Taming the closet monster

I don’t know about you, but when my kids were babies, I went into preparation mode for clothing. I did all the math, clipped all the coupons and figured out how far in advance I could purchase the basics. As a matter of fact, for our family photos, I pulled out a sweatshirt I’d bought on super sale when Liam was a toddler. He’s now eight, if that helps you envision what our clothing storage has been like ever since I was first pregnant with him.

Last year, though, I realized we were out of control. As I went the closet and found all the things I’d purchased over the years that I thought were adorable, or an absolute necessity. I also realized that I probably hadn’t used at least a third of the items I’d stockpiled. Part of the reason was because Liam is very particular with what he allows to touch his skin and part of it was simply because when you buy “cute” items, finding something to go along with it doesn’t always just fall into your lap.

Over the summer, my desire for a streamlined wardrobe reached a fever pitch. Liam wore the same three shirts on repeat when we weren’t in the pool and Sylvia pretty much lived in her pjs. And yet, the clothing in the drawers and closet were constantly all over the house, or wadded up in the corner of the closet floor. I started watching what the kids were wearing and realized they wore the same basic things on rotation with time out for Sunday clothes. And really, who needs NINE pairs of pjs when bed wetting isn’t an issue.

My theory, at least when related to my kids, is that when they have too much, they can’t manage. Also, then Mama is the one flipping out and yelling about the constant mess.

So we began purging this week. I’ve plucked out the too-small clothes and set aside eight shirts of short and long sleeves for each child. Liam has one pair of jeans because he hates them. I’m trying the jogger trend on him instead of chinos because they have elastic waists and are super soft. I weeded out the ohmygoshitsonsalefor97cents dresses I had bought for Sylvia that she hated. I took all the extra hangers out of the closets. And the socks I’ve hung on to “just in case”.

The kids’ closets are slimmer. They have a few items for church yet and their co-op uniforms. Their dressers are pared down, and it feels so good. The key to this project was to go through the clothing with each child. I asked them what they liked and what they wanted to keep. I asked how things felt on their bodies and if they wanted to give it to a friend or to the clothes closet.

A few weeks ago, we took a trip to IKEA and purchased Liam a new dresser. While I was wandering the endless isles, I found the Skubb boxes and thought they would be a great solution to the large drawer that was to store his socks and undies. And yes, they work quite well. One box for socks, one for undies, one for bathing suits, one for ties and then the two little ones hold his wallet and various items he likes to hoard.

Next up, teaching the kids how to do laundry. Or maybe, I should just work on keeping their socks from piling up in the corners?

Anxiety Girl!

Things have calmed down a bit around here, finally. Matt had a heart scare a few weeks ago that, thankfully, only resulted in major dietary changes and the addition of exercise into his life. During that time, I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water. Husband, kids, work, life… it just felt like too much. And then, before I knew it, I had to head to Washington DC for a lobby trip with Moms Clean Air Force.

I’ve been advocating with Moms for six years. When I started, Sylvia was an itty bitty baby, who would need to nurse or poop pretty much whenever I’d go up to speak. I once nursed in a back corner of the State House only to look up and realize I was directly under a security camera. That being said, I’ve learned to get over myself and power through whatever nerves I have.

This trip though… I couldn’t get it together and feel comfortable. Part of it may have been that Matt needed specific food, part of it being that the kids had plenty of activities. Either part is enough on its own, but together? I just couldn’t let go of the concern that something would go horribly wrong. So I obsessed and prepared and worried.

And even though I was a wreck, I realized once the whole trip was over, I’ve grown. Yes, I was nervous about my family. But when I considered where those nerves were coming from, I realized they were simply because a health concern sets me into a panic for control. I had none being a few states away. And when I was able to identify that, it was a matter of accepting that I wasn’t in control.

Isn’t that the worst? Having no control when you are the one used to having it all? Ick. Not my favorite. However, I’d like to mention that instead of crying and having stomach problems, I just did it. And when things were stressful during the trip, it didn’t phase me. Because there are only so many things I can control. It’s taken me many, many years to learn this, but once I did? Life changing!

I’m home now, and everyone is still alive 🙂 Matt’s mom answered my call for help and she kept everyone happy and healthy. The kids were delighted to have Mama back and the dogs even more so. Matt and I? We’re much better together.

 

The pug life

When Matt and I first started noodling around the idea of pets (12 years ago! Gasp!) he was dead set on having a pug. I thought they were the ugliest dogs ever. I wanted a big, protective dog. I wanted something to run with or go on adventures with us and this fluffy, wrinkly dog didn’t fit that bill.

