Showing posts with label WhatWorksForUs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label WhatWorksForUs. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

What Works for Us - Laundry

There are still 7 children living at home.  Laundry continues to be a never ending cycle, along with dishes, these the few things I can get a little snarky about when I hear someone complain about their laundry situation and I think 'oh, you had to do 3 whole loads today - how cute', I do 3 loads every day and that isn't if I wash bedding...3 would be the minimum....but I keep those comments to myself because I did sign up for this after all and honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way.
*I just reread this and gosh it does sound snarky, I'm so sorry! I really do have to keep my 'woe is me' in check over laundry.  Sad but true.*

*I'd rather have full laundry baskets than an empty house, and it will be empty all too soon*

I should write a blog post about all the laundry systems that don't work, because I've tried everything under the sun to figure out this beast.  The only thing that realistically worked and worked well was having a family closet/laundry room combination.  In our last home we had the space for 2 washers and 2 dryers.  I lined 2 walls with closet organizers and then arranged clothes based on size.  I washed, dried, folded or hung up all in the same room.  This also kept bedrooms free of clothes all over the floor because only Pete and I kept clothes in our room.  It worked consistently and brilliantly, I loved it.  Then we moved and I lost the dream laundry room/family closet and traded it for what I refer to now as The Dursleys because my washer and dryer are in a closet under the stairs with no laundry room to speak of, what an adjustment.

I usually like for a system to have been in place for years or at least a good 6 months before sharing 'what works for us', but I'm hopeful that what I've recently implemented will continue and in that spirit I'm going to go ahead and share that this works for us.  If it changes, I will update as I have in other blog posts about what we are up to, or at least updated with what is working now.
*and no, this isn't my solution*

 *or this*
 I  have tried assigning days for older kids to do there own clothes, this often results in the laundry I need to get done piling up as I push and cajole them to finish the process.  They all have jobs, school and a social life so leaving clothes in either the washer or the dryer would leave me throwing up my hands and completing the cycle for them just so that I could also use the machines or dumping the clothes on their beds for them to finish.  I would wonder if I was teaching them anything at all and become frustrated with the whole process.  It never went well.
I believe in helping older kids become independent adults, and getting them in the mindset of taking care of their own laundry + respecting that others need to as well, is important.  I've recently stopped washing their clothes again (a few weeks ago).  I still wash their bedding.  I do the household laundry during the day, at 4 pm, I'm done and I make sure the washer/dryer are empty.  They take turns each evening doing their own laundry and when I shut the house down at 10 pm I make sure both washer/dryer are empty.  This is working.

It is also keeping me from the frustration of finishing the laundry only to have an older child come dump all their clothes into the hampers spoiling the sense of accomplishment.  It is actually this habit that helped me come up with our new system.  The older boys don't seem to mind either, and they seem to appreciate the independence of doing it themselves - no one wants to frustrate Mom.  This is a win/win.

The new system is:

I do household laundry during the day. 
(this includes Pete & I, kitchen, bathroom, younger kids clothes plus bedding)
Washer/Dryer empty at 4pm
High school aged and above take turns using the washer and dryer at night.
Washer/Dryer empty at 10pm

It works for us.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

To Market, To Market

Once we had six little boys aged 8 and under. 
Grocery shopping was quite an adventure and until I implemented some strategies for success, it would end up miserable for all of us.  I am not full of wisdom or even remotely the model mother...I'm really a Mom who got it wrong (a lot) and in doing so figured out what doesn't work, which left me with what does.  I have a tendency to go about things the end, I learned a lot and thought I would share what worked for me when taking a whole pack of little ones to the grocery store.

Back when all my older boys were the younger kids, we called them the 6 pack. We lived in Virginia, very far away from family.  Pete worked nights for many years when we first moved there.  This meant that grocery shopping would need to be done solo, just me and the boys.

First things first:

Before I ever got to the grocery store, I began the day before.  I created a menu, took stock of needed grocery items and created a list.  I always brought both menu and list with me to the store.  So that if I needed to make changes, I could adjust both accordingly.

For instance, I might have Chicken and Rice as a menu item meaning I would need all the ingredients for Chicken and Rice on my list.  If I found roasts to be on sale and a great value, then I would scratch off chicken and rice, and all ingredients for that, but then add in Roast on the menu and make sure to buy necessary additions for Roast.  Make sense?  This helped me stay within my budget.

I also cleared the day that I would go to the store.  No Dr.'s appointments, no plans at all - we only had that trip to the store on the, if it took all day there was no rush or hurry to do anything else.  This also allowed for the wipe out that would come once we got home and the groceries put away...that's right, movie night always followed a grocery day.  

The boys were so gosh dang cute (yep, I'm biased) that people came up to us all the time so a grocery trip was never just buying the stuff we needed, but it also included a stop on every isle to answer questions:

"Yes, they are all mine"
"Yes, my hands are full"
"No, no twins"
"Excuse me??  Why of course they all have the same Dad"
"Mom, why do people always ask that" - from kids while I'm smacking my head.
"There are six of us" (or 7,8,9) the kids would tell people when they saw them start to count us
"Yes, I homeschool"
and other times "No, I don't homeschool"
"No, we are not on welfare"
"Yes, I know what causes this"
"Yes, we have a television"

I kid you not, we went through this dialogue and more every single trip to the store and sometimes every few isles.  I got over being frustrated by it and by the time 7, 8, and 9 came along we didn't get nasty comments anymore - what we got instead were the sweetest little old ladies and men who would come over to share their memories of growing up in a large family.  They made up for any nasty comment ever delivered, because those sweet stories always made my heart swell.  The smiles of nostalgia were precious, I loved it when these sweet elderly would share with us about their families or their mothers and fathers.  I never cared that grocery shopping took all day when this was included.

So now, I have my menu and I have my list.

