Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Rule of 8s – Managing my family

There are a few key things that I’ve found make life a little more pleasant in our home. These are the things that, when I don’t do them, make our lives crazy. I don’t have it all down perfect by any means, its definitely a work in progress. But I have found a few things that make a big difference.

Always have a plan – Whether its a plan for meals or a plan for who is driving who where and when you need to have a plan. It can relieve so much of the tension and make it easier to delegate tasks to other family members. There are a couple areas where I have pretty detailed plans.

Meals –  

  • Background – I love to cook – most of the time. But working full-time I can’t cook a meal from scratch every night. And with three busy teenagers every night presents a different schedule. The boys don’t want to eat a heavy dinner 30 minutes before soccer practice. There are nights we are finally all home to eat at 9 pm, but if we have the opportunity for a family dinner together we will take it. I have also experimented with a lot of different ways to get a good meal on the table each night. I’ve done freezer cooking with friends and on our own, shopping weekly with a rotation of menus (Each week has 5 entres and the grocery list to make those 5 meals. I can take this to the store along with a short list of staples and have everything we need for the week. I have 3 of these created so we don’t repeat a meal for three weeks.)
  • The Plan – I make menus at the beginning of each week (or sometimes two weeks). I plan for 5 entres a week – this usually gets us through a week because there will be at least one night of leftovers and one night when we are going somewhere else for a meal (fundraisers, work meeting, etc.). I sit down with the family calendar and look at what we have for the week as far as evening activities. Mondays are exceptionally tough days for us with Dad having a later meeting at work, the oldest two music lessons, soccer practice for the younger two and scouts for all three. Literally there is not a time between getting out of school and 9 pm when we are all at home.  This often means Crockpot meals on Mondays so everyone can eat whenever they have 15 minutes. We get our kids involved in choosing the menu, making the meals and clean up. {We even had our oldest two teenage sons do the grocery shopping last week. I only got 3 texts during their adventure and they did a great job! There is information in the lists section that will explain how I could do thisJ} Once the menu is decided I look at the calendar again to choose who will be the chefs and the bus boysJ. I have two people assigned to cook each night; it might be an adult and a kid or two kids. Fortunately my boys enjoy cooking and have been doing it for a long time. One person is assigned to cleanup each evening. This isn’t a set schedule since each week is a little different. We look at what they have going on and make assignments based on who can be there at cooking and cleanup time.
  • Pros: We have a plan! No more wondering on the drive home from work what I can throw together for dinner. Everyone is in on the plan and has a say in the menu. The kids are more likely to eat meals they’ve helped plan and prepare. It also helps on the grocery bill – we make fewer trips to the grocery store so we’re less likely to make those impulse buys.
  • Cons: It does take time coming up with the menu each week and making the grocery list to go with that menu. It would be nice to take the time to make another set of cards with menus and groceries. Sometimes we don’t feel like having what was planned. When this happens we usually look to see what day we can swap with. It’s only a problem when the chef doesn’t know how to make the new selection.

