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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Back in June



     Back in June This little thing happened.
     Our eldest graduated High School!
     While this may not be the most important milestone in her life yet to come, it was one of the most important milestones in her family's life. The oldest of the children, now an adult. I mean, technically speaking.
     While we won't be empty nesters for quite a long time yet, this graduation has given us a new perspective on how time passes. Our previous perspective has been through the tired, blurry lens of having newborns and toddlers in the house always for 15 years. While there are many things I will miss about my babies being babies, those years that my eyes always felt desert dry, and my bones were always aching with need to rest, those memories will not be missed.
     Now, with the youngest at four, completely toilet trained, getting herself in and out of the car, putting on her own shoes. It feels like we've moved into the summer season in our lives. I don't know, maybe that's too poetic. We have a grown up child, a couple of middle schoolers, a handful of elementary agers, and one that is still called the baby, even though she is determined to be more grown up than anyone else in the house.
     This morning she told me that someone left a crap in the toilet and didn't flush it. Really, she said 'crap'. I said "poop", she said, "No, it was a bunch of crap." I have no idea where she gets language like that. No idea at all.
     Well, these next 15 years are going to be a blast. I can just tell.

Here are a few fuzzy, crazy photos of that graduation taken mostly by a mom whose eyesight was fuzzy, not with lack of sleep, but with the tears of awe that we kept her alive all this time.  Graduation Story
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Monday, September 29, 2014

Heads Up!


     I asked our 4 yo why she was upset. I expected something along the lines of "He isn't being nice!" or "They won't let me play.", or even "They're mean!".
     What I heard instead was "I gave him wise council, but he won't make a good choice and he's annoying me and that's very rude!"  Whoa! Who taught this one how to talk?
     It's sometimes a little bit funny,  but always fascinating, to hear the phrases our family uses coming from the littles. We have quite a few of them. They're reminders. Easy, quick ways to sum up a larger idea. The four year old doesn't have a firm grasp on the idea of wise council, though. She thinks it means that her direct order is the same thing as good advice. She hasn't heard the chat about reminding someone of rules regarding safety especially, but also about any number of things. Being a good friend, being a good neighbor, etc. The chat includes information about how to remind someone. It should be done gently, with patience and love. When we give wise council, we have hope that the listener will make a choice that will keep them from injury, destruction of property, or mangling a relationship. We hope to help someone avoid a scenario that includes unpleasant consequences.
     The 4 yo has heard the phrase 'wise council' often enough along with a reminder of whatever the rules are, that she tried to use it to her advantage. She knows which words seem to please my ears. She has an idea that the phrases she's borrowed from the older the kiddos will soften me to her plight.
     After some investigation, I find that someone has something she wants and won't give it to her. She demanded that the object be given to her, but the order wasn't well received. Instead, the holder of the object made it clear that he wasn't ready to give it up, and that he didn't appreciate her demand. Eventually he ignored her, and began chanting some nonsense words as part of his play. Essentially, she truly was annoyed, and she did find it rude, but she wasn't giving good advice. She was tattling. Understanding already that her choice of phrasing would likely win her favor in the argument. Except, it didn't.
     The concept of wise counsel was explained, along with the concept of telling bad news in order to ensure that someone 'gets in trouble'.
     Even with our intention to teach the children how to be good friends and neighbors, to give grace and to be humble in receiving it, we've reduced some of these ideas to slogans. When a parent is faced with repeating certain ideas uncountable times each and every day, it makes sense to explain the concept, then attach a memory helper. It does work. It works when the child can actually connect the helper phrase to the concept. The older children have heard the concepts behind the phrases explained numerous times. The younger children hear bits and pieces by default. They hear shortened versions. Then they misuse the phrases.
     I do it, too. With grown ups, and with Jesus. I fling the phrases out there, knowing that they sound right, but just not feeling it. Saying the right thing, because it's easier than saying that I struggle, or don't want to get into the whole deep, time consuming truth behind the phrase. I don't have time, I'm feeling annoyed, I'm not getting my way.
     Oh, four year old, thank you for the heads up.

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Having It All Together. Or Not.


     Fridays we don't go to Parent Partnership Program classes. There aren't any sports practices, club meetings or other extra-curricular activities. We spend Fridays on research projects, math practice, instrument practice and chores.
     With our commitment to make healthier food choices comes the task of preparing our food at home. Our goal is to eat real food, avoiding refined sugar and chemically processed sugar substitutes whenever possible. This means we spend a lot of time prepping and cooking. I decided today would be a good day to make toaster pastries, chocolate almond butter cups, chocolate truffles, pumpkin bread mini-loaves and refried beans as well as the meals that we would eat today.
     What I got done was vegetable stock, refried beans, chocolate truffles, and our meals for the day. The rest of the day was spent handling repeated and escalating conflict between two of my kiddos.  It was exhausting! Two of the smaller ones approached me approximately every 20 minutes asking if the pop-tarts were done yet. All.Day.Long. I chopped, cooked, and washed everything. Chop, cook, wash, repeat. All.Day.Long.
     I was so excited when these were finished:

Chocolate truffles with toasted coconut. 
What a treat, right?

