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Friday, September 13, 2013

Manufactured Struggle

So do you want to know why I haven't been around much lately or when I have I've been talking about laundry, running, wheat, or anything BUT parenting? Oh...that'd be because my parenting was pretty much sucking at the time. 

Ahem, let me explain.

So I was coming up on the end of the summertime commotion; life was busy; kids were fighting; I was overwhelmed; no one was happy. Then in mid-August we added our new family member, Jana - a 17 year old exchange student daughter from the Czech Republic (PSA: they usually just call it "Czech", and no, they are no longer Czechoslovakia - haven't been since 1992).

"foreign exchange with young children" "kids adjusting to foreign exchange student" "positive discipline"
Um, hello, are you thinking what I'm thinking? This picture would be a LOT better with Jana actually IN it! I guess we were all too nervous and flustered to think about it. 
When she got here, I was a bit, um, embarrassed. I kept nervously telling her that it normally isn't that raucous and unruly - it was just the end of summer. She nervously smiled and counted down the days to the first day of school.

The first day of school came, and you know how it goes. Everyone's bustling and adjusting, but there's a buzz of excitement in the air. A couple days passed, and my two older boys, Samuel and Levi were a bit nonplussed by second grade and kindergarten.

After a week of school, I was at my wit's end. Summer doldrums were over, so why did everyone still hate each other and not want to listen to me?! I mean for real. I'd say, "Go do your homework," or, "Dinnertime," and I'd get answers like, "No, never," or, "I don't have to." And this would be proceeded by a 30 minute power struggle.

I also got many other beloved phrases, such as, but not limited to:
 - I hate you
 - I wish I were born in another family
 - You're the worst mother ever

Needless to say, I started reading devouring Positive Discipline every night for answers. More on the implementation of some of her solutions later, but the biggest thing I got out of that was to consider the sources of their misbehavior. These quotes from the book really got me thinking:
We will be more effective with children if we always ask ourselves, “Is what I am doing empowering or discouraging?” 
Nelsen Ed.D., Jane (2011-05-25). Positive Discipline (p. 33-35). Random House Publishing Group. 

Right off the bat, I realized that one of the sources of their misbehavior was that my punishment was discouraging good behavior and encouraging rebellion, power struggles, and negative self-talk.
1. Children Are Social Beings Behavior is determined within a social context. Children make decisions about themselves and how to behave, based on how they see themselves in relationship to others and how they think others feel about them. Remember that children are constantly making decisions and forming beliefs about themselves, about the world, and about what they need to do to survive or thrive. When they are “thriving” they are developing strength in all of the Significant Seven discussed in chapter one. When they are in their “survival” mode (trying to figure out how to feel a sense of belonging and significance), adults often interpret this as misbehavior. Does misbehavior seem different to you when you think of it as “survival mode” behavior? [emphasis mine]
A Misbehaving Child Is a Discouraged Child A misbehaving child is trying to tell us, “I don’t feel I belong or have significance, and I have a mistaken belief about how to achieve it.” When a misbehaving child acts obnoxious, it is easy to understand why it is difficult for most adults to get past the misbehavior and remember the real meaning and message behind it: “I just want to belong.” 
Nelsen Ed.D., Jane (2011-05-25). Positive Discipline (p. 33-35). Random House Publishing Group. 
Ugh, even just rereading it makes me feel so dumb in hindsight, but I hadn't even considered the fact that adding a new family member might have affected their subconsciouses in such a way as to make them feel like they had lost their prior standing in the family.

Samuel was no longer the oldest kid. Levi was now bottom-middle and had to share his position with Samuel. (Isaac was pretty unaffected since he's still the baby, and I hadn't had any out of the ordinary misbehavior from him.)

So that's when the doubt started creeping in. 'Oh no, did we make a terrible mistake? Samuel and Levi are miserable. Jana is miserable not having a peer in the house and dealing with these boys that are no fun to be around right now. What have I done?' 

Well, the question was kind of irrelevant because backing out of the whole deal was just not an option. So I kept just trying to figure out how to best handle their feelings. I didn't want to punish them for simply feeling like they lost a little bit of my love. That would have been cruel.

So then, just because we like to mix it up over here in this Blessed Nest, it came time to babysit my sweet niece (3) and nephew (21 months) for 5 days and nights. At that point, all emotions and problem solving got put on hold while we were in babysit mode.

Here's a pic of all 6 of them. Jana was a good sport.

"letting kids struggle" "positive discipline"
Yes, this was the best pic I could get with at least 5 of them having a case of the wiggles (serious respect for child photographers).
During that five days, every night Michael and I talked about the things we were learning in Positive Discipline, assessed routines we had in place or needed to put into place, assessed solutions to problems we were having with the kids. It was a really good, strengthening exercise for us.

And pray! Oh boy was I praying. I was having those freak-out prayers. "Oh God, I don't know what I'm doing here. Can you please help me out? I feel like I'm losing them."

And as we started to see things working out, slowly but surely, we realized something SO important for our kids: IT'S OKAY GOOD FOR THEM TO STRUGGLE A LITTLE BIT.

These kids have a blessed life. They have parents that love them, that are conscious and deliberate in their upbringing, that are NOT on drugs, in affairs, physically or verbally abusive, neglectful, etc.

I am who I am today because I struggled. I had a rough upbringing, but I overcame. They have very little to overcome, unless we manufacture struggles for them. 

So how do we manufacture struggles for them? In my humble opinion, we can STOP RESCUING THEM FROM EVERY LITTLE STRUGGLE by lovingly leading and teaching them through it. Think of the confidence and self-assuredness to be gained from that! We can LET LIFE BE HARD every now and then. It's okay.

I could have figured out a way to rescue them. We could've tried to move Jana {never, Jana, don't worry! you're family now!}. Or I could've gotten someone else to babysit the kids {aw, even the thought makes me sad}, but what kind of "values" would my boys have learned if I would have rescued them in that way:
 - put yourself first no matter the cost
 - don't love or help others (not even family)
 - run from difficult situations

No, thanks. As I look back at the last few weeks, I see how the five days of babysitting bumped up the pressure, but everyone hunkered down and worked as a team. The manufactured struggle was GOOD! It moved us toward focusing on solutions. And now, the addition of a teenager seems like a cake-walk to the boys! Ha!

And let's just put things into perspective. Having an extremely bright, respectful, and delightful exchange student (even from a country that we love) living with us and babysitting our niece and nephew who we love immensely are not struggles.

Having a parent die, that's a struggle. Cancer, struggle. Sexual abuse, struggle. Extreme poverty, struggle. Divorce, struggle. Sharing your house and parents with three other lovely people, that's a minor disruption to normalcy, nothing more.

Nonetheless, in their little minds, it was a struggle. And now they worked their little deal-with-it muscles and came out stronger. I wouldn't trade that in order to rescue them from discomfort.

No, we won't flinch from sowing more seeds of manufactured struggle into their little privileged lives. They are too precious, and we love them much too much for that.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

My Laundry Solution

"how to do laundry" "laundry solutions" "folding clothes" "easier way to fold clothes" "better way of doing laundry"
ETA: FORGET EVERYTHING I SAID!!!!! MY HUSBAND TOTALLY RE-ENGINEERED OUR SYSTEM, AND THIS IS THE WAY TO GO: ENGINEERING LAUNDRY

IT'S REALLY THE BEST, AND IT'S WORKING FANTASTICALLY. I HOPE Y'ALL LOOK AT IT.

Just so you know, right off the bat, this is not going to be one of those laundry room makeovers that you get jealous over, so don't worry. In all honesty, I'm just happy to HAVE a laundry room (my last house had the washer/dryer in the kitchen, so I'm truly grateful). It really is a luxury to have my laundry-mountains hidden away when company comes over.

Over the course of the last...oh....7 years, I've tried to come up with a laundry system that works for me and doesn't drive me insane. I tried other people's, and really I just had to find something that worked for me.

So please don't think that this is the end all be all of laundry solutions. For it is not. However, it does really work for me. (2 story with laundry room downstairs and all bedrooms upstairs.) So take what you like and leave the rest. ;)

And if this doesn't work for you, just keep brainstorming! And maybe even lower your standards a little. I totally did. :-P

During Project Week, I went ahead and ordered the laundry bags that I had pinned forever ago and installed them into my laundry room (heavy duty anchors and hooks and whatnot).

Well, I was waiting to tell you about it until I knew if it was going to work or not. If you've read this blog at all in the past, then you know that laundry is the thorn.in.my.flesh. I hate it more than anything. And yes, it will be my downfall - I will trip and fall into an enormous pile of laundry, and it will most definitely eat me up.

Needless to say, I needed a system that wouldn't make me hate my life.

So here's what I came up with:

1) My oldest son brings down the laundry from his room daily as part of his chores. The laundry from my room gets taken down every couple of days.

2) And I then wash, dry, and sort one load of laundry every day. After it dries, I take about five minutes to separate it. This might seem complicated, but it really goes fast. Everything that I don't want to get wrinkled gets laid out and stacked onto the washer/dryer counter. And all of the socks, undies, workout clothes, pajamas, and towels get separated into the bags.

"sorting laundry" "sorting clothes" "how to do laundry" "laundry solutions" "folding clothes" "easier way to fold clothes" "better way of doing laundry"

3) Once a week (usually Sunday) each capable kid and adult takes their bags to their room and folds the clothes and puts them away. Honestly, the kids don't even fold it. It just gets shoved into their drawers, but do I care? No, I do not. Why? Because it's one less thing that I have to do, and who cares if they wear wrinkled pajamas?

4) That same day, Michael and I hang up all of the closet clothes. I usually get the kids to help me in some way so that they can learn how to do it, too. They'll hand me hangers, or get the next shirt ready for me to hang.

5) Then we bring all the empty bags back to the laundry room and start a new week all over again!

Sure there are days that the kids run out of undies or socks, and I have to tell them to go find it in their laundry bag. But that is a LOT better than having to dig through a MOUNTAIN of laundry on top of the washer.

And sure, there are really busy weekends, but you just make up for it on Monday or plan ahead on Friday. This totally beats what I was doing before, which was just taking a solid day and doing nothing but washing, folding, and putting away all day long. Talk about a depressing day.

This way, I just invest about 10-20 minutes a day, and an hour once a week. Not bad.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Getting My Running Mojo Back

Okay, so a little running update. I have been running, but I've been running sloooooowly. I'm alright with that, though. Ya know why? 'Cause I'm running!

This half-marathon training has been a lot tougher than last time. Sure I'm doing Hal Higdon's "Novice 2" training schedule this time instead of "Novice 1" like last time, but I do feel like I have so many more challenges this time around. Last time I had my "I-just-had-my-last-baby-and-I'm-gonna-get-my-body-back" mojo. Plus, I was training with the double-Bob, so I was so much stronger.

And this time, I've had all these weird allergy things plus the mental setback of not running for almost an entire year {not really sure if it really was a year or not}. And the cherry on top, my knees have been hurting. Wah...wah..wah..
"runners knee", "knee pain", "pain in knees when running" "Half Marathon Training Schedule", "Hal Higdon Novice 2 Half Marathon", running, half-marathon, "hal higdon", training
Ugh, I can't believe I'm showing you my slow paces. Embarrassing! 
Okay, so after many weeks of feeling sorry for myself, I gotta say, I was sick of my whiny thoughts. SICK!

So I went and bought new running shoes because it was time. Knees still hurt. AND I was getting a blister on my heel after the first couple of runs {and after trying on every single shoe in the store that would fit my Flintstone feet}. So ya know what I did...

"Cutting off heel of running shoes", "blister on heel", "running shoes", "running blisters"
Boom! I cut that bad boy off, and it felt really good. Ya know why? Because I was taking charge? I wasn't being a victim. {That worked like a charm, by the way.}

Okay, so at this point my heel was feeling better, but I was still feeling it in my knees.

So I had posted a question on the FB wall of my favorite running Podcast hosts on Another Mother Runner about what I should do about my knees. Most everyone was like, "Go to a physical therapist." And I was all, "Wah, wah, I have a high deductible and don't want to spend God-knows-how-much when I can just switch sports...wah, wah." (Feeling a bit victim-y again.)

So finally someone was like, "Uh, just google 'runner's knee exercises'." And I was all, "Ohmuhfreakingosh, why didn't I think of that?!"

So I did, and O-M-G, those muscles needed it! AND I started running on the treadmill AFTER my yoga classes instead of before. And guess what?! NO KNEE PAIN!!!

Okay, granted, I haven't had a run over 6 miles since I started the exercises and yoga, but I was having pain even after 1 mile, even when I was wearing my knee bras patella bands. I have my first long run this weekend, 11 miles, so I'll let you know on FB how it goes.

All that to say...I am getting my running mojo back because I had a taste of what it would be like to have to give it up, and I mourned it. I didn't want to give it up.

Anyone else out there training for something that you want so bad that you'll do anything for it?!

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Word About Wheat

"Wheat allergy" "wheat allergy symptoms"
If you "like" Annie's Blessed Nest on Facebook, then you'll know that I am on a wheat elimination diet to see if wheat is one of the allergens wreaking havoc on my immune system. (I don't have gluten sensitivity, so I eliminated all wheat, even oats.)

Well, to say that I went on a wheat elimination diet so nonchalantly is deceptive. There was nothing nonchalant about it. It was freakin' hard. I'm a bit of an addict. The first 3 days I lost 4 pounds worth of water-weight because I had just gone on a wheat bender the weekend prior.

So my symptoms that I was/am trying to determine a cause from were bloating (seriously, I looked about 12 weeks pregnant by the end of the day), sinus headaches, muscle aches, and fatigue.

I had completely eliminated wheat, and then on Saturday night we went to a Mexican restaurant, and I ate the corn tortilla chips they put out on the table. Well, unbeknownst to me, they had wheat in them. Dang it!

So the next day I was SOOOO tired, and I thought it was just from end of summer blues. But no, I was so tired I had to take a nap. And y'all, I don't ever "choose" to nap. If I'm napping, then it's necessary. I also had a nice little sinus headache to accompany the fatigue.

And today...I told the kids we were going to the gym at 1:00...then 1:15...then 1:30...then I was napping on the couch by 1:45...with a sinus headache.

So the good news is, I think I may have an answer to my wheat question. I'll continue to eliminate it and maybe check again after another month or two.

Oh and y'all, that gluten-free bread mix that's in the gluten-free section of the grocery store, do NOT..just do not. It's disgusting.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tipsy Tuesday: Potty Train Backward

So if you haven't been around for a while, Tipsy Tuesday is just like it sounds...a tip I give...on a Tuesday. What?

This one is gold, people, GOLD!


When this little guy wanted to start going potty like his brothers (but before he was ready to potty train), I would always put him on the toilet backwards.

Really, I was just *done* with that stupid little Elmo potty seat (don't even get me started on the little potty that you have to empty the pee and poop from). It's so gross to touch, and I didn't want to deal with it because they'd never get their little penis's to point below that so-called guard, and there'd inevitably be pee everywhere, well, at least all over the top of the seat.

But when he just sits backwards, he doesn't fall in, and he kind of holds himself up, too (what, we're washing our hands after anyway).

So when we started potty training him, he wanted to sit backward and I let him. Now, wherever we go, we don't have to bring that ridiculous pee ring (like I did as a noob mom with the first two). He can go potty and not be afraid of falling in.

Boom! Third time's the charm.

And of course, the NUMBER 1 TIP OF POTTY TRAINING is to put them in underwear and don't turn back. No Pull-ups, no diapers. Just do it. ;)

ETA: I don't have any experience potty training girls, but I don't see why this wouldn't work with them, too. Anyone done it?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Family Meetings

"family meeting", "family home meeting"

As I was telling you about Positive Discipline, I mentioned that we started doing family meetings, and a lot of you were very interested. I hope this gives you the push you need to start your own family meetings!! I'm a big believer in them - when they're done right (which we're always tweaking).

Family Meeting Agenda
Every meeting requires an agenda. Whoever is the "conductor" writes out the agenda and assigns roles to each of the family members.
"family meeting", "family home meeting", "family meeting agenda"

ConductorYou can call this whatever you want: chairperson, leader, M.C. I thought that since our kids were into trains, Conductor was fitting (and Michael said they used it when he used to be Mormon as a kid). We take turns being the "conductor", but we definitely let the kids do this more often than we do it. The only exception is Isaac; at 2 1/2 he's not quite ready to lead a meeting. Levi doing it at 5 is just right, though.

Opening PrayerThis is pretty self-explanatory. Even Isaac (2 1/2) can do this.

SongEven if you're not a musical family, you can do this. We just sing one or two verses of a favorite song. This seems like it wouldn't serve much of a purpose, but it actually really works well to build unity and sets the meeting apart as something special - special enough to sing a song at. I'm looking forward to when they get older and can play instruments!

LessonThis is typically taught by me or Michael and only lasts about 5 minutes. (Toddlers are encouraged to go play at this point.) Topics have typically been things having to do with house rules and whatnot.  Samuel (7) actually wanted to teach a lesson once on having family nights. He wanted to reimplement them into our routine and told us what they should look like. He loved getting to do it.

CalendarI always handle this. We just go through the week and talk about what's going on, what's needed to keep all of our commitments, etc.

Air of GrievancesThis is everyone's favorite part and quite possibly the most important portion of the meeting. Everyone gets a chance to say what they're not happy about or what's not working. It's great because the emotions are not high so we're actually focused on solutions. No one's a victim; everyone's a team player. Oh AND, when the conductor announces this part of the meeting, he has to use a British accent and say it as if we're about to see a performance at Medieval Times.

EncouragementsWe added this in later, so it's not on the above agenda. We go around the table, and each person gives a brief encouragement to every person, even themselves!

Closing PrayerYou get it.

RefreshmentsThis is non-negotiable. The kids so look forward to this, even if it's just popcorn or smoothies.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Some ways to make it not suck  let them take ownership over it:
(Seriously, it's gonna suck if you don't let them take ownership, and they'll hate it.)

Let them announce it. My kids like to go up to the top of the stairs, preferably with a paper towel roll, and holler, "FAMILY MEETING TIME!!!!!" so that everyone knows to go to the dining room.

Let them create the agenda. We definitely help them with it, but they write it out and give input.

Let them lead it. You'll be tempted to let them "lead" it (only in quotes), but then you really do it. But don't! Really let them lead it. A gentle reminder to keep it serious is fine, but only do it so as to remind them of the big responsibility that you're entrusting to them.
"family meeting", "family home meeting"

Keep it super formal. Make sure the conductor thanks each person that speaks. Each person with a role thanks for the conductor for the floor. Stuff like that. They love it. :) Our time in Toastmasters helped us out with that, but you can also google meeting etiquette.

Have it weekly.  We have our meeting every Sunday - even when we're crazy busy. If we start skipping it, then it totally loses it's power. Consistency is totally important.

So that's that! It might seem daunting at first, but it's really not. It takes almost no time to prepare for it. Sure, it's better when you prepare well for it (and you likely will the first few times). But if it comes down to not doing it or just poorly planning for it, then just do it poorly planned.

Having a family meeting communicates to your family that they're important, that you care what they think, and that you're a team.

What about you?  Do you have a family meeting?  Would you add anything to our agenda for your own meeting?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Splurging...And Its Affects On This Week-Willed Girl


I've discovered something about myself:

I can't splurge on my diet.

Now, it's not that I can't splurge. I can. Oh yes, I sure do know how. I'm not one of those people that can't reward myself or cheat on a diet or enjoy one more glass of wine. I can. Trust me, I can.

The problem is in the stopping of said splurge. The...stopping....it's just so hard. It's also in how it affects my body.

First of all, once I start throwing caution to the wind, it's hard to stop.

We were on vacation last week, and I did so incredibly good the first four days. I tracked my calories. I ate my limit. I jogged. I was feeling quite proud of myself. I actually thought to myself, 'This'll be the first ever vacation that I will have lost weight.'

And then splurge day came; some of you may call it "Wednesday". Pizza was for dinner, and appetizers, including (God help me) hummus AND guacamole, were on the counter with pita chips AND tortilla chips. Oh, and drinks were served, drinks that included...wait for it...lime sherbet and tequila. It was all kinds of yum.

But then the next day came...and I didn't get back on track. Then the next day came...still not on track. Long story short...the next five days became a huge splurge. (I did taper off that fifth day, after some buttery popcorn.)

What's wrong with me!! 

And secondly, it's not just a vanity thing. Sure that's part of it, of course, but the other thing is that when I have a string of bad eating days, particularly with sugar, I *feel* terrible. It exacerbates my allergies by suppressing my immune system, and then I'm down (physically and emotionally) for a few days afterward. I lay around on the couch, achy, fatigued, bloated, with a headache. So I can't exercise feeling like this, and it just sucks all the way around.

It's total insanity, as my 12-stepping friends would say - doing the same thing over and over, knowing that it's caused me pain in the past, but expecting it to not affect me this time. And let's just call a spade a spade - STUPID really.

Well, needless to say, I didn't lose weight on this vacation. No. No. I gained.

"Every healthy diet requires a splurge day," they say. Well, not for this girl with no self-control. A whole splurge day sets me way too far into overeat mode. Then limiting it to one meal, even, is too messy. One "meal" could last 6 hours if it's a party, and then that starts my whole ridiculously INSANE cycle.

SO...My plan of attack is to get back on track and contain my splurging to ONE HOUR. Is that how you normal people do it? You people without food issues or 12-stepping parents or general dysfunction? You probably do it without even having to think about it. Oh you normal people. Are there even any of you out there? Do you exist?

Anyhoo, I'll letcha know how it turns out.  ;)

Anyone have this problem??  Have you tried limiting the splurge to a shorter time period?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Road Trip Car Money

"Car Money" "road trip money" "road trips with kids" "car store" "things to do with kids on road trips"

As I type this, I’m in the front passenger seat of the van on the last day of our road trip with a killer headache, ear buds in listening to NPR’s This American Life, and the kids are watching a Redbox movie while Michael drives through the southwestern portion of Tennessee.  

All that to say – the best laid plans are meant to be broken and certainly require flexibility. 

HOWEVER, the first leg of our trip was met with such energy and enthusiasm, and that’s when the car money worked best.  It worked really well, too.  The first leg of the trip is also when the kids are getting used to being in the car for so long and there's still some excitement about it all.  So here’s how it all worked.

First, I discovered this play money online (there are more denominations, too), and found a couple of pictures of me and Michael to put in there.  I edited the pics to be textured and green, and baddabing-baddaboom – car money.  I then employed a certain 7 year old to cut them all out at home, which he was thrilled to do.

"Car Money" "road trip money" "road trips with kids" "car store" "things to do with kids on road trips"

Then I went to the store and bought a bunch of snacks and activities, letting the boys pick out a box of snacks each. 

The easier thing would have been to have prepackaged food, but some of the stuff wasn’t, so I divvied it all up into Ziploc bags.  After I had laid it all out on the kitchen table, I was able to make this.
 "Car Money" "road trip money" "road trips with kids" "car store" "things to do with kids on road trips"
Notice that the healthy stuff is free and the crappy stuff and toys require purchase.  

I had given them each a 3-bradded folder with a ton of printable road trip activities, like road trip bingo, coloring pages, license plate bingo, etc.  (Google "Road Trip Printables", and you'll get a plethora of resources.)  The boys kept their money in the pockets of the folders, and it worked out great. 

The trick was to be pretty generous with payment so that they were excited about.  All in all, it worked great!  I just asked Samuel how he liked it all, and he gave it a resounding review.

Another trick is to save a box or a bag of "Car Store" stuff for the way home.  I had done that, but we actually ran out because we dipped into it while on our trip, and it was a big-time drag.  Stay strong.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Family Road Trip

So we just took the longest road trip we’ve ever attempted, and let me tell ya, I feel like I just ran a marathon – in a good way.  It was a challenge; it was exhausting; but it was just so cool. 

We have friends that moved from Texas to Maryland, so we went to go visit them in their beautiful corner of the country, and they were awesome enough to let us stay with them.

The drive was 21 hours of straight driving which we broke up into two days there and back.  So of course, I gotta do a retrospective, and here it is.... 

ANNIE’S ROAD TRIP RULES OF THUMB 

1)  Attitude is EVERYTHING. 

Dude, when we were in Texas, it was HOT and not raining.  When we left Texas, a cool front blew through with beautiful rain, and everyone on Facebook was glorying in the majesty of the 80 degree temps and rain soaking the parched land.  When we arrived in Maryland, they were having a heat wave with 95 degree weather and about 130% humidity.  In a word, it was HOT.

"taking family vacations" "taking kids on a road trip" "how to survive road trips" "how to survive family vacations"

So naturally, we decided to spend our first day on an outing to Washington, D.C. Was it miserable, you ask?  Well, every single one of us was totally not into it. It was definitely enough to get us in a funk (not to mention we spent a boatload of money).  However, Michael and I decided that it wasn’t worth it to let it ruin our trip. 

Since we were staying with our very dear friends, the objective wasn’t to cram in as much as we possibly could.  The point of the trip was to reconnect with our friends and experience Maryland.  So once we let go of any other expectations, we had the best time. The kids played; we enjoyed great company and beautiful Maryland; and we totally enjoyed the rest of the week. Which brings me to my next point….
"taking family vacations" "taking kids on a road trip" "how to survive road trips" "how to survive family vacations"

2)  Don't put too much pressure on your vacay.

Any vacation with children is just not going to be as relaxing as without.  Period.  But we love our children and want to experience life with them and want to show them the world, so we take them with us when it’s appropriate.  And since our friends have kids their ages, it was most definitely appropriate.  

We still got to go to cool restaurants and see cool things, but we definitely didn’t get to where we were going very quickly and had to stop at a few more parks than I would have cared to.  But whatever.  It’s not the end of the world if we spent a few extra hours on the road, especially if it means everyone will tire out more readily.

And it was actually really cool discovering all these really awesome parks along the way.  (I don't think I could have managed that before iPhones!)  Also, when we were there in Maryland, if staying in and letting the kids play in the water in the back yard is what works, then go with it!  Having a peaceful and fun evening is much better than stressing out at a nice restaurant while my kids ruin everyone else's night.
"taking family vacations" "taking kids on a road trip" "how to survive road trips" "how to survive family vacations"

3)  Car Money

"taking family vacations" "taking kids on a road trip" "how to survive road trips" "how to survive family vacations"
I saw this tip on one of the many websites I consulted, and it was genius.  I made car money with me and Michael’s faces on them, and they could earn it and use it as currency in the car.  Genius.  Pure genius.  Thank you, random road trip guru from the internets.  (If enough of you wants a post about this, let me know, and I’ll tell you how we did it.)

All in all, we loved our trip.  We're so grateful for our friends for letting us stay with them all week.  It was such a great time, and we're thankful for great friends.  :)
"taking family vacations" "taking kids on a road trip" "how to survive road trips" "how to survive family vacations"

Have you taken a road trip with kids?  What's the longest you've travelled? 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Choices

If you missed me raving about Positive Discipline, then here it is again - so excited about this.

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When I moved into my house I knew that it was *fine*.  It wasn't perfect; it needed work; but it would get us by (design-wise).  What I totally underestimated was my desire to CHOOSE everything in my house.

The wallpaper in the kitchen was *fine*, but I didn't choose it, so...it had to go.  

The wall color in the guest bathroom was neutral and *fine*, but it wasn't a color that I would have chosen, so...it had to go.  

The carpet was new (albiet extremely cheap), and it was *fine*, but I began feeling so trapped by it, so...it had to go.

I like choices, and I don't think that's abnormal.  Lack of choices makes us feel trapped and out of control, and pretty soon we freak out.  

What I've also learned in my old age is that.....wait for it.....

KIDS LIKE CHOICES, because, THEY'RE PEOPLE, TOO!!!

It's true!  I don't know how many times we've had this exact conversation in our house: 

MAMA: Okay, it's bath-time!
TODDLER: NO! I no wanna take a baff!
MAMA: Well, you have to, so let's go.
Mama procedes to take baby kicking and screaming to said baff OR Mama gives in and baby goes to bed with no baff.  Which is it gonna be - depends on the night and how much energy Mama has.  

The solution, you ask?  CHOICES!  

MAMA: Alright, it's bath-time!  Do you want to use your Spiderman body wash or your Jake and the Neverland Pirates body wash?
TODDLER:  DAKE!!!
MAMA:  Sweet, let's go get it!

I'm not exaggerating, either.  I swear to you that works 99% of the time.  It's like a Jedi mind trick or something. 

We can give our little kids choices ALL day long.  And giving them choices shows them respect and kindness.

We don't have to control every little thing and make them into little robots whose wills we've broken (I have actually heard it taught that you have to break a child's will - kills me).  Nor do we have to give them free reign.  

We can give them the framework to make good decisions but still let them grow their choosing muscles because it gives them confidence, self-assuredness, and a healthy will.  This will help them for life.

Here are some more choices I use daily:

Would you rather get dressed yourself or do you want me to pick out your clothes?  
The Tiger, especially, ALWAYS chooses to pick them out himself, and this solves the dilemma of getting out the door in time (and I get the joy of seeing just what he comes up with when he walks out of his room and asks me if he looks handsome - which he ALWAYS does).

Do you want oatmeal or toast and eggs for breakfast?
Suddenly they can't just dream up something else that I don't have time to make because they're preoccupied making this choice. 

Do you want yogurt or peanut butter on your pancakes?
If the option isn't given, then they don't even think of syrup.

Do you want to climb in your carseat yourself or do you want Mommy to help you?
When he has that choice to make, the option of roaming the van until we're late is suddenly off the table.

Do you want to walk into gym or do you want Mommy to carry you?
It can be either, but the option to not go is not there.

Do you want to turn off the light (at bedtime) or do you want me to?
He usually wants to, and if it turns into a game of strobe light, then I tell him that I'll turn it off if he doesn't want to. 

Kinda fun, right?!  I swear it works.  If you don't do this already, try it consistently for a week and you will SO see the fruit of PEACE in your house - I promise!!!

Anyway, I hope this helps some of you out there that are at your wit's end.  Parenting with kindness and firmness is where it's at.  ;)

Do you practice giving choices in your family?  What's the most common choice you give daily?

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Positive Discipline

When we had our first baby there was a LOT of pressure to do things the way that everyone in our circle was doing things, as I'm sure many of you know what that's like.  And it doesn't stop, either.

Around every corner there's pressure to conform - pressure to just go with what everyone else is doing instead of doing what we truly believe is right for us and our children.
co-sleeping, "positive discipline"
Co-sleeping (on purpose) was definitely not a popular choice among those I was hanging with at the time.
So when my little Cuters was born, my natural instinct was to raise him more aligned with the attachment parenting philosophy.  We were pretty by-the-book (The Baby Book, that is) with him.

Then as he got older and we had to start disciplining him, it got a lot hazier.  I had read The Successful Child, Dr. Sears' answer to that dilemma, but I was still struggling....a lot.

I was listening to the myriad of other parental voices (many of which I respected a lot) that had oh so much advice for me (of which I'm shamelessly guilty of doling out my fair share), and I couldn't tell if my instincts were just wrong and I needed a different approach.

Or maybe attachment parenting was good for the first year, but after that it needing revising.  I didn't know.  (Nor am I out to change your opinion if you're adamantly opposed.)
"positive discipline"
Well, I think the real problem was just that I hadn't understood exactly how all this positivity got my kid to stop climbing on top of the table.  It seemed way too permissive for me, and I ended up letting my children have the run of the house.

As Dr. Jane Nelson says,
"I was so permissive until I couldn't stand my kids anymore, so I became so strict that I couldn't stand myself anymore."  
Have you so been there?  Oh my freaking goodness, that describes the last 7 years of my life, quite well.  I was a bit of a flip flopper.

So we were talking with a new friend, Tracy, about this topic, and she mentioned the philosophy of parenting called Positive Discipline (I HIGHLY recommend following this link to learn more about it).  It's not exactly connected to Attachment Parenting, but it's approach to discipline is very similar.

The basic premises are:
1.  Be kind but firm
2.  Help children feel a sense of belonging and significance
3.  The tools work longterm (short term is not the immediate goal)
4.  Gives valuable social and life skills for good character
5.  Children develop a sense that they are capable
I don't always remember the exact formulas that she gives to solve problems, but what has stuck with me is to always treat my children with respect because they are, afterall, people, too, who all deserve and desire it.

I don't let them have total free reign, either.  I give them a framework, and they are free to make choices that I give them within that framework. For example:
Tiger:  What's for dinner?
Me: Grilled chicken legs, grilled broccoli, and grilled avocado
Tiger:  I don't want any of that.
Me:  That's fine.  You don't have to eat it.  You can probably make it until breakfast and be just fine.
Tiger:  Well, I want the avocado.
Do you see both the kindness and the firmness?  I wasn't nagging him to try anything or forcing him to eat anything that he didn't want to eat, but I also wasn't going to go cook a second dinner just for him.

I'm so incredibly excited about this, and it just totally fits in with the foundation that Michael and I had already set for our family.  It just feels right, and that gives me so much peace and hope for our future.

I hope to be writing more about it in the near future.  I hope it helps someone!

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P.S. If you go to her website, she's got a resource for everyone - books, podcasts, audiobooks, videos, online classes, phone app, CDs/DVDs, you name it.  Plus, she has resources for TEACHERS!!!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Grinding Wheat

So...grinding wheat...yay!!!!  Right?!  You've GOT to be excited about this.  Hehe.

In all seriousness, when I started grinding wheat, I felt LIBERATED from processed foods!  Do you know how many things that say WHOLE WHEAT aren't really!?  It drives me crazy how the food companies try to be so sneaky to hide the fact that their food is not as whole as they claim.  There is "enriched" or "refined" flour in almost everything (not a true stat - just me blabbing).

So when I started grinding my own wheat, I knew that I was getting the most nutrition possible out of my flour since I freeze it right after I grind it.  All of the beneficial oils weren't drying out on the shelves or worse yet, spoiling.

Anytime I have a recipe that calls for flour, I use my whole wheat flour.  My kids are used to the taste, and I feel great about it.  (Hint: if your kids aren't used to it, then you can start with half whole wheat and half white flour.)

I told you yesterday how I buy my wheat berries, and now I'll show you how I grind it.

I started out with a used grinder like this one:
I bought it used and used it for a while until I got a Vitamix.  Then I sold it since it was redundant to have that and a Vitamix.

Now I have a Vitamix with a Dry Container (very important - it's different than a regular container).

The grinding of said wheat is so incredibly simple that it's almost silly for me to show you how, but hey, you may not know, right?


1)  Set up my Vitamix with the DRY CONTAINER.
2)  Pour about 2 cups of wheat berries into the dry container and put the lid on it.
3)  Start the Vitamix on Variable speed - 1.  Then slowly move it all the way to 10 and then to HIGH.
4)  Leave on High for about 30 seconds to a minute or until all of the flour peaks in all four corners of the container (as shown in bottom center pic).
5)  Store in an airtight container in the freezer.

See!  SO easy!

If you're interested in this and don't have a grinder or a Vitamix, then I'd suggest trying to buy a grinder like the first one I showed you secondhand.  First see if anyone you know has one that they never use (oh so common).  Then see if you can find one elsewhere like Craig's List or eBay.  They retail for about $200, but people practically give them away.  I wouldn't pay more than $50 for a used one.

And if that doesn't work for you, then fret not.  There are a lot of other ways to get it done.  Kitchen Aid sells an attachment for wheat grinding.  Some high powered food processors can grind wheat, too. Where there's a will there's a way!

BTW, I've updated my whole wheat breadmaker recipe if anyone is in need.  I use this DAILY - SO easy.

Do you grind your own wheat?  What's your preferred method?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Buying Wheat

Hey y'all! I hope your summer is going great, savoring the moments but getting enough alone time, too. ;)  Mamas gotta stay healthy, y'all!

Anyway, I get asked a lot about grinding my wheat, so I wanted to demystify it a bit because it's super easy, for real.  But before I get started, let me just tell you that I updated my breadmaker bread recipe if you're interested.  ;)

So today I thought I'd tell you where and how I've bought my wheat.  I've gone a few different routes on this:

1) I've ordered it from Amazon.  When I order it by Subscribe and Save, the shipping is FREE!  It's about $30 for 25lbs of organic hard red wheat berries.  The spelt, however, is ridiculous right now, at about $50 for 25lbs.  Amazon is the most expensive route that I've taken but also the most convenient.  They send me a package like this as often as I request, then I pour it into airtight containers (important step - don't wait on this or little critters could find their way into it).
"how to buy wheat" "buying whole wheat" "hard red wheat berries" "buying spelt"
Source
2) Remember when I told you about my organic produce co-op, Your Health Source?  Well, when I'm a member of the co-op, then I'm able to order from their extensive dry goods list, which contains...of course, whole grains.  They have Prairie Gold Wheat Berries, which are a little lighter, so they make a little bit lighter of a bread, which is nice.  They also have spelt, but it's still about the same price as Amazon.  I prefer spelt, but I just can't spend that much on it.  :-/


So this route is a little inconvenient simply because I have to 1) email my order, 2) send a check, and 3) pick up my order on a co-op pickup date.  Not to mention, I have to be a member of the co-op which is a bi-weekly commitment of both my time and grocery budget.  But this is the route I've chosen for right now because I wanted to try out the produce again.

3)  My in-laws are Mormon, so I've gotten them to take me to the LDS Cannery and get wheat there.  It's about $30 for 33lbs, and the nice thing about it is that you can buy it already canned (sometimes you have to can it yourself) because wheat is a common item.  You can also get a ton of other stuff for pretty cheap.
Source
The problem with this route is that you have to have a member of the LDS church to take you, and that's not very convenient all the time with schedules and being a nuisance and taking advantage of familial relationships and whatnot.  So we've only done this a couple of times.  The other thing I don't like about it is that it's so wasteful with packing material.  I go through the wheat so quickly that the cans go to waste, so it's not very earth-friendly.  They're meant to save, but that's not my purpose for it.

