Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Super Cleaners to the Rescue?

Saturday morning is a time at our house when I insist on subjecting my children to work, responsibility, cleanliness, and organization. The kids all have their Saturday morning job charts, and I am usually busy with laundry or other housework that I've been trying to find a spare moment to attack.

Thus Saturday morning isn't always heralded with joy and rejoicing. Sometimes it seems the kids lay awake at night scheming new ways to whine and wheedle their way out of their jobs. And I wake up praying for the energy to survive it all.

So on a recent Saturday as I was walking Grace through the finer points of cleaning the kids' bathroom, I noticed how Jake was dressed.

Yep, Superman shirt on the front and Superman cape in the back. Perhaps he thought super powers would help him get through things a bit quicker?

The girls joined in, and it was just cute.

Perhaps the next time I need to do some deep cleaning, I'll borrow a cape. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Spring Planting

Springtime in the Rockies arrived a bit early this year. With February days stretching into the 60s a few times, Cameron went out and bought a new rototiller and started planting some cold-weather crops. Gardening is exciting. We plant seeds, water, weed, cultivate, and dream of what our harvest will be.

In February we also had another Cupid Week with our family. The week before Valentine's Cameron took Abby and Grace to the annual Daddy Daughter dance, and Jake took me and Grace out for dinner. (Cameron made sure Jake had enough cash and instructed him to open my doors, and Jake was a thoughtful date. It was sweet.)

Then the Sunday before Valentine's Cameron and I opened our Cupid Week store, and each kid was invited in one at a time to draw a sibling's name and choose a couple items to give them during the week. We also talked to the kids at dinner a couple nights about other nice things they could do for each other as the week progressed.

As anything goes with a young family, the week had highs and lows. The kids were wonderful at sharing their treats with each other. And they would delightedly go tell each other, "Go look under your pillow!" when a treat had just been planted. But there were other moments when it seemed that all anybody cared about was consuming the most sugar possible instead of showing love for each other. A couple times I felt like throwing my hands in the air and scrapping it for next year.

Then the night before Valentine's Day I was reading to the girls in their room when I spotted this note that had been left on Grace's bed:

Sorry for the fuzzy pic...the heart reads "I love are super"
Families are like gardens. We plant, nourish, love, pray, hope, and dream...and every once in a while our seedlings do even better than we thought.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Muddy But Perfect

Jake and Abby have been in swim lessons lately, and it's been wonderful. Jake and Abby can play in the pool for a half hour before and after their lesson, and Emma, Grace, and I are allowed to be in there playing with them. It's been delightful.
The kids love their goggles so much they wear them all over the house
Of course, I might also mention that trying to get four small children with their accompanying bags full of swim gear, towels, and clean underwear to the pool on time a couple times a week (after a full day of schoolwork) would make a great Olympic-level event for professional organizers.

So recently we had pulled into the pool parking lot and all the kids were running towards the pool. Jake dropped his towel on the way, and Grace picked it up and started running after him. Jake's beach towel is nearly twice as tall as Grace, so the edge of it started to drag on the ground.

I started to cringe at the thought of Jake drying off with a muddy towel. But then my heart took a step back and I viewed it through a different lens.

Ten years ago I would scarcely have dared dream that I would be so blessed--a wonderful husband and four delightful children. To top it all off, I get to stay home and homeschool them, and sometimes we end our days all playing at the pool together. Wow. Life doesn't get much better in my opinion.

Perfectly muddy or muddy but perfect? It's wonderful either way.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Making Family Dinner Fun

I'm pretty sure that my next statement doesn't apply to any other young families out there, but just bear with me. Ready? OK. Dinner at our house isn't always an oasis of peace, quiet, and pleasant conversation. Often it is punctuated by quarreling over who gets to share what details of the day with Dad, lacking manners, and toddler tantrums over what is or isn't on someone's plate. This never happens at your house, right?

We believe strongly in gathering our family together for dinner each night. There are lots of articles, research, and stats out there proving the importance of a pleasant family dinner each night. I reflect on this statement often:

"...the time a family spends together "eating meals at home [is] the strongest predictor of children's academic achievement and psychological adjustment." Family mealtimes have also been shown to be a strong bulwark against children's smoking, drinking, or using drugs. There is inspired wisdom in this advice to parents: what your children really want for dinner is you." --Dallin H. Oaks
So when family dinner becomes a battleground over behavior problems, I start to fret about how to make things better. We've tried a few things. I encourage the kids to tell Cameron about their day...but as mentioned earlier, sometimes this doesn't end peacefully. We've also tried asking each person to share something they are grateful for that day. Some days and some answers are better than others. And then I made a little jar of family dinner conversation starters.
I pulled ideas for this from a lot of different web sites and blogs out there. And I made up a lot of them myself. Some are funny and meant to be light hearted. Some are meant to be serious.

I have to say that pulling out this jar completely changes the dynamic of family dinner at our house. Everyone loves to participate in answering questions. And we get to know each other better as we discuss ideas.

I hope that in a couple decades my kids will still think fondly on some of our recipes. But if we can build beautiful memories laughing and talking together, my real goals will be accomplished.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Embracing the Messiness

It wasn't an atypical night at our house. I walked into our room at night to find this.
One of my sweet little mothers had tucked her doll in snugly next to my pillow.

Then I saw that the crib looked like this.
"Buddy" the stuffed dog was snoozing soundly.

