Thursday, February 27, 2014

How to Make a Toy Library and STOP Picking up After Your Kids

This is the first in a new series I'm starting called 

The point of the series is to highlight neat tricks that make a parent's life easier, especially with toddlers. Here's my first confession: I can't make this stuff up. Most of my best parent hacks (like this one!) are learned, especially from my dear friend Ellie, but from lots of other lovely people as well. I'm not a proponent of the "it takes a village to raise a child" mantra (no, it takes a pair of solid, disciplined, and holy parents!), but it just might take a village to teach a mother. So...without further ado (too late!) Here's our first Hijack:

Note the Harold-style crayon markings on the dresser...

Now, we've all been there before (every. stinking. day). The kids have a conference early in the day on the ways to annoy you the most, and they decide that this is the core of their plan:

In our house, I've employed a few strategies before to try and tame the beast that is Toys Everywhere with a few strategies:
1. Have fewer toys
2. Keep them all in one location
3. Organize them by type
I pare down the toys and clothes pretty regularly around here, and I moved the toys all up to the boys' room (mostly) so that there wasn't always such a big mess in the main living areas.  I also have multiple plastic bins organized by type of toy (trains, Legos, cars, dinosaurs). Having less stuff is calming, I think and these strategies as a whole have eased things a bit, but what usually ends up happening is that ALL the toys are out of their special bins, on the floor of the bedroom, in time for a last-ditch cleaning effort right before bed.

The idea of the Toy Library is that you keep ALL of the toys in one area/closet, organized by item, and your kids check an item out, just like they would a book at the library! (Only difference being that there are no overdue fines piling up!). Each child is then responsible for cleaning up the toy/toy bin that he picks.

So yesterday, I endeavored to make my own Toy Library, and start reaping the benefits.

The ideal Toy Library is a closet or area that you can designate and set aside for this sole purpose, and one that your kids can't get into (for obvious reasons!). I chose to re-purpose a narrow hall closet next to the boys' room. A friend of mine has her's in a separate part of her basement area (their playroom is down there too). You could also just use a special bookcase or something somewhere, but it has to be a spot you can fit everything and keep the kids from getting into.
official Toy Library to-be
Step Two was actually to clean out the closet...I didn't take a before picture in time, so you are being spared the delight that it someone else's boring and messy closet in full bloom, but here's proof that I didn't already have a clean closet (so that you don't think I'm an Overachiever or something!):

old vacuum cleaner, never-worn clothes and a curious little boyo
After a lot of dust, some looking through old pictures (and sharing them to Facebook, of course!), and moving the clothing to a different (desperately in need of tidying) closet...we had this:

It's a Cupboard Under the Stairs ala Harry Potter, so I scoured my house for some type of shelf thing,
and came up with this crate that Steven got last week.
It's supposed to be for apples...but it's 16F out right now...I think I can hijack it for now!
So, prepped and ready, I started gathering toys and bins, mostly from the boys room (entrance to the left of the closet there), but also from downstairs and up in the TV room etc. The boys had toy stations all over the house! I thought about leaving their wooden train tracks in the bin in the TV room, but decided that I would rather not have to pick those up all the time too.

Here's what it looked like along the way. 

I was especially pleased that some of the trucks would hang on the pre-existing hooks!
And here's the finished product!

The top shelf has two (diaper) boxes of books (I left Where the Wild Things Are on the bedside table, because that's all the boys want to read at bedtime recently (kindred spirits and all that!). There is also a bin on the top shelf that is "baby" kind of toys that the boys will dump out, but we can keep separate for a while yet. The big red tote is their costumes (from Nana!), and the other bins are blocks, Legos, dinos, cars, trains etc.

So, how's it working?

I'm loving the amount of organization, and the fact that ALL the toys aren't out at once. I need to get a little hook and eye lock for the closet door, but for now the boys have been *pretty* good about not getting into the Toy Library without me. I also need to emphasize a time-minimum kind of rule, because they want to trade toys too quickly for my sanity. I think I'll have a timer for maybe 20 minutes or so that they can't trade in between picks. Overall: Five Gold Stars.

