Awana Awards and Minimalism

Thanks so much for the comments on the last post! It makes me happy to feel the love from my family and friends alike, who are still chugging away with me:) I love you guys!!

I know these pictures aren’t the greatest (because I totally lack the confidence to run up the aisle and be snapping sappy-mom pictures!!) however, last night was the last Awana night for the year and it was Awards night! Every volunteer got little pins and all the kids got certificates, ribbons and plaques, etc, depending on what they accomplished through the year!

Zakkai was a Sparky (K-2nd grade) and his group were the “Green Frogs.” He finished 2 whole books this year, which would be somewhere between 175-200 verses memorized! He would often do 5 or more sections per week. He got two ribbons!

Ben was a TNT shepherd this year and his group was called the “Red Lobsters.” He had mostly girls:) And a very sweet bunch of girls, too! I was a “Listener” so kids would come out in the hallway to read verses to me and a couple of Ben’s girls were a little too shy to read to him so they came out to me:)

Samuel (front row) was a “Blue Shark” and he was a TNT (3rd-6th grade.) He finished his whole first book, which was somewhere around 130ish verses. The books get harder as you go on so his were more difficult than Z’s.

Samuel was one of 4 to get the Alpha award for finishing his book! He got a really cool glass award to wear around his neck:)

The Cubbies, Eliana’s group (ages 3-Kindergarten) got their Awards and ribbons last week. They got a quick recognition and then got to go do a craft. It was such a fun experience over all for our whole family. It was hard some weeks to rush, rush, rush to get there but so good for our kids to learn all the verses and for Ben and I to be able to be volunteers and help out. We will definitely be doing it next year!

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If you’ve followed my blog for awhile, you’ve probably heard me mention one of my favorite books on organizing several times! Go ahead and roll your eyes but I’m about to mention it again!

It’s called “Organized Simplicity” by Tsh Oxenreider. I have LOVED this book since the minute I got it. I’ve read it cover to cover a few times and am starting again. The organizing/simplicity bug hits me usually around January or in the spring time, when I feel a renewal of energy.

As you know, our schedule has been much busier than we are used to with both of us working 2 jobs and now with sports practices and games. We only have one weeknight where we don’t have to rush off to something! One of my jobs is cleaning houses and an office and by the time I get home, the last thing I want to do is clean my own house!

I told Ben I’d like to pay someone to clean our house:) haha. Lately, I’ve been intrigued by and researching the idea of minimalism. Of course, not on the extreme end! We will not be moving into a 128 sq foot house or allowing our children only to play with blades of grass or wearing the same clothes every 3 days. But it would be a whole lot easier to keep up on our home if we had less stuff!

I found a blog about minimalism and while they take it to a point I am positive we will never reach, having kids and all, I am intrigued with some of their ideas! One thing I am challenging myself to do and throwing out to you (yes, yes, it’s true!!) is the 30 Day Minimalist Game!

I am starting tomorrow! The rules are: You have to get rid of one thing on the first day. Two things on the second day. Three things on the third and so on. Yikes! I’ve heard it gets challenging by week two! You have to either trash, donate or sell your item(s) by midnight that day! In other words, out, out, OUT of your house before remorse sets in and you end up tucking it back in its dusty spot!!!

We got rid of a LOT of stuff before we moved here last summer. Moving is, after all, the ideal time to purge. I also got rid of some more as we unpacked. We have an out of control pile of stuff taking up our basement that is waiting for a garage sale. I will be SO relieved to have it all out of the house!! Plus, it never hurts to make a little extra cash:) Maybe some for our kitty jar! Or maybe a long-dreamed of family vacation!

So, if you want to tag along and try to challenge yourself, join me this month in May! Let’s see how much we can get rid of!! I will be keeping a running list of what I purge and I am going to see how far I can get with this. Less to clean, less to dust, less mess!

Who’s with me? (this is where you chime in!!)

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Weekend!

 It’s been a nice weekend! Usually the most exciting thing we do is visit the library or something of that caliber but yesterday we went to a model train show downtown! It was free for kids and it was very crowded!

