October 31, 2010

The paparazzi...

When my daughter Audra was just a bouncing baby girl, my mom and I had our first girls’ day out with her, taking her to a butterfly museum in Niagara Falls, Ontario.  Cameras ready, we made our way through this interesting and fanciful place, fascinated by the butterflies, to be sure, but also excited to watch this sweet little baby enjoying a new experience.  At just ten months old, she was mesmerized by the beautiful creatures flying here and there, and my mom and I snapped pictures to capture every moment, taking over a hundred photographs between us.  Through this diligent effort, we captured from two vantage points the entire scene of Audra’s first contact with a butterfly.

Audra is six years old now, and has a little camera of her own, the sturdy type for children, handed down to her by one of her big brothers.  It’s not only capable of taking pictures, but has a video feature too.  A few months back on a Sunday afternoon, she brought it along when we went to a small airport nearby for our son Scott to have his flight lesson.  My husband Joe, our other kids and I watched and with our cameras ready too.  Joe and I had each recently acquired fancy-schmancy smart phones that did the job, and our twin eight-year-old boys each had hand-me-down old digital cameras.  We got every moment of Scott taxiing, taking off, and soaring into the distance, both with pictures and video.  We then directed our attention to other airplanes and to each other, clicking away to see what interesting shots we could find.  As I turned to take some pictures of Audra, I realized she was now busy with her own photographic subject.
Audra had befriended a complacent and compliant butterfly.  As it sat perched on the grass, she got herself down to its level with her little camera and created a video of this handsome creature.

In the spirit of friendship, she then played back the video for her newfound companion.  She looked up at me and said, “Look, Mom… he’s watching himself on TV!”

We went there that day with cameras ready for a very special event, our young son having one of his flight lessons (more on that nerve-wracking but exciting subject another time!)  But we had the bonus of capturing our daughter’s film-making debut, and of creating a record of her gentle way of interacting with even the smallest of friends.
My father has a saying that he’ll bring up at family gatherings, “Let’s stop taking pictures of having fun and just have fun,” jokingly teasing those of us who just can’t put the camera down.  At times I subscribe to that philosophy, particularly if children are being forced to stand or sit facing the camera in various configurations, told to say “cheese” and smile.  They hate it, and if we adults are being honest, we don’t like that experience much either.  But taking pictures of kids running through a sprinkler, or spontaneously hugging their great-grandma, or clomping around in their dad's shoes, or building a blanket fort, or flying an airplane, or befriending and filming a butterfly… that’s a different story.  We can’t document our lives endlessly.  But digital cameras have no film budget, unlike the old days, and getting a couple great shots among hundreds of attempts costs nothing but time and patience.  Having cameras handy at special times and not-so-special times can yield special results, capturing a moment to be enjoyed not just in the present, but for years to come.  Kids are only kids for a fleeting time, and we will be grateful later in life to be able to look back at sweet memories from their childhood, just as they will be too.
It’s nice to see that Audra has learned from us to be ready with a camera, because even butterflies have been known to enjoy a home video now and then.  They, too, grow up so fast.

October 30, 2010

These are a few of my favorite things...

My carpenter-by-trade grandfather's drawing compass
sits by his picture
A needlepoint my mom stitched
when I was little...
I visited that town in my imagination

My mother has taught me many things over the course of my life, much of it far more important than the sage advice I will share here, but that does not diminish the gratitude I have to her for teaching me this little tidbit: surround yourself with what you love, and it will look nice, even if just to you.  I grew up in a home with odds and ends of family heirlooms, some valuable, but most only sentimentally, and of personal items that she held dear.  My "Fine art" post told you of my little painter, and that appreciation for the value of my children’s efforts comes directly from my mother.  Having had the same kindergarten teacher as my older brother did two years before me, I created the same projects as he, so my mother proudly displayed things like two clay ladybugs, sloppily painted red and black, with circular paper reinforcement stickers for eyes.  She has them out to this day, even though if I were still in school I’d be in 34th grade.

A silhouette done of me as a child looks at
one of my grandmother created
when she was a young lady

Around my childhood home you would have seen an odd little porcelain shoe from generations ago perched on a teeny shelf, and nearby on a decorative wicker chair a bedraggled leather stuffed koala bear that was my mom’s buddy as a girl, which she passed along to my brother who wore its fur off with affection.  These sorts of items were found here and there throughout the house against a backdrop of beautifully coordinated wall colors in rooms filled with antique and not-so-antique furniture, perfectly blended to create a warm, lovely atmosphere that said I was home.

