7 Steps to a Clean Home with the Help of Joyful Children (One Method of Teaching Responsibility While Growing Closer as a Family)

I truly feel this entire concept was inspired by the Holy Spirit, or maybe even Mother Mary whispering wisdom into my ear.  Whatever the case, one moment I was standing in the kitchen calling my children to attention (with frustration and despair bogging down my mind) and the next moment, four of my children (ages 10, 8, 7 and 6) were happily and busily cleaning the entire house without one grumble or complaint!  Follow these simple steps to get similar results in your home.

Step 1:  Breathe.  Remember that they are children and children will make messes, explore and be creative.  Remember that they are capable of amazing things and allow them the room to show you their strengths.  Don’t expect perfection.

Step 2:  Divide the main areas of your house into Zones.  Don’t include bathrooms, bedrooms, or other “private” areas in your Zones.  Try to create one Zone per person.

Step 3:  Let the kids pick their cleaning Zone.  So far, I have had not arguments over who gets which Zone.  If a disagreement should happen then come up with a fair way of choosing: have them draw straws, roll dice, go from youngest to oldest, etc.

Step 4:  Explain the scoring system to the kids and put it up on a chart or white board as you explain.  Stay with me here as this is where it can get complicated.  Maybe say something along these lines:

     Your Zone will be scored on the following points: cleanliness (how well you do in picking up toys, trash and other misplaced items and putting them in their proper place); speed (how quickly you get the job done WELL; not just hurry up, but diligently work on your task to do the job well and completely–think perseverance and diligence); and attitude (Are you joyful or grumpy?).  These will be scored on a scale from 0-5, with 5 being the best possible score.  These scores will be added together to get your subtotal.  Everyone with me? [demonstrate on the white board].

Then say, “Now, you are all different ages and have different abilities.  To account for this, I will assign a Degree of Difficulty to your Zone based on your age and ability AND the extent to which you clean the room.”  A Degree of Difficulty of “1” is the basic pickup of the floor and flat surfaces; but a “5” would be if you cleaned under the sofa, organized the book shelf, vacuumed the floor, mopped the tile, etc.  The more you do, the higher the Degree of Difficulty becomes.  The reason why this is important is because your subtotal will be MULTIPLIED by your Degree of Difficulty to get your final score. [Demonstrate on the board how 15  x 1 is 15, but 15 x 5 is 75]  Let them give you different scores to see how it affects the total. [Bonus math lesson here ;-)]

zones

Step 5.  When the children complete their zone to their satisfaction, have them come to you and let you know that they are ready for scoring.  Then, with your full attention go into the room and inspect their job.  Be sure to give lots of positive feedback on the work they did well.  Don’t be afraid to make suggestions of where it could be improved, or hints about items that were overlooked.  Be generous, but honest with your score.  If my kids worked hard and gave it their all, I rarely score less than a 5.  In the above example, Zone 4 got a “4” in cleanliness because there was still quite a bit of trash on the floor and items on flat surfaces.  The Degree of Difficulty is the clincher here.  How much were they willing to put into their efforts?  My Zone 1 in the above example was the kitchen.  The 12 year old chose it with vigor and she delved into organizing cabinets and drawers, in addition to counters, floors and hand washing that her brother overlooked that morning.  That kind of effort deserved a perfect score for sure!  The Degree of Difficulty of 3 in the above example was the oldest child who chose to do the minimum effort.  He still had a great attitude and the room was picked up and vacuumed, so I explained that he could have earned a higher Degree of Difficulty by going under the furniture and straightening the bookshelves.  He did a great job, but it wasn’t going to be enough to win the contest.

Step 6.  Reward the top score with a prize.  I give 1st place 5 cents per point, 2nd place 1 cent per point and everyone else a quarter.  My children are still young at ages 6 to 13, so the prize is minimal.  If you have older children, then you might consider a higher payout–how much is a clean house worth after all?   The prize doesn’t have to be elaborate, but just a well-deserved reward for their effort.  At the end of this contest, your entire house will be picked up, vacuumed, spot mopped, and better organized than when you started.  Allow the reward to lift EVERYONE up, but still make the winner feel special for his/her effort.  Bask in their incredible efforts and boast on how enjoyable the home is when it is tidy and everyone works together well.  Sometimes we play a game, go swimming, or the kids watch a movie following the clean up—an activity to enjoy a job well done.

