Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Don't Forget the Children

So I've been noticing something troubling in my life, and that is: sometimes I feel so busy, doing all sorts of "important" things, that I forget about my children.

Well, it's not that I forget about them exactly, but I forget how important they are.

It's really quite silly, if you think about it. I'm a stay-at-home-mom, for heavens' sakes. What possibly could I be doing with my time, if I'm not focusing on my kids?

But there are so many things that pull at our time--necessary things (like paying the bills), hobbies (painting walls blue just-for-fun), online friends (do we even know their last names?), trying to make a little "extra cash," that it's easy to become annoyed when our children pull on our time, our hands, our shirts... anything to get our attention.

Then we're snapped back to reality. "Oh yeah, we have KIDS!"

Okay, so I should clarify. Here's NOT what I'm saying: that every moment of every day needs to be 100% focused on your children. That the house can't be quiet for a couple hours every day, so you can concentrate on what ELSE needs to be done. That you can't have hobbies and interests outside of building blocks and dressing dolls and reading Thomas the Train. 

BUT. If you hear your baby crying, and your instant reaction is: "Again?! I'm trying to...!" or you see your son's messy hands, and you think, "Now I have to spend my valuable time washing him?" or a whole host of other ridiculous suggestions, we need to consider...

If we as mothers view our kids as distractions, as interruptions, as nuisances: What is it we are so busy doing anyway?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Few of Our Favorite Books

Besides my Instagram feed, and the occasional article that pops up on Facebook, I really don't read that often. It's not that I don't have the time... it's just that I don't make it a priority. And I'd rather paint my floor in big checkerboard brown-and-white squares (more on that, coming soon!).

So yes, I'd say I read a book every few months.

Unless, of course, you're counting kids' books.

Because if you are, then I probably read a couple hours a day.


Reading is a huge part of our lives. 

We have Daddy reading time, kids' reading by themselves time, and lots and lots of Mommy reading time.

I love the fact that our kids are happy to sit down with a pile of books and just page through them, staring at the pictures! And they're happier still, when they're piled around me, one child in my lap, and we're reading story after story. 

As for our favorite books... we're constantly switching around which books we're reading, as the kids would love to read their "current favorite" a million times in a row, where I need a bit of variety, y'know?

We've enjoyed Thomas and the Big, Big Bridge (a favorite of Matthias's), Frog and Toad, Curious George, Mother Goose, all things Princess (Disney Princess stories, Barbie Princess, and "traditional" Princess tales), Caps for Sale, books about animals, Dr. Suess collections...

But I'd have to say my favorite books of all to read to the kids would be Little Golden Books. 

I especially love the "Classic" ones, such as Little Mommy, Doctor Dan, and the Little Red Caboose. After finding out that Baby #3 was a boy, I bought Daddies and The Fire Engine Book. So glad I did, as Matthias could hear these books on repeat!

As the girls are transitioning out of naps, their "quiet time" in the afternoon usually consists of "reading" in their rooms for a couple hours. This is a wonderful time of day--for both Mommy (who needs a couple hours of quiet!), and the girls. 

And as for my two-year-old... Reading to Matthias is one of the biggest ways I feel like I show him love. The older girls are memorizing addition facts and learning to write their letters, and that stage is so exciting for me that I can sometimes get caught up in educating them--and forget about the little boy toddling around, toolbox in hand, who needs just as much attention as they do.

So sometime, early in the morning, either before school or after school time, or both, I gather up a couple books and Matthias climbs in my lap, and we read. 

I love how bonding these moments are--and I know they are fleeting as well. It won't be long before the kids won't fit on my lap anymore, and they'll be able to read these stories to themselves! 

Until then, bring on the stories!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Batten Board in the Hallway!

Ever since seeing what John and Sherry (from Young House Love) did with the trim (i.e., batten board) in their hallway, I've been excited about that idea.

The project wasn't expensive (somewhere in the $60 range?), but it was very time-consuming. So many boards to paint, so much trim to measure and cut and nail to the wall.

But in the end, I think all that work was worth it! Batten board definitely transformed the hall from "blah" and boring to "WOW!"

You see the batten board as soon as you enter our house...

You can't really tell from the pictures (hello, camera photos!), but the hall is two [very similar] colors. We painted the upper portion Valspar Polar Star (it's a very, very light gray), and the bottom of the wall (including the boards) is Glossy White.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Rainy Saturday Morning + Our Numbered Stairs!

So... long story, but Matt's back to studying several hours a day, besides working full-time. It's a temporary situation, which will [hopefully] lead to many exciting changes for both him and our family! But at the same time, it's sometimes hard on our little family to have a daddy who's reading or working on the computer... and who isn't always available to play blocks or read The Bunny Book (Matthias could hear this book 10 times a day, without tiring of it!)

The weekends seem to be especially difficult. We all are feeling the end to a long week, and everyone (including Mom) can become irritable and frustrated.

I've found that often in this sort of situation, Mom + Kids need to find something different to do, or eat, or play, or watch. I'll pop popcorn, or make a microwave cake, or give the kids a shower...

"I can comb my hair ALL BY MYSELF."
No, seriously, we're all happier when we're clean! If our house had a bathtub, it'd be happening... but we don't, so showers it is.
My latest project was "born" out of needing something different to do. Which is why, one afternoon this past week, I numbered our stairs!
It was really very simple, and took me almost exactly two hours. I printed off numbers (made them in Microsoft Word!), taped them on the stairs, traced them, and then painted the numbers on in black paint. There was also a great deal of measuring involved. But we already had all the supplies, so the whole undertaking was FREE... and the kids were thrilled.
What little kid wouldn't want numbered stairs, right? Oh, and I'm also working on a painted checkerboard floor (directly below the numbers). Which is why the steps don't look perfect... still working, still working.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Why I Write Mothering "Advice" When I Haven't Figured it Out Myself Yet

There's a question I've been pondering recently, and that is: Why am I giving out advice, or writing "tips for busy moms," when I'm still trying to figure out what I'm doing?

Because, seriously... My house isn't always stress-free. My laundry isn't always folded-and-put-away
by lunch time. And I definitely do not always manage my time well.

I know you're all shocked.

Well... I don't have a perfect answer to this question, but I have a few thoughts.

First, I was very blessed to be raised by a mother who was hard-working, kind, and pretty much the queen of organization. My whole childhood, she was teaching me what she knew, and what she was good at--and what she had learned from her mother. So much of what I talk about here, I was raised with.

And secondly, I'm involved in several mommy-groups, and I listen to these ladies talk about being a mother, and raising their children, and keeping their home. Many of these young moms were not blessed to be raised in homes like mine, and I'm constantly hearing, "My house is a mess! HELP!" or "My kids won't stop screaming! What should I do?"

Then, there are "Once you are a mom" lines.

"You might be able to take a hot, interrupted shower now, but once you're a mom..."

"Maybe you can keep your floors clean now, but once you're a mom..."

"You like when the house is quiet? Ha! Enjoy it now, because once you're a mom..."

