Starting our Summer

As an educator I am blessed to have time with my kids during the summer. As an administrator I am still pretty busy for ‘off all summer’ but I do get to spend plenty of time at home just being a Mom which I absolutely love! To start summer for a Type A person like myself it means switching from school calendars to home activities and from hockey practices to library activities, etc.

The first thing I did was get the chore chart all ready for the summer chores the kids do. The next thing I do is figure out a summer schedule. I am okay with being flexible and changing things as needed but I like having a schedule to be sure things like laundry IMG_4441are taken care of and the kids have time carved out for reading books and keeping up with their math skills.

Once the kids and I had determined our summer schedule and talked about the different expectations for summer vs. school year we took a trip to the public library to find out about the summer reading program and any special events. The kids had a great time picking out books and seeing what was in store for the summer reading program. It took no time at all to fill up the calendar with activities, story times, crafts, etc. Summer practically plans itself! 🙂

There are a couple of things we have decided to try as a family this summer that we have not done before and I am excited to see how they go.

1-We hear so much about the 1:1 initiatives but they are typically laptops or iPads….Well the Menne family is taking on a 1:1 technology to reading imitative. The kids were a bit apprehensive at first but so far (a few days into it) it’s going well and they seem to understand in order to earn technology time they have to read. Twice already I have been trying to get their attention where normally they would be zoned out in front of a TV or engrossed in a DS game but I have found them reading. A nice surprise right?

2-I have heard about the toy bin/tote with the chore envelope where parents pick up any toys found on the floor and put them in the bin/tote and in order to get them out the child has to pick a slip from the envelope complete the chore listed on it. The kids are against this idea but I gotta tell yea, I am psyched to put some chores on the list like cleaning up the bathroom floor. (With 4 boys in the house their aim isn’t always great and I could use some help cleaning up the potty area).

I’ll have to post later in the summer my feedback on how those new things go. What summer plans does your family have? How to you keep your family busy during the summer? Or maybe not so busy? (That is tricky too) Do you have any tricks to share or any thoughts on these ideas?

The Battle of Organization is Always Waging

I’m somewhat embarrassed to share this but as always helping others trumps any amount of embarrassment. Why embarrassed? I seem kinda’ crazy with a storage room full of diaper boxes right? Well trying to keep 5 children clothed without buying new items for each one saves me time on getting rid of them as well as time and money replacing them when the next child needs it. Growing up in a large family I remember “hand-me-downs” and may have grumbled about it but don’t recall being traumatized by it. (Eventually as I got older I know I owned clothing purchased just for me.) When the kids are little not only do they not care if it’s hand-me-down clothing but sometimes they even enjoy it! My kids love getting something from an older sibling and the oldest thinks it is pretty cool to see tiny outfits on his little brothers that used to be his. He often says, “Man-I was that small!?!”

So over the past 10 years I have tried totes, bins, boxes, baskets, etc. but it has been a struggle to keep the clothing organized in such a manner that I can 1-locate it, 2-find the appropriate size, 3-keep adding to it. After moving too many times to recall at the moment and having various spaces for storage of said items I think I finally have it down to a science. Clothing Storage

This is one size of my storage area (Yes, I said MY as my husband has a different room to store his military uniforms and other items because he and I are not on the same wavelength when it comes to keeping things organized). This started with my lovely hubby installing some inexpensive plastic shelving units and as you may notice lots of diaper boxes.

When I first started this process I tried to use plastic storage bins but had difficultly stacking them (they crack and sometimes break) and their sizes tend to differ not to mention they can be costly. I switched over to boxes when my children started using Luvs diapers but as we transitioned back to other brands I kept using whatever diaper boxes I had because they worked and they were free. They stack nicely and aren’t too large to become heavy.

For some time I wished that Luvs would leave a nice empty spot on the size of their boxes so one might be able to write right on the box but somehow I don’t think a diaper company cares about the re-use-ability of their products box. I had to settle for making my own labeling system so I use either mailing labels or post-it notes and of course my favorite sharpie marker. (who doens’t love a sharpie??) labeling

I have them sectioned off with girls clothing on the far left and the boys on the right with some overflow area next to boxes of shoes. I also decided to add some hanging area for some heavier winter coats and such by using a shower rod which works pretty well.

I have a large laundry basket I keep in my laundry room specifically labeled for clothing to go in storage so when I do the laundry I can just grab the items that are too small and toss them in. When I find time (albeit it isn’t often) I can haul that basket to the basement and place those clothes in the right box according to size. At that time or when one of the kiddos needs bigger clothes I just grab the box(es) I need and bring up the clothing.

