Saturday, May 23, 2009

Help in the Mommy Department

(This is REALLY long- beware!!)
Just thought I would jot down a few ideas that have worked in our home for other mothers with young children out there. Let me begin with a disclaimer, however. Many of these things work in our home because Brandon began implementing them, not me. I now have the easy part of just carrying on what he started, but he was the one that got them going. So please don’t mark these down under my list of things I do right, these points definitely belong to him or others that I have stolen ideas from. Second, these ideas work, but it doesn’t mean that I’m consistent with them always. Please don’t think that just because I mention something that we do it every day like this. I should be- it’s much more calm and orderly and happy around here, but much like eating junk food when you know you’re on a diet- it seems better sometimes to cheat or take the easy road in the short term and in reality it’s more work, more trouble, and more sanity starving. I wish I would quit that!
So now that I have a disclaimer almost the length of any legitimate legal document, I’ll proceed with ideas and helpful tips. This is just as much for a mind jogger for myself in this new phase of 6 kids as I hope it will be helpful for others.

1. The kids CAN work. I just have to break it down into small enough portions and make it regular so they remember what to do. Other children might can do more or less, but these are things my children help out with and it makes a big difference. One awesome friend of mine, a mom of 11 children said, “The youngest child that can do the job gets that job for a chore.” It’s been helpful on many occasions. I find myself depending on the older ones so much and it’s good to always be in mind of spread the work out to the most people that can do it. Ok, so here’s a list:
Jonathon (8)- hauls wood in the winter, helps put food away from meals, can empty the dishwasher completely (including breakable things and things stored high up, can clean out the sinks and toilets, takes out the trash, sweeps the floor, changes the laundry over and vacuums pretty well. He can cook simple things like spaghetti and canned sauce while I direct him from the couch and he can also do the things the younger kids can do as well.
James (6)- also hauls wood- though not as much, puts riding toys away, can put toys away in a sorted fashion, can sort and put his own clean laundry away in the right drawers, can empty trash cans, wipes off the table, can unload almost everything in the dishwasher, can rinse dishes off and load them into the dishwasher, retrieve the laundry from the dryer and put it where it can be folded, help Joseph get in his high chair, can put the school supplies away and get them out when needed, can babysit for a short period of time
Jeff (5) helps peel vegetables, mix things, stir gravy, makes his bed and can clean up his room when told to, can brush his own teeth, can swish the toilet out (with no cleanser), can clean up sections of toys in other rooms, can take the dirty dishes from the table to the sink, can dustbust the stairs, can put his clothes away in the right drawers if I sort them for him
Rachel (4) can retrieve all sorts of things for me if I give her specific enough instructions, can take things to the right room, can put a small, sorted pile of clothes away in the right drawers, or do it in sections if it’s a large pile, can pair socks and match other things like shoes and gloves and such when cleaning up, can fold up rags and dishcloths, wipes off light switches and doorknobs, flushes toilets (we have boys that NEVER do), and can put single items away.
Joseph (2) can throw trash away for me, can get his own water from the outside of the fridge, can take his (nonbreakable) plate from the table to the dishwasher, can pick up toys and put them away while I supervise, can carry in groceries from the car in small amounts, can carry his clean clothes to his room.

It’s good to remember how much they can do and make the effort to let them do it. In the long run they will get better at it and be more and more helpful.