Next, I start with breakfast.  Feed them well.  Do not wake up and rush out the door.  Be sure to fill them up with good food prior to landing at the grocery store.  No one needs a low blood sugar melt down on isle 3, or 5, or any melt downs.  If I shouldn't go to the store hungry, neither should my children...because everything looks good and a bad case of the 'I wants' fueled by hunger makes for an unpleasant trip. 

 I also might add this is where our not having cable came in handy.  Our kids didn't see commercials so by not having a constant barrage of  advertising aimed at kids we could navigate the store without a media induced craze over everything they don't need, but have been convinced they have to have. Kids want enough of everything at the store without catchy commercials with cartoon characters peddling more junk into their brains.  So, navigating the store was easiest when cable was not on in our home (we've had it briefly and this was the main reason it has remained off).

If a newborn is in your life, take the time to sit down and feed them before you leave.  If nursing allow for a time you may need to stop, in the store, and take care of this too.  Prepare your kids for this.  Our Walmart in VA had a McDonald's in the back, which is where we would sit.  Sometimes I purchased a treat and sometimes I promised a treat when we left, but I expected them to remain with me during this time.  Success was not measured by the boys not having the wiggles or being frustrated by having to wait.  If the baby was able to eat and get full, that was success - because it is the worst, THE WORST to have a screaming newborn in the store with a pack of kids getting more wound up by the second.  When we had a more than usual challenging time during the 'feeding' time I could always look back and realize my attitude was often what created the spiral down.  If I sat down with them and started off treating them like I was somehow expecting bad, unruly behavior they did not disappoint.  If I instead, sat down and behaved as if I'd been wanting to have a chance for us to sit and talk, opening the floor for them to share we almost always had success.  One of our favorite activities was going around the table adding to a story.  It is true, it usually was 'me' who created an environment ripe for difficulty if we had  to take a break to feed the baby.  So I learned to calibrate myself to help them be successful.

Once at the store we had a system.  Baby was either in a sling or front pack, toddler sitting in the area up front and two boys on each side of the buggy - with their hand on the buggy.  The hand on the buggy thing was implemented because it helped prevent wandering and running up and down isles.  They knew I expected that hand to stay there, and because it always was this way with no exceptions - that is what they did.  

When Simon became the toddler in the buggy, I added Twizzlers and chicken strips to our time at the store.  Simon screamed all the time, ALL.THE.TIME.  We know now he has hypoglycemia, but we didn't then. So the fact that I passed out Twizzlers liberally is a guilt inducer, but it is what I did and because they were not messy and they kept Simon happy I went straight to the candy isle and picked up a gigantic bag and passed them out throughout our trip.  When we reached the deli area, I grabbed a bag of chicken strips too.  We usually had an empty bag of each by check out, but I didn't have screaming kids and they really worked hard to earn the next Twizzler or Chicken Strip so I used them regularly.

We always started going down isles, then went to the meat dept. and then produce.

On every isle I assigned each boy something to find for me.  Ex:

"Noah please get me 3 cans of Tomato Sauce"...Noah would go off to gather tomato sauce and I would tell Jonah to go get me 2 boxes of spaghetti.

The boys loved helping me shop and got really good at knowing what brands I bought, to remember to let me know the price (I always had a calculator with me), and that if they ran, then they wouldn't get to help me anymore that trip.

I always selected the meat, but I let them venture up to the lobster tank where I could see them while I went through the meat section.   This lobster trip was only rewarded if we had successfully navigated the isles.

Then on to produce.  I sent them off like soldiers on a mission:

"Isaac, get the best bag you can find of green apples"
"Elijah, we need a large bag of carrots"
"Jonah, you are the best at finding a good bunch of grapes, please get me two"
"Noah, I need your eyes to find a ginger root that looks fresh"

and on and on it would go.  

Then we would get the bread and head to the check out.

The check out was always a fairly long wait and we would have to navigate the magazine racks.

I just loved the time I had to get bold with Noah on not questioning me about Bill Clinton as he read the headlines at the checkout;

"What did our president lie about Mom"?  "Why do all the magazine have a blue dress on them, whats up with the blue dress"?  "OUR PRESIDENT HAS BEEN IMPEACHED"??  and the lady checking us out laughing her head off while I kept turning magazine covers over and directing Noah to help me put groceries on the conveyor, we'd discuss it later.  Good times, good times.

Honestly, the check out was always the hardest part for us, from magazine headlines to all the candy and everything within grabbing reach of a toddler.  The whole store could have been a snap, but the check out was like walking through a mine field of opportunities for disaster. I inlisted the kids to work and try to keep them busy sorting groceries, refilling the cart with bagged groceries, playing eye spy...anything to help that check out time go smooth.  If we made it through, then we almost always headed to Sam's Hot Dog Stand for lunch on the way home.

When Sams closed we hit up Chick Fil a.  This was a necessary component to our grocery days.  We shopped 20 minutes away from our home.  We usually spent hours in the store, and the trip would not be done until all groceries were inside and put away, and I wanted the kids to be ready for each step. We also enjoyed the kids meals, the toys that came in them and the incentive that Mom would stop for lunch on the way home if we left the grocery store on a happy note.

They've all outgrown those necessary strategies to keep grocery day successful, but for many many years every two weeks that was our habit.  The most endearing part, is that even though they are all so grown up now...if they go to the store with me, I'll catch them putting their hands on the cart just like when they were little boys.  It melts my heart every.single.time.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Pick Up Your Cross

"Jesus carried his cross and died for you, but you can't even walk across the street for him"

This note was left on my windshield several years ago.

I remember it so well.  It sure did teach me a lesson, but not the one intended.

