Tuesday, February 25, 2014

..busy as bees..

On any given day, there is tremendous activity in our house. I'm not so different from most people with kids similar in age to mine, I'm certain.

We have acclimated to our new small town quite well. I have enjoyed becoming a part of the community, as have our children.

Since moving here, we have enjoyed all manner of activities, and I thought I'd share with you what we have busied ourselves with in the last couple of months.

:: Little Arrows -  Isaac participated in an introduction to basketball program through the elementary school. It was a Saturday activity, where he learned the basics of basketball. The highlight of the program was a half-time show at a varsity girls' basketball game, where all the participants displayed the skills they had learned. It was even set to music, which made it all the better.

:: Pinocchio -  Evy auditioned and was cast in a production of 'Pinocchio.' The Missoula Children's Theater came to our little town in late January. In the course of one week, they cast and produced 'Pinocchio,' with costumes, sets, and everything. Evy was a ballerina toy, and enjoyed being onstage with her friends. They did two performances at the end of the 6 days, and it was quite an impressive accomplishment. Evy did not, however, care for sitting backstage for the entire one-hour production.

:: Family Skate Night -  Family skate night amounted to rollerskating in the gym. It was tremendous fun, although I had some difficulty avoiding the kids who frequently fell. I also learned that I have a real difficult time skating clockwise. Who knew? The physical education classes at their school had all been doing rollerskating, and this served as their culmination event. I felt badly for Rich, whose monstrous feet barely fit into the largest size skate they had. Somewhat fortuitously, Margot didn't care for the skating, so instead he kept her company and chatted with some neighbors, while the rest of us enjoyed whizzing around the gym on 4 wheels.

:: Sock Hop - The build-up to this event was pretty exciting. Girls talking about what their poodle skirt looked like, pleas for help from the parents, and numerous save the date flyers and invitations coming home in folders. Initially, Isaac was disinterested in attending. Dancing is not his thing. Evy and Margot didn't feel strongly one way or another, and I was willing to skip it only because it would've been our 4th night out that week. I thought better of it, however, and we went. It ended up being great fun for the kids, and tolerable for the adults. I'm not one to jump in and start cutting a rug with a bunch of elementary kids. I'm the wallflower that likes to watch from the sidelines. Unless it's rollerskating, of course - but even then I refuse to limbo. There was hula-hooping, poodle skirts galore, a picture booth, dinner, and much fun had by all. I'm so glad that we made the decision to go.

:: Dinners with New Friends - Evy has made the astute observation that we have been having "a lot of customers" lately. By customers, she means dinner guests. One thing the distance kept us from for the last 3 years (as a family), was having people over for meals on a regular basis. We enjoy sharing meals with others. We both enjoy cooking, and my kids enjoy having playmates. Since we've moved, we have dinner with friends at least twice a week, and lately, more often. We've made a point to invite over some people that we've wanted to break bread with, in an effort to get to know our community and the community that Rich is a part of at the university. It has been hard being away from family back in Illinois, and even friends. What makes our move all the sweeter, however, is the friends that we've made (and continue to make) since we've been here. It's reassurance to me that we picked the right place to settle. One could not ask for better customers.

:: Valentine's Tea/Classroom helper - I have the privilege of working in Margot's class for a short period of time once a week. I have been going in regularly for the last few months now, helping with centers in her classroom. We have done all sorts of neat activities, and the kids in her classroom are all familiar with who I am, which is a nice feeling for this former teacher. On Valentine's day, Margot's class had a special tea party where we made cards, friendship bracelets, read stories, ate a snack, and listened to and sang along with some songs. I will always feel fortunate to be able to share these kinds of moments with my kids, and hang onto the memory of them when my presence in school will be viewed as a threat instead of a treat.

:: Snow days - Ugh-this winter. We have spent far too many days home from school. It has been a brutally cold winter with piles of snow. In our move, things climate-wise have changed insignificantly. But this winter has chewed us up and spit us out. Right when you have a mild and sunny day -- BAM! -- Old Man Winter brings you a snowstorm the next. There is a little bit of rain falling and -- KA-POW! -- Old Man Winter drops the temperatures to negative 500 degrees and now the roads are sheets of ice. Not fun. At last count, we have had 7 snow/cold days. I have tried to make the best of them -- but even the novelty of them has worn off for the kids and all I'm left with is a bunch of whining about how they miss their friends or their teachers or their science experiment they were going to do in school that day. I've done the best I can to make up for what they are missing, and sometimes we're fine and enjoy our day together, and other times we all go to our separate corners.

