Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Journey Toward Less

This pas summer was.....weird.
I can't really explain it, but I had a very weird summer (from an emotional/mental standpoint).  I just wasn't myself and felt down a lot.  This is unusual for me, but I could tell there was something good happening on the inside.  By good, I knew it would turn out for good.  But it felt weird at the time.  I was overly emotional and just sort of blah.

Fortunately, I finally came out of the funk about a month ago.  I still look and seem the same from the outside, but I can tell I am different.  If that makes sense.

One of the things I did during that time was purge a lot of the excess stuff in my home.  Not to be overly dramatic, but as my insides were getting some pruning, I felt it necessary to prune my environment, as well.

It is well documented on social media that I love to clean and organize.  So at the start of this purging time, I did not really have that much extra stuff.  I had given away everything we don't really use (or use enough to keep).  Even though the only clothes in my closet were ones that fit, I still couldn't wear them all.  Even though my kids played with all of the toys left in their rooms, they still didn't need them all.  Even though my kitchen gadgets could come in handy, another utensil could work.

The weird part about me is that I really don't shop that much.  And I don't buy my kids much.  We do have generous family members, but they're not over-the-top.  Stuff seems to procreate in my house, and I, fortunately, am the recipient of lots of hand-me-downs.  (Though I only take what I know I will use; I am not a junk collector).

Once I started the journey toward less, it felt liberating.  Trips to thrift stores became more fun than trips to the mall.  (I once heard a minimalism blogger say that thrift stores are her storage unit.....if she can get something for less than $20 at a thrift store, she doesn't keep it at her house.)

Recently, I've been desiring to be wiser in my spending.....both financially and ethical responsibility.  I still have far to go in the ethics, but I am working on small steps.  I've often said I can't afford ethically made clothing.  But I realized I can afford to NOT buy clothes.  Instead of buying $5 Target shirts, I forego them for a few months and can afford a responsibly made shirt.
I don't want to make anyone feel bad.  I certainly am not great in this area.  I am just starting out in this journey.

But I have found that I crave less junk.  Instead of wanting lots of cheap items, I am more careful to buy quality products that last longer.

I think this exchange for better, higher quality items is a metaphor for my life.....which was part of my weird summer process....I have been cutting out the unnecessary, fruitless, lifeless parts of my life to create space for more beautiful, satisfying, life-giving things.

I have loved the results of it all.

My house is quicker to clean up because there is simply less to clean.
My kids have not once complained.

Our schedule is more relaxed, and I am loving the pace of our days.
It feels weird that our days can be so open with not much to do.  Since it's so contrary to the American way, I sometimes still wonder if something is wrong when we have hours and hours of free time.  I am loving it, though.  And my kids are, as well.

We are completing our school work each day, but with little else on our agenda, I am able to teach with patience (most days) and have fun.

Though I haven't full realized the fruit of my pruning season, I am very grateful for it.  I did not enjoy it at the time (the emotional part), but it's been really nice to feel freer and more alive!

Monday, October 20, 2014

My Overly Ridiculous Photo System

I love photography (but have no training whatsoever).
I am the third child and have about 17 pictures from my childhood.

Because I love pictures (I always have....beginning in middle school, I carried a camera in my purse everyday) and I am overcompensating for the lack of pictures (in fairness, my parents aren't photo people; my oldest brother probably has 26 photos total), I am overly obsessive about my photos.

This month of consistent blogging has certainly given you a glimpse into my neurosis, and this will certainly confirm my issues.

To prove my point, I have monthly photos from each of my four children's first years of life.  NO ONE keeps up with those past 2 children.  Except me.  And maybe, like, six other moms.

Once my kids turn one year old, I take yearly photo shoots (obviously with tons of everyday pics throughout the year).  I used to get these "professionally" taken [by a 16 year old] at JC Penney's until one year Brett's aunt Judy said to me, "You take much better pictures of your kids, why are you paying someone to not do a good job?"

Though I am far from a great photographer, she was right....I am, at least, better than a 16 year old with an outdated camera.  Plus, my kids HATED those photo sessions.