     Oops, I bought prunes instead of dates. I don't even know how I did it. The package clearly states "Prunes. Dried Plums" So, these lovelies taste like chocolate Dr. Pepper. This does not, in any way, satisfy my chocolate craving. At all. This is terribly sad.
     Also, there is no stash in the house. I mean, sure, there is still some refined sugar, but that we are saving for the holidays. I'm just not ready to try to replace our traditional, family favorite treats with dates and pecans and honey. Maybe next year. Maybe. Just, chocolate, folks. gah!
     


Happy Friday! Was your week a success, even in some small way? 


     

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Do Hard Things


     Zooligans do hard things!

     This is what we say in regard to just about anything lately.  There are a lot of hard things that we need to do recently. A couple of middle school aged kiddos adjusting to a more challenging academic load, littles who are just big enough to learn chores that require a little more time and effort, a grown up zooligan trying to navigate the new choices in front of her, ZooMama and Mr.TheZoo endeavoring to help these kids make wise choices, anddealing with the immediate effects of almost completely but not quite eliminating sugar, artificial food coloring, and pre-packaged snacks from our home.
     Sugar withdrawal is a real thing, and it affects some people more than others. It's been crazy grumpy around here. We're going on week three, and are seeing some some attitude improvement. I'm talking about myself, here.
     The kiddos around here have all shown they are capable of persistence and hard work. Sometimes it's in debating their requests. Often it's in helping out with some job or another. All of the kiddos have been keen on helping Mr.TheZoo with vehicle maintenance and repairs.



                                             4 yo Zooligan using the floor jack to help Mr.TheZoo with fixing brakes
                                                                 on a  truck.

                         
                                                     Yes, she was actually able to remove this lug nut. Of course, it was
                                                        loosened just a bit, but she finished the job.

                 
                                                     The rain didn't bother her, because she had her Daddy helper
                                                      helper holding the umbrella for her.


                                                  Zooligans do hard things from the very beginning.


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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Frantic!

     Sometimes our schedule feels hectic. I begin to feel over committed, the children are constantly grouchy and we always feel tired. So, we back off a bit. We drop an activity here and there. The last time we did that, we dropped nearly everything that was directly related to school or church for almost two years.
     Our family was desperate for that time. We were having babies in the midst of our frantic lifestyle, I had two (minor) surgeries and battled cellulitis in a leg. There was no time off for anyone! Mr.TheZoo was working as much overtime as possible due to our property taxes rose, the gas prices were up again, the price of food was creeping up, and the electricity rates had made a significant jump. Children were growing and needing shoes and coats, etc. It was a crazy time. My family lives a couple of thousand miles toward the East, and Mr.TheZoo's family, though in the same 200 mile radius as us, are spread out and busy. For recovery time after surgery, my sweet MIL helped out for a few days. We don't have a spare bedroom, though, so she slept on the couch, and helped to look after the (five at the time) babies and kept up with the cooking, dishes, and laundry. She needed to go home after a few days too look after her kitties and take care of her own health, though, so I was on my own!
     We decided, just after our 6th zooligan was born, to take the 'frantic' out of the equation. After spending years doing the pregnancy waddle while chasing children across soccer fields, and dragging all of the children with me to grocery shop and anything I needed to do, we chose to slow it down.
     The decision to rest was made in prayer. We hadn't said anything to the children about it, when our oldest daughter approached us after a rather unhappy soccer season to request that we allow her to quit. After playing with the same team for 7 seasons, she was placed with a new team when her coach decided to pursue his daughter's select soccer career. The new team had been together for just as many seasons, and were a somewhat exclusive bunch. There were three new girls to the team that season. None of them were ever accepted into the fold. It was a sad situation. Mr.TheZoo and granted her request, and saw how it would begin to clear up our schedule. That meant two fewer practice days, and one fewer Saturday game.
     About the same time, I was researching symptoms and behaviors for our oldest boy, finding that he is certainly on the Autism Spectrum, with the likeliest diagnosis being Asperger's.  He had already been diagnosed as ADD with high anxiety when he was six. As he aged, and began to be able to communicate, or not, it was clear that something else was challenging his perception of, well, everything.
     Our break up with the rat race, meant that we had time to learn to understand our son, getting to know him and have some idea, at least, of how to help him succeed at being a friend, learn some academics, and how to show people in general some respect. It meant that we were able to have babies at home and play Candy Land (ugh) and listen to Veggie Tales all day (I actually enjoyed this, and we all still do. Who doesn't like a family chorus of I Love My Lips?)
     I was able to focus on the zooligans academic status, where they needed more instruction, where they should move ahead, what they enjoyed the most, and what the didn't enjoy much at all.
     This reflection on leaving behind the frantic days comes because I am feeling, this morning, like we are on the edge of frantic once again. The differences are that our youngest is 4 1/2 years old. Everyone can wipe their own behind and buckle their own car seats. They can all sit quietly for a while. The difference now is that instead of one older child, we have a college age zooligan and three older zooligans. Two of those older ones are middle school age. The activities are picking up, and we find ourselves running taxi service rather often. A blessing, though often seeming disguised, is that Mr.TheZoo's schedule is more predictable. Though he is scheduled for 12 hr work days, he generally works four days and had three off. This means that he is available to fix things at home, help with academics, and is able to sometimes take that one kiddo that doesn't have a class or activity, but is longing for some time doing something special. Even if that special time is running the garbage cans to the transfer station with Dad. It's always an adventure around here!
     Though our schedule has ramped up again, the children are older and take more responsibility. The zooligans that have the most extracurricular activity have earned the privilege of being transported to meetings and events by keeping up with their responsibilities, with the understanding that if they seem overwhelmed, we'll lay out their schedule and decide what activity needs to be dropped.
     Here's hoping we continue to make responsible choices with our time. Even more, praying that we help our children to make responsible choices with theirs.




