Category Archives: Family Night

The HAPPY CAMPER’S CAFE

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The natives were getting restless.

We’ve been taking an early summer break to give us all a rest before we start our summer school schedule (reading and math). After a few weeks of endless trampoline and slack line time, I started to notice a few mopey glances and a lot of “what are we going to do today?” questions.

I’m not the camp and cruise director type of mom. I believe it is good for kids to be bored and un-entertained. First, it teaches them that I don’t exist merely to provide daily entertainment. Second, when children are bored, they naturally move into creative ideas to pass the time. Third, because our family does a lot of hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities, the down days are good for them.©janetphillips_may20_2016_web-41

That said, I do at times provide the kids with some activity ideas if they seem to be twiddling their fingers as they figure out what the afternoon is going to look like.

Last week, after a few hours of us drawing pictures, playing games, and having fun, they still wanted to do more. I had some work to do, so I told them I would give them an activity if they committed to doing it. I wouldn’t tell them what it was, but I explained they would have to be creative and work together.©janetphillips_may20_2016_web-12

After being assured I didn’t intend for them to clean the house (but what a great idea!), they accepted my challenge and I told them their mission:

Create a coffee shop for the family

“It must include coffee (of course) as well as fresh-baked treats. Each of you must have a role/part to play and you will all need to work together to figure out a plan and how to get it done. And no one individual kid (**cough**cough**Alaina**cough**first-born**) should take over the plans. “

With smiles on their faces and creative ideas churning in their minds, they kicked me out and I gladly obeyed orders to not return until I was called. A few hours later, we were requested to enter through the front door. And this is what greeted us:

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They did an amazing job. I love seeing their creativity! We used to do this kind of thing on a regular basis (like this hotel night a few years ago). But life has been busy and stressful and sometimes creative activities like this fall through the cracks.

I am so glad that even though the kid are older now, they still became really involved in the activity. It’s good for the older kids to think through all the details and it is good for the younger ones to experience it in order to see how they can come up with activities on their own.

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I loved all the little details…the decorate your own cupcakes, the “employees only” sign, the Happy Camper mug, the menu, the picture frame, the kiddie play area, games set out, and more!

Jason ordering his food

Jason ordering his food

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Zach enjoying the play area

Zach enjoying the play area

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Katie helping Beppy with the decorate-your-own cupcake area

Katie helping Beppy with the decorate-your-own cupcake area

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Zach waiting for his turn

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Top notch service from the staff

Top notch service from the staff

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Roasting marshmallows over a candle was such a cool idea!

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After roasting marshmallows and playing games, it was time to clean up. That’s when the older kids gave Bethany her role: being the janitor. Never has there been a cuter or more enthusiastic Cinderella.

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…and yes, that is a green potty on the floor. Zach feels the need to bring it with him to whatever room we are all in.

So, what do you have planned this summer?

Life Around Here

Life Around Here | www.preparingthesoil.com

I’ve broken the first rule of blogging: post consistently.

Thankfully, I’ve never much worried about the rules of blogging.

However, just because I have been quiet in this little space, it doesn’t mean life has been quiet. In fact, it’s been the opposite. Life has been full (often too full for my liking). However, we have been told that this is the day the Lord has made and we should rejoice in it. Although there have been many days when I haven’t felt like rejoicing, I pray for the strength each day to offer up my sacrifice of praise.

Even amidst the struggles of this life, there is much joy to be found. This is the reason I love photography: it forces me to see the little moments that make up a big life. Without my camera to capture the fleeting ages and stages of our children and our family, as well as the short-lived beauty of God’s creation in nature, I would struggle with gratitude. My images remind me I have much to thank God for, much to rejoice in.

The last few months have been filled with birthdays and celebrations, a few weeks of three extra kids in the house, lots of hiking and enjoying the beauty of the North Carolina Spring, doctor’s appointments ad nauseam, and lots of little moments unbridled joy. Here are some of our moments of joy.

Some of these have been shared on Facebook, others have not. And because it is quick, easy, and it makes me happy, I have recently been sharing more of my nature photos on Instagram.

You can follow me on either Facebook or Instagram.

Also, I have updated my photography site a number of times recently. I am seriously considering just combining the two sites. I tried to separate my “photography stuff” from my “life stuff” and I have realized I can’t. This is why I end up not posting anywhere: I don’t know if a post should go here or there. So one site makes more sense. On the to-do list…

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She told me, “This is what princesses do!”

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Who knew when I was pregnant with her five years ago, I would give birth to a dog?

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Our other doggie…

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Sometimes the not-taking-naps thing backfires

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Little moments of real life

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Just one of the many puppies that are in Beppy’s “puppy pound.”

