passion Vine

Caterpillar of a Gulf Fritillary butterfly feeding on a leaf of a Passion Vine.

It is autumn, the best time of year for finding caterpillars – an activity that offers enough excitement to pull kids of all ages away from their cell phones and electronic gadgets and get them to go outdoors with you!

A little advance planning will increase your chances of finding caterpillars. If you know the favorite host plants for various kinds of butterflies and moths you will have a better idea about where to look for them. For instance, Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed plants, so look for the kinds of milkweed that grow in your area. Two common kinds of milkweed are Joe Pye Weed and Asclepias or Butterfly Weed.

Gulf Fritillary butterflies lay eggs on Passion Flower vines which can be found along the roadsides in all but the most northern states in the US. Here is a YouTube video that will help you identify the Passion Flower vines which may have flowers and/or “Maypop” fruit hanging from them.

Black Swallowtail butterflies lay their eggs on parsley and fennel so your best place to look might be in garden spots or even at a nursery where you might be able to purchase a plant complete with eggs and/or caterpillars and take it home with you. Beware of trying to keep too many caterpillars on one plant however. Here is a link to such a caterpillar story with a very sad ending.

There are many more host plants you might look for. Click this link for a long list of host plants for butterfly and moth caterpillars.

Choose your weapons carefully. A camera makes a short commitment weapon. Bring only the pictures home with you and enjoy them.

But if you are prepared for follow-through (keeping the caterpillars alive until they pupate) then carry large jars (quart or gallon size) or make a butterfly house from a box with one or more sides cut out and replaced with a sheer fabric you can see through. You can also use a net laundry hamper turned upside down over your plant and caterpillars. This might work if they are on a low growing plant in your yard.

If you bring your caterpillar finds indoors, make the commitment to keep them alive. Bring them fresh leaves from the same kind of plant that you found them on. They won’t eat just any kind of leaves, they need the same kind of food they were eating when you found them.