It’s a bit of work to get started but once you get a system down it can be a life-saver in both time and money.

Happy hand-me-downs my friends 🙂

Tales from the trenches: The testing debacle

I have no idea where this school is but I like their thinking....

I have no idea where this school is but I like their thinking….

It’s spring, the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, (it is snowing in MN) this means testing season is upon us. If you work in schools or are a parent you probably are with me when I say I dread this time of year.

I have dealt with testing in the schools for years and may not enjoy it but have managed to survive it. This year at the elementary level it just seemed to be absolutely horrific.

It started with all online testing. The system was up, then down. They said stop testing, then start testing. Then emails came in stating to test if you aren’t experiencing any problems….We had students who were not able to pause their tests and therefore where clicking just to fill in the bubbles to get to the bottom of the screen to pause the test. We had trouble getting the system to pause for days. We called the help desk, repeatedly (and then some more). Some people who answered seemed to be very empathetic to our situation, others referred it as ‘glitches’ in the system.

Regardless, I want to know how in the world these tests results would be considered valid. We had kids crying and others  so frustrated with the starting, stopping, and issues trying to pause for breaks I just can’t imagine they were in a frame of mind to actually perform on the tests.

To that end, how can it be right to attach funding to tests that should at the very least be considered compromised due to the many MANY technical errors or ‘glitches’ as they called them???

I have witnessed our students tested on the state assessments, the NWEA MAP’s and now the DRA’s all within the last few weeks. Our poor students are tested too much. If only we could put our trust in the educators who already use diagnostic assessments like the NWEA”s and the DRA’s &  not mandate additional tests (which they don’t’ receive the results from for months….)

Students don’t learn anything from tests. They learn from passionate educators who know them and can help guide them through the learning process. I say, step out of the way and let teachers do what they do best-Teach!

 

The Walmart Complex Applied to Education

The other evening I was doing what I always do (three or more things all at once…) as I was doing this I had a bit of an ironic epiphany.

SO I was reading someones thoughts on education and how the U.S. educational system demands everyone hit every standards to a specified degree and concluded with the notion that everyone doesn’t need to be good at everything and rather it’s important that everyone have their own unique expertise/talent. While reading that I had the T.V. on and there seemed to be many commercials for for big box companies and a few tech commercials both of which triggered an ‘ah-ha’ for me.

I typically get irritated when stores get what I refer to as ‘the walmart compex’ which is when they try to be all things for all people, (i.e., selling everything from mayonnaise to men’s underwear to crown molding.) Seeing these advertisements giving that same message not only about their company but about people too really hit home.

As I sat there reflecting I began to question it all. Why is it that we shifted from mom-and-pop stores where companies did one thing and did it well to giant corporations that do everything (and we’ll, I’ll let you decide how well they do all that they do). Why is it that we have shifted from having an expertise or niche to trying to do it all and fooling ourselves into thinking we are good -no- great at all of it? Why is it that in education we have moved from starting with a general base of knowledge in primary school with a gradual shift to areas of interest in secondary school to that of everyone must know every single standard to the exact same level? (Yes, I do know the history of why the factory model of education actually came to fruition but just follow my rant…)

Can we really do it all and do all things that we do well? Studies have proven those who multi-task more are actually must worse at it than those who rarely do it. Is it the media telling us we can do it all? Is it the market telling us that is the way we can make the most money? Is it because we are willing to sacrifice expertise for convenience? (And is that a good direction to head?)

Regardless it’s something to ponder. And if you are anything like me you try hard to do it all and in some cases shove ‘ten pounds of potatoes in a five pound sack’ which if you do the math doens’t end well. Ultimately, something’s gotta give.

Do we want the future to be filled with people who are mediocre and lots of things or people who have been exposed to many different facets but have honed their skills on just a few things? Does the Walmart approach to education really work?

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see….

Monster High DIY

My one and only little girl turned 8 on Valentine’s Day. Lucky me to have a little princess on such a lovely holiday right? 😉 Well every year I ask her what kind of celebration she would like and if she would like me to make her cake or buy it. It seems for many of my kids the actual birthday cake is a large part of the birthday present. I like to surprise them with it sometimes but other times I let them select it and then help make it.

We’ll in this case she requested a ‘Monster High’ birthday and asked that I make her cake. She was nice enough to tell me that although I used to teach Home Ec I am not a professional and she is okay with the cake not being perfect. (S0 glad she had her expectations in check)IMG_3242

After searching the web for various Monster High cakes I selected three I thought I could pull off and let her choose from there. She picked the one with the doll in it and told me we could use one of the dolls she already owns. She brought me ‘Draculaura’ who apparently has the same birth date. Being this was my first time making this type of cake I decided to document it.

