4 Moms Q&A: Christmas in the Coghlan house, etc.

4moms35kids 4 Moms give food as gifts {linky}

Q&A is here again.  I wish every week could be Q&A, because on those weeks I can pick the questions that I actually have an answer for.  I can also skip the ones that make me cringe in a “oooh, that’s convicting” sort of way.  Just kidding.  Sort of.

But honestly, if I don’t answer your question it’s probably not because I don’t like you or don’t think you have a good question.  There are only a few people in the world that I truly dislike, so the chances are very slim that you’re on my list.  If I don’t answer your question, it’s more likely because I didn’t make it through the whole list or I just don’t have a good answer for you.  Either I struggle with the issue myself and haven’t figured out how to solve it yet, or I have never faced the problem at all and have never even wondered how to solve it.  Either way, I don’t want to waste your time and mine.  Well, unless I do.  Like in the very first question below.

1. Sarah asked,  Have you had to deal with food allergies/sensitivities with any of your kids?

Sarah, I’m thankful to say no.  Well, not really, although Lydia seemed to be sensitive to milk when she was little.  We removed major sources of milk from her diet,  and she outgrew the symptoms by the time she was 4 or 5 and has been happily guzzling ever since.  Becca also has some signs of allergies though we haven’t pinpointed the source.

Since we’re on the subject, does anyone think we should suspect allergies in the case of a 4yo who has multiple accidents each day?  It seems like simple immaturity and she can help it if she really tries, but I can’t help wondering if there might be a physical cause.

2. Kristi asked,  Do you do the “Santa” thing in any form at your house?

Kristi, we don’t do it seriously but it is a bit of a running joke in our family.  One year a friend of ours showed up at our door in a Santa suit, and we didn’t tell the kids who it was – though they knew there wasn’t really an eternal Santa who snuck down chimneys bringing gifts to children.  Somehow they learned who it was, but the next year a friend-of-a-friend did the same thing.   This time were able to assure them it was not Mr. Smitty, and they were left to wonder.

We do enjoy teaching our children about the real Saint Nicholas and his doings.  Sometimes truth is just as entertaining as fiction.  🙂

3. Shelby asked,  How much do you usually spend on each child at Christmas? What types of gifts will you buy this yr?

Shelby, our budget is never set in stone – or even in mud.  It depends on many factors, but we don’t limit ourselves to the same fixed number for each child.  In fact, our older girls started a fun tradition of pooling their funds to splurge on one person each year while buying more traditional gifts for the remaining members of the family.

Often, Perry and I choose to buy one big gift that all of the kids can share and enjoy, knowing that they will each receive several gifts from siblings, friends, grandparents, etc.  One year it was a trampoline; another year, we bought a Wii and television.

We haven’t really talked about Christmas gifts this year yet, but we have already contributed toward a large gift from one set of grandparents so our additional gifts to the kids will be modest.  In light of all the new blessings in our lives right now, I think everyone in the house is happy with the idea of a smaller, simpler Christmas celebration this year.

4. Lindsey asked,  How do you handle Christmas gifts in a large family? Do you set a limit on number per person? Do you draw names? Etc. What are some of your family’s Christmas traditions?

Lindsey, in our own household Perry and I nearly always buy individual or group gifts for our children.  Our children have drawn names for each other in the past, but generally prefer to buy gifts either for individuals or a group gift.  The older girls like to pool their funds and buy one nicer gift for each family member.

In the extended family, we tend to alternate between giving a gift to each family, having just the children draw for cousins, and having everyone draw a name.  When we draw names, we divide into age groups: little children, older children, adults (if participating).

Traditions?  One sister and her husband have hosted a tamale party/gift exchange for the extended family for many years.  Our church goes Christmas carolling in members’ neighborhoods each year.  We usually get our Christmas tree on the day after Thanksgiving, and always start listening to Christmas music on that day.  We do Advent readings, though we don’t always make it through all 25 days.  Oh, and Perry wears a Santa hat on his commute to work every day, and requires the same of all his passengers.  He’s crazy that way.

5. Dede asked, What suggestions do you have for an 8 yr old boy? Gift wise.  Also, winter exercises? (For kids, not me, LOL).

Dede, I’ve never had an 8yo boy.  I’m still trying to think of gifts for a 6yo boy, but I suspect if a 6yo or 8yo can get hurt or get dirty using it, he’ll like it.    Also, if it makes you want to yell, “Be quiet!” or “Don’t ever do that to your sister again!” it’s likely to be a hit.  Rubber band gun?  Potato gun?  Slingshot?  Crossbow?  Are you sensing a theme here?  We’ve had all of these in our home, and while they may not help your sanity, I do have to confess that they were huge hits!

As for exercise, I constantly threaten to send my homebody kids outside if they don’t sit still and find something quiet to do.  It either works, or I make good on the threat and they get some exercise.  🙂

Honestly, they are all fairly active and can’t stand to sit still too long.  If they don’t find a constructive way to burn energy (i.e. exercise) or take one of my suggestions (play basketball, play on the outdoor playset, play with the dog, play tag, etc.) I give them work to do and they get that sort of exercise.  It all works out in the end.

 6. Brittany asked,  How do you respond to those (family and strangers) that don’t agree with your choice of having so many children? or make comment when you are expecting…again? Thanks!!

Brittany, we’ve been blessed to have very supportive family on both sides so we never had to deal with that problem.  However, I did see my parents deal with disapproving family members back when I was a kid and they were expecting their 5th, 6th, 7th child, etc.  It was discouraging to them, especially when the criticism came during tough times.  They were careful to remind all of us kids why they chose to have a large family and what blessings children were, while they minimized time with those who criticized their convictions.  In time, friends drifted away and family members came around, and I don’t remember this being a problem at all by the time I was a teen and our household population had reached double digits.

As for comments, I don’t let them bother me – though I have never received an openly critical comment.  They are usually more like, “I could never do it!” or “Better you than me!”  It’s not hard to come up with a witty or thoughtful reply to these, especially when you tend to hear the same 3 or 4 comments all the time!

7.  Donna asked,  how do you balance taking care of yourself and your kids when life also needs you to care for others?

Donna, this is a huge question for us right now.  Calvin arrived during a very busy time of year for all of us, and I simply don’t have the help I’m accustomed to.  When I was in my 20’s and had 6 little ones with no bigger helpers, days were hectic but I was able to keep up.  I had more energy and less people in the house.  Now when I’m flying solo with a bunch of little ones I still have to cook, clean and do laundry for 12 – with the energy level of a postpartum 40yo instead of a 20-something.

