Little Successes

WP_20150401_10_16_40_ProThere has been some positive habit building in the last month that I think is worth sharing — if only to remind myself that my efforts are not totally without fruit.  (Also, the pictures are random ones from the last few weeks.)

For the sake of maybe nothing more than my pride, I should mention that while I certainly lacked consistency in the past, I was not completely neglectful of my household and did manage to keep us from squalor and even occasionally in sweet smelling sheets.  Some days and weeks might have been better than others but as you read this list, know that it’s not that I never did any of the things on this list, I just never seemed to be able to accomplish them on a near daily basis.

1.  I’m making my bed everyday. I like a clean bedroom like my husband likes a clean kitchen, but it’s always been tricky because we share a room with the baby and I tend to get things done when she is asleep.  Can’t very well take care of a bedroom with a sleeping baby in it, now can ya?!  Now I make the bed before I put her down for her first nap.  Rarely will you find my bed unmade these days.

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2.  My bedroom is clean.  Cleanliness begets cleanliness and all of that.  It’s only natural to keep going after making the bed so unless Evie is a pathetic tired mess who cannot stand to be kept awake for another minute, I clean up the place and get dressed.  Our bedroom doesn’t have a lot of stuff in it and though my darling (big) roommate seems to think it is his mission in life to make a mess of the place, it’s never really much of a big deal.

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3.  I get dressed in the first part of the day.  No, I have not always gotten dressed before noon.  *hang head in embarrassment*  Babies sleeping in bedrooms with clothes and all of that excuse-ed-ness, doncha know?

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4.  Children are responsible for their own thing-gettings.  In other words, I have been working mightily to combat the “mom default” setting in our household.  I am reining in the amount of unnecessary energy I expend running around at my children’s beck and call.  I want to reserve my body for doing the things that only I can do, not the things they can do for themselves.  (Half the time they don’t even care enough to expend their own energy!)   Part of my goal is to teach my kids to be responsible and part of it is simply to stop moving every minute of the day. I am reducing the number of times I go up and down stairs and the number of times I go to the kids instead of having them come to me.  We’ve established a lot of unhealthy patterns in this regard (my fault!) and I’m happy to see some change taking place here.

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5.  The kitchen is clean.  I admit, I’ve fallen off of the wagon a few times with this one, especially on the weekends.  More often than not, however, there is at least one point in each day when all of the dishes are done and the counters and stove are wiped down.  I get thrown for a loop when I forget to run the dishwasher at the end of the day, but otherwise the kitchen maintenance is going swimmingly.  Much, much better.

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6.  The kitchen has hours of operation.  We’re still working on this, but overall I am doing much much better with managing meals and snacking.  It was really out of control.  It’s still a little bit out of control because the kids really push back on the kitchen boundaries but it is significantly better.

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7.  The laundry is current.  I’ve been doing loads every other day, if not every day, and putting everything away.  Friends, there are days when I don’t have enough stuff to do a load and have to wait!  I even took care of Evie’s baptism gown that has been hanging in the laundry room for over a year.  The wonders never cease.

 

Alright, well, as overwhelmed as you are with all of this amazing work I’ve been doing — that I should have been doing all along — that’s all I have to share for today. There are all sorts of other areas I am still troubleshooting and you will probably hear about them eventually.  (It’s not paradise over here, believe you me!)  All in all, though, the journey is going well and I couldn’t be happier about that.

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p.s. My eye appointment confirmed that my eyes are healthy, just dry.  OTC drops it is.

p.s.s.  ZouZou had a dentist appointment this morning.  No cavities!  She cracks me up, that girl.  We went to “the dollar bin store” (Target) afterwards and she picked out one thing.  She’s quite remarkable.  Unlike other members of the family *cough*Roo*cough* she can wander through a store and not whine for a single thing.

This Weekend and Such

As usual I keep getting posts half-written and then losing them or getting interrupted and forgetting about them.  I have this thing about drafts.  I’d rather rewrite a whole post than dredge up yesterday’s work and try to complete it.  Wonder why that is?  In-the-moment writing is more fun?

