Category Archives: Life

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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Hawaii 2.0 (Part 1)

This past month has been one of the busiest and most exciting in a while. And that’s saying something coming from a woman who has spent the last year birthing her 7th baby, packing up and selling her beloved DIY home, then moving into her 2nd DIY home and living the last 5 months in a constantly evolving (code for: under construction) space.

But! None of that can quite trump the triple-threat that was traveling the first week in October, only to have Shaun leave on a work trip the very next morning after we got back, and then turning around and heading out on yet another trip just two days later. We’ve been home for a week now, but it doesn’t really feel like it. My days are all starting to blur together. Well, I don’t know about “starting.” That was a while ago. But continuing in an even more dizzying fashion. I’m ready for a dose of quiet and normal…says the girl who has 2 children with birthdays in November plus Thanksgiving, Christmas, and another 2 birthdays right around the corner. Yep. Quiet and normal should be exactly what it looks like around here. Heh.

ANYWAY, back to the travel. Do y’all remember back in the spring when everything was even more cray-cray than usual, and Shaun ended up with a work trip to Hawaii smack in the middle of our mad dash to get the house ready to sell? I remember.

He told me I was welcome to come with him, encouraged me to, even, but I just couldn’t wrap my brain around relaxing in Hawaii while there was so much work to be done at home. So, I passed. And I didn’t regret it…mostly.

So, imagine my delight when ANOTHER Hawaii work trip appeared on the radar. And my nice mama agreed to keep the oldest 6 kids. Shaun’s work trips are usually a bit up in the air for a pretty good period of time. Until they aren’t. Clients have been known to hem and haw about dates for a good four months and then suddenly need him out there in 2 weeks time. So, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to go on this one either, depending on the timing.

Wouldn’t you know it, though, Honor and I not only got to go, but Shaun managed to schedule the trip for the week of my 35th birthday! I spent my birthday surfing and getting the most excruciating massage of my life. But more on that later.

I mentioned a while back that Hawaii isn’t really my jam, which, I realize, sounds nuts since it’s plenty of folks’ dream vacation. But Shaun, Della (at 2 months), and I went to Kauai years ago, and, while I enjoyed it, it didn’t blow me away.

Well, low expectations are a beautiful thing, let me tell you. I went into this trip thinking that it would be a welcome break from our construction zone of a home and looking forward to spending time with my husband not hashing out which stair railing to choose or whether or not we had actually ordered the knobs we couldn’t find for the upstairs doors but having pretty much zero other expectations. And you know what? I had an absolute blast.

First things first and what all the mamas want to know: how did Honor do on the flights? Pretty darn well. He’s a chill baby. His favorite pursuits are eating, smiling, and sleeping. So, I wasn’t too nervous, even though it was fully an 8 hour flight on the way there. I had my arsenal of tricks all ready and raring. And let me tell you: I used every one. The thing I had not anticipated is how HYPER my usually laidback baby would become upon entering a confined space full of strangers.

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Do not be fooled by his calm expression. This kid was FULL of energy.

He bounced.

He giggled.

He shrieked.

He fought sleep like it was a Nazgul intent on sucking the soul from his body.

But with Shaun’s and my tag-teaming it, we prevailed. Huzzah! And Hooray, God! Because, on the way there, we ended up getting an “extra” seat, which means they allowed us to bring Honor’s car seat on, which was awesome the two times we managed to wear him down enough to take a cat nap (him, not us…zzzzzzz). The lady checking for open seats was flabbergasted one was available, since it was supposed to be a packed flight with multiple standbys. She looked very confused as she told us that they had already settled everybody in the standby line, and the seat was ours but then responded to my, “Hallelujah! Praise Jesus!” with a big smile and an, “Amen.”

Once in Hawaii, we scouted out some grub pretty much the second we exited the airport. Newsflash: this will not be the post where I tell you all of the best Poke Bowl joints in Honolulu. As a general rule, I prefer to eat the authentic food of the place I’m visiting. But as another general rule, I do not care for raw fish. I did try it. But it did not wow me.

