Getting ready for the school year: Having a schedule

If you have school age children and you haven’t already gone back to school you soon will be. How do you make the transition? Do you go crazy the first day trying to get there on time? Do you live all summer on your school schedule? Here’s how my family does back to school.

AUGUST: Week 1

The first full week in August is routine time. We start by going to bed at school time. (My kids are still pretty young they went to bed pretty early all summer. You may want to take a few days to do this, slowly moving bedtime earlier.) This doesn’t mean they are getting up at school time yet but their bodies are adjusting to going to bed earlier and it may make it easier for them to get up earlier. Here are the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for amount of sleep children should be getting.

AUGUST: Week 2

We start getting up at school time and following a loose morning routine. We start to enforce school wake up times. There are no time constraints yet so we iron out the wrinkles as we go and make adjustments. This isn’t so much about the time things get done by but the order in which things happen in the morning. The hope is my kids will go through the routine like it’s second nature by the time the school year actually starts.

AUGUST: Week 3

Now its crunch time. We get up at a consistent time. The kids follow the schedule. We try to be ready by the set leave time for school. This week is about making the final small changes so our mornings flow as smoothly as possible.

My daughter’s school starts at 8AM. We have about a fifteen to twenty minute drive to get there. I don’t work in the mornings so me getting to work isn’t part of this schedule equation. She also has two younger siblings that I need to load into the car before we can leave. I get up well before my kids so I can shower, read a devotion, and get some writing or work done before managed chaos descends on my house.

Sample Schedule

6:30 This is my kids wake up time. They are usually up before this.

Once my kids are up, my oldest knows to get dressed. We try to aid this process by laying her clothes out the night before. Her next step is to brush her hair so all I need to do is put it up in some way.

6:45 Breakfast

Starting about age two, we require our kids to be dressed before breakfast on school days. Her little brother is still working on this rule which makes for some interesting mornings.  Breakfast is an easy affair most days being cereal or oatmeal and some fruit.

7:00 Finishing touches

My daughter brushes her teeth. I make sure her hair is done. I make sure the younger two children are some semblance of dressed.

7:15 Load up

Getting three kids in the car in any sort of timely fashion, especially when they are all still in car seats takes some time. This can take my kids anywhere from 5-10 minutes depending on how cooperative they want to be that day, so I give myself some wiggle room here so my patience isn’t flying out the window as we get in the car.

As my kids get older and more of them are going to school this schedule will change and most likely become earlier. Getting my kids back into the routine before school actually starts makes that first week of school a little less stressful because they know what is happening in the morning and that it happens the same way every morning.

How do you and your family prepare for the school year? Have you found strategies that work for getting your kids to bed easily? How do your kids get up in the morning? Leave a comment below.

To Work or Not To Work – Another Story

Deb posted the story of her working motherhood in this post recently, and I wanted to share mine, as well.

It’s quite opposite!  All mommas and all families are so very different.  And these two stories, which have unfolded in an intertwined way (we are besties in real life, if you didn’t know) puts me in awe of how our plans are not God’s plans.  I would never have pegged us for the kinds of moms we are today, had you asked me before we had children!

working mom or sahm

(Why a pie?  That’s a little later in the story!)

I never, ever, intended to be a stay-at-home mom.

In my early adulthood, I wasn’t even certain I wanted to have children at all!  But once I settled on a career path (education) I definitely decided that I was never “quitting my job” to “stay home and clean.”

Straight out of college (that would be 1 1/2 years into marriage) I got a teaching job.  I – surprise!- was pregnant with our first child during my second year of teaching.

I love teaching.  Teaching while pregnant wasn’t that difficult (I even directed a musical that first nauseating trimester!) and I had every intention of returning to work.  I took a 6 week maternity leave during which my (also a teacher) husband substitute taught for me, but I was itching to get back in that classroom.  My husband stayed home with our son, and off I went (breastpump in hand – what a drag!)  I had a student teacher in my classroom that year, and she’d play with the baby sometimes while I worked after school.  I found myself nursing a baby while meeting with colleagues in my classroom.  We played baby shuffle (husband dropped off baby after school, rushed to a job running a teen center after school hours, I returned baby in the evenings to direct music in church, attend extracurricular practices, etc.)

