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Friday, August 11, 2017

Penelope is four.

Sometimes Penelope will ask me, "How old was I when I was a baby?"

She's not a baby anymore.  She's four.

She's way passed naps unless they are in the car

.  She washes her own hair.  She ditched her crib for bunk beds.  She successfully executed the role of flower girl.  Her hair has grown really long, and she's headed to preschool this fall.

She told me I could cancel preschool, though.  She is super skeptical of all new people, but I really think she'll enjoy it.

She has some favorite things.  Yogrit.  Her favorite food pronounced just so.

I sat down to write this, and Penelope came up to my desk and said, "Granola helps you with running.  And that's good because I'm trying to run as fast as a Cheetah.  That's why I like Cheetahs."

Yogrit and granola go well together.

She likes her bicycle dress and gold skirt.  She ALWAYS wears her red boots.  They turn a lot of heads and get lots of awes.  She decided Julian was her "best brother".  Schroeder seems unphased, but she plays minecraft with both of them.  She likes Coldplay and Moana and Hamilton.  She likes pink. She likes YouTube.

She watches these Baby Alive videos on YouTube.  She discovered she could turn water into juice by drawing with marker on a piece of paper and then putting the paper in the water.  Instant "orange", "mango", or "lime" juice!  Then the baby pees it out immediately.  She spent hours and hours doing this with her doll.

She has been asking for months for a Snackin' Baby Alive.  You can feed it playdoh snacks.  Then, a month before her birthday, she decided she would rather have LEGOs.  So that's what she got, and she spent her whole birthday building them.  She's my first girl who has really enjoyed LEGOs.

We had a little playdate party the morning of her birthday.  Some of her favorite friends came.  She received a beanie boo, which I've recently discovered our this generation's version of beanie babies.

When we went on vacation this summer, she asked me daily, "Mom, do you miss Georgie?  Because I miss Georgie."  Even if all her siblings are at school, she still has that dog.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Schroe is eight!

Schroeder is eight.  Eight is great, fingers crossed.

His birthday always falls smack in the middle of spring break.  We've been out of town for his birthday the last two years.  It's been nice, this year, to be home to celebrate.  He asked for a couple of things.

First, he wanted a sleepover.  I said NO.

Then he asked for a Nerf gun battle with some of his friends.  I told him to pick 7-8 to invite.  We planned to have them over to a park, but it was raining.  The battle ended up being in our house, but I was smart and only planned the party to last two hours.

Besides the party, he asked for a watch and a Fitbit.  I was excited that he asked for something other than LEGOs, Pokemon cards, or a video game (although he did receive all of these from his friends).  My parents got him a Garmin Vivofit Jr. and now he is obsessed with counting his steps and timing every activity.  "Mom, we've been in Target for 12 minutes and 35 seconds.  How much longer is this going to take?"

He also wanted Stephen to take him to breakfast at Lincoln Pancake House.

This time last year, Schroeder's reading was just taking off.  He was finishing up a tough school year.  I'm not sure that Schroeder would reflect on it as a tough year, but it was tough for me.  And, although he was practically failing first grade, He had been invited to attend the district's high ability school.  For lots of reasons, we decided to keep him where he was.

His teacher this year has been so kind and patient.  She really sees humor and intelligence in him.  She has encouraged me so much, and Schroeder really digs her.  He isn't just reading, but really loving it.  At Christmas, he suggested I buy him anything by Arnold Lobel, the author of Frog and Toad books.  He is also a huge fan of the My Weird School Series.  The author, Dan Gutman just came to speak at their school.  He picked Alice in Wonderland off our bookshelf the other day, and asked me to buy Charlotte's Web for him a the book fair.  He said, "I love this movie so much, I want to discover the book." Now he's starting to help Maggie learn to read.

But he's still super impulsive.

His kindergarten teacher (who is now Maggie's teacher) found a photo of Schroe on her phone.  She had given him (and his sixth grade reading buddy) some flour and a tray to practice spelling out words.  She turned around a bit later to find them both laying on the ground pouring flour on themselves.  (These pants are navy not stone washed.)

And while he is learning self-control and self-management I'm guessing we'll have moments of ridiculousness like this in our future.  For example, I found a box of Tic Tacs he stole from Target under his pillow on his birthday.

I mentioned in his birthday post last year that his favorite game was chess, although I wasn't sure he actually knew how to play.  I thought maybe he was using pretend rules. Well, he does know.  He played his Uncle Alex at Christmas.  I'm not sure where he learned this.

