Whew! Sometimes kids come up with the craziest ideas. Can I clean out the gutters? Can I jump off the roof into the 1/2 inch of snow? Can I build a house out of cardboard around the kitchen set? Can I create a giant functioning clock out of paper to ...

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"My Kids are my Hobby" - 5 new articles

  1. Messy
  2. Sunday
  3. Vacation Planning- The Little Things
  4. Chores for the year- for Lisa
  5. Travel Food for Kids
  6. More Recent Articles


Sometimes kids come up with the craziest ideas.

Can I clean out the gutters?
Can I jump off the roof into the 1/2 inch of snow?
Can I build a house out of cardboard around the kitchen set?
Can I create a giant functioning clock out of paper to hang on my wall?

A lot of these ideas that they come up with are amazing.  However more often than not, what I actually hear is:

Can I
- make a mess?
-use all the construction paper up in one afternoon?
-use all the tape in the house on this one piece of paper?
-completely dry out all of your dry erase markers in one hour?

That makes saying "yes" hard.  I want to let them create, have fun, and explore.

  But it doesn't come without pain.  The pain of the money wasted, time cleaning up, and knowing that eventually they will need me to help them with part of it and I will have to stop whatever task I am doing, however noble, and come to their aid.  I will discover things they have done that I had not anticipated. Sometimes I'll get mad about it.  And often I'll discover that something I liked is ruined or gone as a result of their creativity.

But oh the fun of exploring!  Of creating and imagining and enjoying it together.   As much as the mess drives me bonkers, the joy of their play makes me say yes again another time after just enough time has past to dull the nerves from the last venture.  Sleep in a rocket in outer space?  Yes. 

Today was different though. I got to have my cake and eat it to and I just relished it.  Mariah is here staying with us this year as a live-in helper.  I keep pinching myself to see if I'll wake up from this dream world of assistance, but so far the dreaminess continues.  One way she helps is to facilitate some of these crazy ideas and help make them happen.  It still uses supplies, sometimes things get torn, and things get a little messy, but then there is a grown up there to help clean up, watch out for safety issues, and take joy in their ideas.  Ah!  And I get to come in and say, YAY! This is amazing.

Mariah and I were talking recently about the kids and I mentioned that I think I say no a lot.  I mean, playdough, paint, cutting and pasting giant poster board, etc. is a lot of time and money!  It also means investing a space to the project.  But she said, "Mary, I think you say yes more that you think you do."  It got me to thinking about it.  I do say yes a good bit- otherwise there wouldn't be MARKER ALL OVER MY FURNITURE! But every time I say no, a little guilt pang stabs me and says, "Maybe you aren't a very good mom."  Now that I'm noticing more of the times I say yes and the times I say no, I think maybe I do say yes a good bit. 

For example,
Rachel fell in love with the computer room of Flint Lockwood from the movie Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and gradually taped notebook paper with colored buttons all over her walls.  I think it's hideous, but she loves it and plays in there.  Certainly wasn't the vision I had for her pink room with hand-painted butterflies.

Jefferson took a green room that I intended to make a tractor and cars themed room and gradually added more and more space stuff until the entire room is covered in planets, stars, and rockets.

James has a collection of sticks that he uses for various weapons.  And he's allowed a big pile of them.

They come up with all sorts of crazy things, from jumping on the trampoline with their blankets to taking a bath with their Legos. Many things have gotten a yes.

But they are enjoying life.  I fight against wanting to keep my house cute and picture perfect.  I want things to match and coordinate and stay organized.  There are some places in my house that look cute- I just fixed them last week. :)  But I want them to live and create and feel at home in this space too and that means letting go of some of my grand plans for the cuteness in their rooms and even some of my visions of having furniture that is well polished, clean, and shining.  All too soon, they will be grown, out of the house, and moving on.  I hope they leave with a love for exploring rather than sitting in front of video games all day.  I hope they leave with a firm conviction that they can try anything and that I support them.  And I hope they leave feeling like they can come back and feel loved and comfortable in our home. 

The only way to get there is to say yes to the messy sometimes.


Real life has it's ways of making things interesting. 

This morning I knew the kids were feeling icky.  They snorted and sniffed and coughed periodically through their breakfast.  They are grouchy and hard to get along with.  But today is the day for Church.  And no one has fevers and all of them have gobs of energy.  So into the church clothes they went.