You see back in the time this note was left on my van, I had 7 children under the age of 12 and my two nieces were living with us temporarily, aged 4 and 2.  My hands were full, I had a new baby and we were displaced because we had sold one home but the home we purchased was still being occupied by the former owners (an agreement we made at the time of purchase) so we were living out of boxes somewhat in a temporary rental we had moved into because our first rental's owners decided, quite suddenly to sell it, so I had a baby, gained 2 nieces, and moved within about 2 months time.   Fast forward a few short months to Lent, and we had not really recovered from all the 'new' and all the changes.  

Life was more than a little stressful.

A tradition at our parish was a fun fellowship time called Lenten Soup Nights.  It was every Thursday night and different parishioners volunteered to make large pots of soup so there was a huge variety of the different soups to chose from.  The cost was donation based, making it an event that even large families and low income families could feel good about joining in on (at the end of Lent, the donations collected were donated to a family in need due to medical bills, or lost job etc..).  It was one of our most looked forward to events.  Every week as we would get closer to Thursday the kids would begin sharing what soup they wanted to try and would hope, hope, hope there would be 'Robert's Chili' 'Gerard's Wedding Soup', the PB&J sandwiches that the ladies always slathered absolutely full of jam.  I can't express how fun this was and how much we enjoyed it.  I also got a real thrill out of the fact that my Cheesy Potato Soup was a favorite, so I tried to bring it every week.  

On this Thursday during Lent the weather was grey and there was a cold misty rain falling.  One of my nieces was a little butterfly, completely social and not very trustworthy about staying with you if you didn't have her in a stroller or hold her hand.  When I took the soup, all the parking spaces out front were fact every parking space was taken.  I would need to park my passenger van across the street behind the Rectory and walk the soup + all the children across the street. My triple stroller didn't fit in the elevator, and I'd learned from previous failures that the foyer upstairs wasn't really the best place to leave the stroller.  That little area had double doors on two side, and a stairway not to mention the elevator.  Did I mention this event was held in the basement of the church, sorry - it was.

I decided to pull into a space next to the church (not designated for parking), get all the little ones downstairs, go back up for the soup, then park the van across the street while the kids sat at a table and waited on me.  A good friend understood my plight and agreed to watch my children downstairs while I took care of all of this.  Admittedly, it took more than 20 minutes to get it all done.

The note was left on my van during one of my trips downstairs.  

"Jesus carried his cross and died on it for you, and you can't even walk across the street for him"

Hot tears filled my eyes and my heart just about split in two.  I was already emotional over trying to do right by my nieces, figure out our living arrangements, homeschool or not homeschool...and here this note was pointing out just how inadequate I am because I took up that space next to the church to deliver soup.  Not to mention I had really struggled with trying to decide if I should just let one of the older boys take it down for me...but, it was a huge heavy pot and hot, I could just see disaster. so I stuck to what I thought was the best plan.

I would love to tell you I rose above this note, this hurtful action and let it roll off of me, but no.
I quit going to Lenten Soup Nights, quit bringing the soup, quit taking my children to something they absolutely loved.  I was hurt and embarrassed and I didn't want any part of whoever left that note.

Once my heart recovered I did share what happened with some of my friends in our Ladies Group and requested that 'soup drop off' parking spaces be available for the next year's Soup Nights.  I wasn't interested in pointing fingers or even sharing what had happened (because it embarrassed me) but I did think that this whole thing could have been avoided if the parking spaces for dropping off soup could be available.  

The Ladies Group made them available the next year.

I also accepted that while I may not have left a note on someone's car, I've been that judgmental before.  I've been the one who shook her head and wagged an internal finger at the person taking up a handicap parking space (without being handicapped) or clucked my tongue at what I assumed was wrong when I truly didn't have the whole story.

This event impressed upon me the importance of -Assuming Benevolence - always.  Unless someone proves to you that their intent was objectionable, entitlement filled and selfish...realize that you don't know what is really going on and assume benevolence on behalf of the person who might be the target of your scrutiny.  Say a prayer for them rather than leave them a mean note.  It is very true that we do not know the battle someone else is fighting, so better to always be benevolent rather than spiteful. - that is the lesson I actually learned from the note.

That Lent was another one that was a wash for me, but looking back I realize that it wasn't - I learned a lot and I learned how to take up my own cross and realize others are carrying their own cross too.

*Joining the #BISsisterhood link up for this weeks topic:  The Cross

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Social Media- What Works For Us

I really struggle with helping my older kids understand the Do's and Don'ts of social media because I am still learning them myself.  I am absolutely relieved that Facebook did not exist before I was in my late 30's - I know, I KNOW I would have made a mess of it.

I shared in the post Technology and Teens our rules for technology.  I realize we actually do try to impart some social media etiquette to our teens about how to steer clear of some of the drama that can break out.  I also want them to understand the perception they give people about who they are by the way they post.  I have boys at this age, and most of them rarely use Social Media but I'm kinda preachy sometimes (okay, most times) and they get to suffer the consequences of that (or benefit, depending on how you look at it).  I also am compiling this list of social media etiquette with thoughts towards what I will teach my daughter one day, I am certain she will enjoy this medium much more than her brothers ever thought about it. *but, maybe not my preaching*

Some of this is a very tongue in cheek way to influence them, but I like to use humor as a buffer, it helps us all enjoy the process of learning and creates a better environment for give and take - I want them to ask questions and understand WHY I feel that what I'm preaching to them is important.

*If you want everyone to perceive you as a narcissist, please be sure to post tons of selfies all over your Instagram and Facebook page.  I mean a potential employer may look you up and they will get to see you from every possible angle before they actually sit down and visit with you during the interview.

*Please share with the world you are high need by making sure you regularly post on facebook that you are testing to see who is your REAL friend and who just scrolls by your status updates and don't leave off the part about how they need to share this in their status as well.  Now, we are creating circles of high need people so we can all find each other.
 - In all seriousness, Facebook should never be used as a way to gauge your friends.  Actual interaction with that person is a true 'tell' if someone is your friend or not.  Never by how many likes or comments they leave.

