Welcome to my wonderfully crazy life!

Homeschooling 6 blessings (so far) is teaching me a few things about grace, passion, patience, mercy, love and home management. I want to share these things! While some people love reading my long chatty emails, others insist that email should be done in memo form. Spoilsports! To save the sanity of those lovely folk, I will blog. I hope you will follow us on the amazing adventure the Lord has set before us.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wuv, twue wuv

Lately, I find myself thinking of love and marriage.  This is all Denise's fault.  ;)  My favorite cousin Denise has found a great guy to marry.  The other Nate is smart, as evidenced by the fact he knows Denise is a keeper.  He likes to play games, likes my kids, and he is not creepy, all points in his favor.  He has a quirky sense of humor and being quirky myself, I appreciate that.  See, I like the guy.  As I told my other favorite cousin, Tom, a few years ago, "If you don't keep this one, we will keep this one and get rid of you."  Not a threat.

Anytime someone I love is embarking on this amazing, stunning, scary journey, there are so many things I want to say.  I don't have enough time chatting with Denise (and I miss her!) and I am the younger cousin and she probably does not want to hear it all anyway.  Instead, you my beloved readers (all three of you) will get to hear my thoughts on love and marriage.  I have only been married 12 years (God willing, that will be no more than 1/6 of the total time my husband and I will be together) but I have learned a few things that have saved my butt and my marriage.   I will also tell you a few things I should be doing, but I may not tell you which is which.

First, there is nothing and nobody more important than your spouse.  Seriously, after God himself, nothing and nobody should be swaying your thoughts, feelings or desires except your husband or wife.  If you find yourself sharing more of yourself with anyone or anything than with your spouse, you are chipping away at your marriage.  I call this a mental affair.  This does not just happen with the opposite sex either.  I caught myself spending more time chatting with my online friends than I spent chatting with my husband.  Ehh, innocent enough, I suppose, even beneficial, since these are all lovely, intelligent women, great moms and a few Titus 2 women mixed in.  Except, it was this little crack starting in my marriage relationship because I would forget to tell him things that I had told my friends.  I could see how easy it would be to alienate myself from my husband.  If I can not tell my husband about my worries and concerns, I am closing off a part of myself to him.  It was also indicative of a little relationship rot.  I mean, something is sick and needs to be fixed, if I am not trusting my spouse with my whole self.  Ditto on the things.  If you can make time to go golfing, fishing, gaming, swimming, whatever, you can find time to spend with your spouse at least once a week.  It is about priorities.  Now, with five homeschooled kiddos and a sick Dad, I don't always find time to spend with my husband once a week, just him and I.  I need to work on that, even if it is time spent together after the kids go to bed.  Oh, and time spent washing the dishes while I fold the clothes does NOT count!

Second, don't keep secrets from your spouse.  I mean, no secrets beyond surprises.  If you don't know where the line is, you are moving your line too often.  Let me spell it out.  You may keep to yourself what you are buying your husband for his birthday, or other holidays.   You may keep from your spouse that you are planning a surprise for him.  You may not keep anything else from him.  I know, that sounds so black and white and harsh.  I don't mean that you have to give your spouse a blow by blow account of every day of your life, present receipts and allow him to check your online history and phone records.  Nah, anyone who wants that much detail about every day of your life has problems (and you may not want to marry him!)  However, if you find yourself wanting to keep information from your spouse, there is a little crack in your relationship and it needs to be tended.  It is the things you don't want to tell your spouse that you most likely really need to tell.  It may seem like such a little thing, but if your spouse knows you are always open and honest with the little things, it is easier to trust you when the big things come along.

