Guest Post

[I asked Eleanor if she would like to write a guest post to celebrate our two year family day.  This is what she wrote.]

_DSC6452

Sisters and brothers are great.  Every kid is different.  Mine are beyond compare.

I love every thing about them.  I remember Lucy when she was little.  It was great to be there while she grew up.  It was amazing to watch her grow up. She was tiny and energetic. Now she talks a lot and is really fast.  Ayub was great to watch grow up.  He cares about a lot of people.  They are great.  And I think we are the luckiest family.

There are  things I don’t like about them.  For example Lucy wakes me up early, Ayub has a bad attitude, and I can never find them.  Also they take my stuff.

Overall they are the best siblings in the world.  And I’m glad I’m their sister.

Advertisements

Home Alone

Last weekend, I screwed up my courage, packed up the van, and took all four kids out of town BY MYSELF.  This is a big step for me.  I can remember a time, not too long ago, when I couldn’t even manage to take all four kids to the grocery store.  We went about four hours away to see Uncle Davey.  We went to the zoo, played at the park, did some shopping, had an Ethiopian dinner, had a mini reunion with one of Ayub’s friends from Ethiopia, and stayed in a hotel.  Did I mention that I was BY MYSELF.  To be fair, Uncle Davey was a huge help, but he did have to go back to work on Monday, so I had all four BY MYSELF all day.

DSC_3880 DSC_3897 edits 2You may be asking yourself, “Why would she do all that BY HERSELF?”  The answer, my friends, is that it was a fair trade.  You see, while I was off on this wild adventure, Andrew was at home.  Relaxing.  And now, he has all the kids at his parent’s house, which leaves me at home.  Relaxing.  It’s not quite a “family vacation,” but it’s totally worth it.  Andrew and I were both in need of some down time.  Our batteries have been low for a while, and it’s just really hard these days to catch up.  Someone always needs our helps or craves our attention, so there’s no relaxing when the kids are around.  We could have all gone together, but then we both would have been exhausted for the entire week.  This way, we both pay our dues, and we both get an uninterrupted relaxation time.  It is somewhat disappointing that I’m not actually getting to spend any time with Andrew, as I do still like to hang out with him.  But for now, this may be the perfect solution to get both of us back our A game.

What am I enjoying most about my time home alone?  Not eating.  Actually, I am eating, I’m just not doing it on a schedule.  There are not three meals a day with an afternoon snack.  I eat something when I’m hungry, and if I’m not hungry, I don’t bother.  I’m loving it.

 

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.

DSC_0019

Add peanut butter.

DSC_0021

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.

DSC_0024

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.

DSC_0028

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.

At Home

The question I get asked most often by my friends?  “How’s that Stay-At-Home-Mom thing going?”  I think there must be a pool about how long I’ll last before I go back to work! I wonder what the Vegas odds are saying.

My answer?  Some days are better than others.

I would like to say that I’ve fallen into a comfortable routine, but that hasn’t really happened.  It seems like there is always something that interrupts my version of a perfect day, whether it’s errands that can’t be put off, orthodontist appointments, field trips with the elementary kids, Halloween parties at school…well, you get the point.  I do love being home with Lucy, but I feel like I’m never really home with Lucy.

There are definitely some benefits to my current gig.  The first has to be the wardrobe.  I’ve been wearing the same two pairs of shorts in a rotation for many months now.  I have a collection of solid color T-shirts to match.  It’s a toss-up between flip flops and tennis shoes, but definitely no high heels.

I am also loving the fact that I can go shopping while everyone else is at work.  Tuesday mornings at 9:30…my new favorite time for grocery shopping.

The biggest problem lurking out there is that I don’t have any friends.  Wait…before you get offended and tell me that YOU are my friend, let me rephrase.  I don’t have anyone to talk to during the day who is in a similar phase of their life.  I have tried some mommy groups and story time at the library.  There are some nice people there, but let’s face it…most of them are in their 20s, with their first baby.  I’m in my 40s, with my 4th baby, have a kid in middle school, have been a working mom longer than a stay-at-home-mom, and have bi-racially adopted kids.  It’s kind of hard to find someone who has much in common with me.  I’ve had the conversations about formula, diaper coupons, and whether you should let your baby watch educational DVDs.  Been there, done that.   Now I need someone to talk to who understands what it’s like to have a middle school kid who desperately needs help with his science fair project while his younger brother needs a snack because he’s still terrified that he’s not going to get another meal, but you can’t put down the baby to help either of them because you’re still working on attachment.  Or how about someone who can explain to me how to help a Kindergartener with his homework when he barely speaks the language, which would be hard enough, but on top of that, you’re doing this homework in the back of a minivan parked at your daughter’s swim team practice and the baby is still attached to your chest.  So, yea…talking about the benefits of organic diaper rash cream isn’t really doing it for me.

So back to life as a SAHM.  It’s good, but not great.  I’m still learning how to do it.  I’m not sure I could go back to work right now – there are just too many things that would never get accomplished.  I don’t think I could make enough money to pay for Lucy’s day care plus pay for a cook, laundress, AND chauffeur.  So if you picked November, 2012 in the pool, sorry to disappoint, but you’re not going to win.

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.

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.

