Thursday, June 20, 2013

Getting Organized

I have decided that this summer, I am going to get more organized. The two things that have been hanging over my head are menu planning/grocery shopping, and getting the kids to be excited about chores. So, I have come up with a new plan for each, and so far they are both working! Here is what I have done for the menu planning: Because I cook mainly from a few websites (,, and, I have decided to do some "set" menus. I found this template on pinterest and printed it out five times on cardstock. On each one, I wrote "week 1," "week 2," etc. Each week, I set up a menu, giving myself a night off every Friday night (which we already did), and saving Saturday night as a "leftover" night, which can be used for an unused recipe, leftover food, or, if all else fails, pizza. I filled out the grocery list that corresponds with that menu. I then printed each recipe out, and put the weekly menu in a plastic sheet cover (in a three-ring binder), and behind a "week 1" divider tab, followed by each recipe (also in plastic sheet covers). Each week there is also a Weekly Dessert Recipe... a weight watchers recipe that I make on Sunday and will last through most of the week. Knowing there is dessert waiting for me at night keeps me on track during the day. So the binder has a tab divider, the menu/grocery list, then each recipe for that week. Right now, I have a month's worth of menus, recipes, and corresponding grocery lists. Now when it's time to go to the store, I just pull the week's menu/list, grab my coupons, and go. I coupon according to what's on sale, not what I am making that week, so sometimes what I get with coupons won't be used until the following week. If I see a lot of perishable items on sale, I can swap weeks big deal. As I see more great recipes online, I can keep making a new weeks' worth of menus/recipes/grocery lists. I bought the notebook, the divider tabs, and three packs of plastic sheet covers all at Dollar Tree, and I already had the paper and card stock, so this project cost me a total of $5. I don't know why I haven't thought of this before. It is a bit of work up front (this took me an hour and a half), but is saving me LOADS of time in planning and writing grocery lists. Now, on to the new chore system... I have trolled all over Pinterest looking for a good chore system, but couldn't find one that I thought would work long-term for my kids. Even things like sticker reward charts fall by the wayside qickly in our home. I needed a system that didn't take much effort on my part to enforce or to reward. And I made up something that- so far- seems to be very effective. I began by buying two 4x6 photo albums. I got these for $2 each at Target. Blue for Gianni, Pink for Malia. I then took photos of the actual chores I wanted each child to do. I used the app Phonto to write the chore and a brief description if necessary on each photo. Each child has a section of morning chores (but I keep them at two morning chores, because mornings are nuts around here): Then there are a few other chores that just need to be done sometime before bed: I also bought small laundry baskets at the Dollar Tree, and wrote each child's name (and one for Mommy and Papi), and I put the baskets under the breakfast bar, and throughout the day, as I see items that are away from their homes, I toss them in the right basket. So it is also up to each child to make sure that basket is empty, and its contents are put in their proper place before bedtime. In addition to the two morning chores and the few evening chores, each child has a different chore that he/she does each day: With chores that require special products, I photographed the product as well: Now for the reward. I printed out some "chore bucks" that I saw on pinterest. This part is really easy. It's just like life: you don't work, you don't get paid. They earn one chore buck per chore. (There are no chores on Sundays.) On Saturday, they can buy prizes that I have picked up at the Dollar Tree, or the Dollar Spots at Target and Walmart. They can make up to $42 in chore bucks each week, and each prize is $20. So it costs me $2 per week, per child (potentially). I do not nag or overly-remind about chores, because none of them are pertinent to our well-being (my oldest is five, so no one is cooking us dinner or anything). I am trying to teach them self-motivation and responsibility, and in real life, you are not begged to do your job. They know that if they miss more than three chores, they can only buy one prize, and that is LOTS of motivation. :-)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I am really excited about my latest project! I made a really neat advent calendar:

I clothespinned little envelopes to Christmas ribbon... one for each day in December. (I found an entire box of unused RSVP cards and envelopes from my wedding and decorated them with Christmas clip art, so the entire project was free.)

Here is the part that I love: Each day's card has an activity we can do as a family: Roast marshmallows, get in PJs and watch Polar Express, etc. I love that instead of "stuff" each day, we are creating Christmas memories. I have been taking a photo of each activity and will put the photo in the corresponding envelope, so next year we can look back and remember exactly what we did the year before.

