Saturday, June 29, 2013

Pantry Love.

It's been on my To Do list for quite some time to re-do my pantry labels. Last spring, in what seemed like a fool-proof plan, I spray painted contact paper with chalkboard paint. Unfortunately, the labels didn't hold up very well and as a double whammy they weren't actually erasable. On top of all that, when I tried to remove them, they left gunk on my pretty OXO containers.

I was feeling a little bummed and discouraged and overwhelmed, so I've been living with unattractive labels ever since (strangely, no one else in the family seems to mind). I thought about trying chalkboard labels from Etsy but that seemed complicated because I have to be able to cover the goo from the old labels and since I made them myself, they're all custom sizes. 

I decided to give the Silhouette chalkboard vinyl a try on a whim. I don't own a Silhouette but figured I could cut them with my paper cutter like I did the contact paper ones. And so I ordered a roll months ago, and then it sat and sat and sat. While I sometimes get a reputation for being industrious, I'm actually a tad bit lazy and very afraid of failure.

Until the day my Pick Your Plum impulse buy Washi tape arrived in the mail. Suddenly a plan was coming together. (And really, where has Washi tape been my whole life?! It has no practical purpose other than to be pretty and make one's heart sing. I'm completely smitten.)

This week, in a fit of Gotcha Day Eve nervous energy, I emptied out my pantry and got to work. This vinyl was super easy to work with and so far it's easy to erase and re-position. I can imagine if you owned a Silhouette you could really go to town. The little strip of Washi tape across the top of each label exists purely to make me smile each and every time I open the pantry door.

So that's it. Just a long-winded post to tell you I successfully solved my pantry label problem. And it was easier than expected. And it didn't take long at all. And the results make me really, really happy. Perhaps you have a little project of your own that's been weighing you down too?!?

And while we're on the subject of pantries, I always feel amazing after a good pantry cleaning. It allows me to quickly take inventory of what's already in the house which makes meal planning and grocery shopping easier. It prevents me from having a mini-panic attack each time I open the door to an overwhelming, cluttered space. And it makes me smile to see all those canned goods and baking supplies -- with cute labels -- smiling back at me. (They are smiling, right? Tell me you see it too.)

An ode to my pantry. The end.

Monday, June 24, 2013

love thyself. {#SurvivingSummer}

Mothering is hard work. Summer Mothering is in a league all it's own. 

I'll admit it: during the school year I got comfortable. After seemingly endless years of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, this last school year, two out of three of our kiddos were in school all day, every day, and I adjusted very quickly to this new normal.

Now summer is here, and the days are once again filled to the brim with three little people calling out, "Mom! Mama! Mommy! Mom! Mom!! MOM!!!", and I'm determined not lose my self in the mix.

I've been learning the importance of self-care these past few years. Us moms have a ton of excuses why we couldn't possibly take care of ourselves, but I think we can all do something for ourselves each day, even if it's something small.

I find that I'm happier and healthier when I'm taking good care of myself. I believe it's good for my kids to see a mom who invests in herself. 

And I know that I simply won't survive summer with all my marbles if I don't.

I'm all for hard work, but I've been reminded over and over again, that it's also important to REST WELL. Or as my mom recently said to me {I"ve been known to get a bit hung up on productivity}, "You know, you don't have to work hard all the time."

Um, OK.

And while we are, of course, called to love others well, the command reads love others as well as you love yourself, which sounds to me like we have to know what self-love is first.

So mamas, put down those laundry baskets, walk away from the dishwasher, pass some of the work on to the kids, stop adding items to your to do list. It's time to practice a little self-care and discover the things that make your heart sing.

Trust me, you're worth it. 

