Tuesday, September 30, 2014

how to teach your kids pet responsibility

this is a sponsored post for nutrish cat food. while the lovely people at nutrish have supplied my cats with some fantastic cat food for this post, the opinions and ideas are all my own. for more information on nutrish and to receive a coupon to switch to nutrish, please click here. one of the reasons we love nutrish is because of rachael ray's commitment to give back and help animals in need. you can read more on her website www.nutrishforcats.com

we have two cats. yes. five kids and two cats. if my kids didn't have allergies, we'd probably have dogs too. it's enough to make me tired just saying it. still, a couple of years ago when we made the decision to get pets, we did so for many reasons. one of those reasons was to teach our children the importance of caring for another creature and the value of that responsibility. our goal is to teach our kids skills they will need to be great adults and parents and having pets is one way we are building those skills.

this has not been without struggles and we have had to find workable ways for the kids to care for our cats. let's face it, with five kids to care for there is little time for me to take care of two more living creatures. so, among the chores for the kids each week are "cat duties." my kids have had to grow into some of the chores and we have had to adapt to make the process work for little hands. here are some of the ways we have made pet care accessible to our little people.

pet feeding: my kids are responsible for feeding the cats. we have a huge cat food bowl. this serves multiple purposes. first, the two cats can eat at once. second, we don't have to refill the bowl everyday. and, third, it is easier for small children to fill the bowl without getting cat food all over the floor. this bowl is big enough that my four year old has been feeding the cat for more than a year. a couple of scoops in the big bowl and we are good to go. warning: this bowl is also very appealing to extra small hands. i have walked in to find that my toddler has given the cats a bite of cat food and then has taken a bite himself. he's the fifth born so we just shrug and move on. if you are concerned about such things, i would make sure the bowl is not accessible to extra small humans.

we also keep the huge bag of our rachael ray nutrish cat food outside and keep a plastic tub accessible to kids indoors. it is stored with a plastic measuring cup that makes filling the food bowls easy. everything that simplifies to make it a kid-friendly task saves me work on my end. 

litter pan cleaning: our kids have to clean out the litter box. there are a couple of things we do to make this an easy process. we've learned that if anything requires too much work the likelihood of it getting done without incident is close to none. we have placed a bag of target bags for easy litter box cleaning and a scooper right where all the kids can reach. there is also a pail for them to dump the filled bag into right outside the door. few steps + easy execution = success...most days.

we also use litter pan liners. you can purchase them at the grocery store or make your own with a garbage bag. they fit around the bottom of the litter pan and can be picked up and thrown away with ease. this keeps the litter box from absorbing unpleasant smells and makes changing out the litter a breeze, even for the kids. we completely change out the litter box at least once a week to keep things smelling fresh. this combined with litter pan deodorizer helps to ensure that our house smells fresh, even with two cats. 

pet hair cleanup: i hate having pet hair in my house. i feel like it makes things constantly look a little dingy. so, the vacuum is my best friend. my two year old can vacuum like a champ and my four year old has mastered it all around the house. we have a great vacuum that has an stair attachment. we've used this attachment on all sorts of surfaces and it picks up pet hair beautifully. we use it so often that it is permanently left on our vacuum for the kids to pick up cat hair anywhere it may lie. it's a beautiful thing. 

pet playtime: all animals need attention and part of caring for them is playing with them. the kids have to spend time each week playing with their pets. the cats love toys...lasers, feathers, etc. and the kids are pretty good about spending a few minutes each day keeping the cats occupied. there are also some great diy ideas to make homemade cat toys and the kids can make their own toys to keep the cats busy.

what about you? what do your kids do to help care for the pets in your household?

