Thursday, January 27, 2011

Q&A Thursday: Getting Things Done with Children Around

I had a few questions I answered via email this week and I thought I'd post the answers here as well:
1. How do you manage to mop your floor every Tuesday - do you do it right after breakfast or anytime during the day?
I do it after I get the kitchen clean first thing in the morning. I hate it so much that I have to do it first or it doesn’t happen. I figured out once that I didn't really dislike mopping itself; what I hated was all the stuff that had to happen beforehand. I have to do the dishes, clean out the sink, wash all the chairs and move the table out of the way, sweep the floors and then, finally, I do the actual work of mopping.
2. Do your children let you get your work done? Mine seem to love to follow me around the house, which I really love, but they leave more of a mess wherever I go that takes more time and effort to clean up. Or they want me to play with them or entertain them or watch them dance. I want to give them my time, but I feel so torn between getting housework done and being a mother. When I read you can sit and work on your inbox or email, or do anything, I was wondering if you have a strict "this is mommy's chore time" or what you do to manage that.
My parents had an unfinished section of their house they used as a playroom for many years. It was upstairs at the end of a long hall. My mom told me that she thought at first it would be so helpful to have a place for the kids to play, but she realized over the years that no one ever played there. We’d get our toys out of there, drag them downstairs and play where ever she was. I find that’s true of my kids. If I’m downstairs folding laundry, that’s where they play. If I’m on my computer, they’re often dragging toys into the office or playing PBSkids on the kids’ computer. If I’m mopping the kitchen floors, well, they’re often watching a video or playing games in the great room nearby because I can’t have them walking through the room until the floor is dry.

So no, I don’t have any strict, “leave me alone” rules. The only time I do that is if I’m on the treadmill because when I’m trying to run, I need all the energy I have for it and I can’t be interrupted by kids who are fighting, tattling, or complaining. As often as I can, I run when my husband or older kids are home to run interference for me, but if that’s not possible, that’s another time I put on a video for the little girls.

I’ve learned over the years to expect to be interrupted. I’ll start on a project, but I know I’ll have to leave it several times to help the little girls get involved in something else, to break up fights, or to give a child some attention. It doesn’t usually bother me and I find that usually, all that’s needed is a few minutes of my time. And I think it’s good for kids to wait sometimes, so if I’m in the middle of something, I tell the kids exactly what to expect, “Let me move these two loads of laundry and then I can come look at your pony house,” or “As soon as I’m done filling up the dishwasher I can get out your puzzles.”

It helps me to remember that for eons of time, mothers have had lots of work to do in addition to caring for their little ones, from churning the butter to washing clothes to caring for a garden to sewing, mending and more. While the main reason I stay home is to take care of my children, I feel that many times I am just a safe base for them, a place to come when they need assurance, love, attention, or help. Much of the time, they can play independently, coming to me when they need help, and that’s good for their creativity.

They also have siblings to play with, and navigating those relationships is a wonderful training ground for the future. I heard a presentation once by a world-renowned family expert who worked with several international NGOs. He said something I find profound in its simplicity, “A family is important to society because it is the family where little boys learn to get along with little girls.” If we can learn to love and forgive and get along with those we know best, we are better prepared to get along with those we meet in the world.

How much my children need me changes often. Sometimes they play independently for a long time and sometimes they need me often. Eliza and Harmony are in a rough spot right now so I’m often playing referee and helping them find the words to negotiate their arguments and troubles. Or I’m working to re-direct them to activities that don’t involve fighting over the toys. I try hard to notice them and give them attention when they ARE getting along too. When they play well together, I compliment them and tell them how nice it is they are being kind sisters, for example, or I tell one of them, "Thank you for sharing that toy. That was so nice!"

It helps me also to have routines in place where my kids get my undivided attention as well as times I spontaneously play with them. I read to Harmony (and sometimes Eliza when she wants to participate) every day before her nap. They like to help me on our weekly grocery shopping outings. I take them to storytime at the library every week and I try to take them on other outings where the only point is to spend time together, such as going to the park or a local museum. If I sense my kids are fighting more than usual or are in need of more mommy time, I'll interrupt what I'm doing and play with them or take them on an outing.

As for the messes my children create while I'm trying to establish order in one corner of our lives, it is an issue, especially when your kids are all too young to be much help in cleaning up their messes. When my kids were younger, it was harder to keep up with everything because even though I required them to help, it was always more work on my part. We had a family room in our old house where we kept all the toys. We cleaned it thoroughly once a week and when we were expecting company. Otherwise, there were a lot of toys out and I simply learned to live with the mess.

At this stage in my life, it's not as big of an issue for two reasons. First, we rotate our toys. There's two or three toy bins in our downstairs family area, two bins in our great room, and one in our playhouse above our slide (the kitchen and play food set). So even if all the toys are out, it's not a huge problem to clean them up. Second, I have older kids big enough to help and regular routines that keep the house picked up. Joey cleans the great room for his zone in the afternoon and we all clean the downstairs together for five minutes after scriptures in the morning. It's easy to be patient with the toy mess when I know that it will get clean every day.

