Balance and Discipline (2): Work

Posted February 13, 2015 by DCM
Categories: Family Life

It seemed in the past like I would be really productive for a day or a week, and then something would derail me and I would just zone out while the house fell down around me.  Or I would only do the work that I wanted to do (like homeschool prep) rather than the work I needed to do (like staying on top of the checkbook and bills).  I now know that part of this was probably a low-level of depression that I lived with for years, but that is (hopefully) all in the past.

So, as a reminder this is my new schedule that I’ve been trying to assimilate:

Morning Prep
Coffee & Morning Prayer
Dressed for the Day
Schoolwork (8:30)
Lunch (11:30)
Chores (12:30)
Cassidy Nap (1:30)
Coffee & Afternoon Prayer
Dinner (2:30)
Recreation (3:30)
Chores (4:30)
Evening Prayer (5:30)
Bedtime Snacks (8:00)
Bedtime Prep (8:30)
Bedtime Routines (9:00)

If you notice, I have two hours slotted for chores at 12:30 and 4:30.  By chores, I mean housework or other things necessary to keep the household running (bills, phone calls, homeschool prep).  Now this doesn’t necessarily mean these are the only times that I’ll be doing chores.  Part of my Morning Prep is unloading the dishwasher while I wait for my kettle to warm up my coffee water.  Part of my Bedtime Prep is loading up the last of the dishes and running the dishwasher.  And I spend at least two hours each day homeschooling.

There are times during schoolwork when the kids are working quietly, and they don’t need me hovering at the table.  I try to use these times for switching out laundry, cleaning out the sink, or other easily interrupted chores (if I’m not having to use that time dealing with the preschooler and toddler).  And if we happen to finish all of the schoolwork before 11:30, then I expect myself to work on chores until 11:30.

Another part of the equation for balancing work is setting up realistic To Do lists for each day.  There are some things that are just a given for everyday (like dishes).  Laundry usually takes 3 to 4 days during the week.  Then there are the things that come up that are time sensitive, like appointments that need to be scheduled or garbage that needs to go out.  There are also the things that ideally would get done, but life will go on even if they don’t.

I also need to be aware of how much time each chore will take.  Preparing for the next homeschool quarter can take at least 2 hours of work, so that’s not a good day to plan on switching out the kids’ seasonal clothes (another multi-hour/multi-day chore).  Some days might have four big chores on the list, and some days might have ten short chores on the list.

It is really easy to get over-whelmed with the amount of housework waiting to be done at any given time.  I could do nothing but clean my house for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and there would always be something that still needed to be scrubbed.  With five kids in the house (most of whom are home all day every day), keeping the house at a basic level of cleanliness is a Sisyphean effort.  I have also had to accept that my goal right now is just to keep things from getting too gross.

Disclaimer:  My kids are spoiled and do not have regular chores (other than putting away their laundry).  It is something I have tried to institute from time to time, but I haven’t had the energy and strength to be consistent.  However, there are times over the course of a week when I expect them to help out.  And in general, I try to teach them to become self-sufficient and clean up after themselves.

So, my goals for balancing my work load on a daily basis are to have realistic expectations for my To Do list, to plan on about 2 hours of chores per day, and to not allow myself to get over-whelmed into trying to do everything or to feel guilty for the things that don’t get done.

What’s It Like?

Posted February 6, 2015 by DCM
Categories: Family Life

I was at lunch with a friend one day, and she asked me, “What’s it like to be the mother of five children?  Really, what’s it like??”  I could understand her curiosity since she is the mother of an only child.

She was totally correct in her guess that it is exhausting.  I admitted that the hardest part is the never ending demands.  Someone always needs/wants something:  drinks, food, diaper changes, television/computer time, something to be fixed, something to be found.  There are some periods in the day when I can not sit down for more than five minutes at a time.

But now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I think I could paint a clearer picture.

What is it like to be the mother of five children?

