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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