Tuesday, April 19, 2016

What's Been Happening Lately, Part 3: Daily Routines and Homeschooling

Even though I've known this truth forever, I am constantly amazed at the effect a good routine can have on things actually happening.  I've made a few tweaks to our daily routine recently that have just fit, and as a result, our days have gone smoother while also accomplishing my goals. 


One such example is our outside time.  I know I've mentioned before my struggle to get outside everyday.  Some seasons, like summer, lend themselves more naturally to this, and it's not a problem to get outside everyday.  But in the middle of winter, it feels like hard work to get outside, so it often doesn't happen.  But I just recently borrowed an idea from my preschool teaching days and decided to try going outside right after lunch each day.  And this has fit our routine perfectly.  It's already a transition time, which somehow means that it doesn't take nearly as much effort to actually get outside.  Most days the kids take their scooters out to the road, and we spend 20-30 minutes there, but if I need to, I can also send everyone to the backyard while I finish cleaning the kitchen up.  This little tweak has been a game changer for us right now.


The other routine change I made was with our "school" time.  I finally had to admit that my plan of doing our "school" time in the afternoon just wasn't working.  I had been pretty intentional in choosing that time, but for various reasons, most days it wasn't happening.  Given my unschooling tendencies, it wasn't that big of a deal, really, but I did want to make sure we were working on a few things regularly.  Part of me thought that if I just disciplined myself better, and kept trying, I could make it work, but I knew that it ultimately came down to making the routine work for us.  So, I've moved our school time to the morning, which is definitely my more disciplined, productive time of day.  This does make the morning a bit busier, but it also means that we're actually doing it on a regular basis.

Speaking of homeschooling, I wanted to give a little update on the resources we chose to use this year.  Thankfully, everything has been wonderful!  We love the Story of the World history, and we're currently on our second listen-through.  The kids usually listen to a chapter while I get lunch ready, which works really well.  


We have loved Life of Fred as well.  I really appreciate the relaxed approach to math, and the kids enjoy it.  Another resource we found for math is Bedtime Math.  We borrowed the first book from the library and have been using it during our Morning Time.  The kids LOVE this.  The author's goal is to make math as much fun and as much a part of everyday life as a bedtime story, which fits my philosophy exactly, and it has been just that for us.  The kids say this is their favorite part of morning time, and even Toby asks for a turn with a question.  After we finished the library book, I promptly purchased all three books, which is high praise!  The books include questions for a few different age groups, but because I have so many kids so close together, I have had to make up some of my own questions, too, but having some ideas to go on already has made that pretty easy.  We just started book 2, which is also great, though the questions so far seem easier.  Anyway, we highly recommend these books!



Wednesday, March 30, 2016

What's Been Happening Lately, Part 2


As I've been thinking about the last few months, trying to decide what to put on my blog, I've been realizing that there's been a lot of growing going on in our house recently.  Physically, of course, as everyone is getting bigger.  Benjamin turned 7 in November, lost his first tooth a few months ago, and has become quite a good reader.  Joanna turned 6 last month, is learning to read, was the first child to learn to tie shoes, and has become really detailed in her drawings.  After both of them had their birthdays, Ezra is eagerly waiting for his, in June, when he will turn 5.  He just learned to write his name.  Toby practically potty-trained himself last fall, catching on so quickly that I really felt like I hardly had to do anything.  He's finally started talking as well, and has more words all the time.  Simon, of course is growing constantly.  He just started walking, following our family's schedule of walking at 13 months.  He still loves to get into things, but he's learning to listen to Mommy's "no"!  :) He loves to go outside.

Our food consumption has really gone up in the last several months, so much that I was feeling like I was spending almost all of my time in the kitchen.  In an attempt to simplify a bit, I decided to eliminate our morning snack time.  I wasn't sure it was possible, but it actually has gone surprisingly well!  We eat a little more at breakfast, and I adjusted our schedule to allow for an earlier lunch, and it's working great!  I now am making less food, and spending less time cleaning the kitchen, so I feel like this simple change has made a noticeable difference.