A souvenir of sorts from
the shipyard where my father-in-law worked
I have carried on the tradition in my own home that I share with my husband and four children.  Some of the items are the same, thanks to my mom’s generosity and selflessness, and some are all our own with their own meaning.  But all are art, and all weave together to create that same warm feeling of home for my children, whether they know it yet or not.  Decorating is not about copying an image in a magazine, sterile, uninviting, and decidedly impersonal.  I want our home and its look to speak loudly to my family that this is their place, filled with their heritage.  So you may never see a six-inch nut and bolt on the cover of Architectural Digest or Better Homes and Gardens, but you’ll find one here.  We love our things, and they look nice, even if just to us.


Paintings done by husband's
father and grandfather

A framed menu from our favorite
pizza shop in our old New York town

A hand-crafted multi-tiered sewing box
my grandfather made as a wedding gift for my grandmother

A Scripture print that
belonged to my great-grandmother

October 29, 2010

The great escape...

Family vacations are lots of fun for the whole family… except when they’re disappointing and miserable!  It all depends on how well you’ve planned ahead, doesn’t it?  I’m not talking about a militarized schedule of activities, or bringing everything with you but the kitchen sink.  I’m talking about planning a vacation that fits your family.  For us, that means a few basic things: avoiding crowds; lots of kid-friendly activities available that appeal to a teen and younger kids; having a place to stay that provides space for relaxing at the end of each day; and lots of built-in flexibility in our plans, because as we all know, life is unpredictable.
We took one such well-planned vacation last month, and the whole family loved it.  We traveled to Gatlinburg, Tennessee… two weeks after schools began!  Since we homeschool our kids, we are free to do this sort of thing, and always take full advantage of the opportunity to take vacations at times that no one else does.  Crowds equal one thing all kids (and most grown-ups) dread: waiting.  By not going at a busy time, our kids were able to go on any ride they wanted to at Dollywood almost immediately.   Crowds have a more serious consequence too; they make it harder to watch over four kids, and in public places you can’t be too careful.  So with the timing right, we all enjoyed our visits to places like Dollywood, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, and WonderWorks.  No waiting, no worries!

Those places are wonderful examples of kid-friendly activities – all the fun, none of the boredom!  We highly recommend all three.  We also took a couple days to spend time at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a huge hit with our kids.  We played in the creek, collected rocks, ran, climbed, and smiled throughout each visit there.  It was free, and was a perfect way for the kids to expend energy, and for their parents to work off the vacation-sized meals we were eating!

And as for space to relax, we opted for a “cabin” that did not match the image you might have of that word.  This cabin had a downstairs recreation room with a pool table, an arcade machine, air hockey, Playstation 2, and a flat screen TV.  It also had bunk beds and a pull-out sofa, so all four kids stayed down there while my husband Joe and I had the only bedroom in the cabin on the main floor.  With a kitchen and living room as well as two bathrooms, we had the comforts of home without the housework.  (Those who’ve been reading this blog are learning how I feel about that!)  So we paid for a one-bedroom place, but comfortably fit six Wilburs.  We spent a lot of time there, and had great fun while unwinding each day.
Our built-in flexibility paid off on a daily basis.  Nothing was set in stone, so we were free to go where we wanted to when we wanted to.  If we all needed a rest, we did that, or if we wanted to stop in someplace unexpectedly, there was no one stopping us from doing so.  On the last day in Gatlinburg we found a fantastic store that ended up counting as an exciting event in our younger kids minds, and we ended up spending an hour or so there without buying a thing.  Zach and Audra even made a new friend there!

Only you know what your family enjoys.  Maybe for you it’s a trip with non-stop activity, or maybe you’re at the other end of the spectrum and just want some relaxation time at the beach.  But with the right attitude and thoughtful preparation that keeps your kids’ needs in mind as well as your own, vacations can be the great escape they’re meant to be!
Not every place fits every family, but if you have any great places to share that your family has visited, do tell!  (Or any nightmare ones to avoid!)  I'd love to hear your family travel tips too.  Please feel free to comment below!

October 28, 2010

No Ducks Pond...