I freely admit I’m struggling, both in practical matters and in attitude.  It’s so hard to find the right balance between meeting present needs and taking care of myself so I can continue to meet needs tomorrow and next month.  It’s easy to make my health a priority just because I want to feel better, instead of so that I can serve God and others better.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel strong and healthy, of course, but it’s vital to keep the true goal in sight.  What glorifies God and furthers His kingdom in the long run?

I think I’m rambling and probably not even answering your question, but you touched a sore spot for me.  It’s one where I would love to hear from other moms, especially older ones.

8.  Anna asked,  Not sure whether you’ve covered it already, but suggestions for going from two littles to three. Does it work out OK having three children but only two arms? 🙂:) Also, any bed/rooming suggestions for when you have three littles? (we’ll have three girlies with the oldest 2 1/2 in Feb. so probably two in toddler beds and one in a crib once the baby hits 6 months or so, hopefully in the same room).

Anna, although I often worried about it ahead of time, I generally found that by the time a new baby arrived the child two spaces up the line was reasonably well trained.  Ours were just over 18 months apart, so the child in question was always at least 3yo, able to follow simple commands.  It was invariably easier than I expected, even though I asked myself the same question about having more children than arms.  🙂

Rooming together has always worked well for our children.  After an initial adjustment period, they quickly learn to sleep through disruptions or go right back to sleep if awakened, and I think it makes for better sleep habits overall.  One word of advice: you might find life easier if you don’t insist your children go right to sleep when you send them to bed.  We have always allowed them to talk softly as long as they stay in bed.  Of course many parents will see it differently, but I love that my children enjoy each other’s company and I don’t want to discourage quiet conversation in the last moments of their day.

9.  Sara asked, What do you do about a 9 year old telling you no and throwing horrible tantrums when Dad is at work?

Sara, this is an easy one for us.  If a child is unrepentant and rebellious to me, Dad comes home.  He considers this sort of situation a family emergency.  It has only happened a couple of times, because our children understand just how seriously he and I take that sort of rebellion.  He came home when he was over an hour away even though it meant losing vacation time or personal time and burning up $15-20 in gas going back and forth for a 3 or 4 hour lunch break.

Your turn.  Agree or disagree?  What did I miss?  How would you answer these questions?  

See what the other moms say:


Upcoming topics for 4 Moms:

  • December 6 – Quick and Easy Holiday Crafts
  • December 13 – Quick and Easy Holiday Recipes

Recent topics:

About 4 Moms, including a complete list of all past topics

4 Moms Q&A: homeschooling, meal times

4 Moms 35 Kids answer questions about big familiesFun, fun!  I love Q&A posts, even though you all ask some hard questions.  I’m especially unsure when answering questions about homeschooling, which is probably why I have been saving them all up for a single post.

Why am I unsure about homeschooling questions?  Because there are so many ways to do it, and it’s so hard to say that one way is The Right Way or The Best Way.

That’s not to say that there are no wrong answers and we should all follow the path that feels right, but like creating a menu, there can be many paths to a healthy diet for the body and the mind.  We may share similar goals but have very different circumstances and methods for achieving those goals.
Nonetheless, I’ll gladly answer from my own perspective and hope that others can glean something of value or at least laugh at how far off I am.

For homeschooling resources, check out Vision Forum’s current sale: save up to 60% on over 300 homeschool items!

With that disclaimer and with tongue placed firmly in cheek, here we go:

Malia asked,
How do you honestly and truly keep your kids schoolbooks orderly? Does anyone at your house under the age of 13 have the same journal or book journal thry had last year? So is there a consequence for doing your math in your science notebook? Well you couldn’t find it.
Also, how do you get messy writers become neat writers?? I think you may understand the length and breadth of this question.

I’ve been teasing Perry lately that he has broken me.  I used to be highly organized, and clung tightly to all the concepts you listed above.  He is a more happy-go-lucky guy, gliding happily through life, shaking his head in bewilderment at why we moms constantly stress out over the details.

Under his influence, I have gradually relaxed the schedule, the lesson plans and curriculum, the dedicated notebooks and journals, and even the penmanship.

You know what?  Even without me stressing constantly over school, our children continued to learn.  They still learned new math concepts even when they did their math in pen on an unlined piece of scrap paper.  They still did their other subjects even if they had to spend 10 minutes searching for the book they didn’t put away properly yesterday.  They still filled journals, and their atrocious handwriting improved as they got older and wrote more.
Speaking of handwriting, one subject in which most of my children have not compared favorably with public schoolers is penmanship.  I know we could change this by spending more time on the subject, but I have a slightly different response.  I think the difference is largely because they don’t spend as much time doing “busy work,” assigned just to fill their time.  Their handwriting improves on a different schedule as they get older and naturally begin to write more.  This realization has allowed me to relax as they focus on other areas, while better handwriting follows in its time.


Nicki is scared:
I would love to read anything about beginning to homeschool….I’m scared to death!


Keep in mind, you don’t have to recreate the institutional schooling experience in your home.  That is a system designed for the classroom, and not at all appropriate for the home.  There are much better and easier ways to do the job and make homeschooling a part of your daily life rather than trying to make life fit around a school schedule.

A great place to start is Victoria Botkin’s CD, Curriculum Advice.  She gives plenty of practical advice for getting started, but also helps sooth the fear and uncertainty that so many new homeschoolers face.

Jennifer Dewingo has a question about homeschooling, too:
My eldest is in 10, so that’s about 3rd grade I think (I don’t use one particular curriculum, so I’m guessing) and I haven’t started her, or the others scholars, on a history and science program. I’m thinking of the history program from AIG that Raising Olives has talked about, but that’s not for another 2 years or so. Do you think this would be a problem or not? We do, of course, talk about history details and basic science knowledge (my husband is a chef, so he enjoys talking about the science of cooking). It’s not like they are clueless about things, just not as saturated with details as their public school counterparts are.


This is a perfect example of when my way might not be a good fit for you and your family, but I don’t think there’s a need to use a structured history program at any point unless you want to, so any time is fine.