Not only has there been a lot of physical growth in the family, but I feel like there has been a noticeable shift in our family dynamics.  Instead of having five little kids, there are two different groups now: big kids and little kids.  That seems obvious when I say it, but it's really only been in the last few months that I've noticed it being true for us.  Benjamin, all of a sudden, has been declaring himself too big for things, like certain movies and books.  Even though the four (or 5) kids still frequently play all together, more and more I've noticed them playing in groups, older and younger.  Ezra is kind of the wild card, switching between groups, depending on the activity.  Our bedtime story time has changed, and instead of reading picture books with everyone, Seth has been reading a chapter book with the older two, while I read picture books with the three younger boys.  Last fall Seth and I felt like it would be good for the older kids to have some kind of outside activity they were doing, so every week the older three kids go to an AWANA group and Seth and I have just the two little boys.  The older three all have regular chores they do around the house, and they are a really big help now with the work.  I'm finding myself frequently talking about the "little boys".

I feel like it was interesting for me to make this realization.  I'm not sure I totally like this shift; some changes have made me a little sad, and I'm having to get used to it.  I know this is our new normal, and the trajectory will probably just continue!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

What's Been Happening Lately, Part One

I've wanted to post here more often than I have lately, but my time and energy has simply gone to other things.  So, a little update of sorts is in order!  :)  First up, our biggest recent news:

 


Baby #6!!!  We are so very excited to meet this new little person around the end of June!  Joanna, of course, is hoping for a sister.  :)
We now have the oh-so-fun task of purchasing a new car ahead of us, since we've outgrown our minivan.  Hello big family van!  We are very sad to have to say goodbye to our beloved MPV.  It has treated us well.  :(
My one disappointment this time around has been our decision to go with a hospital birth.  We made that decision based on some complications with previous births, and while I have peace with that, we really miss our familiar midwives and birth center!  It was so much more family friendly, especially for appointments and such!  My consolations are that I'm so much more prepared this time around than I was the last time I gave birth in a hospital (with Benjamin!), and that I will still have a midwife, not an OB.  So it will all be fine, and at least we won't have to worry about needing a hospital transfer.
Anyway, we're down to just over three months, which will fly by, of course!  And we are all so excited!!!  :)

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Simon's First Birthday




Simon's one today!  He is such a joy and delight to us!  He is by far our busiest baby, which while entertaining, is a challenge, too.  He loves to get into the kitchen cupboards, which I'm trying to discourage!  He has an adorable uneven smile, with two teeth on the bottom, and just one on the top.  He loves to dance to music, and can crawl quite quickly, particularly when he's trying to get into something he's not supposed to have!  :) He's not walking yet, but has just started standing on his own, so it's coming!  He loves his big siblings, and when he's up before them in the morning, he will crawl to the bedroom, looking for them.  He is my heaviest baby, and he loves to eat!  He will eat pretty much anything, and plenty of it!  We love him so much!  Happy birthday Simon Henry!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Merry Christmas!

This fall and summer were so busy, with camping trips and house projects, and just, life, that I'm not really sure where the time went.  I'm hoping to get back on here after Christmas and do some updates, but for now our days are filled with Christmasy things, so that will have to wait.  In the meantime, here's hoping you have a merry, merry Christmas!  =)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Green & Simple Living, Part 6

This is the handout that I passed out at my talk, with recipes to try and resources to check out...

“Have nothing in your houses that you do know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” - William Morris

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”  - Annie Dillard


Questions to ask yourself:
What does simple living mean to you?  
What is important to you?  
How do you want to spend your life, and how can you structure your days to reflect that?
What can you eliminate from your life to have more resources (time, money, energy) to focus on what is truly important to you?

Recipes:

Deodorant
6 Tbsp. softened coconut oil
1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup arrowroot powder or cornstarch

Combine baking soda and arrowroot powder, then mix in coconut oil, combining well.  Scoop into a small jar for storage.  Use your fingers to apply a small amount to armpits.  During hot weather, deodorant may need to be stored in the fridge to avoid the coconut oil liquifying.

