Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Room Makeover: Kids' Room

As promised, here are pictures of our bedroom makeovers. First up, in no particular order, and only because I cleaned it today and all the beds were made, is the kids' room. I wish I were the kind of person who has dramatic before & after pictures but I'm just never that prepared. I hunted high and low through all my photos since we moved into this house and could not find a single photo of what the room, at large, looked like before. So you'll have to settle for a cute old photo of Lucy after her bath. It shows what the paint color used to be when we first moved in.
It was obviously not an ideal color for a boy to live in. Lucy wanted the color to stay pink and William wanted to paint the room green. In the end we settled for...neither. We went with a boring old neutral. But you know what? With the white trim I totally love it.
Ignore the window a/c unit.  It's on our list to be removed this weekend.  And someday I'd love to remove the ceiling fan fixture with something more attractive.
This bedroom is actually quite large. It's only a tad smaller than the master bedroom which is why I chose to move William in with Lucy rather than the other way around.
One of the reasons it feels so large is because the previous owners removed the closet doors. At first this was a hard concept for me to live with, being ultra organized and needing everything in its place. I just didn't like the idea of everything out there in the open. But once I figured out how to use the closet space as an extension of the room, I came to like it. Hanging clothes is kind of a challenge but I try to display Lucy's prettiest dresses and sweaters first so it feels more like room decor rather than just clothes storage.
We recently purchased new furniture for our living room which meant our beloved leather chair needed a new spot.  I totally love it here, just in front of the radiator (cozy) and antique lamp (a find from my great aunt before she moved).  Many a bedtime stories shall be read in this space, I presume.
One of the things on my to-do list in this room is to find bedding for our twin-over-full bunk beds.  It's a challenge with mixed genders.  In the end I've decided to wait until the baby is born.  If it's a girl, she will eventually move in with Lucy and I'll want something a little more frilly.  If it's a boy, he'll be rooming with William and I'll want to utilize the colors in his old Pottery Barn Kids quilt which I was so sad to have to put away in the cedar closet for the time being. 
Because the bunk beds take up a lot of wall space in both height and width, I didn't need too much artwork so I kept it simple.  Here I printed out black and white pictures of William and Lucy together and put them in frames I already had.
On the dresser, I've displayed both of their piggy banks.  William's is a vintage Donald Duck bank that used to be Brian's when he was a boy.  The framed photograph is of William as a newborn just because he was the prettiest newborn ev-ah.  And hanging above the dresser are two keepsakes we received as baby gifts displaying William's and Lucy's birth date, time, length and weight.
And finally, behind the leather chair in the reading nook, is this lovely find from Etsy.  I wanted something Beatrix Potter-ish because I knew it would be gender-neutral.  And once Brian saw the pipe, very un-politically correct, he loved it instantly.  Lucky for us the artist was from the Twin Cities and hand-delivered the print to our home.  I love it immensely.  Click here to see his other work.

Next up is the baby's room!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Rewards & Sticker Charts

When I was in college I took a psychology class on motivation. We were assigned to read Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn. It's all about how grades and incentives have killed America's desire to learn for learning's sake or to succeed for success's sake.

It's an interesting perspective and one I can relate to from an anecdotal point-of-view. I'm a terrible test-taker. But if a class has no tests that means I can listen to an interesting lecturer without scrambling to scribble down notes in hopes of memorizing the right material for the test. It means I can clear my brain to really absorb the material and begin to think critically about it.

And all of that is well and fine until you're a mom. A mom with a lot of children of differing ages and personalities.

We've never been big on sticker charts or rewards or even allowance in this house. We try to move and cooperate as a unit rather singling out individual behavior problems or desired outcomes.

Example 1: If William is whining and crying at the dinner table we remove him from the table because he's ruining everyone else's dining experience. We don't reward him for not whining at the dinner table.

Example 2: If Lucy goes to the bathroom in the toilet instead of her diaper, the whole family cheers and whoops and hollers because she's starting to become a big girl. I don't give her a sticker or piece of candy every single time she goes. (I should say, however, that in the past there have been a few instances when I have given both her AND William a piece of chocolate when she goes because that helps foster family cooperation.)

I do remember starting a sticker chart for William shortly after Lucy was born. We were experiencing some behavior problems with him and as the mom of a sleepless newborn, I was desperate. We wrote down a list of good behaviors and each time he demonstrated one of these, he got to put a sticker on his chart. If he filled it up he got to go to a movie...or something like that. I can't remember. I can't remember because we never finished the chart. It sort of just fell through the cracks. William lost interest and so did I. And truthfully, his behavior got better simply because he moved past the phase of being a two-year-old with a new sibling.

I haven't touched a sticker chart since. Until now.

If you've been reading my blog in the past few months you know that we've been doing some bedroom switch-a-roos in preparation for the new baby. William moved out of his bedroom and is now sharing with Lucy in bunk beds. We started this at the beginning of August hoping that the novelty would wear off by summer's end and that bedtime would be smooth sailing just in time for the school routine. We were sorely mistaken.

