Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tidying Up My Two-Year Old's Books, Toys, and Closet Using the KonMari Method

Life Changing Magic
Two years ago I read the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which is written by Japanese organization specialist Marie Kondo (named one of the top 100 most influential people by Time Magazine). At that time I began going through some of her steps, but wasn't sure how to apply it to a family life (not just my personal belongings). I recently discovered a whole series of youTube videos where the author helps someone to "tidy up" their home. Watching an episode where she assisted a family answered some of my lingering questions and gave me the enthusiasm to try again.
Before organizing your belongings, it is important to go through them to make sure everything you have really "sparks joy." Unlike most other advice on decluttering, she encourages you to declutter by category, not room. She also encourages you to go through the decluttering in the following order:
  1. Clothing
  2. Books
  3. Papers (for him: vital documents)
  4. Miscellaneous (in this case: toys)
  5. Sentimental (photos, cards, baby clothes, etc.)
Clothes and Baby Clothes (Steps 1 and 5)
One day in late summer or early fall, my husband and I were in the garage and impulsively went through the enormous tote of baby things, keeping only what we really loved, and letting go of everything else. I created a capsule wardrobe for my toddler for the fall and winter months. So, while there is room for going through Q's clothing again, I decided to jump in with step 2.

Books (Step 2)

I expected to focus on the category of books for about a week, as I was doing all the books in the entire house. It helped that I allowed myself to focus on subcategories: baby/toddler books, kids' books, cook books, etc. What most amazed me as I went through the week was how many odd places I kept finding books in. Of course there was the board book shelf. There were also a couple strays in the van, in the entryway, under a pile of papers, in his church bag, in a shoebox in the top of the closet, etc. The most important reason I didn't rush this category was because it took me a while to realize where all the books were.
A year ago, the only books suitable for Little Q were board books. Now he is 25 months olds. Some of the board books have become dreary or thrashed. Most of them he enjoys on a now-and-then basis, like seeing an old playmate. He has also begun taking interest in some picture books. Yet there are any number of books in our house that are so long and complicated that I don't need to read them to him until he is at least three or four. So my book sorting went like this:
  • Board books we still enjoy
  • Picture books he can enjoy this year
  • Picture and story books I am happy to look forward to reading with him in a year or two
  • Dr. Seuss (yes, it's own category. My husband grew up on Dr. Seuss's books and considers them an indispensable part of childhood. He would replace any I let go of)
  • Thrift store
  • Recycle or trash (yes, we had a few books not even the poor would want)
I have decided not to store any of the "future reading" books in Q's closet or on his bookshelf. Picture books he might enjoy a year or two from now (but not yet) will be stored elsewhere.
Looking at the board books and picture books he can enjoy this year has definitely been a source of joy for me today. I decided to store some of them on the shelf beside the love seat in my bedroom, which is where I like to sit when I read to him, and the rest will be stored on a shelf in his little closet as a personal library. Since the books would fall through the wire shelving on their own, I put them in a plastic bin. I chose to stand them up, which makes it easier for me to see and select individual books.

Vital Documents (Step 3)
The only papers Q has right now that I consider worth keeping are the papers that prove he's alive, an American citizen, and one copy of his most up-to-date vaccination record. These are kept with the family's filing system, but sorting through that is another post. I'll go double-check his file when I go through the family's papers again. This is one of the steps that I did thoroughly two years ago.

Toys (Step 4, Miscellanous)
We moved into this townhouse while I was pregnant with Little Q. His older sister's bedroom had one closet of fairly standard size, and another that was very small, but had floor-to-ceiling shelves. She got the bigger closet, of course. In the smaller one I placed the preschool supplies leftover from older siblings, a heavy stack of picture books, remnants of my childhood dollhouse, several things of toys, and bags of baby clothes sorted by size.
Before I even started sorting Q's toys, I pulled everything out of his closet for the first time in his life. As I didn't wait for naptime, there was a bit of merry chaos involved. I resolved to put back in the closet only those things that sparked joy for Q as a two year old, including:
  • Playmobile 123 vehicles
  • A fabric road map, folded up
  • Duplo block vehicles and trains
  • A box of dinosaurs
  • A box of puppets


Outside of the closet, there was a pile for the thrift store, a box of summer clothes he will grow into, and a small pile of preschool toys and supplies. We've already dropped off the thrift store pile. By the time I'm done doing KonMari with the rest of the house, I hope to have found the "right" place to store his spring wardrobe and preschool supplies.