Step 7.  Repeat as needed to maintain the orderliness of the home, but not more frequently than once per week.  We decided to do “Zones” on Friday afternoons so we can enjoy a movie night and focus on family projects or outings on Saturdays.  This week my kids decided to do it on Thursday because the house had become quite messy and even they wanted the order back!  Hey, I’ll take it any day.

I would love to hear your feedback on how this works in your home, what changes you made, and what rewards were given.  I pray that you have as much success with it as I have had.  Truth be told the greatest reward for me has been the feeling of connection, that we really work well as a team, the Domestic Church’s version of the Body of Christ in action.

Edit:  I am usually working on my paying job while they are cleaning.  Sometimes, I clean an area as well, but don’t get scored in the contest.  Yesterday, they actually did all of the cleaning while I was gone for an appointment.  It was especially rewarding to come home to a clean house and to know the kids had matured to this level of responsibility without my direct oversight!  My goal here is not the clean house.  That is just a side benefit.  My goal is to grow relationships with my children as they learn to be responsible and independent members of our family and community.

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Brave New World

Seven weeks into the new school year a new groove has formed.  Life follows this new path revealing once unseen landscapes and vastly different views.  Yet, I can’t help but seek out the old and familiar sights.  Longing for the companionship of other adult women and seeking for social outlets for my remaining lone-homeschooled child, the Bible Study sounded like a perfect blend of opportunities for us. “Bring along your children, your Bible, your journal and pens,” the Facebook post beckoned to me.  It sounded like the superb opportunity beginning with the Holy Mass, ending in fellowship centered on the Word of God, and coming to a church in my neighborhood this Friday.

Daniel ran fever all day on Thursday, which meant no school on Friday and my plans for Bible Study seemed lost.  I crawled out of bed earlier than usual this Friday morning at 7:45.  Angela met me in the hall with bright eyes and excitement.  “Sorry,” I said, “we can’t go because Daniel is sick.”  She quickly offered a rebuttal that Dad was working from home today.  We could still make it if we hurried.  I glanced at the clock and dismissed morning Mass quickly.  I was barely out of bed and my regular routine takes 40 minutes.  But, I conceded that we could still make it to the Bible Study for 9:30.

We arrived to the welcoming greeting of one mother with her lively three boys and waited for the others.  After some time, we discovered that we were in the wrong room and a group of women and children could be found down the hall, already finished with the kids’ craft and Bible story.  Beautiful women, beautiful children and such a great opportunity being offered; yet, as I sat there I could hardly contain the anxiety welling up within me.  My own two children were calm and at ease with the coloring pages, but the activity in the room was proving too much for me to handle.  I tried to listen as one mother explained the hope for what the new group could become.  Something about rotating responsibility for overseeing the children while the other mothers met for discussion in an adjacent room.  All I could think was (and pardon my expression), “hell no!”  My energy was completely drained in a matter of minutes from the simple, normal activity of young children.  I attempted  to explain why I couldn’t/wouldn’t be able to oversee the children, but just felt completely awful about not being able to take a shift every other month.  After all, we only would be meeting every two weeks.  I politely thanked them all and truly enjoyed making their company, but I desperately needed to head home.  By the time I walked out of the room, I could barely walk.  This was not where I needed to be.  Not any more.

God has a way of stripping away our false identity in order to reveal our true selves–the self He created and wills.  My identity has been so closely tied to young children and mothering for so many years and now it is not.  I have a heart for mothers with young children because I know the struggles and joys so well.  But, for some reason God is blocking this path at this time in my life.  He seems to continue to refocus my energy to self awareness, self love and self care.  He knows that if I am in a room where others are struggling or children are in need, that I will pour my energy out to them and leave nothing for myself.  I know it too.  That is why my energy drained so quickly.  My body sensed it, and like a frustrated spouse throwing up his arms in exasperation, my body let the energy drain from itself as if to say, “Your going to give it away anyway, so what’s the point?”  But, I’m not.  I won’t be going back.  I will pray for the success of the group for the other mothers and their children.  It is a beautiful apostolate and truly needed, especially for homeschooling mothers.  I will, however, continue this journey of self discovery and for the opportunity for Angela to socialize while her siblings are at school.  While I will fondly remember the beautiful landscape of roads once traveled, I will try to embrace the ever changing landscape before me in each and every moment.  Part of me grieves for my old, familiar self: always a baby in the arms or a toddler on the hip (or both).  But, I know that I am called to serve another purpose now, to serve in a different capacity for the sake of God.  In the proper time, He will show it to me.