So, we settled on Thai food (it was pretty decent, especially for hungry folks fresh off a plane), then checked into our hotel, which was right across from Waikiki beach. Normally, we would have scouted out an Airbnb, but since Shaun’s work was paying for the nights when he was on the job, we decided to stick with a traditional hotel. And I’m glad we did. It just made things so much more relaxing to not have to worry about laundry and cleaning up after ourselves for once.

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The view from our hotel was not terrible

That night, we ventured for a quick walk on the beach and a longer stroll down the main thoroughfare where I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of ABC stores. If you’ve ever been to Honolulu, you’re nodding your head right now. ABC is a chain of convenience stores, and there is literally (and no, I’m not misusing that word right now) one every fifty feet. It’s bizarre to me that any population could sustain them all, but they were always buzzing with business whenever we ducked in for some necessary small thing.

We ended the night bringing a burger (which I highly recommend) from the Hideout at the Laylow back to the hotel and putting Honor down while we propped our eyelids open long enough to make it to a respectable bedtime. (Honolulu is five hours behind Texas).

Shaun didn’t have to be at work until Tuesday, so since we’d gotten in on Sunday afternoon, we had all of Monday to explore. We slept in yeah right…we were up and at ‘em by 6, thanks to Honor’s extremely confused body clock, but first dibs at our hotel’s custom omelet bar aaaaaalmost made up for it. Plus, Honor needed a nap like an hour later, so we got in a bit more shuteye after all.

The rest of the day was spent driving around the north end of the island…while it rained. Which sounds like a bummer. But it really wasn’t. We didn’t have a single thing we HAD to do, so instead, we wandered, taking breaks when we felt like it, trying out Korean barbecue (I’m a fan!), and doing a lot of talking and breathing. I can’t remember for the life of me what we had for dinner, but, since this isn’t strictly a guide to things to do and places to eat in Honolulu (and by “isn’t strictly,” I mean really not at all), I’m not going to stress about it.

Tuesday, Shaun had to work, so after our early morning omelets (yes, again), Honor and I headed back to the hotel room where we both napped (ah, the blissful, guiltless sleep of really, truly having nothing else you should be doing) and then headed out to explore. We spent the afternoon walking and eating and browsing the Anthropologie sale racks (confession: I bought a bathing suit on major clearance and don’t feel one bit of shame, since I immediately wore it multiple times throughout the rest of trip). At one point, Honor was a bit out of his mind with tiredness, so I plunked him in the stroller, plugged in my Audible book, and proceeded to walk for the next hour.

 

 

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The views on our walk were not awful either. Come to think of it, there weren’t too many bad views. ;)

The weather was perfection, with a bright smiling sun, breezy blue skies, and the tang of saltwater in the air. I could feel some of the tension that I’ve been carrying with me constantly for months starting to uncoil from my spine. Honor and I ended the afternoon chilling (literally) in the hotel pool until Shaun came home. I’m not really a pool girl, but that baby needed something that wasn’t sitting in a stroller to do once he woke up. And he is a w a t e r b u g.

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This shot is from our balcony patio, not the pool. But yay for clearance Anthro bathing suits and cute little pool mates.

Again with the dinner amnesia. I had intended to be more, um, intentional about cataloging our watering holes so that I could be a font of info for anyone planning to take a trip. But I had also intended to type this post up about 57 times over the last 2 weeks, so intentions clearly have little bearing on this situation. ANYhoo. We ate. It was probably pretty good. And then we went to bed.

It may sound kind of lame given the location, but one of the best parts of the trip was the complete and total lack of agenda. We are not obsessive schedulers, but we do tend to plan ahead a fair bit. This time, although we did have specific activities in mind, we put zero pressure on ourselves to accomplish them. And some of my favorite parts of the first part of the trip were spending evenings in the hotel snuggled up in bed in the dark with Shaun (because Honor was in a pack ‘n play in the same room), talking or watching episodes of Shark Tank or Chopped.

