Monday, July 11, 2016

Why Having a Baby Is Hard...(and that's okay!)

I'm a sixth-time mom, but experience does not make it easy.  I still worry about why my baby won't sleep or why my boys can't get through day without picking on each other.  I'm also not immune to other people's opinions, looks, and comments.  

I do feel like I have the benefit of perspective this go-round, though.  I know every stage and every trial only lasts for  a short season. Baby days turn into toddler days.  Arguing boys transform into teenagers with a new set of cares.

My advice to new or young moms (or older moms, like me) is to choose whatever sleep situation allows everyone to the get the most sleep.  Trying to force something that isn't working just leaves everyone miserable.  They won't always be waking up, won't always be in your room, won't always be needing you all night.  

Smile at the people in the grocery store who tell you your hands are full or who ask nosy questions or who glare when your child is whining in the juice aisle.

Don't worry about the days when the kids...or you! too much TV.  Everyone can be more productive tomorrow.

Some days, maybe many days, will be lonely and you'll long to talk to someone besides the baby. Loneliness is a real thing, but kids grow up and you'll realize the monotonous days were worth it.

I'm going to repeat something I wrote on the blog seven years ago because it is still true today:

In [our] inner struggle to determine cloth or disposable, 
homeschool or public, organic or not, my bed or his own, have I put too much merit in trivialities?  In deciding whether to expose my little ones to vaccines or food dyes or television, have I remembered the crux of the matter?

Does Gavin know Jesus?  Is Maddie living for Him?  Will Owen and Benjamin [and Alaine and Macie] spend eternity in Heaven? 

In the end, that's what matters.
(Click here for other posts in this series.)

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Evening Walk

I'll start off by clarifying that Macie is a "good" sleeper.  She loves her afternoon nap in a cool room, with a fan blowing for air and noise.  Most nights she sleeps all the way through or wakes to nurse once, going back to her bed as soon as she's done.  She went through a brief phase (thankfully!) when she thought 5 am was an acceptable wake time, but we're back to a more workable 6:30 or 7. However, bedtime is our kryponite.  

She gets tired and falls asleep by 7:30, but then she wakes up and wants to stay awake until we go to bed.  She's often cranky, and it's frustrating to a mama and daddy who are also tired at the end of the day. We've tried cutting her afternoon nap short, giving her a quick power nap in the early evening, or postponing her bedtime until a little later.  None of it has solved the problem.  We're still working on finding a pleasing that gives all of us the rest and down time we need in the evenings.  

Until then, we're choosing another way to combat the frustrations without twiddling our thumbs and counting the minutes until we can attempt to put her to bed again.  

It started one Saturday evening.  The older kids had settled into watching a movie... and Macie woke up, raring to go for another couple of hours.  The humidity was low, the temperature was mild, and there was a light breeze so Brian and I put on our shoes and I popped Macie into the sling for a walk.

We walked and walked and talked and talked.  We covered three slow leisurely miles as we discussed jobs, parenting, movies, the past, the future, church, and the scenery.   Macie hummed as we strolled.  We took a phone call from the kids wondering why we were still outside.  When we returned home, Macie snuggled into bed with zero issues, and both Brian and I benefited from the fresh air and felt renewed from the conversation and exercise.

A few nights later, Brian was working late, and Macie repeated her late nap ritual.  Ben was feeling discouraged from an argument with a sibling so this time I asked him to put on his shoes and take a walk with me.  We didn't go as far, but the walk opened him up to conversation.  He shared his hurt and moved on to happy topics, too, like the birds he could see and the objects discarded along the road.  (A fork?!) 

Now everyone is waiting for their chance to be asked to take the evening walk. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Picture Books Aren't Just For Toddlers

{This post contains Amazon affiliate links.}

Alaine and I have developed a happy routine of reading books together after our family morning viewing is done. I've been surprising her by having whole stack of books waiting via the hold shelf when we visit the library weekly. Each morning, she chooses several and we read together until Macie gets bored and can't be distracted from grabbing and chewing the pages. 

I've been sharing some of our favorites in quick blips on the blog's Facebook page, but several of you expressed interest in an occasional list on the blog, too.

The three I'm featuring today are picture books that not only appeal to older kids, but are actually better suited for the older set.