Whenever I hear either the honest cries for help, or the once-you're-a-mom assumptions, I always feel like raising my hand, and saying, "I have ideas!!"

Call me crazy, ladies, but I don't think your house has to be loud. Your house doesn't have to be messy. You can enjoy a hot shower every single morning, if you wish! Whether you have no kids, or 10 kids.

I'm learning, and I'm seeking to learn more. I don't want to accept the stereotypes of what a house with small children should look like.

I'd even dare to suggest, that [most days] you can have a clean house... with kids.

Keeping Up With Six People's Laundry [Without Feeling Overwhelmed]

You wanna hear some sarcasm?!There's nothing better than getting ready to switch the clothes from the washer to the dryer, only to open the dryer and see cold, wrinkled clothes that you'd totally forgotten about.

There aren't too many sights more beautiful-to-the-eyes than your guest bed, covered in piles of unfolded clothes.

Yeah, wow. What about your laundry room floor, strewn with dirty clothes... like, everywhere?

First thing that comes to mind, is to whip out your phone, and start pinning these awe-inspiring images to Pinterest, am I right?!


No. Not a chance.

Here's more the feeling that overwhelms me when I see this: discouragement. Feeling like the laundry is a MONSTER, that I'm JUST TOO TIRED to keep fighting.

I was a little nervous about adding a fourth child's laundry to our "laundry situation"--especially since a baby goes through a good deal of clothing the first few months. It's small clothing, but still... clothing nevertheless that needs washed and put away.

But honestly, it hasn't been too bad. Really. I adopted a system of doing things, that seems to be working nicely. It's pretty simple, too, and the laundry is almost always done for the day by lunch time. At least, that's the goal!

So, here are my favorite tips for keeping the laundry under control...

Dirty laundry everywhere? No. Designated spots where dirty laundry is contained, until washing? HUGE HUGE HUGE YES.

We have two laundry baskets--one in the girls' room, and one in our master bedroom. The girls are pretty much in charge of putting all the KIDS' dirty laundry in their basket. So if I'm changing Matthias's jeans, Caroline's sleeper, you name it... the girls come and get it [immediately], and put it in their hamper. The girls are more than welcome to change their own clothes, or put on their nightgowns, etc., as long as they put their dirty clothes in their hamper right away. We have a strict "no dirty clothes on the floor" policy.

What about dirty towels and sheets? Blankets? This might sound silly, but when we have dirty towels/sheets/blankets, I throw them down the steps towards the laundry room, and then whenever anyone of us (including the girls) are going downstairs, we pick it up and place it right into the washer. That way, they're already there, ready to be washed, along with the clothes.

How much laundry is there? I mean, isn't there, like, a TON, with six people? Okaaay. Maybe there's a lot, but honestly, I think you'd be surprised how LITTLE there is, all things considered. And here's why: We only change clothes if they're actually dirty. Otherwise, we wear them a couple days in a row. If you know me personally, I'm a bit of a clean freak, so don't worry--if the clothes are actually dirty, they're getting changed. It's not like I have dirty kids running around. And this system works VERY well in the winter time (when they're primarily playing inside), as opposed to summer days (when they're getting dirty and sweaty, having fun outside).

As for pajamas, the kids don't wear them every night. It's kind of like a special treat, though the girls are wearing them more often now, since they can dress themselves. But it'll take SEVERAL wearings of pajamas before I proclaim them needing-to-be-laundered.

I don't know how much this ACTUALLY plays into LESS LAUNDRY, but my kids' outfits are pretty simple, meaning they don't have a ton of clothes to begin with. The girls wear shirts, skirts, and leggings every day, Matthias wears a shirt and jeans, and Caroline's favorite outfit is still cuddly sleepers. ;)

The girls can mix-and-match the pieces in their outfits a lot, so that it appears that they're wearing different outfits, but really... we're working with the same basic pieces. :)

Oh! Oh! I want to talk about socks. I'm just a wee bit passinate about socks. ;) I buy ALL the kids' socks from Old Navy--every time. I try to buy cool designs--so Matthias has orange fox socks, gray and black raccoon socks, striped or plaid socks, etc.

Similarly, the girls have pink, polka-dotted, purple, striped, and so on. Not white, which get stained easily (not a fan of stains over here). When the socks are very colorful/specific (who could accidentally match an orange fox sock with a purple polka-dotted one?!), then it's easy to match them up, and tell whose are whose.

And by the way, the girls wear the same size socks, which makes it awesome. Old Navy had a 5 pairs for $5, so I bought five pairs, and the girls share them.

Once they're dirty, they get put in the wash. While folding clothes, all the socks get thrown a pile, where they are then matched up and distributed.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Each day, right after breakfast, the girls dump the two laundry baskets together, and I carry it down the stairs and start the wash. In this season of life, it's all one load, folks. No sorting. (But that's just based on our preference!)

[[our laundry room]]

An hour or so later, I go BACK downstairs, and switch the wash into the dryer. Then an hour after that, the laundry is dried and ready.

Woo-hoo! Excitement, excitement. Clean, warm laundry!!

And then what happens??? The girls open the dryer, pull out all the kids' stuff, and distribute it. We're still working on the folding aspect. Right now, each child has a dresser, with certain drawers designated to hold different pieces of clothing, and the girls deliver the clothes to each drawer accordingly.

Then, whenever I get around to it, I'm "in charge" of the adult clothing--which, considering we're doing a load every day, it isn't that much stuff.

As for towels and rags... I fold them, and the girls put them away.

What about all the bedding? Extra for an extra crib sheet, we don't have any extra sheets. So if I strip the bed (or beds) in the morning, I try to have the bed made up again by the time it's needed for naps/night time.

All this being said, my biggest tip for laundry (especially the distributing part) would be...

Just Do It.

Same with cleaning the bathrooms, wiping the floors, doing the dishes. Sometimes, it'll never seem easy, and you'll never FEEL like folding, even if it's a small pile.

So just start working on it, and little by little, you'll soon see your hard work pay off!

No more piles?! Hurray! Definitely a cause for celebrating.

Our Homeschool Routine [ages 3 and 4]

Before Rachel turned 4, we had a very casual "pre-school" experience over here. We discussed shapes, letters, numbers, and colors, but it didn't feel official. But with Jemima heading towards K4, and Rachel turning 5 in a few months, we decided it was time to officially begin homeschooling.

For us, that meant ordering textbooks and developing a scheduled routine that we follow every week day morning. Having an hour of structured school time every morning has benefited us so much! Instead of running off to play after breakfast, the girls know that it's school time! And we all honestly look forward to it.

By the way, I'm not at all a creative person. That's why I like textbooks and charts and schedules. I admire those women who can think of all sorts of creative crafts and methods to teach their kids! But for me... this is what I've found works, and I'm excited to share it with you!

K3 [i.e., What Jemima Does]
-Number recognition from 1-10

-Letter sounds

When I was first teaching Rachel, we worked very diligently on the number names, and then we ran into confusion when she started to read. So with Jemima, I'm teaching the letter sounds first!

We use flashcards for both her numbers and letters.