Third, give a little, compromise, be thoughtful; to speak all Christiany, die to yourself.  You are not the center of this marriage.  I heard my friend Elijah Ward's dad put it best at Elijah's wedding.  He said a good marriage was not a 50/50 partnership, but rather a 60/60 partnership.  Each person in the marriage should be trying to do a little more than the other is doing.  You could also say you should become a servant to your spouse.  I mean that in the way Christ was a servant, dying to present the church as His bride, perfect and holy to His Father.  In real world terms, that means little things like letting the toilet paper hang the way your spouse wants it, eating food you don't like every once in a while because your spouse cooked it or loves it, painting a couple rooms of the house in your spouse's favorite color.  It may also mean some bigger things, giving up some "me time", quitting your great job and moving so that your spouse can pursue that dream, having sex when you don't want to or not having sex when you really do want it.  Of course, in a marriage where both are dying to self, the little and big sacrifices balance out and nobody feels like they are the one giving everything up.  Although, season to season the giving up may be lopsided, it all comes out in the wash.

Don't let the sun go down on your anger.  This is huge.  Anger is a poisonous weed.  If you leave it to grow, it multiplies quickly, sending up little shoots of anger into every aspect of your marriage and it makes you sick.  You don't have to work out your difference of opinion and get to the point where you agree that  night.  You do have to stop arguing about it and admit that both of you have a valid view point.  You do have to remind yourself that you love this person, that you think they are smart, kind, loving, etc.  You need to check back in on what made you marry this person and turn to him or her and say "I love you and we need to talk about this, but it deserves more thought and a good night's sleep and I don't want to go to bed angry.  Please forgive me for what I have said and let's talk about it again later?"  Okay, you don't have to use that script, but the gist is necessary.  You may not be sorry about your viewpoint, but if you are not already, you will be sorry about rude or unloving words.  It also helps to put some distance to the argument, sometimes what seemed really important one day seems somewhat silly the next.  I also like praying and asking my spouse to pray over an issue. I can't tell you how many times, after praying, we have found ourselves completely on the same page when we weren't even in the same book before! 

Love is a verb.  Too many people think it is something you feel or fall into.  You may very well feel love for your spouse quite often and you may feel that you have fallen in love with your spouse and that is fantastic!  Just remember to make love a verb in your marriage.  Act on those feelings and love your spouse even when you don't feel those feelings.  Yeah, that is the hard part, the unnatural part, the mature part and the important part.  It is also amazing.  When I hit those times when I really want to hate my husband, if I choose to actively love him, I start to feel love for him again.  So, lets say he has failed to take the trash out to the road some animal comes along and rips into it spreading nastiness all over the yard.  I have a choice here.  I can fume, curse and talk about what an idiot he is and call him up at work and yell at him.  I can also take about a hundred deep breaths, remind myself of how much my husband loves me, how great he is with our kids, how goofy and funny he is and I can go out, clean up the trash and, when he gets home, nicely ask him to please take it to the dump on his way to work tomorrow.  I can also make it part of my week's work to put a note on the door the day before trash is to be picked up.  That is not so hard and it is certainly easier than doing it myself.  In short, I can choose to love my husband and be sweet to him. 

I wish I did all of these things all the time.  I wish I did some of them even some of the time.  I also know I have not covered everything (laughing, playing, eating and working together as often as possible and taking an interest in each other's hobbies, etc.) but this is just lessons learned from the first 12 years.  God willing, I will have many more years to learn so much more and I know that every moment I am given to live as my husband's wife, I am learning. 

I learned something a couple weeks ago that shocked me.  One evening, my husband was sick and napping on the couch.  I woke him up, so we could go up to bed.  He blinked his eyes, stared at me with this look of amazement, and in an awe filled voice he said "You're beautiful. You are so amazingly beautiful."  I looked behind me thinking "Oh my gosh, he is seeing something, maybe he was sicker than I thought." Then, I realized, he was looking at me and he really meant it.  He had no time to think up a compliment, I was hearing his immediate reaction upon waking to my face near his.  He always tells me I am beautiful, but I thought he was just saying it.  That night, I realized, he really means it.  I also realized, every woman should have a husband who truly thinks she is naturally and absolutely beautiful. 

