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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

Me Time

 

I have been thinking about this concept of me time for some time. Time is such a funny thing, going by super fast when I least expect it, and dragging so slowly when I just want to get a move on. I can spend a whole afternoon waiting in a doctor’s office, and it feels like midnight by the time I get seen, when it's only really been under an hour. That same amount of time spent with my spouse or a good friend feels like only five minutes have gone by. I'm not alone, right? Then, of course, the demands on my time as a parent seem to be never-ending: conferences, meetings at school, activities, home schooling, check ups, cooking, games, sports, appointments, and it goes on and on and on… So what am I thinking when I suddenly want me time?


My daughter, at the tender age of fifteen, just wrote (Special Needs Siblings: A Kind of Our Own) about how important it is to have time for herself. Alone time. Quiet time. Me time. It resonates with me, because, at the end of the day, some me time could probably be very therapeutic, not just for me, but for  my kids, and for my husband, definitely and for sure! It's common sense, but then I forget about why time alone, for everyone, is a good thing. Imagine how mentally stable one could feel with just an hour of time to themselves? The proverbial experts all spout great philosophy about the benefits of me time.

 

 


During a particularly trying and challenging stage of life in my not-so-distant past, I was consulting a therapist (I was probably on the verge of a mental breakdown, in hindsight, but I digress) and said wise therapist asked what I'd be if I could come back in a different life. I readily answered, “Well, I'd be a large, fat house cat that only eats chicken because I don't particularly care for seafood, and I'd eat and sleep whenever I felt like, and I'd be inside where it's warm and safe, and no one would care that I was fat… Or, I'd be a nun in one of those silent nunneries where I wouldn't have to talk to anyone, and I got to wear robes, and nobody would care if I was fat.” 


Wise therapist looked at me and replied, “Wow. You didn't even need to think about that.”


“Nope! I've got that all figured out, you know, just in case.”


“Well,” said he, “I think you really just want to be alone sometimes.”


Well, I thought, he was absolutely correct. I also wanted to eat and not care that my body was very round (I prefer all things sweet, and nothing green, but I'm trying to even that out). Then, of course, as guilt is the default emotion of my brain, I felt guilty about feeling so selfish, especially about something that could never happen, plus, I really, really love my family, even though we're all a bit mad, here.


Here it is, though… part of my desire for a new, impossible existence was extremely telling, and very, very possible. Alone time. Everyone should definitely schedule alone time for themselves. It's not selfish. In fact, alone time may be very un-selfish if it helps you to be a better parent, spouse, or friend. Ideally, you should probably have alone time every day; if not every day, then maybe every week. Now, you may scoff and cry that it is impossible for you to schedule me time. I think, then, that perhaps it should be a goal to do exactly that. “Challenge accepted!” could be your battle cry. Carve out an hour some where in the course of the one-hundred-sixty-eight hours in the week. Even if you have ten kids, three dogs and one husband, one hour should be a doable goal.

 

 

Everyone will benefit! Me time could be whatever you want it to be. You could spend your hour reading, journaling, walking, doing a puzzle of some sort, or taking a bubble bath. I have a friend, the mother of four boys, and every afternoon she takes a cup of tea up to her bathroom and takes a bubble bath. She is one of the most grounded mothers I know. I tend to walk, personally, and even when I don't want to walk, I feel so good having just done it, and my whole household benefits from a better balanced mama. Those cool coloring books are nice, too, for quiet, contemplative, restorative me time. Me time doesn't make everything perfect, but it does make the brain better able to cope with stress and the demands of raising a family.

 

So, parents, schedule your hour (or more) of me time. Empower an older sibling to be in charge of the littles, or claim your hour during nap (or quiet) time. Maybe you can hire a mother’s helper for an hour, or get the husband to help you achieve your power hour by taking the kids out for a walk, or bike ride, or whatever it is that can allow you an hour to yourself. You can even trade hours with another parent who also needs an hour of me time. And, don't forget to reciprocate for your spouse, also, because he or she will need it, too! 


Keep calm, have a power hour, and parent on!

