Help For Mommies

A Very Handy Chore Chart

Hi Guys!  This morning, as I was flipping all the magnets on our handy dandy chore chart, I realized that I have yet to tell you about this ever-so-helpful part of my life.  I mean, how else am I supposed to remember whose turn it is to dust the stairs and feed the cats??

When I first came up with this brainstorm of an idea, I thought maybe I was gonna market it.  I was just so tickled with my idea.  But then I thought that I'd better try it out for a while and work out the bugs first.  Well, one year later, I'm happy to tell you that it still WORKS!  Yes, I know, amazing, right?!

Since I'm extremely busy lately and I know that you guys are gonna want to make your own version of this handy chart, I'm not going to go into great detail.  You're smart.  You can figure it out.  Besides, if you want to make something like this, you'll want to make it your own way, anyways.

So, I'll just show you the creative process that ended up in a very user friendly and functional chore management system:

The first step to coming up with a system that works is to figure out which chores you actually need done on a regular basis.  I just made a huge list and then cut it apart to move them around.  It takes quite some time to figure out which chores suit each family member best and how to organize them so that everybody's out of each other's way when it's chore time!

I enlisted ALL of the kiddos at this point.... they had so many good ideas!

Once I decided on the chores that we regularly needed done, I made them into paper covered magnets.  Before doing anything permanently, I wanted to see how many chores/people/days we actually needed.

I got these cool little dry erase boards at Wally World.  I guess the average family would only need one! .But then again, we are not your average family.  Maybe that's why we needed this chart so badly...

I changed up the format several times by the time I finally came up with the layout that I liked.

 Now it's time to get out the pinstripes!  You can buy this stuff in the auto section of most stores.  I think mine came from Auto Zone.  Once you've decided on column widths, you can mark them with your dry erase marker and start laying down the pinstripe tape.  You really need something permanent like this, because this chart gets LOTS of touching/rearranging and would otherwise be a mess.

I was gonna get some cute scrapbook decals for the days & names, but haven't yet...  I did add a few cute stickers, though, and I usually draw a picture of the chore for my non-reader.

Honestly, the most amazingly helpful part of this system is these little round magnets!  You can buy them in the kid craft section of Walmart.  I put happy stickers on one side and left the other side blank.  That way I can easily glance at the chart and see who did what, and the kiddos can also keep track.  That's the whole point, right?  (Oh, and there's a fine for flipping a magnet when the chore's not actually done to standard)

We have a well-stocked prize basket for everybody whose chores are done by Saturday at 3:00.  We also have a list of less-than-pleasant chores for anybody who decides not to cooperate with this brilliant system of home management.  (Graci will be relocating the compost bin this week.)  Also, Saturday kitchen chore is left intentionally blank so that there's always a handy incentive.  If all the chores are done, then I'll happily clean the kitchen.  It's a great trade-off!  ; )

So, there ya have it.

A very handy chore chart!

I may be writing a few more posts on the topic of home (chaos) management.  It really helps to keep me inspired!

 Is there any topic in particular that you guys would like to hear about?

OK, well, that's it then.

Go forth and conquer!!

 Dealing With Germ Season

It's that time of year again...everyone's sniffling and sneezing, we're passing around the hand sanitizer in the van with more enthusiasm than usual, and I actually remember to pass out vitamins on most days. Honestly, though, we are rarely ever sick. Our pediatrician didn't even know who we were when we all went in for check ups!  I guess that's unusual for a family of NINE.  I know lots of people want to chalk that up to our kids not being at public school, and that DEFINITELY helps, but here's something else that has made a real difference...

Some good advice.
Years ago, back when I had about three kids, I was at the doctor's office as often as most moms.  We used to deal with ear infections on a regular basis, and strep, and the list goes on.  Enter antibiotics, and you've got a whole new bunch of digestive problems and ongoing issues. Right?  So I finally got the bright idea to ask for a really old, experienced doctor and then proceeded to drill him on how in the world to keep these kids healthy.

Here's his sage advice:

*Never medicate for cold symptoms or coughs, unless the cough is preventing much needed sleep.  In that case use Delsym cough suppressant, only if it's an unproductive cough--you know, the dry, tickle cough.

*Use straight Robitussin (guaifenison syrup) to loosen things up--it doesn't really have side effects, and is helpful for sinus and chest congestion. (It makes snot runnier)

*Advil or Tylenol are good for fever, but only use them if the fever is especially high, because fevers kill bad germs.  This one's hard to do, since you feel so terrible with chills, aches, etc, but as long as you can stand it... just let it do its thing.