The candids I take throughout the year.....I upload to Shutterfly and order prints from there (proof of neurosis: I am up to date on my printing of photos).  I wait until holidays to order pictures, because Shutterfly almost always has 101 free prints right after a holiday.  I usually have way more than 101, but that saves me about $10.

I have color specific  albums for each of my kids:
Caleb-black
Chloe-red
Luke-blue
Levi-green
I only get one copy of each print, and whoever looks the best/cutest/funniest/etc in the print gets the photo in their album.  Or if it's their birthday or something like that, they get the pic.
I have a separate album for the remaining pics or ones of Brett and me.

Disclaimer:
People (including myself, as noted above) always say the first born gets the most pictures.  While that is true, I've realized the reason why: parents keep EVERY SINGLE photo of their first born and take a million of each thing ("look, he's sleeping.....again").  With subsequent kids, parents discard blurry, worthless pictures.....and only take a small amount of each activity.  First borns aren't extra loved.  Parents are just extra crazy.

Each January (while memories are still fresh), I make a digital scrapbook of the previous year.  Once again, these are often on sale on Shutterfly, so once I've made the album, I wait until a good sale to order.  I order 5 copies: one for myself and one for each of my kids.....and put their copy in the keepsake boxes to have when they're older.
My copy is displayed on a shelf in our home.  You wouldn't believe how often my kids look through these albums.  They are WELL loved.

The best part about Shutterfly is they store your pictures and albums forever.  So barring them going out of business, I like to think of them as my external hard drive.

My kids' joy in looking through their individual albums and the digital family scrapbook makes the effort worthwhile.
I've never been into traditional scrapbooking because, from the get go I knew I wanted a large family, and I knew I would not be able to maintain scrapbooks.  I think they're amazing and so cool.  But I knew they weren't sustainable for me.  I do not like unfinished products, so I knew it would incessantly bother me.  That's how I developed my current system of photo keepage.


What is your system for keeping up with your family's photographs???

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Traditions

As I have already written, I am a strong advocate of family traditions.
The sense of identity it gives a family is immeasurable.  
Traditions can change and adapt throughout the years, but just doing fun things on a consistent basis is what's important.  

If you're in a place of wanting to start family traditions of your own, I will give some ideas of what we do.....just to get you thinking.....

- We celebrate half birthdays.  Nothing extravagant....usually just some cupcakes and the acknowledgement of it.  I would love to go all out for half birthdays (because I think they're so fun), but the way they fall in the year (one close to Christmas and two close to two real birthdays)....we keep it simple.  

- Pizza and movie night on Friday.  Brett coaches high school football, so this one isn't consistent.  But we try to do it as often as we can.  Pizza is an easy (and cheaper) way to feed my crew.  I don't actually watch the movie because I don't like movies.....so this is a fun time for the kids to snuggle up with Brett.  (I don't apologize for not watching the movie.  I spend a zillion hours a week with my kids.)  

- I lay with each of my kids every night that I am home (which is most nights).  While at Kanakuk Kamp one year, Joe White told us that he laid with his kids every night before bed to talk with them about their day.  For some reason, this struck a chord with me, and I decided I would do that with my kids one day (I was probably 15 at the time).  And I do.  It's not out of obligation.  This is, by far, my absolute favorite part of my day.  They're at their most sweetest, and it's so much easier to share your heart in the dark room.  
As an added treat....Chloe is a kinesthetic learner, so she constantly has to be moving.  When I lay with her, she can't help but play with my hair.  It is glorious.  

- Our anniversary and my birthday are in February, so Brett and I opt not to celebrate Valentines Day (it just gets to be too much in one month).  Instead, he brings Chloe flowers and takes her out on a date.  She LOVES this day.  

- We make a big deal of the first day of school.....even though they're homeschooled.  I do the same interview each year and take lots of pictures.  

- I do a photo shoot each year near each of their birthdays....just in our back yard.  

A few things I haven't done but would like to start, at some point:
- a party to celebrate the longest day of the year
- Christmas in July party 
- first day of Spring party
(I obviously like parties!)  


These are just a few of our traditions throughout the year.  

Any traditions are great!!  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Christmas, Williams Style

My sweet friend, Kelley, has a little boy Caleb (who is beyond cute).
This is his first year he will know what's going on during Christmas, so she is interested in  starting new traditions with her family.

