Thursday, June 23, 2011

No natural homemakers here

I mentioned in a recent post how I struggle to keep up with my house. It is a constant, daily battle, and a vast majority of the time over the last few years, one that I felt like I was losing. And not just losing, but going down in flames. Clutter and messes are created at my house at an astonishing rate (as I'm sure is true in any house with young children) but I was usually at a complete loss as to how to combat it. It really was overwhelming.

The last two years have been particularly bad. We sold our previous home around the same time I discovered I was pregnant with Clara and we moved while I was still consumed by a constant nauseous haze. The remainder of that pregnancy and Clara's first year or so of life were very difficult. We had to adjust to having a fourth child and two school aged children with their corresponding activities and Eric and I were over committed to activities outside of the home. It's been difficult recognizing our limitations and adjusting our commitments and expectations.

However, over the last few months the house situation has been slowing beginning to improve. You wouldn't necessarily recognize the improvement if you walked into my house right now. I'm still working on creating the habits we need to keep the house uncluttered on a daily basis. So right now my desk is a fright, the bar in the kitchen is covered in books, magazines and random toys, there is clean laundry on the couch waiting to be folded, there are dishes in the sink and on the counter in the kitchen, the kids' bathroom is absolutely atrocious and the bookshelves are a disaster, besides all the random toys, books and shoes scattered everywhere. But -- BUT! -- the playroom and both the kids' rooms are picked up right now. My room is tidy and the bed is made. I'm not behind on the laundry (I'll have that load on the couch taken care of by this afternoon) or the grocery shopping. I have a time scheduled to clean the kids' bathroom and the kitchen will be back in working order shortly. In other words, everything isn't a complete disaster all the time anymore. There are a few areas in my house at any given time that are actually presentable. And I have a plan in place to at least keep the daily messes manageable. This is a huge improvement for us. And, I expect things to continue to get better.

The main reason for this improvement? Clara turned a year old.

Clara turning one marked a huge change in my daily life. She started nursing less, playing independently more, taking longer, more regular naps and sleeping through the night. It seemed like almost overnight I went from being strung out all the time to actually having time and energy to do things. That restored time and energy has allowed my to start tackling the house.

Over the last few months I've been slowly purging room by room and working through the boxes left over from our move two years ago. I've been reading Smart Martha's Catholic Guide for Busy Moms by Tami Kiser and the down-to-earth suggestions in this book have been exactly what I needed. I also downloaded an app on my iPhone called Home Routine. I understand it creates a similar house keeping plan to what Fly Lady does (I don't know exactly since I've never used Fly Lady's system) and it has been such a wonderful blessing. I thrive when I use check lists and I've tried many, many different versions both paper and electronic. This one has been the best for me with it's daily, weekly and monthly to do lists as well as splitting the house into zones that I tackle one at a time.

I don't know when we'll be blessed with another baby, but in the mean time I am doing all I can to try to bring some more organization into my home so that hopefully the next pregnancy/infant stage won't be so difficult. We've come to realize that one of our biggest problems is that not everything has a place to belong. We've bought bins and baskets to keep toys, games and art supplies in. We've also had to bite the bullet (financially speaking) and buy some furniture, storage pieces mainly: additional dressers for the kids' rooms, storage cabinets for the office. I'm making lots of plans to make our home run more efficiently, am slowly putting them into practice and we're really starting to reap the rewards.

But, the main thing that has led to this improvement in my home-keeping really is Clara's no longer being an infant. I repeat this for myself, so I remember that when things are hard when the next baby comes around, it's because that's just the way it is, not because I'm lazy or some kind of failure. I also mention it again as hopefully an encouragement for any of you other mamas out there in the trenches with little ones who aren't natural neat-freaks. It won't always be this hard. Life won't always feel out of control. Time will pass. Kids will grow. Things will get better. Hang in there. Don't be too hard on yourself. Ask for help when you need it. Pray daily, giving Him your worries and needs, and He will provide.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Photography tip: Get low

There is one photography tip that I would give any new mom (or aunt or godmother) photographer who wants to be able to take some better shots of her kids (or nieces/nephews or godchildren) that is very simple to explain and the results are instantaneous better pictures, regardless of the type of camera being used.