Maintenance
I finished "tidying" Q's things last week. His teddy bear goes in his crib, his lightning bug flashlight on his little dresser, and his clothes in the dresser. Aside from that, the only toy we are currently keeping out is the train. He enjoys playing with that the most often, so we set up the track where it won't be under foot and left it out. We've changed the track several times in the last week. When he wants to play with anything else, we get one bin out of his closet. When he's done with it we put it away. If he wants a different toy down, we first put away that toy.
I'm hoping I can be self-disciplined enough to keep it this way. He has already gotten used to the new system.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Three Meals a Day and Postpartum Weight Loss

With my first four babies, the pregnancy weight came off every time. More than six years passed between the end of my fourth pregnancy and the beginning of my fifth. We graduated college and moved to a new place. My children got older. And I gained weight. It was only about fifteen to twenty pounds, but it refused to acknowledge my attempts to exercise or eat differently.
Oh, well. We weren't starving college students anymore. That's what I told myself, but it was still annoying to me.
A few days after Baby Q was born, I stepped on the scale. In the whole messy process of giving birth to a nice sized baby, I had only lost about 10 pounds. The total weight of the fluid, placenta and baby was surely closer to 15-20 pounds. Yet there we were. That weight did come off, and it was somewhat faster than a thawing glacier, but when I got to the pre-pregnancy range, it leveled off. That had never happened before. 
Oh, well. I was older. They say these things happen.
Around this time I read Lessons from Madame Chic, by Jennifer L. Scott. In her first few chapters, she describes the eating habits of her French host family. It was refreshing to read about eating habits without the negative baggage and scare tactics that so often go along with the topic. It allowed me to be less neurotic about what I was eating, and reminded me of the importance of sitting down to eat three meals a day. 
I had been skipping lunch in an attempt to keep getting things done, but would pull things out of the cupboard and munch on them as I went to keep the edge off my hunger. I committed to eating three proper meals a day, plus sometimes one small snack. 
I lost 15 pounds in the next three months.
I lost it without cutting carbs or butter, without exercising more, and without counting calories. I just stopped skipping meals, stopped snacking, and avoided overly generous portion sizes.
Now, when I weaned the baby, I did bounce back up a few pounds, but I was okay with that.

Tips on Eating Three Meals a Day
  • Eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Don't skip meals.
  • Meals only happen sitting down. Don't eat while standing, walking, or driving.
  • If you can't see a fruit or vegetable, it isn't a meal.
  • Use moderate portions: not too big, not too small.
  • A moderate-size treat is fine immediately following either lunch or dinner. For example, a single brownie slice, small to medium slice of cake, or a single truffle. If you've just eaten a proper meal, it's less tempting to overeat treats.
  • Don't graze on foods in the cupboard. If you must snack, think of it as a fourth mini-meal and sit down for it. If I offered my children an after-school snack, I allowed myself a moderate-sized serving along with them, as long as I was sitting down.
  • Pause and think twice before seconds. There seems to be a delay between when you are full and when you realize you are full. Are you really still hungry? If so, go ahead. 
You don't need to eat tiny, 300 calorie meals to maintain a healthy weight, or even to lose weight. That's unhealthy and unsustainable. You'll probably end up snacking several times a day on "healthy" granola bars, handfuls of nuts, etc. to make up for how hungry you feel. If you are eating three more moderate size meals that average 500-600 calories each, you will feel more satisfied. You will be more fun on dates. Your kitchen will stay cleaner. You'll probably save on grocery bills (snacks tend to be more expensive per ounce than meals). You might even slip into a healthy weight range without even trying.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Chapter a Day: 5 Ways to Read Scriptures as a Family



