R,S,T – Remember [to] Say Thanks

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

2014-08-24 11.00.39Everyone knows that it’s well-mannered to say, “Thank you.” when someone is kind or helpful. I do really well at thanking most people in my life, but I don’t do such a good job with my husband. I’ve been purposing to thank him more often for all of the wonderful things he does for me and for our family.

As I’ve been saying thank you more (although still not enough) I’ve discovered something interesting. Saying thank you often makes me feel really good.

I’m always appreciative of what my husband does for me, but, when I thank him out loud, something happens. First of all, I can see he really appreciates that I took the time to acknowledge his effort, and that alone is enough reason to do it, but something happens to me. It makes me feel happier and closer to him. Somehow, thanking him out loud makes me feel more connected to him.

You know what happens when I feel connected to my husband? My stress levels go down. The more connected I feel, the more supported I feel. The more supported I feel, the less stressed I feel.

The fact is, my husband always has my back, but, when I take the time to thank him out loud, I can feel that more. It’s amazing that the small effort involved in saying thanks makes me feel better, and it makes him feel more appreciated. I never realized the power of those two little words until recently. I’m so glad I did. I’m going to keep working to make those two words a very regular part of my vocabulary.

G is for Grateful

All April long, I’m blogging alphabetically about Adjusting to Life to Life with Baby Number 5. Click here to see all the posts in this series.

My family of 7 can be a lot of work. Some days I find myself so completely drained and exhausted that I can’t quite remember what it feels like to just be me. (That usually means my priorities are some how out of whack and that I’m not taking care of myself, but sometimes it takes me a few days or weeks to figure that out.)

Other days, my heart is so full and overflowing that I don’t have the words to adequately express the joy that my family brings me.

Today was a lot more like the former.

Caring for a newborn is exhausting. Because I nurse my baby and I co-sleep, I literally (Yes, literally.) have someone on my person about 23.5 hours a day. I’m not complaining about this; I’m just stating the facts. The truth is I wouldn’t trade either of those for a little more time to myself. This very needy newborn period is short-lived and well worth it in the long run. But that doesn’t change the fact that it takes a huge toll on me. If I’m not careful to take care of myself, it can easily become overwhelming.

Christmas Morning fun 2013. We're our own party.

Christmas Morning fun 2013. We’re our own party.

One of the things I like to do when my attitude is getting out of whack is list out the reasons I’m grateful for my big family. The list of reasons varies from time to time and isn’t in any particular order, other than the order things pop in my head.

Today I’m going to share one such list with you.

I am grateful for my big family because…

  1. My kids always have someone to play with.
  2. And they have someone else to play with when the first playmate makes them mad.
  3. There’s always someone to curl up and snuggle with.
  4. Life is never dull.
  5. There’s a chorus of people who are excited to see you if you’ve been away briefly.
  6. We all learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
  7. Seeing the world through a child’s eyes is priceless. Every child has their own perspective and observations. I get to see the world through all of their eyes.
  8. When I’ve got my hands full, there is always someone nearby who is willing to help.
  9. There’s always enough people to play games. Board games. Card games. Duck, duck, goose. We’ve got the players!
  10. Dinner time conversations are amazing! Sometimes they’re hysterical. Sometimes they’re surprisingly insightful. You never know what might pop out of the kids’ mouths to the captive audience at the dinner table.
  11. And you never know how the next kid might run with or twist whatever was just said.
  12. We have tons of inside jokes.
  13. We have many natural opportunities to learn basic skills like sharing, taking turns, expressing frustration appropriately, etc.
  14. And we all provide each other with plenty of opportunities to serve someone besides yourself.
  15. All of our little athletes have an automatic cheering section at their games.
  16. Kids come up with really creative solutions to problems. We get creative solutions from all of them, so we usually get a solution we can work with.
  17. We get a lot of tax deductions.
  18. Christmas Morning fun 2013. We're our own party.

    Christmas Morning fun 2013. We’re our own party.