Here it is: Get low. Like, eye level low, when you photograph kids (or grown-ups, too, for that matter).

If your subject is a standing (or running), growing-like-a-weed 9-year-old boy, bend your knees a bit.

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If your subject is a standing 6-year-old girl, you'll have to do a kind of deep-knee bend.

Slipping away...


If your subject is a one-year-old sitting on her Daddy's lap, you'll have to do a squat -- the kind that makes your thighs burn after shooting for a few minutes.

Daddy's Lap

If your subject is a one-year-old standing in the ocean shallows, you'll have to do a deep squat; and, yes, your bum may get unexpectedly wet.

Hold on!

The same goes for a the crazy kids zooming around the house on a plasma car. But, if your bum gets wet while you're shooting in the house, you've got bigger problems than I can help you with.

Week 21: Need for Speed

If your subject is the cute bottom of a standing baby or a little one crawling on the floor, you'll have to get really, really low. Sometimes I squat or kneel and then lean over to the side and get my camera as low to the ground as I can go. Other times I'll lay flat on my belly.

Itty bitty jeans

If I squat and lean or lay down typically depends on the what type of surface I'm dealing with (tile, concrete, grass, dirt, wet sand) and how much extra laundry I'm willing to do.

This is a belly shot (for both of us):

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Give it a try. Focus on always shooting at your subject's eye level.

Whether you're photographing a nose-crinkling, tongue-wagging, rubber-band wrist, thigh-roly-poly, swinging baby...

Thigh rolls, knuckle dimples, crinkled nose and wagging tongue. Yep, this picture makes me smile!

Or a couple of cub scouts catching grasshoppers...

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Get low and at eye-level, even if those eyes aren't actually looking at the camera.

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Your photos will go from snapshots, to true photographs, in no time.

The girl

Happy shooting!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Our Engagement Story

Hallie Lord, aka Betty Beguiles, is hosting a round up of engagement stories today. Her post inspired me to share mine, too!

Eric and I began dating in college and did so for two years before he popped the question in October of 1999. We were both working and paying our own way through school and, when we finally did marry, we knew that we would be combining debts, not assets. We epitomized the stereotypical "poor college students" with our dates consisting of renting a $0.49 movie from the combined change that we scraped up from the seat cushions in our cars to watch after eating a dinner of mac & cheese.

We also knew that we would marry long before we were officially engaged and talked about it often. We made all kinds of plans for the future: lots of kids, Eric starting his own engineering company, me staying home with the children once they started to come, big vegetable gardens, getting debt free as fast as we could.

Eric used to tease me about all the extraordinary ways that he had come up with how he would propose. Supposedly, he had so many great ideas that he was having a hard time choosing which one to go with. "I leaning toward Plan C at the moment," he would tell me. "I just thought of the most amazing Plan J, you won't believe it!" he'd say a few weeks later. By the time he finally proposed, I think he had gotten all the way to Plan Q, at least that is what he claimed.

By our senior year, there was only one obstacle to us officially getting engaged: the ring. Eric wanted to get me a ring, but it couldn't be any ring, it had to be one that he thought was worthy of me. He went shopping and found exactly what he was looking for, but the price tag left him distraught. There was no way he could afford it.

I could tell he was really struggling with the whole ring thing, so we had a long talk about it. We already had a mountain of debt and we really did not want to add to it. The debt was an obstacle to me being able to stay home once we started having children and my being home with the kids was top priority for both of us. The engagement ring no longer seemed like such a wonderful thing to either one of us; it was a burden and was in the way of us being able to fulfill our vocation. So, I told him I didn't want a ring. A wedding band is much more precious to me than an engagement ring, anyway, as it is the symbol of our sacrament. We moved forward with our lives and I have never regretted not having an engagement ring.

I don't know which plan he finally went with, but Eric choose to go simple with the proposal, which suited both of us. We were sitting down to eat dinner together before dashing off to teach RCIA classes at church later that evening. We held hands as Eric led the prayer, first asking the Lord to bless the food and then he asked for a special blessing on the two of us as we were beginning our lives together; he concluded by asking me to marry him. Yep, he proposed with a prayer. And it was perfect. Except we were so excited and busy calling family to tell them the good news that we never did get to eat that dinner. My tummy happily rumbled all through RCIA that night.