You will get better faster, with less secondary problems if you just help the body along with lots of rest and fluids, rather than shutting down its natural germ killing defenses or trying to dry up snot by using cold medications.  This old doc told me that the only time to dry up a runny nose is when it is caused by seasonal allergies, in that case...

*Use plain Benadryll.  Or one of the more modern allergy meds like Claritin.  All that snot is a great place for new germs to grow, that's why an allergic kid catches more colds, thus the whole reason I found this wise old doctor in the first place.

A few tips that we've added over the years... Consider these "an old mom's advice":

*Keep hand sanitizer in the van and use it EVERY time you get in after being in public--Wal-mart and church, especially.  This goes for everybody, except baby who isn't touching anything yet.  It took a while for my husband to join us on this, so be persistent!

*Use a few drops of eucalyptus oil in a pot of near simmering water, cover your head with a towel, close your eyes, and breathe.  Beware, this stuff is strong, but works!

*We use lots of herbal tea.  Nothing fancy, it's just for comfort mostly, but there are lots of good teas for sinus congestion and stomach upset that really seem to help.  Again, with no side effects.  Just read the box.

Our favorite comfort teas

*Use a humidifier in the bedroom at night when somebody's stuffy.  This helps with easier breathing.
Vick's Vapor Rub helps with that too.  It seems to loosen up head and chest congestion when rubbed on the chest.

****Almost forgot... Vitamin C!  Lots of C!

These are just a few ideas off the top of my head.  I'll add more as I think of it and we fight our way through "cold and flu season."
Keep in mind, I AM NOT A DOCTOR. (duh) These methods have worked great for us, but should not be considered professional medical advice.  Just professional mommy advice.  : )

Happy health,


Why I love 2:00

Yep, that's right.  2:00.  Epic, right??

About a year ago we came up with this life saver.

 I know, 2:00 has been around for a very long time.  I just discovered what to do at 2:00.

 Back in the baby days, that was nap time.  I got peace and quiet and a chance to think.  I could do chores or read a book or take a nap... undisturbed.  But then some of my kids grew out of naps.  Then what???  I was always hushing them and trying to let the babies and toddlers sleep.  Well, these days EVERYBODY in our house must be absolutely quiet for one hour, starting at 2 o'clock.  They've all gotten so used to it that they usually call out, "Two O'clock!"  and that means go to your bed and read/sleep.  No talking.  No getting a drink.  No going to the bathroom.  For ONE blessed hour!!!

Even the teenagers cooperate.  I think they really enjoy it, actually.  Sometimes they use that time to take a hard test that requires total concentration.  Sometimes they sit out on the porch swing and read.  In the winter they just read in their beds.  Sometimes they take a snooze.  They know that I won't call them for anything, so it's really their own time to not be disturbed, also.

And I get to do whatever I want.  I get the whole downstairs all to myself.  I can clean the kitchen or follow a recipe without distraction, pay bills, check emails, write a blog, eat a cookie.... you get the idea.

It really only took a few days to get this routine going, believe it or not.  I think it's amazing.

Yay! for two o'clock!


Training Horses and Kids


People who train horses really amaze me.  A well-trained horse is such a joy to own, but I don't know a thing about how to train them.  I just know from experience that a horse that has been properly trained can be ridden just about anywhere with very little stress.  A well-trained horse trusts its owner and almost always willingly follows commands. You don't need to be afraid of being bucked or kicked or bitten when you are around a well-trained horse.  You can bathe, brush, feed and lead a well-trained horse with very little trouble.  It's actually enjoyable.

When I was thirteen, I got my first official horse.  My very own registered quarter horse.  I had owned ponies before then, but I always shared with my sisters and the pony usually had behavior problems before we got it.  But my very own horse was a different story.  She was young and sweet and very well-trained.  I could ride her anywhere.  She could obey the slightest command.  Needless to say, I rode her constantly.

But as time wore on and I got busier....she spent more time out in the pasture doing her own thing and I barely spent any time with her, except for necessary chores.  What do you think happened when I finally decided to ride her? Yep, you guessed it.  UNtraining had happened while I wasn't around.  She no longer trusted me as her boss.  She thought she should be her own boss.  That is not a fun horse to ride.

Because it was so difficult to ride her, I rode less and less.  And she became more and more difficult.  Vicious cycle.  And because I was so clueless about horse training, I would just look for the nearest tree with a good switch and lay into her.  I know that sounds terrible.  But that's what bad "training" looks like.  I was kicking her and yanking on her reins, she'd buck and rear and scare my mother to death.  I'd switch her rump and she'd straighten up for about a minute and then the whole circus would replay.  We'd both be completely frustrated.  I'd pull off her saddle in a big temper tantrum and she'd run right back out into the field, as far away from me as possible.  Bummer.

