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I am a wife and the mother of five children.  I love my family.  We live on a farm…no pavement in sight.  You know what that means, right?  Dirt.  Dirt, dirt, and more dirt.  Then it rains.  Then comes the LAUNDRY!  Loads and loads and loads of it.  But, that’s just the tip of the iceburg.  

Let’s not forget the dishes.  My youngest doesn’t eat solid food yet, and is exclusively breastfed.  She doesn’t contribute to Dish Mountain.  So, that makes six plates, six cups, six forks, six spoons, six knives…plus all the pots and pans to cook in…for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Doesn’t my life sound glamorous?

Housekeeping is NOT one of my gifts.  Yes, I said it.  I don’t enjoy housework…I’m really not very good at it.  I don’t see all those little tasks that need to be done to keep a house truly clean and comfortable.  I’m generally happy if I manage to keep the dishes clean and enough clean clothes in my kids’ drawers.  I’m very lucky that my husband is an enormous help in this department, too!  He can often be found washing dishes with the kids (like, every night after dinner while I’m putting the baby to bed), folding laundry, or sweeping and mopping the floors.  But, there are always so many more things to be done…and with a two month old infant, even the basics often seem to slip.  Alas, I fall further and further behind.  There’s not enough time or energy to tackle that growing pile of clothes waiting to be folded…much less that big project that needs to be done!

But, I knew what I was signing up for eight years ago when I quit my job to stay home with my oldest…I thought.  Of course, the load has gotten a little heavier with each addition to the family, but that’s to be expected.  My biggest problem is that I tend to look at the housework all wrong.

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I’ve always measured myself, and my personal success, on what I can complete.  What I can finish.  What I can check off that good ole’ to-do list.  With my housework, I always felt like such a failure.

“I found the bottom of the dirty clothes hamper!  Yay me!  I did such a great job today!”

Ten minutes later, I visit the bathroom and the hamper (OK, I’ll be honest, it’s usually the floor in front of the hamper) is already full again!  “All that time spent, and nothing to show for it.”  Sigh.

“Yay!  The dishes are done and put away.  The counters are clean and disinfected.  My husband’s coffeepot is sparkling!”

But then, “Mom!  Can I have a snack?”  And of course, if one person is hungry, everyone else realizes they’re famished too.  They find and finish their snacks, leaving dish carnage in their wake.  It’s not enough to justify a whole new sink full of dish water (No, we don’t have a dishwasher), but if I don’t do it now, after dinner it will look like a dish sculpture of Mount Everest.

 

I looked at the housework as something to be accomplished.  Completed.  Defeated!  But I got so discouraged because it just simply cannot happen.  It isn’t possible.  Even if I were to get every single article of clothing in the house clean, folded, and put away, we’re still wearing something while it’s getting done.  So it isn’t done.

If I can help my kids learn the right attitude about it all, they’ll be so far ahead of me.  My way isn’t the right way to think about all the housework.  Now that I have daughters who are getting old enough to actually help, I have to do my best to make sure they don’t get this attitude about work, and about life in general.  Because honestly, that’s what housework really is…LIFE!  If I can help my kids learn the right attitude about it all, they’ll be so far ahead of me.  

So, now, for that all important question.  How should I try to teach myself to think about housework?  How should I teach my kids?  I already know how NOT to do it.  But how SHOULD I do it?  Well, I’ve got to look at it as an on-going process, not something to be completed.  We can’t stop living because I just swept and mopped the floors.  I have to learn to accept that life happens.  There’s going to be a dog (or 3) who just took a nice swim in the pond trailing my husband who’s carrying a big pile of still mud-caked turnips inside from the garden the day after a good rain.  That’s ok.  So what?  I’ll try again tomorrow (and make my husband sweep again after he’s done washing the turnips!).

I also have to learn (and teach!) that if I’m doing my job right (which I rarely am), no one is going to notice.  But, that shouldn’t be why I do it anyway.  Housework is my act of service to care for my family, to make my guests feel welcome and comfortable…whether they called first or not!  This is one (of many) ways I should be showing love for others.  I should expect nothing in return…not even praise for a job well-done.