Schroeder has always had this physical fearlessness.  We took him ice skating for the first time.  He wasn't tentative.  He just went for it.  He fell often, but he fell the way I would imagine a drunk person would, really loosey goosey.  And then he would jump up just as quick and skate on.  He was skating fast and whipping his snow hat around like a lasso.

He finally started to loose some of his baby teeth.  We had an appointment to have the four bottom center teeth pulled because two of the adult teeth were already popping through behind them. Two of them fell out before we had the appointment.  Somehow, this delayed development feels like a pattern for Schroe.

He joined Cub Scouts this year, and I think he looks pretty adorable in his uniform.  He hangs it on the post of his bed.  Stephen saw it on his bed one day and had this image of him preparing and wearing a military uniform.

He has become a big fan of sweaters and hugs recently.  His hair is impossible mostly because he could care less and I care too much but not enough to pay someone to cut it.

When he is stressed or sad, he cries.  And it is so tender and sweet and silent.  His words never betray him, but his tears do.  Julian gets frustrated with it because he doesn't react the same way.  Schroeder doesn't have a temper like Julian does.

Anyway.  I love him.  Plus here are some photos of him on his birthday.  He wanted you to see these Pokemon cards.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Is our house too small? (or is it really too big?)

My mother-in-law asked me a while ago if we planned to buy a larger house.  It was an innocent question.  We have five children who are getting bigger every year.   I felt instantly defensive, though. We already have a large house.  I spend SOOO much of my time maintaining it.  We have 2,504 square feet;  three bedrooms, three bathrooms, three living spaces, one dining room, and one kitchen.  That's eleven rooms.  Our whole family can be home, yet, relaxing in different spaces.  This is helpful to maintain sanity, but sometimes I think it helps me hide from my family.  (I'm kind of crappy at spending quality time with my people.)

I'm aware though, that our house has a lot of shared space, and very little private space.  Our kids have their own beds and their own drawers for clothes.  (Stephen and I also have our own sinks in our bathroom.) Otherwise, everything else is communal space.  I think our culture places a high value on individual, private space which we've kind of rejected.

Not only do I not want anything bigger, I dream of living in a smaller space.

When we were living in San Antonio, before we found out we were pregnant with Maggie Lu, we had plans to move to Portland, Oregon.  We've never been to Portland, but I spent a lot of time online getting familiar with the neighborhoods in Portland, looking for schools and houses.  Housing is expensive out there.  I started to comprehend that to afford a house in the city, we would probably need to purchase something with less than 1,200 square feet.

And I was kind of excited by the challenge.  I was dreaming of murphy beds and transforming spaces for different purposes.  I wanted to design rooms that could be used 24 hours a day.

We didn't move to Portland, though.  We found out that my sister was expecting triplets.  I was expecting Maggie unexpectedly, and we moved back to Indy to be close to family.  We wanted to live downtown, and we could afford more than 1,200 square feet in Indianapolis.  (We bought at the right time, though.  Prices for homes in downtown Indy have nearly doubled since we bought our house six years ago.)

Seven people and a dog live here.  If you divide 2,504 by 7, you arrive at 357 square feet per person.

In America today, the average square footage per person is nearly 1,000.  That's double what it was in the 70's.

So, basically, our house is on the small side considering how many people live here.  At least for the new American standard.

A while ago, I stumbled on the instagram account of our kids' principal.  She recently sold her home and moved to a condo downtown with her husband and two kids.  In her feed, she was sharing about the decision as a means to avoid spending loads of time working on house projects and maintenance.   I don't have a ton of social media envy, but I definitely had a moment of rethinking my whole life.  Why were we living in this big old house?  Yeah, we have a lot of kids.  Why did we have so many kids?

This January, Stephen took D'arcy to the Women's march.  He happened to meet up with some CFI families including the principal, and ended up visiting her condo for lunch.  Guess what I was doing?  Laying tile.  ALL DAY LONG.  I was doing a grueling (for me) home improvement project while he ate butternut squash soup at her maintenance free condo.

To answer my very loving mother-in-laws' innocent question, we have no plans to move to something bigger.  We really LOVE living downtown. We've put a lot of work into our home over the last couple of years to make it functional and beautiful (to us).  I think we would be hard pressed, anymore, to find anything either bigger (or smaller) in our preferred price range around here.  And, in my view, it doesn't make great financial sense to rent.  (We're actually not that far from owning this house outright.)

But, hey, Check out this guys' condo that he shares with his five kids.  This is kind of what (my) dreams are made of.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I'm trying on minimalism.

