Keeping Up While Cutting Down

Summer sleep shorts

The karate kid sporting his “new” jammies

To say that my kids are “growing like weeds” takes on a lot more meaning if you have ever seen my yard. While my closets are neatly organized and my pantry is a masterpiece of space management and convenience, it is an understatement to say that my garden could use a little tweaking. Sure, I appreciate other people’s beautiful landscapes and wish I had one too, but I don’t do bugs, snakes or itchy creepy crawly stuff. Thus mine is a tangled patch of overgrown weeds that I can’t keep up with…much like my kids. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Like most moms, it’s important to me that my progeny look presentable. Heaven knows that I have expended more energy than I probably should on arguing with them over proper teeth brushing, appropriate haircuts and fingernail length. I’m frankly surprised that Child Protective Services has not appeared on my doorstep yet, given the blood-curdling screams my son lets rip on nail-clipping day or my daughter’s gnashing of teeth at the mere prospect of having her hair braided. Apparently I could teach the CIA a thing or two about torture.

I gave up the stripes with plaid and boots with shorts war years ago due to pure battle fatigue. They are now free to express themselves (within reason) with their wardrobe choices. I’ve even recently developed a  new “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy toward tears and stains after discovering the multiple holes my 9YO son created in the crotch of his new shorts…I just don’t want to know. I simply don’t have the time, energy or budget to stay on top of it, and some days this weary mom feels lost in the weeds.

It is upon this backdrop that I looked up last Sunday evening and realized that my son’s sleep pants were about 5 inches too short. They have worn well and still fit perfectly in the waist. More importantly, he loves them! But so pathetic did he look in them, that I had to do something to save my poor child from the certain ridicule that awaited him if one of his neighborhood friends should come knocking at the door after he was ready for bed (as they sometimes do). My solution was so quick, easy and free that I had to share it. After all, it isn’t often that he and I are both this thrilled with a wardrobe solution. All it took was a pair of scissors and within five minutes, he had 6 pairs of adorable, comfortable, summer sleep shorts!

Five minute fix for outgrown jammies.

Five minute fix for outgrown jammies.

This simple yet elegant solution got me thinking about other ways that I stretch (literally) the kids’ wardrobe with minimal time and effort. (I’m not much of a seamstress either.) Here are just a few:
  • Turn a short dress into a tunic by pairing it with leggings or bike shorts.
  • Hang onto outgrown leggings until they are short enough to become capri leggings.
  • Lengthen skirts and dresses by adding a ruffle or lace hem to the bottom.
  • Convert stained t-shirts and comfy elastic waist shorts into pajamas.
  • Missing one unique button? Replace half of them (alternating) with new ones.
  • Cover up a stain or tear with a decorative patch or iron-on applique.

What shortcuts do you take to stretch your time and budget?


Scare Up Some Fun This Halloween!

Halloween Spider attack!

Pipe cleaners and black pom-poms never looked so scary!

For many of us, Frankenstorm was scary enough but for kids, Halloween is a big deal that only comes around once a year. So don’t let Hurricane Sandy have the last cackle. Even if your Halloween celebration was postponed or your trick-or-treating canceled, you can still scare up some fun and make a few spooky memories that don’t include gusty winds and flooding.

The good thing about Halloween is that shabby is chic and less-than-perfect is perfect. It was a holiday made for making do with what’s on hand around your home. And it’s the ideal way to use up some of those excess craft supplies that seem to multiply in your closet. I’ve put together a few of my favorite ideas in this Homemade Halloween How-to page in the Parenting Tools section of this blog. I apologize for my tardiness, but hopefully you will keep it in mind for next year even if you don’t have an opportunity to do any of these today.

The important thing to remember is that there are a million and one ways to make it fun with little time or money. It doesn’t take much to thrill your little goblins, and it’s still not too late for gray spaghetti brains and monster toe hot dogs for dinner.

Stay safe and have a Spook-tacular Halloween!

Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer

A couple of months ago, I spent a much-overdue long weekend away with my three older sisters. It was the first time I had ever been away from my children for more than one night. (They are now 7 and 9.) I was sure that they would miss me, and I knew I would miss them, but my son responded to the news with this elated proclamation to his father:

“Hey Daddy, that means that we can do whatever we want all weekend, because Mommy won’t be here to boss us around!”