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11  by Brian Floca

This book is unique in that it shares facts about this famous flight in a flowing, almost-poetic style.  I almost wish I waited to read it when we study the era in school this coming school year, but Gavin and I were enticed so we went for it. We learned the names of the three astronauts aboard and wondered why only two are household names.  We read about how the astronauts sleep and eat...and use the bathroom!... in space. I don't think Alaine (5) appreciated the book nearly as much as Gavin (13) and I did. 

Chopsticks by Amy Rosenthal

It's usually Maddie (11) who peeks over my shoulder when I read to Alaine, but Gavin shared this one with us, too.  It is technically written for young children, but they surely do not understand all the wordplay and inside jokes like someone a bit more mature.  

The Hole Story of the Doughnut by Pat Miller

This one might be a cheat because I already mentioned it on the Facebook page, but it's too fun to miss. Also along the food theme, this book is the story of the invention of the donut.  There are various tall tales detailing the creation of this confection, but this is supposedly the true version. Either way, it's a entertaining book, especially if you indulge in a donut before or after you read. (Don't miss the author's note in the back of the book!) 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

5 Things I'm Loving Right Now

{This post contains Amazon affiliate links and a bunch of other links, too!  All opinions are my own.}

1) Binge-watching The Great British Baking Show in the afternoon with my kids while Macie naps.  I think we watched the entire 10-episode series in three afternoons!  (It leaves Amazon Video tomorrow so we were in a bit of a hurry.) 

2) Target t-shirts.  Last summer I was pregnant, and the summer before that I weighed less and wasn't nursing a baby.  My clothing needs are unique this year so when I found a basic t-shirt that felt good and didn't stretch out of shape even after my baby pulled and tugged on it all day, I bought ten of them.  Yes, ten.

3) Free online learning sources.  I plan for Ben and Alaine to take "art lessons" next school year with The Art Club Online (specifically Lessons 1-10).  In the meantime, this summer, all the kids have been drawing with Art for Kids Hub. I'm also interested in exploring two sites my sister-in-law told me about last week: A. Pintura: Art Detective (a mystery game about fine art) and  Classics for Kids (with games, worksheets, audio, and more about composers).

4) Summer meals. When I planned meals for the summer, my goals were to avoid the oven and to eat dairy-free.  Despite the repetition, we love what we're eating this summer.  I'm spending less time in the kitchen and, ironically, the simplest meals are getting the biggest compliments from my family.

5) Thinkbaby sunscreen. The words sunblock and sunscreen are often used interchangeably, but this is technically a sunblock because the only active ingredient is zinc oxide  It earned a 1 (out of 10) on EWG's Sunscreen Guide.  I hate the smell of sunscreen, but this one has a pleasant fruity smell-- not at all offensive.  The price is reasonable, too!  And of course, most importantly, it kept Macie's skin from coloring when we spent an afternoon at the beach last week.  (If you are looking for a drugstore sunscreen that won't break the bank, Banana Boat Sport Performance Lotion  is not a bad choice.  It earned a 4 on EWG's Sunscreen Guide-- not ideal, but not awful.) 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Summer Readers...and books you may enjoy

We did it.  After years of avoiding our library's summer reading program, we eagerly signed up for it this year!  

Four years ago we did our own  summer reading program at home with low stress and great success , but this is the year to go with our library's program.  Here's why:

1) The kids are old enough to do their own record keeping.  No more of my scrawling a list of books on a wrinkled reading log (x5) on our way out the door to the library. Nope. Everyone is responsible for their own. 

2) Our library's reading program this year requires the kids to keep track of how long they read, not how many books they read.  I love that this encourages my kids to read books based on interest, not length.

3) One of my kids resists reading for pleasure, but a little outside incentive is motivation for him to read without prompting.

4) Ben (7) and Alaine (5) don't remember ever participating in a summer reading program.  It's a new, easy, and cheap thrill.  

5) I've been reading scads of picture books with Alaine and Macie (and whoever else wants to peek over my shoulder).  I shared my favorites herehereherehere and here.  We might as well get credit for all that reading! 


A few summers ago, I published a free eBook with ideas of books to read aloud to your kids over the summer.  These are also great choices for independent reads.  (I have one kids who reads voraciously and a list like this helps me keep good literature in his hands.)

Click here to get your copy of  the Summer Reading Guide For Families.

One last thing: if you enjoy my book recommendations...or if you don't...can you take just 1 minute to answer these 2 questions so I can better suit your needs on my blog and on my Facebook page?

