Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A hundred days hath May and December . . .

Or at least they SHOULD have that many days if they're going to be as full as this! December and May are the craziest months in a large family -- or maybe in any family?

In the next 25 days, we have two work parties, two Church Christmas events, a violin concert, a dance recital, a school Christmas party, my mother's group discussion and field trip, Scouts and Activity Day girls, Visiting Teaching appointments (on Thursday -- I'm making my visits early this month!), orthodontist and doctor's visits, plus the extra things my family wants to do: go to the Farley Family Christmas play, see the new Carl Bloch exhibit at BYU, watch the downtown Living Nativity presentation, take three more kids out individually to shop for their secret buddies, and bring gifts to our neighbors and friends.

Oh, and my husband wants to make a trip with some of the kids down to visit his sister in Southern Arizona before she and her family leave for Germany (her husband is in the service).

I'm content, though, because most of our shopping is done, our Christmas cards are ordered (though I don't know if I'll send any this year if it gets too hectic), our Christmas decorations our out, and our 25 days of Christmas devotionals begin this evening.

Sound exciting? It should be! Hang on, December, as we cram 100 days' worth of activities in your 31 days.

Is your December as crazy as mine? What do you do to manage your holiday to-dos and events?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Kids' Papers, Artwork, and Keepsakes

Need a better way of organizing your kids' papers? From art projects to cards to report cards, this is what has worked for me.

1. Invest in a horizonal filing system. I have one slot for each child. I use post-it notes folded over to label them. This one is chock-full of last year's papers because I haven't yet gotten to steps 4-6.

2. As papers come home, decide what's worth saving. I don't keep many of the math papers or coloring pages. I do keep every report card and a representation of their best artwork. If in doubt, I keep it, because I have another chance to purge it later.

3. As the year goes on, put the papers you are keeping in the horizontal file. Keep up with it all year long and it's not hard at all.

4. At the end of the year, pull out sheet protectors and a binder. Here's one I've made for Joey several years ago (at some point, I'll fancy it up with a nice title page, but for now, this is what it looks like. I have a divider for each year so they can be kept in one binder but stay separated).

5. Pull out the stack of papers you've saved the whole year long. Because you've been putting things in the pile all year long, they are in chronological order already. Just turn the pile upside down, and start putting everything in sheet protectors and into the binder. Now is also your chance to do a final purge of stuff you don't need to keep.

6. Enjoy looking through your child's papers or letting them look at their scrapbook from that year!

Notes like this make all this mothering stuff worthwhile:

Translation for those of you not up on kinderese: "I love you Mommy because you take me on rock hunting."

What do you do to manage your kids' papers and keepsakes?

(also posted on my blog, Hands Full & Loving It (mostly)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Back to School Organization

Five kids in school means five backpacks, lots of papers, dozens of pairs of shoes, lots of socks. Without a plan and some basic organization, that can mean a huge amount of mess every day. I'm lucky enough to have a mudroom to contain some of the stuff, and here's what I've found works well for us.

Last year, I bought these stacking bins to hold each child's backpack. After they do their homework, the backpack and lunch bag goes in their little spot. It was meant as a temporary solution until my husband had time to make more permanent lockers or cubbies or something, but a year later, it's worked so well we've kept it.

(It's mostly empty right now because I took the picture after the kids had left for school)

Recently, I decided our shoe organization needed some improvement. We've always kept all the kid's shoes and socks in our mudroom. We have these great slots underneath a bench that we've been using for nearly four years. We used one each for socks, school shoes, sandals, and closed toe shoes. The problem? Every day, the kids would pull out everyone else's shoes in order to find their own, leaving a big mess. We sort of solved that problem by assigning cleaning the mudroom as a zone to Michael every day. It worked, but I decided this year we needed something better. I originally hoped to find more of the stacking gray bins and to use one for each child's shoes. I couldn't find any like them anywhere. I scoured Lowe's and Home Depot with no luck.

