Welcome to my circus.

January 20, 2017
by Maralee
1 Comment

How to Love Laundry Day

Confession: Laundry Day is my favorite day of the week. If you loathe laundry (as I absolutely have in the past), I want to give you a peek into how I’ve structured my laundry time to make it enjoyable for me. I’ve tried lots of different tips and tricks and settled into a routine that works for me and my family. It’s all about finding the joy in the mundane of your life and I find that nothing feels more mundane than laundry, so if you can find joy here, you’ll find it everywhere.

Here’s how I make it work:

-Plan for one day a week (you might end up with two days). I know for sure that I’m going to do laundry on the same day each week, but I also know that occasionally there’s an extra midweek load because somebody wet the bed or needed their basketball jersey washed or whatever. But I am NOT going to do a load every day. That makes me feel like I’m on some kind of laundry hamster wheel that will never get finished. I do it in one day, then (ideally) forget about laundry until the next week.

-Have hampers in each bedroom and one spare. Every child has a hamper and they put their clothes in there (and if they don’t, they get to be Mommy’s Special Laundry Helper). I also have an extra hamper on top of the washing machine for kitchen towels, random socks I find, a shirt that got too much spaghetti on it to go in the hamper, etc. I want to make getting laundry into hampers as simple and convenient as possible.

-Collect everything (don’t forget kitchen and bathroom towels). On the morning of my laundry day I do a sweep through the house and collect the guest bathroom hand towel, any kitchen towels or dishrags, towels that were on the bathroom floor or hung over the shower door and the stray socks collecting under the couch. The goal is that by that night EVERYTHING will be clean for one minute and during that one minute I’ll feel like a superhero.

-Sort. I like to sort the clothes. I know not everybody does, but sorting is an easy way to make sure you don’t accidentally wash any action figures, you can turn the pants the right way, fix the balled up socks, pretreat major problems, etc. It also means my nice sweater doesn’t get washed with my child’s sweaty jersey. For our family of 8, I usually end up with 1 load of delicates, 2 loads in cold water, 1 load in warm water, 1 load in hot water. If I start at around 8:30 a.m. I have the whole process done by about 8:30 p.m.

-Start with the things that take the longest to dry. I wash my towels, blankets, and my things that need to air dry first. That way they have all day to get dry and I won’t go to bed with slightly damp things strung around the house. Continue Reading →

January 17, 2017
by Maralee

What they don’t tell you about “Those Kids”

Once I took a precious baby I was entirely smitten with to a pediatric neurologist. That neurologist spent a few moments with this infant and then told me “those kids are mean.” He went on to make some dire predictions about the kind of life this child would lead based on his very limited understanding of the history of the child in front of him. Needless to say, I was not a big fan of that doctor.

I left the appointment feeling like the child in my arms was some kind of ticking time bomb. How long until he turned into one of Those Kids? What would cause him to go from precious bundle of sweetness into an uncontrollable hellion? Would I be strong enough to be his mother even then?

Tonight I thought about that neurologist and every other person who wasn’t sure why we would want to care for kids from trauma. Their voices rang heavy in my mind this afternoon as my child raged at the kitchen table. It was bad. Tears, pounding feet, angry words, two broken pencils. Sometimes homework is hard and coping skills are in short supply. I did what I could to help him deal with his frustration and we made it through. It took all my parenting tricks and lots of empathy, but we made it through without either one of us crossing the line we always know is out there. The line where we speak the things that can’t be unspoken and break the things that can’t be fixed. We made it through, but it was exhausting.

And then tonight, he snuck out of bed. He asked for tape. I suppressed my desire to remind him that it was past bedtime and instead asked him what he was doing. With a sly smile he said, “Making you a card.”

Continue Reading →

January 13, 2017
by Maralee

A Life in Status- August #2, 2016

I’d love to have you join the conversation over on Facebook and Twitter.

“Beans, beans
The musical fruit
The more you eat them
-Joel, age 4

Neighbor Kids: Can we play in your house?
Me: Sure! Just be quiet because we’ve got babies sleeping.
Kids: Okay. We’re just going to make a band.
Me: Ummmmmmmm

Every four years I remember that time I really pressured my mom to let me get a Mary Lou Retton haircut. I would like to retroactively thank her for not letting me.
#thankyouMom #noteveryideaisagoodidea

Found The Baby had climbed up on my desk chair and when I walked by him he said, “Coffee, Mom?”

