Saturday, September 13, 2014

Our chore system

Our current chore system has been in use for about two years now, in various adapted and improved forms, and it is going exceptionally well. By that, I mean the kids do their work reliably, with minimal nagging reminders on my part, and they actually find the system helpful and motivating. This also helps the older ones with keeping tabs on their younger siblings, or "charges."

There is a debate whether children should be given a regular allowance, or whether all money should be earned. Benefits of a regular allowance: parents pay reliably each week, making it possible for kids to learn how to manage finances and make good purchasing decisions. Downside: this could possibly lead to an entitlement attitude, akin to some welfare recipients. Benefits of earned income only: You only get paid for work. No work, no pay (which later in life means no food and no place to live). Downside: keeping track of monies earned. Mom gets busy, kids don't get paid, and the system falls apart.

In the past, our approach was to give each of the kids a standard allowance each week that was half their age in dollars, i.e. a 12-year old gets $6/week. In exchange, they were expected to help with their clearly defined and assigned daily chores. This is a good system, and it served us well when the kids were little and I had no time to spend an hour each week playing accountant. Our older kids are all very mature with their finances (compared to how I was at their age), so it must have worked. 

However, as the kids got older, I wanted them to keep tabs on their own work (as opposed to me having to check up on them, remind them, etc.), and also get a more accurate feel of "work = pay", and "more work = more pay". But keeping tabs on 6 kids that get paid is still quite a handful, so I was looking for a system that paid based on performance, but with minimal accounting required on my part. 

I came across the idea of "docket" based pay on another large family site (though I cannot remember which one, please forgive me if this is your idea and I cannot give you credit for it). Basically, each day is divided into "dockets", each of which earns a certain amount of money. If a job within that docket is missed, that docket will not be paid. This cuts down on the nickel-and-diming for every little job that you want to get done.

In our home, the day is broken into 5 dockets, plus there is a bonus docket for being ready with the morning chores by 9 a.m. in case we need to go somewhere, have someone stop by unexpectedly, and also because that's when we normally start school work. Older kids who have more work get paid more. With this system, Solomon and Isaac could each earn a maximum of $8.40/week, which is not bad considering this is all just their "mad money". I pay extra for certain big jobs they can volunteer for, such as cleaning out a closet, doing yard work, cleaning a bathroom, mopping, etc.

The kids each have separate, more detailed charts to check off each day for their school work. The subjects on here are just the ones they must work on daily if they want to get paid.


The boxes each get filled with a check mark if completed, a dash if it didn't need to be done that day, or an X if the job went undone. Any docket on any day that contains an X will not get paid.

 Miriam actually recently got promoted to $.125/docket because she is becoming such an asset to me

You will notice that mealtimes and even "silent time" are listed here, though they could not really be considered "work." However, I have included them so that if a child is unruly during mealtime, takes forever to eat and puts us all behind, or ruins silent time, they can be punished by getting an "X" in that particular box, and thereby losing that docket. 

There is an additional "capitalist" aspect: if a certain child is going slow and falling behind, I may reassign their chores from a given docket to a sibling that is working fast and getting ahead. Pay, accordingly, is then transferred to the early bird that got the worm. This is done only by special permission from me, so that it doesn't become too much of a cut-throat mentality, and my kids leap out of bed by 5 a.m. to beat their siblings to their chores.

These lists are mounted on the front of the kitchen fridge. My older boys all know how to print a new list on Sunday mornings if I get too busy to do so on Saturday night, and they also help the little kids (Becky and Anna) get through their chores and get marked off accordingly. On Saturday nights, they tally up the wages for each child, pay them accordingly, and put the completed charts in each child's respective school binders.

Yes, having older kids to help is pretty awesome!

Speaking of older kids pitching in and helping with their younger siblings - this is something a lot of large families get flak for. I find that simply ridiculous. Anyone who births, raises, and trains a worker for half their childhood should be entitled to reap the benefits of such training for the remainder of their living at home. I am thankful that as a child, my brothers and I were expected to help around the house, so I didn't enter adulthood completely clueless as to how to run a household. Laziness is a terrible attribute in anyone, and no child of mine will ever grow up to be a lazy jerk, so help me God. Rest assured, us parents still work more, harder, and longer than any of the kids.

Of course, this particular system with these particular chores will not work for anyone but our family. But I do hope you will be able to take away an idea or two to help you streamline your days and keep your kids on track.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Mom tip: Ear infections