Malia is so excited when she wakes up each morning to open that day's envelope and see what we get to do!
I gathered a lot of the artwork and the activity ideas from Pinterest. If you are interested in creating this, here are the links so you don't have to re-invent the wheel. For some reason Blogger isn't letting me link up tonight, so just copy and paste in your browser:

The numbers on the envelopes:

The daily activities:

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Malia never took to a pacifier, and although she sleeps with a few stuffed animals, if one were to disappear, she wouldn't even flinch. She doesn't have a "blankie," or anything like that. She uses my arm. When she is tired or upset, she comes over and rubs my arm, just between my elbow and my wrist. While this started out cute, as she gets older, it is getting less cute, and I am trying to break her of the habit. There are rare nights when she has a bad dream or can't sleep, and she doesn't wake me up, she just comes into our bed and rubs my arm till she falls back to sleep. Fortunately for me, since having children I can sleep through an explosion, so it doesn't bother me; I just wake up and she's there. If we are out shopping or running errands and she gets tired, she just touches my arm and rubs it a little bit, and I know that her shelf life has expired and she is done. It is much nicer than a screaming fit, which is Gianni's signal that it's time to go home, and everyone in Target will know it. And although Malia is one of the most self-confident kids I know, there are times that she just needs "Mommy's Arm," as she refers to it. And when she really needs it, there is no stopping her. She will grab it while I am cooking, folding laundry, or typing. I can be doing things around the house, and she is attached to me, following me around, holding on to my arm. Many times I will say, "you cannot have my arm right now," a sentence that I never thought I would say once, much less repeatedly. I have tried to shift the object of her affection to numerous other "normal" kid security objects, but it never works. There just is no substitute.
This got me to thinking about how we should be with God... always wanting in, pressing for as much "close" time as possible, accepting no substitutes. With God, like with Malia, we sometimes only go to Him when we are tired or upset, and then we demand His attention (which He lovingly gives). And it benefits us. After time with God, we are usually more relaxed and less stressed. But unlike me with Malia, He prefers that we move closer to Him more, not less. He wants us to follow after Him and be as close to Him as possible. He has all the time in the world to let us draw near to Him; it is usually us who have such "important" time constraints. I am so guilty of shoving God off my docket when I am super-busy, because I know He will always be there, but the house needs to be clean because a small group is coming over, or laundry needs to be done, or coupons need to be cut so I can get to the store. It is not fair to Him, and truthfully, it is to my disadvantage. I think that just like tithing money seems to make us more financially comfortable, even when it doesn't add up on paper, that tithing our time somehow allows us to get more done in the same amount of time. Because God's cool like that. And He will never push us away, like I do with Malia; He will always sit and let us be as close to Him as we want, for as long as we want. And THAT is a loving Father.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


I think that everyone has rational fears and irrational fears. Sometimes our irrational fears can become very real and we must walk them out to see if they materialize or if they are, in fact, irrational. Today I had to take my son to All Children’s Hospital to see an immunologist. We were referred there about a month ago, so for the past few weeks I have carried an invisible burden of wondering what is wrong with him and how serious it is. When I first heard that there was something showing up in his bloodwork pertaining to his immunity system, my mind immediately said, “cancer.” When we were referred to All Children’s, my anxiety began to climb, because I knew what kind of kids were at that hospital: really sick kids. For a month, I acted like I was OK with the situation, and I acted the part of the faith-full mom who was believing that there would be nothing wrong with her baby, when inside I was a petrified mess, playing out every “what if” in my mind. You see, one of my irrational fears is that God is going to realize that I was the girl who wasn’t supposed to have kids, that some cosmic mistake had been made, and He’d decide to take them back. I have an awful fear that something horrible will happen to my kids and I will have to figure out how to exist without them. And I can’t even wrap my brain around how that would play out. So when we entered the cheery halls of All Children’s this morning, I saw some sick kids. Really sick. Bald-from-chemo sick. And I pushed my son in his stroller down to the immunologist, wondering if I was about to find out that my baby boy was as sick as these other kids.
As it turns out, Gianni is not that sick, and although they aren’t yet sure exactly what is going on, no one thinks that it is anything that can’t be easily fixed, so my invisible weight has been lifted and I feel lighter. But as the day has gone on, I cannot help but picture those sick kids. The journey that these families are on is, to me, one of the longest, most difficult journeys there is. Parents simply aren’t supposed to outlive their kids. They should never have to pack a nursery up, get rid of car seats and high chairs that are no longer needed, or have to pick out the last outfit their child will ever wear. Is just isn’t fair.
So in this month that I have had to walk out my irrational fear, I’ve treasured moments, not knowing if they were numbered. I’ve let the house get a little messier, and I’ve cuddled a little longer. I’ve played a little more and yelled a little less. I’ve let dirty laundry wait while chubby little fingers tickled me for as long as they wanted to. And perhaps this is really how life is supposed to be lived.
Only the perfectionist in me cringes at the thought of leaving dirty dishes in the sink while my kids and I make a fort with blankets. And the realist in me knows that there is no laundry elf, and the longer I let it go, the longer it will take me to catch up, and it is inevitable that I will have to catch up. And the pessimist in me says that if I think I’m supposed to do nothing but play and enjoy my kids all day every day, I’m living in some sort of fairy land, because chores need to get done and people need to be fed. But perhaps there is a fine balance somewhere in between a scheduled day full of chores and errands, and weeks and weeks of dress-up and picnics. Perhaps somewhere in between loads of laundry I can stop long enough to enjoy the closest thing to pure happiness on this side of heaven. Because I’m pretty sure that the parents of those sick kids aren’t too worried about how clean and organized their closets are, or how high up the corporate ladder they have climbed. I’m guessing that they’re trying to squeeze the most out of every single moment that they have with their kids, and taking a million pictures, and jotting down every detail so they don’t forget how their child’s face lit up when a favorite song came on, or how sweet he smelled when he got out of the tub. It’s not fair that one day those memories are all they will have, and that makes me even more grateful for what I have right now: a daily reminder of the fact that God loved me enough to allow me to wake up each day with two living, breathing miracles in my house. And somewhere in between making beds and making mud pies, I will treasure moments. I will take pictures. I will jot down details. And I will remember to be very, very grateful.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Cat Treats

