Rays of Sunshine

Despite the fact that Ben emptied the entire contents of the silverware drawer this morning and we had to leave the science museum early because Jack couldn't resist the temptation to throw crayons into the water table, I have really good kids. Here's why I try and remind myself that this is normal, healthy behavior for normal, healthy boys!

But honestly, they really are quite cute. And lately, they've been doing a lot of things that melt my heart.

They're really into books and are thrilled that I pulled out some of our paper books too rather than restricting them to the hardcover. We've had to tape a few pages back together, but on the whole, they're not too bad with them. A sight that I will never tire of us watching Jack take a book to the seat of the couch and place it on the cushion. Then, standing there in front of the couch, he turns the pages one by one, and points and talks as he looks at each page. I just love it. Their favorite books are currently "The Little Engine that Could," "My Mommy & Me Story Bible," "First Animals" (which I can't find on Amazon.com) and "Days on the Farm." Oh, and "Bugs for Lunch." They get a kick out of pretending to eat the bugs on the page because mommy goes nuts.
As I mentioned before, one of their current favorites is "The Little Engine that Could." They love pointing to the trains and all of the animals waiting for another train to rescue them and pull them up the mountain. It's almost always their first choice when we snuggle together before naptime or bedtime. In reading it with them, I never realized how much I had communicated the sadness each of the toys felt in getting rejected by each of the passing trains. "Look, the elephant is sad," I would say, pointing to the crying toy. "No one will help them up the mountain." Now, whenever we see the characters in that book, the boys scrunch their faces and "talk" in a whiny tone. Took me a while to realize they were voicing the sentiments of the toys! Just adorable.

And when the boys aren't fighting over the same toy or pulling for mommy's attention, they absolutely love their brother. I really hope this lasts. This morning I realized how much Benjamin thinks Jonathan is his baby. Perhaps that's a bit of a stretch and he's just suuuuuper helpful and kind... most of the time, that is ;) But if I'm changing Jonathan's diaper, Ben will plop himself down next to Jack and stroke his hair. He'll pat his stomach and if Jack's crying, he'll run to get a toy for him to play with or juice for him to drink. Jonathan tends to be more independent so if he goes off into the other room to read on the floor, Ben will run to follow him and sit down next to him. When Jack gets up, so does Ben. When I'm changing Jack's diaper, Ben will wrap his arms around his brother as an attempt to either hug him or lift him up. Most of the time, this doesn't bother Jack at all. When I'm finished with the diaper, he starts to pull him up, though he needs my help to get him up the whole way. Melts.me.every.time.

And my current favorite: when I ask the boys if they have a poopy diaper, their answer is inevitably and abamently "no" by a severe shaking of the head. And you wonder at what age our kids start to lie? Looks like they'e got that one covered already! But then their brother goes behind him to check his diaper. They pull up their shirt and press their nose against their brother's backside. Then they get a concerned look on their face and mumble a few words before expecting me to respond. It really is the sweetest thing. At least to their mommy.

Though they will take eachother's winter hats and run (when we're getting ready to leave the house,) it's adorable to watch them take off their winter gear when we get home. They're usually too quick for their brother in taking off their own hat, but when it's time to pull down the zipper of their jacket, Ben rushes to Jack's aid. He's gotten better with time, though they're not nearly as talented and skilled as their minds tell them they are.

None of these things are amazingly unusual. They're not unique to my boys, nor are they THE most adorable things in the history of children. But for me, these little stories are rays of hope. Sunshine. Bright lights in my day and reminders that quite possibly, I'm doing at least ONE thing right.

Now, please excuse me, while I use the boys' nap to empty out the contents of my utensil drawer in the kitchen before they discover all of the sharp pointy objects and use them as swords.


Serenity NOW

I am not a fan of change. But with two toddlers, change is the only thing in my life that remains constant.

The last few days have been especially challenging for this mommy. I feel like I just......... can't......... keep........ up with these guys!

They learned how to open the sliding door to our room... so now I have to lock it. They started opening the bathroom cupboards... so I had to relocate all of my cleaning supplies. They started using props to reach the car keys on the hook... so I had to move them to the upper cabinet. They started opening the freezer door... so I had to empty it out and move 'kid friendly' things to the front. They started grabbing things from the refrigerator door... so I had to move the glass bottles to the top and the plastic to the bottom. I keep the dining room chairs in our bedroom during the day, towels draped over the doors to keep them from pinching their fingers and spoons on the outside of the utensil drawer.