Ear infections - they are pretty common for babies to get, even exclusively breastfed ones. It has something to do with how much of their time they spend lying down or even just reclined. If their sinuses are already backed up from having a cold (which can happen even if they are still able to breathe through their nostrils), they are even more prone to getting one.
So we all know about the downsides of overusing antibiotics, which are the typical cure for ear infections. In response, more and more pediatricians are in favor of waiting a few days to see if the infection clears up on its own, which it usually does. But who wants to be home with a baby that cries and fusses in pain all night, right?
That's where my tip comes in: a natural, safe, and highly effective cure for ear infections.
The product is called "garlic mullein oil" and is made by HerbPharm. You could make your own, though I only ever buy the one pictured above. It is a critical staple item in my at-home natural home remedy kit. One drop per ear for babies and children under 10, two drops for anyone above that age. I usually stuff a little cotton into the ears after I put the oil in, as the extra warmth seems to be both soothing to the ear, as well as helping the oil do its work. Important: do not add ear drops if you suspect the ear drum might be ruptured.
The ingredients are all organic or wildcrafted.
In my experience, this works better than any antibiotics I ever used back when Solomon was a baby. I remember one time, he went through three courses of antibiotics before they finally started working. This oil, on the other hand, has never yet failed me. I typically notice almost immediate relief of the ear pain (some of the ingredients have analgesic properties), reduced symptoms within 8 hours, and the infection completely cleared up within 24-48 hours (though treatment should continue for a couple days more to prevent a relapse). Also, be sure to treat both ears, even if you think only one is infected.
Just this past week, with a cold making its way through the kids, the baby had been incredibly fussy. Particularly at night, he would not stay asleep for more than minutes at a time, and even then only in the swing, not actually lying down. During the worst night, I got 1 (!!) hour of sleep total. While his nose was just a little runny, I didn't even think about the possibility that he might have an ear infection until yesterday afternoon. I treated his ears immediately, and slept well for the first night all week. Today, he was back to his usual happy and mellow self.
If you have a baby or toddler, and do not already keep this in stock, I highly recommend buying some right away. You don't want to be at home with a crying baby at midnight without this, when no health food store is open.
And please remember: This post is purely informational, and not intended to cure, diagnose, or treat any disease. I am not a licensed medical specialist, I just play one on the internet.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Historic Rainfalls

Phoenix, though in the Sonoran Desert, does get a bit of rain each year during this time, also known as the monsoon season. Typically, it starts in late June or early July, and lasts a couple of months, during which time we usually get one good rain storm every week or two. This isn't much for most of the country, but to us who are used to no rain for months on end other times of the year, it's huge. 

Well, about three weeks ago, we got a lot of rain, which is really a blessing is disguise in spite of some minor flooding and road closures. It must have made national news, because this clown on the internet made a video in the middle of the night, urgently updating the world (or his few followers) that maybe this rain was God's judgement for my husband's preaching.

Well, if that doesn't just settle it! Turns out, my husband's preaching is little more than a rain dance. Still, I figured that storm was probably the last of the monsoon for this year.

Then, during the night from Sunday to Monday, we got what has since been dubbed "the storm of the century." It poured, and poured, and poured all night long, complete with thunder, lighting, and all. If you have ever been in the desert during a rain storm, you know that the water doesn't come down in drops, it comes down in sheets of water. At Phoenix Sky Harbor, total rain fall was measured at a record-breaking 3.29"

While historical, if you look at the above map, you will see that it was nothing compared to Tempe, where we got the most rain of any city in the entire Greater Phoenix Area, with 5.75 inches. This is only slightly below our typical total rain fall for the entire year, all in one night!

Near our house is a park that doubles as a "containment basin" for these extreme monsoon rains. Basically, the park dips quite low toward the middle, to allow flash floods to pool there rather than in the streets. 

After the kids were done with their morning subjects on Monday, we lugged our kayaks to the park, and made the best of the completely flooded park. We had seen it full before, but never completely. This time, the water overflowed the raised boundaries of the park, and completely flooded the street behind it. Our house did not get any flooding, though our pool came within a half inch of overflowing.

Can you spot the red and blue kayaks way back in the picture, in what would usually be the street?

 The water was shallowest on the sidewalk, and deeper in the street and park.

 At the deepest part right in the middle, it was probably 8 or 10 feet deep.

Later Monday, we approached the flooded street seen in the pictures above from the other end, where the water was considerably deeper. The kids thought we should drive down the flooded street all the way to the other end where we had put in the kayaks earlier that day. It seemed reasonable at the time - after all, we had seen other trucks leave their homes on that street earlier, and the water hadn't been that deep. After all, this was the "storm of the century," and I wanted the kids to have cool stories to tell their grandkids. "Hey, remember when that street in our neighborhood got completely flooded, and Mom drove us through it?"

See, it's not that deep... yet!

Well, we kept driving down the street, and it just kept getting deeper and deeper as we got closer to the park. Mind you, my van is built on the exact same frame as the Nissan Titan pickup truck, except that we have 12 seats instead of a cabin and truck bed. So I wasn't worried about being in too deep - not yet, anyway.

By the time we were within sight of the park, I was starting to get a little concerned, but this was hardly the place to make a 3-point turn in a giant van in a flooded neighborhood, or to back up with poor visibility of a flooded street. The houses on the left in the above picture were flooded by a few inches. All the way at the end in the picture, where the street curves and turns left, is where we had put the kayaks in earlier in the day. I knew it was shallow enough to drive there, and it wasn't much farther.

I did the only logical thing there was to do, and started taking pictures while pressing on, so we could later document at which point exactly the water had become too deep.

