Friday, October 31, 2014

Like the crack of the whip, I snap attack

I am on a major reorganization and de-cluttering binge.  MAJOR.  I have had enough. 

Let me count the ways:
  • Sorted through sock and undies drawers, the pajama drawer: match, storage, thrift
  • Cleaned the wooden shelf formerly in storage in our quonset (gutted from Blaine's parents' kitchen after their remodel), brought to the basement, organized ALL boy shoes, sandals, mud boots, snow boots by like-kind and size.
  • Vacuumed, sanded, painted the exterior, then cleaned the innards of a gargantuan bookshelf, again, formerly in storage in our quonset (and a library shelf from the old-old library in Small Town, MN, the nostalgia).  This sucker is is probably 8-9 feet tall and 4-5 feet wide, solid wood.  Un-un-un-un.  It comes inside to electrify our book organization this weekend.  I can't imagine ever needing another bookshelf (if we keep our collection within reason).
  • Started sorting through the DUMPSTER we call our play table.  Goal: to get rid of 75-80% of our toy collection.  It will be a many day process: my plan is to sift, sort, toss, organize, then haul the excess to the thrift.  I already have two gigantic boxes filled to the brim.  Vengeance is mine.
  • ATTACK the mess in the upstairs storage room (ebay, mending pile, seasonal clothing): buy a new shelving unit, sort, organize, put away.
  • Clear the MESS atop my dresser (in disarray from the last disaster, i.e. "Don't climb the dresser drawers", otherwise known as, "Jamieeee!  Ohhhhhh nooooooo!" in slo-mo, already at least a year ago).  The days of pretty display are done: this is survival.  Sort, put away for future intrigue.  Leave out a few necklaces and earrings.
  • Start getting ruthless with my clothing glut.  If it doesn't fit right, get right of it.  If I don't really like it, get rid of it.  Sort by season and store in the off-season (I already started this last year).

Much of my inspiration was fueled by the deep-clean on our kitchen last June done by my mom and myself.  It was so refreshing and I have been reveling in it these many months.  Thanks, Muver.

Listening to a podcast from The Art of Simple last month kicked things into high gear.  I am on a crusade.  It's time to get radical.

Monday, October 20, 2014

She sings; she reads; she loses her temper

The mother is a world of great mystery.  She loves; she does all kinds of interesting things throughout the house; she sings; she reads; she loses her temper; she may be as peaceful as a summer evening or a whirlwind of fury.  But she is always the mother, and her love for her children, even when it is shot through all the flaws of her character, will be a human love.  It may be far from perfect.  [But it will be something real.]
~Anthony Esolen
Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child

This description struck me when I read it.  It is within the context of his "recommendation" to put all children in full-time daycare, to replace the mother-child relationship with a worker-client relationship, written in extremity and entirely tongue-in-cheek, of course.

The picture he paints resonated on a deep level with me.  I love the romance and reality all rolled into one.  A mother, as peaceful as a summer evening or a whirlwind of fury.  Yes.  I've been there.

This book was an amusing and thought-provoking read.  He presents sound observations on life and culture that are worth contemplation; within the realm of growing children, definitely, but more expansively, on the needs and desires of the human soul.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

It unfolded as if it were planned

I've been thinking back to previous food preservation seasons and have realized something: I didn't feel as stretched this year.

It has a lot to do with the lack of big tomatoes and tomatillos - I did just one batch of salsa this year instead of the usual 4-5.  And another biggie: cabbage.  An unfortunate blow-out.  Again, just one batch of sauerkraut instead of the usual 4-5.

But I think it also has a lot to do with these guys.

Our oldest: Diego and Truen, ages 9 and almost-7
(Exploring the dry creek bed southwest of our place)

Looking back over the past year, I can see that we have been building up to the concept of Morning Chores and Evening Chores.  I didn't even really realize I was doing it.  It started with the cat litters last winter.  In the spring I added emptying the dishwasher every morning.  In the summer they started folding and putting away their own clothes each week.  This fall they started emptying and refilling the goose and duck water troughs every night.

It has been amazing.  Not only is it a relief to us in the fact that it takes a bit of the load off of our shoulders, but the boys are stepping up to the plate and accepting responsibility.  I am so pleased about it.

In our experience thus far, there have been a few keys to success:
  • Consistency.  They do their chores every morning before breakfast.
  • Teamwork.  I have them do everything together so it doesn't overwhelm them.
  • Dessert!  We made chocolate mousse to celebrate their takeover of the bird water from Blaine.
They are also very keen on the idea of a $50 a year allowance as a reward for their efforts (I can't remember what that breaks down to per week).