Traditions are SO important to family life.  They create unity in a family, and as my kids grow up, I want them to long for home during the holidays because of the memories that were created during their childhood.

While I definitely want my kids to grow up into responsible and "cut the apron strings" at the appropriate time, I want my kids to love coming home....and traditions are a great way to help that happen.

Leading up to Christmas......
- I buy chocolate Advent calendars for each of my kids.  They get a piece per day.  This is very effortless, but they love it.

- I do the Elf on a Shelf (though I started doing it when the Happy Home Fairy shared about it at a mom's group, before it got popular...so my elf is not the elf they sell....not that it matters).  I do NOT do a Pinterest-worthy version of this....nor do I tell my kids the elf comes alive (they get easily freaked out, LOL).  The elf just moves each night into a new place in the house.

- I buy each of my kids an ornament each year (one with their picture and the year on it....I get cheap ones from Target).  I will give my kids their ornaments for a wedding gift.  Brett's mom did this (just regular ornaments, not picture ones)....and it was really nice to have ornaments to decorate our first tree with.  Plus, each year as we decorate the tree, my kids LOVE to see their pictures from the years.

- Our tree topper is a crown....to represent Jesus is our King.

- We talk about the real meaning of Christmas, throughout the month

- We drive around to look at Christmas lights.

- Per the Happy Home Fairy's suggestion, we give our neighbor with the best Christmas lights an award certificate.....and a thank you note.
The man who we gave it to last year actually teared up, telling us how much he enjoys blessing kids with great lights.  He was so, so grateful that his efforts were noticed.  It was a very sweet moment for me.


Near Christmas.....
- We stay home for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, for several reasons.
I want my kids to wake up in their own home on the most fun day of the year!
Also, I am at my best when I am home.  I don't sleep well when I travel, so I did not want my kids' memories of me on Christmas being a grouchy, tired mom.
Santa is a lot easier to pull off from home.
Anyone is our family is welcome to come to our house, but we stay home!

- On Christmas Eve, we always go to the beach.  It serves a dual purpose:  tires my kids out so they can sleep easier that night and to take advantage of living in an awesome place.

- I give my kids a new pair of pajamas from the "jammie elf" on Christmas Eve.  He drops them off while they're in the shower (after the beach).

- We eat Chinese food for Christmas Eve dinner.

- We watch a movie and drink hot chocolate.  Historically, we've watched The Polar Express, but they have asked to watch Elf this year.

- Santa visits


Christmas Day.....
- Open gifts, obviously.

- Eat cinnamon rolls for breakfast and play with toys all morning

- Bake a birthday cake for Jesus.  We sing Happy Birthday to Jesus (cheesy, yes, but it helps our kids remember why we celebrate Christmas)

- I make a huge meal


In a nutshell, this is the Williams Christmas.

I find it very important to keep holiday stress as non-existent as possible.
Knowing our traditions helps because I don't feel guilty for what I don't do.
I stopped sending Christmas cards a couple of years ago (four kids' Christmas is expensive, so I had to cut where I could).  For a season of life, sending cards was great and fun for me....but then it just wasn't.  I've learned to ebb and flow throughout seasons of life and ages of kids.

Christmas is the most magical time of the year, so whatever you choose to do for your family.....in my opinion, it should be life giving, not done out of obligation or with a bad attitude.  Fun stuff with a bad attitude is not fun.  Whatever you choose to do (or not do), the most important thing is to be joyful and kind, in the midst.

Writing about Christmas has me SO excited!!!!!

Friday, October 17, 2014

"I Could NEVER Do That"

I 100% do not think homeschooling is the right choice for everyone.
While I love that our family has the privilege of teaching our children at home, I know it is not the only way (nor necessarily the best way).  I obviously think it's best for MY family (which is why I choose to do it), but I know it's not best for everyone.  I went to public school from Kindergarten through college and had a wonderful experience.  I had amazing teachers, awesome friends, and a great education.  I am definitely not anti-school.

Homeschoolers, typically, have a reputation for being weird (a generalization not that far off, if I am being honest....there are LOTS of not weird homeschoolers, though), so I usually only tell people I homeschool if they ask.