Chaos

I have been reading the Sane Woman’s Guide to Raising a Large Family by Mary Ostyn, a mom of 10 kids, some biological and some adopted.  I don’t know that my family really qualifies as “large,” but four kids seems like the tipping point, so I thought I’d check out how someone else handles it.  Last night, I read this passage:

Whether you have one child or ten, there will be times when the nine-month-old flings oatmeal on the carpet or the three-year-old throws up in the night — three times — and the seven-year-old loses his shoes — again.  But in a large family, the frequency with which this stuff happens can be overwhelming.

My advice?  Expect the chaos.  The more fully you embrace the chaos factor, the happier you’ll be as a mom.

Fast forward to tonight.

After dinner, we decided to take Michelle Obama’s advice and take the whole family for a walk.  We loaded up Lucy in the stroller, put a leash on the dog and off we went.  A few blocks into the walk, Eleanor dramatically announces that she stepped in dog poop.  In flip flops.  Which meant the poop was all the way up her ankle.  We may have laughed a little, which made her mad, so she stormed off ahead of us.  Then Lucy decided she wanted to walk, so after some blood curdling screams, which I’m sure caused the neighbors to peek through their blinds, we unstrapped her and she takes off.  Less than a block later she tripped over an uneven part of the sidewalk, scraped up her knees and sent her forehead bouncing off the concrete.  OK, forget it, Mrs. Obama, we’re going home.

We arrive home to find a package on the front porch.  While Eleanor goes to wash the poop off her leg in the kids’ bathroom, I open the package and find that it’s the step stool I ordered for the little kids.

Get your own on Etsy – search “Ethiopian Stepstool” and you’ll find my friends Amy and Doug, also adoptive parents of Ethiopian siblings.

I am so excited about this.  Ayub has finally started going to bathroom by himself.  For months, we had to go with him because he was afraid the lions would eat him if he went in there alone.  (I don’t make this stuff up.)  Now the only thing stopping him from total bathroom independence is the ability to reach the faucet.  So, of course, even though Eleanor was still in the bathroom washing the poo, I took Ayub and the stool in there, too.  As I’m showing him how to get the faucet on, I look up just in time to see Lucy has also entered the bathroom (that’s right, there are now four of us in a tiny bathroom) and she proceeds to stick her hand in the toilet.  I shove Ayub out of the way and grab her, only to realize that the toilet isn’t empty.  That’s right, there’s a floating log.  GAG!!  So I grab Lucy and rush to the kitchen sink to wash up, only to realize that we’re out of hand soap in there.  Back in the bathroom, Ayub somehow falls off the stool and injures his boy parts.  (Again, I don’t make this stuff up.)  Let’s just stop and tally that for a moment.  Girls covered in poop = 2.  Injuries = 2.

I don’t know if it was because I had just read that chapter on chaos or if I was just in an incredibly jolly mood, but I didn’t let it get me down.  I’m a bit of a control freak, and even though EVERYTHING that happened after dinner tonight was out of my control, I had to laugh and take it in stride.  This is my life now.  This is who we are.  Covered in poop and banged up, but loving every minute.  And I guess I knew that eventually, we’d make it to that magical time of night known as BEDTIME.

Goodnight, everyone. May tomorrow bring more chaos!

Family Vacation

We just got back from our first vacation as a family of six.  I have to admit, I was a little intimidated at the thought of loading everyone up, going for a long car ride, then spending a week at the beach.  Seemed like a lot to manage.  But it went great, and the little kids did fabulous.

So, how did we do it?

First, find some friends who are super-understanding and rent a beach house.  We chose Tybee Island in Georgia (which is highly recommended, especially if your family likes to boogie board).  This was really the only way we could have accommodated all of us.  We went with Brad and Laura and their two kids, a girl who is Eleanor’s age and a boy who is Ayub’s age.  While this led to occasional spats, it kept our own kids from interacting too much with each other, which is almost always a disaster.

The whole crew.

Second, pack wisely.  We bought groceries at Costco and ate breakfast and lunch at the beach house every day and alternated families cooking dinner.  Not only did we save money on eating out, but we also didn’t have to control wild kids at a restaurant.  Of course, it was a challenge to pack our mini-van with all those supplies, but we bought a hitch and piled it on the back.

Third, use the ocean and the sun to wear them out.  That was the easy part.  We spent every morning at the beach, when it was less crowded, and did some other activities after nap time in the afternoon.  We went on an ecology tour with Dr. Joe, where everyone looked for ocean life and then he taught us about what we found.  It sounded like it might be over Ayub’s head, but he loved looking at all the creatures we found.  One afternoon, we took the girls to the art museum in Savannah which has a great kids’ interactive exhibit.  We also took the kids on a dolphin tour and got to see a lot of them swimming around the boat.  We had movie nights, and generally stuck to bedtimes for the little kids.

Here’s some proof we had fun:

Boogie boarding with Dad.

Always had a shovel in her hand.

With a fish that was caught on the ecology tour.

Sunrise walk on the beach.

A woman pulled me aside during the ecology tour to tell me what a good big brother Sam is.

We had been explaining the concept of vacation for several weeks to the little kids.  But I guess we forgot to mention that it was temporary.  When we loaded up the car I asked Ayub if he was ready to go home and he started pointing at the beach house.  He didn’t realize that we weren’t staying there forever.  Poor thing…I know how he feels.  But, we’re already making plans for next year!