2. Think in 30 minutes at a time. Many times when I feel overwhelmed it’s because I’m not only trying to get something done and the kids are “in the way”, but also the place is usually a disaster. So, we started having clean up times. When I first started this, we would only do 5 minutes or 10, but once they were familiar with the idea, we moved to 30 minutes. I pretty much have stayed at 30 minutes because that’s about all the time it takes. On Fridays afternoons, when we are cleaning up for the Sabbath and trying to get every place in the house at least somewhat tidy, sometimes it takes an hour, but that’s about it. During this 30 minutes, I DON’T CLEAN UP ANYTHING MYSELF! I spend the entire time telling them what to do. And it works. I tell them it’s “30 minute clean up time” and set a timer. Then we start in the living room and I very particularly tell them jobs to do- Jonathon vacuum the room, James put the books away, Jeff pick up all the cars, Rachel put the pillows back on the couch, Joseph, pick up that little toy man and put him in the toy box. Each child gets jobs according to their level to carry them out, and usually a little under their level. This is a time to get it done rather than trying to teach them lots of new things. I want them to be successful with it, not exasperated AND usually during 30 min. times I’m already flustered, so it’s not a good time to set the kid up to fail cause if they do, they’re REALLY gonna get it- and mainly because I’m stressed out and that’s not fair. As far as not cleaning up myself, my Project Manager Dad always says, “If you have 4 or more people working for you, there must be a non working foreman.” That means the person in charge only tells the others what to do. If I try to work while I’m directing the children, I usually end up irritated that I can’t get my job done and frustrated that they aren’t doing theirs too. So, it’s much better if I lower my expectations about what will get done, tell them what to do and stay on top of it, and then be happy with the results they get. Later, if there are jobs that are too difficult for them that I really want done I can do them while they are playing or have one child “help” me. Last on this point, one place this has worked great is the counter next to the phone where everything piles up and there are 50 things that all go in a different spot. I stand at the counter and the kids line up and I give them each one or two things to put away in the right spot or at least in the right room. They run put it there and come back for the next item. Sometimes things end up not quite where I wanted them, but it’s usually close and generally close enough it takes very little time for me then to put it away.
3. Make the kitchen kid friendly. Some people can’t do this, but if you can it’s a life saver! Put the dishes that regularly go through the dishwasher in the bottom cabinets and in drawers. Put the things you hand wash in the upper cabinets. This way the kids can unload the dishes and put them away for you easily. Even Joseph (2) can put plates and cups away in our house because they are on his level- and he’s still young enough to think it’s cool and fun to do it! If you need more specific ideas, put any plastic stackable cups in a drawer instead of an upper cabinet, put plates and bowls in a bottom cabinet and move the pots to an upper cabinet. Put pantry items in an upper cupboard so the lower one can be used for dishwasher safe mixing bowls, casserole dishes, or whatever. And let the kids sort and put away the silverware- just teach them they can’t lick each one before putting it in the drawer 
4. If the kids are going crazy or getting into things that they shouldn’t- they usually need more structure or more supervision, are bored, or all of the above. Many times it’s because I’m distracted- on the phone, on the computer, wanting to sleep, wanting to do a project that doesn’t involve them, etc. I have to remember that they come first and plan for them. Either plan for them to help, or plan for them to be doing something else, or plan to do my thing another time, or plan to spend less time on my “thing” so they don’t get bored.

When the children are chaotic, Brandon always stops them and makes them clean up the living room- almost everytime. The atmosphere does a lot to hype them up or calm them down. The more toys that are out, the less they play with them constructively. The messier it is, the louder and more wild it gets. I try to remember to do this also, but I forget. It does help though.

If I have to make a phone call or do something when they are crazy, I try to settle them down to something interesting first- coloring, a toy they haven’t seen in a while, sit on the couch and read books, or for a lengthy thing, I pull out the movie. If I need a nap, I use the movie and try to sleep on the couch in the same room. (If I’m really tired enough I can rest this way) If they are up earlier than I can stand in the morning, I get up, do the movie, and then try to go back to sleep on the couch. If they have seen a movie and I still need a nap, or if I am just so exhausted I’m having a hard time coping and I’ve maxed out my ideas- I pray for help, resist the devil, drink coffee, and sit down and read them a book until I can’t keep my eyelids open or we all get up and do something like take a walk together, blow bubbles, or lay in the grass outside. Bath time works well for an escape time too sometimes. They bath and I sit on the toilet and read a book or something.

If they are being destructive, they get disciplined, but I also try to figure out why they are resorting to destruction rather than normal play. Many times it’s because I’m being selfish in how I spend my time rather than making sure I’m actively involving them in my day or at least adequately keeping them busy.