Do you get the idea?

I'm not super protective. I like my boys to explore and manipulate things. But it's got to be safe. I try to keep an eye on them, but they are two individuals who don't always do the same thing at the same time! And not only are these boys pushing the safety limit, they're pushing my sanity limit! I am exhausted. I'm all about making a safe environment for my kids to safely play and discover. But c'mon, this is just NUTS!

And go ahead. Tell me that I shouldn't change my life around just for my kids. That I shouldn't use outlet covers or hide my plants because they need to know what's okay and what's not when they go out into the real world. Go ahead. Do it. I dare you.

This morning they started climbing the organizer in their bedroom, which houses all of the bins, bags and toys. We've been meaning to secure it to the wall, but since this is Andy's busy season with the rentals, I haven't bothered him with it. I had been scared they'd climb it, it would get top heavy and then fall down. I don't even want to think about what would come of that. But this morning, Jack propped himself up on a box of diapers and climbed to the third shelf. I removed the box and so he climbed up again without it. The more I tried to discourage it, the more it attracted them. Both of them. The moment I pull one down, the other's already half way up again. I felt like a hair away from a breakdown. I hurried them out of the room, carrying one in each arm (kicking and screaming) and locked both doors, determined to get rid of that organizer once Andy got home.

They're.......... driving............ me................. crazy.

At one point, I turned away and heard them throwing bags of frozen vegetables and small ice packs onto the floor. They had gotten into the freezer again. I just collapsed on the couch. Put my head back and pretended like I was going to take a nap. That was my limit. I couldn't do it. I thought, fine. Go ahead. Pull everything out of there and make an insane amount of work for me. I don't care. I really don't.

And I started crying.

My boys haven't brought me to tears (sad ones, I mean) in quite a while. There were points in the first year when I was home-bound, pumping every three hours and listening to two babies scream that I thought I was a hair away from the looney bin. Loss of sleep will do that to you. But while the increased independence has made life easier in many ways (including a fantastic sleeping schedule and being able to take more trips,) in other ways, it has made it sooooo much more difficult.

I allowed myself to cry out of self pity for a few moments. I felt like I had reached my limit. There was nothing more I could do. My boys had finally gotten the best of me. Defeated me. And I just didn't have the energy to fight it. You win, boys. Play all you want, do what you'd like, and I'll just pick up the pieces, kiss the wounds and ice the bruises when you're done.

I don't know that this story has a happy ending just yet, but the boys did go down for a nap. They're quietly sleeping in their cribs now, like little innocent cherubs. And I couldn't be more grateful.

What makes motherhood so incredibly challenging? It's the ups and downs. The tugging of the leg, the pulling of the arm, the constant need for attention. The pushing of the limits, the idea of having to change your world in order to keep your sanity. It's not for wimps, that's for sure. Even my toughest day in the classroom doesn't match an average day working at home. There are no mandatory thirty-minute lunch breaks. No private bathroom stops. No free working periods. It's constant, mundane, challenging, overwhelming and just plain exhausting.

So I'd like to raise a glass to all of the hard-working stay-at-home moms out there. Especially since I could really use a stiff drink about now. Too bad I don't drink. Perhaps I should. Moms, you are doing a good thing. Don't give up. The morning always comes, even after the darkest of days.

Serenity NOW!


The Centurion's Secret

I have music on all day long.
My boys LOVE music. As soon as they finish their sippy cups of milk in the morning, they reach, point, and whine for me to turn on the CD player. I love it. Being a music lover myself, this excites me.

Our music of choice lately is either Psalty, the Donut Man or Chrisian kids' choruses. Do you sense a theme? Yes, it's all Christian music. If you come to my house, you'll probably hear one of three favorite tracks playing on repeat, which are silenced only when they boys go down. I've noticed that it changes the tone of my day when there are positive themes and phrases playing over and over. (There's also a chance you'll hear country music or perhaps even some show tunes, especially when mommy is cleaning. But you didn't hear that from me.)
We were listening to the Donut Man CD yesterday - one that I remember from when my brother was just a toddler - and one of the songs hit me in a new way. It made me think about what it means for us to have the "childlike faith" that God talks about in the Bible.