*Keep it positive, keep it real.  There is nothing wrong with being corrected on facebook because you shared that article about beetle larvae being ground up and used in a favorite snack food only to have someone point out the Snopes article proclaiming this as false and then calling you a fear monger.  Thank them, I mean who wants to be a fear monger, LOL.

*Facebook can be used for positive and negative.  Let it be positive.  I like that it is my own personal news feed with articles from news agencies I trust and want to hear from.  There are so many potential groups and apostolates.  Chose wisely and leave one if you find that does not fit what you hoped it was.  On the keeping it positive note, do not publicly ridicule or be negative about a person or situation.  It is best to keep the negative private and deal with the situation in a non-public way.  There may be exceptions to this rule, but I cannot think of any at this time.  A good rule of thumb is to maintain  dignity and integrity for yourself and anyone else.

*Share 'real' news with family and close friends before making a Facebook announcement.

*Have a 'real' life, do not live through the lens of social media.

*Oops, almost forgot an important one that I really emphasize.  Entering into a debate on social media is like entering a room full of mass hysteria and trying to find a thread of sanity.  It rarely happens.  Most people use this as their own platform for their own agenda, they are not interested in hearing what you have to say as much as using what you said against you to further their own point. *exhale, that was a mouthful*  Occasionally, and VERY occasionally I've seen a true give and take among an online debate where there is sharing of information and an attempt to appreciate each point of view. It is easier to be misunderstood than it is to be understood, pray before you post. 

*Enjoy the ability to pray for others when they are hurting, celebrate when there is joy, and understand when compassion is warranted.  Pray to know the difference.

Monday, August 18, 2014


Kim, from Starry Sky Ranch has written an excellent post about making room for school.  Last year was our first year back to homeschooling after 6 years of public/Catholic school.  It was wonderful to return to this method of education with my younger children and I'm happy to continue this journey, adding one more to the mix.  

One of the concerns I've had for quite some time is the ability to be both a good Mom to my older children as well as my younger children.  I'm still sorting this out, but one thing I've had to grapple with in particular is the constant driving that takes place with older children.  We do not allow our children to get a license until they are 18.  Lately, due to insurance costs and having 2 children living at home over this age - we can't even allow them to drive our vehicles.  This has meant a great deal of driving for me.  I remember before I got to this stage of parenting thinking how simple it would be "they should get their own cars" or "they will have to pay for their own insurance".  Walking the walk is always different than talking the talk isn't it.  I mean, weren't we all the best parents who knew everything BEFORE we had children.  It is the same with teens and young adult children - we know a lot more of what we'll do, before we are actually there and the path just isn't as clear cut and no one's family situation is like another.  It is hard to know based on other models.

One of the hardest parts about homeschooling this past year was the car pooling to and from school (no, the Catholic school our older boys attended did not have a bus system) as well as to and from work.  In fact when I think back, the constant driving began around 2010 when my children began getting jobs, and we were participating in soccer, and youth group, theater etc.  It crept up on me and I was like the frog in a pot of water that slowly begins to boil.  I was trying to juggle what is best for the younger ones "do I leave them home with an older child so they are not constantly in the car" or "do I take them so they are with me" with what is best for the older ones (safely getting to work, school, activities).  This bothered me, a lot...but, what to do?  The older kids also needed a Mom and part of their needs entailed life outside the home.  Also, my husband has traveled for the past 3 years - so, I was the main driver.

My husband and I decided to use the Art of Subtraction to enhance our daily life. (thank you for that link Kim, it beautifully illustrates just what we are feeling).  It is hard for me and I feel guilty about hanging my hat as the driver.  It is very hard to let them ride bikes to and from work (there are busy roads in their paths),  and let them take public transit to College and now ride the bus to and from their public school (our Catholic school ends in 8th grade, I have 2 at the local high school).  *deep sigh* but, they had a mother at home not constantly leaving and the younger kids need that same consistency - my sanity needs it as well.  It is hard though, this subtracting, this letting go.  It was easy to be smug about "what I'll do one day" when all my children were still very much in my nest.  Some of them are flying now and I just can't fly with them - I still have some in the nest.  It doesn't help when videos like 'bus bully' from your local school system came out last year.  So the boys are riding their bikes to school unless weather calls for a bus ride.

I'm not sure what this year will look like and as hard as it is to let go of being their driver (and in bad weather I still will be).  I think it is for the best.  The funny thing, as much as I grappled with this - when we told the older boys, they accepted this as if it was meant to be and always should have been.  I sure do appreciate their attitudes, it helped their Mama a lot.  We are not done subtracting, there are other things we need to remove to make room for a wholesome learning environment as well as family life.  I think we are finally on the right path though.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Well Fed & Well Rested - What Works For Us!

Leila posted a fantastic article about boys.  I love her no nonsense wisdom and her loving way to impart the practical.  Leila is my hero.  I tell people to throw out their multitude of parenting books and either find a family you admire that will let you hang out and ask dozens of questions (like I did many years ago) or if you can't find a good example just go read everything at Like Mother Like Daughter.  Even better, do both!

I was inspired by her article to expand upon the concept of 'well fed and well rested'.  I agree wholeheartedly with her on the point that no parenting tactic or discipline strategies will work unless the children are well fed and well rested.  What does that look like though?

It does not look like this:
Cereal and pop tarts or some other convenience item for breakfast....wait, toddler is screaming and I barely finished cleaning up the mess.  Hand them fruit chews and buy myself 10 mins of peace - wait, that wasn't even 30 secs.  Schlep along until lunch where more 'easy' food fills their plate.  Pray they take a nap (and they might if they are in enough of a sugar coma).  They wake up from nap and since you are in better spirits thanks to the down time you offer them ice cream, little snack cakes or some other treat.  This leads you head long into the arsenic hour of trying to prepare dinner with babies and toddlers hanging off of you left and right screaming and snacking (for your sanity) until you all sit down at the table for dinner and suddenly the constantly hungry, cranky kiddos are picky eaters, hmmmm.

