Tuesday, January 3, 2017

New Year, New Habits

I love the start of a new year. I know it isn't really any different than any other day, but symbolically it is. The first few weeks of the year always feel so fresh to me, and I've found it to be the best time for me to make any changes that I need to make. I don't do New Year's Resolutions, but I do evaluate myself and work on establishing new habits. On the list for this year:

1. Tighten up the boundaries in our home. If there's one thing I've become more and more aware of on this mothering journey, it's that kids feel safer and function better if they live within the healthy limits of secure boundaries. Honestly, I find that I am more secure within healthy boundaries, too.

So what do those tighter boundaries look like?

Holding to Routines

I have morning routine charts posted in the kitchen and in the kids' bathrooms. The charts are very simple...a picture and a few words for each task. The kids must do their tasks in order. I'm back to being firm about these routines.
1. Up and dressed
2. Make bed
3. Hair and deodorant
4. Care for animals
5. Breakfast
6. Brush teeth
7. Clean up your trail (in other words, do a quick pass through the house and put away your stuff)

After school routine
1. Shoes put away
2. Bring mom your school folder
3. Clean and put away lunchbox
4. Snack
If it is your laundry day, start your load
5. Throw away trash
6. Homework
Cleaning chore (MWF only)

Evening routine
1. Care for animals
2. Dinner
3. Kitchen chore
4. Tidy your room
5. Shower and brush teeth

On weekends we have a routine, too. After the regular morning routine is done, the kids each do their cleaning chore. All week long I collect items that have been left out and put them in a box. The kids must do extra cleaning chores to redeem their boxed items. One chore gets three items out of the box. One Saturday per month we go out and do a barn and coop cleaning. After that, everyone is free to play.

Sticking like glue to these routines makes more successful kids. And less stressed Momma. Having the routines posted makes it easier, too, because when I see someone out of line, I just send them to look at the chart. No nagging.

Healthy Eating

We always are pretty healthy eaters, but we tend to get sloppy over the Christmas season. January is always a great time to get things cleaned up and back onto a healthy track. For us, this means severl things.
1. I am back to gluten free for me. I'm gluten intolerant, and my doctor suspects I have celiac disease. I opted to forego testing and just assume I have celiac. I was gluten free for three years and it transformed my health. When I was pregnant with Sweet Pea, all I could keep down was dry sourdough toast. My intent was to go back to gluten free eating after Sweet Pea was born, but I never did. Today is Day 3 of no gluten, and I already notice a difference in my skin. Awesome sauce!
2. For the rest of the family, it's back to only one sweet per day. Maybe it's a piece of candy after school, or syrup on pancakes with breakfast, or a soda if we go out.
3. It's also increasing our veggie load at dinner. It's so easy to boost the veggies, often by doing something as simple as adding grated carrots or zucchini to a meatloaf, putting pureed spinach in spaghetti sauce, or requiring three extra bites of broccoli. If a kid eats three extra bites of veggies at every dinner, that's 21 bites more of veggies per week!
4. For me, it's getting off my lazy butt and fixing a better snack for the kids after school rather than stocking a basket with Cheez-It pouches. It's very easy to spread peanut butter on five pieces of whole grain toast, or to throw yogurt, banana, and frozen strawberries into the blender.
5. Consistent meal planning is key. I'm always good at this, and I'm right back to it after two weeks of flying by the seat of my pants. Having a crock pot and an Instant Pot help tremendously in following through with cooking at home.

Cutting Back on Electronics

We're not an electronic-friendly home. We have a TV (Netflix only, no cable), a Blu-Ray player, computers, Kindles, and a Wii. But I like for those things to be turned on as infrequently as possible. Here are our electronics rules, back to being enforced after a month of laziness.
1. No TV on school days
2. Paper homework done before electronic homework can be started
3. Weekend Wii time must be earned by reading during the week. For 4th grade and up, they earn 30 minutes of Wii for every hour they read. For the younger kids, it's 30 minutes of Wii for every 30 minutes they read.
4. Computers are for schoolwork only.
5. Kindles may be used only after routines are completed and inspected.
6. All Kindles and computers must be plugged into the charging station in the office at 8:00. The only exception is for Snapper, who is in high school, and often needs to be online later.
7. On weekends, no TV or Wii until weekend chores are completed, and not before 3:00 p.m.

