Puppy Patience – What I Didn’t Realize About Having a Dog

20160921_213910I am not a patient person. So why I thought getting a puppy would be a good idea is beyond me.

I have wanted a little house dog for a long, long time. I keep reminding myself of that when I’m tired, and tired of cleaning up after her.

We’ve had our first family dog, Fia, for almost two weeks now. She’s a small, black Cockapoo. She’s playful, she’s cuddly, she’s beautiful. And she’s a LOT of work.

There are many things I didn’t think about when getting a dog, things I didn’t realize.

First of all, I didn’t realize it would take her forever to go to the bathroom. It seriously takes her forever. I can’t tell you how long she sniffs and wanders around the yard looking for a spot to relieve herself.

After having five kids, I can’t comprehend waiting that long to pee. I can’t even sneeze or jump on the trampoline without needing to go. So the fact that it takes her 15 minutes sometimes to pick the perfect spot just blows my mind.

Second, I didn’t realize she’d turn into a demon dog when we were playing with her. She is the sweetest puppy. She really is. But there were a couple times at first when she totally flipped.

It was puppy Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. She’d be sleeping soundly on my lap, then get restless and turn into a raging maniac.

Thank heavens my sister and her husband taught us a few tricks to put her in her place and tame her inner demon dog. I was scared of the cute little fluffy ball for a while.

Third, I didn’t realize having a puppy is so much like having a newborn baby. She’s always going to the bathroom. She needs help getting her food. And she cries. All. Night. Long. We finally put her kennel in the basement at night so we can try to get some sleep.

Fourth, I didn’t realize how hard it would be to keep her safe from my four and two-year-olds. They think she is their puppy plaything. They pick her up whenever they want. They feed her treats whenever they want. They swing her kennel around whenever they want. And they try to sit on her whenever they want. It has been exhausting keeping her safe from them.

Finally, I didn’t realize how much my kids would adore her. My oldest giggles like crazy when she wrestles with him. My eight-year-old loves teaching her tricks. My four-year-old loves to sit “criss cross applesause” with her in the middle of his legs. And my little baby girl who gets nervous around all other animals loves to let her lick her fingers and cries, “Fia, no,” every time we leave her home.

We have all fallen in love with her.

It has been an adjustment having a puppy, and will still be an adjustment for a long, long time, but I can already tell we are going to learn a lot from this little pup.

Maybe she’ll teach me a little patience along the way.

Tips for Traveling With Kids

20160805_173516It’s no secret that I am a paranoid parent. I like to have a plan. I like to have a handle on things. And I like to keep my kids safe by my side whenever possible. So when we decided to take our family to a foreign country to live for a month this summer it nearly sent my controlling, OCD nature into a stressed-out frenzy.

I did a lot of research before we went left and found tons and tons tips for traveling with kids. Here are a few things that put my mind at ease and helped all of us better enjoy our trip.

1. Tag them – The thought of losing my kids was probably the thing that made me the most anxious about our trip.

If you have ever been near the Trevi Fountain during the heat of July or August you’ll know it’s absolute chaos. There are swarms and swarms of people all trying to get to the center of the monument to toss a coin in over their shoulder. There are vendors thrusting goods in your face and groups snapping pics with giant selfie sticks. And everyone seems to be speaking a different language.

20160816_111909I didn’t know how I’d keep my kids from getting lost in places like that and felt really stressed about it until I stumbled across this idea. I tagged each of them on a regular basis. I ordered some of these wristbands and a couple of sharpie markers. I wrote some personal information on the back of the wristbands in Italian before strapping one onto each of them. They said: “Help I am lost. Please call my parents Travis and Natalie at XXXXXXXX.”

Then we practiced a couple of scenarios with our kids on what to do and who to talk to if they got separated from us. It wasn’t a perfect plan – luckily we never had to put it to the test – but it was a plan.

The wristbands seemed to last a few days before the writing blurred together or they started to fray. When that happened we’d strap on a new one. Luckily my kids LOVE wearing these type of bracelets. They always have contests whenever we go to the fun park or the school carnival, to see who can keep theirs on the longest. They wore them proudly and that made this mama sleep better at night.

2. Pack light – What does a month’s worth of luggage look like for a family of six?

20160719_112330No matter how light I thought I packed, it still seemed like a lot. Especially when we were towing it along cobblestone streets while looking for our apartment the first day.

My suggestion to anyone traveling with kids is TRAVEL LIGHTLY. Bring outfits that can mix and max. Bring jeans that you can wear a few times before washing. Only bring one swimsuit per person. Don’t bring towels or blankets. Bring two sets of pajamas per kid – then have them wear them several nights in a row. Take one jacket per person. Only bring one, maybe two pairs of shoes each. This will really reduce the amount you have to tote around.