It’s fun to see all the little cities and scenes set up. There is a lot of detail in each one!

We really enjoyed walking around watching the trains and studying the details of the cities. They had trains for adults and trains for kids, too!

Z even got to help drive one of the trains sets:) Our favorite part was listening to an expert speak on Walt Disney and the Railroad. It was really cool and we learned some neat facts! A nice way to spend our morning:)

Ben had to work for a little while later in the day so after I fed my trio, we attempted our first game ever of Monopoly! The boys really liked it and Eliana did, too, and tried to buy as many properties as she could:) She said to me, “Now I know how to play Monopoly! You just go around and around the board.” Wish it were that easy!

I finished my cooking magazine project! It took almost two weeks of working in all my “spare time.” I love, love how it turned out!! I made a little cover by cutting out magazine letters.

I got a 3 inch binder since I was going through about 100 magazines. I probably could’ve gotten away with a 2-inch but I wanted to have plenty of room in case I add to it later.

I got wide tab dividers for all of my categories. Each recipe is cut out and glued on a thicker white paper and in a plastic sheet protector. There are about 60 pages, front and back. Can’t believe I reduced all those magazines to one binder! I think it’ll be so much easier for me to use now and it makes me look forward to cooking more!

(this was about half of the magazines I went through!)

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And this afternoon, we met some friends at the park for about an hour and got a little exercise and fresh air, which always lifts the spirits! It was by no means a beautiful day, being muddy and misty off and on but it was good:)

Now we’re ready for a new week!

Books galore and projects!

Eliana and I have actually had a fairly quiet day today, which is rare for us! She is always coming along with me to clean houses or running errands, going to preschool, etc. We weren’t intending to stay home today but plans changed because Ben was sick this morning (he is better now) and Eliana agreed that it was nice to just “be” today!

We played some Legos. She is getting quite a nice little collection of Disney princess Legos and Lego Friends. We have them set up on top of her low bookshelf. She has Frozen legos (of course!), Rapunzel’s tower, a lemonade stand and a farmer’s market. Pretty cute!

We also weeded through all of our kid’s books this morning. I did that before we moved but the boys especially are moving into harder series and leaving behind easy chapter books like “Magic Tree House,” which were the series to jumpstart Samuel into loving to read! The boys got a huge collection of Roald Dahl books for Christmas that they just love. Samuel found a series that he is really into these days so he often looks a lot like this:

He definitely comes by it honestly!! Give me a good series and I will be happy to ignore cooking, cleaning, talking to people, etc. And we got that from my mom!

Zakkai is an eclectic reader. He flits from one thing to the next and can often be found reading 4 books at the same time, sometimes finishing none of them. We are working on that!

Samuel giving Eliana a ride on the recycling bin train the other day:)

You can often find Zakkai and Eliana looking like this these days! When he isn’t annoyed with her and being a complete police man (grr!), he is the sweetest thing ever with her and will play for hours! She loves to ask him to play because 9/10 times he will say “yes!”

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I am undertaking a huge organizational project. I finally (to Ben’s relief!) am cutting down on my cooking magazines. I started getting “Quick Cooking” (which later became “Simple and Delicious”)in 2003 right before we got married. My all time favorite cooking magazines ever! Then I switched to Taste of Home (by the same company) because I got a good deal. You get 6 magazines per year so you can imagine….I have probably close to 100 magazines. I attempted to file and organize them years ago and got through 2010 before giving up:) Now, I am ready to admit that I don’t even use all of them because there are so many!

So, I am going through them, cutting out my favorite recipes or ones I really think I will try, and tossing the magazine. It was hard to make that first cut! I don’t like cutting up my magazines! But it has gotten easier with time and now I have gone through about 60 of them. I am going to glue/tape them to paper, put them in plastic sheet protectors and file them in a binder, with tabs. I think I will use them a lot more often then! It’s been so interested going through them and finding forgotten oldies but goodies and realizing that these magazines really taught me how to cook! I knew a few things when we got married but these magazines really got me off to a good start (with a few memorable boo-boo’s in between!) with creating new, tasty meals for our growing family. Ah, to wax nostalgic…

I squeeze in some cutting time while dinner is cooking each night or during E’s rest time in the afternoons. Sometimes Eliana sits beside me and cuts through the mags I have already weeded through and saves her own recipes:) She loves to tell me about the delicious recipes she is cutting out! I am really looking forward to having this done, although I think it will take several more days.

