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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Top Ten Airline Travel Tips with Kids

Jules here-

Fresh off of a plane trip with kids, I wanted to list my top ten suggestions for traveling with kids.  Now, I am sure there are plenty more "world-travelers" who have suggestions for overnight and international flights, but I have flown dozens of US flights with a variety of baby/toddler ages....

10. Write a list for each piece of luggage/carry-on.  Be organized!! Make sure you'll have enough space for everything you need and eliminate what you DON'T need.  Always put essentials for your children in the carry-on (what happens when you arrive and your luggage is lost along with their favorite sleeping toy?). Plus, when you have the written "memory" of your list it helps you remember where to access things along the journey.

9. Ditch the diaper bag/purse in favor of a backpack. I like hands (and shoulder)-free travel.  I need to be able to push a stroller comfortably and supervise my "walking" children.  My backpack also has several easily accessible pockets for items that I need frequently (boarding passes, wallet, cell phone, sanitizing wipes, etc.) I keep the large pocket for diapers, wipes, and a change of clothing; I keep the food in the next size pocket.  I usually pack a purse that can lay flat in my suitcase so when I arrive I can switch the essentials to a smaller bag.

8. Bring your car seats--if you are renting a car. Did you know it can cost up to $20 per day to rent each car seat? Within 2 days I could have BOUGHT 3 new car seats.... so with Southwest, it was free to check them.  I had a friend who bought craigslist car seats at Disney world rather than pay to have them checked.  So think before you book the flights too--how much are you going to have to pay for checked luggage and if car seat-checking is free.  OR you can bring them aboard (if they are FAA approved)--- kind of a hassle to bring them through the airport but they do make some expensive car seat to stroller option:

7. I like big strollers, I cannot lie.  This is the first trip I've taken with just the umbrella stroller; I honestly miss the car seat/stroller combo one.  I love the storage of big strollers (probably because I hate carrying things), the cup holders, and the tray.  Even if you just have a toddler, not an infant, he/she will not be able to tolerate the gate-to-luggage walk.  Besides, you can always lock an ornery toddler in place while you talk to ticketing agents or order food.  Ems gave me a tip of tying a strap to the stroller for the older child to hold onto while you navigate the airport; all of my children loved having an assigned place to be and felt safer knowing they were attached to me even if they couldn't hold my hand.

6.  Give yourself extra time.  Even if it means getting up at 3:30 AM (which it did for me this time), it's much less stressful for the whole family to get to the airport with time to spare. Everything does take longer with children, so prepare for luggage checking time, potty breaks, and security.  Also, if you have a spouse to help-- just walk the kids around the airport in shifts so that they stretch their legs. I actually had my kids doing jumping jacks in the corner in anticipation of the 2 hours of seat-captivity!

5. Wipes & sanitizer: you cannot have enough. I am a laid-back mom of three, except on a plane. Do you know how many germs exist on that tray table? It rarely gets washed; one study revealed that MRSA, TB, and the norovirus are often present on the latches for the overhead bins and the tray tables.... YUCK! You do not want to begin or end a vacation with vomit.  As soon as we board the plane and sit down we use hand sanitizing wipes to clean down everything, especially the trays, seatbelts, and arm rests.

4. Emergency medications. I am now the mom of an allergy kid, so I do not travel anywhere without chewable children's Benadryl. Honestly, I think most moms should carry it-- you never know when you will find out your kid has an allergy.  Plus, Tylenol can be a useful carry on item.  I also carry a small pack of band-aids for real or made-up Boo-Boos.

3. Toys/Activities. Really, really think about your kids. What really entertains them? My 3 year old likes the doodle pad so that's what she got in her backpack (I did mini-backpacks for each kid with their own snacks/toys). My eldest colors for hours, so obviously I packed a ziplock baggie of crayons and a coloring book for her. Each got their "lovey" toy to snuggle with and care for.  James, huh. Well, he doesn't play with much of anything besides balls-- so I packed a little hockey figurine for him to play with, and it worked. In my bag I had some stickers, extra paper, and books.  I avoided noisy toys for the sake of the other passengers.  I had my kindle but I did not have to use it!  Don't overdo the toys-- my kids love to look out the window and order juice from the flight attendant.  With a baby--bring any chew toys they like or something that you can repetitively open and close. You might go crazy, but they'll love it (think hard-cover glasses case or wallet).