In May 2015, Stephen and I took a trip to San Antonio to photograph a wedding.  My dear friend who hosted us, Joy, mentioned a book she had just read called "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying-Up".  She was sharing some breakthroughs it was providing her.  Several months later, another friend mentioned the book.  That prompted me to borrow the book from the library and give it a read.

My full time job is stuff manager.  I manage stuff.  Clean clothes, dirty clothes, spring clothes, fall clothes, coats, hats, gloves, books, clean dishes, dirty dishes, homework papers, art supplies, wrapping materials, sewing supplies, puzzles, games, LEGOS, soap, cleaning products, towels, sheets, furniture, food, bikes, shoes, backpacks.

I shop for it.  I buy it.  I find space for it.  I put it away.  I clean it.  I store it for next season.  I get rid of it when the time is right.

I manage stuff for SEVEN people.  Sometimes they help.  Sometimes they make my stuff management job way more difficult.  Then they'll shrug.  That makes me go f-ing MAD.  I can feel the anger start in my heels and rise crazy fast up my body, and before I know it, I'm yelling this sentence.

"Are YOU KIDDING ME?!  I've spent all day managing stuff for YOU, and you have the AUDACITY to SHRUG at me?"

Many years, I've made the New Year's Resolution to work on my yelling.  I thought I just needed to build up enough self control to stop the explosion of anger.  In Fall 2014, I went to a MOPS conference in Louisville.  One speaker mentioned a mom who made a goal of going 365 straight days without yelling at her kids.  I went to her website,  It suggested that I figure out why I was yelling, and develop some strategies of how to manage those situations.

I yell a lot because of stuff.

I think I've always tried to minimize the stuff I manage, but there is a practical reality to owning things.  Everyone needs clothes, coats, hats, gloves, dishes, soap, cleaning products, towels, sheets, furniture, food, shoes, and bags.  Plus, art supplies, puzzles, games, LEGOS, and bikes make life a lot more fun.  We own stuff for a reason.

I read "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying-Up" and the author says you should only own stuff that brings you joy.

Here are some reasons why I owned stuff that had nothing to do with joy.
1.  My kids have outgrown this, but what if a baby comes over and they need somewhere to sit or something to play with?
2.  What if I want to listen to the music of my youth someday and can't find it anymore?  
3.  This book defines me as a person or defined a stage of my life.  If someone looks at my bookshelf, I want them to be able to have a full sense of who I am.
4.  This was so important to me as a kid/teenager.  I want to share it with my kid when they reach that age.
5.  This is a high quality item.  It isn't going to fall apart for a long time.  (Especially since I never use it.)
6.  I have to keep this set intact!  These mugs go with those plates!!
7.  Someone I love (or sort of like) gave this to me. 
8.  I made this.  My kids made this. I know who made this!  
9.  This is extra of stuff I use.  If I ever run out, I can keep this on hand to replace it.  That theoretically saves money.
10.  I have no idea what is on this old phone, computer or cd, but what if something irreplaceable is on it? 
11.  This could be valuable some day!  I've always dreamed of being on The Antique Roadshow.  
12.  I paid a lot of money for this.  
13.  This is too nice to go to goodwill.  They'll sell it for nothing.  I should really find a new owner who will appreciate this item's value.
14.  Goodwill won't take this extra soap, but I can't just throw it away.  It has value.
15.  This item is old.  It was owned by my grandma.  It held up so well because she didn't even use it, but she didn't get rid of it and neither can I.

In the Fall of 2015, I started sorting through our stuff.  I put all similar items together, and touched each one.  I asked myself three questions.  Does this bring me joy?  Do I use this (not in the theoretical sense)?  Is this a duplicate? 

I was determined to get rid of anything that didn't pass the test.  My stuff was holding me hostage with guilt.  "Don't get rid of me.  I belong to a set!"  "Don't you remember that you paid a lot of money for me?!"  

I worked on my clothes, my kitchen, our books, and the kids toys.  I made my kids participate.  

Me: "Julian, do you want this item?"  
Julian: Shrug. He throws it in his closet.
Me with Angry Eyes:  "Pick it up and hold it!  Does it bring you joy?"
Julian: "What?  What does that even mean?"  

I don't want the tale to be that I threw out all their stuff.  I didn't.  I haven't.  I AM making us think about why we own the stuff we have because either I'm managing it or I'm managing them managing it.  And I'm tired of yelling.  

In September 2016, I went over to my friend Brooke's house.  She had just done some intense decluttering spurred on by Marie Kondo, too.  Her house was epically tidy.  I came home with a realization that I had really only begun.  