Shout-out to the Public School System:
-I sent a quick note (LATE last night) to the principal at my children’s school detailing some concerns about behavior happening on the bus.
-Principal emails me back in the afternoon letting me know she addressed it with all children involved.
-The kids come home from school and tell me THE PRINCIPAL RODE THE BUS home with them to make sure the problem was solved.
This is why I get cranky when people want to denigrate our public school system and the amazing teachers and administrators who educate our kids. I know they aren’t all perfect, but when a principal treats your kids with the same love and care as though they were her own. . . She gets all my support.
#loveourschools #loveourteachers #supportyourlocalprincipal

Continue Reading →

January 11, 2017
by Maralee

Jesus was a Minimalist (but you don’t have to be)

My husband and I watched the “Minimalism” documentary on Netflix recently and it definitely made an impact. I immediately started looking around my house for things I could get rid of and briefly considered setting fire to the small piles of paper accumulating on my desk. I naturally tend to want clutter-free spaces and don’t get sentimentally attached to things, so the purging process is always a fun one for me. But I realize this isn’t true for everybody.

There was a lot of language in the documentary that painted minimalism as not just an option for people who want to be less burdened by their things, but as a morally superior choice for everybody. This made me a little twitchy.

I can fully agree that consumerism is a problem and minimalism seems to be an answer. Our desire for things like fast fashion may come at a cost to the people who actually make our clothes. Cheap, replaceable, disposable clothing comes at a high cost to somebody and we’re naive if we don’t make those connections.

Striving to live beyond our means in order to have the same nice stuff as the neighbors (or so our kids can have the same nice stuff as the neighbor kids) can put incredible stress on a family. Minimalism can be a step off the hamster wheel of having to be overworked and up to your eyeballs in debt in order to have Things that will never make you happy. These are real problems. I think they’re even spiritual problems. Continue Reading →

January 9, 2017
by Maralee

A Life in Status- August #1, 2016

Come join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

When you hear the babysitter singing along to the Pokemon theme song, you know you’ve got a good one.

Well, my kids have been playing a live action Pokemon game they created for the last three days straight. One of them pretends to be a Pokemon and says which one he is. The other kids then try to hit the Pokemon with a tennis ball in order to “catch” it. Then they write down on a running list which Pokemon they caught.
And this is why God created summer.
#entertainingthemselves #minimalinjuries

(6 year-old and 2 year-old daughters are wearing bathrobes)
Bethany: We are ninjas. We are QUEEN PRINCESS ninjas. And we are spies. And detectives. We are spy detectives. . . who know karate.
#lovemygirls #lookoutworld

It is August. Why are there still MITTENS AND WINTER HATS ENDING UP IN THE WASH?!

Child shows off his new “talent” of being able to make a disgusting fake choke/burp/gag noise. Another child tries to copy it. And that, My Friends, is how vomited eggs ended up all over my kitchen floor this morning.

Boys: 5! 4! 3! 2!-
Me: Restart the timer. That was supposed to be a countdown to when you could stop having some quiet time and if you’re standing in the kitchen yelling the time, then you obviously aren’t being quiet.
Joel (4): (mumbling to himself as he goes back to his room) We were robbed.

Remembering a train of thought from a few weeks ago: “This item does not really belong in this location I have been keeping it in for the last few years. I will find a new place for it that makes more sense. I know! I’ll put it. . . ” and that’s where my brain goes blank.
#ThanksBrain Continue Reading →

January 6, 2017
by Maralee

Minimalism for Moms: 7 Tips for Managing Toys and Clothes

*This is part two of a series on minimalism. You can read part one here.”

I have this theory that minimalist tendencies and saver tendencies are related to each other. And I think it may have to do with how you’re raised. Apparently my grandma was the purging type and at one point in my mother’s childhood she purged some things that were important to my mom. I think that may be why my mom is more of a saver. As the child of someone who liked to save things, I grew to value simplicity and empty spaces. And I don’t think either of these approaches are inherently superior. (More on that later.)

I do think that as parents we have an ability to influence our children’s behavior and understanding of the world. Often we see our children pick up our values and imitate our choices, but sometimes what influences them is a desire to be different from us. I want to be mindful that my minimalist tendencies don’t push my kids to be hoarders. I don’t want them to feel like I cared more about having a clutter-free home than I cared about the beautiful leaf they found and gifted to me. As a parent, I’m not just shooting for clean spaces, but for teaching opportunities. I find many of these opportunities happen when I’m dealing with my kids’ toys and clothes.

So before giving any tips on how we do our own version of minimalism in a home with six kids, I wanted to remind you to have the conversations with your kids. Don’t throw away things that matter to them without talking them through it. Inspire them to declutter. Help them prioritize the possessions that really matter to them. Reward them when they donate things they don’t need. Make a big fuss over the dandelion they brought you (“So beautiful! Thank you!”), enjoy it while it lasts and then when it dies talk with them about how it served its purpose and you can throw it away now. Look for those teachable moments to help them pursue a healthy relationship with stuff instead of becoming dependent on it for happiness or agitated and overwhelmed by it.

