What the kids & I are into these days No. 2

After my previous post What the kids & I are into these days, I really enjoyed the feedback from you all about the products, shows, etc that your family is into.  So I thought I’d write another post and keep the conversation going!  So here are a few more things rocking our world right now.

Sling TV

slingWe have been cable-free for most of our 15 years of marriage, mostly because we are ridiculously cheap frugal.  So we normally have an exterior HD antenna (like this one) for our local channels and Netflix.  This works GREAT, especially since it costs a whopping total of $8/month.  The only drawback is that we can’t watch many sports.. and we love us some football around here.  So last fall we decided to cancel Netflix and give Sling TV a try.  We loved it!  I’ll do my best to explain it.  Sling TV is an a la carte live cable service with no contract.  Their basic package is $20 a month and includes CNN, ESPN, Disney Channel and lots more (see pic).  Not only can you watch shows live, but there are also many previous episodes available to watch.  You need a device to stream Sling and we purchased a Roku to do this.  If you prepay your first 3 months of Sling TV, you can get a Roku from them for 50% off (info here).

What we loved:

  • Watching live sports
  • Disney movies
  • Live news
  • Movies on AMC
  • House Hunters, Duck Dynasty and of course Fixer Upper!

What we didn’t like:

  • Commercials.  We’re SO not used to commercials since we’ve had Netflix for so long.  I am amazed at how evil some of them can be!  So I had to stay close if my kids were watching.
  • There wasn’t as much for kids as there is on Netflix.

So we kept Sling TV through the football season, then cancelled it and resumed Netflix for the kids and to save money.  We’re planning to switch back when football season is here (go Noles!)

The Book of Virtues

book of virtuesI love to read aloud to my kids.  And I love classic literature.  The Book of Virtues combines both, so it makes the perfect addition to your home library.  Right now we are reading one or two short passages each morning.  The book is a collection of “moral stories” and is categorized by character quality, such as self-discipline, compassion, etc. You will find classic poems, Bible stories, writings by America’s founding fathers and much more.  Here’s an excerpt from one of our favorite poems called Boy Wanted…

A boy who is polite to every man and respectful to every woman and girl.

A boy who does not smoke and has no desire to learn how.

A boy who never bullies other boys or allows boys to bully him.

A boy who, when he does not know a thing, says, “I do not know”; and when he has made a mistake says, “I’m sorry”; and, when requested to do anything, immediately says, “I’ll try.”

How great is that?!

Trikke Carving Scooter

trikkeMy kids don’t play with toys.  I don’t get it.  But I’ve given up.  The truth is that they want to be outside playing with their friends, climbing trees, building fires, chopping down trees, fishing and piling way too many people into a paddleboat.  So when it’s time to make Christmas lists for the grandparents, I’m always on the hunt for anything that they can use outside.  Two years ago I hit the jackpot with these Trikke Carving Scooters.  Granted, these things are expensive, but hear me out.  They are equally fun for my 4 year old and my 13 year old, meaning this toy has lasting power!  It can either be powered by one leg like a traditional scooter, or by standing on it with both feet and twisting your body back and forth.  And they go really fast if you want them to.  I can’t say enough about how much we love these!


Now it’s your turn!  What is your famiy into these days?



Why I’m a little tired of being called a super mom

I could never do what you do.

Better you than me.

I don’t have as much patience as you.

These are the top comments I hear from other moms when they hear that I have lots of kids or that I homeschool.  And I’m here to say that those 3 statements couldn’t be any further from the truth.

You can do what I do.

You would probably do it better than me.

You SURELY have as much patience as me.

BThere is a myth that large-family and/or homeschooling moms are somehow a cut above the rest.  That only a select few can succeed at such a feat and the rest of moms shouldn’t even try.  As my tween daughter would say, that’s “riDONCulous.”

Just like a runner finishes a marathon or an accountant finishes an audit or a nurse graduates from school, any mom can raise lots of kids or homeschool.  And just like running, business and college, it’s not easy or for the faint of heart. Dare I say it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done?  But it should be hard.  Molding little tyrannical toddlers into responsible adults is no small job.  But it’s doable.  And worthy of being done.

So why shouldn’t you do it?  Why shouldn’t you be the one to raise a bunch of beautiful babies who go out and change the world?  Why shouldn’t you be the one to teach those minds of mush what they need to know?  Why not you?

But I must confess that I do have one secret weapon.  And I’m guessing many moms in my situation would agree.

