Sunday, May 28, 2017

A New Family Sabbath Activity: Hymn Podcast and Coloring Time

If I have one spiritual fear in my life, it's that I'll preach more than I practice. As a blogger, this means I often don't do a post on something new that we've done, because I'm afraid we won't continue doing it. If it is something we've done for a while, I forget to do a post about it. 
This time, I'm posting on something we've only done once, that I hope becomes a weekly tradition.

I recently enjoyed a class on family music at the LDSHE 2017 Homeschooling Conference, taught by Kimberly Blackwell. One of her many suggestions was to listen to the podcast The Evolution of LDS Hymns. As I pondered and discussed with my husband when we would fit this into our lives, I came to envision this as a Sunday activity. My husband asked if I meant to play the podcast in the morning as the children were coming down to breakfast, like I do with conference talks. If we did it that way, I think most of the children wouldn't hear most of it, but I didn't want to force them all to sit down in the living room and quietly listen. Often when I push hard on something, the kids push back.
Well, I waited until after church this evening (and after I enjoyed an hour of quiet time during Q's post-church nap, and people had made themselves PB+J sandwiches) when the inspiration finally struck: coloring time!

When I went down and announced my intention, there was some grumbling. I'm pretty sure I heard "stupid podcast" in it. I cleared off half the table (some people were still sandwiching at the other end of the table). M brought out the coloring books and a gallon bag of colored pencils (don't ask). K asked if it would be okay if he brought down his Harry Potter coloring book, and I began podcast #1: "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet."

That was the most connected half hour of the day. It felt like what Sunday should feel like. K and M colored, S drew, T sought out the New Era, and I helped Q build a train with the Kid K'nex, all while enjoying various renditions of that hymn. It turned out my grumbler thought I was expecting them to sit through another conference talk, and was pleasantly surprised by what we actually did.

I noted in my planner which hymn we enjoyed today, and strongly desire to repeat the experience next Sunday: Hymn podcast and family coloring time!


A Talk a Day . . .

Two weeks before General Conference, we went up to the temple. This is something we often do, but this time felt extra special. Maybe because it was the fifth consecutive month in a row, or maybe because of my determination to put more effort into it, but the week following felt amazingly peaceful. Then we had two weekends of General Conference, with a wonderful week between them, too.
Then things fell apart. I had expected that feeling of peace to go with me the week following Conference, but it wasn't there. Toward the end of the week, I looked back in frustration and wondered, "What went wrong?"

The answer: I got casual in my prayers and scriptures. I thought (without admitting I thought it) that I could keep that feeling by resting on my laurels and giving a skim effort to prayers and scriptures.
Well, that was an easy fix. I began to listen to General Conference talks every morning in the kitchen. I would get through at least one, sometimes two. At first, I had to push myself a bit. I've kept it up, and it has been well worth the resulting peace I have felt.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sunday Journal: Power Outage

We live in an old neighborhood. We were given advance notice that our neighborhood would experience a 12 hour power outage (6 am to 6 pm) on an upcoming Sunday so some of the very old electrical wiring could be replaced.
So, how did our day go?
Well, Cory got up early so he could shower while the hot water heater was still operating, then used duct tape to seal the fridge and freezer closed for the day.
Then I woke up, and found to my dismay that I had failed to plug in my phone or tablet on Saturday night. Oh well. At least my shower was warm.
I had made a double batch of pumpkin chocolate chip muffins the night before, which children were helping themselves to by the time I came downstairs. Then Cory set-up the camp stove on the porch and made pancakes, which we topped with peanut butter and a fresh jar of jam from the pantry.

Once Q woke up, we had a problem. Apparently he had a nosebleed during the night. He cleaned up just fine, but we couldn't run the sheet through the washing machine during a power outage. I soaked it in the bathroom sink, then squeezed it out and tossed it in the tub to wait for further care.

After Cory left for his morning meetings, we got out a preschool board game (Richard Scarry's Busytown Eye Found It! and tried to teach Q how to play. 
It took a few turns before he understood that the magnifying glasses were for circling found objects, not looking through.

We had just cleaned up that game when I turned around and saw that T had brought up Apples to Apples, Jr, so we played that game, too.

We had just enough time to put on shoes, eat a snack, and make it to church early enough for K to assist with sacrament preparations when Q emptied the entire box of Apples to Apples cards on the floor. Somehow I thought we could clean that up and still make it in time. By the time we had cleaned up all the cards, sliced apples and got to church, we were walking in as the opening song played.

Our dinner plan was spaghetti, which we knew we could boil on the camp stove or the stovetop once we got home from church. Thankfully the power was back on by the time we got home (almost 5) because I had just found out we were also responsible for providing treats for the youth fireside that started at 6, and I didn't want to find out whether it was possible to make and chill no-bake cookies on a camp stove and at room temperature.

All in all, it still felt like Sunday, but helped us to think a little more outside our usual habits.


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.