Christmas Discoveries

In reference to my last post, I’m glad to report back that my Christmas time was more stress-free and more intentional than many years before. Of course, since I said that my goal was  not to get overwhelmed and overloaded, that was my temptation. I felt the stress building several times, but since I had set my mind to it, I would pause, reset, and not give into the situation. Wow, novel concept: I have control of my emotions. Huh. I seem to not want to ponder too long on the reality that I have control of them all the time, not just during the Christmas break. So, I’ll move on…

Now I realize Christmas has come and gone and it may be too late to write a post about things I discovered over the break, but I’m gonna anyway in hopes that you might find some useful bits, even if they are just note for next year.

Put your kids’ ornaments in their own, personalized tub. I got this idea from my friend, Amy Wright. She blogged/showed pictures of her kids sitting with each of their ornament boxes, waiting to begin the decorating. Until then, I had never thought of this idea. Brilliant!

The main benefit I can see is this will eliminate all the disappointed looks that children #2, 3, and 4 have as they unwrap another ornament and realize it is just another one for child #1. It’s a bummer, but the first child always has more – it’s simple math: they have been alive more years so they will have more ornaments; my 3-year-old and 6-year-old just could not get this reasoning this year!

Now they will have their own box for next year and know that once it is empty, they have no more ornaments to put on the tree.

Freeze icing for Santa’s cookies. Our tradition is to make sugar cookies and decorate them for Santa (and us!!). We usually do these on the 23rd or 24th as a family but between making the cookies, cutting them out, baking, making the icing, and decorating, I am in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning for the majority of the day, trying not to let the stress build. But this year I happened upon this new discovery: I made several different colors of icing for Jocelin’s birthday cake in November and had so much left over that I decided to just throw them in the freezer – in the icing bags with the tips still on. I pulled them out on our decorating day and voila: time saved, stress lessened, more fun had. So I added that note to my calendar for next year to make the icing ahead and freeze it. I will consider doing the cookies early and freezing them too.

Do a total house cleaning a few days before Christmas. This year, I did a thorough house cleaning, you know – all the dusting, moping, every little trinket, toy and piece of trash in its place type of cleaning – because our dear friends, the Kelley family, were able to come over (There are zero pictures from our sweet time together because I can’t remember to use a camera). After such a great time with our friends, I was further rewarded with a super clean house. Then, for the next several days, we were able to do minimal straightening and keep a sparkly house for the holidays.

Now, after Christmas day, the explosion hit and I’m still working on finding homes for all the new things. But for like 4 full days, my house was really clean and it went a long way to make my time with my kids even more enjoyable. There is a note on my calendar to do this again next year!

Let traditions be created over the years. As a first-time mom, I can remember the pressure I felt to have wonderful Christmas traditions in place. I felt like I was supposed to begin the things that we would do, for the next 30 years, on Jocelin’s first Christmas. Well, time has taught me that this idea is not feasible and not what a tradition is about. A tradition should be born from something fun that happens that you want to do again and again. So I’m learning to not stress over creating fun family times – a funny statement in and of itself!

Also, I’ve learned that it’s ok to tinker with the things that will become traditions. I kind of felt like if we did something a certain way one year, then we had to do it just like that forever. Again,  not the purpose of traditions – to force things to be a certain way in the name of fun and memories.

The thing I keep reminding myself is that the memories I have of growing up, the things I remember with such fondness that compel me to create great memories with my own family, are actually from my later years at home. I have a few memories of traditions we had when I was grade-school age and younger, but most of the things I can recall started when I was middle-school aged and older. Well that just brings me such relief: I have a few years here to find the things that my kids will remember with fondness.

This year, we did a new thing that we loved: we watched The Nativity Story movie on Christmas Eve after our church service. It was so sweet to watch Mary and Joseph’s story play out on-screen. I loved talking, in depth, about all the details of Jesus’s birth with my kids. As we watched it, I thought, this would be a fun tradition to have. We’ll see if it becomes a recurring event.

I also made a note on my calendar, in November 2011, to start preparing for the Jesse Tree: a simple advent to do with children. I had several friend do it this year and hope to make it a tradition in my family too.