Call me a nerd but I do love a good organizing project!

Belated New Year’s!

It’s hard to believe it’s Wednesday already! Our week is flying by with regular activities and preparation for Ben’s travels this weekend! He wishes alternately for more time and for it to speed up so he can get this interview over with. Thankfully today he had some really encouraging conversations and has had a few meetings with various people already, giving him helpful advice and tips on the interview process, people who work at the university, etc. Now we just pray for him to get all of his preparations for his presentation done in time and then some peace and we’re good to go!

Eliana was all dressed up for church on Sunday, without arguments surprisingly, and when I asked what shoes she wanted to wear, she requested firmly her new Dora rain boots that she got for Christmas:) A perfect match, wouldn’t you say?! She does look so sweet in this picture.

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I have been thinking about New Year’s and resolutions and all that jazz and I’ve come to the conclusion that I was right last year in concluding that small goals are the way to go! They are much less overwhelming and I think much more successful, too. I know there are always things to change, habits, patterns, routines, etc. I have no huge goals in mind at the moment, which could always change!

The things that come to mind for me are taking specific, purposeful time to give attention to my kiddos, especially the boys. All too often, I find myself doing something else while they are talking to me and sharing about their day or asking me questions and I want to take some more time to actually look them in the eye and show them that they are valuable. It’s not always easy to do graciously, especially when you are in the middle of dinner prep (a.k.a. the bewitching hour(s) or your other two children are fighting or talking to you (because for some reason, they all like to talk to me at the same time! I know I’m a cool multi-tasker and all that but still!), or you are exhausted and the last thing you want to do is talk or even listen!

Being a mother takes a lot of selflessness and strength. I need to be better about putting my own weaknesses or interests aside and valuing my kids more. Before they turn into aliens (a.k.a. teenagers) and they don’t want to talk anymore. I also want to hug them spontaneously a lot more.

That’s probably the biggest thing for me. I can always become better organized, clean a little more, etc. So can everyone else! (at least let me believe that anyways…) Something that helped me get a little better in the organization, routine, cleaning departments this past year was a planner I found on clearance at Target last year which I LOVED. I kept it on my counter facing my Mom Plan It calendar (a yearly gift from my dear MIL which I anxiously look forward to each Christmas!) and I write down my to-do lists (and check them off as I finish them!) or info as I am making phone calls, etc and then transfer any important info to my calendar afterwards. I was very sad to see my $2 planner come to an end with the start of a new year and I am hoping that Target still sells them! Ben has been much better about adding events/meetings to the calendar, too, this year and told me that he checks it regularly and it helps him when I keep it up to date. Who knew?

I also decided to make Mondays my big cleaning day since I am home without a car anyways, instead of spreading out my cleaning a little each day. I found that I was avoiding the chores I didn’t like (hello, mopping!!) and then they weren’t getting done until it was absolutely necessary. Or gross.  It helps that I can’t go anywhere and that I have a crawling, busy baby coming to my house a few days a week. Good motivator to keep the place clean! Maybe cluttered…but clean:)

We have also really cracked down with the boys’ chores this year and have been much better about handing out allowance to them. There are rarely arguments about their daily chores like unloading the dishwasher and clearing off/wiping down the table or wiping down the downstairs bathroom (they are so dirty!!) but we do need to work on their daily bedroom cleaning. We came up with the nicest cleaning chart together and it is even hanging on their wall but it’s so hard to find time for yet another thing in the day.

Ah well, there is always this year to get better! Anyone have any good resolutions or changes they are making this year??

Cleanliness is next to…

What a day! This week is going to be so crazy, I can tell! This morning the kiddos and I had a playdate with some of their friends and then we came home for lunch, a nap (for E) and some serious cleaning!