IMG_3240

1. I didn’t want to buy a new cake pan so I used the Betty Crocker bake & fillpan which I already had.

2. I baked according to directions but added an 8″ round pan base to help give it more height. (Those dolls are tall!!)IMG_0760

3. I used a long knife to hollow out a section for the doll to stand although she was still a bit too tall so I bent her legs to make it work. 🙂

4. Per request I used black and pink frosting. (FYI: If you start with chocolate  frosting it’s much easier to make black frosting)

IMG_08015. I followed the pattern on her actual dress to make it look as if it was one  large dress.

6. I used a piece of styrofoam cut in a circle as a base which I then wrapped with tinfoil. I didn’t want to put candles on the actual cake so I used the tips of my frosting tools to make holes in the foam base to push the candles in.

7. Ta da! Perfect? – No. But she loved it and that’s all that matters. 🙂

Things I used to do…

This morning while I was getting ready… (you know, putting my contact in while standing on one leg because the other leg is propping open a drawer of brushes and such which the 10 month old is playing in. If I move my leg he’d most certainly shut his little chubby fingers in the drawer). He decided to venture into another drawer and discovered my stash of fingernail polish which got me thinking. (After I put them all away of course) Painting my nails was something I used to do. Now they are ridiculously short and never painted unless it’s an event which involves a formal invitation.

Things I did BK (before kids)…in no particular order

  • Paint my nails
  • Fuss with my hair
  • Read for enjoyment ( I read but not very often and never finish a book)
  • Shower with out peeking out every few seconds like it’s a race
  • Sleep alone with my hubby (It’s inevitable that one of them will come crawl into our bed at night)
  • Sleep 8 hours
  • Go to work without baby spit up, goobers or other ‘token of appreciation’ I recieve from my babies
  • Wear a bikini proudly (not that ALL of my stretch marks are strips of honor I have earned 5 times over)
  • Train for the Tri’s I do every season (Yeah, I am an idiot not an athlete….pushing strollers, pulling the bike trailer…not real training)
  • Treat myself to mani’s and pedi’s
  • Get my hair cut regularly (scheduling such things is next to impossible…just too crazy for me I gave up so yes, my hair is getting long)
  • Buy salon products
  • Order food for myself when eating out (Now I just eat what the kids don’t finish…)
  • Carry a small purse
  • Watch TV/Movies
  • Date nights with my hubby
  • Enjoy shopping (I avoid the mall at all costs now)
  • spend $ on myself (I would much rather see the kids enjoy things or provide them with something they need than buy something I want)

It’s not to say that I will never do these things again. I will some day. Don’t get me wrong I am not complaining. I love being a Mommy and wouldn’t trade it for the world. They are little now and when they are older I’m sure I’ll do some of these things again. Who knows what the future holds…For now I’ll just laugh at the things I did when I had more time to myself and enjoy the giggles, grins and silly times with my 5 crazy kiddos.

What is on your list of things you did BK? 🙂

Keeping my LARGE family organized

As a working Mom of a large family there are a few things I do to keep my sanity. Often people ask how I do it all and honestly, I don’t know. I just do it. I usually reply with, “I don’t know,” or “I do what I can when I can.” I don’t claim to be supermom or anything like that. I just do the best I can with the time, tools, & talents and Lord has blessed me with. Could I be better? Of course! I try to improve all of the time and seem to find tricks here and there to help me out along the way.

A year ago a relative asked me for advice on how to balance work and home and although I was really excited to share and honored that she would think ask me I was a bit shy about admitting to some of the things I do to keep my big family organized. Running a house with 7 people is a tough job sometimes and I don’t as much sleep as I would like….but I wouldn’t have it any other way. 🙂

So, on with the confessions of a working Mom.

photo(9)  1. Locker System: This keeps everyone’s stuff’ in one spot. Assuming they each put their items away that is. Each child has their own locker with 1 shelf, 4 hooks, a drawer and a spot for their shoes. We keep their Bibles, lunch boxes, helmets, & diaper bags on the shelf. They hang backpacks, coats, etc. on the hooks. Their shoes, boots, and flip-flops on the ledge and their drawers are filled with hats, mittens, scarves, etc. We cut an outdoor rug to go on the ledge to keep the wet shoes and boots from ruining the wood. We also put a long roll of that same outdoor carpet in front of the drawers so they can walk into the house without making a big mess on the floors. photo(11)I’ll admit it took some training to get the kids to each put their stuff away but now they’ve got it.