We also need to recognize that some kids are uniquely bothered by clutter. I’ve noticed that for kids with sensory issues or kids with ADHD tendencies it can be easy for them to be overwhelmed by their own stuff. They cannot keep their rooms clean and organized and important things (i.e. HOMEWORK) get lost in the chaos. We are not doing them any favors by inundating them with toys, clothes, gadgets and papers they then need to keep tidy. While I don’t think minimalism is some kind of inherently morally good choice, I do think we need to be aware of when our kids NEED us to help them simplify their lives.

With all that in mind, here are my minimalist tips for dealing with toys and clothes:

Purge at the end of each season. When the weather starts to change, I start to purge. I go through my kids clothes seasonally and get rid of what we can’t use. Ideally, I want them to have about 7 outfits and then a couple odds and ends pieces (church shirts, basketball clothes, etc.). This clothing purge starts a cycle of season purging for me– decorations that we don’t need, kids toys they don’t play with, the fridge artwork that’s been up too long, the junk drawer that’s been accumulating stuff, etc. Take the spring cleaning idea and turn into into spring/summer/fall/winter cleaning so you’re regularly reevaluating what you own and why you own it.

Use tubs in moderation. I know some anti-clutter people are really against putting things in tubs. I’m like 90% sure those people don’t have kids, or else they have an endless pile of money they sit on while writing about minimalism. I need to keep the toys/clothes/baby supplies or else I have to buy them new for each child which is just a huge waste (as foster parents, this was especially important since new kids could come at any time and with nothing). So I have a basement area where I keep clothes in tubs labeled by size/gender/season. If I have more 2T clothes than can fit in one tub, I purge. I also keep some toys (the Little People, the hot wheels cars and tracks, the Barbies) in tubs so they can be pulled out when the kids want to play with them, but can also be easily shoved into a closet.

Have a transitional box for items to be stored. In my closet there is a box that is currently full of clothes my kids have outgrown, hand-me-downs someone gave me that I need to store, along with some baby toys I want to save for future use. It is a waste of time for me to pull out the tubs and stick stuff in them every time I run across something I want to store. Having a transitional box allows me to get things out of the drawers or off the floor or out of the closet and saved until I have enough of them to make it worth setting aside some time for folding/sorting/storing. This process also generally involves some purging as I make room in the tubs for whatever I’m adding. Continue Reading →

January 5, 2017
by Maralee

Minimalism for Moms: 9 Tips for Around the House

Like so many of my fellow documentary lovers, I really enjoyed the “Minimalism” documentary that’s currently on Netflix. It was definitely inspirational as I took a second look around my home and wondered if I’ve gotten too attached to my possessions. But as I started evaluating the state of things around here, I realized a major flaw of a lot of the minimalism principles– they don’t work for people who have kids.

I have always had minimalist tendencies. I love to purge. I don’t like clutter. I’m bothered by owning stuff I don’t use (I do not understand decorative pillows). This is my natural bent, so if left on my own, we would probably live in a mostly empty house and that would be fine with me. But I live with lots of other people (1 husband, 6 children) who have their own opinions about what stuff “sparks joy” for them.

My house will never look like a minimalist paradise. I will never be capable of fitting all my worldly goods in a carry-on and that isn’t ever going to be my goal. But I do want to live with less– less stress, less clutter, less financial investment in things that don’t last. I think there are lots of other moms out there like me who want to make minimalism work for them and not end up being chained either to their things OR to an unrealistic (and overly idealistic) idea of owning just about nothing.

*I’m breaking this post up into two parts– this one will be just general tips for around the house and the next one is specific to the parenting clutter problems of toys and clothes.*

So here are a few ways my family does minimalism (call it Minimalish or Minimalist Light or Mominalism):

Don’t buy stuff. I know this is basic and not very fun, but just remember stuff only comes into your house if you let it. If you want to get some cute art print for your daughter’s room, go for it with my minimalist blessing, but don’t randomly wander the cute art print aisle at Hobby Lobby when you don’t need something specific. Stuff will end up in your cart and you won’t even remember how it happened. The less you buy, the less you have. And spoiler alert– your baby does not need a heated wipes warmer. Don’t buy into the hype around all the stuff children “have” to have.

Declutter using the Three Bag Method. When I go to do a big declutter/organization of a room, I take three bags with me– one for trash, one for donations, one for stuff that belongs somewhere else in the house. This allows me to stay parked in one room until it’s done without having to run around the house to put things in the right place. When I’m done in the room, I simply tie off the bag of trash and stick it in the garbage can, throw the donation bag in my donation box (more information on that later) and then put the out-of-place items away.