So I improvised.

I found that four of these bins from Shopko (on sale last week for $5 each) fit perfectly on these wire shelves from Costco. Now I have eight bins, one for each child, and the shoe mess has lessened considerably, since the kids only have to pull out one pair of shoes for each of them.

The shelves fit nicely on the west wall of my mudroom. One of the doors in the background leads to the entry way (and therefore, the front door); the other to the garage. I love where my mudroom is located.

And the slots where we kept the shoes? I found these bins fit perfectly inside them and now I have one for swimming gear, one for hats, one for gloves, and one for bags, and of course, still one for socks. We keep everyone's folded socks in one bin. It's simple for the kids to reach in and pull out a pair that fits them and I don't have to worry about sorting socks into eight separate piles.

Next week, I'll share how I handle all the school papers and kid's artwork.

What are your best back to school organization tips?

(also posted on my blog, Hands Full & Loving It (mostly)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Our Collective Memory Loss

I gave birth to Katie, my eighth child, naturally. No drugs, no epidural, just me and a whole lot of pain. It was the first time I'd gone without an epidural and I'm still undecided about whether I'll go that route again.

It's been interesting to hear people's reactions to my experience. By and large, women in my generation say, "Wow!" "Amazing!" "How did you do that?" or "I could never do that."

But women twenty years older say, "Oh," or "Been there, done that!" They are not impressed with my accomplishment because to them, it isn't brave or unusual to give birth without epidurals. To their generation, pain was an accepted part of childbirth, even if it wasn't particularly welcome.

You weren't brave, amazing, or different than any other woman by choosing that option; it was just something you did, a normal and natural part of life.

Life is pain, after all, and it was meant to be hard.

I wondered if as a society, we have a collective memory loss of what normal life has been for generations and generations. We wake up to an alarm, flip on the lights, take a shower, then walk from our air-conditioned house to our air-conditioned car to our air-conditioned job, run over to the gym for a workout, then hit the drive-through for a shake on the way home. At home, we warm up leftovers in the microwave or pop in a movie to relax. We take for granted the hot and cold water that comes into our sinks and the only time we even think about our toilets is when one of them is broken. We drive a block to the grocery store to fill up our car with fresh produce and convenient foods no matter what time of year it is.

Life has been made so much easier by technology that we are so impressed by those who do without it. We feel sorry for the poor soul whose air conditioning unit broke in their car. We are amazed at people who bake their own bread or grow their own produce in a garden. We complain about cleaning up after a child who threw up in the night, even as we turn on the lights, walk her to the bathroom for a shower, and throw the bedsheets into the washer.

I often get comments about the size of my family -- according to the positive ones, I'm "amazing" or "super-woman" or I must be "super organized," "have a lot of patience" or the like.

It makes me feel good to know that my efforts are recognized and the difficulty of task of raising a large family is acknowledged, but sometimes the comments get to me. They make me feel like what I'm doing in raising a family is so unusual, so different, and so brave as to be impossible for a typical, ordinary woman. And since most of the time, I feel like a typical, ordinary woman, it makes me wonder sometimes if maybe I have taken on too much. Wouldn't it just be easier to have fewer children, to spread them out a bit, to make my life less difficult? No one else is doing what I am; maybe they know something I don't?

My sister recently made a book about some of my ancestors and as I read through their brief histories, I suddenly felt connected across the generations. Here were the women who would look at my life and instead of saying, "amazing," or "how do you do it?", they'd say, "oh," "only eight?" or "been there, done that." Here were families of ten, twelve, or even fifteen children, all of them raised to be hard-working, productive, contributing adults, and all of them doing it with much more work involved.

Clothing their family didn't involve chasing down the latest Children's Place sale and then opening the huge box that arrived in the mail three days later. It meant sewing, and a lot of it. And it wasn't even all that long ago that clothing wasn't so abundant. My mother grew up on a dairy farm and remembers she only got two new dresses to wear each year, one at Christmas and one at Easter.