All-Purpose Cleaner
1 1/2 tsp. dish liquid
3 Tbsp. vinegar
2 cups water

Combine in a spray bottle.

The Best Stain Remover
1 part dish soap
2 parts hydrogen peroxide

Combine in a bottle and shake to mix.  Pour directly on stain as soon as possible and let sit for a bit before washing.




Resources:

www.ewg.org (Dirty Dozen list, Skin Deep cosmetic rating database)

Simple and Green Living Blogs
www.smallnotebook.org

Books:
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
A Guide to Green Housekeeping by Christina Strutt
Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin
Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne
Healthy Homemaking: One Step at a Time by Stephanie Langford (available at www.keeperofthehome.org)
The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzyn






Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Green & Simple Living, Part 5

Okay, so I have a few tips that I want to share if you are interested in making some changes toward living simply or in more environmentally friendly ways.

Tips

1. First, determine what is important to you.  What makes you feel fulfilled?  What is it that you feel that God wants you to be doing with your time?  What are your goals, short and long term, and what are some steps that you can take to accomplish those?
2. Try everyday to do something that is important to you, whether it’s a big or little thing.  Do something that you enjoy or that gets you just a little closer to a goal of yours, even if that means ignoring something else for a little while.  Although most of my kids don’t nap anymore, we still have a rest time everyday where all the kids are in their own spot with books and quiet toys, and I try really hard to have a rest time for myself then, too.  It is really tempting to get some work down during this time, but because it’s important to me to have some down time, I try really hard to do this every day, and read or do something that is restful to me.
3. Eliminate what you can so that you have more time for what is truly important.  I’ve already mentioned that we’ve cut down on the errands we run, and that’s made a huge difference for us.  When we were first married we spent every Sunday afternoon running errands, and now, we can’t even remember what kinds of things we bought.  But now we hardly ever run errands, because we don’t buy that much.  This is also why I’m not on social media.  There is nothing wrong with social media, and it can even be a good thing, but I know that for me, it would take time that I would rather spend on other things, so I just stay away.  Sometimes eliminating things can mean saying no to things that at the moment sound fun, but in the long run don’t contribute to the things that you have decided are important to you.  For a while, Seth and I got in the habit of watching TV every evening.  We’d watch one show, and when that was over, we would get lazy and just leave it on and end up watching it for a few hours.  That wasn’t really how we wanted to spend our evening, but sometimes it sounded good in the moment, just to relax.  But it never made us feel good in the end.  When we moved, our antenna didn’t work, and we decided not to replace it, so we couldn’t watch regular TV.  And for the most part, we don’t miss it.  We do other things, hang out with the kids, read books, talk, and it has been great.  Another way I eliminate things is by keeping my house cleaning really simple.  I know some people are fastidious housekeepers, and if that’s you, that’s great.  That is not me.  I like a tidy house, and I can’t stand a lot of clutter, so I work hard at keeping things put away, and I try to keep things generally clean, but I don’t really care a lot about deep cleaning regularly.  I don’t clean under things, like my stove or furniture very often, or anywhere else that isn’t really seen.  Those things don’t bother me.  I’ve already mentioned that I don’t like dusting, so I don’t have a lot of decorations or knick knacks anymore, which cuts down on dusting, and I still don’t do it very often, honestly.  I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do any deep cleaning in your house.  My point is that just because some people say you should do these things doesn’t mean you have to.  Take a look at the things you do, and make sure they are actually important to you before you decide to spend the time doing them.
4. Multi-purpose stuff.  This is one way to minimize the amount of stuff you need. Let’s take cleaners, for example.  There is a different cleaner for every surface in your home.  There are also recipes to replace every single one of those cleaners with a homemade option.  And while that may be more natural, that is not more simple.  Not only do you still have a whole cupboard full of cleaners, but you’re spending a lot of time making all of them.  You don’t really need all that.  You only need a couple of things to clean your house.  I have one cleaner that I make with water, vinegar, and dish soap, and I use it to clean almost everything in my house; windows, toilets, floors, you name it.  I don’t need a different cleaner for every one of those surfaces, when that one will do the trick for all of them.  We’re actually going to make it today so you can take it home and try it.  
5. I have some other recipes on the handout for cleaning jobs that my multi-purpose cleaner won’t work on.  For things that need scrubbing, whether it’s dishes or the tub, I use baking soda, which works great.  For carpet stains, I use hydrogen peroxide.  You do need to keep it in a dark bottle, so I added a spray top to the original bottle.  I spray that on the carpet, leave it for 10 or 15 minutes, then scrub it with a rag, and that works great on most things.  I also have a really simple laundry stain remover that I make with hydrogen peroxide and dish soap, and that recipe is on the handout.  This works so well better than anything else I have every tried.  And I have 5 kids, so that’s saying something!  That’s all I use for cleaning in my whole house, and all of these things are things I already have on hand, so it keeps it really simple.
6. Make things yourself when you can.  From household cleaners, to food like baked goods and yogurt.  It’s healthier for you, it’s cheaper, and there is so much less garbage.  And a lot of things are actually easier than you might think.  Also, I often make things, like baked goods especially, in big batches, and I freeze whatever I’m not using right now, and that not only saves time over making several smaller batches, but then I also have homemade convenience food that I can just grab when I need it. For me, making things also gives me a real sense of connection to what goes into the things I consume, and gives me a sense of independence, which are also important to me.