2. Meals. I usually pack PBJ's or bagels for the airport for two reasons: cost and healthfulness. So many options in the airport are fast food (which I am not opposed too, but when you reach #1 on my list, you'll see why I want some nutrition in my kids) and the food is notoriously high-priced.  I once bought a small tuna salad sandwich with nothing on it for $9.50 in Chicago-- it didn't even come with a drink.  Feeding a family of five is much more cost-effective if I pack my own.  Plus, I packed empty sippy cups and the nice ladies at Dunkin Donuts filled them up with ice water for free! As for babies-- get those squeezy packets of food, bring your bottles or nursing cover :) and any other finger-foods they can eat!

1. SNACKS!!  Honestly, my kids don't get snack-spoiled (ie eat junky snacks daily) so on a plane, I let them have all the stuff they REALLY want.  I let the girls chew gum for take off and landing and I also let them have lollipops too.  I also pack goldfish, candy, fruit snacks, fruit roll-ups, apples, Teddy Grahams, etc.  They literally eat the entire flight.  I don't give them ANY of this fun food until we are ON THE PLANE!!! Do not waste your precious rewards in the airport. 

Besides the initial hassle of packing up, I prefer airplane travel to car travel any day.  Which is easier: hearing your baby in the back seat hungry waiting for the 3rd rest stop or holding your baby and nursing him/her peacefully?  I have been blessed with babies who do not freak out with flying, but even if your baby does scream on planes, you have some options:

Easy Rule #13014- With planning, any trip can be manageable and fun for the family. And if your kid cries the whole flight--you'll never have to see the other passengers again.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Theo's Book Recommendations

Ems here:

Theo (newly minted 10 year old) is my resident bookworm.  He reads quickly and is very eclectic in his tastes. Basically, he will try anything. But he knows what he loves--and he will read those books over and over again. Here are some of his favorites! (I didn't make the book covers links to Amazon, but that's where the pics are from should you want to purchase. We use the Kindle apps regularly, but also the library).

Please note that Theo helped me write this post and that the books are in no particular order!

1. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

The popular book-turned-movie lives up to the hype. Super-genius young boy saving the world. You can see the appeal.

2.  The Mysterious Benedict Society (series) by Trenton Lee Stewart

A group of unique orphans find themselves infiltrating a corrupt school and ultimately--you guessed it--saving the world. .

3.  Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter

A classic. Uplifting and triumphant, a handicapped boy overcomes numerous obstacles to find joy.  This book is actually free in the Kindle store.

4. The Golden Acorn (series) by Catherine Cooper

Fantasy series that even younger readers can appreciate (Matt, 8), the story follows Jack Brennan as he turns into a raven and is transported through time on a mission. We discovered this as a free book on Kindle and the kids adored it. No longer free, so I guess others found the appeal!

5. White Fang by Jack London

Another classic and another free book on Kindle. Adventures of a wolf and his many owners.

6.  The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White

A lesser known gem by E.B. White of Stuart Little fame, this book follows the story of a mute trumpeter swan.

7.  Artemis Fowl (series) by Eoin Colfer

Artemis starts out as a brilliant, but criminal, mastermind who transforms throughout the series.

8.  Percy Jackson (series) by Rick Riordan

Also well-known and in movie form, this series catches the attention of young readers by using the high-fantasy and drama of the ancient Greek gods with their varying powers and assorted monsters.

9.  Guardians of Ga'Hoole (series) by Kathryn Lasky

Follows the epic adventures of heroic owls in the fight of good vs. evil.

10. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

The classic adventure story about a boy not just surviving, but connecting, with the natural world.

11. Eragon by Christopher Paolini

Theo has only read the first two books in the series so far, but really enjoys them. A farm boy, a destiny, and dragon--can't miss!

12. The BFG by Roald Dahl

Pretty much anything by Roald Dahl is a kid favorite, but this is especially endearing. BFG = Big, Friendly, Giant.

13.Little Women (series) by Louisa May Alcott

You never know what will appeal to children, even boys! This classic can apparently bridge the gender gap, and it's especially appealing with it's Little Men and Jo's Boys sequels. It's also free on Kindle.