Feeding their families meant growing a garden, kneading bread by hand, bottling home-grown produce on a hot stove day after day in the sweltering heat of summer so that their children would have food to eat in the winter. It meant cleaning up after chickens (ever smelled a chicken coop?) and milking cows twice a day no matter what the weather was like.

Housing their family meant laying out all those beds in the attic room with the low ceilings and drafty breezes. It sometimes meant cutting down trees and laying them on top of one another. For one of my ancestors, newly arrived in this country from Sweden, it meant digging a hole in the side of a mountain and living in a dug-out for several seasons until a more permanent home could be arranged.

And they did it all with large families to tend to, children to teach and rear and educate.

What would our great-grandmothers think about our lives today?

I think we've forgotten that life for generations and generations wasn't about "finding yourself," "reaching for your dreams," or doing anything you could to make your life easier.

It was about work. Hard work and lots of it. It was about pain, from the pain of childbirth to the grief of early death. It was about praying over your children and hoping they emerged alive from their latest illness. It was about hard physical labor, breaking ground, planting, harvesting. It was about being busy and productive and taking care of each other. It was about sacrificing your own comfort for that of another. It was about wearing out your life in service.

It was about faith.

It was about family.

As a society, we've progressed technologically, but I wonder if we've lost something along the way.

I like feeling that others are impressed with what I've chosen to do with my life. It's nice once in a while to get some positive attention. Frankly, it's a good boost to my ego (which may or may not be a good thing!).

But I'd rather not give into the temptation to think my life is unusually hard and that what I'm doing requires a super-woman.

I'd rather think, instead, that I have within me the same strength and fortitude and capacity for work that my grandmothers had. I'd rather feel that I'm carrying on a blessed and honorable tradition.

I'd rather remember their sacrifices and realize my own pitiful ones don't compare.

* cross-posted from my blog, Hands Full & Loving it (mostly)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Need a better family calendar?

It's that time of year again -- time to get organized, get your life in order, make goals (one of mine? get that kitchen clean by 9:00 every day!), and put up your new calendar for 2010.

You've probably already bought one or two, maybe even had one made with cute photos of your kids all over it and teeny little spaces to write your appointments on. Well, you can still use those -- put one in your bedroom to keep track of your exercise and one in your office to brighten your day and make a quick check of dates easier.

But for your main family calendar, do what I do and get this one. Or one similar. Much as I like Sandra Boynton, I got this year's calendar at the dollar store. Of course, I bought it back when the Boynton one wasn't on sale.

The best part of this calendar is that it gives plenty of space to write things in each date. By making the dates go vertical and on both pages, it frees up lots of space.

The other part I like about the calendar is the different columns. It's intended for a smaller family than mine, with one column for each person, but I've modified it to fit our needs:
My columns read Mom, Dad, Family, School Kids, and Preschool Kids and the events going on go in each category accordingly. The dinner menu in the "Mom" category, along with the day the garbage goes out and whether it's a recycling week or not (even if I'm not taking those cans to the curb, I'm the one doing the reminding!). Events including all or most of the family, like my daughter's violin concerts, family parties and the like go in the "Family Category." In the picture below, gymnastics went in the family category because I had four kids in it and took most of the little kids along to watch. Events for my school kids go in that column, and so on.

We hang our calendar in the kitchen and it's easy, even from a distance, to quickly check it to see what's going on.

Anyone else know of a great calendar or system they want to share?

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Let the Ball Drop!

*** Cross-posted at all the Lotsofkids blogs. ***

It's New Year's Eve (at least in this part of the world). 2009 is almost gone and 2010 is standing before us. It was a difficult year for many people. Financial hardships and insecurity made the year a struggle for so many. That said, even though things were hard, the trials led so many back to focusing on what is important, such as family and friends, as well as simple living.

