Thursday, September 18, 2014

If You Give a Mom a Load of Laundry

How many times do mothers try to multi-multi-multi-task while doing a mundane chore? Half the battle is just remembering everything that needs to get done in one day, and then trying to figure out an order to do it in, without forgetting anything, only to find out despite your best efforts, you still forgot something. This is pretty much my life every day. My brain is always spinning like my thoughts below. Sometimes I have a hard time getting to sleep at night because it just. won't. shut. up.

So, in honor of all mothers out there like me, here's a snippet of what my bossy brain told me to do, all in the time it took to fold a pile of laundry. In my head, it played like a version of "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie."

I've titled it, "If You Give a Mom a Load of Laundry"

If you give a mom a load of towels to fold on a Thursday night,
She'll think about the company coming for dinner on Sunday while she's folding them,
Which will remind her of the two roasts she has to pull from the freezer
Because they need time to thaw in the refrigerator,
Which will remind her she didn't make the meal she already had thawing in the fridge for dinner that night,
Because she got sidetracked by the applesauce she made that afternoon,
Which she was still canning when her husband came home for supper,
Because she had to put the applesauce on hold while she spent three hours carpooling kids from school and helping with homework,
Which will remind her she needs to sign reading charts for two of her kids and a conference slip for the other,
Because they all need to turn them in the next day to their teachers,
Which will remind her she still needs to email another teacher tonight about a freezer meal she made for a family in need,
Because that teacher was going to possibly deliver it tomorrow night to that family,
Which will remind her she needs to call her husband's side of the family,
Because she's still trying to figure out what to plan for her youngest child's birthday in a few weeks,
Which will remind her she still needs to put said child to bed,
Because it's waaaay past his bed time and he has school tomorrow,
Which will remind her that she forgot to bring up his school uniform for the next day, along with the towels she just folded, from the laundry room in the basement.
The end. 
This is the convoluted way my frazzled Mom Brain works. Oh, and yes, this was exactly my day. Well rather, just my afternoon and evening. This morning, my brain got a break while I went to MOPS.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Back to school doesn't always mean back to school

It's only the second week of school.

Monday, my third-grader had a panic attack and stayed home from school. And I was sick. 

Tuesday, my first- and third-graders didn't have school because it was parent-led conferences day. And I was sick. 

Wednesday I had appointments and commitments from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., which I kept. And I was sick. 

Today, I woke up still sick and thought I'd get to sleep and get better because all three kids were supposed to be in school. While I'm dropping my elementary kids off at their school at 8:30, I get an automated call from my oldest child's middle school. There was a power outage at the school and all classes were canceled for the day. Kids will be released at 9 a.m. I head over to his school to find all access points backed up with traffic and police cars blocking the bus lanes with lights flashing. When I finally find a parking spot, I am as far away from where I'm supposed to get my child as I can be. So I walk to an open door and ask if I can walk through the school to get to the cafeteria (because did I forget to mention it's raining out?). The teachers tell me the entire school is pitch black (gotta love 1960s construction that decided windows were a bad thing), but one of the teachers said she'd walk me through with the flashlight on her cell phone. So we trek through pitch black hallways, go up and down stairs, hit one hallway with flashing strobe lights (did I mention I woke up with a killer headache on top of my cold?), and finally get to the cafeteria. Where all pandemonium had broken loose earlier because a bat got into the school through the kitchen vents, and found its way into the cafeteria, where it terrorized the children, who in turn screamed bloody murder and terrorized the poor bat. I couldn't find my child in all the chaos but found a teacher standing in the middle of the lunchroom calling out names on a bullhorn. She bellows out his name, he pops up from his seat, we get through the line to sign him out, and the same teacher who walked me in says she'll walk us through the school again to get back out. As we walk back through the strobe lights, the flights of stairs and the pitch black corridors, my sixth-grader is regaling us with the story of his morning adventure, totally jazzed about the best day of school absolutely ever. I wonder what tomorrow will be like?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Technology versus humanity