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I couldn’t resist with Honor’s beach outfit. He couldn’t resist the salt shaker. Hey, whatever distracts a tired baby

By Wednesday, though, we were rested and raring for something more active…but you’ll have to wait for just what that was until next time because I’ve recently switched to teaching early morning Body Pump classes, and my body has not adjusted yet, and I’m getting very sleevnb,mns

 

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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.

twins

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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Grocery Shopping for Our Large Family

I noodled around several different title options before picking one because I didn’t want it to be misleading. This post is not about THEE cheapest way to shop if you have lots of kids. Or about coupon clipping. Or about the best, most filling meals for the least amount of money.

Elements of most of those things are in here, but more than anything, I’m writing this post in response to several questions I’ve received about what the process of feeding a family of 9 looks like.

And they are:

1. How often a week do you shop?

I do one big haul a week–usually on Saturday mornings. And then, we supplement as needed with a quick stop or two throughout the week. The “big haul” day has rotated through the week throughout the years (we even went together as a family immediately after church for a while there), and historically, I’ve had ALL the kids when I go (many moons ago, when the kids were all smaller and much less helpful, I used to stop on Monday evenings…after teaching two hours of classes at the gym. Because, apparently, I’m a masochist??). Lately, I’ve been heading to town on Saturday mornings for a free Cross Fit community WOD (workout of the day) and then shopping immediately after. NO KIDS. Because the oldest ones are mature enough now to do basic younger sibling maintenance (Honor’s down for a nap) while Shaun does projects around the house.

Are there words to adequately describe the sheer joy of grocery shopping alone? I’m not sure there are. But “bliss” comes to mind.

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Shaun’s been traveling a fair bit recently, so the kids were with me on a random Tuesday. We always have two baskets and take up a fair bit of space, but they are genuinely helpful (I don’t load the belt or bag groceries) and definitely know the drill after years and years of tagging along. My favorite thing about this picture is that, as I was looking at several that I took from my phone, the lady with the white hair in the back is staring at us with that same bemused expression in every single one. Ha!

2. How much do you spend?

This is the one everybody wants to know, right? I mean, we’re feeding 9 people. Surely, we must be spending a fortune. Of course, with 4 (almost FIVE!!!)-year-old twins, a 2-year-old, and a newborn, half of my people don’t actually consume that much in terms of volume yet. But the amount feels like it increases on a weekly basis, which makes me nervous.

Our typical bill for the “big haul,” including some non-food items (so, a package of toilet paper, or a box of diapers) is about $190. Obviously, there are some weeks that all of the extra stuff comes “due,” and the bill is considerably higher.

If we were to stick to that every week, that would be a pretty incredible budget for such a big family. But we always end up stopping at least one more time to grab a rotisserie chicken + fruit + milk, etc. Most weeks, we spend another $50 at least.

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This particular load was about $135. I usually get more of most things (like bagels and yogurt), but we were still stocked on those from a previous trip. 

3. What do you eat every week?

I’m sure this is true of most folks, but we eat basically the same thing every week. Cereal, bagels, or eggs for breakfast, yogurt and fruit for snacks, sandwiches or leftovers for lunch, and an ever-repeating rotation of about 20 dinner options that use a lot of the same ingredients.

My go-tos are:

  • Turkey spaghetti (my kids would eat my spaghetti–you can find the recipe for my sauce at the beginning of my lasagna recipe–every single day). For reals.
  • Turkey burgers + homemade sweet potato fries + homemade guac (one of my fave meals ever that I eat without a bun and with all the fixin’s on the side).
  • Chicken Pot Pie
  • Taco Soup
  • Chicken Tortilla Soup
  • Turkey Burritos
  • (Chipotle-style) Chicken and Rice Bowls
  • Chicken Pesto Pasta
  • Steak + Scrambled Eggs + Roasted Seasoned Potatoes
  • Greek Chicken + Rice + Veggies
  • Turkey Meatloaf + Mashed Potatoes
  • Pot Roast
  • King Ranch Chicken
  • Quiche
  • Chicken + Veggie Stir Fry
  • Chicken + Veggie Pasta
  • Chicken or Steak Fajitas
  • Chicken + Squash Grill
  • Salsa chicken (in some form or another)
  • Homemade Pizza
  • Chicken Lettuce Wraps

We don’t do much in the way of prepacked foods, but neither do I make complicated meals.