In the meantime, just make sure your children are reading plenty of books about history and science, and have them narrate back to you what they have read.  Have them write a brief summary of each book.  Read aloud to them, both fiction and non-fiction.  Listen to audio messages about history – our children loved to hear Bill Potter talk about major battles that changed the course of history and how weapons and fighting techniques changed over the centuries.

If your children are reading good books that bring historical figures to life for them, you’ll be shocked at how much they learn and retain, and you may feel less of a need for a structured program when the time comes.

sarfisch has a really tough question about homeschooling:
I have a schooling question. My baby is 9 months old and I am already stressing about preschool. I live in a large city where there is immense competition to get into the best public schools and even greater competition to get into the best private schools.

My husband and I are seriously considering sending her to a private religious school, but we would have to send her at the age of 3 to secure a spot so (on top of the tuition cost – I won’t even tell you because the cost would make you sick) I am hesitant to “ship off” my baby at such a young age.

Now, getting to my question. I am a working mother, so I have never considered homeschooling an option. Let’s assume I continue to work (I understand your feelings/convictions on mothers’ working), do you believe homeschooling is an option? And if so, how can it be done?

Yes, I think homeschooling is an option for a 2 income family, but why?  If you are a Christian – I think you have mentioned in the past that you are – it seems to me you need to examine your goals and ask yourself how you are working toward them.  Which is more important: your job, or a Christian education for your daughter?  Which type of education moves your family toward its goal: homeschooling, or a private institution that must have your baby from the time she’s 3?  If one goal hinders the other, you’ll need to prioritize and make difficult choices.

It’s theoretically possible for a 2 income family to homeschool, but it would be very difficult.  I know you can’t possibly provide all the relevant details in an email, but the way you describe the situation seems to set your job at odds with your daughter so that you must give up either her (by shipping her off as a 3yo) or your job for the sake of her education.  I know that’s a harsh way to put it, but it’s a hard situation for you.

The question here must be, “What are your goals, and how will you achieve them?”

For us, the answer is that God created each of us to fill a special role in life, and the woman’s role is to be home-centered.  A big part of that is child-rearing.  While the Bible never specifically prohibits women from working outside the home (some of what the Proverbs 31 woman is outside the home and she is praised for her industriousness), a career outside the home would be a huge roadblock to fulfilling her primary role as a wife and mother.

I think you are beginning to understand the tension between parenthood and an outside career as you wonder how you can give your daughter the upbringing and education you desire for her, yet keep your job.


From: Joede Fleming
First I want to say that I love the way you write.  You always seem “real”, not worrying about how other might perceive you. I love that, which is probably why I felt compelled to come to you instead of someone else.
I don’t know many homeschoolers.  We have a group in our “area” which is about a 50 mi radius, but they have dropped me as a member because I couldn’t afford the $20 membership fee. Those that I did have contact with at one point were very tight lipped about how their days flowed and how I could help my children learn things they so hated.
I have 6 children, 1 graduates high school this year and hopefully will attend a community college next year to obtain a teachers aide certificate (I know I don’t sound encouraging about this, she has Down syndrome and are hoping the college will grant her access to their classes), an 11yo son who wishes to go to public school much to my chagrin, and those I will homeschool (as of beginning of my official school year) are ages 7, 5, 3, 2.
My will be 7yo does not read yet, and is completely uninterested in anything work related.
This is my first full year schooling so I really need some help in how to teach my 5yo to read, as well as ways to encourage my 7yo.
I just feel lost honestly. We cannot afford to buy new curriculum, my hubby has been out of work for 2yrs and is unable to work due to back problems. I am however going to try and purchase Explode the code as I have heard it is wonderful and also Teaching your child to read in 100 lessons.
I do not have internet access and right now no computer as the video card has gone out.
What can I do to continue educating my children?
I have prayed about this and thought that I was being given signs to return my children to public school but have had nothing but utter anxiety about that thought, which is why I am convinced they need to be home.
Any ideas or thoughts would be appreciated. I hope I haven’t made this seem like an overwhelming amount of pressure on you to give me the “right” or “best” answer,becasue those are all individual and I will use what you say as advice and not as what is right and concrete.
God Bless you! Your blog has encourage me, made me smile and given me hope when I needed them all!!


You’re in a difficult and scary situation, but I applaud your determination to homeschool!  Remember that your goal is to raise Christian adults, and for this you don’t necessarily need a lot of curriculum or shiny electronics.  The Robinson Curriculum is built almost entirely around good books.  There’s no need to buy the curriculum itself.  With the booklist in hand and a good library, you could almost educate your children for free.

A good library will go a long, long way.  Read to your children and with your children, both fiction and non-fiction.  You can cover history, science and civics this way without spending a dime.   Look for Five in a Row
at your library to get a taste of what you can do with a few good books, then try to expand the concept on your own.  You may find that your children enjoy the approach far more than typical textbooks, too.

Read Bible with them every day.  We like to gather round the breakfast table and divide up a chapter of Proverbs, with each of us reading a few verses aloud.  Then we break up for more private reading.

Have them write something daily – a letter, a short story, a journal entry, a summary of a book they’ve recently finished, copy a poem or a passage of Scripture.  Correct their work for spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Spectrum makes inexpensive math workbooks that we like for younger children, and I have even gotten several of these for free from Paperback Swap.  Supplement with homemade flashcards.

Listen to Curriculum Advice, above.  You’ll be encouraged!  You can do this, and God will bless your desire to please Him.

Anna asked,

How do handle mealtimes with self-feeding babies/toddlers? I have 3 children, the youngest is 12 months, and each one has loved to feed themself bite size food as soon as they are able. This makes it very convenient for me to do other things (like feed myself) while they eat, but afterwards we’re left with a ginormous mess. I debate whether it’s worthwhile to just save myself the 15 min clean up afterwards and feed them myself. What do you do?


I love that you used the word ginormous. We love that word in our house!

I let my babies and toddlers feed themselves most of the time.  We have dogs.  There is no mess under the highchair in our house.  It’s probably the only floor in my house.  I highly recommend this method.

They would lick the kids clean too if I let them, but I prefer to just do a quick wipe-down or even a bath.  If you think about it, a bath for a baby or toddler need not take much longer than a diaper change.  I don’t even bother to plug the drain.  Just strip them down, swish them around a moment with the water running and a wash cloth in my hand, and the job is done.