That one word strikes fear and worry into this parent's heart. I'm not against it. I like technology. It's a great tool. I like typing instead of writing long-hand, I like using Facebook to have conversations with far-away friends I wouldn't otherwise be able to re-connect with, I like the immediate satisfaction of taking pictures on my digital camera and editing photos in Photoshop. I like writing this blog and I like sending my husband emails at work that I know he can read when he has a break, instead of interrupting his work flow with a phone call. I like having a cell phone on car trips in case of emergency. Technology is a tool that can make life easier and more enjoyable. But like all tools, it needs to be used the right way for maximum benefit. Abusing a tool often leads to a break-down in functionality of that tool. What happens when technology is abused on a societal scale? What happens to that society?

I see what the abuse of technology is doing to the world around me and it's terrifying. I don't understand why there isn't a huge outcry about it, why more people aren't recognizing the dangers or why more parents aren't pro-active in preventing their kids from abusing technology. I don't understand why schools think it's ok to assume kids are so used to using it that they no longer need to be taught how to.

I'm not talking about the obvious dangers lurking on the internet. I think pretty much everyone is aware of those by now. I'm talking about the more subtle dangers that creep up on a society as a whole and nobody notices until it's too late to do anything about the shift that's already happened. What kind of dangers? Let me paint a few pictures.

Picture 1: Two young adults dining together at a restaurant. "Together" may be too strong a word. They are occupying space at the same table by sitting facing each other, but that's it. Both of their heads are down, concentrations firmly fixed on phones in their hands. Their fingers fly over miniscule keyboards as they text. When the waitress stops to take their order, they briefly look up, give their order and then promptly go back to their phones. They never once look at each other. The waitress places their food in front of them and they do not look up to thank her for her service, nor do they put down their phones to eat. Absentmindedly, they spend the entire meal feeding themselves with one hand and texting with the other. Not once do they look up from their phone to have a conversation with each other. The bill is paid in the same manner and they leave the restaurant, texting while walking out the door.

Picture 2: Imagine this same scenario, but this time it's a family at the restaurant: a mom, a dad, two grandparents and three kids. The parents and grandparents spend the meal talking and laughing with each other. Knowing each other. Finding joy in the presence of loved ones, in the present. Not once do the kids look up from their phones, tablets or hand-held video games to interact with each other or their parents or grandparents. They spend the entire meal plugged into their devices and eating with one hand. They missed the entire experience. They missed out on practicing the art of conversation, on a chance to know their parents and grandparents a little better and a chance for the parents and grandparents to know their children.

Picture 3: A multi-generational family is gathered to celebrate a holiday or birthday. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, parents, siblings and cousins gather together to connect and celebrate. Half of the adults under the age of 40 are looking at a phone or tablet to text, tweet, Facebook or surf the web. They aren't participating in the present, in what's going on around them. Relatives try to talk to them and they can't be bothered to look up long enough for a reply. They certainly don't make an effort to instigate a conversation with anyone. It's much easier to log out of the physical realm and log into the digital one at their fingertips, so that's what they do. In a room full of young adults, there is only silence.

Picture 4: Imagine yourself in your vehicle, on the highway coming home from a long road trip. The children are asleep in their seats and you are anxious to be home. Traffic is heavy; you are crowded on all sides. Then you see a car coming off the ramp, trying to merge into the lane next to you. One glance and you realize the driver is not paying attention. His gaze is focused on the phone in his hand. You think to yourself, "Surely he's going to look up before he actually merges." Another glance to the side and you realize not only did he NOT look up, but he didn't stop his side-ward steering after he cleared his lane. He is headed straight toward you, and he still isn't looking up. You honk your horn and swerve, and he still doesn't look up. He doesn't look up from his phone until you are on the side of the highway, one wheel in the ditch, constantly honking your horn and he is in your lane. Then he glances up, swerves back into his lane and continues on. He missed you by mere inches and only because you were alert enough, present enough, to avert disaster. You say a prayer of thanks that you didn't hit anything or anyone in trying to avoid him. You give thanks your entire family wasn't just killed by a cell phone and a partially-functioning human. You get back on the road and continue on. Only minutes later, you pass slow moving traffic on your right. As you pass the car holding up the lane, you glance over and see the driver is the same guy who ran you off the road. He's looking at his cell phone.

