The Perfect Day

I always seem to know when I’m having a bad day.  Because it deviates from my perfect day.  So what is my perfect day?  I honestly don’t know.  I’ve never written it down before, but I do know that other people seem to have them as their “normal days,” with the “tough days” occurring at the frequency of “some,” as in “some days are like that.”  Well, my “less than perfect” days are the standard, if I’m honest here.  So, to have a frame of reference, I think it would be good if I actually wrote down what this mythical perfect day actually looks like.

7 AM: Wake naturally from the sense that it is morning and I own this day. Next to me is my husband, who is holding the baby/toddler who wandered in last night and wanted him, not me. I get dressed, make the bed, and have coffee brewing. I eat a bagel before going back upstairs to brush my teeth. Check facebook and email and only encouragement is waiting for me there.
8 AM: Children wander downstairs already dressed. They sit at the table and respectfully ask for cereal and juice and say “how’d you sleep mom? I dreamed I was a tiger!” Husband leaves for work and has lunch in hand that I thoughtfully individually proportioned for him while putting away dinner last night.
8:45 AM: Children have placed own bowls in sink and dog has not finished anyone’s cereal from off the dining room carpet. Everyone has used the potty without me telling them to.
9 Am: Children sit around table for morning routine (we read the Message Bible for like a minute and a half–the word devotional is ridiculous) and children seem to listen and don’t need scolding to sit still. Baby plays independently and doesn’t climb up sister’s and brother’s backs in his pursuit to ascend the table.
10 AM: We have gotten through two homeschool lessons with each child working with minimal assistance outside of instruction. All pieces of whatever I slaved over laminating are back in their bag. No one has a crayola mustache.
10:30 AM: We have snacks and the children actually go outside when I tell them to. I somehow discover the inner desire to wash the windows and vacuum our barely messy living room that only requires two minutes to pick up toys (which I will sigh messily over, thinking how wonderful I am for allowing the children to be children). I don’t need to bring out the carpet cleaner to suck up orange juice that isn’t allowed in the living room anyways. I don’t have to extract tape from every soft and hard surface a 4-foot reach from the ground.
11 AM: After the children don’t bring anything living or sand-based back from their outdoor adventures, we all go down to the basement and clean up together. I get a brilliant idea for lunch, and they continue cleaning and start an impromptu play while I go and fix a lunch that doesn’t involve a packet of cheese powder.
Noon: Children eat meals without crying. Hoss and Lumpy go down for nap at same time.
1 PM: Cal and JR and I bring out the microscope and investigate small creatures and household dust.
1:30 PM: We all sit down in the clean house and I fold a load of laundry while they watch and educational program. I finish folding and lay down next to them for a 30 minute power nap.
2:30 PM: Littles wake up and we all go play outside. Hoss doesn’t attempt to eat anything made of earth.
6:30 PM: Dinner is ready and made and I’m not exhausted.
7:30 PM: We play a family game. No one walks away crying.
8 PM: Bedtime routine.
8:30 PM: Kids in bed.
9 PM: Kids asleep. Pops does dishes while I write pithy blog post that receives 400 hits and adulation.
10 PM: We feel no guilt from avoiding doing something today.
11 PM: We head to bed and read for half an hour, until Hoss has his nightly wake-up, from which he will let me set him back down in his crib in peaceful rest.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask. Actually, it’s kind of boring. It’s not even that funny what the children aren’t doing. My perfect day is kind of…pathetic.

I don’t know what that means, but I have to say I still want it. Even when I’m typing here at 9:25 AM while the kids are still watching TV in their jammies, unfed, un-diapered, and I think I have a tinkle bed to change upstairs. Maybe we still have a chance at our perfect day, but I doubt it. Is it my fault? Probably? But, are we all going to be here, a day older and crayola-covered by the time it’s night again? God-willing. Most days we just get through it. But even when the perfect days are few and far between, we seem to fake it with moments of perfection.

Cal writing a book for her brother while I’m rocking the miserable baby Hoss to sleep for 45 minutes.
Lumpy laying herself down for a nap when she feels tired.
JR getting himself dressed and throwing his tape leftovers in the trash instead of in the couch cushions.
Hoss bopping to a song playing on Pandora while I try to come up with something for dinner at 6:25 PM.