7. However, don’t feel bad about what you don’t or can’t do.  Because I enjoy making things and because I know all the benefits of making things myself, I sometimes beat myself up for the things I don’t do.  But only you can decide what’s important to you.  I buy frozen meatballs because I don’t really want to make them.  My husband doesn’t like my homemade deodorant, and he doesn’t like any of the natural brands he’s tried, so I buy normal stuff for him.  As much as I would like to buy all organic food, I can’t afford it.  It doesn’t have to always be all or nothing.  Decide what’s important to you to pursue and don’t worry about the rest.  There are a couple of good resources that you can utilize when you’re trying to decide what to prioritize as far as making changes.  The Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) updates the Dirty Dozen list every year.  Most of you have probably heard of that, but if you haven’t, it’s a list of the 12 fruits and vegetables that have the most pesticides.  So if you’re like me, you can use this to decide which produce items are the most important to try to buy organic.  I don’t even bother spending money to buy organic for items that are not on this list.  I can’t afford to buy everything on this list organically, either, but it gives me a plce to start.  They also have on their site a section that is called the Skin Deep Database.  They rate thousands of different cosmetic and skin care items according to the safety of their ingredients.  So you can use this to look at the products you buy and you can see how safe they are.  Maybe you’ll find a couple of products that you don’t want to buy anymore, and that can help you decide which ones you want to prioritize.  
8. Try new things.  Don’t be afraid to try something even if you don’t know if it will work.  That’s how you learn.  But if something isn’t working, don’t just try to struggle through it.  Change it.  I have mentioned that I use cloth diapers for my kids, and I love them.  But for a while one of my kids really struggled with diaper rash, especially after wearing a wet diaper all night.  So I started using disposables on him at night, and that worked well.  We’ve tried different experiments in our desire to live simply.  Some things work, and some don’t.  Try things, and look at them as learning experiences, not just failures.  You might find that it’s actually really fun!
9. Use glass jars!  Glass is much healthier and more sustainable than plastic.  I’ve eliminated most of the plastic from our kitchen, and I use glass jars for everything.  Storage, leftovers, even our cups are actually small glass jars.  They’re actually surprisingly hard to break, so they’re great for kids. 
10. Try buying less when you can.  When you do need to buy things, try to buy things that are quality so they’ll last longer.  Even if you spend more at first, it will save you money in the long run, it saves you from having to spend time replacing it, and it also keeps things out of landfills.  
11. Also reuse when you can.  Try buying things that you can reuse.  We started using rechargeable batteries not too long ago, and although they are more expensive at first, they have definitely saved us money, they work really well, and again, we never have to run out to get batteries.  Instead of throwing things away, try to find ways you can reuse it.  Use containers for other things.  Use old clothes for rags.  That being said, in the spirit of keeping our life simple, I don’t keep things unless I’m positive that I really am going to reuse it.  I don’t save all my pasta jars thinking I’ll use it for some project someday.  I don’t save juice can lids because I know I won’t use them.  That’s why it’s important to try to buy less as the first step.  So you don’t have to throw things away, and so you’re not keeping things to reuse that just end up as clutter.
12. Develop a routine.  I know not everyone likes routines, or schedules; in fact, I don’t in some ways, but having a routine has really helped me simplify life.  In a lot of ways, it helps me do what I need to do without having to really think about it, which saves my mental energy for other things.  I’m reading a book right now, called Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin, and it’s all about habits, and she says that a habit is anything we do without thinking about it.  And a routine, she says, is just a string of habits.  And it’s true.  I have a morning routine that includes cleaning up the kitchen and having the kids do their chores right after breakfast.  And it really is a habit.  I do most of it without having to consciously decide to do it.  It makes it so much easier for me.  And, routines really help the kids, too.  Before I really stuck to our after breakfast time to do chores, the kids would always fight me about it, which of course was challenging.  But now that they know that it always happens right after breakfast, they will (usually) do it right away without arguing about it.  And it makes life so much easier!  
13. One thing that has helped me develop habits, is to “anchor” them by attaching them to something I already do.  So, for example, when I wanted to get in the habit of cleaning up the kitchen and having the kids do their chores, I anchored those things to breakfast, since breakfast was something that always happens, everyday, usually around the same time.  So, now, instead of trying to remember sometime in the morning to have them do their chores, we always do them right after breakfast.  Meals are really good anchors, because they generally happen every day, around the same time.  I have things anchored to all of our meals, and I have things that happen before meals, during meals, and after meals.  Bedtime and wake up time can be really good anchors as well, such as brushing your teeth before bed.  Anchoring has made a huge difference in how I’ve been able to develop habits.  
14. As far as decluttering goes, clothes are a great place to start.  There’s a statistic that says that we wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time.  We have a handful of favorites that we wear all the time, and then we’ll wear other stuff occasionally.  And yet we often spend a lot of time each day looking through our clothes for something to wear.  I’d challenge you to reduce your closet to just that 20% that you wear all the time.  You can just try it as an experiment, and instead of actually getting rid of everything, just box it up for a few months and see if you like it.