It does not have to be that way.  A warning though, even under the best of nutrition, calmest households, order and beauty that would make a Pinterest board swoon - children are going to be cranky, and challenging on many days.  I want to encourage young Mom's to prep themselves for success and most of all to leave off this notion that if you do everything perfectly you will get perfectly behaved children.
Free will doesn't work that way.
Illness doesn't either.  While I can attest to a diet with little prepackaged and prepared foods (convenience foods) helps children ward off many illness's - they still get sick.  Illness is not a pass or fail in parenting.

I know from experience. 
 I was the Mom who purchased all the convenience items because I'm a sucker for good packaging and cute 'eye catchers'.  I justified the basket of 'goodies' and enjoying of ease because I was either pregnant or nursing for many, many years.  I was perpetuating a cycle of disaster.  I met a Mom while living in Virginia who had a large family and would literally bring a loaf of homemade bread, apples and a huge block of cheese for their breakfast after daily Mass if we were heading straight to our co-op.  The kids drank milk or water (mine always had some cute little juice box).  I was intrigued.  These kids almost never got sick, all glowed with health, and also didn't seem to be prone to the melt downs my boys were having on an almost constant basis.  
I learned quite a bit from this Mom by simply observing, she was from a large family and had learned many good habits about raising children.  One thing she passed on to me was that convenience foods do not buy you time, they buy you trouble.  Those fruit by the foot - buy them apples instead.   Cute little boxes of raisins - buy a canister of raisins/craisins and teach them to share and divide.  Corn dogs/chicken nuggets/fish sticks/ boxed mac & cheese - her kids really had no idea how often other families ate this stuff.  She fed REAL food all the time and insisted on LOTS of outdoor play and work.
I began to switch our diet and my kids learned to let go of thinking everything should come served in an individual style container.  It was a revelation to me.  My mornings went (over time) to the first version I shared to this:

Wake up and prepare scrambled eggs, sausage, and grits or steel cut oats or some other protein & fruit strong breakfast.  After all my kids were over 5, I let go of serving a morning snack.  Lunch consists of leftovers from dinner, or soup & sandwiches or a big hearty salad loaded with protein.  Just read through my recipe links to see how I feed them.  Afternoon snacks are more often than not cheese and crackers, veggies with homemade buttermilk dressing,  Take one day to prep many days worth of vegetables.  Go ahead and get all the fruit washed and ready to go.  It isn't that we don't enjoy treats, but they are few and far between.   Dinner is very often prepared at breakfast and placed in the crockpot.  I worked hard to reduce the difficult moments between the hours of 4 pm and bedtime.  The whiny, cranky, frazzled kids and worn out Mom all did much better when the real food and keeping us all well fed and hydrated became my focus.  

As to well rested.  
Do not ever give up nap time!
Guess what, my oldest is about to turn 22 (in 3 days) and my youngest is 7 - we still have quiet time after lunch EVERY.SINGLE.DAY that we are home.  The kids actually would sleep up until age 4 with a few stinkers who didn't think they needed it (but still had to stay in their room quietly).  Around the age of 12, my older kids came to look forward to this down time every day.  No electronics are allowed.  I set the timer, kids go to their beds (except the adult children) and read or rest or draw.  Everyone is quiet.  It is renewing to the whole family.

Bedtime is also a big deal around our home and always has been.  I read a study in my pre-internet parenting days (the early 90's) about how little sleep we get here in America and how it is affecting our health and our children.  When Pete and I had young children we craved that time in the evenings to have for each other.  We stuck strong to the whole 8 pm bedtime.  Once older, they boys got to stay up until 10 pm.  Unless it is a weekend or special occasion, this house shuts down at 10 pm.  I have adult children living at home right now, I do not insist on quiet time or bed time only that they respect what is happening in the house.  They may still be up at 11 pm, but they are quiet and do not wake anyone up.  Since the internet shuts down when Pete and I go to bed, they are usually up reading.
Small children need lots of rest to be at their best, but so do teenagers!!!!  Teens are growing at such a rapid rate and have so many changes taking place within them, adequate sleep is imperative.  I honestly believe that many a surly teenager would be less surly if they were not exhausted too.  Just a thought!

Trust me, well fed and well rested will help you take your family from this stage of the game
to this one, 

with less stress and better attitudes all around!

*a disclaimer - I came to understand the concept of well fed and well rested because I've truly done everything backwards or wrong first.  My poor family.  I've been blessed by learning a lot from older, wiser Mom's who let me ask, observe, and learn.*

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Technology & Blogging - What Works For Us (or isn't)

Garth Williams, from Farmer Boy - one of my all time favorite books.

On my post Technology & Teens I shared some of the guidelines we follow to help keep technology in its place within our home.  I've been spending quite a bit of time rethinking those guidelines and coming up with something that I feel helps en-kindle the home life my husband and I want to create for our children.

You see, I could get up in the early morning to blog (like I am today) but I have a VERY early riser and while he is not awake yet - he will be soon.  I do not want his memories to be of his Mom clicking away on the computer every morning that he woke up while a very little boy.  This is important to me, and not a judgment on anyone else.  Since I also have a son who is nearly 22, I know this time goes quickly.  My oldest was grown and I kept thinking in my heart "I still have not figured out how to mother, and his childhood is done".  I do not want to feel that way again.  I gave this a lot of thought and decided that breakfast before blog is a necessary.  I'm making an exception today to explain the continued delay in my returning.