    We’re the life of the party. Every extended family function gets kicked up a notch when we arrive with our family.

  19.  There’s always something to celebrate. (Baptismal anniversaries and birthdays) x 7 = lots of parties
  20.  When we work together, we can get the whole house cleaned in an hour.
  21.  Seeing my older kids with my babies is such a phenomenal gift. I can’t explain what it’s like to see the big ones care for and find joy in the littles. They truly delight in one another. It’s beautiful.
  22.  Some women never get flowers. I get weed bouquets nearly every day.
  23. There’s always a reason to laugh.
  24.  Imaginary games get really amazing with multiple imaginations at work.
  25.  Little voices singing little songs always make me smile.

25 is a nice number, so I’ll stop there. But just remember…

There’s nothing that can change your attitude quite like a little gratitude!

SST # 5: Thank You, Grazie, Merci BEAUCOUP!!

Small-Success-Thursday-550x330On March 1 we welcomed our precious daughter into the world. It goes without saying that it was an incredibly joyous day and the days since have been full of moments of perfect beauty. There’s something about looking into the face of a newborn, especially one sleeping on your chest, happily drunk from having consumed her fill of milk…I don’t know the words for it. It’s almost as if you catch a glimpse of eternity. She embodies peace and happiness. Total dependency, yet complete autonomy. Immortality encapsulated in a fragile human body. All of time and the meaning of existence shines forth from that innocent little person. It’s incredible!

Because of the gift of new life in our house, I feel like every moment is a great big success. Granted, some moments are sleep deprived and some moments are a juggling act as I adjust to being a mommy of 5, but, overall, holding that precious gift that we named Sophie eclipses any of the struggles that come with being a new parent. Since I’m floating on cloud nine, I thought I’d dedicate this entry to all the people for whom I’m incredibly grateful. I won’t be detailing any of my own small successes, rather I want to thank and acknowledge all the people who have been such a gift as we have transitioned into life as a family of 7. (Brace yourself, this entry is a little long.)

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Sophie. 1 day old.

1. My husband, my fabulous labor & delivery nurse, Wendi & Kevin O’Brien, the Bradley Method of Natural Childbirth, and St. Colette. Sophie’s birth day was simply beautiful thanks to this incredible team of people. After 5 deliveries, 2 of which were all natural, I feel like I have some good notes for comparison about what to expect on “D-Day.” This was, without a doubt, my best delivery ever, despite it being my second longest. Wendi and Kevin are great instructors and prepared me, and, most importantly, my husband well for the big day. Despite this being baby number 5, there is a lot to learn if you want to have a successful peaceful natural birth, especially in a hospital setting. I keep meaning to write a whole post about all the reasons why I am in love with Dr. Bradley and so very grateful for his books and our fabulous instructors, but today is not that day. Suffice it to say, I am so very grateful for them! My L&D nurse, who was also incredible in so many ways and so very supportive of our desire to birth naturally, said that she had never witnessed a natural birth go as smoothly as mine  in her 19 years of delivering babies. That is completely thanks to the Bradley Method and my husband’s fidelity to assuming his role as coach. He did a phenomenal job, and I truly could not have gotten through without him! My husband is THE reason that I was calm, cool, and collected throughout my entire labor, but especially during the hours we spent laboring at the hospital.

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Josh and Soph, 2 hours old

Above all, I have to credit St. Colette, my sweet daughter’s patroness (Colette is her middle name) and the patroness of expectant mommies. After our last less-than-stellar birth experience, I was quite nervous about this one. I spent a lot of time begging her to help me out on D-DAY. And she did. I don’t believe in coincidences, so I fully credit her with our awesome nurse (Who was called in on her day off because L&D was swamped. And who sacrificed her daughter’s volleyball game to answer that call and come in to work. And who was weirdly connected to us in a strange 6 degrees of separation type way.) and with the fact that we got THE LAST L&D room (had we arrived any later, we would have been laboring and delivering in a busy triage room) and with the fact that a new mommy room just happened to open up for us, despite the fact that we weren’t supposed to get one because they were all full. Thank you, St. Colette, for interceding on my behalf!           

