Category Archives: Family Life

No, YOU Pick It UP!!!

Yesterday, I discovered a parenting hack that worked so well I thought I would share it. You may have already done this yourself, but I had never thought of it, so I’m sure there is someone else out there who could find this to be useful.

We have a big, finished room in our basement where our two younger kids keep many of their toys. This room is often anxiety-inducing, as my littles have the typical childhood habit of leaving all their toys on the floor. Fortunately, the mess is hidden in the basement most of the time. The difficulty comes when I decide it is finally time for them to clean it up.

If I send them downstairs with the command to put away their toys, one or more of the following ALWAYS happens:

  • After some time passes, they come upstairs and tell me everything is put away. What has actually happened is they have put away a handful of things and the rest of the toys have miraculously become invisible to only the two of them. After giving them a few more chances, one of us eventually comes downstairs and has to tell them specifically what items do not belong on the floor.
  • They go downstairs to clean, forget immediately they are supposed to be cleaning, and begin to play with their toys instead. The room is now messier than before.
  • After 3 minutes, one of them comes upstairs to claim that the other one “isn’t cleaning ANYTHING!” after which, the other one yells, “I am TOO cleaning!” Truthfully, neither one of them is cleaning.
  • Shouts of “That’s not mine!” and “I didn’t get that out!” echo from the basement. No one picks up anything because nothing belongs to anyone.

 

Yesterday was a snow day with lots of sleet, so we were stuck inside. Again, I told them to go pick up their toys, and more than one of the above scenarios began to play out. I was preoccupied with an organizing task of my own and I didn’t want to stop to go supervise their cleaning.

Suddenly, inspiration hit and I had an idea. I gave these instructions:

“James, you pick ONE thing that Harper has to put away. Then, Harper, you get to pick one thing James has to put away. It can be ANY toy that isn’t where it belongs and you can’t argue. Just put it away.”

And it worked. In less time than normal, all the toys were off the floor and no one was fighting.

 

This was successful for a few reasons:

  1. They got to boss each other around and take turn being in charge, which they LOVE.
  2. It narrowed the task down to just one item at-a-time.
  3. They took turns, so there was no argument about who was doing more.
  4. It took away the idea of “yours” and “mine” so they didn’t waste time arguing about whose fault it was that the item was on the floor in the first place.

Before, I would have stood in the room and done the exact same thing: “Harper, put away that princess doll. James, put away this nerf gun.” This simple adaptation kept their cleaning task the same, but allowed me to step out of the equation. It also broke down the steps of having to 1) identify the misplaced object and 2) put it wear it belongs. Instead, they only had to do half of the process at once, so they never got overwhelmed.

It may not work for everyone, but I will definitely be using this method in the future. I may even look for ways to use it to accomplish other difficult parenting tasks.

Do you have a useful tip for cleaning with your kids? If so, share it in the comments!

My 19 for 2019

I’m a latecomer to the world of Gretchen Rubin. I discovered her last summer when I was looking for podcasts to listen to that would lift my spirit and help me develop a positive mindset. I simply typed “happiness” into my podcast app’s search bar and the top podcast was entitled: “Happier, with Gretchen Rubin.” I had no idea who she was or that she had a best-selling self-help book, The Happiness Project (and several others), I just liked the title and I appreciated the simplicity of her advice.

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One of her projects last year was “18 for 2018,” a personalized list of tasks one would like to tackle throughout the year. Because I started listening mid-year, I was too late to take on that one, but decided to give it a try this year and do “19 for 2019.” The best thing about the list is that it is low-pressure. The tasks aren’t resolutions and they don’t have to be life-changing. They can be as mundane as finding a new shampoo or they can be as monumental as quitting smoking. At the end of the year, there are no expectations that you will have completed all 19. Instead, you can enjoy the satisfaction found in the ones you did accomplish.

For accountability, I’ve decided to post my 19 for 2019 here on my blog. As the year goes one I’ll come back to revisit the ones I complete.