December 31st, 2016, at around 10pm our family finished reading the Book of Mormon for the third year in a row. Four years ago I wouldn't have thought it possible.
We had been reading a few verses a night to the children for years, but had never made it even halfway into the book. I was talking with my mom one day and she pointed out that all four of my children could read, and that it might be time to change how we were doing family scriptures.
It was almost the New Year (2014), so we planned to delay our start until then, with the goal of reading a chapter a day until we finished the book. Our first year we finished in late October, then started over again in January each year since.
With a little trial and error, we decided it works best for us when we start 1 Nephi chapter 1 on January 1. This does skip over the title page and various testimonies, but it makes it easier to build the every day habit, as the chapter we are on corresponds with the day of the month for the first three weeks of reading. By then it's a habit, and success encourages more success, so we can complete 2 Nephi chapter 9 on the last day of January.

Five Ways to Read Scriptures as a Family
  • In a circle. One verse per person at a time, passing to the next person after one verse, going around in a circle as many times as it takes to get through the chapter. This can happen at the dinner table, sitting in the living room, or kneeling around the parents' bed.
  • Divide and Conquer. Divide the number of verses (or columns) by the number of readers. Each person reads their set amount before passing off to the next person. Sometimes we divide unevenly, so the youngest reader gets the shortest set, and the parents each read the most. One way to do that is to count the adults as two people before you divide. For example, if there are 2 children and 2 adults to read 24 verses, you would divide 24 by six. Each child would read 4 verses, and each adult would read that amount twice (8 verses each). Also, if you divide and there is a remainder, the adults or stronger readers can read that portion as well.
  • Lights out. If a busy evening brings lights out before the whole family is home and ready, we might have one adult read aloud in the hallway while the children stay in bed.
  • Audio. We play this through the LDS Gospel Library app on our phones or tablet. The audio doesn't download to your device when you download the text, so this will use cell data if you're away from wifi. We sometimes use audio in the car when we are driving home late from an activity or at home after lights out. It has been a lifesaver on tired nights when no one is up to reading that chapter.
  • From the TV. My husband air played the scriptures on his cell phone to our big tv. Everyone was able to read their assigned verses from there. This is great for the novelty of it, but it also keeps everyone on the same page. Depending on the tv size, this might help emerging readers follow along better.
Our family isn't perfect. Any of our neighbors or acquaintances can tell you that. Our scripture study isn't perfect either. Sometimes a child wanders off in the middle of it. Other times people are talking over and around the reader. Yet there are those shining moments when they exclaim, "I know this story! Isn't this the one where . . . " or when something catches their attention and they make an informed observation or even question. Those shining moments are what we are working for--the hope that somewhere along the way, even if we our way is bumpy and covered with weeds, the children are building strong testimonies they will need to become the strong leaders God sent them here to be.
If we can do it, you can too.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Another Perfectly Imperfect Christmas


On the piano is my cherished ceramic nativity set. It's the same style as the one my mom hand glazed many years ago, which was the same as the one her mother had. Colorful and shining, Joseph and Mary kneel in the stable next to a beautiful manger with a cherubic Christ-child, surrounded by quiet, clean, glazed animals.
Gazing at it, I slip into thinking the first Christmas was like that: perfect.
Perfect? To walk or ride 200 miles while nine months pregnant? To give birth in a stable?
Perfect? For the Son of God to sleep in an animal trough?
Yes, it was perfect. Perfectly imperfect. The King of Kings needed to descend below all things and take upon himself all our sufferings, so all of those seeming imperfections served higher, perfect purpose.
So you might say imperfection -- perfect imperfection -- is one of the most enduring Christmas traditions, predating even the gifts of the Wise Men.


What Made This Christmas Perfect?

