My Favorite Views at the End of the Day

Y'all, I am tired. Like almost all the time. My last blog post about weathering the hard days drew some really awesome comments and emails and I'm so glad that I can keep it real with you guys. Because that's the whole point. My fellow quad mom, Becky, just recently blogged about the truth of it all when it comes to raising multiples. We don't have it all together. No mom does! Some may come close but every mom, every parent, has their faults. Their breaking points. Their days that they just don't do it well. Blogging is great for sharing the good moments, the positive things, a place to post about what makes you happy. And I definitely like to throw in a good dose of "keeping it real" now and then, too.

This is how my babies look quite often...

...and this is how I look at the end of a typical day. I know, tell me about it.

Having quadruplets is no walk in the park. I rarely look good during the day and I'm constantly sweating from running around cramming laundry into the washer, trying to write articles for work from my kitchen island, throwing together last minute meals and often being on the verge of breaking out into tears or sighs because I'm so tired and overwhelmed. I have a lot of hard days. A lot. My feet hurt so bad at the end of the day sometimes it's hard to walk. Sure, there are a lot of great moments that make it all worthwhile, as I mentioned in my previous post. But do not be fooled! I'm working my ass off to keep it together the best I can every single day. So in that same train of thought, here's some of my absolute favorite views at the end of a very long day with four 20-month-olds. :)

The kids on their way up to the stairs. This means my day is nearly done and they're about to go to bed!

A glass of wine, fresh flowers and candles always make me happy. In this case, tonight included a sweet treat of red velvet cake to go with my red velvet wine. Delish.

The husband and I make it a priority to spend some time together nearly every evening. It's usually on the couch with our favorite shows and we love it. Tonight's episodes are from Elementary and Chicago PD.

A turned-down bed with fresh sheets spritzed with a lavender chamomile aromatherapy spray. I hurriedly put the new linens on our bed tonight in between cleaning up the kids rooms before we brought them upstairs and I'll appreciate my efforts so much when I sink into those good-smelling sheets tonight.

And those are some of my favorite things to see at day's end! I think it's really important to carve out a few minutes for yourself or have a little something to look forward to. Whether it's wine, cake, a TV show, a hot shower with a new body scrub, something. Anything

I read this article to the husband the other day and it really struck a chord with us. It's so true about how parents feel the complete range of emotions on a daily basis. Especially when you're at home with your kids all day! It helps to invest in each other and asking the right questions and sharing your emotions is a great way to connect when you feel like you're surrounded by chaos.

No one's perfect, I'm sure not. And boy, some of my days lately have been very trying! But I'll just keep trudging along one day at a time and wait for the clearing in the fog when I can regain my ground. Thanks for sharing in that journey with me. :)
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Keeping My Calm!

I'm sitting at my computer at the desk in my room, drinking my second cup of hot tea (Celestial's Sleepytime) with Champagne-scented candles burning and the lights dimmed. It sounds blissful, but it's literally everything I can do to try and relax right now. The husband just got back in town this morning from an overnight work trip and had to go straight to the office, where he's also working late tonight. The last few days have been really hard, in fact the last week or so has been hard. I feel like some of the days lately have been so hectic and non-stop and it's everything I can do to keep up!

Teething is largely to blame. It's killing me. Slowly and painfully. With a vengeance. One kiddo will be miserable all day—crying, clingy, unable to be satisfied. But then once that magical moment comes that they improve or the Advil kicks in and they feel better, another one bites the dust. And so it continues day in and day out right now, constantly! Silence has been something completely non-existent. I didn't realize just how much I missed the quiet until I was in the car headed to a doctor's appointment this morning. Although that appreciation was momentarily ruined by a pounding headache that came on, likely from the four hours of sleep I got last night. Harrison woke up with teething pain and once I got him situated Trystan woke up (a rare occurrence) and I had to rock her for awhile. Once she was quiet again, Kailey woke up and then Harrison woke up twice more after that. I didn't even close my eyes for the first time until 2:30am. Thankfully, those kind of nights are few and far between but when they come, they floor me. A night of sleep deprivation is really hard-hitting these days. And then I think back on those first few months with the babies and the severe lack of sleep we endured on a daily basis and wonder how in the hell we survived!?

And don't even get me started on working from home. I've been trying to write some articles for a book on Texas weddings and most of my sentences come out jarbled and dry. Then when I do hit a good streak, it's immediately interrupted by someone shrieking from the play room because Oh my gosh, someone took my ball and I don't want any of the other 48 balls in the room, I want that one!