All four of these are entirely true. I witnessed the first two while dining at the same restaurant as the subjects. The third is a very real snapshot of what functions have begun to look like over the last five years in my extended family. Awkward silence now reigns where once the sounds of everyone playing board games or cards together used to be heard. The last story happened to me and my husband and children as we were returning home from a weekend away. We almost died that day.

Does anyone else see the danger in these scenarios? In each case, people were so plugged into their digital devices they were completely oblivious to the present. There was a total disconnect between what their brains were doing and what their bodies were doing. Their consciousness was in "the cloud," but their physical bodies were still here on Earth and neither half was communicating with the other. In other words, a partially-functioning human.

The danger in the last example is obvious, right? When driving a vehicle, the danger of an intentional disconnect between mental awareness and physical awareness is blatantly obvious. It's such an obviously stupid thing to do, I honestly can't figure out how any human can justify doing it. Yet it happens on a daily basis, every minute of every day all across our nation's highways and byways. Are we all really THAT STUPID?!?

But in the first three, do you see it? Really see it? Have you watched Disney's WALL-E? The movie's main theme was obviously about taking care of our planet Earth, because it's the only one we have. Take a closer look, though, at some of the subtexts running through it. When that movie was first released, I remember hearing people scoff at the idea that society would degenerate to the point where people would speak to each other through screens if they were sitting right next to one another. It seemed so silly. Why would you need to look at a screen and speak to someone if you could just turn your head and have a conversation face-to-face? The ridiculousness of the very idea added levity to a children's movie that otherwise could have been categorized as satire. People laughed and thought it was funny because it was so terribly unlikely.

Does our society even realize we've already gone several steps beyond that ridiculousness? Not only do people not even speak to each other face-to-face anymore, they don't even speak. Texting very often replaces verbal communication with a form of written communication that has been condensed into words that aren't even words: LOL, IKR, TTYL, PM me.

How far will it go? Are we seeing the creation of a modern version of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs (think of the emoticons added to many texts) or something even worse? The phonographic interpretation of hieroglyphic writing does not normally indicate vowels and has been labeled by some scholars to be an abjad alphabet - an alphabet without vowels. In our modern world, our kids aren't just ignoring the vowels, they are getting rid of the words entirely and only keeping the first letter of each word. They've gone past our own language that has it's fair share of acronyms and seem to be developing a whole new language based on initialisms, which can't even be pronounced as words but are spoken as a string of letters. I've heard stories from teachers about their dismay when students submit reports typed like a text and they can't decode it. When they give it back to the students to be redone, the students don't even see the problem. Whereas hieroglyphic writing was a standardized method of communication and considered an advance in ancient Egyptian society, I have a hard time believing an initialized language is. There are no rules or standards for using it. There is no key for decoding it.

That's just one concern about the deterioration of our written language caused by an abusive use of technology. What about our verbal communication skills?

I know toddlers who can't even speak yet, but they know how to use an iPad or access games on a smart phone. Are we really going to let technology teach our children how to communicate? Will our children grow into teens who don't know how to speak to each other face-to-face? Will our texting teenagers grow into adults who can't spell complete words or form complete sentences and thereby lose their ability to communicate with anyone not of their generation? What happens to families, communities, the work force, politics, scientific progress, international relations, the human race, if that happens? Will our society go the way of the ancient Egyptians? Their hieroglyphs took thousands of years to be decoded again. For those thousands of years, all of their knowledge was lost in translation. Is that where we are headed?