5. Sometimes the kids are just plain full of energy without a good outlet to burn it off. Here’s what works for those times:
#1. Daddy rough housing and wrestling on the floor with them. Pillow fights, tickling, playful punches, throwing them on the couch. This can get intense, but it wears them out and they love it. Lots of smiling and laughing is heard and it’s one of their favorite times. Usually when the rough housing ends he calms them down by reading them a book. When I’m not in “just had a baby” mode, I can wrestle on the floor with the little ones. The bigger boys will beat me up, so I don’t get into it with them.
#2. One of those sessions of cleaning off the counter helps. They put things away, run as fast as they can back and forth, and that helps them and me and the same time. It works even better if you don’t group things up, but instead only give them one thing at time.
#3. We also incorporate running around the house. If they like this, then it can work great. If it’s hard for them, sometimes I get out there and run with them. I don’t love it, but it’s good exercise for me too and then we all come in a little better off than we started. Last summer we got to where the younger kids could do about 5 laps and the older ones did about 10. I was somewhere in the middle. That was enough to settle them down inside for a while. BTW, I don’t make this a punishment usually- it’s generally only for displays of excessive energy.
#4. Everybody does a workout video together. This is another one that I haven’t done in a while just because of being pregnant and then postpartum, but it works great. Get some workout in and let those little ones burn off some energy at the same time. They are super cute attempting jumping jacks, or just watch them try power yoga stances or something- it’s great. I don’t always get as good a workout when they are “participating”, but I figure the long term benefits are better: they are happy, they are entertained, they are learning about good exercise, I know where they are and what they are doing, we are all doing something together- which always scores points with them, and I might actually be getting some good exercise in the process. When we lift weights I give them cans from the pantry- even the little ones can use something like tomato paste cans for weights. They feel strong and big.
#5. For school times, things always go better when they all have something to do. As many subjects as can be combined for everyone I do that way. During Bible times they can color a picture of what we are reading, If Jonathon and James are doing history, I give the younger ones a history page to write on too. When we do a science experiment, I try to have enough stuff for the younger ones to be involved too. When the older ones are doing math, I pull out things for the younger ones that are their “school things”. Jeff and Rachel each have their own workbook of things to do, they’ve done mazes, they have coloring books, and then I have a host of hands on activities for them to work at (one thing at a time) like lacing cubes or lacing cards, playdough, puzzles, little boxes of things to sort like buttons or beads. We also have this cool thing called School in a Box with a variety of little items in it like different color square tiles, various pieces of money, things that are magnetic and a magnet, beads for patterning, and a pile of little animals, shapes, different texture strings, and objects for making up stories- like a snowflake, flipflop, fish, rocket, heart, etc. All of it is in a little craft box about 5” x 8” and one child can play with it very easily. I got the box from a homeschool convention, but it would be fairly easy to make a box from little things in your home probably.
#6. When the kids are out somewhere and going crazy or about to or you think they might…keep a bag in the car of little toys. It sounds silly, but I carry pigs in my purse. One time I bought these little plastic rubber pigs for 10 cents each and got 10 of them. I keep them in a little container in my purse and when we go somewhere and a child needs something to distract them I pull out the pigs. Times that they have worked great are- at a restaurant waiting for food, waiting in the car somewhere, the ER!- a LIFE SAVER!, and various other times when the kids just has to wait for a while. I also have a bag of little things (I got this idea from my mom) that I keep in the car. It has a mini etch-a-sketch, some little tops, a bag of plastic miscellaneous animals and snakes and bugs, army men, and a few other things in it. One day I went through the toys and just pulled out a bunch of things that either the kids didn’t really play with or groups of things that tend to get lost and then they don’t use. I put them in a bag and now when I need something to entertain them, I have it. Whether it’s waiting for food at a restaurant, or discovering that I am at a party with toddlers and there is NOTHING for them to do- for hours!!! I pull out the bag and it usually keeps them happy as well as any other poor child there in the same circumstance. Plus, that’s the only time those toys come out, so they are always interesting and keep the children happy. Sometimes they ask to play with those toys at home, but I say “NO” just so the toys won’t loose their interest when I need them. So, the pigs work for short times- 5-10 min. or for one kid. The bag works for when it’s long periods of time- like ½ and hour or more and multiple children need something fun. What I do have to be careful to avoid is getting out too many items. It’s better to just stick with the pigs- each child with 2 each, than to pull out 5 bags of toys, and have them dumped all over a room.
#7. Lower my expectations. I have 6 children. There is no way I can keep them all safe, clean, fed, in a tidy house, school them, dress them, wash their clothes, wash their dishes, doctored, dentisted, vaccinated, dermatologisted, churched, well disciplined, and happy all by myself. It’s not physically possible. So, I have to continually remember to lower my standards of what I get done at home, the awesome meals I want to cook, just how clean the bathroom gets, whether they have ironed clothes or not, etc. I focus on safe, tolerable hygiene, well disciplined, and happy. Everything else comes second or third or fourth in matters of priority. Some things don’t get on the list at all sometimes- and I have to be ok with that or I’ll go insane! I have to communicate my needs to Brandon- before I’m ready to blow up. I have to let others know when they can help if they’ve offered and how they can. I have to be willing to humble myself and ask for help when I need it. It’s nothing but pride that makes me think I can and should be able to do it myself and avoid asking for help from others. And try not to wait until I’m ready to fall apart before I look for a solution. And if I am ready to fall apart, first pray, then do a 30 min. clean up, then look and see if I still need to recruit help. Most of the time I’m ok then.
#8. Remember the vision- my goal is to raise Godly men and women who will have good character, people will enjoy being around and will raise Godly children themselves. They will get older. They won’t need to be potty trained in high school- even if I’m lazy about teaching them when they are 3 or 4. And the older they get, the more they can contribute to the family. Focus on the vision, believe that it will get easier, rely on Jesus daily- hourly…well by the second really sometimes, and don’t try to do it all yourself!

