Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tuesday Tip: Controlling the clutter

We're selling our house.  I don't know where we'll go when someone buys it but, unless someone buys it, well, we'll have no place to go!  That, I suppose, is the the true conundrum of the second time home buyer.  Another is what to do with all the crap (did I say that? I meant "stuff"!) one naturally accumulates as the years pass by; in our case, this "stuff" includes a whole lot of baby gear, preschool paintings, kindergarten homework, naked dolls and trucks without wheels. I thought I'd been good about weeding through it but, the cleaning frenzy of the past week has proven me wrong.  Fortunately, I have some great friends with great ideas for keeping a clutter free home... and, as it turns out, you don't need to be planning a move (or even the Open House that is keeping me up at night!) to get your house in order.  Spring is the perfect time for sprucing up and with these tips in mind, your home just might be neat and tidy all year long.

  1. Don't be sentimental about your "stuff."  I have a client who has a real knack for keeping things neat.  We had the pleasure of having lunch a few weeks ago and she shared some of her tips for keeping her home and kids organized.  In a nutshell, don't get emotionally attached -- whether it's Junior's first math homework or that sweater you "just know is coming back", it's time to let it go.  Junior will have many more math assignments and the odds are good that the sweater will never be "in" again... and if it is, well, go splurge on a new one!
  2. Have a charity of choice and give generouslyBig Brothers, Big Sisters happens to be one of mine and, since they send a pick up crew if I call in advance, it makes giving a piece of cake.  They visit our humble abode several times a year and are happy to cart away the clothes, toys, books and household items that are gently used and, no longer used. Giving is twice as nice when helping others leads to a clutter-free home. In thinking of your charity of choice, consider local hospitals, women's shelters, daycare centers and even school fundraisers.
  3. Have a large supply of trash bags and fill frequently.  I thought we were good at this but the items unearthed in our basement and on our back porch would suggest otherwise.  Broken strollers, games with missing pieces, books with missing pages, stuffed animals that have long been forgotten and are too "loved" to be accepted by any charity of choice.  All of these belong in a trash bag on the curb. And now, that's where they are!
  4. Save selectively.  Let's face it, you can't throw it ALL away.  So, create a smart system for saving just a few things each year.  My tough-love pal who encourages routine purging and discourages an emotional attachment to "stuff" admits there are some things you just need to hold onto... report cards, class pictures, those first handprints, a few prized pieces of "art."  Every year, she creates a folder for each of her children and, like the finest of curators, she keeps only the most prime pieces.  When the kids are grown, they will each have about a dozen neatly organized folders full of gems to look back on... and, I suspect they will be feel extremely sentimental when they do!
  5. Organize stylishly.  If you must have some clutter (and let's admit it, we all do!), why not make it look good?  I have an array of "Memory Boxes" from Exposures that look great and store easily; there's one for each kid and they are already finding joy in their walks down memory lane.  I also like to use pretty file folders -- somehow putting the bills in a pretty paisley file that says "Pay Me" makes the task slightly less daunting.  For more great ideas on keeping clutter controlled (and possibly even cute!), visit Buttoned Up. I just did and was quite pleased to find an article on getting organized for a move.  So, should we actually sell our house, I will know what to do next!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Home Sweet Home: Preparing to say good-bye to "My First House"

"The Lyons Den"... a.k.a. "Home Sweet Home"
When we first discovered we were going to have triplets, bringing our tally of children to five tykes under four, I was absolutely stunned.  Shocked.  So much so that my initial response was “where we will we live?!”  I couldn’t envision how we’d fit five small children in our tiny three-bedroom house.  Of course, once the reality of the high-risk pregnancy set in, I became far more concerned with their health (and mine!) than our housing logistics.

Fast forward four years.  We are blessed to have five spunky, healthy children aged seven and under.  We survived the arrival of the triplets, many sleep deprived nights and the arrival and departure of baby items that simplified our lives and cluttered our cozy home – for instance, a triple set of bouncy seats, high chairs and pack & plays.  These have been handed down while our tots have been growing up.