The song is called "The Centurion's Secret." It's about a soldier that comes to Jesus and requests He heals his servant, who is ill. (You can listen to the first part of the song here; it's track #13.) Rather than wait for Jesus to follow him to his servant's house, the soldier says, "Just say the word and I know he will be healed." Jesus was impressed by this man's faith. He knew Jesus was God and that He had the power, desire and ability to heal the sick. "I too am a man under authority. I say come, and they come. I say go, and they go... Just say the word and I know, he'll be healed as I go."

That's it!

That's faith. The soldier knew that Jesus could heal and He would, when asked. The soldier knew that all Jesus had to do was say the word and it would be done. He didn't even have to be in front of the man that needed healing. He was God and He was (and is) more than able. There was no doubt that his request would be granted.

When our kids ask for juice, they expect to be given juice. Not milk, not water, not blueberries. Juice. When they reach for mom, they know they will be resting in their mom's arms within moments. Not Dad's or Grandma's or the neighbor nextdoor. They ask, we grant. They know we want what's best for them and trust us to follow through.

That's what it means to have the faith of a child!

When I come to God, do I really expect Him to come through? Do I believe that beyond a shadow of a doubt, my request will be granted? Prayers are a funny thing. Sometimes I wonder how much our prayers are meant to change God's mind and how much our prayers actually begin to change us. I've learned that God always answers our prayers, even if they are answered differently than we had expected... sometimes he says "yes." But other times, He may say "no." And then there are other times when He says, "Not now."

Coming to Him in faith means that I am fully aware of the fact that He is MORE than capable of granting my request. But just as a good parent doesn't always give their kids exactly what they want and when, He waits to bless us in ways that will better glorify Him and ultimately, bring us joy.

That Centurion Soldier really did have the secret. Faith. Knowing God is capable and that He truly wants what's best for us. All we have to do is believe He will do what He said He would.

And reap the rewards.


Psychoanalyzing my OCD

I'm beginning to understand my recent organization kick. I've come up with a few reasons.

First of all, I like to be organized. Always have. I like boxes, separators and compartments. I get excited when my spice containers are side-by-side and get tingles down my back when I see labeled bins, all stacked in a row. Call it obsessive, neurotic, psychotic. Either way, it's who I am. I can't really see myself changing any time soon, so I've learned to just embrace it.

Second of all, it makes everything easier. Spending the last hour of my life going through three more of my kitchen cupboads makes me... well, I guess it makes me a little pathetic... but it also cuts down the time I spend in the kitchen. I reorganized my spice cabinet so the spices I use most often are near the front. I took out the huge platters that had been taking over my lower cupboard so there was more room for the pots and pans I use every day. I took out the coffee mugs that I had been harboring for almost four years because we don't use them. I mean, really. For two people who don't even drink coffee? It's a useless waste of space. And then I moved our smaller glasses to the attic (in a labeled bin, of course) so I could make more room for our Tupperware cups and bowls. Because with toddlers, Tupperware is just smarter; life is just too short to clean up glass. When things are kept in places that make sense, within reach and in a space that others could find them too, you're able to spend more time doing things you want to do.

And lastly - and perhaps the most psycho-analytic of the three - is that organization is one element of my life that I can control. My kitchen drawers, bathroom cupboards and craft supplies are areas of MY domain. I have say about what goes where, how it's best utilized and for how long I want it that way. I decide if that organizer is most efficiently used in which cupboard and what is inside. I decide how many Ziploc bags I will need when gathering my boys' toys. I have the first and last word. It really is a beautiful thing. Well, that and my husband really couldn't care less about such things.

Other areas of my life? Not so much. I mean, yeah, I (along with Andy) decide how we want to raise our kids. We talk about it a lot. More than you could imagine, actually. But Jack and Ben have a little thing called "free will" that restricts me from treating them like robots. They do not always do what I say, when I want them to do it. It can be frustrating for sure, especially when I feel like I know what's best. But honestly, would I really want them to be like that? The answer is most definitely no. I want them to be free, independent thinkers, who constantly think about God's best and how He would want them to live their lives. I don't want them to be determined to tune out Mom's voice of direction and redirection just because that's the only voice I've trained them to hear.