Ok, there’s my spouting for the day. Hope it was helpful to someone besides me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cute Kid Pics

Here are the youngest three in all their cuteness:

Rachel (almost 4) being a good big sister and feeding her baby:

Joseph (2) looking on while Rachel feeds Renna a bottle. He tried to help, but by the time he tried she was full and didn't want anymore. He was very gentle and put forth a good effort though.

And here's a special request picture from Rachel. "Let's take a picture of my baby and your baby together in Renna's bed, Mama." here it is. I had no idea just how similar in size they would be...shocking.

And a very happy day to you all :-)

Monday, May 18, 2009

More Cakes, More Babies

So here is what I've been up to lately:

Renna Faith was born on May 14th. Here she is 4 days later in her most peaceful state:
I'll try to get some more shots soon. She's a sweet little girl. Already she turns towards my voice and gets quiet when I hold her tight and talk to her. She's eating well and getting better at sleeping at night. I'm recovering pretty good too. I am looking forward to a visit to the chiropractor to straighten out some issues in my neck and back, but other than that, postpartum is going well. The other children have been gone to their wonderful grandparents' this weekend and I enjoyed the peace and quiet of an almost empty house. Brandon did stick around and I've seen him pop in and out in between things he's had to do this weekend. A couple of evenings we've been able to spend some quality time together, but my favorite times have been eating breakfast (that he cooked) in our bedroom together. Nice conversation, laid back, relaxed, and yummy food! The peaceful bliss is about to come to a grinding halt however- the kids are due back in the next hour or so and the house will once again vibrate with the pounding little (and not so little) feet of our children. I will be happy to see them...perhaps I could find some earplugs though. :-)


Now back to the baby. For those who are interested in more details, this was just a different as every other baby delivery. They never seem to happen the same way twice. It actually started on the 7th (a Wed.) when I thought I was in labor for about 3 hours and called the midwife. She packed her bags and got ready to come, but after that 3 hours of regular contractions- at about 9:30 at night, things died down and I had a restless sleep that night. The next day when I woke up, they started up again. Having just felt really stupid for calling the day before, I refused to call the midwife until they got harder and as a result, I had regular mild contractions every 5 min. all day long until about 9:30pm that night again when they died away. Friday I had NOTHING. Saturday was an off and on day. We had Jonathon's party that day with the cake I put up earlier and that kept me distracted for the most part- which was good.

Sunday I awoke from another rough night of attempting to sleep to a delightful Mother's Day breakfast from the kids and Brandon, and then went to church. I tell you, I was looking for every reason in the book to avoid church that day! I just was tired and ready to avoid people for a while. Plus, all you mothers out there will probably relate to the feeling of not wanting to wear that one maternity dress or outfit- not one more time. But I went anyway. Church, then taught Sunday School (I teach the 4 yr old- 8 yr. old class which has 8 boys and 1 girl in it) and as it was Mother's Day had most of the afternoon off. So I took a walk with my friend Ellen thinking that it might possibly help my body make up its mind about this baby coming, but if not I was in desperate need of getting out for some exercise anyway. Came home, didn't have to make dinner either, and took it easy that evening.

Monday- I made some decorations for the Fairwood Graduation cake that needed to be done in advance, saw my midwife and had a generally normal day with the children. I also didn't have much in the way of labor.