I worked through my clothes, kitchen, and books, again.  I went through our sheets and blankets.  I went through all our bags.  I went through my sewing and craft supplies.  I sorted our photos, DVDs, and CDs.  

It's made a difference.  If we all work together, we can tidy our house, top to bottom, in record time.  I spend less time organizing, picking up, and cleaning by myself.  I think we aren't as overwhelmed with the task.  That leads to less whining and less yelling.  

Not too long ago, I found some of my daughter's toys out in the piano room.  Instead of feeling annoyed by stuff, I had this intense joy of seeing this reminder of the fact that five kids are learning and growing in this house.  The stuff we have brings me joy.  It kind of feels like freedom.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

I'm working on a capsule kitchen.

Feeding a family is hard, important work.  

A while ago, I began to cultivate a habit to do three things each morning; load the dishwasher, put a load of laundry in the washer, and decide what we will eat for dinner.  These are the chores that keep our home running.  

If I don't make a plan for dinner in the morning, 4pm will sneak up on me.  I'll feel exhausted and incapable of being decisive.  My meat won't be thawed, and we no longer have a microwave to do that job quickly.  The kids will end up eating Mac and cheese and Stephen and I will spend $25 for Thai food from Siam Square. 

I value variety at our dinner table.  I value making seasonal recipes that use seasonal ingredients.  I value using real food to make healthy dinners.  

I value being frugal.  My budget for groceries is $600 a month.  This includes our cleaning supplies.  The four kids who go to school eat breakfast, lunch, and a fruit or veggie snack at school for free which provides a huge savings for our family.  Stephen's work provides snacks, good coffee, and sometimes lunch for him.  

I should say, that I have no real ability to gauge whether $600 is a small or large budget for a family of seven.  Also, we exceed this often by about $100.  It's interesting to see what other people spend, but I know that each family is unique in makeup, values, and income.  I will never have an apples to apples comparison.  Comparison isn't important for comparison's sake, but I think it leads to learning from others and improving your own process.

I value my time.  I want to make dinner in 45 minutes or less, preferably with prep time being 20 minutes or less. 

Shopping for and making a new recipe feels ten times harder than making one I know well. This conflicts with my value for variety.  

I stumbled upon the idea of a capsule kitchen on a blog called Less,Please. Then I did a search to get other takes, and discovered

I started by doing a kitchen clean out.  I've been working to declutter all areas of my home for about a year and a half.  I've sorted through the kitchen once, but it needed a second pass through.  I purged some extra dishes, tupperware, pitchers, and baking dishes.   I sorted through my spices, and my pantry.  

I started to make a list of ingredients that are staples in my kitchen.  I decided that I did not like the idea of simply selecting 33 ingredients to purchase and make all of my meals from.  That still left a lot of room to feel overwhelmed with the question, "What recipe am I going to make for dinner?"  

Instead, I decided that I would start with making a list of recipes that I would make for dinner.  I have about 30-40 recipes that are I know.  I know that my family likes them.  I know what ingredients are needed for them.  I know how much time they will take.  When I've meal planned before, I've tried to use twenty of them every month, and I've also tried to add a new one.  It's just too much.  

With this idea of a capsule kitchen, I selected nine meals that make sense for the season. One of them is a new to me recipe.  We are going to repeat these meals every two weeks for two months.  

  1. Hamburgers w-slaw & fries
  2. Italian Turkey Meatloaf w- stuffing & green beans
  3. Chilli
  4. Chicken Parmesan w-veggies
  5. Shepherds pie
  6. Zuppa Toscana Soup (the new to me recipe) 
  1. Spaghetti
  2. Frozen Pizza w/carrots
  3. Yellow Rice/Black Bean Burritos

I've started ordering my groceries online and picking them up at Kroger.  I make an order every two weeks.  It's worth every penny of the $5 fee.  It's inevitable that I will forget items, though, and need to head to the downtown Marsh to grab them.  

I'm limiting my recipes, therefore, limiting the ingredients that I need to purchase.  I have a list of 50 items that I need to purchase from the store to make all these recipes as well as feed us breakfast and lunch.  This list will stay the same for two months, leaving me with really zero thinking and planning to do.  

I get really excited about new ideas on how to run my house more efficiently.  Stephen got an earful about this whole plan.  I think he gets weary of all my planning and housekeeping scheming, but he is game for whatever I need to do to make dinner easier.  (He just folded all of his t-shirts using the Kon Marie method.  I think I'm slowly convincing him that this stuff is worthwhile.)  