In the sleepy town of Hamlin, New York, we lived on a pleasant five-acre piece of property up until just two years ago when we headed south and out of state.  We had the house in Hamlin built, and the fill needed to go around the base of it was gathered by digging what was essentially a humongous hole in the backyard.  Our son Scott was seven years old when we moved in, and upon learning this hole would become a pond, he suggested we name it Ducks Pond.  I asked what we would do if there were no ducks, and quite naturally he decided it would be called… yes, you guessed it.  "No Ducks Pond" was born, still without water and certainly without ducks.
One heavy winter and wet spring later, the hole had filled with water and we had a pond.  My husband Joe obtained a permit to stock it with fish, thereby officially declaring it to the county as No Ducks Pond.  He filled it with grass carp, bass, and perch all so that the kids could enjoy fishing in their own backyard, despite the fact that the property butted up against a wonderful creek that flowed with fish and spilled into Lake Ontario.  Joe felt that it would be nice for the kids to have something even closer and easier to fish in than the creek.  That’s just the kind of dad he is.  We had wonderful times by that pond, some spent having campfires by the fire pit Joe and Scott built next to it, some fishing, or throwing rocks into it, and some just picking “corn dogs" (what the kids called cattails) from along its banks.  Over the time we lived in that home we all fell in love with No Ducks Pond.  My father put together for us what looked like a cock-eyed old sign, and I painted our pond’s name with pride on it, along with a few corn dogs for decoration.

When we decided we would head south a couple years back, none of us wanted to leave our pond behind.  The nasty New York winters, yes, but not our beloved pond.  We couldn’t take it with us, clearly, but determined to keep the memories we built there, we took something to remember it by and planted it firmly in the front garden of our new house.

I’m sure it looks odd to visitors who don’t know the story, but to us it looks right at home.  We Wilburs have little regard for propriety and convention if it gets in the way of happiness.  And so I encourage you to fill your house, inside and out, with what makes you smile.  If you have your own special story like this, I’d love to hear it, and I’m sure others reading here would too.  Please feel free to comment below and share it with us!

October 27, 2010

Fine art...

Just like most families, children’s artwork abounds in our home.  Two of the four younger residents are eager and productive artistes, so it would be very easy to cover several refrigerators a week with their creations.  Instead, we generally keep ours bare, leaving room for boring grown-up stuff, and even that at a bare minimum.  But rest assured, our children’s art is of the utmost importance to us!  We just like a clean fridge.  Our method for this onslaught is as follows: the less important works of art move to the circular file, the artist being the judge.  Then special items meant for me are thumb-tacked to the wall of my arts and crafts room in the basement, or at least in a pile waiting to be hung there.  Their dad takes his to work, where he has accumulated quite a collection.
But every so often, something very special comes along that merits unique attention.  One such item was a beautiful painting from our son Zach.  Four years ago, when he was just four years old, he was sitting at the kitchen table with some new glitter paints, a sheet of that great old-fashioned easel paper, and a couple big chunky brushes in front of him. I was cleaning the kitchen, and Zach seemed to be distracted, watching me tidy things up.  I was fussing with a beautiful bouquet of brilliant irises in a vibrant red vase, a gift from my husband for our anniversary a couple days earlier.  It was then that I realized Zach wasn’t mesmerized by his mother’s cleaning; he was studying the vase of flowers and painting a masterpiece still life.  He told me the flowers from Daddy were pretty and that he thought it would be nice to paint them.  When it was dry, I had him sign his creation, backwards Z and all, and I cropped it, framed it, and hung it up.  Above it went a portrait of this sweet boy at the ripe old age of four, so that I’ll always remember the little face that gave those flowers a chance to live on.

These two items have hung together ever since, first in the kitchen of the house we lived in at the time, and now in our bedroom in our current home.  It still gives Zach a feeling of pride and accomplishment when he sees it, even though he was just what he would call a “little kid” then.  You can check back with me in ten or twenty year’s time, and I’m fairly certain that wherever I may be hanging my hat, I’ll also be hanging my four-year-old’s portrait and work of art together in a place of honor.
Our home has lots of little treasures like this.  They are the finest pieces of art we own.  Not even the Louvre can top the treasures this home boasts.  So, what have your children made for you that’s special?  And how could you display it in a way that boosts their confidence and tells them how much you cherish them?  Get them involved in choosing their best work, which only they can judge, and give it its proper place in your home.  Why don’t you go check that fridge right now…

October 26, 2010

Mural, mural, on the wall...