The boys will be two in less than three months, but I'm already feeling like we've begun to round the corner on the Terrible Twos. They want to do things themselves (even if their bodies can't quite match their desire) and they're exploring the boundaries. Some days are exhausting just trying to stay a step ahead of them. I've already cleaned out the entire contents of our 'junk' drawer and the top two drawers of my computer desk because I couldn't stand the many times I was saying, "Don't touch." But at the same time, it really is exciting watching them become more of the man God wants them to be. They're exploring their surroundings and in turn, discovering themselves.

And this is one way I can help: by organizing my kitchen cupboards when they're sleeping. Then I can be there to sit, play, watch, admire, encourage, redirect, motivate, hang out and teach when they're awake. True, it's a little obsessive. Perhaps I'm out of control. It's possible that I need professional help.

But I'm alright with that.


The BEST Chocolate Chip Cookies. Ever.

The best chocolate chip cookie recipe - at least in my opinion - comes from Betty Crocker herself. The most basic and simple recipe is also the most delicious. But it's not just what you do, but how you do it. Be sure to read my tried-and-true tips below. The most important is timing.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 c. margarine or butter, softened
3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 egg
2-1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. chopped nuts (optional)
1-12 oz. pkg. semisweet chocolate chips
Heat oven to 375'. Mix margarine, sugars, and egg. Stir in flour, baking soda and salt (dough will be stiff.) Stir in nuts and chocolate chips. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls about 2" apart onto greased cookie sheet. Bake until light brown, 8-10 minutes. Cool slightly. Remove from cookie sheet. Makes about 6 dozen cookies.

  • I like using 1 stick of margarine and 1 stick of butter, when available. I feel like that combination turns out best. My opinion, though.
  • I never add nuts, but that's just me. Chocolate chips alone are fantastic.
  • The timer is set for 8 minutes and 20 seconds after putting in a tray of dough. I take it out seconds after the timer beeps, when I can see a very slight, light brown crust at the bottom. The centers will be soft. They will continue to set after you take them out to cool. If you wait to remove them from the oven when they are brown at the tops, they are already hard. Burned. Not good.
  • Let sit on a cooling rack for at least fifteen minutes before moving to a serving tray.
Take it out when you see that slight light brown and you'll have a perfect cookie. Every time. Yummmm.


Corned Beef and Cabbage

This easy recipe is sure to please everyone at your table on St. Patty’s Day… or any day, for that matter! Just throw everything in the Crockpot and let it sit. Voila! Makes great leftovers, too.

Corned Beef and Cabbage
4.5# corned beef brisket
2 medium onions, quartered
1 head cabbage, cut in small wedges
6-8 red potatoes, quartered
1 bag baby carrots
½ tsp. pepper
3 T. vinegar
3 T. sugar
2 c. water

Pour contents of seasoning packet on brisket before putting in the Crockpot (cut meat to fit, if necessary.) Combine all other ingredients with cabbage on top. Cover and cook on low 10-12 hours or on high 6-7 hours.


Something to Work On

As a mom, I feel like there is always something to work on.

Probably because THERE IS!

Today's project was the kitchen.

I'm laying on the couch now, exhausted, after using an hour of the boys' nap going through my kitchen cupboards. Do you remember the last time you looked through your kitchen cupboards? Wow. I don't even know how I acquired all of that stuff! Some of it just didn't belong and other things I haven't used in months! Some of the most embarrassing items included camera chargers, baby cereal, and bottle tops. I've got old glasses to pass onto my brother-in-law and odd cups and mugs going to Good Will. I removed our glassware and replaced it with Tupperware (can we say "toddlers have invaded our house"?) I took away big bowls I wasn't using and will put them in the basement. It feels really good!

But I'm not done.

Whenever I get another dash of motivation, I'll go through my pots and pans. Then that tiny drawer below my oven. Then maybe someday I'll go through the Tupperware cupboard and match all of those lids with their owners. Then let's not forget about the food cupboards, which probably have a fair share of expired items. I have plenty more to keep me busy. Because there's always something to work on!