14. Island of Fog by Keith Robinson

This book I ordered for Theo because it was a free Kindle selection (no longer free). Turned out to be a good choice! He loved this story of fantasy and mystery and is asking for the sequel.


15. Corie Universe Feeder by Walter Eckland

Another free Kindle discovery (that is no longer free), it's the often absurdly funny tale of Corie, a young girl, who grows a magical pickle and fish tree to feed the poor. Hilarity ensues.

Other favorites:

**Books by the classic author Horatio Alger (all free on Kindle, all stories of boys pulling themselves up by their bootstraps via hard work to attain success)

**The Wizard of Oz  complete collection by L. Frank Baum. Almost free on Kindle (all in series are available for .99 cents)

**Chronicles of Prydain complete collection by Lloyd Alexander.

**Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Who can resist the bright spark that is Anne? She finds kindred spirits in her legions of readers.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Homeschooling-Jules Version

Jules here-

After reading Em's post on homeschooling, I reflected on my own decision to home-school my children. When Grace was a mere toddler, I had already considered homeschooling (well before the preschool incident) partly because I had an incredible sis who had much experience in the home education world.  I also had different reasons to embrace this educational choice:

Egyptian Unit

  • Making learning fun. Though both my parents are teachers, I despised school as a child.  I loved reading for fun, but any recommended or required book tortured me.  Sitting still, listening, and studying were not skills that I possessed naturally.  I remember going to Epcot in Disney World and thinking, "They are trying to trick me into learning."  I do not want my children to have such animosity towards learning, and I think that homeschooling might be the solution.  I am doing "unit studies" this year and each unit incorporates food, crafts, videos, and field trips based on these concepts.
  • Adaptive Lessons. Ems alluded to the flexibility of homeschooling, and I embrace that concept of learning and development.  When children are toddlers, everyone says, "They all learn to walk and talk at different rates!" but as soon as they reach elementary age children are streamlined to learn at exactly the same time.  Grace was an early reader so I am able to teach to her level of phonics, but keep her age-appropriate for math. 
  • Socialization on my terms. The first question people always ask about homeschooling is always socialization. Personally, being surrounded by 20 other children the same age for 12 years does not seem like the "real-world" to me.  My kids have their siblings on a daily basis, play dates, a formalized play group, and everyday socializing (i.e. library, church, errands, etc.). PLUS, I bring my kids to a nursing home every month to learn to socialize with the elderly and disabled.  Learning to interact with a variety of ages (from baby to senior citizen) seems more well-rounded to me!

  • Freedom!  I hate crowds, especially when shopping, going to museums, or playgrounds.  I can homeschool anytime, anywhere.  We have the freedom to go on vacation during "school times" (we get a great discount too!), and I love going to museums on school-days.  We get one-on-one attention from museum workers who are more than happy to educate us-for free!   I did our science lesson in the car the other day while driving; I play Renaissance music during lunch, and I even work on math while grocery shopping.
    Lissie at SEE Science Center, NH

  • I love hanging out with my kids.  It's as simple as that. I love them and I want to spend my time with them (well, most days...).  If my kids really challenged me all of the time--I probably wouldn't enjoy homeschooling.  I love watching them "get something" during school, and being the one who knows when they are struggling with a tough concept. My children expect me to teach them things wherever and whenever, and they view me as an informational resource. They come to me with their questions first!

Easy Rule #4560-  Besides creating a safe haven for your children, homeschooling can offer a creative, loving, learning environment for your whole family!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Home-school Why

Ems here-

I know that Jules had decided to home-school Grace even before the dreaded preschool experiment for a whole host of reasons that she will compile later. Her post reminded me, however, of why I decided to home-school and brought back a flood of reminiscences -- especially in light of my oldest two children's birthdays coming up over the next couple weeks: Nate will be 11 and Theo will be 10. I've schooled them at home since Kindergarten, and now they are both in 5th grade! Amazing. Amazing that we've all survived it!

Because Nate and Theo are only 11 months apart (I can tell that story at a later time), I've pretty much treated them like twins. I sent them to preschool at this darling Catholic school called All Saints. It was a small, homelike environment and the 4 and 3 year-olds were grouped, which was perfect since both my little sweeties could be together. Unlike gentle cousin Grace, my monsters loved preschool. Well, they loved snack time and recess (chasing girls, to be precise). Circle time was another story. And don't get them started on singing.