Oh – don’t forget to put a diaper back on when you’re done, or you’ll have worse messes to worry about.

The other moms are taking questions too:

Recent topics:

  • May 19 – 4 Moms try to lose the baby weight
  • May 12 – 4 Moms practice hospitality, and YOU are invited!
  • May 5 – 4 Moms talk about you-know-what
  • April 28 – 4 Moms Q&A: sleep, exercise, and making do with one bathroom
  • April 21 – Large families & church, part 2: keeping them quiet
  • April 14 – Eating inexpensively on the road
  • April 7 – 4 Moms teach history
  • March 24 – Large families & church, part 1: getting there on time
  • March 17 – Bread baking linky
  • March 10 – Spring cleaning
  • March 3 – Books for early readers
  • February 24 – 4 Moms Q&A: my first audio blog on potty training and more
  • February 17 – Individual time with children: scary stuff here.  Just kidding.  Let go of the guilt.
  • February 10Cooking with little ones without losing your sanity
  • February 3 –Teaching reading, because it’s so much easier than teaching them to use the toilet.  Do not request a 4 Moms post about potty training, do you hear me?
  • January 27 – Q&A: Must-have baby equipment and other nitty gritty stuff
  • January 20 – Top 10 Books for Preschoolers
  • January 13 – Soups and Stews
  • January 6 – Teaching Bible

    Baby Anaya


    I don’t usually publish sad stories from my email inbox, but this is no chain letter.  It was a personal email directly from a friend of the mother.  Baby Anaya and her mom need your help.  Please take a moment to read the story and consider donating milk or colostrum if you live in Canada, or help them via paypal if you’re in the US.  The funds will enable them to ship milk or colostrum from the US.

    I’m writing in hopes that you can help my friend’s baby by writing a post about her on your blog. There is a CBC News story about her here: http://www.cbc.ca/video/#/News/Canada/BC/1258521056/ID=1866010799.

    Camara is extremely busy caring for her terminally ill baby, but she has asked me to contact you in hopes that you can help spread the word. She says it best: “I’m looking for colostrum and breast milk donations for my daughter Anaya. She is terminally ill with Krabbe Leukodystrophy. We were told to expect her to die at 13 months. She is now 18 months old thanks to breast milk! She does not tolerate formula. Please, please help me keep my baby alive. We can have milk shipped from any city in Canada, and we are trying to raise money to have it shipped from the US.”

    You can read a bit more about baby Anaya and her heartbreaking story at Camara’s “about” page on her blog, here: http://healinganaya.blogspot.com/p/about-anaya.html. She also has a Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/TheAnayaInitiative where mothers can learn about how to donate milk or money toward a deep freeze to store it.

    Camara and her family are currently living in Nelson, BC. Her email address is maraglow(at)gmail(dot)com.

    4 Moms Q&A: my first audio blog on potty training and more

    enter our current giveaway: Family-building webinar

    Welcome back to the weekly 4 Moms post, in which 4 moms with a collective total of 35 children share our knowledge, experience and and helpful tips in maintaining health, order and sanity.

    This week we’re going to answer your questions again – my favorite 4 Moms topic – and I’m going to do something new.  I’m going to do my First Ever Audio Blog!  Are you with me, people?

    Check out the wisdom being dispensed like cups of juice by the other 3 moms:

  • Connie at Smockity Frocks
  • Headmistress at The Common Room
  • Kimberly at Raising Olives
  • And now, the questions.  Remember when I begged you all not to ask about potty training?  If I was trying reverse psychology, it would have been a grand success.  Unfortunately, that’s not what I was trying.  C’est la vie, or something like that.  We speak more Spanish down here than French.

    Listen to the full Q&A session and let me know what you think of my first audio post.

    Q&A – Potty training and more


    1. Kristin, Rebecca, and JCF all asked for a post on potty training.  I guess I’m not getting out of that subject.  Specifically, we’re talking about older toddlers who know how to use the toilet but won’t do it consistently.

    2. Anna is wondering what to do when your child does wrong in a certain area that you yourself have or have had weakness in.

    3. Meg is dealing with interrupting toddlers and wants to know what to expect of a 3.5 and 5yo.

    4. SW stumps me when she asks for recommendations for some great Mom/daughter books and toys for her first daughter after 8 sons.  By the way, Perry listened and informed me that J.L.C. was in Halloween, not Psycho.

    5. Mother of five needs tips to teach her children to work diligently.

    6. Lisa wants to know what to do about dishes in a big family: paper, plastic, real, or other?

    7. Katie L wonders if I always knew I wanted a big family.  In my answer, I refer to this post about how we came to a conviction about family size.

    8. Julianne is curious about our bunk beds.  I forgot to mention that we have added safety rails which we were able to order from the manufacturer.

    9. Juliana B was wondering what’s for lunch.  We do this when we’re boring, or this when we’re in a fun mood.

    10. Erna asked how I normally spend the first week after the birth of a new child, and whether I prepare your home and family for this particular stage – especially back in the old days when I didn’t have a team of ready helpers.

    11. maryjo wants to know how rising prices are affecting our grocery budget.

    As they say in show business, that’s a wrap.  What do you think?  Is the sound quality ok?  Do you think I should do it again in the future, or do you prefer to be able to read the entire post?  If I do it again, can we call it a podcast?  Can anyone guess where my recording studio was?  Now I’m full of questions.

    Do you have a question you’d like to see or hear on Life in a Shoe?  Ask in the comments on this post and I’ll give it my best shot.

    Upcoming topics for 4 Moms 35 Kids:

    • March 1 – Secret, mainly because we haven’t decided yet.  Or if we have, we haven’t told each other.

    Recent topics:

  • February 17 – Individual time with children: scary stuff here.  Just kidding.  Let go of the guilt.
  • February 10Cooking with little ones without losing your sanity
  • February 3 –Teaching reading, because it’s so much easier than teaching them to use the toilet.  Do not request a 4 Moms post about potty training, do you hear me?
  • January 27 – Q&A: Must-have baby equipment and other nitty gritty stuff
  • January 20 – Top 10 Books for Preschoolers
  • January 13 – Soups and Stews
  • January 6 – Teaching Bible
  • 4 Moms Q&A: Must-have baby equipment and other nitty gritty stuff

    Welcome back to the weekly 4 Moms post, in which 4 moms with a collective total of 35 children share our knowledge, experience and and helpful tips in maintaining health, order and sanity.

