April 27, 2024

Routines that are working now

Here are a few routines that are currently working for us with our four kids ages 5 and under:

Laundry We make a lot of laundry.  I used to always wash and put away in the same day.  That's currently impossible. Every morning I start a load of laundry around breakfast.  It gets put in the drier midday.  It comes out in the afternoon or evening and sits in a basket in the hall until the next morning, when it gets put away during morning baby nap.  Baby clothes get put away just after baby nap.  Every other day we do 2 loads of laundry, which means I need to make sure the second load is in the drier by 5pm so it will be dry after dinner and before bedtime.

I have sort of given up on kids putting away their own laundry for now.  I do try and make Isaac take school uniform from the clean laundry pile rather than his drawers in the morning.  Yesterday he said "It's ok,  I would rather take it from the drawer" to which I replied "oh no, you'll take it from this pile".  

I love the verbalised notion of "It's OK, I'll just make your life harder" which I have only ever heard at home from children and at work from business executives.

Dishwasher We are now a twice a day dishwasher running family.  Breakfast and lunch dishes are put in and we run the dishwasher at around 1:30.  Emptying the dishwasher is part of dinner prep, and then we load it up again after dinner and run it.  Now that the babies are eating food too we are fully filling it twice.  Also, EVERYTHING (except wood) goes in the dishwasher. I don't usually rinse things before putting them in the dishwasher.  I know some people basically wash dishes first, but isn't that what the dishwasher is for? I scrape food into the compost but otherwise if something comes out with food on it (which happens rarely, and mostly with peanut butter knives and spoons) then I give it a quick rinse and put it back in.  

Do you wash dishes before putting them in the dishwasher? Do people who rinse dishes first think it's gross not to rinse dishes?  Can wood go in a dishwasher?

Meal Plans We are making meals plans again, which we hold loosely and move around the week if needed.  For instance this week's plan is:

  • Pizza (with sweetcorn and broccoli on the side)
  • Beans on Toast & scrambled egg
  • Carbonara
  • Chicken Gyros 
  • Tacos
  • Pea Fritters & Roast Veg
We semi assign these to days (Pizza is tonight) but if we need to swap around on the day then we can.  Also, whoever makes dinner also sets the table and makes Audrey's bedtime bottle.  The other parent watches all the kids from 5-5:30pm.  Dinners have to be made in 30 minutes or less.  Tray bakes are a total winner here

Schedule Our days have a pattern.  The babies have a pattern.  I wish they had a schedule, but they don't really.  Here is the rough schedule/pattern:

6:30 kids up
6:45 Breakfast
8:30 kids out the door (if going to school/nursery)
9:30 nurse babies
11:30 Lunch
1:30 nurse babies
2:30 snack
4:00 nurse babies
5:30 family dinner
6:00 kid bedtime
6:30 baby bedtime
7:00 tidy house
7:45 Free time for fun and adventure
8:30 my bedtime

I feel like I spend my whole day feeding people or preparing food.  It turns out, I *do* spend my whole day feeding people or preparing food!

Evening Tidy In the evenings we load the dishwasher, clear of the kitchen counters, clear the dining table, sweep the floor.  Hoover if we have time.  Pick up the lounge.  Put everything that belongs upstairs on the stairs.  Start the dishwasher.  And that's it.  The stairs have stuff on them.  The hall has shoes all over.  However... a clean kitchen, dining room, and lounge is enough.  In the morning, I am not really awake till coffee and coffee is in the kitchen, so I don't tend to notice the messy stairs or hall.  I notice the clean kitchen, and that's a boost for me.

Groceries/FLOM On Thursdays we do our Family Logistics meeting (which I will write about again!) but we have split this so that we plan meals around lunch time, and then do the rest of the logistics and future planning in the evenings.  I book a grocery delivery every Friday.  I can add everything from the meal plan to the grocery delivery in the afternoon.  You know when I 100% don't want to meal plan?  In the evenings after spending ALL DAY feeding people.  When we make the meal plan at lunch (Andy and I do it together since he works from home on Fridays) it doesn't seem like such a chore.  

