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?