I hope my discoveries can bring some help to you too. I have so many topics to post about; I hope to crank out a few new posts in the next several days. I’m trying to extend the day to 25 hours to find some extra time!!

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Kids and Christmas Decorations

Each year of my life, before I had children, I eagerly anticipated busting out the Christmas decorations. I was raised on it!

My Mom would seemingly (and maybe actually!) take every decoration in our home and replace it with something red and green and merry.  As a teenager, I just loved the onslaught. We would bring in like umpteen boxes, open them all up, crank on the Christmas music, and we would dance, be silly, and Christmas would explode all over our house. It was awesome and I loved it.

Now, as a mother, Christmas is still so sweet and full of my own family’s traditions and fun memories, but the decorating has slid into the category, along with activities that were so much fun as a child, like going to the swimming pool and taking vacations. The category of, as a grown-up, activities that are a lot of work.

What I have discovered about things like vacationing, swimming, and Christmas decorating is that these are the things where memories are made. I can’t remember all the day in/day out happenings of my childhood, but I can recall so many great memories of Christmases, vacations, and trips to the pool.

As a mom, I have to remind myself over and over that all the hard work is worth it. So over the past 8 years of Christmases with children, I have found some things that have helped in getting the decorations done while maintaining some level of sanity! I thought I would share them in hopes that they might bring you some relief to your decorating – or maybe just some smiles at my anal tendencies.

1. I learned this tip from the dear Suzy Lea, the woman who, with the exception of my mother, influenced me most as a mother and wife. She has 5 boys and a less than tidy husband and yet Suzy loves things beautifully decorated. So at Christmas time, she would have one tree for her – pretty and all coordinating. Cliff, her husband, and the boys would have another tree that was theirs to decorate as they saw fit. I saw it one year where all the beads and ornaments were sloppily placed all on one side of the tree. I thought it was so cute.

I quickly discovered I would need to do a kid tree also. I would get a bit stressed about not having all the ornaments evenly spread out, or having all the kids’ super cute (and non-coordinating) handmade ornaments dispersed with my sparkly red, green, and white ornaments.  So, we got a little tree for my kids ornaments.  As I hovered over them this year, while they may or may not have evenly spaced their ornaments, I kept reminding myself, “This is their tree. Let them do it how they want.”

2. Over the years I have also learned that I like to be in my own decorating zone when I am putting up the tree. I get overwhelmed when the kids want to help me decorate the pretty tree.

[side note here: I feel a bit embarrassed that I am admitting all these things to so many people, but I am certain that there are others out there who find all this “fun stuff” a bit stress-inducing. I realize it seems like I just need to take a chill-pill. But fight it as I may, this is how I’m built. My household is much happier if I work with me instead of against myself. I’m just keepin’ it real!]

So I make sure to put up the kid’s tree first so they can get all their ornaments out and do their decorating and memory making without me getting all frustrated.

3. I also recommend starting with the kids’ toys. They can be playing with all the “new” bounty while you escape to your decorating zone.

4. Another helpful hint: if you have Christmas toys for your kids, remember the whole purpose of the toys is to be played with.

We have a super-cute assortment of kid-friendly nativity scenes.

Fisher Price

Nesting Nativity

Playmobil

Precious Moments

I get caught up in placing them all so sweetly, with Precious Moment’s Mary holding baby Jesus and each Wise Man set-up by his matching camel, etc.

Then when one of my children tries to come play with it and I find myself blurting out, “Don’t touch that.” Oh wait – they are made to be played with. Good-job Shawn.

So each time I’m cleaning up the living room, I don’t spend 15 minutes arranging the nativity scenes just as they should be because they are just going to get messed-up, I mean played-with. I just place them all on the shelf they go on and leave it at that. That way, when the kids are playing with them and little pieces are going all over the place, I don’t struggle internally (as much)!

Another side note: it always helps me gain perspective to listen to Junior Asparagus’s song “Was He A Boy Like Me?” from Veggie Tales The Incredible Singing Christmas Tree. It’s about a boy playing with his nativity scene which makes him wonder if Jesus was a boy like him. Seriously I’m almost crying just typing it here!