Anyway, I have really don’t any regular update posts in a while, so here I am!  This is the “stuff’ going on these days…

Today was a beeeeee-a-utiful sunny warm day and a sweet Sunday to boot and we spent it outside in the squishy grass (we have clay soil and it holds water like crazy).  Roo picked up 148 white decorative rocks out of the yard and put them back where they belong and ZouZou scraped her pinky toe on the front walk.  Jack threw most of the outdoor toys into the kiddie pool full of rainwater, and ever spent some quality time scooping containers of rainwater out of the pool and dumping them down her front.

Mr. S. mowed the backyard for the first time this year and of course we need gas for the mower before he can do the front.  Our neighbor, whom I shall call Lenny on the blog, was cleaning up her yard and Mr. S. tried to help as much as she would let him.  We bother her like crazy so that she won’t feel too lonely over there since her husband died (last Christmas).  She had a rototiller of her late husband’s in her shed and said Mr. S. is free to do whatever to get it up and running.  Mr. S. is quite excited about the prospect of being able to use it to turn under the fall leaves we threw on the garden last year.  We’ve learned that the soil needs a lot of attention around here!  It’s clay and in the summer it dries fast and hard.

The slackers we are, we didn’t trim out the raspberries and black raspberries last year so Mr. S. did that yesterday which makes me feel better!  I hate it when stuff like that gets left undone.  And there’s something wonderful about freshening up the yard in the spring.  There’s lots of work to do still around the whole place.  Especially the mess that is the front yard.  We need to rip out an overgrown holly bush.  All in good time, I guess.

Last night was the homeschool group’s Father Daughter Dance and Roo and Mr. S. were able to go.  Getting those two out the door was a bit stressful at times, but it happened and Roo had a glorious time.  She had a red dress that I thought was more appropriate for the occasion, but we had gotten out the ivory satin and tulle flowergirl dresses (from my sister’s wedding) for church on Easter and she wanted to wear that to the dance instead.  Like the weirdo that I am, I worried that she would look too childish, but I had to let that go and remember that the most important thing was that she felt like a little princess all gussied up with a silk flower in her hair and a few curls.  Sadly, I didn’t take their picture before they left but I knew they would get a posed one there.  It turned out nicely — though the shy one hardly smiled!

Instead of a corsage or something, I ran out yesterday and bought a necklace for Mr. S. to give to her.  The sweet girl didn’t know how to respond when he gave it to her.  She bit her lip and got very quiet and gave me a hug.  Mr. S. said she showed it to all of her friends.

After a week or two of rain and storms, I’m happy this weekend was lovely.  Hopefully the weather has finally turned and we can enjoy more glorious sun and outdoor play.

Well that’s it for now.  Tomorrow I have an appointment to see what’s up with my eyes.  They have been bothering me for a few months now and I think I will probably end up with all-of-the-time glasses instead of just “driving glasses” like I have now.  Whatever I end up with, I hope it helps the eye strain!  My eyes have been totally messing with me :(.  As I told my mother, say a prayer that I don’t have a degenerative eye disease.  (She told me I might be overreacting a tad.)

p.s. Sorry guys, I don’t have time to read this over before publishing.  Please excuse the errors, as usual.

Rest Deprivation

I spent the morning gathering plastic Easter eggs and putting away the baskets, sorting Jack’s toys in his room, and pulling all of my everyday clothes out of the five rubbermaid drawers that house them.  They are sorted on my bed while I decide what to keep and what to donate.  I put the Christmas books that I had pulled off of the living room shelf on a shelf in the basement and pulled the delicates out of the water they had been soaking in.  Jack has been bored with his bedroom toys so I brought a few things up from downstairs to refresh the options.  I paid some bills and got the baby changed and dressed.  At 10:15 or so, I put her to bed.  She needs the rest more than usual because she only slept for five minutes yesterday, at three o’clock in the afternoon, in the car on the way home from our homeschool co-op.  On the way out of the bedroom, I grabbed my cold coffee and headed to the living room to sit down.