My 19 for 2019 (in no particular order):

  • Watch ALL the Avengers movies in chronological order before seeing Avengers:Endgame.
  • Run in 6 local 5ks
  • Spend one entire day playing Zelda on the wii
  • Finish reading every book club book (1 each month)
  • Organize our important paperwork
  • Fix our printer
  • Organize our address book before Christmas card time
  • Get our passports renewed
  • Learn to play my dulcimer
  • Lose 15 pounds
  • Keep a calendar of time spent with friends so I can make sure I’m not neglecting any friendships.
  • Visit Valley Forge with the kids.
  • Visit every covered bridge in Columbia County, PA.
  • Update our wall photography.
  • Write at least one blog post per week.
  • Get my hair colored.
  • Get a professional family photo taken.
  • Do three service projects with the kids.
  • Get grass to grow in the muddy spots our yard.

If I accomplish even half of these, I will consider it a pretty successful year.

Do you have a 19 for 2019 list?

Saying Goodbye to Sophie

In November of 2004, 3 months into our marriage, Jim and I took the next obvious step: we got a dog.

 

I wanted a Sheltie (Shetland Sheepdog) because I had one growing up and she was super smart and fluffy. We saw an ad for a litter in the paper, so we called and headed to the breeder to see the puppies. We were so naïve. Looking back, there’s so much we should’ve done. We didn’t ask to see the parent dog. We never asked to see where the dogs were kept. We didn’t know to ask how many litters the mother had or how recently she had her last litter. We waited in the breeder’s laundry room while she brought the last female sheltie pup.

The breeder set the 12-week-old puppy down on the laundry room floor and I immediately scooped her up. She smelled like barn. She was soft and alert and not afraid of me at all. I looked at Jim and asked, “can I keep her?” and she turned her head to look at him, anxiously awaiting his response. I’m not sure why I even asked, because I knew he was already thinking of names in his head. She headed home with us that afternoon and we named her “Sophie.”

When we got home and put her on the kitchen floor, she immediately ran to our glass-faced dishwasher, whining and pawing at its surface. She ran from side to side, trying to squeeze in the cracks between the dishwasher and cupboards. Perplexed at first, we realized she was looking at her reflection, not realizing it was her own image looking back at her and not her brother, the only pup left at the breeder’s.

 

After an adjustment period, she settled in nicely. Jim did most of the training and she was a quick study. Before long, she could sit, stay, shake, and play a mean game of catch. She barked like crazy, which is a trait of her breed, but otherwise she was the perfect pup. She travelled with us and we brought along a doggie travel bag. It’s fortunate we didn’t have social media at the time, because we would have embarrassed ourselves with constant posts of our puppy love.

It was just past her first birthday that her first back knee went out. It was terribly painful to watch and we quickly paid out the $1200 for surgery to correct the birth defect known as a patellar luxation. A year later, the other knee went out and we coughed up the money again. In her recovery, she depended too much on her front legs and developed arthritis in those. She also favored one side as she lay on the floor, causing her spine to curve. As a result, she would walk with a crooked, limpy gait for the rest of her life.

When she approached 8 years old, the age at which my first Sheltie had passed, we began to prepare for the end. She had been crippled for most of her life, how much longer could she last? Still, she played a slow game of fetch at every opportunity. The months passed by, and then the years. Every few months we would say, “I think it may be almost time,” then she would rebound with a renewed zest for life. Before we knew it, she was fourteen.

The past few months, however, things began to get gradually worse. Walking was the least of her problems. First, her eyesight began to blur, then her hearing began to go. The condition of her teeth required soft meals and her smell turned sour. Despite all her maladies, she was still alert and gregarious, barking at our young Australian Shepherd as she played catch and longing to join in but happy to cheer from the sidelines.

Finally, this past week, it was time to say good-bye. Fourteen-and-a-half years – practically our entire marriage – she had been our baby. But it was time.

