Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Failure's and Success of Maintenance PART 2

I know I said I'd talk about what I've been doing to help maintain the toys and so forth, but it's one of those things that I feel like I can't ever truly get a handle on. I think it's because it's something that just is NOT going to keep itself neat. No matter how well everything is organized or how much you talk to your kids or show them how to put things away the PARENT is always going to have to go behind them and correct and instruct and encourage and do it with them until they are older and independent.

Other advice to start with (my husband and I've been talking about this recently) it's important for us to make it a positive thing. My oldest is 5 and she's always been quite willing to help, but I've always given her lots of praise when she did so (not for a job badly done of course, sometimes I had to show her how to do a better job) often I would do something WITH her.. making sure not to do all the work myself. This is what I still have to do with my 3 year old. When I was laid up after the newest one was born my husband was doing all the housework for me and he was having the girls help. I noticed after a few weeks of this, how wilted my oldest's expression was when she was asked to help. Were we asking her to help too often? Perhaps, but I think it was mainly HOW she was being asked. I needed to consciously make sure we were all asking each other for help in a positive way. Asking with a "Please" and saying "Thank you" and remembering to use a tone of voice to encourage rather than to make them feel like they were being punished are all vital. I don't often have to insist that my kids say please and thank you because they are so used to hearing me say it that they automatically use those words even with each other (which is totally adorable.) Lately though I've had to work with them on asking nicely again for things. I've also had to check my own patience level. I am NOT naturally a patient person, but that's something the Holy Spirit has been teaching me for a while. Having children is a perfect opportunity to learn to be patient.. it's either - learn patience or be admitted into a sanitarium. ;]

But, back to the point of this post.. The question- "Why do we want our kids to clean up after themselves?" is pretty vital to understand before we try to start making things happen.

Is it because the mess is annoying us? Is it because we don't want to do all the work ourselves? Is it because we want to punish them for some wrong that they've done?

I hope our answer is -"because we want to help grow good habits in our children that will serve them through life." There are immediate helps as well. If they can learn to pick up after themselves then our family works better as a unit and things begin to run smoothly. The other day I explained to Lily how much more time I have to do projects with her if she can help me to keep things cleaned up. (This was when we were doing the pipecleaner monsters.)

It's NOT easier or more efficient to have them help out and learn how to clean and pick up though! It's much quicker for me to do things myself, but I need to teach them and help them build some good habits so that when they are my age (hopefully) these things won't be a struggle for them. Today I did my one little room (the smallest bathroom) of cleaning and Renna (3) wanted to help me clean the toilet. I was just spraying some antibacterial stuff on the seat and lid and so on and wiping it off with toilet paper before flushing it all. She thought that was pretty neat though and wanted to help. It didn't take too much longer to show her how and do it with her, yet it wasn't as easy as just doing it myself. But... it's more important that she learn how to do it than the toilet being cleaned quickly. That's the thing. Is it so important to have the house be instantly clean? Or to build our relationship with our children and train them in all parts of living? As homeschoolers, we teach them reading and math, but if we stop with academics then (in my opinion) their training is sorely lacking.
Okay, that intro was really long. So, on with some other ideas that are a bit less deep.

First, I'd like to explain the most recent fail in this endeavor. I thought that if we had a corner hammock thing to hold stuffed animals it would help to keep the toys at bay. I didn't want to buy one though so I made one with some rainbow fabric that I had. It was pretty and worked well, BUT failed miserably because Lily had a hard time getting her animals out of it and it broke. This was the second time it broke so I pulled it down and pitched the idea. The picture is of it's sad state before I took it down all the way.
Now for some ideas that actually have worked. Organizing things according to it's type makes asking the kids to put something away SO much easier. I don't just say, "Clean up your room." Because that is just too overwhelming for them. I'll say something like, "Lily can you please put all the balls and cars in their basket?" (Anything that rolls goes together in this case.) When she starts to do it I thank her. If she doesn't want to do it or complains, I've brought up how I'd be willing to trade jobs with her. "Well, I can do your job if you want to do the dishes and make dinner and change the baby's diaper.." (and so on until she gets a look in her eyes that seems a bit overwhelmed) Or I explain how we all need to work together as a team and each do our part. I also started a sticker chart to give them an incentive to finish something that is difficult. Lily says, "My legs are tired, I can't finish making my bed." And I might say, "I know it's hard Lily, but you can do it, and you'll get a sticker for your chart." She knows that when she gets enough stickers that the chart will keep track of, she'll get a "prize".. right now I'm trying to help them learn about saving, so instead of a dollar store toy they will get a dollar and when they have collected $5 worth they'll get the "big prize" which is a little tinkerbell fairy doll (about 5 inches tall) and a lot nicer than a cheapo dollar store toy. They get about a dollar a week. Renna doesn't earn a sticker right now for picking up because I still need to help her so much with it. She's working on getting a sticker each time she goes potty in the toilet. The issue with that is that she CAN do it, she just gets distracted or tired or isn't paying attention. Well, the sticker chart thing helps to remind her to keep on track. Lily is very interested in the prize.. Renna likes the prize of course, but is just as happy is seems being able to collect the stickers. ;]
To keep the rooms looking neater I've consolidated their art to just a few places. Rather than the whole wall or spread over more than one wall, I've made their closet door a place for art. Also, downstairs in the dinning room there are certain sections of the wall dedicated to the girls art and other sections that have nothing or a simple decoration that I've decided on. This makes the room "look" less cluttered even if there's the same amount of art up. (I do switch it out though as they make more to hang.)