Oh dear, It's 6:45am now, time for me to start feeding people.

April 24, 2024

Comparison is the thief of joy, and other life reminders to me.

The guest on this week's Best of Both Worlds podcast is a productivity expert with three kids under five years old.  I, of course, love productivity experts.  During her "day in the life" segment I had a pang of jealousy as she described making a cooked breakfast for her kids, then having her kids get ready with the ding of a timer.  She also laid out crafts for them in the morning to work on while she made breakfast, and she woke up before the kids to meditate, read, and/or sit in silence.

This put my brain on a whirly thought spiral... maybe I need to be putting out kids activities for my little ones the night before? why does her morning seem so relaxed and she nurses a baby and works out before starting her job at 9am.  I'm on maternity leave and I only work out three times a week at the most.  Am I just rubbish? 

This was a somewhat unusual thought process for me.  Usually I think we are doing pretty well for having the age and quantify of children that we do.

I started thinking more about the guest's morning.  Her kids get dressed by themselves to a timer at 8am. Mine don't do that... but also we don't always have to be out of the house at 8am.  Sometimes we leave for school at 8:40.  Sometimes 7:50.  I like the flexibility to leave when we want to, and when feels good for us.  My kids can get dressed by themselves (with reminders from us). That's not bad for a 5 and 3 year old.

The guest's habit of putting out activities for kids is a great idea and totally necessary for little kids.  I would do this too if I had younger kids.  Right now my kids can come downstairs and entertain themselves, and that's awesome.  I don't need to set out their crafts, they chose what to play with.*

Cooked breakfasts are great. We do them sometimes.  We do cereal other times.  It's fine.

And as for the quiet time and workout?  It's awesome that her baby sleeps till 6:30am.  This morning I spent my Rachel time (which was at 5am, after the twins 4:30am feed) trying to find a pedicure appointment that fit around childcare and twin feeding. I spent half an hour doing this.  If I wanted to meditate and have quiet time I could have done that instead.  And I went for a run at 5:40, which is when it got light! [As an aside, my last run was last Thursday and I am half way through an 8 week couch to 5k program that I started 3 months ago.  If I only read my blog and didn't live my life I would think I was out running all the time.  I am not out running all the time].  

Anyways, my end thought was that it's great hearing how other people do work and life and kids.  And that other peoples choices are great for them, and often are made to suit their needs.  My choices are here to suit my needs. When my needs change, my choices will change.  And also, I am only ever seeing a snapshot of someones life.  I should know this isn't the whole picture since I am literally writing a blog that is a snapshot of my own life.

I don't post on the hard days, because I don't have the energy, and because hard days are busy. I often do some google searching on the hard days, asking when twins get easier, or sleeping questions, or just google questions.  One thing I've recently discovered on my googling is that very few people write blogs which say "oh just enjoy your 6 month old twins! Time goes so fast! It's a great age! I wish I could go back there!"  Many people say twins get easier at 6 months. or one year.  or two years.  or survive till 5.  Even people with older twins seem to look back on this period with fondness... but a fondness that comes from not wanting to do it again.

*one of the kids favourite morning activities is dressing up with costumes.  Here is a 6:45am Isaac creation:

April 23, 2024

Mini Home Projects and the Most Horrifying Mermaid

We have a small landing in our loft.  When our loft was built we were told this space would become stuff storage.  "No!" I protested, "It will be a cute corner for the kids! Or a craft corner! or a well organised adventure space!

That space in January 2024:

It looked slightly better today... but not great.  It had four giant bags of charity shop donations, which I finally donated.  And then it had other things, which I have moved into my office (temporarily) or to other places in the house. 