If I can impart this hard life-lesson early on in my daughters’ lives (and my sons’ too), that’s just another way to help them live happier, healthier, more satisfying lives than have I.  One way I’ve started is by making sure we do ourZone Cleaning  twice a day, every day!  This program really helps them break down each cleaning task into manageable chunks.  It also helps us all remember that keeping our home neat and clean is an ongoing process…not something to do that stays done forever.  We have to come back to it many times every day!

It’s a work in progress, but someday, maybe I’ll figure it all out!

 

 

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A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook that she had lost her phone.  She has been looking for it for a couple days.  Hopefully, by the time I finish writing this post and get up, she will have found it! 

It can really be frustrating when things get lost.  It’s even more frustrating when you look everywhere you can think, and you still can’t find it.  If you have small children who share your home, you must learn to think like a toddler if you want to find your missing item.  Maybe it’s your phone, maybe your car keys or wallet.  Maybe it’s the keys to the tractor.  So, for those of you who are lucky enough to have a toddler or preschooler living in your home, I’ve put together a list of the strangest places I’ve ever found my missing items…maybe it will help you locate that long-lost set of house keys!

1. The dishwasher

Thoroughly inspect every crevice of your dishwasher.  Look on the inside, look on the outside.  Check inside that little hollow area right under the door handle.  Bear hid my phone in that little hollow once.  I searched and searched for my phone.  It disappeared on a Friday afternoon.  We looked all weekend, but we couldn’t find it.  I was pregnant with Monkey at the time, and we decided it would probably be a bad idea for me to be alone at the house without a phone.  So, Monday morning, I loaded the girls into the car, and went to purchase a new phone.  All was once again right, and I had learned that I should keep my phone up in a higher location!  A few months later, we were giving the dishwasher a thorough cleaning.  I saw something weird in the gap underneath the handle.  I got a pair of kitchen tongs and managed to pull it out.  There it was…my long lost phone…found months too late.  It even still worked!  It became a decoy phone for the kids to play with.  It’s still wandering around the toy boxes to this very day.

2.  A child’s play purse…

…that is inside a stuffed animal backpack all crammed down together in the bottom of a dress-up box.  I can’t make this stuff up!  One of our dear children once absconded with the tractor keys.  For a week, my husband had to hotwire the tractor if he needed it (it just happened to be that time of the year when it was needed…often).  Daddy was mad!  We looked all around the tractor for the lost keys.  We knew one of the kids was responsible for the disappearance, but we weren’t sure which one…though we had our suspicions that it was Lizard.  We really thought they had been dropped outside somewhere, so we searched the entire yard.  I had the kids out searching every day.  One day, I had the girls inside cleaning their room, which looked like a scene from some sort of natural disaster stricken area.  Bear pulled out the backpack.  She looked inside, and pulled out the purse.  Lizard looked up and said, “Oh!  I wondered where this was!”  Then Lizard grabbed the purse and looked inside, wondering what sort of long-forgotten treasure she would find there.  Her face was priceless.  She looked up at me, and back down into the purse and sheepishly pulled out the tractor keys.  “I forgot!”  was all she said.  Then, she started laughing hysterically.  We showed Daddy, who was still a bit irritated, but glad to have the keys back.

3.  A bag of flour

This is one of Rhino’s favorite places to hide things.  Of course, being a family of seven, we don’t ever get the small bag.  Oh no…we buy the 25 pound bag.  I’ve pulled phones, keys, and toys out of the bag of flour.  It’s at that perfect height that just invites little hands to investigate!  Plus, it’s in a bag that’s in a box under the cabinet.  The multiple containers make it extra fun!

4.  Inside a table

This is Rhino’s other favorite place to hide things.  But, inside a table?  How does a small child put things inside a table?  Well, we have two tables that have an inside.  One is the coffee table.  It’s on wheels, so he can push it around the living room.  The top opens so that ideally, you can store blankets or magazines or books…whatever you need accessible but out of site.  It also has doors on the sides so you can access the inside that way.  Rhino likes to put things in the top, then locate them in the blanket stack from the side.  It’s a fun game…until something gets lost in the folds of a blanket.  Then, the mystery can quickly become a tragedy…especially if no one saw him put the item inside the table.  We looked for his “nice” for days once.  His nice is a little blanket that he always sleeps with.  We finally found it inside the coffee table, wrapped up in another, much larger blanket.