Everyone is sad, but we are also relieved that she is no longer suffering and grateful for the many memories she gave us:

  • The time she made a wall of garbage around our first baby’s crib while we were out so we knew what she thought about not being the only baby anymore.
  • The way she would sit up on her hind legs to beg for attention.
  • The time we caught her on the dining room table, eating out of the butter dish.
  • The little jump she would do before she came running when we called.
  • The way she would pile her toys on our guests’ laps, daring them to throw just one.
  • Her affinity for Grammy, who hates dogs.


When you get a pet, you know that one day you will have to say goodbye. While the goodbye is terrible, it certainly doesn’t outweigh the joy that comes before.

We miss you Sophie! Thank you for all the joy you brought to our lives.

 

Another Year Older

In her own quiet way, 11yo became 12yo over the weekend with a small party with family and friends. I remember when she was little, we threw elaborate parties with themes and scavenger hunts and gift bags. Maybe we’ll do that again one day, but for now she is happy with a few balloons and her favorite birthday menu: pizza and corn-on-the-cob.

It’s also amazing how much smaller gifts get as your kids get older. No longer is she opening giant plastic monstrosities with beeps and blinking lights. Now, all of her gifts fit nicely into a few gift bags and consist mainly of clothes and books.

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It’s a nice change.

On the other hand, I have two other children under the age of seven, so I doubt my days of giant plastic gifts are quite over.

Curing My Beach Envy

I see you.

I see you posting photos of your manicured toenails in the sand with the surf in the background, your sleeping toddler curled up on her towel, your family wearing matching shirts while sitting on an abandoned lifeguard chair. I look at your pictures and I can smell the sea air and taste the crab cakes. Envy wells up inside me as I imagine planting my lounge chair at the shoreline and letting the water wash over my un-manicured toes. I lament that we have neither the time nor the extra money this summer for a beach vacation.

Then, one of my children tattles on another while running down the hall and I remember: I am no longer a beach person.

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I’ve been on quite a few beach vacations, and I love the idea of going to the beach, but since becoming a mom I find a day at the beach to be exhausting. Maybe the rest of you have mastered the art of family beaching, but as a mother with small children I do very little actual relaxing on the beach because I’m too busy keeping our offspring from washing away with the tide. If they’re not in the water, they’re covered from head to toe like a donut that has been glazed with sunscreen and sweat then rolled in sand sprinkles. Heaven forbid they rub their eyes. Also, reapplying sunscreen over sand without causing brush burns is about is difficult as it sounds.

When I finally get back to my hotel or rental house, much of the beach has come back with me in my car. Before I can bathe the kids, I have to find a discrete spot where I can strip them down and cover them in powder to get the sand off their bodies before I stick them in the shower. Then, I have to vacuum up the sand AND the powder. Inevitably, there is still sand remaining on their bodies and only half of it rinses down the shower drain. They all go to bed with sand still stuck to their scalps, but we’ve paid so much money to be here we do it all again the next day.

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Yeah, I know. Memories are being made, my kids will appreciate the trip when they’re older, blah, blah, blah. I’m not saying I’d turn down a free trip to the beach or that we’ll never go again. But, as I’m pining over beach pictures on my Facebook and Instagram feeds, it helps to remember that the cute baby in the photo probably has heat rash and sand stuck is his fat rolls. The smiling toddler is probably crying now because her Dollar-Store sand toys washed away in the surf, and neither of their parents can drink away the whining with a cool beer because they have to keep their little ones from wandering down the beach and going home with another family.

Who knows, maybe we’ll go to the beach next year. Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy my glass of wine on my porch while my kids don’t drown in our grass.

Our New Puppy: Because, why not?

We live a full life: three kids, three jobs, and a dog. Many nights we collapse into bed and (what seems like seconds later) it’s morning. Even with the help of our parents, it’s crazy. I’ve often wished I had a way to stop time so I could get more accomplished in a day. It makes absolutely no sense for us to add to the chaos and responsibility in our lives. So, what did we do last weekend? We brought home a puppy.