K5 [i.e., What Rachel Does]


I found that once Rachel had the letter sounds cemented in her mind, reading was an easy transition. I started off with Teaching Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, and I liked it, but only up to a certain point. We switched over to A Handbook for Reading (also published by ABeka), and I much prefer it.

Why? Because I feel like the rules for reading are better explained. Here's a sample page:

So basically, after learning the rule (the second vowel is silent, the first vowel is long), there is a whole page of examples of how that rule is used. Rachel will read through each page day after day until she can read the words quickly and confidently, and then we move onto the next page.

As for the other textbooks we use...

-ABeka Textbooks

I grew up using ABeka, so that's what I'm most comfortable with. Just as a warning: I would not recommend ABeka's Social Studies K5 book. It's too simple. I think children have the capacity to learn and memorize so much, and this book feels like a waste of time.

-Number recognition from 1-100

Again, we use flashcards and we review, review, review. We saw huge improvement in this area when we introduced counting by 10s, to 100. Once she was able to recognize the multiples of 10, it made recognizing a specific number (such as 76) easier, because she already knew to say "seventy..."

[What The Girls Learn Together]

One terrific aspect of having children 13 months apart, is that they're close enough in age that they can learn many things together! It takes Jemima a little longer than Rachel to catch on to concepts or to memorize, but she wants to do everything that Rachel does... so there's plenty of motivation there!

-Counting by 10s to 100

I just mentioned this above, but yes, the girls actually learn this together. I printed a chart that we have taped inside our kitchen cabinets, and the girls look at the chart and recite their "10s" every morning.

-Memorizing the 7 Continents

The girls point to the continents on a world map, and recite, "The world has 7 continents: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica."

-Bible verse memorization

Every two weeks, they have a new verse to memorize, and then we're always reviewing their past verses.

-Learning the States and Capitals

We're learning five new states and capitals per week. I'll say, "Montgomery?" And the girls reply, "Montgomery, Alabama," and so on.

-Reciting the US Presidents' names in order

I remember having to recite this in junior high or high school. I'm thrilled about giving my girls a head start on this!

-Memorizing the Preamble

This was one of our first memorization projects, and it inspired me to make memorization and recitation an important part of our morning routine.

As young as our kids are now, I want to encourage them towards being confident in a public speaking setting--to present information in a clear, articulate fashion. So whenever they're reciting anything they've memorized, I always require that they're standing still, making eye contact, and speaking confidently and clearly.

I hope this doesn't sound silly. Yes, I know that I'm talking about a 3 and 4 year old here, but I'm all about instilling good habits and character qualities that hopefully will grow and develop in our children as they grow and mature!

One more question, that I'm sure some of you moms are wondering...

[What Does Matthias Do?]

Yes, what DOES he do, while the girls are working on school? We do a lot of coloring around here, and Matthias is no exception. I bought a small dry erase board (at the dollar store), and he will sit and doodle on that for a while... or he plays with his mini toolset. Sometimes, he'll just sit and watch, especially when I'm practicing the girls' flashcards. Of course, there are times that he wanders around bored, too, which is why we don't always do all of our school activiites in one sitting. Life happens, and I need to take "feed Caroline" breaks or "read to Matthias" breaks or "put chicken in the crockpot" breaks.

I'm sure that our little "routine" will change... but this is what we're doing for now!

How I Organize My Kids' Rooms

You all know how I LOVE some organization, right? Well, one of you wonderful readers wrote to me, asking how I organize my kids' rooms--specifically their clothes, shoes, and books. In the past, I've mentioned a few ways I keep the kids' bedrooms organized, but it's been a while (or perhaps never) that I've written an entire post on the subject.

Before I launch into "how I keep my kids' rooms organized," I should mention that our house has three bedrooms. Rachel and Jemima share the "pink room" because almost everything in that room is pink) and Matthias and Caroline share the "owl room" (named for the owl-covered bedspread). Because I generally organize the "owl room" the same way as the older girls' room, I thought I'd just focus on the latter for now.

Here is Rachel and Jemima's shared bedroom.

Now you understand fully why we refer to that bedroom as the "pink room."

As you can see, each girl has a dresser of their own, but honestly, they could share one dresser. Not only are they getting to the point where they are almost the same size, neither one of them has a ton of clothing.

They also have built-in shelving in their closets, but the majority of their clothing is kept in their dresser drawers.

The top drawer holds their pajamas (1-2 pj outfits each) and underwear.

The second drawer holds shirts (7-10 each).

The third drawer contains jeans (2-3 pairs, though they never wear them), skirts (5-7 each), and leggings (4 each).

The fourth drawer is for their "church" items, such as stockings or dressy sweaters.

The girls wear the same basic outfit every single day: shirt, skirt, leggings, and I've tried to buy items for them that they can mix-and-match to make multiple outfits. We also do the laundry every day but Sunday, so they don't need as many items.

I'm a big advocate of boxes or baskets (found at the dollar store or Goodwill) for smaller items such as hairbands (which we keep on top of the dresser), or stockings or underwear (kept in baskets inside the drawer).

Moving on to the girls' closet.

We hang the girls' jackets, play sweaters, and dresses.

The baskets are for the girls' scarves/hats and their shared socks.

This is the girls' shoe basket.

We generally have a no-shoes-in-the-house policy, so as soon as the girls come inside, they must take off their shoes and return them to this basket.

For those of you who are curious as to what types of shoes the girls own, and how many pairs, here's the girls' shoe inventory!

one pair of snow boots
one or two pairs of general-play-outside boots
two pairs of church boots: one black (or silver), one brown

one pair of cute flats
two pairs of flip-flops or sandals
one or two pairs of church sandals

Matthias has a small shoe box in his room, too, but his shoe inventory is VERY simple: one pair of flip-flops, one pair of play shoes, one pair of church shoes.

What about the kids' toys and books?

Generally, the kids don't keep toys in their room. They're allowed to keep a few books on the shelf in their closet, because there are times during the day that they sit and read, but MOST of the books are kept downstairs on a small bookshelf.

I know I'm a bit of a minimalist, and this sort of thing isn't for a lot of you, and that's okay, but honestly... we don't HAVE very many books. All the kids' books are kept in one basket, on the small bookshelf that keeps our DVDs, books, and photo albums.

I'm trying to collect some classic kids' books (like the Little Golden books!), which I'd be happy to read to the kids over and over. But as for the other "just okay" books, we switch them out a lot. I'll buy books at a yard sale, or consignment sale, and then re-sell them a few months later. We also borrow books all the time, so the kids are continually getting to read new stories, while occasionally hearing the classics we keep downstairs!

Which brings me to another aspect of organizing kids' rooms, and that is... clothes storage. I've gone back and forth on how many clothes to store. It was easy to keep all of Rachel's clothes for Jemima, because they were so close in age, but after having a different gender, I began re-thinking how many clothes I really wanted to store.

At this point, I'm only keeping clothes about 6 months-size in advance, and almost all the rest, I'm selling at consignment sales or our annual yard sale. I'm doing this for four main reasons:

1. I don't like storing stuff I'm not using. I had several totes full of clothing all the way through 3T (which Jemima had grown out of), that I wouldn't be opening to dress Caroline, for 3 more years.

