Valentine's Day (Late)

Our little cupid...

And a funny:

The girls from church brought heart-shaped sweet tart candies over for a treat and Calvin and Henry got a kick out of reading and eating way too many of them. My favorite part was Calvin saying, "Mom! Those conversation hearts are written in the same language that people use to text each other in!" And he cited one that said, "U R Cute." He has a talent for foreign languages.

(I've been busy just breathing and relaxing a bit this week. I have pictures to post of Jane at six months and quite a few innersting tidbits on Ukraine, mothering, sistering, reading, writing, you name it...I gotta get blogging!)


Bean Counting

So, every now and then I have (get? exhibit?) a stroke of genius when it comes to making things work a little more smoothly around home.

And of course, I should blog about it when that happens, right?

Sometime before Christmas I dreamed up Super Fantabulous Magic OTOWAHA Beans. We implemented them about a month or so ago and have now polished the system. It has worked a few wonders at our house.

Wanna know more?

The Problem(s) That Needed Addressed:

1. Whining, complaining, throwing-self-on-the-floor behavior over even the smallest requests.
2. Complete ignoring of the parents.
3. "Forgetting" to do things that they know they should do, or things that they have been asked to do "eighty nine million times."
4. General unhelpfulness and demandingness.
5. Parents that were frazzled, hoarse from repeating and nagging, and frustrated that even the smallest tasks of the day (getting coats on, picking up a few toys, washing hands) took "eighty-nine million years" to accomplish on a daily basis.

The Solution:

An easy, mostly self-governing way to encourage positive behavior in order to get rid of the negative.

Namely, Super Fantabulous Magic OTOWAHA Beans!!!

How They Work:

Calvin and Henry each have an empty baby food jar for their weekly OTOWAHA beans. (Ours are dried pinto beans - you can use black-eyed peas or great northern whites or whatever).

Every Sunday, they get twelve OTOWAHA Beans in their jar.

Each OTOWAHA Bean equals five minutes of Wii or computer game time. So, they start out with an hour to play for the week, if they don't earn any more beans as they go.

How do they earn beans? Simple - it's in the name: O T O W A H A.

They get a bean every time they're asked to do something and they do it after being asked

O ne
T ime
O nly

AND they do it

W ith
H appy
A ttitude

They have to respond both ways - quickly and pleasantly- to earn a bean. (This because even when something is done right away, it's still a problem if it's accompanied with screaming, stomping and complaining the whole way. The whole, "if you give a gift grudgingly, it counts as nothing" principle...)

David and I, for our part, have tried to be careful to make it clear and make sure the boys are hearing and listening when we ask them to do something. We give ample response time instead of going into instant automatic repeat mode. And, we try to give the beans as immediately as possible when a job is done quickly and happily.

We also have been generous with beans when the requests are unusually helpful (they ran to get a cloth when I was covered in Jane spit-up), a little larger (putting away all their folded laundry by themselves), or when the boys have complied without conflict on something that is usually ugly (getting coats, boots, hats, gloves on in time to catch the bus).


As promised on the label that I made for the magic beans, the boys' Wii and computer time has multiplied, their parents have become much more pleasant, their days are happier, and they are well on their way to becoming Super Boys!

I can't even say how much better it makes my life not to have to cajole and plead over every little thing. I also see my kids feeling a lot better about life in general when they do tasks quickly and pleasantly - they have realized how it helps them get on with the good parts of the day if they just do something instead of fighting it. Having an immediate perk for quick obedience and a cooperative attitude has helped them stop and think before they pitch a fit.

We have tried not to make too many extra conditions on earning or keeping the beans, although a couple times it has been useful to remove a bean or two when one of the boys has forgotten himself and thrown a fit.

And we do stick to our guns pretty well about 'one time only' - they either take advantage of the opportunity, or they lose it. Often, the opportunity will get passed on to a brother, who will earn a bean for it. That serves as a silent reminder of what quick obedience gets you, with no nagging or reminding or threatening from the parents.

Overall, the boys have made the bean counting run with very little instigation on our part. We explained the rules and set it in motion, and the boys have been more than happy to keep it going, which is fabulous, and, I think, the mark of an effective system.

There are also some happy bonus side effects that I hadn't totally anticipated (I'm not that brilliant): They are learning some mad math skills. Their 5s times table is all but memorized at this point - they no longer count by fives to know how many minutes their beans equal - they mulitply by five!

We have also made it a habit for them to decide how many beans they want to spend based on how many beans they have accumulated, then set a timer for that many minutes when they begin computer or Wii time. This makes an activity that might otherwise be a mindless minute and hour vacuum into a more conscious use of time, and it helps them make a frugal "spending" decision. They can't spend more than they have, and they have also learned that it's funner to save up for a big block of time rather than one or two beans' worth.

And although Charlie isn't quite old enough to care about Wii or computer time, so the system doesn't apply to him yet, he is learning the concept of quick and happy obedience. It makes me laugh that every time he hears someone remind someone else, "One time only," he chirps the other half of the requirement: "Wif hoppy annitude!"

