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Kristen is a home­maker, home­schooler, and a home­keeper. Her experience includes nineteen years of practice, raising three kids, a husband, and a dog. Writing about her life helps her stay sane. She believes that sharing stories helps others by providing opportunities to share advice (and helpful hints) about homeschooling, and raising kids on the autism spectrum, while supporting marriages and families that are striving to thrive.



We're All a Little Mad Here

Bucket Lists

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Since the advent of Pinterest, I’ve become something of a bucket-list type of mom. We all lose our minds, every once in awhile, right? I mean to say, Pinterest makes everything “possible” and “do-worthy.” I can make anything and everything and for next to nothing, on a shoestring budget!

Before I get accused of enabling a burgeoning addiction to Pinterest, this post is more of a cautionary tale. I totally can get into bucket-lists, but I’m a little more realistic about what I am and am not capable of than when I first started Pinterest. I’d like to amount it all to maturity, but I think I’ve become just a little more skeptical of how easy it is (or isn’t) to do a project.

Also, discretionary funding of big projects that begin with “I saw this great idea on Pinterest...” has been dubiously limited by the man of the house. 

So, that being said, I have gotten some great ideas on things to do with the kids, and some projects to make, that truly are not expensive from the Pinterest-of-wonder-world. Plus, there are tons of ideas on the "what-to-do-that-doesn't-require-a-plug-or-charger"  list.

All-in-all, there are lots of good things to be said about the fabulousness of Pinterest, plus the ideas are what count, but... proceed with caution! The “make this ice rink for three dollars with materials from the dollar store!” project doesn’t work... not for three dollars, anyway, and not in my backyard --just keeping it real. Also, the glow-in-the-dark spray painted planter pots don’t glow that brightly, unless maybe you use (at least) ten cans of the stuff. I speak from experience. But, I digress.

 

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Bucket lists are great for summer, unless they get too long, in which case you might find that you will be bringing on feelings of anxiety and remorse over NOT getting enough things done. That won't do. The bucket list is meant to be fun! It’s also meant to be helpful, especially for those days where it seems like the TV has been on for 72 hours, the computers have been bogging down the wi-fi for days, and the kiddos look a bit like manic cycle, hollow eyed Voldemorts and still have the nerve to say they are bored, hungry, starving, and desperate.

 

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Our Bucket list, for example has some of what I would call "big ticket" items, like, make a trip to Washington DC for the day, so we can breeze through a few of the Smithsonian Museums and the Library of Congress (we are total book people). It’s amazing that we take such a great amount of resources for granted. DC is fun, there are tons of things to see, learn and do, and you can take the train for about the same amount of money as driving in and parking for the day. It’s a no-brainer. Pack lunch, though, because I am pretty sure the food industry in DC can be classified as racketeering and/or an extortion operation. The Smithsonian is free; the food is not!

 

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Another big ticket item for this year is planning a day trip- possibly an overnight trip to hike a part of the Appalachian Trail. We like to hike, and the AT is practically in our back yard. It’s still up for debate if we are going to do it this summer, though, or wait for it to get a bit cooler.

Spending the day in Old Town Fredericksburg is on the bucket list, just because it is fun to explore the antiques and the books and visit all the little eateries that Fredericksburg has to offer. We always have fun tooling around Princess Anne and Caroline Streets.

 

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Other things that can go on a bucket list are things like scavenger hunts, library days, themed lunch days that can go along with whatever book(s) you and the kids are reading, tea parties, backyard nature treasure hunts, and things that are easy and not too expensive (or free) to do. We’ll have board game day, and movie marathon day, too -- great for epics like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and High School Musical. Relax and enjoy!

 

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Lastly, we pick out a few projects to try from the many wonderful things we’ve pinned from our Pinterest boards. Mine include composting and starting a garden- a real garden- that is edible. I have exactly one tomato (a squirrel robbed me of the other one), several radishes, a tidy little spinach crop, and lemon thyme, which is supposed to keep the bugs away. Danielle is crocheting a quilt. Katie is Minecraft-ing her heart out. Tommy is reading, and finding obscure facts and daydreaming about the multiverse that is his world. My husband, bless him, tolerates and encourages us in our sometimes wacky pursuits. Big bubble making is always fun, and inexpensive, for example, and we all get into it.