    This week we’re going to answer your questions.  This is my favorite post of the month because it feels like 5 or 6 posts in one, and I didn’t have to think up a topic for a single one.

  • Connie at Smockity Frocks
  • Headmistress at The Common Room
  • Kimberly at Raising Olives
  • Or you can start here.  That’s fine too.  In fact, I’m flattered, unless you’re the sort that saves the best for last.  In that case, starting here means you don’t really like my blog and just want eat your vegetables first so you can move on to dessert.


    I am having baby #7 (at 42 ) yet am  starting over as there is a 6 year gap between 6 and 7  and so we got rid of most of our baby items.  Space is limited and the budget is low.  What are your top 5-10 products that you just can’t live without?  Do you use a full size crib?  Any advice would be appreciated.


    Congrats on baby #7!  Isn’t it amazing how each can be just as exciting as the first?

    I gave up the full size crib a long time ago.  Now I love to use a travel bed while the baby is small enough, then move up to a Pack-n-Play when it becomes necessary.  Those 2 items are at the top of my list.  I think a changing table is utterly unnecessary, as is an extensive wardrobe.

    Here’s my full list, off the top of my head.  If anyone thinks I missed something crucial, feel free to speak up.

    Must Have Baby Equipment

    1. Infant car seat –  I love the standard bucket style with a separate base, so it snaps in and out.
    2. Travel bed – Much smaller and more portable than a playpen or crib, and good for several months until your baby can pull up, sit up, or becomes otherwise mobile.
    3. Portable playpen – I’ve always used a pack-n-play but there are other brands available.  This takes the place of a full size crib beautifully if you don’t mind bending over.  If you use a travel bed, you won’t need this until later.
    4. Drawstring gowns – Not as cute as fun jammies but infinitely more practical.  These make diaper changes so much faster and easier in those early days, especially when you’re working around an umbilical stump.  I wish I had discovered these several children earlier.   I find that just 5 or 6 is usually plenty.
    5. Blankets and burp rags – Babies may not need a lot of clothes, but I do find we go through a lot of these.  Plain cotton diapers make nice burp rags, but it’s even nicer if a friends wants to give you some cuter ones.
    6. Diapers and wipes – Cloth or disposable, but one way or another you’re going to need them.  Don’t waste time or money on a fancy wipe warmer; just warm it in the palm of your hand for a second if you’re concerned.  You’ll probably find your baby doesn’t acknowledge the difference either way.
    7. Ergo baby carrier – Yes, there are a million choices out there and most are cheaper than the Ergo, but I wish I had discovered this one back when my first was born.  No learning curve, and no aching back or shoulders no matter how big your baby or toddler is.  I’ll never love another baby carrier again.  I own another less expensive carrier with a very similar design and much cuter fabric, but the quality just isn’t the same.  You get what you pay for; buy an Ergo.


    How do you manage to use the bathroom?!?
    I’m having a hard time just sneaking away for the one single minute it would take me to use the restroom and then I get frustrated and irritated because for pity’s sake I just need to use the bathroom and I keep getting called away to take care of needs even more urgent than my own.


    When all my children were young, I resigned myself to using the bathroom with the door open so that I could address problems while taking care of personal business.  Just think of it as one more way that God uses children to sanctify us and keep us humble.  This too shall pass.  Once they get old enough that modesty becomes an issue, they’re old enough to live without you for 60 seconds, right?


    I’d love to see you elaborate on the nitty-gritty of how having all of your kids in one room actually works. For instance, do you have any little ones who wake up much earlier than the others? And how to do get them (especially young toddlers) to stay quiet so as not to wake their siblings in the morning? Are they allowed to leave the room as soon as they get up, or is there a certain time they need to wait for? What age does the baby move into the big kids’ room? etc….


    We don’t worry about some children waking others.  While we do require some basic courtesy (keep the lights off and the noise level low when others are sleeping) I tend to believe that if a child needs the sleep, she’ll sleep through whatever is going on.

    Of course this takes a little patience; at first they were more sensitive to noise and activity, but we have found it surprisingly easy to adapt to new surroundings and situations.

    To answer some of your specific questions, some of our younger ones are often the first out of bed, and if the house is quiet they usually come straight to my room.  If it’s too early to get up, I just send them back to bed.  If it’s a reasonable rise hour, we all start getting up one by one as we’re awakened.

    The babies usually move into the big kids’ room(s) as soon as they reliably sleep through the night.  While most of my babies begin to sleep through the night at a very young age, I don’t consider them reliable sleepers until much later, usually some time around their first birthday.


    As a couple who have decided to allow God to do your family planning, do you ever have trouble relating to other Christian couples who do not share this vision? We don’t regularly fellowship with anyone who shares this vision and it breaks my heart to hear the way many Christian women talk about children as though they’re such a great burden… I often feel that I would like to share the joy of remaining open to pregnancy but I don’t know how without sounding “holier than thou” or judgmental of their choice. Is it best to just keep your mouth shut, smile and let your life speak? We only have three, at this point, under the age of 5 so it isn’t immediately apparent what our birth control philosophy is.


    While we are not shy about expressing our views, we do tend to keep our mouths shut and let our life speak, as you put it – until somebody asks a question.  Then all bets are off!  As you mentioned, in the earlier years your birth control philosophy isn’t immediately apparent, and we have many friends whose position we don’t know.  However, it is always a joy to find others who share our view or at least are interested in hearing and considering it.

    I am much less shy, though, about addressing hormonal birth control, which can act as an abortifacient.  I haven’t found a good way to bring it up myself but when the subject is broached I don’t mince words.  It breaks my heart that so many Christians are aborting their own children for want of knowledge!


    I have six daughters and would be very interested to know how you handle contention between daughters. How do you handle bossiness? Or do you even have that problem???


    What’s your take on dealing with bickering, fighting children? Some days I want to pull out my hair at the cycle of pester…scream…pester…scream…etc. That the oldest two get into. They can play wonderfully together at times, and then at other times just seem to spend all day getting under each other’s skin. How do you maintain (relative) peace and keep the bickering to a minimum?


    Actually, I don’t really have the answer to these questions.  Yes, we have our share of bickering and bossiness.  I like to think our children are best friends and get along wonderfully, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.  They do bicker and squabble over the most ridiculous things.  They remind me of a couple of other people I know, whom the children also happen to look like.

