Saturday, February 27, 2010

Good night, Sleep Tight

Molly says, "You should do a post on how you got your kids to transition to their beds."


Our journey to restful nights has been full of sleepy eyes and sagging shoulders.  When pregnant with Gavin, I set up the bassinet and washed the blankets and didn't give our future sleeping arrangements a second thought...until the night we brought him home from the hospital.  I rocked him to sleep and nestled him in a warm little cocoon...and he woke up.  I tried many times unsuccessfully over the next few hours and finally collapsed exhausted on the couch with him resting on my chest.  The following two weeks were a foggy collection of days and nights-- Brian and I taking turns sleeping in bed and sleeping on the couch, semi-upright cuddling a baby.  Two days before Christmas, I fell onto my bed in tears, heavy from lack of sleep and new-mama hormones.  Gavin, snuggled up to me and began to nurse.  We both drifted off into a needed sleep and slept that way until morning!  Our co-sleeping relationship had begun. 

Each of our children has found their way to our bed at some time or another.  Gavin and Owen slept there full-time, while Maddie and Benjamin preferred to nurse and return to their own beds most of the time.  However, at some point between 12-18 months, the time came to make a full transition to a big bed for the night.  Neither of our kids began to night wean or sleep through the night until we made this switch and despite seeming like a lot to take on all at once, it seemed to work flawlessly together. 

The following is Owen's story:

We began the process with much trepidation.  But our boy, the sensitive one who needed frequent cuddlings and assurance, was to become a big brother soon, and Mama needed room in the bed for her growing belly.  Brian tucked the crib mattress between the wall and our bed and we gave it a try.  The first night was tough.  I nursed him and then put him down, providing many kisses and pats and then retired to my rocking chair a few feet away.  He immediately got up and toddled over to me.  I put him back to bed and told him not to get up.  The cycle repeated with whimpers and sighs and cries and the firm voice of his Daddy.  And eventually he drifted off to sleep in his new space.

The first night, he woke and crawled into bed with me for comfort, but after multiple nights of our new routine, the night wakings got further and further apart until he was sleeping all night in his new beside my bed. 

When Owen turned two and as the birth of the new baby neared, I contemplated moving Owen into the bedroom with the older kids, but his need to know I was nearby made me hesitate and we kept our arrangements as they were until Benjamin was two months old. 

On Christmas Eve, we sensed it was time to make the move and so we moved the crib mattress into his new bedroom, next to the big bed his siblings shared.  That night as we tucked the kids into bed, the twinking in three sets of eyes was a happy mix of Christmas anticipation and the joy of new adventure!

After only a couple of weeks of sleeping on the mattress in the big kids' room, Owen was ready to move into the double bed (the bottom of the bunkbed) with Gavin.  (Having slept on a mattress and never rolling off, we were sure he could handle the rise in height.)  Aside from extra giggles and a few games of covers tug-of-war before drifting off to slumberland, the final stage of the journey was easy and painless. 

Up next:  Peaceful nights and early mornings...

Monday, February 22, 2010

One Dish Meals

Amanda says, "I would love more detail about what you guys eat." 


Simple is a happy word in my vocabulary.  Since I try to do a large portion of my meal preparation in the morning, easy one-dish meals fit the bill.  Served with bread, a casserole or pot of soup is filling and stretches to feed us all without extra stress or dirty dishes. 

Some of our favorites:

Debbie's Casserole

Chop 1 small onion into large chunks and place in the bottom of a 9x13 casserole dish.  Add 3-4 cups baby carrot.  Add 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks.  Stir in 1 pound raw ground beef.  Pour 1 can cream of mushroom soup over the top and stir to coat vegetables and meat.  Bake in 375 degree oven for an hour.  (This dish is easily adaptable to what veggies you have on hand.  Experiment with sweet potatoes, peas, or corn.)

Taco Soup
Brown 1 pound ground beef in soup pot or dutch oven.  Add 1 can diced tomates, 1 can corn, 1 can chicken broth, and 1 package taco seasoning.  Drain and rinse 2 cans kidney beans and 1 can black beans.  Add to soup.  Let simmer 20 minutes and serve with grated cheddar cheese and/or sour cream.

Hungry for more?  A few additional delicious standards:

Cream Cheese Chicken Soup
Spaghetti Sauce
Mexican Casserole

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Making It Work

A few things that help my schedule run efficiently...

Plan meals ahead of time.  I've always been a planner so when making a list for the grocery store, I would create a pool of meals to choose from for the coming weeks.  (We shop bi-weekly.)  However, before Benjamin was born, I started making a detailed dinner menu for each day based on outside activities and how much time I anticipated having to cook.  Like all schedules, this one is flexible and subject to change, but it eliminates the four o'clock scramble to find something for dinner.  And since I do much of my cooking in the morning, planning ahead allows me to thaw the meat I need the night before. 