2. The clothes I store end up becoming stained. I've read tutorials on how to get rid of stains (especially on baby items), but I haven't been hugely successful.

3. I like dressing my kids in the current styles. I could keep all Matthias's clothes, but what if I didn't have another boy for 5 more years? I'm SURE the styles will have changed by then.

4. I honestly enjoy kids' clothes shopping. It's one of my favorite past-times! And yet, I don't want to lose money by getting rid of the clothes, either.

[To insure that I don't lose money during this buying-and-selling process, I rarely buy any kids' item for more than $5, because the majority of their clothing is second-hand or end-of-season clearance. Then, whenever they've grown out of those items, if they're still in decent shape, I sell them! I'm especially lucky when I buy my kids' clothes at yard sales for 25 or 50 cents, and then re-sell them for several dollars.]

Similar to what I described with the kids' books, I keep the "classics" from the kids' clothing--such as jeans or shoes... items that won't necessarily go out of style and probably won't get stained, either. I keep those items, sorted by size and gender, in bins in Matthias's closet.

And... I think that's about it!

My 5 Time Management Tips for Busy Moms

Have you ever gotten to the end of an exhausting day, and thought, "I didn't get anything DONE!"

Or worse, you remember exactly what you did, and you're cringing in embarassment because you felt you wasted your time?

As moms, it is very easy to stay extremely "busy" all day long. Yet just being busy isn't necessarily a good thing, if your time isn't going anywhere--if you don't feel as if you're making a difference, or if progress isn't being made.

Each stage of life is going to look very different. Since Caroline's birth, I have felt physically better than I did for the nine months before. I have more energy, and I want to be more productive! And yet, I'm finding that if I don't channel that energy, or PLAN my productivity, then days go by and nothing's really moved forward in my life, around the house, and so forth.

There are a few tips that I've discovered that have been very helpful for me, and I'm hoping that some of you moms might be encouraged by them as well.

1. With your husband's input, decide on your goals--personal goals, goals for your children, and goals for your house. When I don't have goals, I tend to flounder around, unsure of where I'm going or what I'm doing. I like to separate the goals into "General" (such as "raise well-educated children") and Specific ("Keep the downstairs carpet vacuumed.")

I'd encourage you not only to formulate these goals in your mind, but to write them down and review them periodically to assess how you're doing!

Besides the more general goals, I'm a huge fan of written to-do lists with your daily goals. My to-do list is always written on a dry erase board on our refrigerator, so that I'm reminded of what I need to do, every time I walk into the kitchen!

Do you know what these goals do, whether general or specific or daily? Hopefully, they are the deciding factor in how you spend your time, right? But I'm getting ahead of myself.

2. Spend your time working towards your goals. Let me give you a super practical example in my own life: we are currently working on our hallway. After that, we'll probably start remodeling the master bedroom. Although we need to, we are NOT working on our back porch--probably not for a while, actually. So if I'm going to be researching house remodeling projects, no matter how tempting it might be to look up porch re-dos, it's probably a waste of time right now.

Here's another example: one of our main goals right now is homeschooling Rachel and Jemima. Even though their school work is still relatively simple, it requires probably an hour of our time every day. I find that the longer I wait to begin their school with them every day, the less I'm excited about it. So we changed around our morning routine, so that after breakfast, we are cleaning off the table and the counters and setting out school books to insure that our school assignments for the day are accomplished.

3. On the other side, cut out everything in your schedule and home that does not fit with your goals. Depending on your family's goals, this looks very different for different people. But let's say that someone gives me the opportunity to go sky-diving (a pursuit that I'm not interested in!). I would decline, because sky-diving doesn't fit with my present goals, and thus would be a waste of my time.

Another example: I found that I was "following" numerous people or organizations on social media sites, that weren't "helping" me at all. I enjoy an occasional motherhood or interior design article, but having to scroll through post after post from people-I-didn't-actually-know or companies I didn't wholeheartedly support anyway... this wasn't accomplishing anything.

4. Even if you're not a strict "schedule" person, figure out some sort of routine--especially for your mornings. Recently, I was reading samples from popular time management books, and one of the most common themes was getting up early, and making the most of your mornings. I couldn't agree more. Every night, I try to set out my clothes for the next day, so then when I wake up, I don't have to spend the time to even pick out my outfit. I do the same things every morning, in generally the same order: contacts, shower, get dressed, make-up, feed Caroline, make breakfast.

We've established a night-time routine, too, which we've gotten used to, and (even more importantly!) the kids have gotten used to. It saves so much TIME figuring out what we should do each night, because we already know!

5. And, lastly: Teach your kids to help. How does this fit with time management for moms? Oh believe me, it does. "Help" doesn't always mean helping with chores (though of course that's part of it). Sometimes "help" entails teaching your toddler NOT to throw around the already-folded laundry, or NOT to pull apart your made-up bed, or NOT to dump all the blocks and then refuse to pick them up. Accidents are one thing, and they just happen... but I'm talking about kids purposefully creating messes, which leads to moms spending their time cleaning up after their kids unnecessarily.

If the kids are taught to pick up after themselves, and even to assist with simple tasks around the house, it will free up the mom's time to pursue the bigger goals, whether it's particular character traits, or teaching the 3-year-old how to count to 20!

Sixteen Ways to Create a Stress-Free Home [with Littles]

"Your hands are SO FULL!!" "You must be SO BUSY!"

I hear this from total strangers all the time. Why, yes, come to think of it... I AM busy. My days ARE very full. But just because we have 4 kids doesn't mean that our busy, full days need to be stressful, overwhelming, and frustrating days.

I am shuddering just thinking of those words. Because I'm sure we've all been there as moms: we've all had those terrible, no good, very bad days where tears are shed by all (including Mom).

But that doesn't have to be the norm. I don't WANT it to be the norm.

That's why I came up with this list of ways to help reduce the stress levels in a home that is full of small children. Many of these ideas are just that--ideas, or methods... Some of them are all about Biblical character qualities. A few of them are super specific, and some are general. But all in all, I hope some of these suggestions might help you as you walk this busy-and-full journey as mommies with littles!

In no particular order... And without further ado.

1. Communicate with your husband. Strive in every way possible, even if you must compromise your perfect plans or ideas, to be on the same page when it comes to your children. This is going to be my only "husband-related" idea, but it's really a huge one. And that's all I'm going to say, because every couple's in a different situation. But yeah, basically: talk to your husband!! :)

2. Have [generally] consistent bed times, wake up times, and nap times. With my husband's crazy, ever-changing schedule, I feel like our kids' bed-times aren't often at exactly the same time, but it's in a general time frame. So is their wake-up time. And nap time. It helps everyone involved to know when the kids are going to bed!