Cleaning –   

  • Background –  I’ve tried a lot of methods over the years, some successful and some not so much. I’m a big fan of spreadsheets, so for quite a while we used a spreadsheet with all the tasks that need to be done. I would color code them by family member and print out for cleaning day. This worked well when the kids were younger and spent more time at home on a Saturday. This started to be a problem as their activities began filling up our weekends and we had less time all together. We switched to a card system to deal with this change.
  • The Plan: Each cleaning job has its own index card. There is a set for weekly and a set for monthly. They all go in a file sorter behind one of 4 tabs; This Week, Next Week, This Month, Next Month. There are about 25 weekly jobs, divide by the 5 people in the family and everyone has 5 jobs. They can do them any time during the week (unless we have something special going on – then I give them a timeframe). When they complete a job they write their name and the date completed. They file this card in the Next Week file. At the end of the week we move all the cards from the Next Week tab, back to the This Week tab. The same goes for monthly jobs, once completed they go behind the Next Month tab. This one is switched out at the end of the month. 
  • Pros: They can budget their time and if they have a busy evening on Monday and Wednesday they might choose to do their cleaning on Tuesday and Thursday. That works for me, as long as things get done. I think this is a great time management teacher as well. I can easily see what has been done and what is left to be done. With a little review of the cards I can see who has been working and who has been procrastinating. This system rewards the early bird. They choose most of their own jobs – the exception being changing their own sheets and dusting/vacuuming their own room. If they wait til the end of the week they will undoubtedly be cleaning toilets and mopping floors. If they get to work early they may just clean bathroom mirrors, vacuum the living room and sweep.
  • Cons: We’ve had to force some trades when one kid always wants to do the easiest jobs – often the kid who has the most time on his hands. The older the kids get the harder it is for them to find the time to keep up. Now and then cards will disappear when someone wants to choose their jobs, puts them in their room and forgets they left them there. The biggest con is the fact that the house is rarely completely cleaned. But I think that’s normal with five busy people.

Make a list – 

  • Background:  I’m a list maker, I have lists for everything. And sometimes I add things to my list just so I can cross them off! It gives me a sense of accomplishment. If I break down all the things on my plate into small tasks and get them on a list its not near so overwhelming.
  • The Lists: There are a few areas that always have a list going.   
    • Groceries: Our grocery list is the most perfected list I have. It is kept in a spreadsheet, of course. I have all our basics as well as the common ingredients we use for cooking most of our meals. They are grouped by aisle in the store so I can work my way through the list as I go through the store. I have a column to x if we need the item and another column for a c if I have a coupon for the item. We print the list after we get groceries and mark it as we run out of things. Then, before we head to the store we update with things needed for the meals we’ve chosen.
    • Home Improvement Projects: I also keep a list of home improvement projects that need to be done so when we have a little free time we know what is on our list. I also keep a list of big projects we need/want to do; like siding the house, replacing the deck, garage doors. This list has cost estimates and is prioritized. This way when we win the lottery we will know exactly what we want to do with our winningsJ.
    • Christmas Lists: My most complicated lists come at Christmas time. I have a master list of what is on everyone’s wish list with an estimated cost. Because we buy for some grandparents and give lists to so many family members, I include who the item has been mentioned to and ask them to let me know if they purchase any of the items I suggested. It takes some of the surprise and spontinaity out of gift giving, but after the year Hubby received 3 drop cords, 3 sets of jumper cables and 3 hoodies it became apparent it’s a necessity. It also allows me to track how much we are spending on each kid and how many gifts they are getting.
    • Scrapbooking Lists: I’m pretty OCD when it comes to scrapbooking. I have to plan out pages before I can start so that I know what will be a double page and a single page spread. I want to know that I have logical single pages to go together. You can read about all my scrapbooking quirks in this post. I do keep lists of what I plan to scrapbook and if I have particular stickers, memorabilia or the like that I plan to put with that page.

And a special note about lists – whatever you choose to keep lists about and for, having a specific place for your lists is important – they don’t do any good if you can’t find them.

Share the plan – It does no good to have the plan if no one else knows about it. Tell all those involved and make sure they know their part in the plan. Making sure everyone knows the plan and knows where to find the details themselves will make your life easier.  I used to spend a tremendous amount of time telling family members what the plan was and what the next step would be. When I found ways to let them own the plan and be a part of it, it took some of the pressure off of me. Which leads to my next point.

Own your part and let others own theirs – This is probably the most difficult part for me. It’s easy to feel the need to pick up the slack for family members who aren’t doing their part. Its kind and generous to step in for someone who is having an exceptionally bad day or had a surprise commitment come up. But constantly bailing someone out isn’t doing them a favor. As a parent I am challenged to focus on my part and let them learn to manage theirs. They will fail sometimes. There will be days when there is no supper made or the house is a mess, but those are great opportunities to do a little situational analysis. Why didn’t it get done? What could they have done differently to make it happen? How can they fix the situation now that it’s happened?  We learn much more from our failures than our successes.