My son is generally a happy boy. As long as his diaper is dry, his belly is full, and he's had his nap, he's pretty easy to please. However, when he gets his mind set on something, he won't easily back down until he gets what he wants. Stubborn doesn't even begin to describe him. He can throw a fit to rival any other toddler's, and he has no shame. He will throw a fit in the quietest of public settings without thinking twice.

The other day, he got hungry, and he opened the pantry to look for a snack. He found a bag of cat treats and decided that this was what he wanted. He handed me the cat treats and said, "Eat." I said, "Gianni, these are for the cats; these are not for little boys." He threw himself on the floor and kicked and screamed, "EAT! EAT!" I tried to reason with him. I showed him the picture of the cat on the package. I tried to give him cheese crackers instead. I offered him a banana. I offered him $100. He would have none of it. He wanted the cat treats. The only thing I could do to maintain the shred of sanity I have left was walk away and let him cry.

I got to thinking about how often I say, "Yes," "No," or "Not now," in any given day.

"Mommy, may I have some juice?"

"Mommy, can I drive the car?"

"Mommy, can we go to the park?"
"Not now."

And that's all before my first cup of coffee in the morning.

I answer the way I do based on what is best for my children and what works with our schedule. Some answers are easier than others. And I'm not always sure that I'm right.

God, the perfect Father, does the same with us. We ask Him things, convinced that this is really what we want, and He says, "No." To Him who sees the big picture, our question may seem as ludicrous as a child asking for cat treats, but to us, we are convinced that this is what is best for us.
We are convinced that we should have a certain job, a certain salary, a certain house, a certain number of kids, a certain spouse.
Sometimes God says, "No."
Sometimes God says, "Yes."
Sometimes God says, "Not now."
And in His case, Father always knows best. Although it is difficult for us to hear His answer sometimes, we must trust that he has our best interest at heart, for He is the perfect parent.

As a parent, my patience has a shelf life. After a certain number of questions, I snap. In contrast, God's patience with me is not an exhaustable resource. He listens to every prayer and is so patient with me as I continue asking for cat treats. Little do I know that He has a fine meal waiting for me instead.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

While we were in Puerto Rico, we went to a beach for part of a day. I had to use the bathroom before I went down to the beach, so I was walking away from the rest of the family. On my way to the bathroom, I saw old buildings in terrible disrepair, a rusted out car on the side of the road, and the street was littered with paper, beer bottles, and a dead animal. Once I got into the bathroom, I looked around to see that there were no doors on any of the stalls, there was no toilet paper or paper towels, and the water had been cut off. Excellent. By the time I left the bathroom (thankful that I carry baby wipes with me at all times), I was more than a little disgusted at this "beach trip."
When I emerged on the other side of the bathroom, this is what I saw.

How on earth could this beautiful, secluded beach be just steps away from all that garbage? As I walked toward my beautiful family (the one I never thought was possible just four years ago), my thoughts turned to my path in life. Sometimes we look around and all we see is garbage. We see everything that is wrong in our little world. We whine to God about the broken glass and garbage, and fail to look a few feet away (or maybe even just a swivel around) to see the beauty in our lives - even when the beauty far outweighs the garbage. There are people who are always looking for what is wrong in any given situation. If you are always looking for something wrong, you will always find it. However, if you are always looking for something right, you will always find that, too, and I have to imagine that the latter people are much happier, and lead much more peaceful, fulfilling lives than the former. I want so badly to be someone who sees the beach and not the garbage in my life. Now I know that it isn't healthy to ignore the garbage altogether, but I want to focus on and be grateful for what is right in my life, while I work on correcting what is wrong. If my only focus is on what needs to change, I will become incredibly overwhelmed and those issues will overshadow all the blessings that I have, and I will never see them or acknowledge them. As Christians, we should be a light in a dark world, shining the light of Christ and His love for all people. If we are always complaining, always judging, always negative, what kind of representatives are we for the King of Glory? I want to positively influence my kids, my family, my friends, and anyone else who God may send my way. I want to embrace and celebrate my wonderful life and all the blessings it contains! I want others to hear my testimony and say, "It really is true... with God, all things are possible!" I want to divert people from the garbage and direct them to the beach (and then introduce them to the One who made it)!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Ice Cream