1. Wake up early Monday morning. Enjoy the quiet.

2. Declutter a space that makes you feel bonkers.

3. Brew yourself a cup of tea. Bonus points if it's in your favorite mug.

4. Go for a run. Leave the watch at home.

5. Catch up on your She Reads Truth plan.

6. Power up the blender. Think green.

7. Buy yourself a little something, slightly frivolous, really fun.

8. Stop with the negative self-talk.
(If you wouldn't say it to a friend, don't say it to yourself!)

9. Head to bed at a decent hour.

10. Create some white space.

11. Go for a long walk with a good friend.

12. Eat a salad.

13. Take a bath. Don't forget the bubbles.

14. Curl up with a good book.

15. Dry your hair even if you're not planning to leave the house.

16. Treat yourself to a little latte love.

17. Paint your nails.

18. Fill up your water bottle in the morning, and keep it close by all day long.

19. Know when to put on the stretchy pants.

20. Plan a girls' night.

21. Clean out your closet. Keep only the items you love.

22. Moisturize.

23. Do the bare minimum. Leave the rest.

24. Sit. Down.

25. Sleep in whenever, however you can.

26. Choose a word. Refer to it often.

27. Hire a (daytime) babysitter. Run errands in peace.

28. Learn to say no.

29. Take off the cape.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Come to the table.

"This is what I want you do to: I want you to tell someone you love them, and dinner's at six. I want you to throw open your front door and welcome the people you love into the inevitable mess with hugs and laughter. I want you to light a burner on the stove, to chop and stir and season with love and abandon. Begin with an onion and a drizzle of olive oil, and go from there, any one of a million different places, any one of a million different meals."  --Shauna Niequist, Bread & Wine 

I've never considered myself to be at home in the kitchen. I'm a rule-follower, I'm afraid of failure, I don't like messes, I have a million other things to do, a million other places I'd rather be. It's never made my heart sing.

Lately, I'm finding myself surprised by my time in the kitchen. I'm embracing the mess and taking my time and breathing deep and slowing down. I'm realizing the Other Things can wait. I'm finding that it's a great place to connect with my kids, that they love to help. I'm discovering that I am capable of creating things to nourish not just bodies, but hearts as well.

I'm learning that when I fill others up, it fills me up too. I'm seeing that the kitchen can be a good place to start, a good place to love, a good place to be.

Lately, I'm beginning to see the sacred value of the table. I'm starting to view it as a sacred place, to understand that the simple act of inviting others in to share a meal creates a safe, sacred space in an uncertain, harried world.

I took Shauna's advice today and invited some friends over. I didn't spend days planning or hours shopping or minutes fretting. I called, I invited, I used what I already had on hand, and we shared a simple meal on a regular old week day night around an ordinary table.

Pizza casserole, green salad {+goat cheese, pecans, Craisins}, homemade bread maker bread, fresh fruit, fresh squeezed lemonade.

From someone who is just beginning to embrace the kitchen, I can tell you none of these things were hard. Simple ingredients turned extraordinary because of the nine people, big and little, gathered around the table.

I love how Shauna writes, near the beginning of her book, that when she first started entertaining she served frozen California Pizza Kitchen pizzas to nearly all her dinner guests. Her advice: start where you are.

Let's not get hung up on the fancy or the perfect or the just so. Let's do as Shauna suggest and simply come to the table.

Here's an easy peasey sort of a meal. A staple in the early years of our marriage which is now making a comeback because the kids love it. It's also one of my favorites to bring to a new mom (throw in a salad and some garlic bread) or to stick in the freezer for busier times ahead.

Pizza Casserole

12 oz. spaghetti
2 eggs
1/4 C Parmesan cheese + extra for top
1 1/2 pounds ground beef (or other ground meat)
1/2 chopped onion
2 jars pizza sauce
1 C mozzarella cheese
pepperoni + other favorite pizza toppings

Boil noodles; brown beef with onion, salt & pepper. Mix cooked noodles with egg and Parmesan. Layer in a 9x13 pan (or two 8x8's): noodles, meat, sauce, mozzarella cheese, noodles, meat, sauce, pepperoni + pizza toppings, mozzarella cheese, Parmesan.

Put foil on top to keep cheese from getting brown. Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes. Take foil off for last few minutes.

"I want you to stop running from thing to thing to thing, and to sit down at the table, to offer the people you love something humble and nourishing, like soup and bread, like a story, like a hand holding another hand while you pray. We live in a world that values us for how fast we can go, for how much we accomplish, for how much life we can pack into one day. But I'm coming to believe it's in the in-between spaces that our lives change, and that the real beauty lies there."       --Shauna Niequist, Bread & Wine

Monday, June 17, 2013

rise & shine. {#SurvivingSummer}

Honest to goodness, folks, I do believe we are on to something here, and I can hardly wait to share. I've been holding off a bit, convinced maybe it was just a fluke, but I think it's the real deal. (And as an added endorsement, Theresa has been testing it out, and it's been working over at her house as well. So 2 out of 2 mothers recommend it. Heading to the patent office now...)

Anyway, a bit of background... I read Nurture Shock a few weeks ago. Fascinating book. It's a bit like Freakanomics but for parents. One of the chapters that struck me the most dealt with sleep. And while it's nothing new that sleep is important, I think I didn't realize just how important it is, especially for children. 