Half way through, Jonathon reminded me of the last time I took the family to church with a cold.  Let's just say it was VERY obvious that the people in front of us were convinced we would send them to an early death.  It was so obvious and distracting that I picked the whole family up and we left half way through the service.

This morning Jonathon pleaded, "Mama, please let's not do that again.  It was awful."

I agreed.

We stayed home.

Real life comes whether we are ready for it or not.  I was expecting to see people, teach Sunday School, visit, get out of the house, but today, instead, I'm at home.  Sort of resting.  Keeping a finger on the pulse of their attitudes and behavior.  Paying attention to needs- our needs rather than my desires.

It catches me off guard sometimes, the way my desires play out.  They become evident in places I don't expect to find them.  Glad I had a chance to stop and notice today.


Vacation Planning- The Little Things

It's vacation time again and I feel compelled to document some travel ideas I've been working on for this years trip.  Traveling with kids is stressful and traveling with 7 kids while on a budget and trying to relax is downright impossible without some significant planning.  So, I figured I'd hit some high points in my packing tips at the beginning of the summer for anyone out there wanting new or fresh ideas for ways to be frugal, pack light, or be prepared for anything.

I'll start my series of traveling with kids posts with a fun couple of cheap and small ways to entertain children that are great for trips.

 First, I scored a great yard sale find last week!  I absolutely LOVE putting a small bag of surprises together for each child for a long car ride.  Our car ride from NH to FL will be 24+ hours straight and so it's important to have some things that will hold their interest.  For my artsy kids a small pad of paper and some colored pencils are a perfect addition to the bag.  But keeping things compact is key, so this fun trick worked wonders and I can't wait to try it out. 

At the sale I found this box of regular Prismacolor colored pencils.  Those of you in the art world know that these are really nice.  $1 for the set!  I also picked up this cute little blue pouch for 50 cents knowing it would come in handy for something.  I wanted to stretch the pencils a little for my larger quantity of people so I took each pencil and cut it in half with a bread knife and sharpened each half.  That gave me two sets of nice mini pencils and with a small white pad creates a perfect way for kids to color a picture in the car or during a rainy day.  I think a white post-it note pad could be awesome with this idea as well.  They would be able to easily hang their artwork on the car window or in your hotel room or cabin, or wherever.  The small tin that houses the other pencils was some random little metal tin I had laying around, but I was quite tickles at how well the pencils fit inside.  So, these are going in a couple of car bags for my kiddos next week.

 Next budget friendly idea is go to the library!  The children love to read books at night before bed, or during rest times and I enjoy having new things to read on a trip because it holds their interest longer.  But seriously, who has money to go out and buy a slew of new books just for a trip these days?  When I had one or two kids, I could spring for a couple of books each, but with seven- no way!  So, to the library I went.  Took my handy purple milk crate and loaded up with some goodies.  Picked up a couple of audio books for the car ride as well.  Good news? We can check out books for a whole month at our library!  So, I was able to check them out a week and a half before the trip and not wait till the last minute.  Then I still have plenty of time to return them when we get home.  Only trick is we have to make sure we bring them all back.  Some of you probably have tablets, or whatever that your kids read books on, but I'm telling you, there's nothing like a good paper copy of Calvin & Hobbes to keep my kids entertained for hours!  All for free!

I found this trick online several places and have tried it at home.  It's painter's tape and cars.  This is a great activity for a rainy day backup plan- especially for boys.  Simply put your tape down wherever you want a road and let them drive all over.  I recommend trying a small piece of tape on various surfaces before you go haywire with it- especially on other people's property- for instance, we discovered that when applied to microfiber covered furniture it leaves a very obvious line when removed.  But for floors and hardwood you should be good to go.  You can also use a permanent marker to draw lines, stop signs,  and all sorts of traffic things on the tape, making it as interesting as you want.  This takes almost no space in your packing, but can provide a fun last minute activity at a moment when you desperately need a distraction.