4. What ingredients are you never without?

You’ll pretty much never find us out of: diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, limes, cilantro, avocados, OTB Corn Chips, cheddar cheese, black beans, onions, tortillas, raw chicken, and raw ground turkey (obviously those last two get cooked quickly, usually in batches for the entire week).  We are a Tex-Mex family, apparently, and I make homemade salsa (it takes 5 minutes and is SOOOO good) and guacamole on the daily. If I’m in a pinch for dinner, we’ll probably be eating burritos and black bean salsa or spaghetti that night.

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Bonus points if you can a) spot Theo or b) figure out why Nola looks so distressed (probably, she just heard that we weren’t having “her favorite spaghetti” for dinner that night). 

5. How much do you eat out?

In the past, not very much. We still don’t do tons, but we’re a little “looser” than before. Shaun and I have a “date night at home” every Thursday night when my mom has Ezra, Simon, and Della at her house. We get the four littles in bed by 7:30 and settle down on the couch with takeout Thai food to watch an episode of Fixer Upper or Vera (British crime show).

Once a week (usually on Fridays after I teach Combat or a Tuesday night if Shaun’s out of town), the kids and I will have lunch or dinner at Chick-fil-a. And we usually eat out lunch on Sundays. Plus, we go pick up the big kids from my mom every Friday night, and she fixes dinner for us + my brother’s family. So, I typically cook (or at least prep some kind of food) 5 nights a week, with Thursdays and Fridays off.  If I moan even a little bit about cooking on Sundays, Shaun orders pizza. :)

5. Any brilliant money-saving tips?

I used to religiously scout out the sales in the local ad papers and then take them to Walmart for price matching. My mom just told me that Walmart isn’t honoring competitor ads anymore, but I haven’t done this for a couple of years anyway. I did save a fair bit sometimes, but I also found that–outside of a $0.99/lb sale on grapes or some other produce–most of the things we buy regularly at Walmart were pretty comparable to the sales I usually saw.

We also used to shop at Sam’s Club, but we’ve been in such a busy season of life for so long that the extra effort of driving out there (it’s a ways from our house) and spending at least an hour grocery shopping–usually on a Sunday–just wasn’t worth it to us. We may renew our membership in the future, but for now, we’re keeping it simple.

As to coupons, I just don’t. I know I could save a lot of money, and, of course, I use the ones they include on the yogurt packages, etc., but I don’t actively buy items based on whether they have coupons available.

I think my best way to keep our food bill decent is to buy inexpensive, simple food and do a fair bit of cooking. Cheaper AND better for you!

So, there you have it, folks! What grocery shopping for 9 looks like around here. I know this will continue to evolve as the kids get older/eat more. I’m seeing lots more beans (and flatulence…) in our future.

What does grocery shopping look like at YOUR house?

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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.

bed school

 

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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L.I.F.E.

How ’bout that original title, yo? But seriously, you guys. I have no excuse for disappearing except that I have been doing more living than writing about it. And, while all of the memes would tell me that that means that I must be doing something right (and they would be correct), I can honestly say that I’ve missed “chatting” with you guys here in this little corner of the internet. I have a plethora of half-written blogs floating around in my brain:

  • Big family dynamics to consider when planning a house
  • A recap of our beach trip (from 6 weeks ago…hides face)
  • A tour of the updates so far on the house
  • A post about comparison in motherhood
  • A post about our homeschooling routine
  • A round-up of the best Amazon Warehouse Deals I’ve scored (I’ve gotten some goooood ones)
  • Insert random post title here

But I don’t really have the brain power right now, at 10:23 PM, to be terribly topical, so I’m just going with the ol’ fire hydrant approach.

So, what have we been up to? Well, some exciting house updates, for one.

**As a quick follow-up to my tile gaffe post, we did some scrubbing on it, which lightened the grout a bit it and made it less noticeable, and after talking to a friend who is also a tile expert, we’re just going to let it breathe for a while, try out some rugs, and then go from there. If we absolutely cannot take it, we’ll rip it up and start again. Or paint the entire floor. Or…something. But I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that.