All of the children had pretty much let me be all morning, uninterested in my chores.  And then I sat down with my Bible and journal and they surfaced, as they always do.  Like worms out of the ground during the rain.  Roo came up to get a drink and tell me all about the “Nether” she and her cousin are making on Minecraft.  ZouZou came up for something to eat and a little chat.  Jack came up because he has the attention span of a gnat and couldn’t be occupied for more than fifteen minutes by the show I had put on netflix downstairs — just for him.  He played with the new toys for two seconds and then started pulling silverware out of the kitchen drawers.  Then he opened the fridge and started pulling out food.  As of today, I guess he can open the fridge.  So I gave him the balloon that we had put up out of reach the night before and I sent him downstairs to the playroom to play with it.  I helped him through the gate and threw his blanket down with him.  Happy to have found a distraction.  Less than thirty seconds later, ZouZou came running up the stairs with the balloon to tattle on him for having it.  Jack in hot pursuit.  They were too loud and by 11:25 a.m. Evie was awake again.  But not well-rested.  When I went to get her, I passed by Jack’s room where I saw the lamp on the floor, turned on, with the part holding the light bulb hanging broken.  He had apparently thrown it off of his dresser, again.

So this is what my “quiet time” often looks like during the week.  This is pretty much all of the sitting down “me” time I get during the day and it is almost never restful. I generally get more peaceful time when I am going about my daily duties — doing the dishes, taking care of laundry, tidying the house — than I do when I try so mightily to carve out a break during the day.  I was thinking about it this morning and it occurred to me that I very, very rarely get the REM version of mom-rest.

I know that most people who read this will immediately begin thinking of solutions to my problem and they will probably have good ideas.  I can read this and think of my own solutions but honestly there’s very little comfort to be had in endlessly trying to “fix” motherhood into something less difficult.  To some extent, all is vanity and a chase after the wind on that account.

Laundry Talk

It should go without saying that I’ve never followed a “laundry system” of any sort in the past.  This of course had to stop when I embarked on the whole household management overhaul.  It’s not that laundry bothered me all that much.  It mostly got done at some point or another, but I always, always had four full baskets of dirty clothes hanging out in the laundry room.

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(It is perhaps too spacious in that regard!)  And then I would generally have at least one basket of clean clothes hanging out somewhere waiting to be put away.  Sometimes three or four of them.  Sometimes three or four of them grouped together with another load or two of clean clothes thrown on top of that in a mountain-like formation.  Finding a pair of socks for a person required a headlamp and mining gear.  Forget about finding socks for the whole family!

You see, I’ve always liked to throw in laundry.  It’s putting it away that I find so burdensome.

How much of my laundry habits were learned, I wonder?  My mom had wooden built-in bins under the counter in her laundry-room/pantry/storeroom/mudroom which was on the first floor.  She had whites bin, a darks bin, a dress clothes bin, and a linens/towels bin (if I recall correctly).  If she had a particular system for doing laundry, I was not privy to it.  I know she used to throw the second floor dirty clothes down the stairs in a big heap and I used to play in that heap of dirty clothes until they were transported to their places (EEW gross!).  There was a laundry bin in the upstairs bathroom and then in each bedroom closet.  When we got older, we were welcome to throw our clothes into the communal bins but mostly we did them ourselves.  Left to my own devices I did clothes as needed.  I generally separated lights and darks.  Machine dried them.  Only did delicates, sweaters, and line-dryers when absolutely necessary.

Washing on demand became my modus operandi when I got married.  We’ve always had a private washer and dryer and could launder at leisure. Mostly as the kids arrived, I continued in that regard.  Sometimes going long periods and doing a big catch-up and sometimes plugging along every few days.  Often throwing in a load when we ran out of something like Jack’s pants or towels.   I’ve always done all of the laundry.  Both washing and putting away, with only occasional help from the kids or husband.   I’ve never been an everyday laundry doer.  I’m in the process of deciding whether or not I need to start being one.

The thing about laundry that I have always known but am more aware of as I work through creating a plan, is that it is about much more than just the dirty clothes in the laundry baskets.  It’s about what’s in the drawers and how things are being worn. It’s about what level of control you want to exert over the dressing habits of your family.

More on this soon.

Climbing To The Top Again

I know in the last post, I mentioned how I am trying to better manage this family.  Well, after I started figuring out how I wanted our daily routine to play out I focused on getting used to that and getting caught up in laundry.  (I won’t even go into the topic of laundry because — wow — weirdly laundry is one of those things that can really highjack the flow.  Why this is? Who knows, but it’s another blog post.  And one I’m actually looking forward to writing!)  I literally finished the last catch-up load and pared down the kids clothes in their drawers when we went off to Michigan for a week to hang out with my family while my husband clocked a couple dozen hours of overtime.  When we came back, it wasn’t pretty.  I felt like I had been thrown to square one and then knocked a few steps back.