Fortunately there are a few moments in each day that seem to salvage the chaos. Like the moment when I realize I've got the latest episode of Nashville on the DVR and can actually watch it because everyone actually went to sleep for nap time. Or the moment I decide today is simply not a good day to do laundry and it can wait until tomorrow. Or the moment my nanny or my mom and step-dad are here and I realize I can go to Target and roam the aisles or throw on a sweat shirt and enjoy a quick pedicure. Or when my sister comes by after work for a visit and spends time playing with my kids. Or the moment the day is officially done (like right now) and it's time to kick back and relax for an hour or two with the husband. Who I'm hoping is here very soon.

I also need to extend a heartfelt thanks to my mom and step-dad for helping pick up the slack while said husband was out of town, as well as my friend, Jo Ann. Sweet people sure do make life a whole lot easier and good moments make the craziness a little less insane.
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{Quad Squad} 8 Babies, 2 Mommas, 1 Playdate!

I'm deviating from some previously planned posts to bring you photos from the most successful quad play date in my repertoire yet! You might recall my friend, Amber, who also has quadruplets and lives in the Dallas area. Her babies are seven weeks younger than my own, so our day-to-day lives are almost always extremely similar and we're constantly sharing tips and advice we glean along the way. When the husband and I moved our family from Houston to Dallas, one of the things Amber and I looked forward to the most were quad playdates!

We had a few at Amber's house, since my crew was still smooshed into our two-bedroom apartment while we house hunted, and we met up a couple times for birthday parties or places like Legoland. But our last play date, hosted at Amber's, was stressful and exhausting to say the least. We had kept to our usual schedule, the visiting momma arrives around 11am for a little playtime with all the kids before lunch (served in shifts at the quad table, as we both have one!) then everything's cleaned up and babies are put down for naps. Before, we had to live through some screaming protests but eventually everyone would go to sleep. This time, my kiddos refused to nap at all with blasphemous screeches the entire time. In fact, Kailey had crawled out of her pack-and-play in about two seconds and was running around the room crying and hollering at the top of her lungs. So I had to haul them all back downstairs, sweaty and tired, and entertain them with puzzles and some of the Shawver's toys.

Amber and I salvaged a small portion of the afternoon and gulped Cupcake Vineyards Red Velvet wine and tried to chat over the shrieks and babbling of the babies. By the time I got home and unloaded my crew, I was so tired I actually felt sick. But during our wine-downing sesh, Amber and I had come up with a new play date plan and scheduled it for the following week. We were both actually excited to test a new theory and were thrilled when it worked! We realized that even though play dates typically take place during the daytime, having quadruplets has always been a game changer and why were we trying to adhere to the norm? We needed a time that enhanced our schedules and fit easily into our lifestyles—and we did not want to tackle naps during a play date ever again

that's me with my unruly crew on the left, and amber and her quads on the right!
Amber and her quadlings arrived at my place about 4pm and we got everyone unloaded and into the play room, where my babies were waiting, having recently woken up from their naps. There was only one party foul to tend to, one of Amber's boys had upchucked his goldfish in the back of their van so a little cleanup was involved. An outfit change later and we had eight babies all situated with snack cups and drinks in the play room! Harrison is cutting a few eye teeth so he wasn't in the best of moods and wailed most of the time when I wasn't holding him. But other than that, we enjoyed a very peaceful afternoon of double quad playtime and conversation among the adults. My mom had very generously offered to come over and help out and she was so excited to see Amber's babies. (You can read a quad-grandma's account of the afternoon on her blog!)

Amber's babies eat dinner about 6pm and mine about 6:30, so I got the food cooking a little early so we could start the first round of meals. I sauteed turkey sausage and onions (which were pre-cut in a ziploc in the fridge to save time!), garlic green beans and organic mac and cheese. I wanted to offer foods that I knew were kid-approved to feed the masses without any issues! Both sets of quads gobbled down the grub with happy faces and even got chocolate chip cookie cake (a birthday surprise for my husband from his mom over the weekend) for dessert. Success!

The husband arrived home just as we were starting the dinner process and got to hang out with all eight babies. He was all smiles seeing so many happy kiddos in his house! The quad table was busy that night—once Amber's crew was done, we wiped them down and put them back in the play room, cleaned off the table and placed my squad in the table with four more plates of food. Amber got hers into pajamas and brushed their teeth while mine finished eating, then the rest of the adults tag-teamed cleaning up and dressing the Bell babies in pjs. We let the whole group of eight run around together in the play room for a few minutes so we could snap some cute nighttime pics and because the babies are always in a good mood after dinner and a fresh diaper. And our absolute favorite thing from the whole event was watching them form a line and take turns on the slide. Not only was it comical that between the two of us, we had more than enough babies to form a line but that they also knew how to wait their turn! Life of a quad!