 This year we are headed to the beach and that means sand and that means castles and building.  I grabbed a pile of these cheap sand pails at the Dollar Tree in our area and love that they stack together very efficiently.  But those little shovels that come with them?  They last about 30 seconds before breaking and scoop only about a tablespoon of sand at a time!  For those mega builders, skip the baby scoop and go to the kitchen section and get a flour scoop.  Much sturdier and will be far better for digging trenches, filling pails, and flinging random sand into the ocean.

This is another part of a car bag I'm working on.  My Grandmama picked up these adorable bumblebee pouches that have zipper openings for the kids several months ago and I am excited about putting them to better use.  In several of them I put three little action figures and a couple of dragons.  This one has a deck of cards from our games at home as well.  I think this little pile cost me about $5 as I had more than half of it already at home and just put it to better use.  The action figures are new and the boys love to have little wars in the back seat of the van.  We don't do a lot of reading in the car- too much car sickness, but this and some audio stories solves worlds of issues.

So, those are some of the little things that are going along to keep things fun this year.  I'd love to hear from you! What things keep your kids entertained while they are waiting, riding, or resting?

Chores for the year- for Lisa

For chores this year I can give you a run down of what we are doing. Keep in mind though that we have been working on this for about 4 years now, so we have built up gradually. In the beginning I tried to keep it to about 5 items total and we just did them 2 times a day- things like clean room, dress or pjs, brush teeth, put clothes away and one family chore like "empty dishwasher". Now we only have "chores" in the morning and then we have an all family clean up time in the evening that isn't assigned to individuals but we all help. So, here are our lists:

Everyone does these: dress, make bed, clean room, brush teeth, read Bible, pray, put away clean and dirty laundry, tidy one room in the house (each child has an assigned room- like living room). Then after that they each have an "assistant" job and weekly chores that rotate- one chore each day- usually related to the assistant that they are. So, for example-

Jonathon-11, is my kitchen prep assistant. That means he comes to me and I assign him something to help with in the kitchen, like yesterday he mixed up some zucchini bread and today he cooked some pasta for a cold salad for lunch. The chores he rotates through are: M- mix up muffin batter, T- mop kitchen, W- take out recyclables and trash, H- wipe tables, chairs, and stools, and F- sharpen knives (we have had extensive knife training with him- I wouldn't recommend this one right off unless proper respect has already been developed)

James (10) is laundry assistant- He usually does something like switch over the laundry for me and start a new load, then his weekly is: change 2 beds of sheets, put away all hanging clothes and linens, tidy laundry hall and gather hangers, washer off washer and dryer and sweep laundry room, and straighten the linen closet.

Jeff (8) is bathroom assistant this year (I rotate by year to give them plenty of time to learn and own the responsibility.) He usually cleans the toilets and sinks in one bathroom each day. Weeklys are: mop bathrooms, stick diapers and organize toothbrush drawer, clean bathtubs, clean walls and floor around all toilets, and change towels & stock toilet paper. (Keep in mind that when an 8 yr. old has a chore I expect an 8 yr. old level of work while always trying to help him improve.)

Rachel (7) is Vacuum Assistant so she vacuums one room every day- which, in our house of mostly hardwood floors covers all the rooms once and the living room twice. Weeklys are: vacuum Daddy's office, decobweb the house, gather all house trash, straighten the bookcase, wipe stair rails and walls.

Joseph (5) has chores, but I expect a very low quality of work from him. He's just learning weekly jobs this year. He is kitchen cleaning assistant which usually means he unloads the dishwasher once a day unless it's done already and then I give him something else. Weekly chores: clean kitchen sink, wipe stove and oven, clean out microwave and toaster oven, wipe cabinet fronts and fridge, wash out one shelf of the refrigerator.

Renna (3) only has stuff to keep her busy while the others are working and to feel included, so if she tries, I don't really care too much how thorough she is with anything (but I don't tell her that. :) She is toy cleanup assistant, so I usually tell her some particular spot to clean up of toys. When her weeklys are: wipe under counter where the kids eat breakfast, straighten movies, tidy jackets on hooks, empty pencil sharpener, wipe door knobs and light switches.