Soon, spring will come and we'll be enjoying a whole host of new activities. I might actually get to start biking all over town instead of putting the car in to a lower gear just to get up the damn driveway. *Sigh* 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

..the help..

When it comes to parenting, there are a couple of areas in which I consider myself less-than-stellar. The first is potty-training. I was horrible at potty-training. I'm so glad it's over because I don't think I could take it again. And to be clear, I know it was all me. I take full responsibility for the advanced age at which my children learned to use the porcelain throne.

The second area, is getting my kids to do chores. Growing up, I had chores, but there was little incentive to do them, as my mother always re-cleaned whatever I had attempted to clean for her. She had little patience, bless her soul, and liked having things done just so.

Now I am not as particular as my mother was. I am pretty easygoing, and somewhat of a slob, depending on who you ask. The thing is, I am only tolerant of my messes. Other peoples' messes in my home make me crazy.

Enter 3 kids.

These children are not clean and tidy. Left to their own devices, they will tear up a home in the course of a mere hour. My artistic girls will fill the room full of paper scraps, yarn bits, and markers without caps. My son? He'll destroy a room by reliving imaginary football plays and basketball shots. A recipe for destruction, indeed.

As I survey the house and all that needs to be cleaned, I thought, these kids are old enough to help me now.

We have done chores before. They never really *took*. Again, I blame myself. On preschool progress reports, each of my kids got the same grade in cleaning up -- developing. Not successful, not mastered, developing. Why? Because to sit with a 3-4 year old for what seems like an hour waiting for them to put toys into a bag/bin or onto a shelf was, in my estimation, a tremendous waste of time. Especially when those same kids would begin playing with the toys they were to be picking up within 3 minutes of clean-up time. It was just a battle I did not want to fight.

Fast forward 6 years.

We are now at a place where chores can be done with minimal supervision. This, I can do. I don't mind showing them where to find certain cleaning items, and I don't even mind showing them how something should be done. They are now at an age where showing them does not require me to sit over them and guide their hand to do it.

It's a much better place for this Mama. A place where I can see this chore chart through, and perhaps find some success. And in case you were wondering, money plays no part in these chores. We are all contributing members to this mess we live in, and we should all pitch in, no payment required.

So each child has their own chart. I change the chores weekly, except for those of: homework, putting toys/clothes away, properly putting away backpacks, coats, etc., making beds, and brushing teeth.

There are 2-3 chores that change on a weekly basis and are usually something that is done once a week (except for the help that I require with dinnertime). I am trying out different chores, in the hope that I find something that works for each age. Also, by rotating the chores between what I do and what they do, I have the opportunity to re-clean if necessary, a week later.

How is this going, you ask?

I am actually a bit surprised with how well my kids are doing. I am learning their limitations, and I am learning how to motivate them. Surprisingly, Isaac and Margot are diligent about finishing what's on their lists on any given day. It is a challenge that they want to finish as quickly as possible. And Margot is quite insistent on trying everything that I give to Isaac to do, which is encouraging.

Evy, however, is a different story. My middle child that is meticulous in all other endeavors, the one who wants a calendar to plan out every minute of every day, rarely finishes her chores without coercion. I think she likes to have control, and since this list does not come from her, it's easily forgotten.

I do feel fortunate that they all willingly help. For myself, I try to overlook the imperfection. The water that splashes all over the floor or the lumps that might remain on the bed. Now that we are over a month into this "experiment," it's safe to say that these tasks are becoming a part of their everyday, or every week, as the case may be.

Perhaps I'm not so bad at this chore thing after all.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

..unfinished-part two..

The last area of our home to share is our outdoor space. We sit on a plot of land that is about 1 1/2 acres. It's not a tremendous amount of land, but it's the most we've ever had. And right now it sits *snow-covered* as a blank slate.

Our land: pre-house and pre-snow

Blank slates make me nervous. I know that sounds funny to say, seeing as we have just built a house, but even those plans started with a basic model. We took that basic model and changed it in ways we thought made sense for our family. Those changes came with input from a variety of resources. There were the friends we have that had built their own homes, questions posed to various friends and family, and numerous internet resources, namely houzz. In short, our home was, we feel, a group effort.