Since I am typing this with a pug crawling all over me, you can gather that I’ve since changed my mind about pugs.

George’s first night in our home!

Over the years though, we have realized that pugs as a breed in general need a little more attention to detail. Those precious little wrinkles need to be cleaned and checked for bites and infections. Their ears need to be cleaned and de-gunked. And with George we have also discovered a litany of skin issues. Vito very rarely scratches, and if he does, it’s his ears. But not George! He has scratched himself raw so many times. At first we thought it was allergies, so we tried hot spot sprays and oatmeal baths. But it wasn’t really effective as a long term solution.

Our vet then recommended that we try a grain free diet. I reached out to the Facebook world and asked for suggestions, and settled on a brand that would be easy to find in town. We followed the protocol for switching food and yet, the itching continued. Then, Vito started throwing up. It stressed me out because Vito is old and I was afraid if he continued to have intestinal issues, it could usher in the end of his life sooner than we want. As the final straw, we discovered George was munching on poop. POOP! And the vet said, he’s not getting proper nutrition, we’ve got to get him on fresh food.

I had looked at making my own dog food over the years and while I always thought it was a great idea, I never did it because, you know… time. But when it came down to it, I was desperate enough to make the time. It’s been a few months now and I wanted to share what we do!

I have tried quite a few recipes that involved a few different fruits and veggies mixed with different meats. They’ve been pretty excited to try new things, but I will tell you that turkey, applesauce and butternut squash was not accepted. Let me tell you, I have rarely seen my dogs turn their noses up at food, but that one? Nope.

Basic Dog Food Recipe:

  • 3 pounds ground meat
  • 1 bag frozen peas and carrots
  • 1 large sweet potato, diced

Put the meat in a crockpot. Just dump it in! Pour the veggies over the top. Cover it up, turn the crock pot on high for three hours. Break up the meat about an hour or so in so that it cooks through. Keep it in the fridge for a week or freeze in daily packages. The dogs get about 3/4 of a cup each twice a day. So I freeze in 3 cup amounts and thaw a bag at night before I go to bed.

Tiny note here: the dog food looks like chili. Matt now asks if he’s allowed to eat something 🙂

In the last few months, we have not had any digestive issues with either dog. George has stopped eating poop (there are not words, people, no words) and Vito’s wrinkles are doing great. George’s skin suddenly flared up, but I take blame for that since I had experimented with adding rice into their diet. So, rice is definitely off the menu now!

Jitters

It happens every year… the nervousness. First it starts out as simple questions over my curriculum choices. But then, should I even be educating my children? What if I fail? What happens if they can’t pass those darned state tests? What if? What if? What if?

This is my fourth year of homeschooling. I haven’t failed yet. And I don’t think it’s because I’m awesome, I think it’s because this is what my family is supposed to do. God has so kindly directed us to this path and I see those kindnesses on such a regular basis, it’s foolish of me to feel these nerves pre-school starting. But I do. I’m human, so I worry and fret and fuss over things I cannot control, like people’s opinions of me.

We begin school on Monday morning. I have all the curriculum planned out, my closet organized… everything is ready. And yet, I still wonder if I am doing what I should. How much of it is my humanness and how much is my own pride? People will always criticize me. Over the years, I have been told I am “unapproachable”, “unteachable”, “stuck up” and “too perfect”. Well, guess what? I’m not perfect. I don’t mean to come across as unapproachable or stuck up. And I love to learn, so I’m not sure where the teaching isn’t working for me. But the point of this post is to share that I still struggle with worry over perfection.

I was homeschooled. I homeschool. Most of the time I feel fairly confident and “I’ve got this”. I know my children and their needs. I know how they learn best and what doesn’t work. I enjoy these moments with the kids and am well aware that before I know it, they will be off in the world and I won’t have these opportunities again.

What will happen if I fail? I’m not sure. I pray that God will show me when it is time to put them into a brick and mortar school. I pray that I won’t miss His guiding because I’m set in my ways. I think that’s the best I can do.

So as we spend this last weekend before school begins, I’m going to be focusing myself in prayer for the year. Not for anxiety, but for my pride. I need to learn to let go of the expectations I’ve absorbed over the years and just school my children. I know if I spend every day looking over my shoulder waiting for someone to criticize me, I’ll miss these moments that I cherish so much.

Here we go again

Yesterday it occurred to me that school begins in one week. ONE. WEEK. Remember the last time I wrote? In May.

Over the summer, I worked a lot. The kids swam a lot.  Both kids are getting good at doing chores without too much drama. I mean, there’s always drama, but it’s not as bad as it was the first time I handed out toilet brushes.