The playroom above the slide

One last thought on the subject of balance. I don't want anyone to think I'm somehow super-mom and I find time to get everything done. I don't. There are always more things on my to-do list than time to do them in, more housework to do, more books to read, more emails to respond to, more blog posts than I have time to write, more work I could do for my calling,my mother's group and other responsibilities, more I could be teaching my kids, more to learn about photography, more I could learn about cooking, more I could involve my kids in -- more, more, MORE!

At some point, I have to make peace with "doing enough for now." Finding that balance is an on-going process. As one of my friends, a mom of nine put it, "I have tried to make rules and formulas but can't. I've decided this problem is like laundry--it's never going to go away and must just be dealt with as it comes.”

How do you negotiate the balance between getting things done and being with your kids? What has worked for you?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Arizona Daddy Trip (Wordless Wednesday)

Two weeks ago, my husband took Eliza, Joey and Michael to Arizona to see his sister in Sierra Vista over the long weekend.

They saw the meteor crater in Northern Arizona

went to Goldfield Ghost Town

Visited Tombstone

And went hiking near the Arizona-Mexican border on a trail that commemorates Coronoda's discoveries.

My husband's sister moves to German with her family in a few months, so we were happy some of us could make the trip.

They came back home a day early because my husband was sick. The drive home is lovely -- this is a scene near the Utah-Arizona border.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Developing a Family Identity

Last fall I read a great article by Orson Scott Card about developing your family’s identity. While the article was geared towards Latter-day Saint families, the principles involved are applicable to all.

What stood out to me was the idea that just because everyone signs their kid up for soccer, dance, karate, track, etc. doesn’t mean your family has to. He suggested finding a couple of things that you do because it’s part of your identity as a family – his family was theater people, for example, and other families he knows are distinguished by their passion for sports or even video games.

He writes, "Instead of taking our priorities from other families, as if we were competing in a hundred Olympic events at once, we can embrace our uniqueness and accept that we don't even want to do a lot of the things other families do so well."

I loved this idea and I’ve decided to look for the things we are passionate about as a family and then not let myself feel guilty about not doing all the rest. For example, I've always felt just a little bit like a failure as a mother because my kids have only ever done one disastrous, time-intensive season of soccer. Silly, I know.

So I’m working on figuring out what our identity is. For one thing, I'm embracing our identity as adventurous travelers. My husband loves to travel, especially since he has a very demanding career and works from home part of the time. He’s stretched very thin, and feels like the only way he can get away from work is to leave town. So we do often. He does daddy trips with the older kids and we also go as a family three or four times a year. I didn’t do a lot of traveling except to Grandma’s house as a child so it's something I'm growing into. And I'm realizing that this is becoming part of our identity: Bartholomews are adventurers.

I also recently signed my kids up for horseback riding lessons. The boys and my twins are sharing a time slot (so they each go every other week) and since the gal charges only $15 an hour for two kids, it is pretty economical. I’ve been so excited to see them do this – completely different from how I feel about a lot of the other activities we’ve done. Most things I sign my kids up for I take them to out of duty or a general “this is good for them even though it’s a pain for me” feeling. THIS is something I could take them to every day and not complain. At least I think I wouldn’t complain.

I’ll still have my kids do other things – piano, track, gymnastics, etc. – because I think there’s value in trying new things and developing skills that you can use to serve others. And as my kids get older, I notice that they choose to direct their own activities in ways I wouldn't have predicted and that are very good for their development. But if I can’t sign up for some of the many things offered because my schedule is too full, I need to remember the things we ARE doing.

We're developing an identity as a family of travelers who enjoys spending time together. We love hiking, swimming, and (so far) horses.

And that's enough, at least for now.

What things does your family do because they love to do it? What would you consider to be part of your family identity?

Q&A Thursday: Breast-feeding


How long do you nurse your babies? What about during pregnancy? How did you nurse the twins?


I try to nurse each of mine at least a year. Sometimes it has been during pregnancy, which really increases the tiredness of those first few months, though usually, I'm not nursing a lot by that point. I do try to take a multi-vitamin and I drink milk -- calcium can be depleted by pregnancy and nursing.

Here's how long I nursed each one:

Lillian: 13 months (including 3.5 months of pregnancy)
Joey: 11 months (2 months of pregnancy)
Michael: 9 months (due to health issues, I quit earlier than I wanted to)
Allison & Sarah: 14 months
Eliza: 15 months (3 months of pregancy)
Harmony: 16 months (4 months of pregnancy)
(edited to add in 2017:
Katie: 15 or 16 months
Cami: 6 months (had to quit because of health problems with my thyroid disease)
Benjamin: 18 months)

For those of you who like that kind of thing, that means I've been nursing children for 86 months, over 7 years of my life. I think it's worth it. Nursing is a wonderful gift for a child. The health benefits are wonderful as is the bonding. And it's very convenient, with no bottles to wash or worries about leftover formula.