And at the end of the project it looked like this:
Although we have a 5 bedroom house, Isaac and Lilah currently share a room (and have for over a year). They spend a LOT of time together, so I decided they needed some separate space sometimes.  This is now Isaac's "office". It is right outside Andy's office and my office (which is also my exercise space and currently excess pram piece storage space).

Isaac was very excited for his new office and noted how clean it is.  Great that my five year old takes note of clean spaces.

In other kid news, while at the charity shop Lilah decided she wanted a toy.  She wanted all the big toys.  I was hoping she would get a puzzle or a small toy.  She asked for the most giant plastic rubbish.  Finally she chose a tiny mermaid, and so I let her buy it because it was small (and cost 20p).

When we got home I got a chance to look at the mermaid.  It is one of the most disturbing toys I have ever seen:
Lilah proudly showed it to Andy.  I told him I didn't look at it before Lilah chose it.  When Lilah lost interest in mermaid Andy hid it on top of the fridge.  

Lilah has asked where mermaid is a couple of times and we both said "I don't know, where do you think it could be?" which probably makes is terrible parents.  Can I just throw it in the bin?  Do I need to let my daughter have this horrible toy?  What if she remembers forever that she once had a "beautiful mermaid" that got lost?  If you have kids, have you encountered this before and what did you do?  

Even looking at the photo of the mermaid is creeping me out here. 

Maybe I should have let her buy the 4 foot tall stuffed bear instead.

April 18, 2024

Sports and Exercise musings on a Thursday.

I haven't been doing much exercise lately.  I've been "getting back into it" often.  Strava tells me my last run was last Friday, and I'm sure I didn't do anything else this week.   I think there are a few reasons for this... the babies "schedules" are incredibly variable.  Sometimes they sleep till 5:30am.  Sometimes 4am.  Sometimes they wake at 3 and sometimes 11 and 3.  If I'm up at 4, it's hard to get up again at 5 for exercise, especially if I think the big kids might start getting up at 5:30 and the babies might wake at 6.  But on writing this, I realise this is not a great excuse, because no matter when babies are up I can do exercise from 5-6.  No one should need me from 5-6.

I missed Pilates on Tuesday and going to a class once a week anchors me back into trying to fit exercise in.  I 50% go to Pilates to catch up with a friend who goes with me but she couldn't make this week.  Getting out of the house to a class with twins is HARD.  Although I know going to Pilates is good for me, I also don't think it's worth it without the social aspect (and the twin wrangling help).  

Exercise is odd because I know I feel so much better when I am in a good movement routine, but I also am not sure if that's because when my life is in good shape I exercise more, and when it's chaotic I exercise less?  So the exercise isn't what makes the good life, but it is a symptom of the good life?

I have been getting outside EVERY DAY as part of Elisabeth's Cool Bloggers Walking Club. It's an intentional 10 minute outside walk every day and I think it's good for me, plus I love being part of a club.  I haven't managed a cool blogger walking photo yet though, because I am apparently not that *cool*.  

Also, it's very dark in the morning.  Why is it so dark in the morning?  I don't need it to be light at 8pm, I need it to be light at 5am.  Who can I write to about this please?

The babies woke up at 4am today for a feed so I got up after.  I'm going to try for a 5:30 run.  That's 15 minutes from now.  Hopefully it will be light enough.  Hopefully the babies wont be up again by 6am, and the big kids will sleep as well.  

And I could rely on Andy of course with kid stuff, but it turns out Audrey scratched his cornea in two places and his eye is swollen shut.  But also, it doesn't take two eyes to watch a baby right?  In good news, he's now off work for a week so can help with babies.  In bad news, it's probably not a nice way for him to recover from his eye injury.

Isaac asked his why he didn't just close his eye when Audrey tried to poke it.  Good question, kiddo!

April 16, 2024

It takes a village... but who makes a village?

Yesterday, Audrey (the 5.5 month old) poked Andy in the eye.  Then Andy couldn't see and he was very sad and he went to bed early.  I am sure his eye will recover soon but he spent all evening and all day today in a dark room with his eyes closed.  