Most of us know good sleep is essential for us as adults (my favorite health tip: sleep more!), but because of how kids are wired, it's exponentially more important for kids to get ample sleep. {Here's a great summary of the chapter if you haven't read it already.} 

This idea struck me: "It’s possible that characteristics such as tantrums, moodiness, disengagement, impulsiveness, depression are actually just symptoms of sleep deprivation."

Huh, this sounded a bit like our house. Towards the end of the school year, we were dealing with a lot of bad attitudes, hysterical crying, endless sibling wars, and rule breaking. Honest to goodness, I was positively dreading summer vacation.

I was beginning to suspect my kids were a tad bit sleep deprived, but I wasn't sure how to work through this during summer vacation, that time of year when the sun rises early, the days are filled to the brim, and the neighborhood beckons well into the evening hours. After all, summer nights are some of the best parts of being a kid, and I didn't want my big kids to miss out.

And while I wanted to give them the opportunity to stay up a bit later, especially now that they're getting a bit older, I really didn't want to start my day at 6:30am with tired, cranky kids. I wanted them to relax into a summer routine featuring a more laid back bedtime and a less frenzied morning time. 

And then I had an aha moment.

New rule, kids: your wake-up time determines your bedtime. 

Based on what's best for my kids at the ages they're at, we are basing our timelines on 11 hours of sleep per night. This might seem like a lot to some, but the recommended guidelines for 6-8 year olds fall in the 10-11 hour range. I've also lived with my kids long enough to know that is an ideal range for them. 

So a 6:00am wake-up equals a 7:00pm bedtime. A 7:00am wake-up equals an 8:00pm bedtime. 7:30am = 8:30pm, 8:00am = 9:00pm, and so on. I prorate to the nearest half hour. Dylan and Ella both have clocks in their rooms and are learning to reference them themselves.

Mady still has bedtime as usual, roughly based on her wake-up time and whether or not she got a nap that day, so I'm guessing this is an elementary school age type program. But I think, no matter our kids' age, it is important for us as parents to make sure we're regulating the little ones' sleep, even if we can't hand over control to them like we can with the big kids; we can certainly get creative.

A couple reasons why our new rise & shine routine might just be brilliant... I have successfully transferred responsibility to them. I don't get bent out of shape about what time they wake-up in the morning because I know (and they know) it gets reflected in their evening bedtime. They also feel a bit empowered, and in turn, respected (which is huge at the ages they're at) because some control has been handed over to them. It also means Matt and I get a break at some point in the day, whether it's in the early hours or the evening hours. 

I asked Theresa what she's observed so far in her boys, ages 6 & 8 (who it should be noted have started sleeping in until 8:30am!?). Her response: "Sleep... it gives my boys permission to sleep in. Instead of viewing it as a bad thing, viewing it as something good. It teaches them to roll over and snuggle in. Life is not a race/rush. It encourages them to relax. They are realizing they aren't missing anything, and it is the beginning of self-love, something they can transfer to adult years... you need sleep at every age."

So there you have it. It's working. And it's working with very little effort on my part. I thought maybe I'd have to jot down what time the kids woke up in the morning so I'd remember by nighttime, but there is no need. They know, and they remember exactly what time they should be in bed. And in the morning (and through out the day), my kids are pleasant and reasonable and obedient. I am honestly a bit shocked and have to check several times a day to make sure I'm still in the right house.

{I should add that going hand in hand with our new sleep initiative, we are also being very diligent about clearly stating expectations, follow through, and consequences after a period of time where we had gotten a bit loosey goosey. Basically, we're parenting harder, but I think less often if that makes sense. The added sense of responsibility (and confidence) from our new chore system doesn't hurt either!}

Further evidence (as if you're not already convinced!)...

The kids sometimes ask to sit all three in the back row of the van. Mostly I say no thank you to that. We can barely get to our 5-minutes-away destination without fighting when we're out of reach of one another. You can only imagine what would happen when we're in finger-poking reach. The other day, because things had been going so well at home, I said yes. And guess what? They chatted and shared and helped and imagined and laughed the entire way to the chiropractor without one squabble. I just about drove off the road in my disbelief.

And then a few days ago, the girls asked to play Play-Doh, something else I would usually say no to (see what a fun mom I am?!?). But I said yes this time and they played quietly for two hours. It was going so well, I feel asleep on the couch to celebrate. And then they picked it up all by themselves. True. Story.

(And conversely, we got a bit behind on our sleep over the weekend, and it was a disaster. Much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.)