Maybe the moments are all we can hope for. But I’ll always compare the bad days to the perfect ones that never seem to happen.

Hoovered It

It’s pretty rare that I write a blog post about stuff I love.  So, when I do, it means I have used this for a while, and REALLY love it.

I don’t want to let the chance pass me by to sing the praises of the incredible piece of household machinery that is the Hoover Windtunnel Max. (It’s official name is Hoover Windtunnel Max Multicyclonic Bagless Upright, but that sounds a little stuffy for a vacuum if you ask me.)

I received one of these vacuums as a gift from someone who felt my duct-taped 7-year-old Bissell was an embarrassment to humanity.  Even though I consider myself the Messiest Housewife In The World, if I do clean, I want to do it right.  That’s why I was ridiculously overjoyed to find this package on my front step this April:

So, when I put the thing together (like three little clicks and one screw to tighten), I put it through its paces.  I immediately carried it downstairs by the cleverly positioned recessed handle underneath the canister, and straight into the lion’s den.  My children had spilled about 5 lbs. of rice out of their sensory table three months before the previous week.

Like the sound of those delightful fizzy firecrackers right before the grand finale, I vacuumed the offending area for 15 or 20 passes (5 foot square).  And I got this:

Oh. My. Goodness. The Windtunnel Max sucked up 5 lbs of rice. Hoover, take me away!

I had forgotten what the carpet in the basement felt like without the disturbing sound of rice squinching deeper into the floor.  Oh my goodness.  Sweet carpeting is not ruined.  I carried it one-handed with a little effort upstairs and swung by the kitchen garbage to empty the canister.  It was a snap, opening cleanly from the bottom with the touch of a button on the top handle.

It was time for a head to head test.  I wheeled out the squeaky old Bissell canister upright, which now had the feel of a dinged up Kia next to a Cadillac, and vacuumed the TV room. I followed up with the Hoover. I then apologized to the children for spending the last seven years making pretty lines in the carpet without ever actually vacuuming. The Bissell canister was filled with these little dust bunnies, and the Hoover…well, let’s just say I was so embarrassed, I didn’t take a picture of it.  What I can tell you was that as I rolled it over the carpet that leads in from the backyard/sandpit of despair, all I could think of was that scene in The Green Mile when John Coffey sucks the black bugs out of people.  The little window at the floor bristle lets you see the dust physically being lifted out of your rug with an oddly entrancing spectacle.

Next I hit the entryway for the final test of greatness: The Stair Attachment.  My version is the P.A.W.S. pet hair specific one, which means instead of bristles, it has little paddles that ACTUALLY ROTATE on the stair hose brush.  It did a great job, with visible debris in the freshly cleaned canister.  In addition, when I pulled out the hose, I noticed the floor bristles automatically stop turning.  Because I’m the numbskull who always seems to jam her toes under the brushes while reaching to suck a spider into a death of Helen Hunt proportions, I really appreciate the effort.  There’s also a snazzy, easy lever to turn off the floor bristles with your foot when you get on a vacuuming roll and don’t want to stop the momentum from the living room shag right onto the kitchen tile.

What I didn’t tell you was that between every room, the kids were fighting over who got to press the cord rewind button.  Best. Fun. Ever.  Somehow it goes at the perfect speed so that it doesn’t pistol whip you in the calves like the old school Electrolux one my dad got from a farm auction when I was 8.  I think I still have bruises.

The one thing I am having a hard time with is remembering that you turn it on with your thumb on the handle (which folds for easy storage).  I spent the first few days trying to use my feet to turn it on and resemble a confused pioneer woman, bobbing and weaving conspicuously around the newfangled mechanical broom looking for the “on” switch.  The front-placed moving stair attachment actually stays on really well during use, but the little detail brush may pop off if it isn’t seated just right.  Which gives the vacuum a 98/100 on my list.  Still an A+.

They also make a a swankier bristle-based upgrade for those who don’t find they spend a good portion of their cleaning time unwrapping pet hair from their attachments.  Because I happen to know one of the engineers who designed it,  I can tell you that these vacuums out-compete the over-hyped Dyson, for a fraction of the price.  And as of right now, you can buy the one Amazon with free shipping for well under the retail value of $199.99.