Anyway, I was all set to have them continue at All Saints for Kindergarten, when we got the news that the school was closing down. The Catholic schools in town were consolidating into one larger school. Right away, I knew that would be a problem for me.

Here's what I was thinking:

1.  I liked the close-knit family that was All Saints, and I didn't want my kids to get lost in the shuffle at a large school.

2. To make matters worse, Kindergarten was an all-day affair! Gone was the half-day option of the past.  I wasn't ready to be apart from my son for a full day, every day. Too long.

3. Theo would only be 4, too young to officially begin Kindergarten with Nate.  He would be without his "twin" every day for HOURS!

4. Theo could read at 3 1/2 years old. He would be bored to tears with another year of preschool.

5. I had a toddler and a baby at home--the idea of driving to and from school both for half-day preschool and then again for Kindergarten pickup seemed like a horrible, nap-interrupting nightmare.

So here it was. I had to figure out another way to make us all happy. I knew about home-schooling but was very intimidated at the idea of educating my child from the ground up without a system. Luckily for me, Ohio is extremely favorable to e-schools, and after research we decided to go with the Ohio Virtual Academy that uses the K12 curriculum. Haven't looked back since.

Is it easy? No way. My house can't get really clean because there are always kids around. Sometimes I have to be Mean Mom + Mean Teacher Lady. BUT:

1. My kids are best friends. The older children get to really know their little siblings!

2. They can learn at their own speeds, up or down as needed.

3. We don't have to leave the house by a certain time. Or get dressed.

4. We don't do homework. Or projects using poster board.

5. We don't have to participate in bake sales or sell anything door to door.

6. The kids look forward to afternoon activities (sports, clubs, etc.) without being too tired.

7. We can go to appointments or shopping or family trips regardless of school schedule.

Basically, homeschooling has simplified my life in many ways. Do I struggle with being calm and patient? Heck yeah! But I could just as easily lose it over homework or paperwork or projects or getting everyone out the door on time in the morning if we did "normal" school...

I get to spend lots of time with my children; time that is going by so quickly and that I know I will be grateful for when they leave the nest.

And those are my deep thoughts for the day. 

Now, here's a picture of Gabe biting into a beef bouillon cube thinking it's candy!

Easy Rule #1007: Don't be afraid to search for solutions for your family that are outside the box. You may be surprised by what works!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Top Ten Picture Books

Jules here-

After six years of reading toddler-aged books, I feel as if I am a bit of an expert in early children's literature. Some books make me want to scream aloud at the weary, trite verbiage (i.e. Good Night Moon), but others can entertain both the grown up AND the kids.  Rhyme, repetition,and simplicity are hallmarks of picture books as they foster early language, vocabulary, and reading skills, but some authors make the experience fun for the adults too.  I chose the top 10 toddler-approved books that I have memorized from years of bedtime story-reading:

10. Jamberry by Bruce Degan. A silly, rhyming book that engages in a sing-songy romp around a berry-filled land. Honestly, I don't know why we love this book so much, but it is fun to say the tongue-twisting phrases!

9. Dear Zoo  by Rod Campbell. This Lift-the-Flap book entertains babies and toddlers with the animals hidden inside boxes and cages.  Parents can make the animal sounds while the children guess what animal is coming next.

8. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom  by Bill Martin. We have two versions of this book: the board book is quicker and better for baby-level and the full-version even my 5 year old still enjoys.  Before reading this book, watch the video online.  The tune is catchy and it makes your interpretive reading much more fun!

7. Brown Bear Brown Bear by Bill Martin Jr./Eric Carle.  I am not a huge fan of this book, but kiddos LOVE it. It becomes the first book they can 'read' because the pattern is the same throughout.  Lissie even 'reads' this book to the reading dog at the library.

6. Owl Babies by Martin Waddell.  This book is so sweet for a mommy to read her little ones before she goes out! The moral of the story is "Mommy always comes home." It's a very sweet, cuddly book before bedtime.

5. The Lamb Who Came for Dinner by Steve Smallman. O.k. the kids like this one, but I like it WAY more than they do. I am usually hysterically laughing at my own interpretation of the characters.  I think my babies/toddlers have listened to this patiently because they are in awe of mommy snorting with laughter. It's a super-cute, funny book about a lamb who's looking for a warm place and a wolf who is quite hungry.....