Monday, September 29, 2014

fall favorites

this is a sponsored post. while some of the products were given to me, the thoughts and opinions are all my own.

without a doubt, fall is my favorite season. after each brutal southern summer, where i feel i do little more than survive, fall is a magical reprieve. i bask in the cool weather, the fall colors, and the magnificent crispness that is the fall season. there are so many things that i love about the fall. here are a few of my all time favorites.

fall scents: i love the smells of fall. i love all things pumpkin, apple, cinnamon and warmth. with five kids i don't have time to travel to a bunch of stores to purchase scented candles, waxes or room sprays. so, target or walmart have to work as my one-stop-shop. i pretty much live in the scented aisle in the fall and i love the convenience of it all. i can even manage to occupy my littlest boys by having them "scratch and sniff" through the aisle. as a result, i have a ton of different sprays, candles and waxes in my home and my house constantly smells like something is baking or an outdoor stomp through some crunchy leaves. aside from the fact that the smells often make me hungry for all fall treats, it is amazing. i love the homey feeling scents create and, when people come in my house, they comment on how great everything smells (and not on the cherrios on the floor). it's a win-win for me.

fall decorations: i love all the colors of fall. i love pumpkins and fall leaves. fall is the time of year to bring out all the decorations that start the holiday season. my favorite of this season's decorations are the forever pumpkins we have created. while we have done ours with names, you can also carve flowers or faces into yours and use them year after year. if you want to add more scented goodness, instead of putting a light inside, put in a small scented votive. learn how to create your own forever pumpkins.

fall baking: i love baking in the fall. after the heat of the summer, my baking genes kick into high gear and i make everything i can. i especially love the spices of fall and if a recipe includes cinnamon or nutmeg, i'll make it repeatedly. with all the scented candles burning, i'm not going to lie, i'm hungry for delicious fall treats all the time. here you can find some of my favorites.

what about you? what are your fall favorites?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

diy: easy lego table

my boys are both lego obsessed. i had searched my favorite home stores, but the cost of lego tables was out of my budget, so i decided to make my own. it is a super simple project and not only will the time spent making the tables be minimal, but so is the cost! i call that a win-win. 

once you have the materials gathered, the process is simple:

step 1:
assemble the ikea table(s)

step 2:
remove the wrapping from the lego squares and use lego bricks to attach the four (4) plates together. this will make the gluing process *much* easier.
step 3:
flip the large square base pieces over and apply glue.

step 4: 
flip over the glued pieces and press firmly into place. once dry, the table is ready for hours and hours of enjoyment. 

i made two! one for each little man. oh, happy day!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

failing as a mother

it was such an immense honor to be asked to read this post at the "we still blog" awards at this year's type a conference. the afternoon was filled with beautifully written and emotion filled posts. the tears and the kleenexes were abundant and the afternoon was, as it has been in years past, my favorite part of the weekend. what a gift it is to be surrounded by so many strong women and men with voices worth hearing and the bravery to share their stories fearlessly. this post is just one in a long list of posts that are worth reading. the links to all of the nominated posts are listed below. take the time to read them all. i cannot think of a better way to spend your time. in honor of all the beautiful writing we heard this weekend, i'm reposting this post, for amazing mothers and fathers everywhere who need to be reminded that they are not finished yet and they are parenting masterpieces.

"i feel like i have failed as a mother." these were the words i cried to my husband one night this week. after the battle was over. after the kids were asleep. after all the hurtful words. after the dust had settled. "i must have done something wrong. it's not supposed to be this way." i was grasping for something, anything to help me understand why parenting is sometimes so, so very hard.

earlier that night, my ten year old had run away from home for the first time. there had been a battle over everything that afternoon...homework, chores, being kind to his siblings. everything was work. i would love to say that i had the time or the patience to pause and get to the core reasons for his behavior but with five kids needing attention at once, the best i could do was to remind him to "think before you speak" and "examine your response." as i was preparing dinner, i asked him to help his younger brother empty the dishwasher while i cooked the meal. he looked at me and his hands formed into fists and said the devastating words, "i hate my life! why do you always do this to me?"

as i was stirring the pot of what would eventually be our dinner, i reminded myself to keep breathing. i picked my heart up off the floor and turned to stare at this stranger otherwise known as my ten year old. my other children were staring at the train wreck that was our dysfunctional kitchen interaction. somehow, by the grace of God, i held myself together and offered my son an out. "you are welcome to go look for another family that you think would treat you better but if you are a part of this family, you will do your chores." 

he slammed his fist into his sides and with an angry turn and a "fine, i will," he was out the front door. he was gone for two hours...and i died a little bit with each minute he was gone.