Today, our seven-year old “big guy” and five year old “princess” share a room (and a dresser!) and the triplets do too.  As they get bigger, my stoic approach that “each kid only needs one drawer!” is getting harder and harder to hold on to;  you can fit many more onesies and baby clothes in a drawer than you can size 3T pants and shirts!

It is this crowding of the drawers and overcrowding of our house that led us – at long last – to put it on the market.  We’ve always known we needed more space. Over the past few years, we’ve flirted with other homes, longing for their master bedroom suites and spacious playrooms.  We’ve been so bold as to put offers on a few, only to wake up the next day wondering what we had done and scrambling to undo it.  We weren’t ready to make a move.  And now, I suppose, we are.  But the very notion summons up such nostalgia, I’m not sure I’ll ever really be ready to leave this house behind. 

We arrived here seven years ago and it was the perfect “my first house.”  Even so, I hated it.  We moved in on a Friday and I went back to work the next Monday, leaving my 3-month old firstborn son behind as I rode the train to the city.  The city was my home; I knew my way around and was surrounded by friends and family.  It was really difficult for me to make the transition to our bucolic little home in the suburbs but now, seven years and four more children later, I love it.   It’s hard to imagine saying good-bye to this humble abode that has truly become our “Home Sweet Home.”

I relished giving all five of our children bottles on our front porch.  Watching them play in the backyard.  Helping them climb up the stairs, out of their cribs and into my arms.  In the seven years we’ve lived here, our babies have become children and we’ve all grown older and wiser.  It’s time to move on.  But it’s so hard to go.  Especially when I don’t know where the road will lead us.  I can only hope that when we find our next house, it too will quickly become a home as sweet as this.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tuesday Tip: Beyond the diaper bag: 4 great options for spring

Today is the first day of Spring.  This is usually cause for great celebration here in the Northeast but, since we had a winter so warm it was worrisome and the daffodils all bloomed last week, the change of season feels a bit anti-climactic compared to years past.  Even so, it's time to change over the closets, do some spring cleaning and lighten up a bit -- in spirit, in fashion and yes, even in diaper bags or however you define your tote of choice.

I've never really been a diaper bag kind of a gal myself.  Don't get me wrong, I've spent the past seven years of my life with an overstuffed satchel of sorts hanging off my shoulder and various kiddie items hanging out of that bag.  I tried the traditional diaper bags but none of them ever really worked for me -- especially with triplets!  As I'm faced with a milestone that no one seems to mention (that being the end of the diaper bag!), I'm faced with a dilemma about what to take along to tote our necessities when we're out and about.  I no longer need to pack up formula, bottles, diapers and onesies but when we're headed out for a long day, I still need to lug along water bottles, juice boxes, a few Pull Ups and wipes -- which thankfully are now used most often for sticky hands and faces rather than stinky bottoms!  The point is, I need a bag.  And I'm sure many of you do too so, for today's "Tuesday Tip", I thought I'd share a few that work for me... and, I'd love to hear any that work for you.  After all, spring is here and Mama needs a new bag!

The Lucky Girl Personal Shopper, by Bella Bags

This Bella Bag by Toss comes in eight pretty patterns and several sensible styles so whether you need a refrigerated compartment for milk and yogurt or a basic carry-all, there's an option for you.  My sister got me this bag a few years ago and it's one of my favorites.  It can be personalized with your initial and the bright colors and fun patterns are great at hiding the dirt and grime that are inevitable after a few trips to the park.

The "Lock It Pocket Rocket", by Scout
This is not the first time I've extolled the virtues of the Pocket Rocket .  This bag has seen me through thick and thin and many a bottle -- ranging from baby bottles to wine bottles, depending on the occasion!  As spring turns to summer and you migrate from the sandbox to a sandy beach, this will be a great bag to have in tow.  With six outside pockets, one inside pocket and an interior roomy enough for snacks and sunblock, this is one of my all-time faves.  As an added bonus, it's water-resistant so it can easily be wiped clean and won't damaged by splashes and spills.  Last but not least, the newest version (pictured above) has a lock-it feature so it can be easily strapped to your stroller for a handy hands-free option.

L.L. Bean Boat & Tote Bag

The LL Bean boat bag is a classic and has been a staple in our family for years.  We must have almost a dozen of them by now.  Each kid has one with their name on it which is their "go bag" for all our adventures; whether it's a weekend visit to my parents or our annual week at the beach, each kid gets one bag and one bag only.  If it doesn't fit in the "Bean Bag", it gets left behind.  In addition to proving their worth for little road warriors, these bags are perfect for the pool or beach.  I have a large one that fits seven beach towels and enough sunblock to keep us covered until Labor Day.  If you're not yet convinced that the Bean Bag is a must-have, consider this -- they also make for great storage... one for blocks, one for trains and so on.  It's an ideal way to tote playthings from room to room or up and down stairs.  My husband will occasionally wish we had those nifty new zip top tote bags so if he happens to take a turn too fast the beach towels don't go flying but, for lugging loads to and fro, if you ask me, this is a bag that's hard to beat.

Last but not least, there's the basic backpack.  It served you well in school and will still do the trick now that you're a busy mom -- quite possibly with more kids than hands, making the hands-free nature of this one all the more appealing!  As you may know, we took the kids into the city for the St. Patrick's Day parade last weekend and my trusty old backpack got us through the day.  It easily contained nine juice-boxes, fruit snacks, granola bars, clementines, wipes, tissues, and one complete change of clothes (and Pull Ups) in case a tired three-year old triplet piddled in his pants. Lest I should forget, there were a few items for me too: my phone, a few dollars, a credit card and lip gloss. On the downside, of the roughly twenty pounds strapped to my back that day, less than two were actually for me but, on the upside, I was able to meet every whining request for a snack and, best of all, never needed to pull out those Pull Ups!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Keeping the St. Patrick in St. Patrick's Day

It was dark as night with a thick fog swirling around the street lamps as I wiped the sleep from my eyes and looked out the window.  “Do we really need to get the kids up this early?” I asked my husband as he slowly awoke from his slumber.  “Of course we do, it’s St. Patrick’s Day!” he responded without hesitation.  And so it began. 

First Liam and Ciara were hustled out of bed, into their Sunday best and down the hill to the train with their Dad.  Why?  To make sure they got to church on time – and not just any old church, but St. Patrick's Cathedral.  I know what you’re thinking because I had the same thought, “Gee, nothing says fun for kids on St. Patrick’s Day like being dragged out of bed, stuffed into fancy clothes and squeezed into a church pew!” Fortunately for them, this was only the beginning.  And, I have to admit, it is a huge honor to be invited to Mass at St. Patrick’s on March 17th – a point which is lost on them now at five and seven years old but, I hope they will one day realize.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I was hustling our three-year old triplets out of their cribs and into their Irish rugby jerseys.  Kevin, Declan and Cormac awoke with their typical cheer and joyful anticipation of the day ahead. “Is today the day?!”  “Today is St. Patrick’s Day, right Mama?”  “Today we go to the parade!”  These little Irish eyes were smiling up at me as I hurried them out of the house to catch the next train to the city.  That thick fog was just starting to lift as we headed south along the Hudson to Grand Central Station , eliciting some keen three year old commentary about “smoke on the water”  and cute questions like “Is it always smoky on St. Patrick’s Day, Mom?”

We arrived at Grand Central and did what any mom with a trio of three year olds would do next.  We rode the escalator.  That’s right, it caught their eye while we were waiting to meet my parents at the clock tower and I just couldn’t resist their amazing powers of persuasion.  The problem though, was that once we rode up, they were petrified to go back down.  After several failed attempts, I finally left my mom a message explaining that we’d been foiled by the escalator and were going to start marching toward the parade.

What a sight we were as we battled the growing crowds along Fifth Avenue and headed toward St. Pat’s.  I had one wide-eyed, fair-skinned, freckle-faced boy in each hand and one tagging along behind, clinging for dear life to the back of my green sweater. We paused a few times along the way, taking in the wonder of the windows of Build A Bear and American Girl.  Their excitement and enthusiasm were contagious as passers-by stopped to smile and wish us a Happy St. Patrick’s Day. 