Tuesday morning at 8:30 sharp I began having contractions again. I decided to catch up on laundry and cleaning up around the house and around 1pm, the midwife came to check me out and see how things were going....1cm. Ugh! You can't be in labor and be much further back than that! So we went for a walk- 2 miles- to the lake and back. Then, Brandon and I had plans to go out that night for dinner and since things were taking their jolly time- at the recommendation of the midwife, we went anyway. Off to Olive Garden, thanks to a babysitting offer from Sharon, we trucked. I got some sort of Steak Gorgonzola Alfredo stuff- yum and Brandon got the tour of Italy which had lasagna, manicotti and something else I think. At the end of the meal I was having hard enough contractions that I was ready to go home, so we got dessert in a to-go box and left. Stop at the grocery store and the movie store and then home again where I discovered that I was infact, still at 1 cm. WHAT IS THE PROBLEM!!!!!!! Actually, I know it takes me FOREVER to have babies, this just seemed longer than the others. And in fact it was! So, off to bed I slunk in discouragement to have those silly 5 min. apart contractions all night long. My midwife and her assistant stayed overnight in case things changed quickly, but at 7am the next morning, I awoke to find myself much in the same situation. Around 10 am I was out walking again in circles around the church and wishing that things would either get moving or go away. I prayed, I talked on the phone to distract myself, I finished folding laundry, I prayed, hmm....what else...oh...and some natural things that I won't mention to move things along possibly (but no castor oil). By three in the afternoon it seemed like they were coming a little harder and I discovered that I was at a whopping 3cm. But from there things finally began to pick up...and the back pain began. With every contraction, my back began to ache and just got worse and worse until, frankly, near the end of it all I was crying from the back pain and couldn't focus well on working with the contractions. At around 8:30 I was in a good deal of discomfort and really having to focus on relaxing. It seemed closer, but when I was checked, I was at a mere 5cm. Just agonizingly long. It was at this point that I started questioning just how big of a wimp was I if I was only 5cm and my water wasn't broken, and it hurt so bad! Things moved a little quicker from then on though and in spite of another 4 hours, I did progress all the way to 10 eventually. My water never broke, for which I'm thankful- I have no idea how I could have managed the pain if it had. Near the end the contractions seemed like nothing compared to all that back pain. I found myself desperately trying to get into a position that was less pressure on my back. With the others, I always felt best in a kneeling position, but that wasn't working. So inbetween contractions I tried various different things to aleviate the pain and basically ended up in the classic birth position because that happened to be the one I tried on the contraction when suddenly I was ready to push. It took three pushes to get her out and then, there she was. Beautiful, crying, healthy, and I was totally relieved that suddenly my back wasn't screaming at me anymore. Most of the kids have come out to me saying something endearing like, "Oh, I'm so happy you are here, you are beautiful! I'm your mama. Welcome to our family!" Unfortunately Renna's first comment from me was, "It took you a REALLY long time to get here!" But then I proceeded with the gushiness. Brandon said he thought the cord was really close to her head because it came out at about the same time and he wondered if it was close to being wrapped around her neck. But all was well. Oh, and my water did finally break when her head was coming out. Everything about her was ok. She was alert and quickly pink. She cried long enough to let the midwife know she could and then settled down in a contented sigh on my chest to listen to all the new sounds around her.

So at 6 lbs. 8 oz. and 19 in. long, she is a tiny little bundle of joy, but well worth the effort of getting her here.


Sarah Adams was my legs for the decorating process. I decorated it Friday- about 36 hours after the birth. I'm glad that was the only thing I had to do this weekend, but as the kids were gone while I was decorating and I had Sarah to run around for me, it ended up being a peaceful and kind of relaxing process.
Above is the top of the cake and below is some close up of some detail. Loads of fun to make.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Jonathon and Cake

Happy Birthday Jonathon!!! Today he is 8 years old! I can't believe I have an 8 year old.'s the cake he requested for his birthday:

While extremely time consuming, it was a lot of fun to put together!

And for cake lover details- it's apricot nectar cake with a lemon buttercream frosting (entirely too torturous to work with when it gets hot, but super yummy!) The towers are made of cardboard tubes rolled in icing and then topped with cake cones stuffed with marshmallows and M&Ms, and then a sugar cone turned upside down, stuffed with marshmallows and then frosted. The giant cupcake is all cake and frosting, just sculpted from two cakes baked in bowls. Lollipops are make from Candy melts and then have frosting people put on them. The doors and windows I premade from frosting on plastic wrap and then just placed them on the cake when dry. The "grass" is tinted coconut. And the pops are standing in foam board affixed to the cardboard base with icing.

This is definately not a cake I would transport anywhere- including 2 inches away on the same table, but it sure was fun. For any die hard cake decorators out there- I discovered a love for Viva brand paper towels- made by Kleenex. Once I put the coat of frosting on the cake and let it sit for about 30-45 min, you can use those paper towels to make it SUPER smooth! You just lay the towel on the cake, rub and smooth out the bumps and wrinkles, and then pull the towel away- Wala! The towel doesn't stick and the bumps are gone. There's so much on this cake it's hard to see how smooth the yellow frosting was, but believe me it worked like a charm- hooray for tips on You Tube! By the way, if you try this and it sticks, just let the icing sit a little longer on the cake.

There you go! Jonathon was thrilled! We'll see if it lasts until his party tomorrow! At least I got pictures!

Here's the back: