Category Archives: Kids

Mama Life Hacks {#24}: The Nightly Clean-up

I am not a clean freak. I prefer my house to be clean. But I can function just fine (for a while, at least) if it’s not. In fact, it doesn’t feel like my house is ever COMPLETELY clean, since if the kids and I have cleaned two of the bathrooms, the high likelihood is that the other three need a scrub (yes, that means we have 5 bathrooms…that might be part of the problem). I do not have a compulsive need to deep-clean every surface of my house on a weekly basis, as several of my friends do (which is both a blessing to my sanity–hello, 7 constantly-mess-producing children–and a curse–I know that if I were compulsive, my house would, indeed, be cleaner).

HOWEVER, I feel the most mentally at ease and–there’s no better way to put it–okay with myself as a human when my house is picked up and reasonably clean. And that is what today’s Mama Life Hack is supposed to help with.

And it’s so simple, so obvious, so ridiculously basic that I fully expect every comment on this post to be some iteration of “DUH, Abbie, or “Why didn’t I already think of that?”

But first a little back story. We clean every morning. After Bible reading and before we start school, the kids all do their “morning routines.” For the girls and Theo, this involves unloading the dishwashers, picking up the common area (living room/dining room/kitchen/stairway) and putting away any toys or books we’ve gotten out (even though this process generally happens between 8 and 9, there have been children up and playing since 6:30 usually, so, yes, there’s already at least some mess by the time the sun comes up).

The older boys alternate day-by-day with: 1) loading the breakfast dishes in the dishwasher/cleaning the sink and surrounding counter and 2) sweeping the kitchen/dining and wiping down the island, stove, counters.

(I include this detail because I get a lot of questions about what kind of chores my kids do at which ages). 

During this time, I flip laundry, feed the baby, answer emails, etc. I’m not cleaning alongside them, necessarily, but we’re all doing something productive.

This way, we start our school day with things in the spaces we use most under reasonable control.

Fast forward to the end of our day, and MOST (not all, but most) of this work has been completely undone. Pencils have been sharpened to nubs and dropped on the ground (thank you, Theo), papers have been shredded on the floor (ahem, Theo again), lunch has been made, snacks X 7 have been eaten…twice (goodness, that’s a lot of food), books have been hauled out of lockers, bathrooms have been strewn with toilet paper (among other things #ew). We try–oh how we try–to put things back as we go. The food gets put back at lunchtime. The paper mounds get picked up. The bathroom gets de-TP’d. But when the focus is on learning, not cleaning, and there are still more messes to be made, it’s inevitable that we miss a pencil or 6, and there’s a doll or 3 under the couch.

Oh, and then there’s dinner. I do simple food: Taco soup, chicken tortilla soup, chicken and squash grill, spaghetti, chicken pot pie (my most-well-loved-by-readers recipe). But there’s still some cooking debris that’s inevitable with the process of refereeing 7 kids while preparing food for them (although to be fair, it doesn’t feel like refereeing 90% of the time; they’re honestly usually playing happily, reading, helping me cook, or doing something outside).

My point? Despite our best efforts, our main living areas are still at least a little bit messy at the end of every day.

And I’m tired. And not the least bit interested in starting all over again with what feels like (no IS) a never-ending process.

One day, as I was expressing to Shaun my frustration with the amount of work yet to be done at the end of the day versus the amount of fortitude left with which to tackle it, he said, “We just need to set a timer for after dinner clean-up and get it done.”

At first, my emotions rebelled against the simplicity of the suggestion. It couldn’t possibly be THAT easy.

But then, I remembered an article I read once about a mother of many (also a homeschooler) who instituted a 5:00 PM clean-up train, in which each member of her household was required to fall in line as they snaked through the entire house picking up errant socks and books and general life detritus. It had sounded intimidating  (even though she said they enjoyed it) to me at the time, but I could see the appeal in ending each day with a picked up house.

And so, despite my temptation to sulk, rather than truly look for a solution, I said, “Okay, let’s try it.”

So, we did.

And it worked.

So, we still do.

Every night at 7 PM, our trustworthy Alexa  begins chirping to let us know that it’s time to clean. And we get to work. Everyone but Honor pitches in. (Still trying to figure out how to train an almost one-year-old who doesn’t walk to throw away his own diapers).

The smaller kids repeat a version of the picking up routine they do in the mornings, every now and then with the addition of a rug vacuum. And the older boys and I usually tag-team the dishes + large pan scrubbing + sweeping. Shaun helps with picking up, redirecting wandering attention (AHEM, Theo and Twins), trash duty, or whatever else needs doing.

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Gittin ‘ur dun. P.S. She’s standing on my fave kid stool of all time. 

We turn on music. We might even boogie down a little. But mostly, we work. It takes 20-30 minutes with all of us hustling at our respective tasks to take the main living area from cluttered-enough-to-be-stressful:

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The milk is out. Dishes are piled in the sink. The island is strewn with leftover…stuff. And I do believe there are containers of garlic powder and cayenne on the sofa table???

to this:

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Don’t be deceived. This is clean-from-a-distance. Some nights, I have time/energy to wipe down the cabinets or rearrange the fridge if the dishes are light. Most of the time, though, this is simply main surfaces wiped down, floors swept (not mopped), dishes done, and clutter put away.

It’s not deep-cleaned. But do you know what it is? Stress-free!!

Half an hour of corporate cleaning makes my brain go AAAAAAHHHH every single night, and it’s glorious.

Now, obviously, I have lots of helpers, and some of my kids are older. But that also means that I have more mess-makers. And I can tell you that, after years of training the little ones, they are finally starting to get it. (So, if you only have wee ones, there’s still hope). The olders were gone the other night, and Della (7), the twins (5), and Theo (3) managed to help with dishes, pick up and vacuum the living room, put away toys, and throw away trash quite proficiently.

MOST of the problem with everything feeling so overwhelming was my assumption that–even though I require my children to help throughout the day–once it hit evening time, I was completely responsible for setting everything right. (No clue why). And, given how tired I usually am, many nights, that just wasn’t happening. With the result, of course, being a more cluttered and stressful start to our mornings.

The oh-so-subtle shift from: this is MY responsibility to this is OUR responsibility and let’s see how quickly and joyfully we can knock it out has done wonders for my energy levels, motivation, and attitude.

The kids don’t mind a bit. In fact, because of the music and camaraderie, they actually–gasp–enjoy it.

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Another important part of our evening routine: the older kids’ reading the children’s Bible to the oh-so-attentive littles after we clean. 

So, there you have it. The little cleaning trick that has revolutionized our nighttime routine.

Notice that it’s similar to the other mom’s idea but not identical. Different time. No conga line. BUT. The elements of togetherness, fun, and work are still present. And I think those are the keys.

Let me know if you give this a shot or if you already do something similar. I can’t believe it took me so long to implement this (thanks, Shaun), but I’m so glad we did.

P.S. I’m working on a no-sock-left-behind system that my Instagram peeps helped me devise, and I can’t wait to share it soon.

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R E S T (and a Happy New Year!)

I’ve had it in my head for a while to try to summarize this year for you guys. I know I haven’t blogged as much as usual, which has been both a relief and a sore spot because I love to write and enjoy communicating with you all but have also needed to hold it more loosely due to life’s demands.

I’ve never been more stretched–emotionally, spiritually, physically, mentally…you get the idea–than I have over the last 12 months. And by the end of November, I was feeling every bit of it. Really by October, nothing felt normal. Not that normal had even been on the radar for a long time. But I’m the type of person to just keep doing the next thing. Plenty falls by the wayside (I don’t “do it all”), but the essentials will get done, generally speaking, with a minimum of meltdowns. It’s a strength but also a weakness, since I can tend to push stress deep down inside instead of addressing it.

By November, after a year-plus of upheaval, I found myself fighting off mini-anxiety attacks (shortness of breath, tight chest, panicky heart palpitations, wanting to cry etc.) and very much feeling like a break was in order. (Unless I wanted a mental breakdown).

Praise the Lord that’s exactly what we finally got around the beginning of December. In fact, even with the demands of the Christmas season, December has been a welcome season of (at least some) rest.

I say all of this, not to garner pity (I mean, seriously, I got a new house and a trip to Hawaii out of the bargain), but to try to give you some perspective on what this year has been like for me…in case you’ve been wondering. In my usual loquacious manner, I had planned to write more about how it’s felt to do all of the things we’ve done this year, but after several weeks of a slower pace, the details no longer seem as important.

PLUS, I’d already written a great deal about it in the letter that I included with our first ever Christmas card (because while you’re winding up the busiest year of your life, you might as well add something else new).

So, I decided to share that with you instead.

Warning: it’s looooong, and much of it you already know, but if you’re so inclined, it’s yours to read.

When I look back at 2017, I am pretty in awe of what the Lord has wrought for our family. I’m also a little in awe of how much we packed into in one single revolution of this beautiful earth around the sun. 

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We began the year in eager anticipation of the birth of our seventh (!!!) baby, Honor Daniel. I say eager, but I might also add jaded, because, while “his royal cuteness”–as the rest of the kids have been known to call him–was due on January 2nd, my body has demonstrated time and again that it considers due dates more like mild suggestions than actual eviction notices and will blatantly ignore them for a good two weeks.

Which is pretty much exactly how long it ignored this particular due date as Honor finally made his grand entrance via water birth at home (with my amazing midwife attending) on January 16.

Praise God he was perfect and healthy and delightful and just remains the yummiest, chillest, most huggable bundle of baby squish (even though we’re approaching his 1st birthday already…HOW?!) that ever was.

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Of course, as if having a new baby (and a 7th one at that) wasn’t enough, we were also knee (chest? neck?) deep in the process of preparing our beloved first home (that we built from scratch over 9 years before) for sale WHILE finishing up the equally DIY construction of our new home in which we currently live.

In the midst of all of this, I kept teaching fitness classes like I have for the last decade, and we plugged away at homeschooling like we always do. For the past three years, my mom, Beth, has been an invaluable source of help and support as we have hired her to teach the kids two days a week. It is such a unique blessing for my children to be able to learn from their “Softa,” not to mention a great opportunity for me to get housework and projects done, do a little work on the art print business, Paint and Prose, that I share with my best friend, and even take shower once a week or so. (Kidding…or am I?).

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We also joined a once-a-week homeschool co-op, which offers a wide variety of curricular opportunities for all ages–includng science, art, music, physics, Spanish (which I teach there at a secondary level), advanced math, and more.

Ezra (11.5) is my youngest Spanish student and holds one of the highest grades in the class with VERY little help from Mom (I couldn’t be prouder of his diligence), and all of my kids enjoy the friends they’ve made and the things they learn at co-op.

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But back to that mad dash to sell our first home and finish our second so we could move into it.

In March, we worked steadily on our last few things on the house-sale prep list. I even stayed home from a trip to Hawaii with Shaun when he was called there for work so that the kids and I could get the house ready. I’m not even a little bit mad about it because we got SO much done. But I’m also not mad I got a second chance at the trip later in the year. More on that in a minute, though.

When our house was finally ready to sell (and my husband was back in the lower 48), we announced it for sale via my blog and social media channels, praying that we could generate enough interest that we would not have to engage a realtor.

The Lord said YES in a very big way when he brought us an interested party from that announcement. And that interested party proceeded to be the first and ONLY family who looked at the house before giving us a fantastic offer.

Not only that, but they ended up buying the house furnished, which saved so much time and trouble in packing up large items like beds and sofas and rugs (oh my!). Who does that?? We still shake our heads in disbelief at the favor God showered down on us in that easy, straightforward house sale (I had been dreading the thought of keeping the house “show-ready” for months with 7 kids living there).

Of course, the rapid sale of our house presented a new conundrum. Where would we live now?

We had listed our house for sale in the spring, since we knew it was the optimum buying time, but our new house was still lacking floors, some electrical and plumbing, paint, trim, countertops, and on and on.

After toying with the idea of moving temporarily into one of our rental properties (which Shaun manages in his “spare” time), we decided to GO FOR IT instead, feverishly working on each of the items from the list above as much as our daily obligations and Shaun’s day job allowed for the next 45 days as the sale finalized, and closing day rushed at us like a freight train.

When all was done and dusted (but stll very dirty: see below), we officially moved in on June 2nd, which just so happened to be our 12th wedding anniversary. We took our last load to the dump our anniversary morning (and then kicked ourselves for not commemorating such a momentously fragrant and romantic anniversary date with a selfie), and then Shaun hooked up one working shower head so that we could both rinse off enough grime to make us presentable to eat at a restaurant that night (because who wants to cook on your anniversary even if your stove is hooked up? Not that ours was).

To adequately describe the chaos that was our new home–with its concrete floors covered in powdery lakes of East Texas red dirt, vast expanses of more red dirt right outside every door, and the constant revolving door of painters and trim and floor guys that we hired with the profits of our first house sale to hurry the finishing process along–would require more grimacing and hand flapping on my part than a letter can properly convey.

We started out with kids sleeping in the living room and the school room on mattresses on the floor and Shaun and Honor and I bundled into Shaun’s office. Each time we made more progress on finishing up a house project (like tiling a bathroom or installing a countertop) and moved the kids closer to their own rooms was a little victory over the disorder and another step toward restoring my rather questionable sanity at that point.

After several weeks of house settling and Shaun’s work travel, we did get a much-appreciated break in the form of a family trip to Gulf Shoes, Alabama with my parents, brother, sister-in-law, and their two cutie-pie daughters. Burning sand and sun + 9 children under 12 is not the most fool-proof formula for relaxation, but we still managed to enjoy ourselves immensely for a few days before heading back to the Dust Bowl, er, home.

The rest of the summer passed in a blur of house projects, part time homeschooling, and snatches of rest here and there. Then, we began the school year again in earnest with the re-commencement of the co-op I mentioned earlier. Routine felt good, but Shaun’s work trips were ramping up again, so Daddy’s absence throughout the weekdays was an unfortunate part of that routine.

In September, we celebrated a fun milestone as our precious twins, Evy and Nola, turned 5! Twins are hard, especially when they are very young, but I can’t say enough good things about how fun and joyous my twinsies are now. It is so entertaining to see both their individual personalities emerging even while their twin bond grows stronger.

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Speaking of joy, both they and Della (7) get buckets of it from imagining their futures as a trio of prima ballerinas–a profession that we took the first step toward making a possibility by enrolling them in beginning dance classes this fall. Although, if we’re being honest, the ballerina thing is more of Della’s dream with the twins just along for the ride. Della dances everywhere she goes, and while that makes getting through math and handwriting a bit of a challenge, it’s mostly just delightful to see her gentle, graceful, cheerful personality flow through her hands and feet.

In October, Shaun, Honor, and I all left on a jet plane to Hawaii (Shaun was called back for work, and this time I got to go) the week of my 35th birthday. My rock star mama did her rock star Softa thing with the other 6 kids while we were gone enjoying several glorious days of sun, ocean breezes, surfing, eating yummy food, and getting the most excruciating (okay, and only) Thai massages of our lives.

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We were only home for a week (and by we, I mean, the kids and I, since Shaun had yet another work trip the second we got home) before we turned around and headed for New England for a Fall Break/homeschooling vacation with Ezra, Simon (10), Della, and Honor (who goes where I go…the 3 middle youngest stayed with my mom again). We had the loveliest time enjoying the brilliantly colored fall leaves, touring Boston, flying kites on Martha’s Vineyard, visiting an apple orchard, and experiencing a locally famous Renaissance Faire.

At the end of October, we took our first Saturday off as a family in over 2 years and established what we hope will be a much-loved family tradition: a boys vs. girls Fall Family Bake-off.

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In case you’re wondering, while both entries were DE-licious, the girls won by a teaspoon (or so said the impartial judges–aka: longtime friends we convinced to come over and eat dessert) with our caramel pumpkin cheesecake bars. Yes, we gloated just a little.

October slid into November with more work travel for Shaun and a looooooong, self-imposed to do list for all of us as we challenged ourselves to finish up as many detailed projects as possible before hosting a double-birthday party for Simon and Della, who turned 10 and 7 respectively the 27th and 21st of November.

There was much wallpapering and painting and cleaning (for me), outdoor work and light hanging (for Shaun and his dad, who has been a consistent and invaluable help both times that we have built) and very little sleep. But we managed to tackle most of our list in time to enjoy hosting 70 friends and family in our relatively (7 kids still live here) dirt free, more or less finished home that is an absolute gift from God.

(P.S. If you would like to see pictures, I have plenty up under the hashtag #mifmbuildsagain on my Instagram under the handle @m.is.for.mama).

As a side note: it has been fun to see all of our kids step up to the plate when it comes to helping out around the house (well, except Honor; he’s just around for moral support and sweet, sloppy kisses, which help more than he’ll ever know). Ezra and Simon, especially, have logged many weekend hours helping Shaun and their grandpa–hauling trash, nailing boards, sweeping, and many other odd jobs. I’m proud of how their work ethics have steadily improved over the last two years of house-building and am excited to see the young men that they’re becoming. Ezra wants to be a pastor one day (and would make an excellent one with his nurturing, truth-loving personality), and Simon can’t decide between hunter/farmer/fisherman/rancher, but it’s a pretty safe bet he’ll end up doing something outdoorsy. They are the best of friends, and I love how they watch each other’s backs (in between an occasional bickerfest or two, of course).

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Right before the party, we made an exciting update to our house in the form of a concrete driveway and turnaround. And let me tell you this: I never thought I’d pray, “Jesus, thank for you for concrete and no more red dirt,” but I absolutely have. Several times a day, in fact.
The first part of December has been spent recovering from an entire year of go-go-GOing. We have decorated for Christimas, enjoyed a piano recital featuring (among others) our 5 oldest kids, and baked treats to take to new neighbors. It has been a soul-filling period of rest and family time and NO work travel!

Even once Christmas is done, we will have plenty to celebrate, as our adorable and um, high-spirited, resident almost-threenager, Theo, turns 3 on December 30th. He is a source of extreme joy one moment and considerable frustration the next (which is true of pretty much every almost-3-year-old I’ve met, so we’re good with it), and we all love him tons and like him a lot (most of the time).

As 2017 winds down, and we look toward 2018, we are excited for the new chapter the Lord has in store for us. We hope it will be one of family ministry and growth, of new things and old traditions. But more than anything, we pray that we will do His will and that we will be good and faithful servants.

Please know that we are praying for y’all as you receive our letter and are pretty impressed with you for wading through the minutiae of our life over the past year (we totally understand if you took a cat nap somewhere in there).

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May the God of all peace bring you just that as you and yours begin 2018.

With love,

Shaun, Abbie, Ezra, Simon, Della, Evy, Nola, Theo, and Honor

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The Twins are FIVE!

(…and have been for a little while [see title]. Their birthday was September 24th. I’m a slacker).

If I can just indulge in one of the ultimate motherhood cliches, may I just take a moment to say that it is both IMPOSSIBLE to me to imagine life without “the twins” (yup, each one of us in this house is guilty of taking that little verbal shortcut on a daily basis, and Evy and Nola answer to it readily) and equally as impossible to think that they been with us for FIVE whole years?

I’m the mother of 5-year-old twins. 

Those are not words I ever thought I would write. And yet, there they are in black and white, as stark and real as you please.

And joyful.

Because, as I’ve said many times here before, as much as I did NOT care for the idea of multiples, the Lord knew that I needed them. And, of course, I wouldn’t trade them for a centillion (my kids’ favorite number) dollars plus a planet or two.

I wouldn’t have traded them for anything back when they were losing their ever-loving minds every time I buckled them in their car seats (or woke them up from naps or looked at them cross-eyed) either, but I feel like I have to take a moment to stop and declare what the Lord has done in Evy’s and Nola’s lives over the past year.

Remember my post about my stronghold of mothering pride and how the twins had managed to defy practically everything I thought I knew about training and child-rearing? At the point when I wrote that, I was already seeing glimmers of progress in between the shrieking and the fits of prostrate, abject misery, but it was only flashes. Certainly nothing I was willing to trust. And, boy, was it inconsistent. One day, they seemed capable of responding somewhat rationally, and the next, it was back to floods of tears over a button being too tight or one twin’s getting the last pink cereal bowl and thus forcing her sister into the horrors eating out of a red (or worse, YELLOW) bowl.

I wish I were exaggerating, but I can’t emphasize enough how genuinely distraught those cute little blue-eyed girls could get over the tiniest hiccup (sometimes, literally…oy vey).

And yet, here they are, at 5-years-old, and we’re all still alive and well. Not only that, but Evy and Nola have become two of the most delightful little creatures I know.

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(Such sweet little grannies…this is actually a screenshot of a GIF from my IG if you want a little more cuteness in your life)

As much as I hoped and prayed for it, I don’t know that I ever genuinely believed, in the middle of the “lost months” (dramatic much?) that I would ever think, much less write, those words.

But it’s true. Our little twinsies are kind and considerate. They’re full of spunk and energy without that energy needing to devolve in bouts of manic distress. They are helpful and bright-eyed and clever and endearing.

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They are now capable of riding in the car without subjecting the rest of us to episodes of hearing loss.

They are–dare I say it?–FUN.

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And while a large part of me isn’t surprised (I’d already been through toddlerdom and the recovery process thereof three times, after all), the twins’, ahem, “challenging phase” (which lasted almost 2 years) felt a bit like that moment when you’re 42 weeks pregnant, and you’re convinced that the baby has made your uterus his/her permanent home and will never, ever leave. It just seems surreal that anything other than your current reality could ever be true.  (Can you tell I’m speaking from personal experience on both counts?).

And yet, life with the twins is very different than it was a mere 6 months ago. And then 6 months before that. It’s been such a gradual process of perseverance and prayer and training and repentance (me, usually)…rinse wash, repeat…that I can’t even point to a moment when the changes really began to be obvious.

Instead, it’s the little things–Nola’s wearing jeans instead of leggings without dissolving into tears (because buttons and zippers and restrictive fabric…come to think of it, jeans kind of make me want to cry too), Evy’s being able to push through having her hair rinsed at bath time without panicking, both of them playing happily together for an hour without one single hair-pulling, shriek-filled fracas.

Because, as it turned out, all of that praying and teaching and training (both of them and me) was having an effect, just like James 1:4 says:

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Not that we’re anywhere near perfect. But we are (all of us) better at dealing with adversity than we were before.

Praise God for that!

I want to encourage any of you fellow mamas who are deep in the trenches of tyrannical toddlerhood, I’ve been there. Shoot, I’m still there (Theo has taken to hurling himself off The Cliffs of Insanity at least 4 times a day recently). Wishing the hard away is never where the breakthroughs happen. Instead, the maturity comes from “counting it all joy” (yes, even when they pee on the floor mere inches away from the toilet or go into volcanic meltdown mode because of the line of their socks not being straight across their toes) that we are privileged to be counted worthy of these “trials of various kinds.”

I am privileged to have twins. Not everybody gets that chance, you know. ;)

The mother with a disabled child is privileged to have him.

The mother of one who longs for more is privileged to have her one.

The mother of many who wonders what she was thinking is privileged to have her multitude of opportunities for sanctification.

My challenge my not be your challenge may not be her challenge over there, but we are all privileged to have them, whatever they are. We are being shaped and molded and renewed and loved by a Father who will absolutely, yes, give us more than we can handle so that we get over our silly, prideful, I-can-handle-this-thanks selves and fall at his feet in recognition of our lack. It was always there. He’s just been gracious enough to give us something that makes it painfully obvious.

Praise God that, even when the “payoff” doesn’t come for 2 years, or 5, or ever in this lifetime, hard is not the same thing as bad. And we are more than overcomers in Christ.

Oh, and praise God for the unexpected blessing of twins. We sure do love you girls!

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Fun Mom

I have been known to say things like: “I’m not a very fun mom.”

But that’s not strictly true. I love having fun with my children. We do fun things. But I tend to think of fun moms as the kind who fix their kids pancakes with chocolate chip smiles every morning, mix up homemade play-doh on the regular, and spend hours playing Legos on the rug.

When I actually think about the logistics of that kind of behavior, though, it strikes me that, while some moms have more of a gift for play than others, it’s just not super feasible to be a fun mom ALL the time, even if it comes naturally to you.

Sure, there are times I would RATHER play Uno with my kids than do laundry (um, always), but I (and the rest of the world) would also RATHER we wear clothes, so…

Plus, the Bible has a lot more to say about training and discipline than it does about “fun,” so there’s that.

Do I have a point?

Yup! I sure do.

My goal, as a mama, is to provide my kids with a childhood full of God’s truth, first and foremost, but, right behind it, an unswerving belief that they are loved (which, come to think of it, is kind of the ultimate God’s truth).

A lot of times, that means instruction and discipline (because I can’t think of anything more unloving than letting my child flail around, lost as a goose, or neglecting to turn him away from a destructive path).

And sometimes, that means taking an unexpected day off from school and packing a picnic to the park instead (one of the beauties of homeschooling).

There are many fun mom categories in which I fall short, including: crafting (it happens, but it’s rare), library trips (ditto), trips to the pool in the summer (thank the Lord that my mom has a pool, and my three oldest spend the night with her once a week), and any kind of play involving little characters that I dance around and provide high-pitched voices for.

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One way to earn automatic fun mom status? Let them do school on your bed (my mom loves having her picture taken. Hi, Mom!) 

Conversely, my “fun mom” strengths are:

1. Baking. I actually love whipping up something yummy with my kids in the kitchen. I don’t get uptight about their making messes (for most part), and I love to see their little faces light up when they take the first bite of whatever yummy treat “they made.”

2. Dance parties. I have been known to boogie down with my kids at least once a day. Okay, so there are stretches when that doesn’t happen for a week. But we almost always have some sort of music on during chores, and we take timeouts for a shimmy or two in between vacuuming and scrubbing toilets.

3. Reading. I’m pretty good about reading to my kids, which, to my delight, they consider fun. If I’m honest, I’m better about reading chapter books to the older kids, but I have read my fair share of Frog and Toad and Winnie the Pooh as well.

More specifically, these are two habits that elevate me to “Super Fun Mom” status in my kids’ eyes:

1. We have a constant rotation of who gets to “drive” down the driveway to our house, sitting on my lap (from Theo to Ezra, who is pushing 100 pounds). We’ve done it since the old house, and, while we don’t do it every single day, most days, whoever’s next in line clambers up to the front and gleefully “steers” us home. Good thing we have long driveways, eh?

2. Icees on Mondays. We established a tradition last year that, after we got out of home school co-op and before we hit the gym, we’d stop for Icees. What this means practically is that I buy a 32 oz. Icee and split it between all 6 older kids (Honor gets shafted), so they really only get it a taste, but they LOVE it and look forward to it every week.

And you know what? I’m guessing that these will be the little things that my kids remember about me. Not lavish birthday parties or flashy vacations but the simple, everyday pleasures we enjoyed most because we we did them together. Like when I let them listen to “In the Hall of the Mountain King” 7 times in a row (they would listen 100 times if allowed) while I prep dinner, and they race around the island shrieking with laughter, and then we all fall down in a heap of giggles at the end.

laughing

See what a fun mom I am? I keep a smile on my face even when my children are falling to pieces! Ha. Ahem. By the way, you really owe to yourself to see the rest of these photos (and read the story behind them) on my IG if you haven’t already. 

I know these will be the things that I carry in my heart for always.

So, whether you’re a natural “fun mom,” have to fight tooth and nail for it, or fall somewhere in the middle (but with a definite bent toward the training side) like me, I just want to encourage you to create little traditions for your children to remember you by.

And never measure yourself by the standards of whatever other moms are doing–even if it’s creating magical, glitter-dusted fairy wings out of nothing but Elmer’s and a scrap of tulle just because.

With that in mind, though, I’m always looking for ways to improve that fit within my wheelhouse of strengths (because the traditions that form organically stem from a shared love–both yours and your kids’–of the activity, and that’s going to vary wildly from family to family).

So, hit me with your best fun mom ideas! Who knows? I may just find a new tradition to steal!

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6 Months of Honor

My goodness, have I got a lot to share with you guys! We just got back from a fun family trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama, which I will post about later this week (Lord willing), but today, I wanted to take a second to talk about this little nugget of sunshine, who is…

 6 months old. six months1
(As of yesterday).

Because a baby who is easy to take to the beach is an easy baby, indeed.

Honor Daniel is pretty much the definition of a dream baby. Which…is crazy because I didn’t think any baby could be more chill than Theo (not sure Honor is, but he’s giving him a run for his money). Of course, while Honor coos and dimples and does his best to win over the planet (pretty successful effort…everywhere I take him, people fall in love with him), Theo alternates between being thee funniest little kid and…a 2-year-old (need I say more?).

six months3

It’s okay–better than okay!–if you have abs like biscuit dough when you’re this age. Oh, his rolls are scrumptious!

Theo can still be delightful (often is), but in terms of  charm points, Honor’s definitely ahead at the moment (but then, he kind of has the unfair “baby” card to play). Especially now that he’s back to sleeping through the night (it helped immensely when we moved upstairs, and his pack n’ play was no longer 18″ from me). six months

No one around here ever complains about holding Honor. Wonder why.

Even with teething (his bottom two juuuuuust popped through), he spends about 98% of his waking hours alternating between smiling, grabbing his toes, happily drooling on everything in sight, giving big, sloppy, open-mouthed kisses, and checking off every other “cute” box in the book. He wakes up in a good mood and goes to bed easily. It’s honestly kind of ridiculous. And I can’t imagine an easier baby to travel with (it’s a 9 hour drive to Gulf Shores).

HOWEVER.

As far as milestones, he’s a total slug. He rolled over at 3 months (pretty par) but hasn’t done practically anything since. He doesn’t crawl (or make any attempts to), doesn’t sit up on his own (although he’s quite strong and perfectly capable if he actually tried), and couldn’t care less about rolling all over the carpet (not that I blame him, since our current rug is a dhurrie one, which is about as soft as a ticked off porcupine).

six months2

Crawl?? Ha! That’s for peasants. Why crawl when my adoring subjects will carry me? 

Theo was the exact opposite in this regard. He did everything early. Earlier, in fact, than any of my other kids. Honor, on the other hand, is laidback and easygoing in the extreme and seems in no hurry whatsoever to be his own man, er, baby.