So, keep calm, keep your Pinterest in check, make a bucket list, and parent on!

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Healthy Intentions

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So, my neck is stiff and my left arm makes everything hurt when I move it. Fibromyalgia is SO not fun. I’ve touched on the subject of living with chronic illness before, but, since it is an ongoing battle, there is ongoing stuff to post about. The stuff of life is sometimes, just, tough.

I’ve resolved to be tough in return, although I certainly don’t necessarily feel like it most of the time. Believe me, when my eyes opened this morning and I discovered that my neck wasn’t in working order, I really did not want to get out of bed. It’s Saturday, after all; I could be considered justified in my actions by staying in bed, right? The thing about that, of course, is that parenting doesn’t stop on Saturdays. So... up I got.

The middle child, also living with a chronic illness, was already up and had, bless her heart, made the coffee. We tend to mirror each other with symptoms sometimes. We also mirror a coffee habit.

“Bad night?” I asked.

“Meh.”

“Yeah, me too.”

We drink in silence. I am loving that my teenager is a lot like me, and I apologize for it at the same time. Often you can hear me saying, “sorry, you got that from me.” However, we are blessed to appreciate each other in ways that our other family members don’t quite get. Plus, love looks like being quiet with a bowl of coffee in the morning, sometimes.

 

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One thing that has been very much on my mind and in my heart during this season is staying healthy. Health is paramount to survival, I think, and claiming a willpower (think Dave Goggins) to stick to that intention is important, too. It isn’t easy: it’s hard. It isn’t always fun, sometimes, frankly, it stinks and it is painful. Keeping moving and keeping active, though, are so, so helpful to the intention of health. Not once have I pushed myself to just go on a walk when I’m hurting and then felt worse afterwards. I always feel better, even if I hurt before I set out.

Not only is health important for me, it’s important for my family. My kids need to see that I value pursuing a healthy lifestyle. They need to learn that being healthy and staying active is part of life, and not a huge obstacle to overcome everyday. I know so many people that have just seemed to give up on eating healthy and being active. The excuses for avoiding exercise and choosing potato chips over fresh vegetables are endless. I know when I’m eating well and moving my body I feel better. I’m a better wife, and a better mother when I’m living in a healthy way. I want to encourage everyone to consider health over hurt... even when it does hurt. Keep at it! I’ll be your cheerleader! I can even actually say I understand that it seems impossible to overcome pain, but I struggle with that same issue. Some days, we need to rest, but most days, we need to move. It’s worth it!

 

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Living with chronic pain, chronic illness, or any health challenge is, well, challenging. I’m constantly reading and learning how to manage not only my symptoms, but my daughter’s as well. On top of that, the other special needs in our family need to be managed, too. Almost every special need and health issue that our population needs to address, though, can be helped (if not resolved) by nutrition and activity. I really believe that. Current, popular media captivates us, and our kids, to crave the most unhealthy snacks and cereals on the planet. Add video games, binge watching TV, and constant electronic usage, and we are being set up for a very unhealthy future. From what I have gleaned over several years of parenting, red dye #40 and sugary snacks do not help the health of the family. While we do indulge in treats, and vacations are pretty much sugary snacks, and red dye #40, we detox immediately upon return to the real word. Whining and gnashing of teeth... but that is just the way it goes sometimes. That’s Life. It’s a song from the eighties, I think.

Life is certainly a bumpy road at times, isn’t it? I often wonder “why me,” and then I quickly think, “why not me,” and move on. Prayer and Faith are awesome and what I lean on, lean into, and live for on a daily, hourly, minutely basis. Love and patience come from above; I couldn’t do it on my own, for sure.

 

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I guess we never stop learning, do we? As parents, and as adults, I mean. I may have graduated from school, but I am constantly learning. Information about diets and nutrition and health studies is a very fluid subject, these days. My advice? Balance. Move. Faith. Health. It looks different on everyone. Find what works, and what makes your body feel healthy, and stick with it! You can do it!