We were married 5 months later when he slipped a simple gold band on my finger -- that I absolutely love -- and I slipped a matching one on his. We've been married for 11 blessed years and I wouldn't change a minute of our lives together.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Satisfied sports fan

I've always loved sports. I was the little girl in elementary school who played soccer with all the boys at recess. I played basketball all through junior high and high school and then continued to play intramural basketball in college. I also enjoyed playing weekly games of ultimate Frisbee with friends during college and made regular use of the rec center.

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Not only have I played sports all my life, I love to watch as well. As a teenager and into my twenties I could never get enough of NBA and college basketball, tennis, gymnastics, figure skating, NASCAR races, NFL and college football and, of course, the Olympics. I am in heaven for two weeks every two years when the Olympics are on.

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But, as I have become a mother and slowly added to the size of my family, my ability to participate in or watch sports has drastically diminished. I haven't picked up a basketball in years. I very rarely catch a bit of a college basketball game. I try to watch at least a match or two of Wimbledon, but even that is getting sketchy.

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So, even though youth sports are logistically a major pain, I absolutely love being about to experience them with my kids. We've played a couple of seasons of soccer at the Y with Jonathan and one season with Elizabeth so far. Jonathan is playing baseball for the first time this spring. It is so much fun!

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I love going to the practices and the games. I love that the younger kids get to play outside in the dirt with the siblings of the other players and that everyone comes home dirty and sweaty and renewed by the fresh air.

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And, I might get a wee bit excited during the games. Don't worry, I'm not one of the crazy parents that yell and scream and criticize from the sidelines. I'm one of those crazy parents that yell and scream and encourage and cheer from the sideline. That's a pet peeve of mine. I think parents should only express positive things from the sideline. Sports should be fun!

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Distracted by an airplane passing overhead.

We'll see if I'm quite as enthusiastic this Saturday. Jonathan's game isn't until noon and the high temperature is supposed to be 96°F. But, I guess that's all part of the fun.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Good at/Bad at

Does anyone else have a problem with comparing yourself with other women? I know I cannot be alone in this. I'm horrible about obsessing about the laundry list of things that this friend or that friend is able to accomplish while I can't seem to manage a fraction of those things. Eric gets on to me all the time that I need to stop comparing myself with other people. But, it's hard to turn off those voices in your head, ya know?

So, I've been trying to come up with things that I can tell my self to help me try to stop this pointless behavior. First, I remember my husband's great advice that I'm not supposed to compare my insides to other people's outsides. I also remind myself that these other moms don't have more hours in the day than I do. So for them to get all these things done, there must be plenty of other things that don't get done. Those other things are probably some of the things that I do well. Then I remind myself of all the things that I am good at.

To get a complete picture of any person, you have to understand both the things that they excel at as well as their weaknesses. On blogs we tend to put only our best "out there" for everyone to see. I would never want another woman to feel inferior because she only reads on my blog about my accomplishments. I'm highly flawed and would never want anyone to think I am not.

As a reminder to myself, and as an encouragement to any other of you women who are out there struggling, here's a look at what I'm good at and bad at.

I'm good at:
Cooking/feeding my family nutritious meals
Reading with my children/ teaching them to love books
Doing a task thoroughly
Listening to others
Making time daily to spend with my husband
Making time daily to pray
Keeping track of the family finances
Nurturing my children
Reading (I love to learn new things!)
Disciplining my children
Working off a task list
Not spending money frivolously

I'm bad (more like horrible) at:
Keeping my house/car/desk/counter tops/pretty much anything tidy
Cleaning in general
Getting stressed out over details
Inviting people over for dinner (because my house is always a mess)
Scrapbooking/recording my children's childhood
Printing/framing/hanging the pictures I take
Getting to know people
Returning phone calls
Being spontaneous
Blogging regularly :)

I'm sure there are more things in both of these categories, but that's what I can come up with for now in the sliver of time between supper and bath time.

Does anyone else want to share? Please feel free to leave your own good at/bad at list in the comments or let me know if you do a similar type post on your own blog!