So when I look around, things aren't quite as overwhelming as they have been in the past.  Instead of feeling like absolutely everything sitting squarely on my shoulders during the day, there has been a bit of a reprieve.  It is such a relief. 

And by writing this out, I came to realize that the boys have taken over two chores apiece from Blaine and me.  Cat litters and bird water from Blaine and dishwasher and folding clothes from me.  Awesome.  Next on the agenda: cleaning the bathroom sink & mirror and vacuuming.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

2014 Apple-picking


There aren't many apples in the middle, but climbing is fun.

 Jamie wanted up so badly . . .

 
And another little feller did too.

 "Bountiful Harvest"
I've been so amazed by apples this fall.
What a gift!

Orchard scenery: this year we have 5 geese, 5 ducks, and 8 chickens. 

 The geese are grazers and keep the grass nicely clipped.
They seem to like Blaine, but haaaate the boys and hiss at them.
There are three Embden and two White Chinese.

 We have to herd the geese and ducks in every night --
Eliah is showing exactly how it is done, arms outstretched,
though we usually have brooms or toy bats in hand to widen our span.
I always bring E-yi-ya in the backpack when I do it, so he knows. Cute.

 Ducks are so funny!
Swedish Blue and Swedish Blacks
We have been getting beautiful grey eggs from them.

 And while we were at it, we picked the rest of the pumpkins and squash --
This van is used like a truck to haul things like wood or straw.

 The fellas with their Da

 With Mama

 Bzzzzzzzzz

 "What big eyes you have, grandmother"

And even bigger!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Reflection

Nuzzling E-yi-ya

The inspiration to blog always hits during impossible times.  My mind is scattered and nothing comes when I actually sit down to do it.  This might have something to do with three fellas going bonkers down the hall: Diego, Truen, and Eliah.  Jamie is blissfully asleep and this is the remnants of my Quiet Time.

I've found that my mind has decreasing amounts of available space for . . . what?  I'm not sure.  I feel like my memory is not razor-sharp anymore.  I need to write things down to remember anything cohesive, even thoughts.  I was thinking about it in the shower this morning and wondered if it is the proverbial "loss of brain cells" or perhaps the increase in demands, but this morning in the shower what made the most sense to me was the disproportionate lack of reflective thought in my life.

Another possibility is the lack of focused attention, at least while I am sitting down and wanting to reflect.  I usually feel like a deer in the headlights, wondering about my time. But when it comes to the duty of life I am very focused, driven to keep our life in under wraps: food, order, cleanliness, peace.

Ah well.  Enough complaints.  This weekend we watched a few videos from years gone.  It was amazing to see all those little people that I love so much, even smaller and younger than they are now.  That time is so close, but yet still gone.  It made me remember to not let the angst get me down, because time is precious.  Don't waste my time on the negativity, embrace it all.  Savor the moments.  Hug those little bodies.  Laugh with them.  All the cliches, yes, but all so, so true. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ye olde list post

So many thoughts, so little time.  I defer.

  • We are still finishing our 2013-2014 school year.  In my mind, I have likened it to a rattle-trap car just barely holding together, huffety-puffety, rolling into the finish line with a bing-bang-pop.  In other words, barely making it.
  • It is not unlike the poor guy we saw on the other side of 35W on our way to Luuuuke and Katy's wedding "back in the day": his car smoking and bouncing to a stop, the left front tire missing, him holding on for dear life as his car fizzled and zizzled to the side of the road.  A few seconds later we saw his tire cross all eight lanes of traffic.  (It was hilarious at the time and still makes me smile to think of it.)
  • This is exactly what the last bit of our school year feels like to me.  We are bouncing in to the finish line, totally worn out and hoping just to make it to the end.

