When Mommy is Sick...

So today, I've been rather under the weather. Thankfully, its just flu-like symptoms, but no fever or upset stomach. Anyway, when I got up, I had hoped to get some help from my mom as she is always readily available when I need her. But, when I called her this morning, I discovered that not only was she, too, sick, but that she was worse off than I was. *ACK!!!* Please don't mis-read that I was unsympathetic toward my mom's illness, because I certainly was/am. But, what in the world was I to do with two kids under 2 when all I wanted to do was go to bed?!?!

Two words: "Bob" (veggie tales) and "books"

We literally spent the morning watching our Veggie Tales collection. Patrick had a blast and Erin napped through most of it. Of course, I felt bad for landing my kid in front of the TV for most of the morning, but when I was doing great to feed him goldfish and cheerios from the couch, "Bob" is pretty much the only option. Finally, 2:00 rolled around and I was able to put both kids down for a nap. I napped, too. We all slept about 2.5 hours. It was beautiful. Of course, by this time, I felt a little guilty for watching hours of "Bob", so I unplugged the TV (Patrick loves to play with the buttons) and commenced to read stories to Patrick between his bites of goldfish. Erin played in her exersaucer the entire time.

I was also able to accomplish a few modest tasks throughout the day. Sick days are just like the first few weeks after having a baby - you have to limit yourself. My goals for the day: Keep the kids fed, don't burn down the house, unload the dishwasher and wash and dry one load of laundry (note: we didn't say anything about removing from the dryer, folding, or putting away). I was able to accomplish these things by simply taking my time. It took nearly all morning to unload the dishwasher, even though it was only 1/2 full... I made one trip to fill the laundry bin. I made another trip, taking the laundry bin to the basement and I started up the wash. About 2 hours later, I went back down and transferred the laundry to the dryer and started that up. About 2 hours after that, I checked the laundry and ran the dryer a bit longer. The laundry hasn't been touched since. I will ask Daniel to bring the laundry up later tonight. Maybe it will get folded tomorrow...

All-in-all, I consider it a pretty productive day. My kids are fed and happy, the house is reasonably tidy and we have clean laundry in the basement.

Oh, did I mention? The house is still standing. :)


Random Tips - Post Travel Thoughts

We just got back home today from a several day visit with out of town relatives and I've had a few thoughts to tag on to my "Travel and the Holidays" post...

Do as much house cleaning as possible before you leave. I'm not saying it has to be spotless, but wipe down counter tops, clean the toilet, the bathroom mirrors, vacuum, etc. There's nothing like coming back to a clean (or at least reasonably well picked up) home. While it took a great deal of work and thought for me to clean and organize before we left, it was sooooo worth it!

I mentioned before, do laundry while you're with your host, if you can. Our family certainly didn't mind (Thank you!), and this was a huge blessing to wash and fold our clothes on the morning of the day we left and even throughout our stay. This made such a huge difference in unpacking once we arrived home. Instead of throwing it all in the washer, I was able to put clean and folded clothes straight into drawers. What a huge blessing!

Make a list of the things you took with you while you're packing. I used this for clothes only, but it helped me to keep track of every ones things. While I did inadvertently leave a few things behind on this trip, the list really helped. I've also made note of the things we're not likely to need next time. Save that list to help you think through your next traveling adventure.

Keep each person's belongings/clothes separated, but limit yourself. For us, limiting ourselves meant that all our clothes had to fit in our larger suitcase. I put each of the kids' clothes in a pillow case. Patrick's clothes fit into the blue pillow case and Erin's were in the green one. This was a huge help in keeping track of everything while we were gone. I put their pillowcases of clothes into the top flap of our suitcase. Daniel got 1/2 the main compartment of the suitcase and I used the other. Every time we took off something that couldn't be re-worn without washing it, we placed it into a plastic grocery bag until we were able to do laundry. If the clothing can be re-worn, fold it promptly and place it in the appropriate person's space. We did this pretty strictly throughout our entire visit and it worked beautifully.