Once it was time to part ways, the husband and I helped Amber load her van full of kiddos and I whisked one back inside for a quick diaper change so everyone was good to go. Hers lulled off to sleep on the way home and Amber's husband, I hear, happily greeted them when they arrived and helped get all the kiddos to bed. We put ours in bed not long after our buddies left and everyone drifted off to sleep, except for Logan, who was so cute talking away to herself in her crib. So we snuck into her room and brought her into our bed to hang out with us while we watched a little TV, read her a book and talked to her. 

Often, the husband and I will be catching up on the day's events in the evening over a glass of wine and I'll be telling him about something new that one of the kids did that day or we'll be gushing about how cute they all are. Then we jokingly say, "So who are we going to go wake up!?"

It's always amazing to me that I can spend all day with my four kids—or even eight!—and still miss them just moments after we put them down for the night. One-on-one time is a very cherished experience in our house, so we usually don't hesitate when we get the opportunity to enjoy it. Even if it means sneaking someone out of their crib to stay up a few minutes late!

All in all, this quad play date went swimmingly and Amber and I high-fived at least a couple times during the evening because we were so relieved we'd found an amicable solution. Getting out of the house and enjoying each other's company is so important—as much so for our sanity as it is for the babies to explore a new place. And having quads, or any kids really, always calls for change. I've mentioned before that we adjust our schedule about every two weeks, even if it's just a minor tweak, because as the kids grow and mature so must our daily routine.

And just for kicks, here's a photo of my quad squad this morning watching a laughing baby video on Youtube. ;)

Thanks for reading!

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{My Recipes} Crockpot Paella

I have a great new recipe to add to our menu rotation and best of all, it's a super easy paella! I first had paella in the best place possible—Spain. The husband and I visited Malaga in the South of Spain during our year abroad living in Scotland. After a morning spent on the beach, we stopped at a cafe hut in the sand and ordered cold beers and a traditional paella. Cooked in a large cast iron skillet with loads of short-grain rice, seafood and chicken wings, it was delicious. Truly nothing better than an authentic culinary experience like that!

The recipe I used is an adaption of Rachael Ray's slow-cooker paella, as I adjusted several of the ingredients and cook time. I'm not a big fan of chorizo, so I decided to try out some Genoa salami in its place instead. But I also think you could make this with shrimp, scallops or even turkey sausage. Here's my take on a shortcut recipe to a traditional dish!

2 tablespoons EVOO
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
3 teaspoons paprika
2 cups Arborio rice
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1.5 cup low-sodium chicken broth
6-ounce package uncured Genoa salami
1/2 onion, finely chopped
3 teaspoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon salt
2 cups frozen peas

In a large skillet, heat the EVOO over medium-high. Add the chicken in a single layer and sprinkle with 1.5tsp paprika then season with salt and pepper. Cook until golden brown then transfer to crockpot. Add the rice to the skillet, stirring and cooking until light golden (just a few minutes). Transfer rice to the crockpot and pour in tomatoes, broth, salami, onion, garlic, salt, 1.5tsp paprika and peas. Cover and cook on high heat until the rice is tender, about 2.5 to 3 hours.

You can find this recipe on my Food board on Pinterest if you want to pin it for later!

Happy eating :)
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{Quad Squad} 18+ Month Update, Lots of Photos & Video!

Things are more active than ever in our household right now. In one week, my sweet preemie quadruplets will be 20 months old! They've been progressing at such a fantastic rate and we don't take a single milestone or healthy doctor's report for granted. I can easily transport myself back to those days lying in that hospital bed, feeling like my body could barely go on and terrified of the unknown and what such a premature birth might mean for my babies.

But now we're a mere four months away from their second birthday and are busy being both amazed and quite occupied by our quad squad! There's a lot more hard, long days right now—mostly because of teething—where the kiddos require tons of attention or TLC or just a constant state of change to keep them satisfied. We're still cycling through an impressive amount of Infant Advil, frozen teethers and chomped-on fingers and most everyone has a couple of molars and their eye teeth are coming through as we speak. I didn't realize what little devils those things were! Let me just say, I'll be relieved when the teething phase is over. It's long, trying and painful. 