2. My husband. (yes, I already thanked him, but this is for a different reason.) Josh works for an incredible company. One of their many benefits is that fathers get a two week paternity leave after the birth or adoption of a new baby. This leave is granted ON TOP of any existing vacation. While I think our growing family may make them question this lovely policy, we are so grateful it exists. Josh was home with me for the last two weeks and he did a stellar job keeping the house running. I was blown away! He even kept up with the kids’ school work, so we weren’t behind at all when he went back to work. He cooked and cleaned and cared for all 4 of the other kiddos. All I had to do those first two weeks was sleep, eat, and snuggle my sweet Sophie. It was amazing!

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One of the beautiful meals we received.

3. Kate and all the people who signed up on the Care Calendar. My sweet friend Kate made a Care Calendar  for people to sign up to bring us meals. It started on Tuesday when Josh went back to work and is still filling up with our incredibly generous friends and acquaintances from Church and our homeschooling coop. I can’t begin to say how grateful I am not to have to worry about dinner. These first few days alone with the kiddos have been challenging, so it is such a gift to just have to open the door and say thank you before having a beautiful, home-cooked meal on the table. And let me tell you, these women can cook. Everything has been so delicious! On top of being generous enough to make us dinner, these women have even been kind enough to adhere to our new dietary standards. These women have their own large families and struggles and pregnancies and whatever else to deal with, yet they took the time from their hectic lives to make us dinner. I am so grateful to them all for their incredible generosity!

Kate also took my older boys to coop last week which was a gift for them, Josh, and me. They were bummed about the prospect of missing coop, but, thanks to her, they didn’t have to. Josh had been wrangling the four older kiddos by himself for several days at that point, so I’m sure he was grateful to have his duties cut in half. And I was super grateful for how quite the house was while they were gone. Thanks again to my dear friend! You are such an amazing gift!

So that’s it for me. I’d apologize for this post being so long, except for even this doesn’t fully express my gratitude to these individuals. What about you? What are your successes this week? Link up over at Catholicmom.com

SST # 2: The Organization Edition

Small-Success-Thursday-550x330I am so, so excited about all we have accomplished this week! You may argue that these feats aren’t small successes, but I don’t see any reason not to rejoice in them simply because of that. I know that it’s always easier to enjoy the big successes and overlook the small, daily successes, but these projects are such a big deal to me that I literally get butterflies in my stomach each time I open a door and see them in all of their neat, orderly glory. (Yes, that really is what it’s like to experience life from the perspective of a neat-freak who gets hard core nesting impulses [which go above and beyond those impulses driven by my normal perfectionist tendencies] all throughout pregnancy.) As such, they have made a tremendous impact on my week in so many more ways than just the mere fact that the task was accomplished. So, without further ado, I give you this week’s “small” successes.

2014-02-07 14.17.201. Garage Organized. I have been trying to get our garage organized since we moved into this house almost 4 years ago. Every time we came or went or opened the garage to let the kiddos ride their bikes, the chaos in that garage induced anxiety, guilt, and frustration. Not to mention the sheer embarrassment of knowing the neighbors were able to see that pigsty. (Again, yes, this is really what happens in my brain. I don’t pretend to be normal. I’m just me.) Anyway, as of Monday, my garage is immaculate! It is certainly still full of garage type things. And there’s still only room for one car in there. (Although, I suspect, that if we really tried, we could get them both in now. I just don’t have any interest in really trying.) But, now, it’s organized and neat and lovely.