Little Q using a sticky candy cane as a stylus on my phone
OR
His joy and delight at seeing his Christmas Eve pajamas 
covered in construction vehicles
*  *  *  * 
The broad smiles and "Merry Christmas!" greetings when we went to church Christmas morning
OR
That I had to spend most of the service wandering the halls 
because Little Q was too excited to sit quietly in the chapel
*  *  *  *
The joy of decorating gingerbread cookies together
OR
The pile of dirty dishes that was still there Christmas morning
*  *  *  *
That the stockings didn't seem quite as full as last year
OR
How beautiful the tree looked as we came down Christmas morning
*  *  *  *
That I missed the sale on what could have been the perfect gift
OR
The joyful, unexpected, spontaneous hugs of appreciation the 
children gave each other after opening gifts


?

I don't plan on imperfection each December. Somehow or other, it always comes. Movies, books, and my Pinterest feed give me such unrealistic expectations for this most sacred of holidays. Each year is supposed to be perfect; the best Christmas ever. I think it is good to remember that one or two or ten moments of catastrophic imperfection doesn't wipe away all the peace, goodwill, and joy of this season. There is room for a little, or even a lot, of imperfection in the perfect Christmas.
Merry Christmas.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Toddler Gift Guide: Consumer Reviews by a Two-Year and His Mom

My little boy just turned 2. With Christmas coming, I thought I would share a few of the birthday gifts he liked for those who might still be Christmas shopping for a young child.
Here are a few of the gifts he loved:


LEGO DUPLO Cars and Trucks Building Blocks
I've seen and fiddled with a number of build-a-car sets. This one knocks them out of the water. First of all, because all of the blocks fit between the wheel bump, toddlers don't have to find the "right" pieces in the right order to build a vehicle. This is truly a mix and match set. Most build-a-car sets I've seen are like puzzles--if you lose one piece, you might as well throw out the whole set.
What takes it to eleven is the parts that pivot: a ladder that articulates *click-click-click* as it is positioned higher or lower, a tow hook that can move back and forth, and a dump truck that really dumps.
I was concerned the blocks might be a little too hard for a two year old to take apart and put together, but after a few days he stopped asking for help.
With hours of play following a price tag of less than $16 (current Amazon price) this gift has had the most bang-for-the-buck of the birthday gifts this year.
Below is one of the many vehicles my two-year old has made without any help at all.



Brio Classic Figure 8 Set
There are cheaper train sets on the market, but if you want (and can afford) quality, Brio comes highly recommended, and the Figure 8 Set is a beautiful starter set. Q loves to sit either inside one of the loops or next to them and pull the train along the track. The magnets that connect the train pieces are strong enough to keep the train together with a little rough handling, but not too strong for a toddler to separate pieces when desired. Little Q has figured out how to connect track pieces, but it never ends up as a finished loop when he does it, so he frequently asks for help: "Hep. Hep."
Before Q got this train set, my husband pointed out one of the table train sets. No, thank you. This beautiful toy can be put in a shoebox in the closet when we want to play with something else. The table train sets would take up precious floor space all the time. It's a personal choice, but I definitely prefer the flexibility this allows.
The company recommends this toy for ages 2 and up. Brio is a Swedish company. Like other European toddler toys, small parts are consider okay at a younger age than they are by US standards. If your little one still chews and sucks on their toys, I would certainly recommend waiting for them to grow out of that phase before getting a toy with small parts.


Balance Bike
The jury is still out on this set of wheels, and may be until spring when it has more opportunity to be used. It's nearly impossible to find a toddler-size peddle bike, but a number of companies do make balance bikes. There are no pedals or training wheels. It's like a cross between a scooter and a bicycle that has gained a loyal following. Other parents have claimed that, while this ride on toy takes longer for the kids to get used to, it makes that transition to a two-wheeled bicycle a breeze, with kids as young as four learning to peddle without training wheels in one afternoon.
Based off of consumer reviews, we went with a Strider Balance Bike (one of the most expensive brands). We chose to buy this expensive bike used, and I'm glad we did. A few scuffs in the paint is completely worth it to save $50 on a toddler toy. If you just search for "balance bike" you can find other brands that have a cheaper price for their new bikes. Just be sure to read the reviews and compare.
Our fabulous UPS delivery man came to our door empty handed because the box it shipped in had a picture of a bicycle on its side, and he wanted to let us know before he left it on the porch where the kids might find it first.

