I was blessed to spend 2 weeks with my side of the family while priest-husband stayed behind and worked. While we visited with everybody, I stayed at the home of one of my sisters; she has more kids than I even though her oldest is three years younger than my oldest. She is busy- but brilliant. Here are some random things I learned from her over the two weeks. I'll stick with practical tips so I don't get too personal on this 'anonymous' blog (and yes, most of my tips revolve around food- ah, the life of a mommy):
--- Bring snacks, lunch and water to any and all park days and other outside amusements. Children need to realize, if they eat food from home at the park, they can go on 2 or 3 carousel rides instead of one.
--- Split up the kids- sometimes. We went to an amusement park with practically all the kids (well- missing 2 families). I kept the four oldest kids with me until closing along with my littlest so that the little kids could go home before they had melt-downs. These four big kids were the only ones to get unlimited ride bracelets (that they paid for) as it would have been too much and too expensive for all those littles. They never were the wiser.
--- Don't split up the kids- sometimes. While it can be fun for big kids to do big kid stuff, sometimes they need to canter to the little kids' level. During the two weeks, we had a few 'love bug classes' where the big kids taught some sort of pre-school to the littles. But they were in the basement, so I don't know exactly how much they learned. Also- all media is at a very small child's level. Just because the 12-year old can watch Narnia doesn't mean that the three-year old can. My sister deals with her age spread in her family by simply not watching much of any videos. Perhaps in the future the older ones will have a later bedtime when they can watch something. But I suspect they are too busy with creative activities.
--- Buy in bulk. I already buy in bulk a little bit, but my sister is very good at it. Her tip to make sure that a bulk buy isn't wasted (which defeats the purpose)- make sure you cook from that bulk item twice a week. So if you buy a hundred pound bag of beans, you need to make beans twice a week. She also always has dried milk on hand so she never has to run to the market for only milk. I have got to copy her on that! Stir in a little vanilla, the kids will never know the difference.
--- Follow Leila's 'save a step' cooking ideas. My sister (who steered me to Like Mother, Like Daughter) uses all her leftovers- either for husband's lunch the next day or for 're-purposing' for another meal. In two weeks, I don't think she threw out any food. Occasionally, this might mean making an 'everything soup.' Maybe it was because I didn't cook it, but my kids gobbled up her egg-onion-summer squash-potato sautee.
--- Have designated snack times. Why oh why don't I do this? My kids assume that if I am in the kitchen, I am available for restaurant service. My sister has snack time at 10. And there is an actual snack that they can have- not a full menu. If I were (notice my use of the subjunctive) a well-organized person, this would be a good way to balance their meals. If they have a high-carb breakfast like oatmeal or cold cereal, then the snack would be protein (cold chicken from last night, hummus and carrots, salami/cheese/tomatoes). If their breakfast was eggs, then snack could be fruit.
--- Get the kids- and yourself- outside. This can be a real challenge living in an urban envirnoment, so I'll have to get better at forcing the issue. We do have a lot of beautiful parks. And we'll just have to continue gardening as much as we can on our patio.
--- Don't forget farmers' markets. As I am always writing about not buying from China and trying to buy organic and fair trade as much as possible, I can't forget our local farmers. We are very blessed in this area.
--- Have paper and markers available for the kids at all times. And don't forget the books, lots of books. I have used my sister as inspiration with the paper/marker business. I had my son draw while I got his yogurt and cereal ready. Who knew? He was sitting there very peacefully. A new day has dawned.
As you can see, I have been blessed with a sister that I can get a lot of inspiration from- and these tips are just the food-type inspiration. I won't even go into the way she inspires me to be a better daughter of God! Every sibling I have is special and inspiring in different- and sometimes the same- ways. One sibling changed my life by suggesting I take down a door (long story- but it is true). Dear reader, I hope that you have a sibling or a friend that inspires you to greater heights like my family does to me.