The biggest thing that I have found about chores in making them effective is to oversee them- every time, every day, for every person. So during chores, I usually have the master list and stay in the general area checking on them, answering questions, helping them be successful and checking each one to be sure they get done. I have a time in the morning set aside for chores for all of us and I DO NOT plan to do anything else during that time except maybe drink my coffee. This is the only way I have found to make it successful for everyone, satisfied myself with the work they are doing, and not exasperate them by giving them so much to do and then not making sure they can do it. THIS IS THE KEY TO SUCCESSFUL CHORES! And once they fall into the routine, they can usually do everything they have in about 30 minutes or so.

Travel Food for Kids

It’s summer time!

And this calls for road trips for our massive family, this year being no exception. With road trips comes the need for food and I always spend a fair amount of time figuring out what we are going to eat. For our family of 9- even if we all eat off the $1 menu at McDonald’s we still spend close to $50! So, we keep our restraint eating to a minimum, but that means a whole lot of lunch packing! That can get overwhelming too if you don’t have a plan that works well.

We also like to keep our kids healthy as so often our travel times become sick times, so eating food that is good for us is important. So, just in case any of you are traveling, whether with young kids or just want some ideas for yourself and how to keep the cost low, here are some ways our family eats cheaply on the road and yet still make it enjoyable.

One thing I enjoy doing is packing up at night and then leaving before breakfast in the morning. This gets everyone out of the house without having to spend the time cleaning up the kitchen one more time. Plus it gets a good start on the traveling for the day. On long trips up and down the East coast, we’ve left at every hour of the day or night and I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter when you leave- it’s still a LONG drive! Some times for leaving seem to work better than others though and early morning is one of them- especially if you are planning to stop somewhere that evening. This gives the kids plenty of time to run and stretch their legs before they have to go to bed that night. But leaving then means taking breakfast with us.

So, here’s my first favorite meals on the road.
Breakfast: Bagels and cucumber sandwiches- Brandon and I picked up this habit in Israel when we were traveling over there- yummy and easy and contained. You can also make a pile of them the night before, bag them up and then hand them out in the morning when you are half awake. I prefer the thin bagels myself- just because they are smaller and the kids don’t often eat a whole one, but otherwise you can cut them in half for the children and give them a half at a time. TO MAKE: spread cream cheese on both halves of a bagel, layer thin slices of cucumber on top, close up like a sandwich. If you want to make it more sophisticated, you can add tomato, red onion, avocado, smoked salmon, jalapenos, pickles, or other things to really round out a hearty sandwich- but we usually keep to just cucumbers on the road and save the other stuff for home treats.

Fruit is really good for breakfast too- bananas, strawberries, apples. But little stuff can get messy. For the kids, I either give them the food on a plastic sectioned plate (not disposable) or in a Ziploc baggie- something to contain it. We have also done apples and peanut butter. If you want to make it ahead, you can take the core out of the middle of the apple with an apple corer and then stuff the middle with peanut butter. It keeps the apple from turning brown in the center, keeps all the seeds out for little ones, and provides just enough peanut butter for the whole thing. I generally don’t do this for little kids though just because they have a hard time eating a whole apple anyway. I stick to other fruits for them or cut it up and put slices on the plate. Other fruit ideas we use: the individual fruit cups of mixed fruit , mandarin oranges, or applesauce- these are a big hit! Don’t forget to pack some plastic forks or spoons though.

Cheese- We pack string cheese or sliced cheddar. I get the big block of cheddar and then slice up the whole thing with my cheese slicer at home and then wrap it up. This makes for easier handling in the car.

Other breakfast items we have used: Granola bars, individual yogurt (I don’t like the squeeze tubes, the little kids have trouble with them.) Hard boiled eggs, or slices of cooked meat are good options as well.

For drinks, we try to stick to water unless the driver needs a pick-me-up. This is what our kids are familiar with and we have had some unfortunate tummy aches as a result of too much juice on a road trip before. Occasionally we will serve them milk, but most of the time, just water- in a container that doesn’t spill even if turned over. They all have bottles with some sort of sports top or sippy cup or something.