Mommy and Daddy have new rules, too.
1. No social media until the kids are at school.
2. Electronics are shut down during homework time.
3. No phones at the table or in bed.

What are some of your New Year habits or hacks that work for your family? Please comment! I love to learn from others.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Top Ten

2016 was one of the most turbulent years of my life. On New Year's Eve last year, Matt and I made the announcement to our closest friends that we were moving from Florida to the Pacific Northwest. Our friends understood our decision, but that didn't make the reality of it any easier.

There was much pain involved for our whole family as our poor little Sunny experienced the fallout of her birthmom's prenatal substance abuse, and spent nearly a month in the hospital trying to get stable and healthy. The degree of issues that require hospitalization for a young child have a ripple effect throughout the rest of the family. I won't elaborate, but you can imagine.

We had physical pain as well. Two kids with broken wrists. One kid with a dozen stitches. Hubby with a broken rib and a broken toe. Me with a foot injury, torn rotator cuff, chronic fungal ear infections, and having knee surgery next week. None of these were big things, and we're thankful for that.

Of course, there's the pain of big transitions, too. New state, new climate, new culture, new friends, new church, new doctors, new schools, new house...you name it, we experienced it. As great as these things are, asking six kiddos to go through all these transitions at once does produce pain.

A very turbulent year.

HOWEVER...

2016 was also a year of amazing healing, a year that leaves us full of hope going into 2017. There are so many amazing things that happened this year! I'll give you my Top 10, and some favorite photos of the year.

10. Our new home. A large ranch style home on five acres in the country. This home gives our special needs kids all the space they need to feel safe and secure. This home is SUCH a blessing!


9. Farm living. We bought dairy goats and chickens very quickly after our move. We also planted a garden. We arrived at our new home just as our cherry tree was coming ripe, and enjoyed the fun of harvesting the cherries. The kids are thriving on the farm lifestyle, and so are Matt and I!



8. Visits with special people. My sis and her family visited in July. My two BFFs, Karon and Noel, visited in September (not together, though). My birthmom came from Arizona to spend Christmas with us. My friend Johanna came in September, too. We're looking forward to visits from our Florida adopted grandparents, my dad and step-mom, dear friends from Florida, and the kids' gymnastics coach from Florida this year.

7. Schools. Sunny's school has been amazing. They wrote us a loaded IEP and have been wonderful about communicating with me and working with Sunny. Snapper's high school is also amazing. She's the happiest she has ever been, and is excelling at school. Bubbles and Piper are going to a school that has wonderful teachers and staff. I'm not a fan of the other students, but the girls' academic special needs are being met. I'm homeschooling Pepper, due to the anxiety associated with his autism. It is going GREAT, and I have the wonderful support of an alternative school in town. 

6. Medical professionals. One of the reasons we moved up here was because Florida's mental health care is HORRIBLE. The mental health care here is superb. Since we moved here, Sunny has gotten established with an outstanding child psychiatrist, a therapist who specializes in trauma and adoption needs, a pediatrician who specializes in neurology and behavioral health, and occupational therapy. She has also had the privilege of participating in a very intensive partial inpatient program for kids with her kind of needs. Now we're working with an amazing wraparound team who comes in an offers us a huge amount of support. Having all these people has made ALL the difference for our family! Correct diagnoses have made a huge difference, too. 

5. Church. We have placed membership at a local church where God's Word is taught in depth and without apology, where our kids are learning and growing, and where the amazing people have reached out and surrounded our family with love and support.

4. Opportunities. There are so many opportunities available to our family here! Snapper is on student council at school. She ran for (and almost won...the principal said it was a very close election) class president. Snapper played on the frosh volleyball team. She's a soloist in the women's chorus. She has been asked to TA for the special needs P.E. class next semester, and has been invited to be on the varsity debate team next year. She's representing the freshman class in the school poetry recitation contest in January. And she's taking piano lessons!  Bubbles took tumbling and trampoline classes for a few months, but decided she didn't want to continue. In January, she's joining my other kids who are doing equestrian vaulting. She also had the opportunity this year to try clarinet. She hates it and won't be continuing, but at least she got to try! Piper, Pepper, and Sunny are all doing equestrian vaulting. That's gymnastics on horseback if you didn't already know that. They practice five hours per week, and can't get enough of it! Piper also got to try clarinet, and like Bubbles, she hated it. But at least she got to try!