Today is also day three of Operation Get the Boys to Eat in their Highchairs Again. Another bad habit, brought on by uncomfortable, sick boys and a mom who just wanted to get them to eat. And stop crying. Especially at the dinner table. Yeah, we're working on that. How long was I expecting to be able to hold them both in my lap?

We're also in the process of Operation Allow the Boys to be Comfortable on the Toilet. I don't have any expectations - it's still a little early for my guys - but I am pleased that they don't scream when they sit on their little toilets. The big toilet, yes. Their little ones, no. Progress. So yeah, we're working on that.

And then there's Operation Cleanup. They do pretty well putting their toys back in the Ziploc bags, but man, that gets exhausting. I mean, I've gotta take toys out, put them back, rotate them to keep their interest, save toys/activities for rainy days (or restaurants) while also stimulating their learning. Yup, no problem. We're working on that too.

Not to forget everything else, though. I'm trying to organize playgroups, come up with new meals for my husband, experiment with new foods for the boys, lose weight (yeah, right,) spend quality time with my husband, hang out with my girlfriends, complete my MOPS responsibilities, while also making time to spend time with the Lord. Sounds easy enough, right? Oops. I forgot housework. That's a big one.

Being a mom is a lot of work. It is not for the faint of heart. But I do enjoy my job. I get great satisfaction out of knowing my family is cared for.

And I know that I have good job security, too. Because there's always something to work on.


A Sense of Personal Responsibility

As I've said before, I'm trying to organize.

In a two-bedroom apartment, space is limited. We work with the space we have, but it feels like the boys keep pushing back the boundaries. They're getting too big and too curious to stay within such a small area!

Ever since they started crawling, I had a gate to separate their bedroom and the kitchen from their playarea (which used to be our dining and living rooms.) When they started requiring more space, I would open the kitchen gate in the afternoon. It may sound silly, but it helped break up the day.

A few weeks ago, the boys started to climb the gates and could easily get over them. Frustrated, I started putting two gates on top of eachother. I've been afraid that if I let them play in their bedroom, they would start climbing their cribs and then I'd be forced to go to Plan B whether it be crib nets or toddler beds. I also hated the thought of them pulling their dresser drawers open and throwing their clean clothes throughout the room. But when they started pushing their highchairs over to the double gate and climbing in order to get over the big barrier, I knew I had to adjust. Again.

What is it about having kids that never allows you to stay in the same place for too long? My life has been in a constant transition since the boys have been born!

So I worked on clearing out their bedroom of all clutter and moved their dresser into my bedroom. The only things left in there were their cribs and a big shelf we had been using for toys, sheets, shoes, etc. I put the sheets and socks in bins at the top, but the rest of the organizer is full of toys.

 Ben and Jack enjoy their new space together
You'll notice there is only one little bin out on the floor. Ever since the boys were about a year old, I've worked with them on cleaning up after themselves. I put similar toys in a small canvas tote (I got these orange ones on clearance at Target a few months ago and the white canvas ones at Target as well) or in a big Ziploc bag. We like the Ziploc or Hefty bags with sliders because the boys can manipulate them back and forth by themselves. We play with one set of toys at a time. When they want to play with another one, I say, "Do you want to play with the blocks? Okay, let's clean up these toys first." They understand what they have to do: put all of those toys back in the tote so mommy can get more. When they have something to look forward to, they have no problem putting the others away!
Please don't think this works perfectly. It doesn't. But this is what we've been working toward. I remember reading that at this age, we should expect about 60% obedience. That was encouraging to hear. There are times when no matter how much coaxing or bribing I try, they are just NOT going to comply. So I give up. I clean it up myself and move on. We don't need perfection, but progress. I'm constantly amazed at what my little ones are capable of. I still push the toys toward the bin and help them put the smallest ones away. I refuse to just sit back and bark orders; we work together. I don't want to discourage them by the vastness of their project so I help get them going.
One of the white canvas totes houses some of our books, about 1/3 of our collection, that I keep rotating with others in the living room. They seem to appreciate them more when they don't see the same ones as often.
Notice that towel on the door? That's to keep them from closing the doors on eachother's hands. It's a very low-budget safety lock that has saved many fingers in this house ;)

Each white canvas tote is filled with 2-4 Ziplock bags of toys. The Little People have their own bag. McDonald's happy meal toys have another. We don't have many Thomas trains or tracks yet, so they fit into another bag. Our Mr. Potato Heads and accessories are in a large Hefty bag. Small trucks and cars have another bag. Our MegaBlocks are in a larger white tote because we have so many.