Bonus: I changed out Leo's bed into this neat toddler bed we bought a while back. He's been sleeping on a big futon (see above), so it's nice to have a little spot that's more for him. For the mattress I re-purposed a memory-foam mattress topper that we got from family by folding it into thirds. 

The juxtapositions in this room are wonderful, aren't they?
Also, only a picture of this corner,
b/c the rest of the room is a mess from my rearranging.
So, there you have it, folks! Get hijacking!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Tattoos & Turtles

Just in case anyone was wondering how on top of all things crafty and seasonal this Momma is...I bought some Valentine cards for the boys to decorate. On Valentine's Day. We have been coloring paper and envelopes to wrap them up into, and we even mailed 3 out yesterday! Wow!

source (+me)
The Valentines we bought are fancy Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ones with messages like:
so awesome I will threaten you with my swords!

no way you are touching this Valentine!

The Valentines come with little (not even 1" square) temporary tattoos with similar pictures (no words on the tattoos). Of course, most of the tattoos are being used for us, rather than being placed in the little "A TATTOO FOR YOU" slots on the cards...but that's the point, right?

Leo needs re-fresher tattoos every day, as soon as the old ones wear off, and (of course), if you give a mouse a cookie, Daniel is going to want one too.

They even got their Mom to get one!

I added the arrow so you can see the tattoo.
I had to put it on my arm (instead of the back of my hand, like the boyos) so it wouldn't show on nurse visits.
Somehow I think my patients might see Ninja Turtle body art as less than convincing of my medical abilities...;)
I would add a picture here of Leo & Daniel with their tats, but they refused to be captured by the paparazzi. Le sigh.

Meanwhile, Kelly @This A'int the Lyceum (that awesome mom who's running 5Ks to raise money to support charites for SMA) wrote a post the other day about gathering sponsorships in order to attend the Edel Gathering, a retreat for moms put together by the famous Jen of Conversion Diary and Hallie of Moxie Wife.

Anyways, in her post, Kelly flaunts a brand new "tattoo" she got of Hallie/Moxie wife, basically right on her chest. It was epic. I'd put the picture here, but my blog is rated G+. (kidding...really kidding!)

SO, I commented to Kelly that the tattoo was *the* best, and she wrote back to me that "for the right price" The Hopeful Starfish COULD CLAIM HER RIGHT BICEP!!! I dropped everything immediately to work on the design. Here's what I have so far:

just Peachy ;)
I just can't wait for all the fame and fortune to kick in...meanwhile... occurs to me that some folks may not know the story behind my blog's, don't hold your breath, but I think I'll write something about it soon. 

Also coming soon:
1.Vampires and Vonnegut and 
2.How to Make a Toy Library & Stop Cleaning up After Your Kids

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Ultimate Baby Shower Gift List With Top Five

Because I am obviously an expert...

I love to give gifts. (I love to get gifts too...hint hint to everybody!). I've been perfecting my baby shower gift by practicing on all the gorgeous friends of mine who are having beautiful babes of late.

It is easy to fall into one of two holes with baby shower gifts:
1. Something frivolous but cute
2. Something seemingly necessary but potentially superfluous

Let me explain.

You folks who go out and buy the-very-cutest-little-outfits-ever fall into Category #1. This is not a bad category, and, to be honest, new moms like to get cute outfits. How-ever, these items are hardly ever used to their potential beyond one-to-three wears per child due to frustration of parents, growth of child, and wrong season-to-child size ratio (i.e. my child fits into the snowsuit now, but it's July...)

Category #2 is made up of people who are even more well-meaning than Category #1, because they try to buy something useful, at even the expense of their own gift-buying-delight, but these items are often too specific to the parents to hit the nail on the head, even with a registry, because new parents don't know yet what they are really going to be using (i.e New Mama thought she'd love baby yoga, so you bought her 16-disc DVD set she wanted, but New Baby is not-having-any-of-it.).