I have Someone who steps in and takes over when I am spent, done, gone, about to run away.  He made me a promise a long time ago that when I am weak, He would be strong on my behalf.  I’ve taken Him at His word and found him to be completely trustworthy.

You have access to this same secret weapon.  His name is the Lord of Hosts. God Almighty.  He is the source of patience.  The source of order.  The source of organization.  The source of love.

How many times have I cried out to him (usually by about 8:00am,) okay Lord, I’m all out of patience!  I need to draw on yours now.  And He delivers.  Every.single.time.

So, yes, mom… you can do it.  Because He has all that you need.  He loves those babies even more than you do, if you can imagine it.  He spent 9 months crafting them in perfection in your womb, just the place He chose for them to begin.  And He has big plans for those mini monsters.  Plans for them to learn, to influence and to thrive.  Surely He will give you all you need to partner with Him in this incredible role of Mom.

Screen Time :: How we cut back

I hate TV.  The brain drain.

I love TV.  The silence.

I hate TV.  The questionable messages.

I love TV.  The silence.

So what’s a mom to do?  Sure, I could throw the TV out, but honestly, I like to watch TV sometimes.  Hello… Downton Abbey!  Football!  But my kids were watching too much.  In fact, they were watching more before breakfast than I wanted them to watch all day.  Plus we have a PS3, 2 iPod Touch’s and 3 computers.  It was getting out of control.

My Cinderella watching Cinderella for the first time.

My Cinderella watching Cinderella for the first time.

I scoured Pinterest for ideas, but I’m not down with charts, cute popsicle sticks in jars or basically anything I have to keep track of.  So I came up with my own lazy simple system, which we’ve used since July… and it works!  So here goes…

No TV in the morning.  Wow, they get up and do their chores and get ready!  It’s a beautiful thing!

After school, you can only watch TV by earning it.  I made a stack of index cards.  Each one has a chore or activity on it.  Each day I pick what goes on top.  When they want to “earn” screen time, they have to do that activity.  Examples:

  • Listen to 15 minutes of math songs
  • Listen to 15 minutes of Classical Conversations memory work
  • Read for 15 minutes
  • Play piano for 15 minutes
  • Ride your bike or shoot baskets for 15 minutes
  • Do a household chore (like sweep/mop kitchen, pick up family room and vacuum, etc)
  • Clean your room

Each of these earns 22 minutes of screen time (the typical length of an episode.)  Each kid can only earn once per day.  The other kids can watch what they pick.  So since I have 3 kids doing this plan, it equals about 1 hour of total screen time per day… about what I am comfortable with.  Of course, there’s plenty of “free” screen time, like when we watch something as a family, or when I am at my limit and gosh-darn-it someone turn on the TV!

It’s beautiful.  They don’t beg for TV.  I don’t have to remember who watched more or whose turn it is to pick.  And I’m getting them to do all of those activities without me even asking them to!

The littles watch TV on an as-needed basis.  So they may watch some while we do school or while I make dinner.  Once they start school, we’ll switch them to this plan.

So that’s what works for us.  Each family is different, with different convictions and styles.  But if you’re looking to cut back on screen time, I suggest you give this a try!

Birthday gifts:: How I managed to cut back on what we spend

carrieschuessler.wordpress.comIf your kids are at least preschool age, you know the reality of the birthday party scene.  For the next many years, you will spend a fair amount of Saturdays sitting next to a bouncy castle, eating carrot sticks Olaf noses and making small talk to people you’ve just met.  And all these parties will require a trip to the store where you’ll try to guess which princess or super hero the birthday kid is into, gawk at how much toys cost, then realize you need to spend $8 more on a card, bag and tissue paper.  Geez, did I really just spend $30 on a present for a child we barely know?

Disclaimer: This is not a post about being stingy.  I love generosity.  And God does too.  It’s His thing for sure.  This is a post about balance and perspective.

Forget the glitzy gifts. What kids really want on their birthday is to feel special.

Take a moment and try to add up how much you’ve spent in the last 4 months on scenarios like I described above.  Yikes. Probably more than we’d all like to admit.  Let’s say you went to 8 birthday parties and spent $30 on each one.  That’s $240. (Thanks to homeschooling, my math skillz are impressive).  So, is it fair for me to tell my daughter I can’t afford dance lessons this spring, but I can spend $240 on kids in her preschool class?  Now, maybe you’re in a great financial place and you don’t have to make those kinds of trade-offs.  That’s great.  But I’m guessing I’m not the only mom on a tight budget.