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It’s strange, though probably not strange if you think about it, when I didn’t have any schedule in place “re-entry” after a trip wasn’t much of a big deal.  It was painful, as it always is when you have extra unpacking and such, but it didn’t send me into a tailspin.  This time, I totally got thrown for a loop and didn’t know how to climb back “on top” of life.  I think I didn’t know how to adjust the routine I had originally set in place to accommodate all of the extra work involved.  Things snowballed.

The re-entry lesson was a good one to learn.  It made me realize that I can’t really *ever* fly by the seat of my pants if I want to thrive in the home management sphere.  I need to figure out working schedules for special circumstances so that I don’t lose whole weeks to chaos on account of travel or sickness or what-have-you.

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Also, I was really too cocky when I got back.  I didn’t consult my written order for the day right away and do my best to get into the groove early on.  Instead, I let things get out of hand.

Another thing I learned this week (and last) is that I have a hard time separating myself from my to-do list.  If something needs to be done and is weighing on me, I want to drop everything and do it.  I let that thing take total priority over proper meal prep and the kid’s school stuff and diaper changes and everything else you can think of.  It’s a self-control problem I think.  An impulse problem.  Also a trust issue.  Like if I don’t do it now, I don’t trust that I’ll be able to do it in a set-aside future time.  Needless to say, I need to work on this.

This morning a special project I have been working on (yep, the last paragraph was referring to it) got completed and put into the mail (check my sewing blog maybe next week for more on that).  The house I arrived home to after going to the post office was completely destroyed after lots of neglect, but my hired helper and her sisters came this afternoon to set things to right and I’m feeling very positive about getting back into a well-balanced routine as of today.  Or…those are my famous last words.

Anyway, must go make sure Jack isn’t outside with the girls while I’m tapping away in the basement.

Hopefully more posts coming sooner than later.

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A Life I Can Handle — A Journey Towards A Well-Managed Life?

The last few weeks have been an adventure for me.  I’ve embarked on something of a life-overhaul!  I feel like there are pages and pages of musings I’ve been writing in my head and they could account for a whole series of blog posts. Honestly I’d love to write it all down but I’ve been having a hard time knowing how to introduce what I’m up to and I’m not quite sure I want to allocate any time to talking about it all after that.

But to start.  Here, let me at least start and see what comes of the effort.  This post is going to be a mess.  Hopefully you can make some sense of it.

There are all sorts of nooks and crannies to the explanation of how this overhaul began.  I’m not sure I can tease it all out, but I will tell you this.  I had hit a wall in home management.  It’s ironic that someone like me, a girl who wants to be open to having however many children God might choose to send me, would not have also at some point committed to creating a proper framework on which to hang the many tasks involved in taking care of those kids.  But I hadn’t.  Oh I tried now and again to harness control of certain aspects of our days, but never on an over-arching, all encompassing level.  And most of my attempts in the past have disappointed and exhausted me.

Until I just had enough.  Had enough of a life “too big” for me to handle.

I guess in the past, I hadn’t reached that point where I couldn’t fly by the seat of my pants.  But when you have four, you just can’t anymore.  You can’t do everything you need to do without allotting time and energy to do it.  You realize more fully that time and energy are finite resources.  (I know, I know!  But now I know.)  For the most part, there was enough of me to go around in the past, when I had fewer kids and less on my plate.  Not so much these days.

Okay, so I realized I needed to overhaul my life to make it manageable, but how?  Where to start?

A few weeks ago I wrote down all of the tasks that need to be accomplished to cover the bare essentials of caring for my family for a single day.  I needed to visualize it.  Play with it.  I took apart tasks and wrote down not just “lunch” but “prep food” “prep table” “get drinks” “serve/eat” “clear table” “wipe table” “sweep floor” “put food away”.  It helped me to grasp both the amount of work involved but also the number of things that I didn’t need to be doing.  It was a place to start.  Helped me own my life to some degree.