I ALMOST feel sheepish telling you guys about the things that we’re NOT doing on this house currently, considering what big DIYers we are and how much we have invested until just recently. Almost, but not quite. Because you know what’s better than bragging rights on doing it all yourself? Having it DONE. (We’re still doing all of the finish work on the exterior, the interior plumbing, the rest of the concrete counter tops, the lighting, the electrical, etc., so yeah…it’s still pretty busy around here)

And done is where we are (or at least close to it) with our floors.

lifelately5

 

{Hello, beautiful, happy craft room/girl cave/office/studio/Paint and Prose headquarters}

We found a crew to lay our laminate “wood” floors (brand: Mohawk, color: Rare Vintage Fawn Chestnut…because just calling it one of those words would have been way too vague #verbose), and they’ve aaaaaalmost finished TODAY…but we ended up a bit short on laminate. Sigh.

Even so, all we lack is the loft, which means that we can start actually cleaning things so that they stay clean (you know, relatively). And then moving furniture where it actually belongs…instead of its languishing in piles in the workshop and garage or being shuffled around from room to room.

lifelately2

 

Our master bedroom was the very first floor they laid, and we set up the furniture in it that very night! 

The piece of furniture I’m most excited about hauling out of storage?

lifelately7

 

This amazing couch I scored at Anthropologie (yes, I bought furniture from Anthro…wild). It’s 10 (!!!) feet long, the coolest shade of blue, and was a fabulous deal, since it was a floor sample. (Especially jazzed, since right after I bought it, they stopped selling floor samples altogether).

Mostly, I’m just excited about the concept of things being more finished than not because we’ve been in a state of flux in some state or form for a good 6 months now, which, while not a huge span of time in the grand scheme of life, is enough to make this creature of habit a bit antsy at times. (Ask Shaun about my meltdown about the ugly burn pile in our yard; or better yet, don’t).

What else? While we’ve been “doing school” all summer (I have the three oldest continue with their basics at a slower pace and diminished amount), we officially started back at our home school co-op last Monday, and I am loving the chance to dust off my teaching chops.(Weird metaphor…did I mention it’s late-ish?).

lifelately3 I did something I’ve never done and bought the oldest 5 BRAND NEW personalized backpacks from Land’s End. They were on sale (of course), but the thing I like most is that they have a lifetime guarantee, so if (when) they snap a strap or rip a hole in the bottom, I can get a brand new replacement for free (crazy but true…and no, I’m not being paid to say this). 

I was laughing with Shaun about the fact that, after hearing from my kids about how most of their teachers just spent the first day going over rules and having everyone introduce themselves, I felt like I was probably the only nutter who hosed my students down with tons of notes and grammar and 4 take-home assignments. I’m sure that’s not actually true, but it’s definitely my personality. I can’t seem to reign in the desire to stuff AS MUCH info as possible in their young brains for the 55 minutes a week that I have each of my classes.

It helps that I’m teaching eager-beaver homeschoolers, for sure.Including Ezra, whom I am requiring to take Spanish 1 with me, even though it’s usually an 8th grade + level class. He is the eagerest of all the beavers, though, and is a joy to have in class, so we’re both pretty thrilled with the arrangement.

In other news, I have officially drunk the Cross Fit Koolaid–or sipped it, at least–and…I liked it! There’s a Cross Fit gym that several of my friends go to that has a free community WOD (Workout of the Day) that I’ve gone to 3 times now, and I can’t really begin to describe how much I enjoy it. Even though it’s really, really hard, and I’m definitely the odd woman out with my newbie–”Um, what’s a wall ball?”–self. If you’re a Cross Fitter, feel free to speak up in the comments. I haven’t dived in and paid for a membership or anything, but I am more excited about Saturday mornings than I’ve been in a while, and I am determined to learn how to do a hand stand push up or at least seriously injure myself trying.