I was a working momma for two years.  I occasionally had to cancel a practice or bow out of an activity for a sick child, but it was definitely manageable.  I always scooted home for dinner and bedtime, often returning to my classroom after my son was sleeping to finish grading papers, preparing centers, writing up progress reports, or rearranging desks.  My students and colleagues loved my son and he enjoyed hanging around school.

Then the climate of my school shifted – administration changed, faculty began to turn over, some difficult families came through my classroom.  I began to feel burned out, like I was giving 120% to my job and getting little but Mom Guilt in return.

I actually had a second baby in order to quit my job with a clean conscience.

To be fair, we wanted another child and the spacing was ideal, anyway.

That spring, I realized that rather than trying to impart knowledge and life skills to 25 kids I hadn’t parented until the age of 13, I wanted desperately to be home with mine and parent them from the get-go.  I wanted to hang out laundry, and babywear, and make pie, and teach babies German, and read aloud, and go on walks.  I suddenly had a very clear vision of what I imagined my life to be like, and that job in that moment was not it.

So I directed one last musical while severely nauseated, wrapped up one last round of graduations and Algebra placement tests, packed up my classroom, and went home.

 

And it was a learning curve, don’t get me wrong.  I am by no means a born stay-at-home-mom – I’m scatterbrained, and sarcastic, and a night owl, and not patient, and massively disorganized, and prefer the company of adults or solitude.  I spent a few months drowning in my new role and having no idea how to manage homemaking or two small children or how to be a living person and not just a soggy mess.

But I’m also fiercely stubborn.  I was determined to make a success of this stay-at-home-mom gig.  I made schedules.  I made lists.  I planned activities.  I walked every day.  I drank a lot of coffee, and said a lot of prayers, and tried to learn patience and humility and self-denial.  I’m still learning all of those things every day.

But I’ve never regretted going on hiatus from teaching.  I fully intend to go back, when my youngest child is in kindergarten.  I still love the job ( I even substitute and help coach drama at my husband’s school, because I do miss the atmosphere and the big kids!) but I have learned to love being a professional mother.  I’ve learned to see it as a real vocation, with skill to be gained and talents to be applied.

 

I was not born a stay-at-home mom.  I’m not probably a typical one, either.  I don’t homeschool, I don’t iron, I don’t exercise, I don’t sell anything, I don’t manage sports teams, I don’t have “girls’ nights” or “Mommy and Me” mornings. But this is where our family ended up, and we are happy.  My husband is happily teaching full time, and I am working every day to make our home run smoothly and simply, getting my self-fulfillment from lots of coffee and blogging and YouTube, and spending these years with my goofy little boys.

 

And I rarely make pie.  (Pie makes me frustrated!) But I COULD if I wanted to!

working mom or stay-at-home mom

 

 

To work or not to work? Is that the question? -deb

So your pregnant and are looking to the future. Are you going to stay home with your newborn or are you going to go back to work? It’s a question all new parents must struggle with. In sharing my story I’m hoping to give you some insights into why my family made the decisions we did as pertaining to working with kids.

When I caught baby fever, about a year into our marriage, my husband and I talked about how we wanted to raise our family and when it would work best for us to have our first child. We originally made plans that I would be a stay at home mom and we would adjust our budget to make that possible. This seemed like a perfect plan, my husband was on schedule with his schooling to get a full-time paid internship and then would only have one year of school left. We figured we could make the sacrifices needed to make our plans a reality.

When we found out we were pregnant with our first it seemed like our plans were falling into place.  God had different plans for us though, my husband’s school track changed. With my husband’s school track changing our plans changed and we decided that me working full-time would be the best decision for our family. My husband’s schedule changed to classes twice a week instead of everyday so he was able to be home with our daughter most of the time and when he had class we had been able to find an in home daycare for her to go to. I regretted not being home with her but I told myself that she slept most of the time anyway so I wasn’t missing much. I took advantage of every minute I was home with her though.