When it comes to decorating our home, I could go on, and on, and on… it’s my favorite part of being Susie Homemaker.  (See the “Perfuming the pig” post for proof positive – I’d rather paint than clean!)  And here and there on this little blog I’d like to share some of the things I do to accomplish it.  And so we begin with this:  once upon a time, long, long, ago, I wanted to do some daring, splashy, bold things with paint in my home, not just with wall color, but in other ways.  I had it all pictured in my mind, but out of fear of making mistakes, I had always held back and played it safe.   It wasn’t until it was time to change our son Scott’s room from that of a toddler to a “big boy” room that I broke free from my fear.  And as sometimes happens when one breaks free, I went full force!  A week or so later, there was a six foot cowboy on my son’s wall, with a vibrant blue background.  The other walls were a soft green to keep the spotlight on Tex.  I didn’t draw him myself, but used an iron-on mural kit to get the lines up, then brought life to the giant coloring book with bold paint colors.  I even added glitter to the moon.
When our twin boys came along, I gave them a little splash of their own by painting their names on the walls above their respective cribs.  Not on a plaque, but right on the walls.  It wasn’t big, but it was personal.  With twin babies in the house, names were about all I had time to paint!
Superman Zach realizes he's in the wrong crib
Having outgrown that house, we built a larger one.  This time, my boldness unleashed and fears conquered, I abandoned the iron-on plan and drew and painted a mural for the then toddling twosome (yes, with glitter on the moon and stars!)

Our older son had left behind the cowboy phase and had moved on to SpongeBob SquarePants as his desired room theme.  I took his bedspread with me to pick out paint chips, and three colors and some painter’s tape later I created this mural, having seen a similar project done on canvas.

And in our school room, I painted a simple large rectangle with chalkboard paint, which my father trimmed out to create our own custom chalkboard.

We moved out of state a couple years ago, and I have spent that time changing the color of just about every room in this house.  (More on my color choices another day.)  No murals yet, but I’m thinking about an undersea one for our finished basement in the kids’ play area.  In the meanwhile, I’ve been playing with paint on some beautiful furniture we were given by a sweet and generous friend of my mom’s.  All it needed was a little something to soften the look and tie it in with my penchant for girliness.

That ol’ cowboy all those years ago helped me move past my fears and do what I had wanted to all along – bring life to my home with the unexpected.  I decorate in a very personal way, and hope to share some tidbits about that in the coming days.  Your home is just that – yours.  Make it a place you love to be, and that your family loves too.  Maybe for you that’s painting hearts on your daughter’s  dresser.  Or perhaps your son loves trucks and needs one driving across his wall.  Don’t waste time over-thinking these bold moves.  Just go for it!  For those of you who are concerned about that nasty anti-decorating word “re-sale”, I humbly point out that up in New York there are two houses successfully sold, one with Tex riding along on a wall and the names “Zachary” and “Daniel” left for posterity, and one with a campfire scene, a vivid geometric pattern, and a semi-permanent chalkboard adorning its walls.  Don’t let fear or practicality stop you from doing anything that brings a little joy to your family and your home.
Don’t worry about your art skills either.  There are lots of options to get around that if they’re lacking.  And if you’re adept at drawing and painting, you have no excuse not to be making use of that in your home!  If you make a mistake, it’s easy to try, try, again.  Be bold and fearless.  The possibilities are endless…

October 25, 2010

How we tabled the issue of cooking...