This is night and day difference, friends, to what we were doing before, in the Land of Not Enough Sleep. We cried hysterically off and on through out the day, picked fights with each other, and used lots of Not Nice words. My hope has been renewed. Summer vacation can actually be FUN, not something just to be survived. When provided with enough sleep, our children are sweet, enjoyable little people, not scary, moody monsters.

Operation Rise & Shine. It's working for us, I'd love to know if it works for you too!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Celebrating Finley Grace.

We threw Theresa a little shower the other night. Nothing big and fancy -- no cute little sandwiches or exploding diaper games or polite conversation -- after all, those are the types of showers you reserve for regular, beautiful, according-to-plan, 9-month-long sort of pregnancy.

And if you are familiar with Finley's story at all, you know this has been no ordinary pregnancy. It has been a four+ year long, brutiful, roller coaster sort of experience. The good news: it is coming to an end very soon. Steve and Theresa received their second travel call this week (!!!), and they will be traveling back to South Korea to pick up Finley Grace at the end of June. Gotcha Day is June 25, and their plane will touch down back home on July 3!

In light of their adoption story, we decided a slightly non-traditional gathering featuring a big SURPRISE!, appetizers, martinis, and lots of girly (toddler) goods might be more fitting.

The surprise went off without a hitch. Theresa seemed a little shocked that she had no idea, until I kindly reminded her it's not hard to pull one over on her jet-lagged, Traumatic Adoption Disorder-ed self these days.

Theresa opened each girly gift with a good mix of terror and excitement, slight confusion and joy, shock and awe. One little girl coming soon to a very boy-filled home near you! Theresa is the last of this group of friends to have a baby girl, so we all had fun picking out those must-haves (and the frivolous stuff too!)

And in traditional girls' night style, we solved a few of life's pressing issues, such as which side of your face is your "good" side. (Real Simple says to cover half you face, look in the mirror, and then cover the other side. Whichever side has more upturned features is your "good" side, and thus, the side you want to angle towards the camera. You're welcome.)

One of the last items on the adoption check-list is now complete. Celebrating Finley Grace. Check, check. We are so excited to meet you, Finley Girl! Come home soon!

Monday, June 10, 2013

be responsible. {#SurvivingSummer}

As I mentioned in my last post, once upon a time I was surrounded by helpless babies and semi-helpless toddlers. And then one day I realized I was surrounded by fully capable children! But, alas, they were still fairly helpless because we had yet to show them ways to be helpful or teach them how to be responsible or explain to them what it meant to pull their weight.

First up on my summer reading list is Cleaning House: A Mom's 12-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement. Because I'm too lazy to write my own summary right now, here's a snippet from the back cover:
"Dismayed at the attitude of entitlement that had crept into her home, Kay Wyma got some attitude of her own. Cleaning House is her account of a year-long campaign to introduce her five kids to basic life skills and the ways meaningful work can increase earned self-confident and concern for others."
Now the author has older kids than we do, so she's playing some catch-up while we're just getting started. I like to think we have some basic sense of order around here, but truthfully I still make the kids' beds each morning, Dylan has no real incentive to get the toothpaste down the drain, Ella has never been taught how to properly set a table, and I feel like I'm constantly fighting a never-ending battle to restore order to the ol' homestead.

We tried using chore punch cards and those worked pretty well for the "extras" the kids would sometimes do to earn a little extra cash, but we had no real way to keep up with their every day responsibilities. I figure summer is a good time to establish a new system. We have more time to learn, and really, it's vital in order for us to not just survive, but to thrive, this summer for everyone to pitch in a bit more around the house.

Enter the laminated chore charts. Pinterest is teaming with free chore chart printables, and I picked these ones from sew.craft.create. because they were cute and simple. I hit print three times, drove to Staples, and paid $1.79 a piece to have them laminated. They are stuck to the side of our kitchen pantry, and I filled in age-appropriate (and for the most part, daily) chores for each kiddo.

The big kids need to make their beds, put away their laundry, and keep their rooms picked up. Dylan is also on living room patrol and in charge of wiping down the kids' bathroom when he needs it. (I'm crossing my fingers that he'll make the connection between bad aim and more work.) Ella's extra tasks are setting the table and keeping the basement picked up (otherwise known as the place where the Barbies, Calico Critters, and everything else with Many, Many, Very Small Pieces live).

Mady's list is smaller - she's learning to put her dirty clothes in the hamper, keep her room picked up, and put pillows back on the couch when she sees them on the floor. (Pillows on the floor drive me batty, and I am not above meeting my own personal needs under the guise of teaching responsibility).