We finally arrived on the steps of St. Pat’s where we met my husband, Liam and Ciara and were eventually joined by my parents, brother, sister-in-laws, niece, nephews and friends old and new.  As the pipers played and drummers drummed, I said a silent thank you to St. Patrick.  Not just for chasing the snakes out of Ireland but, for giving us one day a year to honor our heritage, tap our toes to the music, wear our green with pride and truly cherish our family; St. Patrick’s Day is a good reminder of just how blessed I am to look into smiling little Irish eyes and see the wonder of the world from their point of view – for it is a very nice view indeed.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Cead Mile Failte

With St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner, the Lyons Den is abuzz with activity.  There is Irish Soda bread to be baked, a hearty stew to be made and, time permitting, a lovely Pot of Gold cake to be picked up at the Riviera Bakehouse – a gem of a bakeshop should you ever be in the neighborhood!

When I asked our seven-year old, Liam, what St. Patrick’s Day was all about, he responded without hesitation, “It’s about being together as a family and remembering Ireland” – which I thought was a pretty astute answer for a second-grader; after all, I’ve never shared the story of St. Patrick chasing the snakes out of Ireland so it’s only fitting that he thinks the day is about family, togetherness and remembering our Irish roots.

It’s worth noting that while Liam was having his moment in the spotlight, his little sister Ciara and little brothers Kevin, Declan and Cormac (identical triplets and a stroke of Irish luck if ever there was one!) were all nodding in accordance.  “Family.” “Together.” “Family.”  In a rare occurrence, we found a topic to which we all could agree.

Now, as you might have surmised from the impressive roster of Irish names for our brood, we’ve got a lot o’green in our blood and a fair amount of Irish pride that flows along with it.  My maiden name was O’Connor; my mother’s maiden name was O’Brien.  Frankly, when I married a guy with the last name Lyons, I thought we should compromise and become the “O’Lyons.”  Needless to say, that didn’t work.  As a first generation Irish American whose Dad hailed from County Cork, my husband Des was far too proud to change his name – and, almost a decade later, I can’t say I blame him.

We had the privilege of our taking our clan (yes, we flew to Ireland with five children then six and under!) to Ireland this fall.  We caught up with friends in Dublin, visited family in Bray, drove through the rolling hills of Wicklow, kissed the  Blarney Stone and toured County Cork, sharing the magic of Kinsale and other seaside villages with our kids.  It was a whirlwind of a trip and at times a challenge to juggle five (jet-lagged!) children as we saw the sights but it was well worth it.  While I still recall the screaming banshee I became at the end of a few especially long days, the kids recall a magical, mystical fairy tale of a trip. 

The 2-year old triplets gave us some precious sound bites, one of my favorites of which was “If this is Barney Castle, where he at?” Ciara celebrated her fifth birthday at the Dublin Zoo, a must-see if ever you make the journey and Liam, the oldest of our crew, fell in love with the Emerald Isle. He is reading Yeats, seems to have absorbed the significance of the 1916 Easter Uprising and, in true seven year old form, naturally assumes that we’ll be heading back to Ireland this fall. 

For the record, we won’t – but, if time and money weren’t an issue, we’d go back in a heartbeat.  Ireland is truly the land of a hundred thousand welcomes; not everyone welcomes a family of seven (with a few of them possibly wet – from either the unpredictable weather or an “accident”!) but all over Ireland, we were welcomed with open arms. With big smiles.  With warm tea or a cold pint.  It is that spirit – that welcome, that zest for life, for story-telling, for music, for dance, that I hope our children embody as they grow up -- on St. Patrick’s Day and every other day of the year.  I hope they embrace life experiences and the people they encounter along the way with Cead Mile Failte. A hundred thousand welcomes.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tuesday Tip: Take time to smell the roses

One of my little fellas who always pauses to smell the flowers
If you live in the Northeast, you know that our "un-winter" is just about over; with the unusual warmth this week combined with the extended daylight hours, it's really beginning to look -- and feel -- a lot like spring.