With experience, openness to constructive criticism, and practice, practice, practice, my Chicken Marsala recipe has evolved into a dish that brings me great pleasure, as it seems to for family and friends too.  I love to make that meal almost as much as I love to sink my teeth into it.  Listening to the sizzle of the sautéed chicken, covered in golden brown breading with fresh herbs peeking out here and there, smelling the luscious aroma of the creamy marsala wine sauce slowly bubbling, loaded with baby bella mushrooms and golden brown garlic cloves, and enjoying the smiles and wide eyes on the faces of our dinner guests, followed by questions asking me just how I made that… oh, the joy of creating and sharing this wonderful dish.
But I hate cooking.  Now before you point out any hypocrisy, hear me out, and see if this describes any of you.  I enjoy making certain meals, but on my terms – when I want, how much I want, for whom I want, and so on.  What I don’t enjoy is the job of cooking: the heavy burden and responsibility of thinking up three nutritious and delicious meals a day for six people, every day of the week, month, year, decade…  it’s overwhelming!!!  So as with most things in our home, we have developed a system over time that accomplishes the task efficiently in a way that works for all of us; one that keeps my mental health intact while still nourishing our bodies.
Pride can get in the way, and it did for me for a long time.  With a desire to be all things to all my little people, I was stretching myself beyond my ability, and at the same time missing a great opportunity to allow my kids to become more and more independent.  After all, isn’t that among the eventual goals of raising them?  So with some shame, which I soon got over, we addressed the problem in a way that works for us.
The quickest way to solve the issue of my responsibility for three meals a day was to reduce it to one.  Breakfast and lunch are no longer on my to-do list.  My husband heads out the door before either occurs, so by his lack of participation, he has reduced my workload.  I make my own breakfast and lunch, and eat them when it is convenient for me around our school routine.  And yes, friends, our four kids make their own breakfast and lunch every day, and clean up after themselves too, from the teenager on down to the pretty little six-year-old.  That sweet chef-in-training can even operate the toaster safely and effectively.  We believe in teaching our children the important skills necessary to basic survival in this world, such as how to make a tasty peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
To be clear, I am not entirely removed from the process, but my role in both of those meals is merely that of a supervisor.  At the beginning of this adjustment to our routine, it was my job to teach them how to prepare various foods, which required patience on my part and hard work on theirs.  I just kept my eye on the prize.  Now that they’ve learned these skills, it is my job to ensure we have the necessary supplies to give them healthy and tasty choices.  (Grocery shopping will be a topic for another day.)  It’s also my job to ensure they choose them.  Some of their creations are unique, just as the kids themselves, but I enjoy that.  Our daughter, for instance, likes to make what she simply calls “unusual tacos” which consists of a soft tortilla spread or layered with whatever tasty topping she comes up with that day, Mexican or not.  And the boys come up with their own sandwich ideas and so on, preparing things exactly as they please.   The bonus:  no one leaves food on their plate, because they chose each and every bit, and they know how much they can eat.

Audra breads chicken like a professional
With this, dinner is my only meal to make, often with the help of my lovely assistant pictured above.  It has become less of a burden with the relief of the other two meals being taken off my plate, so to speak.  Most weeknights I’ll make one round of dinner for the kids, and eat with my husband later in the evening after the younger ones are in bed, sometimes having what’s left of what I made for the kids, or sometimes making a little something their youthful palettes can’t bear.  I also happen to enjoy hot food, so that’s more likely to occur if I’m not serving the kids theirs at the time.
Now I realize some may object to that aspect of how we handle things, saying that eating a meal together is the best way for families to share quality time.  I respectfully disagree.  Spending time together is the best way for families to share quality time.  I spend every day, all day with the kids, and that is our quality time.  Their dad comes home from work after their dinner time, and then we have our nightly Bible study and bedtime routine (see the post on that if you like) which is our whole family’s opportunity to share quality time.  This is what works for us.  Other families may have school , jobs, and extra-curricular activities keeping them apart, in which case the family dinner is a great solution.  But I’m sure you’d all agree that one size doesn’t fit all, and so we do what works for us.  And on the weekends we are all together for meals, so we have that opportunity to reinforce good table manners by example and enjoy each other's company over a good meal.  They still make their own breakfast and lunch on the weekends - I'm only one woman!
Cooking is no longer overwhelming to me, thanks to the cooperation of my family.  Being the mom doesn’t have to mean being the head chef and hash-slinger, not even for a stay-at-home mom.  To pretend to be able to do it all on my own is just silly.  With a willingness to admit defeat, and the loving help of my family, we found a way to lighten the load.  A side dish of freedom goes nicely with Chicken Marsala, don’t you think?

October 24, 2010

A bedtime story...