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Finally found a way to organize my Bible study and Bible journaling materials

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A trip to the zoo for Levi’s birthday

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The kids built their own little camping site in the woods, complete with shelters and a fire pit.

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One of Zach’s “callipitters.”

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We haven’t had a chance to go camping this spring, but we make up for it by enjoying our big yard. A fire pit, marshmallows, watermelon, and lawn games…what else does summer need?

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A little picnic spot Katie made me for Mother’s Day. She said, “I know you like the beach, so I made the water and the sand for you. But we’ll have to eat in the water or you might hurt yourself by sitting on one of the shells in the sand.” :)

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Zachy’s obsession with bubbles still goes strong!

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Do you think he likes licking the batter?

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Yummy, yummy food. This is one of my favorites…almond and parmesan crusted chicken tenderloins.

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Lots of batches of these…

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Real life around here

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A treat for the last day of homeschool co-op

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More “callipitters.” He often asks, “Where is my favorite bug?” And then he goes to find whichever one he has captured last and gives it a kiss.

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I found them like this

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A morning of missing Malaysia…Chinese pancakes and kopi peng (iced coffee)

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The $50 “baby pool for big kids” was worth every penny.

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His obsession….milk and creamer. Every day. And yes, I know it isn’t healthy. Luckily, we make up for it in other ways.

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Alaina’s birthday

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Alaina had a CLUE murder mystery party for her birthday

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When I asked Katie what she wanted for her birthday decorations, she just said “cowgirl.” I think I accomplished it. How much “cow” and “girl” can you get?

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Moms get birthdays too!

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For Caleb’s special 12-year-old trip, we surprised him with a trip to Pittsburgh to see a Pirates game. And of course, he wore his Pirates t-shirt with “Phillips” and the number 12 to commemorate his special day.

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Watching pitching practice

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Easter morning

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Family Night: CAMPOUT

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I don’t talk about it much here, but back in 2009 I started a website called The Daily Digi. It is a site dedicated to digital scrapbookers and photographers. I ran it for a year, and then after starting homeschooling I realized it was just too much for me. My partner, Steph, took over for me and did an amazing job with running the site for five years. Due to some personal changes in her life, she asked me last summer if I would be interested in taking the site back. Knowing it would make our time more flexible for doing partnership development for our Wycliffe ministry, we decided to go for it.

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In short, the site works to promote digital designers and also to share with the scrapbooking community the latest news, techniques, and products. In addition to daily posts on scrapbooking and photography, each month we also publish something called The Digi Files. For the low price of $7.50, scrappers get seven full scrapbooking kits to download. With more than $50 worth of product for just $7.50, it’s very popular!

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This month I wanted to include a little something different. I am a firm believer in being intentional with creating memories. Obviously, many of our memories can’t and shouldn’t be planned. On the other hand, if we aren’t intentional and creating moments, the days start to slip by and “tomorrow” never comes. So, I created a fun, printable party pack that families could use at home. You know how much I love camping! So, if you can’t (or don’t want to) head to the campground, a fun campout at home is the next best thing!

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Granted, I am one of “those moms” who really enjoys this type of activity. Creating with paper and food is fun for me. This may not be your thing and don’t for one minute feel guilty about it. If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t do it.

FOOD IDEAS

However, I also know many moms who want to do fun and creative things but don’t really know where to start. That’s where this party pack comes in. Everything is done for you. I researched and created so you wouldn’t have to. You can just print, cut, and enjoy! It’s only available until the end of the month, so if you are interested, grab it now. Otherwise, just sit back and enjoy my pictures. We had a fun afternoon! The kids loved having food I would never normally buy (isn’t that what camping is for?) and I loved watching my little people be together. Win Win.

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After eating, we had a scavenger hunt. I paired the big kids with a little kid and it was the sweetest thing to watch!

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And Then There is Today

©janetphillips_april27_2015_postimageThose who know me have heard me speak of “yellow bus days.” Those are the days I dream of a big yellow bus to take my kids far, far away. I admit to daydreams of a life where the kids are gone for seven plus hours a day. Think of all I could accomplish! I could clean and there would be no one to reverse my work. I could have a cup of coffee without having to microwave it three times before finding the bottom. I could shower on a regular basis and not have to answer math questions from behind the curtain. Oh, to dream!

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Homeschooling is hard. The educational component of it alone is enough to send prayers for the yellow bus. When your child’s academic progress and future depends mostly on you, the guilt flows freely. When you have to listen to struggling readers stumble over the same words again and again, the stress builds quickly. When you realize that no matter how many times you explain squares and cubes, the child will always say that 42=8, the feelings of defeat mount fiercely.