So, as I get ready to haul my lovely large family up the coast line (just ahead of a hurricane!) I wanted to say something to Denise, who I hope will read this.  The best times are ahead of you.  You have had good times and bad times before this, but these will be the best because you have someone to share them with, the good, the bad and everything in between.  I know you will have a strong, fun, beautiful marriage and if Nate does not treat you well, I'll get in line to take my turn with him.  Nate, I really do like you lots, but, ya know, she's my big sister!  You are a brave man entering this family.  ;)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Clothing Management part 2

Another issue to attack in a large family is how to handle hand-me-downs. I am blessed to have a basement in my home which has one area devoted to storage. I no longer loan out clothes because too many times the clothes were returned full of holes and stains, or were not returned at all. Yes, I am hoarding children's clothes, sorta. Here is the process I go through with each child, about twice a year.

First, I catch up on laundry (if you have many children you are laughing hard, we will wait while you go pee.....*whistling*..... Oh, good you're back.) Then, I go up to the clothing room with a plastic storage box and two trash bags. I like an opaque box with handles that lock the lid in place, about 72 qt seems to work well. The transparent boxes get brittle and break easily and without locking handles the lid pops off. Since I do not store coats, shoes or cloth diapers in the box with the other clothes, this size works fine.

I start with the littlest child and pull everything out of all their drawers and the closet. As I pull each item out, I assess the quality of the item. I check to see what size it is, whether it is true to size (change the label if necessary), is the elastic in good shape (if you tug on it and hear a dry ripping noise, it is useless), do the snaps still snap, are all the buttons there, are there any tears, stains or worn areas and did I actually like using this clothing item? Those things that I want to save for the next kiddo get folded neatly and placed in one pile. Things that are worn beyond use go in one bag (the cast-off bag) and things that are still good, but I no longer want, go in a second bag (the blessing bag.)

Once I have culled the items that are not going to be saved for one reason or another, I look at how much of each item I have left. I match tops to bottoms to make appropriate outfits. I make note of anything that really needs replacing. For instance, this year, I noticed that every pair of khaki shorts my 3 year old wore was noticeably stained. I watch end of season and clearance sales in stores and online for those things that we need to replace. I also check to see if I have too much of any item.

Once I determine how much of each item I really need to have around, I put the extras in the blessing bag. All of the clothes I am keeping are folded neatly and placed in the storage bin. If the bin is not already labeled, I make 3 labels out of scratch paper for it. Each label states gender and size.So, this year as I am packing up Isaac's clothes, I will make three labels that say "Boy 3t." One is taped on the top of the box, one on the side and one on the end. That way, if the box is stacked I can see what is in it, no matter which way the stacks are facing.

The blessing bag is a wonderful thing. I often have too many bits of clothing that I don't like or can not use. I bag them up neatly and label the bag with size and gender the clothing works for. Then, if there is a crisis in our area, say a house fire or someone finds themselves parenting unexpectedly, I can check my bag piles and bless them with decent clothes in the appropriate size. I never put stained, torn or way out of date clothes in this bag. A child who has been through a trauma does not need to be given ugly clothes.

So, what about that cast-off bag. This is the bag of garbage, right? If you are the kind of person who does not know how to fix a button, rip, etc. or if you know how, but you know you will never get around to it, yes, throw this bag in the garbage. So many people ask me how I do it all. The answer is, I don't do it all. I am crafty, frugal and creative with some things, but with other things, I cut myself some slack. God has yet to give me real superpowers, until then, there will be things I can not do. The same holds true for you. I give you permission to cut yourself some slack and toss that bag in the garbage. I promise I will not think less of you for knowing your own abilities and limitations. If you are of a mind to use that bag of cast-off clothing, check in later and I will give you some of my ideas for these items. :)