Click here to answer the survey.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

How YouTube Is Transforming Our Mornings

Let me start by saying I'm almost too embarrassed to post this.  It doesn't feel right to admit that we start our day in front of a screen.  But let me back up and tell you about our summer mornings.  

I might sit on my bed nursing Macie while the kids get up.  The boys tend to wake first and they eat breakfast and sometimes watch Wild Kratts on TV.  Then the girls get up and join the boys.  If I'm still in my room, the kids start playing Legos until I remind them to get dressed and do their chores before they have free time.  An hour later we realize Alaine never ate breakfast and no one emptied the dishwasher.  A few kids argue about who gets to play magnetic darts first and I spend the hours nagging about what's not getting done instead of investing in quality time with my kids! The morning slips away before I've had a shower, and when I peek into the bedrooms around lunchtime, I notice an unmade bed. 

Maybe the answer is to make a morning schedule and to require more responsibility and accountability, but we're choosing another way.

Now as soon as the kids come out of their rooms in the morning, Owen holds Macie while I make my bed.  Then we all congregate in the living room.  Macie nurses or plays on the floor while the rest of us watch Good Mythical Morning together. Good Mythical Morning is a clean, talkshow-esque YouTube channel that puts out a funny 10-15 minute video every morning.  (Their ninth season is ending on Friday, but there are scads of old shows we can catch up on.  Season 10 begins August 1.) 

Once our non-morning people have laughed themselves awake, we watch Five Minute Family Devotional. Five Minute Family Devotional, another YouTube channel, reviews men and women from the Bible chronologically.  It ends with 1-2 discussion questions and a suggested prayer topic. The channel releases several episodes per week.  So far there are eleven of a total twenty-five.  (The channel is a division of JellyTelly, which is part of  What's in the Bible? {affiliate link}, a brand we love!)

All told, our viewing lasts less than a half hour, but it centers us and puts us all in one place to begin the day. I'm available to make sure everyone has eaten and begun their morning routine and chores, and it  makes it easy to move on studying the body on Mondays or read books with Alaine on the other days.  (I'm sharing some of our favorite picture book on the blog's Facebook page a few times a week.)

Best of all, it gives me an opportunity to laugh and share with all my kids...and make a few memories, too!
(Click here for other posts in this series.)

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Sorta Lazy Days of Summer

{This post contains Amazon affiliate links.}

Every year I go into summer thinking that this is the year we will have loads of free time and endless quiet afternoons at home...and then life happens.  Of course, we wouldn't have it any other way.  While I do enjoy days with nothing on the calendar, I appreciate them so much more when they are sandwiched between busier days, days when we visit our friends or go out for ice cream or drive to the beach.

On our first week off from school in May, we had five separate events in the span of three days! While we hope not to keep up that pace, the days and weeks are slowly filling with both in-home and away plans.

  • Brian and two of the boys are going to a baseball game with my dad.  Maddie and I (without the baby!) are attending a local theater production of Mary Poppins.  Several of us are attending my sister's choir recital...

  • We're going to the beach (even though I'm still sand-phobic).  We're borrowing a beach umbrella and using a bit of this sunblock.  It has zinc oxide, the only active sunblock ingredient approved by the FDA for babies younger than 6 months, and probably a safer choice for everyone!

  • I'm slipping school planning into the cracks.  Can I say that I am only mildly less intimidated by high school than I was a few months ago?  But I made some choices and I made an Amazon order yesterday!

  • We're getting our health credit out of the way.  We're using My Body by Patty Carratello. Alaine (5) and Ben (7) are the students and Owen (9) and Maddie (11) are acting as the teachers.  We have a large cut-out body taped to a door in our house whom they've named  Bobby the Body. Our "students" color and add an organ or two every Monday!  The "teachers" read the text to them while they work. They've also put together a floor-size body puzzle.  

  • We're doing other puzzles, too, which means we are eating meals around the kitchen counter or in the living room or even on the floor. Everyone loves the novelty of it.

  • Some of the kids are taking care of plants.  Maddie has daffodils.  Gavin has sunflowers and Alaine has zinnias.  Ben has wild strawberries and basil. Owen has my "black thumb."

  • Ben has taken off with independent reading.  He started with the Young Cam Jansen series by David Adler at the end of the school year, then progressed to the regular Cam Jansen book series.  When he started going through two in a day and ran out of library books well before "library day," he scoured our home shelves and started the Ramona series.  He is beginning the fourth book today.