This morning I woke up to the task of getting everyone ready for their day.  Lilah needed to go to nursery and Isaac to school.  Our cleaner was coming at 11:30 and the house needed a final tidy.  And, of course, the babies needed feeding and attention.  

Both babies woke up at 6:30, so both fed before I went downstairs and made the kids eggs on toast.  FYI, I am not a supermom who makes eggs for breakfast, I am a regular mom who ran out of milk for cereal.  I did remember Isaac needed PE clothes for school. 

I called a neighbour down the road and asked if Isaac could walk with them to school, and they picked him up at 7:50.  At 8am I put the babies down for a nap and drove Lilah to nursery (Andy could have gotten up if babies needed him).  I got back by 8:30, tidied the house for 30 minutes (thankfully I can get it cleaner-ready in 30 minutes, and I had done some last night), and then the babies woke up.  

Babies fed again at 9:30, and in this time I texted a teacher neighbour to see if she could walk Isaac home from school and called the school to authorise the teacher to pick up Isaac.

Although this was not an easy morning, it's definitely reminded me of the line "it takes a village to raise a child"

While this is arguably true, this village was mine.  I contacted the people down the street to pick up Isaac, and I had swapped numbers with the teacher while walking home from school.  I hired our cleaner, I texted her to let her know not to clean the bedroom (due to sleeping Andy).  

I am starting to wonder if the "it takes a village" sentiment means "it takes lots of women?"  Would dads create this type of network?  I know there's so much that goes into this, and I am barely scraping the surface with my gendered inquiry here.  Andy does loads with the kids - this isn't a mental load query, or a division of labour query.  However, have women been taking the majority of childcare responsibility for so long that we automatically create these networks?  

I'm sure Andy would have made something work if the roles were swapped.  But I doubt it would have been the same level of community involvement.  Perhaps I've built up these networks because I know I may need them someday... a form of parental networking?  None of these acquaintances were made with the explicit goal of help when needed, but all of them were exceptionally helpful today.  Is this how men traditionally network in their careers? Naturally but ever-present?  Perhaps I've used my "networking" skills networking my family into daily security?

While I dislike the idea of "networking" in a professional sense, I love the idea of women building a better community.  Especially if that community combines children and career building.  If I can network survival while solo parenting four kids age 5 and under I should be able to network myself professionally, and I should *definitely* be able to find way to combine these networks for the benefit of everyone.

April 15, 2024

Exiting baby twin survival mode, one tiny step at a time

The twins are now 5.5 months old.  Recent milestones include sleeping through the night (until after 4:30am twice in a row).  They also have been chewing on some carrots and some cucumber and yesterday they tried and hated sweet potato.

This weekend, Andy and I went on a walk, outside, after everyone went to bed (my Aunt stayed in the house - we didn't leave our kids alone).  We spend 20 minutes outside the house, on our own.  I haven't been out for an evening walk in ages, partially because the end of pregnancy was so rough that I couldn't do much walking then either.  

Here are some things that indicate we are slowly leaving twin baby survival mode

  • We are packing lunches for Isaac 3 days a week.  He likes a packed lunch and I like packing lunches. We gave this up in December when the twins were 5 weeks old, and switched Isaac to school lunches.  It's nice to pack lunches again.
  • I am making hummus again! This weekend I made it from soaked (not canned) chickpeas.  I've started adding cumin and it's super yummy.  It was a big deal to me when I stopped making hummus.
  • I am going to start buying powdered laundry detergent again.  I have been using eco friendly laundry pods which get delivered to our house because the thought of measuring a scoop of laundry detergent was too much, but now I think I can use a measuring cup again.
  • Our meal plan doesn't always include chicken nuggets or dinners entirely pulled from the freezer and baked on a try.  It does often include fish fingers (fish sticks) one night a week... but fish fingers are delicious.
  • I cooked a meal! I made Nudja Gnochi Tray bake. I bought all the ingredients and cooked it and it was so delicious.  
  • When cooking said meal, I chopped garlic.  In February I bought a jar of Lazy Garlic since in no way was I capable of chopping garlic.  Now, I can chop garlic again. 