When you get back, even if you're tired (and you most likely will be!), take that first hour home to unload and unpack. Daniel spent about 30 minutes bringing in our belongings from the car and then I started unpacking them as quickly as I could. I unpacked and put into their proper places all the kitchen items and all the kids' books from our "multimedia bag" (a Once Upon a Child bag used for all such travel necessities). Then I moved to the suitcase. I've always struggled with not taking a week to get a suitcase unpacked, but this time I resolved to just get it done and it really wasn't bad! As long as I stuck to one person's belongings at a time - I unpacked all Erin's things first, then Patrick's... then once the clothes were done, I moved to the bathroom items, etc...you get the idea - it was extremely fast to get done.

It seriously took 1-1.5 hours to get all of us in the house, all the luggage in the house, and to get unpacked. I also took inventory of our refrigerator and cupboards and made a quick grocery list that should get us through the end of the month - about a week. Once we were organized, I did my shopping and by dinnertime, we were all settled back into our normal nightly routine at home without any unpacking looming over us. This has been a huge blessing this evening as I am now way past my fatigue threshold to unpack in any kind of organized, coherent manner.


I No-Poo

For those of you who are a little more "main stream" in your way of doing things, this might push me over the edge of the "crunchy" cliff, for those of you who baby wear, home-birth, make everything from scratch, etc. this may seem common sense to you. Either way, however, I would encourage you to try this...

I "no-poo" - no, I'm not having digestive issues, thanks. I'm talking about hair and for this, I'm bring up my two favorite household staples - baking soda and vinegar. You will need a separate container for each mixture. Two old tilt top shampoo containers will do... or an old water bottle w/ a pull-out nozzle or whatever. You will also need a spouted measuring cup (or cream pitcher...), if available.

For a standard size shampoo bottle, dump about 1/4-1/3cup baking soda into the measuring cup Add just enough warm water to the measuring cup so the baking soda begins to evenly dissolve. Pour into the shampoo bottle. If there is a lot of baking soda left in the bottom of the measuring cup after you've dumped it into the bottle, add more warm water to the measuring cup and pour it into the shampoo bottle. Top the shampoo bottle off with warm water.

Using a similar size shampoo bottle, pour vinegar - I typically use white, but have also used apple cider - into the bottle. I don't really measure, but for those of you who like exact measurements, use a ratio similar to the baking soda combination. Top off this bottle with warm water as well.

To use: The baking soda "no-poo" doesn't come anywhere near sudsing, but it will leave your hair very clean... just start at the hairline and slowly pour it over your scalp and run the mix through your hair with your fingers. Leave this mixture on your hair about as long as you would regular shampoo. Rinse well. Like regular shampoo, any excess left behind will leave your hair looking and feeling dirty. Once you have rinsed out the baking soda mixture, repeat the process, this time, using the vinegar mixture. Let sit for a minute or two. (Yes, it does smell a bit like vinegar while it is on your hair, but once you have rinsed it out, you shouldn't really be able to smell it. You might get a trace scent every now and again for a little while after, but no one else should be able to smell it.) Rinse. This leaves your hair very silky and shiny.

Why I love this method - it is easy and it really works. It will also keep your hair clean for several days without needing to repeat the process. Just before Erin was born, I started no-pooing... I was sold before she was born, but it was a life-saver with a newborn. I was tired and I really didn't want to take forever in the shower. But, because I have thick, longish hair, washing it does not help speed up the showering process (did I mention how long it takes to dry my hair?!). Yet, I didn't want to look as though I'd been annointing myself with oil. No-pooing allowed me those five-minute showers without adding anything else to the process. Of couse, I no-pooed when necessary, but it meant I could usually go every other shower without washing my hair and it was still genuinely clean.

Anyway, there are a few variations on these recipes, but the above mixtures work just fine for me. I had gotten out of the habit of no-pooing because we had some shampoo to use up, but I just recently started again and there really is no comparison. No-pooing works waaayyyyyy better. If you try it, give it a week before you evaluate its effectiveness- this should be long enough to get out any kind of build-up from your current shampoo and conditioner and then you will see the true results. But, you should see some benefit after the first wash. :)


Travel and the Holidays

For many of us, the holidays often bring road trips of varying lengths and the probability of living out of a suitcase for several days. Now that we have two children to pack for, not to mention ourselves, it can easily seem like we've packed everything AND the kitchen sink. While I'm nowhere near perfecting how to pack for 4 while using the least space possible, I have learned a few tricks in recent months. After all, the simple fact of the matter is: the more you take, the more you have to keep up with and in turn, the more likely you are to leave something behind.