I could blog in the evenings.  I have older children, and the cut off for their time on the internet is 9 pm.  My younger children go to bed at 8 pm and there is a bit of a shift after that.  8 to 9 allows for that shift and isn't an ideal time to blog.  I don't want to miss out on the evenings with my older boys so I'm not going to regularly blog then either.  I absolutely enjoy this time with them.  10 pm is bedtime because in this house we still have that structure in place.

I have adult children, who I do not require to go to bed at 10 pm (even though I turn in).  They respect the quiet that is necessary for the home (and usually are tired and go to bed anyway).  I trust my children, I genuinely have faith in their good judgment.  Pete and I still decided that because we love them, because it is OUR home we cut off the internet at 10 pm when we go to bed.  I don't think I realized how often I would come sit and blog or read blogs after 10 pm.  I cut that avenue off because what is good for them is good for me too.

Pete and I want to put habits into place that encourage something closer to the first picture and less like the one below....
*photo pulled from Google Images*

I will find a good time, and continue to blog (I really do love it) but for now I am remembering this....

I'm raising a family, not a blog.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Snack Ideas for Growing Boys

*Norman Rockwell*

I have 8 boys, and feeding them has been such a learning experience for me.  I'm going to also do a post on meals, but since boys (especially teenage boys) tend to be hungry ALL.THE.Time, I wanted to focus on snacks first.
Despite the fact that my boys are always hungry, I do not allow grazing at our house.  I think set snack times are a better idea than constantly grazing, at least for our family.  I could go into this, but I think for now I'll just focus on the snacks.  I do my best to make sure most of the snacks are good for sustaining boys for several hours.  Sugar, just causes the kids to get cranky and then to be starving within the hour.  I learned that the snacks I've shared below really do help them feel full, balance that blood sugar, and provides them the fuel they need until meal time.

*I buy DOZENS of eggs.
Boiled eggs are a staple around here.  Loaded with protein, they really fill up a hungry boys stomach and they are not expensive.  *A tip for getting the peel off eggs easily.  I always boil with 2 tsp of baking soda plus a dash of salt in the water.  When I store the boiled eggs in the refrigerator, we always run the egg under tap water to sort of 'shock' the shell into loosening for easy peeling.  If we take them on picnics, I do this before I pack them.  They almost always peel easily.

*I buy bulk carrots, I keep 3 or more peelers at the ready.
Sometimes I let them peel their own, some boys just wash the carrot and eat it without peeling.  Sometimes I not only peel them, but I also cut them into sticks.  

*Celery in bulk, peanut butter too.  

*Apples, lots and lots of apples.

*Popcorn, I purchase a 50 lb. bag of popcorn once a year.  When you break it down, the cost per pound is less than a dollar.  We air pop it and also pop it on the stove.  They love this as a snack.

*Hummus, with veggies, or with pita chips

*Pumpkin Bread

*Banana Bread

~all the quick breads & blondies - I will add flax flour and use half whole wheat when I want to bulk it up.  

*Granola - sometimes I make this with more honey and make granola bars, other times I let them pour almond milk or dairy milk over this.  (this is one of the more 'sweet' of the snacks)

*Large bags or buckets of peanuts or sunflower seeds.  They especially love this in the months where they can be outside and just toss the shells into the yard.

*I generally have large bags of grapefruit or oranges, clementines etc... Citrus does NOT fill them up, even with all that fiber.  When we have oranges, it is usually accompanied with something substantial, like cheese.

*String cheese is fun, but buy large blocks of cheese.  It is cheaper, and the slices can be thick to give them a substantial portion. (I do also buy string cheese every once in a while as a treat)

*We also have peanut butter sandwiches or turkey sandwiches for after school snacks when I know dinner is going to be late.

A note on bread - buy the WHOLE WHEAT or WHOLE GRAIN, this sustains growing boys much, much longer!  Ezekiel bread is even better, but who can afford to spend over $5.00 a loaf regularly.

I just typed this out quickly, without putting too much thought into it.  I know as I remember other snacks I'll edit the post.  Please feel free to add ideas in the comments too.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

What Works For Us - Menu Planning

To say I love to cook would be the understatement of the century - when it comes to the people I love, cooking IS my love language.  I was recently asked by Rebekah to share how I plan my menu's and organize my day in order to get these meals prepared and onto the table.  I'll do my best, but to be honest it is like asking me 'how do you breath' because it is so much a part of my habit, to actually break down the elements that make this happen is a little tricky, but I'll do my best.
First, I should share that way back when my boys were little I used to go regularly to the library and check out cookbooks.  I had a stack of recipe cards and I would sit at night and fill those cards with all the recipes that looked good to me - the days before Pinterest made it so easy to bookmark favorite recipes.

I still have all of them, splattered, stained and well loved!
A few days before time to grocery shop, I would sit down with cookbooks or cards, a calendar and two sheets of paper.  It's pathetic how much delight I got out of this little ritual (still do when time allows).  The calendar made me aware of any Liturgical Feasts I wanted to prepare for or any activities that would require a crock pot meal to simmer all day while we were out.  On one sheet of paper I would mark off 14 days (for meals, lunch & dinner) I rarely planned breakfast meals except for special occasions.  I also added 14 snack ideas (lots of repeating) and a few desserts.  I also made sure to plan for leftover days in the 14, as well as possible nights we would not be eating at home or might order pizza.  On the other sheet of paper, the grocery list with ingredients I would need to create the meals.
Fast Forward -
The way I shop now is entirely different than in the beginning.  I do not make a list before I check the specials at my local stores.  I also ALWAYS check the marked down meat at Sams.  It can be hard to catch when they mark it down, sometimes it is early in the morning and sometimes it is near the closing time that they set it out.  I have been extremely lucky over the years to consistently catch great mark down prices.  Now that I know what I have to work with, I pull out the calendar and plan the menu.  I still shop 2 weeks at a time and I still make sure to plan for the Liturgical Year as well as birthdays, leftover nights, and nights we won't be at home.  I also check my 'sick pantry' to see if I need to add to it.    Leila has some even better steps to menu planning and getting into the habit of making dinner every day, and liking it. .
I do not like repeating the same meals over and over again too close together.  I like to change things up and because I read cookbooks as if they were novels, I love creating new menus and trying new meals.  I've been cooking a long time now, and I've got a good idea of what will work and what will not.  
Also, I rarely specify meals for each date on the calendar.  I find that I like to decide in the morning or the night before what we will have the next day.  I keep a clipboard in the kitchen with the meal ideas, and I go from there.  My daughter has lately started to help list out the meals and pour through the cookbooks with me, she even created the grocery list right before Christmas and did a great job!

