Friday, April 29, 2016

A 20 Minute, Once a Day Power Clean With Your Kids In Five Simple Steps

Happy Friday, Friends!

A couple of days ago, I shared a quick pic of the boys tackling a few of the tasks on our twenty-minute power clean list.  This is a new idea/effort that I'm hoping will become a habit that will help us all keep the house a little cleaner before baby arrives. Since we've been working on it for a week now, I thought I'd write a little bit more about how the idea has taken off.

There are a couple of reasons why I decided to rethink our current housekeeping plan.
1.  I'm nesting in a major way (almost 38 weeks)!
2.  The boys' activity and school schedule is so full that finding time to clean is becoming more and more difficult. Read: the goober/dirt magnets I'm raising are taking over the house, and I cannot handle it any more!!!

Steve and I feel that it's very important to teach the boys good stewardship and generosity by requiring that they share in the maintenance of the home.  A big family = bigger messes, more dishes, laundry, etc. etc.  So we have to work as a team to keep the house running efficiently.  Everyone around here helps out in some way, even the little ones.  

{Sometime I will post in more specific detail the responsibilities that we set in front of the boys and at what ages we expect them to fulfill those responsibilities.}

But lately, especially with the older boys devoting more time to their studies and sports, it is becoming more and more challenging to tackle even the basic daily and weekly chores.  And moms, for what it's worth, the housekeeping duties should not fall upon your shoulders alone.  The home is the perfect environment for children to learn so many vital lessons on virtue and to also develop life-long skills that are unfortunately under appreciated and underrated, but no-less important to daily living and family harmony.

With our seventh angel due to make his/her entrance into the world any day now, I decided to come up with a simple, yet effective way to spread the housekeeping tasks out during the week, instead of trying to gather the troops to tackle the entire house in one laborious event.  

This isn't really a new or novel idea, but for what it's worth, I'm throwing it out there for anyone who is also reconsidering the distribution of major chores during the week.  Since we homeschool, I like to begin the day with our 20 minute power clean (that's what we're calling it).  But, if you have kids at school, you could always try to squeeze it in after they get home, or right before/after supper.

The goal is not perfection, because there will be those days when things just don't go as planned. But, with consistency, I'm hoping that the home will not only be a more ordered and clean environment for us all, but a more peaceful one as well!
After breakfast is eaten, teeth are brushed and everyone is dressed, the 20 minute power clean method (so far) begins, following this plan:

1.  Prayer and Scripture.  
We keep it simple.  Spontaneous prayer, the Our Father, Morning Offering or Angelus, then one of the boys reads a scripture passage for the day.  I choose the verses ahead of time and make sure they are always virtue-centered so that they reinforce obedience, generosity, sacrifice, joy, helpfulness, attentiveness, kindness etc.  You can Google "bible verses on (insert specific virtue)" to find a great just what you're looking for. No need to go into a long lecture here, just keep it sweet and simple. They'll be getting a small dose each day, so (fingers crossed) much of the teaching will eventually sink in.

2.  Write the daily list of tasks on a white board or piece of paper. 
Let the kiddos check the chores off as they go.  They love to do that - it gives them so much satisfaction! And, it helps you to see what's been done in relation to how much time is left.

3. Assign tasks.
I like to start with asking for volunteers, and if there are not takers for the task, it simply gets assigned. Then, I briefly review how the tasks are to be completed if they require any instruction.  I try not to labor to heavily over this.  Things won't be done perfectly, but with praise and encouragement, the children will improve from week to week.  Any task that is not completed will be finished before lunch or the next privileged event. *See our list of tasks below.

4.  Turn on the music! 
For our family, praise music and/or songs from my Christian play list are the only option during the power clean, but only because if we crank up the classic rock or country, it almost always results in a lot of air guitar and wrestling, and that's not what we're going for here.  (Matt Maher and Third Day on the Pandora app were the boys' top picks this week.)

5.  Set the timer.
This one doesn't need an explanation, but it is very important.  The kids need to see the countdown, (and so do I!)
6.  Inspection.
This is a really important step, and one not to be skipped because it gives us as parents the opportunity to praise and thank our kids, but also to teach them the value of finishing a task and finishing it well, as well as learning to embrace constructive criticism. I discovered this week that if I praised the boys individually to their father at the supper table, they worked even harder the following day!

7.  Rewards!
This one is totally optional, and I'm not always big on rewards, but in this case, it's a necessary good. The boys know I'm a bit of a sugar nazi, so the thought of receiving donuts or a cereal of their choice on Saturday morning is highly motivating!  Of course, this may not interest your older children, but perhaps a cash allowance or something more suitable to their ages might be.