Take a listen and grab a kleenex:

5. Something I have done over the last few years is to write myself notes for the year to follow. So on my calendar or in the Christmas boxes, I’ll have a note that says – “Start with the kids tree and toys first.” “Decorate the cookies before Christmas Eve, it was too much for you to do last year.” etc. I mean, if you’ve learned something that benefits you and your family, don’t make yourself relearn it again the next year.

6. Also, cut yourself some slack. I did not do much decorating in the years I either had a newborn, was sick at the beginning of a pregnancy, or just in maxed-out-status from caring for so many little people!

You do not have to have decorations to celebrate Christmas. If putting up a tree brings too much stress into your household, then it’s not worth it. Save the tree for next year – they are young, they won’t remember not having a tree on their first (or 2nd or 3rd) Christmases. By the time they are old enough to remember, you will have enough energy to do it – and many wonderful memories will be made.

I say often, I don’t want my kids Christmas memories to be of me getting stressed and raising my voice! Since that seems to be my tendency, I have to access some tools to make it a more pleasant experience for us all!

So I hope this helps some of you! We’d all benefit from any other tips you have discovered for kids and Christmas decorations, so please share! Happy Decorating.

A Scheduled To-Do List

This following comment comes from my friend Nicole who is quite like me in that she thrives in structure.  I think this concept is good for any personality-type though.  Learning to juggle all the tasks that have to be done in addition to caring for babies can really help bring the stress-level down a notch. So I thought this topic deserved its own post.

From Nicole: Something else I have done at home that has totally changed my workload… I schedule it! I ONLY do laundry on Mondays and Thursdays. Period. I have found that it is much easier for me to get it done if I have a timetable for it. I also use Thursdays as my cleaning day. Even my 2-year-old helps me with this day. We are usually done with all the tasks by lunch and we play in the afternoon. (although, I’m sure that the “cleaning time” also sort of qualifies as playtime because he loves the broom, mop, and vacuum so much!) Obviously there are tasks that are done every day – dishes, picking up toys, etc. – but the BIG cleaning is only once a week. This helps me so much because then, while my husband is home for the weekend, we can both be “off” and I don’t have to feel responsible to do chores. I think I spent the first couple of years of mommyhood stressed because I felt like it never all got done at home. Scheduling it has helped me to let it go on the days it’s not scheduled, and be committed to getting it done on the days it is scheduled (I love this). Ah, a schedule-lover’s delightful solution to housework!!

Use the schedule to your benefit. Think of your weekly scheduled events (Wed. night church, lessons/sports for kids, Mother’s Day Out days, etc.) and consider the goals or desires you have that allow you to relax more or enjoy your evenings and weekends or just make you feel less stress.

For me, I love the reward of having everything done by Friday so I can have a “day off.” So I schedule all my tasks so they are done by then – or course there a plenty a Friday when I am still finishing up things, but I try to meet my goal if I can.

I have discovered about myself that I am full of energy on Mondays. So I use that to my benefit and schedule chores for that day. I am usually tuckered-out by Thursday night, which is also Bradley’s practice night and I am going-it-alone at home on those evenings, so I make my Thursday load light. I also schedule nothing else on the day I am going to the grocery store (especially if I am taking children with me) because I am spent after the whole process.

I even plan my cooking according to this method.  We are all home together on Monday and Tuesdays so those are usually my, cook-a-whole-meal nights. Thursday is always easy-cook-night which involves something kid-friendly and slightly nutritional like fish sticks or frozen dinners.

So take some time to evaluate yourself and your families needs when it comes to housework.  If you are blowing a gasket time and again because of a messy home, undone laundry, or exhaustion after the grocery-run, consider rearranging your schedule or simply beginning a schedule.  The other benefit I find is that I am more likely to push myself to get the day’s chores fully completed when I approach house work in this method.  So I am not trying to finish two loads of laundry for 4 days (hypothetically, of course).

As with any schedule, it should help be a stress-relief, not an added stress. Life with children is far from predictable and getting your schedule completed is not likely every week.  Give yourself some grace, cut yourself some slack, and be okay if it is not all done. You can start anew on Monday! Honestly, I probably get my full schedule completed just like I want to 1 out of every 5-6 weeks.  But I get the majority of it done regularly, shake off what I don’t get done and keep moving.