*When it comes to feast days, I find that in order to stay within my grocery budget I need to hack a recipe to make it work.  When you have a strict grocery budget, it is just fine to recreate these special feast days with ordinary ingredients that you would usually purchase, do not fret about spending those precious dollars on unusual or expensive ingredients.  Make what you have work, and have fun in the process*

A big reason why I am successful in consistently getting meals prepared and having family meals together is because as a family we pull together to make it happen.  It is our habit and because it always has been, no one really considers otherwise.  If I am cooking, and I clean as I go - there is still a child cleaning and preparing with me.  There is another child working on laundry, another child helping someone with Math homework, and another child keeping an eye on little ones in the back yard.  I'm keeping a watchful eye on all, but am still rooted to that stove giving directions left and right - a manager so to speak.  I could not pull off the meals we have without my children, they are my rock and truly we thrive because we all pull in together.  When it is the same for clean up - everyone helps, but we do rotate the hardest kitchen chores.  By participating in all the prep, sharing the meal together, and helping with cleanup - everyone gains, and no one gets the role of martyr to the kitchen.  In fact, in  our home we have a rule - No Martyrs allowed!  If Mom is doing all the household chores, all the taxi driving, preparing meals, and cleaning them up herself, then it is a sad state of affairs. Utilize the entire family, and create your own habit.  We do not necessarily whistle while we work, but we do have some very good conversations while working together and it is in these moments that I learn so much about my children.  The main point is that it is a habit, and in consistently doing this we've created a culture of good food and family togetherness.

I'm sure there is better advice I could give as to actually preparing the meal, so I may do a part 2 with details on a given day as to when I began, and a step by step of the process of getting the meal on the table AND the clean up.  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What Works For Us - Illness & Mothercare

*No one is sick right now, this photo is from last May*

Cold and Flu season are upon us and I've noticed that some of my blogging friends with lots of little ones are sharing that they are dealing with this illness or that flu bug and it sure brings back memories of when I had 6 kids under the age of 8 or 9 kids under the age of  14.  An illness could linger forever as it passed from one family member to the next and I often felt that a virus stayed with us long enough to mutate so that we could catch the new strain all over again.  No kidding, I started to believe it with how often we seemed to get sick.  I did find out at one of our homes we had some water issues which required a better light/purification treatment but that is not my focus of today's post.  It is relevant in some ways though, because I've known other families to be constantly ill and to find out later their water source was the root problem.

I learned a few tricks that 'work for us' when our kids were very young.  You may already know these, but I tend to find things about by doing them wrong  a few times and in that spirit I am happy to share what I learned along my way.

*Air quality is important.  If your family has been battling one illness after another think about changing the air filter more often than required.  We started changing the air filter whenever a stomach virus or Strep came into our home.  Our daughter shows zero signs of Strep until she breaks out in a Scarlet Fever rash so if one of our kids tests positive for Strep, we get her tested too.  We treat them with antibiotics and then we change the air filter.  When a stomach bug has run its course through the family, we change the air filter. 

-Open a window in the house (rotating which window) for about 30 mins a day no matter what season.  In today's energy efficient homes, the air exchange doesn't happen.  Air exchange brings in fresh air, just by opening the windows you can change the air quality and help keep illness from hanging out longer than welcome (is it ever really welcome).  Trust me, this works!

*Try to relax about the antibacterial gel, soap, no germs allowed craze.  Kids are messy, and getting a little dirt, snot, spit or whatever isn't going to hurt them.  In fact it helps build their immune system.  I'm the first to encourage you to give your children frequent baths or showers, simply because it helps them feel better when they are sick or cranky.  I don't want to give the wrong impression that I think kids should run around filthy. In our current culture it would seem that some poor mom's are under the impression that if their child gets sick, they have failed to protect them from germs - not true!  Kids get sick, it s a reality and not a parenting failure.  Relax if you can regarding the germs, let them be kids and follow their instincts to explore the world and all the dirt in it!

*Keep a 'Sick Pantry'
 I always (during this season) try to have on hand ginger ale, chicken broth, assorted medicines or homeopathic remedies for fevers & coughs, Vic's Salve, cough drops, popscicles, and assorted herb teas.  It helps me not be stressed but better at the TLC when I don't have to fret about getting to the store for these items, just keep them on hand.  Illness never comes when it is convenient and rarely with warning.

*When a stomach bug hits, DO NOT GO TO BED WITH CLOTHES IN THE WASHER OR DRYER!  There is nothing worse than having to change sheets in the middle of the night and needing that washer (just to get rid of the smell if nothing else) but it is full of wet laundry and the dryer is full of unfolded clothes.  I don't know about you but night time parenting is not my strong point.  Multiple kids throwing up on multiple nights can just about put me over the edge of sanity, and this THIS is when they need you the most.  Be pro-active and set yourself up for better mothering by just emptying the washer and dryer so when the inevitable happens and one throws up and cries, then wakes up another one, and they cry and then it is like dominoes and your trying SO hard not to cry too.  It is small, but knowing you can shove that first set of bedding in the washer helps and then moving it to an empty dryer is a blessing.  You will be so thankful you did this, and your tired self will be praising for this small act of kindness to yourself in the long night of sick babies.  