Organizing their many toys though wasn't enough. They'd dump out a bin full of play clothes or of stuffed animals or spread all the tiny little princess dolls and clothes out as they are looking for something. It was driving me crazy and something had to be done! Youssef turned the knob around on their closet door so that the lock was on the inside and we had to use a "key" hair pin to open it! That forced them to ask for things, but I don't keep ALL their toys in there. They have the bigger ones out (like the doll bed and castle.) Some of their big toys are in the closet (the ones they weren't playing with for the time being.) It's suddenly made them appreciate their toys more and has made it all seem new again! I put their little sets of toys (the princesses and ponies) in separate zipplocs in the closet. I've tried to make it a point to get out anything that they specifically ask for if I can (sometimes they have to wait a little bit, but they know they will get it.) This was important to Lily because she was worried that she'd lose the toys forever or that I'd throw them away. Also, I didn't want this tidying up to be a punishment. The locked closet thing is just to give me a chance to keep up with them. Once they've learned to pick up after themselves before pulling out the next and the next thing, then I won't need to lock the closet anymore and they won't have to ask every time they want something. The plan though is to periodically (like once a week or so) let them pick out a new thing from the closet and they have to choose the equivalent toy or toys to go back into the closet for a while. The picture above shows them going through their "play clothes box" that they hadn't been able to get into for a while.
They've had fun going through it and dressing up the last few days, BUT it hasn't driven me crazy because if the toys and things strewn everywhere "go together" then I just have to gather them up and dump them back in the box. It's super easy to have the girls help too because there's no sorting to worry about! This mess was worse by bedtime and I told the girls to lay in their beds while I cleaned it up. They were practically begging to help! Okay, that has NOT happened before! Lily was starting to enjoy helping I think because (besides being easier and seeing how nice her room was to play in when it was clean) it can be fun to put things away because you "find" other toys while you go like a treasure hunter! I found something the girls had been asking for while cleaning up. "Look Renna! I found your turtle!" "My TURTLE!!!" She says excitedly... this totally makes cleaning up a blast for them. She'd been looking for that all afternoon. ;] Also, I've asked them each night if I should leave out the box of dress up clothes so they could play with it tomorrow or if I should put it back in the closet. As long as they are wanting to play with it, I'm totally fine with keeping it out! It's when they get bored with their toys and dump them for no reason that it bothers me. Toys that are happily played with are fun to see even when they are left around the house. Often you can see how their imagination was flowing as you see the positions the toys were left in.
Okay, umm... other ideas. Going along with the closet idea, I thought it would be a good idea to put some of Lily's project things and school up higher so she'd have to ask for it instead of getting it out on her own. Yeah, it's always really great (*sarcastic*) to clean up one mess just to turn around and see play dough all over the floor. Then to clean that up just to turn around to paint all over the table. Even if Lily did a good job of not making a mess she'd often leave something out and Renna would get to it and make a mess with it. SO, we are working on putting stuff AWAY before getting out the next project. (Yes, mommy needs to work on this as well!)
This is their little art table, though we do art at the tall table as well. I sit at their little table sometimes too and we do school or a project there so that we can be closer to Grace in her bouncy chair this is being kept cleaner than it has been in... umm... forever? Notice the artwalls in the background? Also, notice the "white space" on the other walls. Keeping the kitchen bar as uncluttered as possible helps with my own sanity. Also, I don't want to spend ALL day just following them around and picking up and making THEM pick up stuff ALL day. Really.. if they want to get something ELSE out it's important to clean up first and we clean up the tables before dinner and some before lunch, but I'd go crazy if I was in "total clean up mode" all the time. If I find myself feeling stressed from the mess I don't always have to dive into cleaning up what THEY messed up.. no.. sometimes I just need to clear off the counter and my own stuff! I don't always make them clean up their table right after they are done with something either. For one thing, I don't know if they are planning to come back to it or not. For another thing, often they are playing well together and I hate to interrupt them (partly because it's nice to see that and partly because I don't want to stop whatever I'm doing.) But, I figure as long as they are cleaning up the last thing before they are allowed to get the next thing out we'll be good.
By God's grace, our days have fewer incidences of the mommy freaking out and stressing about how many toys there are in this house! I'm finding myself being able to relax more and not feel like I'm drowning in "stuff" to manage. It's so relaxing now to sit at the table and do a project with the girls and sing together. They are so much happier that way too! I'm still getting used to doing these things throughout the day though. I don't like to stop one thing and start another thing. I'd much rather do ONE thing ALL day. Maybe that's weird, but it's easier for me to do than jumping from one to another to another. I lose my train of thought and I feel like it takes longer to start the next thing because I don't remember what I'm supposed to do. We'll keep figuring this stuff out though as we go and hopefully it will get easier. Lily especially likes how we are doing things now though, and how I will do something with them for a while and then give them an idea of how to play on their own or let them watch a cartoon (the cartoons are getting fewer and farther between though as they would rather do other stuff anyway!) I just need to get used to doing bits and pieces of things through the day. Read them a few stories here and there, do a project or teach them a song in between this and that, and so on. At some point I'd like to add in my own projects again (like scrapbooking!).. I just have to be careful to not try to do my own thing for too long (because.. as I said.. I'd much rather focus on one thing for an entire day.. but that doesn't work with kids. They need to be fed and taught and played with, NOT put off and given my minimum attention.. which is far too easy for me to do.)