1 - If you're staying somewhere with a washer and dryer, use it (if the host doesn't mind, of course). Pack only enough for about 2 days and don't be afraid to wash your clothes while you're there. This can go a very long way in managing the volume of things you pack. I've found that taking a pair of jeans and a pair of khakis or similar type pants is usually enough to get me through a 4-7 day stay somewhere. Unless you get pooed on (for those of us with kids under 12 months, this is a very feasible possibility), chances are those pants will remain quite clean throughout the entirety of your visit.

2 - Take as many consumable products as possible. What I mean here is - take bags of goldfish, cereal, cheese sticks, crackers... you get the idea. Don't take much that requires tupperwares or coolers. This will make packing easier and will allow more space in the car. Sure, if you have small children, you probably do need to take a cooler to store their milk or whatever in, but you might be taking a small cooler rather than one that takes up 1/2 your trunk space.

3 - Toys... oh, the toys... how they seem to multiply when you're in the car! We almost always tend to over-pack in this area, but over the weekend, we took a day trip just a few hours away to see my grandparents, uncles, and aunts. I experimented with taking only the kiddos' personalized blankets and their bears. You know what? They didn't need anything else! There was enough going on that they were completely content without their insane volume of toys. Sure, if you're going on more than just a day trip, you'll need more, but you probably need less than you think.

4 - Diaper bags are bulky and, in my mind, unnecessary once your children reach a certain age. Once my kids reach about 6 months, I stop carrying a diaper bag. If it can't fit in my purse (a mid-size one), we don't need it. I can fit a sippy cup, a bottle, a very small toy or two, 2 diapers and wipes in my purse while still having room for my planner/wallet, some lip balm, and keys. Yes, the purse is crowded, but I have what I need in a very small space.

5- Pillows, blankets and the like. It's amazing how much space these things can take up! My rule of thumb is one pillow per person over 5. If you're under 5, you probably don't need it. We pack blankets for the kids and that's it. If we get cold in the car, we turn up the heat.

6 - Manage your trash as you go. On our next trip, we will keep a small handfull of plastic bags in the car to use as our trash bin. Each time we stop or as necessary, we will toss the bag. We drink a lot of soda and such on our trips (we usually travel at night for long trips, so this is practically a staple), and this creates a lot of rubbish. Toss it. I hate traveling in a cluttered, messy car.

7 - When you arrive at your destination, take as little in as possible. Do you really need to bring all that junk in?! Doubtful. We tend to leave snacks, sodas, books, cds, etc. in the car. The less you bring in, the less you are likely to forget.

8 - Multimedia can be a huge blessing to have on a trip, but my tendency is to overpack in that department as well. This year for our trip to Michigan, I will take my iPod, one book on CD (to listen to while I'm driving) and my journal. We will take our cameras. Daniel may take his laptop. Daniel will probably also take a book on CD. For the kids, we'll pack a small pile of books and some DVDs to watch during our stay (I often try to put 2-3 dvds/case just to minimize the space they take up). This should be more than enough.

Those are my travel tips. If you have any, please feel free to add them. Just remember, you rarely need 1/2 of what you pack, so just try to think through the necessities, and pack only those. :)


How Do You Teach Phone Etiquette in Our "One-Phone-Per-Person" Society?

Last night at the dinner table, Daniel and I were talking about how much things have changed since our childhood. As dinner was drawing to a close, Patrick was playing with Daniel's old cell-phone... one of his current favorite toys (as long as the battery is charged!). Patrick was absolutely adorable as he lifted the silver phone to his ear and said, "Bye!".