3. Wake up in the mornings before the kids. Again, definitely not something that always can happen, because of pregnancy, newborns, etc. But when you ARE able to do this, it kinda works like magic. That way, you can shower and get breakfast ready while the house is quiet! If you need to sleep later for some reason, ask your kids to stay in their rooms and play quietly until you tell them it's okay for them to come out of their rooms. They'll get used to this pattern, and won't expect to do anything differently than this. It makes the mornings so much quieter and more peaceful!

4. After breakfast, put your littlest baby/toddler back in their crib with a book or toy for 30 minutes. This will jump-start your morning, and will teach your baby how to play by themselves.

5. Of course this leads to: set aside specific times for ALL of your kids to play by themselves. Or, if they won't fight, have your kids play something quietly together! We have a storage closet underneath our steps that's a "special" place for our kids to play, especially when I allow them to take a flashlight in there :).

6. Use a timer as a motivation--even for yourself! Example: when I'm feeling tired, but the dirty dishes are driving me crazy, I'll set a timer for 10 minutes, and then wash as many dishes as I can in that amount of time. You'll surprise yourself what you can do, if you're motivated, in a matter of minutes, and then sit down for a while!

7. Keep your house clean. Agh... this can be SO HARD when you're pregnant. :-X I don't have any cleaning routine right now, because my energy and pain levels go up and down so frequently. I will often make a list of my cleaning priorities for the day (or week), and then whenever I have a burst of energy, I'll tackle a very small task. Vacuum one room. Sweep the stairs. Use a baby wipe (there are always wipes an arm-reach away in our house! ;)) to wipe down the sinks, and then light a candle to make the room smell pleasant! It will make the whole house feel more calm and under control.

8. Set up times for the kids to JUST. SIT. and Be. Completely. Quiet. This IS possible, y'all, even when all three kids are under 4 years old. When I'm feeling most frazzled, I'll set the timer for 5 minutes (I'm serious), assign a seat for each child, allow them to pick a book, and we ALL have to sit, completely quietly until the timer rings.

9. Have a mandatory rest-time, for everyone in the house, for a long stretch of time. For us, it's two hours long. Jemima and Matthias still take naps during that time, and Rachel plays with something special (as in, things that she's not typically allowed to play with the rest of the day... such as her hair bows or coin jar). Unless I get huge bursts of energy and am DYING to do something active, I rest that whole time, too. It gives me SO much energy for the rest of the day, which is very needed around here!

10. I've mentioned several routine-like ideas here, so I thought I should throw in a different concept now: Be FLEXIBLE!! There are spills and messes and tantrums and tired mommies and sick children. When all (or any) of these sorts of things arise, BE OKAY with dropping your perfect plans for the day and gathering the kids to read books on the couch for an hour! I've had some days where I felt absolutely terrible, and we watched episode after episode on Netflix, because I didn't even feel well enough to READ to the kids. This wouldn't be a good situation if this happened every day, but there are some days that are just. kinda. hard, for whatever reason. Do the best you can, with what you've been given for that day!

11. If there are set aside times when the kids should be QUIET, then I say, there should be times when the kids are LOUD! Have them run outside and roll down the hill, and chase each other, screaming!

12. Prepare for your busy days by making breakfast a day ahead, setting out everyone's clothes the night before, and so on. Mornings are my most difficult time of day, even IF I don't have anything particular to do! So if I can plan ahead AT ALL, it helps keeps my morning stress-levels to a minimum. ;)

13. Keep messes to a minimum. Yup, there's that word minimum again. Maybe I should just say: figure out what are your stressers, and seek to eliminate them. For me, messes often equal stresses. That's why, at this point in our lives, we've reduced the kids' number of toys to four small fabric baskets. I actually dumped ALL the kids' toys in the middle of our family room, and timed how long it took them to clean up all the toys, including putting the baskets back on the shelves. You wanna know how long it took them?? Two minutes, 59 seconds. This told me two things: we have EXACTLY the right amount of toys for our life right now, aaaaand... if it ever takes the girls longer than 3 minutes to clean up their toys, then I know they haven't been going as fast as they could go!

14. Teach your kids to be attentive to your voice, and to respond immediately. We're in the process of teaching the girls that EVERY TIME we say their name, they need to look at us (or come to us, depending on the situation), and say, "Yes, Mom!" or "Yes, Dad!" It is soo difficult, as a mom, to feel like you're talking into a wall, whenever you say anything to your child. At least for me, it causes instant annoyance/frustration. We also just moved to a location where our driveway goes right into the road, and it is imperative that the kids HEAR us, and are ready to COME running if necessary.

15. Assign even your little kids to certain tasks that help out in the household!
Matthias is somewhere in the 1 1/2 year old range, and he can get his sleeper out of his drawer, put his dirty clothes in a hamper, and throw away his dirty diaper. Talk about Helpful!! It's amazing! And he doesn't mind at all. He loves clapping for himself, and hearing all the praise that gets showered on his head because we're proud of him. :) One of Rachel's jobs is emptying the bathroom trash can into the [much bigger] kitchen trash can. Just one more thing that I don't have to do! Your kids are definitely capable of SO much helpfulness, and honestly... I think the house runs more happily and peaceably when the kids feel a PART of what's going on!

16. One more, and I put this last because it's so very important: Pray daily for patience and kindness. Sure, your day can look all perfect with its routines and schedules and kids helping out, but if the Mommy's attitude isn't right, then everything will quickly fall apart.
We as moms have a great privilege in setting the tone for our house, and we certainly cannot maintain a peaceful, kind, and patient attitude on our own strength.

When You Don't Want to Spend [Much] Money on Your House...

...but you DO want it to look awesome.
Or, at least... BETTER... than it did before. ;)

We moved into this house in mid-April, and it needed a LOT of work. The first month or two, we spent somewhere in the $2000 range, doing some remodeling and updating work (think: floors, drywall, painting). Since then, though, we've been trying to stay within a much smaller budgeted amount per month.

So while it would be NICE to just snap our fingers (written another way: spend a bunch of money) and renovate the entire house until it was "perfect," we are having to restrain ourselves and do a little bit of fixing up here, and a little bit there.

In the mean time...

I thought of some ways we've improved our living space, without breaking our bank account. :)

First off, we cleaned everything. This house hadn't been lived in for a year, and even when it WAS occupied, it wasn't well-taken care of. So... it needed cleaned--and badly. But beyond that, I'd just say: KEEP it clean!! Even a yellowed, out-dated floor can look WAY better if it's swept and washed.

Secondly, we organized our STUFF. So here's something that came to me in the middle of the night (more like, while I was cleaning up the living room): I think a HUGE way to keep a house looking decent (besides keeping it clean, and not having too MUCH stuff) is that EVERYTHING has a designated place. Because when there are toys in the bathroom, food on the couches, cleaning supplies in the oven (you get the idea), a room can look pretty bad, really fast.

So give everything a home, whether it be a box or basket, or shelf, or drawer!

A house that's "picked up" (or organized, in some fashion) goes a loooong way.

Thirdly, we did a lot of painting. You can paint walls, furniture, cabinets, concrete floors, paneling... We're talking only the cost of primer and paint--and if you use the same color on both a few walls AND cabinets (in different rooms, preferably), then you're fixing up TWO spots, for the price of ONE gallon of paint!