And everywhere I went around the house I found more signs of our daughters' loving care of their toys--nestled in beds or cuddled in corners. It was pretty darn cute.

I must admit that some moments I don't think it's cute at all to find dolls and all their trappings all over the house. Sometimes it's just one more thing that didn't get put away before bed. And when those one more things add up, I at times feel exhausted and grumpy.

Other times I can at least appreciate how cute it is before pushing the kids towards bed at the end of a long, loud, busy day. 

But sometimes I can pause long enough to realize that my house won't always be filled to the rafters with toys, noise, and laughter. 

And in those moments I just want to hold my kids tight and pray in my heart that they will start growing up a little more slowly. I want to embrace the messiness of my current stage of life and thank God once more for the privilege of motherhood and the joy of the four sweet children He has given us. 
Yes, it is noisy. Yes, it is exhausting. Yes, it is messy. But I wouldn't trade it for anything. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

25 Family Game Night Ideas

The family that plays together stays together. We've all heard that, right? (We've also heard that the family that prays together stays together. Equally catchy, every bit as true, but not my topic of focus in today's post.)

There are few things I love more than playing with our family. I love going to parks in the summer and watching Cameron chase the kids up, over, and under all the equipment in crazy games of tag. I love swinging with them and going down slides. I love pulling out board games to play together. Special bonding happens in these moments--it's the stuff that happy family memories are made of.
But I've also noticed that if we don't schedule it, it won't happen. Too many other things can crowd our calendar and trump just having fun together. We try to keep one night each weekend set aside for Family Fun Night. Sometimes we'll just watch a movie, but it's often more fun when we play. Here are some ideas we've tried and loved:

25 Weeks of Family Fun

1. Play sardines--you know, hide-and-seek where everyone tries to find the hider and when you find them you stay there till everyone is crammed in one little spot together!

2. Crab soccer--a little game of kick ball where everyone does the crab walk

3. Keep away--one person in the middle tries to get the ball while everyone else throws it back and forth to each other.

4. What time is it Mr. Fox?--Someone is chosen to be Mr. Fox and everyone else calls out, "What time is it Mr. Fox?" Mr. Fox responds by saying "3 o'clock" or "7 o'clock" or "10 o'clock" and everyone takes that many steps. When everyone is close, Mr. Fox responds by saying, "It's dinnertime!" and tries to tag someone to be the next Mr. Fox.

5. Water gun fight!

6. Indoor snowball fight--fill a laundry hamper full of folded sock balls and have an indoor snowball fight!

7. Flour fight--fill knee-high nylons with flour and tie them off, then go out in your backyard and have a free for all! (You don't need many flour bombs because each can be used over and over. And when you're done you can store them for another time. This makes for messy laundry but great pictures!)

8. Basement mini golf--set up a mini golf course in your basement.

9. Relay race--we've been known to set up relay races in our basement when it's too cold to do it outside, and it's every bit as fun.

10.Sharks and minnows

11. Marco Polo--one person is blindfolded and calls out "Marco" and everyone responds with "Polo". "Marco" tries to catch someone to be the next "Marco". This works great in the yard but sometimes in the winter we clear a room and play it inside and it's great.

12. Charades

13. Bake cookies together

14. Have a Disney sing-a-long (or whatever other songs you like)

15. Pudding painting--give each person a cup of pudding, a plate, some utensils, and whatever decorations you want and let each person paint something on their plate

16. Basement bowling--set up a pyramid with cans or even TP rolls and go bowling

17. Make gingerbread houses out of graham crackers, frosting, and whatever else you have on hand

18. Play a board game.

19. Take a picnic to a park--or sit on your floor with a picnic blanket and watch a movie

20. Dodge ball

21. Build a blanket fort and read books together

22. Build pyramids or other structures with marshmallows and toothpicks

23. Put together a puzzle.

24. Hide and seek

25. Have a play dough sculpture contest--make some play dough and have a sculpture contest!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Weighing in the Balance

It was morning and I needed to get the kids going on their schoolwork. We had pushed hard all week, so there wasn't much schoolwork left to do. But I still wanted to push through a little bit more.

Unfortunately for my responsible side, my kids were playing spy club together and it was really cute. Loaded down with lots of weapons (you know, magnifying glasses, binoculars, nerf guns, and the like) they romped around the house and hid from the tickle monster (yours truly). I couldn't help feeling grateful that I can homeschool and give them extra time to play together and build happy childhood memories with their siblings.
It was fun to see them playing. But I kept having to wrestle my conscientious side into submission. Life with kids around is all about striking the right balance. When the house is messier than I like, I remind myself that they won't remember if the baseboards were clean but they will remember if I played with them and read to them.

When the house is too noisy I remind myself that in 30 years when my house is quiet and clean, I will miss this stage of joyful chaos.

But when they have to do their schoolwork, I have to remind myself that in 30 years if they didn't master a few basics, they will be irresponsible bums. Hmmm. Back to the grindstone.

Of course, reading, writing, and 'rithmetic are critical life skills. They must receive due attention.

But then again, loving relationships and joyful play are critical life skills, too. We don't receive grades on them. But if we were better at them this world would be a happier place.

To everything there is a season, 
and a time to every purpose under heaven...
a time to weep, and a time to laugh; 
a time to mourn, and a time to dance...

Work and whimsy. Practice and play. Diligence and daydreaming. Grunt work and giggle fests. We need both. We have time for both.

The trick is in the balance.