Since then I’ve started playing with a schedule and following it.  Finding a natural place in each day to do each thing.  Forming task relationships (aka do dishes whenever the baby is in the highchair).  Making goal times during the day to complete certain things (tidy my room before Evie takes her first nap).  That first week, I exhausted myself simply trying to bring the house back into a maintenance level.  Things devolve quickly when you have more kids.  It’s almost shocking how quickly!

My thinking is that I should be able to keep the house reasonably clean, my children fed and clothed, and the priorities taken care of.

I think this whole adventure is really a journey in doing that — bringing my life down to my level and to the place where I can be “on top” of my life and not drowning in responsibility.

A List Of Ten

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I should be reading a book for my book club that meets tomorrow.  Did I mention I was invited to join a book club?  It meets monthly.  The first month I walked out of the door into freezing rain and took one look at the van with old tires and decided book club was not worth dying for.  The second month, I managed to get there and even stayed for the whole two hours!  The third month I had the flu.  This month, ahhhh, this month it will be held a half hour away from 2-4 and I’m not sure I can justify the departure tomorrow after spending three hours at the salon today.

(2)

Three hours at the salon and for the first time since the advent of my hair highlighting, someone messed it up.  I knew as she blow dried it — about 2.5 hours into the process — that we were in trouble but I think I was in denial about how bad it was until I got to the car.  They have tricky lighting at those salons you know.

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This situation is not what I define as “blond highlights.”  I called to see if I could have it fixed and the next available time that works for both the stylist and me is in three weeks.  I haven’t been this disappointed about my hair since that one time I got it cut the summer of my freshman year.

(4)

Today has not been my day.  After the salon, I got home to find two boxes of Do-se-do’s delivered by the neighbor girl.  I thought I had ordered Semoas!

Then, the cap fell off of the pepper when I went to season the meatloaf.

(5)

Four things about the kids:

Evie:  We have these “carry along” Catholic board books that have handles at the top of them and they are Evie’s go-to books.  She’s very demanding about reading them while sitting on my lap.  One of the pictures is of the nativity and I say “shhhhh, baby Jesus is sleeping” and she puts her finger to my mouth and tries to make the shhhhhh-ing noise.

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Jack:  Jack is our quickest child to say “I’m sorry” and “I love you too” and that boy just melts my heart.  But you know what else he does?  Almost every day he takes his diaper off after he poops and then runs through the house to find me.  I don’t think I need to further discuss how disgusting this is.  Yes, he needs to be potty trained.  No, I don’t want to talk about it.

ZouZou:  ZouZou likes wolves and generally refuses to have her picture taken.

Roo:  Has been wearing her hair in Pippi Longstocking pigtails for two days.

(6)

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Did you know there is a girl with a blog out there who does nothing but try on narrow calf boots and then write reviews on them?  That’s right.  A woman with a 12″ calf like mine is out there trying on boots for me and telling me whether or not they fit!  The wonders of the internet never cease.

(7)

Mr. S. clocked 18.75 hours of overtime this last pay period.  This wouldn’t be significant if not for the fact that 14.75 of them were worked after 7 p.m.  I’d tell you how many nights I put the kids to bed, but I think I may have blocked that part out of my memory!

(8)

Finally coming to grips with the fact that household maintenance is not happening as it ought right now (hmmm…how many months weeks can I keep “clean the shower” on the to-do list?), I am hiring a teenage girl to come help me clean once a week for two hours.  I’m actually pretty darn excited about this.

(9)

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(10)

Daylight savings time Sunday.  If you are friends with me on other social media websites, probably go ahead and block out whatever I write there.  We all know it won’t be pretty ;)

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A Million Playroom Pics!

We finally did some work on the playroom and I’ve been waiting to share about it until it was “finished” but the fabric I ordered last week to make curtains and redo the seats on the chairs is stuck in Georgia somewhere.

We aren’t those people on HGTV who walk into a house and say “EEEEEW, this room has wood paneling! (Or ugly carpet, etc.) We could NEVER live here!”  We are the type of people who don’t want to do the big work — drywall and plumbing, for example — but can happily see past cosmetic flaws.