But Jaime, you say, every new vacuum works well, right?  I have been using this vacuum for 5 months now, and while its (washable) canister interior has gotten a little dustier (no, I haven’t cleaned it), the Hoover Windtunnel Max Multi-Cyclonic Upright Canister vacuum still works like a charm.  I would recommend it to anyone.

One corner down, three more to go.

Making the Coconut Tree

I have benefited endlessly from other bloggers’ how-tos with detailed picture outlines.  I have to admit, I know it’s a monkey-load more work than I originally thought.  But, it’s worth it, to share with you a fun, straightforward way to accomplish a task (like watermarking your photos).

Here, for your general amusement and non-crafty instruction is how I made the Chicka Chicka Boom-Boom coconut tree.  I cut out and laminated the letters myself.  This was a gigantic waste of time, as any dollar store worth its salt carries die cut letters for next to nothing.  Take advantage.

Note: If you can cut snowflakes and draw triangles, bumpy, and curved lines, you have all the skills you need to make this.  Laminating makes everything better, but not strictly necessary.

Step 1: Make the trunk.

Draw 2 roughly parallel sets of bumpy lines on a brown piece of construction paper. Repeat 4 times, lining up the last paper with the new paper to get the width right. Make last paper a little closer together with a slight bend to the left (see finished picture).

Connect your bumps with a slightly curving line. (I am left handed, so this picture is actually me drawing from left to right.)

Look with dismay at the giant poop you just made. Repair by drawing these little triangle things all over. Breathe sigh of relief.

Laminate and stick on wall. The evilness: A piece of construction paper is not standard size, so you’ll have to chop it in places and use 5 laminating sheets to do 4 pieces. Shake fist and curse the makers of construction paper for this oversight.

Then, make the palm fronds:

Tape together two pieces of construction paper at the short ends.

Fold in half long way.

Fold in half again, the short way to make a long rectangle with the fold on the top.

Begin cutting within 1/2 in. of the top, through all 4 layers. Make a fringe. (I took this picture before I realized cutting the shape of the big leaf can wait to the end. I’ll show you why.)

Shake this thing until it does a little luau dance for you. ooo…pretty…

Open the last fold you made and watch your joy multiply by 2.

Cut into the shape of a row boat, leaving the back end square. Save million cut up pieces.

Don’t wait. The kids are totally going to get into that pile of clippings. Make a delightful grass base to your tree by arranging (dumping) all the clippings on a laminating sheet. Any excuse to laminate, right?

Cut up the laminated sheet into 3 wavy pieces. Tuck partially into baseboard and tape onto wall.

Open up. Yes, you are awesome.

Let the hot little hands waiting patiently do what they do best: Wrinkle things up.

Draw 3 or 4 lines down the center as the stem.

Let very artistic child put palm fronds up. Make small ones from one piece of paper for accent.

Admire your parenting genius.

Contribution to the homeschool world today: Complete.
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The auction has begun! And, we’re selling a coconut tree, as shown above. Auction to Bring Thadius Home, being held via Facebook from 8/15/12 until 8/31/12. Or, donate $25 to our son’s tax-deductible adoption fund, and I’ll ship one to you. Forward me the email of your receipt to biglittledays at gmail dot com and I’ll have it out to you ASAP.

A told B and B told C

The first time I heard the sing-songy alphabet rhyme, I was in third grade, during library time.  Our librarian had the voice of Julia Child, and I remember wishing the story would go on and on.  I don’t remember her name, but Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is still read in my house with her same high-pitched, seriousness, and driving cadence.

When we began homeschooling, I found a preschool program that featured a letter a week.  I saw one mom bring the Coconut Tree to life on her homeschool walls, and knew I was sunk.  I value my time and money far too much to visit a party store to pick up a palm tree.

So, I cornered my desktop laminator, a permanent marker, some construction paper and a pair of scissors.  I hate to say I am awesome, but, our homeschool walls now look like this:

When the children are doing their work, it’s amazing what you can get done.

All ready for mischievous letters to make their way up the coconut tree.  The question, however, remains…will there be enough room?

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Just 4 more days until our giveaway ends!  Help us reach our goal, and use our matching grant!  Share with friends and earn extra entries.