When our daughter was a year old I was able to be a stay at home mom. I thought I would rock at this job. This was my dream come true. I had all of my time to dedicate to my daughter and would be able to give her all my attention. I knew getting out would be key to my success, so we went to story time at the library. I had all this time and she was showing signs of readiness so we started potty training. I would had all sorts of time to do anything we wanted. It didn’t take long though till I was crazy and bored.

My daughter wouldn’t take naps when I wanted her to. I was unable to do even my short to do list. My daughter wanted me to sit and watch her play for hours. I couldn’t handle it. My one year old was emotionally draining me everyday and I wasn’t finding any joy in being with her. Although staying home was something I thought I wanted to do I was really struggling with this lifestyle mentally and emotionally.

I went back to work when my daughter was 19 months old. I worked full-time and sent my daughter to daycare. I was again struck by mom guilt with leaving my child under someone else’s care, but I realized I was able to enjoy spending time with her in the evenings and on the weekends instead of dreading the whole day when I woke up and didn’t really know what the day would bring.

I thought that maybe the number of kids affected my ability to stay home, so when we had our second child I again tried to stay home. It wasn’t the crazy boredom this time but the housekeeping that drove me crazy. Maybe I have unrealistic expectations for myself and just can’t let them go. I felt that since I was home all day there really wasn’t a reason why I couldn’t keep my house immaculately clean every day or cross items off my to do list every day.

So when I was offered a position to teach part time which I jumped on it, and here I am now working part time with three kids and for the most part enjoying the craziness that a busy schedule brings.

Do I think all parents should work? No. Do I think all families should have one parent at home with their kids? No, that has to be left up to each family to decide. I want people to realize that there is more to consider in the decision making process then can we afford this option or that option. Leave yourself open to both options if at all possible. Be aware that what you always saw for yourself as a parent may not be what works best for you in the trenches of parenthood.

Are you a stay at home mom or a working mom? Do you have any pointers on how you made the decision to work or not to work? Leave a comment below.

5 Ways KonMari Minimalism Improves My Life

5 Ways KonMari Minimalism Improves My Life

I can’t claim to be an expert minimalist.  I don’t count my possessions, I can’t fit everything I own in a backpack, I don’t have a spartan tiny home.

But goodness, do I have less stuff than I used to.  I aspire to minimalism.

I applied the KonMari method to my entire home when pregnant with my second baby.  Call it extreme nesting if you will.

I did it again as we were packing up that house to move.

And I’m doing it again right now in my new home (how did this stuff even get MOVED here?!)

It is the best homemaking decision I’ve ever made, and here’s why:

birch trees. Text: Minimalism Changed My Life

1 – Minimalism forces me to think deeply about purchases and gifts

Before I buy anything for my husband or kids, I think seriously about whether it is amazing and going to be used frequently.  This results in usually buying one joint large gift for Christmas – and this last year we skipped in entirely.  We went on a 2-day vacation with our dear friends instead, and it was so much better than a gift!For our children, we follow the 4 gifts principle – something to wear, something to read, something fun, and something they need.  (Clothing, a book, a toy/game/ticket to somewhere, new sheets, dishes, etc.)  Since they have grown up this way, they don’t expect anything more lavish.  My 3 1/2 year old still gets excited when we put his “new” sheets on his bed, and talks about how he opened them on Christmas.

2 – I am more motivated to finish the laundry and the dishes.

I only have enough sippy cups and coffee mugs for two days.  I also only have enough kid dishes, good knives, and pans for two days, so if I’m feeling unmotivated I can only possibly let the dishes go for a day before we run out of necessary items.  (Sippy Cups and Coffee Mugs would make a great blog name – feel free to borrow that one!)Likewise, we have pared down our wardrobes to the point where I can’t skip laundry.  Maybe this doesn’t happen to everyone, but before KonMari I could skip laundry indefinitely.  I had SO. MANY. CLOTHES. that it didn’t matter if I washed them or not, the closet just kept giving!  Now, my boys only have 6 pair of pants, so I have to wash them.  I use a capsule wardrobe, so I actually wear every piece in my closet and need to wash them to have options for the next week.