Last night, Josh got home from work and the garage was standing open, something which he’s never witnessed before. It was the first thing he commented on when he walked through the door. It was actually a very charming moment, as it gave me the opportunity to express, and him the opportunity to understand, just how grateful I was for all the hard work he put in to help me get that garage in order. If garage organization is too big to qualify for a small success, that moment 2014-02-07 16.46.11between us certainly was not. It was somewhat fleeting, but it was ever so lovely to see him really experience my gratitude. How funny is it that the simple act of leaving the garage door open (an act which I didn’t think through in advance) was all it took for him to get how truly grateful I am for the massive change that has taken place out there.

2. Toy closet organized. While the tools were out and things were being organized, Josh also tackled the toy closet. We have this fabulous closet in our foyer, which makes it ever so easy to have toys accessible for playing in the living room, but stored completely out of sight. It’s a fairly large closet, which makes it all the more fabulous. I really wish I would have taken a proper “before” picture, so you could understand just how awful the closet was. All the practicality of having the toys so easily accessible had been lost in the chaos that hid behind that door. There was no way the kids could ever find anything in there. Everything was just thrown in. We cleaned it out regularly, but, because there wasn’t any real organization in place, just numerous buckets stacked on top of each other on the floor, the clean never lasted very long. It was usually only a matter of days before everything was dumped back out into one massive sea of toys. Once that happened, it was only a matter of time before the kids would start complaining that they had “nothing 2014-02-13 14.43.39to do,” mostly because they didn’t know where anything was. Anyway, all we did was hang the bottom two selves. No big deal at all. But it’s made a world of difference in the way that closet functions. It still looks as good as it did on the day we organized it, and the kids know where all their stuff is. Despite the simplicity of the project, it is such a major success for the smooth functioning of our household.

3. Girls’ closet organized. Our little one is moving in soon, but I wasn’t sure what to do about her clothes. We looked at dressers, but it just seemed silly to buy a dresser that was going to have to live in the closet due to lack of space in the bedroom. In our room Josh is currently using a hand-me-down chest of drawers that gets the job done, but definitely isn’t my taste. Since we’re in the very slow process of redecorating the master bedroom one small piece at a time, it seemed wiser to buy Josh a new dresser and move his current chest into the girls closet. I like that plan, but I never found anything that was the right mix of price and style. As such, I came up with this much simpler and oh-so-easy solution. I just grabbed a few stacking shelves from Lowes, cleaned out the mess that was previously living in Leila’s closet, and, now, it’s ever so functional for both my little girls. The tall shelf on the right is our little one’s dresser for the time being. I think it cost a whopping $12 and it is so easily accessible for all the infant wardrobe changes that have to take place during the day. I couldn’t be happier with this budget-friendly solution!

2014-02-11 09.01.414. Stuff to Community Storehouse. In the process of all this closet and garage cleaning, we were able to put together a pretty big pile of stuff to send the the Community Storehouse, which is one of my favorite local charities. Among other things, they run a resale shop, so we sent some of our gently used, space hogging items off with them to find a new home. It makes all of this organizational success even better to know that someone besides me may benefit from the new-found neatness hiding behind the closet doors in my home!

(Super exciting side note: That’s our double stroller in the bottom right corner. With two little girls 16 months apart, we’re obviously still going to need a double stroller. We’ve had the one pictured since 2006 and I’ve always hated it. [That’s probably why it’s still in such good condition!] I could hardly push it in a straight line, but you can forget about me turning it. If Josh wasn’t available to push the stroller, I didn’t use it. BUT, it turns out Josh hates that stroller too. While we were putting together the pile for Community Storehouse, Josh suggested we put the stroller in the pile, which means….WE’RE GETTING A NEW STROLLER!! Woo hoo! What a very exciting baby gift for me! I can’t wait!)

So what about you? What were your small (or not so small) successes this week? Join the link up at CatholicMom.com!

Thankful Tree

2013-11-20 18.22.05Every year, I make a really big deal about the “thankful” aspect of thanksgiving. I work really hard to help foster a spirit of gratitude in my littles, and a national holiday that can back me up in that endeavor is too good to pass up. One could certainly argue that the thankfulness is missing from the holiday at large, especially with the materialism of Black Friday nearly eclipsing the family feasting, or that the history of the event should play an important role in the focus, but I say I’m gonna take what I can get. It’s a rare occasion that society backs me up in my parenting philosophies, so, when it does, I’m going to run with it.