My kids are really active and tend to nurse more frequently than others, meaning it's hard for me to leave them for more than 2 hours at a time until about six months, when they begin solid foods. We usually bring our babies along on our dates until that point.

I've gotten comfortable nursing pretty much anywhere (with a cover-up, of course). The most exotic place was in the Louvre in Paris near the Mona Lisa. The most uncomfortable was probably when I was squeezed into a tiny seat on the 8-hour red-eye flight to get there.

I like to think I'm pretty discreet, such as when I was talking to another mom while nursing the twins. It wasn't until they'd finished that she exclaimed, "wow, I had no idea you had two under there!"

With the twins, I nursed them at the same time as much as possible, though at night, I only fed the one who woke up. Some twin moms will tell you to wake them both up at that point with the hope of getting up less at night, and I tried that in the early weeks. Later on, I wanted to get them used to sleeping as long as they possibly could, so I would only feed the one who was awake. In the early weeks, I used a nursing pillow and put them both in football holds, but as they got older, I was able to put one on one side and hold her and then lay her sister's head on the first one's belly. It sounds complicated, but it really wasn't.

I do have to add that the first month of the twins' life I was hungrier than I'd ever been in my entire life! It took a lot of calories to do that. I wish I could say I lost weight because of it, but I stayed at about the same weight the entire time, then gained ten pounds in the four months after I quit nursing them! I've never been able to lose weight while nursing.

Nursing is a wonderful thing, with plenty of scientifically proven benefits. It's also not nearly as common as I thought. I read an article today that said by six months, only 43% of women are still nursing even part-time and only 13% nurse exclusively.

I know there are many reasons women can't nurse -- I run into one of them myself when Michael was a baby -- and I don't think it's necessary to hammer home the benefits of breastmilk. There's enough pressure (and guilt) already in most cases. However, it is sad that breastfeeding rates in this country are so low.

Friday, January 14, 2011

God doesn't care where you were born (Friday Favorite)

I'm fascinated by adoption and I happened on this interesting blog the other day because of my sister-in-law's sister (thanks Fiona!).

I particularly liked the information clearing up misconceptions about international adoption in this post: God doesn't care where you were born

I found it very educational and enlightening and thought I'd pass the link along.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My kids

Kids change so fast. Katie's outgrowing her 6-9 month clothes, so a few days ago, I pulled out the box of 12-month clothes. In that box I found the red dress that Harmony wore a year ago for this picture:
How much things change in just a year! Last year at this time, Harmony wasn't even talking, and now she jabbers on constantly. We hadn't even met Katie or seen her infectious smile.

Today, I'd like to take a moment to share what my kids are like at this point in their lives, knowing that a year from now things will change again:

* Lillian is 11.5, in sixth grade, and very mature. She is in charge of cooking on Thursdays and she makes a really yummy chicken lo mein. She loves to cook and will offer to do it on other nights, too. She loves reading, especially fantasy. When she's into a book, she tunes out everything around her. Some of her favorite authors are Brandon Mull and Rick Riordan. She plays the violin with the older kids in the 7th and 8th grade orchestra. She doesn't have a piano teacher right now, but practices playing on her own anyway. She'll often look up music online for pieces she wants to learn to play on the piano or violin, like Fur Elise, Star Wars (couldn't find it), and more.

She hates having her picture taken (hence the use of the Halloween photo above) and scowls when we tell her she's beautiful. Recently, I made a photo calendar for the year. She looked through it and asked, "How come there are so many pictures in here of the little girls?" I pointed out that when I only have two pictures of her for the entire year, then that's all I have to use.

She's great at babysitting and has started getting calls from other families.

* Joey is 10, in fourth grade, and has grown a ton this past year. The biggest change is that he recently discovered all the privileges that come with being responsible and helpful. He used to give us the hardest time about every job, telling us he hated to work and fighting us constantly. But for the last month, he's been a dream child, stepping up to his chores without reminders, and even volunteering to do extra jobs like take out the trash and read to the little girls.

Interestingly, a few days after Joey's change of heart, I asked him what made the difference. "What's going on? How come you're being so helpful?" "Oh, I just decided to," he replied. Oh the power of choice! And he's really stuck to it! He babysat some of the little girls a few weeks ago and when I came home an hour later, he had turned off the video I'd started, helped them dress for bed and brush their teeth, read them stories, and put them to bed.

Joey is a loving big brother to his little sisters. He stands up for Michael when he feels he's not being treated fairly. He's a thoughtful, smart, wonderful boy.

We have a wood-burning stove we use often in the winter to keep our home warm and Joey's enthusiastically taken the responsibility of keeping the fire going.