OTOWAHA Beans are our new kind of magical fruit.


Every Now and Then

I get a little bit crazy...

No, really. I'm not sure why I do it, but somehow, I have times when I decide that...

...Valentine's Day must be observed with a bit of a party with the neighbors (because last year was the saddest ever - Calvin put his little heart so into it and what did I do for anyone for Valentine's? Zip. Nada. Zilch. Ouch.)

...AND a date with my husband (Georgian food! The most delicious veal I've ever had. OK. I don't get veal often ever. But this was mouth-meltingly delicious.)

...the "New Beginnings" program for our church Young Women (of which I am president) must happen this same week

...the Go-See-It for Tiger Cubs (of which I am co- den mother) must also happen sooner rather than later, which is to say, during the same week (luckily someone else was arranging logistics, but still, I must participate, which means covering all other bases while I am participating)

...I cannot pass up the opportunity to enter the embassy Chili Cook-off (I won a prize!)

AND...I decide to do these things in the midst of the rest of my life, which includes, but is not limited to:

...figuring out why my baby sleeps through the night not at all or at the very least, worse than she did when she was a total infant

...trying to eat right and exercise more

...giving my three older children the face time and listening time and love time that they really need

...really hurting my tailbone in a fall (I know I already mentioned that in my last post, but it hurt and it was real and I'm still recovering)

...really only wanting to be somewhere quiet, uninterrupted, and read / sleep

When I do these things, I end up rather ostrich-like, head in sand, procrastinating in a catatonic state of "what was I thinking?" and all the while knowing that I had better get myself pulled together or all of it is going to be a disaster for which I will feel a lot of frustration.

And I ask myself every time, "Why?" And I never come up with a really good answer. Ah well.

But the good news is that in one of my head-in-sand moments, I decided to go over and vote at Power of Moms. They had a photo contest - all snapshots and photographs of moms doing what moms do. And we get to choose which ones win. There are some darling pics there, and some tear-jerkers, and some real-life, down-to-earth shots of mommy life, too. You should go vote! Now!


In Need of Reprieve

I'm snowed under in more ways than one - I'm working on some big projects for church and Cubs and still trying to get my grip on mothering four, dealing with cabin fever and actual headaches, and David was out of town over the weekend, which means lots of things go to pot and I play catch-up.

I fell twice within twenty minutes tonight and am pretty sure I was a cover for a very clever shoplifter between the falls. It keeps snowing and remains too cold and too ridiculous to take kids out, so I'm becoming a hermit of sorts.

Jane is scooting everywhere. Charlie is feeling his oats. Henry needs me every minute. Calvin wants interaction on a grand scale.

In more chipper news, we have a wonderful new neighbor family (well, they moved in right before Thanksgiving, so they're not like yesterday new, but they're pretty new...) that consists of three daughters and a baby son - all four children within six months of my children's ages. What's more is that they homeschool, so besides really enjoying the company of the mom of their family, I'm loving the chance to pick her brain about what it takes on a daily basis. It's great!

My sister just posted some of her reminisences about her first three months in Kiev which you might like to check out for some of the cultural/American perspective tidbits that you might find lacking lately on my blog. So nice to have someone else jotting stuff down for the blogosphere.

Some of you have asked about our next post after Kiev. We will be back in the good ol' US of A for at least a year while David works at Main State. It's a great thing. I'm feeling a little "trunky" right now. Mostly, I just need a breather. Hoping to get one in a month or so, and then it won't be long after and we'll be on our way to American home sweet home.



The Snuggle to Bad Dream Ratio

After Calvin and Henry had been in bed for almost an hour and Henry had made a final toilet escape, he came squintily into the front room. Before I could tell him with some exaspiration to get. back. in. bed. he said: "Mom, can I talk to you about something?"

Me: (gulping back the exaspiration in the interest of letting my kids know they can always talk to me about anything) Of course you can.

Henry: Do you know that when you don't snuggle with me before I go to sleep, I have bad dreams?

Me: (looking at him with the tiniest twitch of a smile) Really?

Henry: Yeah. And did you know that the more you don't snuggle with me, the worse the dreams are?

Me: I didn't know that. Have you been having bad dreams lately?

Henry: Yes.

Me: What are they about?

Henry: (His eyes grow wide at the same time that they get a little shifty at this point.) They are so bad I just can't even tell you about them.

Me: Oh. I am really sorry.

Henry: Yeah. So, I really need you to snuggle me.

Me: Huh.

I'm sorry to say that this conversation did not result in snuggling tonight because there is a six-month-old in the house, but I did try an extra good huggy tucking in that should ward off those bad dreams.

I just have to wonder where Henry learned his approach and the "Did you know...?" infomercial-like tactics. Together with his sweaty little curls and just the right amount of earnest behind the sly twinkle in his eyes, he's pretty convincing.

I do need to snuggle him more.