Alas, it’s true that we all need to take a break every now and then from doing what we’re supposed to do. That’s why we take vacations and why we skip the gym, take a “mental health day” from work, or cheat on our diets. In this case, my son thought that there would be no one ordering him to clean up his toys, make his bed or clear his dishes with his drill sergeant Mom on leave. His hope was that it would be one long video game-playing, TV-watching, Lego-dumping weekend filled with Cocoa Puffs for dinner, chocolate cake for dessert and no church or teeth-brushing to cramp his style. Turns out he was only half-right. He forgot that his sister was also staying home…and she’s bossier than all the rest of the women in my family put together. Here’s some proof:

bossy sister, great white shark

Are those blue things fish or a bossy sister’s feet?

Anyway, a little time off from the regular routine is a healthy thing, and summer is the ideal time for relaxing our standards and enjoying some easy, laid-back simplicity. But there is a fine line between a relaxed routine and complete chaos…a line that is easily erased in the absence of a solid organizational foundation and a bit of self-discipline. Just like enjoying that all-you-can-eat dessert buffet, the long-term negative effects of your binge can be minimized with just a smidgeon of advance preparation and a plan in place for easing back into the rigors of everyday life when reality resumes in the fall. Also remember that kids need a little structure in place to reassure them when they crash from that sugar rush.

So  go ahead and savor the sweetness of these long summer days, but just remember that you still need to brush if you don’t want a cavity!

(And now that you’ve got the song stuck in your head, you may as well go ahead and listen to it! Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer )

“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read” –Groucho Marx

I am blessed to have two children who love to read! In fact, my 7-year-old son is known for swiping his Dad’s Playstation Magazine and hiding it under his bed before my husband has had a chance to read it. We knew his zeal for reading had reached new heights when he started making off with his nursing journals too.

My daughter insists on saving all of her birthday and Valentine’s cards and routinely reads through her current stash. She reads our Webster’s dictionary quite regularly, and I had even encouraged her to share a “word of the day” with the family each night at dinner until I started noticing a disturbing pattern in the words she chose…Adder, Anaconda, Asp, Cobra, Copperhead… Last Fall, we had to confiscate her Harry Potter book at bedtime in order to keep her from reading it in the dark. After discovering that she had been sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to read in secret, we had to tell her that an alarm is set to go off if anyone is creeping around downstairs after Mom and Dad go to bed. (Of course, this backfired on me months later when I wanted her to run downstairs to fetch something for me after we’d all retired upstairs for the night.)

Whether it’s library books, greeting cards, yard sale finds, magazines, or another generous Amazon shipment from Grandma, there seems to be an abundance of reading material circulating in our house. Even the shortest car trip requires a traveling library, and I want to encourage their bookishness. To contain all this fabulous print, we have bookshelves strategically placed in every major room of our house and magazine baskets in all the bathrooms. Yet it remains a struggle getting my little bookworms to re-shelve with adequate frequency.

Thus I have introduced the “book basket”, where reading material can be tossed with ease by the day’s appointed “librarian” during our quick evening tidy-up. Every couple of weeks, the kids re-shelve the contents of the basket and I slyly seed it with a few neglected titles from the shelves upstairs to encourage them to select a variety of different texts to read.

“So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, Go throw your TV set away, And in its place you can install, A lovely bookshelf on the wall.”
— Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Choose Your Setting

I have a 7 year-old son and a 9 year-old daughter. They both insist–rather frequently–that they plan to never leave home. This is sad news, because I really had my heart set on A) seeing them happily married with children of their own some day; B) replacing all the scratched up furniture and stained rugs at some point once they were no longer around to ruin the new stuff. I’m reduced to hoping that my son will eventually revert back to his original plan of becoming a hobo. Maybe then I could at least get some new end tables.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my children very much, but I’d be lying if I said that boarding school never crossed my mind when I read “The Chamber of Secrets has been opened” scrawled in red crayon on my daughter’s dresser. For some reason, I was under the impression that once she was old enough to watch Harry Potter movies, she’d be past the stage of coloring her bedroom furniture. Apparently I failed to figure the need for proper set design into the equation.