Joey is our most adventurous child. He loves to run outside barefoot to get the newspaper or take out the trash, even if there's snow on the ground. He's a delight to take on trips because he'll go anywhere, do anything and eat all sorts of food. He's been racking up work hours to pay for his part of a trip to Chicago in April. Last summer, he and his dad hiked to the top of Mount Timpanogas, and Joey would love to tackle that challenge again. He loves the outdoors and all kinds of science.

Joey loves hanging out with his best friend Nathan. They love to take apart old computers and electronics, build booby traps and other contraptions, and explore the forest behind our house.

* Michael is a very active, imaginative boy. He's 8.5 and in third grade. He carries on long, elaborate, imaginative play with his toys, such as setting up a war between his Lego storm troopers and his army guys. He loves Legos and dress-ups, and playing pirates or superheros with his two best friends.

He's good to his sisters and loves Joey. It it doesn't take much teasing to get a rise out of him, though, so he sometimes he's at odds with some of the family. He loves Katie and points out that she was his birthday present.

He is a loving child who is really concerned about choosing the right. He'll often point out ways that me or his dad could do better, "Dad, you shouldn't say that," or "Mom, you shouldn't yell." He doesn't like having 30 hard problems to do in math every day, but he finishes up quickly and cleans the mud room without reminders so he can play with friends or on the Wii.

* Allison and Sarah, 6.5, are easier to talk about as a unit, though they are very much individuals. They both love art and are doing really well in first grade. They love their teacher. They had a half-birthday party last Saturday and apologized profusely to her that she wasn't invited. "Mom said we could only invite kids."

At the first of the year, they read agonizingly slow, but with consistent effort, they've improved significantly. They can read complex words and longer stories and they always have a huge pile of books on their bed at night to look at before they fall asleep.

Allison asks really thoughtful questions and is a fun girl to spend time with. She's been volunteering to help cook dinner a lot lately, and sticks to tasks like browning hamburger with patience and maturity. Sarah is fun-loving and has a great sense of humor. She loves to be teased and laughs easily.

They love everything and everyone. They are special friends to a dozen people in our ward. They light up when they see them and run to give them hugs. They will often sit by Sister Hatch or Sister Thorn after the sacrament on Sundays and they'll color quietly through the rest of the meeting. During the week, they'll run over to Sister Bullock's house for a sucker and to Sister Hatch's house for some attention.

They both love to draw pictures and leave me love notes often, especially Allison. Here's a great one she left by my computer a week before Christmas:

Like Joey, both girls are adventurers. They love to see the world and take it all in. We love to take them places. Both girls are very grateful. Their prayers are full of sincere thanks for all sorts of things in the world, from trees and bugs to our lovely home and the fact that they are twins.

* Eliza is a sweet four-year-old, even if she does steal pacifiers from Harmony sometimes to suck on in secret. She loves the new adventures she's having this year. She goes to our neighborhood preschool once a week and she just started a two-day-a-week afternoon preschool and loves it, coming home every day so excited about what she did. She loved her dance class last semester, and she's thrilled to be old enough to go on Daddy Trips. She loves swimming. She can do complex, 60 and 100 piece puzzles and she loves her Littlest Pet Shop toys.

Eliza has always been a dream child. She's not perfect, but she is very good about following instructions and being trust-worthy.

I used to think Eliza was shy, but I've since realized that it's more a matter of being slow to warm up. She doesn't act until she knows what she's supposed to do in the situation. Take her to the doctor alone and she'll be very quiet and hang back. But if you take her with her sisters and they speak up and tell the doctor their names and ages, she'll speak right up and do the same. She's not afraid to speak up or talk to people once she's comfortable.

She and Harmony have the rockiest relationship in our family and are still learning how to get along. Eliza spent four years of her life in the little sister role, tumbling after the twins and letting them direct her in play, so it's a huge change for her to take on the big sister role. She's more of a quiet personality than many of the others in our family and the leadership role is new. She shows signs of jealousy of Harmony, insisting that Harmony is still a baby and feeling threatened sometimes when Harmony wants to play with her. At other times, the two get along great. Eliza never hurts anyone and even if Harmony pulls her hair (yes, this happens -- I have normal kids, you know), she won't retaliate, instead just screaming and crying until someone else intervenes. I'm glad they'll have another eighteen months or so to settle into their relationship before Eliza begins kindergarten.

* Harmony is usually a great two-year-old, hair-pulling incidents aside. She has become a real talker, jabbering on for long paragraphs about whatever interest her. She is really good at going down for naps and bed and loves her routine. We read her a story, lie her down with her doggy blanket (it has a dog on it) and a stuffed animal or her "rainbow" fish, give her a ton of books she points out she wants, and then leave the light on. We like to turn the nursery monitor up all the way to listen in on what happens next. She'll read to herself quietly and often she'll sing little songs to herself. It is very sweet. She's only climbed out of her crib once, and fell down, so she hasn't attempted it again. We're hoping that trend continues. She shares the nursery with Katie right now, and when she does start climbing out, we will move her into the room with Eliza and the twins.