Sunny does full splits at vaulting practice

 Arabesque for Piper

Pepper has mastered the reverse shoulder stand into rollout

First piano lesson for Snapper

3. Friends. When we decided to move, I started praying for the friends God would bring my way. Well, He definitely took care of that request and has met that need abundantly! Each of my kiddos--except for Sunny--has developed a special friend here. My hubby has a couple of wonderful friends. And I have two AMAZING besties. Gosh, I love these ladies!


2. Family. We moved away from family when I was pregnant with Pepper. Since 2006, we've been on our own. We have wonderful friends who are close like family. But in times of great need, being close to family is the best thing in the world. It has been pure joy to be back with Matt's family. Cousin birthday parties, playdates, and sleepovers are the best! My MIL regularly takes a kid or two for a sleepover. And she's almost always available to take Sunny when things get intense and we all need a break. I am so thankful to be back!

Snapper (firstborn grandkid) holding Ryder (21st grandkid) on Christmas Eve

Sweet Pea (#19 grandkid) with four cousins (l-r #11, #4, #8, and #17)

1. Healing. Last year at this time, our family was a wreck. 
Matt was miserable in his job, disconnected at home, and exhausted all the time from trying to help parent some extremely challenging kids. Now he's peaceful, content at work, and actively engaging with the kids and with me.

Snapper was a mess last year. Her grades were below As, for the first time in her life. She had no friends, was the target of bullying, and her OCD was raging out of control. This year she's a happy, healthy high schooler, thriving in all areas of her life.


Bubbles was very volatile last year, constantly on edge from having the room right next to Sunny's room. She wasn't sleeping well, was lacking in confidence, and was constantly stressed. Piper was the same, and was having regular seizures triggered by the stress. This year both girls have good friends, are sleeping great, and are much less stressed. I still don't want to post direct photos of their faces. Sigh.

Pepper's anxiety was through the roof last year. Getting a proper diagnosis for him this year, plus homeschooling him, having him in the right therapies, and getting him in a safer environment has transformed his life. He's happy, relaxed, and excelling in schoolwork and vaulting.


Sunny was the biggest mess of all. I've already written about most of her stuff. But I haven't written about her healing! Last week, Sunny decided she was tired of fighting God and tired of trying to destroy out family. Yes, those were her exact words, without me ever having said anything like that. She gave her heart to Jesus and decided she's ready to be a member of our family. Her issues are all still there, but for the last 10 days, Sunny has made massive effort to change the way she treats us. She's a different kid, and now I feel like the healing can really begin! Praise God!

 Little Sweet Pea was too young to be majorly stressed by the events in our home last year. But she was having nightmares, and often woke in the night. Not anymore! She's the sweetest, happiest, most bubbly little love bug imaginable! We all just adore her.


And then you have me. Last year I was beyond a wreck. I was in therapy for my PTSD because I was having regular panic attacks and unable to function much of the time. All I could think about was seeking help. It took every ounce of my energy to get just the basics of life done. No time for other things. This year I'm healthy. My anxiety is managed. I have good friends. I sleep well. I'm coaching vaulting and it is the best therapy ever.


Y'all, I am so thankful. Thankful for the move. Thankful for the ways God has provided. Thankful for the healing that is taking place. Here's a toast to all God has done, and to what He'll do in 2017.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve in the Pacific Northwest

Sunny's treatment plan is working. Proper meds, excellent therapy, a unified team of professionals working toward the same goal. We might have our first peaceful Christmas in six years!

I woke up this morning--early--to six inches of fresh snow. So much for the forecast of 1-2 inches! Since then, four more inches have fallen. It is spectacular! Here's a photo taken from my front door.


Today I'm baking with the kids. Snapper is making sugar free cookies for Sunny. I'm making Peppermint Snowballs, Cutout Sugar Cookies, Gingerbread Men, and Salted Caramels. 

Tonight we'll be with my hubby's family. It is the first time in 11 years we've been with family on Christmas, and the first time ever (for me) with my hubby's family. 

It is good. God is good! Merry Christmas, friends.