We already have a 12-year-old Shetland sheepdog named Sophie. She’s the best dog we could ask for, and yet there have been times over the years (particularly when caring for newborns) that I could barely handle caring for her. For a few weeks after our third child was born, Sophie went to live with my in-laws because I just couldn’t manage it all. Now that the kids are older, I find myself spending more time playing with Sophie and I’ve begun to realize how much I’ll miss her when she’s gone. After all, she was our first “baby.”

Jim’s always wanted another dog and I’ve always been the one holding out. Much like baby fever, the desire for a dog came out of nowhere. I found myself scanning Facebook pages of local animal rescue organizations and checking the newspaper for litters.  I looked at so many dogs, but none of them were right for our family. I wanted a member of the sheepdog family, but something bigger than a Sheltie. I had hoped to find one to rescue but I couldn’t find any sheepdogs in my searching. We don’t have the yard for a border collie and I don’t have the patience for the hair of a full-sized collie. When a friend of mine showed me some pictures of Australian shepherd pups available near her house, I know I had found our breed.

Deciding whether or not to add a dog to our already chaotic lives was a daunting task. There were two pups left in the litter, so Jim and I decided to mull it over for a week. If there was still a pup left by the following weekend, we’d go meet her. If they sold during the week, we would consider it a sign and wait for the next litter. By Friday afternoon, there was still one pup left. On Saturday morning, our practical sides did their best to keep us from adding to the chaos, but in our hearts we already knew we were going to bring home a puppy. After a very long discussion, we called the breeder and packed the kids into the car.

As soon as the pup ran out of the barn to meet us, she began circling the kids and chasing 5yo. They fell to the ground and playfully wrestled and I could see on Jim’s face that this dog was coming home with us. We paid for her and got in the car to take her home. As we drove away, we began mulling over names. The kids threw out some names that were quickly crossed off the list. I began reading suggestions from the internet on my phone. Halfway home, Jim pulled the car into a Unimart parking lot and jumped out of the car to head inside. A few minutes later, he came out and jumped in the car yelling, “Shandy!” Of course, being an avid beer brewer and drinker, he had gone inside to find beer names. It was perfect.17038742_1542062032478201_8951221052950027568_o (1)

Shandy has been with us for a week now and it’s been an adjustment. Because she’s so young, she requires constant supervision. Sophie is slowly adjusting to not being the only dog. The kids are getting pretty good at cleaning up the messes as we try to house-train her. Despite all the work she requires, I don’t think any of us has regretted adding Shandy to our family. It’s almost like she was the last of the litter because she was waiting for us to make up our minds.

Here’s to puppies and families and adding a little more craziness to our lives!

Summer Project: The Deck!

Jim has been extremely busy working on our home remodel, pretty much since the fall of 2014.  It’s a second job we’re paying for him to have. He works all day then comes home and works all evening. Fortunately, the results have been worth it. He completed the work on our bedroom remodel last year and it looks heavenly.

Unfortunately, just outside the double doors of the bedroom is the world’s ugliest deck.

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This deck was slapped up by the original builders. It’s small and the spindles are so far apart we can’t even let our kids hang out on it for fear of them falling through and plummeting to the ground 15 feet below. I decided something needed to be done about it, but I didn’t want to add to the never-ending list of projects Jim is trying to tackle. Painting a deck does not require any special skills, so I decided to take it on.

The prep work wasn’t too difficult. After helping me carry the heavy things off the deck, Jim did pressure wash it for me — not because I couldn’t but because he really loves pressure washing and I have no emotional attachment to spraying things with water. Then, I scrubbed it down with an acid cleaner the paint specialist at Home Depot recommended. Two days later we were ready to begin. I sent 1yo to my mother-in-law’s house because there was no way I could get this project done with her around. I grabbed enough brushes and rollers for 9yo and 4yo to help me out and we got started. decka1

I won’t go through all the details, but painting a deck is long and tedious. 9yo was really helpful throughout the entire day. 4yo lasted 45 minutes, which is to be expected. In the end, I had enough deck stain to finish the deck, but not the steps.  They need to be repaired anyway, so we’ll save that for another day.