“Rocka-rocka few minutes?”  That was the question eagerly asked by our son when he was just a little over a year old, and we would happily tell him that yes, now that dinner was done and he had his teeth brushed and his pajamas on, it was time for our Bible story.  His expression for it sprang from sitting on my lap in our rocking chair while his daddy would read him the story before bed.  Then we’d sing a song, pray together, and off to his crib he’d go, the end of our nightly routine.  As simple as that.  No whining, no fight.  Sweet dreams and good night.
Nighttime has been that smooth and sweet in our family for as long as we’ve had children to tuck in.  We choose an appropriate time to get each to bed, making adjustments for age and growth as the need to do so arises.  No crying, whining, pleading, stalling, demanding, pouting, debating, or any other shenanigans would be tolerated, but they are not attempted either.  With an established system and routine in place, as our family grew, the new members just did what they saw others do around them.  We have never had a battle with our children about bedtime, because they never considered the option to be available to them!  (Please don’t spoil this by telling them!)  We try to provide for them the security they need as their day comes to its end: the reminder that they are loved by the Lord and by their family, and that just as we always want what is best for them we want it then too.  And that is sleep!
After all these years of the privilege of raising children, the details of the routine have advanced beyond “rocka-rocka few minutes” to a time of more in-depth Bible study as a family, though we still do wrap it up with a song and prayer.  It’s what works for us.  Our younger three, twins Zach and Daniel, age eight, and Audra, six, then run, dance, or skip off to bed and get tucked in.  Meanwhile, our fourteen-year-old son Scott still has hours to go before he calls it a night.  He has no set "bedtime", because with the structure he had through his younger years, he learned to judge well how much sleep he needs.  He is no longer a child in our eyes, but a young man, and one who manages his time, his sleep and his activities better than many adults, his mother included.  When his siblings are put away for the night, as we like to call it, Scott will either spend some time with his dad (they’ve been on a “MacGyver” kick lately, getting them from Netflix) or he will head into his room to finish out his evening.
And that’s that.  Over the years some of our friends who face a nightly struggle with their kids have asked how we do this.  First, the “why” needs to be answered.  It’s obviously what is best for the kids.  But there is a selfish part of it too.  Though we love being parents, we love being married to each other too, and enjoy having time in the evening when we’re off-duty, free to talk with each other and spend time together or just near each other without any little ones needing anything.  My husband is my favorite grown-up in the world, and I cherish time with him.  In addition, as a stay-at-home mom, I’m on duty from the time they’re up until the time they’re down, so in the interest of my sanity we have to keep things this way!  Our approach is good for the kids and for us.  We do it because we need to, and because it works.
As for the “how” it boils down to this.  We’re the parents.  It is our responsibility to meet the needs of our children, even if they don’t want us to.  For a pleasant close to each day, we need to have reasonable expectations of their behavior based on their age and abilities, and then set established routines that they can count on combined with love that they can count on still more.  We are not perfect parents, but we are their parents, and we want to give them everything they need, including a good night's rest before we all begin a brand new day.
A bedtime moment from days gone by: our Daniel at two and a half, happy to be off to dreamland.

October 23, 2010

Perfuming the pig...

Have you ever met a woman who from a distance struck you as perfectly lovely, gracefully draped in a seamlessly coordinated outfit and accessories, make-up and hair just-so, every aspect of her appearance intentionally selected, though she makes the whole look seem effortless?  But then as you get a closer look at her you notice that her outfit has a stain she’s trying to hide with a big scarf, her necklace is positioned to cover a hairy mole, her make-up is causing some crow’s feet more harm than good, and her salt and pepper roots are sneaking their way into that perfectly coiffed blonde up-do.  That woman, my friends, is all four of my bathrooms.  As an example, let’s take a look at our master bathroom, shall we?

Perhaps pretty from a distance, but upon closer inspection it will overwhelm the queasy among you.  Brace yourself...