Part of our humanity is tied to our ability to effectively communicate with each other, which in turn allows us to create functioning communities that promote the survival of our species. We are the only race on the planet that has a verbal, written and physical language that is all tied together. What happens if technology replaces one or more of those methods and then society starts to unravel?

We are the adults, the parents, the teachers, the leaders, the ones who teach the next generation what it means to be human. Spend some time with your children having intentional conversations. Teach your children how to unplug and to sync their brains and bodies in the present. Teach them how important it is to be present, by being intentional in your presence with them.  Some may think I'm surely exaggerating. I challenge those who think I'm just a naysayer to go watch WALL-E again, then go eat out at a restaurant, visit a playground or a shopping mall and just sit and observe. Get in your car and drive. At every stoplight, take a glance at all the other drivers around you and count how many are looking at some piece of hand-held technology. Go anywhere public, and you'll see the same scenario, no matter where you go. More people are plugged in to the electronic cloud than into the present. Technology can't replace human-to-human interaction on such a large scale without having consequences. WALL-E is more real than anyone ever thought it could be. I challenge everyone to be present in the present. Be a fully-functioning human. Your children will thank you later.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Cart creates huge amount of LEGO storage in 2 feet of floor space.

With three boys, I've been battling an ever-creeping LEGO problem for several years now. I've looked for storage solutions online, at LEGO shops, at home improvement stores and big-box retailers. This year, I realized it's not the loose bricks causing the problem. It's the finished creations.

There are hundreds of ways to store loose bricks, from buckets, to open bins, to plastic totes, to tool boxes. But where do your children store those finished creations that took hours to build? Those creations become precious works of art. Once they fall apart or are destroyed (sometimes by a younger sibling), many can't be easily rebuilt because the pieces become impossible to find.

In my house, there simply isn't enough display space to accommodate the imaginations of three boys. My first solution? Cookie sheets, sometimes called bun pans or jellyroll pans. They are light enough to carry, sturdy enough to build on, have four edges to contain the bricks and are large enough to hold all the pieces of a work-in-progress. They are the perfect portable building surface. They also easily slide under the bed for out-of-sight storage.

The problem with my first solution? My boys got so many LEGOs for Christmas this year, I found myself without any free cookie sheets. Every single one of them held a LEGO work-in-progress. There were so many building projects, they no longer fit under the beds. I had cookie sheets AND loose LEGOs covering the floors, bookshelves, dresser tops and under-the-bed spaces. My boys' bedrooms became so clogged I couldn't reach their beds to change the sheets.

So I problem-solved my first solution, inspired by a Pinterest find. Megan, founder of OmahaHa!, had the same LEGO conundrum in her house, and found the same solution with the same cookie sheets. She also discovered the same frustration. Cookie sheets work to a certain extent, but still take up valuable surface real estate. She decided if you can't build out, build up, and turned a second-hand bun pan rack into a mobile LEGO storage cart. It's a truly inspired idea.
(To see Megan's original post:

I worked at a bakery during my college years, so I knew exactly what Megan was talking about. Bun pan racks come in half or full sizes and can be end-loading or side-loading. The full-size racks are a little over 5 feet tall and have around 20 rails, spaced a few inches apart, specifically designed to hold cookie sheets! They also have a relatively small footprint and wheels, which makes them ideal for small rooms.

End-loading bun pan rack
Dimensions: 20" x 26" x 69"

Unfortunately, a local search for a used bun pan rack didn't turn up anything that wasn't missing several rails. I wasn't willing to wait for anything ordered online to arrive, not to mention new ones are pretty expensive. I also have a tiny house. Even the slimmest bun pan rack would seem cumbersome in my boys' rooms.

So I took Megan's inspired solution one step further. I built my own slim-lined version of a bun pan rack. I started with the dimensions of the cookies sheets, factored in how many rails I wanted, how much space I wanted between each rail and went from there. I made the cabinet out of one 4'x8' sheet of plywood, several 8' sections of pine trim for the rails and a couple 8' lengths of 1x2s for the framework. I also added wheels to make it mobile.