Finally, here is a list of the tasks we are currently working from (many of them can be done more than once a week), and a few of the helpful cleaning items we used:
Task List:
Vacuum all rooms 
Wipe down kitchen appliances and cabinets
Clean sinks and counter tops in bathrooms (every-other-day)
Sweep Kitchen and Dining Room Floors
Mop kitchen floor
Wipe down kitchen table, seating, and high-chair
Wipe dirty fingerprints off of doorknobs doors and walls 
Clean mirrors and windows 
Tidy up clothes drawers
Match/fold socks and laundry
Sweep off front porch and deck
Organize game cabinet and/or major toy area
Clean family vehicle (this one we do as a team, and it's the only task we focus on for the day.)
Clean Showers/Bathtubs (weekly)
Mop bathroom floors (weekly)
Water Flowers/Plants

Cleaning Products:
Cleaning products are such a personal preference, but if you're like me and always searching for effective/efficient items, here are a few that I can't do without:

1.  Norwex Enviro Cloths.  I know they are pricey, but so worth the investment.  They clean EVERYTHING so well (even stains off of carpet!), and don't leave streaks.  I can give a damp one to my toddler and turn him lose around the house. He loves to wipe down his high-chair and the bar stools for me.

2. Bona Mop System.  I really love this for our kitchen floors.  Nothing beats a good old fashioned hands and knees clean for the floors, but this is a great way to maintain the deep clean during the week.  It doesn't leave streaks and is easy for kids to use. If we had more hard woods in the home, I would probably invest in the Norwex mop system, but since our kitchen/dining space is small, this works for us.

3.  Baby wipes. Sounds crazy, I know, but we use these for detailing the car interior, because they are gentle and don't leave streaks or film.

4.  Thieves Multi-Purpose Concentrate from Young Living.  This is my go-to cleaner that I can let the boys use without worry over toxicity.  It's the germ bomb, and a little goes a long way!

How do you tackle household tasks with your family, and what are your favorite products?? 
I'd love to hear about it!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Memories for Henry of Your First Holy Communion

Henry is the fourth child in our family to receive his first Holy Communion.  Because we homeschool, it is up to Steve and I to prepare him well for this beautiful sacrament. We used many of the same materials (scripture, this book, this one, and this one, too), engaged in daily conversations about the Eucharist, and prayed with him as we did when preparing his older brothers.

But, Henry's preparation was different from the others in the sense that, as his parents, our own personal relationship with the sacrament has deepened significantly over the past two years since Steve has been ill.  

It's a difficult thing to grasp, the mystery, the gift, the glory of the Eucharist and how it is all charged with unfathomable graces, graces steeped in the sacrificial love of the cross.  For Steve and I, the cross of Lyme disease and mold toxicity has drawn us in more deeply to this mystery, and our utter dependence upon the graces we receive from the Eucharist naturally shape the way in which we approach the formation of our children.

As Henry grows and matures into manhood, perhaps he will remember very little of the time we spent preparing him for this spiritual milestone.  But I do hope, with all my heart, that what we have taught him is not limited to our time of study together, but that his knowledge flourishes and takes root deep in his soul through a real and continual example of love and devotion to the sacrament by his father and I as well as his older siblings.

Memories For Henry of Your First Holy Communion...
For weeks leading up to your special day, you continually asked, "How many days until I get to receive Jesus?" I loved your great anticipation and awareness of what was to come.
{Thank you to my friend, Kristen, for the great photos!}

Tradition is very important to our family, and one tradition that began with your brother, Benedict, was that all of the boys in our family would wear the same attire for your 1st Communions, the necktie being the most important.  Unfortunately, the red striped First Communion tie got mixed in with the clothes that were laundered during our mold remediation and was ruined. You were a great sport about it, though, and did not complain about having to wear something different.

This picture of you with Fr. Aaron is great! He is an incredible priest, and you admire him very much. I have a feeling you will always remember Father and the great enthusiasm he has for our Catholic faith. He is a great blessing to our family and to our parish!
On your special day, I woke up very early to decorate the house and to prepare the brunch before Mass.  Before the sun was up, I heard the faint sound of footsteps on the stairway carpet and I knew, without a doubt, that it was you who would be the first to greet me that morning.  You were so eager to admire all of the decorations and to get dressed in your special attire.
Because Holy Mass is early at our parish, we decided to host a celebratory brunch afterward instead of waiting until lunch.  You helped me plan the menu: 
Egg & Mushroom Kielbasa Casserole
Cinnamon Rolls
Cranberry Orange Scones
Mini Lemon Poppyseed Muffins
Fruit Platter
Assorted Juices & Coffee
When I asked you what you would like for me to bake, you chose three things (THREE! Really??), and I just couldn't say no to your innocent, enthusiastic request. 
{We decided to make candy-dipped pretzels instead of a traditional cake.}
You even helped me do all of the shopping earlier that week, and we stayed up on Friday night making your party favors while watching the Royals beat the Twins.  We had so much fun!
You and your brothers declared the brunch to be a feast, and stuffed yourselves with multiple helpings of everything.  Watching you guys eat with such gusto is something I will never grow tired of.
Thankfully the weather was so nice out that day that you were all able to jump off all of the sugar on the basketball court and trampoline.  Even Rose thought she was a part of the party!
We don't have very many pictures of you with your Godparents, Uncle Doug and Aunt Jen, so this one is a treasure.  They gave you the chalice tie clip that you proudly wore to Holy Mass that day.
George has this very saint book and since you are always asking him if you may look at it, your dad and I thought you might enjoy having a copy of your own.  The stories and illustrations in it are very beautiful.
Granny and Grandpa gave you a four-way medal, which included a description of what each symbol on the medal means. You wear it every day with the St. Henry medal we gave to you for your first reconciliation.
A good friend of mine suggested that we give you this Lego representation of the Mass, and I'm so glad that we did!  You put it together right away, and it really is a fun memory of your reception of the sacrament.  You can also use it to teach your younger brothers about the Mass.