  • Loud:  The times of quiet are very few and far between.  Kids are always screaming, laughing, screaming, playing, screaming, crying, screaming, and fighting.  If nothing else there is the din of two computers and a television, usually turned up loud in order to be heard over the constant chatter.  And did I mention the screaming?
  • Messy:  I’m not just talking about the basic mess that any person or people make just through the course of living life; I’m talking extreme messiness.  A lot of this has to do with the fact that most of my kids are still very young.  Hopefully things will get less messy as they get older, more responsible, more competent, and more coordinated.

    But there are constantly toys everywhere, crumbs and half-eaten snacks everywhere, spilled drinks everywhere, crumpled tissues and paper towels everywhere, shoes and jackets and clothing everywhere, and scratches and crayon marks on the walls and furniture everywhere.I try to make rules to keep food and crayons in the kitchen, but the moment you blink the kids become as stealthy and lethal as Weeping Angels.

    doctor_who_weeping_angelsSome of the kids are more helpful about cleaning up their messes than others, but training them to clean up messes properly is as much of a chore as trying to keep up with all of the messes that need to be cleaned.  I’ve learned from my friends, though, that this is pretty much par for the course for large families.

  • Challenging:  Being a parent to any child is challenging, especially for those of us who really take our parenting job seriously (some would say too seriously).  It’s a challenge to try to find that right balance of discipline and freedom that will allow your child to follow her dreams, pursue her talents and interests, play to her particular strengths, and overcome her particular weaknesses in order to assist her in becoming the person that God designed her to be.

    When you multiply that times five, it becomes even more worrisome and intense.It’s really hard when each child has different needs, wants, temperaments, and personalities.  Just navigating dinner can be a mine-field when you have one child that won’t eat tomato sauce, one that won’t eat meat, and one that won’t eat anything but crackers.  You try to be fair to make sure that one child isn’t constantly receiving special treatment over the others, but sometimes allowances have to be made for age or circumstances.  While the constant requests and messiness are physically exhausting, this balancing act is mentally exhausting.

  • Funny:  There are several times a day when the kids are just funny.  Sometimes it’s a little one just being cute because of their age, saying funny things or being silly with their little chipmunk voice.  Sometimes it’s an older one with a rye observation, cheeky quip, or intentionally exaggerated reaction.  Sometimes dinner is like an HBO comedy special (with less cursing).  There is a lot of personality and a lot of laughter in our house.
  • Sweet: One of my favorite things is watching my children enjoy each other’s company.  They love each other, they hate each other, and they love each other.  I live for those moments when they are playing well together: sharing an adventure on Club Penguin, playing with Barbies or Little People, or engaging in pretend play as superheroes or puppies.Sometimes I’ll walk in the living room to see some combination of kids snuggling together under a blanket while watching television.  Especially as a homeschooling parent, I get a thrill when I see one kid teaching another kid how to do something, whether it’s U.S. geography or how to put on their shoes.All four older girls are constantly looking after their youngest sister, making sure she doesn’t put a choking hazard in her mouth or comforting her when she is being whiny.  At times they even look after and try to soothe each other.  There is always someone willing to give or accept a hug or a kiss.  There is always someone ready to snuggle as soon as I sit down on the couch.  I’ve never been so popular in my life.  Sometimes this can get a little over-whelming, but most of the time it’s just sweet.
  • Passing:  I am very aware that the days are passing too quickly.  It seems like just yesterday that I was bringing my oldest home from the hospital, and now she is 12.  It won’t be too much longer before she’s as tall as me, if not taller.  (We actually can wear the same size shirts sometimes!)  My youngest, who is probably my last, is already two.  She’s becoming less of a baby and more of a little girl.  I’m almost done with sippy cups and diapers.  Before I know it she’ll be too big for me to carry in my arms with her head on my shoulder and her soft hair caressing my cheek.  It’s bittersweet.One day they will be all grown up and moving on with their lives, and my life won’t be quite so loud, messy, and challenging.  Instead of a bunch of young children, I will have five adults whose company I can hopefully enjoy as friends.  Oh, I am sure that I will still worry about them, and I hope they will still accept advice and guidance from me at times.  But I won’t be so physically responsible for their health and well-being ever day.  I will be past the point of worrying that every parenting mistake I make will scar them for life.  The time that they were children will have been a small part of the time we will have had together.