After many 11 o'clock bedtimes I searched high and low for advice from other moms. But all this advice was off-mark because of one uniqueness in my children. No matter how sleepy they might be, they are chit-chatty Cathys to the Nth degree. They do not stop talking from the minute they are awake. Only people who have spent a few days with my kids truly get this.

We tried yelling. A lot. We tried punishment. We tried negative reinforcements. All of it lasted for about five minutes until one of them broke the silence again with a single word and the conversation and giggles started up all over again.

They only thing that seemed to work was allowing William to fall asleep in our bed and then carrying him into the bunk beds when we went to bed. And while that was great for the short time, both Brian and I knew it wasn't practical for the long-term.

When school started I got desperate and I reached in my arsenal for my last weapon. Bribery. Also known as a sticker chart.

William has been asking for quite some time about a particular action figure he wants to put on his birthday list. I almost never buy my kids toys or gifts for no reason so he's good about creating a wish list instead of asking for it right this minute. But this time I asked him if he would rather earn the action figure. He, of course, loved the idea.

So here's how I set it up. I told William that when it was time for bed he must go up to his bed and not talk to Lucy at all. If Lucy talked to him or got out of bed, he had to ignore her. The only reason he was allowed to get out of bed was if he had to go to the bathroom. We went over different scenarios again and again. If he had a good night he got to put a sticker on his chart. If he had a bad night we would put a red X on his chart. When he got ten stickers in a row, he could pick out an action figure that we would buy for him. The catch was that he had to get ten sticker in a row. So if he got five stickers and then an X, he had to start counting to ten all over again.

The first night was a success. Lucy kept talking and getting out of bed. But William remained silent. Each time we went upstairs to put Lucy back to bed we would praise William. This seemed to motivated him to stay quiet. William staying quiet eventually gave way to Lucy's boredom which eventually gave way to sleep. YES!

But I was convinced it was fluke. That William would surely lose interest eventually. But we are now on Day 7 and guess how many X's have been marked on that chart. Zero. Can you believe it? I can't!

And now, a week later, bedtime is a breeze. Without any reinforcements from William, Lucy doesn't even try to talk to him or get out of bed. She's totally over it.

But with all that success, I have to say, I'm not entirely convinced the sticker chart should get all the accolades. If I'm being honest I would say the chart has been more for Brian and I as a reminder to hand out praise where praise is due instead of just targeting the offending party. William eats up praise so whenever he gets it without asking, well, that's equal to ten thousand action figures.

When the sticker chart is complete, only time will tell if any of this really "worked." What are your experiences with rewards and charts? Do you love them? Hate them? Do they work long-term?

Monday, September 19, 2011

The List

Brian noted last week that I hadn't written a blog post in quite some time. I reminded him that all of my creative juices were being used up elsewhere.

I'm a good housekeeper. My laundry basket is always under control. I cook a homemade dinner almost every night. And I bake at least once a week. But one thing I sorely lack is motivation to complete house projects. Paint samples stay on my walls for months. Walls are bare with frames unhung. Even new items that I purchase stay in closets for a lengthy period of time until I decide exactly what I want to do with them.

About a month ago I lashed out a bit. What is your problem, Brian wanted to know. It was realization followed by stress. Realization that this baby is coming. Soon. And our house, now lived in for two whole years, still kind of looks the same as it did when we moved in.

So I made The List. And Brian, who normally is just as against house projects as I am, was 100% on board. In one month's time we completely redid three bedrooms and part of our living room. (The other part was already finished.)

Brian is pretty much a painting pro now and I'm beginning to like the process of searching for the perfect accessories. I'm starting to see value in a throw pillow or the warming light of the perfect table lamp. I'm turning to Etsy to fill wall space instead of framing every cute family photo as I've done in the past.  Where are your favorite places to shop for home accessories?

Have I mentioned that I'm 35 weeks pregnant? With William making his appearance at 37 weeks that has me saying, "Holy crapballs!" It feels like my home pregnancy test just found its way into the trash bin, like, yesterday.

And have I mentioned that I really hope we're having a boy? Not because I really care that the baby is anything but healthy but because WE DON'T HAVE A GIRL NAME! It's driving me crazy. I've never been in this situation before. And yesterday we totally threw out our top three choices and zoomed a newcomer to the top position. But I only have a few more weeks to test it out which makes me nervous. I don't like last-minute impluse decisions. Espcially when it comes to my child's name. So I'm hoping it's a boy. Because we've got his name nailed down.

If it is a girl I'm hoping God comes down from the heavens with his big booming voice and says, "This child shall be called..." That would really help me out.

In other news, William and Brian ran a 1-mile race for our church's annual county fair this weekend. The race ran right past our house so Lucy and I were out in full force as the cheering squad. Really, kind of cute.
This week I'm going to write about sticker charts and how they never worked for us and then how they suddenly did, but only kind of. And then I'm going to promise you pictures of our new bedrooms. That should keep me on task. Maybe I need a sticker chart?