4.The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.  Just like Brown Bear the repetition of the concepts makes this an easy "first read" for toddlers.  The different fruits/foods really spur some language development in the kiddos too!

3. I Love You Stinky Face by Lisa McCourt.  Finally, a loving bed time story that has gross elements for boys (and even my wimpy girls love it!).  It's similar to the Runaway Bunny concept of a mother loving her child no matter what.

2. My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss. This is the only Dr. Seuss book that will make the list as it is a board book that uses regular language (See below). I really like using different voices with each "color" to show babies/tots expressions and feelings.

1. Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson.  I love this book. It rhymes, it's fun, and it's a series! There are several Bear books and lots of fun forest creatures. Because the book incorporates rhyme and repetition, even though the language is somewhat challenging, even the youngest enjoy the "sound" of this book!

These books are kid AND parent approved. Most of these even my youngest will sit through and enjoy.  I do want to point out books/authors that are off of my list:
  • Dr. Seuss: I know, everyone loves Dr. Seuss, but his books are soooooo long and his silly language is a bit challenging and confusing for younger kids. My 5 year old reads them now, but she did not really enjoy them until recently.  That is why only ONE made the list, and not even a popular one...
  • Good Night Gorilla  I am sure anyone who had a baby shower prior to your first kid received this book. I am sure other people love this book. I despise books with limited words (or none) and just pictures. This book is great for kids to peruse on their own time....
  • Where the Wild Things Are I've never enjoyed this book or any other Maurice Sendak's books. I find his books to be anti-parent---which is a sentiment I don't want my children to mimic. Later, I watched an interview about much Maurice Sendak actually disliked children. Seriously. Plus Pierre I Don't Care is the worst children's book ever.
I plan on writing an "older kid's" picture book post too- so stay tuned!

Easy Rule #2390- Reading to your children every day is the most important learning tool- make it fun for everyone!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Joy of Confidence

Jules Here-

When Grace was three, we attempted preschool for her. I was pregnant with my third and toting around a toddler, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.  So many friends used the dreaded "socialization" word, and I felt pressure to have Grace learn how to sit and listen to another adult.  So we signed her up...

The first day of preschool--she did great. No tears at drop off, she was thrilled to see us, and she liked some of the activities.  The next day, she asked, "Wait, I have to go back?" She was more hesitant the second day and the teacher mentioned she only sat on the bench during the playground time and said, "The other kids are running around too much for me."  The night before her third day of preschool, she came out of her room at 10 PM sobbing about how she did not want to go back to school, and I had to rock this little anxious child back to sleep.  Thinking that she would have a more difficult time, I had my husband stay in the car with Lissie, while I walked her to her classroom.

Upon arrival, Grace lost it.  Now, Grace NEVER threw tantrums, made a scene, or disobeyed us.  The teacher kept reassuring me that this was "natural" and I should just go.  Being 9 months pregnant, watching my baby crumble with terror-- I broke down crying too.  I could NOT do it.  I gathered her up, and we sniffled to the car.  When I arrived my husband simply said, "Well, if preschool is going to make all my girls cry, we are not doing this again." (Lissie was sobbing in the car too....)

Hours later that day she said, "Some day I'll be six, right?" I nodded and she added, "I'll be ready for school then."  How can you argue that?

Many people denounced our decision to pull her, "You didn't give her enough time" or "You should have just let her cry it out" even "She obviously needs to be away from you."  But, I knew I was correct. She was not emotionally ready to be apart from me yet.  It took quite awhile for her to go to the independent (no mommies allowed) story time, but by the time she was almost four, she did it.  She's shy, listens well, and rarely gets in trouble at home (and never out).  She already knew the preschool curriculum before we started it, and she is in first grade this year, so academics were not a problem.

Today, we went to a science museum for our homeschool.  Several other children scattered about the museum until a presentation on "walking on the moon" started.  The employee started asking questions about gravity and space, and my shy little Grace was the only child to know the answers and respond! She was nervous to be the center of attention and she beamed when he complimented her. 

Easy Rule #92010 Trust your own parenting instincts- children blossom at different times.