 Voila! My LEGO cabinet. Look at all that storage!
Final footprint: 14 1/2" x 18 7/8"! It may be small, but it's mighty!

But I wasn't done yet. I'm a firm believer in waste-not, want-not. I had some leftover pieces from cutting the trim for the rails. I painted them, hot-glued flat LEGOs to the top, added some Velcro Command strips to the backs, and stuck them to one side of the cabinet for mini-figurine storage. The boys can take off a rail, switch out their figurines and snap the rail back onto the cabinet. Neat and tidy. Love those Velcro Command strips!

Mini figurine storage

All in all, this cabinet has been such a huge success, I may just have to make another.

Friday, March 7, 2014

God's Master Plan is Better Than Our Best Plan A

My husband, whom I have lovingly named Mr. Fix-It, and I had a Plan. Plan A was a lesson in futility.

Plan A involved selling our existing house and building a new one in the town next-door to ours. We wanted to get our boys into a better school district and break free from the small constraints of our little old house. Our three sons are growing fast, and the walls of our house sometimes tremble at the effort to stand upright against their active play. By the time they are teenagers, I fully expect our house to crumble down around us. My husband also was ready to hang up his Mr. Fix-It tools for awhile after spending nearly 10 years in a house built in the 1930s. The house's quirks were making my husband quirky.

So about three years ago, we came up with Plan A. We spent six months doing home-improvement projects every spare minute to get the house ready for market. We hung drywall, we mudded, we sanded, we painted, we stained window trim and asphyxiated ourselves refinishing our hardwood floors. We replaced windows and finished and hung new doors. We purged junk, deep cleaned and put things in storage. In the nine years we'd lived here, our house never looked so good, or so empty. Then we spent four months trying to sell it.

Because we have so few spare minutes, it took us longer to get the house ready than we expected, so our time frame to sell was short by today's weak-market standards. We had a very solid reason for it, though, and that reason didn't give us any wiggle room. We had hoped the extra effort we made in getting the house ready to sell would pay off. It very nearly did. The first week it was on the market, one woman came through four times: two open houses, once by herself, and once to show her family. We thought we had her. Then she made an offer on the house down the street the very next week. The following week we had another interested buyer who came through three times: twice by herself and once with her mother. Until the day we took the house off the market, she was still "interested." Our time ran out, so we revised our dream.

We have now finished Plan B. It's "only" been nearly three years since we took our house off the market. Our Plan B involved refinancing our home loan and ripping the kitchen out, down to the studs. The kitchen is the one room in this old house that we hadn't updated in any way, except for the new plumbing we installed when we first moved in.

The kitchen had 1950s cupboards and countertops and a 1958 Westinghouse faux double oven. You read that right. A faux double-oven. The oven itself was more narrow than standard width and too shallow to put today's standard-size cookie sheets or roasting pans in without them propping the door open. Did I mention only one of the four burners worked? I cooked multiple-dish dinners for five people on one burner for almost 10 years and mostly managed to serve those meals hot. Can this be considered a talent? At one point, one of the oven coils burned out. I thought, "Great! I get to have a new stove!!" I was soooo excited. Enter my Mr. Fix-It. He actually found a store in town that could order a new replacement coil for a 1958 Westinghouse oven. I couldn't believe it. I really thought I had a new oven in the bag. I mean, what are the odds of finding a working replacement part for a 60-year-old oven? Mr. Fix-It not only found a replacement part, he found a NEW replacement part. The Beast stayed. I blame it for our house not selling.

"The Beast"

Or maybe it was the rest of the kitchen. The floors were peel-and-stick vinyl tiles that hadn't been stuck on straight. The walls were covered with plastic, glued-on tiles that popped off anytime moisture came between the tiles and glue. It's a kitchen. With a sink. Guess how often I was gluing tiles back onto the wall around the sink? At one point, I gave up on a particular spot that no tile would stick to. I put a nail in the wall and hung a clock over it. Maybe potential buyers looked behind the clock.