We have another table that folds up and stands against the wall most of the time.  It only comes out when we have company and need extra seating at meal time.  The chairs for the table fold and are stored inside the table.  There’s a little door on each side that opens so that the chairs can be removed.  It’s a neat little table that has been with me since my college apartment-dwelling days.  Since the children came along, though, many a small item has turned up inside that little table, sometimes fallen between the cracks in the folded chairs.  

 5.  In the tupperware drawer 

We were visiting my parents a year or so ago.  Rhino was toddling about with his sippy cup most of the afternoon.  When dinner time came, he was very thirsty, and really wanted some juice.  But, no one could find his cup.  We looked everywhere!  Still, no cup.  We finally caved and got out a fresh cup for dinner, but we still needed to find it before we left.  We didn’t want to forget the cup (we only keep a couple at home), and I’m sure my mom didn’t want to find the cup months later…no one enjoys that kind of surprise!

The next day, I happened to open the tupperware drawer (looking for something else, but still unfamiliar with they lay-out of my parents’ new kitchen), which was one of the lowest drawers in the kitchen.  Again, it was the perfect height for little hands to explore!  Low and behold, there was something bright orange showing from an upside-down stack of Ziploc containers (or possibly Gladware…who can tell!).  The color caught my eye, since everything else was clear plastic.  It was also odd for the stack to be in the drawer upside down.  So, I lifted the overturned stack, and there it was…the missing sippy cup!  Found at last.  We were all relieved.  


So, if you ever find yourself missing an item and you have little ones in the house, think like a toddler.  Look inside of stuff that’s inside of something else!  Your mom may have told you to look where you left it, or maybe to retrace your steps.  “It didn’t grow legs and walk off!”  Well, the moral of the story here is…maybe it did!  It just have grown some pint-sized legs and walked somewhere strange…somewhere strange and exciting-to a toddler anyway! 

 

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Last week, my oldest daughter turned eight.  We had a small celebration at home.  We’ll have a party for some friends after the baby comes and we all get settled again.  For our family celebration, we baked a birthday cake to have after dinner.

Baking in a small, galley-style kitchen can be a challenge when you’re 8 and a half months pregnant, and roughly the size of a river barge.  Add four children who want to help to the mix, and you have a situation brewing that’s likely to make you lose your mind!

These experiences, helping Mom or Dad in the kitchen are so important for young children.  They need to learn how to help…and actually be helpful!  They need to learn how to clean up once the job is done.  They need to learn how to read a recipe…and it’s a great way to teach fractions, too!  So, how can you, as a parent, help them to learn all these things while not losing your mind?  You want it to be an enjoyable experience for you all!  You want your children to look back with fond memories of baking in the kitchen with you.

 

I have to admit, before my kids started getting old enough to help, I had very unrealistic expectations of how these cooperative cooking experiences would proceed.  We would have pretty, matching mother and child aprons.  I would look like June Cleaver, with high heels and perfect hair pulling cookies out of the oven with a giant smile on my face (as if anyone can really smile while wearing high heels!).  We would carefully measure, and stir, taking turns nicely while nary a drop was ever spilled.  There would be no flour explosions in our perfect kitchen!  Never an egg shell dropped in the wrong spot!

Oh, how foolish the expectations of a young mother can sometimes be!!!

Well, I’m certainly no June Cleaver, and cooking with even one child is a mess.  Cooking with four is nothing short of a natural disaster of the proportion that deserves its own name!  But, if I let it, cooking together can also be a hugely rewarding experience…both for me, and for the children.

Bear is old enough now that she is actually quite a help.  She knows how to read a recipe, how to measure ingredients, and how to make sure she gets those ingredients (completely) into the mixing bowl.  Lizard is learning, but still needs a lot of help.  On Sunday, she was helping her Daddy make hamburger patties, and managed to squirt raw meat juice all over both their faces!  But, hey…at least she’s excited to get her hands in there and get things done.  Monkey tries-but he still needs very careful oversight!  Rhino…well…he can’t really be trusted not to eat all the flour!