Now you know my total ignorance of horsemanship.  It's pathetic, I know.  I never really tried to learn back then.  I guess I thought it should come naturally.  But you just can't bully a horse.

Thankfully, I have learned a lot since then.  I don't have any horses right now, but I do have a small herd of a different kind of animal...


Turns out, they're not that different!  Let's rewrite that first paragraph:

"People who effectively train children really inspire me.  A well-trained child is such a joy to (be around),  since I have learned how to train them.  I know from experience that a child that has been properly trained can be taken just about anywhere with very little stress.  A well-trained child trusts his parents and almost always willingly follows commands. You don't need to be afraid of being (sassed), (embarrassed) or bitten when you are around a well-trained child.  You can bathe, (dress), feed and lead a well-trained child with very little trouble.  It's actually enjoyable."

Surprisingly similar, right?

Children are always being trained--  whether right or wrong.  When I was busy smacking and switching my horse,  I was training.  But the result of my training was a horse that became a terror.  So spanking alone is obviously NOT effective training.  Neither is yelling and bullying.  It doesn't work on horses and it won't work on children.  Neglect combined with random spanking sessions will only create resentment and frustration.  Just in case you were wondering, I totally believe in spanking as PART of child training.  But it is not the whole thing.  Effective training is a skill.   It is purposeful, time consuming and requires endless patience.  But it is possible.  And it is so worth it.

If you happen to have a child or two, it is well worth your time to learn.

  Don't Kill Your Family

About a month ago I received this letter from a young mom, asking for advice.  She asked a very relevant question, something that I struggled with back when my kiddos were little.  I thought I'd share my response, just in case anyone else might be wondering about the same sort of things.  Here's her letter...

"Okay. I have a question for your blog. How do you run your household with order without killing your children and husband? I feel like I am constantly putting stuff away and cleaning up after everyone and never have the time to do things I actually want to do. I do enjoy cleaning, but there are other things I would like to do with my go exploring and crafts and have a scheduled school time. What are the first steps to managing a less-stress, fun home?"

Dear Mama,
Although I’ve been raising children for nearly 20 years, I think it was a bit of a blur back when they were all really young.  You know, it’s all about survival.  Especially when you’re outnumbered!  But never fear, I asked my trusty source of all information, my husband, who was there with me during those years, but had more of his brain functioning.  He helped remind me of  how I actually survived those years and live to tell about it.  Here’s what we came up with.  A few first steps to managing a less-stress, fun home.

Expect Obedience
First of all, it is incredibly, super-duper, cannot-be-stressed-enough, important that your children learn to mind you.  Children that do not listen to directions are ALWAYS frustrating, and nothing will be fun until they learn obedience.  Since I have not observed you and your children in action, only you can be the judge.  And every family has their own standard.  The important thing is that they follow YOUR standard.  When you say “no,” they listen.  First time, no second chances.  Whatever you and your husband agree on, expect that.  There are so many excellent books about child training, each one with it’s own slant.  I’d recommend reading a few, gleaning the most useful stuff, work out the plan with your husband and then put the standard into effect.  If you are frustrated often, then chances are the standard is too low.  Or you have been distracted lately, and the natives are becoming restless.  (at least that’s what we always called it)

Minimize Distractions
It’s a strange time we’re living in.  There’s enough distractions available in the average home, that we could pretty much miss the whole day, and never even realize it.  Between TV, internet surfing,  facebook & texting,  we don’t even need to talk to our kids.  Back in our mom’s era, the big pull for homemakers was soap operas.  We know THAT would be a big waste of time, right?  The problem is that modern mommies have a much greater temptation.  Actual people! (well, sortof)  And good, useful information.  Yeah, I know, coz I’m on here a lot, too!  It’s a good escape, but the whole time you’re escaping, the babies are tearing up the house and undoing everything you did, unless.... you schedule a time for these online activities so that they don’t become distractions.  You know, like people in the work place do.  Give yourself allotted times, maybe during naps or after kids’ bedtime, or while they are playing near you for a set amount of time.  Then get back to your work of full-time mommy.  You might be surprised how much more time you have for those other fun activities.