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Beyond the academics, homeschooling is still hard. The kids are home all day. They mess up far more quickly than you can clean up. While you read with the first grader, the toddler is pulling DVDs off the shelf. When you are doing grammar with the sixth grader, the third grader has slipped out to the trampoline, multiplication tables long abandoned. When you are snuggling and reading stories to the four year old, the fifth grader can’t find any of his work and therefore asks if he can go out to play instead.

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Yes, it’s hard. It’s really hard. And I have many yellow bus days. But then I have a day like today.

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A day when we laugh through group work because words like Hawaii and Oxygen can be said in all sorts of silly ways.

A day when wet rags are thrown and giggles abound during chores.

A day when KLove blasts in the kitchen and the kids discuss their favorite artists.

A day when the kids decide school is much more fun in the camper and they set up a home and pretend its an RV while they do their math.

A day when the big kids play with the little kids and the love just oozes from everywhere.

A day when the little ones splash and giggle in the bath and beg me to take pictures of their funny faces.

A day when we have a scavenger hunt in the afternoon and the bigs are paired with the littles and the tender moments threaten to make my mama heart burst.

A day when we can enjoy silly food during an indoor campout and the kids munch on “acorns” and “bear poop” and wash it down with “river water” and “bug juice.”

A day when I am cleaning in the kitchen and I hear wails of laughter as the kids have their first encounter with The Little Rascals.

A day when they don’t want the fun and togetherness to end and they drag their stuffed animals and sleeping bags to the camper and end their day chatting past their bedtime with their favorite people.

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Yes. There are yellow bus days. And then there is today.

ABC Photo Walk

We’ve been taking a lot of walks lately.  I find that when I get outside and walk on a regular basis, it does wonders for my soul.  As a family, it is a cheap and easy activity that we all enjoy. For the kids, it burns up some energy and reminds them how beautiful God’s creation is.

One night last week, we decided to go for a walk.  Only this time, we decided to do an ABC Photo Walk.  After I published my book in November, I was kind of happy to just set it aside.  I had seen too much of it!  But it’s been a few months and I was reminded why I wrote the book: so that we would have fun and frugal family activity ideas.  As I looked through the book, I was reminded again how easy and fun it can be to do things with the family.

We told the kids that we would be taking a walk around the neighborhood and looking for “letters”.  We showed them a few examples of what we meant, and they got it and were excited. Once on our walk, we tried a few things (going in order from oldest to youngest and then looking for letters in order) but in the end, we found that as long as one person wasn’t trying to take over and we worked as a team, we just called out letters as we saw them and it all went smoothly.

We were afraid that it would take a long time or that we would have letters we couldn’t find, but it turned out to be quite simple.  I think it only took us about 30-40 minutes to find every letter of the alphabet!  It was a lot of fun and a good way to break up and otherwise normal Thursday night!  We didn’t leave our neighborhood and yet we had a great time and a wonderful memory.  Maybe I need to dust off my book more often!

Have you done any fun family activities lately?

 

 

My eBook Release!

It’s been a long time coming! This project started in my head who-knows-how-long-ago and in actuality back in the summer.  But life and family meant that the process would be longer and slower than I had hoped.  However, I can now happily say that this labor of love is officially finished and ready to share!  Here’s the official description:

If spending quality time together as a family—without it costing a fortune—is your desire, look no further. MORE THAN A MOVIE is a collection of 50 ideas for fun and frugal family nights that don’t involve turning on the T.V.

Each of the four sections—Food, Fun, Thinking of Others, and Out & About—will inspire you with short chapters listing easy-to-gather materials and a simple how-to. Most activities require very little preparation and are all easy on the wallet.

Janet Phillips—the author and a happy mother of five—believes that family and fun shouldn’t cost a fortune. As you look at her creative ideas, you’ll be amazed to see how cheap and simple a fun-filled family night can be. All you really need is a willing heart and the desire to enjoy a fun evening with the people you love most.

 

I am so thankful for so many people who cheered me on and supported me in this endeavor. There is no way I could have done this alone.  My family and close friends have helped me find a place for my heart to be shared with others. I am so incredibly grateful.

You can learn more about the book RIGHT HERE, including how to purchase a copy for Kindle, for Nook, and as a .pdf file (for viewing on the computer, for printing, or for reading on most eReaders).  You can also download a free chapter!

 

If you think this is something that your friends or family would enjoy, I would love if you could share the information with others. An email, a blog post, a post on Facebook—all of these things go a long way in “getting the word out.”

Family Night: HOTEL NIGHT (at home!)

Welcome to the SUPER HOTEL…where it’s so comfortable, you’d think you were at home.  Oh wait, it IS home!