15. The next place I’d declutter is toys.  Simplicity Parenting is a book all about simplifying life for kids, and it talks about how most kids are way overstimulated.  Most kids have rooms full of toys, and it talks about how that actually makes it very difficult for kids to focus on any one thing for any length of time.  So the book promotes having, really, only a few choices out for kids at any one time.  We’ve done this with our family, not only as a way to get the kids to focus and really engage in thier play, but also as a way to keep chaos and mess to a minimum each day.  So it makes it so much less overwhelming for kids to clean up as well.  So how this looks in our family is that we keep just a few toys out and available at a time, and then the rest are put away in a closet.  For the most part, my kids play with Legos all day every day, but sometimes I’ll bring something else out for a change of pace, or they’ll request something, so we’ll get it out.  And I typically get rid of anything that is outgrown, anything that is never or rarely played with.  I’ve found that in our home, toddlers don’t really want to play with toddler toys.  They just want to play with what the big kids are using.  So we have very few toddler toys.  And I just recently started getting the kids involved with decluttering their things, and I was really surprised with how well they did with that.  Instead of asking them what they wanted to get rid of, which of course is “nothing”, I asked them what were their favorite things that they wanted to keep.  Even if it was something I knew they never played with, I didn’t get rid of anything they said they really wanted to keep.  And I did give them some limits, like “you can keep your 15 favorite stuffed animals”, just to prevent them from saying everything was their favorite.  And then I told them we were going to give the rest away to someone else, and they were mostly okay with it.  It certainly wasn’t a perfect experiement, and they weren’t willing to get rid of as much as I was, but it was a start.