Soon my husband will be happier as well when our family continues to run smoothly and those clutter things start to disappear as we put stuff away RIGHT away instead of leaving it out! Because, suddenly.. I'll have time to play games with him, just like I found time to do projects with the girls when we figured out the toy situation. The goal is to lessen my exhaustion by simplifying the systems so that I can focus my attention on what really matters.

I wouldn't be surprised if most, if not all of you reading this, look at my struggles and suggestions as pretty basic... you probably already know this stuff or don't struggle in these ways, but.. that's okay because I'm not writing this to "fix" anyone else. Oh, yeah, maybe you wonder why I'd write it all on a blog then for anyone to see? I do hope that my ramblings will encourage someone and in the back of my head I wonder if my kids will read these when they are older and understand their old Mom a little better, but the main reason I write so much on here is to just re-enforce what I'm learning and sort out my own thoughts about it all. Typing helps me to think and if I type to "someone" than what I write is at least a little bit easier to follow. So yeah, all of this isn't to preach to anyone.. it's just laying my heart out there and trying to be honest.

I'm painfully aware of the fact that even if 90% of the time I'm teaching my children with a quiet voice and encouragement that 10% of getting frustrated or yelling at them is going to stand out in their minds probably as if the numbers were reversed. Really, no matter how hard I try I will scar my children in some way because I'm a flawed human in a broken world, yet, it all comes back again (even through all my ideas and advice and finding techniques that work for our family) it all comes back to the real point of what Jesus has done. It is no longer I who lives but Christ lives in me. It is His grace in my life and not any "how-to's" or rules that could ever make anything I try to do successful.

Galations 2:20b-21 ".. it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain."

Asking myself "Why?"

I've been reading a lot of homeschooling articles for encouragement. It really does help! You can imagine that someone like me (who struggles so much with consistency) would be FREAKING out right about now when I get closer and closer to really needing to buckle down and do school with Lily. I've got the reading program already, it looks fabulous the more I figure out how to teach it, and we've gone through the first book already. Lily is really excited to continue on and be able to read!
(The picture below is what she made the other day of a "sick snowman" .. she covered him in penned spots and he needed the scarves because he was cold and sick.) ;]
As I was reading the articles a bunch though, I noticed how some said that they felt called by God to homeschool their kids and others spoke of the benefits of homeschooling in a christian environment at home rather than the evil world. I don't necessarily disagree with those articles, but as I got to thinking about why I want to homeschool my own kids I thought about a few things. First.. I'm a second generation homeschooler. That is.. I was homeschooled all my life growing up and am now homeschooling my own kids. My Mom was one of the "pioneer homeschoolers" back in the day when it was pretty weird to do so.

I remember my dad having a talk with me when I was young.. 12 maybe? .. about how they had taken ideas from their parents and did some things the same way and some things differently. He told me that when I was grown up and had kids I'd look back at what they did and see what was good and what wasn't and improve on what they did. I noticed the other day that while I consciously thought of the things I wanted to change and improve I don't as often think about the things they did right because I naturally copy those things.
Lily is VERY creative and never seems to have enough projects to do! She has quite a long attention span for a 5 1/4 year old as well (the picture above is how she made a space ship from a part of a toy and a cut straw pushed onto it's ends) She's very much like I was/am with her appetite to make things and be creative. She also loves puzzles and I've noticed how I teach the girls how to put puzzles together and how I help them is just like how my Mom did it with me. Allowing me to find things on my own (not doing it for me) and giving me the tools or advice to discover and figure things out on my own.