The old cabinets as Mr. Fix-It dismantles them. 
See how those ones on the top are hanging open? 
That's what they all did. All the time.

The drawers had all fallen apart at some point, and every single one of them had been re-enforced with 1x3s by Mr. Fix-It. The cupboard doors were always hanging open because the magnets either were no longer magnetic or were not properly aligned to begin with. The interior of the cupboards had been painted white at some point. Whatever paint had been used flaked off. I tried sanding and re-painting the flaky paint, but the damage was done. My paint suffered the same fate. I would find my dishes full of white confetti on a daily basis. I would wash my dishes, put them away, and then wash them again when it was time to use them. Repeating myself is one of my pet peeves. You can imagine how this irritated me to no end. Did I mention all this dish-washing was by hand? Our 1950s kitchen had no dishwasher.

When our house and it's fabulous 1950s retro kitchen didn't sell in our allotted time frame, Mr. Fix-It and I were both crushed. Our dreams of a beautiful new home died a painful death. We grudgingly came up with the Plan B. Redesigning our kitchen gave us a new lease on life in our little old house. With the help of my father-in-law, we ripped out everything down to the studs and spent the next 6 months dealing with contractors, manufacturers and the quirks that come with a 1930s house. We discovered the two outside walls didn't have insulation, including the wall in which the previous homeowners installed a sliding door. Two out of the three new appliances we bought came broken in their boxes, several of the new cabinets were the wrong size, some of them were the wrong color and the countertop manufacturer delayed delivery four times. By the time the kitchen was finished, we were so stressed out we hardly cracked a smile. It was more a sigh of relief.

Almost three years later, we are still in our little old house with the new dream kitchen. The quartz countertops have since cracked once, right next to the new stove with the four working burners that get really hot. If it hadn't been for the installer advocating on our behalf with the manufacturer, we'd still have new cracked counters. Fortunately, the installer was able to put in a new, unblemished piece. It "only" took 6 more months and several phone calls after I reported the problem.

The older our boys get, the smaller our house still feels. The walls shake a little harder and the windows rattle a little louder, but everything is still standing. Who knows: maybe this starter home will be our forever-home. My Mr. Fix-It will have a hard time prying me away from my dream kitchen long enough to try and sell it. I LOVE this room in our little old house. I can't imagine selling it now. I take comfort that God has a master plan, which sometimes includes a Plan B that turns out better than our Plan A.

Our dream kitchen. We planned every square inch. 
The best part about it? 
Every inch is functional. 
Every appliance works, including all four stove burners.
I still catch myself only using one sometimes as I try to make dinner.
Some habits are hard to break.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My fall project is finished! Introducing the Lil' Fishstick Kit

One of my Mom Duties I most enjoy is thinking up creative gift ideas for the boys. I have a tendency to brainstorm and then enlist my husband when its time to turn my ideas into a reality. Our biggest joint effort to date is an enormous train table that sits in our basement playroom. It is big enough for a large layout of Thomas the Train Take-N-Play tracks and buildings. However, if it ever needs to be moved out of the basement, the whole thing can easily come apart. 

My newest idea is a magnetic felt fish/fishing pole set. This idea has been simmering in the back of my mind for a few years. My husband likes to fish, and the boys have begun to go with him. Since we live in a state that is cold for about 8 months of the year, I thought they might like some sort of indoor fishing game/activity. I have looked in stores and online for what I had in mind, and have found nothing that impresses me enough to buy.

I am making this project for my soon-to-be 4-year-old's October birthday, but I know all three boys will want to play with it. So, one of my requirements for the fishing set was it had to be simple enough for a 4-year-old, but intriguing enough for my 8-year-old. Most of the "crafty" sets I've found online include really cute magnetic felt fish, but very, very simple wooden dowel rods with a magnet on the end of an attached string. This would be fine for my youngest, but would bore my oldest to tears within minutes. There has been absolutely nothing, other than plastic bath toys, in stores.