Nothing like having family come to light a fire under your rear! A long time ago I mentioned one of my favorite books here, that truly changed the way I organize my home and even think about my home. I 100% recommend it! Anyways, I pulled out my book and started reading snippits of it again and started her 10 day plan to simplify and organize your home. Except I sort of need to cram 10 days into 5 days:)

I’ve already been working on closets upstairs because closets are a great place to shove things you don’t need at the moment or have grown out of, etc. I have quite a pile of stuff to give away or sell! But today I focused on my living room. In the book, she tells you to take everything out of the room except the furniture, rugs and lamps and then clean it top to bottom. So I did! Wow, dust accumulates in spots you didn’t even think about. Then you put things back in the room, only if they are needed or wanted and you keep the rest out. So my living room is clean and spic and span tonight! Samuel came inside and said, “Whoa! It’s so clean in here!” I wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or not;) haha.

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The summer reading program at the library really spurred the boys into reading a ton! Zakkai is reading more than he ever has before. We have some rules about morning time at our house, to ensure that our day doesn’t start too early or too loudly. On school mornings, our boys were not allowed to get up (excepting bathroom runs) before 6:30am and then were allowed to read quietly from 6:30-7am. On the weekends, we push it back to 7am before they are allowed to start reading.

This prevents car-driving, lego-building, game-playing, wrestling and who knows what else in the early hours of the morning! Since we signed up for the reading program, it has been SO quiet in the mornings. I discovered that it was just the incentive the boys needed to stay in bed quietly! They both read at least 2 hours before we all moseyed downstairs this morning!

They definitely take after B and I:) The boys are excited to turn in their reading logs for prizes this week and pick up new sheets. Who said free wasn’t fun?!

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And tomorrow, we may be heading to the museum for a free day! Ben has never been to the Shedd Aquarium and we are hoping to change that, if we can get moving in time. It can get really crazy at the museums on the discount days so earlier is better. I’ll be sure to bring the camera and share pics!

Budget Appeal

Budget.

It’s a name, a word, an idea that can strike a chord of fear, stress, anxiety, and even excitement in our hearts. Probably fear the most!

It’s something most people probably have and/or need. For us, it is a need. When you are a family of 5, living in an expensive city, have children with rapidly growing appetites and bodies and do not have a lot of money to work with, you must have a budget.

I don’t remember having a budget when we first got married. Did we even need a budget? We were living on love! The first time that I really remember us sitting down to figure out a budget was after we’d been in Chicago for a year. We had a general, wimpy budget. A little food, a lot of rent (which, unfortunately double the minute we made our move from Indiana to Illinois and has continued to increase since), some clothes for our cute new baby, we were set, right?!

Wrong. Suddenly a year later, it came time to plan out our finances, as we have done every August/September since we’ve been here, being on the academic calendar. And we realized, all those little extra trips for the “forgotten” dinner ingredients down the street at the ridiculously-over-priced grocery store? Killed what little budget we had.

Oh…..a budget! You mean, we have to actually restrict our store trips and have a limit on how much we spend? Yikes! So we did the nasty, the ugly, the horrible job of calculating what we were spending on average and after we got over our spasms, chest pains and finger-pointing, we settled on a budget.

You know a stinky thing about budgets? They don’t stay the same because prices continue to increase! Very annoying.

So our budget has been tweaked and twanged, cursed over, dusted off and recalculated every single August/September. Gradually, as the University sucked my husband in and claimed him as its own, Headmaster Heidi took over budget duties. And one baby became two. Rent went up a certain percentage every year. People needed clothes. We moved. A few times. Had the third bambino. Continued to feed these bottomless pits, we call children. Had to buy a bigger car. And pay for the gas that is so overpriced here. And so on and so on.

And the guilt of my failure at not being able to have a perfect budget and remake my children’s clothes out of rugs and drapes, eat beans 65 times a week and make my own shampoo like all the other perfect bloggy moms out there, really began to weigh on me. I always kept thinking “this month will be the month I stay on track and do a better job.” And then, oh, crap, milk rose another $.20 a gallon, Samuel grew out of his underwear and the car’s making a funny noise.