Tonight after Malia’s soccer game we decided to go to an ice cream shop for a treat. The tables were outside, and on the first “Florida Fall” night of the year (a “cool” 74 degrees), there were many others who had the same idea. As I sat looking around at the other customers, I noticed how different we all were. There was my family, with two children ages three and under, there were two women who were catching each other up on their lives. They had brought photos to share and were excitedly updating each other on mutual friends and family. There was a couple who was obviously at the beginning of a dating relationship, as they seemed nervous, and although flirtatious, didn’t sit too close to each other. There was also a couple in their 60s who had brought the man’s elderly father with them, who couldn’t have been any younger than 90. He moved slowly with a walker and seemed to be enjoying every single bite of his ice cream cone. There were a few other families, each with kids of varying ages, some coming after a soccer game, just like us.
It occurred to me that even though we all seemed so different, we had this one thing in common: we all wanted ice cream tonight. Now, that’s not such a huge deal, and certainly not a reason for us to unite together for some great cause, but we all came from whatever point in life we were, and for a brief blip on the radar, we sat together enjoying ice cream. I looked at my son, who was enjoying his first-ever big boy ice cream cone. I glanced back over at the elderly man, and couldn’t help but wonder how many ice cream cones he had eaten in his life, and whether or not this would be the last time he was here enjoying one. He looked at my son and smiled, and I thought of how wonderful it was to be sitting there with one boy at the very beginning of his life, and one man nearing the end of his, both doing the same thing…eating ice cream. I thought of all the man had been through, and I wondered if he had had a good life. One glance at Gianni with ice cream all over his face, and I thought of what lay ahead for him, and said a quick prayer that he would have a good life, and that he would become the man God wanted him to be.
At one point, a man came by and handed us some napkins. He said that he had been given too many, and I guess it was very obvious that we were going to need more. I thanked him, and he sat back down and began talking to his wife. Chances are that I will never see him again, but sometimes it feels good to just get a little bit of kindness from a stranger. Even though it wasn’t a big deal to hand us a napkin, it was a little tag at the end of the day, reminding me that there are still people out there who notice the needs of others and who make it a point to meet those needs.
The whole experience at the ice cream shop lasted fewer than thirty minutes, but it got my mind thinking about Gary. Gary is a man in his 60s who in I met when I lived in Haiti. He is from the Seattle area, and we taught at the same school in Port-au-Prince. We both lived there at the school, and he was the only American I knew in Haiti. The first day we met, he was sitting out on the stoop to his room, watching The Simpsons on TV. I introduced myself and noticed that he had a gold front tooth with a peace symbol on it. He was under the impression that he was in Haiti to teach English to adults. There must have been some communication failure, because he landed in a classroom full of second graders and had no clue what he was doing. A kindergartener at the school asked him to tie her shoe, and he said, “God! No! Aren’t you supposed to be able to do that? That should be a prerequisite to get into school!”
Gary and I were as opposite as any two people could be. We could hardly find ground that we agreed on. However, because he was the only other English-speaking person around, he became my friend. The president of Haiti would cut the electricity for all of Port-au-Prince and Gary and I would sit in the pitch black, with the sounds of voodoo ceremonies in the background, and debate politics, religion, or which of the Golden Girls was the best. On weekends, we would pay ridiculous amounts of money to get in the back of a semi- truck with pigs and goats and travel to orphanages high in the mountains. For the time that we lived there, he was a father, a neighbor, an older brother, and a friend to me. Had we met in the U.S., we never would have even had ice cream together. But I learned so much from Gary, and I also learned a valuable lesson in kindness and respect for others, no matter if they think like me or not. Gary taught me that I can listen with respect to the opinions of others, and that if I really, truly, believe something, I should never be ashamed of it, and should never cower or hide my passion just because someone else may disagree.
I think that God brings all sorts of people into our lives, whether it’s for a short time, like those folks at the ice cream shop, or for a longer time, like Gary. He never brings just the people that He knows we would get along with; He also brings people who challenge us, who challenge our faith, and who, perhaps, we can point toward Him. Christ died for every single person at that ice cream shop, and He died for Gary, and He died for me. Whether we happen to be all enjoying a cone at the same time, or whether we are out trying to save the world, it's interesting to see all the different people who come across our paths in life, knowing that God loves us all.