Monday, December 12, 2016

What We Read at the Hospital

After we set-up the Christmas tree on Saturday, our family went out to play in the common area. It was sunny and around 52 degrees, which seemed inviting at the time. We ended up around the play set. Little Q was showing off how he could climb ladders without help (but with lots of spotting) and M had crossed the monkey bars once already.
She lunged from the play set and caught the third rung out. Another time she missed and landed on her feet. She went right back up to try again.
I turned back to Little Q, who likes to tease me by walking closer to the openings on the play set than he knows I like. It's a game. He holds the bars, leans back, and puts one foot out in the forbidden space off the play set. I clap-growl, and he backs off, laughing. He had all my attention when I heard a heavy sound behind me, followed by a faint whimper, and turned to see M crumpled up on the rubber bark. She had missed.
Cory and I were beside her in an instant, asking her again and again where it hurt, ready to help the moment we knew our touch wouldn't dislodge something broken. "My arms!" she finally articulated. "My arms hurt!" We helped her stand and walked her straight home (it wasn't far). She walked slowly, as if each step caused more pain. There was no question about it. She was going to the ER almost immediately. At the house I collected a change of clothes with wide sleeves, her purple fleece blanket, two picture books and my iPad.
Usually I have a rule: no one under the age of 12 is allowed to sit in a front seat when I'm driving. M has another year to go, but the front seats are heated, so I insisted she sit there. 52 degrees quickly turned from pleasantly adventurous to unpleasantly cold for her, and she was shivering. She whimpered when I accidentally brushed against her fingers, and I didn't dare slip her hands through coat sleeves, so we spread a blanket across her lap and turned on the heated seat for the drive.
In the waiting room she was shivering again and had rapid, shallow breathing. I hoped they would bring her a heated blanket soon. I pulled out the first book I had brought and began reading Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas. Once we finished that, I began reading Mad About Madeline* (a collection of all the Madeline picture books). I've found that rhyming couplets can be a soothing distraction to people in pain, similar to rocking back and forth and stroking their forehead. Madeline is completely written in rhyming couplets.

In the first story, our adventurous Madeline "sat in bed. Cried and cried. Her eyes were red." A doctor determines she has appendicitis and "in a car with a red light they drove out into the night." We are spared all the scary details of her surgery, but her 11 visiting friends are surprised to see a scar, along with toys and candy and a dollhouse from Papa. The final page begins with the soothing words "'Good night little girls. Thank the Lord you are well. And now go to sleep,' said Miss Clavel."
This isn't the only Madeline book with sickness and healing. In Madeline's Rescue, the adventurous little girl walks on the railing of a bridge and falls into the River Seine. "Dear Madeline would now be dead, but for a dog that kept its head." After warming Madeline up safe at home, the book focuses on the beautiful stray dog that rescued Madeline and comes to stay at their school.
Madeline and the Bad Hat is a story about the Spanish ambassador's lonely and mischievous son Pepito who lives next door. Thanks to a bad decision involving one cat and all the dogs in the neighborhood, Pepito is visited by the doctor and left in a four poster bed, covered in bandages. This isn't the end of the story, just a turning point. When we see Pepito next, he is well and whole again, and displaying his reformed behavior.
Reading picture books like that helps children realize that their terrible experience is just a page in their story and that they actually will get well soon and have happy things in the future.
By the time they moved her from her check-in room to the larger room they would set her bones in, we had completed the entire thick book, which had given her something nice to focus on, while she was trying to ignore the pain.

Choosing Books for a Child's Hospital Visit
1. Choose a book that your child would have enjoyed if they were a couple years younger. A young adult may prefer middle grade novels, and elementary kids may relax best with picture books.
2. Choose books with happy endings. Children's literature is famous for happy endings, but there are a few tearjerkers to watch out for.
3. Try books with a healing theme. Older children may enjoy The Secret Garden. The Madeline books are great for younger children.

