Sunday, January 15, 2017

Home organization with 5 kids and 1120 square feet

While our townhouse has all the things we need, it doesn't have a lot of extras.  We have three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, the main floor is basically one room of a living room and dining room with attached closet kitchen, and then there's an unfinished basement downstairs.  When you add two grown ups and five small children, who seem to accumulate stuff at an astounding rate, we need some systems in order to maintain some level of order.  Here's our take on home organization with 5 kids in 1120 square feet. (Full disclosure, I don't think that square footage includes our unfinished basement which we use quite a bit, so technically the square footage we live in is larger.

Boxes: each child has their own box that they can use for whatever their little heart desires. (These are the top row on this shelf.)  Peter just got his own box right after Christmas (before the we had a box for electronics/DVDs/etc. and one for church magazines/books, but I combined those two into one and gave Peter his own.  The boxes are on the top shelf which Scott can't get into (yet) so things in them are relatively safe.  Every once in a while (like when I notice the kids having a hard time sliding their boxes back onto the shelf, I go through it with them and either reorganize things, get rid of things, or otherwise weed through their belongings.
The bottom row are three baskets, one for board books, one for cars/trucks/vehicles/ on for baby toys, etc. The last box has our DVDs and church magazines.
In the empty spot on the left we usually have all of our family copies of the Book of Mormon.

A place for cups.  This is a recent system.  Next to the microwave each child has a spot to put the cup they are using for the day.  They can then easily see and use it and the person who sets the cups on the table for dinner can grab them as well.

Over the door shoe rack.  This shoe rack is for storing out winter hats, gloves, mittens, scarves, neck gaiters, etc., and in Michigan we have a lot of these with each child having more than one pair of mittens/gloves.  There are 7 rows so each person gets a row starting with Scott on the bottom.  This way everyone can reach their stuff as well, although Scott has not learned to retrieve his own gloves yet.

Divided laundry hamper.  We got this three divider laundry basket when we got married and I love it.  It sits in the hall and everyone puts their clothes into in. One lights, middle darks, one whites.  When a section is full I do laundry (or go send Isaac to start a load).  One full section is roughly a load of laundry, unless the clothes have been crammed down especially hard in which case it can be more than a load..  Also pictured is one of the doors.  We have three doors upstairs and they have wreath hooks on them for hanging towels.  Our own bathroom is tiny with only one towel bar, so this works well to keep towels off the ground but close by.

Lockers/cubbies.  This locker system is awesome. A dear friend found it at the dumpster and later gave it to us! I don't know what we would do without it.  Each of the kids has a section, except Scott and Peter who share.  Neither of them have backpacks to worry about yet, so that works.  On top at the end is a basket, the catch-all of John. He keeps his keys, various work badges and names tags and I don't know what else in there.  Hanging next to the door is a hook.  Our keys go on there as soon as we walk in the door.  We rarely loose keys because of that little hook!  While I love a clear surface, it doesn't always look that clean.  I do my best to prevent myself and others from using the top of the cubbies as a storage place.

Library Book Box. This isn't glamorous, but it is functional and has been going strong since we lived in Maryland. It's our library book box.  All library book are stored here.  The stacks behind it are chapter books for the big kids.  We are avid library users and the books in this bin are constantly changing.

I also strive to keep the back of the piano cleared off.  At Christmas time we had the nativity here and then we put out family pictures.  A basket below is for holding piano books.  The Stop sign has a reverse that says Play and is used to signal if it's an ok time or not to play the piano.  Having the piano right in the middle of our house means it gets a lot of use (which I actually really love).  The Poster in the middle is our new family theme for the semester, developed together at FHE: be and awesome friend.  We're working on it. :)

Thursday, January 5, 2017


The last Christmas present we pulled out from under the tree skirt and had our kids open was a piece of paper with a list of words on it, including:

the Wilcox's
road trip
80 degrees
Grandma and Grandpa

Then we asked them what all of the words had in common... we were going on a road trip to visit the Wilcox's in Florida and would also see Grandma and Grandpa (and William, Adam, Clara and Deborah) and visit LEGOLAND.  We also had everyone's clothes packed and we were ready to hit the road after church. (Minus finding a home for our fish which I completely forgot about.  Luckily our kind neighbors the Stagg's were willing to take her in!)