DONATE. Don’t give your trash to people, but if you have useful things, go to the extra effort to find good homes for them. That lotion wasn’t your favorite scent? Your friend might love it. Your kids aren’t into those toys anymore? I bet the neighbor kids might be (especially if you’re my neighbor). I have found it is MUCH easier to get rid of something I’ve grown attached to but no longer need if I know it’s going to someone who will enjoy it.

Have a transitional box for your purges. I keep a box in my laundry room for the things I’m donating. When this box is full, it moves to the garage. When several boxes are full, we donate. This means it’s easy for me to throw something into the box whenever I realize it isn’t serving a purpose anymore (I probably drop something in the box at least twice a week). It also means I have some time between when I determine I don’t need something and when it actually leaves my home. This has been useful the one or two times I changed my mind (or my kids asked about an item I thought they didn’t care about. . . whoops). Continue Reading →

December 28, 2016
by Maralee
1 Comment

Why “The Sex Talk” Doesn’t Work

Okay, I just finished wiping the breakfast remains off the table and I have a minute before all crazy breaks loose over here, but I wanted to tell you something. Having all the kids home for break has given me lots of opportunities to answer questions as they come up and OH HAVE THEY COME UP. Questions that I would have been 100% positive they knew the answer to, have been asked. Repeatedly. I’ve had the time to slow down and answer things in more detail than I might normally, but I’ve had to stop myself from muttering, “Are you kidding me right now? I have told you this ONE THOUSAND TIMES.”

All of this has reminded of something I’ve been meaning to tell you– The Sex Talk doesn’t work.

If your idea of sex education is to take your child away some weekend when puberty is imminent and explain the mechanics of reproduction to them. . . AND how to take care of their changing body. . . AND explain God’s intention for our sexuality. . . AND handle issues like porn and consent and birth control and masturbation. . . There’s just no way that one talk is going to be enough. And it’s likely going to be too little too late as many kids are exposed to a pornified version of sex education before puberty is even on our radar.

Continue Reading →

December 23, 2016
by Maralee

A Life in Status- July #2, 2016

Sometimes laughing at my life makes you feel better about yours. I’m okay with that. Join me on Facebook or Twitter.

Joel (4): Mom, I’m faster than a one headed chicken!

Me: You have any questions for me? Anything you’ve been thinking about recently?
Josh (9): Yeah, I did have one. Why would God make people he knew wouldn’t love him? And how come we don’t see miracles anymore- why don’t I know anyone who has been raised from the dead. And when Jesus comes back are they going to write more in the Bible and then could we be in it if we’re alive then?
Me: Ummmmmmm. . .

I burped, which I rarely ever do. The toddler looks at me, gasps and says, “You fart your mouth!” and I’m in love with motherhood all over again.

I woke up this morning with the realization that a big day in our family is coming- I think it’s time to introduce the kids to Newsies.

Point of Clarification: The toddler did not want Lipstick for lunch, she wanted FISH sticks.
#mysterysolved #WHAT #youcanteatlipstick #whyareyoucrying#momtranslationfailure

I spent a literal 3 hours yesterday cleaning our toy area- dumping things out, cleaning them, putting play set pieces together, getting rid of broken things, etc. So obviously today the kids have pulled them all out and dumped them in a pile in the middle of the room to play with.
I have come to believe that parenting is really just figuring out how to sanely live in your own personal version of the movie “Groundhog Day.”

Continue Reading →

December 20, 2016
by Maralee
1 Comment

When Your Financial Pain Goes Viral

I’m not sure when the moment came that I started to feel a little conflicted about our current obsession with compassion voyeurism. Maybe it was the photo that went viral of a Chick-fil-A manager praying with a guy who was asking for food. Maybe it was watching a video of a little girl selflessly sharing her food with a homeless guy. It might have been the video of the kid getting shoes from his classmates. Or maybe it was the annual event on my local radio station where poor people are given gifts and then they sob about how much this came at just the right time. Each one of these can be an inspiring example of the way we should be living with compassion and empathy towards those in need. But is it in some way robbing that “needy” person of their dignity to record them in that moment of vulnerability and then broadcast it to the world?

We have been in a tight financial spot for the last. . . well, forever maybe. Things have been especially hard over the last year, but having six kids has meant that things have always been a bit of a struggle. Because I try to be pretty open on this blog, I’ve thought about writing about our financial struggles at least a dozen different times, but the reality is that financial struggles are shameful in our society. They just are. I couldn’t find a way to write about them without feeling like I had to explain exactly why we’ve been in the spot we’re in and at some point that just felt like I was being defensive because these decisions are intensely personal.

Continue Reading →