Calm Down Corner

I had to share my latest project.  I’m totally proud of this Calm Down Corner I created in Ayub’s closet.  He has a huge closet, as it is really a walkway to the attic space.  When Sam moved into his own room, it left Ayub’s closet with two dressers, one of which wasn’t being used.  Add to that one of the cats who got locked in the closet and peed on the carpet, and it was time for a closet makeover.  But I didn’t just want to find a way to store more junk, so I decided to make a calm down spot where he could go when he’s starting to get upset but isn’t in a full-blown rage yet.  I started by ripping out the carpet and replacing it with laminate squares.  Then I filled it up with the following:

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  1. A fuzzy carpet (feel)
  2. A collection of fidget and stress balls (feel)
  3. Skin brush (feel)
  4. Essential Oil roller with Vetiver and carrier oil (smell)
  5. Gum (taste)
  6. Calm down jar (sight)
  7. Loud ticking clock (hearing)  (We are also going to get a battery-powered radio, since there is no outlet in the closet and music seems to do wonders to calm him down.)
  8. A few of his favorite books (just because)

So, we have all five senses covered, which is important for our little sensory-seeker, as frequently different things tend to work for him.  Now he has everything available to him in one place.  He’s pretty excited about it.  I’m not naive enough to think that this will always prevent meltdowns, but if it only heads off a few of them, then it was worth it.

Chores

I am a big believer that our kids need chores.  They need to feel like they are a vital part of the household and they need to learn some skills so they won’t still be living here when they are 30.  So, over the years, I have come up with about 10 different ways to assign and track chores.  Needless to say, they all start off great, then tend to fizzle out.  In addition, when we added two more kids to the mix, it became overwhelming for me to keep track of who was doing what (and how well).

But, since it’s a new year, I am trying once again to light a fire under my kids butts.  First, the big kids.  At 11 and 9, they are clearly able to handle more complicated chores, however with swimming, baseball and an enormous amount of homework, they just don’t have a lot of time.  At the beginning of the week, I print out a checklist with daily chores, and they each get 2-3 per day.  This is no different than it used to be.  However, I’ve now added “bonus chores” for which they can be paid.  At the beginning of the week, I put magnets on the fridge with the job and how much they are worth.

DSC_0056I bought some plastic envelopes at Office Depot and cut off the flaps.  When they do a chore (first come, first serve), they move the magnet into their envelope.  On Sundays, I pay out for whatever is in the envelope.  They also both get an allowance (one dollar for each grade level, so Sam’s up to six dollars a week), but that allowance isn’t tied to any chores.  Since Eleanor is very motivated by money, this has been great for her.  In the first week, she was able to double her allowance.  I’m not sure how long the motivation will keep up, but she is trying to save up for the new American Girl doll, so that should buy me some time.  The things that I pay for are things that I would normally do, so if they don’t get done, I don’t sweat it.

Since Ayub can’t read, I made a picture chore chart for him.  Of course, it had to have a Captain America theme, because I’m pretty sure that Captain America is good about finishing his chores, don’t you think?

ayub chartHe has two columns: to do and “I did it!”  There are pictures in the “to do” column each day and when he is finished, he moves it from one side to the other.  I tried to make the pictures as understandable as possible and to include what type of tools/supplies are needed so that he could remember how to do it.

Untitled-1The first week was tough, because I had to show him how to do each task.  At first, he was very excited about getting to help out and having chores like the big kids.  He made it to Thursday before he told me “I don’t wanna do that…chores is boring.”  See what a smart kid he is?!?!?!  But, we’ve stuck with it and most of the time he will complete his tasks.  And sometimes they are even passable.  But, hey, he’s five, so we let it slide a little.

Lucy has only one chore…to feed the dog.  For those who didn’t see it on Facebook, here’s how excited she gets about doing her part around the house.

 

Lucy’s Chore from Kristin W on Vimeo.

What’s for Lunch?

It started with Ayub eating peanuts.  Then he would eat peanut butter, but not on crackers or bread.  It had to be on a spoon.  “Peanutbudderspoon.”  But then, I bought some Uncrustables for the older kids. For those of you who don’t know what that is, they are pre-made, frozen, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the crusts cut off.   We hadn’t had them in quite a while, because they are pretty expensive for what you get, but I was tired of making lunches, so I succumbed.  Ayub, of course, thought this was a pretty neat concept and tried one.  HE ATE IT!!

Now, many people would not be excited to have their son try and like an overpriced, frozen food that is probably filled with preservatives I can’t pronounce.  However, to me, it was the open door I needed to make a change in his lunch habits.  You see, up until now, I’d been making pasta (spaghetti or macaroni) every morning and putting it in a thermos for his lunch.  Yippee for sandwiches!!