To finish M's story: yes, she did break both arms. Yes, they are healing nicely and she won't need surgery (a specter raised at the ER, after three failed attempts to set and cast her right wrist).
Yes, she missed school for a week. Once the swelling went down and her fingertips were less sensitive, she regained a lot of her independence.
Yes, she will get better. Her cast is scheduled to be removed two days after Christmas. It will be okay.

*Note: Mad About Madeline seems to be out of print and replaced by the nearly identical A Madeline Treasury. Some reviewers note that there is a typographical error on page 300 of this edition (in Madeline's Christmas).

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Christmas Sunday Advent

This month I reread the merry little christmas project. One thing the author encourages is to write a Christmas "to don't" list. The first thing that came to mind was elves. There will be no elf on my shelf.
The second "to don't" took a little longer to form in my mind. Here it is: daily advent calendars
You see, I've tried and failed with so many different advent calendars over the years as a mom. Paper chains, magnets on muffin tins to name a couple. I guess I'm too tired at bedtime to do them consistently. And don't get me started on some of the daily advents I've seen on Pinterest: decorate sugar cookies today, take the kids sledding tomorrow, go caroling on Thursday.
Really? Who has that much time on a weeknight?

I wanted an achievable way to enjoy Christmastime, and I wanted it to involve happy times as a family and the true meaning of Christmas.
That's when I had my idea for a Christmas Sunday Advent.

There are four Sundays between Thanksgiving and Christmas (not including Christmas Day). If I could make an advent that only needed to be done four times during the month, my chances for success increase exponentially. For us, church gets over at noon, leaving us about eight hours of I-don't-know-what-to-do-with-myself family bonding time. Perfect.

Christmas Sunday Advent

I love the flashing Christmas lights.
The shows and parties are delights.
Better yet are days of rest,
For family time is always best.

Each Sunday until Christmas Day
Let’s meet beside this tree to pray—
For peace on Earth and in our hearts
Begins at home—that’s where it starts.

A gift like this, expect to see
Underneath the Christmas tree.
Look inside and you might see:
A puzzle we can put together
A family photo book to treasure
A small token of the reason
For the joy we have this season.

Some might be old, some might be new.

The real gift is time with you.

The above is a poem I wrote to attach to a gift bag or box the children can find under the tree the first Sunday after Thanksgiving.

If you prefer, you could wait until the first Sunday in December, or until there are only two Sundays left. Your kids don't have to know that I did it for four Sundays.

Since I'm only trying to create four more magical days in December, instead of the 12 or 24 required by most advents, I can afford to put more thought into what special thing(s) might happen. Remembering that the goal is family time and remembering Christ, here are a few ideas that fit well in a gift bag or small box:
  • Advent Candles, 1 per week (search Pinterest for some great ideas)
  • Candy cane tie (boys) or hairbow (girls) for church/parties
  • Books to read together
  • Board Book of the Christmas Story
  • Puzzle (200-500 piece suggested for school age and up)
  • Printed Coloring Pages
  • Instructions or supplies for parlor games, such as Christmas Charades or Christmas Pictionary
  • A toy nativity set
  • DVDs, such as Mr. Kruger's Christmas
  • Family photo book (new or old)
  • Family photos, unbound
  • Christmas craft kits
  • "Tickets" to a church choir performance
  • Cookie mix, sprinkles and frosting bags

One of the tricks to making this cheap and easy is to get into the garage boxes without the kids seeing. I've pulled out the toy nativity set, cookie cutters, a DVD, and a Hallmark Christmas book that has a recording of the Grandparents reading (since we took the batteries out before storing, it still works beautifully).
At the craft store I bought a couple 50% off craft kits. There were a couple Christmas ties at the thrift store. I printed Christmas charade cards to cut and put in an envelope. I'm almost done creating an 8x8 photo book of the last two Christmases.

Below find links to see what we specifically put into each Sunday Advent bag/box, and how the kids reacted to it:
[to be updated weekly, beginning on or shortly after Sunday, November 27th, 2016]