So how do we cut back?  After all, birthday parties are major social events for the preschool and elementary school crowd.  My kids count down the days, sometimes hours until they happen.  Well, here’s a few ideas:

1. We don’t go to every party.  It’s okay to pick and choose.  Go to all your besties’ parties, but maybe not to all the school ones or the football team ones or the I-think-we-met-at-the-library-once ones.

2. Start a “Gift Box.”  In my house, this is a cardboard box in my laundry room.  When I find things on clearance, I buy them and throw them in there.  Hit up the end-of-summer clearance at Target.  Grab some water guns, bathing suits, bubbles and beach toys.  Put them in your gift box and then pull them out for next year’s summer birthdays.  Instead of spending $20 on a full-price water gun, you can spend $10 and give them a water gun and a fun bathing suit.  Keep the gift box stocked all year and you’ll save a ton.

3. Think outside the toy box.  (See what I did there?)  Instead of the toy aisle, head for the craft or grocery store.  Do they love to draw?  Grab a sketchbook and good pencils with your Joann’s coupons.  Do they like to cook?  Buy them their own apron, measuring cups and cookbook at Ross.  No, these might not get the oohs and ahhs at the party, but they may get the most enjoyment later on.

4. Buy wrapping supplies on clearance.  Just a few days ago I scored a bunch of solid red wrapping paper at Ikea for $0.50 a roll.  It’s from Christmas, but who cares?  It’s solid red.  Add some bakers twine and I’ve got myself some Pinterest-worthy gift wrap.  Also, the dollar store sells brown kraft paper for $1 a roll.  Leave it plain or let your kids jazz it up with some markers.  Keep an eye out for bags and white tissue paper on clearance and stock up.  Oh, and don’t forget to save the bags you get from parties, if they are in good shape.

4. Skip the card.  I just saved you $4.  You’re welcome.  Grab some construction  or computer paper, stickers, whatever.  Sit your kid down and have them draw or write something.  Honestly, I adore these kinds of cards and they are usually the only ones we keep around here.

My daughter received this journal about 4 birthdays ago and she still uses it! It wasn’t a toy, but it was still a wonderful gift.

5. Stop caring what other parents think of you.  Seriously, I could write an entire series on this.  Your identity is in Christ, not in the fact that your gift got the most squeals from the kid (or the parents.)  Oh, how much better life would be if we all (me included!) would live this out.

Now, there is a time that I gladly break all these rules.  When I buy gifts for family.  Nothing out of the gift box.  We go to the store, grab just that perfect gift and wrapping paper.  We might even buy the musical $6 card.  But that’s only a few times a year and I always look forward to it.

Last thing.  Can your kids remember who got them what and how it was wrapped from their last birthday?  Probably not. Do you know what kids want?  To feel special on their birthday. So skip the glityz gifts and wrapping and instead show that birthday kid that they are the most special one in the whole world, even if you’ve only met them twice at karate.

How do you manage the birthday scene?  Comment below and let me hear your ideas!

The Beautiful Grossness of Motherhood

I am an introvert.  I have five children.  This is proof of God’s sense of humor.  After spending 5 hours homeschooling each day, my ears and mouth need a break.  So many words.  From me.  From them.  So then I say these words: Go outside. And close the door.  

We are blessed with a big yard and five homeschooling besties next door, so this works.  But there is one problem.  Dirty The Beautiful Grossness of Motherhoodfeet.  (Should flip flops even count as shoes? But I digress.) So several times a day I find myself in the bathroom, scrubbing the backyard off my littles’ feet.  I’m not a big fan of this activity.  It’s gross.  Super gross.  For all the diapers I’ve changed and boogers I’ve picked, the foot-washing ranks at the top of my eeewww list.

But it’s not just gross.  It’s almost pointless.  Because those shiny little feet don’t stay shiny for long.  They will soon be covered with backyard again.  And we will be back at the sink, digging dirt from between tiny toes.  And sometimes while I scrub, I look at myself in the mirror and look at my un-make-uped face, my hair that needs colored and maybe even brushed, and I feel small.  I feel like “just a stay at home mom.”  How no one will ever know or thank me for all the little things I do for my family.  I think about a woman somewhere with her freshly colored hair, in her pencil skirt and stilettos, sitting in some important meeting with important people, thinking her own thoughts and peeing whenever she wants to.  I imagine the appreciation she receives, the attention her work brings.  And I feel small.  

Then I read a story.  Maybe you can guess which one.  A story from John 13 about a very important person, in fact the most important person who ever lived, who spent time washing dirty feet.