One of my friends gave me the best advice when she gave me this tip. She told me that she has resigned herself to the fact that when she travels she and her family will be in the same few outfits in all their pictures. It’s worth it not having to worry about extra bags.

We had access to a washer and dryer where we were staying in Rome, so we only took a week worth of clothes for each person and it still felt like we had too much.

But I was proud of myself. I stuck to the bare essentials and rolled all of our clothing into gallon Ziploc bags. I usually pack WAY too much. I always think I need to have extras in case someone has an accident or someone spills gelato all over everything – which happened to us more than once. But in all honesty with the exception of someone having an accident, we didn’t change clothes while we were out sightseeing. So what if my baby girl is wearing her red sauce on her sleeves? At least we knew she liked it!

3. Fi20160726_184213nd Some Comfort Food – We were living in the pizza, pasta and panini capitol of the world. Luckily our kids have grown up eating Italian food so they were pretty good eaters.

But there was the occasional melt down where one or all of our kids were crying for a cheeseburger or fries. Thank heavens for McDonalds. We ate there several times. And although it probably nearly killed my husband to do so, it helped them feel like they were at home.

20160805_203944 4. Allow Electronics – Finally, we allowed our kids to use their electronics more than we ever would have at home.

We gave our kids Kindle Fires for Christmas. We got a really good deal when they were on sale for Black Friday last year. At home they can play on them for 30 minutes a day. We set the parental controls to automatically lock them out when they have reached their limit – unless they are reading.

But that 30-minute limit went right out the window on our trip. We let them use their electronics unlimited while traveling. They could watch movies, play games or read books for hours while we flew in airplanes or rode on trains and buses.

They were in heaven. Which made traveling even easier on all of us.

20160805_203959Like I said earlier, we didn’t want to pack a lot of extra things. So rather than bring a giant toy bag, we invested in our electronics. Right before the trip we bought some new games and videos that they played and watched over and over. They were new and exciting and definitely worth the extra money.

But our kids didn’t just use them when we were on the go, they used them in our Rome apartment. They played them a lot while their dad was working.

And as much as it goes against everything I would normally do, it was one of the best things for us.

I am sure there are many, many more worthwhile ideas that help parents enjoy vacationing with little kids, but most of all I would say that being patient and realizing that a family vacation is very different than a couples or solo vacation is key.

When we took the time to look at things through the eyes of our kids and help them learn about what we were doing and seeing we all benefited. It was so fun to watch them listen to a tour at the Colosseum or try to pretend they were tipping over the leaning tower of Pisa. I’ll never forget my four-year-old running through the streets of Pompeii pretending lava was going to come down.

Those were things I would never have experienced without having them along. We had an amazing time. Traveling with kids can be a great experience.


Marriage Matters – Something I Didn’t Expect to Realize in Rome

20160721_181432You think you have your act together. You keep the house fairly picked up. You cook dinner a few times a week. You juggle baseball, scouts, homework and swimming lessons.

You have things semi-under control and do a lot of things on your own.

Then suddenly you find yourself in the middle of a hot, foreign street dragging three suitcases behind you while you wander with your entire family searching for the place you will call home for the next few weeks. Your husband’s cell-phone GPS is the only thing that knows where to go.

Suddenly you aren’t Miss independent, I-can-take-care-of-myself-and-my-offspring alone anymore. You have been plucked from hometown suburbia and flicked into the heart of ancient Rome – a busy bustling city full of excitement and anxieties.

And you realize you need your husband more than ever.

Our family lived in Italy for one month this summer. I learned many, many things while over there. I knew it would be an amazing experience, but what I didn’t know is that Rome would make my marriage stronger.

Why? There are many reasons.

We relied on each other for everything.

We helped each other rig a makeshift laundry basket out of a towel to carry all of our clothes down three flights of stairs to pay three Euros to wash and 3 Euros to dry each load of laundry.


Then we had to figure out how we were going to find enough Euro coins each week to run as many loads as we needed for our family of six.


When I saw a mouse scurry across our apartment floor, I knew I couldn’t easily call our exterminator company from back home to come and get it. We worked together to trap it in the hallway late one night under a plastic garbage can.


We helped each other figure out what food we could find at the store that our kids would eat.

We charted our adventures and then bought train tickets together.

We kept all four of our kids safely by our sides in Italy for an entire month.