 

 

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Making Traditions

 

I think it is safe to say we’ve officially entered the holiday season. There has already been Christmas stuff in the stores for about a month now, but you know it's the holiday season when the Starbucks holiday cups are out, and the annual I-can't-believe-the-cups-look-like… rhetoric starts sweeping the social media sites. Holiday music is being piped through store speakers, and toy-land catalogs are arriving by the dozens in the mail every day. So it begins.

 


This, then, is the perfect time to talk about holiday traditions. We are all shaped by traditions of some sort! Some of us have religious traditions, while others have, say, travel traditions. Some houses do over-the-top decorating, while others just hang a wreath on the door and call it a day. Some people flip-flop years with each set of in-laws, while others have family and extended family get togethers that last for a whole week. 

 


When I was a new mom I had very specific ideas of how to spend the holidays based on how I was raised and how I spent the holidays growing up. Well, my husband also had some ideas on how to spend the holidays based on his upbringing. Guess what!? Those ideas did not match up very well because the way my family did Christmas (in our case) was different (very much so) from the way his family did Christmas. And, especially as our little family of just the two of us became a family of five over the years, ideas about traveling and expenses (especially the differences in opinion about traveling and expenses) started to cause strain in our marriage. We've had (over many years) some pretty (um) passionate (ahem!) discussions about gifts, money, traveling, cooking, and, well, you can just name it all when it comes to the holidays at our house. I'd love to tell you we always compromised beautifully and our respective families were always perfectly accepting, but that would make me not only a liar, but also a pretty unbelievable, unrelatable mom, wife, daughter, sister, etc. 


This is real life, after all. Nothing is perfect here. I can offer this sage advice, though: be ok with making your own traditions. Be ok with compromising; in fact offer a compromise with your spouse on the front end. Also, do it sooner rather than later. Communicate and meet each other in the middle when you start to make your own family holiday traditions. I made myself miserable for several holiday seasons because I insisted on my way (or the highway) and doing it this way caused stress across the board for me, my husband, my parents and my kids. Let me tell you something, kids are expert freaking psychoanalysts when they are young and put in a tension-filled situation. They know. They also don't have any filters to not tell everyone about how mommy and daddy said they don't want to ever have to be alive again during Thanksgiving dinner at (insert friend or relative's name here) house, and, by the way, Alaska in the dead of winter is much more appealing than a tropical, warm trip anywhere because mommy and daddy could just be all alone, then. The cashier at Target knows all about how Zoloft makes for a Merry Christmas. True story.

 

 

The world does not come to an end when you step into your new family role and make new family traditions. You and your spouse, along with your new, young (or old and older) family can be firm and state your own plans and make your own way through the holiday seasons. Don't be afraid to speak up and don't be guilted into something you don't want to do, just because one set of in-laws “always does it this way” and insists that the apocalypse will begin if you deviate from that plan. Couples, here is where you need to support each other, especially behind the scenes (you know, the around-the-corner, wink, head-nod, out of earshot, “Dear, I know this is all her doing, why don't you just take charge,” or the, “Honey, I know you really want to do it this way…”). Practice these words now, “Together we have decided to make our own tradition and it will look like this…”


Your family will be better for it. Traditions are the glue that keep us together, sometimes. When things get tough, counting on a holiday tradition can be a comfort to the soul, as long as it is a tradition that truly makes happy memories. I've come a long way in this department, as has Mark, but it hasn't been all easy-as-that… Family raising is not for the faint of heart, mind you. Growing pains hurt and compromise is hard, but living and loving through this life is worth it. Fight the good fight.

Keep calm, make memories and your own traditions, and parent on!

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The Perfect Planner

  

Has anyone seen the awesome planners/ agendas  that are out in the stores right now? I've seen so many that you can customize yourself! They look like scrapbooking projects! You know, like there are so many cute stickers, and cool make-your-own lists, and sweet little cut-outs to decorate your day-at-a-glance, and they are all bound up in colorful notebooks (Project!!!).


I love organization. Well, I love the idea of organization. My Pinterest board has so many organization ideas on it, that if you knew me only through Pinterest, I'd be that organization genius friend of yours. If only. A girl can dream, right? If only life could be so perfectly ordered. As it is, I currently have three agendas (which never match up, mind you), and about five different journals that span over at least a four year span of time (each journal- each one has the same four years scattered throughout them). Someday, an awesome archeologist might be trying to figure out the history mystery of the millennial mother and my lack of chronological journaling will totally derail her hypothesis about how we nurtured and lived our lives… 


 need to get it together!