    The important thing is that they also admit fault, ask forgiveness, and keep being best friends.

    That doesn’t mean we tolerate or condone strife and contention.  We try to nip it in the bud, and we emphasize that one person’s sinful attitude does not justify the sins of another.  We are each responsible for our own sins.  At the same time, when arguments happen I try to impress upon each child that she probably could have ended or defused the situation by exercising humility, and her pride led her sibling into sin as well.


    I would love to know what type of vehicle everyone drives, and what everyone has driven as their family has grown. We have four children, all still in car seats, and our minivan is absolutely FULL.


    Faced by the prospect of outgrowing our 9 passenger Suburban with the birth of our 8th child, we ruled out a 12 passenger van because it has absolutely no cargo space unless you take out a bench, and then you’re back to 8 or 9 seats.

    Instead, we moved directly up to a standard issue Ford 15 passenger van in white.  It’s a very common vehicle for large families, Baptist churches and smugglers of illegal immigrants, especially after the windows are darkly tinted.

    I love my big white so much that I’ve been considering a post titled, “Top Ten Reasons to Drive a 15 Passenger Van.”


    How do you take such great photos? Not the posed photos but the ones of the kids in action – playing, cooking, making faces, etc. Of course all the photos are great, but I can’t seem to get the right light and focus with my natural setting photos. I assume you have had loads of practice and could share a few tips. (and help me save money on professional photos).


    Thank you!  Most of our best photos are taken by our older children.  We have some very accomplished photographers with a lot of natural talent.  One resource that has really helped to develop that talent is Me Ra Koh’s instructional videos.

    I love the title of the first, Refuse to Say Cheese.  It’s all about not collecting endless photos of people smiling woodenly at the camera.  I credit that simple phrase with much of the charm of the photos my daughters take – they really capture the young ones’ personalities and emotions by catching them in the midst of real life.

    Beyond the Green Box goes into more depth about the technical details of the camera and using more advanced features to really get the effect you want, but Me Ra does a good job of keeping it light and goes easy on the math.


    How do you manage to look after your own health while looking after a large family and staying within a tight budget. I have 4 children between 7 and 1 yo and am having health issues from neglecting myself for too long. How do you do it?


    I try to eat a healthy diet, take a good quality prenatal vitamin, and maintain a basic level of activity.  I know getting enough sleep is very important, though I don’t always do it.

    Over the years I have done some intensive exercise for limited periods of time.  Some cost money, some were free, and some even made money: a year of karate, a summer of lawn-mowing, a gym membership, a year of bicycling, several months of weigh-lifting, etc.

    But I have to give God the glory.  He has chosen to bless me with sturdy health so far which has enabled me to do all these things.  Indeed, every breath is from Him!

    My husband also takes his role seriously and takes care of me in every way he can think of, including my health.  He knows when I need more sleep and does his best to help me get it.  He reminds me to take my vitamins because he knows I’ll forget.  He encourages me to exercise because he knows I dislike it and will procrastinate, but he also knows that I like the results and will thank him when I’m done.

    Likewise, I know that it pleases him for me to take care of myself and so I do it not just for myself but for him.  Sometimes this is more motivating than my own desire to lose a few pounds or have more energy.  Sometimes I’m lazy anyway.  🙂

    Do you have a question you’d like to see here next month?  Ask in the comments on this post and I’ll give it my best shot.

    Upcoming topics for 4 Moms 35 Kids:

    • February 3 – Teaching reading, because it’s so much easier than teaching them to use the toilet.  Do not request a 4 Moms post about potty training, do you hear me?
    • February 10 – Cooking with little ones.  With, I said.  Not Cooking Little Ones.
    • February 17 – Spending individual time with your children: isn’t the very topic enough to make you feel guilty?
    • February  24 – Q & A.  Got a question?  Leave it in the comments on this post.  Or you can email me, but I promise you right now I will lose your email and forget to answer your question for 15 months.  By then, you probably will have found your own answer.

    4 Moms Q&A: breastfeeding, anatomy, Calgon days, and clothes storage

    If you have a question you’d like to see answered here on the 4th Thursday of next month, please leave it as a comment on this post so that this super-organized mom will know where to find it at midnight on the 4th Wednesday of next month.

    Quit laughing now and read Q&A’s from the other moms:

    All done?  Or did you decide to read mine first?

    Big Family FAQ

    1. Could you write a post about breastfeeding? (Maybe you have in the archives…) If you do it, why? For how long? Joys and difficulties along the way? Have you still been breastfeeding while pregnant?

    This is a huge topic, and you’re right: it should be a post in itself, or a series of posts.  But I want to give some quick answers now just to get started.  I breastfeed for a variety of reasons: breastmilk is the ideal food for an infant, created by God for that very purpose.  It’s convenient: always just the right temperature, always in stock, no worries about bottles and formula and sterilizing…just find a quiet corner and a baby, and you have everything you need.  It’s cheap: just eat a healthy diet (which you should do anyway) and drink plenty of water.  It’s good for the mom too, reducing the chance of breast cancer and several other diseases.  And I like my babies; I enjoy spending time with them bonding this way.

    I’m exceedingly thankful that I have been able to breastfeed each of my children with very little trouble.  I did have thrush with our 3rd child – cured with plain yogurt applied topically –  and our 9th had some latching problems that caused her to gain slowly at first and caused me great physical pain, a problem solved by $5 nipple shields from Babies R Us.  Tip: They sell them in single packs.  After I congratulated myself for having the presence of mind to catch that fact and buy two, I realized that you can only use them one at a time.  You only need one.  Duh.

    Most of my babies have nursed between 12 and 16 months, and to the best of my memory none have ever tasted formula.  We start giving tastes of food around 6 months and as they begin to eat more and more table foods, they gradually nurse less and less.  At some point the balance between breastmilk and solid food shifts, and then I find that I’m pregnant.

    Eventually the baby and I, who have much in common when it comes to memory power, simply forget to nurse, and weaning is accomplished.  Yes, 7 out of 9 times have been just that simple.  There are certain advantages to having no short term memory.

    2. One thing I’ve been wondering, is how you have the “anatomy” discussion now that you have added boys to your family. I have 3 young girls (under 5), so we haven’t had to have the boy / girl anatomy talk – yet.