My mom did a great job with those things, but why do I want to homeschool? I kept going over the reasons of "why?" I mean the BIG reason.. not just the tiny things that I like, though those are many. My experience wasn't "perfect".. but does it have to be? I realize now why we changed curricula every year till I was probably 13 at least. I think we mom's are really worried about doing the best we can for our kids (which is a good thing of course!) And I've had the HARDEST time choosing between curriculum. Even when I think I've chosen, I constantly keep second guessing.

I think the main reason why I want to go with Sonlight is because of how great my own mom was at reading out loud to us. I remember how I wasn't very good at reading out loud (not very smoothly or conversationally) when I was about 14 and wanted to be able to read out loud like my mom. So.. I practiced diligently for a while on my own (by reading Pilgram's Progress out loud to myself!) I love reading to my girls and they seem to enjoy it too! I love doing sound effects and voices too sometimes. :}
Right, so, I've picked out what curricula to go with. Youssef is all for it too since he loves the literature base that it has and "real books" sound great. Do I believe that homeschooling is innately better than other ways to school children though? Is that way we are doing this? I thought a lot about it and I can't say that I think homeschooling is better in itself from other ways to be educated. Really, I don't think it's for everyone and no matter how you choose to school your kids being involved is really important. Obviously, you can be distant from your kids if they are in a public school, but you could also become distant from them and neglect them even when they are homeschooled even when you have more opportunity to be with them and teach them. So, it's really more in our parenting and relationship with our kids than in a certain method or "rule" or world view that will raise them well. Whether it's private school, public school, homeschool, or then which curriculum to go with if you choose to homeschool, the thing is, you can pick the BEST place or method or curricula EVER and still not be the best parent to them.

So, again.. why? It's not because I think it's just automatically a superior way to go (as I've heard other homeschoolers say)... it's because even though I can see holes in my own education the benefits of being taught by my mom were invaluable. I didn't see it all at the time of course, but my older brother and I always got along pretty well even though we are so different (for one thing) I have great memories of us making forts together outside in the afternoons. Honestly, I don't remember a whole lot about what we did in school... I learned how to read.. I know that. ;] My grammar and spelling aren't so great (though my husband "the language buff" has helped me a lot just by example and gentle tutoring.) I know I read a giant history book, but I didn't retain any of the information... Which war goes to what date? I have no idea. I thought world history was more interesting than American history, but I can't tell you much about that either.
It always amazes me how my husband can rattle off some historical fact and the names and dates of dictators and so forth (he went to a public school, but is smarter than the average bear anyway.) Okay, so does my lack of "school knowledge" mean that my education was a failure?

What is more important though? Being able to remember the dates of the civil war or getting along well with my family? Which has served me better in life?

My skills are very much in art and music and I don't find it difficult to teach myself something (if I really want to learn it...) My older brother taught himself how to fix his car and fix other stuff by getting books from the library and figuring it out! That's how I taught myself the harp and knitting and other things. Neither of us look "lacking" by any means as adults. And while any sort of schooling can fail at helping a child retain the facts and dates of history (for instance), homeschooling gave my brother and myself the opportunity to learn how to learn. It gave us the time to develop our interests and work on our natural skills. I remember my older brother making paper airplanes of all kinds when we were around 7 or 8 and now he actually works on real planes!

My mom was always there for us to be a listening ear (well, I don't know if she was actually paying attention to me totally, but she at least pretended to, so it worked!) She didn't criticize the projects that we worked so hard on and gave us some solid Biblical truth. While I don't remember much from my science book, I still have the Bible songs and verses stashed in my memory (that have come out now and then to encourage me many times.)

These musings are all a bit rambly... right.. so what is the answer I came up with?

-- What I truly want is to be WITH my kids. I want to homeschool them because I want to be apart of their lives. I also want to give them the opportunity to develop their interests and truly be prepared for life as an adult. I want to share the learning and growing WITH them as well!

Homeschooling is a lifestyle. And.. honestly, it freaks me out to have all this responsibility.. but I'd have it anyway wouldn't I? Because, it's called "parenting." It just feels more vital in a homeschool lifestyle to do the best job as a parent as I can. With them always being home they will see my life and where I fail. Teaching them to make their beds each morning or clean up after themselves is torture for ME because I have to be even MORE consistent than I would for myself, but it's valuable for them as well as me. It's growing together, and while I know I will fail in my parenting in many ways. Isn't that better than not to have tried my best and going the direction that I know we need to go? The homeschooling path isn't for everyone, but I feel (when my kids are young) that if I sent them to a school I would be letting someone else do my job of parenting my children.