So anyway, I hope that helps a little.  It's really a lot easier than you think.  I'll tell you next time how I grind it - way easy!

Enjoy your day!


Monday, June 17, 2013

Freedom of Simplicity

Michael and I have decided that it's time to care for each of our mental and spiritual health(s?) as much as it is our physical (one of those things that gets pushed aside with the business of parenting). So my absolutely dear husband actually made me schedule an hour of alone time yesterday for today. My heart was still racing for about the first 10 minutes, something I don't normally notice because I don't normally slow down ever (as indicated by the stress cold sore that I'm sporting currently).

Anyway, it's amazing the insight I can find like right away because I'm so hungry for it. I picked up Richard Foster's book Freedom of Simplicity off of the bookshelf and noticed that I had started it and never finished it. I read what I had underlined, and right off the bat I knew I should pick this book up again.
We also struggle with the problem of competing responsibilities that all demand our attention. Like Jack's beanstalk, our obligations seem to grow overnight.  We are trapped in a rat race, not just of acquiring money, but also of meeting family and business obligations. We pant through an endless series of appointments and duties. The problem is especially acute for those who sincerely want to do what is right. With frantic fidelity we respond to all calls to service, distressingly unable to distinguish the voice of Christ from that of human manipulators. We feel bowed low with the burden of integrity.
I have struggled with overcommitment my entire adult life. I'm fully aware of it, and I still do it. All. The. Time.

And the wisdom of getting alone time as it relates to simplicity:
Solitude refers principally to the inward unity that frees us from the panicked need for acclaim and approval. Through it we are enabled to be genuinely alone, for the fear of obscurity is gone; and we are enabled to be genuinely with others, for they no longer control us.
How did he read my mail? For real. I do for sure end up in a frenzy when I don't get enough solitude to be with God and my thoughts. I start caring way too much about what people think of me instead of what my Creator thinks. But when I'm centered in my Center, I can be more present for people, especially my family.
Enslavement to the opinions of others is the source of a great deal of duplicity in modern society. How often we discover our action to be prompted, not by the divine Center, but by what others may say or think.
Ugh, it's so hard to tell sometimes, isn't it? I mean, it's not as black and white as it seems sometimes. Sometimes a lot of things I do are "approved" by others and God, but what was my motivation? That's what really matters to God.

Okay, that's all I got for now. I hope those little nuggets blessed someone out there. They sure refreshed me.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Mama's Summer

It's no secret that I have historically not done summers very well.  In my old age, however, I think I've gotten a little better at it.  The name of the game this summer is STRUCTURE!  I have routines in place, daily plans, and rules to keep order.  I haven't worked out all of the kinks yet, but we're moving in the right direction.  I wouldn't be surviving if I didn't have some order.

Here are just a few of the things keeping us busy right now...


Of course a tiny little plastic piece broke on the dishwasher (attached to the latch), and to replace that one piece would have been $150 (if I did it myself).  So we figured we'd buy a new one since it was 9 years old.  But I feel like we have appliance shopping down to an art (starting with an emergency fund).  We usually go to Best Buy, see what's out there, and then go to Texas Appliance Outlet into the back, un-airconditioned warehouse and buy a scratch-n-dent for a fraction of the cost.  Why?  Because, as my mother-of-6 sister says, "The kids are gonna scratch-n-dent it anyway!"  


Levi first banged his toe and then cut it between the cuticle and nail, so we've been nursing that back to health.  It looks disgusting right now, but it's a lot better than that picture.  The nail finally fell off.  But keeping that thing clean and dry and bandaged was not as easy as one might think - he's 5 afterall.


And then there's grocery shopping after preschool is out for summer.  Fun?  Uh, no, I wouldn't say so. This was one of the more fortunate shopping trips.  As you mamas know, it can be a little trickier when they're awake.  The other thing I'm doing is trying to figure out how much I'm spending on conventional produce at Aldi and spelt/wheat through Amazon so that I can determine if I should go back to my organic produce co-op.  I'll let you know.  ;)


And this, of course, is my next big project.  We're about to have a teenager in the house!  We're hosting a Czech foreign exchange student this coming school year (which I am SO excited about), and she'll be here in August, so I have to get the room finished by then.  This room is proving to be a little trickier than I thought.  I have to a) subdue it a little since she's more into muted tones, b) furnish it with things I can use for the boys later, c) stay within a small budget, and d) do it all while the kids are home 24/7.  


Oh, did I mention what's it's like shopping with three little boys?  Things to note in this picture: 
1) It was posed.  They actually stood still so that I could snap it just like this.  
2) The older and younger are both picking on the middle child.  No surprise.  
3) The baby is not wearing shoes (they're in the stroller that he climbed out of).
4) I'm shopping clearance, because that's the best way to shop.  ;)


As if all of that wasn't enough, my stinking pool robot broke (thankfully it's under warranty) and Leslie's Pool Store is taking FOREVER to get the replacement part.  So I've been fighting an algae bloom all by hand (brushing and vacuuming and shocking).  My shoulders are killing me.  All in a days' work, y'all.


A fun thing that we've been doing is a weekly family meeting.  This has been working marvelously.  The kids are way into it, and we've implemented a lot of structure as a result.  One thing we've implemented is....


....if you get in a fight, you have to talk it out on the fireplace.  The boys busted Michael and I one night, so we had to duke it out on the fireplace.  They thought that was so awesome.  

That's about it. I'm sure you can relate.  Just like some women do pregnancy well, some women do summers really well, too.  I don't naturally do pregnancy or summers very well, BUT this summer I'm TRYING!  We'll see how it goes.  

Got any tricks for keeping mama and kids sane during summer?

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