And if that's not enough, I'll leave you with this cuteness.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

First Day of School Caramel Rolls

When I was growing up my mom had a tradition.  She always made caramel rolls on the morning of the first day of school.  So after we would finish our normal healthy breakfast we'd get a little lovin' from the oven.

William is in Monday/Wednesday/Friday preschool this year so today was his first day of school.  Since I don't have a caramel roll recipe I made up my own because caramel rolls are forgiving like that.  They turned out great and they were so easy.  I know the first day of school is over but maybe you'll try them later this week or this weekend?  Here's the recipe:

For the caramel topping:

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup brown sugar
couple handfuls of walnuts (optional)

In a small sauce pan combine all the ingredients except the nuts over medium low heat until melted and the mixture just starts to bubble.  You don't want a full boil, though.  Turn off the heat.  Butter a 9" round cake pan and pour the caramel mixture on the bottom.  Dot with walnuts.  Set pan aside.

For the rolls:

1 frozen loaf white bread dough, thawed
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup brown sugar
couple handfuls of walnuts (optional)

So I cheated a little bit and bought frozen dough. You could absolutely make your own, and I've done that before, but I was pressed for time and didn't want to be bothered with all the kneading and rising.

So once you've got your dough, sprinkle a work surface with flour and roll out the dough into a rectangle. Mine was roughly 12 inches by 8 inches or thereabouts. It really doesn't matter. Next, spread the melted butter over the dough until every inch is covered. With a knife or back of a spoon, spread the brown sugar ensuring most of the dough is covered. Then sprinkle the whole thing with cinnamon and, because I love the crunch, dot the dough with some more walnuts. If you're not especially big on nuts, you may choose to skip this step.

Now, starting with the short side, start rolling up the dough jelly roll style. When you've got your log, cut it in half. It's easiest to do this with a serrated knife. Then cut the halves in half and so on until you have your desired number of caramel rolls. I ended up with 12. A fewer number will result in fatter rolls and a larger number will result in thinner rolls.

Then start placing your rolls, spiral side up, into the prepared cake pan. It's OK if they are touching each other. Just squish them all in. Cover the pan loosely with a dry kitchen towel and place them in a cold oven to rise a bit. I let mine sit overnight but you could bake them after an hour or so.

When you're ready to bake, remove the pan from the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Bake the rolls for 20-25 minutes. Less time means gooey rolls (yum!) and more time means crispy rolls. When the baking time is complete, place a large plate over the entire pan and flip to invert the rolls so that the caramel mixture is now on top. Be careful to do this over the sink or you might have flying caramel splatters all over your kitchen! Here's what my finished product looked like.
And here's what my four-year-old looked like after he ate a couple just before his first day of school.
And here's what my two-year-old looked like right before she got totally ticked off when she realized she did not get to go to school this year.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Summer's Grand Finale

We just arrived back home from Erie, Pennsylvania. It was our last summer soiree and our last trip as a family of four.

If I'm being honest I should tell you that as the days led up to this trip I really wasn't looking forward to it, what with all the whine that was going on around here. And with the end of the vacation tripping on the heels of back-to-school it meant I had a lot to do other than pack our suitcases.

When mid-summer approached and we still hadn't booked our flight or hotel I began questioning the appropriateness of traveling so close to my due date. Wouldn't it be more responsible to just hunker down and prepare for baby? It certainly would have been easier but deep down I knew this would be a great memory-maker for our family. And life experiences trump practicality.

And now, as I look back on our four days on the shores of Lake Erie, it brings a little tear to my eye because it was all just so perfect. I could not have asked for better behavior out of my kids. They played hard and slept hard. They willingly awoke before the sun to make it to the airport on time and did wonderfully on the flight. They adapted to changing routines, missed naps, late meals and different sleeping arrangements without a single complaint. They met new cousins, aunts and uncles and their manners were supreme.

I was so proud of our little tribe for bearing with the hassles of travel in order to endure a little fun. It was the first time I really felt that we're ready to add another member to this family. William was self-sufficient in every way possible. And Lucy is totally not a baby anymore. One of the most sacred moments, for me, was watching the two of them snuggled in one bed together in our hotel room. Just six months ago this would have been a total disaster. Now it goes from 12 hours of restful sleep to morning time giggles. Priceless.

The trip was expensive. And it was exhausting. But it was totally worth it. Love to you, Summer of 2011.
Cousins and BFFs

The sand--Oh My! It was in every nook and cranny imaginable.

William's first tubing experience with Brian.  And on Lake Erie, no less!

Yep.  This pretty much sums up the weekend.

Searching for good skipping rocks.

For anyone wondering why we would ever want to have a large family, here's your answer.  It's in our genes.  This is Brian's mom's side.  And this is ONLY first cousins and aunts and uncles.  AND there were even a few missing.  So. Much. Fun.
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