Fortunately, God's strength is made perfect in our weakness, and none of this is about ME being perfect or choosing the "right" way to school my kids or the "perfect" curricula for them. It seems to ALWAYS go back to this truth. From the struggle of doing the dishes to parenting to everything else in my life, it's not about me doing anything correctly... it's about not being enough and Jesus being enough through me. It's about His grace in my life giving me the ability to do what I can't do on my own.

As I look at the teachers manual for Lily's reading program and start to feel overwhelmed, I need to remember where my strength comes from and just do that first days work with her... I don't have to worry about the last lesson, or even next weeks school work. No, just today's and dive in. Taking that step of faith in believing that God will give me the strength to get to the end. Even when I don't feel like I have that amount of strength today... but.. I don't have to worry about tomorrow, do I...

I guess the main thing that I'm thinking of right now is just what God has been impressing on me lately. It's not about the "best" method of schooling or the "best" parenting techniques or rules or anything of that sort. It's being WITH my kids! I don't just mean physically.. because I'm physically with them all the time. But... available and paying attention to them right away. Choosing to homeschool doesn't necessarily make me do that though.

You can make up rules and force your kids to obey (when they're young.. theoretically) ;] BUT you can't change their hearts.. you can't MAKE them love you or do what is right when they are grown up.

You could make up a rule about not watching TV (for instance) but that doesn't necessarily mean that your family will do more together and love each other more deeply.

Last night, right after Youssef brought the girls in from swimming in the pool here at our apartment complex, we did a "movie night" and watched "the Princess Bride" projected on the wall while eating dinner. It was a fun time together of talking to the girls and enjoying each other. Someone could make me feel guilty or make me feel like a bad parent because I let my kids watch cartoons and movies .. "is the TV a babysitter?" "Don't you think they watch too much?" Perhaps they do watch more than they should, but is the answer to ban the TV? Should we create more laws to follow or better punishments to implement? That might MAKE them obey, but as I said before.. the laws won't change their hearts. The LAWS won't bring us closer as a family. Contracts don't improve relationships. Those things only control behavior, and my goal for my own life and my childrens is to know God. It is NOT to be good pharisees and law keepers.

Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments..." It starts with the relationship and THEN obedience happens. Keeping laws does not grow love.. but loving someone makes us want to obey them. Later in John He says "A new commandment I give to you, to love one another as I have loved you." He gave his life for us, so are we to give our lives to our children??? ... Yes.

That is what I've been struggling with. I don't feel like God is calling me to just homeschool or to make up a better way to discipline my children... I feel like He is impressing on me the need to give my life to my children. The every-day all-the-time of my life. Somehow that doesn't jive with being on Facebook overly much and spending tons of time on my own projects. It doesn't fit with putting the house work or organizing as the first priority. To continually tell them to "wait" for something that they ask for just because I don't want to stop what I'm doing. Deciding to homeschool won't automatically teach me to be unselfish. Picking the best curricula won't be the means to give my children the "perfect" education. Choosing to have or not have a TV won't automatically bring us closer as a family or protect our children from the world.

So, rather than spend more time looking for the better thing or the "trick" in raising and teaching my children I need to just focus on them. No matter what method of schooling or parenting I decide on, developing a relationship with them is the point - loving them, spending time with them, listening, and being available to them.

And now, as I reach the end of this... is it more important for me to read this whole blog post and re-write it to improve it? Or should I just finish so I can help my girls with their projects?

... I'm going to choose the later.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Failure's and Success of Maintenance

Let me just start by admitting something (if I haven't before) I'm a pretty terrible housekeeper. I often laugh when people think that I'm a great example of a homemaker. Well, sure.. I'm home.. and I'm creative and I can sew and all that, but I'm NOT good at keeping up with things. My natural bent is to do things all in one go. I won't really clean the house for several months, but I'd do a giant "Spring Cleaning" and re-organizing thing in the space of a few days. Totally wear myself out in the process of course so that I would be too tired to keep it looking good and the viscous cycle would continue.

So, more specifically... a year ago (and before then) the dishes would generally stay in the sink and counter and table for more than a day or two. Making meals was always frustrating because dishes were in the way or I'd have to wash something by hand because I needed it.

Laundry was always a giant mountain to climb as well. I'd wait till the laundry basket was overflowing beyond measure and then dump it all on the floor to put into the piles and proceed to try and get all those piles washed and dried in one day. When each load was dry I'd dump them on the couch to be folded while I watched a show or something. If I ever got around to actually folding the clothes (which could take one day or much longer) I'd often just leave the folded stacks in the basket and they'd all get unfolded when people would look for their clothes or when one of the girls would dump them all out so they could play in the basket.