She's a good little toddler and I often feel blessed to have had two good toddlers in a row after the challenge of the twins at that age. She listens pretty well when we go places. During Eliza's dance class, she was content to sit near me or look at books and play with Katie while Eliza danced. The chairs were set up in the same room as the dance class, and most two-year-olds (at least the ones we've had in THIS family) would have disrupted the lessons or taken off down the halls to explore.

Harmony absolutely adores Katie and has ever since her birth. Usually, my toddlers start showing jealousy once the baby starts crawling, but Harmony hasn't at all. She lights up and says, "Katie! Katie!" every time Katie enters the room and she still insists "'old er! 'old 'er!" even though Katie tries to squirm away. She even lets Katie crawl on her and laughs when Katie pulls her hair or grabs her face. Harmony is always looking for ways to help Katie, from bringing her toys to fetching diapers or clothes for me.

* Katie is a delightful 8-month-old. She pulls up on everything, especially our legs and is really curious. Everything goes in her mouth, so we have to be vigilant about choking hazards and small Legos. She has a quick grin and excited smile for those she loves, especially her mom.

She still wakes up at night once or twice and sometimes more times to nurse, though she's slept through the night a half dozen times in the past month. She's always busy moving. The doctor told me last week he's never seen a more active baby. Even when she's nursing, she'll often stretch and move and kick her legs.

She's pleasant and patient and really good at exploring. She tires of toys quickly if they're ones she's seen before, but she never tires of people. She gets a special smile on her face when she crawls into the twins' and Eliza's room. She's not in there often because they have toys in there that are choking hazards so when the door's left open, she crawls right in and her face brightens as if she knows she's getting away with something.

She's gotten three teeth in the past month and is quite good at biting her food. It's nice that she can feed herself now, though it means that sometimes she gets confused and bites me -- ouch! She loves bananas and cereal and hates plain bread. However, she loves bread spread with a bit of jam. She gets thoroughly messy when she eats and even with a bib on, I often have to change her clothes afterward.

So there's my crew, a dynamic, wonderful, amazing group of kids. I feel blessed to know them.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Dave Barry's 2010 Year in Review (Friday Favorite)

This really made me laugh when I read it this week.

Some of my favorite lines:

"Congress tried every remedy it knows, ranging all the way from borrowing money from China and spending it on government programs, to borrowing MORE money from China and spending it on government programs."


"This is what the public is worried about. In a word, the big issue is: jobs. So the Obama administration, displaying the keen awareness that has become its trademark, decides to focus like a laser on: health-care reform."


In other sports news, the Vancouver Winter Olympics begin on an uncertain note when it is discovered that Vancouver — apparently nobody realized this ahead of time — is a seaside city with a mild climate, so there is no snow. This hampers some of the competition, as for example when the Latvian cross-country ski team gets bogged down in mud and is eaten by alligators.

Despite these setbacks, the games are deemed a big success, at least by the Canadians, because they won in hockey.


Everyone at the ceremony agrees that the new law is historic and will become hugely popular with the American people once they have the opportunity to hear a few dozen more high-profile speeches about it from President Obama.


Soon, however, large patches of crude oil are drifting toward land, and it becomes clear that this is a major disaster — a challenge that we, as a nation, will have to meet, as we have met other challenges, with a combination of photo opportunities, lawsuits and tweeting.

The president also signs a historic arms-reduction treaty with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev under which both countries will destroy one-third of their older nuclear missiles by upgrading them to Windows Vista.


President Obama, eager to show that he is on top of the situation, develops severe forehead cramps from standing on the shore and frowning with concern at the water. Meanwhile Congress holds televised hearings that establish, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Congress is very upset about, and totally opposed to, large oil spills.

The suspect is captured by U.S. Customs agents at the last minute after boarding a Dubai-bound plane filled with passengers who, like the suspect, had all been carefully screened by the TSA to make sure they were not carrying more than three ounces of shampoo.


The furor culminates in a New York Times story stating that eventually all the oil in the world will leak out through the hole in Gulf floor and cover the entire planet with a layer of oil 27 feet deep, which according to the Times would be "potentially devastating for polar bears."

Abroad, U.S. intelligence intercepts a top-secret cable from Iran to North Korea, apparently written in code, stating: "Thanks for selling us the buclear beapons." In response, the U.S. threatens to impose harsh new sanctions that, in the words of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "will make the previous harsh sanctions that we threatened to impose seem like only moderate threatened sanctions, and this time we are not kidding around."


On the foreign economic front, anger builds over plans by the governments of both Greece and France to raise the retirement age, which means workers would have to continue striking for several years longer before they could start collecting pensions. In protest, everybody in both nations goes on strike.


In the month's most dramatic story, 33 copper miners in Chile are trapped 2,300 feet underground following a cave-in caused by a runaway Toyota Camry. The good news is that the men are still alive; the bad news is that the only drilling equipment capable of reaching them quickly belongs to BP. Informed of this, the men elect to stay down there for the time being.