In other news, Honor is eating everything in sight and loving life… While Theo has definitely entered his “can’t handle any emotional distress without descending into temporary madness” phase. AKA: my faaaaaavorite!

lifelately lifelately1

 

He still has plenty of cheerful moments, but he has also developed quite the formidable stink eye.

I was so hoping we would skip this stage with him because he possessed just the sunniest of dispositions as a baby/toddler. And, if I’m honest, it’s nothing like the twins’ 18-month bout of insanity, since he doesn’t despise his car seat like they did. But there’s still a whole lot screeching and “No-ing” (on both our parts) and floor-wallowing (just his…although, I’m tempted sometimes), and disciplining going on. It helps that Honor is such a dreamboat, though. I mean. Seriously. I just want to eat him with a spoon.

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He’s 7 months now, and everybody still fights over who gets to hold him. Oh, and in case you’re wondering what has my children’s attention so completely captured, they were building Sam and Pippin (our guinea pigs) a block maze to run through. 

Shaun is getting ready to tackle another big block of work trips (they always come in chunks, it seems), but the good news is that the kids and I will get to go with him on a couple (Honor will, of course, tag along by default). There’s one I’m especially excited about, but…more on that later.

In fact, more on all of it later, since I’ve jabbered on plenty for now and really need a shower before bed.

What have you guys been up to? Have your kids started school yet? Do any of you have your kids do schoolwork in the summer? Anyone else have a 2 1/2-year-old whose life-management skills have deteriorated drastically?

We can eat virtual ice cream together and chant “Hard is not the same thing as bad” while holding virtual hands. K? Cool. It’s a plan.

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A Clothing Confession + a Tile Tight Spot

Did you know that there’s not a “t” word that means: “predicament?” At least not one that I could think of or that Google could help me out with.

I know because I looked so I could achieve maximum alliteration in today’s post title (#wordnerd).

But that is entirely beside the point because this post is about two very different topics, which are only connected by the tenuous thread of one having been photographed on top of another.

First up, a confession:

I took the 4 youngest to Goodwill last Friday because, between the red dirt and the sheet rock dust and the concrete floors and sub-floors and plywood that my children are all pretty well constantly rolling around on, rubbing up against, and/or attempting, in some form or another, to embed into their persons…most of their clothes are trashed.

Which is fine because their play clothes were getting pretty worn out already, but, with our home school co-op starting in a week and 1/2 and cooler temperatures coming (ahem…in another 5 months), it was time to get a few “new” things for the chitlins.

But wait. That’s not the confession.

Here goes: I bought two things for me too.

**hangs head in shame

I had already determined that, given my self-imposed 6 month clothing fast, I wouldn’t even cast my eyes in the direction of the women’s department. And I didn’t. Pinky promise.

HOWEVER, as we were entering the clothing area, there was a rack set up with a bunch of miscellaneous items on it. And what did my eyes behold but a pair of neutral TOMS wedge booties–the likes of which I have eyed up every fall season for the past 5 years. No lie. I just haven’t ever managed to make myself bite the bullet to buy an $80 pair of shoes that should cost half that (in my not-so-humble opinion). They were in fantastic condition, minus a faint gray mark on one (which I was pretty sure I could get out), and I snatched them up, squinting at the tag–half-hoping/half-fearing they would be my size.

And you know what? They were! (Size 9–I have big feet), and, when I slipped them on, they fit like a dream. I put them in my cart and went on my merry way, not entirely sure I would buy them, but half giddy at the potential.

I spent the next hour alternating between combing through the children’s racks, feeding Honor while standing up and combing through the children’s racks, and–toward the end–breaking up squabbles between the twins and Theo while combing through the children’s racks (for the first 45 minutes, they were playing happily with the toys, which Goodwill had had the good sense to relocate next to the children’s section).

Halfway through all of this combing, I stumbled upon another item that I’ve had on my mental wish list for years: a black/white buffalo check puffer vest.

I love puffer vests. In East Texas, we don’t have much use for full on coats–even during the winter–so puffer vests are a great way to stay toasty on a chilly (but still not truly cold) day. I have several, all of which I wear regularly in the colder months, but I’ve had my eye out for this particular style for ages.