Lastly, we've purchased small, less-than-twenty-dollar items that will brighten our home. I love pillows, rugs, candles, curtains, flowers... I've laid several rugs on our "old" floors now, and it REALLY disguises the fact that our floors needs changed!

Happy renovating!

My Version of a Capsule Wardrobe

I have a problem with maternity clothes--and, going even further, post-partum clothes, too.
But let's start with maternity clothes. Besides the fact that they're sometimes (often?) hard to find, uncomfortable, and expensive (for starters), they only last you a few months anyway.

With Matthias, I was bursting out of my normal-sized jeans somewhere in the first trimester. My belly band wasn't cutting it, and I already needed... maternity jeans. But I was still skinny everywhere BUT my belly, which meant that I got away with wearing very small-sized maternity jeans.

But time passed, and I gained some weight, and eventually... I needed a different size maternity clothes. Now that's just ridiculous. TWO sizes in MATERNITY clothes?!

It gets better.

Once my babies are born, I can still wear my "bigger" sized maternity clothes for a week or two, before they start looking like, "Oh, Tricia's still wearing maternity clothes--and they're a little big."

Which means that... I go back to my "smaller" size maternity clothes, or--as I did with Matthias--I went to Goodwill and bought whatever size in "normal" clothes that I would've worn at the time.

But then I lost weight. So one or two months later, my "transition" clothes were too big. So I bought *another* transition size.

Which led to my owning two FULL boxes of maternity and post-partum "transition-y" clothes... quite a bit of which, I didn't really like. It's just what I was able to find for a reasonable price.

So this time around, I finally decided upon a completely, totally different idea with my wardrobe. It was simple, and fairly inexpensive (because it was simple), and "worked" from PRE-Pregnancy, all Through The Pregnancy, and now, Post-Pregnancy.

It looked very much like This:

I call it my very own version of the extremely popular "Capsule Wardrobe," or...

My Solution to Maternity Clothes. ;)

Are you noticing a theme? It's called a Maxi Skirt. ;)

It helps that I wore stockings every day, so I honestly preferred to wear skirts every day versus jeans or pants. And once you've tried a maxi skirt while pregnant, and felt how comfortable that panel is on your belly, there's no going back to jeans. At least there wasn't for me. :)

So. I had a couple maxi skirts, and I bought a few more, in my pre-pregnancy size. I started wearing them pretty much as soon as my jeans stopped feeling comfortable--and I've worn them almost every day, ever since.

Ok, besides the skirt... my non-maternity "Maternity" wardrobe consisted of:

Plain-colored or polka-dotted or flowered top: bought mostly from Target, Goodwill, and Rue 21

LONG tank-top: this is how I was able to pull off the "normal" sized knit tops, because I bought extra-long tank tops to wear underneath! My current favs are from Forever 21 ($1.90 each!!)

Maxi skirt/skirt with super-stretchy waistband: Amazon, Gap (the best quality by far), Target, TJ Maxx, and second-hand

As for shoes, well, my foot hurts all the time when I'm pregnant, so I bought a pair of $20 slipper-like silver shoes from Target, and I wore them EVERY SINGLE DAY for about 6 months. So, yes, wearing only one pair of shoes--like, EVER, can be done--though it's nice to be out of pain now, and be able to wear heels, or boots, or flip-flops!

Accessories: Scarves (Walmart, Rue 21, gifts) and Jewelry (everywhere--but I especially like Rue and Forever 21's collections now)

Mixing up the accessories and shirts significantly helped with the "I'm wearing the same skirt to church three weeks in a row" situation.

The maxi skirts grew with me, and now, instead of trying to fit into jeans already, I'm still wearing those same skirts. They just look a little different! :) The advantage to this "capsule maternity wardrobe" is that I didn't have to buy any special maternity clothes, and now I don't have to buy any transition clothes.

Yes, I still have a small collection of "Skinny" clothes--the clothes that I wear for a few months, when I've lost all the baby weight, but that "wardrobe" really doesn't need to be extensive, as I don't last in that size long before... I start growing a baby again.

Ok, so I know this sort of idea will definitely NOT work for everyone. I was even wondering to myself why I'm all about simplifying, to the point of wearing only a handful of skirts over such a long stretch of time. What I came up with: for me, every child I have adds MORE to my life--more of my time and energy and thought... So every area that I can somehow TRIM down, really helps me!

I'm Not a Super Mom

There's been a lot of honesty going on around the internet these days from moms. Moms all across the country are posting pictures of their houses a total mess, their dishes unwashed, and laundry unfolded. I've heard countless tales of moms who just can't find the time to shower anymore, who are exhausted from night after night without sleep.

Well, here I am, sitting at my computer, at 1:32 in the afternoon. The counters are wiped, the floors are swept, and the laundry is put away. The four kids are asleep or quietly playing, and I lit a cinnamon-smelling candle. The house is calm.

Did all of this happen magically? Definitely not. Do I have super powers? NO. No, no, NO!!

I've been telling people that four kids has been easier than one--or two, and that is oh-so-true. When I just had Rachel, I was hesitant to even change her diaper, afraid that I would somehow "do it wrong." Jemima used to "explosively" spit-up, and I remember the day that she spat up all over me and the floor, and I had the phone in my hand, about to call Matt to come home from work, because I didn't think I could deal with a 1-year-old Rachel AND cleaning up after Jemima. I would call my mom or sister to help me take my ONE child shopping, because I couldn't picture how I could do that.

There were many days that I was tired, and overwhelmed... and I had two. And then I had three, and it took about one month of adjustment (and crying) before I felt like, "Wow... I can do this!"

Enter Caroline, and thus four kids in less than five years. It's easier now, and better. I'm not saying that everything is easy (I'm still super tired from having a one-month-old!), but I'm also having more fun with these kids than I've had before. I'm able to enjoy Caroline more than I enjoyed my other newborns, because I'm more relaxed.

All that aside, how do I do it? How can my house be "picked up," when my oldest is 4 years old? How can I be showered and dressed every morning when I have a newborn? With two kids in between...?!

I've written so many of these ideas before, but recently, I've heard more than ever the response "You must be a super mom," as if I've reached this level of perfection that is unattainable for the average mom. That is SO not true, and I want people to know that! It's been a slow, growing process, and I've learned so much along the way. Some things are simple, and others take more sacrifice, but really... it's about pushing through the hard times, with a little bit of perseverance, and whadda-ya-know, things start getting easier.

A couple weeks ago, I was at the dentist's, and he asked me (as I was getting my mouth worked on) what was my biggest piece of advice for having "four kids" and keeping my sanity.

Being a bit sleep-deprived, and having dental instruments in my mouth, I couldn't think super clearly, so I said the first thing that came to mind, and that was: Teach your kids to obey--the first time.

Basically: expect obedience. It's a command from God, and it relieves an incredible amount of time and stress (on the part of the parents). It might even save their lives one day.

Kids need to know that when you speak, you mean what you say. So when I say to the girls, "Clean up your toys," they understand that I literally mean: "Clean up your toys." Like, NOW.