  • I'm trying to be intentional to read with Alaine on the mornings when we're home.  She sometimes falls between the cracks of big kids and baby, but she loves our one-on-one time. We've enjoyed the Library Mouse series this week. We're also making our way through the Mrs. Noodlekugel series.  We're getting lots of inspiration from this list of 100 picture books to read this summer.  I plan to share some of our favorite on the blog's Facebook page.

  • Our yard is big and Brian cuts it using his equipment from work.  He is teaching Gavin to do some of the trimming with a push mower, though, or to touch it up on weeks when the grass is growing out of control. Owen is begging to learn, too!

  • We're playing host to a Sunday school party, a weekday brunch, and various visiting friends.

  • We're taking an hour on random weekend evening when everyone is home to play a family game. Our current favorites are Big Picture Apples to Apples and Wits and Wagers Family Edition.

  • And who are we kidding?  We're watching TV.  We are new to Amazon Prime and we've spent probably too much time exploring what's available for free on Prime Video.  

What are your summer plans? 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Dairy-free Mom

I've been {almost} dairy-free for over a month now.  (More on the almost later in this post.) I went dairy-free in an effort to reduce the symptoms of Macie's silent reflux. You can read the details of our story here, but the short version is that she rarely spit up so she went un-diagnosed for weeks, but we finally put all the pieces together (inconsolable crying for hours every day, nasal congestion when waking, frequent hiccups) and realized she was suffering from reflux.  Initially medication helped, but I found that eliminating dairy was even more effective.  We weaned her off the medication before determining that a combination of my dairy-free diet and her medication gave her the best relief.  She is essentially weaning herself off of the medication again, though, since her dosage is not changing even as she goes through a rapid growth spurt.

I have received a handful of questions about going dairy-free, both personally and online, and I thought it may be helpful to address them here.

What exactly does it mean to be dairy-free?
It means not eating dairy products like milk, yogurt, sour cream, cheese, ice cream, and butter.  It also means avoiding whey and casein.  I've found, though, that Macie can tolerate if I eat small amounts of butter. Chocolate is usually okay, too.  To be safe, I buy Ghiradelli semi-sweet chocolate chips which are dairy-free.  (They do contain soy which I would prefer to avoid for other reasons, but I'm choosing to pick my battles!)

Do you think it is helping? I do. At first I was convinced it was the sole answer to our problem.  Then Macie had another week of increased irritability, not as severe as in the beginning but not "normal."  We decided to begin her medication again and the combination of the altered diet and the meds seems to be the answer.  Before going dairy-free, we could barely make it until the next dose, but now there are times when I  miss giving her a dose and she is fine.  Reflux typically peaks at four months so she may be beginning to outgrow it anyway, but there was such a dramatic change when I stopped eating dairy, that we have no doubt it is playing a part in her recovery.

How long will you avoid dairy products? 
Dairy sensitivity in babies is usually short-term.  Often by the time their immune systems are mature enough to tolerate solid foods (around six months), their tummies are capable of digesting milk protein again. I plan to avoid dairy through the summer.  By September, Macie will be eight months old and I will try adding dairy back into my diet.  I've read that a gentle way to do that is to eat a small portion of dairy one day, wait two days before eating a bit more, and then gradually increase the amount and the frequency.  In other words, no matter how much I may crave pizza, it would not be the way to begin!

Does your family eat dairy-free also?
When I plan dinner, I only choose to prepare dairy-free dishes or ones that allow the cheese, sour cream, etc. to be added by the individual. I do not keep a dairy-free house so everyone is welcome to prepare and eat what they want for breakfast and lunch.

Every Sunday, I'm sharing our menu for the coming week on my blog Facebook page.  It's dairy-free and can be done without turning on the oven!  For more details, click here, and then go on over to Facebook Sunday evening to see the menu for the week.  (This week's menu is already there.)

Do you find it hard to eat this way?
Telling myself this is temporary helps. I think it would be harder if I thought I needed to make a permanent change.  Finding things to eat has not been difficult.  I read labels and have to avoid some packaged foods, but sticking primarily to whole foods-- veggies, fruit, meat-- takes the guess work out of the process.

What do you miss?
I have never been a milk drinker, but I do love ice cream and butter.  I also ate a fair amount of Greek yogurt for snacks before I made the change.  The thing I miss most, though, is pizza.  I have one child who prefers pizza without cheese so one night in April when we needed to order out at the last minute, he and I shared a cheese-less pizza, his half plain, my half with chicken and spinach.  It was good, but I greatly missed the cheese!