Off to School we Go!

God always, ALWAYS, is with us.  He provided me an opportunity to go on a private retreat the first weekend of August.  At this point, only Benjamin was accepted into school.  The others were on the waitlist in positions ranging from 10-27, which didn’t look too hopeful.  I struggled with grabbing back the familiar and the control.  It’s my default move to just take it all back and not trust in the bigger plan.  But, God patiently and lovingly spoke to me: to my heart in adoration and through the books I read.  I called Patrick and was so confident in God’s will for us that I was able to speak my need clearly and succinctly.  We had to enroll the kids in school and UME was the right school for us.  If they didn’t get in at first, then Patrick agreed to oversee the daily checklist and grading the Math and I would oversee the school during the day.  Our intermediate plan was to homeschool until they were accepted.  The next week a friend alerted me that the kids may not be listed as Benjamin’s siblings, which would affect the waitlist status.  Sure enough, when I called the school we discovered that a change in the computer system had left them detached from Benjamin.  When this error was corrected all the kids were moved up to positions ranging from 1 to 10.  It was a little sliver of hope and encouragement.

Benjamin started school on August 17.  I took all six kids with me to the Open House, so that in the event they were admitted they would be familiar with the school and some of the teachers.  Patrick was supposed to go with us, but his dentist appointment ran long and he could no longer meet up with us.  This event alone would have put me into a full panic attack just a mere 6 months ago.  But, God equips us to do His will.  There was no anxiety within me.  We saw a few families that we knew, but mostly it felt as if we just floated from room to room in a bubble, met the teachers we needed to meet and I left feeling excited and at peace about the new possibilities.  This is God’s grace in action.

By Friday, Daniel, Samuel and Sophia were enrolled.  One week later Joshua began his first day of 7th grade.  It only took 10 days for five of the six kids to be fully enrolled!  While I was on retreat, it looked like it could be the next semester or not at all; but, God was just giving me the opportunity to put my trust in Him.  He is such a loving, gentle and patient teacher.

So, we happily pack our lunches and backpacks, the kids cheerily skip off to school each morning and I sit drinking my coffee and lay by the pool soaking in the quiet.  Not a all.  The early mornings are a definite struggle.  Patrick oversees breakfast, getting the kids awake and dressed, and takes them to Shelly’s. (We carpool with a friend, but our car is the only one big enough to carry everyone, so it’s quite the system of exchanging vehicles in order to get the kids from point A to point B; but, it is also quite a blessing).  I haven’t slept well since school started, so my rising and my movement is very slow and limited.  I manage to get a few tasks accomplished and then I go to pick the kids up.  It is a 25 minute drive one direction.  We arrive home and dig into homework, which leads directly into dinner preparation and clean up, family reading time, prayers and bedtime.  This six-hour period of constant activity leaves me feeling like a wrung out washrag.  At the same time, Patrick is finishing a fourteen-hour work day and isn’t in much better shape.  After a week, the kids excitement and fascination with going to school has worn off and it takes a little more effort to get everyone motivated and moving.  Homeschooling was actually much easier and more efficient.  I won’t lie, I’ve already thought about throwing in the towel.

I was actually contemplating if we had made a huge mistake by putting them in school when I saw a video that my doctor posted on Facebook.  He spoke about walking through the fire.  He said things like “we always have something to learn” and “maybe it’s not about us, but about what other people see in our journey.” BAM!  God lead us to this path.  We are here at this moment, in this place for a reason.  It is hard, brutally difficult and challenging.  It is especially a struggle because I know that the hardships we are facing to make this school thing happen can be relieved by just going back to homeschooling.  But, I can not–must not–look back.  No, comparison and “what ifs” are the handy  work of the enemy.  God is calling us to go forward, to trust in Him completely.  He has a plan for us and the lesson in it is not only for me.  God wants to use our family and our story to show His goodness.  I will not stand in His way.