When people find out I homeschool, a typical response is, "Oh, I could never do that."

Though I am not trying to make any homeschool converts, if you're thinking about homeschooling but unsure if you can do it, let me reassure you: you can most definitely do it.  It's not easy but it is definitely do able.  Here's why:

1.  You get the best of your kids.  Those with kids in school often talk about how treacherous homework is.  Kids are doing homework at the craziest part of the day.  My kids are WILD during the "homework hours".  I could not teach them then, either.
But they're (usually) very teachable at 10 am (when your child is also very teachable).  And, I think our entire homeschool day is shorter than homework is.  (Once again, I am NOT belittling school....I think all parents hate homework).

2.  "I don't know enough to teach my kids," is also something I hear a lot.  You learn as you teach, and you don't have to know calculus when your child is in Kindergarten.  If I homeschool my kids through high school, I will have taught them math all the way through.  So while I may not know calculus now, just like them, I will build up to it. (And if you suck at math, then there are lots of helpful options available).  Homeschool curriculums are just like school curriculums.....they tell you how and what to teach.  

3.  "I don't have enough patience."  I don't either.  (Does anyone?)  My friend, Amy, and I talk about how homeschooling is just as much about developing our own character as educating our children.  I would argue it takes infinitely more patience to chaperone a school field trip, so if you've done that, you could homeschool. That is WAY harder.

4.  A homeschool day (at least for my kids' grades) is so, so short.  We typically spend about two hours on school.

To give an overview of our day:
8:00-10 am: kids wake up, get ready for the day, eat breakfast, watch a cartoon (while I also get ready for the day and do some house work)

10-12 noon: school
The little boys play on their own (or sit in with us)
Every day, Caleb and Chloe do phonics or grammar, math, and handwriting individually.  We add in supplemental subjects and read books together.
I teach whoever needs help.

12: lunch

12:15-bedtime: play, run errands, clean the house, eat dinner, sports, etc.


The hardest part of my day is the hardest part of any mom's day: from late afternoon til bedtime.  If I judged my ability to homeschool by those hours, I would definitely not do it.  But there are so many other hours of the day that my kids are awesome, fun, and love to learn.

I must disclaim, though, that my kids will tell you they don't like school.  We don't live in some dream world where they beg to learn all day.  They love to learn when they don't realize they're learning (asking me questions throughout the day or during independent reading time)....but they whine and complain about doing their school work most days.

So while I love that I get to homeschool, we live in the real world.....so it's not all sunshine and roses.

But life isn't sunshine and roses, so learning at home provides ample opportunities to work on our character, attitudes, and manners.  I love that I get to be a huge part of my kids' lives.  I love seeing the lightbulb go on when they grasp a concept.

Good, bad, and ugly.....homeschooling is a great choice for our family, and if you are thinking about doing it, you most definitely can!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

New York City

Tonight, I am departing for my trip to NYC!!!  I am soooooo excited to visit my sister and enjoy our time together in the greatest city in the world.  I am looking forward to some kid-free time.

I love New York City.  The feel of the city energizes me.  I love the food.  The quirky people.  I love it all.

I am super excited to be going to The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.  I am a HUGE fan, so this is like winning the lottery.  I've even had 2-3 dreams where Jimmy and I are friends....that's how excited I am.


If I had to list other NYC things I would love to experience (that are so far fetched), these would top the list:
- see Brandon taking pictures of HONY

- take a behind the scenes tour of The Tonight Show

- see a movie being filmed

- land a ride in the Cash Cab (my sister would SO win this)

- see someone famous, in a fun context
One time, my mom was in NYC.  Dick Clark ran into her (on accident).  She was pregnant, at the time.  He put his hands on her belly and said to my dad, "It's not mine."
I would love a cool famous person encounter!  (Nerd alert)


I have written blogs to auto-post while I am gone.
I am breaking the rules of blogging for 31 straight days, but this is a rare opportunity for me....so I will enjoy it to the fullest!!!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Chloe is 7

Chloe turned 7 last month, and I finally got her updated pictures.  She is so beautiful.  And her heart is even more precious.

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Chloe being her silly self......
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What boys do while the girls take photos :)
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