But he sure is the sweetest, cuddliest little slug you ever did see. And I know full well by this point that a mobile baby is a much harder baby to keep up with, so I’m actually grateful for my little 6-month-old sloth–especially since we don’t have flooring down in most of the house yet, and dirty, paint-splotched concrete is less than ideal for soft little baby hands and knees.

six months4

His reaction to Nola’s revealing that, one day, he will be required to transport his adorable chub all on his lonesome from point A to point B–AKA: walk. 

I know that every mother feels a little shock upon realizing that her new babe is “suddenly” no longer an infant, but this past 6 months really have been the most incredible whirlwind with Honor’s birth, prepping the old house to sell, selling it, busting our buns to get the new house ready to move into, moving, and then settling in (at least a little). I can definitely remember life before Honor (so I won’t say it feels like he’s always been here), but it seems a bit like an alternate reality–and one with considerably less sunshine and smiles (cheesy, but this kid really is a sweetheart).

So, happy 6 months, baby boy! It’s been an absolute Honor (whyyyyyy? I just couldn’t help myself. Sorry guys).

 

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Our Favorite Family Movies

So, after Monday’s post, several people asked me about the movies that we watch, and, while I think I’ve talked about this in past, it’s been long enough that I can’t even think which search terms to use to look for the post, so I thought I’d write another one–hopefully, both as a resource for those interested in quality family movies and as a reminder for myself of goodies to revisit when we can’t think of anything to watch for family movie night (Sunday night at our house).

And so, without further ado, I give you:

Our Favorite Family Movies

The Emperor’s New Groove (I like this one more than my kids do, more’s the pity; it’s just so clever)

Chicken Run (same here…the dialogue makes me giggle, but most of it–in all of its Britishness–sails right over my kids’ heads)

Candleshoe

Herbie Rides Again (and its sequels, which get progressively sillier and more obnoxious but which the kids still love)

Mary Poppins

Homeward Bound

Beauty and the Beast (the cartoon)

Swiss Family Robinson (my boys looooooove this one)

Star Wars (basically all iterations of this series–both the prequels, the classics, and the sequels–are pretty clean, and my kids thrill to the action sequences)

The Princess Bride

The Swan Princess

The Sword in the Stone

Robin Hood (both the cartoon and the live action classic)

The Sound of Music

My Fair Lady

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Shaun thinks this one is ridiculous, but my kids get a kick out of it)

The Lord of the Rings + The Hobbit series (these are pretty intense for little kids, but I have found that mine do pretty well with them from an early age, and I’m good with them because of their rock solid good vs. evil messages)

Inside Out (we’ve actually only seen this one once, but it was really clever, and I think we need to revisit it soon)

The Narnia Movies

Epic

The Wizard of Oz

Singin’ in the Rain

Bolt (Mittens is my spirit animal)

Babe

The Incredibles

How to Train Your Dragon (1 and 2)

The Jungle Book (the new one, the cartoon, and the 1994 version)

Charlotte’s Web

A Bug’s Life

The Parent Trap (the classic version)

The March of the Penguins

Wallace and Grommit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Shaun the Sheep

Paddington (another one that makes me laugh even harder than it does my kids)

Movies we haven’t watched as a family yet, but I want to:

The Rookie

Spellbound

Mad Hot Ballroom

Hoosiers

My Dog Skip

Secondhand Lions (Although, if I remember correctly, this one’s better suited for a “clean films” version…more on that below).

I know I’ve talked about “clean films” on social media before, but I can’t remember if I have here on the blog. So, basically, years ago, my mom discovered this site called cleanfilms.com (now defunct), and since then, there have been various versions of it under different names.

So, what are they?

They are sites that sells edited DVDs. They remove all: profanity, nudity, sex, graphic violence, etc. and they do a great job. Most movies are edited pretty seamlessly.

The current one I know about is called Good Media DVDs.

We have quite a few edited movies, ranging from ones that really need it (like Jerry Maguire) to middling ones (like Notting Hill, which is one of my favorite movies…edited), to fairly innocuous stuff (like You’ve Got Mail and While You Were Sleeping…which still have pockets of profanity I could do without).

We even have some movies from them that require no edits whatsoever, just because they were cheap (around $5).

So, now it’s your turn to hit me with your favorite clean, quality family movies! Pretty please? We are always on the hunt for new gems!

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What Child Training Looks Like at Our House {Part 1}

I have referenced the concept of “child-training” multiple times here on the blog (obviously, I didn’t come up with that, since it’s Biblical). I’ve even answered a lot of specific questions (here are part 1 and part 2) with things that we do in our house to point the kids toward the Lord and help them be consistent every chance we get.

BUT! I’ve never actually sat down and written a post that puts our child-training philosophy and practices in a nutshell (ha…as if…more like a Christmas-sized bag of walnuts…the “nutshell” approach is not my forte).

One reason? For every one of you that has specifically asked me to do this (and there have been a number over the years), there are at least as many who are thinking, “Nah, I’m good. I’ve got our routine down. Not interested.” And that’s FINE. My blog may be called M is for Mama, and I may talk a lot about motherhood, but I am in no way deluded into thinking that I’ve got this all figured out or am doing it perfectly. AT. ALL.

Another reason? The internet can be a bit of a scary place filled with people who come into a blog post (sometimes without ever reading a single other post you write) with all kinds of assumptions and baggage. There’s no guarantee they’re going to read my words as I intend them or to even read them correctly. Example: a while back, I stumbled upon a message board about my blog in which a woman criticized me for my extravagance in choosing a Viking stove because she had seen a picture of one in a design board I’d thrown together and had not read the sentence immediately following the picture, which said it was just there as an example and that I would never actually pay $13,000–or anything like it–for a stove.

It took me a long time to even consider the possibility that I might have anything helpful to share and to feel confident enough in my mothering to recognize that my fear of being seen as “bossy” or a “know-it-all” was just a (potentially) selfish excuse to keep from getting yelled at (virtually or not). Because people get touchy about this momming stuff, yo.

But then I shared this on Instagram last night and had several young mamas ask me again about my “methods,” so I figured I would woman up and just write the post already. I hope it is helpful to at least one of you. ;)

lunch in bed

This morning, I woke up almost sick with exhaustion after a week of house projects and Honor’s waking up multiple times every night. 

I lay down on the couch after I’d fed Honor and put him down for his morning nap, and before I even realized it, I’d dozed off. 

I woke up periodically to the sounds of the kids playing upstairs and Theo’s squawking, but all was mostly calm. 

After about an hour, I got up to check on them and discovered them deep in hush-hush discussion. They begged me to go get in my bed and wait for them. 

So, I got Theo down for a nap, then lay down again and caught up on Instagram.

15 minutes later, the twins came and “took my order” for drinks and lunch, and 15 minutes after that, all of the (awake) kids (not pictured, but awake: Honor) brought me lunch in bed. 
They informed me that, while I napped on the couch, they had convened a “kids’ council” in which they had discussed ways to be a blessing to me–landing on making my bed, preparing me lunch, and giving me a “mama spa” (hand and foot massage). That’s not even the best part, though. 

During their kids’ council, Ezra had read them all a devotional and taught them a new memory verse. Which all of them, including the twins and Theo, practiced together. 

You guys. This is the kind of day that brings me to my knees in tears in worship of the good God who has allowed me to be mama to these precious creatures. 

Only He is great, and His love endures forever! 

……………………………………………………………………….

To say that I was touched by and proud of my kids’ sweet actions doesn’t even begin to describe it.

And I can honestly say that, while this kind of behavior doesn’t surprise me that much now (although, it’s certainly not an everyday occurrence, and it thrills me to no end), 5 years ago, I couldn’t have even fathomed such a thing (because my oldest would have been 6, and, while they can do fun things like bring you wildflower bouquets, lunch + massages + devotionals aren’t really in their wheelhouse yet).