In July, we took off for Washington DC so we could participate in the 4th annual Play In for Climate Change. We went as a family for the first time and I tell you, showing my family what I get to do when I make my legislative visits. I got to share this city that I’ve grown to love so much with them. We were there for several days working and touring and experiencing things together. I got to introduce my family to my work family and to the friends I’ve made along the way, like Angela.

When we got home, we celebrated the one year anniversary of rescuing George. I haven’t talked about him much on this blog, but he is filling that empty spot we didn’t know we had in our lives. George is a rescued pug from right in our own county… neglected and abandoned, a sweet baby who was afraid to even sit near us now lives fully. He’s brought life back into Vito and loves us so much. Even now, as I sit typing, he is curled up with me, occasionally sighing as he snoozes. When I ask him if he’s ready for bed every night, he hops up and heads back to my room and settles in. He loves to play catch and eat snacks. He plays with the kids and enjoys every ride he gets in the car. Vito no longer can hear and every day, I see George doing something to help his older buddy either make it in the house or find a snack. He’s one of the best thing that could have ever happened to our family.

We got back from a family vacation with my in-laws on Sunday and I’ve realized that somehow, the summer passed by in a blink. Honestly, wasn’t it just June??

Today, I wrote out my notice of intent for the school district and got the last of my curriculum ordered. We are going to ease into the school year as gently as we can as I’m still traveling and things are crazy until the government’s budget is set. Thankfully, we continued with simple school days throughout the summer, so we are “ahead” for the calendar.

So here we go again. The summer is gone and school has returned. I’m not sad. I like my routine, and I’m tired of washing towels and bathing suits. I’m ready for sweaters and hot cocoa and fires. I’m so grateful for the changing seasons… life is never boring that way!

Quickest update

How is it April already? Our days just seem to fly right by any more. I find myself willing time to slow down and it just ignores me. Why? Because it doesn’t care… it’s me that wishes the little ones would stay little just a bit longer.

We have 13 more days of school left. We got into a wonderful groove with school this year and I’m going to continue it for sure. Three days of school over the summer and then 4 days throughout the school year. With me working and needing to travel from time to time, this works out well for us and we don’t feel burnt out or bored.

Oh. Another way to keep things interesting? Keeping track of the books you read. I started a GoodReads list with kids books for 2017. Some Liam has read, some we read together and some were audiobooks. Regardless, we now have a list so we can see what we’ve read through and keep growing our list. If you download the GoodReads app on your phone, you can even scan the book cover to enter it onto you list. It’s super fun.

We also discovered the show Mysteries of the Museum. It was a random scanning through the stations discovery. And boy I tell you, we just got sucked in. I find myself sinking into the couch to watch “just one more” episode. I need to know all the details of history. We’ve got it all set up on the dvr to record every. single. episode.

 

Thoughts on the First Semester

The kids are at co-op right now. I packed them up at 8 am and they headed off, backpacks loaded down with books to return and light lunchboxes for they had the opportunity to order their lunches today for the first time. They are ordering because I didn’t feel like making lunches that will be sent home, yet again. Oh yes, one of the greatest perks of homeschooling has been that I don’t have to pack lunches. With our switch to an all gluten-free house, finding things Liam will eat that can be packed has become increasingly challenging.

I spent my morning organizing their school records. I’m in my third year of homeschooling, but this is my first year with both kids who have school work that needs to be recorded and kept track of. I bought a banker’s box off Amazon that has metal handles and is large enough to have textbooks and papers stored. For the time being, I’ve got it all in one box, but eventually, I’ll have to purchase more. I stood there for a while, admiring my giant binder clipped stacks of worksheets and neatly organized textbooks. I took out the little booklets Liam made last year and flipped through the memories and re-read his journal sheets. Good memories.

So this first semester has passed. Grade cards are completed and I’m planned for the next quarter. I’m pretty pleased with my work. I’m pleased with the kids’ work too. Liam has taken an interest in cursive handwriting and so we started that on Monday. Sylvi feels she should also be working on it so I suppose I will have to get her a book as well.

Today is my first break that included silence in probably two months. Between working from home and homeschooling and teaching Sunday school and life in general, I don’t get much silence. I enjoy silence. It felt indulgent to sit quietly at my table checking records and ordering library books, but my did it get done quickly. So quickly, I may not only complete all my goals, but accomplish a few more tasks.