And there it was, wedged between a 3T tutu and a size 8 pair of jeans. Because that’s just how Goodwill rolls.

It, too, had a small mark I was pretty sure I could get out but was otherwise perfect, and it fit!

So, into my basket it went.

master tile

I debated all the way to the front whether I would buy them and almost took them out of my basket several times, but in the end, buy them I did.

Because, ultimately, the purpose of my fast is to eliminate impulse (“but it’s so cute and CHEAP!”) purchases of things that only ever get worn once and then spend the rest of their dejected lives stuffed in a closet corner–NOT to pass up good quality staples at great prices that I’ve had in mind for a long time.

Anyhoo, I promised to keep you updated, and now I have, so there you go! Back to fasting!

(P.S. Both of the marks came out like a dream)

Moving on, can we talk about that pretty tile from the picture above?

I love it!

Except…and it’s a really big except.

But first a little background…

After the frenzy of getting moved in, things have slowed down considerably in the DIY department–partially because they finally could, partially because of summer, and partially because Shaun has been utterly slammed with his day job.

That last reason has been the biggest deciding factor in choosing to hire out a few of the finishing things, and tile was pretty high on his list of, “I’d rather nots/don’t have times.”

We found someone able to start the day we left for Gulf Shores, Alabama (3 weeks ago) and came home to a lovely tiled kitchen…

tiled kitchen

and downstairs bath…

downstairs bath tile

That was fun!

Not as fun?

This:

master tile1

(See all of the dark areas? They’re not an optical illusion. There really is more grout in those spaces)

That would be the master bathroom tiled with all of that lovely black and white penny tile. I chose gray grout to hide stains, but, unfortunately, the area in front of the sink ended up showing the grid patterns of the mosaic tiles (they come in approximately 1 sq. foot sections).

master tile2

{See the lines?}

Honestly, we’re not sure what happened. The area to the right where the tub will be does NOT show the grid lines. At least not nearly as noticeably. And the same person did the work almost entirely at the same time. So, why the application is so much better on the first 8 feet is beyond me.

master tile3

(This whole area in front of the window is considerably more even. Almost no areas of concentrated grout}

Another problem?

We ran out of tile.

Doh.

I mean, measure twice and install once, right, Abbie?

You guys. I measure a GAJILLION times. And I ordered 10% extra for waste.

But then, we decided to use the same tile on the shower floor. But even then, we did the math, and we should have been fine.

Except that it turned out that a lot of the tiles had issues. Irregularities. Missing pieces, broken tiles. Etcetera.

So, we ended up one row short.

I ordered more from Overstock, thinking it would be no big deal. I mean, it was the same manufacturer, and I had only ordered the first batch last fall.

Double doh.

The tiles were DIFFERENT. Not to the naked eye, really. Same design. But they’re slightly more off-white, slightly thicker (in height), and more beveled…all subtle differences that look anything but subtle once the gray grout is in.

master tile2

{See the super white strip on the far left? Yeah. Triple Doh}

So, here we are, with half a beautifully tiled master bath, 45% a streaky, segmented mess of a master bath, and one ridiculous-looking strip of non-matching tile.

It kind of makes me sick to my stomach because it’s so permanent.

We haven’t really had any big uh-ohs during this build, for which I’m grateful. But I’m not going to lie. I’m pretty disappointed about this one.

Which is where you come in. Has anyone else ever installed mosaic tile squares, only to have the squares themselves show up super obviously when grouted? I have a feeling I wouldn’t have even noticed the lines if we’d used white grout, but I also know the grout wouldn’t have stayed white-looking for long.

If you have experienced this, did you find a way to fix or diminish the effect? We’re going to give the extra-thick grout lines a good scrubbing in hopes of minimizing the impression of segmentation, but I know that won’t completely fix it.

And when it comes to the non-matching tiles, there’s literally nothing I can think of but adding a rug runner directly in front of the sink to hide it.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s no big deal. I mean, it’s a floor. In a house. Which is a blessing. We are grateful.

In the small picture, though, I’d really love to find a way to “fix” it as much as possible.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions you might have!

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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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