2009 was a difficult time for us over at Lotsofkids, as we had to focus our spare time on projects to help make money to pay the bills, including our server costs. Though things are not particularly better now, we are thankfully at a point where we can re-focus on the site and our blogs like we want to.

A big "thank you" to all of our followers here, as well as our wonderful Bloggers who have kept things going during this down time. We appreciate you all! We are looking forward to 2010 and hopes for better times. We are excited as the prospects and hopeful that in the coming weeks we'll be getting things back to normal with regular blog posts and new content.

In the meantime (and while there is still a couple days left in the "holiday" season), we leave you with a little visual/musical gift created by me and my husband. We hope you like it...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Handling Homework

I've had some Q&A sessions on my blog lately, and I thought this post about school and how to handle homework would be appropriate here as well.

Do you homeschool your children or send them to public school and why?

It's probably obvious by now that I don't homeschool my children. We live in an area with very good schools with great and dedicated teachers who have always done a great job nurturing and loving my children. I could see situations where I would want or need to homeschool and I think I could do it if necessary, but I'm grateful I don't need to. My children are getting a wonderful education and I'm very thrilled about it. I've mentioned before that they go to a charter school, which for us means homework, strong emphasis in academics, uniforms (eh -- not my favorite thing, but not so bad either), and lots of great programs. My daughter's been involved in early morning orchestra for three years, my son was able to do track after school, and in general, we love our school and we love our teachers.

Even if the charter school were not an option, I'd still send my kids to school. The local elementary schools are very good as well, and Lillian spent two years in our regular school before we moved her to the charter school. Our main reason for moving her was that she needed to be challenged more, and the only way to do that at the other school was to have her skip a grade. Our charter school allowed her to be challenged while remaining with her peers. For one thing, the whole school does math at the same time and the children are divided by ability, not grade. There are no slow math classes, just each child learning at his level. For another, the strong academic focus was a great fit.

Oooh- give me [homework] tips! We start Back to School next week, and I'm not ready for the Homework chaos! We have a snack after school, then they do homework. they used to sit together at the kitchen table, but then they started poking each other and writing on each other's papers, and,chatting instead of working. Now they each go to a separate room, and I rotate if they need any help. One of them still sat there for literally hours not getting it done!
Remember, I don't have five boys, but I do have five kids in school this year. This is how we've made homework work at our house:

* Homework is done right after school. To do it later is just not an option. This gives everyone an incentive to get it done in a decent amount of time. There are no battles about this, because we've had this as the rule ever since we had a child in school.

* Homework is done at the tables in the kitchen. This year, I added another table so the kids could spread out a bit and work.

* Kindergartners (I have two this year, can you believe it?) do their homework with the other kids. This way, they get to come home, put their things away and have some play time before focusing on school again. They also get to feel part of something, as they sit at the table doing homework with their older brothers and sister.

* Like Jacki, we give out "homework snacks." I think it's important that they be called "homework snacks" so that there is at least one positive thing associated with homework! I've been making a small batch of cookies a lot this year for snacks, or we have crackers, fruit, granola bars, or whatever they can find.

* As much as possible, my kids are responsible for their own homework. I don't hover and I don't help unless they absolutely need it. Unless I'm asked by one of them for help, I don't check over their math, I don't correct their spelling or grammer, and I don't concern myself with their grades being perfect. The teachers at our school are all really good at expecting the kids to be accountable, so I leave most things between my child and the teacher. For instance, if my child forgets their homework at school, they are responsible for figuring out a solution to the problem.

* Going along with the above, one of my gripes about homework is when the teacher expects the parent to do too much. Except in the early grades, when perhaps they'll need help reading the directions, or in the cases of a child struggling in a certain subject, I really think homework ought to be something that children can do independently. I'm still trying to figure out why I have to sign my fifth grade daughter's planner every day, but I guess that's a small annoyance, and since it's my daughter who finds me a pen and shoves the planner in my face every day, I guess it's still her doing the work.