So, the questions that I get the most are: 1) What do you do to instill a servant heart in your kids and 2) How do you get them to be self-motivated to do right?

I’m definitely still learning, but the things that seem to “work” best are:

1. Prayer.

Every day, I thank the Lord for my children in their presence. They hear me tell God how grateful I am for them. And they usually hear me tell him that I need his help being patient and kind and using gentle words (pretty convicting when I stop, mid-prayer, to snap at the toddler for pile-driving me from the arm of the couch).

Throughout the day, I thank the Lord for good moments, repent of bad ones, and ask for his wisdom and help.

At night, I thank him again for my children when I pray in bed with my husband.

Am I perfect at this? Hardly. I miss many, many opportunities to pray over my children. It is actually a very specific mothering goal of mine to get better at this.

But I can tell a big difference when I’ve been slacking off in this area–if nothing else, in my attitude towards all of the little blessings who can start feeling much more like burdens when I don’t have prayer to clear my vision.

2. Family Bible Reading.

There’s a reason Ezra thought to do a devotional during their “kids’ council.” We do family Bible reading (using www.oneyearbibleonline.com) pretty much every day. And we’ve been working on memory verses more faithfully for several months now.

All of my kids are required to participate. Everyone but Theo has to sit still with no toys and listen. And if he can’t play quietly or mostly stay in one area, then he has to sit on my lap (which is sometimes more punishment for me than anything). I act like this is no big thing. But it, like pretty much every other aspect of child-training, is sometimes grueling, frustrating, and infuriating. Not giving up is the key.

It did my mama’s heart SO much good to know that this habit is one that my kids have latched onto and that they chose to do it for themselves even when I wasn’t leading it.

Their knowledge of the Bible (beyond the obvious stories like David and Goliath and Jonah and the Big Fish) has grown so much over the years, and their insight astounds me sometimes. Even when I don’t think they’re listening, they come up with some pretty deep stuff and show a really good grasp of the Gospel–both in the Old Testament and New.

3. Practice makes consistent.

You know that phrase, “Practice makes perfect?” It’s not true. Perfection isn’t attainable this side of heaven. Not only that, but it matters very much what you are practicing because what you practice, you will consistently repeat. Not perfectly. But on a daily basis.

So, really, practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes consistent.

If you practice complaining and disobedience, you will consistently whine and disobey. But if you practice gratitude and diligence, they will become (something much closer to) second nature.

To me, this is THEE most crucial, practical aspect aspect of child-training. You cannot.give.up. Period. It may take a week, a month, or three years (or more) for kids to get something “right,” but until they do (and even after), it is your job to remind, encourage, admonish, discipline. REPEAT. Even when you’re just too tired to do it again. Even when they don’t seem to get it yet. Even when they fall on the floor and melt down in a puddle of frustration that they still can’t get away with ____________.

4. Routine is key.

This one is another mothering goal of mine. Because, while I’m really good at some parts of this, I’m more lax in others, and guess which aspects of our household suffer more than others? (Yup, the ones for which I don’t have a routine).

Example: all of the kids who are capable have a simple “morning routine.” For the boys, it’s an alternating cycle of sweeping/wiping down the breakfast table and morning dishes. For the girls, it’s picking up the living room. I still have to remind the little girls, but the boys treat their morning routines like breathing at this point (ha! this morning, I came downstairs after feeding the baby to find them chilling on the couch, without have made any effort to do their routines, so I guess it’s not foolproof). It just happens. It’s taken years (literally) to get it to this point of effortlessness. But it’s worth it (and how!).

When your kids know what you expect of them and when, they will do it. Usually with a decent attitude (because, duh, this is my contribution right now, and is nothing to whine about).

5. Teach actions “as unto the Lord.”

This one probably should have come before routines. We talk constantly about “being a blessing” to each other and others. Why? Because we are doing it “with our whole hearts…for the Lord, not for men.” If my kids do a sloppy job, I *try* not to simply harangue them for being lazy (although, I do use that word) but to point out that every single thing we do throughout our daily lives can be a testament to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. I think our next Bible verses to memorize will be these:

9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you,q we have not stopped praying for you.r We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his wills through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,e t 10 so that you may live a life worthyu of the Lord and please himv in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,w 11 being strengthened with all powerx according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,y 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father,z who has qualified youf to share in the inheritancea of his holy people in the kingdom of light.b 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darknessc and brought us into the kingdomd of the Son he loves,e 14 in whom we have redemption,f the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:9-14

People notice my children everywhere we go, just for the sheer number of them. Often, they also notice them for their obvious joy in being around each other. The olders take care of the youngers (true of Ezra and Simon with the twins…true of the twins with Theo and Honor…and so on). They notice when they help me load the checkout belt and bag the groceries. I will almost always get a comment or two on how well-behaved my children are when we are in public. Which is great and all but a completely lost opportunity if we are only “being good” for head pats or man’s praise. So, every chance I get, I take the opportunity to 1) tell people what a blessing my kids are to me and 2) tell them how good the Lord is to us.

I know it sounds like I am bragging, and I always shy away from talking about the fact that my kids are “well-behaved” or “good.” I know that I’m supposed to tell you that they are wild and out of control and “stinkers” and all that. But it’s not true. Nor do I want it to be. They are not perfect, nor am I. Not by a long shot. But the fact of the matter is that our goal is to act the same way in public as we do at home (and yes, I meant to put it in that order). There is no perfection, only progress, and the more we’re aware of why we’re doing it and for WHOM, the more progress we make.

Part 2 coming soon. 

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2 Months of Honor

It feels like mere days since I did Honor’s 1 month update. Like…last week, right?

But no. A whole month has passed, and this little boy of ours is getting less little by the minute it seems. Especially considering that I put him a 6 month sleeper the other day, and…it FIT. 6 months. He’s 8 weeks, yo. That’s just wrong.

Everything else is juuuuust right, though. Seriously, he deserves some sort of award for being the chillest baby in the land. Joely, a super sweet freshman girl who used to work in the childcare at our gym, texts me every time she’s home from college and begs to see my kids (see: suuuuper sweet), so Shaun and I snuck in a Tuesday night date while the kids yucked it up with Joely at home. Of course, we had our main little man with us, and he was the model citizen. You might even say it was an Honor to have him with us (grooooooooan. I know. so wrong).

8 weeks1

Such a chill dude.

He was awake (and happy!) for pretty much all four hours of the date, just staring around, cooing, smiling, making bubble goatees, and generally being an all-around sweetheart.

15 years ago, when I knew nothing about babies, I think I foolishly thought that those with lots of kids must surely get jaded by the whole process. Ho. Hum. Another baby. Big whoop.

But it IS a big whoop, as I’ve discovered more and more with each new little amazing human that has joined our clan. I might be getting MORE (not less) obsessed (which is saying something–because I was pretty dang smitten with Della, and she was number 3!).

I think I mentioned that Honor was sleeping great from the beginning but had yet to make the jump from 6 hours to anything longer consistently. Honestly, that was my fault. I hadn’t really hadto employ any of my more “hardcore” sleep-training techniques (letting him fuss before bed or cry a little at night) because he’d pretty much always slept for big chunks, since day 3.

But, one night, a few weeks ago, I put my mean mama mask on and put him in the bathroom when he started to stir after 6 hours and let him spit and mew for a bit (which he only did half-heartedly anyway). And the very next night, he bumped his sleeping stretch up to 8 hours and has been holding steady between 7-9 hours ever since.

Edit: I first wrote this a few days ago, but didn’t manage to get the pictures loaded (because that is the story of my life right now), and he slept a whopping 10 hours both of the last two nights!!