So here is hoping we continue to emerge from survival mode.  Also, the sun came out yesterday for the first time in 6 months (possible exaggeration).  So maybe the weather will exit survival mode as well?

April 11, 2024

Money spent is time saved? Or Money Spent is Sanity earned? Bathrooms, Beds, Floors and the Dishwasher.

We have recently invested money into the pain points of our lives.  While it's one thing for time management experts to say "Outsource!" It's far easier for me to read about what exactly other people outsource to make more time.  Here are some recent wins for us:

The Doors

The doors to our garage broke.  We bought them when we moved in (2017) and they cost £100.  Andy carefully painted and mounted them.  It took a long time.  

The doors stopped closing after getting water damaged.  We had to use a box of rocks to keep it shut.  This wasn't good for the door, for my back, or for the insurance.

Andy called our favourite carpenter and he fit new doors. They cost more than £100 but they shouldn't break in the next 5 years.  

Andy despaired at the thought of painting them.  "Why don't you hire a painter?" I asked.  And so we had a quote from our favourite painter.

The key to life is having favourite trades people.

The Bathroom

While the painter was coming to look at the doors I thought about anything else that might need painting.  The new bathroom is painted poorly (by us, quickly after the loft conversion) but it will do.

The downstairs bathroom, which was a 2023 goal, is still just as mouldy and unpleasant as it was then.  In fact, it's worse, because it's winter.  Renovation was too expensive and we couldn't find a tiler, so we left it.

While the painter was looking at the doors I asked him how much it would cost to pain the bathroom with mould resistant paint.  It was £90.

Why have I ever painted any room when I could have paid someone £90 to do it for me???!!

He painted it in a day.  It took me zero effort.  I am happier having a less gross bathroom.  In no world did I want to spend my limited time painting right now.

The Beds and the Floors

With four kids, we have a lot of beds.  We have a lot of mess.  We have a heavily used house with heavily used floors.

We have a cleaner every two weeks for two hours.  She is amazing.  We origionally hired her to clean the bathrooms because Andy and I both hate cleaning bathrooms. Now she does the whole house.

Recently, she has started coming ever week and alternating between 2 hours and 1 hour.  On the 1 hour days she changes all the bedsheets and does a quick hoover. On the 2 hour days she does bathrooms and bedrooms but not sheets.

I love knowing the sheets will be changed.  I love knowing one day a week the whole house will be hoovered. I still sweep and hoover often... but no matter how bad it gets there will be a day it is clean.  I don't know why I spent so long without hiring a cleaner.  This is one of my favourite £15 ever.

The Dishes

I've often wondered how much different my life would be if I had a dishwasher for the first 5 years we lived in this house.  How much fitter would I have been if I used that 30 minutes a day for exercise? Or I could be so well read? How many hours of my life did I spend washing dishes to avoid the £1,000 outlay for the minor kitchen refurb?  Why did I wait so long?

I like my job.  I like earning money.  I also like using that money to make my life better.  Right now, we don't go on holidays.  We spend a lot of time at home.  Using money to make our home better aligns with our values.  If we valued other things, it might make less sense. 

April 9, 2024

On Awkwardness and Values and WhatsApp and School

In our home, Andy is the school parent.  He does school emails, he does school parties.  He does the calendar. 

A few weeks ago Isaac missed a birthday party.  Or rather, the party missed him - it had been moved last minute to a new location due to a punctured bouncy castle.

Andy had corresponded with the party parent (after showing up at the original location) and they were super apologetic.  She had told the WhatsApp group and the parents at pick up, but apparently we weren't at pick up on that day, and neither Andy or I have WhatsApp.

At pick up, I heard someone asking for Isaac.  It was the party parent.  She had brought sweets as an apology. I assured her there was no problem and told her we're not on Whatsapp.  "Oh - WhatsApp is easy and can be good for getting information like school dress day" she said.