Spring is typically a time of year when our already over-filled lives grow even fuller.  As we say so-long to basketball, we find ourselves in the midst of soccer, baseball, t-ball, lacrosse clinics and, in just one civilized respite, a ballet recital.  Suddenly the winter hours we spent in a chilly gym seem minimal in contrast to the hours we'll spend on the grassy sidelines this spring.  The good news is that the dawn of spring and advent of summer allow us longer days and the occasional permission to linger... the time to stop and smell the roses, as they say.

Today I did just that.  Not in the literal sense; despite the warm winter and early spring, the roses have yet to bloom... although, many crocuses have come up to meet the sun and a few daffodils are in full bloom.  I witnessed them firsthand as I left my desk behind and took my lunch to a local park.  A local park where I knew the triplets would be playing and that just a few moments with them would brighten my busy day even more than the sunny skies.  It helps that they were thrilled to see me; at three years old, they are almost always thrilled to see me -- and with a five and seven year old who are at times now slightly less enamoured, I want to treasure every moment that they treasure me.  And today I did.

I took off my shoes and played in the sandbox. I yelled "Ready, Set, GO!" as I raced them down the slide.  I walked them home and timed it just perfectly as the school bus pulled up and my two "big kids" hopped off the bus and into my arms.  It turns out they are happy to see me after all.  We bought lollipops at the corner store to make the stroll home a bit sweeter. Then I left them with our sitter and returned to the office less than an hour after I left; an hour that I will forever cherish and is a great reminder that spring is the perfect time to take at time-out and enjoy the beauty around you, wherever you find it.  For me, today's beauty was captured in blue skies, purple and yellow flowers and five smiling faces sticky with lollipops.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Twas the week before St. Patty's Day...

Twas the week before St. Patty's Day
And the excitement is a'brewin'
For on the 17th of March,
We know just what we'll be doin'.

We'll be taking an early train,
Down to New York City
Where we'll take in the Parade, 
With bands and dancers oh so pretty.

We'll join family and friends 
As we sing the songs of old
And our Irish Eyes will be smilin' 
Whether the weather's warm or cold.

We'll be wearing our green 
And our Irish sweaters too,
We'll be bravin' the crowds 
With our rather sizable crew.

On the Cathedral steps we will be
As the parade goes marching by
We'll be burstin' with our Irish pride
As the tri-color flag waves in the sky.

We'll be missing our loved ones 
Who won't be there to share the day,
They will be in our hearts 
As to the music we will sway.

We'll be grateful for the family and friends 
With whom we'll celebrate,
We'll be on that train back home again
Before it gets too late.

We'll smile down upon the freckled faces 
That bring us so much joy,
As we thank God that we are Irish
And have one sweet girl and four sweet boys.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tuesday Tip: Go to the zoo. (in the off season!)

For today's tip, I thought I'd share a recent post from Irish Central, where I write routinely about the whimsy of parenting -- or, more accurately put, the ups and downs of life here in the Lyons Den... or any other humble abode that happens to be crawling (at times, quite literally!) with little ones.

Last weekend, I took several of our tots to the zoo and was reminded once again of the joy of visiting the zoo in the off-season; there were no lines, no crowds, and easy access to the things that matter most to us... animals, bathrooms and snacks -- not necessarily in that order!  In a nutshell, the morale of this story is to take your tykes out and about when other folks are lazing about inside.  Sure, it might be a bit brisk but that's easily resolved with a cup of hot chocolate and I can assure you that the simple pleasures of zoos (and aquariums, museums, parks and playgrounds!) are all the better when you can enjoy them without a crowd... and, without the fear of losing your children in that crowd!  Should you wish to read on, here is a tale of two zoos as I recently told it to my pals over at Irish Central...

I am a zoo-lover.  To me, one of the gratifications of having children is the ability to share my love of animals and wildlife and create little zoo-lovers to follow in my footsteps.  With five tykes seven and under, we've been quite busy exploring every zoo within reasonable -- and not so reasonable --distance from our home in the suburbs of New York City.  To date, we've been lucky enough to visit the   National Zoo in Washington D.C., the San Francisco Zoo ...