I can’t ever remember a time when we worked so closely together for every aspect of our lives. I can’t ever remember a time when I needed his help so much.

20160722_191206I needed him to speak fluent Italian for me. I needed him to show me how to buy a train ticket and pay for my gelato. I needed him to carry and push my little children along when their traveling legs got tired.

But more than needing him for basic survival – eating, staying safe, finding our hotels and apartments – I needed him for company and companionship.

We were on our own in a very far away place.

We were together all day every day.

And it was really good for us.

We laughed together. We stressed together. And we cooked the meals and did the dishes together.

No we probably won’t have an opportunity like this ever again – most people never get to take their family to Italy for four weeks.

But I’m hoping that although we are back in America, that we keep needing each other. I hope we keep consulting with each other on all the minor and major parts of our lives. And I really hope we keep doing the dishes together. (It makes them get done much more quickly.)

I knew we would have an amazing time living in Europe, I just didn’t realize I’d come home with a new appreciation for my spouse and the time we get to spend together.


It Is Finished – The Naked Truth About Building A Tree House Update

DSC_0453I’m exhausted, my house is a mess, and I think I’ve only showered once in the past four days. But I couldn’t be more thrilled.

It is finished!

The tree house – aka the eyesore, thing, or as we have recently nicknamed it the Clemens Cabin – is done.

If you would have told me five months ago that it would take this long, involve several phone calls to the police and a couple of excited journalists, I would have laughed in your face.

All over a tree house?

Yes. All over a tree house.

DSC_0422But this tree house has taught me and my family more than we could have ever imagined.

We started out learning to budget and ended up learning how to compromise.

We learned how to work as a team, how to support one another. How to stand up for ourselves and what we know is right.

We learned that people might not have the same opinions as us. And that may cause us some discord – some major discord. But we also learned that many, many people love and support us.

DSC_0441I still can’t repay all of the people who helped us work on the tree house, watched our kids while we worked, and prayed for us that we could find a way to make it all happen for our family.

We wanted to teach our kids to measure, hammer and work. We ended up teaching them that we could do hard things … together.

Thank you to all of you who helped me laugh through all of the stress. Thank you to those who let me rant to you behind closed doors. Thank you all for helping me realize I was not absolutely crazy.

Last of all thank you to those friends and family who were willing to come over and hang out with us despite the pin-ups posted along our backyard border.

DSC_0192Thank heavens for freedom of speech, right? God bless America. And God bless that sexy lady wearing the stars-and-stripes  bikini who watched over us for several weeks. May I never see her or any of her friends again.

Now it’s time to PLAY!

If you missed the tree house saga, check out the following posts:

Teaching My Kids To Budget One Crazy Trip To the Hardware Store At A Time

The Naked Truth About Building A Tree House

The Naked Truth About Building A Tree House Update

The Walls Are Up – The Naked Truth About Building a Tree House Update

The Truce – The Naked Truth About Building A Tree House Update

Back Building – The Naked Truth About Building A Tree House Update

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How Learning a Second Language Has Made Me a Better Mom

I have always wanted to learn a second language. I dabbled in Spanish in junior high school but the only things that I can remember are how to count to ten and sing “La Cucaracha.”

When I very first met my husband I found out he was fluent in Italian. Fluent! I was enchanted.

I asked him to go with me to an Italian opera for one of our first dates. It was so cute how he translated the play for me. I let him do it for the first act before I pointed out the English supertitles.

His talent for Italian only spurred my desire to learn.

But I couldn’t hack it. I bought Italian language books. I listened to free Italian podcasts. I even bought several Disney movies in Italian when he took me to Italy eleven years ago.

But sadly they didn’t work.

Nothing worked – until this year. I found a free language learning app. I started studying Italian on Duolingo.

At first it was hit or miss.

But with a month-long vacation with my family to Italy this summer I knew I would have to get serious. I needed to help myself and my children navigate the streets of Rome.

So I started studying every day. I made it a priority.

Which is probably no big deal for a lot of people but there are very few things I do for myself every day. I barely get dress and brush my teeth every day.

My kids always come first. There are always chores and meals and games and homework and diaper changes and so on and so on.

This time I put some of that aside for 30 minutes each day and I studied my Italian.

And it made me a better mother.

I had to tell my children to wait sometimes. I had to focus on my computer or iPad instead of all of them for half an hour. I had to sit on my couch and do something by myself.

At first I felt guilty. But I knew it would help all of us in the end so I pressed on.
Not only did I learn enough Italian to be able to ask where the bathroom was or how much something cost, I learned how good it felt to do something for myself for once.