"Yes, but Andy doesn't have it, and I don't want it because I'll become default parent with lots of messages" I said, before realising that was akin to saying "I don't want to hear from you".  Embarrassed, but apparently unable to stop digging, I then doubled down and said "And I don't really do school stuff, that's really Andy. I don't even usually do pick up, I'm just here to get a break from my 5 month old twins"

So there was a pause, and she was super nice, and we chatted a bit more, but I still feel like a rather big A**hole.

To alleviate my feelings I played a gender reverse game.  What if a Dad was there and said "Oh we don't use WhatsApp, and all this school stuff is really my wife's thing.  I'm not even into doing this pickup, just here to help out you know??" 

Yes, he would sound like a bit of a useless dude, but it wouldn't be a shocking reveal.

I felt bad about my comments in the evening and thought about texting the parent to say thanks for the sweets... but then I decided that there had been enough texting.  She seemed really nice. I don't do school stuff.  I don't want to do school stuff.  I don't like doing long form texting without having a specific social or real life meet-up in mind.  So I left it and told Isaac to thank the child for the sweets.

Perhaps as a parent it seems odd to not be on WhatsApp - perhaps my kid is missing out on lots of birthday parties and perhaps he wouldn't have accidentally worn a uniform on non-uniform days if we were on the platform.  

But I would also have more messages, more parent things, more social things, more birthdays.  I would know people I don't need to.  I would have more reasons to touch my phone.

I thought about a Jehovas Witness who was in school with me.  He didn't celebrate birthdays or halloween.  We all thought "how sad he doesn't get these holidays!".  But I doubt he experienced life that way.  Perhaps the parents on WhatsApp think it's sad Isaac misses things.  I don't currently have a need for more things.  Our weekends are full. Our weeks are full.  We put reminders in the calendar for uniform days... or we miss them.  

If we someday decide we need more things, more reminders, we can join Whatsapp.  For now, more is not better. More is more. Right now, we have enough.

April 5, 2024

Hello April!

When the twins were born, Andy and I often commented that April would be the start of the good times.  I had hoped that good times would start earlier, but April seemed reasonable and far away.  March was not the worst, but I have a feeing we really are at the start of the good times. 

Fun things for April:
  • My Aunt visiting for a week
  • Trips to museums and National Trust sites
  • Babies are possible to take out for the day, kids are also able to go out for long periods of time. A short lived glimpse into the season of adventure
  • Lighter nights & mornings
  • Not having the heating on and getting fresh air in the house!
I've started some mini goals as well for April:
  • Read 5 books
  • Get a blood test for B12 levels (this will be a blog post for another day!)
  • Regular Pilates (3x Week)
  • Finish Week 4 & 5 of Couch to 5K (I think this is the week I've often given up, but I want to keep going!
  • Take big kids on big kid only adventures (at least 1 each)
  • Cook tasty food with lots of vegetables
As usual, I'm getting the desire to change to a new planner in a new season.  I think this is vaguely legit because my Ashley Shelley from 2023 is sometimes annoying as I'm constantly changing the day to match the date, and using last year's monthly calendar spread is a bit impossible.  Also, I spent 6 months using the schedule for tracking naps and using the boxes for tracking feeds that now I can't really vision much else for it. 
Here are two snapshots of my life:

I gave Isaac a notebook for him to write all his thoughts and ideas in. "That's great" he said, "I have so many thoughts and Ideas." He went away and started writing.  A few minutes later he brought me the book, and it said get a better house "not a new house" he said "just organise and tidy this house"
Last night, as I proclaimed "I need to go to bed earlier!" (it was 9:15) Andy told me that this would be my epitaph.  He pointed to the comedian Spike Milligan, whose tombstone says "I told you I was ill".  My epitaph will read "I need to go to bed earlier".  It seems fitting.

What are you most excited for in April?