I've learned that the boys like having things in categories. It's much more easy to identify which toys belong together when they constantly see them together. If we are playing with the blocks and Jonathan finds a loose train from the Thomas set, he'll bring it over to me saying, "Uh oh, uh oh, uh oh." He knows that it doesn't belong and will not rest until it's home with its other train friends. I love it.

Gosh, what kind of obsessive compulsive tendencies am I encouraging? ;)

There are many toys that do not go into bags. Large toys and riding toys will obviously be out in the play area most of the time (I will switch them with other large toys in the attic to keep the boys interested and lessen the amount of clutter in my house.) But we also have a large toy bin in the living room that houses many of the smaller large toys they play with all the time... balls, stuffed animals, hats, backpacks, cell phones, etc. These toys always clutter my house and it's rare that I'll make them clean them up. But they know how. Sometimes I'll rally them to clean those up before bathtime, but it's more common for me to clean them up while Andy's giving them a bath. That way, those toys will be put away where I want them. I know, I'm nuts like that. It's the toys that are in the bags that I am adament about cleaning up.

This is not a perfect system. It's only been four days since opening their bedroom up to them and I've already had to make some changes. There've been many times where we've got multiple bags open at once and they refuse to help put them away. It's not that big of a deal. I do it myself and start again. The trouble with my system is that it requires me to initiate them in the process. This kind of thing does not come naturally, it must be taught. I have to be with them, encourage them, praise when they do it correctly, and put the bin away before reaching for another. It's exhausting. It really is. But I'm doing it for a reason.

I want my boys to have a sense of personal responsibility. I want them to be grateful for what they have and to take care of the possessions we've been blessed with. I want them to appreciate the work that goes into caring for their things and understand how much easier things are when you do them in smaller steps along the way.

Growing up, my dad always said you should leave things better than how you found it. Even if you weren't the one to make the mess. That's why he would pick up garbage on his nightly walks and if he saw a gum wrapper on the floor at church, he'd pick it up and throw it away. It's not about being a neat freak. Trust me. Most times, it feels like my house IS the garbage dump. But it's about making an effort to leave a good impression. Being a good influence. Doing your part to see that you're being a good witness for the gospel. Striving to be a good reflection of Christ.

And so for me, that involves canvas totes and Ziploc bags. And teaching my little men the value of a little hard work.


Organization 101

During the past few weeks, my goal has been simple. Not easy, but simple.


It started with a meeting at MOPS where we created our own Mommy Binders, which keep track of regular routines including groceries, meals, phone numbers, schedules, etc. Putting this together was a lot of fun for me - after all, who doesn't love anything in sheet protectors and scrapbook paper? - but it really caused me to do a lot of thinking about what it is that I do.

We were encouraged to think about the routines we have already established. To think about how we could make our time more efficient and to do one new thing every week. I had absolutely NO idea this binder would change my lifestyle so drastically!