President Obama, basking in the glow of the health-care reform act, offers to campaign for Democratic candidates, only to find that many of them have important dental appointments and are unable to join him on whatever day he is planning to visit.


… the U.S. economy suffers another blow as the Federal Bureau of Never Expecting Unemployment To Be As High As It Actually Is reports that, for the 37th consecutive month, unemployment is unexpectedly high. "Darned if we didn't get fooled again!" exclaims a bureau spokesperson, adding, "We expect it to be lower next month." Meanwhile Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, speaking from his new office in Toronto, announces a plan to drastically increase the U.S. money supply by "quantitative easing," a controversial process involving what Bernanke describes as "a major job for Kinko's."


Speaking of health: Some air travelers express concern about radiation from the TSA's new high-resolution scanners, especially after screeners at O'Hare are seen using one to make popcorn.


The Democrats, suddenly alarmed about the deficit, want to raise taxes on people making $250,000 a year — or, as the Democrats routinely refer to them, "billionaires." The Republicans want to extend tax cuts for everybody, but compensate by cutting federal spending at a later date using an amazing new spending-cutting device they have seen advertised on TV.

Thanks, Dave Barry.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Resolutions & Habits

It's interesting to read the newspaper this time of year. There's always many articles about resolutions. Some suggest goals everyone should make -- walk more, eat less, be kinder, etc. And then, every year without fail, there's an article about how no one ever keeps their resolutions anyway, with the underlying message being, why bother?

I make goals every year and for the most part, I do pretty well at them. The keys to keeping my resolutions are 1. making goals that are specific and measurable and 2. making goals that can become a habit or a routine

1. Specific and Measurable Goals
The past few years, I've made goals in six different areas: Physical, Social, Family, Spiritual, Educational, and Time Management/Organization. I try to be specific in them. If by sheer force of will, I'm supposed to somehow "lose weight" or "be more organized," I will fail. But if I set a goal like "exercise three times a week" or "make and follow a cleaning schedule," I'm more likely to succeed.

Most of my goals are very specific and measurable, such as my failed goal this past year to bake once a week (I really wanted to start making bread for our family, but it didn't happen). More successful goals included writing weekly family history emails, exercising 3-4 days a week (I did really well on this in the early part of the year, the summer time and December, but having a baby and being exhausted meant I didn't do as well in the spring or the fall).

Sometimes I'll have overall goals that are less specific, such as my successful goal last year to "develop photography skills," but to keep those, I always have in my mind, "How am I going to do that?" In the case of that goal, I did weekly photoshoots the first four months of the year, read a lot of books, and continued with a couple of shoots every month after Katie was born.

It is good to have goals that include self-improvement in abstract areas, such as patience, kindness, charity, faith, and more, but it helps if we find ways to reach these goals that we can measure. If your goal is to be more patient, think clearly about what that might entail. What would having more patience look like in your life? What is keeping you from being more patient? Is it your reactions to your kids when they act up? Then perhaps your goal could be "Be more patient." and the steps you'll take to reach that goal would be "Read three parenting books about positive discipline," "Count to ten inside my head before reacting," and "Pray daily for more patience."

2. Goals that become a routine part of life
My friend and I were talking once about how much work was expected of kids a hundred years ago -- the milking, the chicken tending, the plowing, the butter churning, and more. My friend asked, "What I want to know is, how in the world did their parents get them to help out? My kids complain about everything I ask them to do!"

I agreed, at first, then as we continued our discussion, we both realized that our kids don't usually complain much about their regular chores. If it's something they do often or daily, it becomes part of their lives and they accept that. It's when we try to change the chores around, introduce a new one, or -- shockingly -- ask them to do something in addition to their regular jobs that we get complaints.

I think we adults are like that, too. We all have great intentions of getting to the gym, keeping our homes cleaner, never raising our voices and the like, but when it comes down to it, changing our habits is hard. We protest the change in our habits and resist new things.

The trick is to keep at a new habit (or two or three -- not ten) long enough so that it's part of the routine. Once it's a regular part of your life, your brain and body stop complaining about it.

Another part of this is patience and wisdom. In the Book of Mormon, a wise king named Benjamin addresses his people and calls for their adherence to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He reminds them, "And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order." (Mosiah 4:27)

Peter in the New Testament entreats, "And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity." (2 Peter 1:5-7)

We are not meant to change everything all at once. We are mortal creatures. Change takes time, effort, and consistent effort -- it is significant that both King Benjamin and Peter mention diligence. Just like there are limits to how quickly a person can improve in his physical fitness, there are limits to how quickly we can grow spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. A person wishing to become a great runner would not wake up one morning after months of inactivity and expect to run a marathon. Instead, she would analyze where she's at and begin making improvements from there. If all she can run is a mile right now, that's what she'd start with. Then next week, she might increase that to a mile and a quarter and the week after, a mile and a half. She might develop a training schedule that would gradually build up her muscles and allow her the strength needed to run that marathon. And though cross-training might be part of her efforts, a person who is really focused on becoming a great runner will know that it would be impossible to simultaneously focus on becoming a great swimmer, a world-class weight-lifter and a gymnast. There are only so many things we can do at once.

