Tuesday, April 15, 2014

7 Ways to Take Care of the Care Takers

I mentioned last week that we are about to embark on the trip of a lifetime. I don't say that because of the destination per se, but mostly because, for the first time since our honeymoon, we're taking an extended vacation that does not involve visiting family members--and we're doing it all by ourselves.

No kids. No diaper bags. No stollers. No sippy cups. No crying...

...except maybe some happy tears.

And don't get me wrong, we LOVE our Crazies like nobody's business.  They keep us going, and going, all day long.  And all those little-people giggles make the completely nutty part so worth it.

But let's just focus on that nutty part for a second.  Nana, Granpa and an Aunt have been so gracious as to offer their child-wrangling services while we are away (which is like, huge), so I thought I'd put together a little list of the things one might do for those amazing care takers to make keeping the Crazies just a little bit easier.

Like a teensy tiny, minuscule bit easier.

I came up with seven ideas, but please feel free to add more in the comments below.  There's still time for us to get it together before we leave!

1) Make the meals ahead of time.

Brush off that casserole dish, scrape together some pinterest freezer recipes, and go to town.  'Cause we all know when meal time rolls around there will be at least one Crazy crying at your feet; it's best to limit the insanity during that wonderful (italics are the new sarcasm font) time of day as much as possible so that your care taker will still like you (and/or your kids) when you come back. I'll let you know which meals we prepared later this week, and you can keep an eye out for that post here or here.

2) Give them the schedule low-down. 

So I'm not much for micro-managing and I did make the whole flowchart for a generic idea of what might happen, but when it comes to all the little quirks and oddities about our kids I think it's best to over-communicate. Did I forget to mention that the baby has to have 3 pacifiers at bed time, not just one? Or, that the only way to get the two-year-old down for nap-time (this week, at least) is to rub his back for 3.4 seconds, and then refuse him after the tenth request of 'one more time'?

So many details. And that's just the little things!

I put together a binder with our daily schedule to include school drop-offs/pick-ups, meal options, activities, as well as the exact hour at which the heavens will burst open and choirs of angels will sing the hallelujah chorus in perfect harmony while chocolate and sunshine and glasses of wine rain down from the sky. That magical moment is also known as bedtime. Very important, this knowing when bedtime will arrive.

3) Lay out the kids clothes for the week.

Really, it's the only way to avoid those mornings-before-school meltdowns. And to make sure the Puddins isn't wearing big brothers undies. Or nothing at all. 'Cause boys.

I just line up a little stack for each kid in a place where they can't reach it, even for the big kids.  Because my Mr. A, who is five years old, mind you, STILL has trouble locating his own socks.  And while his reasoning on the subject quickly leads to the position that socks just aren't necessary when you can't find them, I'm pretty sure his school begs to differ. And so do his shoes.

So let's just skip the mayhem and get those little socks and pants and shirts ALL lined up and ready to go.

4) Leave some cold hard cash.

While this may encourage said care takers to rent a getaway car or purchase a passport so they can disappear to Mexico, I'd like to think they'll see it more as a bribe way to purchase pizza (which is on the meal schedule) as a special treat, or cover any additional costs that may pop up.  We run out of milk on the hourly, so I just want to make sure they'll have anything they need.

And yes, Mom, I know you have money. It's the thought that counts, right? 

Please don't run away.

5) Make the room your care takers stay in as nice as possible.  

Clear off dressers and tables so they'll have a little room to spread out.  Maybe even leave a nice little gift bag for them. Nice smelling soaps? Favorite chocolates?  Just a little gesture that says, "hey, I know I'm leaving you alone with the Crazies and you may not sleep for a week, but I really do love you, 'cause I left you these chocolates."

Chocolates go a long way.

6) Get those activity boxes prepped and ready.

I've given you guys the skinny on those amazing activity boxes here, so head on over to the dollar store and refill those bad boxes with some new treats for the kiddies.  
Some favorites around here include coloring books, brand-spanking new boxes of crayons (like the 50 cent type), granola bars, bouncy balls, and whatever else looks highly durable. You know, your standard dollar store fare.

These little boxes are life savers when the kiddos are bouncing off the walls and you just need a second to stop and catch your breath.  Lots of novelty for the kids (new stuff!) and a little quiet table time for the care taker. Win-win!