I would love to tell you that this highly unpleasant close-up is the exception to the normal state of things here, but sadly it is more the rule.  I’m not a fastidious housekeeper.  Not even close.  But to be perfectly honest and blunt, I don’t care.  There are only so many hours in a day, and I don’t want to spend any of them with my face close to a toilet.  I clean the bathrooms in a triage approach, like a medic on a battlefield, rather than through preventive medicine.  (Judging from that close-up, we have a man down, severely wounded and in urgent need of care.)  Some women keep their bathrooms spotless with a cleaning schedule and routine, but I am not one of them.  I simply try to keep up by cleaning what’s dirty and germy when I have time, or when I absolutely have no other choice for the sake of my family’s health and well-being.  I do love to decorate though, so I have been known to avoid cleaning a bathroom by repainting it, hanging artwork, and placing knick knacks just-so, hoping it will inspire me to want to clean the room more frequently, and at the very least that it’ll all cover up some filth.  The inspired-to-clean thing has never been effective long-term, but for a time the makeover will distract the casual observer, preventing the sludge on the toilet from being the focal point.
This topic was a special request from a friend from high school, Marlene.  Her question was really about keeping several bathrooms clean while also keeping an eye on young children.  I’m afraid I have to confess that I don’t believe both can be done perfectly well at the same time.  So let me offer this brighter thought:  my children don’t have to wait for my attention, my help, their dinner, fun activities to start, or really anything else simply because I needed to get those bathrooms clean.  And since I consider myself their mother first and their maid something like 632nd, I’m good with that.  Children grow (as did mushrooms in our previous home’s bathroom – no, I’m not kidding) and there will be ample opportunity for cleaning later, when they are all taking care of their own children, listening to synopsis after synopsis of SpongeBob episodes or its future equivalent, putting band-aids on barely-there scrapes, answering questions about why the Lord made this-or-that a particular way, and so on.
Besides, by that time we won’t need four toilets!  My husband and I will be able to downsize to a little bungalow with one bathroom, and I’ll have plenty of time on my hands to repaint and redecorate it over and over, just to take your gaze away from the grime.

October 22, 2010

It depends on how you look at it...

This little tidbit is short but sweet, just like my eight-year-old pictured above.  If our child wants to wear his shirt backwards, we let him.  We would handle it differently if it were laziness, defiance, or just lacking the knowledge of the difference between forwards and backwards.  But in this case... this t-shirt was a freebie at his dad’s “Take Your Kid to Work Day” event in the spring.  Our son and his twin brother both have this shirt and love it, and though they are opposites in every other way, they completely agree that the robot belongs on the front.  The real front simply has the company’s name in small print.  This does not impress them, but robots always will.  So on the front they must be worn.  Upon reaching adulthood and for the rest of their lives they’ll be compelled to be conventional in their clothing most of the time.  We say let them have their fun now.  Besides, big robots are cooler than small letters.  Who could argue that point?
In our little world here, we’ve learned to try not to make a big deal out of little things.  Perspective is important.   We try to consider how our child sees a situation before we react instinctively and think the worst.  (This is not something we always succeed at… ask our kids!)  It’s easy to make assumptions about our children’s motives and behavior, but by getting at the heart of it first, by taking a breath and asking a good question or two, we can glean information that will help us handle things appropriately.
So if your little one walks by with a shirt tag scratching the front of his neck, I recommend taking an extra moment, and seeing which side of his or her shirt looks the nicest.  I personally think my boys just may be on to something…  perhaps I’ll even examine my own wardrobe with a fresh perspective!

October 21, 2010

How we make 12 weekly loads of laundry feel like only 10...

Laundry is a necessary part of running any home, and as a young bride oh-so-many years ago, I was overwhelmed by the task.  My husband and I built up what we disdainfully referred to as “the pile” each week in our tiny apartment’s single bedroom.  Many domiciles and children later, I’ve learned a thing or two, and would love to share our approach with you.  Mock it or emulate it as you please.  Some people can be inspired to do laundry because they love their family so much, they consider it a joy to wash their unmentionables no matter their condition.  That doesn’t work for me.  I love my family, but I do not love their underwear.  I need something different to inspire me to wash it.
Dirty laundry is filthy and ugly by virtue of its name and its condition.  So why not pretty it up?  Who says you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear?  For many years now I have used a sorting cart that was flimsy but functional.  Recently I asked my dad to build me a sturdy wooden frame for it in place of the plastic bars on which it was precariously perched.  He came through beyond my expectations, thinking to keep a portion of the back open in order to allow for some ventilation, and kept it on wheels to preserve its necessary mobility.  I’ve now painted it with semi-gloss white (Pale Bloom, to be specific… it’s used throughout our home) and got to work with my Sharpie collection, decorating it in keeping with the inspiration piece I’ve used for years.  (My girly, flowery dishes inspire me.  But that’s a story for another day.)  The semi-gloss keeps it easy to wipe up, and the flowers… well, they’re homespun, but they make me not dread the daunting laundry task quite as much.  Our laundry area is a part of our kitchen, so keeping a hamper there demands that it not be an eyesore.