In years past, I’ve had the kids make “thankful turkeys” in preparation for Thanksgiving day. They would trace their hands on red, yellow, orange and brown construction paper. Then, I would ask what they were thankful for and record their answers on the turkeys. I really liked this activity because it captured the size of their little hands along with the dates and adorable things for which their little hearts were thankful.

There was only one downside – I never found a way to display the “thankful turkeys” that I really liked. Most years, they simply got taped to the kitchen cabinets. One year, I tried to arrange them in a dish to make a centerpiece. On the cabinets, I usually ended up viewing them as clutter, which took away from some of the heart-warming quality. Plus, they usually got wet, bent, or knocked down in the chaos of daily life. The centerpiece thing was ok, but you couldn’t really read their sweet thoughts. The display issue wasn’t really a major one, but, nevertheless, I found myself itching to do something different this year.

While perusing the Oriental Trading catalog, I saw an an adorable tree meant for bulletin board display in a classroom.  When I first saw the tree, I thought we’d just make our own, but who am I kidding? I ordered the tree from Oriental Trading. The tree did come with precut leaves, but we didn’t use them. The kids really like to trace and cut and glue, so we made our own leaves just to make the project a little more hands on. (We actually intended to add glitter, but we never got around to that… There’s always next year, right?)

So here’s what we did.

Each person in our family was told to make 6 leaves, except Leila. She was exempt this year. Ultimately, the kids decided to make leaves for Josh and me, so pretty much the boys just made 30 leaves. They used the original leaves as templates. Their little hands were tired after that, so that was all for day one.

P1060718The next day, they were assigned the meat of the project. They were to address one leaf to each member of the family, sort of like a valentine. On the flip side of the leaf, they were to write why they were thankful for that person. On their remaining leaf, they were simply to list all that they were thankful for. (Major bonus: this also killed lots of educational birds with one stone! They were writing, spelling, forming thoughts into concise, leaf-sized statements, etc. They were very pleased to learn that there was no copy work/dictation, handwriting, or spelling assignments while were were working on the leaves.) It took a few days to get everyone in the family to complete the assignment, but, finally, they were done.

Once all the leaves were completed, I had the boys sort them into piles by addressee. They passed them out one night after dinner. We all took turns reading the leaves addressed to us. Then, at the end, read the leaf that we wrote listing all we were thankful for.

The part where we read what each family member wrote about us was truly magical. The boys beamed as they heard leaf after leaf acknowledge and recognize their value. It could have been the hormones, but watching them react to their leaves was priceless. Of course, I cried.

Finally, after all the leaves were read, we attached them to our little tree. To concretely connect God as the giver of all these good things, I wanted to place the tree on the wall by our “home shrine” (which is just our little prayer corner), but the wall wasn’t big enough. Thus, our tree stands proudly in our foyer. I passed out the tape, and the kids attached their leaves. It was almost as fun as decorating the Christmas tree.

Next Friday, after the Thanksgiving festivities are over, I’ll take our tree down. I’m going to place all of this year’s leaves in a page protector, which will eventually be collected in a binder. I’m going to put what’s left of the thankful turkeys from years past in the binder, but, sadly, many of them haven’t survived. What a treasure it will be to look back at all we’ve been grateful for over the years!

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Happiness is a Choice

happiness is a choiceI try so hard not to allow myself to be sucked into the negativity that permeates our society. For whatever reason, I seem to be particularly vulnerable to it. I’ve never been prone to jumping out of bed with a smile, eager to greet the day. My mind tends to jump to the worst possible scenario most of the time. I partially blame my upbringing; my family is very negative. However, the fact is, I’m an adult now and only I have control of my thoughts, actions, and attitudes. Prior to my involvement with Mary Kay, I don’t even think I realized there was another way. My motto for as long as I could remember was “expect the worst and you’ll never be disappointed.” I enviously watched the “optimists,” fully aware that I was a “pessimist,” and came to the conclusion that it must be genetic; some people are just born happy and lucky. I am so thankful that I’ve since learned otherwise.