Yet, sandwiches still take time to prepare, so I had to streamline this process.  Yes, I am that crazy.  So, if the Uncrustables people can freeze them, why couldn’t I?  Thus, I embarked on the biggest PB&J making event of my life.  Two loaves of bread, laid out on individual baggies.

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Add peanut butter.

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Add jelly.  I have switched to squeeze bottle jelly.  I used to find it disgusting, now I find it time-saving.  Don’t judge me.

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Finally, I put the sandwiches into their individual baggies, then put 9 sandwiches into a gallon sized freezer bag.  I nestled them carefully in the freezer next to the Lean Cuisine and shiro.

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Total time to make 21 sandwiches – 19 minutes.  SCORE!

The next morning, I packed three frozen sandwiches into lunch boxes and asked the kids to report back.  Eleanor said that hers was soggy.  I was crestfallen.  But then she added “but I liked it – you should do that every day.”  Whew…  As for Sam, he didn’t notice a difference.  Boys.  And Ayub?  “I ate it all, Mom.  My tummy growin’.”  Yippee!!

Now, I will admit that there are some down sides to this plan.  First, I had to use disposable bags rather than our cute reusable sandwich wraps.  I feel slightly bad about ruining the environment with more trash.  Second, if you don’t have a separate freezer, you may not have the room to do this.  It did take up quite a bit of space.  However, a few months ago, our freezer broke and everything was thawed, so we have more space than usual right now.  Last, these are great for school lunches because they thaw, but they aren’t something you can just pull out on a weekend when the kids are hungry.   Overall, though, I will definitely be doing this on a regular basis.  It made packing lunches in the morning so much quicker.  I just grabbed sandwiches, some fruit, a drink or water bottle, and shoved it all in.  Since mornings are by far the craziest time of our day, it helps immensely to not be boiling pasta anymore.

The Laundry

Many of you may remember that in growing from a family of four to a family of six, one of my main concerns was the laundry.  Yes, in hindsight I should have been more concerned about a few other things, but I was right to be concerned about the laundry.  Adding two kids, plus now having Eleanor in swimming (three swimsuits and three towels a week) plus Sam in fall baseball (white baseball pants that have to be soaked after every game) has left us with mountains of laundry.  Although this is not a sexy topic, I thought some of you might be interested in how I’ve been handling this task.

First, many people suggested doing a load a day so that I wouldn’t have to spend a whole day doing laundry each week.  I tried this, and it definitely has its advantages.  I can do a quick load in the morning, put it in the dryer after I drop the first set of kids off at school, and fold it after I take the third kid to school.  However, the thing I hate most about laundry is putting it away.  By doing laundry every day, that means that I have to put it away every day.  (Did I mention that we don’t have a laundry room and that our washer and dryer are in the kitchen?)  So for me, having a “laundry day” once a week is a better option.  Although I end up doing smaller loads during the week, I have one mega-laundry day.  I can even fit in a few errands between loads, if I time it right.

On laundry day, I pull all the dirty baskets into my bedroom and sort all the clothes together.  Then I put the empty baskets back in everyone’s closets.  (This is my favorite part of the day…when all the baskets are totally empty.)  Then, I run the loads one by one.  I fold them as they come out of the dryer into piles on my bed.  The piles are arranged by drawer, so each kid has several piles (shorts, long pants, shirts, underwear, etc.).  This way, when I’m done, all the like items are together and can be easily put away into the proper place.  I used to do this activity in the living room, but since the piles are around all day, the kids would invariably knock them over and make me mad.  Plus, by having them on my bed, I know I have to put them away THAT DAY, or else I won’t have a place to sleep that night.  I also tried having the kids put away their own clothes, but I just got frustrated with them sticking everything in one drawer and then not being able to find anything they wanted to wear.  I know, I could teach them how to do it properly, but the reality is that for now, I’d rather just do it myself.

Six loads of kid clothes (ours were already put away when I remembered to take the photo)

On my big laundry day, I do about seven loads.  I do the socks/underwear last, since if I don’t get to folding the last load, it won’t matter that it’s wrinkled in the dryer.  Then, during the week, I do a load of towels and sometimes another load of colored clothes (because someone always needs another swim suit or baseball jersey).

Overall, it’s not as bad as I anticipated.  I wouldn’t say I enjoy laundry day, but it does give me an incredible sense of accomplishment when it’s over.  I will say that there have been a few times when we’ve run out of clean socks, but that’s been pretty rare.  This is probably way more than you ever wanted to know about my laundry system, but I thought it might be helpful to other large families who are struggling under a mountain of dirty socks.

Update on Summer Goals

At the beginning of the summer, I joked to Andrew that I had two goals for the summer:  to win the lottery and to lose weight without diet or exercise.  Ha!  Well, the world is a funny place…

A few weeks ago, I got the Powerball number.  No other numbers, but I matched the Powerball.  That pays out, my friends.  (Yes, you are going to be jealous when you read this next part.)  I WON $4!!!!!  I guess that in all my years of teaching goal setting, I should have know that when you set a goal, you have to be SPECIFIC.  But, nonetheless, let’s cross that one off my list.