My goal for this year is to keep better records. Over the years, we have read so many books, but I haven’t recorded them. I always mean to, but I don’t. Last year, I kept track of my own personal reading and I loved seeing my total last weekend. So I set up a goodreads list to keep track of the books we read for the kids this year. I’ll be including the audiobooks as well since both kids are absolutely captivated by listening to them in the car as we travel between classes and errands. I’m excited to see where this lands us in 12 months!

To close, here’s where are sitting with our school progress at this point in the year!

Liam: 

  • Lesson 45 in Saxon 3 for math
  • Lesson 15 in comprehension (we do one a week)
  • Lesson 28 in Volume 1 of Story of the World (Liam has taken charge of this subject and listens to the audio book version all day and even at night. I check in frequently, and give him the chapter tests. At this point in the year, he has only missed one question. I keep track of the additional resources that are included in the teacher’s manual and get extra books from the library to follow along with the lessons.)
  • Phonics and reading are at the halfway point of lessons, but Liam is also reading in the evenings with us so he’s reading more than what the curriculum dictates.
  • English 2 has been a bit of a challenge. Liam is bored by the curriculum, and I plan to make a change next year, but for the time being we continue to work through the lessons. He’s got a good grasp on the parts of speech and grammar, but writing is not his jam. He can tell you anything you’d like to know about a sentence, but to write that sentence? Nope.
  • Handwriting without Tears, introduction to cursive – just begun.
  • Step 21 of 25 in All About Spelling level 2. I’ve stopped a few times throughout the year to do reviews of the spelling rules and words and he has done well. We will continue on to level 3 in a month or so.
  • Astronomy is running out of steam. We will be visiting the Air and Space museum next week and I’m looking into the audiobook version of our textbook to keep his interest. Liam has discovered the science channel and asks to watch it whenever he can.

Sylvia:

  • Handwriting without Tears Kindergarten. She’s almost done with this book and even though she wants to move on to cursive, I plan to continue with the next HWT book on printing.
  • We began Saxon Math 1 this week and she’s just buzzing along. I did the ABeka kindergarten math last semester and while she liked the pictures, it was just too easy. I’m glad to be moving on.
  • We took a break from Phonics for about two months and now she’s back at it, whipping through the lessons. She needed those months to get a better grip on her speech so she could hear the sounds in her own ears before she could apply them to the lessons.
  • She’s on lesson two in All About Reading 1. I took my time introducing this book, waiting on her speech as well. She places a great deal of pressure on herself during the sight word portion of the lessons so I am working on how to address this.
  • We did the requisite kindergarten science book that the Independent Studies program asked us to do, but that only took  few weeks. When your children are raised by a science-crazy, homeschooling mom, it’s hard to follow certain books. Sylvia has been participating in the Astronomy work alongside Liam all year as well.
  • In addition to The Story of the World, Sylvia is completing the required social studies book from the IS program as well. We don’t like it.

Both kids together are listening to Adventures in Odyssey for Bible. We aren’t attending Adventure club on Wednesday nights because of how late it runs, but the kids are enjoying this option. Liam takes Jiu-jitsu 2-3 days a week and has private guitar lessons once a week. Sylvia takes ballet lessons on Tuesdays and a combo ballet/tap class on Saturdays. And they are still working with a counselor who addresses Liam’s obsessive behaviors and anxiety disorder. Sylvia attends most of the sessions and I’ve loved watching her blossom socially as a result.

That’s where we are for school! Now that it’s all written out, I think I know why we are all so tired at the end of the day!

 

Day 13

I must admit that the last three weeks have gone by surprisingly fast. I had no idea that homeschooling two children would be so simply complicated. Yes. Simple and complicated at the same time. I don’t understand it either.

I remember my brother’s kindergarten year. I was in third grade and pretty offended that his work took less than half an hour to complete. I prepared Liam for this possibility. Thus far, he hasn’t been upset about Sylvia doing her work and leaving the table while he plugs along. Let’s take a moment and raise our coffee mugs in gratitude, shall we? She rejoins us when we do science and history and so far, it’s a system that is working very well.

While I type this, Liam is doing his phonics worksheets. He’s also lecturing me about the habits of hummingbirds. We have bird feeders outside the dining room window and often suspend our work to watch the hummingbirds zip back and forth. We may need to add another feeder or two in the spring. I haven’t witnessed any territoriality, but I’d like to keep encouraging their visits as much as possible!

One of the things that surprised me the most about school this year would be how much Liam is enjoying our world history study. We are using the book Story of the World and he is just absorbing every detail. I’ll admit that it makes the class so fun for me because we are currently studying the ancient Egyptians and that was the first historical period I remember studying and thoroughly enjoying.