Easy Rule #53999 Watching a 3 year old go "anti gravity" with chubby cheeks: priceless:

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Little Blessings

Ems here--

It crossed my mind recently that I can often remember to be grateful to God for the BIG blessings in my life: children, husband, shelter, health etc.  However, there are so many small, daily blessings that I just take for granted that really need to be acknowledged.  This is my forum to do such. Feel free to add your own!

Thank you, Lord, for:

10.  Electric blankets. Their snuggly warm properties have enabled me to brave the sickeningly frigid winter.

9.  Baby formula.  Although I have successfully nursed 3 (#4,5,6) babies to a year, my first 3 boys were extremely difficult and I had to use formula. Additionally, Simona decided to quit nursing cold turkey at 7 months, and it was so wonderful just to be able to buy formula that can meet her nutritional needs.  No wet nurse needed.

8.  Technology. I'm so grateful I was born in this century. God knows I am too wussy to have been a pioneer woman.  So, for the Kindle, the television, the DVR, the iPhone, the washing machine, the dishwasher, the KitchenAid mixer, and the computer, I am continually and eternally grateful.

7. Hair dye.  I feel so much happier when I'm blonde.

Yes, that is me, pre-babies. I had just started to rock the blonde hair--and look how much fun I was having!

6.  Hospitals. The fact that we have places to go when we are ill or hurt is really miraculous. Even though a trip to the ER is usually a miserable experience, remembering how blessed we are to have such a place should carry us through the 4 hour wait.

5.  Libraries.  Jules has talked about this before, but I wanted to officially agree on the awesomeness of these institutions.

4. Chocolate. Can you believe there was a time when chocolate wasn't readily available?? I'm so glad I wasn't born yet. Swiss Miss gets me through many a rough patch, and chocolate chip cookies are part of my food pyramid.

3. Diapers (disposable). Poop happens. How nice we can clean it up, throw it out, and move on. I love you, Luvs.

2.  Grocery stores. Packaged food, fruits and veggies, freezer sections--we are wealthy!

1.  No salmonella poisoning, considering the massive quantities of raw cookie dough and cake batter that I  (and my children) have consumed over the years.

Easy Rule #1788:  Since it's the small things that get us through the day, let's not forget to celebrate them!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Swallowing my pride

When I look back at all the posts I've written, I think, "Wow! I'm pretty amazing." I do rock the baking, boredom busters, and behavior (and obviously I am awesome with alliterations too...)  BUT, there is SOOO much that I don't do well.  As I posted before, I would like to embrace my less-than-proud moments in life this year (stay tuned for the official "Bad-Mom-Moment-Posts" in progress).

  • I have no fashion sense. I have mentioned that I would really benefit from a stylist with me for shopping (or just my stylish sister, Betsy), but I honestly cannot tell the difference between high- and low-end merchandise.  If my life depended on it, I would not be able to tell the difference between a $29,000 purse or a $20 payless one. They look the same to me:

  • I came to the realization in Ohio (during a marathon of Karaoke) that I cannot sing.  I always knew I didn't have a good voice, but I never realized that I actually had a bad voice.  Seriously, I was singing in front of 5 year olds, and I actually was blushing. However, I am a fantastic back up dancer. 
  •  Similar to that, I am a horrible lyricist. I can incorrectly sing the lyrics of every song.  And songs that I thought were child appropriate, were not.  I think I have an automatic "filter-for-radio" system in my head and I never realize horrible lyrics.  Check out what Ode to my Family by The Cranberries. Um... I had NO IDEA what that song was really about until I attempted to sing it (badly).  I just wanted to sing the Doo Doo part.
  • Next, I am terrible at cutting up certain fruit. For example, when I cut a mango, I end up gnawing on the rind like a wild dog to get all the extra fruit I left on.  And here is an example of what it looks like when my mom cuts a cantaloupe (on the left) and on the right is my job:  
      Seriously, that's mine on the right. I have no knife skills.