So, I've come up with some ideas on organization to share with you for this upcoming new year (can you even believe the New Year is right around the corner?). These are some simple goals, shared to help, to take a look at, to maybe give you some ideas on how you can maybe stay a bit more organized. I mean, the cutest, most creative agenda in the world won't keep me (you, us) put together unless I (me,you) use it, right?

 


Number one: plan what works for you in a format that works for you. I have tried to be a week-at-a-glance type of girl. It just doesn't help me, though, if I need to be somewhere on Monday but I forget to turn the page to the next week on Sunday night. Missed appointments cost money, now. Sometimes missed appointment fees are more than an actual co-pay, and I have too many people in my house that need to be at appointments to waste that kind of money. Office managers are never sympathetic to my, “but-I-forgot-to-turn-the-page” excuse, and that will be fifty dollars. Thank you. Meh. So, I do the month at a glance on my paper agendas. I see the whole month, there are no surprises, and as a rule, I never schedule appointments on the first day of the month. It works for me.

 


Number two: make lists. Lists are satisfying in so many ways. I keep a notepad by my bed, actually, because as I am trying to fall asleep, inevitably I think of one million and thirty two things I need to do, and at least fifty things that I forgot to do. Writing those things down, somehow, alleviates the stress of trying to remember it for “in the morning”, thereby allowing sleep to happen (hopefully. Sleep usually eludes me anyway, but when I write down the list of things I don't stress over them as much) Aside from not forgetting things, or actually remembering things, lists help you save time at the grocery store (and money), they help you to remember which questions to ask at the doctor appointment, and they let you set priorities for each day. Here is the bonus, though: scratching completed tasks off your list is so very satisfying! Just give it a try and you’ll see what I mean.

 


And number three: always keep your agenda with you. “Duh,” you say? Well, I have written out shopping lists, and then left them on the kitchen counter, so this advice, while obvious, begs to be relayed. If the paper agenda is your organization of choice, make sure it fits in your purse, diaper bag, car bag, or whatever, because, again, it will only work for you if you use it. I make sure my paper agenda matches my electronic agenda, which is synced with my husband’s agenda so we can all be on the "proverbial" same page. The teens in the house know to either add their events electronically, or to write them down on the paper agenda, lest I become unglued when they tell me they have to be somewhere right now, and I don't know about it. Sheesh!


So, good luck adopting a plan to stay on top of the things of life! Whether you are an electronic diva, or a paper planner person, organization can happen! Share your ideas, if you will, who knows what tip might be useful to me or someone else?!

 


Keep calm, make plans, and parent on!

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Let's Hear it for Marriage!

 

I have been married for twenty one years. Mark and I have been together for twenty four years. The average Hollywood marriage only lasts a few years (I said average, mind you), and in the United States the divorce rate (overall) is a little less than half. I read a disturbing article recently about how getting married is not even “worth anything.” I'm at the stage in life where I'm going to second-marriage weddings, or shedding tears with friends that are suffering through divorce. We hear so much about divorce and break-ups. Well, how about some good news about marriage?

I am passionate about marriage. Let me be clear that there is no judgment toward anyone that is not married, will never be married, or is divorced. I am, however, moved to write about why marriage is so important. I want to encourage parents to stay together. I urge couples to nurture their marriages just like they would nurture their children, even more so. Marriage can be so great, not only for the parents, but for the family, too!

 

 

Families are truly the cornerstone of our great country. Parents are responsible for encouraging the next generation to greatness, and success. Children that grow up in married homes statistically score better on standardized tests, are healthier, and they live longer. These are statistics from a social science study (The Case For Marriage- by Linda Waite)! I know plenty of hard-working, conscience-minded, single people raising children single handedly, so, again, there is no condemnation for those readers that land in that category.  My hats are off to you all, too! This just happens to be a benefit of marriage that directly impacts the children in a married-parents family home.