    We don’t really have The Anatomy Discussion.  We’re far more casual about the subject.  Everyone changes diapers in our house, and the little ones often take baths together.  We don’t necessarily use all the correct anatomical terms, but we all know that some of us have “girl stuff” and some of us have “boy stuff,” and we don’t object to the anatomical terms unless they’re being used for vulgar humor.

    We take a similar approach to the birds and the bees.  We breed dogs; we own chickens; we used to breed gerbils as snake food and rabbits as pets; and hubby and I smooch freely in front of the kids.  Our kids have a pretty good idea of how reproduction takes place, and they understand (on their various levels) that sex is a great blessing and a lot of fun – inside marriage.  They don’t know or need to know all the details, but sex is not a taboo topic and we answer questions freely as they arise.

    3.  My children are 3.5, 2 and almost 6 mos.  Today they were such a joy that they are at nap and I actually miss them.  But on Monday, I actually broke down and called my husband to come home early and rescue me, something I have never done, not even postpartum.  Please tell me this is normal?!

    That sounds perfectly normal to me.  If your kids don’t make you crazy sometimes, something is wrong.

    You may think I’m kidding, but I really do think that God uses children in a big way for our own personal sanctification, smoothing our rough spots and helping us to see our flaws, weaknesses, and sins.  Those lessons are never easy.

    Besides, kids are sinners just like the rest of us.  If it’s not your own sin driving you batty, it’s theirs.

    4. Clothing storage!  How do you store clothes for all of your kids?  What about socks and underwear?  PJ’s?  I have six kids so far, and storing these things is starting to become more of an issue (even more so for the boys).  Do you limit how much they have?  Special methods to organizing these things?

    You do not want to take my advice on clothes storage, unless I’m advising you not to do it my way.  My way involves rubbermaid tubs of clothes stored under the house.  They are labelled by size, and it seems like a good system on the surface.  The main problem is that we forget we have them and we buy what we need at a thrift store instead.  Not very thrifty, is it?

    Then a small child decides that the shelves under the house look like a fun place to climb, and the tubs are unceremoniously dumped to the ground where all the clothes spill out.  The story doesn’t end there: we don’t notice the spilled clothes until 3 weeks later, by which time they have been rained on, chewed by puppies, and have several eggs stashed in them because apparently they are more comfy than the nesting boxes in the chicken coop.

    See?  Don’t store clothes my way.  That’s my advice.  I’d love to hear yours.

    Oh, wait.  I just reread the question, and you want to know about the stuff we’re actually using daily, not the stuff that’s being stored for another time.  Um, oops.  How about if we store your question for another time?  In a rubbermaid container on the shelves under my house?

    Upcoming topics to be tackled by the 4 Moms:

    • Dec. 30 –  Teaching children to do their chores:  If you’re doing it all yourself, then you missed your promotion.

    It’s so funny, they deserve some linky love

    I just received this via our contact form:

    Tattoo Manufacturing is the largest manufacturer of temporary tattoos in the world and I would like to invite you to partner with us as an affiliate.
    Life in a Shoe and tattoosales.com are a natural fit.  Your blog is raising a big family and we offer a product in line with that passion.

    We’re a natural fit with a temporary tattoo manufacturer?  Or more accurately, our readers are.  And to think, I wasted all that time stalking you on my statcounter, trying to figure out just who visited our blog.  Finally, I have the answers I was seeking.

    I’ll be watching for you now, and we’ll see each other coming.  The fading temporary tatoos will be a dead giveaway.

    Sleep question

    Sonya asked:

    …How does it work in your family when you all sleep in one or two rooms and you have little ones that have sleep issues. Although my little ones do generally sleep well at night, if we have teething going on or an illness, there can be a lot of night disturbances…and it seems with more children, the more potential for someone to be “off” causing potentially a poor night’s rest for everyone. How do you handle this? Do the older ones sleep right through? Do they handle the night waking? Do you? Do any of the older ones come to resent having little ones with sleep issues always in their rooms? Thanks for any thoughts on how to handle this!

    We have found that children (like adults) can adapt to the situation they are in.  With several children sharing a room, there are going to be some learning experiences.  Some children will take longer than others to fall asleep.  Some will wake up during the night.  Some will be heavier sleepers than others.

    Adjusting to new roommates – whether it’s just one or 6 – doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s still a work in progress in our home, but I think it’s an important part of learning to live with sinners while exercising love toward one another.

    Our light sleepers have learned to sleep through minor disturbances or to drift off easily after they are awakened. They are also learning to exercise courtesy if they simply can’t sleep: keep the light off and don’t wake up the others!  Our older children (and even the younger ones) have learned to help soothe a troubled baby back to sleep, or bring the baby to me if necessary.

    When one child is having a really bad night – rare, since they tend to become very good sleepers when they have to sleep through the disturbances of others – we all pull together.  We naturally take turns, since the person least in need of sleep tends to wake first.

    When it comes to having the older ones help out, I try not to take advantage of my older children, but this is valuable training for future mothers as well.  It’s a wonderful season in life for hubby and me to have so many helpers around us, and I remember how thankful I was as a new mom to my parents for teaching me to help out.

    Cloth diapers questions from the mailbag

    Since we made the switch from disposable diapers to cloth last year, I’ve received a lot of questions from other cloth newbies and mothers considering cloth.

    Since the mothers who ask these questions thought my answers might be helpful, I’ve decided to share my answers here too.  Feel free to jump in if you have anything to add to my cloth diaper q&a.

    Good drying rack for diapers?

    I read that you don’t use an electric dryer.  I have one, but would like to air dry my diapers to make them last (for more children, hopefully!).  Do you have a suggestion for a sturdy/large-enough-to-hold-a-couple-day’s-worth-of-diapers drying rack? The one I had before was your run-of-the-mill Wal-Mart variety that ended up breaking on me and didn’t always hold my entire load of diapers at once.


    For a drying rack, I love my 2 racks from IKEA.  One is nearly 6 feet tall and holds 2-3 loads of laundry – I can’t seem to find it on their website but it’s called the Antonius clothes dryer, and costs $37.99.

    They also have a smaller drying rack that holds about as much as the walmart variety you mentioned but seems to hold up much better. It’s $6.99.  You can get one similar to the smaller model at The Container Store for about $20.  I know, that’s a huge price difference, but the quality is better and you’re more likely to have one nearby.  Even at $20, I think it’s well worth it – it’s a great, simple design that folds down flat in one second flat so you can store it behind the sofa, etc.