Travel Games for Preschoolers

…and some other things I do to keep the kids from going crazy on long car drives.

Well, Memorial Day weekend is upon us, as well as a season of travel. Mostly by car. With kids. A lot of them. Let’s go into battle prepared.

I should say that I don’t feel the need to constantly entertain or even silence the kids, but I do realize we travel more than the average family, and it would be too much to ask a three-year-old to prepare entertainment for the road. She’s just busy focusing on whether or not she is going to get a happy meal. A little planning makes our whole trip better.

We don’t have a DVD player. I am not a TV purist or anything. Two years ago JR stepped on our third portable DVD player and cracked the LCD right in half; I knew there were no more DVDs in our future. Let’s face it, there’s only so much entertainment one human child can get from watching Dora sing “Give us back our Treasure!” for the thirty second time anyways. We also don’t do handheld video games.

Here’s what we do instead to keep the kids looking forward to at least some of the car-time.

Once the car is packed and ready, including the kids, I run back in the house and grab one of those re-useable grocery bags for each of the kids (even the baby).

This is a sampling of some of the things I put in each kiddo’s bag:
Hoss, Baby:

  • Bottle of water
  • Baby toys (cars are his new favorite)
  • one board book
  • one marshmallow peep
  • one small bag of Chex
  • old cell phone
  • washcloth (for chewing/peekaboo with sister)
  • toothbrush (he seriously can’t get enough of it)
  • Baby blanket for when he sleeps

Lumpy, 3-year-old:

  • Sippy of water
  • 2 pieces of chocolate
  • baby doll
  • blanket for baby
  • blanket for Lumpy
  • One file folder
  • three colored pencils
  • 4 sheets of Dora stickers (to decorate folder)
  • one book
  • 3 diaper wipes (She loves them. I don’t question.)
  • sunglasses

JR, 5-year-old:

  • Flip top bottle of water
  • 2 pieces of chocolate
  • 20 popsicle sticks in a small diaper wipes container
  • roll of tape
  • tiny stuffed animal
  • handkerchief
  • blanket for if he falls asleep
  • 2 washable markers
  • Tag book and Tag pen (to be shared with Lumpy, too)

Cal, 6-year-old

  • Flip top bottle of water
  • 2 pieces of chocolate
  • math wrap-up
  • Pen
  • Fresh, clean notebook
  • new garage-sale chapter book (whew–no more motion sickness for her!)
  • CD player, headphones
  • Soundtrack to Mama Mia, and a mix CD I made for Andy when we first started dating
  • Workbook she can complete without help (mazes, grammar)
  • Blanket for if she falls asleep

Peace…for now

The goal is to give them activities I have seen them complete on their own for a long time, and ideally with a minimum of mess. It really helps me to know that I have some options for entertainment in the car besides what I provide them from the front seat.

I have pressed the big two into responsibility by telling them that if anything doesn’t go back into their bag, I won’t replace it when we go on our next trip. They have been talking about these bags for weeks now. Worth all five minutes I spent jamming stuff into them from the toy room and office!

I am also planning a secret note club, as my kids have become letter-senders recently. I am packing a stash of envelopes and stationery and return address labels I keep getting from charities who I will never support because they spend my money sending out unsolicited address labels.

If you have any suggestions, I am always looking for a little inspiration. Leave a comment below or like Big Little Days on Facebook or Twitter to share!

Messy Woman’s Guide to a Clean House

Enjoying my new header? Finding parts hard to read? I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment below, as it’s a work in progress.

It’s no secret that I hate cleaning. Every part, from the tidying to the scrubbing, to the dusting. The only household task I enjoy is baking, and that makes messes. I am, without a doubt, a messy woman.

But, when I clean, I like to do it perfectly. I don’t just clean the counters, I clear them off, scrub them, rinse them, dry them, dust appliances, and replace. When I clean the bathroom, I dust the fixtures, organize the medicine cabinet, wipe the mirror, organize the toiletries, dishwasher the toothbrushes, and hand wash the floor.

But, once I start, I cannot be interrupted. It makes me grumpy. I also expect adulation for my Irish-washerwoman worthy performance. Most days, though, I hang out my “No Irish Need Apply” sign on my own house. It just doesn’t bother me that much if the place is a wreck between a good monthly straightening.