8 weeks

I slept 10 hours last night, and I feel grrrrrrEAT! (Also: baby feet). 

Which…is awfully considerate of him, since Theo has decided it’s time to try a little 2-year-old sleep regression on for size. Hint: it doesn’t look good on you, buddy. Mama thinks you’re the cutest toddler in the land, but she still has no interest in waking up at 3 AM to your chubby-cheeked self mouth-breathing an inch away from my nose.

As far as regular life, we’ve been pushing hard to get the house ready. It’s kind of a disheartening process. Just when I think we’ve got it in shape, the kids wake up. HA!

For real, though. It’s really, really hard to keep everything decluttered and straight and picked up when 9 people are con.stant.ly using it!

Still, the cabinets have been cleared out, their contents pared down, reorganized, wiped down, etc. The flowerbeds are completely done (and we haven’t killed anything yet!). Shaun has pressured-washed the exterior of the house. More loads of stuff than I even knew we owned have been carted off to Goodwill. (I’m starting to get downright ruthless…if it hasn’t been used in the last 15 minutes, it’s GONE).

And everyone has pitched in in his/her own way. I paid the oldest 3 a dollar each (which Della promptly gave to her grandma for her birthday…love that sweet girl!) to clean and organize my fridge, and it was 3 of the best dollars I’ve ever spent! They also completely overhauled and cleaned the pantry while I worked on closets, and it looks better than it has in years!

8 weeks4

Looking over into the kitchen and seeing moments like these–the older kids are painting the littles’ fingernails–give me such a boost of energy and motivation to keep plugging. 

As far as I’m concerned, I have ONE more space (a doozy) that serves as the game/outgrown clothes/pillow/suitcase/randomness closet, and it’s eating my lunch (mostly because I’m insisting on going through every last piece of 5 year old clothing instead of just shoving it all in bins), and the process of weeding out the stuff with the tiny stains I missed the first time and the stuff that’s just not cute enough to keep and the stuff that might come in handy (but who knows?!) is grueling for me. Well. As grueling as sifting through a surplus of possessions can be (we’re not talking about working in the rice paddies here, people).

Through it all, Honor continues to be a constant source of sunshine and snuggle breaks. MAN! I love this baby. I really couldn’t sugar-coat his existence if I tried because he’s just that sweet already.

8 weeks3

Best smile. Best baby. 

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Mama Life Hacks {#11}: Grape Juice + Activated Charcoal to Combat Stomach Bugs

A friend texted me a thank you the other day for posting this blog (which is several years old by this point) and observed that, if life ever gets too busy to post, I should just repost this one, since it was such a lifesaver and as many people as possible should see it (having been the recipient of this life-changing tip from several readers, I know how grateful I was too). 

The stomach bug has ravaging the entire East Texas area, and–while my children have emerged largely unscathed (so far) (the twins + Theo are the only ones who’ve had a short-lived bout with it after a stint in the Chick-fil-a play area #ofcourse)–you better believe that my pantry is stocked with both of these items at all times (and that they were a large part of the reason our only stomach bug this season passed so quickly). 

So! Here you go. A repost of what is currently my most popular blog post according to my analytics page (must not just be East Texas getting hit). 

If the title of this post doesn’t just steal every little bit of thunder I might have been able to conjure up for it, I don’t know what does. grape juice Still, I feel like a little more explanation is needed, so here goes:

About a year and 1/2 ago, Shaun was doing one of his marathon rounds of work trips that seem to come in waves during the spring and then again right around Christmas (when, unfortunately, everyone suddenly gets frantic to spend the rest of their budgets by the year’s end).

I had 5 kids, including 20-month-old twins, and I was pregnant with Theo. First trimester pregnant to be exact, so I was feeling suuuuuuper peppy and swell, as you can imagine.As you can also imagine, I was suuuuuuper thrilled when, pretty much the second that Shaun left for his first work trip, we came down with a stomach bug. Yup. Angels were singing and everything.

Before 24 hours had passed, every single one of my children was lying on the floor with a bowl by their sides. We couldn’t leave the house due to unpredictable puking patterns (is there any other kind?), and my feelings of thrilled-ness were just increasing by the moment. (Although, I was oh-so-grateful not to be sick myself). grape juice1 Which is when my kind, wonderful, awesome readers came to my rescue. I posted some sort of pitiful picture of us all, and several fellow mamas told me to get my hot *germ-covered) little hands on some 100% grape juice and a bottle of activated charcoal capsules ASAP.

I did a bunch of internet research and discovered that grape juice is, indeed, widely lauded as a preventative for stomach bugs. Something about the particular acid it carries is effective in combating stomach bug bacteria. (AKA the stuff that must, assuredly, coat every surface of the 7th level of Hades).

The most important thing to remember, though, is that it’s a preventative measure, not a cure. In other words, once you’re already puking, the only thing grape juice will produce is purple puke. And who needs that?

So! The next time the first victim succumbs to the stomach flu in your house, buy 100% (important not to get the “cocktail” or the “lite” or the “combined with other juices” version…you want the straight stuff) grape juice and get your kids to guzzling. If they’re anything like mine, they’ll be so excited to be given pure, undiluted juice on demand that they won’t ask why you’re suddenly so keen on their gulping it by the glassful. grape juice2 (Of course, the second Nola saw Evy being my model, she insisted: “Mama, I want my picker too!” And of COURSE, she was wearing nothing but undies, so I told her to go put something decent on if she wanted her moment in the spotlight…and this is what she came downstairs wearing. Eh. Could be worse)

The other little miracle that I mentioned is a bit of a harder sell for kids. Activated charcoal comes in little capsules that can be found at most drugstores (I found mine at Drug Emporium…is that a chain? I don’t know, but it sounds kind of shady, now that I think about it), and it basically works as an absorbent agent to soak up the bad bacteria in your gut.

I know that’s a super untechnical description of its properties, but even though I did my due diligence, it’s been a year and 1/2, and I don’t remember all the particulars. I do know that it’s safe, even for small kids, if administered correctly (be sure to do your research on amounts for small children and how often you should take it). And IT WORKS. And! It works once you’re already upchucking too. It helps to lessen the symptoms and shorten the sickness time.

Disclaimer: I think it goes without saying that I am NOT a doctor, nor do I claim to be. Before you ingest anything to help with sickness, you should make sure that you’ve done your own research and consulted your own doctor if you have any questions or are unsure about dosages/usages. grape juice4 Okay, so going back to that time I mentioned when we got sick. Well, Shaun had to travel again a couple of weeks later, and you know what? We got sick AGAIN. What?? So wrong. But this time, I was stocked up on grape juice and activated charcoal capsules, and I got everybody drinking their anti-voms cocktails as fast as you could yell, “BOWL!”

And you know what? That time, only Della (our first to fall) got sick. GLORY! To mix up this lovely, magical concoction, you simply twist the capsules of activated charcoal open, and stir in one full capsule (for older children and adults; I use fractions of capsules for younger). You can do this multiple times a day (up to a point…again…RESEARCH!).

It doesn’t have a taste, and the grape juice completely masks the inky black color, but it does have a bit of a gritty texture that you’ll feel on your teeth afterwards, so I suggest downing it as fast as you can go. You can even make it a game with your kids to see who can finish first! And then everybody can snicker at each other’s black mustaches.

I’ve used this trick every time we’ve had even a whiff of the stomach crud for the past 18 months (my kids don’t get sick often, but considering our frequent trips to the gym daycare, the sickness does tend to rear its ugly head 2-3 times a year), including this past weekend (you might recall that I mentioned that we stayed home from church due to sickness), and it has made such a difference–so much so that rarely do more than one or two of us get the nastiness and then only for 12 hours or less.