2. Morning Message & Chore Chart: At school the kids get a morning message every day and they seemed to get accustomed to knowing the date, day of the week, and what’s for dinner type of things so upon their request I added this to the dry erase board which already included a chore chart. Every night I look at what the next day has in store and include that in the morning message so when the kids are going off to the bus they can see what to expect. (It also helps me to remember what is coming up as well). The chore chart came about after deciding making copies of a chore chart was wasting paper. The kids liked how visible the chore chart was as well as the ability to keep tabs on how well they were doing for the week. All it takes is a large dry erase board and some electrical tape and you can make one really easily.

3. Cork cork boardsBoards: Every child seems to have their own calendar of events, newsletters from school, & appointment cards. In order to keep it straight who has what and when I picked up these cork boards from Hobby Lobby so each child could have their own board. The younger kids boards are filled with well baby check ups, notes about when their teeth come in or where they should be developmentally based on their age. The older kids boards have their school lunch calendar, homework reminders, invitations for parties, etc. At times these have been a life-saver for my sanity.

4. Desk Space: With so many kids and some of them sharing room there isn’t a ton of deskspace in their bedrooms for a desk and frankly, we don’t like the idea of the kids working on homework in their rooms. We would much prefer they use computers and the internet in a common area where there are others around to help them when they need and keep them focused on the issue at hand. With so many people using the same desk we needed storage space for their paperwork, folders, pens, etc. Again-Ikea to the rescue. My hubby installed the shelf and other storage items allowing each child to have their own space. I love the chalk circles for notes & reminders as well. I am pretty sure we got those from Target. The giant desk calendar seems a bit much but works great to have a master calendar of our families events & appointments. (I would LOVE for it to be a giant computer monitor or digital frame to show our Google calendar or sync with it but I have yet to find such a product). We also added some plastic storage bins below for art supplies, craft supplies and play-doh. 🙂

5. Laundry: Doing laundry for 7 people can be overwhelming but thanks to the layout of our house the laundry room is on the second level slaundryo it’s much easier to keep up with it. The kids helped me label baskets (Found on clearance at Lowe’s)  so even if they can’t read, they know that the one with the picture of the light-bulb on it is ‘lights’ and so on so they help out by sorting their own laundry. Being the room is so close they frequently help me switch loads when I ask them. The biggest challenge is putting it all away. I have a nice long counter in the laundry room which is lined with bins (again-one for each child) and an equally long rod for hanging their clothes on. Once a week (or when the bins are full) the kids are each given their bins and clothes and we put them away together. I am working hard on getting the older ones trained to put theirs away without just stuffing it in their drawers all willy-nilly.

Yes, I am a control freak and crazy about organization but hey-it works for me. This is by no means the right answer for any other household. After getting over my embarrassment regarding these organizational quirks I decide it’s worth sharing if it might help someone else. I hope this post helps you in some way. 🙂

Dreamin’ up a DIY

As a little girl I played barbies, played house, etc. and had all kinds of little girl dreams of what my future husband would be like. They usually involved a knight in shining armor on a white horse or a prince of some sort. I have to admit, I got all I dreamed of an more.

He is so stinkin’ amazing! One of his ‘Menne’ talents have to be his handyman skills. I can be a pretty demanding woman because I tend to like things in what some may refer to as apple-pie-order. (Yes, I will admit to being a control freak). In order to keep things neat and orderly with 5 kids there have been some things I wish for and things I dream up that I don’t even know even exists. Somehow, someway he manages to understand what I am conjuring up and then makes it happen.

After our more recent DIY I decided I should share my ideas and his talents to anyone else who may have similar problems and provide some insight into how we deal with them. – And of course brag about my awesome husband 🙂

Problem #1: Garage Storage

With a large family garage storage 1we have a lot of stuff; bikes, camper, trikes, toys, powerwheels, wagon, strollers, lawn mower, snow-blower, hockey equipt., etc. We have a 3 stall garage and 2 vehicles so one might assume we have enough room. Not so 😦 I prefer that we part the vehicles in the garage and also like storing the camper in the 3rd stall which leaves little space for all of those other things. I wanted a way to hang the bicycles up from the ceiling but yet wanted to be able to reach them on my own. I laughingly asked for a way to magically pull the ceiling down with a rope…We’ll ask and you shall receive because this is what my husband came up with. All of the kids bikes are now within my reach and yet the little kids toys are still able to be stored and taken out for use very easily. I love it! (He also added a shelving system for the kids hockey equipment which saved space as well)