It is much better to change a few habits at a time and then focus on others. For me, it is a matter of analyzing my schedules and routines and seeing where and how to make improvements. Often, it is small, consistent changes that make the most difference.

This past year, one of my goals was "to be more organized and stick to a schedule." As the year went on, I added several new habits that help things run more smoothly. Here's a few of the changes I've made in my life this past year to meet that goal:

1. My kitchen gets clean first thing in the morning, down to the sink shined and the floors swept. It used to take all day for me to finally get the kitchen completely clean. I'd run on a "mostly done" pattern. I'd get the breakfast dishes cleared off the table and into the sink, some progress made on clearing off the counter and then I'd figure, "Hey, it's good enough; I'm mostly done," and I'd rush off to another task, leaving the final kitchen clean to whenever I could fit it in, often while the kids were doing their homework.

My pattern worked -- after all, the kitchen did get clean -- but it was adding to my stress level because every time I walked by the kitchen, I'd be reminded of how much I still had to do. I decided that I needed to work on doing the entire job, and the first part of the year I made a conscious effort to do it all first thing. By the middle of the year, it was a habit and now it's part of my life. Every time I walk by the kitchen now, I get a psychological boost from knowing one corner of my crazy, busy life is in order.

2. Every Monday, I respond to emails and get my in-box empty. Since October, when I cleaned out the family office and got my papers and other things in more order, I've been doing this important step with great success. If the kids have something I need to respond to that can wait a few days, it goes in my in-box. Calendars for various activities, fliers about things I might be interested in, important mail, rebate forms, notes from Lillian on what I need to buy before her next cooking night, Christmas cards I need to read or get the address from, and more -- it all goes in my in-box.

Monday morning, after the kitchen is clean and my kids are settled in playing (or to be honest, sometimes they're watching a video), I go through every item. I've used Cozi since October and that helps a lot -- Calendaring items go on my calendar , things I need to do that will take more time than I have that morning go on my to-do list, shopping items go on my shopping list. As I work through the pile, I make all the phone calls I need to, do any quick filing, and get tons done!

The other half of this is that I go through all my flagged emails and try to respond to as many as possible. During the week, I do reply to some emails, but there are always others that will take more time or thought than I have at the moment, so I flag those and save them for Monday. If I've flagged that email from Snapfish about their 99 prints for 99 cents sale, I'll go through and order the prints or decide that since with shipping it will be 7 cents a print, it's not worth it to me. I'll reply to that message I got on Facebook or email that friend who asked me about a recipe.

I still don't get everything done. Sometimes, I'll flag an email and not have time to respond the next Monday, so I keep it flagged to go through the next time (Sorry about that late response, Liz!). Other times, I know I need to make a decision about something but I don't feel ready to yet, so I'll put the item back in my in-box to review again in another week (information about the gymnastics class I signed the twins up for stayed in the in-box for over a month before I decided that YES, I did want them to do it).

It's always a huge lift to finish with a mostly-empty in-box and very few flagged emails. It's a great start to the week!

3. I check my calendar every day. This is something I've been doing for several months now, ever since I switched to Cozi. It's my home page on the internet, so it's a simple thing to go over my appointments every morning. I used to be really, really good at remembering every appointment and event in my head, but I have too many kids, too many events, and too little brainpower now.

4. I exercise three days a week. I'd like to make it four, but three is what I can handle for now. I took a break from this for the last months of pregnancy and Katie's first month, and had to take another break in October and November to try to simplify my life during that challenging time, but otherwise, it's a habit. I'm currently training towards my first 10K on March 12, and at that point I will start training toward a half marathon in June. That goal is really intimidating me, but I ran a 5K on Christmas Day (on my treadmill, so not exactly the real thing), so I think I can work up to the 10K by March. I'm trying not to think about the half marathon until then.

5. Without fail, I wash all the dirty clothes on Mondays and Thursdays. This isn't earth-shattering, but I used to do the wash twice a week on whatever days I decided it needed it. Sometimes that meant a larger pile of clothes than I wanted to deal with. Making it a constant on Mondays and Thursdays makes a difference. I'd like to eventually move to a point where the clothes are all folded the same day, but right now, it happens whenever I have time free in the evenings.

6. We do Five Minute Madness in the morning and after dinner. In the morning, we clean the family room and play area and in the evening, the older five plus mom and dad do five minutes in the kitchen before leaving the rest of the clean-up to whoever is assigned that night. My house stays cleaner and no one feels like they are being picked on.