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Julian is 10!

Julian is a decade old.  He hasn't had a proper birthday party in years.  We celebrated with a party at Laser Tag for him and a few of his school friends.  He received LEGOs.  Surprise!

I've wanted Julian to be excited about life beyond LEGOs and video games.  I've worried, a little, if that would ever happen.  Twenty five year old men who don't realize that there is life beyond video games exist.  They do.  This last year, I've seen him find joy in lots of areas.  It's been a privilege and a relief to watch.

He loves books.  Many days I'll find him an hour before wake up call reading in his bed with his head lamp.  He finished up The Lorien Legacies Series this year.  He knew the date that the final book would be released.  What a nerd.  He has also read some Harry Potter, The Indian in the Cupboard, Wonder, and now he is working on The Hobbit.

Stephen signed the kids up for a Coder Dojo class.  They learn to code with a program called Scratch.  Julian really digs it.  Periodically, he has projects to do for school, and it always feels like a fight to get him to complete them.  This last time, he decided to use Scratch to make his presentation.  He was super excited and motivated.  He worked hard and made it super fun.

He's embracing work at home, too.  He used to growl at us when we asked him to do anything.  Stephen and I have decided to give the kids more choices this year.  I'll say, "Julian, you can either empty the dishwasher or go rake up dog poop in the backyard."  "Julian, you can either take out the trash and recycle or go clean the sink and toilet in your bathroom."  Now, he has favorite chores that he moves like lightning to do so he doesn't get stuck with the ones he doesn't like.

Julian went to SpringHill camp this summer.  I was actually really nervous to leave him.  There is a zipline and a huge climbing wall and a big bouncy blob in the lake.  Despite the fact that he has proven himself to be a confident swimmer this year, Julian can be anxious about activities like this.  He did great, though.  His counselors gave him an award at the end of his stay acknowledging his determination.  He only complained about the lack of sleep he got.  He said, "I don't think those boys slept the entire time we were there, and I had a hard time sleeping through their noise."

We went tent camping as a family of seven for the first time.  Everyone gave it a thumbs up.  Julian suggested we go for a whole week in the future.  However, he told me that camping didn't mean we couldn't use electronics.  "It's not the 80's, mom."

But he's learning to really enjoy nature and a good hike.  We walked past a little spot on our camping trip that he decided looked like a "Kermit the Frog" spot.  He was excited to take everyone back there to have a look.

He's thinking more about spiritual things.  I picked him up from an overnight at his cousin's house.  He told me that he and Gabe had told each other their testimonies.  I was surprised.  I asked him what he meant by a testimony.  He said, "You know.  It's like that "Draw My Life" YouTube channel except you add stuff about God."

We've been taking turns sharing life testimonies at church so I asked him if he wanted to share one Sunday.  He said, "No."

But, Yes, to YouTube...especially the Dan TDM YouTube channel.

His grammy gave him a necklace that says "The Lord is My Strength".  Grammy's friend made them and prayed over them.  Julian wore his daily for the entire spring.  He told me once that he didn't want to touch it because he didn't want to rub the prayers off.

Julian's favorite word is Sup.  It's not just that he says it often, he officially declared it his favorite word.  He is obsessed with the Illuminati and Minecraft.  His favorite song is "Can't Stop the Feeling".  It commands him to dance, and he obeys.  He's always asking when we will have another dance party at church.  Not long ago he said, "Mom, I hate Justin Beiber songs, but I kind of love this Justin Beiber song."  Life is confusing.

He was excited to play soccer for his school this Fall.  He took his position on the field really seriously and wouldn't leave his little box.

Three hundred out of 365 days this year, he wore this stocking cap I bought him at the secondhand store.  By June, I was like, "REALLY?"

Penelope calls him her "Best Brother".  I'm not sure what this means for Schroeder.

Julian was fairly invested in this election.  A week beforehand, He said, "Could we just keep Obama for another four years?"

The day before, Julian told me that we were going to stay up till midnight to find out the results.  As we sat down election evening to watch the results come in, he informed me that a candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win.  He said, "Mr. Frick came to tell us all about the election today at school."

Schroeder asked, "Did you just say the F word?"

Julian went on to say, "I didn't vote for Todd Young because Todd Young is hurting Hoosiers."  I guess he saw that commercial.  And while it was sort of funny and cute, I dream of a day when he'll use his own mind to create his own opinions on political candidates.

He made it till 10pm because, again, the boy knows when he needs to sleep.