Identify the Problem
Every household is unique.  If you are constantly “putting stuff away and cleaning up after everyone” then you need to sit back and identify what you are actually putting away and cleaning up.  Is it toys?  Dishes?  Clothing?  Once you identify what your family’s main messes are, it’s easier to come up with a solution.  If you feel like you are constantly cleaning the kitchen, try the cafeteria approach:  This kitchen is only open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I will serve you food, you will eat it and then I will clean it up.  Don’t expect to come in here for food when the kitchen is closed!  Does that seem harsh?  You will be surprised how much easier it will be to keep things neat when you’re not constantly fixing food and cleaning up after it.  There will be less pickiness and better appetites when you actually serve meals at specific times.  As far as snacks go, well, I’m not that tuff.  I used to let my little kids get a snack at mid-morning and in the afternoon, but it was always a certain food, like a piece of fruit,  and ONLY in the kitchen.  Food always stays in the kitchen.  So many mommies let their children carry food and drinks around the house and then go behind and clean up the sticky, crumby mess that never should have been there in the first place!
Maybe food mess isn’t the problem, though.  Maybe you’re constantly doing laundry.  We always had color coded towels for the kids.  I only washed one towel a week for each kid.  These days, I can’t even remember everyone’s color, so I just write their names in permanent marker on the bottom edge.  That way if I find it on the floor, etc., I know who to call.  If you’re always picking up clothes and washing them because they’re shoved in weird places and all mixed together, clean and dirty, you need a plan.  None of these problems are too difficult, it’s just a matter of stopping long enough to figure out what’s really getting on your nerves, and finding a solution.

Getting Stuff Under Control

So, how do you handle the unnecessary cleaning that might be sucking up your free time?  Obviously there's gonna be some chores that you just can't avoid.  You've got to deal with food and diapers and laundry, no matter how organized you are!  But, those aren't really the problem.  It's all that other stuff that seems to be constantly out of place and needing your attention.  If you want more time for the things that matter to you, like crafts and playing outside, it will help if you show your "stuff" who's boss. 

Control Clutter
Here’s a tip that my husband pointed out.  I’ve gotten so used to living this way that I hardly even notice it.  I absolutely HATE clutter!  Especially "visible" clutter.  It eats away my peace of mind just like clashing colors do.  I remember back when I had two little rugrats, I used to wish I had a pit built into the corner of the living room floor and an indoor rake so I could just rake all the toys in there without having to bend down a million times a day.  I was probably pregnant, too!  I never got the pit, but I did get a solution.  Rotate toys.  I always kept one small toy box in the playroom with a nice mix of favorite toys.  The rest got put into bins out in the shed or garage.  Every couple of weeks, I would switch out the boring toys for new ones from the bin.  Since they were gone for a while, they seemed fun again.  I never packed away the absolute favorite like “Sheepy,” but all those other toys were taking over my house and it was starting to look like a daycare!  Yikes!
 I did the same thing with books.  Just one small basket was available, so the mess could only get so big.  The mess was also small enough that a toddler who made it could clean it up easily.  It’s important that you only do chores that your children CAN’T do.  Actual cleaning.  As for junk that kids drag out, well,  they can drag it right back to where it came from. 
A friend of mine with littles suggested a solution to the clothes clutter mess.  She keeps all the clean, folded clothes in her room.  She calls it "family closet."  Kids don’t have access at all.  That way the clean clothes go on in the morning and stay on and the dirty clothes come off into the hamper.  I never tried that because I don’t like kids stuff in my room, since it’s the only place in the house that is not available to them. But it works for her.  I liked keeping the clothes on shelves in the kid's closet, instead of drawers.  I only kept out clothes that fit and were the right season.  Then I labeled baskets on the shelves so that the kids could dress themselves and put clean clothes away.  The important thing is to find a solution that works for you, and stick with it.  My girls were especially messy with clothes.  Gotta change to fit the mood, you know!  Now they have to deal with their own mess, so I don’t mind as much. 

But for now, getting clutter under control will go a long way in helping you free up some time for the things you enjoy.  As for your's a little tip that has really helped our family...