7. We have Daily Scripture Study as a family first thing every morning. We've made two changes this year. The first is that we set a goal to never miss a day in 2010. We almost made it, but we figure we missed about 7 days. Our second change came after listening to a conference talk by Elder David Bednar in April, when he suggested that family scripture study should also include discussions. We'd been good about reading, but not discussing, so now, we read a section and discuss it. Usually, we start by summarizing or asking questions about what is happening in the verses and then I'll either ask, "What can we learn from this?" or "Does anyone have any thoughts?" The kids have come up with some really insightful comments at times and we can always count on Eliza to raise her hand and say, "To follow Jesus Christ," no matter what the verses we read were about. My children are much more comfortable talking about spiritual things as a result of our discussions.

8. My husband and I go out on dates nearly every week. Having a daughter old enough and responsible enough to babysit has been wonderful. When we first started leaving her in charge, we made sure not to be gone long or to go very far, but now we can do a lot more. We brought Katie along on most of our dates this year unless we went out after she was in bed, but the last couple of months, since she's been eating solids, we've been able to leave her at home.

9. I mop my kitchen floor almost every Tuesday. Again, this isn't a huge thing, but mopping is one of my least favorite tasks. It takes a good chunk of time and I would rather put it off. The floors always seemed to taunt me by becoming dirty and messy almost as soon as they were clean. In September, I decided that I was going to win this battle. By scheduling one of my least favorite tasks, it's become part of the routine and not something to put off or dread.

* * *

Foundational Habits
As I look towards a new year, I've been thinking a lot about the habits and routines in my life and how I can improve. I thought I'd quickly list a few of the habits my family has had for years. We've been blessed because these are our foundation, and as I work out what I want to change or add, these are what I build on. Some of them are so simple, I almost didn't include them in this list.

1. Family Scripture Study & Prayer every morning. See above. This began to happen more consistently about three years ago when we put Lillian in charge of being "Scripture Captain." She'd set her alarm and wake us all up. It's wonderful to have kids old enough to contribute like that.

2. Family Home Evening on Monday nights. I can't think of a single Monday we've missed in years. We have songs, prayers, sometimes planning and other discussions, a spiritual lesson, and treats.

3. Family Work Day on Saturday mornings. The whole family works to clean the house. This is getting easier and easier to do now that we have older and more responsible children. Sometimes we divide the work up and have each person in charge of something, sometimes we divide into two teams and each work on one floor of the house, sometimes the kids have partners and sometimes we let them choose what to work on.

4. We attend Church every Sunday. This year, we get to meet at 9:00 in the morning! Last year, our ward met at 1:00 and our family has been counting down the months and weeks until the new time. It's so nice to have the afternoons for rest and other family activities.

5. We have dinner together every night. Usually it's homecooked. Lillian cooks on Thursdays, I cook Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Friday is leftover and date night, and my husband cooks on Saturdays and Sundays. Did you know that research shows the value of a family dinner? Families who eat together have kids with better grades, less substance abuse problems, better vocabularies, and even kids who eat more vegetables.

6. We spend a lot of time together. We love road trips together and we do a lot of fun things close to home, too. None of my kids is ever lonely.

7. We read a lot in our family. There are books everywhere. We read to the little kids and the older kids and we parents read on our own daily.

8. My kids have regular chores.

9. I have personal scripture study every night.

A few of my goals for next year:
I'm going to be deciding on all my goals over the next week, but here are a few that I really want to do:

1. Exercise at least 3 times a week. Exercise, in my life, is one of the things that defies the "once it's a habit it sticks" rule. There's always resistance, particularly when I have a baby who is still a poor sleeper (She slept through the night last night! But she was up twice the night before that and four times the night before that, so I can't decide if it's an anomaly or a trend.). I'm going to be consistent with this and stick to my training schedule and I'm going to do that 10K! And probably that Half Marathon, too! Did I sound convincing enough with that second item there?

2. Start having Master Planning meetings on Sunday nights with my husband. We've been trying to meet, talk, and pray each night, but our discussions have been hit and miss and we are often calling out to each other about appointments we forgot to tell the other about just as one of us is headed out the door. With eight kids, hobbies, travel, finances, etc., there's a lot to coordinate. We've set aside Sundays at 8:00 and we've even made up a written agenda for each meeting so we don't forget things. We're going over short-term schedules, long-term planning, goals, and we're discussing each one of our kids individually every week -- we'll be doing a quick discussion of six of our kids every week followed by an in-depth discussion on two of them. We're modeling it somewhat after Linda and Richard Eyre's Five Facet Review, though our discussion items about each child are slightly different: physical, social, spiritual, emotional, and educational.

We had our first meeting last Sunday and got a ton accomplished in just an hour and a half.

3. 4. 5. I'm still trying to prioritize and decide what else would make a difference. Maybe I'll let you know.

And since I hate posting something with just text, here's a picture from a recent session in the cold and snow. Hmmm . . . photography . . . what should be my goals surrounding that? . . .

What are your goals this year? What habits do you have that make your life run more smoothly?

Rub a dub dub (Wordless Wednesday)


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