It was around this point that I seemed to be hearing gurgly noises from the hood. If it was too late to turn around earlier, it most certainly was now. I did keep to the middle of the street, where the water was its most shallow, and reminded myself that I had seen other trucks leave the street earlier in the day. Of course, there's no telling if the park had been less flooded at that time - ha!

As they say, all's well that ends well. :) I don't think there was ever any real danger, as the water never came  up above my tires, and the van is a high-clearance vehicle. After we got home, the boys grabbed their bikes and made the same trip on them, with the water coming to the top of their 24 inch wheels.

Crazy YouTube people notwithstanding, water is really a blessing to us in this naturally dry climate, after a particularly dry summer.

I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.
Isaiah 41:18

Monday, September 8, 2014

Trip to California

Back in August, our family took a short trip to Southern California, where we met up with my husband's brother, his wife, and their four children. Our kids are penpals with their California cousins, but only get to see them in person maybe once a year or so. Naturally, they were quite ecstatic about this trip.

We left on a Wednesday night after church, took turns driving through the night, and arrived at our first stop on Thursday morning - Six Flags Magic Mountain. Our kids had earned free admission tickets through their "Read to Succeed" program.

My husband's family met us there at the park, where we were from the time they opened at 10 a.m. until they closed at 9 p.m. In retrospect, that really was a crazy plan on my part, but I think the kids (and kids at heart) really enjoyed themselves. In the evening, the park emptied out considerably, and we were able to get onto coaster after coaster without having to wait in line. 

Shortly after that last picture above was taken, while my sister-in-law and I were watching the younger ones in the kid area and sitting down chatting, we realized that three of our kids were missing - one of hers, and my Becky and Anna. We immediately started calling their names and looking around, but there were so many people leaving the park in large numbers at that point, that it was hard. Then my phone rang! A lady on the other end asked if this was Suzanna, and said she had three of my children. As it later turned out, the lost kids had accidentally started following another group after leaving a ride, and walked a ways down the path before they realized they were no longer with us. I teach our kids that if they are lost, they should approach a lady with little kids, and tell them they are lost. So Becky did just that - she told the lady my name, gave her my phone number, and we were reunited just a couple of minutes after having gotten separated. I was (and still am!) mighty proud of her for that. Poor little Anna started crying once we were reunited, but Becky never flinched. She is a tough and smart little cookie!

We got to our hotel rooms late Thursday night, and pretty much just crashed. 

Friday, we got up early so as to have a chance to bathe all the kids, and still get to the clinic in downtown L.A. during the morning, so we could catch everyone before they left for the weekend. 

After we left the clinic, we drove to the nearby American Girl store. This had been the girls dream for a while now, and the place did not disappoint. 

Miriam had been diligently saving up her money since the winter 2012 catalog, so over a year and a half. When I was her age, I never even remotely exercised the restraint and self-discipline that she did, let alone for so many months. Her plan was to buy the "winter chalet" for her doll. At $150, it had a hefty price tag, but she had worked so hard to save up the money, and  I wasn't going to tell her no. Imagine her utter delight when the chalet turned out to be one of the very few items on sale in the store that day! She was able to buy several other items with the extra money, including matching shirts for her and her doll. I think God is awesome not just to care about big, important people and their needs, but also sweet little girls and their wants. Truly, He gives us our heart's desires. 

 Yes, we ended up lugging this massive box around with us for the rest of the trip!

 I love this little sweetie so much!

It was now Friday midday, and we grabbed a quick lunch at Pizza Studio before meeting my husband's family again at the California Science Center. If you have never been, you should go! Admission is FREE 365 days a year, and the place is awesome, especially for kids. 

They all happened to be wearing the same shirts that day

My husband and his brother

My sister-in-law and some of the kids


Near the science center was a fancy park with rose gardens, which our large group quickly overtook. I sat on a bench feeding the baby, with this crazy squirrel getting closer and closer.


It was on this part of the trip that Miriam (who had been unusually quiet and tired the day before) started feeling ill. She spent the rest of the day curled up in the reclined back seat of the stroller, resting and saying that her legs hurt. At first we thought that maybe she was just sore from having walked all over the theme park the day before, but when she started running a fever, we realized she had a flu. In all, it took her almost 2 weeks to get completely well again, the first week of which she was hardly able to walk because the virus had made all the joints in her body so sore.

We stayed the second night at the same hotel again, this time with the rest of the family across the hallway from us. It was pretty wild with all the kids going back and forth between the rooms. I think they all made memories for a lifetime! :)

Saturday, we all slept in, checked out of the hotel, and headed to the beach where we met up with our friend Paul Wittenberger, his wife, and their little newborn baby. 

It's a major production every time

 The safety talk

My nephew found this really cool sand crab that looked exactly like the weird plants that were floating through the water.

We finished the trip with a stop at our favorite fish & chips place before each going our separate ways back home. 

Looking back, I cannot believe how much fun we managed to cram into those three days! There are so many cool places in SoCal, and it's about halfway between my brother-in-law and his family, and us, so it's perfect for getting together there. Hopefully, we will be able to do this again in the near future.