Get Hooks
It must be a guy thing.  Men need an easy place to put the clothes.  Especially the “clirty” ones that aren’t quite clean, but aren’t dirty enough for the hamper.  Get hooks!  Put hooks on the back of the door to the bathroom, the closet, the bedroom, wherever they will fit.  Then train that man to put his stuff there.  On laundry day, you can pull off what you decide is dirty.  We used to have a chair in our room that was always covered in clothes, but no more!  I got hooks!  Kids like hooks, too.  They can hang up their own coat if they can reach the spot.  We have a huge hallway full of shaker pegs that is always full.  Shakers are smart people.  Can you tell I’m hooked?  Sorry.  Seriously, a place for everything and everything in it’s place is a really good place to start.  I’ll add to that by saying, “If you can get it out, you can put it back.”  That goes for husbands, too.  Although I’ve found that to be a little harder to enforce.  : )

Evening Pick-Up
I remember reading years ago about a young mom who dreaded the morning because she hated facing the mess, especially in her kitchen.  This particular lady had an accommodating husband who recognized the problem and made an effort to make sure her kitchen was neat before he went to bed.  Wow! As for the rest of us.... yeah, let's just say it's worth the extra ten minutes of clean-up after the kids are in bed to insure sanity in the morning.  I like to put toys and books away, straighten up the living room, etc. once it's quiet.  Most of the time, our kids pick up their own messes, but there's always a few things overlooked and sometimes it's just easier to do it myself rather than call the offender, especially late in the evening.  That way I can sit in a neat room and enjoy a few moment's peace before bed.  And the next day starts out better, too.

 This all leads into the bottom line of my survival tactic:

Family Scheduling AKA Head 'Em Off At the Pass

So, I guess what a lot of this motherhood job really boils down to is "head 'em off at the pass."  I can just picture the sheriff and his trusty side-kick galloping to the mouth of the canyon to round up the bandits before they make their escape. You're sortof like the Lone Ranger on the home front!

Sounds funny, but lots of happy, unstressed mommies are actually just more pro-active than their frustrated, stressed-out counterparts.  It's not that they work any harder.  Sometimes it's just the opposite!  Both mommies are going to have to fix lunch, for example.  Stressed-out mom will wait until her children are hungry, grouchy and whining for food before she fixes it.  Then she'll be annoyed while she's trying to figure out what whiny-butt wants to eat because a hungry toddler doesn't really CARE...they just want food NOW!  Happy mom, on the other hand, knew that her children would be getting hungry around their normal lunch time, so she decided what to fix and had it ready before the kiddos even realized how hungry they were.  It's actually the same, exact amount of work involved.  Both ended up fixing lunch.  One was frustrated.  One was not.

This principle works for so many different areas.  Having a cuppy or water bottle filled up in the morning will save you some annoyance later on.  I used to tie my toddler's sippy cup full of water to the high chair with a short string.  It could sit on the tray or they could walk up and get a drink without my help.  Best of all, it never got lost!  These days,  I line up water bottles on the kitchen counter with each person's name on a label.  Saves me a lot of dish washing, which is always a good thing!

Going Somewhere
How about clothing?  If you know that you will be going somewhere with your children the next morning, why not figure out what everyone's going to wear the night before.  It only takes a few minutes to put together an outfit, including finding shoes.  That little bit of effort ahead of time will save soooo much stress and frustration the next day when you're trying to get out the door at a certain time.  That way, if you discover that something needs washed or is missing, you have time to decide what you want to do about it without the extra stress of hurrying.

Another aspect of "heading 'em off at the pass" is making sure that your kids are getting enough sleep.  From my experience, sleep is a HUGE factor in determining happiness in children.  As the mommy, it is your job to know what your children need and do your best to make sure that they get it.  Your little kids will not always know how important sleep is to them.  They need a lot more than you might think.  You can read here to find out exactly how much.  But the good thing about this particular need is that YOU need them to need all this sleep!  This is when YOU get your breaks.  God is very smart!  If you figure out a sleep schedule that works for you and your kids, try to stick with it for a little while before changing it.  It's hard for little kids to adjust to lots of changes and still feel relaxed enough to sleep.  If you can get them in bed before they're dead-dog-tired, it will be a lot easier for them to wind down and teach themselves how to decide to fall asleep.  You know how you feel when you're really wired after spending time with friends doing something fun? And then you know that feeling when you should go to bed but can't possibly fall asleep?  I think little kids experience that, too.  They need the time before naps and before bedtime to be sortof mellow.  And very routine.  That way they won't feel like they're missing out on something fun.

So, what's the bottom line on this whole schedule idea?

Like I said before in other posts, You, the Mama, need to decide what will work for you and your family.  Then just do it.  Decide when would be the best time for your meals, naps, bedtimes, etc. and then be ready when that time rolls around.  If you let it catch you by surprise, you'll possibly be frustrated by the interruption.  If you prepare ahead of time, then your kids will eventually get the hang of the routine and begin to take comfort in it.  You might like it, too.

Be sure to stay flexible when life throws you a curve, but on most days....

Head 'em off at the pass!

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