My favorite thing about Mary Kay (other than how perfect my skin always looks) is the women. The women who work with and around Mary Kay are the most positive, supportive, enthusiastic, Christian women on the planet. Never before Mary Kay had I ever been in an environment like that, barring a few weekend church retreats or whatnot. But these women aren’t just positive, supportive and enthusiastic at a retreat or on Sundays or at special times or events. That’s how they live their lives. That’s how they raise their kids. That’s how they manage their homes, careers and social relationships. These women are phenomenal and I am so blessed to have them in my life to learn from.

These women opened my eyes to what life is supposed to be like. They are the ones who introduced me to positive thinking. They taught me that “what you think about you bring about.” So my “expect the worst” philosophy was creating just that, the “worst” in most situations. They taught me how to feed my mind with positive books, cds and people. They taught me the importance of surrounding myself with “balcony people” and avoiding “basement people.” They helped me to see that I was a “basement person” and desperately needed to change if I had any hopes of being happy and passing on happiness to my children.

Never in my wildest dreams had I ever considered that happiness was a choice. I thought happiness or lack thereof was merely a result of the hand you’d been dealt in life. I knew there must be an exception, as I’d seen and heard of very poor or very sick people with very sunny dispositions. I didn’t know how they got that way. I thought maybe God just made them special so they could be an example of some kind to the rest of the world.

Thanks to meeting my MK mentors, I make every effort to expose myself only to positive people. I only read positive literature. I avoid negative programing on tv. My “friends” on facebook who only post status updates to complain are blocked from my newsfeed. I listen to uplifting music and inspirational speakers on cd. But, as I said earlier, I seem to be so vulnerable to getting sucked back into the negativity. It seems so easy to fall into a “woe is me” mentality. I make a conscious effort to curtail those thoughts with prayers of thanksgiving and praise.

I truly am blessed beyond measure. When looking at my life objectively, I know I have no room for complaint. I have been given so much and am so very fortunate. The fact is, most of us are. If you’re reading this, you most definitely are. Despite our daily struggles, our lives are a cakewalk. Why, then, is our society so negative? There’s evidence of it on it on tv, in the papers and in the general attitudes of most people. What do we have to be so darn unhappy about?

My first thought was, “If I knew the answer to that, I would probably become a very wealthy woman.” But upon further reflection, I think I do know the answer and, unfortunately, it will not make me a wealthy woman. It won’t even make me popular. In fact, upon reading my conclusion, I predict some will discredit this entire entry. What, then, is the reason we are so drawn toward negativity?

Satan.

Yes, Satan. He’s the father of lies. If keeps us convinced that our lives are terrible, awful, unlucky excuses for an existence, how much easier will it be for him to lead us to sin? It must be much harder to convince someone who praises God in good times and in bad to lead a sinful life. Obviously, being human, there will always be some sin in each of our lives, but living on purpose for God tends to rule out some of the bigger ones. That must really make him mad. Because of the materialistic, self-centered and often times negative world we live in, it must make his head reel to witness someone choose to be grateful and positive despite their daily circumstances.

No wonder that “woe is me” voice keeps creeping back in. I’ve deliberately chosen to live my life in a way that is harder for the devil to attack. If he could just get me back to that “expect the worse” place where I constantly make excuses for everything and accept responsibility for little, his job would be much easier. I don’t know about you, but that just makes me even more resolved to cling to positivity and gratefulness. It definitely feels better to live with a positive outlook, so I don’t know why I allow myself to be tempted to revert back to the negative. Somehow in the emotion of the moment, I seem to think it’s easier to just let go and expect the worst, but, clearly, that’s the work of the Father of Lies.