Now, if you have fallen into these categories, fear not! You can stick to them (oldies and goodies), or you can check out...

Drum roll please...

Thanks, Nick.

The Ultimate Baby Shower Gift Basket of Useful Stuff for a New Mom

What I have developed is a gift basket of TONs of useful items that new moms don't know yet that they will need. What's great about this basket is that it can be customized to *your* friend, and the amount of money that you want to spend. I usually buy little things periodically that will fit in. Here's the break-down of the basket:

  1. Nursing bra (get a cute print, guess on the size & include the gift receipt)
  2. Cloth breast pads (practical, reusable, green)
  3. Udderly Smooth body cream (or similar, for Mama-pampering)
  4. Eos lip balm (b/c something cute for herself)
  5. Snot Sucker (aka Bulb Syringe of Blessedness, to be used w/ the Saline drops! )
  6. Lansinoh Lanolin ointment (ABSOLUTE must for nursing mamas!)
  7. Thermometer (yup.)
  8. California Baby diaper cream (or similar, just something on the fancy-end)
  9. Ferro Roche chocolates (duh.)
  10. Baby Nail Clippers (b/c Aunt Janet says you can't have enough of these, and she's right!)
  11. Cliff Bars (or similar, for energy to get to the big day!)
  12. Aveeno Baby Sunblock Stick (or similar, mineral-type fancy-ness)
  13. Witch Hazel (SO helpful for post-partuum soreness!)
  14. Saline nose drops (If you put nothing else in the gift basket, put 5 bottles of this. #1 home remedy for snuffy noses!)
Bonus: The basket can be used later for clothes/blankets/toys by the Mama

The basic formula for the gift is:
1. Some things to pamper/support the mom *now*
2. Some practical baby-care items for later, so she doesn't have to run around after them
3. Some things to pamper/support the mom *later*

Now, the list above is obviously the *Ultimate* pack, but there are times that you need to economize a bit. To that end, I have developed for your viewing (and useful) pleasure:

The {Five Favorites} Baby Shower Gift-Pack
{Suitable for sending across the country via post, or putting in a gift bag, more last-minute}

These top five are the best of the best in terms of pamper now-support later you can get. These bars are *the* most awesome-tasting, healthiest things I've come across. They are SO yummy, and full of good nutrition. I think even the most nauseous of Mamas can tackle some protein disguised as chocolate-y-goodness. The bra and the lip balm will make her feel special, and the saline drops + lanolin ointment are the top picks for home-remedy wonders.

Not buyin' my formula? I just noticed that Grace @CampPatton *just* posted an awesome {labor & delivery} necessities post, and she just had a great post on items to add to your baby registry too. And, if all else fails, give books!

So...what are *you* going to give the pretty Mama-to-Be in your life?
Linking it up with Cristy @ Fountains of Home for Hallie's Five Favourites

Thursday, February 13, 2014

'The Glass Castle" (and Downton Abbey): Pick your Poison

I just finished reading Jeannette Walls' book 'The Glass Castle', and I can't stop thinking about it. Walls pulls her reader through a deep and dark saga that left me feeling melancholy, yet amazed, incredibly blessed, and with a new outlook on humanity. I'm not exaggerating, I promise.


The book made me think about lots of things. About my childhood, about my children's childhood, about how lucky I am, and about the choices people make.

When my friend Ann gave me the book to read, she said that it was depressing. Trying to figure out if it was worth my time, I asked if it were also redemptive. This has been my gauge on depressing books since freshman year of high school, when we had to read Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. I discussed the book with my Dad, probably just complaining about how awful it was, and Dad taught me that Ethan Frome wasn't just awful, it lacked redemption.

...and then they made a movie out of it?!
photo source (+me)

What I didn't know then (thanks to my blessedly lucky and wonderfully naive childhood, and my loving parents...!), but for sure and certain know now, is that life isn't always a chair of bowl-ies.


But what of this "redemptive" business? Cannot there be suffering without painting it pink and calling in the clowns? Back to Ann giving me the book. To answer my question, she told me about how the author's parents *chose* to live as homeless people. Ann told me that the book showed how sometimes people make surprising choices in life.