    I am also not good at ending posts.... :)  

    Easy Rule #413- Everyone has their strengths and their weaknesses, no one is perfect. Except Mary Poppins, and even she is only practically perfect. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Dad Role

In every family with children, there comes the inevitable determination between spouses of Who Does What? and What Do (and Should) We Expect From Each Other?  I find that harmony in the house is more closely attained when duties are distributed based on skill and enjoyment level, rather than a simple 50/50 split. That may sound strange, but there can be creative ways to work together as a couple without either feeling oppressed, depressed, or suppressed.  Here are some examples from our household:

1. Our laundry room is in the basement. So is my husband's "man-cave". Ergo, while he watches NFL, NBA, and ESPN he is also watching LOADS.  Basically, he does nearly 100% of the laundry in the house, and then dumps it in the living room for me (and conscripted children) to fold and put away when we can.  It saves me from having to dash up and down the stairs to keep up with the changing of the loads, and he doesn't mind because he is still able to have down time.

You've seen the laundry pic.

2. Brian likes running errands. The bank, the post office, etc. is not a chore for him. He also likes to show off his cute children.  I, on the other hand, only like to go grocery shopping and I don't even know how to get to the post office (I'm ridiculous, agreed). It's not hard to see how this works out: he runs errands and takes whichever kid(s) he feels like with him while I get to stay home. Win-win.

The Errand Machine.

3. My baby loves me. She likes Daddy, but really, she prefers me at this stage.  Because of that fact, Brian does not enjoy watching the baby for extended periods of time because she is high-maintenance for him.  I respect that as much as I can, and try only to leave the house when the baby is sleeping. While this is not always possible, I really attempt to accommodate him in this. After all, he doesn't mind watching the other six children--and the baby will grow up!
Whatever, Mom! I NEVER cry!

4.  I do the majority of cooking for the family and all of the baking. However, Brian does enjoy making meals for the family when he has the time and energy.  Whenever Daddy decides he's cooking, I shelve my dinner plans for a later time.  He makes great ribs and pot roast, and in the summer, is a grilling machine.  Make sure the hubs has some cool appliances--it just may tempt him to cook more! Check out grills, a deep fryer, or a rotisserie for some man-friendly gifts.

Brian made this delicious roast the day after Christmas in his rotisserie!:

5. Cleaning--Brian handles "his" zones: the basement and the bathroom in the basement. I usually cover the rest of the house, with chore assistance from the children. If the kids are not doing a good job, I enlist Daddy to back me up. It's amazing how they instantly obey him! I have mixed feelings on that.

6. Bedtime--I handle the baby (per usual), and Brian, unless he's working, supervises the showering and dressing of the other 6.  We really encourage independence in the children, so all but the 2 year old can pick out pajamas and get dressed by themselves.  The older boys help Gabe in the shower to make sure he's washed up, and Dad gets him dressed.

Anyway, just thought I'd share a little of the division of labor that makes our house function for survival!

Easy Rule #4215:  The family is a team and needs to work as such. But, just like a team, every member needs to work according to his/her talents and skills for maximum satisfaction and performance!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Baptism Cake-Anyone can do

Jules Here-

Just attended a beautiful baptism for my newest handsome nephew Charlie, and I am honored to be his Godmother.  In such a role, I took it upon myself to make him quite the holy cake for today's festivities:

Luckily, anyone could make this cake! Honestly, very easy without any special pan to purchase. I used mini-loaf pans to bake the cake (took about 28 minutes to bake). I used 5 loaves to make the cross.  The hardest part is finding a lovely display platter---instead, I used a cookie sheet with foil. Crafty people might be able to come up with something more elegant.... but this worked for a family party! 

As for the decorations--- I used a star tip to border the entire cake (to cover up my un-smooth white-base), and a single point tip for the writing and rosary.  The rosary is surprisingly simple with a quick dabbling at the end for the cross.

I made my own icing with powdered sugar, vanilla, milk, butter and a little crisco. No, I didn't measure.... but my ROUGH estimates would be:

1 bag powdered sugar
3/4 STICK of butter
2 tsp vanilla
5 TBSP milk (I'm really guessing on this one, I kept splashing it in until it formed nice, stiff peaks)
1/4 Cup crisco
Food dye as needed

 Homemade (even Duncan Hines homemade) tastes way better than store-bought.  Give it a try.