Then, a few weeks ago, I got a stomach bug.  (You can see this coming, right?)  I LOST 4 POUNDS!  One more off my list!

Actually, my real goal at the beginning of the summer was just to make it through.  After all, this was my first summer being at home and my first summer with four kids – it was a little daunting.  But now the kids are back in school (well at least 3/4 of them) and it’s a little quiet and lonely around here.  Therefore, I’ve set some new goals for myself:

  • Find some fun ways to help supplement what Ayub is learning in school.
  • Find ways to manage our household so that I’m not constantly stuck doing chores.
  • Carve out more time for photography (including some online classes I’ve had lined up).
  • Manage the family budget so that I can continue to stay home (as my lottery winnings are already gone).

I’ll post more on all of these as I make progress, but if you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments!  In the meantime, I’ll be playing more Powerball.

 

What’s Cooking?

When I quit my job, I realized that there would have to be a few changes to the way we did things around here.  I really want to be a “fun” mom and enjoy time with my kids, but let’s face it, some stuff has to get done around here.  My kids actually expect to be fed.  Yes, in addition to playtime, cuddle time, story time, music time, shopping time and sports practice time, they expect three meals and one to two snacks EVERY DAY!

Disclaimer:  I do not enjoy cooking.  I do enjoy eating (maybe too much…but we’ll save that for another post).  Andrew has always done all the cooking in our family.  I know, I am incredibly lucky that for 14 years, he has done all the grocery shopping and cooked dinner every night.  But now that I’m home all day and he gets home later in the evenings, it only makes sense for me to pick up this responsibility.  So I started looking for ways that would make it easy.  By easy, I mean, I don’t want to spend hours looking for recipes, making grocery lists and figuring out nutrition statistics.  Ideally, it would take 30 minutes or less to prepare dinner and all four of my kids would eat it.  (YES – I am aware that this is a complete fantasy.)  I have found a few things that help, though, and already I am saving time and money, so I thought I’d share.

First I turned to the trusty iPad.  I found several apps, but the one that I started using is Menu Planner.

Menu Planner

It allows you to download recipes from many popular online sites (All Recipes, Food Network, Real Simple, Recipe.com) and assign them to days of the week.  Then you can use the ingredient lists and make a grocery list based on the date range that you’d like to shop for.  The grocery list can get very detailed – you can even enter information about where foods are located in your particular grocery store to make shopping faster.  It took me a while to browse around all the recipe sites and find things to make, but I made two complete weeks of menus and shopped accordingly.  I liked taking my iPad to the store and checking off everything electronically – no need for carrying a list and pen, that the baby will just try to grab from me anyway.  One disappointment was that it didn’t calculate the nutrition information for me, so I had to use a separate app to do that.  Overall, I would give it a thumbs-up, my only hesitation is that I’m not sure it saved me a lot of time in finding recipes, as I was a little overwhelmed by the choices.

Then, as luck would have it, I got a Groupon offer for emeals.

This online service provides a weekly menu and coordinating shopping list.  You can choose from several different meals plans, most of which are family friendly.  The plan is coordinated with your local grocery store, to take advantage of weekly sales.  My first week using this, my grocery bill went from an average of $150 to $98.00.  I really like not having to search for recipes, and since there are seven meals included, I scratched off a few so we could either eat out or eat leftovers.  They make it easy to eliminate meals from the shopping list by numbering the items to correspond to the recipes, so if you’re not going to make meal #3, you just don’t buy any ingredients that have a 3 next to them.  The site says the recipes serve 4-6 people, and so far, that has been accurate.   The kids have eaten most of these recipes.  (Well, at least two kids have enjoyed every meal, which is probably the best we’re going to do).  Ayub and Lucy even ate meat in a casserole without even knowing it!  The downside to this is that we’re back to a paper list (you download a PDF, so you could use it electronically, but wouldn’t have a way to check off items).  And, while I chose the Low Fat plan, I don’t feel like the recipes are really low fat.  They usually just substitute things like fat-free cheese or reduced fat sour cream, but if you’re cooking chicken thighs, that’s not really much help.  They also don’t include nutritional information, so I’m still stuck with figuring that out separately.  Some of the recipes have taken a little longer to prepare than I would like, but I’ve been using nap time to prep and slice so everything is a little easier when the kids are running around in the evening.  There is also usually at least one crock pot recipe each week, so I just assign that to a night I know we’ll be too busy to cook much.  Overall, I would give this a thumbs-up, too.  It costs a little more, but takes ALL the work out of menu planning and grocery shopping, and I think I will end up saving more than my subscription in grocery costs.  I just wish they had an app that would make it more portable.

Both of these are great option for busy parents, and I would say especially for working parents who don’t have a lot of time to plan and shop.