So, just like losing weight without hating yourself, I am faced with the oxymoron of cleaning: I hate to clean, and am not bothered by mess, but I also want a clean house when friends come over.

And so, I present for you, the twisted logic of my house cleaning, so that some other woman not yet at peace with her messiness can learn from the shining example of the fearless Mrs. BLD:

1) I don’t plan cleaning, I plan messes. Today I gave the middles a bowl of water for their pet dolphin to swim in on the kitchen floor. Hoss made sure there was a healthy mess to clean by the time they were done. Instead of mopping up just the mess, I grabbed my (dang it) new hand towels and proceeded to wipe up the whole kitchen floor by hand. It took five minutes, and my knees are wet, but hey, it’s done.

2) I never let a crisis pass me by. As my dear fellow blogger at The Mother-Flippin’ says, don’t be sad when your son vomits all over the kitchen floor. You might never have cleaned that floor again otherwise.

JR broke this cookie jar while I was typing this post. So, I swept the whole floor. Yes, after I scrubbed it by hand. Sue me.

3) Cleaning binges. If I’m getting the vacuum out to suck the glitter off the dining room rug, I may as well go ahead and vacuum the living room, too.

4) The domino effect works. If I want to vacuum the living room (see number 3), I am going to have to pick up the stuff. If all I have is a toddler, I simply make her pick up all the stuff and put it on the couch. At least I can pick through it at eye level this way.

5) I give the kids grocery bags and tell them to pick up all the garbage pieces, as I dramatically build the tension by subtly threatening to vacuum their little feet up if they don’t hurry. Traumatizing? Maybe. Effective? Definitely.

6) If there’s stuff I don’t know what to do with, I follow these steps:

  • Feel really sorry for yourself. No human being should ever have to decide if they should save all the rogue v-tech cartridges when you definitely garage sale’d that thing last week.
  • If the kids aren’t looking, throw it out.
  • Clothes?  Skip the smell test…straight to the dirties.
  • Dishes?…see above.
  • Stick all money and hair clips in your pocket. I don’t even know where these things live in my house anyways, so I procrastinate until I have to pull them out of the dryer screen.

7) I invite a friend over and tell her it’s Becky home-ecy day, and she’s Becky. I give her a visit-time like 2:30PM, so I’ll scramble around picking things up while trying to meet the imaginary deadline. That way if she comes over and I’m still sweeping, she won’t think I’m being rude. Even though I am.

8) I lie to myself. Like, a lot. I tell myself I’m just switching the laundry before going to bed, when I know for a fact I am going to clean the laundry room down to brass tacks. When I’m feeling daring, I dupe my husband into cleaning out the junk drawer, taking out the garbage, and organizing the kids’ shoes at 11:45 at night. This works especially well if it’s his family that is coming for a visit.

9) No matter what, I never jam stuff in drawers and closets (except Andy’s junk drawer, see number 8). A laundry basket full of stuff I don’t sort for two months is better than every drawer hiding garbage I’ll never find again.

10) I compensate for remaining messes by being the in-control, laid-back mom. “Oh, don’t mind the playroom/children’s bedroom/garage,” I say good-naturedly. “We let the kids be in charge of cleaning that room, and they actually do a pretty good job considering little Hoss is only 13 months!” People love this kind of thing. True, I may have literally dumped a laundry basket full of toys on the ground just minutes before the guests arrived, but these kids need to earn their keep around here. Responsibility, yes, that’s my point. I might actually mean it.

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The Children do a wonderful job, considering, don’t they?

11) No matter what, when guests come, DO NOT apologize for the clean parts that aren’t sparkling from baseboards to ceiling. This just draws their eye, like those tooth whitener commercials. They don’t know what dirty looks like until you point it out. Work what you got, and choose to laugh at the messes and treat the clean stuff like it’s your normal. Who knows, someday that might be true.

If all else fails, I encourage you to follow the advice of the big green “How to Clean Your House and Have a Miserable Life” books my mom had by the shelf-full growing up:

There is a multitude of cleaning ills that clean countertops and made beds can fix.

Aim low.  You might just land amongst the dust bunnies.  You’ll be in good company.