One of the reasons we were sold on the house we purchased is that all of the big stuff was in place — the walls and bathroom and such — and the house was in excellent shape — clean and maintained — but it pretty much all needed updating.  Though it took a great deal of self-control we didn’t do a lot of work on the house last year because we didn’t know where we would end up financially come December.  Well, we were still on our feet come the New Year and it’s tax return season so we felt comfortable starting renovations.  In the playroom!

Here are some pics I took of it last year before we had done anything.

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That last picture is of the wall to your left when you get to the bottom of the stairs.  The door goes into the utility and laundry room.  The room is 12×21 feet, give or take and according to the neighbors that brown carpeting was once in the living room.  The painted walls are poured concrete and the floor underneath is vinyl tile.

This is what it looked like during the working period…

WP_20150124_11_52_57_ProAt one point, I had let the girls paint on the wall, in case you were wondering :).

It took two coats of primer and one full coat of “I guess I hate this color because now the room looks like a prison cell” paint…

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And then we got some help from my parents painting the final coat of new paint and installing cabinets and a counter.

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Originally we were planning to discount carpet shop but when push came to shove (and the temps dropped and we all got sick, again!), we bought economy carpet at Home Depot and upgraded carpet padding and Mr. S “installed it,” which is to say, he put it on top of the vinyl without attaching it.

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It was a day long venture.  The children watched TV all day and boy did we pay the price for that!

Totally worth it.

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I didn’t want to put any toys back in there!  We couldn’t exactly leave them in the room next door:

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We split the difference by putting as much as we could in the closets and now, as of this morning, the room looks like this:

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The kids like the jungle gym in the middle of the room. They run around it and play behind it. It’s very easy to move, thankfully. I leave the slide off to the side when it’s like this and Evie plays on it on the floor.  The bin underneath has scarves and pieces of fabric they like to use on the jungle gym to make it into a house.

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This is my favorite part of the “new room”! I wanted to get rid of the table because it took up too much space and this is the perfect solution to the kids needing a surface for coloring or whatever. I have some ideas for the backsplash area. If you are wondering, the tubs on top of the cabinets have extra paper and coloring books in them and the tub underneath has completed art work. if I don’t have a massive storage zone nearby for their precious work they stash it in every corner they can find. After a while when they’ve forgotten about it, I’ll sort through and throw away the non-keepers).

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The kitchen set had to go back in and Evie loves that little chair so it’s here until she outgrows it. Most of the toys are in bins in the closets now.

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Jack’s favorite pastime is “working” on the jungle gym with his tools. The tools go in the closet now too.

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Riding and pushing stuff.

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The navy wall! When we painted the basement the first time and it looked like a cell, part of the problem was that it needed something to open it up visually after the dark paneling was gone — enter the navy wall to give it some depth. That sliding closet on the end holds play tents and such.

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The cabinets (can you believe my parents found those for $10 a piece?!) hold art supplies and puzzles mostly. I was very surprised to find how much the kids wanted to play with this stuff once they had a spot to sit down and work on them. The markers and pencils used to, literally, be all over the house but they haven’t left this area since we finished the room.

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The counter was a piece of laminated wood that cost $5. Very sturdy and cleans well.

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My dad hooked us up with an outlet! And replaced the black outlet covers.

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That’s that.

Wow, I’ve gotta run.  The house rest of the house is falling apart in a big way as I write this!  I think I hear Jack in the kitchen.

Discouragement and Humility in Motherhood

We’ve been homebound a lot lately with the sicknesses and the car troubles and the cold weather.  (I am not a fan of leaving the house with four children in car seats in sub-zero wind chill!) Plus my husband has been working a lot of overtime.  I’ve had plenty of time to wander around the house surveying the state of the family.

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I’ve been thinking about how difficult it can be right now for me to maintain a level of cheer throughout the days.  It seems particularly easy to slide into discouragement and I think one of the reasons is that when you are home alone with the kids all of the time, you spend your days pretty much marinating in your own weaknesses.  The thing about being a mom is that you have an incredible and terrifying amount of power over your environment.  When the house is a mess, who do you blame?  Yourself.  When the meals aren’t working, who do you blame?  Yourself.  When the kids aren’t receiving the level of enrichment you think they need, who do you blame?  Yourself!