Budget? What budget? And on and on. Recently, as God has been breathing new life into our family and home and revealing areas of neglect, we have been (as you can probably tell) revamping many things here at home to make things run more smoothly and efficiently. Today was budget day. It wasn’t planned. It started suddenly with tears (on my part, of course) and frustration but it ended on a really good note.

You know how sometimes, even though you might have a semblance of a budget, money just seems to fall into a black hole? Kind of like socks after laundry day? Well, we fixed some of those holes today. We decided to apply our new cleaning rule to our budget, a home for everything! A home for every dollar. Our miscellaneous fund, which includes Ben’s monthly nasal spray (a lifetime expense), laundry money and clothing among other things, isn’t very large but is constantly blown to pieces. We added some specific categories, moved some things around and most of all….we got on the same page (imagine that!!) and for the first time in awhile, I am feeling real hope that next month really will be a good month.

 One of our new favorite verses is in Jeremiah 17. It says, “But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

We’ve been like thirsty plants for so long but now we are being replanted and soaking Him up like a tree by the stream! Allowing Him to shed light on dirty, dusty areas so we can clean them up and honor Him better. It’s painful and it hurts kind of like ripping off a scab but underneath, it feels really good.

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Oh, and we were able to cut our internet bill down by $35 a month!! Our internet provider didn’t quite tell us we had some other options until they were forced to send out a price change sheet of all their services recently. Despite me asking them at least 3 times in the last 6 months if we had other choices or options to lower our bill, no one ever told me that we could downgrade to a lower plan! Frustrating to say the least, but at least now we can save a little $ in that area. It never hurts to ask! Again and again and again….:)

We got caught up on some other things today like sending out invitations for Z’s bday party next weekend! I was a bad mommy and procrastinated on the planning and details and we had to postpone til next weekend instead of this weekend. I feel really bad but he’s been really gracious, as children always are, and hopefully it will be special for him.

I asked him if he could turn 5 again and he said, “No way!! But…I might stay 6, if you want me to….” Such a sweetheart! Pics of the birthday boy tomorrow!!!

The Dungeon and The Tyrant

 We had a nice, quiet day at home today with the boys being off for President’s Day. I totally forgot they’d be home and as I was directing them to prepare their book bags for school on Sunday night, they were shouting, “Mommy!! We don’t have school!!” lucky for them:)

It was a quiet morning and then we spent the whole afternoon organizing the basement and most especially, Ben’s office area, which we have nicknamed, “The Dungeon.” Poor guy hates to work in a cold basement with no windows but it’s all we can do for now!

The boys actually spent most of the afternoon playing outside with friends and came to check in every so often. When Zakkai heard me using the paper shredder, he was downstairs so fast. He loves stuff like that! He seriously spent at least an hour shredding paper with me:)

The good news is, B came up with a large stack of books to return to the university library, which means he might have out less than 150 now! A miracle! He used to have over 300 books out during his crazy, class years. Ugh. He also can see the top of his desk now and the floor is no longer covered in stacks of books and papers. There is hope for him yet!

This cute little thang napped most of the time, which was good because she’s a regular tyrant these days!

You would never know it, looking at this darling little face! We are working hard to teach her words and sharing because my, can she scream! Today she heard Zakkai press a music button on her Dora book from the other room and I caught her up in mid-run as she came flying around the corner, yelling, “MY BOOK!!!” She sure knows how to make her presence known:)

Poor thing fell off a couple steps yesterday at church and got a rug burn on her forehead and that “extra eyebrow” you see, which is a bruised imprint from her glasses:( She was the saddest little thing but oh, the attention she gets from people! It really is very hard to resist that cute little face and sweet voice. Samuel put it so perfectly the other day when he said, “But she’s just so….huggable and squeezable!”

I just love this picture!! I wish there wasn’t a glare on her glasses but other than that, it’s just perfect. Missy and her adoring Daddy!