I've been working with him off and on about how to hold the phone properly and with the kind help of our families, we've been able to show how people talk to us through the phone - and I repeated this last night by calling my mom right after Patrick proclaimed "Bye!" to the silence on the end of his disconnected phone and trying to get Patrick to at least say, "Hi!" or "Bye!" to her. Of course, he loved hearing his gramma's voice on the other end, but wouldn't do anything but smile.

Anyway, this moment of "training" last evening caused Daniel and me to realize that teaching phone etiquette in today's high-tech society is sure to look vastly different than it did 20 years ago. We do not have a land-line and we are not likely to get one any time soon, if ever. So, no more, "Hello. You've reached the ________ residence. This is Rebekah. How may I help you?" With the prevalence of cell phones, it seems the "proper" way to teach phone etiquette will be something like this... "Hello. You've reached my mommy's phone. This is Patrick. Let me go get her." OR... "Hello. This is Patrick's phone..." At what age is it appropriate to give your child their own cell phone? Seriously! I mean, we live in a world that is filled with technology and some of that technology is great, especially when used for safety/emergency contact.

I don't like leaving home without my phone - just so I can be contacted if there is an emergency, or so I can contact someone else in the event of an emergency. So, wouldn't I also want that option to be readily available to my children? But, is it appropriate for your 5 year old to have a phone on their first day of kindergarten? I'm not so sure...

I am not advocating giving phones to small children, but I'm also not saying they should be 18 before they get one either. Think about it and leave feedback if you will. :)


Perspective on a Child's First Christmas

Okay, so with the hectic nature of the Christmas season hitting in full force (or, maybe it's just life?) I don't feel as though I have much new to offer in the way of posts. As of now, I've shared most of my creative domestic tips, plus a whole album's worth of photos, and a few videos... I did realize one thing, though, when Daniel and I were talking last night.

Baby's First Christmas = Commercial Marketing Hayday.

Last year, Daniel and I gave Patrick a few fun, cute gifts. But here's the thing, short of the photos we have of Christmas morning, he really wasn't all that into things. He sort of liked the bow on top of his "big gift." Otherwise, he really didn't care. Sure, he liked the gifts we gave him, but he would have been just fine without them.

As I have mentioned before, having two kids under two means that we have more toys than our house can handle. Some are large, but most are small and can easily make any given room look like a hurricane came plowing through - leaving countless chunks of debris in various shapes, colors, and sizes behind.

Please don't read that I'm not thankful for these toys, because I am. Most have been given to us, and I am very, very thankful for the generosity bestowed upon us. But, I am saying that our children do not need any more toys for their age-range. Because their ages are so close - 13 months to the day - they pretty much like the same toys. While Erin can't enjoy everything Patrick likes, Patrick often finds Erin's toys interesting.

So, what am I getting at? Unless I am overcome by an overwhelming need to go buy something useless, we won't be buying the kids anything for Christmas this year. Besides, we can probably go looking through the boxes of toys we have stored away and find something suitable to place a bow on and hide under the tree.

Or, I could just buy a box of fruit snacks for Patrick and a can of pumpkin for Erin. They would enjoy the contents, but seriously... It's the paper and the bows that are the most fun at their ages. Or, maybe I could give him an empty cereal box...

Just last night, I gave Patrick an empty oatmeal canister to play with. He loved it. In a day or two, I'll throw it out and he probably won't miss it. I'll repeat this in a few weeks when our next oatmeal canister is empty.

In a nut shell, don't waste any money on buying all this fluff for a kid's first Christmas. They won't remember it and you won't add any more rubble to the living room. :)


A Very Full Day

Yesterday, a friend of mine (who is a piano teacher) and I took our students to a local assisted living facility so our students could put on a Christmas concert for the residents. Having worked in a retirement home, I know what a joy this can be for the residents - especially those who either do not get to see children often, or those who do not have family around. I've also seen how much they enjoy music. So, for the 3rd Christmas season in a row, Amanda and I organized this service project.

While it may seem an odd location, we chose to perform in the dining room. Besides the fact that the room itself is beautiful, the original idea behind this location was to make it comfortable and personal, not formal like regular recitals are.