Easy Rule #3437  Even if the cake doesn't look good, it'll most likely taste good. And if you really screw it up, throw it in a glass bowl  with some instant pudding and call it a trifle. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Top Tens Pins I Want to do this Year

Jules here-

I, too, do not have an official New Year's Resolution, but I always am striving to improve myself.  Similar to a few of my friends, (ahem, Tanya & Lori) I have a pretty awesome pin-hoarding problem on Pinterest.  Honestly, without that website I doubt I could cook, homeschool, or prepare for any holiday/party.  Anyway, my goal this year is to use some of those long-forgotten pins:
MAGIC! I've been doing this all over my carpet, it works on old stains, new stains-- basically EVERYTHING!
Magic Carpet remover
I have THE WORST carpet stain from an unnamed 3-year-old who stole a bottle of green food dye.  I just have to get motivated to dig out my iron and make this handy-dandy solution.

Car Ice Remover

 I have had several incidences of frozen doors, windows, and barely visible driving conditions.... I won't even mention the "suddenly-unfrozen-passenger (toddler-side)-door-opening-while-going-45MPH"  incident.   I definitely need to make this ice-melting solution. 

Mock Wendy's Frosty: 80 calories, .5 g fat
Imitation Wendy's Frosty  
I have 60+ drink recipes in my Drinks pin-board, and I have tried none of them. I would really like to sample some of the smoothies, milkshakes (healthier ones), and even some unique mixed drinks this year. See, my New Year's Resolution includes drinking MORE!


whole wheat pita bread
Whole Wheat Pita Bread from Annie's Eats
I do make a fair amount of pizza doughs and homemade breads, but I'd like to branch out and use some of my more unique pins like Pita bread and honey oat rolls.  Yum.

DIY Coffee Table. You can buy these crates at any craft store.
DIY Coffee Table out of Craft crates    

 I haven't price-checked these craft crates, but I have quite a few pins that feature them from entry units to shelving storage.  If they are cheap enough, I plan to make this coffee table. And by that, I plan on nagging my husband to make one.

mittens from outgrown (or shrunken) sweaters- easy to sew!! Will I ever do this? No. But it's sure nice to know I can.
Sewing mittens from old sweaters

 This is actually three pin ideas in one--- first, my 5 year old wants to learn to sew this year (I think she has a vision of making a poofy pink dress for herself); however, I am looking for more basic ideas.  PLUS, this will inspire me to clean out my closet at get rid of the dozens of old sweaters/shirts that I don't wear anymore (many have survived since high school).  Finally, if I can learn to sew a bit more myself.... I could do LOTS of pin ideas.

25 gifts to make under $5 (that people would actually like to get!)    - There is also a part 2 for 50 gift ideas!  Can't wait to try some of these
25 Gifts to give under 5 dollars

 These gifts are cute, inexpensive, and can be used for any occasion. So my goal is to give "cheer" to some friends this year.  I don't often celebrate friend's birthdays, but this would be a simple, affordable way to tell them that "I'm thinking of you!"


32 Random Acts of Kindness to do with kids.     We are going to an assisted living this week!
Random Acts of Kindness
 I love the idea of teaching my children generosity, kindness, and selflessness by performing thoughtful deeds for people.  Using some of these ideas this year, I hope to plan something once a month to cheer someone up!

This is a fabulous idea! A friend took small glow sticks and put them in plastic eggs. Then hid them in the house and turned off the lights for the hunt. Must remember this!
Glow in the dark Easter Egg hunt

 O.k. This one Grace added.  I let her peruse my Kid Friendly Activities board, and she chose this glow in the dark Easter egg hunt.  She also wants to do balloon rockets on a string (but I don't have everything I need for this one yet).  Both of these activities MAY pass the time this winter..... this long, just-getting-started winter....


12 Hearty Fall Crockpot Recipes that leave out the Condensed Soup!
12 Crockpot Recipes, Condensed Soup Free

 Finally, I would like to utilize my brand-new CROCKPOT (thanks MOM!) more this year. Every time I use my crockpot, I feel so calm for the day as dinner is "taken care of".  I like the simplicity, the smells, and the leftovers. 

Let's hope I can add ORGANIZING my pinboards to the list of "THINGS TO DO" this year as this post took me FOREVER to write....
Instead of cleaning and organizing my house, I pin ideas on how to clean and organize my house. The irony is not lost on me.

Easy Rule #13399  Look back on LAST year's goals and ideas for inspiration for this one!