Put systems in place – I’ve talked about a lot of the different systems I have in place.  Its important to put processes in place that work for you. This is where the uber-organized can get caught. I love spreadsheets and can create a very complicated plan pretty quickly. And just as quickly the family can completely tune me out. The process has to help make things easier, not create more work. This can take a lot of trial and error and some great plans just won’t work. Keep trying. You will find one that works for your family. For instance, we have a calendar on the wall that lets everyone know what is happening each night of the current week. It also lists the menu for the night and who is responsible for cooking and clean up (the chefs and bus boy). This means any member of the family can see what’s going on, where everyone will be and what their role is is in the plan. This works great when you are at home, but when you are at school and trying to sign up for volunteer opportunities on Saturday it’s not helpful at all. So, we also implemented a Google Calendar and synced all the family phones to it so everyone knows the schedule wherever they are. You can read more about our calendars in this post.

Follow your plan – My friend Kelly teases me when I have things in my calendar and still get surprised by something because I simply neglected to look at the calendar. The plan won’t do any good if it isn’t implemented. You can make all the lists in the world, but until you do the things on the list you won’t make any progress.

I hope you find some helpful tips to manage your own family. I would love to hear what processes, lists and plans you have in place that have made your life easier! I love learning from other’s experience. Leave a comment with your best tips.


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8-8-8 Rule

Have you heard of the 8-8-8 rule? I just heard about it recently and it’s been on my mind alot. The idea is that to live a balanced life you need to spend 8 hours for work, 8 hours for rest and 8 hours for yourself. It’s an interesting idea. I like guidelines, or maybe its targets I can aim for; something I can guage my success by. 8-8-8 lets me compare where I am and see what needs to be adjusted.

So, with all my contemplation about this “rule” I have, of course, come up with a few tweaks. I really don’t need 8 hours of sleep. I function quite well on 7 hours a night consistently. And there are plenty of ways I’d like to use that extra hour rather than sleeping! I work in a non-profit and one of the things that keeps me in that world (its not the paycheck) is the flexibility and the hours. I work a 35 hour week with some evening and weekend commitments. So I don’t have a problem with the 8 hours for work. But the 8 hours for me? That just doesn’t work.

I don’t know of a Mom or Dad who has 8 hours of me time. It’s just ludicrous. But, as a Mom I do need some me time. I can tell when it’s been a while since I’ve had any. I’m not nice when I haven’t had time to feed my soul, as I describe it. These are the things that rejuvenate me and allow me to come back strong. As a mom, your time is not your own. You have to put everyone else’s needs ahead of your own. And that’s as it should be for this season of life. But that doesn’t mean you never make time for yourself.

I think it’s about finding balance in the last 8 hours. Maybe it needs to be 3-3-3; 3 on family, 3 on marriage and 3 on self. The sheer management of a family of five is time consuming. From planning meals to updating schedules, to managing the cleaning to getting everyone where they need to be when they need to be there with the equipment they need to have.  I probably spend at least 3 hours per day on those tasks.

Its so easy to put your marriage on the back burner during these parenting years. It would be so simple to set it on auto pilot and focus on the activity of the day. But, when you do that day after day, week after week, year after year, it adds up. You wake up one day and realize, your marriage has been on the back burner for years! And you’ve done a big disservice to your family, your spouse and yourself. When the kids are grown and gone, the damage is done and its much more difficult to reconnect.

And woven throughout the 8 (or 9) hours is faith development and a personal relationship with God for yourself, nurturing your children’s spiritual life and keeping Christ at the center of your marriage. Not a small task, but more important than all the rest.