Some of the biggest changest I've made have to do with food. Not surprising, since I live with three boys. Here are some of the changes I've worked to make in our house:
  • I wrote down a huge list of our favorite meals (and put it in a sheet protector inside my binder) so I can refer to it while planning my weekly meals. Why do we always forget what we like to eat when it's time to plan dinners?
  • I think about our menu options as I cut coupons. If ground beef is on sale, I'll make meatloaf, sloppy jos, and beef stroganoff, for example.
  • I've been doubling recipes and cooking meat ahead of time, then freezing in labeled Ziploc bags. Gosh, why hadn't I started this sooner? I keep a list of all freezer meals and then refer to this list when I'm planning my weekly menu. For a night when I know I would have been out all day, I might plug in one of those freezer meals. This has also worked really well in allowing me to help cook for others! I'm also getting better with freezing leftovers. After all, how much chili can you eat in two days?
  • I started cooking at least one soup a week. My husband works outside in the cold everyday, so he has really enjoyed this! My boys are big fans as well. Surprisingly so. I keep leftovers in labeled Ziploc bags and freeze for another day. When it's time to eat again, I simply thaw the bag in the refrigerator and then reheat, or boil for a few minutes in water and then remove contents from the bag. A great side dish to ANY meal!
  • I've been using the boys' naptimes more efficiently. Since it's not practical for me to try and make dinner with four arms pulling at my legs, I now make dinner while they sleep. After I put the boys down for their nap, I begin making dinner. I'll get everything ready and then put it in the refrigerator. If it's a Crockpot meal, I start cooking it on high (usually, you cook meals for 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high.) This has been working extremely well! It only takes about an hour and then I have the second hour to do what I want. I haven't been as stressed at 4:30pm when I would normally start dinner and so I can be more relaxed with the boys before Andy comes home at 6pm. Today I made corned beef and cabbage and have it cooking in the Crockpot. Who says you can only eat it on St. Patrick's Day?
  • Andy and I have a renewed vision for our 15 minutes after we put the boys down for the night. I know there'll always be at least one load of laundry to fold, the bathroom needs to be wiped down, the dishwasher filled, leftovers put away and Andy's lunch to make. We make ourselves do something for at least 15 minutes, but I know that all of my other chores will take about an hour. When those things are finished (and they don't even take THAT long) then I can have ME time. And I do love me time.
One of my friends dreaded putting the dishes from the dishwasher away and so she timed herself. Any guesses as to how long it took? Three and a half minutes. Why is it that the things we tend to dread most, take the least amount of time to accomplish? Another one of my friends had a great idea for school lunches: she makes all of her kids' lunch sandwiches on Sunday night and then puts them in the freezer. Then she just pulls out the desired sandwiches that morning (or night before) and they're thawed before lunchtime! What a great time saver!

Some of the moms asked what we should do with our kids as we try and clean? While I suppose we could do it while they sleep (if your kids are still taking naps) or after we've shuffled them off to Grandma's (and c'mon, could we all do that everyday?) that may not be very practical. They told us that we should get the kids involved. Give them squirt bottles and a wash cloth to wash the oven door. My boys love doing that, by the way! Allow them to use the Swiffer or the duster. One of my friends said her kids fight over who's going to clean the toilet! What kids don't like cleaning tools? Except my boys, of course. They're still afraid of the vacuum. Guess which mommy never vacuumed when they were babies? Yup. Guilty. I have all of my boys' toys in galloon-sized Ziploc bags with a glider close. They put their toys away every single time. I'll have the pictures to prove it next time! We've been doing it ever since they were about a year old. And trust me, they are more than capable.

The same friend that makes the sandwiches on Sunday night and freezes them has her kids do one "mommy chore" every day. This could include sweeping the floor, vacuuming, setting the table. With four kids ranging from 2-7, she gets a lot done! I believe she has them choose one strip of the paper out of the jar to reveal their job for the day. Another friend writes the chores down on a large sheet of paper and has the kids drop pennies on top to reveal their next job.

I also thought about creating new routines for myself that worked with our schedule:
  • The garbage truck comes on Friday morning, so on Thursday night, I empty all of the garbage bins and clean out the refrigerator. Makes sense, right?
  • An idea from FlyLady.net is to spend one day a week doing what she calls a Weekly Home Blessing. You clean 10 areas of your house for 7-15 minutes each (depending how much time you have allotted.) This includes dusting, sweeping, purging magazines, cleaning the windows, emptying small garbage cans, vacuuming, etc. You don't concentrate on doing a thorough job. You just set the timer and work until it rings, the move onto the next thing. Cleaning isn't such a chore anymore because I don't leave EVERYTHING until I *have* to get it done!
As I've said, this new lifestyle has been wonderful! I'm less stressed in the evenings, more excited about making new things for my family to enjoy, and can spend more time doing things that I like to do. We've also been saving money because there are fewer times when I just can't get dinner together and we go out to eat instead! That's how I rationalized buying myself a Droid Incredible after my old phone died. I told myself that I'd rather pay $30/month to have this phone than spend that on a night out. Trust me, we still get out. But we could definitely afford to cut back. And I win!

Now, back to Tetris on my phone. I'm really getting good at this game! :)