 A common scene in recent weeks
  • I feel like "keeping up with life" (whatever that means) has become almost impossible with four children.  Honestly, I feel like I've been pushed over the brink.  Anything beyond survival is a luxury at this point in time.  Even now I feel a little bit frantic, wondering if I am using my time wisely.  It leaves me feeling off-kilter.
  • It is funny, because I look back on past posts and see myself iterating similar feelings.  Overwhelm.  Swamped.  No time for contemplative thought.  And when I read these things, I poo-poo my past self, feeling like things have ratcheted up a notch or ten.  Oh yeah, I tell myself, you ain't seen nuthin' yet.
  • Though I do remember from past experience that having a baby in the 12-18 month range (in addition to the extremely active activity level of multiple children) adds a lot of strain.  Not because that age is horrible, quite the contrary, but that they are into everything, have no sense to keep themselves safe, and aren't able to run with the big boys yet.  It makes getting "anything done" very hard.  Bless his little heart.  I keep on reminding myself to hold on and not wish time away.  Things will even out in time.
  • I'm working towards being more even-tempered and flexible.  I want my children to remember a happy mama, not a strained-glum-can't-wait-til-QT mama.  I think my fears play on the perception of myself, because I do think I spend most of my day mostly cheerful and patient . . . though the constant push to accomplish my enormous weekly bucket list is always weighing on me, especially in the mornings, and I know it effects my general aura.

This scene lasted long enough for a picture 
  • The more experience I gain, the more I understand that "for everything there is a season" and constant adjustment is necessary.  I know that, but I'm always surprised to identify that need in my daily, weekly, monthly, yearly life.  Not many rules or routines last for long before becoming outdated.
  • So with that in mind . . . my new-and-improved concept of MORNING CHORES and the boys' responsibility in household maintenance.
  • Morning chores: morning board, empty dishwasher, fold laundry (Mon/Tues), cat litters (M/W/F), get dressed, brush teeth.
  • Household maintenance: before-lunch clean-up, pick-up after play, assigned tasks to help me/us (i.e. picking tomatoes, taking diapers off the line, loading or unloading the washing machine and dryer, etc.)
  • I am planning to get more structured in this dept. with a flip-chart peg board that my SIL gave me.  I don't want to constantly remind them to stay on task (it drains my reserves).  My idea is to require morning chores to be completed by 10:00 AM every day, fueled by individual and team competitions - hopefully fueling their enthusiasm for sticking with the plan.  After brainstorming rewards, I came up with special meal or dessert requests for individual goals met and a Friday morning smoothie or eggnog for team victory.
 Jumping off the dock at our friends' family's weekend retreat
  • Swimming turned into a bi-weekly event this summer.  I aim for Fridays and stay all day, packing loads of food and water to keep us steady.  It is perfect, because by the time we get home Blaine has had a bit of time to himself and the boys are so tired it makes very a very calm night.  Then they sleep in the next morning and have a peaceful day reacquainting themselves with home.  It is so relaxing.
  • The last couple of days have been cold in the morning, beautiful sunny days with no humidity and warm afternoons.  I realized this morning that it is late summer.  I can't believe it!  It seems like it went so fast.  It has been a very cool summer, so it felt like I spent most of the time waiting for it to warm up and actually feel like summer.  We've had a few days with warm nights, and then poof . . . it's almost done.
 On our driveway
  • The boys and I went on a good number of walks in the past month.  It is amazing what slowing down does for the quality of observation and depth of appreciation for one's surroundings.  "Driving by" does not do the world justice.  But walking . . . what a difference . . . to feel the breeze playing on the skin, hear the insect and bird life, take in the the scent of the fields and flowers, even getting a better hold on the trees and sky, letting it all seep in.  It is beautiful.
  • With two little guys and two big guys, our walks consist of Diego riding bike, Truen walking, Jamie sometimes-walking, sometimes-riding, and Eliah sometimes-riding, sometimes-backpacking.  We have a rinky-dink Schwinn bike trailer that is perfect to fit three of the four boys at a time if need be (Truen is still small enough).  It is perfect.
  • Re: the Schwinn.  Buyer beware: it is worth investing in higher quality.
  • But nevertheless, it has been a blessing.  I love having a stroller big enough to haul multiple children and the big wheels make pushing it a breeze.  We even went for a bike ride as an entire family this weekend, Blaine hauling Truen and Jamie, Diego biking, Eliah in the backpack with me, to the graveyard a mile from our house.
Posing by the tomatoes
  • Two local ladies and I are starting a homeschooling group in our small town.  There are plenty of homeschooling groups in the larger towns around us, but there are a lot of homeschooling families in our area and honestly, why drive a half-hour or more when we can cultivate what we want right here where we live?  In addition to keeping our activities local, we will be keeping our children's friendships local as well, which bodes well for more frequent interaction and visiting.  It's a win-win-win.
  • One of the ladies is the wife of the new pastor at the Baptist church in town.  That particular church has a "half-gym" and so we are kicking off our group by organizing a bi-weekly homeschoolers' open gym.  I am so pleased.  A place for my fellas to run off some winter steam (and a five minute drive)!  Awesome.
  • Other organized activities will probably follow.  We are planning to "go with it".  Whatever happens, happens and if it doesn't, that is fine too.  It will be very loose and flexible, with people planning activities as the inspiration or need arises.   But I have a hunch: one of the women I am working with is very gifted in organizing activities so I assume that we will have a good start in the near-distant future.
  • It will be interesting to see what happens.  We already have five interested families, but I know that is just scraping the surface of the potential.
 Eliah does this funny tight-fist shaking thing that makes us all laugh