Because we’ve spent gobs of money (at least that’s how it feels) on the rest of the remodel, I tried to do this as cheaply as I could. Deck stain costs what it cost, so I couldn’t do much about that. For furniture, I reused our old patio table and chairs. Despite the rusty, old appearance of the table, I was able to make it look nice with a beachy vinyl table cloth I found at the grocery store for $5. We also lucked out with the deck chairs. My parents had purchased them for their pool, then decided they were too low to the ground. Instead of returning them, they generously gave them to us to use for our deck. Score! I bought cushions for them from the garden section of the Walmart. One of my biggest worries was splinters from the old deck boards. I had two Amazon gift cards I’d been saving from Christmas, so I used them to purchase a 9 x 12 patio rug. Our deck is 10 X 13 so it was perfect! I love the color and design and it goes really well with the gray we used for the stain. The umbrella is a beach umbrella we already had.

The only task remaining is making the railing safer. Our plan is to purchase lattice to attach to the spindles to close up the gaps. I’m hoping to get that done this week so we can start enjoying our evening meals on our deck.

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Overall, I’m extremely pleased with how it looks, how much we spent, and the fact that I did the work myself.

Summer is Here!

We made it to summer!

After the craziness of the last month of school, today marks the kick-off of summer vacation here. Despite the calls for rain, it’s sunny and beautiful outside.

Our plans for the summer include lots of swimming, a couple day trips, and tons of camping trips (provided Jim can get off work). I’m hoping to get in lots more blogging now that I have the time to do it. Watch for chronicles of our summer adventures!

My Third One is My “Only Child”

Every parent I know who has multiple children has said the same thing to me at one point: it is amazing how different they are.

For several years following the birth of our first child, Jim and I dealt with infertility issues. Since we now have three children, we obviously solved our problem.  In the meantime, we suffered through the barrage of unwelcomed comments all parents of only children endure. These comments are usually intrusive and unfair. More importantly, they are dead wrong.

“If you only have one, she’ll end up spoiled.”

“Only children don’t know how to share.”

“How will she learn to get along with others if she doesn’t have any siblings?”

Despite being our only offspring for over 5 years, our oldest daughter is the opposite of all of these things. She’s selfless, kind, helpful, and many other qualities parents wish their children to be.  She is patient and caring with her younger siblings and helpful to adults. She didn’t learn these traits from having siblings. She developed them long before the other two came along.

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Ironically, the third one (1yo) is everything the first one (9yo) was “supposed” to be. Heaven forbid 4yo wants to sit in my lap and snuggle. 1yo will climb over him, screaming, attempting to pry him off. If that doesn’t work, she hits him and ends up screaming in time-out. She loves chopped strawberries until she sees a sibling eating a whole one.  Then, suddenly, chopped strawberries are inadequate and only a whole one will do. If she is the first child to arrive in the nursery at church, her anger mounts as more children arrive to play with the toys or receive attention from the nursery teacher. If there is a communal bowl of snacks, she scrambles to it like a puppy who is one of several in the litter and shoves the food into her mouth as though she will starve if she does not get her fair share of goldfish crackers.

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My 9yo, who spent over half of her life not having to compete with anyone for attention or possessions, is hardly competitive at all. My 1yo, who has always been one of three, has learned very early that there will always be someone else who will take what you want if you don’t get it first. 9yo was never the stereotypical only child (even when she was one), and 1yo is about as spoiled for attention as a toddler can get – despite having two siblings.

That these two completely opposite girls are exactly who they were meant to be has been a big lesson to learn. I cannot light a fire in 9yo’s belly any more than I can extinguish the one in 1yo.  All I can do is guide them, support them and discipline them; and, of course, love them and their brother exactly as they are.

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