I beg your prayers for us during this time of transition.  We really are feeling the physical effects of this effort.  Pray for strength for us, for perseverance for all, and for all to learn the lesson that God is teaching us through the experience.  Thank you for journeying with me.

UPDATE:  In the midst of this transition, we have a new granddaughter!  Savannah Grace made her appearance at 5 am this morning.  And this Saturday we will gain a son when our daughter, Lauren celebrates the Sacrament of Matrimony with Matthew Perrier.  Such blessings in our lives!!  All Praise and Glory to God be given.

Arrow of God

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“An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. So when life is dragging you back with difficulties it means that it’s going to launch you into something great. So just focus, and keep aiming.” Unknown

A few weeks ago this quote came across Facebook in the form of a meme. It really jumped out at me, because after hitting the low in December 2013, I had really made strides of improvement. I thought I was over the hump in my health journey and things were going quite well. One year after my retreat, I was back to home schooling, managing the home and venturing out teaching classes on Essential Oils. January 2015 brought new struggles, however–and call it what you will (physical ailment or spiritual warfare)—each time I planned a class, a break, or down time I became ill and my wings were clipped once again. I dug deeper, prayed harder for more strength, more grace to carry my cross; but, I just couldn’t seem to get on top of it all. I thought I needed to do more or be more.

After several weeks of fighting this battle of my perceived weakness, I cried out in prayer, “Lord, make me stronger. Help me to carry this cross and offer up the suffering.” He answered. Not the way I was expecting though. On the way home from church that Sunday my left temple began to throb. By the time I crawled into bed I had a massive migraine that left me weaker than I began the day. As I lay crying and wishing the pain to stop, I quipped to my friend, “I just wish Jesus wouldn’t hug me so tightly. Dude, take the crown off first.” We laughed, but it brought some sense of peace knowing that I could unite my meager sufferings with His.

The migraine would last for five days. It was stressed induced, nothing major, nothing that couldn’t be healed.  But, it set me back. Back in bed. Back to severe adrenal fatigue. Back to no energy and relying on others to care for me. I am that arrow and God was pulling me back, so that He could make me fly even farther than I dreamed. He hasn’t released me yet. I sit taut, focusing, aiming, waiting for His perfect timing to hit the mark. I have had to look inward at my sinfulness and pride. I am learning to hand the control back over to Him and walk in complete faith. I am healing old wounds through humility, compassion, mercy and encouragement.

Humility in the form of panic attacks so crippling I couldn’t leave my room for weeks. I had to reach out—yet again—to ask for help in caring for my children. Yet, once I humbled myself, I was blessed with a pouring out of love and care that words of gratitude cannot suffice. My husband made changes of his own and has stretched and grown. He’s been so supportive and open to change. This is truly what sacramental marriage is all about. What an awesome opportunity God has given me to see how much I am loved.

Compassion. One cannot go through suffering without becoming more attune to others’ sufferings. Each person I contacted had an equal or even greater burden of suffering. By sharing my story, they opened their hearts and released their own burdens to me. We weep together and it makes the journey more bearable.

Merciful. How can I condemn another for sinfulness, when I am a sinner? I understand the addict better, because after five days of continuous and excrutiating pain, I can imagine wanting to do something, anything to make it stop. Without support, I could have fallen into the temptation just as easily. After being judged wrongly, I have mercy for those who cause injury to me. “Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do.” I recognize that others’ reactions are a reflection of their own woundedness and not of me. And I pray for them as well.

Encouragement. Charity. Love. These are the tools to remedy ill and sin. I read recently in some spiritual readings that there are three ways for wisdom to abound: 1. Confess your sins 2. Give thanks and praise to God 3. Use edifying speech. I had to look up the definition of edifying. It means to encourage one another to do good and avoid evil. I think this is pretty sound advice. Simple, yet life changing.

So, as we continue the Lenten journey, I ask you to pray for me and for my family. I encourage you to seek the Sacrament of Confession and pour out your burdens to Christ, the Healer. This is not an easy time, but it is still a time to praise and thank the Lord for His blessings and His lessons. So, I ask you to join me in praising God for all His blessings—wanted and unwanted. And lastly, I will continue to lift you in prayer as well. May His grace and peace be with you every step of life’s journey.