That is it. When I next have a child who needs that size of clothing, I can wander into the basement, bring up the appropriate box and it will contain appropriate clothing for that size. No extras, no surprises when the clothes are the wrong size, torn, stained or mismatched. A little work now saves work and money later.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Clothing management pt 1

Our growing family has found that the traditional American way of handling a family's clothes does not work. When there are seven people living in a four bedroom home, sharing bedrooms is a fact of life. I have no problem with this. I think sharing bedrooms is a good thing, but it does lead to a few problems. One of those problems is clothing. I can trust my 9, 7, and 5-year-old not to play in their dressers, but the 3 year old is a whole different story. It is just far too fun to pull all the clothes out of a dresser and roll around on them while you are supposed to be napping. As long as you are quiet, mommy will not even know what you are doing until the mess is made. Oh and if you have access to THREE dressers, ahhh, bliss. Except, what mother wants to spend the end of every single nap time cleaning up such a humongous mess? Yes, I can discipline for this behavior, but it tends to be one that lasts about a year and then is outgrown. Not so awful, unless you have many kids and face the possibility of returning to that one year of life over and over and over and over again. (I feel a little hysterical just typing that sentence!) One of my general mommyhood rules of thumb is - "Sometimes you need to change the behavior, sometimes you need to change the circumstances." This is a perfect example of changing the circumstances.

I read the Duggars book and thought Michelle had a fantastic idea. The Duggars have a family closet right off the laundry room. Clothing is folded and or hung and taken straight to the family closet. Wow, no more taking one basket of clothes to one room and one to another, accidentally putting clothes in the wrong room, or not having access to a room that holds a sleeping toddler! Yes, great idea...except...I don't have any rooms near the laundry room that would work for that purpose. Thus, we adapted the idea to suit our situation.

My husband took shelves from our master bedroom closet and hung them in the laundry room (a room that is a tiny bit bigger than a half bath.) That means, I have the original set of shelves, just over the washer and now a set of shelves across from it. Yes, I have to be very careful how I stand up, so as to avoid bashing my head or bottom into a shelf. I have adapted and have not had a bonk on either end in over a year. The shelves across from the washer hold a bin for every child in the family and one for socks. As I pull clothes out of the dryer, I sort them straight into these bins. Adult clothes, sheets, towels and the like go into a basket at my feet. Each child is responsible for folding their clothes each day. Some days that means a lot of folding, some days just a little. I have found this VERY helpful in discouraging my 7-year-old's tendency to wear 3-4 outfits a day! The younger the child is, the more help they get from either a parent or an older sibling. So far, this system has been a big help. Renovating my laundry room this way cost us about $14, the cost of 5 bins and a couple molly bolts (two of the support beams for the shelves lined up nicely with studs in the wall, but the middle one did not) and 2 hours of measuring, hanging, fuming, muttering about the confusion of being taught two systems of measurement and rehanging the shelves.

The next part of our laundry renovation was literally life changing for us. In our home, Mommy, Daddy and baby share the master bedroom. The boys have one room and the girls have another. The fourth room is the clothing room. This is a good sized room, about 10'x12'. There is enough space for 5 dressers, a futon and a three bin hamper. This room is also our guest room. It is not spacious, but it works. When clothes are folded, no matter what time, day or night, they can be put away immediately. No more laundry diving, digging through piles and piles of clean clothes in search of that one pink sock. No more sneaking into a sleeping toddlers room and oh so quietly opening the drawers. Less chance of a busy one year old pulling down stack of neatly folded laundry that is sitting on the couch waiting to be put away. When we need to pack for a trip, we put everyone to bed and then haul the suitcases into the Clothing Room. It is so easy to accomplish the task! When it is time to sort outgrown clothes and make a shopping list, I spend a couple hours in one fairly tidy room sorting things. YAY!!!!

Okay, for those of you who have actually set foot in my home recently, yes, I admit, sometimes the system fails and there are still piles of laundry to fold. I am, most assuredly, not perfect. However, when we follow the system, life is easier.