I devoured the book in two days (which is significant, considering the amount of trouble Leo and Daniel can get into...or maybe they got into extra trouble because I was reading? Shhhhh!)

There were multiple instances in the book that started to make my skin crawl. Nearly every page recounts experiences that would land the best of us in counseling for decades, and Walls' parents in prison for child endangerment and neglect. And yet, Jeannette Walls does not have a tone of regret or complaint in her narrative. She relates the stories as just what happened to her and her family. She tells them as someone who has lived through quite a lot, has learned and grown from it, but has not let it embitter her or harm her in the long term. Now, these conclusions on my part are entirely speculative. For all I know Ms. Walls has spent decades in therapy to come to this point. However, she does not leave the reader feeling this way.

The reader of 'The Glass Castle' is left in a sort of awe at the maturity of the Walls children, and baffled at the choices of the Walls parents. And yet, with Walls' talented authorship, you aren't allowed to feel sorry for any of them. The choices that Rex and Mary Walls make are dangerous to their family, but Jeannette leaves them there, they are just choices. She describes vividly the consequences of the choices, but she doesn't seek to tie you to them, to make you sick with the unfairness or the ugliness in any of it.

So, what's the verdict? Is the book redemptive? Does it pass the Ethan Frome test? (EF Test: tie the book to a sled, push it down a hill...). Yes, I believe it does. And stay with me, because I don't think I'm trying to gloss over anything, or to see everything through rose-colored glasses (read: I'm alright with having a book fail the EF test...).

Let me digress to illustrate...since watching the first few episodes of Downton Abbey's Season 4, I have been reflecting a lot lately on suffering, especially suffering that is inflicted on us by another. Episode 2 had me antsy for days. If you know me, or have read some of my thoughts before, you know that some suffering scares me. I've decided (because it's flattering) that this is partly because I am empathetic to people, even if they are *just* TV characters. But I think the deeper issue is my need to see the redemption in any suffering. Suffering for its own sake, or inflicted at the cruel and twisted whim of an evil heart, makes my blood boil.

you're killin' me smalls...
photo source (+me)
I have learned recently through reading some posts by Anne over @ModernMrsDarcy, that the dramatic reactions I have to mere fictional stories could be that I am perhaps a "Highly Sensitive Person" (think you are too? Take the quiz here. Just like taking quizzes? Click here instead.)

I can take this information that I may be a HSP (as ModernMrs.Darcy puts it), and decide never to read or view content that sets me off. This may seem like over-kill, but I think that some moderation, in light of the emotional train wreck that my brain goes through for several days following such stuff, is not dramatic. I need to find the balance between hiding from the dark, and letting it make me cower.  Avoiding books or TV shows with such content, to leave room in my emotional bank for real-life situations is probably something I need to consider seriously.

Beyond finding out more about myself, I am becoming more and more aware that ultimately, there is a lot of choice in life. I don't seek to erase this part of myself, for there are benefits to draw from being sensitive. I am an empathetic person, who can often sense a solution to a problem or the particular help a person might need. This is good. But part of my sensitivity can be balm-ed by the knowledge that much of life's pain an suffering is caused by mere people's mere choices. And this is what I have learned most concretely from The Glass Castle. People can choose to be cruel, vindictive, twisted, malicious and even evil, but I can choose how I react. I can choose to love. I can choose to be respectful in the face of callousness. I can choose healing over hurt.

How can this be?
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord" (Romans 12:19)
Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly. (Deuteronomy 32:35) 
When I "cast all my anxiety" (1 Peter 5:7) on God, I am free to let go and let be. I do not have to let the cares of the world weigh me down. This does not mean that I go through life as an uncaring block of ice, no. I can still empathize and care for people, but my care does not have to shake my core. My dismay does not need to detract from my duties and desires.

I can take a page from Jeannette Walls' book, (quite literally !), and find myself at peace amidst the turmoil I witness.