We don't have a set routine right now, but we have general guidelines in our house. Such as, when the kids wake up, they stay in their rooms until I (Mom) get out of the shower. They have a few books and a few toys, and they have their imaginations. They can do this.

When I'm cleaning up the house, I expect them to help me. Often times, the messes are caused because of something they did anyway (like eat breakfast, or dirty their clothes...), so I want them to be helping me clean UP what they created. It's simple tasks, really. "Carry the dirty laundry basket to the top of the steps." "Unload the [unbreakable] plates from the dishwasher into this drawer."

It always helps when the messes are prevented in the first place. The girls are almost to the point where they can take off their nighgowns and put on their clothes in the mornings. So we expect them to either... Put their nightgowns back in their drawer (immediately after taking it off), or throw them in their bright pink hamper.

Even Matthias knows how to throw away his diaper, get out his sleeper, put away his shoes, and so on. Kids don't need to play all day. Seriously. I can't entertain them, and they're happier when they're not entertained all day long. Helping can be fun!

Of course it helps if Mom has a good attitude. ;) A friend of mine was telling me (years ago) how much she hated cleaning the bathroom, and I told her (blunt Tricia that I was) that she was going to be cleaning her bathroom for the rest of her life, so she might as well start enjoying it--at least as much as she could. LOL.

I think many tasks sound worse than they are--even getting out of bed in the morning, after being woken up several times in the night. If you keep laying there, thinking about how much you DON'T want to get out of bed, how will you ever be able to actually... umm... roll over and get out of bed?! And then walk into the hallway, with at least half a smile to greet the kids. :)

Here's what I am slowly learning: this housework, these pregnancies, and childbirths, and everything wife and mommy-related are my life right now. I'm busy with my children all day long, day after day. This is the work God has given me to do, and He expects that I do it cheerfully. I cannot do anything on my own power, which means that every morning, I need to pray and ask God to give me the strength (HIS strength) to make it through that day. Everything we have is from Him anyway, and He can give us the wisdom to train our children, and the courage to greet each day--and each child--with joy.

A few more practical things I do... I read an article recently about moms of littles doing "less stuff" over the holidays, and I couldn't agree more--except I'd apply it to my life, every day. I'm involved in very few activities, and I rarely "go out" except for shopping once or twice a week. This may change as my kids get older, but right now, loading the four kids up in their carseats to go anywhere seems pretty much unnecessary, especially when it's winter time. The few times I've gone somewhere with all the kids, I've asked someone to go with me. Yes. So this hasn't changed--but the number of kids has. ;)

I also think that times of quiet are absolutely essential to the general peace of the household. I feel most frazzled and unfocused when I haven't been able to rest all day long, which is why my goal every day is that all four kids sleep at the same time. Caroline's not on a fixed schedule yet, so there have been afternoons when I'm feeding her while the other three are asleep, but that's still peaceful... all snuggled up with my baby girl. :)

When I get to the point that I can't hear myself think (which happens at least once a day!), I have all the kids sit down in the living room, and we're all quiet together. Even if the house isn't completely silent, it's CALM. The kids are memorizing Psalm 23 (which is a peaceful Psalm, by the way! :)), and we practice it multiple times a day. We are slowly teaching the children that they don't always have to be silly, that they can quote Scripture or sing Christmas songs confidently and calmly.

After the kids wake up from their naps, and I'm feeding Caroline, we've been singing Christmas songs. It's a very frugal way to create some Christmas cheer (!), and I absolutely love all these Christmas songs. I want to pass that on to my kids! We haven't had a day yet that singing song after song does not produce happiness and smiles all around.

And one last thing: towards the end of the day, when I'm getting last-minute-dinner preparations ready, or paying the bills, or finishing doing whatever I need to do, the kids are allowed to watch a TV show or movie. I'm trying to limit it to the afternoons, because by then, the kids have had hours of imagination-play, school time, and plenty of helping me. It's been a nice way for all of us to unwind and finish off the afternoon/early evening with some fun (as long as the show is decent!).

I've been typing for a while, and Baby C is just waking up. I hope these thoughts have been encouraging or helpful to some of you!

Belly Bands, Dieting, and Losing the Baby Weight

Well, here I am again, not pregnant... and back to the fun to losing weight. ;) I've become increasingly more interested in this whole "getting my body back" idea since I've realized that...

A. I get pregnant again FAIRLY quickly after each baby,


B. The weight is increasingly harder to get rid of, after each baby.

Which is why, I've tried to lose the weight between pregnancies. My pregnancies have been close together, and Lord willing, we will continue having children for a few more years! I've never had any idea when the next pregnancy will happen, and I want to make sure the weight doesn't slowly start building up.

My maximum amount of weight I wanted to gain this past time was 30 (though honestly, I was shooting for between 25-30, because that's what I've read is the healthiest for Mom and Baby), and I gained 31. Now, Caroline is barely 5 months old, and I'm a couple pounds away from my pre-baby weight. 

How? Basically... few carbs, and little sugar. Sugarless coffee, oat pancakes without syrup, lots of meat, salads, eggs almost every morning, lots and LOTS of water, no desserts except on Sundays...

I still eat plenty of awesome food--just not bread and potatoes! :)

Moving on... I thought it was about time to let you all in on a little "secret find" of mine. It's something that I only recently heard about, and I decided to try it... and I NOW KNOW that... Post-partum belly bands are AWEsome.

As soon as I read the word "compression" (and around your sagging tummy?!), I was sold. A few HOURS after Caroline was born, I put on my first belly band, and I wore it *almost* 24/7 for the first month.

[on the left: one DAY after Caroline's birth. on the right: one MONTH after Caroline's birth]

But these belly bands are NOT just for weight loss and tightening your belly. After my last births, I had weeks of *terrible* after-birth cramps--to the point that I was on my hands and knees in pain. And after Matthias's birth, I went to see a chiropractor because my back hurt so much.

This time, I had TWO DAYS of after-birth cramps, and the belly band took care of the rest! :) Besides, it just feels marvelous to have that firmness around your belly.

Now as to what I specifically used...
The Shrinkx Belly I've just told you about all the PROS to the belly band. The cons are that eventually, the velcro began wearing out (you have to remember, I was wearing it ALL the time!), AND I grew out of it, so that it didn't really work comfortably anymore. (But is that really a con?) I bought a small/medium (smallest size they had), and I grew out of it within 3-4 weeks. The thing I LOVED was that it had two adjustable straps (besides the thick band) so that you could make it as tight as you wanted to (for a while).

YES, you can see it underneath your clothes, because it doesn't rest perfectly against your skin. I would either not care and still wear it OUT anyway, or I'd only wear it at home, and then put it back on as soon as I returned from errands/church/etc.

Once I grew out of the Shrinkx Belly, I bought an XS
Belly Bandit. I was "done" with the Shrinx Belly, AND I'd heard other moms raving about the Belly Bandit, and I wanted to see how it worked. I like it, too. The velcro seems stronger on this one, but it doesn't have the straps. It's definitely comfortable!