    How to store dirty diapers?

    What do you use to store your diapers in before you wash them.  Have you ever heard of/researched the type of bag I referred to above…Planet Wise Wet/dry bag?  It is 16.5 x 27 inches, which seems large, but maybe I am nuts for thinking this will work for everyday use at home??


    We store our dirty diapers in one of those diaper genie buckets, found at a yard sale for $2.  🙂  I pulled out the insides, so it’s just a bucket with a flip-top lid.   A trash can with a flip top lid would do nicely too.

    Many people are very happy with wetbags, so that’s certainly an option, though I’ve only used our wetbags in the diaper bag.  Make sure you get one that seals well to keep both wetness and odor inside.  Most can be turned inside out and tossed in the washer when you wash diapers.

    My sister uses a standard 5 gallon bucket with the lid set loosely on top so it’s not a struggle every time.

    Whatever you use, make sure it has plenty of room to hold all your diapers between washings.  You’ll probably find that you change a bit more often with cloth diapers than disposables, so it may take a little more room than you expect.  It’s also  important not to pack the diapers too firmly between washes.  Ventilation keeps them from developing extra stink that can be hard to remove.

    How to keep the stink away?

    I do not want to bleach my diapers this time around, but I am worried that the stink will eventually overtake them.  I can hang them out in the sun for the first few months (baby’s due in July), but even here in northern Georgia – it gets too cold in the winter to be hanging the diapers out all the time.  Does Charlie’s Soap truly keep the stink away? I thought I read that you had to seek out other ways to deter it.  What tricks have you learned?


    I did (and do) have problems with stink, but I blame our extremely hard water and our washer, which is definitely having issues.  If we prewash with cold, then wash twice in hot with just a bit of detergent, and if we wash every 2 days and don’t let the bucket get packed too full, we do alright.

    Best diaper cover?

    What diaper cover have you been most satisfied with (please don’t tell me about any that you’ve sewn yourself… remember – I’m not there yet! 🙂


    Regarding my favorite diaper cover, I think Proraps are probably the best buy and most people prefer velcro to snaps, which is exactly what Proraps offer.  But honestly – we have trouble with velcro in our house.  I prefer anything with snaps.  The fit isn’t so infinitely adjustable, but it’s good enough for us and far more durable.

    We started out with prefolds, snappies and Prorap covers. They worked very well for us aside from the fuzzies in the velcro, but since I’m pregnant and we always wind up with 2 in diapers, I decided to switch to Coolababy all-in-one pocket diapers from ebay.  They fit newborn through toddler so we won’t need 2 separate diaper stashes. There are certainly other nicer choices, but these are very affordable (especially if you buy 24 at a time) and very easy to use.

    Got questions?  I’m no expert, but I’ll try to answer them.

    More of your questions answered

    This question came in several forms from quite a few readers:

    I’d like to know more about your home schooling day.

    [choking down maniacal laughter]  Our school day tends to be rather informal.  I operate under a general sort of theory that if their brains aren’t rotting, they must be growing.  We have no TV or video games, which heads off a lot of rot from the outset.  Computer time is strictly monitored and limited to educational activities: DIVE math, typing lessons, blogging, graphic design, entrepreneurial endeavors, researching the homeschool question of the day that popped into somebody’s head…

    Having said all that, our typical day does include some formal schooling, though it doesn’t follow a strict schedule.  Rather, we follow an orderly progression.  My mantra is jobs, Bible, school.  Did you do it? If the house isn’t a wreck when we wake up we read Bible first, but some of us find that very difficult when we’re surrounded by the aftermath of a hurricane.

    After private Bible reading which consists of 2-10 chapter/day depending upon reading level and speed, the older children do Saxon math, non-fiction reading, and writing of some sort including but not limited to blogging; book report; summary of Bible reading or non-fiction reading; letters to friends or relatives, etc.  I check their writing for spelling, style and grammar, bringing problems to their attention.

    This changes often and there are a couple of items that we intend to add soon, but that’s currently what they do.

    The younger ones do math workbooks from Spectrum, reading, writing and catechism.  The very young have a brief phonics lesson and catechism.

    Our day may also include reading/watching news articles together, discussing political issues, listening to history lectures, discussing our Bible reading, studying church history for Sunday school, reading aloud, sewing and cooking, etc.

    Lets see a bunk bed update!DSC06118 (Medium)

    Well…sadly enough we are still procrastinating.  We have resolved to launch our 2 e-books before we fully launch the bunkbed project.  They are nearly ready, but since we’ve never done this before we’re having trouble tying up loose ends and finalizing the project.

    Right now, the older 4 are sleeping happily on the shelves that we bought from Costco as a temporary trial.  They are using 3″ memory foam cut into 24″ pads, though we may end up doubling these for longterm comfort.  The baby still sleeps in her playpen, and the 4 younger ones sleep on the 2 sofas in the living room.  This is working very well as a temporary solution for all, though we’re still very excited about building our bunks with the flip-up storage under each mattress.

    How about a recipe or two? Then again, this isn’t the stage of pregnancy to write about recipes: food – gotta have it, but boy is it disgusting to think about it (or smell it).

    You are so right.  No recipes.  Nope.  Nuh-uh.  Next question?

    A riddle?

    Ok.  Here’s one that came to me recently.

    I think most of you knew how fun I thought it would be if 17mo Bethany were born on June 28th – we like “special” birthdays, and she would have shared a birthday not just with her brother, but with her grandma and cousin.  As it turned out, she was born on June 27th instead, just one day shy of her brother’s second birthday.  That’s ok, because she shares a birthday with my brother-in-law’s new bride. We didn’t know Aunt Roxie’s birthday until afterward, but they were married just a couple of weeks later and a brand new birthday-buddy niece was the perfect wedding gift!

    But here’s the riddle:  it just occurred to me why we missed the mark.  Does anyone know why Bethany’s birthday didn’t land on June 28th like it should have?

    And here’s another birthday riddle from my family.  I’ve told this story before, so sit on your hands if you already know the answer.

    My parents have twins, a boy and a girl.  The girl shares a birthday with her brother, but the boy doesn’t share a birthday with his sister.  How can this be?