I showed my kids that mom gets to do something for herself and the world will keep turning. I showed them that it is important to stick with something we enjoy. I showed them that hard work pays off.

And I reminded myself how much I love to learn.

It felt so good. Sure I’m not 100 percent fluent like my husband, but my 58 percent fluency really paid off this past month while we were living in Rome.

I was able to understand so much more than the last time I visited Italy. I could help my kids order from menus and find train stops. I could ask for directions and apologize to people when my kids were acting crazy. I could buy my own clothes at the market!

All of that felt so good. Putting myself first for thirty minutes a day made me happy and that made me a better mom in many, many ways.

My studying has dropped off since we got back in America last week. But only because I have a hundred things to do to get back in a groove here. When we get settled back into the U.S. I will restart my online learning.

I think it’s good for every mom to find something they do for themselves every day. It might be hard at first. You may feel guilty. But you deserve it. And your kids deserve to see you make time for something you enjoy.

Fidati di me.

Eight Things I have learned this summer:

  1. My kids couldn’t care less about the activities I pin for them on Pinterest – I aired my frustrations about summer earlier. I’ve decided that no matter what ambitions I have for my children, they would much rather lounge in the living room catching up on Bunk’d episodes. And that’s all right.
  1. When in doubt – Pizza Rolls and Otter Pops are always a good idea. My youngest has been living off of Otter Pops this summer. She asks for one at 6:30 when she rolls out of bed. She normally eats three before 10 a.m. She’s downing them and I don’t care. She’s happy. She’s healthy and it’s hot out there so, why not?
  1. It is loads harder to build a tree house than I thought. And more expensive too. It’s been more than four months since we broke ground on ours. Oh the experiences we’ve had with this project. Nothing. I repeat nothing will ever come close to topping this building project for our family. We have learned more than we ever could have imagined. It’s been a third of a year and there the tree house sits nearly complete. Just a few more walls of wooden siding, some outdoor carpet and some insulation caulk. And even though it has taken much longer than we anticipated it has been worth fighting for.
  1. Sand is meant to be tossed outside of the box – and Home Depot sells it for cheap.

    1. It’s good for my kids to be bored. A recent article eased my mom guilt by saying that when kids are bored they are forced to use their imaginations and that’s a good thing. So I can stop worrying about entertaining them all the time.
    1. Unless I want to turn into a permanent zombie, I can’t wait for bedtime to get all my stuff done. I’ve got to vacuum, clean the bathrooms and fold the laundry while my kids are running around crazy in the background. Sure it’s chaos, but I need my sleep.
    1. Walmart Grocery is once again my friend. After a couple of bad experiences this spring, I gave it another try. And it’s saved my sanity. I can order the goods online, pick them up curbside and not drag any of my four kids into the store.
    1. It will be over before I know it. Time is flying by. My days are filled with never-ending chores, activities and arguments. But the days aren’t never-ending. Before I know it I’ll be snapping first-day of school photos and wiping tears from my eyes.

Here’s to learning more this summer before it turns to fall!



No More Nursing

I have spent more than four years of my life breastfeeding my babies. That may not seem like much, but it adds up to about an eighth of my time here on Earth.

And now I’m done.

I will miss nursing.

It was a way to bond me to my child.

A way to give them what they needed.

A way to keep them close.

It allowed me snuggling time with my babies.

It gave me an excuse to sit down and open up a book.

I liked that my kids needed me, that they wanted me.

Especially my baby girl. She nursed until she was 20 months old – far longer than my boys. Granted she didn’t start eating solids until she was 16-17 months old so that may have impacted things. But she was old enough to start shouting, “Milk” (which sounded kind of like “meowk”) and tug on my shirt.

I think she would have nursed until she was five! But it was no longer working for us. She was doing it for comfort not for nourishment. And she started hurting me while eating.

So sadly I stopped.

At first it broke my heart. She would cry and scream, “meowk,” while I rocked her in my chair.

I’d hold her and she’d cry until she fell to sleep.

But that only lasted about a week. Then she realized I could help her go to sleep without milk.

Now I look forward to rocking her just as much as I did nursing her. I think she looks forward to it too. I’ll cuddle to her in my chair and sing songs to her. Many times she sings along.

We sing and rock until she’s sound asleep.

And with that I’m closing my chapter on nursing.

It is a bittersweet closure.

Never again will I be bigger than a size A cup. And never again will I get Mastitis or engorgement.

It’s strange to move on. I swear I’ve been pregnant and nursing off and on for a decade now. But life moves on.

As long as I can find other ways to cuddle and care for my little ones I’m OK with that.

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