And last but not least:

7) Clean out the van. 

'Cause even though my neat freak hubby just detailed it last week, you KNOW there will be cheerios and colored pictures and who knows what else strewn throughout the car. Give that care taker a car they can be proud of.  Or at least tolerate.

There you have it, my list of items for taking care of the kiddos' care takers. Anything I missed?  What else would you add?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Babies, Babies, Everywhere!

Just in case that title gave you the wrong idea, I'm not prego (and will not ever be prego again, praise Jesus).  'Babies, Babies, Everwhere' is actually the title of a local farm program put on every year at about this time.  It just means that all the animals are birthing babies or hatchlings and it is my favorite time to take the Crazies to the farm.

In true Jennifer fashion, I decided we'd take a trip to the farm at about 10 a.m. the morning of. That's about as 'fly by the seat of your pants' as I get. But hey, it's Spring Break so we're supposed to do stuff, right?

While our spring break schedule has been jam packed full of fun activities like sleeping in, wearing pajamas and making a daily pilgrimage to the gym (I heart you and your germs, gym daycare), I figured the kids could still probably handle the excitement of a farm trip.

So I forced Puddins to sit on the potty for half an hour (accident at the farm, anyone?) got everyone dressed (including myself, shocking I know), made up some PB&Js, filled up the coolers, loaded the stroller into the mom-mobile, grabbed the diaper bag, closed all the gates to keep the dogs from getting into diapers, herded everyone to the garage, strapped four Crazies into car seats, swept into the front seat and took a very long, very deep breath--cause you just got to get your mind right before you leave the house with this many Potential Disasters.

I mean, really, we all know that Murphy and his Law are particularly harsh on moms who dare to venture out with kids sans a second set of hands. Inevitably someone will wet their pants, or get stung by a bee or nipped at by a goat, or fall off the little playground tractors. Or mom will forget to pack a Pepsi for herself, and we all know what that leads to.

But we ventured out anyway. And I must say it was amazing to be in the great outdoors for the first time in a long time.  What I love about this farm is that it's completely family friendly.  There's a path that winds among the different barns and on this particular occasion there were volunteers holding baby animals (baby goats, baby sheeps, I want one!) for the kids to pet.

So stinkin' cute to see your babies petting babies.

And what is it about a piece of painted plywood they makes kids so giddy? Easy to entertain, these small people.

The kids were actually well-behaved, and Mr. Murphy kept his laws to himself (good job, Murphy, you deserve a treat!), so there were no major incidents. Nary an 'it's time to go' tantrum to be found.

I learned long ago that any time we're ready to leave a fun place (like the farm playground) that if I expect the kids to come along happily, I have to give them multiple 2-minute warnings, followed by the promise of something even more enticing.

Kids, it's time to go! Let's find the cows!  Oh my, time for the sheep! Ok, time to leave the playground, let's go find the big tractors at the entrance! Ok, let's go to the car, we can play red light green light on the way!

So many exclamations. So many diversions. So much brain power. I sleep quite well at night, thanks for asking.

My only regret of the day was leaving the good camera sitting on the center console in the car.  I missed photo ops left and right, but made do with my phone.  So hard managing so much technology these days, right?

What about you? Did you do anything fun for Spring Break? Do you have anything fun planned? Don't worry, I won't tell my kids that you took your kids to Disney. We'll just let them learn that hard truth from their friends at school. When I'm not present. Mommy of the year! 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

DIY Upholstered Bench, For the Non-DIYer

DIY Upholstered Bench

If you're a DIY kind of person, and looking to make your own, custom upholstered bench, then look no further friend. But first, you should know something about me: I am not a crafty person. There, I said it.

Well,  I've actually said that before on my About page, but I really mean it.

My family used to do "makes" for Christmas each year as a way to make gifting less expensive and more heartfelt.

Let's just say my top two best "makes" were pre-fabricated zipper pouches which my best friend hot-glued flowers on for me (something about it looking like a kindergartner did it with my original design) and beaded bracelets that looked like they came from the dollar store.