 

If I had never let Bear into the kitchen in the first place, she wouldn’t ever have learned as much as she has so far.  If I don’t let Lizard try to measure and pour by herself, she’ll never figure out how to do it without spilling.  Now, does that mean I don’t offer correction when she makes a mistake?  Absolutely not!  I try to patiently show her a better way, then, let her try it for herself (hopefully without the raw meat juice!).

Patience is not a virtue I possess naturally.  It is something I have to constantly practice and work on.  Sometimes, I have to just stop, take a deep breath, and remind myself that they goal isn’t a perfect cake.  The goal is teaching my children enjoyment of an important life skill: cooking.  When I can keep that goal in mind, it’s much easier to make cooking with my children a fun, relaxed experience…and that’s better for us all!

Here is the finished product for Bear’s birthday cake.  She frosted and decorated it herself, too.  It’s a dinosaur in a field of flowers, in case you’re wondering.  She has never been so proud of a cake!  I’m so proud of her.  She’s growing up so fast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The entomologist interviewed on the local news station assured us that they aren’t ladybugs, but Asian Ladybird Beetles. But they certain look like ladybugs to me. I also seem to remember that someone’s library books about ladybugs said that “ladybird beetle” is one of many alternative names for ladybugs. But that professor on the news really seemed sure of himself. Maybe he just meant that they aren’t the local, native variety of ladybugs. He said they were imported years ago to take care of some sort of crop pest…hmm, aphids, anyone? Anyway, I saw it on the news so it must be true, right?

Whatever the entomologists want to call them, we sure do have a lot of them! They seem to have chosen our house as their hibernation location of choice. Since it got a spot on the news, I assume we must not be all that special.

They’ve shown up every year in mid to late November, depending on when we get our first real cold snap. That’s when ladybug season starts in our house. The children wake up one morning to find hundreds of ladybugs, or perhaps Asian Ladybird Beetles, crawling on the ceilings of their rooms. They start to form clumps in the corners of the rooms, right where the ceiling meets the walls in each of the four corners of the room.

It’s really quite an impressive sight to see. I’ve never seen so many ladybugs in one place! The problem always comes a few days later. You see, Texas winter weather is rather notorious for its roller-coaster type behavior. One day, it will get down to 20F. A couple of days later, we’ll be hitting 80 again. A week later, and we’re back down into the 40s. It’s all very confusing for us humans who have a weather forecast to watch. No one gives the poor ladybugs a weather report. It gets warm, and they think it’s time to wake up. I’m sure many of them get back outside, but many of them don’t. This results in a ladybug graveyard that covers the floors of my children’s rooms. But then, it gets cold again. The cycle repeats itself all winter long.

I feel bad for the the ladybugs.  It must be confusing for them, living in Texas.  I do wish they would stay out of the house.  But, it does amuse the children.  They spend all winter playing with ladybugs inside.  They come and proudly show me all the ladybugs they managed to get to crawl on them at once.  But, in a few days time, they will be vacuumed up, off the floor…more sad victims of a Texan “winter”.  Hopefully, enough of them will last until spring time, which starts in late February or early March.  Goodness knows we’ll need them around by then.  There will be pests-a-plenty outside on all of our garden vegetables.  A feast ready and waiting for the Asian Ladybird Beetle.


If you have this problem as well, there are some things that can be done to get the ladybugs to find a new home.  Check out this Orkin fact page, and this page from household-tips.

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Living on a farm means living in the dirt.  Not only do we live on a dirt road, but we live 3 different dirt roads away from anything paved.  There’s dirt, dust, and gravel everywhere.  Now, what we have here is the beginnings of a recipe for a woman’s slow descent into madness:

  1.  Start with dirt
  2.  Add 4 young children
  3.  Add 1 farmer husband
  4.  Stir in 4 dogs

Mix all together well outside after a rainstorm.  Allow to marinate at least one hour.  Bring preparation indoors.

When we first moved out here, any time it rained, I would ban my poor daughter from playing outside until the mud dried.  But alas, I, a born and bred city girl, was the mother of a true country girl.  Staying inside all day was true torture of the worst kind for Bear.  And when a toddler is confronted with torture, they are experts at handing it right back to you.  