So there's where I am, with this whole weight loss and tummy tightening thing. Now you know all my secrets! :)

Quick to Hear

When I was 16, I flew by myself across the country. In between flights, I sat next to a young woman who was also waiting to board the plane, and I asked her, "Where are you headed?" or some other simple question like that. She answered that question, which led to another question (from me), and she just. kept. talking.

When she finally walked away, I sat there, stunned. She'd told me about her parents' gambling problems, details of her relationship with her boyfriend (information even her dad and mom didn't know), assorted other family issues she was dealing with... Basically, I knew as much about her as 20 minutes of her solidly talking could reveal--and she knew only my name.

I'm only in my twenties, and I certainly don't have a firm handle on being a great conversationalist. Even since deciding that I wanted to write on this topic, I started judging myself while I was having conversations with people... and thinking that I seriously need to improve. BUT, still, I think being gracious and unselfish--even in the midst of a conversation--is really important, and I wanted to share with you what I've learned in my experiences thus far in life. (Wow. That sounds so serious!)

1. Ask questions. Try to remember details from your last conversation, so that you can ask them specific questions. "How is your dad feeling?" "How is school coming?" and so on. Be interested in their life! If there's an older couple that you really respect, ask them for their advice on something you're currently dealing with.

2. Listen, listen, listen. Don't ask a question, just so that as soon as they are finished talking, you can answer the question, too. Carefully hear what they're trying to say, and try not to contradict or disagree with them immediately afterwards (unless they said something really terrible).

3. Bring up topics that you know they're interested in. Talk to a baker about pies, not soups--unless he wants to.

4. Everyone loves a good story--especially when it's short and concise. Don't stress out about the insignificant details--like the color of the curtains in your great-aunt's living room (unless you're talking to an interior decorator). Keep the story interesting the whole way through, and keep to the original story. No one likes getting "stuck" talking to a storyteller.

5. Be aware of your surroundings. For example, don't talk loudly in a library. Watch the other people's body language, to sense if they're feeling uncomfortable. If you're talking to a mom with a screaming 2-year-old, pause in your conversation, so the mom can feel at ease taking a moment to comfort/correct her child. If you see someone standing by themselves a few feet away, try to think of ways to include them in the conversation.

To add one more note (pretend this is the P.S.)... I told the girl-in-airport story to Matt a few days ago, and he wisely remarked that you need to be prudent in what you tell people--especially if you don't know them well. If you just won the lottery, you don't need to announce it to every stranger who walks by. ;)

Happy conversing, everyone!

How To Potty-Train Your Toddler [in 3 Easy Steps]

Okay, so first of all...

that's a JOKE.

I hope I didn't sorely disappoint all of you. I'm definitely not an expert on potty-training toddlers, AND even if you ARE an expert (whatever that means), I don't think "three easy steps to potty-training" actually exist. (Yes? No? You have those easy steps? Do tell.)

Anyway, that aside, I mentioned potty-training on here, and I've had a couple people ask me what my methods are, so here's basically what I've done with the girls. (I have no experience with potty-training boys. I know, you're shocked: Matthias is still in diapers.)

One, I've removed their diapers, and kept their diapers off, except for nap-time, bed-time, and errands/church/etc. When I was starting out with Rachel, I used to keep her diaper on (and take her to the bathroom every 30 minutes or something), but that didn't work at all. She just kept peeing in it, and I got frustrated.

Yes, the kids pee on the floor, and you as the parent have to clean it up. But I think it speeds the process along, if the child actually *feels* what's going on (sorry).

Two, I occasionally ask the child (like before bath-time, or lunch-time) if they need to pee, but other than that, I try to wait for them to tell ME. This can take a little while, but eventually, the kids catch on, and they run by themselves to the toilet (we have a small plastic toilet, which sits next to our other toilet).

Three, I give the child some incentive to use the bathroom. Lots of parents do this, and it's because it really works! :) If every time (at least for the first few days), the child gets to eat something special, it definitely makes them more enthusiastic about the whole thing!

You ready for number four? I love this one. :D It's called "Giving Mom Incentive, Too." ;-) When I was potty-training Rachel, I kept giving up. When I decided to potty-train Jemima, I knew there would be huge benefits to training her, but potty-training isn't one of my favorite tasks as a mom. Honestly, I really dread it. So I decided to "give myself" 45 cents for every day that I stuck with potty-training Jemima.

That idea originally began, when I was trying to figure out how much money I'd save on diapers per day, but I decided that would be a fun way to motivate me, too... especially if I could then spend my "small fortune" on whatever I pleased.

Once I thought the girls were catching on (no more accidents on the floor), I transitioned them to underwear--and eventually to pants, too. Even when Rachel did great all during the day, she'd still have a wet diaper in the mornings, and that took several months before eventually her diapers were consistently dry, and she went to always wearing underwear.

OH. And we also established the rule "No drinks after 6 PM." This significantly helped with the wet-diaper problem.

So... definitely no "easy steps" (unless they'd be Patience and Perseverance ;-), but that's the potty-training process that's worked for us.

Two Hours of Rest

Back in the good ole' days when I was a homeschooler, we had this magical time of the day that lasted for around two hours, and it was called... Reading Time, or something like that.

Honestly, it didn't really have a name. But it had a time--one o'clock till three o'clock in the afternoon, and I loved it.

I remember doing different things during those two hours, based on how old I was at the time. Sometimes Mom would read us chapter books, or we could read by ourselves--through our tall stacks of library books. Sometimes hot tea was involved, or writing in my diary, or working on a crochet project...

As I said, the activities during that time of the day varied. But one thing remained constant: the house was quiet. Peaceful. Calm.

Well, my kids are still little, but I'm determined to carry on the tradition of this "restful" time in the afternoon, however it shall look for us.

Right now, Jemima and Matthias are still needing a nap every afternoon, so that counts as their "resting" time each day. Rachel is happy to sit in her room and play, or look at books, for two hours.

And as for me? Yes, I definitely need a rest every afternoon, too. It's always been my goal that my kids should go to sleep at generally the same time every day--both so they can be on a schedule, and so that the house can be quiet for a solid couple hours each day.

When I was first a mom, I used to use these hours for extreme productivity--which was okay, except that it meant by evening, I was tired, tired, tired.

Don't get me wrong: I still am [somewhat] productive in the afternoons, but I'm more relaxed about everything. I make myself a cup of decaf coffee, read blogs, print off new recipes, make grocery lists, straighten or curl my hair (depending on my mood ;), reply to emails, write blog posts (like this one), organize something fun, etc.

I'm trying to keep the house quiet, which helps limit what I could do, anyway (definitely no vacuuming!).

I don't want to waste those two hours, either--even if I AM trying to relax a bit. So I'll often write up a "Nap-time" to-do list--to make sure that I accomplish everything I want to, while the kids sleep.

And then, BANG. Before you know it, the kids are waking up, and Mom is back to the wheel! But at least, I got some refresher time, so I'm more prepared for the busy-ness of the rest of the day!