what in the world had happened? this is my first born son. 

born while we were living in South America, he and i were an isolated duo. 
there were no grandparents nearby. there was no FaceTime or skype. there were no friends with other children his age. it was him and me. we danced the crazy mother-son dance all on our own, without advice, without help, completely on our own...and that was just fine.
we would sing ourselves to sleep in the hammock.
we would splash in the Caribbean.

we would cover the walls with our artwork.
we would find joy in the simplest of pleasures.
we were a team and he was my joy, my first born.
my days were filled with him.
he had the very best i had to offer, uninterrupted, unshared, completely devoted.
when he needed more interaction, he got it. he got me 100%. he had it made.
somewhere, that baby, that precious boy who filled my days, disappeared and the tween i look at each day has morphed into someone else. he's hard to recognize.

i used to buy into the notion that, if you do the work when your children are really little, it will get easier and easier as the years go by. there are parts of that idea that ring true. there are other parts that are delusional. i have come to understand that parenting is work, no matter the age, no matter the child. there will always be another area of their character that can be refined. there will always be lessons to learn. there will always be a heart that can be molded, 

to be more kind, 

more compassionate, 

more patient, 

more grateful, 

more loving. 

those are lessons that don't end when a child is grown. those are lessons that we will keep teaching as parents long after our children leave the house. those are lessons my own parents are still teaching me.

still, in this instance, with tears in my eyes, i looked at my husband and asked, "what have i done wrong? how can someone i love so much be so intentionally hurtful? surely, it is not supposed to be this way. it is not supposed to be so hard."

my husband's response was simple and somehow cut through the weight of what i had felt that day. "he's not done. we're not done. it is like looking at a painting that is only half finished and being critical. the idea of that would be ridiculous. you can't judge a painting until it is complete. our son isn't finished yet. when he becomes an adult, when we see the man he will become, then we can look back at all the parts of his life that made up the light and the shadows and see each piece for what it was." my sweet man did everything in his power to remind me that i'm a good mother. 

slowly, i started to believe it again myself. i'm not perfect. i'm full of flaws. i have to pray for grace and patience everyday, but i'm a good mother. as i hold my one year old son and look over at his ten year old brother, i marvel at how much nine years has changed things. my heart breaks a little bit at how fast the time has gone and at how, with each outburst, with each stance of his will, my first born pulls farther and farther toward his independence. i want to hold back the clock and bring back the sweetness that once was. still, as i watch him become the adolescent he will be and see him change before my eyes i'm reminded that everything i have done for him has been a piece to his puzzle, a brush stroke on the painting that is his life. even on my worst days, when it feels like my heart may not recover, i can remember that i am a good mother...and i'm parenting an unfinished masterpiece.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

the third boob: the story that started it all

there are some stories that never get old. each time we meet new people, we are asked for the story of our blog's name. for those of you who may not have heard the story that began this crazy journey, this is for you.

the first pregnancy is the most exciting. that's not to say that other pregnancies aren't full of wonder but the first one is full of all things new. every change is a new experience and the unknown helps to add to the thrill of it all. i was like a lot of first time pregnant moms. i enjoyed that first pregnancy...until i noticed a kiwi sized lump growing in my armpit. the worst of scenarios raced through my mind. did i have cancer? was this a tumor? when the doctor ordered an ultrasound of the lump, i was thinking the worst. 

sitting in the office of the ultrasound technician, i stared at the monitor trying to figure out what she was seeing on that little screen. "what is it?" "all i can see is breast tissue. i'll send the results to your doctor." i felt a sense of relief. no tumor, just breast tissue...in my armpit. i had no idea why that would be and my ob-gyn was actually of very little help in that department. i was told it was just breast tissue. breasts swell during pregnancy and that it should go back to normal after giving birth. this was a great theory but, after looking around, no other pregnant women seemed to be walking around with a kiwi in one pit.