 Ten Things Parents Can Do to Make Mass Successful with Children

Attending Mass with young children can be a challenge for any parent whether it is your first child, or your fifteenth.  Children will be children and to expect otherwise is setting yourself up for disappointment.  For twenty years my husband and I have been attending Mass with young children.  Some days I felt like the ushers should be handing out T-shirts saying, “I survived Mass today” because just making it through the liturgy was an exercise in patience and physical endurance.  Most of the time Mass is enjoyable and the kids are very well behaved.  This didn’t happen by accident.  We made our share of mistakes, but the well-sought advice from parents who had walked in our shoes made the most difference.  Here is a list of the actions that have worked well for us.  With our youngest children ages 3, 4 and 6 I am happy to report that we rarely have to do much past steps  4 or 5 any more.  (Of course, now that I posted this on my blog, I will probably be eating some humble pie really soon.

1.  Set the Stage

As the kids are strapped in their carseats on the way to Mass, my husband shuts off the radio, gets everyone’s attention and  makes the same statement EVERY week.  “Okay, guys.  I expect good kids in church.  Good prayer hands.  Stand on two feet.  Sit quietly.”  Then he goes through each child by name and gets their commitment, “Yes, Dad.”  This is so much of a routine that the kids even know the stoplight and intersection to expect this conversation.  Consistency is key.

  1. Be an Example

If you truly believe in the presence of Christ:  body, soul, blood and divinity, then your actions will speak your beliefs loudly.  Practice reverence and fold your hands like you were taught when making your First Holy Communion.  Those little children will mimmick your actions and melt Jesus’ heart with their innocence and purity.  Our church still rings the bells at the consecration.  Take the time to whisper that Jesus is present on the altar, so the children can become aware of the incredible miracle taking place before them.

3.  The Look

My kids know the “look” and correct themselves fairly quickly.  The older they are, the more effective it is.  I don’t have to explain this.  Everyone knows a parent’s look.

  1. The Snap

For a child that is sitting in front of you or a few people away from you, a snap of your fingers followed by the look is a quick and unobtrusive way to let them know that their behavior needs to change.  Like the “Look”, my kids understand the “snap” and correct fairly quickly.

5.  The Redirect

Sometimes children just need physical redirection.  A gentle squaring of their shoulders with your hands to face them towards the altar, or to keep their foot from kicking the pew or others are some examples of this.

6.  The Squeeze/Pinch

This one may seem controversial to some, but I have used it will all of my kids and found it to be extremely effective.  Beginning at one year old or when your child understands, “no” this tool can begin to be implemented.  The point is not to hurt the child, or to cause physical pain; but to draw attention to correcting undesired behavior.  When a child in his mother or father’s arms wants down, begins to wiggle/wrestle, or makes loud  noises, the parent gently squeezes the child’s thigh and says,”no” with a firm voice.  You have to use your judgement with this as each child is different and we are not trying to stop kids from being kids, but simply train them for proper behavior.  Think Pavlov and don’t expect immediate results.  The results come with consistency.  As the child’s understanding increases, the squeeze becomes more firm.  At ages 6 and above, it is a pinch to get their attention because if you have consistently practiced steps 1-5 for their lifetime, you should not have to get to number 6.

  1. The Take Out

Most people will take screaming kids out of Mass.  Do the Take Out before it reaches that point if you are able.  If the gentle squeeze did not correct the behavior, then warn your child that you will leave Mass.  If you take them out, it should not be a reward.  Sometimes I spank, most of the time I simply restate my expectations for their behavior.  I go to a quiet corner or outside and get at eye level to speak with them.  Before returning to Mass, they verbally commit to improved behavior.  Ie:  We are going to sit still and be quiet, right?  Then, we have found that having the child lay his/her head on your shoulder when returning shows submission and is effective in making them feel loved and secure even after being corrected.  They have lost their privilege to sit on their own and will spend the rest of Mass on a parental lap.  Many naps have followed this scenario.

