Three super cute and easy Thanksgiving crafts for kids

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Craft #1: Adopt-a-Turkey

Kate was born in November — and in my “nesting” mode of the 3rd trimester with her, I got the itch to do a festive Fall craft. I had made some cute little owls for a baby shower out of styrofoam craft balls and Felt a few months prior, so I thought it would be fun to duplicate that craft with a Thanksgiving twist. [Here’s a link to a similar tutorial for owls.]

Enter: our little turkey friend.

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I just cut feathers out of Felt and glued them with a hot glue gun to the styrofoam ball — added some googly eyes and some red “snoods” (betcha didn’t know that’s what the red fleshy bits hanging off turkeys’ beaks are called, huh?) (I didn’t either — Google just told me.) I also glued some big feathers on the back to make him extra festive.

Then, because a Felt turkey wasn’t silly enough, my son and I decided to name the turkeys and send them to a couple of family members for a fun Thanksgiving gift, complete with an “adoption certificate.” And yes, that is a picture of the turkey photoshopped into a field. I had more time back then.

This one is “Yellow Feather.”

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Gobble, gobble.

Craft #2: Count your blessings chain

This is a fun way to count your blessings — just write something you’re thankful for on every circle and hook them together for a fun Fall decoration.

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My 5-year-old’s first three blessings: 2 of his sisters and the cat.

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Craft #3: Fall birdy

This bird is just pretty and is easily made out of stuff that I had laying around — a paper plate, some watercolors and some tissue paper.

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We got the idea for him in this book. My kindergartener loved it — just takes a little assistance from an adult for younger kiddos. I love that big bushy tail.

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Happy Thanksgiving week, everyone!

The secret ingredient of gratitude

For the record, gratitude is consistently one of the words I always have to think about as I spell.

I pronounce it grad-i-tude — so I always want to write a “d.”  I also pronounce “congratulations” with a “d” sound — except when I say congrats.

But I digress.

Next week is Thanksgiving.

I plan to make this pie and this turkey and my Grandmother’s macaroni and cheese recipe. My son and I have been discussing what Thanksgiving is and why we celebrate it and what’s up with this rock named Plymouth.

But we’ve also been discussing gratitude and what that means — which, for a 5-year-old, isn’t an overly detailed explanation but one that begins to instill the idea that what we have is enough.

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I read an interesting study not long ago that talked about gratitude as THE defining thing that affects peoples’ happiness levels. It quoted the book, “Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier,” saying:

Whether you win the lottery or are paralyzed from the neck down, after about three to six months you’ll have returned to your usual level of happiness. While these findings are deeply counter-intuitive, they also raise a serious problem for those wanting to increase levels of happiness permanently. A possible answer comes from recent research in the psychology of gratitude. Yes, you read that correctly – being thankful might be the key to raising your happiness ‘set-point’.

I think that’s because gratitude adds an extra ingredient to the feeling of happiness — one that comes from a deeper place than a fleeting emotion. Gratitude, as GK Chesterton says, is not just happiness: it’s “happiness doubled by wonder.”

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It is the acknowledgement that something beautiful, inexplicable, bigger than ourselves has a hand in our lives. It is knowing that the blessings before us are not of our own doing — even the blessings in disguise. It is the surprise of the little miracles all around us. It is joy.

In many ways, I think gratitude comes very natural to children. I may still have to remind my 5-year-old to say Thank you and my 2-year-old that no, not everything is “mine!” But I never have to remind them that the earth is full of awe.

Because they find it completely magical that every day the sun rises and the moon sets. That food grows from the ground. That water flows when we turn a handle and light illuminates when we flip a switch. They squeal with delight when their grandparents stop by and can’t sleep when they know friends are coming the next day.

They drink up the little joys that we so often take for granted — they unwrap the God-given gifts of love, beauty and life with curiosity and enthusiasm.

They are in a constant state of wonder about the world — and really, they are entertained with the most basic of things until I hand them a singing toy or a glowing screen. In many ways, “appreciation” comes very naturally to them.

So as I’m teaching my son about gratitude, he’s teaching me. As I’m reminding him to say thank you, he’s reminding me to stare at the stars. As I’m wondering how best to help him be gracious, he’s showing me what it means to wonder.

And for that, I am truly thankful.

The secret ingredient of gratitude

What’s it like to grow up with a sibling with Down syndrome?

“Are they twins?” the woman asked me in line at the checkout.

My precocious 2-year-old with blonde curls and a big smile sat content in the shopping cart while her big (yet petite) 4-year-old sister, Kate, smiled and snuggled against her.

“No,” I replied gently, “But I get that all the time. They’re 21 months apart.”

Twenty-one months may be between them — but that’s all that keeps them apart. The rest of the time, they’re almost inseparable.

In many ways they are like little twins — similar sizes and hairstyle, sharing clothes, playing constantly, bickering at times. When they were younger, they even had their own “twin speak:” a demonstrative, secret babble language that only they seemed to understand. (Though we now understand their conversations better as they’ve both grown older.)

Their bond is one that I, an only child and mother of 4, love to observe for many reasons. It is a bond of sisterhood that both comforts and fascinates me — as does the relationship between all of my children. It is also one that I couldn’t imagine just four years ago.

You see, when Kate was first born with Down syndrome, I wasn’t sure what our family would look like or how it would continue to grow. Kate had a big brother — but would we have more children? If we could, should we? I had always dreamed of having a big family — would a Down syndrome diagnosis affect that? All families have many unique, personal reasons for their family size, would having a child with special needs affect ours? What would those sibling relationships look like?