There’s Nothing to Eat

Posted January 31, 2015 by DCM
Categories: Family Life

A few months ago I started doing my grocery shopping once every two weeks.  This means that I do ALL of my grocery shopping every other weekend (while the kids are with their dad), and I try to avoid making any other store visits during that two-week period.

One of the concerns I had when I decided to first try this was that we would run out of food to eat.

As it was I was going to the store every week, and the kids would complain “there’s nothing to eat”.  What this really meant, though, was that there was nothing they wanted to eat.  My kids have been pretty spoiled.  They are accustomed to having TWO sugary bedtime snacks every night.

It took a little trial and error to get an idea of what two-weeks worth of food would be.  A favorite snack one week is out of favor the next.  All of the good fruit and the favorite snacks start running out around the start of the second week.  Sometimes the dinners are cobbled together the last few days.  However, there is in fact still a ton of food left in our house even when “there’s nothing to eat”.

For example, here are some pictures of our food supply on a Friday before a grocery shopping weekend.

Disclaimer #1:  Yes, my family eats a ton of processed food.  It’s my choice how I “poison” my kids.

Disclaimer #2:  Yes, I know this would probably be an optimal time to scrub down the inside of the fridge.  But it probably won’t happen.

pantry This is my tall and narrow pantry.  On the top shelf there are six boxes of cereal (three that the kids will eat).  As you can see we still have a few bags of chips left.  The middle shelf has Cheeze-Its, Animal Crackers, and Ritz crackers.  The snack drawer (shelf above the pans) still has a few packs of peanut butter cracker sandwiches and fruit & grain bars as well as fruit cups on top.  A bottle of juice, a quarter bag of potatoes, and Ramen noodle cups are on the floor.

cabinetThe cabinet under the island still has boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese and Velveeta shells.  There are Pop Tarts and saltines, cans of tuna and a jug of rice.  There’s chicken broth and four types of pasta (spaghetti, rotini, penne, and macaroni).


upstairs  This is my “upstairs pantry” where I store extras.  You can see more macaroni and cheese, Pop Tarts, Cheeze-Its, spaghetti graham crackers, chicken broth, and peanut butter cracker sandwiches.

Disclaimer #3:  I didn’t take a picture of the cabinet where I keep baking staples and my two remaining boxes of dessert mix (brownies and cheese cake).

fridge freezer We’re running low on skim milk in the refrigerator, but there’s a quarter gallon of 2% behind the water jug.  There are a few eggs, bologna, cheesy hot dogs, two yogurt cups, nacho cheese sauce, and a pound and a half of bacon.  The left drawer still has at least four, half-full, 12 oz bags of shredded cheese and two bags of cheese sticks.  The right drawer has a bag of apples and two bags of carrots.

The freezer still has one medium-sized cheese lasagna, garlic cheese toast, french fries, french toast sticks, pancakes, chicken tenders, and fried beef ravioli.  Oh, and that quart of chocolate ice cream is mostly full.

chest freezerInside the chest freezer is an extra box of garlic cheese toast, a couple of frozen pizzas, a half gallon of ice cream, lots of Steamfresh vegetables, and way down in there is a whole chicken.

I didn’t take a picture of the mini fridge, but it has one carton of half & half left.


So, as you can clearly see, since it has been two weeks since I last went grocery shopping…THERE’S NOTHING TO EAT!

I realized that we would not in fact run out of food if I only went grocery shopping every two weeks.  Like most people I tend to over-shop beyond our basic needs.  Sometimes this is intentional (when I take advantage of a good deal), and sometimes it’s pathological.