Because the third name we chose for you is Augustine, you and I often talk about St. Augustine and his incredible conversion story.  I know that at such a young age this quote from his writings is too deep for you to grasp, but I hope that one day (perhaps at your confirmation?) we can return to it and converse at greater length his inspiring words on the Eucharist:

"The Body of Christ" you are told, and you answer, "Amen."  Be members then of the Body of Christ that your Amen may be true.  Why is this mystery accomplished with bread?  We shall say nothing of our own about it, rather let us hear the Apostle, who speaking of this sacrament say: "We, being many, are one body, one bread." Understand and rejoice.  Unity, devotion, charity!  

One bread: and what is this one bread?  One body made up of many.  Consider that the bread is not made of one grain alone, but of many.  During the time of exorcism, you were, so to say, in the mill. At baptism you were wetted with water.  Then, the Holy Spirit came into you like the fire which bakes the dough.  Be then what you see and receive what you are.

Now for the chalice, my brethren, remember how wine is made.  Many grapes hang on the bunch, but the liquid which runs out of them mingles together in unity.  So has the Lord willed that we should belong to him and he has consecrated on his altar the mystery of our peace and unity."

{Excerpt taken from Catholicism - Christ and the Common Destiny of Man by Heri De Lubac}

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Rise & Shine Breakfast Basket ~ A Gift For Mamas of Newborns

Every time Steve and I welcome a new life into the world, we are truly spoiled by the kindness of family and friends who bring us delicious meals, thoughtful gifts, and offer to help with the little ones. One of the most memorable gifts I've received was given to me by a friend after the birth of our fourth son, Henry.

In lieu of freezer meals or new clothes, she brought me a breakfast basket. Aren't mornings the most difficult part of the day for mamas of newborns? They are for me! Her gift was such a bright surprise. Filling the basket were little baked goods, special coffee, jam, tea, and even a morning devotional with short readings that I could soak in before facing the day.

Her thoughtfulness and creativity has inspired me to to recreate the same gift for many of my friends over the years.  After choosing a cute, sturdy basket, I usually line it with a lovely hand towel, and coordinate the gifts to match. Before delivering the basket below, I tucked in a few pieces of white tissue paper to fill in the empty spaces, and to provide a little bit of cushion for the breakable items. 

Below is a list of ideas that might inspire you to make a breakfast basket for someone you know!
1.  A bag of really good coffee.

2.  Flavored syrup for the coffee.

3.  A delicious tea in a pretty tin.
{I really like this brand, which you can usually find at Target.}

4.  A special mug for the morning sips.
{The one I found in the picture above is from the Pioneer Woman line at Wal-Mart.}

5.  Pancake Mix
{My favorite shortcut is to buy a quality mix, and add mini chocolate chips to it.  Look for one that requires only the addition of milk or water.  Be sure to measure out an exact serving size and place it in a pretty jar or sturdy bag, and write the directions on a label.}

5.  Quick Breads, Scones, and Muffins
My go to recipes are for pumpkin bread, vanilla bean scones, and lemon poppyseed muffins.  Just choose your time-tested favorites. Even a nice sized batch of one thing is great!

6.  Gluten Free or Paleo Options
For the mom with special dietary needs, you can find a number of yummy gluten-free baked good recipes on my Pinterest page, and also a nice variety of Paleo options (including a delicious granola) on this page, too.

7.  Devotionals
{Just a few of my favorites:}

8.  Energizing Essential Oil Blends
I love to keep essential oils beside my bed.  A deep breath of their aroma in the morning, and a couple of drops on my wrists or behind the ears can have such an positive affect on my morning mood!

Do you have any suggestions for me? 
What would you put in your breakfast basket?