Anyway, the point is that I love my home and want it to look nice. I feel good when I can look around my living room and see all the pretty things I picked out to decorate it. It makes me smile to see the framed photos of the people I love sitting atop the sideboard, and I enjoy sitting on the comfy sofa watching a favorite TV show or blogging on my laptop without being surrounded by chaos, dirt or mess. Sure, there’s a small price to be paid to maintain this order, but 10-15 minutes here and there to tidy up is worth it to me. Like everything else in life, it is a choice…just like the choice I am making to keep my son, despite his recent failed attempt to make a ghost costume out of one of my pillow cases using scissors.

Once upon a time, you made an important choice too. You chose your home, and you were excited about it. You chose the color on the walls (probably), the sofa you sit on, the rugs you walk on, the desk or table you write on. And you were excited about them too. When you look around your home today, what do you see? Are you still excited about it? Are you still able to see all your favorite things? Is it the environment you chose, or just the one you tolerate?

Life is short. Make sure the set design is appropriate for the story you hope to live.

Germantown Woman Hits Head and Dies After Getting Feet Tangled in Husband’s Dirty Underpants

This was nearly a headline in my local newspaper this morning. Talk about going out with a bang! I am forever chastising my husband for leaving his dirty clothes on the floor at the foot of our bed, and last night I had a rude awakening from my half-slumber as I got tripped up in his skivvies on my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Dirty clothes on the floor is just one of the many hazards I have faced in our seemingly-innocuous three-story suburban household. A barefoot stroll across the living room can feel like walking on broken glass because of all the stray Legos, and one misplaced BoysLife or American Girl magazine on the stairs makes a heck of a slip-and-slide.

So in the interest of home safety, I’ve set up a small basket on each set of stairs in our house and do regular sweeps throughout the day to keep the floor clear. It only takes a few seconds, and anything that isn’t in current use  but belongs on a different level of the house gets tossed into the appropriate upstairs or downstairs basket. You’d be amazed at how much neater a room looks with a clutter-free floor. The kids need occasional reminders to empty the baskets and put things back in their proper place, but I find that they are fairly good about it.

So if you want to cut down on trips to the ER and save your vacuum cleaner, give this a try and save your 15 minutes of fame for something a little less fatal.

The Perfect Mother’s Day Gift

Ever since my kids’ last embarrassing dental appointment I’ve been making a point of following behind their evening brushing job to make sure they are being thorough. They resisted at first, but I keep telling them it’s just one more little way for me to show my love for them. So when I overheard this conversation between my husband and son at tuck-in time the other night, I had to chuckle.

Hubby: “Mother’s Day is coming up this weekend, so we have to think of something nice we can do for Mummy.”

Son: ” I know! Maybe we can brush her teeth for her!”

My heart still does a little dance every time I think of that!

I’ve never been a jewelry-and-roses kind of mom and would much prefer to receive a lumpy clay paperweight clumsily wrapped in newspaper or a macaroni necklace that’s been colored with magic marker. And while brushing my teeth for me may be more than he bargained for, I’ll bet no fancy salon pedicure could ever feel so good.

But my favorite Mother’s Day gift of all comes when I observe my offspring exhibiting their loving care for each other. These precious moments pop up from time to time throughout the year, not just on the second Sunday in May, and they always bring a smile to my face. Their cooperative teamwork in carrying a laundry basket upstairs, the sweet notes of comfort they write to one another to help sooth away disappointed tears, celebrating each others’ successes and mourning each others’ losses, sharing a favorite toy, and compromising on an activity as they play together. I even love to hear them echoing my advice. “When you are feeling frustrated, take a deep breath, relax and count to ten.”

Sure, it isn’t all sunshine and roses, and there is an equal amount of arguing, but I cling to these gifts as proof that they really are listening and all my efforts are not in vain. I believe that a mother is not someone who has borne or raised a child but someone who plants seeds of love and kindness and patiently tends the shoots until they blossom and make the world more beautiful. Happy Mother’s Day to all you “gardeners” out there.

What’s the best/funniest/sweetest/most memorable Mother’s Day gift you’ve ever given or received?

Still need a gift for Mom? It’s not too late to enter the drawing to win a FREE 3-hour organizing session! This is a great way to get yourself or your mom started on that project you’ve been putting off with the help of a professional and no strings attached. Deadline to enter is midnight on Saturday, May 12 but you must complete the entry form in order to be included in the drawing. We will announce the winner in a post on Mother’s Day, so stay tuned! (Enter to Win a FREE Organizing Session)