Yes, the kids start to complain when the things they really want are gone and they are left with what we’ve got.  But I remind them of a woman I heard of whose family ate spaghetti for every single meal for weeks at a time, because it was the most filling thing her mom could afford.  I remind them that we throw away more edible food in a week than people in some parts of the world see in a year.  I tell them that it is a good lesson in humility and gratitude and learning to control your desires so that your desires don’t start to control you.  (OK, I don’t tell them that, but that’s what I think about when they start complaining.)

I also think that I’ve learned lessons as well.  I’ve learned to plan better, and I’ve learned to make do with what we have.  For instance, the week these pictures were taken we ran out of some of the kids favorite bedtime snacks, so I fired up the oven and used mixes to make pumpkin muffins one night and brownies another.

I’m not going to say that I never make an extra trip to the store.  Some weeks I’m scattered brain and forget half the things written on my list, or a gallon of milk goes sour unexpectedly.  But now I stop and think about if I really need to make an extra trip to the store or if we can try to do without for a few more days when “there’s nothing to eat”.

Balance and Discipline (1): Daily Schedule

Posted January 25, 2015 by DCM
Categories: Family Life

The first step of reaching my goal of finding a better balance between work, prayer, self-care, and recreation in 2015 and developing the discipline to keep it balanced is to set-up a realistic daily schedule.  My days need a mix of steady routine and flexibility.  (Disclaimer #1: this felt basically impossible in the days when I had a child under the age of 2 in the house.)

In the past I’ve used Excel spreadsheets to set up 30-minute by 30-minute (a la A Mother’s Rule of Life) schedule charts for the kids and myself.  This time I wanted something a little less stringent and paper-consuming, something that I could print out on a 4 x 6 index card.  This is what I developed.

Morning Prep
Coffee & Morning Prayer
Dressed for the Day
Schoolwork (8:30)
Lunch (11:30)
Chores (12:30)
Cassidy Nap (1:30)
Coffee & Afternoon Prayer
Dinner (2:30)
Recreation (3:30)
Chores (4:30)
Evening Prayer (5:30)
Bedtime Snacks (8:00)
Bedtime Prep (8:30)
Bedtime Routines (9:00)

Disclaimer #2:  I didn’t totally reinvent the wheel when setting up this daily schedule.  Some of it is based on rhythms that seemed to kind of naturally develop in our day.  For instance, if we aren’t done with schoolwork by 11:30 bad things happen.  It’s like feeding mogwai after midnight (and I’m just as bad as the kids).  So, by 11:30 we are just ready for school to be DONE.  And I am also usually pretty hungry for lunch and in need of an hour of recreation.

If the toddler gets up at around 8:00 in the morning, then she is normally ready for her nap at around 1:30.  And I’m usually ready for my second cup of coffee then, too.

My oldest is starving when she gets home from school, and the kids often have sports practice or activities at what would be considered a normal dinner time.  I realized last year that it made more sense to move dinner earlier to kill two birds with one stone.  I also found that it made our evenings more peaceful in general.  So, the 2:30 designation for Dinner signals to start cooking.

Bedtime snacks at 8:00 followed by routines at 9:00 has been in place for months, especially on school nights.  Putting five kids to bed at night is often an hour and half process.

Disclaimer #3:  My main focus for this schedule is weekdays.  On weekends and days off of school, I am hoping to keep some of the basic pegs in place with schoolwork being taken over by extra chores (0r recreation).

Disclaimer #4:  Life happens.  So while the times are listed there to try to keep the day on track, the order of things is more important than the exact hour or minute.

Disclaimer #5:  In the past I would have tried to keep to this strict schedule starting on day one, and after about three days I would have totally burnt myself out.  But this is less about keeping a schedule than trying to establish new habits, which must be developed over time.  The human psyche can only handle so much change.  For the past month, I’ve just been trying to cement the first four hours of the day, and I’m slowly working on the early afternoon.  I would like to have the habits of this new schedule fully in place by this August.