So what do you eat for breakfast and lunch?
I'm eating a lot of steel-cut oatmeal, because I love it and because it is good for nursing moms.  I use this method which can be prepared one-handed.  Plus it only takes a minute of hands-on (or hand-on) work and the grains are soaked to perfection. Scrambled eggs or hard-boiled eggs are good, seasoned with salt and pepper.  I am also eating copious amounts of natural peanut butter.  For lunch, my favorite thing to prepare when there are no leftovers is a skillet dish of chicken, diced red potato, and broccoli.  I cook it with a little olive oil and salt and pepper, and it is delicious.  I also make a similar dish with chicken, sweet potato, and quinoa. 

Can you eat lactose-free treats?
In our case, lactose isn't the problem.  Babies with milk sensitives are usually bothered by the milk protein.

Are there dairy substitutes you can eat?
I keep a container of almond milk in the refrigerator for cereal, baking, or the occasional cup of hot chocolate. I also discovered that Ben and Jerry's makes several vegan "ice cream" flavors with almond milk.  I was skeptical, but the one I tried was a great treat. 

Wouldn't it be easier to switch Macie to formula?  
Actually, no.  Even if eating dairy-free was difficult for me, giving her infant formula would not be a simple option.  Because of her milk sensitivity, she would need to be on a more-expensive hypoallergenic formula.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Month of Meals

When I shared my plan for meals during the summer, someone mentioned that they would like to see my menu to get inspiration for their own household. I've decided to share one week at a time on the blog Facebook page.  A few things you should know:

1) I'll post a weekly list on Sunday evenings for the next four weeks.  

2) Links to specific recipes will be in the comments. 

3) I'm only planning five dinners per week.  One night we eat out and on Sundays we eat a shared meal with family.

4) The meals we are eating are dairy-free because of my temporary dietary restrictions, but you can incorporate milk, butter, cheese, sour cream, etc. if you wish!  

5)  Some meals are very similar.  For example, we are doing Mexican every Tuesday night.  My family agreed to sacrifice variety for simplicity during the summer. 

Next week, I want to do a separate post here on some of the questions I've been asked about going dairy-free.  If there is anything you would like to know, I'll include your question, too!

Happy weekend to you all!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Meal Planning For the Summer

We finished school today and it feels good.  There are moments of sadness, too, when I think of how Gavin will be in high school next year.  (How did he get to be so old?!)  But all of us are more than a little excited to have finished the school year well and to take a break from the formal stuff.  We always sneak a little academics into the summer, but we don't call it school and everyone is happy.

the oldest and the youngest

The past few weeks have been a roller coaster.  We all passed around a cold.  Brian ended up with a sinus infection and pink eye on top of now we're taking turns with his pink eye germs.  At first I had visions of being stuck in the house with goopy-eyed people all summer while it slowly took us out one. by. one.  But I've calmed down from that now. Aside from having to randomly quarantine a new person from the rest of the world for 24 hours every few days, it's not a big deal.  No one feels sick and no one is uncomfortable.

Macie is finally settling into a happy routine.  She is not your stereotypical "easy" baby, but she is a napping rock star and her reflux is under control.  Most days she is pleasant and smiling. She has started giggling and can hold her back and neck straight to practice sitting alone.  We're praying the out-of-control fussy days are behind us. 

We finished our school year today and now I'm experimenting with a new way to meal plan.  We tried a  super-easy system  after Macie was born and that is still working, but I wanted something even simpler for summer.  We have several restrictions. First, our house gets sticky, hot when I turn the oven  on, and secondly, I need to eat a dairy- free diet to manage Macie's reflux. 

I decided to make a 1-month meal plan.  I plugged in all the things we eat that use the griddle, slow cooker, or stove top, and I chose only items that don't contain dairy products (milk, butter, cheese) or that can have those ingredients added at the table by the individual. We'll simply repeat the same menu each month until the weather cools down.  

Most of the menu consists of old favorites like tacos, blackberry chicken, and tangy meatballs.  I sprinkled in easy meals like BLTs and salads.  I added one or two new recipes like root beer pulled pork.  I even included some side dishes my kids love but I never serve, like baked beans and Jello (separately, not together!). 

I'm hoping this plan will serve us well through the busy... and sunny... days ahead. 

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