Reading is also listed on each kiddo's chart -- it's not really a "chore" but this seems like an easy place to make sure we're staying on top of it during the summer months (more ideas on this coming later). We can easily switch out tasks each week as the kids master certain ones and/or rotate some of the bigger jobs between the kids. And I'm going to make sure that I take the time to actually teach them how to complete the tasks successfully. Their future roommates and spouses will thank me later.

We presented the new system and honestly, they were excited. In the Cleaning House book, the author talks a lot about the connection between responsibility and self-confidence, and I think they're excited to feel like they're a real part of "grown-up" things. Also, I think they are really, really smitten with anything dry erase right now.

And now you might be wondering what they pay-out is here, the incentive, the reward (this is still America, right?!). Here's the kicker: there isn't one. Well, not a tangible, monetary one anyway.

Matt and I talked about it, and we think it's good for the kids to learn basic responsibilities around the house because work is a part of life and working together is a part of being a family. We hope to occasionally, every few weeks or so, casually say something like, "Oh my! Because we've all been doing such a great job taking care of the house, we have some extra time and energy... Hey, I know! Let's go out for ice cream!" Or something like that. But mostly, we want them to realize that when they act responsible and work hard, they feel good about themselves. End of story.

Experiment #2: BE RESPONSIBLE. Currently in progress. But off to a rockin' and a rollin' sort of start.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

just leave. {#SurvivingSummer}

{My hope for our family the next three months is not just to survive summer vacation but to actually thrive. I'm planning and dreaming and praying up some ways for the kiddos and I to enjoy the weeks ahead. I'll be sharing a bit about what we're doing, and I hope you'll share your ideas too. We can regroup as we go and figure out what's working and what's not. Here's to an interesting, active, educational, positive summer break...or at least one that we all live to tell about. Come on, mamas! We're all in this together! Welcome to Surviving Summer.}

Today was my first official day on summer vacation duty (Matt had the day off yesterday so I'm not counting that one). Today was the first day of the normal summer fare: a one to three, mama to offspring, ratio, ages 8 1/2, 6 1/2 & 3 1/2. Today was a perfect day for Experiment #1.

We have been in baby / toddler mode for what seems like f-o-r-e-v-e-r. And as all mamas know, babies and toddlers are only so portable before they cry or need a nap or go all limp noodle on you. So, truthfully, Mady still does all these things on occasion, but with preschool looming in the fall, I feel like somehow this summer is a different ball game. She can make it without a nap, we rarely use a stroller anymore, and she's potty trained (um, kind of).

So today we set off on our first adventure. Nothing big - just a little Art in the Park deal our little town was putting on. A summer or two ago it would not have even crossed my mind to attempt such a thing. (Honestly, once upon a time we were fairly mobile. And then Kid #3 entered the scene and our lives have never been the same. Now I'm old and tired and an outing means leaving the house and going into the front yard.) This summer is different, friends. This summer we can be spontaneous. This summer we travel light. This summer we are happy little campers who beam like rays of sunshine.*

*This last bit is a lie. We complain a lot and cry more than we should. But I'm already brainstorming ways to work towards becoming "rays of sunshine." Stay tuned.

Honest to goodness, friends, we had fun. Free, not-too-hot, not-too-busy, dare I say, educational FUN. (Did I mention it was free??) We bounced, played on the 'nastics equipment, created crafts, learned a little, contributed something to the world around us, practiced our manners, explored our city, and actually enjoyed ourselves and each other.

So I guess Experiment #1 of Surviving Summer (let's call it, JUST LEAVE THE HOUSE) was a success. I had no idea if this little event would pan out to be anything and the fact that it turned out to be fun is besides the point. We set out on a little adventure together, tried something new, and seized the moment. (The alternative was to stay at home all day and endure endless hours of I'm bored, sibling poking wars, and Disney / PBS marathons.)

Two things. One, we very often leave the house to meet up with friends or family. It's the whole idea of leaving the house together, just the four of us, that's a little bit new. Two, I'm not suggesting we're going to leave the house every day this summer in the name of survival, but I am saying it is time to come out of the eight year semi-hibernation we've been rocking. We're mobile! And diaperless! And all speaking in sentences! Let's celebrate, friends.

So there you have it. That was our day. And because I was so happy about all the free, family fun we were having, I bought six raffle tickets as we were walking out for $5...and ended up winning three raffles. And just like that I'm feeling positive about summer again. Time to put the "vacation", back in summer vacation, mamas. Here we go!

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