finally a lactation consultant friend of mine told me it could be an extra mammary gland. this was confirmed in the hospital after i gave birth to my first son. a second lactation consultant came in to check on the nursing situation and i blurted out, "i think i have a third boob." to this, in the tradition of lactation consultants getting all up in your boob business, she peeled back my hospital gown to examine the said appendage. here's where it gets good. this lady had all the good information. apparently, your milk lines run from your armpit all the way down your abdomen (think a cat or a dog with a litter of puppies). you can be born with extra mammary glands or extra nipples anywhere along your milk line and, unless you have a visible nipple, you may not know it's even there until your breasts swell during pregnancy. the consultant then proceeded to tell me that there was a woman in the hospital the day before with eight boobs. (i can hear the collective gasps through the computer.) i all of a sudden felt pretty happy just to have the one. she then continued by saying that it would go away after nursing and that, because there was no visible nipple, it would dry up and shrink back to its former undetectable size.

here is where she got it wrong. my milk finally came in for my first born and while i was nursing him, i asked my husband if he'd turn up the air conditioning because i felt like i was sweating profusely. i then looked down to see that no, i wasn't sweating. what i thought had been the tiniest of brown freckles was instead a nipple that was currently dripping milk down into a puddle on my shirt. yep...sign me up for the circus people. not only do i have a third boob but it lactates. lac. tates. 

i had to nurse with a towel in my armpit and while most nursing moms got to walk around with just absorbent breast pads in their nursing bras, i got to do that and wear a huge band-aid on my armpit. just so we're all aware here, my son was born in june...tank top weather. fabulous.

so, there you have it. i think the third boob can give everyone a brighter outlook on life and on their after-baby bodies. your stomach may look like a venetian blind from the stretch marks you earned or you may have skin that now somehow resembles an elephant's trunk. still, looking in the mirror at yourself you can always say, "at least it doesn't lactate." so, here's to you, third boob. thanks for making most of the world feel a little bit better about themselves...and for giving us a great story to tell. cheers!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

monthly must haves: laundry room favorites

i spend a ridiculous amount of time in my laundry room. seriously. it occupies more quality time with me than anyone or anything else in my life. sad but true. as a part of our "monthly must haves," we couldn't neglect our favorite items to keep our laundry room happy.

1. laundry folding table: my dad and i bond over projects. on one of his trips to visit me, we made this amazing laundry table to fit perfectly in my laundry room. (we also made custom rolling drawers to house dirty laundry...amazing). it has become my favorite part of my laundry room. i can divide up clothes for seven people into their own piles and then carry them upstairs organized. i truly don't know how i lived without it.

2. beadboard drying rack: this is an item i purchased a few years ago and it was worth every penny. when not in use it sits flush against the wall and occupies no space at all. when you have things to dry, they are drying in an organized, out-of-the-way fashion. i love it. 

3. downy wrinkle releaser: this product has cut my ironing time to almost nothing. i don't know about you but i hate ironing kids clothes. they play so hard and get wrinkled so fast that i don't feel like it is worth my while. i also don't like my kids to look like they just rolled out of bed. this is the perfect solution. if something is wrinkled, i can spray, hang, and it is good to go. ironing problem solved.

4. homemade laundry detergent: i do so much laundry. so, so very much. i was spending a fortune in laundry detergent but have since started making my own. i love it. it smells fantastic, is much more affordable and my clothes are getting clean. i'm one happy mama!

5. lost coin jar: growing up my mom had a rule. if money was left in a pocket to be washed, the laundry fairies got to keep it. that rule has become the rule at my own home too and i have more loose change than i know what to do with. a friend of mine gave me a decorated tin a few years ago and it has become the perfect catch-all for all things left in the washing machine...safety pins, coins, buttons, dollars. i'm going to use the cash one day to buy myself a present.

6. mismatched sock basket: an old rudolph-the-red-nosed-raindeer movie talked about the island of misfit toys where lost and unwanted toys go to live. this basket is my island of misfit socks. it is where they go to die. every once in a while i will magically find a match. many times, however, the basket remains fairly full. on the rare (miraculous even) occasions when i have managed to wash every item of clothing in the house, i will throw away those socks that have not found a match. otherwise they sit in there and have their other mis-matched friends for company. at least i know where to find them.