The Bronx Zoo (on numerous occasions) and, on one stellar day, the Dublin Zoo.

Our visit to the Dublin Zoo was last October, during a whirlwind family trip to visit our roots in Ireland.  Since then, we have visited our "local" zoo in the Bronx twice -- once on New Year's Eve (yes, I did choose to ring in the new year with all our children and the sights, sound and smells of zoo animals!) and once this past weekend.   On Sunday, my husband Des took our seven year old, Liam, to see the Ireland vs. France rugby match and, given the choice of staying home alone with our four other tykes or heading to the zoo, I did what any other sane, tired 40-year old mum would do, I took them to the zoo!  Again!  And, once again, I was reminded of a tale of two zoos... 

"Our" zoo, the Bronx Zoo, is the zoo of my childhood.  The zoo I visited on class trips.  The zoo I first shared with my children.  But "your" zoo, the Dublin Zoo, is truly a zoo of many wonders.  It is the zoo where my one and only little lady turned five.  It is the zoo where I could swear we experienced four seasons in a day as the wind blew and the weather turned from sunny to cloudy to rainy to frigid to sunny once again.  It is the only zoo (and, as I've now established, I've seen many a zoo!) where we saw an elephant take a bath, a herd of giraffes happily mingle with several zebras, and truly, more animals than people!  

Don't get me wrong, I love our zoo here in the Bronx and am pleased to report that membership has its privileges; last Sunday, we parked, visited and rode the merry-go-round for free, thanks to our annual family membership.  We got up close and personal with tigers, gorillas, sea lions, a polar bear and more than a few "friendly" peacocks.

At the end of the day, it's hard to say which zoo would win the battle of the zoos... personally, I just feel blessed to have visited them all and to have five fab kids to share them with.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Nothing says good morning like a "Mommy Muffin"

On the first Friday of every month, our second grader has a "store" in his classroom at school. The objective of this store is to help the kids understand dollars and sense -- and I do mean "sense" versus "cents."  The intention is to teach them about the value and cost of goods; to reinforce math skills while starting to impart an understanding of supply and demand.  Each child is expected to show up on this designated Friday with some items from home that they will "sell" to their classmates in an open exchange while they shop and "pay" for goods with play money.  It's taken me a few months to come around to it but I finally understand what they're trying to accomplish and applaud the effort to teach simple math, economics and values all in one.  The challenge, of course, is that the first Thursday night of every month, roughly five minutes before bedtime, there is an exchange that goes something like this:

2nd grader:  "MOM!  I need stuff to sell in the store tomorrow!"
Me:  "Why are you just thinking of this now?! You've had a month to think about this!"
2nd grader: "But Mom, I NEED some things I can sell NOW!  How about these books?"
Me:  "No."
2nd grader: "How about these cars I don't play with anymore?"
Me: "No." 
2nd grader: "How about some legos?"
Me: "No, no, NO!"

This typically carries on for a bit longer while the poor kid scurries around stealing toys and books from his siblings with the intention of "selling" them in school the next day. It's not good.  So, after yet another unpleasant exchange last night, this morning I decided to emulate some of the Super-Moms I know are out there and have been baking yummy little morsels for their second graders to sell on the first Friday of every month.  I was up and at it at 6AM, baking these tasty little "Mommy muffins" that I hope make my little fella feel like a champ as he rings up his proverbial cash register.  We call them "Mommy muffins" because my Mom used to make them for us and, at forty years old, the smell of a warm Mommy Muffin still warms my heart.  If you'd like to warm some little hearts of your own on the first Friday or any other day of the month, here's a recipe that's sure to please:

2 cups of flour
1 cup of sugar
2 teaspoons of baking powder (note: it's POWDER, not SODA -- I made that mistake this morning and had to start over!)
1/4 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of butter, melted and cooled
1 cup of milk
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400 and grease muffin pan.  Sift flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.  Combine milk, egg and vanilla in a separate bowl; add in melted butter.  Create a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in milk mixture, stirring quickly to combine.  Spoon into muffin pan, bake for 18-20 minutes, enjoy the warmth and yumminess of a mommy muffin right out of the oven!