Those were probably the two most majorly constant things that I was always dealing with. I got a DVD course in organizing last year that really helped me view all of this differently.

You see, I'd read many other books over the years about organizing and schedules and so forth, but I always got the feeling from them that the goal was to be organized. To be organized is not the goal. The reason it's important to organize our homes and schedules is to Simplify our lives! That's what I needed. I didn't need more ways to learn how to make my house "guest ready" I needed techniques to make my home run smoothly so that my life would be simple. I also needed to be taught these things in a grace filled way so that I wouldn't be operating out of guilt. I want to spend time with my kids and do my own projects and homeschool... I do NOT want to spend all of my day picking up after everyone in the family and doing dishes and essentially doing the same thing over and over again. Like walking up a slippery slope where it's impossible to get to the top or move forward.

My natural bent is to try to take on everything all at once. Which, of course, is gearing up for more failure city! I've been struggling with consistency and feel like I will always struggle with this for the rest of my life... but.. I'm hoping it will get easier at least. Starting the dishwasher at night with a cleaned up kitchen and emptying it in the morning has been my goal (little harder with a new baby and two older kids of course, but the goal is still there.. just not always met at the same time of the day.)

Getting rid of things is really important. Giving everything a place is vital (forcing myself to DECIDE where their place is!) Learning to see "clutter areas" and clean up to the point where 2/3s of the counters at least are cleared of stuff is super helpful too.

Right, but that is just mainly the kitchen (the first stage of this process) .. there's still the other big one (for me) the laundry *DUnt dunt DUUUNNNN!* I now do a load or so a day rather than doing it all in one go. It is amazingly easier to get that much washed and dried in one day (yeah, it usually takes me the whole day pretty much to get it through the cycles) and I no longer fold on the couch. I take it to my bedroom so I can put my folded clothes away as I fold them. I then only have the stacks of the girls clothes or towels or something and EVERY TIME I have to bite the bullet (it feels like) to do that final step of putting away stuff. If you think about it though it really doesn't take that long! It always took a long time before, but that was because I was trying to wash everything from about a week and a half and fold and put away it all in one day. Doing the smaller steps really does make my life more simple

And simple is the key, remember?

I'm still not actually "cleaning" though if you've noticed. Dishes and laundry and picking up isn't actually vacuuming or cleaning the toilets or washing mirrors. I have some ideas for a weekly schedule of cleaning up.

I haven't been able to implement it really since I'm focusing on working into the girls school times, but I'll post my idea here in case someone in blogdum is helped by it.

Schedules give me hives. Well, no.. not hives.. but perhaps pretty close to a panic attack. If I start reading about someone talking about their daily or weekly "schedule" I often stop reading. It's just SO overwhelming to read each cleaning task. -- clean the toilet, clean the bathtub, clean the mirrors, dust the furniture, vacuum the furniture, vacuum the stairs, sweep the floor, mop the floor.. etc ect. -- Um. No.

I started to do a schedule like that and all it did was stress me out to think or look at it and then I did LESS cleaning as a result.. which brought on some feelings of guilt or failure or at the very least annoyance at my dirty house, and often more times of eating chocolate or escaping onto facebook so I didn't have to see or think about the fail.

When I was watching some webinars on a homeschool site last week I got some good advice about meal planning (another thing that I've tried to do and struggle with.) She said that she had a schedule that went like this --
a chicken dish on Monday,
a pasta dish on Tuesday,
a soup or casserole on Wednesday
a beef dish on Thursday,
and homemade pizza on Friday.

This felt revolutionary to me! It's scheduled, but NOT as detailed! I could choose at the time what sort of chicken dish to make on Monday, but it took a lot of the planning out of choosing from "anything"... I mean, there are only so many chicken dishes, right? Plus, I'm then free on Monday to pick something easy (with chicken) or something more time consuming and gourmet (with chicken) depending on how much time I have or how I feel.

Right, so what does this have to do with real cleaning? I'm going to do a "room each day" during the week. THAT way, I'll feel free to do as little or as much cleaning as I want to do on that day! There really are days when I get going cleaning up or doing something and see more to do and it's then easy do it. Other days I might be more tired or the kids might be more needy and just picking up the clutter and wiping down one counter will be all I can take.

So, that's the plan. I'm still struggling a LOT with all of this, but if there's as much improvement from now till next year as there was this past year we'll be doing well, and our lives will continue to become more simple.

Some final thoughts on what I've learned -

-You might get ideas from books and other people, and it's good to study and work to learn more and grow, but be prepared to keep changing stuff till you find what really does work for you.