Over the next few posts I’ll be fleshing out some of the aspects and expectations for finding balance and discipline within my routine.

How Punching a Heretic Saved Christmas

Posted January 7, 2015 by DCM
Categories: Catholic Faith, Divorce, Parenting

One of my girls has been really struggling since the divorce.  The whole situation has been fraught with good things and bad things.  My feelings have been all over the place about it at times, and I understand way more about the situation than my kids do.  It’s no wonder that my kids would be experiencing and emotional roller coaster, too.

One of them, though, has a tendency to stuff her bad feelings way down deep and try to pretend that they don’t exist.  Then she explodes on the rest of us over trivial things.  Sometimes it’s a constant stream of criticism and verbal abuse.  Sometimes it is hitting and kicking and throwing things at people.  She is old enough to know better, but she just can’t seem to stop.  And trying to get her talk about what is really bothering her is futile.

As Christmas approached, she started to express concerns that she might be on the naughty list.  What if she woke up to a stocking full of coal while her sisters delighted in their gifts from Santa?

I told her that I think Santa understands that she has had a rough year.  Santa knows that her dad and I split up and then he remarried someone else within a very short period of time.  That’s a lot for a little kid to have to deal with.  Plus, she seems to be at a transitional age which can make things emotionally and mentally topsy turvy, too.

Then she started asking me questions about Santa mythology (she still believes).  I reminded her that Santa started out as the bishop Nicholas.  He started out by secretly dropping money for the poor down their chimneys.  I told her how one time Nicholas got so mad at a guy who was telling lies about God that he punched the guy in the face.  I explained that Nicholas had to apologize and go to confession for what he did.

Her face lit up, and she said, “He’s like me.  I hit people when I get angry, too.”  I reminded her that Nicholas knew it was wrong, though, just like she does.  But I think it helped to reassure her that Santa Claus would understand that she has had a rough year and made some mistakes.

Then, because I had been unable to take her to confession due to all of the sickness in the family, we made a plan for her to go to our prayer corner, tell God her sins, and say the Act of Contrition.  It’s not as good as going to actual confession, but it was the next best thing at the time.

New Year, New Blog

Posted January 3, 2015 by DCM
Categories: Uncategorized

Seven years ago when I started writing this blog, I was looking for a creative outlet.  I found that writing helped me to process all of the things rattling around in my head.

But I never had any delusions of grandeur, that my blog would make me rich and/or famous.  I’ve always mostly written for myself, and if anything I wrote happened to help others, then that was a bonus.  It’s also been a nice way to share photos and information about life events with friends and family far away.  So, I am totally nonplussed if no one reads my blog.  I can’t even remember the last time I checked my stats.

I decided, though, that I wanted to start a new blog.  I debated about whether or not to just completely start over and leave Box of Chocolates behind, but I couldn’t quite decide what I wanted to do with the new blog.  I just felt compelled to start it.

But I began to realize what I didn’t want the new blog to be.  I don’t really want it to be another “Mommy Blog” if I can help it.  So, I’ll be keeping Box of Chocolates for my “Mommy Blogging” outlet.

However, now I also have crazy but with a good heartNot that I have or will shy away from posting religious content on Box of Chocolates, but crazy but with a good heart is shaping up as a religious travelogue.  I really see it as a journal of what I am learning and discerning spiritually right now, not apologetics or catechesis.  (Although I am sure some of that will come up from time to time.)

I am still writing for me.  And if God uses what I write to help others, then it is still bonus.

My Word

Posted December 28, 2014 by DCM
Categories: Catholic Faith, Family Life, Religion

A few years ago this trend started of mommy bloggers picking a theme word for the coming year.  I’ve always kind of been skeptical of the whole thing while slightly longing to embrace it.  I think I may have tried to pick words in the past, but I can’t remember clearly.  I want to say “Joy” was the word I was looking for in 2013 or 2014.