Jesus…rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet…

It isn’t everyday a stay-at-home mom can say she’s done exactly what Jesus did.  I’ve never fed five thousand or raised the dead, but, I have washed feet!  And so did He!  What a beautiful moment of being able to personally relate to my Savior!  This seemingly menial task takes on tremendous importance in this new light of revelation.

But surely Jesus didn’t just wash their feet because He was tired of the stink or wanted to protect the floors.  No.

So when He had washed their feet… He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.

The sight of God Almighty on bent knee over a basin of dirty water sends a very clear message.  That He values service.  That humility is paramount.  That menial tasks have worth in the Kingdom.  In that moment, He saw me at the sink, and He said, “Carrie, I value what you do for your kids.  It’s important.  It’s the work of the ministry.  Keep at it.” :: The Beautiful Grossness of MotherhoodSo, what “small” tasks occupy your days?  Do you care for an aging relative?  Remember to call a lonely friend?  Do you work a little extra so you can support a missionary?  Do you write encouraging notes to your pastor?  Mow your neighbor’s yard?  Spend hours in prayer that no one ever sees?  Do you work with excellence for a boss who doesn’t seem to notice?  Do you serve a spouse who never says thank you?  My friend, you are washing feet.  He sees, He knows and He is pleased.

I gave in to my child… and it was the right thing to do.

Anne Claire - poolThis post goes out to all of you super-consistent moms.  Ladies, you know who you are. Nothing slips through the cracks at your house.  Each roll of the eye, throw of the sippy cup and slam of the door gets a talk and a consequence.  You pride yourself on how many times you’ve left a cart full of groceries at the store to take your toddler home for some much-needed discipline.  And nothing gets your panties in a twist like watching another mom be inconsistent with her kids.

You see, that’s me.  I run a tight ship.  I value obedience and I’m not afraid to dole out consequences.

But recently I totally gave in.  Caved.  Let the screaming, misbehaving, disobedient 4yr old get exactly what she wanted.  And it was the right thing to do.

Maybe you have a child like this.  Since the day she was born, she knew what she wanted and how she wanted it.  My disapproval didn’t bother her in the least.  People-pleasing was not in her vocabulary.  Thankfully, with lots of consistency and (more importantly) love, she is now a truly delightful, mostly obedient child.  Seriously, I am crazy about that girl.  But. She can still have her moments.

A little backstory.  We live on a tight budget.  Like seriously tight.  Like seven-people-living-on-a-firefighter-income tight.  But I wanted the 4 and 3yr old to take swim lessons.  So I sold our never-used Step2 climbing thingy and earned the $110 I needed.  That’s a lot of money in my world.  Do you know how much Target clearance goodness I could buy with $110?  But I digress.

So time came for the lessons.  I had a bad feeling about this.  The moment we arrived at the pool, that precious little 4yr old made a decision.  She was not doing this.  No way.  No how.  No sir.  For THREE days I drove those children 20 minutes to that pool.  And for THREE days she screamed bloody murder.  I took away all that she held dear and more.  No sir.  I gave her consequences.  No ma’am.  I made her sit there in the hot sun for 30 minutes (heck, I wanted to get in!)  No way.  She was not going in.  Did I mention I paid $110?

We had 6 days left and I had a choice to make.  Would I fight it out and prove my point?  Would I eventually give out enough consequences that she would relent?  This is what “fit” with my style of uber-consistency.  But that’s not what I did.  Nope.  We quit swim lessons.  We never went back.  I gave her all of her toys back, didn’t follow through on most of my threats.  I told her we were done and didn’t even scold or lecture her.  And we moved on with our summer, now with 6 unexpectedly free mornings.

And guess what?  A few days later she asked to take off her armies in the pool.  I said yes and watched in amazement as she swam all the way to the other side and back  She has been swimming ever since.  Apparently she didn’t need those lessons after all.

But I did need them.  Here’s what I learned…

Sometimes the peace in your home and your heart is more important than that small battle you are fighting.

There will be plenty of other chances (plenty) to reign in that girl’s stubborn side.  But this was not the time.  She is a good girl who was afraid to get in the water with a stranger.  This one episode doesn’t mean she’s on a one-way street to a life of crime and drugs.  And my choice to give in doesn’t mean I’m on a one-way street to being a terrible mother.

I learned to lighten up, throw in the towel, leave the battle for another day, and maintain peace in my home.  And she learned how to swim.