I have always made it a point to stress with my students that God has given them musical talent and that through these concerts, they are using their talents to both serve God and to bless the residents living in the assisted living facility. The focus is on service, not on the musicians.

I think this year we saw the biggest turn out among the residents. Instead of having a proper reception after the concert, the retirement facility provided cookies and drinks during the concert. This made a more casual, more personal environment among the students, parents and residents.

All of our students performed beautifully! While I was unable to get photos of everyone, we did get a few good pictures during the concert. :)

Amanda and I each had the opportunity to play a duet with one of our students.

Once the concert was over, I was able to get photos in front of their beautiful Christmas tree with each of my students. Me with Olivia.

Me with Luke.

Molly and me.

Yesterday evening, Daniel and I took the kiddos over to Dad and Mom's house to enjoy dinner over there and to help decorate for Christmas. I've always loved decorating their house, so it was an honor to get called upon to help with the tree again this year! Here are some photos from yesterday afternoon before going to Dad and Mom's and then a few of yesterday evening.

Daniel and me in front of our Christmas tree at home.

Erin - enjoying her newly brought out exersaucer. Look at that pludge! :) Of course, at 7 months of age, pludge is cute. :)

I just love this outfit on her. :)

Me - decorating their tree. I think it is lovely. :)

A few photos in front of Mom and Dad's (decorated) tree. He was a squirmy little guy, but we managed to get a few precious photos.

As I mentioned earlier, we pulled out Erin's exersaucer for the first time yesterday (she does have one at my parents' house, but she hasn't played in ours before). She definitely enjoyed it, but apparently Patrick was impressed by it, too... as evidenced by this video.


Non-Scrabble night

Tonight, Daniel and I took a break from Scrabble night... we were blessed by my parents' generosity to watch the kiddos, so we went out for a date!!! We kept it simple by going to Burger King and then we went over to the mall to enjoy the Christmas decorations.

One thing we've learned in our nearly 2.5 years of marriage is that its not the "niceness" of the date that makes them enjoyable, it's the company. So, for us, dinner at Burger King and then a stroll around the mall was a perfect, causal way to just enjoy being with each other without the kids. (Of course, we LOVE our kids, but we like some time by ourselves, too. :))

Anyway, the point of the post is this - expensive, fancy dates are great, but so are the super-casual fast-food ones. God has given us the ability to find joy in the everyday situations just as much as the extraordinary ones. So, when that fancy date is not a great option, make the most of a casual night out. :) It's the company, not the location, that really makes the difference.


Christmas Trees and Gingerbread Houses

As promised, here are pictures of our beautiful Christmas tree. I think we really did find the perfect one this year! :)

As you can see, there is a pretty distinct blue and silver theme. I'm all about themed trees - they just look elegant and organized. Of course, not everyone likes this and to balance out theme with family, there is a small smattering of "sentimental" or "more personal" ornaments. Among the sentimental ornaments are one we purchased in Williamsburg on our honeymoon, several ducks in honor of Patrick's nursery theme, a few in honor of Erin's existence from last year, and one marking Daniel and my first Christmas together from 2006.

Here is another (kind of blurry!) photo, but with more cozy lighting - a bit more the way it actually looks in person without the harsh photo light.
Last year, Sarah and I started the "tradition" of decorating gingerbread houses and watching "Home Alone" (no Christmas season is complete without viewing this *cough* 'timeless classic' hehehe). So, last night, we had our 2nd annual Gingerbread Decorating Movie Fest. Twas grand! We were too frumpy to take photos of us with our gingerbread houses, but here are a few photos of our incredible masterpieces. :) Sarah's is on the left and mine is on the right.
I LOVE the holidays!


A Few Cute Pics

Holiday Tip of the Day

I haven't posted anything practical for a while, and since sharing practicality is one of the primary goals of my blog, I figured I would make this short and sweet.

If you have followed my suggestion about getting your Christmas presents purchased early - even if you only have one out of the way - go ahead and wrap it. It really can take an insane amount of time to wrap all the gifts on your list, so why not go ahead and get a good start? Seriously, how long can it take - 5 minutes? I'm pretty confident most of you have that 5 minutes to spare. :)