So, there you go! One of my BEST Mama Life Hacks for you. I’d happily give credit where it’s due, but honestly, it was multiple mamas who shared this little nugget o’ pure gold, so my heartfelt thanks goes out to all of you.

Tell me: did you already know about the grape juice trick? What about activated charcoal? Any “fun” vom stories to tell? We had a nice little incident in Subway when Della hadn’t puked for 48 hours, and I thought we were in the clear that involved an unfortunate amount of puke on the floor right near the drink dispenser + a total lack of readily available wipes on my part (#momfail), and the stingiest stack of napkins ever from the young male Subway employee who had clearly never cleaned up toddler vomit . (Oddly enough, we no longer frequent this Subway).

Any great #mamalifehacks to share? Leave them in the comments, or hashtag them on social media, and who knows? I might just feature YOU! (And then, your life would be made. I just know it).

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That time I didn’t go to Hawaii…

 

A few months before I started blogging, Shaun and I took a trip to Hawaii with Della (who was only two months old at the time).

kauai

{An evening excursion to the beach the first night we were there}

It was a fun trip, but I discovered while I was there that I don’t love Hawaii (because, apparently, if you don’t absolutely fall in love with Kauai, then Hawaii is not in your soul because it doesn’t get better than Kauai). Don’t get me wrong. Kauai is gorgeous. It just didn’t inspire the raptures in me that it does in some.

So, when Shaun found out that he would be going to Honolulu on a work trip, my initial thought was that I would try to go, but I wasn’t as excited as you might expect. Mostly because–having traveled once before to Hawaii with a newborn–I knew the limitations/challenges. Della did AH-MAZING everywhere we went…even on the 6 hour flights there and back. She hardly made a peep. And Honor is an equally chill baby, so he probably would have done well too. But still…he is a newborn. Who blows out his diaper, needs to eat often, and gets cranky if we can’t find him a quiet place to sleep.

Plus! The timing was terrible. We’re smack dab in the middle of getting our house ready to sell, and, as my friend Kristy says: “There’s nothing like moving to make you feel like hoarder.” (AKA: what IS all this stuff, and what idiot bought it?? Oh. Yeah. Me).

All that to say that I chose not to go. Instead I stayed home with 7 kids and did yard work. I know. What a doofus, right? But all I could think about was how busy Shaun usually is on his work trips and how I’m not a big beach girl and how I’d rather sell our house quickly than frolic by the pool. (Hmm…maybe not that last one).

Turns out, this was one of Shaun’s least busy trips. He got to surf and hike. He has told me more than once that I “should have come” (although, he was fine/in agreement with my decision to stay).

So, 7% of me (the whiny 7%) is all, “Booo! Poor me! Should have gone!” But the other 93% knows I did the right thing. The kids and I got SO much done (with help from my sweet parents, sister-in-law, and some awesome friends), and I know I would have been stressed by all that was still left to get done when I got back from Hawaii.

Plus, a super bizarre thing happened to my dad, which, although not his fault at all, still required a lot of running around and trouble for my mom. And that stress would have been magnified greatly by having six kids under her care. For that reason alone, I’m grateful that I didn’t go and grateful that the Lord is sovereign even down to the smallest detail.

Also, grateful that our flower beds are DONE! I’ve admitted here several times before that exteriors are not my forte. So, having that particular monkey off my back is a huge relief. We have friends whose family business is a plant farm, so last Friday, I dragged the four littlest out of bed before it was fully light and drove out to their plant farm, where our friend, Rob, proceeded to race me around helping me (code for: practically choosing for me, thank goodness) choose flowers. Then, I hustled home, unloaded the van, jumped back in and drove to town to teach my morning class. After which, I booked it home to start planting, stopping for mulch on the way. My mom and older kids were already there hacking away at my neglected flower beds.

flower beds

 

{Theo is napping and Honor is in the swing on the porch in this picture, in case you’re wondering}

I know that I talk a lot about how #hardisnotthesamethingasbad and, honestly, I think that one of the hardest and best things in mothering is child-training. Especially training your children to do the right thing–i.e. obey, go to bed, pick up after themselves, speak respectfully, work. 

Sure, potty-training is rough, but it’s less of a heart issue than so many other aspects, and training your child to be diligent or full of integrity or kind is where the true mama rubber meets the life road.

Surely, that’s why the Bible specifically commands us to: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6.

God knew we needed this promise. Because it’s just so much easier to do the chore yourself or ignore the eye roll or let the toddler sleep with you every night, amiright? Except that it’s really not. It’s easier at the time. But ultimately, laziness, whining,  bad attitudes, and no sleep are a hardship on everyone involved (including the whiners) and makes the inconvenience of the initial training pale in comparison. 

Not to mention that kids can be genuinely helpful. All of my kids (except Honor and–99% of the time–Theo) have been required to pitch in as we’ve organized closets, weeded, planted, swept, scrubbed trim, hauled out trash, and just generally given our house a much-needed shine-up.

honor

{This was Honor’s reaction when I told him we needed his help with the flowerbeds. #sideeye}

And, yes, there has been some fussing and complaining. But there’s been a lot more cooperation and hard work. I hadn’t told Shaun what we planned to do while he was gone (although, he knew that I would generally be working around the house to get things in shape), and the kids loved the concept of wowing Daddy with a surprise yard makeover.

Simon–who started out finding things to kvetch about–ended up being upset that he had to have any help raking and clearing our entire (very large) front yard. He wanted to be able to present Shaun with a leaf-free lawn courtesy of Simon alone. He ended up needing a little help to finish, but that idea of ownership was a huge motivation for him.

I don’t always encourage my children the way that I should, but I do try to take every opportunity to tell them how important they are to our family. Their worth is inherent, of course. But I also tell them almost daily how their help keeps a particular aspect of our household running smoothly. And they love it. They grin from ear-to-ear every time I praise their efforts.

I don’t mean to broadly generalize, but it does seem that our society has something very backward when it comes to kids and young people in general. They are handed more knowledge (much of it completely inappropriate) than they know what to do with or have the maturity to process correctly. But they are given very little responsibility or true opportunities to grow in maturity through manageable, age-appropriate tasks and goals.

What if, instead, we protected our children’s innocence while respecting their potential to contribute?

What if we trained their hearts while shielding their minds from junk and praising their authentic efforts to help?

Again, I’m far from perfect in this pursuit. But it is my goal. I want my children to honor God first with their attitudes and then be a blessing to others with the actions that follow (because just “doing the right thing” without the right heart attitude is only half the battle). And not just because it glorifies God or benefits man but also because it produces character and joy for them.

chaos

{If you’re like me, then sometimes, when bloggers claim that their house is a “hot mess,” but all you ever see are perfectly styled pictures, you think: “Yeah right. Not MY version of a hot mess, it’s not!” Well…see Exhibit A of Hot Mess Central. It definitely gets worse before it gets better. This is what happens when you empty every single kitchen drawer of its contents so that you can clean all the things}

Because I only want good for my children, but, just as hard is not the same thing as bad, easy is very often not the same thing as good.

And seeing how my children glowed when their daddy got home and gushed with pride and appreciation for how hard they’d worked only underscored just how rewarding the results of training can be.

ANYhoo, I hadn’t started this post intending to preach at you, but I hope that–if you’re in the trenches of child-training (I still am, for sure)–you’ll feel encouraged to hang in there.

My children have spent the vast majority of their spring break weeding, mulching, cleaning, and planting. And–as Ezra cheerfully proclaimed after a full day’s work–”Getting stuff done is FUN!” (Not always how he feels about it, but the fact that it’s EVER how he feels is enough to motivate me to stay the course).

flower beds1

So. Much. Progress. Want to come buy our house? ;)

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