This yard? Well, there is still the seeking out of opinions and ideas. The problem is, there is no basic blueprint to start from.

There are plans for a deck, which will start behind our family room and wrap around the north side of our home. We've already planned for this, as we have two patio doors, one off the dining room and one off the master bedroom. Beyond this, it's anyone's guess.

Since we have a septic system, care must be taken to keep that area clear of flooding. We are considering a rain garden, which would then serve as a barrier of sorts between us and our neighbors, and also suck up any excess run-off before it would get to our drainage field. What this rain garden looks like or what plants/shrubs/trees it includes, remains open for discussion.

There are patios that will need to be constructed, either with pavers or concrete. There is a door that is off our laundry room, as well as doors leading out from the basement. Ideally, we will have some area for a grill and an earthen pizza oven -- most likely to the rear of the house.

Gardens and laundry lines make the most sense on the south side. It will have ample sunlight, and with the laundry room door, it's the most convenient access.

Eventually, I would like a yard that serves to nourish our family with fruits, vegetables, chickens, and even bees. I envision a space that we can spend time in during the milder months of the year, either with outdoor meals, games, stargazing, or tending to what we've created.

So I suppose this blank slate really isn't so blank after all. But the possibilities it holds are what overwhelms me at times. What plants? Grass or prairie? Playset? Tennis court? *oh yes, this has been discussed!* What kind of trees? Flowers? Which way will the driveway run? So.many.decisions.

But right now, our yard is a dumpster and two large dirt piles. A snow-covered area full of promise. Although, for the record, I do not look forward to spring rains, which will turn our snow-covered paradise into an acre-plus mud pit.

Friday, February 14, 2014

..love is..

:: handmade valentines

:: reading books with my favorite 5 year old

:: warmth on a cold night

:: child-made artwork

:: building a home and family with my best friend

:: impromptu skateboarding practice

:: winter sunshine

:: finishing chores without being asked

:: barn concerts (more on this later)

So much love around me these days.
 I hope you take a moment to breathe in all the love around you, too.
Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

..unfinished-part one..

As I mentioned before, there are plenty of spaces in this home that remain unfinished. Building a home has been a huge undertaking, and we wanted to leave a part of it unfinished so that we could have time to figure out how to best put the space to use.

I have been very happy with our decision to have an unfinished basement, since it has been used more often than either of the previous basement spaces we have owned. Part of the reason for this, is that we opted to have in-floor heating.

When we were looking at potential existing homes, we toured a home that had, as my kids fondly referred to it, hot floors. As we went through the home, Isaac very inappropriately started rolling around on one such hot floor, as it was the neatest thing he had ever felt. We had never really considered having in-floor heating until that point, and when it came time to make decisions about our home building, it was at the top of our list.

It gets cold in Wisconsin. And this winter has been particularly brutal. But with these warmed floors, the basement temperature is similar to that of the rest of the house, and you don't have to wear 5 pairs of wool socks to insulate your feet from cold concrete. We have the added benefit of rising warm air, which, in turn, heats the house instead of, or in conjunction with, the furnace.

Now I cannot share with you the mechanisms, gauges, and who-dee-whats that make this system work. Trust me, Rich has given me numerous tutorials on how this works, but each time I feel like Charlie Brown listening to any adult in a Peanuts flick. After that admission, I see another in-floor heating tutorial in my near future....

There are definitive spaces in this unfinished basement of ours, at least a few.

There is my craft room. I love that there are three windows in this space, and that the light just floods in on sunny days because it is situated in the southeast corner of the house. Sunshine is very important to me. It is a nice, enclosed space, that contains all the lovely crafty things I have accumulated over the years. And just like the pantry, having everything in one space helps me to take stock of all that I have, so it is not forgotten.

I have also created a kid's crafting area, because my girls love to be in the room with me whenever I'm working in there.

There is our play area, that is tucked back in the northwest corner of the basement. Right now, these  boxes of toys, some unpacked, some half-unpacked, and some still packed, litter the entire area and then some. Certainly these toys get taken out of this space...I find play food and dishes all over this house. But for the most part, we try to keep the toys in this area. There are a few specific toys that we have in bedrooms, but, by and large, this is where most can be found.