What do you do to keep your schedule and family activities from overwhelming  your days?


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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tuesday Morning


     It's a good thing we had that perfect morning last week. That one day when we were prepared the night before. A healthy, filling, yummy breakfast was ready before the kids got up, lunch was packed, backpacks were prepared, everyone was able to find a matching pair of shoes, no socks were yet missing. I enjoyed a (somewhat) leisurely cup of coffee before motivating everyone out of bed.
     The moment was fleeting, but memorable. I will remember that moment as my benchmark. My measure of perfection. Even if the perfection lasted only 15 minutes. Even if that is the only perfection that I will experience in the flesh.
     Tuesday morning, this week, is as far from that benchmark of perfection as we could get. I did have breakfast ready today, but a few kiddos didn't like it. Those ones have been begging for lunch since we arrived at the school building.  The socks were still easy to find, the shoes weren't. It was hard to get zooligans out of bed, and two kiddos couldn't find their backpacks, let alone what should have been in them.
     While we did get everything together and out the door, one thing still bugs me a bit. The WiFi at school isn't spectacular, and I wasn't able to share the adorable video of Mission Impossible Squirrel that the preschooler and I have been watching repeatedly. It's great, I promise! Look it up on YouTube. Watch, laugh, repeat.
     Happy Tuesday!

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Monday, September 22, 2014

From the Tiny House Files: The Laundry Is Multiplying!



     It happens every three to six months. I will have a marathon laundry party, then find that when it is all clean at the same time, it doesn't fit!
     Generally, it's the younger children's clothing that seems to multiply in the laundry basket. Somehow, as I am sorting through a closet, I come up with 25 complete outfits, plus extra shirts. Always with the extra shirts! There are often, I don't know, three or four shirts to each pair of pants or shorts.
     How does this happen? I go through the clothing twice a year making sure that there are 10 outfits per each child, with two extra long sleeve and two extra short sleeve shirts. That's it. We live rather casually, dressing even semi-formally for only a few occasions, so just one dress-up outfit suffices. Really, who needs more than seven changes of clothes each week? We keep ten because things happen. Paint, clay, bleaching, grease (which I have finally learned how to take out. You can find a link to the incredibly smart blog post about that at wegotreal.com ) , excessive dirt that must be changed out of for an evening activity, etc.
     If each person in our household wore all ten outfits each week, we'd be washing 90 sets of clothes! That's besides bedding, towels, and cleaning rags. Now, imagine that all of the expected laundry needs to be done, plus another fifty or so articles of clothing that have been dumped on the ground while a child is searching for something specific, left and trampled on, then eventually stuffed into a hamper.  We don't have room in the house for that many clothes! When there are FOUR tall hampers overflowing with dirty laundry, plus five smaller baskets overflowing with clean laundry, the washer and dryer are both running, and there are still clean clothes in the closets, that's a problem.
     It baffles me sometimes because I spend days going through our outsized clothing bins in storage, making sure that every stitch of laundry is done in order to accurately move the clothes from one season and size to the next. Our house looks like the backrooms of a second hand shop! It feels so good to have an abundance to choose from. Knowing that through other people's generosity either directly to us, or donations to thrift shops where I can purchase great quality items in fantastic shape, is a blessing! Rarely are we desperate to clothe our younger children.
     So, I do it all again. Sort through, count up the outfits, put the excess away for the next sibling up. Recently, however, I have found an activity just as exciting and full of blessing as receiving hand me down clothing for my children. Giving some away! The younger two are growing, as they should, and there aren't any behind them. The girl's clothing is often in excellent shape as her sisters are 7 and 14 years older than she is. I don't hold clothes for seven years. Baby girl's clothing usually comes from people that have one girl, or from a consigment or thrift store. She usually gets brand new tights and shoes.  It's lovely to be able to put aside those excellent condition clothes and bless someone else.
     We are at the point right now where summer weather isn't quite finished, we're still having eighty degree afternoons, but fall weather is imminent. There are shorts and summer tees fighting for space with the sweaters and hoodies. I'm looking forward to another round of closet cleaning. Already.
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