*Nap when they do, mandatory quiet time is a must when the house is sick.  It will revive you, a power nap is not to be dismissed.  Do not think that plugging in a video while you catch a few on the couch will actually help.  Be the boss, tell them it is quiet time for 1 hour.  Put the liveliest down to nap with you.  Our rule is this:  You do not have to sleep, you can read or play quietly in your room.  You just must be quiet.  If you are not quiet, then you must stay down for 2 hours.  Once the kids realize, a fresher and more cheerful Mommy emerges from this respite, they get with the program.  I would often promise a special treat for after naps.  When ill, this could be when I bring out the Rainbow Jello
(when you have older kids adjust accordingly, they don't mind Mom taking a nap and staying quiet because it gives them a break too while the littler ones rest)

I hope these tips help, it has sure made the difference between my drowning in illness as opposed to making through it in a way that preserved all our sanity as well as family bonding.  I truly believe it is in these most stressful times (like illness) when very young children have their hearts knit to yours, to their family in such a way that it helps carry you through the more difficult years ahead.  We all fail, we all have our moments of 'just can't take it anymore' and fall apart even with the best strategies, but I do believe these proactive measures keep those moments fewer and farther away.  I know they helped me get closer to being the kind of Mother I want to be rather than the victim of the kind of Mother I hate to be, stressed, worn out, feeling like a failure.  I've learned a little along this parenting journey of 21 years and am happy to know now, that be being proactive, I helped my family feel better faster and didn't lose my mind or their hearts in the process.
*edited to add, please see comments for even more great ideas!

Friday, November 29, 2013

What Works For Us - Technology & Teens

Today's world of technology is changing so rapidly it can be hard as parents to continue to stick to your standards when you are barraged constantly with Smartphone upgrades and 'add a line' for free adds that marketing execs use to entice you to 'the next best thing' in cellphone development.  I feel blessed by the fact that had we not been in an economic downturn when Smartphones made their debut we might have felt good about purchasing these for our teens.  Kevin Clark recently wrote an article for Seton Magazine titled, 'Are Kids Better Off Poor'.  I would answer yes, to some degree.  In our own lean times, we can look back and see how the tight times gave us great gifts.  One I want to focus on is how it shaped our decisions regarding technology, cellphones and our teenagers.  I feel we dodged a bullet, so to speak, in not being able to add smartphones (for our teens) to our plan, I had no idea the limitless capacity those phones have to bring harm in addition to the good.  The harm outweighs the good by our standards and therefore, our children are not given smartphones.  We do not feel it is our obligation to provide our children with this technology, it is our job to continue to guide the formation of their conscience and to do no harm to the best of our ability.  We fail, we fail miserably on so many levels but to knowingly place in their hands a device that can perpetuate harm is unacceptable.  

We have watched all the news and tips on how to add software that 'watchdogs' the activity and texts taking place on the phone.  I feel very strongly that if I have to 'watchdog' their activity then I shouldn't hand the device over to them, it is actually my being honest about what I have time for.  I also feel it sends a message to my teen that I do not trust them. I do not want them to 'hear' I do not trust them, but to 'know' I am doing my job in guarding their hearts and fulfilling my Baptismal promise as their parent. I have seen parents install this software and  a cat and mouse game ensues between the parent watchdogging and the teen getting more and more clever about getting around the snooping.  I don't like setting that standard within the relationship of my teenagers.  We also do not allow them to purchase their own Smartphone.  Once they have a job if they want to purchase a track phone, that is fine.  They can buy minutes and then they have to work hard to budget those minutes on necessary texts and phone calls.  We have 1 phone in the house that can be checked out on an as needed basis and it is a basic cellphone, we do not feel obligated to go beyond that.  If they want a phone, they buy it and it cannot be a smartphone.  Once you are 18, you may purchase one if you so choose.  

Our boys have purchased their own laptops once they had a job and saved up the money to buy them.  We have a room designated as the homeschool/media room.  Laptops are not allowed in bedrooms, in fact we follow the same principle as Leila on 'no technology in bedrooms'.  There is an accountability factor for everyone regarding the internet.  We feel strongly that this helps everyone stay safe and maintains a collective conscience within our home that does not allow damage, to the best of our ability.  I can't stress enough that we fail and some of our rules have stemmed from those failures, we are not perfect and we have no desire to put forth that image.

To further impress that technology is not allowed to permeate too many aspects of our family life - we have cut off rules.  No technology when there is school work or chores to be done.  Technology has to be turned off by 6 pm on weeknights and by 9 pm on weekends.  We enjoy our family dinners, prayers, Rosary, movies, games, cards, and just visiting.  The article by John Cuddeback 'Eating Salt Together' sums up our vision for our home and technology MUST take a back seat to that vision.

 Technology lends itself to a separateness from one another.  We  want togetherness in all its rugged and wonderful forms and occupations.  The fruit born of these rules is not easily defined however; our teens are not addicted to social media for social interaction, they place a higher value on 'real' society and time spent in the company of others.  There are very real evils coming through internet access that we as parents have to be diligent about protecting our children from.  Following these guidelines is 'What Works For Us' in keeping them safe.

*Updated* We currently have 1 downstairs bedroom where we've allowed a wifi connection (which still goes off at 10 pm).  The bedroom door has been removed and the computer screen faces the door.  This arrangement is working fine for the almost 18 year old who really needed better access to the internet for various projects, without sitting in the dining room with all the younger siblings.  He shares a room with his 16 year old brother and we just need to maintain our rules but also be understanding of shifting circumstances.  I just wanted to keep things honest in this space*
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