Crafting is NOT my forte.  Fortunately for me, my mom painstakingly taught me how to re-upholster our dining room chairs because she has the patience of a saint.  So it was really just a short jump from that project (which I'll share a tutorial for later), to making a custom bench for the window nook in the playroom.
DIY Upholstered Bench

The difficult thing about the window space is that it's really long--way longer than your standard, store-bought bench.  So I was left with one option: making my own.  After hours of scouring and pinning on Pinterest and a consult with my local Home Depot guy (twice), I think I got it all figured out.

And just a note on choosing a Home Depot guy, 1) the older the better, 2) the scruffier/dirtier the better, and 3) the higher the number of smashed/bruised/missing fingernails the better.  My Home Depot guy may look like a homeless man, but he knows a thing or two about high quality plywood. Fo' sho'.

So about that plywood, these are the fixin's you'll need to cook you up a nice, cozy, custom upholstered bench:

1 - 62"x 16" piece of plywood (mine was 3/4" AC board) cut to size AT THE HARDWARE STORE (make them do the hard work for you, and measure your space to get the dimensions you need)
6 - 15" standard table legs, also from the hardware store (4 legs for a smaller bench)
6 - chair leg brackets (should be near the table legs)
1 - 62" x 16" piece of 3" thick foam (I used a 40% off coupon at JoAnn's 'cause that stuff is EXPENSIVE!!)
1 - 2 1/4 yd. piece of outdoor grade fabric, ironed
1 - can black spray paint

Tools to get the job done (we had all of these one hand, so maybe you will too)
1 - pair rubber gloves
1 - sheet cardboard or old drop cloth to spray paint on
1 - staple gun with 2-3 rows of staples
1 - drill with phillips head bit
1 - hammer (to smash in all staples that refuse to lay flat)
1 - flat head screw driver and 1 pair needle nose pliers to remove all the staples when you screw up.  Repeatedly.
1 - drywall saw or serrated knife to cut foam piece to width (the JoAnn's lady literally whipped out an electric carving knife, like for a turkey, when she cut my foam piece to length. Made me hungry for some casserole.)
1 - permanent marker

Here's the steps. Follow them out of order and you'll end up with an upside-down bench. Or fabric covered chair legs.

1) Spray paint the chair legs with black paint (or color of your choice, neon yellow, anyone?) Repeat 4 times per directions on the can.
DIY Upholstered Bench
2) Using a drill and a pair of man hands, afix chair leg brackets to plywood.
DIY Upholstered Bench
3) Skip step 4.
4) Say a curse word in front of your children when the drill nicks your finger (JOKING!)
5) Get back to work. Place plywood on top of foam piece, line it up perfectly and then draw a line with permanent marker. Leaving the plywood in place as an additional guide, use the serrated blade to cut your foam piece down to size.
DIY Upholstered Bench
6) Take your work inside. Retrieve your ironed fabric and lay it out, print side down, in a larger area of floor. Place foam on top followed by plywood with brackets on top. Smooth the fabric out.
DIY Upholstered Bench
7) Starting from the center of the 62" side, fold fabric up and over foam/plywood and staple just above the middle bracket. (If you're making a smaller bench, you may not have a middle bracket, so just staple a few inches from the edge. Make sure you pull the fabric fairly taut before you staple each time.
8) Repeat step 7 on all sides.
9) At the corners of the plywood, fold in corners of fabric to make a triangle and staple.  Work with the fabric along the corners to make the perfect folds and staple. Repeat at each corner. Staple lots and lots of staples. (This requires some playing to get it just right.  Take your time and staple when you've got it perfect).
DIY Upholstered Bench
10) Finish pulling and stapling fabric all the way around the rest of bench. Hammer in any staples that aren't laying flat.
11) Make small holes in fabric at the brackets to place chair legs.  Alternately, you could upholster the bench and then bracket, but my screws didn't seem long enough to meet that challenge, and I'm pretty much banking on re-doing the upholstery in the near future because small children, amIright?  Might work either way though!
DIY Upholstered Bench
12) Screw in remaining chair legs, turn it over, and admire your work.
13) Post pics to all social media outlets to show off your mad DIY skills.
14) Cautiously sit on bench, praying it doesn't snap in two.
15) Applaud yourself when you're still sitting.
DIY Upholstered Bench

DIY Upholstered Bench

Enjoy your amazing bench!  I like to look at mine from the top of the stairs and really am proud to see something the hubby and I made first thing each morning. Happy DIYing!

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