So I put my thoughts on paper and came up with my own kit.

First I found some printable fish templates I could use as my starting point. These two sites had free templates that translated well into patterns:

Then, through trial and error, came up with my first usable fish. It took me a few tries to develop a fish that looked nice, was a good weight, and had a strong enough magnet that could pass through two layers of felt. I also needed something metallic that I could anchor inside the fish for the magnet to catch. Almost all of the handmade sets I had seen for sale online used a very small, exposed washer sewn to the mouth of the fish. I didn't want any small parts exposed. Other than the obvious choking hazard, my boys are rough on things. They would yank those "hooks" out in a heartbeat. So I found larger washers and anchored them to the interior of the fish. They are big enough to attract a strong magnet and there is no way they are ever coming out.

Then I had to figure out a pole. That was a design challenge. I found a very cute, child-sized trout creel (basket) at a local hobby store. That gave me my starting point for the pole. I thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if not only the fish, but the pole, fit inside this little basket?" I like things tidy, so making a set that stored in one basket seemed like a good idea. That meant the boys would either have a very short pole (the basket is only 8" long) or the pole would have to fold somehow. So I designed a folding wooden fishing pole. It also needed to be a little more complicated than a dowel with an attached string. I wanted it to mimic a real fishing pole as closely as possible, so I thought it should have a reel.

This time, my husband lucked out. I designed and built the poles myself. Each basket holds one pole and 6 colorful fish. I'm thinking my older two boys will get their sets for Christmas. Until then, all three will have to practice their sharing skills.

I call it the "Lil' Fishstick Kit"

 The fishing pole, trout creel and six colorful felt fish.

How the pole looks when it is folded up.

The pole and fish fit neatly into the creel - a toy with its own storage system!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Home sweet home

It's been quite awhile since I've had time to blog. I had to take a hiatus from writing because my plate was just too full. In the last year, we've been repairing our basement from a very freakish flash flood in the neighborhood, then preparing our house to sell (the bigger our boys get, the smaller our house feels!), keeping it clean while it was on the market and then making the difficult decision to pull it off the market when it didn't sell in the time frame we had. It was a very long year, with a lot of back-breaking labor (I never want to have to refinish wood floors again!), with very little in the way of pay-off, except that our house now looks as good as it did when we moved into it eight years ago, before we had three little boys! I give it less than three months to revert back to it's well-loved state.

However, now that I'm not trying to get some home-improvement project done or worrying about keeping a spotless house with every surface gleaming and everything in its rightful place, I have time to be an interactive mom again. So far, the kids and I have been baking up a storm and making a glorious mess in the kitchen. Today, we baked 8 dozen sugar cookies, and then frosted and decorated them. Powdered sugar dusted every surface, sprinkles crunched underfoot, and an egg white ended up in a gooey slime all over the floor at one point. But did I care? NO! We thoroughly enjoyed our day and ended up with half of our cookies decorated. The sprinkle factory had to shut down when I ran out of powdered sugar to make frosting. I didn't quite estimate correctly the output on a double batch of my great-grandmother's sugar cookies! I had piles and towers of cookies everywhere. As it was, we did get the quantity done that we needed for the boys' school Halloween parties next month. They are now safely tucked away in the freezer and I can cross that off my list of things-to-do.

Today's time in the kitchen with the boys also gave me a proud Momma Moment. All of my cookie-decorating lessons I've given the kids in the last few years have paid off. I noticed today that instead of licking fingers to get the sticky frosting off them while they were decorating their cookies, they would carefully wipe them on the paper towels I had provided. The one time one of them slipped up and took a lick, he remembered to stop, and before touching anything else, got down from his chair and washed his hands in the bathroom. That's my boy.