Train the children to help (and train myself to let them).  I wrote about this in depth here when I first starting blogging.  To me, the toughest challenge is taking the time to train them to do a job right so that it is a genuine help.  Sometines it feels easier and faster to do the work myself, but once they are trained, days go much more smoothly when I can ask for help and feel confident that the work is being done well. 

Work about half a day ahead.  This may seem silly to most, but it works for me.  I don't wait for evening to cook.  I do it in the morning.  If we have evening plans, I pack the diaper bad in the afternoon.  If we have somewhere to go in the morning, I lay out the children's clothes the night before.  (I lay out clothes for the older ones, too.  Even though they are perfectly capable of dressing themselves, it eliminates the morning scramble of, "What socks match this shirt?" and "Is it warm enough to wear this dress?")   Working half a day ahead assures that we won't get behind.  If I run out of time to cook in the morning, I still have the rest of the day to catch up!

What do you do to keep things running smoothly at your house?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Stepping Through Our Day

Allyson says, "I'm always curious to see how other moms of little ones structure their day to get everything done. I know it's not very fun to write about, but practical wisdom is what I need right now."

Angela says, "I also think it is fun to see how others' days are structured between meals and schooling and laundry and wiping bums, I mean noses.  I am always surprised with 'new' ways to do things, or feel normal that I may be doing things somewhat correctly."

Michelle says, "I'd love to here how you structure your day."


There is much to say on the subject and many days I feel like I'm floundering.  Just when I feel like we have hit smooth road, a bump comes and I topple and have to rethink our structure.  How thankful I am for God's grace.  Without it, I could not handle this busy life alone.  Schedules are meaningless without outside strength! 

That being said, we have a basic daily schedule .  I try to keep it flexible, but it helps to know what to expect next.  Not only does it help me anticipate what I need to do next regardless of how foggy my sleepy brain, but it helps the children maintain a sense of order.  We tweak our plan as necessary throughout the year.  For example, Brian is off every January and February so the days are full, but we eat our evening meal earlier and put the kids to bed in early evening.  In the spring and summer when Brian works long hours, we eat later (or eat without him) and the children stay up later to play with him and to enjoy the longer sunlight hours.  And of course, some months of the year we take off from school and that changes the dynamics of the day also. 

I like to think of the before-lunch hours as our Power Morning because the majority of the work of our day is accomplished during this time.  After we are all groomed and fed, I take about twenty mintues to do a small cleaning project.  I have a general cleaning routine that I spread throughout the week.  On Mondays, I thoroughly  vacuum the downstairs.  (Of course, many touch-ups are performed on other days.) On Tuesday, I vacuum the upstairs.  Dusting is on Wednesdays.  I clean the bathroom on Thursdays.  And so it goes.  Once that is complete, I throw in a load of laundry and we begin our school day.  

Since the kids are little, much of their school work requires my help and guidance.  We begin with Bible reading and history reading and one other subject (nature or art or music, etc.).  I require the little ones to sit with us for these times, too, so we are all together and the house stays relatively straight.  When we move onto seatwork, I let the younger ones play quietly and the two in school sit at the table and work as indepently as possible.  Often, I use this time to start another load of laundry and start dinner.  That's right.  I've found that peeling vegetables and browning meat and cutting out biscuits goes much more smoothly in the morning when I am fresh and the children are occupied and well-rested.   Sometimes I finish dinner in the morning and store it in the refrigerator to re-warm in the evening.  Sometimes I simply store the prepared ingredients and finish cooking closer to meal time. 

By lunchtime, schoolwork is done.  The laundry is dry and waiting the be folded.  Dinner is semi-prepared and one section of the house has been cleaned. 

Immediately following lunch, I do the dishes (We don't have a dishwasher.) and then we have a much-needed rest.   We settle on the couch for reading time.  I let the children choose one or two books each or we read for our current chapter book.  Soon it is time for Benjamin to nap and quiet time for the everyone else.  Some days we have a formal quiet time where each child has to be in their own space with a pile of books and a talking restriction.  Some days they are allowed to play quietly together in their room.  Some days, they gather on my bed and watch a video together.  After a quick straighten-up, I use this time for quiet, too.  I catch up on e-mails, write a letter, read, make phone calls, or take a nap myself. 

All too soon, the house fills with chatter again as we reconvene in the living room after rest.  Since the housework is complete and dinner is well underway, we often go outside to play or play an indoor game.  This is also the time when I sit down to fold the morning's laundry pile.  The kids are responsible for taking it upstairs and putting it away. 