Shortly after those questions came to mind, I read a study that surveyed hundreds of siblings to find out how they felt about having a brother or sister with Down syndrome.

The results included:

More than 96% of siblings indicated that they had affection toward their sibling with Down syndrome.

94% of older siblings expressed feelings of pride.

Among older siblings, 88% felt that they were better people because of their siblings with Down syndrome.

More than 90% plan to remain involved in their sibling’s lives as they become adults.

Those statistics were encouraging — but what has been so much more encouraging? Our own experience. And not because our other children treat Kate particularly special — but because she’s just one of the bunch, loved and accepted for who she is.

Her big brother is a pal, protector and sometimes pest, as big brothers are. Her little sister is her best friend and also a stealer-of-toys who teaches Kate to stick up for herself and develop an independent spirit. Her youngest sister — the baby in the house — brings out her nurturing side, as Kate loves to hold her, hush her, sing to her and softly stroke her face.

These little people by her side support her, while spontaneously challenging her to be the best she can be — and she does the same for them.

Since writing this blog, I have received many lovely notes from parents of children with Down syndrome — but I have especially enjoyed notes from siblings. The ones who confirm everything the aforementioned study shared with their own stories of growing up side by side with a sibling with Down syndrome.

Full of pride and doting, their encouraging notes have told me that their sibling with special needs “brings out the best in them.” That their time with their sibling with Down syndrome has been “the best time of their life.”

Some siblings have gone on to pursue careers in fields helping those with special needs. Others joyfully help care for their sibling. Others have shared heartwarming stories of how life is more meaningful. But all of the stories are love stories. They are words laced with selflessness, joy and a unique perspective that have shaped their own lives.

I am asked often if my two little girls are twins — a comparison that makes me smile. Because they’re right — my two little girls are so much alike, even in a world that often only sees Kate’s differences.

And isn’t that the beautiful thing about family? We are all so very different — but in the family ties that hold us close, we have the opportunity for the closest bonds.

And the greatest love.

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Kate and her little sister

Why you should always be who you are meant to be!

We just moved into a new house out in the country and there is a portion of our land that we are dedicating to be “wildflower land.”

We threw down some seeds, stomped it in to the freshly tilled dirt, and are hoping that come Spring it will be abuzz with watercolor blooms and honey bees.

Wildflowers are one of those things I think God gave us just to make us smile.

But as I learned more about our little field of pretty, I realized that wildflowers are much more than just ornamental. They are also a great example for how we can all better bloom in this life — how, as Thoreau said:

“All good things are wild and free.”

The wild and free flowers are not uniform beds of well-behaved gardens, which, though beautiful, often require a lot of maintenance and fertilizer. Rather, these little beauties tend to be much more hardy because they thrive when they are planted where they are meant to be planted.

And because they are just being themselves — who they are meant to be — they are incredibly fruitful, creating a lovely ecosystem that is beneficial for neighboring plants and animals.

What I also love about wildflowers: they often surprise us, popping up in the most unexpected places, often when we need them most.

For instance, when the smoke cleared after California’s Santa Monica Mountains were scorched with wildfire — tiny blossoms of pink, yellow and blue coated the hillsides. Providing comfort to the bald, blackened earth, the seeds of those specific flowers actually needed the heat of fire to germinate — blooming best when needed most.

But what I find most intriguing about wildflowers? Their diverse nature. Some are almost neon in color, some are subdued pastels.

Some have round, plump petals — while others are delicate and thin.

Some reach high above the rest, as if on watch for bees and butterflies — while others sit soft in the shadows watching for the crawlers and climbers among the dirt.

But together — they create a stunning landscape both purposeful and pretty. Every difference celebrated. Every unique quality needed. Every colorful one adding a little something special — just as they are.

Just like all of us.

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I asked my son to take pictures of what he thinks is beautiful. Here’s what I discovered.

One of my favorite things about motherhood is seeing the world through my children’s eyes.

They have the gift of a fresh perspective — the ability to see beauty in the every day, magic in the seemingly mundane. I am often amazed at the details my 5-year-old son notices in the world, the questions he asks, the curiosity with which he approaches life.

Poet William Blake says children have the ability “To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, an eternity in an hour.”

Like most kids, my son loves to take pictures. (I can still remember some of my childhood photography of all of my Popples lined up for a portrait on my grandmother’s couch.) So this morning I gave in and let him play for a few minutes while I finished a project:

“Maybe you can go around the house and take pictures of things that you think are beautiful,” I offered, handing him my phone camera. “Things that are beautiful?” he asked. I nodded with a smile. So off he went — for a little adventure around the house searching for beauty.

I expected to find a handful of photos of action figures or other favorite toys or maybe the dog — but when he returned to show me his photography, I loved seeing his response.

There was the usual picture of his foot.

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A snapshot of my favorite mug.

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But most all of the other photos were not of toys or art or objects — but of what he thinks is most beautiful in our home.

The people.

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Many shots were simply him taking pictures of pictures of our family.

“He looks really cool,” he said of the photo of his Great Grandfather who he was named after.

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He took a picture of his grandparents. He took pictures of his aunt and uncle, his great grandmother, his little sisters.

But most of the pictures of what makes his heart happy were simply photos of his father and I.

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“I love this one best. It’s my favorite,” he said, of the photo he took of one of our engagement pictures.

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It was just a fun little game taking some pictures — but what I was reminded of through the eyes of my child today is that what he looks at most in life is us. His parents.

And that so much of what he learns about the world starts with how we love in our world. How we love each other.

Five-year-old boys can be busy, energetic, and easily distracted by many things. But no matter how much it may seem like he’s not always paying attention — he is always watching.