I think one of the most complicated parts about homeschooling for me is the time. I love my children and spending time with them, but when we are in school mode, I can substitute our school time that we spend working in place of playing. So then life becomes all about work. I’m an all about work sort of person, so this doesn’t bother me, but they are too young (and mentally healthy!) to be like this, so they crave play. It’s probably a sad state of affairs that I have to learn how to play. But, to be fair, I don’t think 80s parents did that so this super-factual and old-souled mom has to be her own example.

We are really focusing on read-alouds and legos and playmobil and dolls. Those I can do. We played in the pool a lot this summer, often with me being the oddball mom doing cannonballs off the diving board or chasing them around the deep end. But the pool is now closed, so I’ve got to be more creative. I’m learning.

So school is simple. Life is complicated. But it’s all good. Really. The kids have their first day of co-op tomorrow and uniforms have been tried on and waistbands adjusted. I’ll pack lunches tonight and we will walk to the school building the morning, taking photos and waving goodbye. And on Monday, we will start it all over again with our math books and stories about the ancient Egyptians in our pjs.

First Day

Today was our first day of school. I got up early, showered and did my hair. I felt like I should start the school year off on a good note. A together note. I also took myself to Starbucks for coffee. It’s the first day of school, I should celebrate in my own way, right?

School went well. Liam is working through second grade and Sylvia is in Kindergarten. We have repurposed most of the dining room furniture for our school room. I often wonder what my Grandmother would think if she were to see her buffet filled with books and supplies, the silverware drawers housing stickers and notecards and extra pencils. Would she be horrified that I recovered her gold brocaded chairs in navy blue duck cloth for easy cleaning? I know she would faint if she were to ever see the art projects that take place on the table.

But it’s what works for us. I’m learning to do what works for us without apology. While I sit here typing, sauce for spaghetti is simmering on the stove and brownies bake in the oven. I’m thirty-five years old now and have just finally figured out what sauce is for our family. I’ve been working on the recipe for 10 years. TEN years. I’m Italian, you’d think it would be easier. But it’s not. And you know what else it isn’t? It’s not fast.

Turns out, the key to making sauce we all want to lick off the plates is three hours. Just three hours of simmering and slowness. Efficiency is my love language and I’ve spent the better part of my life trying to make everything quick. But sauce is not quick. And it seems I should not be either. My life, my breath, is so much more when I am slow.

These days, I start supper hours before we plan to eat it. Our food is slow. And in accepting a slower pace for our food, we’ve invited the Slow into the rest of our lives. Someone asked me what my schedule for the school year would be. I don’t know. I know how long it should take to cover all our materials, but it doesn’t matter. The beauty of our Slow life is that we don’t have to be chained to expectations. If we need an hour for phonics today, then so be it. If we need to put our nose in the books and power through five math lessons, we can do it. I don’t have the weight of I should have hanging over my head any more.

The brownies are almost done baking. They are from a mix. They are gluten free and guaranteed to not hurt anyone’s tummy. And that is good enough. I like to bake. I like to bake a lot. But gluten free baking can be so temperamental, I decided to cut myself some slack. Yes, I’d like to be able to do these things from scratch, but it’s not in the cards right now. So I am grateful for those people who have the skills to create mixes that turn out perfectly every. time.

Today was a good day. I think we hit a rhythm that could be sustainable. But the season will change and so will our activities. With that shift, we may need to alter the rhythm, as much as I enjoyed today’s. But if I have learned anything in the last 7 years of parenting, the schedule is not worth the drama.

Garden of Weedin’

I know, it’s not the most amazing title you’ll ever read, but right now, that’s exactly what it is. We’ve been pretty faithful about watering, but I tell you, the weeding gets me every year! This year, we planted shallots, leeks, 4 kinds of lettuce, kale, jalapenos, lunchbox peppers, Sicilian peppers, Roma tomatoes, Big Boy tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, Royal Burgundy Green beans and carrots.

Lessons so far:

  • Leeks are really tiny seedlings
  • Vito won’t bother the shallots – they smell onion-y already
  • Vito still really likes green beans – he’s been rooting through all the leaves looking for the harvest already!
  • Carrots take forEVER to grow
  • Weeding around leeks and shallots is incredibly time consuming.
  • We are doing to need more supports for the tomatoes. There are so many blossoms!

Every morning, I get up and drink my coffee while I water. It’s such a peaceful routine. I put a lot of effort into the soil this year, finding good compost and adding soil to the areas that were too clay like. That alone has helped the herb garden immensely. Our own compost is pitiful, so I’ve gottena ton of books out of the library to hopefully remedy that!