Sunday we drove to Lexington, Kentucky and Monday we drove down to the Wilcox's outside of Orlando.  According to Google maps the trip was 17 hours of driving, but with traffic and a few car accidents it was longer than that and we didn't arrive until about 10:30pm.

Tuesday was filled with Disney Springs, William's birthday lunch at the T-Rex restaurant, seeing giraffes and zebras at a Magic Kingdom resort, and cousin time.  Once the kids were in bed at a reasonable hour the adult played cranium and shared something they have learned this last semester.

Wednesday was LEGOLAND.  It was a hot day and the park was busy, but it was the perfect sized amusement park for our family.  There were rides that all of the kids could enjoy, even Scott.  We spent all day there (arriving about 10:30am and leaving at 7pm) and the kids did great, even without naps and lots of walking.  Some favorite rides included: the car driving tests, Chima (a water ride were we got soaked), dinosaur rollercoaster, Island in the Sky that lifted us up high to see the whole park.  We also watched a waterskiing pirate show with some really amazing waterskiing stunts.  LEGOLAND Florida is built on what used to be botanical gardens with a lake and the grounds are really beautiful. 

Thursday we used our science museum passes to go to the Orlando Museum of Science.  It was huge and we only saw a small part of it, but it was fun and had some great areas.  We put two movies on when we got home and everyone picked one to watch while some napped.

Friday and Saturday we drove back to Michigan.  We stopped at the Tellus Science Museum outside of Atlanta for a break (and to use those museum passes again. They expired on the 31 and we got our money's worth out of them this year!) We also made a quick stop at the hotel we stayed in on the way down to pick up Joanna's brownie dog and toy that she had left there.

What a fun trip!  It was quick and there was a lot of driving, but the memories made were worth it.   Any time we can spend with family is worth the effort made to make it work.  And it was nice to soak in some warm sunny weather before heading home and facing the brutality and length of Michigan winter.

The Dream House that was not meant to be.

Sometimes I feel stuck in life and dissatisfied but unable to change things.  Towards the end of the year I was really feeling this way, and one of the areas that I was most frustrated with was our housing situation.  Where we live in the family/graduate student housing is great in so many ways and is a definite blessing, but it also has challenges and I was in a funk.  (Gratefully I am doing so much better now; lots of talking with John on our end of year road trip was helpful.)

Anyway, one particularly hard and discouraging day John humored me by saying let's just see what other housing options might be available.  So we got on craigslist and soon found a listing for a historic farm house on 32 acers (with a path that leads down to the river!).  The price was incredibly low for the size of house, land and perfect location (although it would have stretched us and probably dipped into our savings.)  It sits right off the freeway and across the street from a bus line that would take John to school, right next to a park with lots of trails and it's in our ward, only about 7 minutes from where we currently live. It has the space inside and out that I am craving.

I called the number listed and was connected to a kind old man who offered to show us the house that day.  We were already out for a cub scout campfire activity, so we swung by on our way home.  He took us all around and I think we were all enamored.  The house is big and has so much character!

So now we had some real thinking to do. Was it worth the move and the financial strain it would cause to move? How would our kids be? (Isaac would definitely have the hardest time not being around his friends every afternoon.) Would we drive them to their current school or change schools or homeschool? Did we really want to move when we know we'll be moving when John graduates anyway? Lots of questions.

That night we did a little research about the property and started to find out some things we hasn't originally known.  The 32 acers of land is currently being bought to build a retirement home along the river.  But the house itself was built in the 1880s and is listed on the national register of historic places, so it will not be destroyed.  The current owners are the Matthaei family, who donated the land for the Matthaei botanical gardens that we love.  The house was built by the Parker Family, and the park next door is Parker Mill, the historic mill also build and operated by the Parkers at one point in history.  Although I loved the history of the place, we knew that with the ownership changing renting might be even more risky.  John talked with the relator and the company and finally got the answer that if we started a contract they would honor it for at least a year at which point they couldn't guarantee anything.  Since we have about a year and a half before John is done a year long contract just wouldn't cut it.  I think we both knew that this dream house wasn't really meant to be.  It was fun to explore and learn about, and I will never look at it the same when I drive by, but for now I'll just do my best to be happy with what we have and where we are.