 

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Keep calm, claim health, and parent on!

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Special Needs

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Special needs is a very broad subject to write about. Truly, anyone can have special needs. I often write that our family wears our autism on our proverbial sleeves. The oldest and youngest are both on the spectrum (officially). Truly, though, a lot of people in my and my husband’s families would meet criteria for an autism diagnosis if the same information was available thirty years ago. We laugh (a little) and say about our kids, “Yeah, they come by their autism honestly.” Really, we all do.

The collective “we” have learned so much over the past few decades about autism spectrum disorders. We don’t know enough, but we’ve come a long way in the diagnosis, and treatments available for families with children on the spectrum. It’s natural to wonder about the hows and whys of the autism phenomenon. I think about that stuff a lot less than I used to, though, because, now, I am simply living through it. While it is validating to have the label/diagnosis, working on raising and launching my family is the reality of my situation. We have more ups than downs now, and more funny stories than sad ones.

 

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I get asked about how and when and what-did-it-look-like when we first started pursuing testing for Tommy, and later, Katie. Developmental milestones, and the delay of said milestones are the obvious answer to that question. Well, that only worked for our first child, though. Katie’s diagnosis came much later in her life, and only after a lot of frustrating situations. Special needs can look obvious at times, right? Everyone can see Down’s Syndrome, for instance, and people in wheelchairs and on ventilators obviously have special needs. With all the awareness campaigns for everything under the sun, though, just how aware are you? I certainly am not always aware. Can you recognize a special need when you see it? Sensory disorders, obsessive behaviors, and anxiety disorders are all special needs, too. You can’t necessarily see depression, but is that any less special than the challenges we can see?

 

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My Tommy (for example) is fundamentally opposed to shoes, and has been for many years. This is not a problem in the summer, but when you see a child (or man-child grown) wearing shorts and flip-flops in the snow, can you recognize that the situation is probably a special needs issue, and not a “where-is-his-mother” issue? What about the screaming kid in the parking lot? I’m guilty of thinking “what is that parent doing?” instead of, “Oh. Sensory issue. I get it.” Both of my spectrum kids refuse winter coats. I’ve stopped buying them, as a matter of fact, because they won’t wear them. And the notion that they will learn to wear heavier coats once they’ve just been cold a few times is a lie from the pit of... well, it’s a lie. They have been cold plenty of times, and those coats looked fine and lovely hanging on hangers in the coat closet. Forever. I finally relegated said coats to the Goodwill this year. I didn’t recognize some of those types of “symptoms” in Katie right away, though. She was twelve when we finally had our “oh! I know what this is!” a-ha moment!

 

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Aside from sensory issues making us special, we have food issues (everything is an issue, as a matter of fact). The different foods on the plate can. not. touch. This will completely ruin a meal. And making said children just go hungry doesn’t fix it, it just makes everyone cranky. Food can’t touch. Period. For a long time we couldn’t use the word “nose” because it would send Tommy into a spiral. Katie does not tolerate thunder. She will make herself pass out to avoid hearing it. My husband, who is afraid of nothing, does not get it, but even he is like, “do what you have to do, it’s going to storm.” We are a special family that can’t have things too loud (I seriously carry earplugs in my purse), too bright (sunglasses are stashed everywhere in the car, in the house, in the coat closet), too dark (three out of five of us are afraid of the dark, and we have nightlights in every bathroom in our house), or too quiet (fans. In every room).

Change, of course, is another problem. We do a family briefing every morning. I’m not kidding, we are special that way, and we talk about possible deviations from the plan. IF there is a change from the possible changes that wasn’t addressed that morning, the day is usually needing to be ended sooner rather than later.

I have learned to be able to say, “Sorry, we have to go home.”

It is far better in the long run to end an afternoon early instead of trying to muddle through a meltdown.