That’s all nice in theory, but when the rubber hits the road how do I make it work? I will share what I’ve learned and what tips I’ve come up with for managing the remaining 8 hours of my day in a future post.

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The End of a Generation

The boys with their Great Grandma Iona at Christmas

Our family experienced a death a couple weeks ago. My Grandma Iona passed away. She was the last of a generation for me. When I was born I was lucky enough to have four grandparents and four great grandparents living. I lost one great grandmother before I was one and by the time I was 15 they had all passed away. I have lots of fond memories of my grandparents and great grandparents when I was a little girl. Its too bad that it often takes a death to take us back to those places of our childhood. I remember Great Grandpa Markwardt with his big thumb. He would play games with me as I sat on his lap, and he always gave us silver dollars for our birthday – one for each year. If it was your sibling’s birthday you got one silver dollar. I got my earlobes from Great Grandma Blakewell. They are substantial. She taught me to tat (loopy crochet-like lace) and helped me make a cathedral window quilt pillow top. I had a connection with her. I was a teenager when she passed away and it was a pivital experience for me. It’s her daughter that died last week. They were a lot alike in my mind. I wonder if they thought so.

When I got married, Grandma Iona gave me three gifts that meant the world to me. She knew how much family history meant to me and chose gifts no one else could have given me. One was my Great Grandma Blakewell’s rolling pin. It’s nothing special to look at. In fact it has two different handles on it. But knowing that my great grandma used it made it special to me; a connection to my past, my heritage. The second was a set of chair doilies that my Great Grandma Markwardt made. There is one for the headrest, and one for each arm of the chair. They are embroidered and have pink crocheting around the edge. I have never put them on my furniture – with three boys they wouldn’t really work – but they are a cherished heirloom. Knowing the work that went into them and picturing the same type of doily in her living room makes me feel connected. The third gift was her own recipe for Cream Pie.

Grandma’s Cream Pie has quite a following in our family. Its really a simple recipe, no fancy ingredients, just the kind of things you always have on hand. But it is such a treat! I don’t remember the first time I had it, I just remember it always being at family gatherings. And I remember there was never enough to go around. The grandkids and aunts & uncles would try to sneak out to the dessert table unnoticed to get first dibs. Sometimes the pie would even disappear only to be found under someone’s chair or in the bedroom. I used to wonder why she didn’t just make more, but looking back that was half the fun of the pie – the quest for your piece.

Brothers and their pie

As our family gathered at my parents’ house for the funeral and all the traditions that surround that time, we of course had cream pie. I think my mom made four of them! And still one after another we kids all attempted to sneak more than our share. The next generation (my kids and my nieces and nephews) learned a thing or two that day. Like, you never leave your plate of pie unattended while you get a fork. Nor do you turn your attention in one direction if someone is sitting on the other side of you. It’s just not safe and you are quite likely to lose your pie. I have to think Grandma Iona would have been laughing if she were there. She shared that recipe with me and handed me a family tradition. Something I can and do share with my family.

There also comes a time in your life when you realize your grandparents are human and fallible. They have strengths and shortcomings like the rest of us. My grandma Iona didn’t mince words. You never had to wonder what she was thinking. She told it like she saw it and was very opinionated. Might sound familiar to those who know me. The last time we saw Grandma she said to Oldest Son, “Don’t take this wrong, but you used to be a nice looking gentleman, now you look like a teenager.” The world according to Grandma Iona. She was from the generation where children were to be seen and not heard. She didn’t have much time for nonsense and thought a lot of the things kids do today is nonsense. But she could also kill, pluck and dress a chicken, sew matching outfits for her granddaughters and cook a mean dressing at Thanksgiving. I’d like to think she gave me my ability to adapt, persevere, take the hand I’m dealt and deal with it. She gave me my tell-it-like-it-is nature and a bit of irreverence. I will miss her spunk.

And with her passing comes the end of a generation. My father is now the oldest in the family. And so I reluctantly enter a new season in my life.

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