3 – Broken items rarely bother me

Fact: Kids break things.  Little Known Fact: My husband, somehow, breaks even more things.This used to bother me immensely, but the process of decluttering and reducing my possessions has definitely changed my mindset about material possessions.  Minimalism functions under the theory that possessions are not important, period.  Because of this, I’m not going to get upset at a person who accidentally ruins one.  I actually say, “Well, there’s one more thing I don’t have to own!”  It helps me let go of even one more item – it has been decided for me by being broken.

4 – Less guilt

This is a problem I didn’t even realize I had until I became familiar with the KonMari method of minimalism.  I had no idea how much guilt I was inviting into my daily life by keeping possessions around that I didn’t love.

“I should really be using that, _____ gave it to me.”

“Forgot I had that.  What a waste of money!”

“I need to go find _____ and set it out so _____ thinks I’m using it.”

“I should dust.  Haven’t touched that shelf of things in months.”

“Here’s the box of ugly things I have to keep around.”

“Let’s sort the Christmas ornaments: Ones we like, ones we can get rid of, ones we don’t like but can’t get rid of.”

“I need to find a place to put _____ where nobody will really see it.”

These are true.  Not exaggerated.  I actually had to think these thoughts routinely about possessions in my home.

I heard it so many times, but didn’t truly believe it until I decluttered objectively: The people you’ve loved don’t cease to exist just because you get rid of “things.”  I didn’t need to keep around heirlooms, gifts, greeting cards, what-have-you from deceased or faraway relatives simply to remember them by.  I’m not going to forget them!  I do have some heirlooms and gifts that I really, truly love and use almost everyday.  I enjoy that those particular items happen to have come from people close to me.  Beyond that, I’ve learned to let go.  And now I don’t have to hear those guilty thoughts inside my head anymore. (Katie from The Decluttering Queen wrote a great post about “keepsakes!“)

The same goes for money spent  You already “wasted” the money.  Having the items staring at you all the time isn’t going to help the situation – it’s just going to make you feel bad daily, instead of once by decluttering the item.

5 – Ease of cleaning, dressing, packing, etc.

Less clutter on surfaces = easier to wipe or dust.
Fewer toys = even if the kids empty out the whole playroom, it’s not that much to pick up.
Capsule wardrobe = just count outfits to pack.  Everything goes together, everything fits, everything feels good to wear.

And this is why I continually look to minimize our home even more.  It has brought such a relaxed, peaceful mindset about possessions and really helped me curb my attachment to them.  There is so much more mental space and time in a day to work at things that truly matter, because I’m not devoting time to shuffling items around (physically or mentally!) picking out clothes, avoiding housekeeping, lingering over decisions about keeping or storing.

What benefits are you hoping to see from your minimalism journey?

What positive experiences have you already had along the way?

Let Go of Mom Guilt: Put Yourself on Your Schedule

Among the HUGE list of “Things I Was Clueless About When I Became a Professional Mom” was the entire concept of planning.

But that’s a topic for another day.

This is just about planning YOURSELF.
Yes, that’s a thing.
Yes, it’s a thing you need to do.
Yes, it will actually improve your parenting.

Whether you’re an on-paper planning aficionado, or all your vague scheduling is in your head, think about it.  Where are YOU on the schedule?  When do you partake in your hobbies, or personal growth activities, or real, intentional leisure time?

Hint: “whenever I can fit it in” is the wrong answer.

That’s how I operated for over a year of full-time at-home parenting.  In practice, it turned out that I did hobbies/personal growth/intentional leisure exactly zero times per week.  Really, almost zero times per year!  Not okay.

The result was a very grumpy, lackluster momma.  One who felt irritation rise at the very first whine of the morning, who felt guilt and exhaustion every time she spotted the half-finished novel on her bedside table.  (The novel I promised myself I would finish before moving, and didn’t finish until months afterward.)  I was a mom who didn’t even feel at leisure on vacation – I would bring along a hobby and it never made it out of the suitcase.  Ugh.