 

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Special needs families are special, indeed. I’m proud to belong to one, actually, and I love to write about it. Perhaps we (you, me, us) all belong to special needs families, because most of us can relate to having special issues... right? We may look underdressed in the winter, and over prepared in the summer, but we are better and stronger for it. And, sometimes we eat dinner at three in the afternoon because we’ve had to end the day before it gets any worse, but that can be special, too. Midnight ice-cream parties make up for three o’clock in the afternoon dinner-times.

Keep calm, stay special, and parent on!

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Modesty

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Summer, summer, summer time!!! I love, love, love summer. I love that there is so much to celebrate in the summer! Think about it: the kids are home from school, so there are no worries about late nights, right? When it gets too hot, there are plenty of opportunities to get in some water and cool off. And, hello... fireworks! Who doesn’t love celebrating the fourth of July? Summer is the best.

As it gets hotter, though, I’m noticing that the clothes are getting smaller, and smaller. I understand bathing suits at pools, and I’m not even opposed to bikinis, but I’m noticing that current fashion trends are focusing on the body being as uncovered as possible. Something has changed in the fashion world, indeed, in the world, in my world.

I think it may be that I have teenagers.

 

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It was so much easier when I could dress them myself. The baby wore pajamas for the first three years of her life, because it was just easy. She is my most challenging fashionista, now. My middle girl is six feet two inches tall with a size twelve foot. That isn’t much fun, just FYI. Combine teenage hormones with impossible to find sizes makes for a teary day of shopping. Tommy, the oldest, hates shoes, hates shorts, and hates tags. He’s actually pretty easy. Jeans, t-shirts and flip-flops are easy enough. Hopefully, he’ll get a job that doesn’t require fancy clothes.

I have noticed the difference between girls' and boys' clothes as the kids have gotten older, and it started when they were in elementary school. Girls' shorts that satisfied the fingertip rule were super hard to find! With homeschooling we don’t have to satisfy school rules anymore, but we still have to satisfy my rules for, well, covering up!

Modesty has a few different meanings. Being modest- not thinking so highly of one’s self- is an attitude that makes a person easier to get along with. It is easier to draw close to people that are not screaming, “it’s all about me,” all the time. Modesty in the way that one would present themselves means to not dress or behave in such a way to be indecent. As a parent, just monitoring the daily news, the common culture, television, movies, advertisements, anything in print, and anything on the radio points to immodesty. The most popular movie stars and singers seem to delight in being naked! It is such a huge issue to cover up my kids when the people they are watching and listening to don’t seem to value that.

 

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The simple way to handle the modesty issue is to live it, of course. When you, as the parent, put a high value on being decent and dressing in a way that actually covers your body, your kids will likely follow suit (no pun intended). Now, everyone who is a parent knows that it is never that easy. I mean, no kid in the world never rebels. That little one who spent the first three years in her pajamas, also spent a fair amount of time trying to not wear any clothes. I mean, it was seriously an issue when she started preschool, because she either wanted to be in her pajamas or in nothing. Now, she’s growing so fast that sometimes it seems like she can’t help how she looks when she emerges from her closet. I, on the other hand, forget that what fit decently last week does not fit at all this week, and I go straight to, “No! Not ever! No way, young lady! You go change those clothes immediately!”

 

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She also doesn’t like change. I have to sneak the clothing out of her repertoire very stealthy-like. I also have to pretend I don’t know it’s all gone “missing.” I could lecture her about the good qualities and character traits of being modest, but she does better with visual, living examples. And a lot of time when any of the kids are focusing on what is the latest and greatest in pop media, I use it as an example of what not to do... then I remember I was a teenager once, too, and that strategy doesn’t always work so well, so we end up just talking about it. We talk about why our bodies don’t need to be on display for everyone to see. We chat about how our cheeks don’t need to be seen peeking out from under our shorts. We talk about marriage and purity because that is what we value in our family. Modesty may be a bit old fashioned, but hopefully we (the parents) can keep the conversation positive and encouraging and ongoing. It’s important, I think, to value those old fashioned values.

So, keep calm, talk about values, and parent on!