  1. Cry Room Criteria

If the Take Out did not get the desired results, it is probably time to go to the Cry Room.  Some families start out here, but personally I think that is a mistake.  Our cry room is very small as well, so it is unfair for entire families to take up this vital space.  But, that is just my personal opinion.  In any case, the cry room does not make for a play room!  When we have to go to the cry room, my kids know it won’t be fun.  They are not allowed off my lap and can not take any books or toys with them.  All the crying and fit throwing in the world will not earn them freedom and this is clear from the moment we step foot out of the main church.  In all honesty, my babies are the only ones who have ever cried in there.  Mostly the kids sit in my lap in awe of the kids that are climbing and talking and playing and running wild.  Once their behavior is corrected, the baby is nursed to sleep, or I feel confident enough– I return to our seats with our family.  I have rarely spent the entire Mass in the cry room.  It is an over-crowed place of distraction with lack of reverence and I dread every minute I have to be in there;  but am thankful to have a place to go with an unruly child, a hungry infant, or a stinky diaper that needs immediate attention.  Yes, that is the only changing station in the church facility.

  1. Practice

For children age 4 or older, sometimes we just need a little more practice standing still, sitting still, or folding our hands.  If we had a difficult time doing these things at Mass then we practice once we get home.  A rule of thumb is one minute for each year of age.  So a 5 year old can practice sitting quietly for 5 minutes.  We set a timer while we are making lunch and explain what we are doing and why: always reinforcing the expectation that was announced to begin with.  Consistency.  Reinforcement.  Gentleness.  Patience.  Any of these things done with anger will defeat your original purpose of teaching and training your children to understand and love the beauty of the Mass.  Yes, I have done them in anger.  No, they were not effective.

10.  Daily Mass

This was my biggest boost when we attended regularly.  Once my older kids learned proper behavior, the younger ones followed suit.  Daily Mass first and foremost filled me and my children with graces.  The days we attended daily Mass, things seemed to go more smoothly and set the right tone for the week.  The regular church goers fussed over my kids and lavished them with praise and treats, which made attendance so much more rewarding.  There is also a playground that I used for bribery purposes.  I am not ashamed to admit this.  Finally, the Mass is only 30 minutes long so it is not as demanding as the hour to hour-and-a-half long Sunday Masses.  It is the perfect place to begin to learn the prayers and rhythm of the Mass.  I speak of this in past tense because we haven’t attended since Ben was born due to my health issues.  I look forward to getting this back into our daily routine.  My college age daughter still attends daily Mass and my 16 year old goes whenever she can break away from helping me.  I don’t want to deny that to my other children as I fully understand that the weight of a Mass cannot be measured in earthly terms.

I hope that these are helpful to other parents with young children.  Hang in there as these young years don’t last forever (just twenty some years in our case).  One day they will be out of diapers, out of the nursery, and out of your home; but, God willing, they will never leave the Mass that they were taught to love from their very first moments.

First Things First

Years ago I read the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families by Steven Covey.  I took away lots of great insight and advice from the book, but one analogy has stood out the strongest over all these years.  In short its message was “Put first things, first.”  I have tried to continually put it into practice and to pass this important lesson along to my kids.  Then, the opportunity presented itself for a tangible lesson and teaching opportunity.  And because of that teaching opportunity, I also gained material for a blog post.  So, win–win, right?

My kids have lots of toys and I try to organize them in a way that we can maintain a clean home, have space to play, and have access to games and toys without complete chaos in the wake.  One of the recent favorite toys to pull out and play with for hours and hours are the Playmobile sets, known as Mo-mobile sets in our home because that is how Daniel heard it called and it stuck.  image The problem with mo-mobile is there are lots, and I mean LOTS, of tiny pieces.  The best way to keep up with it all is to have one large storage bin for all three sets.  Everything is in one place and we don’t go insane trying to match up parts to specific sets.  (DISCLAIMER:  this does not include Samuel’s set.  All the pieces are in their precise designated location, kept in the original box in the top of his closet, off limits to all siblings.)  But, for the not-so-OCD-Mach children, the remaining sets are fit very well in one large bin–IF you put them in the bin in the proper order.  And here is where the teachable moment fits in.