Problem #2: Entry Way

We have a locker system for our family when we enter the house through the garage but places to hang up coats, put on shoes, etc. when guests come has proven to be a challenge. We had a small piece of furniture with had hooks on it and a bench connected to it but it had been moved a few too many times and was broken and really too small for the area. Feeling like the entry way was not a functioning part of our home and without a place for people to take off their shoes without getting water and dirt on the hard floors I decided it entry waywas time for a change. As luck would have it, many stores have specific ‘entry way solutions.’ Who knew?? I guess not me. We’ll, after searching many DIY blogs, articles and stores this is what I dreamed up. A large rug to entry way 2allow for moving with shoes and a place to put them, a bench to sit down and put your shoes on, a place to hang up coats, a shelf, frames and mirror to give it more of a home feel. Of course my husband was able to deliver. After a trip to Ikea & Menards that is.

We removed the trim and inserted storage cubes are from Ikea to serve as a bench. The pillows/cushions didn’t fit perfectly but I decided close enough. The shelf, frames and mirror were also Ikea. The hooks & rug came from Menard’s. The square frame is a shadow box which houses the skeleton keys that were the actual keys from our first house. I now feel this part of the house is really connected to the rest and completes our home.

Kids and the Comments…

I haven’t had a chance to keep up on the cute and funny things my kids have been saying. Amazing how life gets in the way. 😉

My three-year-old sneezed recently aMy Kidsnd then in a panic waving his arms and stomping his feet began to yell and scream at whoever would listen as he demanded a ‘Bless you.’ I was kind of confused but I said, “bless you honey. Would you like a Kleenex?” He got upset and told me, “NO! I need a bless you!!” I explained to him I just gave him one after which he stomped off to the bathroom and got a Kleenex. After a bit of a discussion I figured out the tissue vs Kleenex debate combined with the common phrase of ‘bless you’ after sneezing had really got him confused. When someone sneezes we usually say “Bless you,” and then they get a Kleenex. Sometimes they are referLaurenred to as a tissue which he felt sounded the same as ‘Bless you.’ I got a good laugh out of that one! Too funny.

It must be something about that age because that is the same age my daughter was when she thought I was going to cut up pretty flowers and put them in my mixing bowl when we were baking cookies. I said we needed flour and she was terrified I was going to put a nice flower in there. Now that she is 7 I love to tell her that story.

Is it the holiday season?

My three-year-old makes just the cutest comments…I love hearing his thoughts on life because his perspective usually gives me reason to stop and think. A child’s innocence and the joy they find in the things we as adults take for granted it is so sweet.

With older siblings counting down the days until Christmas the little one tries to figure out this whole holiday and being he is now three he ‘gets’ much more than in previous years. The other day he came to me very causually and I anticipated he was going to ask for a drink of juice but instead he said, “Mommy, Is it the holiday season?” I was a bit taken back by his question because he doesn’t normally talk like that but I smiled and said, “Yes, it is.” He was so thrilled he smiled and punched his fist up in the hair shouting, “Yes!” He then ran to his older brother who is 5 and said, “Guess what? It’s the holiday season!!”

I am not exactly sure whatLinus Speech that means in his head but it’s a great example of how the kids hear thing regarding the holidays and don’t understand what it’s all about. My husband and I feel it’s very important to keep our children grounded in their faith and shelter them from some of what we feel the media can do to kids. We don’t have cable and stick with PBS & qubo. (We feel some programming seems to push the kids to grow up too fast) The commercials on television during the holiday season tell us to shop, shop, and shop some more. This makes our job as parents even more challenging. We find ourselves reminding the kids frequently what this holiday is all about.

The best idea I can’t claim as my own. A number of years ago my brother and his wife shared a family tradition from their own which my husband and I quickly adopted. Every year our children each get 3 presents. If you ask them why they can tell you. Christmas is about Christ. Jesus got 3 gifts so we get 3 gifts. They may write a laundry list of ‘wants’ and wishes on their Christmas lists and letters to Santa but they are very aware that they only get 3 gifts from Mom & Dad. They have decided they had better be on Santa’s good list to ensure he brings a present too. 🙂

With the decorated malls, the snow falling and or the Christmas music playing on the radio it is so easy to get swept up on the ‘holiday season’ spending a bit too much and or forgetting what it’s all about. It may be challenging but it is possible to remember the reason for the season.

Merry Christmas and ‘Menne’ blessings to you and yours in the new year.