We eat almost as soon as Brian gets home.  The after-dinner hour seems to bring out the fidgets in the kids.  While Brian and I are cleaning up the kitchen, they often get into tussles and the noise level rises.  It is in everyone's best interest to give them purpose after dinner whether it is providing a chore to do or a game to play.

Once the kitchen is clean and dishes are put away, we have a family time of sorts.  This can mean Bible study or taking a walk or simply talking while enjoying a snack.  We don't bathe the kids every day, but if it needs doing, this is the time. Their bedtime is around eight.  In the winter, it is often earlier and in the summer, later.  Brian puts the three older children to bed and read from a chapter book of his choice.  I nurse Benjamin and put him to bed. 

We insist that the house be quiet after bedtime.  The children are not allowed to get back up for a drink or a toy (although it does happen).  This means that Brian and I have two to three hours of peaceful time at night to  read or talk or blog or watch a movie together.  I often multi-task and sew while doing other activities.  Before we go to bed, we make sure the downstairs is tidy and fresh to begin the next morning! 

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Weekend Snippets

The winner of Charles Dickens and Friends by Marcia Williams is Commenter #4:
Congratulations on winning and on your new baby girl born this week!

Thanks to all for the response to my pleas to pull me from the depths of writer's block.  I'm kindling the flame and plan to begin responding next week.  Keep thinking and chiming in

May His love be with you this Valentine's Day weekend.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Gentle Call

W riter's block.  Maybe writer's quandry or writer's dilemma would be more appropriate.  Or perhaps, writer-has-millions-of-thoughts-circling-through-the-head-but-not-one-seems-vital-enough-to-inspire-words-to-flow-from-head-to-fingers-on-keys.  What a mouthful.

Regardless of the name for my condition, I am calling on you, faithful reader and friend, to spark the flame.  To restore the flow of words.  To simply inspire.  (And to any lurker out there, this is your chance, too!)

Oh, it is not so serious as I'm implying.  What would you like to know about me?  What are you curious to know about how I live, how I believe, how I cook, teach, or choose which blogs to read?  Want to know how I met my husband or how we named our children?  What would you like to have me share?  What stories should I tell?  Fill the comments.  Ask anything. All I ask is that you be respectful of me, my family, and other readers.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sharing (A Winter Giveaway)

There are never enough sides of me.  When we gather on the couch to read, inevitably a mostly-friendly skirmish breaks out as to who gets the coveted seat to my right.  Why the right?  I'm not sure, but it is the prized spot.  Next comes my left side.  And then someone has to take the dreaded spots to the side of the one who claimed the best seat.  Or a particularly creative boy drapes across the top of the couch and leans over my shoulder.  (Of course, Mama's lap is a special seat, too, but it is most frequently filled with Benjamin!) 

Sometimes we sprawl on the floor just to avoid the anguish of seat-picking, but nothing beats being squished together on the couch. 

Sometimes in warmer weather we read outside, but nothing beats snuggling under a blanket inside.  Memories are made here.

We continued reading through our week of sickness, though the arrangements changed from day to day.  On the day when I was flat in bed, Brian took over book duties.  (He does the funny voices so much better that I do!) When Gavin took his turn in bed and was having an especially feel-bad moment, I took a special book up to him and the two of us shared a story together.  Memories were made this week, too, though we prefer the less-germy ones!

Care to make your own memories and add to your library?  I am giving away a hardback copy of Charles Dickens and Friends by Marcia Williams.  Williams' book is written in comic-book style with sepia-toned illustations and features five Dickens' classics: Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield,  and A Christmas Carol.  Recommended for elementary-aged children.

There are three ways to earn an entry:

  • Earn 1 entry by leaving a comment describing your favorite place to read.
  • Earn 1 entry by blogging about this contest.  Don't forget to leave a separate comment with the link to your post. 
  • Earn 1 entry by sharing this contest with your Facebook or Twitter friends. Again, be sure to leave a separate comment telling me you did so.

Giveaway ends Friday, February 12 at 9 pm  ET.  Open to U.S. readers only.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Falling Down

Ten inches of snow blanketed the ground on Saturday and a stomach bug joined our party.  While the white stuff coated the ground, The Bug covered our family.  One by one we fall like dominoes.  Three down, three to go.   Makes it hard to focus on the privileges of motherhood.  It is an constant effort to express intentional thankfulness.  We are reveling in a blessed reprieve today as no new victims have fallen in about 36 hours. Thanking God for this gift! 

We long for your prayers as we recuperate and slowly get back on our feet. 

I'll return soon.

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