Enter 2017.  This year began with a little Parents’ Getaway (something I always said I’d never need or participate in.)  The epitome of scheduled leisure.  I planned this little vacation to intentionally include nothing but scheduled leisure – the dead of winter in Wisconsin, in the middle of farm country, in a tiny vacation home with nothing but two bags: one of face masks, board games, and novels and the other of groceries.
And this spurred an entire lifestyle change.  (No exaggeration!)  I realized that the only thing preventing me from reading, relaxing, etc was that I didn’t treat it as important.  That if I didn’t create pockets of time for my own adult brain, I was going to lose my patience/sanity/creativity/intellectual prowess during my years as a professional parent.  And that prospect was NOT ACCEPTABLE.

So here’s what I did:  I took out my planner (because I’m old fashioned!) and quite literally penned myself in, every day.  In the first slot of my planner, every day, I schedule a cup of tea and either blog writing or professional development reading.  In the very last slot, every day, I schedule fiction reading, movie nights with my husband, nail painting/face masking, etc.  The last weekend of each month, I spend my early morning at the local coffee shop (read: my literal happy place) setting goals for the next month. I actually think about this at the start of every week and pen. it. in. with equal weight as my cleaning schedule and meal plan.

And a lot of the time, I actually do it!  I don’t fall asleep on the couch at 8:30 thinking of all the wonderful things I could do, but feeling like I should do housekeeping instead.  I don’t drag myself out of bed to the sound of little boys pounding on bedroom walls.  I’m actually pumped to get up early each day for my “me time” and I can dive right into a relaxing activity as soon as the kids are tucked in at night.

It’s given me the “permission” to nurture myself, in addition to looking after the hearts of my family.

And a peaceful mom runs a peaceful home.

What’s a hobby or leisure activity you claim to love but never have time to do?
Make an appointment with yourself!

Reflecting: Making Tortillas

The other night for dinner, I decided to make homemade tortillas.
That sounds uninspiring, maybe.
I remember when I first “learned” to make tortillas.  I use some quotes there because my attempts were awful.  But I “learned” to make them during our first year of marriage.
(A little background: We got married at 21 and were both full-time in private college for an additional three semesters.  Picture a historic, falling-apart apartment above a crafts&gifts store, with no internet and a leaky kitchen ceiling.  And heat controlled by the city, in Minnesota.)
Back then, I made homemade tortillas because we were, frankly, broke.
I had no aspirations of being a homemaker.  I didn’t even think I wanted children, and I certainly had no interest in giving up my (future) career.
But honestly, most of our groceries came from a food bank run by volunteer ladies in our college’s basement.  God bless those ladies, and the people who sent donated food.  We ate well, considering: cereal for breakfast, ramen noodles and bagged pasta sides and farm fresh eggs.
But I was determined that we would have tacos.
Tacos were a very important food to my (new) husband.  His family had big taco feasts when he was growing up – lots of chopping and grating and heating up in preparation for a big spread around a huge oval table with lots of siblings, nephews, significant others.  I had experienced these family taco dinners firsthand, and I knew how much he loved the whole atmosphere.
If we were to have tacos, those tortillas had to be free.  And free meant making them myself, with flour and oil from the food bank.
I remember investing $3 in a crappy grocery-store rolling pin to make my husband a pie on his first married birthday.
I remember taking our iPod touch down to the local coffee shop to get some WiFi, to look for a recipe for tortillas.  Then writing it down to bring home, because the iPod wouldn’t save webpages.
I remember them tasting like oily flour, and being strangely transparent, and way too thick to actually roll into a taco.
I remember my sense of accomplishment at having made a family taco feast out of nothing but sweat and stubbornness.
Then my thoughts turned to more recent years, where our financial state has been more secure.
Years where I never gave a second thought to store-bought tortillas, where I had the luxury of being picky about the percentage of my ground beef, where my complaints about taco feasts mounted because “I didn’t feel like washing up all those dishes” or “it was too much chopping to bother with.”
And here I was, in my beautiful new kitchen, stepping around my toddlers, scattering flour everywhere, making tortillas.  Almost a decade after that first time.  A completely different woman, a completely different wife, living in a way I would have never imagined back in that leaky kitchen as a college student.
Making tortillas because I thought it would be a fun culinary adventure.  Because I could.
 