In the meantime, we're about a month or so behind with our doctor appointments so they got their 18 month check at about 19 months old. And everyone got a fantastic report! The doctor was extremely pleased with their height and weight and where they placed on the growth chart. I've got two tall, skinny and lanky kiddos (Harrison and Kailey) and two skinny, petite little kiddos (Trystan and Logan). All are healthy with absolutely no concerns at this time. They each got two shots at the appointment, but we finally reached that magical moment in time when the doctor said, "They won't be getting any shots at their next appointment." At that particular second, the heavens parted and angels began singing. Ha. We've had as many as four shots per baby at some appointments, which is a whopping 16 shots for momma to comfort the kiddos through!! A feat, to say the least!

Here's everyone's current stats, in birth order:

I've still got three brown haired kiddos and one red haired beauty and all four have the most beautiful blue eyes. Kailey's are like a steel blue color, Harrison and Logan's are bright blue and Trystan's are a deeper blue shade—and they're all gorgeous! I'm one happy mommy to have passed off that trait to all four of my kiddos at once, go me. ;)

Wanna know how an average day looks right now? Okay, here goes....

The crew sleeps an average of 11-12 hours with bedtime about 8pm and rising time about 7:30 or 8am. Which is a glorious, glorious thing and we are so grateful our sleep training paid off! They eat breakfast by 8:30am, have finger snacks and water in the play room about 10am, lunch is at 11:45am and they're in bed for naps by 12:30pm. The afternoon sleep time averages 1.5 to 2 hours, but they tend to happily play in their cribs by themselves for another hour or so after that. I put "quiet toys" like books, puzzles, soft animals, stacking cups and so on in their cribs, along with spill-proof sippy cups of water, to keep them plenty occupied before and after they doze off. Once they're up, I change diapers and either let them play in one of their rooms while I supervise or organize their closet or I bring them back downstairs to the play room. Snacks are served about 3:30pm in spill-proof snack cups and they eat these at their leisure in the play room. Most of the time, they are content to play and watch Bubble Guppies or Mickey Mouse Clubhouse until around 5:30 or 6pm. At that time, I either let them into the kitchen to explore (it's all baby-proofed) or I put them in the quad table with discovery boxes or puzzles while I finish up dinner. We all eat together as a family about 6:30pm, then the babies are cleaned up and dressed in pajamas, teeth brushed, water sipped, aquaphor on their cheeks and sleep sacks put on and lights out! Whew! 

Of course, this doesn't take into account days we are out of the house for activities or appointments and they also get baths on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at some point. I have a wonderful nanny that comes for five hours on Monday and Friday mornings; my mom and step-dad spend Wednesdays with me helping out; and a good friend of mine comes Thursday mornings for a few hours to lend me a hand or play with the quads while I write articles and meet deadlines for work. Needless to say, we try our best to take things one day at a time around here!

We've been experience some new things and getting better at other things. Running around is no longer a problem, these kids are quick. We've taken them to a couple different parks as well as the open creek area behind our back yard to work their legs and burn off energy. They love it! Getting outside when the weather is pleasant is crucial and we try to accomplish that once or twice a week, even if it's not for very long. 

And since we can't just run off somewhere fun every single day (or I'd die of exhaustion!), we knew we had to make their play room a place they enjoyed to be. So for Christmas, the quad squad received a jungle gym of sorts complete with a ball pit, slide and climbing space. They were already monkeys to begin with and their dexterity, balance and agility has only increased steadily. They've also mastered the slide and are no longer intimated or hesitant to slide down any number of them, tall or short. Head first or foot first, a little face plant ain't no thang!

The kiddos have enjoyed a couple play dates here and there at the mall with our multiples buddies and at friend's houses, but one new experience they got to embark on was a trip to our local library for Toddler Time! My mom and step-dad admirably stepped up to the challenge of accompanying me—my mom is a huge proponent of these sorts of experiences for the quads, too!—and away we went. Naturally they didn't sit still during story time, which I must admit was painfully boring on this particular occasion, but they did love the touch-and-feel time that included shakers, colorful scarves and also coloring at a table. They sat in adult chairs, a very novel experience, and rocked those crayons and papers like it was their J-O-B. After that, we checked out the toddler area inside the library where I was pleasantly surprised to find a tot-sized table and (four) chairs, climbing shapes, toys and a plethora of board books. A new outing and success!