The functionality of the sorting cart is equally crucial.  Many years ago I noticed one my very organized sister-in-law had, and when I saw the benefits, it beat “the pile” for sure.  I like the three-compartment type, which is what she used.  It holds the right volume in each section for a good full load, and allows us to sort the clothes into darks, lights, and then a section for towels, underwear, socks, and gross stuff that needs bleach and hot water.  Keeping the darks and lights separate keeps red things and jeans from ruining other clothing, and keeps my daughter’s pretty pastels looking spiffy.   And keeping the gross stuff separate has obvious benefits.  Goodbye, E. coli!
The kids are expected to sort their dirty clothes each time they change.  My husband and I have a hamper in our bathroom, and when it’s full I sort it into the cart.  When every section of the cart is full, it’s a laundry day.  The kids all help me move the loads through the system, washing and drying the contents of each section of our cart, all the while dumping the dry contents on my sofa.  Yes, it’s a pile, but it’s a clean one.  Nothing gets folded until everything is clean.  This saves unnecessary steps.  Trust me.  Then the kids come along, and we sort the clean pile into mini-piles for each bedroom and one for towels and sheets.  The owner/owners of each bedroom then take their pile, fold it, and put it away.  I handle the Mom and Dad pile as well as the towels, which go to so many different locations that it’s just easier to fold them and put them away myself, rather than involving the kids in that domain.
I’ve tried other approaches – a load or two a day, which resulted in washing loads that were too small, which is wasteful for us… once a week, which was insane… twice a week on designated days, which led to me serving the routine, not the other way around as it should be.  We’ve tried it all, and this is what works.  So, about every other day or so, when the flowery sorting cart is full in all three sections, the sofa spends its day drowning in Wilbur clothes until the process is complete.  But isn’t that what sofas are for?

This is what works for us…  keep experimenting with what works in your home, and when you strike upon anything that reduces the laundry anxiety, stick with it!  Don’t worry about what everybody else does.  Do what works for you!

October 20, 2010

Hey, Mom...

A couple years ago I borrowed a handy little knitting gadget from my mother.  It’s for counting stitches as you knit, and with each click of a button the counter rises.  I am not a knitter, but I am a stay-at-home mom, and decided to scientifically measure how many times a day I heard the phrase, “Hey, Mom…” or some variation of it.  I gave up after the first hour, having hit 48.
I love being a mother.  I dreamed of it as a little girl, growing up in a time when “stay-at-home mom” was redundant.  Now I willingly ignore the flow of culture that would pull me away from home, and am completely committed to this way of life that my husband and I believe is the best for our kids.  At approximately the pace of 48 needs per hour, I serve a function in my family and have a special place in their lives.  I wouldn’t change a thing.  For us, this is just right.
Along the road of parenthood and familyhood, we Wilburs have acquired our own way of doing nearly everything, just like the rest of you out there.  Family life is rich and rewarding, but requires commitment, common sense, serious thought, planning, wisdom, and just a touch of silliness and nonsense now and then.  Though I tend not to offer people my two cents without being asked, I’ll fight my better judgment and do just that here.  I hope to share bits and pieces of what we’ve learned along the way, and how it is that we approach day-to-day life as a family.
And so I give you a parting thought and overhead shot of a survival tip for those nights when the to-do list is not done, and the cupboard is bare and the sole bread-winner works late, but will be coming to the rescue for himself and his wife with take-out food long after the kids will be in bed.  I present to you a child’s delight:  Rainbow Supper.  My children (all except our fourteen-year-old, who is wise to my ways) love Rainbow Supper.  Simply put, it’s the scraps of food left in the fridge and cupboard, arranged in rainbow color order upon our chintzy $2.00 pizza-patterned platter.  It's a miniature buffet, and the four kids can't leave the table until it's all gone.  You’d be surprised what healthy things they’ll eat when it’s from a rainbow!  OK, so those are KitKats you see there.  And marshmallows.  And even tired looking microwaved hot dogs.  But look at the fruit and vegetables!  You should have seen the rainbow disappear tonight!  (A perfect night for it… after all, I had a blog to begin!)

And in case you were wondering, the kids called my name six times while writing this.  They become independent so quickly…