On those days when she was denied the right to play in the great outdoors, I was subjected to the worst punishments from my dear, sweet, daughter.  It was a vicious cycle.  The confinement I imposed on her drove her crazy, her cabin fever drove me crazy.  Something had to give.

The following year, after Lizard was born, was the great drought of 2011.  Mud…well, it wasn’t so much of a problem.  There were plenty of other problems…failed crops, the struggle to find and buy hay, and wild fires, to name a few.  But we didn’t have to deal with mud.  With all those other things to worry about, I forgot all about mud.

Eventually, rain came again.  And as usual, in Texas, when a drought finally breaks, it does so in dramatic fashion.  There were tornadoes and over nine inches of rain in one night.  It continued raining for the next couple of days, though not as torrentially as it had that first night.  We were so grateful for the rain, that all of us were out in it, playing in it and getting all wet.  By the end of the day, Bear was covered in mud from head to toe…and she was loving it!

A lot has changed since then.  Instead of 2 children and 2 dogs worth of mud, there are now 4 children and 4 dogs.  There’s also a husband, working in the garden, and in the pasture.  He brings in all sorts of root vegetables…turnips, carrots, sweet potatoes.  Guess what they’re all covered with?  You got it…mud.  There’s mud on the porch, mud on the floors, mud in the clothes, and mud in the sink.  What’s a mother to do to keep her sanity?  Well, here’s my few tips to deal with all the dirt. 

Have a designated set of clothes.

If you have a certain set of clothes set aside for your kids to play in when its muddy outside, you will save yourself a lot of stress!  These are the only clothes the kids are allowed to wear when it’s muddy.  They can all be washed together, and you don’t have to worry about whether or not all the stains come out or not.  We’ve been lucky enough to have a large set of well-used hand-me-downs from various donors to pick these outfits from.  Once a shirt or pair of jeans gets a hole, it goes into the “mud clothes” stash.  We also use my old t-shirts for this purpose.  Incidentally, you can also use these designated clothes to bring peace of mind to other “messy” activities…like painting, for instance.

Have a designated area for wet, muddy clothes.

If you can contain it before it hits your floor, the wet, muddy things don’t make so much of a house-mess impact.  This one is perhaps a little bit easier when you live in the middle of nowhere.  My husband built a little rack that sits next to our front door on the front porch.  When the kids come in wet and muddy, their clothes go on the rack, and they go straight to the shower.  No questions asked, everyone knows what to do.  It makes life a lot simpler.  The clothes can go out to the washing machine straight from the front porch, and all that extra mud never has to even come inside the house.

Ditch the carpet.

Carpet holds on to dirt and mud.  We have tile throughout our entire house now, except one room (and the floor in that room is on the list for replacement).  If you choose tile, choose a darker color for your grout…it won’t stain as badly (even when you seal it, it still will stain eventually).  One of my biggest regrets about the way we finished out our house here originally was choosing to put carpet in the bedrooms.  I had my reasons, but I have to admit, it was a mistake.  You can always add throw rugs that can easily be washed on top of a hard flooring option.

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Learn to accept imperfection.

With 4 kids, living on a working farm, and 4 dogs…my life is going to be messy.  There’s no getting around it.  If it’s muddy outside, there’s going to be some mud on the floor.  If the kids don’t track it in, my husband’s boots will (and to be honest, if mud is the worst thing I have to worry about on my husband’s boots, it’s a good day!).  And the dogs are sure to have rolled in it before coming inside.  If you come visit me, and it has been raining, my floors will be dirty.  Just close your eyes, don’t look…and for goodness sake, don’t worry about your own shoes!  

Mud is always going to be part of life.  Especially out here.  There are some things in life worth worrying about.  Mud just isn’t one of them.  So, I’ll accept the fact that the dogs will track in dirt and deposit it all over the house.  I’ll be grateful for that sink full of muddy vegetables for my family to eat.  I’ll let my kids go outside and be mud magnets.  I’ll let them have fun and be kids.  We can clean it all up.  I refuse to lose my sanity over it. 


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