The problem was that my longing for “Joy” was really a “fake it ’til you make it” kind of goal.  I had been led to believe that the reason I was unhappy all of the time was because I was incapable of being happy, that I was unhappy because I had unrealistic expectations for life.  And sometimes in the Christian world there’s this idea out there that a lack of joy is the result of a lack of faith in the midst of adversity.  I got the idea that if I just tried to act joyful then I would learn to accent the positive and ignore/accept the negatives in my life instead of letting them depress me.

In other words, it just became another way for me to stuff my real thoughts and feelings deep inside so that I could try to be what other people wanted me to be to make them happy.

Anyway, for the past few weeks I have just felt lazy.  The best part about being a homeschooling stay-at-home mom is that you have almost total control over the rhythm of your day.  If the baby was up all night sick and you’re subsequently exhausted, you can lighten the schoolwork or completely cancel the next school day and take an extra long nap, and you don’t have to justify it to an employer or a regular school.

The worst part about being a homeschooling stay-at-home mom is that you have almost total control over the rhythm of your day.  Which means that you don’t have outside schedules of the school or a job to make you get up at the same time every day or hold you accountable if you spend three hours a day catching up on previous seasons of Castle while the house falls apart around you.  The entire structure of your life depends entirely on you’re own consistency and fortitude.

I’ve been feeling this need to set up a real schedule.  Our lives have calmed down since the divorce.  Cassidy, at almost 2 1/2, is a lot more self-entertaining.  There aren’t as many curve balls to derail us as there used to be.  I have this tendency, though, to go from one end of the spectrum to the other.  I’m either running around working my ass off, or I’m sitting on my ass staring at a screen all of the time.    I need a schedule with realistic expectations for self-care, prayer, work, and recreation.

In a word, what I need is DISCIPLINE.

-behavior and order maintained by training and control

-[word origin] directly from Latin disciplina “instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge,” also “object of instruction, knowledge, science, military discipline,” from discipulus

-[related to the word] disciple:any follower of Christ.  to teach; train.

I’ve come to realize, though, that discipline is not just something I need.  It’s not even just something my children need from me and for me to have, even though they do.

I’ve come to realize that God is asking me to learn discipline for Him.

Now that I’m no longer completely crippled by the weight of a terrible marriage, I’ve been jogging around in anticipation for God to sign me up for a marathon.  I’ve been chomping at the bit to follow God’s will and be an amazing instrument in God’s hands.  I’ve been waiting for God to give some big assignment that would inspire me and strengthen me and fulfill me. I’ve been the Little Engine that Discerned, puffing up the mountain trying to find and follow God’s tracks.  Yet, I’ve felt like I wasn’t really getting any closer to a destination.

I went to Holy Hour at my parish.  I was about five minutes early and knelt down to pray.  And I started thinking about how I’ve been in survival mode for so many years, just trying to make it through one 24-hour period at a time.  I started thinking about how I longed to thrive now.  And then it just kind of hit me.

The reason that I’ve been spinning my wheels the past few months is because while I’m no longer just trying to survive each day I am not yet physically, mentally, or emotionally ready to thrive.  God hasn’t given me some big assignment because right now He needs me to heal.  Every day might not be as hard as it used to be, but I still have the same bad habits that I had in survival mode.  I need to unlearn those and relearn new and better ones.

I need to find that discipline between self-care, work, prayer, and recreation.  Otherwise any grand assignment that God would give me is doomed to failure.

So, right now I’m thinking about the simplest way to balance those four things in my day in the midst of raising five children and homeschooling two of them.  I’m trying to think about those obstacles that are likely to throw off my game and those tipping points, the little actions that can have big positive ramifications.

I’m scared that I’m going to fall back into the same old bad habits, that the trial and error will wear me down until I give up.  So, please pray for me.

For 2015 I’m going to try to focus on DISCIPLINE in all of its many facets.





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