We were feeling empowered afterward, so we took the whole crew to Chick-Fil-A for lunch that day and they were perfectly behaved. My sweet pride and joy. Later that afternoon, my step-dad joined forces with a friend of his in my kitchen for a guitar and violin private concert. The babies ate up every note, it really was sweet. Grandad even let the quad squad play on the violin so they could be familiar with it—and I know he has every intention of seeing that these babies are musically-inclined. :)

There's a couple of new things we've implemented in our day-to-day to either incorporate new habits, better methods or a revised schedule that better reflects the babies' needs. Multi-tasking is a constant, and a necessity I don't see doing without anytime in the next 20 years near future. For instance, in a house of quads, clipping their toenails while they sit in their quad table and eat lunch is perfectly normal.   

Meal planning for each week is now taking place on a slightly more regular basis. I attempt this every Sunday but don't sweat it if it doesn't happen until Monday. It's also not a die-hard-must-stick-to-it-the-entire-week system, but it definitely takes some of the pressure off when meal times roll around and I'm staring into the fridge wondering what in the hell to make! (You can find the free printable meal chart I use on my Organizing board on Pinterest.)

In addition to meal planning, actual family dinners are now happening on the regular. This is something I'm very proud of as it's a huge "must" in my opinion. It's a habit I am happy we've started young as I plan to continue it for the rest of our lives. Since we all eat the same thing for dinner, I prepare the food and get it all plated then put the kids in the table as daddy walks in the door from work. He quickly changes clothes, we pull up our chairs and chow down! We've found that the quads have been closely eyeing our use of utensils and have really improved in that arena. I don't hand out toddler forks with every single meal, but often enough that they've really gotten the hang of them.

Food favorites include spaghetti squash with meat sauce (I practically beam with pride when they wolf this down every time!), French style green beans, grilled cheese, blueberries, broccoli, mashed potatoes, grilled chicken, cheetoh puffs, mac and cheese, garlic toast, bananas, Greek yogurt, whole grain goldfish and turkey sausage, among many other things! They drink whole milk with all their meals (I give them as much as they want, they don't go crazy) and water, decaf herbal tea or watered down apple juice during the daytime. Sometimes I "sweeten" their herbal tea with a couple splashes of orange juice and they seem to really like that, too.

Changing up the play room has always sort of been in the cards, since I keep their smaller toys in plastic bins scattered throughout the house (like closets, corner of the play room, etc.) and switch these out about once a week. It gives them "fresh" toys that they haven't seen in awhile and keeps them occupied for hours. But with the addition of larger play items, like climbing structures, I've taken to moving things around on occasion to give them new free space to roam or a new arrangement to explore. For instance, recently I just ordered their first set of play food and they got a shopping cart for Christmas, so I put their play pots and pans and kitchens in the playroom so they could incorporate those activities together. I take other large items out and move them upstairs into their rooms, which then become new again when they play up there after naps or baths! They also enjoying playing with magnets on the DIY magnetic chalkboard fireplace cover I made, and they don't seem interested in chewing on them anymore since they understand what they're for. I use an old dishwasher basket to hold all the magnet pieces!

One of the other things we're really enjoying during this age is their ability to better understand us and communicate with both us and each other. They all have about 15-20 words down with new ones being added each week. They grasp so much more of what we tell them or explain to them, like "be right back" or "give me a hug/kiss" and simple commands like "time for night-night" and they head up the stairs. Sometimes I can walk up to the play room gate with graham crackers or animal cookies and if one of the kids is too far away for me to hand it to them, I can ask one of the babies nearby to take it and hand it to so-and-so. They feel hugely important doing this! Logan, and really the other three as well, have exhibited a desire to help with things like emptying the dishwasher, sweeping the floor, wiping down the table and handing us all their toys out of their cribs when it's time to go night-night.

It's also high time that momma and daddy have to start watching what we say! Harrison was working on a puzzle at the table and really has them down, he puts them together in record time. I was walking away and said, "That's so awesome!" when he perfectly repeated "awesome" without skipping a beat. But my heart sure did, what a sweet sound! He says it all the time now and may have repeated one or two other not-so-nice things that slipped out of my mouth, so we've now officially entered the "spell it out" phase among the adults. Problem solved for now. ;)

And that, my friends, is the 18+ month update! People constantly ask how we do it or shake their head in amazement (I appreciate it, I really do) and we just reply that we continue to take things one day at a time. We've been doing that since we found out we were expecting quadruplets and we've been doing it since the day the fantastic four arrived in our lives. Oh, and wine. Copious amounts of wine. Which I'm off to pour right now, as a matter of fact...
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