My children, including Samuel, want to get the toys picked up with the least amount of effort.  Good.  Efficiency is good.  They will toss the pieces into the bin in no particular order, and finding that the lid will not fit on the bin, begin to push and cram the pieces hoping to get the desired results.  It never works.   Stephen Covey tells us in 7 Habits that we have to put the “big” stuff in first.  We have to put important things like prayer, marriage and parenting into life before we can add in the activities, the parties, or even work at times.  If we put the big things in first, all the little stuff will fit in much more easily.  The other night it was Joshua who was assigned to clean up the mo-mobiles.  In his rush he tossed the items into the bin, but couldn’t get the lid on.  With frustration and irritation in my voice, I said, “You’ve got to put the big stuff in first, Bud.”  He tried to scoop the small items to one side and slip in the largest house.  He even figured out how some pieces nested together to save space, but still the lid would not shut.  So, I got down on the floor and showed him how to do it.  image image image I removed the large pieces and set them to the side.  Then, I dumped all the pieces out onto the lid with only a few spilling onto the carpet.  I replaced the large pieces and lifting the lid, I carefully dumped all the little pieces into the bin.  In less than one minute they were all neatly in the bin, lid on, and slid into their home on the shelf.  His eyes were wide with amazement.  Not only did everything fit, it was easier and faster to do it that way.

The analogy was not lost on me and I hope it rooted deeply into Joshua’s heart as well.  It sometimes seems for me that time for prayer, relaxation, or any activity apart from hearth and home will not fit into my busy day.  I try stuffing it all in, but like toys that get lost or broken in the process, I too can become lost and broken.  I get in a hurry to get it all done and in the end nothing gets done well, if at all.  I put it off because the thought of fitting it all in is just overwhelming, but then I realize that I just need to focus on the big things first and take them one at a time.  When I finally set all the little things in my life to one side, I can see more clearly where the big things can fit in.  If I start my day with prayer, work on my relationship with my husband and kids, and focus on my main job of teaching; somehow I have a little time here to read a blog or two, a little time there to play a game, and another spot of time to work on growing my business (new venture, I’ll post details soon).  It all fits and it is easier and less stressful to boot.

Now, I just need to remember to put it into practice daily.  Old habits die hard.

Magnetic Months

I am a planner.  Organizing is a hobby for me and gives me energy.  So, with the start of school came the excuse to organize and plan for the school year.  I have younger children that still are trying to understand the days of the weeks and months of the years.  They still confuse “yesterday” with any day before the current one, and “tomorrow” as any day that follows.  It just made sense to give them a visual understanding of when events will take place:  when Lauren will be home, when a birthday will be celebrated, when we go to church, etc.  I pulled out the trustworthy Melissa and Doug magnetic calendar only to discover that many of the numbers were missing and the magnets for activities did not cover our personal needs.

But, have no fear, I have a large magnetic dry erase board that serves as a command and teaching center for our entire home.  I decided that I would post one week at a time and label the month and year at the top.  In addition to our weekly activities, I like to plan the meals out as well.  This makes grocery shopping more efficient and it eliminates the end of day decision making for “What are we going to have for dinner?”  I didn’t want to waste the M&D magnets, so I reused them by putting stickers on top. aweek pic Sophia enjoyed putting small round stickers over the numbers and these became our new “marks” for our reward system.  amark pic We customized the other magnets by printing 1×1 pictures our favorite foods on labels.  I cut the labels to size and the kids covered the magnets.  I also just use blank labels and write in activities that seem to re-occur on a regular basis.

My older children are each responsible for planning and making a meal or snack.  The magnet system has worked well in helping them plan the meals out for the week and takes all the guess work out of meal times.  Another addition I have made is to incorporate the Liturgical Calendar.  I bought these stickers of feast days several years ago.  It took a little bit of work, but I placed the stickers onto magnetic paper and then cut them out.  Someone should really produce these as magnets! It really helps to tie our days together with the days of the Church and is another way to remind us why we are really here and where our journey is headed. afeast day pic Learning about the saints encourages us in our own journey and continually reminds us that God is an awesome God!

One last suggestion is to buy the magnetic paper and print directly to the magnetic paper.  I used labels and the wooden magnets from Melissa and Doug only because I already had them on hand.  Although, the thicker wooden magnets are easier to grip; the magnetic paper would eliminate several steps and is relatively inexpensive.

Happy organizing!