* As for fighting and poking and gabbing, I don't really have that problem right now, so I don't have any advice for it.

Anyone else have some suggestions?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Organizing all our shoes--Works for ME Wednesday

A while back Lots of Kids showed a GREAT shoe organizing idea. As usual, I filed away the idea & hoped to find a way to incorporate it into our house. I haven't yet found the perfect place for that idea, but I did recently figure out a shoe organizing system that works for me!
I bought this 4 shelf wire rack at Target or Walmart on the organizing isle. It fits perfectly behind our front door & as an added bonus it keeps the kids from being able to slam the door into the wall. The kids are supposed to put their shoes on the rack as soon as they come inside, this doesn't always happen. Lucky for me, my 2 yr old & 4 yr old LOVE to go around the house finding everyones shoes & putting them in their "home".

For more Organizing Week Works for Me Wednesday visit We are THAT Family.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A really cool device for pantry organization....ENTER to win!!

I have become obsessed with winning things from blogs. I spend at least an hour each day looking through blogs & entering to win products. I consider this to be an hour that is well spent, so far I have won some REALLY great stuff & in the process I have also discovered some products that work well for my family that I had never heard of before entering the giveaway.

This organizer would be fantastic in my pantry!!! Actually I probably need several of them.

Go to Is that a Garage Door on my Ceiling? to learn more about this great product & if you hurry you can enter to win it....Giveaway ends Sept 1st!!!

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Clothing Shuffle

(written in May 2009, crossposted from my blog, Hands Full & Loving It)

A few weeks ago, DH & I were at Payless Shoes during their BOGO sale. When we found a nice pair of all-brown gender-neutral shoes for less than six dollars, we began searching the shelves for the same shoe in other sizes (our school requires all brown or all black shoes). We were stacking the boxes five or six high when a sales lady came and gave us a funny look.

"We have seven kids," we said.

The light when on, and she began helping us look. Size 12, 13, 1, 2, 3, 4, how about 13 1/2?

We left the store with over ten pairs of shoes, two or three of which will be used now. The rest will be saved for next year, or the next, or the next. With seven kids, at some point, the shoes are bound to fit SOMEONE.

Here's where the shoes go, for now, lined up in order of size:

I've also got several boxes, not shown, of used-but-still-okay shoes, mostly sorted by size.

I like to buy early and buy on sale. I'm always looking for a clothing deal and I buy in advance. If I stay on top of it, our clothing budget stays reasonable and my kids always have clothes, shoes, and coats to wear. If I forget, like I did once in the fall when the weather turned cold and I realized I had five kids who had outgrown their coats, then I'm stuck paying whatever price the stores want to charge (that time? $150). I've since stocked up on coats ($5 or $6 each on clearance) and keep them lined up by size in the closet of our spare room.

In our old home, when we didn't have a storage space, I'd keep a box on the floor in each bedroom closet labeled, "Outgrown." In the boys' room, I had a box labeled, "Between Joey and Micheal," another labeled "For Joey to grow into," and a third for clothes outgrown by Michael. In the girls' room, I had four boxes, one of clothes the twins had outgrown and one for things they could grow into soon, and the same for Lillian. The box for outgrown clothes I kept fairly accessible so I could simply toss an item in anytime I found it no longer fit or was out of season and was going to be too small by the time it was in season again.

I don't save every item; my standard is if I wouldn't buy it if I saw it at a thrift shop, then I give it away.

At my current home, I'm blessed to have a nice storage room, with shelves for our outgrown clothes. Now I sort it all by size and by gender. I have three shelves. The top is for uniform clothes, the middle for girl clothes, the bottom for boy clothes. For gender neutral shorts and jeans, I try to just put the item in the gender of the child who will fit into it next. So, for instance, size 5 shorts Michael's outgrown go in the Girls 5T box.

It doesn't always look this nice, but since I just did the spring clothing shuffle, it's pretty organized.

How do you handle the clothing shuffle?