7. hanger bar: i was searching for a place to keep hangers in my laundry room and didn't like any of the options i found. my dad suggested using a towel bar upside-down underneath my laundry room cabinets as a place to store hangers. it was genius. they are out of the way but are there when i have something important to hang. 

8. in-room entertainment: i know. this looks particularly trashy. still, it does the trick. i was spending so much time in my laundry room that i started to pull out my iPhone to watch netflix and hulu while i worked. it was fantastic but i couldn't hear the sound of the phone over the rumble of the washer and dryer. an old set of computer speakers worked perfectly to amplify the sound so i can watch and fold to my heart's content. my next dream is to purchase a t.v. for my laundry room so i can happily watch shows on a larger screen. for now, this will have to do. if you have the room for it, add something to your laundry room to make it a more enjoyable experience. you deserve to have some happiness in the midst of the chores. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

grief, loss, acceptance and love.

i spent two weeks on vacation this summer with my two little men. me. a single mama, thought it would be a good idea to embark on an ambitious itinerary that involved multiple states, plane flights, stays at friends and families houses, long car rides, and a hotel stay. did i mention i have 4 & 6 year old boys? yep. crazy town. on top of that, it was an emotionally charged trip in so many ways. one of the legs of the trip was to see my friends megan's family.  

a little over two years ago, i lost my childhood friend to cancer. we grew up the best of buddies and although, as we grew older, our lives took us in different directions and locations, we stayed close. it's funny how friends that have been a part of your life for so long transition, without you even realizing into family. that was my megs. a common love of theater is what brought us together as kids, and even though we both changed and grew in so many different ways, we loved one another the way sisters would and loved each other through the best and the worst of times. 

at the same time my friend was losing her battle with melanoma, i had lost my marriage. it was an unbearable time of life for me. the loss of it all was, at times, suffocating. i remember the calls from her husband and mom the day we lost her like a movie that you have watched so many times, you can recite it word-for-word. just thinking of that night causes me to catch my breath. it plays, at times, in my head on a loop....as if it will somehow all feel real at some point. she is gone. 

the trip was an opportunity for me to fulfill my promise to my friend that our children would know each other as they grew, but also a quest for me to find some closure and peace in her passing..... it had all happened so suddenly and in the midst of my own grief and processing of my own marriage failing. although I flew to be there for the funeral, I never had been back in their home. i went to the funeral and then tucked away that grief in a corner of my mind for a day when I was ready. when I could give it the attention and respect that it deserved. 

it has been said that the difference between what you want or need and what you fear is sometimes the width of an eyelash. i wanted to go back to her home. i wanted to spend time with her wonderful legacy of a family she had left....but it was scary. it was real. 

at first it was hard. everything seemed just as she had left it. it was as if she was going to walk in the door at any moment and the whole thing was just one awful bad dream. but it was was so real. she was gone. she wasn't coming back. i sought out ways to help. i wanted to support my friend by being there for her husband and kids. despite my own intense grief, i tried to be present for each moment. it was hard being there, occupying my dead best friends life. experiencing things that she should be there experiencing. i was surprised by the guilt I felt. that I was alive and she was not to be able to experience all of these moments. there were so many wonderful memories that i will treasure forever: experiences like going to the pool together, introducing the kids to movies her and i had watched together as kids, water fights, lip syncing with her sweet daughter, building forts, painting nails, painting rocks to bring to her gravesite and her sweet little girl picking out matching outfits for us to wear.

i left that trip with a sense of calm. these unbelievably amazing little kiddos are such a perfect reflection of her and although megs is gone, she is living on through them in so many ways. the people that love them and her are keeping her alive through stories and pictures and memory-making moments, like the few i was able to share with them. i know that even though megan isn't able to be psysically able to be there, she has an amazing front row seat to all the action from heaven. i look forward to many more memory-making moments ahead.

in a two week vacation with the littles, i learned a lot. i grew as a person. i accepted realities and have moved through them. i bit off a lot when i decided to take on a trip of this magnitude solo....but i pushed past my fear and i did it! was it perfect? nope. were there some bumps in the road? certainly. but we did it. and *that* is a huge accomplishment....a major turning point, in my book of life.