-Keep the goal of SIMPLE in your head when you organize your house and schedule.

-Look at problem areas like a detective and find where the problem is and what you can do to correct it. The laundry basket sorter that I bought, for example, has put the success in the laundry situation.. other things to consider might be if you need to buy a bookshelf or if you need to move the table from one place to another to help things move more efficiently and simply. Baskets or other ways to organize are also really helpful.

-Organization is a lifestyle. You will never be "done organizing" BUT remember that it is EASIER to live in organization than disorder. If it feels harder, then you need to back up a bit to develop the most important (to you) habits and/or look for that thing to make it easier (like my laundry sorter example) to make that difficult thing simple.

My next post will be about managing toys and the kids room! *Dunt dunt DUDUUUUN!!!*

That is another HUGE issue in our house. And.. Lily thinks we need more toys. Um.. no.. please please PLEASE if you (or anyone you know) are planning or thinking or even have an inkling of giving my kids more toys, just.. don't. Project things are good.. art stuff.. books. NOT more TOYS!

Well,after MUCH trial and error in regards to managing the toys.. I think I've actually come up with something that will work. Stay tuned. ;]

Now.. if I could manage to be asleep no later than 10:30 I think I might actually be able to make these plans work.

In closing, I'd like to mention something that I alluded to earlier.
The point of organizing and maintaining is to simplify so we can focus on WHO is most important in our lives. I just read this article and it ended with this--

Duties are pressing upon me,
And the time for work is brief,
What if with purblind vision,
I neglect the very chief?

What if I do with ardor
What a thousand could maybe,
And leave undone forever
What was meant for only me?

No one else named “Mom” lives in our homes and holds our children’s hearts and lives like we do. Let’s not miss our greatest ministry!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Homeschool-preschool projects

The project? Pipe-cleaner-poofy-ball-alien-monsters. I was thinking about what the girls actually "learned" with this. I mean.. to be called home-"school" they have to have learned something right? My girls are 5 and 3 (and one month, but she was sleeping) and they learned some new motor skills for one thing, to wait their turn as I was using the hot glue when they told me where they wanted something glued, and they used their imaginations! (oh, and of course you can talk about colors and shapes and count things. We also listened to and sang with a Psalty cd while working together.)
Lily took hers with her this afternoon so I didn't get a picture of it, but the big weird one is the one I did while helping the girls (to show them some ideas on how they could use their imaginations! .. not that *I* was having fun with it.) ;] Renna's (my 3 year old) made the little one in the back on the right.
here's a top/back view of them just to give some perspective and ideas of random ways to attach things to your "alien"
This is what I used. I got the pipecleaners with all different poof balls AND google eyes all in one package at Michels for only $5.. thought that was pretty good for how much there was. I did try to use Elmer's glue, but I've always HATED using that! As a kid it totally annoyed me that I had to wait forever for the glue to dry and when it did it didn't even look good and it was always messy and ruined the fuzzyness of fuzzy things. So, I opted to be the gluer and the girls took turns asking me to glue things to their monster. Saved us a lot of frustration and mess for everyone.
And these are the shapes we used. I showed the girls how to hold the pipecleaner with the pencil (together in their left hand) while wrapping the pipe cleaner around the object with their right hand (since they are both right-handed.) Lily (my 5 year old) was able to do them very neatly and was able to do a spiral as well. Renna made a good attempt at the shapes and we used those too! The pink in the picture is a spring that I flattened out (the spiral and flat-spring are great for "feet" or a base of sorts for the big poofs.)

Friday, May 27, 2011


For the untrained eye this picture might look like a weird yawn or a cry, but no. This is a picture that I captured from a video where she gave a HUGE smile. She smiled at me for the first time on Mother's day (the best gift she could have given me!) and now these huge open-mouthed smiles are showered on us every morning and often when she wakes from naps! Babies learn facial expressions from their parents, so if you want a happy baby, just act happy around them as much as possible. Even if you don't *feel* happy, smile a lot at your baby and the little (or big) smiles you get back will make your day. :}
Every morning (and a few times throughout the day when Grace is awake from her naps) Renna asks, "Can I hode her? Can I can I PweeeeeaSthe?" and while she holds her, she will often say over and over again, "I like my sister."