So, to recap here are some sample breakfast menus be have used:
1: Cucumber Bagel sandwich, strawberries, peanuts
2: Yogurt, strawberries, hardboiled egg, granola bar
3: Rolled up deli meat, string cheese, fruit cup, baggie of fun dry cereal

Lunch: We use similar techniques of serving, but just change up the options. I love making our own lunchables! The kids really enjoy the choices and I like the option of choosing what meat and cheese it is and paying less for it! I buy a pound or two of deli meat, sliced thick, ½ a pound of deli cheese, sliced thick or use the sliced cheddar I mentioned above, and some crackers. Then before the trip, I pull out the meat and cheese and cut the whole stack into small squares and stick it back in the bag. Then when I serve it in the car, I pull out my plates and put about 8 squares of each on the plate, more for older kids, less for younger. Serve this with one of my fruit options or maybe some cucumber slices and we are good to go! Sometimes I take some small cookies or something for lunch as well, but as with the drinks, I try to keep sweets to a minimum, so 2 small cookies is all I would serve and if I did something sweet at lunch, then no dessert option for any other meal that day.

You can do traditional sandwiches, obviously, for lunch as well. But sometimes we eat that so many times that some family members get bored with it (read: me). So, we also do meat and cheese roll-ups, or lunch in a bag.

Meat and cheese roll-ups: Lay out a piece of thinly sliced deli meat, lay on cheese, honey mustard, cucumbers, thinly sliced carrot, or whatever you like and roll up into a log.

Lunch in a bag: toss into a small sandwich baggie; nuts, raisins, banana chips, and crackers. Just before serving, stick in a few slices of cheese, and a piece of fruit or some berries. Hand the bag to the child to eat.

Other lunch suggestions:
1.Turkey cheese roll-ups, baby carrot sticks and dip (I use condiment cups for dip), mixed fruit cup, 2 small cookies
2. Homemade lunchables, applesauce, 2 cookies
3. Sandwiches, cucumber sticks, mandarin oranges

For dinner, I like to sometimes have something different, or even hot-even if we are in the car. So here are some of the things we have done for that.
Sandwich for a Crowd- this is a Taste of Home Recipe that we have found is a good travel meal. Easy to make ahead and then very easy to serve. It’s basically a sandwich spread with a mix of cream cheese, cheddar cheese, green onions and Worcestershire sauce and then layered with roast beef, and cheese. I generally try to serve all my dinner meals with some sort of vegetable sticks and a fruit option.

If you want something hot and don’t want to pay tons, consider just ordering hamburgers from the dollar menu and eating sides in your car.

Another favorite idea is we have taken whole grain wraps, lettuce, cheese, onions, and mustard with us and then pulled through the drive-thru and ordered just hot chicken strips and placed them into our own wraps in the car. Yummy, hot, and the ingredients for the wraps and such are so much better than the little thing you would get in the restaurant.

We’ve done something similar with Subway subs- the kids like the hot meatball sandwiches, so we get one 6” sandwich for each kid and then supplement with our own stuff for sides- avoiding the potato chip option, or just eating cheaper. Hot and less expensive than what you would pay if you ate everything from the restaurant.

Other tips for serving in the car, because we eat while driving and save our rest stops for running around:
-I take a thin lap board and keep it next to my seat for meal times when I am trying to set up people’s food. -I have an older child sit near the front of the van to help pass out food.
-Take a roll of paper towels to keep under my seat, but stuff the middle with grocery bags for trash.
- The cooler we have fits perfectly between the driver and passenger seat. This provides easy access, but also another table top for me to work when I’m prepping meals.
- Take baby wipes, Clorox wipes, or even just cut up paper towels wet in a sealed bag for wiping off plates and things after each meal is over.
- I either feed the baby his food or have one of the older kids feed him. I do not let the 18 month old have his own yogurt in the car!
- If you do have kids that get sick in the car, a grocery bag lining a container makes a great vomit receptacle. This allows the child to have a stiff container- which is easier to hit, but the bag creates easier cleanup. Plus the container is fresh again fairly quickly for another round. We won’t go into all the reasons why I know this works, but just know that we’ve had plenty of opportunities to work this concept to perfection.
-All trash leaves the car at EVERY gas station! This ensures that things don’t completely get gross by the end of the trip and also helps the kids keep their space somewhat tidy. This is even more critical for a long trip unless you want kids to be sitting on food the second day in the car that they were eating the first day.

I’m sure there are other tricks too, but these are some of the major ones our family uses to get from Point A to Point B. Hope they help you too. Happy to answer any questions for other travel issues, or if you have other suggestions that work for your family I’d love to hear about them.

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