There is our sports area, adjacent to the toy area. In this space, serious basketball games of horse are played. Rich works with the kids on tennis, as well. More recently, an interest in skateboarding has developed. It's a nice, wide open space that accommodates lots of movement. With the aforementioned brutal wintry conditions, this space has seen a ton of activity. I am forever grateful for that.

There is also an exercise/guest room. It houses some exercise equipment and a futon, just in case an extra bed is needed in a pinch.

Behind the exercise space are two more "rooms." One will most likely be a bathroom and the other a room-that-cannot-be-considered-a-bedroom-but-could-look-an-awful-lot-like-one. Rich also is piecing together an area for a small workshop outside these spaces.  Right now, they are filled with bikes, extra building supplies, empty boxes, and unpacked boxes.

All in all, our basement holds promise. We have time to play with the space, in the space, to see what works for us. A theatre? A bar area? A canning kitchen? Another dining space? We'll see what the future holds. For right now, we'll continue to enjoy the space just as it sits.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

..nooks and crannies..

I think my favorite spaces in our new home are the smallest ones. The places where we attempted to capitalize on the space we had, so as not to waste a bit of it.

My first love in this house is the bookcases. It was really an afterthought as we started considering the interior finishes. Why not have a wall of bookshelves? In our previous home, we had bookshelves scattered all around the house in various rooms. I was constantly shuttling books from point A to point B, in hopes that I could remember where to find a book, or spark interest in one of my youngest readers. To have all of our books in one place seemed like a dream.

And I promise you, it has been a dream. My children are constantly finding new books in the bookcases. They enjoy organizing the books according to size, subject, readability...you name it. There are parts of the bookcase dedicated to crayons and colorbooks, puzzle books, and games. It's a nice change from the haphazard way things were organized before.

There are some empty spaces, and that is a good thing. I would rather these bookcases evolve, grow, and change with our family.

My second love in this house is my pantry. Or, as Isaac would spell it, my pan-tree, get it? I have never had a walk-in pantry before, and now I doubt I could ever be without one. Not only can I store numerous appliances, but also all of our dry and canned goods. Standing amongst these shelves there is both comfort and longing. Comfort in knowing everything is in one place -- that I don't need to look in hidden corners to find all that I need. Longing -- the wanting to fill these shelves with things made and preserved by my own hands, from my own garden. Someday.

In conjunction with the pantry, I also have a baking station. The idea behind the baking station was to have a part of the kitchen dedicated solely to my baked goods. Counter top material and height were to be "baking friendly," which meant a lower height and some sort of stone material. We were fortunate to find a remnant of soapstone to use on this little nook, and, properly seasoned, it promises to make the task of kneading that much easier, along with the reduced counter height (It has already shown promise).

I think, no, I know, Rich's favorite part, is that we can close the space up and tuck it all away. I can be a bit of a whirlwind in the kitchen -- especially when I am juggling bored young ones and baking. It is very easy to just shut the doors and walk away, either closing up shop for the day, or putting on hold the job of clean up for a later time. And no one but me ever knows the difference.

The last space that I have grown quite fond of is the mudroom. Initially we thought to make it a laundry/mudroom, as our old house was. I am so glad we moved the laundry to the side of the house with the kids bedrooms, and left the mudroom as simply, the mudroom.

It has a drain in the floor, which is genius for these winter days and upcoming spring days where nothing but muck is tracked in. Everyone has their own cubby with a drawer below and a cabinet above, which right now holds shoes and extra coats/snowpants. All winter gear -- hats, gloves, scarves -- are contained in the box below the cabinet. Coats, backpacks, and snowpants are hung from the hook within each space. Library books find a space on the shelf or the bench, wherever there is more room.

At first I thought it would not be enough room. Winter can be a beast with all the gear that can be involved. But it has proven to be more than enough room, and is a comfortable space to store exactly what we intended. I love that our doorways are no longer cluttered. I suppose I cannot say the same about that whiteboard chock-full of papers, eh?

It's these nooks and crannies that make this house our home. They are the bits that illustrate how our family lives, and what we value. Organization is important in a family of five. There are a lot of mouths to feed, there are a lot of papers coming home,  and there are a lot of personalities to keep entertained. The peace of mind that comes from knowing how to find what you need when you need it, is invaluable. I think that's why I'm so fond of these spaces.They aren't just an exercise in how not to waste space, they truly are my sanity savers.