  • Even as our school year is puttering to an end, I am planning our new school year.  I plan to take September off, reading aloud sprinkled in here and there, then pick up again at the beginning of October.
  • This will be Truen's first "official" year: first grade.  I've had him participating at 75% for the last two years, then full-on 100% for our history reading and activities from The Story of the World.  Overall, he's done very well.  When I can sense that something is too much for him, I ease off a bit.  But otherwise, he's been tagging along through pretty much everything.
  • My plan is to do a modified version of Year 1 from Diego's first year.  I'm not sure if I will read to him/them separately (everything but SOTW) or if I should still combine everything.  I honestly don't know what to do at this point in time, because I see pros and cons either way.  At this point, I assume that I will attempt to continue a combination approach, then adjust as neccessary.
  • I will say though: looking at the initial schedule for this year left me feeling a bit faint.  I'm not sure how to fit it all in, especially with a very LOUD preschooler and a very BUSY toddler.  I don't have much in the way of concentrated time to sit or speak in leisure.  I'm usually trying to make my voice heard above the exclamations and hollering.
  • That being said, I have honed in on a few tactics that give me at least a little bit of time.  First and foremost, looking for an opportunity in the morning.  Are they quiet?  Are the younger ones absorbed in anything?  Secondly, snacks.  Giving them food keeps them quiet for a few minutes while I read aloud.  Thirdly, special toys or crafts: things that they don't have continuous access to.  I can sometimes get a good 10-15 minutes of absorption from them, or should I say, Jamie.  The three year old.  Holy smokes.  It will be interesting to see if anything lets up this coming year as he grows and changes.
 Gramma S. shopping the Farmers' Market
  • Finally: September.  Harvest season.  I'm already feeling the burn.  I look toward it with mixed feelings, thankfulness for the bounty and the dread of knowing the amount of work it will take to put it up.  It will be interesting to see if next year will be as overwhelming as this year feels.  I'm not afraid of the work, but I do feel strained at the thought of trying to "fit it in".  Eliah still needs me so much, it is hard to be separated from him for the length of time each work day requires.  Likewise, it is difficult to keep the pace with so many interruptions and distractions.  It is hard.  I'm not sure how I'm going to do it.
  • In addition, I plan to travel TWO TIMES during the month of September.  This is unprecedented and totally crazy, but I am pleased and looking forward to it at the same time, while simultaneously quaking in my boots. Blaine's grandpa's 99th birthday and a corresponding family reunion??  My dad within driving distance??  It would skewer me to miss either of these opportunities.  I must go.
  • Blaine is taking four days off this month (in addition to Labor Day) and I will use them to the best of my ability.  Tomatoes, apples, cabbage are my biggest challenges.
It took me two days to crank this post out.  I think I covered most of my bases.  Much love, many blessings, I think of you all much more often than you hear from me.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

'Tis the season and Yittle Yi-ya Yen

"Oh Eliah, Little 'Liah Len"
(to the tune of "Little 'Liza Jane")

Holy smokes.  I am up to my eyeballs in tomatoes and crookneck squash and pickling cucumbers.  It is best not to think about it too much or my mind goes into gridlock.  Eegads.  

I've realized that I am going to be in "maintenance mode" this year.  No frivolities, very little experimentation, sticking almost entirely to the basics.  I thought last year was hard (and it was).  But this preservation season feels like it might swallow me whole.

I think it is because of "Little 'Liah Len's" age.  14 months.  He's into everything, climbing whatever he can get on, and has absolutely no sense of how to keep himself safe (so very normal, of course).  Blaine has him mostly covered on weekend; but he wants his mama like every toddler does, so I am pulled to the wayside for regular snuggle breaks.  Which I love, of course, but it becomes my own personal speed bump.  Times ten.

My current thoughts on the subject is to do as much as I can during the day (weekends being the big push), then stay up for a few hours after everyone else is in bed.  I've done it a few times already and it provides a major boost on keeping things under control.