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C-O-N-T-R-O-L

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Janet Jackson’s hit, “Control,” Kelly Clarkson’s hit, “Little Miss Independent,” and phrases like, “you’re not the boss of me” and, “I do it myself!!!” -all shrieked and sang from a set of toddler or tween or teen or young adult lungs can evoke a smile, a giggle, or a very real sense of dread, or all of the above.

 

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I am the queen of control issues. I have to do it my way, in my time, the way I like it. I own my OCD as much as my teenager owns Blanky and Dog-Dog. I’m unashamed, and a bit defiant about it, if truth be told. In fact, I’d say the entire household is somewhat in the throws of control issues. My husband has piles of papers, gear, books scattered throughout the house, that he “will get to,” and we had better not attempt to touch anything of his. In fact, if company is coming over and I need to re-locate the pile, I am very careful to not shuffle anything in said stack. I learned early on in my marriage to just accept this aspect of domesticity, and to not try and help him organize in any way. Here’s another thing: I’m actually not super organized - OCD about things, yes, controlling about things, definitely! I have stuff in certain spaces, and as long as I can close a door (think cabinets, closets, etc.) on it, I am pretty lax on how it actually looks. My husband thinks it’s funny that he can ask me where anything is, even something that is his, and I’m able to locate it.

“Honey, a while back I got some stickers in an amazon package, and I know I put them in pile “x” but I can’t seem to find them... any ideas?”

Me: “hmmm, not really.”

“But if you had an idea, where do you think they might be?”

Me: “ummm... You might want to try on shelf in the closet that has your workout t-shirts on it?”

Sounds of rummaging, boxes tumbling, footsteps stomping, and then an exuberant “whoop” will be shouted, followed by, “Thanks, Babe!!”

It’s a super power, I’m not going to brag.

 

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(note the not eaten food, and carbonated red juice in wine glasses)

When the kids were little, I had a very happy bit of control exerted over their toys, their clothes, food, bedtimes, snacks, friends, when they slept, where they slept, grooming, and the list goes on and on. I expected the regular push and pull of clothing and food choices, obviously, as they got older. I was “ready” for it. I prayed about these types of things as they got older (and still do) and they made their own friends and ventured into the territory of refusing to heed well intended advice about studying, how to treat people, and how to expect to be treated in return. While I maintain complete control over clothing in terms of modesty and how I expect private parts to remain private, they have all found their own sense of style, that is definitely not my style, and I’d like to think I’m OK with it all.

 

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I remain a complete wreck, though over the things that I really don’t have control over any more. I’m terrified at times about how I don’t get to choose the drivers that are on the road with my new teenage driver. I don’t get to shield my tween from mean girls- even in homeschool circles, some girls are still mean. I don’t get to make sure that awesome boy of mine showers every day and shaves his face while he is off learning how to adult. I can’t force feed them all nutritional snacks and make them eat healthy all the time... and what about that water?!?! Two of my kids pretty much refuse it. No amount of coaching about how good they will feel, the acne will clear up, etc. will convince them that I’m right on this one. It’s maddening.

 

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And here’s another thing: the control that my precious people have over me, now, is totally insane. Unconditional love is an overwhelming love and a fierce-protective love and a very forgiving love. I may hate some of the power struggles that have entailed at our house, and I definitely hate some of the outcomes of said power struggles, but even when it hurts, when it’s crazy, when we’re all exhausted, that serious-forever-consistent love wins at the end of the day. I can’t make my tween stop loving a certain pop star, for the love of all that is Holy (seriously), nor can I make her understand the health benefits of water. I can’t control how scared she gets during storms. I am so not in control of my son’s facial hair- he’s twenty- I get it (well, sort of). I can’t control my middle girl’s anxieties, or her sadness, and it kind of kills me a little each day.

This is what I do, though. I pray. I love. I offer advice when it’s asked for (and sometimes when it is not asked for). I pray some more. I seek godly wisdom. I read some books. I accept my children. It is so not easy, not ever, but it is working for us for the most part.

 

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Keep calm, control what only you can, accept, and parent on!

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