Last weekend we had another fun family night!  It was our eight-year-old’s turn to choose and she knew just what she wanted to do: Hotel Night!  You see, staying at hotels is one of our family’s very favorite activities.  There is just something so fun about getting away, all of us crammed in one room, with nothing to distract us from just enjoying one another. Ever since we have had kids, staying at hotels every so often is something we have chosen to invest in. Oftentimes, we don’t even leave our city.  And still, so much fun is to be had.  No housework, no computers, no one knocking on our door.  Just togetherness, laughs, good food, and lots of fun. Our kids, of course, love the fact that we allow them to jump on beds at hotels (something we don’t allow at home!)

For this family night, though, we thought we would stay even closer to home. We had a “hotel night” AT home! We decided that from “check in” until “check out,” we would pretend that our master bedroom was a hotel room and we would all stay together for the night.  When our daughter chose this activity, she wasn’t lacking in the creativity department!  Really, she thought of everything. There are even some things that give evidence to the fact that we live overseas and some things are just done differently here.

First, there were signs all over the house!  She had one outside by the “pool” (a fish pond), one in the entry way, one a little farther in, signs on our door…you get the picture.

She also had a check in desk set up, complete with a computerized form.

The kids packed their bags and ventured downstairs to get checked in. We received our keys and made our way to Room 283!

Once inside the room, we got to see some of the other amazing touches that she added.  I love the baby Orajel for our teething five-month-old and the fact that there are enough water cups for the whole family — something we never get at hotels!

The boys said that their favorite parts of the room were the “free iPad” and the dog!

After we “checked in,” we got settled, the kids got changed into jammies (which were, by the way, two of dad’s t-shirts since the girls forgot PJ’s!). and there was a small dance party.  Next, the pizza guy came!  We can’t get pizza delivered where we live, but since it is something we try to do when we are at a real hotel, we recreated the experience by having Jason pick up pizza in town earlier in the day.

After dinner we all crawled in bed and watched a movie and then, blissfully, all went to bed at 7:00 pm (well, except for Jason who snuck out for a bit.  Shhh…don’t tell the kids!)

The next morning the pizza guy turned into the doughnut guy and a dozen Dunkin’ Donuts appeared at our door! Yum!  After breakfast, we hung out some more and around 9:30 we all got packed up and said farewell to our glorious hotel night.  I can’t wait for the next one!

I think my favorite part of the night, other than just being with my family, was seeing my daughter get so creative.  We’ve stayed at a enough hotels that she knows how they work and she spent a lot of time and energy making sure our hotel room was perfect.  She did such a great job.  We had fun and she had the experience of using her creativity and gift for hospitality to make us all feel welcome.  Kids have such an amazing ability to be creative and to show off their wonderful imaginations!

I highly encourage you to try having your own hotel night! It’s easy, it’s free, and it’s oh-so-fun!

Family Night: MAKEOVERS!


Spending time as a family is something we love to do.  It is also something we have to be very intentional about.  It is so easy to let the normal routines of life keep us from just being together.  Families can spend so much of their time running to this lesson and that play date, to this church event and that Scout Meeting.  The art of being at home, of being with your family, being actively engaged in an activity together (that doesn’t involve the TV!) is all but lost today.  It saddens me, and yet I know that without a plan and a purpose, we too will fall into the trap of not knowing how to simply enjoy each other.

And so, we try to be intentional about doing activities together at home.  Many are simple — baking together, playing games, gardening, reading books, and playing silly games at the dinner table. At other times, though, we try to take the next step and teach our kids how easy it is to create fun at home (without spending a fortune!)  We have a little treasure called our Jar of Fun that we will often do activities out of.  Recently, I have also written up a bunch of ideas of frugal family nights to do together. As Alaina, my oldest, was looking through them last week, I told her she could pick out an activity for that night. It took her all of about two seconds to choose FAMILY MAKEOVERS!

The activity was simple: break up into partners and let the other person give you a makeover (any way they choose!)   We try to keep lots of fun things like costumes and  face paint available, so we knew that the kids would have no trouble coming up with ideas and inspiration.  They love to get silly (especially when mom and dad are part of it!) In the end, we actually split up into two groups of three with a round robin approach: I made over Caleb, Caleb made over Levi, Levi made over me.  Jason made over Alaina, Alaina made over Katie, and Katie made over Jason (and Bethany was sleeping). Even Little Lucy couldn’t escape Family Makeover Night!

It’s amazing how much fun you can have when mom and dad stop being “adults” for a while and just let the little people lead the fun.  The messes are short-lived, but the memories will last forever!


Next Post: My Life in Bubbles (aka, prioritizing my priorities!)

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