I've been thinking for a few weeks now (she is 5 weeks old) how amazing it is that I've forgotten so much of the birth. THAT is why I write it down so soon after each baby is born! Very quickly after each birth, all the memories of how intense it all was and stuff pretty much go out the window. With my first baby there was one short point where the labor was so hard that I very seriously thought that I'd never have another.. I had NO idea why anyone would go through all that and actually choose to have another baby! I really get it now though.. it doesn't take long to be so in love with your new baby that anything you went through to bring her (or him as the case my be) into the world is worth it.
It's very easy to forget all that when I get to look at this sweet little sleeping face and snuggle her as much as I want to. I do try to lay her down for naps so she won't be too used to being held all the time (so that she doesn't *need* it to stay asleep), but I think there's a good balance too, and it's nice to be able to hold her while she sleeps. To enjoy the peace and snuggles... Babies stay this little for such a short time it's important to enjoy it as much as possible while it lasts. :}

Grace had the hardest time learning to nurse of any of them though.. the first few weeks were pretty painful and I understood why many women give up on nursing. The problem for us was just that she wouldn't open her mouth wide enough (still doesn't) which made latching difficult and I had to nurse through a few sores. I got an infection as well since she wasn't nursing enough to empty the ducts (I had a bit too much milk and a breast pump became invaluable to fix lots of issues.) So, the first few weeks were hard and I couldn't sleep while nursing because it was just too painful and I had to pay really close attention to how she latched on to get her to do it right. It IS worth it though!!! Really, by three weeks I was able to nurse her on my side while sleeping. You can't do that with a bottle. Also, because I could feed her right when she started to move at night she never woke up enough to cry and learned to stay asleep. She's been consistently sleeping for a good four hour stretch at night and then a few two hour stretches more with nursing in between. The daddy very rarely wakes up to a crying baby and the mommy get's to sleep more each night with this plan. I love the bassinet that attaches to our bed because I don't even need to get up to get her from her bed or put her back after she's eaten. We've been going through the Star trek "Voyager" series from the library during the times of resting and nursing. Lily loves the star treks with the "lady captain" better than any others and made a little star ship all on her own by cutting a green straw and pushing it onto the ends of a plastic leaf that was an attachment to a Strawberry shortcake toy.

I was thinking yesterday what our family life looks like just after one month with the newest member. It takes a little ingenuity on my part to manage all three, just as it took some getting used to with two. In some ways it's been easier to go from two to three than from one to two. I think it's because I'd already come up with some systems to balance more than one. For instance, going grocery shopping yesterday (when I took them all by myself and was out for two hours with no major issues!) looked like this. We drive the 5 minutes to the store and Grace is acting hungry. Before trying to get the girls out, I get Grace and give her a quick nursing in the front seat of the car (probably 7 minutes or something).. not a big deal.. my girls chat with me (note, I brought snacks for the older ones and went in the morning when I knew they'd be the easiest to deal with.) After feeding Grace, I wear her in the Maya Wrap that I have and let her suck on her binky. I don't really like wearing her in the wrap because it's a bit hard on my back, but when I get it adjusted just right it's not too bad and it's SO nice in the store to have her right there and quiet and falling asleep (instead of a giant heavy carseat that I'd have to juggle along with trying to juggle the other two) Since I have Grace with me, I can put Renna in the cart and Lily is old enough to walk beside me (if I ever have both older girls walking they tend to get a little crazy.. so.. having one contained is quite helpful.) Doing things that way makes it almost like how it was when I was pregnant. We go through the store to get all our stuff and the girls ask questions about the fruits and talk about the colors of things and they always want to see the princess cakes and so forth. It turns into quite the event for them! And Grace is happy because she's right next to me being held the whole time and listening to me talk to the girls. Works great!This is a picture of Lily and Renna having a sword fight with rolled up place mat settings. I was laughing the other day because I realized how nice it was to have three kids because if two are fighting there's one that is NOT fighting! Youssef didn't quite understand why that made me feel better, but it did! It's called "mommy math" .. you see, now when Lily and Renna fight (for real, not for fun like this picture shows) it's no longer 100% of the children fighting! It's only 75%.. for some reason that makes me feel better. ;]

So, I got to thinking yesterday about how Grace has fit into our family. It's different of course, and in some ways a bit harder to manage three. I like to think of it more in terms of needing extra creativity on my part to figure out how to manage things rather than just looking at it as a "problem" or harder or something. Really, keeping things flowing well in the house and family takes a lot of ingenuity and constant re-balancing. Sometimes it's getting rid of stuff or re-organizing or looking at a problem (like laundry or books or toys on the floor) and buying something (like a bookshelf or laundry basket) to make things flow well and with less work. Having kids is a lot of work and I often feel like I can't make it, but the ingenuity is worth the work when those shopping trips turn out well and the family dynamics mesh well together. The biggest thing that I'm constantly reminding myself in everything that I try to do, is that I am really not enough. I'm not strong enough or patient enough to make it through each day, but God's strength is made perfect in our weakness. My newest baby's name reminds me of the grace that I need every day. She has added so much to our lives just be showing up... like a gift that you didn't know how much you needed.

(First family portrait.) ;]