On Christmas Eve we drove by on our way to deliver gifts and I asked John to stop so I could take pictures.  The stone walls are about a foot thick.  All of the windows have great ledges that you can sit built into those thick walls!

Sunday, January 1, 2017


I really love the whole month of December as we prepare and build up to celebrating the birth of the Savior.  This year the Church lead the #LightTheWorld initiative and published service ideas each day for how we could emulate the Savior in small ways.  I filled a calendar with daily ideas that I thought would work for our family and we participated throughout the month.  Some of my favorite activities included listening to Christmas music all day, having the missionaries over for dinner, sharing a scripture on social media, memorizing a scripture together and visiting a nursing home to visit those who are lonely.  At the nursing home the people were so, so excited to see and talk with children.  Our kids were like little celebrities and I'm glad they could bring some happiness into the lives of others.

Here is the scripture we memorized:

And here is the calendar filled with ideas to do (although you can't see them well in this picture.) The kids and I colored it together:

The missionaries came over and after eating with us and sharing a message one of the sisters said that she comes from a family of 5 children who are close in age and now she has a better perspective on what it must have been like for her parents when they were little.  :) Glad we could lend some perspective.

Our ward also worked to provide gifts for 10 families, 9 of whom are refugee families from Syria.  We participated by adopting a refugee
mom and getting presents for her and then going grocery shopping for two refugee families.  I took all the kids on the shopping trip, and although it was a little crazy with two carts and trying to find foods Syrians would like, it was memorable and each of the kids picked out a treat they thought the families would enjoy trying.

On Christmas Eve we delivered the gifts to the one family who are not refugees.  They live in a run down trailer home and even though we just stood on the steps, I think it was good for the kids to see the different conditions some people live in and realize how much they have to be grateful for.
On our way home we set the timer for 5 minutes and ran around outside at Parker Mill to get out the wiggles:

I love how Joanna's preschool (which is run by a Lutheran church) did so much with focusing on Jesus's birth.  She was thrilled with the gifts she got, especially a new illustrated Bible. 

 Her class also participated in a Christmas singing concert which was adorable.  Even with Peter and Scott playing under the bleachers throughout the performance.

One of the kids took this blurry picture of our little Christmas tree that sits on a table.  Even still the bottom branches get bare frequently and the ornaments are constantly changing places. 

And we loved getting and sending Christmas cards.  Nana and Poppy even sent one and some ornaments from the mission field. 

Christmas morning was a Sunday this year.  Church was delayed until 11am, so we had time to open presents and get ready.  We saved the surprise for last and read the kids a list of words and asked what they had in common.  Words included: sunshine, family, road trip, Wilcox's, LEGOLAND, memories, shorts, hotel...  Isaac and Amy had actually overheard either John or I say something about the trip, so it wasn't a complete surprise for them, but I think they were still pretty surprised.  And they were surprised that we already had the bags packed and were leaving after church! The trip will have to be documented in another post...

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Peter is 3!

This little guy has turned three!  For his birthday cake he wanted a vanilla cake, blue frosting, with crocodile on top, then later added that he wanted a lion too.  Specific directions, but easy to carry out.  Luckily we have a crocodile and a lion plastic toy!

Peter's birthday was on a Saturday which meant we got to play together as a family.  We went to the Hands on Museum where everyone was happy to play until lunch time.

When you have three older siblings opening presents looks like this, with helpers all around who want to see what you got and play with it too.  Peter has been a good sharer of his three presents: a hot wheels car ramp, water coloring books, and magnetic building blocks.  All of the children have loved playing with them all!  And Peter got new socks and he will actually wear them!  This is a big deal because he is picky about his clothes, random things he will like and others he won't with no apparent rhyme or reason.  I'm glad he likes the socks.  (he's wearing a pair in the picture below.)

There was a little snow on Peter's birthday and we dug out the sleds and played a while.

 Peter is a tornado of emotions.  He can be so sweet and loving and helpful.  He can also be crazy, scream really loud and long, and cause all sorts of destruction.  He is determined and doesn't get dissuaded from what he wants (for good or bad).  He loves to wrestle and play with Scott and while this is a bit hard for Scott currently, I can just imagine how good of buddies they are going to be as they grow up!

Love you Peter!