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The kicker is — as the person in charge, you really are the one responsible!  You can’t pass the buck.  The house is a mess because you aren’t disciplined and you aren’t consistent with your kids.  The meals aren’t working because you didn’t meal plan or you half-assed the grocery shopping trip.  The kids aren’t getting the best education/etc. because you aren’t giving it to them.  Yes, you have a bunch of little humans on your hands with their own tendencies toward chaos, but you are the one who teaches them to rise above their base impulses.  So much of what they do is rooted in the world you provide for them. The things you allow them to do. The food you feed them.  The way you order their days.

You have an overwhelming amount of control.

And an overwhelming amount of human weakness to contend with.  For example, I am not a good manager.  I have the management abilities of a fruit fly.  Along with the discipline of said fly!  I don’t struggle with being too strict, with obsessing about order and expecting too much of the kids.  I struggle with an inability to set the bar high enough and it shows in every aspect of our life.  I live in the ramifications of that weakness every moment of the day and that can be incredibly humbling.

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Humility is good, of course.  Vital.  But true humility is about knowing who you are in light of who God is.  Not losing sight of your value by defining yourself by your own inabilities.  The latter is such a temptation when you are a stay at home mom.

My Father’s Father

2186_1083401291669_3589_nThe other day as my dad affixed a new counter to my basement wall and I sat on the stairs nearby trying not to puke from the most recent stomach bug, I asked him to tell me what his dad, Grandpa, was like.

I don’t ever remember meeting my paternal grandfather and honestly I don’t even know what year he died.  I know I was born by then but that’s about it.  I’ve seen pictures of my grandfather as a man and can envision him in my head as an old man — a smallish person like my own father in some ways but with less hair and fleshier cheeks and large rimmed glasses — but up until now I don’t know that I’ve ever thought much about him.

“You know, Grandpa lived through the Great Depression,” my dad said.  “And that colored the way he lived his life.  He never went to school past maybe third grade and work was hard to find to support my family.”

My dad was the sixth of seven kids. (I am the sixth of his seven.)  There were only two girls in his family, the first two, and the oldest died as child.  I have seen a black and white photo of her, my Aunt Phyllis, as a baby and she had this incredible curly hair around her sweet doll face.  Dad said she walked maybe three miles home from school on the day she fell ill with spinal meningitis and when the doctor arrived, was immediately quarantined.  My grandfather wasn’t allowed to see her that night when he came home from work and he never saw her alive again.

“Grandpa was a maintenance man at a foundry.  When he walked in the door at the end of the day, all you could see of his flesh was the skin around his eyes and the rest of him was covered in black grime.  We never really knew what he was like as kids because he was exhausted from the long hard hours.  He would fall asleep in church on Sunday.  It wasn’t until we were older that we found out what he was really like.  He was funny! And fun to be with!”

As my father told me this, my mind flew to my grandma.  What was it like for her?  To lose her precious firstborn with the curly hair?  To watch her husband work himself to death?  To run the house — four boys! — in his absence?

I was in first grade the year my grandmother died.  We all drove to Minnesota in the full-sized white Dodge van with the blue stripe down the side.  They sang “The King of Love My Shepard Is” at her funeral.  For as long as I can remember, my father has choked through the words of that song and I already know we will be singing it at his funeral.  I will probably never be able to sing it without crying after that.

“Grandpa ran circles around your dad when he came out to help us build the house when you were a baby,” my mom chimed in.  “He could really work.”

“When he retired from the foundry, he got a part-time job,” my dad said.  “The place he worked had a port-a-potty that had been vandalized, tipped over by teenagers or something, and the boss told him to clean it.”  Dad laughed as he told the story. “My father went out there and took one look at that toilet covered in crap and he went back to his boss and told him he could take that job and shove it!”

“His whole life, every job he ever had, he had wanted to say that to his boss but he never could because he was uneducated and work was hard to come by and he had a big family to feed.  Until that day with the port-a-potty.  He finally got to say it.”

My mom has boxes of pictures and memorabilia from her own parents and I know a great deal of her history.  But not my dad.  There were not many physical objects  to pass along to the sixth child.  It’s all tucked away in memories.  Memories that my father doesn’t think to tell and I don’t think to ask about.  That needs to change.

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