And they turned out beautifully.
What I mean to say, friends, is these tortillas remind me of how blessed I have been in my adult life.
And of a time when I put significant effort into homemaking without even realizing it.
And that now that I have the luxury of time and money, how much more should I work toward creating that “taco feast” kind of atmosphere.
Grace.

 

Bringing Vacation Home

Is there such a thing as an adult who does not enjoy vacation?
I went on a little New Years’ getaway with my husband and our best friends, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes vacation so wonderful, and how to incorporate some of that into my daily life.  I’ve come upon a few different concepts.

From our recent vacation – relaxing in the middle of nowhere.

Relaxing, minimalist environment
Think about what made the vacation so relaxing.  Was it that your space was clean?  That you were living with just a suitcase of possessions and no clutter?  Odds are good you were even living in a significantly smaller space than usual, possibly even with extra people, yet the hotel room/cabin/condo was relaxing.
This is great to replicate at home!  Living with fewer possessions naturally helps your space stay cleaner.  I will forever be indebted to the Kon Mari method of decluttering for making my home more peaceful and easier to keep picked up.  Consider a capsule wardrobe to replicate the limited options of a suitcase (and the ease of dressing that comes with it!)

Fresh linens
That may seem super small, but really.  When’s the last time you changed your sheets and washed your throw blankets and bleached your towels? (I keep white towels for this reason.)  Try it, and really pay attention to the sensation of sinking into fresh linens – savor it!  (By extension, all your nicely folded laundry in your suitcase?  Ey?) If you find this as valuable as I do, plan it into your housekeeping!

Pre-planned activities
Now, this is probably personal preference,  but I usually  have some pre-planned activities on vacation.  On this recent vacation, we brought along decks of cards to play our favorite game, one board game the husbands specifically like, and books and facemasks for the wives.  Nothing fancy, nothing that involved leaving the couch.  The aspect of this that makes the day so enjoyable is that there was no sitting around saying, “What should we do?  I dunno.  What do you want to do?  I dunno.”
Consider planning your leisure once you’re back home – would you like to read a book in the evenings? Journal in the mornings?  Have a family movie night?  I have actually taken to pre-planning my leisure activities for my miracle mornings and for my evenings after the kids go to bed, and it’s great.

Personal growth time
Like I said, this recent vacation included intentional book-reading.  For me, leisure reading is a part of self care and personal growth, because I truly love reading (like in the depths of my soul, love, reading.  #nerd)
Odds are good that during a vacation, you take more time for these kinds of activities.  Perhaps hiking is your personal growth.  Maybe meditating.  Some people probably experience personal growth by touring important landmarks or museums.  Whatever it is that feeds your spirit, you’ve probably made up your mind and planned to do it during your official vacation.
You should really do that kind of stuff during your regular days.  Seriously.

Moments of complete stillness
There are moments in vacation where absolutely nothing is going on.  Nothing is calling your attention.  Nothing needs to be cleaned or cooked or put away.  Those moments may be in an art gallery, in your hotel room in the wee hours, sitting on a beach kid-free, or doing a face mask on a couch while your husbands play a board game.
See if you can recreate those moments in your daily home life.  For me, those moments exist at 6:00 am (after my husband has left for work, my kids are still soundly asleep, and I’m alone in my office with a cup of coffee) but you can jam them anywhere.  On a commute using public transport, on a walk, etc.

Pick one thing to try – make your daily life more like a vacation.  Maybe commit to it for 2 weeks.  Write it down.  Plan it out. 
Share what you’re going to try or what you already do!

P.S. – we used Air BnB to book our vacation, and it worked like a charm!  I even got email copies of text messages sent by our host.  Recommend!
(Not sponsered.  I wish!)