Also, parents who stay in a marriage relationship tend to have the same benefits. Adults that are married tend to be healthier, wealthier, and happier than their unmarried peers. I think the comraderie that develops over time between a couple benefits marriage and family raising, alike. We (my family) refer to our family as a team, as a matter of fact, and I have friends that do the same with their families. Family raising is a team sport in my opinion, so put a name on it and call it your team! 

 

 

So, let's celebrate staying together! Marriage, on the best day, is hard. Period. There is no way to sugar-coat that, but staying married is so worth a good, great, honest, sweat-beading try. Marriage counseling works wonders, and can help get a marriage back on track. Before the proverbial flame flickers, though, try to keep your relationship on a good track. Claim your date nights. Build in some play time. Talk for at least ten minutes a day. Gaze into each others’ eyes for a whole minute. Kiss for a whole minute! Yes, your older children will shriek and shout, but on the inside it makes kids feel secure when mom and dad are affectionate with each other. Try something new to encourage your relationship. Just like the Mikey commercial from the eighties, “try it, you’ll like it!”

So, this mama is tired of the negative publicity toward marriage. I'm starting a marriage praising revolution. So join in! Share your happiness! Put some good marriage moments out there on Twitter, in the comments, on Instagram, or on Facebook, or on the social media of your choice. Encourage others, too, because some days it is just hard to feel like a couple. Here it is, though: you are a couple, and there are many fringe benefits to staying a couple. You have to work at it. Another great commercial allusion: Just Do It!

 

Keep calm, don't throw in the towel, stay married, and parent on:)

 

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Five Ways to Make Fall Fabulous

 

Who loves fall?!? 

We do!!!

It is truly the most beautiful season in Virginia. While spring ushers in lovely blooms, and the cherry trees are to die for, the fall season is so vibrant and rich and colorful. Can you even imagine Virginia without it? I certainly can't, and there are thousands of ways to take advantage of the season. Lucky for you, I'm only going to mention five of them.

Numero uno is: go outside!! Go. Move. Unplug. Take yourself and your family out. Go for a walk, go for a hike, go for a drive. We have so many state parks right here in Northern Virginia to enjoy at our leisure. My favorite is Prince William Forest Park. There are plenty of trails, and tons of trees. Fredericksburg boasts some really beautiful parks, too. In fact there are too many to list! So, go out and visit a park today. Your body and your family will thank you. A park ranger just might thank you, too!

Second, find a fall festival near you. Seriously, we Virginians celebrate the fall in style. There are Oktoberfest and wine and cider fests (you're welcome), craft fairs, apple harvests and pumpkin patches. In Fredericksburg and Stafford alone we have Braehead Farm, Sneads Farm, Belvedere Plantation, and Cows and Corn. There is truly something for everyone, whether you are headed out with the whole family, or just a date night, I'm positive there is a fall festival just for you to enjoy.

 

 

Decorating is my number three way to make fall fabulous. I love the colors of the season, so I put out pumpkins and gourds on the porch, on the table, on the hearth, on the shelf, etc. It is not only easy to decorate in the fall, but it is colorful! The grass is already dead, so I don't have to stress about trying to make that look good, and the leaves are so pretty that I don't have to stress about them, either. Also, Halloween is becoming almost as decorative as the winter holiday season! I do “happy” Halloween, only, but a lot of my neighbors do a more festive scary Halloween theme, which is just as fun to enjoy (from afar... I'm a scardy-cat!).

 

 

Which leads us to number four… Halloween!!! Whether or not you celebrate Halloween, the day of the dead, or the autumn equinox, Fall is a great time to throw a party. The costumes are fun, especially for little ones. Candy is abundant, and party favors are festive in lieu of sweets. My tweenager wants to have a masquerade ball, while the oldest two are happy just trick-or-treating. Dressing up, enjoying the weather, and having some treats are a great way to round out October.

And finally, number five, is pumpkin spice everything. I love, love, love pumpkin spice latte season! I love pumpkin pie, pumpkin squash, pumpkin cake. My son and I are crazy for pumpkin treats. If you don't like pumpkin, that's ok, because it is also salted caramel season. So, there you go. Again, there is something for everyone! Pumpkins, apples, caramel -- how can you go wrong?

 

 

So, keep calm, parent on, and enjoy fun, fabulous fall!

 

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