The Great Toy Change Over

This week my two little girls were at my Mom and Dad’s house – which as we all know is an amazing blessing. With the free time I had, I did what I have come to call the “Great Toy Change Over” or “Switch-out” or “Flip-Flop” … well I guess I don’t really have one specific name for it, but you get the idea of what the job entails.

The “Great Toy Change Over/Switch-out/Flip-Flop” consists of me going in to my kids rooms (usually twice a year), pulling everything out from under all the beds, dumping out all the boxes of toys, looking under all those places in which various Barbie apparel, pretend food items, writing utensils, and the like, seem drawn to, and sorting through the mountain.

As I sort every item goes in one of five categories:

  • Trash
  • Garage sale
  • Give to school teachers for treasure box toys (which mainly means I am just returning all the kid’s meal toys my children brought home in the past year from their class treasure boxes) Side note: I always give these items to a teacher other than my child’s because I don’t want them back. I’d much rather have someone else’s 25¢ toys.
  • Toys to keep in the room
  • Toys to put away for a few months

The last category is the one I want to expound on. I’d read and heard from friends that cycling toys is a great idea. Not until it became a necessity (4 kids in 2 small rooms), did I really put this into practice, but let me tell you: It is a BRILLIANT concept.  You take toys that your kids are not interested in and haven’t played with in quite sometime, then you put them away for a while, and then voila – you are like the toy fairy bringing in new plunder from an enchanted land (a.k.a. – the garage).

So for us, because our volume of people and things continue to increase, I rotate out just about everything in their rooms. So my kids get all “new” books, babies/accessories, blocks, cars, dress-up clothes, etc.  I even rotate out similar things or sets.  For example, I will replace a box filled with horses and horse items, during the “Great Toy blah blah blah,” with a varied assortment of dogs and dog items; all Legos are replaced by Lincoln Logs, …

I also do this, within my house, for baby/toddler toys.  I move toddler toys to a new location/shelf or into the toy box for a time.

So I encourage you to experiment with this concept.  You may want to start small or go big from the get go, but I think you will love how much you and your kids enjoy new items of interest.  This is also a great idea to do after Christmas, when they have so many new toys that you can sneak a few away and they don’t even realize it or you just want to put old toys away for a bit to make room for the new.

So after many hours of hard work, sorting, and trashing I wanted to share some of my favorite moments with you (I figured out how to put pictures on my computer!!!!)

The beginning – It got way messier than this

 

 

Boring picture – but proof that there was actually not one thing under Mason’ bed – a reason for me to celebrate

 

My favorite find (beside discovering Emerson’s back-up blanket). I always can’t believe these survive the vacuum cleaner. Each time I find a teeny weapon, I’m compelled to make tiny shoot noises! I’m so thankful to enjoy a boy and his GI Joes.

The dice is for reference

 

The aftermath of a teeny-tiny war

 

A glorious reward for my labor. Nothing more appealing to a book-lover than an organized book-shelf.

Happy Organizing!

Hate It? Time It.

A  huge part of parenting is balancing the house work that is included in the raising-kids-package. (I looked for the parenting combo on the menu that did not come with house work, they said they were all out!)

This tip is one I’ve been reminding myself of all week.  It is compliments of Jeanne Thompson: if you have a reoccurring household task that you don’t love to do, time it.  See how long it actually takes. I bet you will find it takes way less time than you think. What I’ve found is that I’m quicker in getting the task done once I realize how little time the it actually takes.

My problem is that I avoid these tasks over and over (I think they call that procrastination).  Then the snowball effect has begun. 

For me, one of these chores is unloading the dishwasher.  I will put it off and put it off until the sink is full, supper dishes are being added to the pile, bedtimes are looming, I’m worn out and I’m losing it because my kitchen is a wreck!

Now, this minor melt-down (or not so minor sometimes – eek) could have been prevented if I would have done this small task earlier.  So, I timed myself the other day.  To unload, put in breakfast dishes and return the kitchen to “clean” status, was a whopping 9 minutes and 35 seconds.  Seriously, in my mind, I thought it was easily 20 minutes.  Well, there goes my excuse –  it’s asking his friend, Procrasitnation, to leave my house for a bit;  oh, they decided to put it off for a while!

So now it’s your turn.  What is a household task that you don’t love doing and how long does it actually take to do it?

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