Animal house

July 31, 2012

My sweet daughter approached me one morning as I folded laundry.  “Mama…could you please help me sort through my stuffed animals today?  They’re getting a bit out of control.”  I told her of course, I’d be up as soon as I finished what I was doing; while inside I was doing cartwheels about the fact that she made the decision on her own.  No nudging or suggestions from me required.

I’d been watching her pile of animals grow.  They have an assigned spot to “live,” in an old cradle that my mother slept in (and my daughter, too, for a while), and for months–years, really–that cradle has been perfectly sufficient.  Slowly, though, my little one was making “nests” throughout her room for the overflow.  There was a little nest in the less-than-a-foot of space between her chest of drawers and the wall.  There was a nest  between her bedside table and desk.  A tiny nest in a child’s chair.  Each made up carefully with a blanket for the assorted “guests” that would live in that spot.  She had commented a few times on how many nests there were, and apparently she’d finally crossed some sort of line, because she was done.

I took a suggestion from Simplicity Parenting and made three piles:  keep, put away, and give away.  I don’t tend to like the idea of a “put away” pile; I hate the fact that we have toys in storage when some kids have no toys at all….but I also knew that there were so many animals it made sense to not keep everything out.  She sat in her desk chair while I held up each animal (no touching!  Many thanks to Sort It Canada for THAT epiphany) and she pronounced its fate.

As I suspected, the “give away” pile was small.  The “put away” pile, however, was huge.  I was completely unprepared for the amount of animals that my daughter was willing to give up temporarily, some of which I thought of as very important to her.  I was incredibly glad I’d let her make the decisions, because she was much more thorough than I would have been.

That night she went to bed with three animals in her bed.  Every other animal fit in the cradle; all the nests were put away, chairs were now chairs and the floor was back to being a floor.  She kept telling me how much better she felt, how much better the room looked, how nice it was to have everything where it belonged.  We’ve agreed that six months is a good time for a swap:  to pull out the old and put away the current.

I think, though, that I might ask her what animals she wants to retrieve, instead of just dumping out the bucket….I have a suspicion she wouldn’t miss some of those critters if they were gone.

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What’s next?

July 25, 2012

It’s a strange feeling to look outside right now.  The grass is browning.  Some leaves are actually falling; there’s a carpet of brown leaves lying under the maple tree right outside our kitchen window.  If I let myself, I can almost pretend it’s fall, since this is essentially what our yard should look like in late September or early October.  But it’s not fall; it’s July.  Which makes the view that much more surreal.

I wish it was fall….day after day of 100+ degrees and drought is wearing thin.  I discovered advertisers are quite ready to grant my wish:  a catalog arrived in the mail recently with a “Christmas preview,” and I admit I looked through each and every page; not actually wanting to buy anything, just wanting to be reminded that it wouldn’t always be miserably hot; that fall and winter were right around the corner.

Stores and advertisers are always happy to help us move on, aren’t they?  They spin it as letting us “plan” and “prepare.”  My most recent example was trying to buy a lawn chair the day before the Fourth of July….but the lawn and garden section had already turned into the lawn and garden aisle, and employees were unloading school supplies in the empty space left behind.  It happened to me last Christmas, too:  finally on break, finally ready to find a craft for the kids to do as gifts, and aisle upon aisle of Christmas craziness had turned to just two; with no projects my children had any interest in doing.  I’ve tried to explain to my kids that stores don’t carry snow boots in January, or swimsuits in August; but it really does seem a little ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Right about the time we get settled in to enjoy, when we can finally really get into a season, advertisers take off:  on to the next big thing!  It’s always the next celebration or season we need to prepare for; it’s always what’s coming up, what’s approaching, what’s next, leaving us no time to enjoy where we are.  No room for contentment and gratefulness for the now.  No peacefulness in our present.

Our family has less than three weeks until school starts again.  We have swimming lessons and vacation days still in front of us.  I plan on enjoying–to the best of my “I hate heat” ability–these last few days of summer break.  I’m going to sit right in the middle of it, to make sure we do as many summer things as we possibly can, to savor (to use my kids’ favorite word) every last minute of it.  I know I will have to take a moment to acknowledge the future and buy school supplies….but outside of that shopping trip, I’m choosing to live in the present.  Even if it is presently 103 degrees.

This has absolutely nothing to do with simplifying or organizing….just really felt the need to share.

My two kiddos started swimming lessons today, which has been THE dreaded event of the summer.  Every week or so, someone would murmur about having to go, and I would say yes, you’re going, and the grumbles would begin.  Normally my kids love to be in a pool, but this was the first year (out of four) that they haven’t been in the same class, together, offering each other the unspoken support that only a sibling can provide.  Last year my son moved on, while my daughter didn’t.  So this year, the threat of  impending lessons has caused nothing but misery.

They woke up this morning having completely forgotten about it.  All morning they played, until about 10:00, when I called them up from the basement for snack and told them they’d need to get their suits on so we’d be ready to go….the whole time, praying that the word “swimsuit” wouldn’t result in a total meltdown.  (Usually they are quite thoughtful and take turns having fits; this was one instance I could have had them both explode at once.)  God provided peace; they seemed resigned to their fate instead of rebellious, and we had a good talk about nervous feelings and being brave trying something new and alone.

Thirty minutes later we were headed to the pool, and I was praying thanks to God for giving me fairly peaceful kids in what could have been a really difficult situation, when….wait…there was a familiar car up ahead.  It couldn’t be…. The car turned.  We turned.  No way…..  The car turned into the parking lot, and we followed.  Not possible!!!

Yes.  Friends.  The very first friends my husband and I had here; the friends who were in this city even before we were; friends from my husband’s grad school days who we’ve known for….wow, a long time….two boys piling out of the car and me yelling at their mom “You have got to be kidding me!”  Not a joke…the boys were all in the same class.

Shortly after, my daughter discovered a friend from school in her class.  (Not quite as surprising as the previous discovery….my little social butterfly can’t not find a friend somewhere.)

Leaving the pool, my daughter looked at me with a huge smile and announced, “I can’t wait to come back tomorrow!!”

Proof, yet again, that God really does care about the littlest of things….even nervous kids and swimming lessons….and will provide “even more than we can ask or imagine.”

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  (Luke 12:6-7)

Yeah, this was sort of a “cheat” post title, but there is some truth to it.  I’ve discovered an amazing secret to simplicity:  Cut six inches off your hair.

Less shampoo, less conditioner, less mousse/gel/insert “product” here.

Less water to wash it.

Less time to take care of it (lots less time to dry).

Less weighing you down.

Less heat smothering your neck in the middle of summer.

If you know and trust a stylist at a reasonably priced chain salon, it can be less money for the cut, too.

And yes, it did take a little less than thirty minutes to have it done.

I suppose it’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely working for me.  🙂

All-American Girl

July 12, 2012

Back in April or May, I got an e-mail notifying me that the studio where my daughter used to take dance lessons was offering a special:  half-off on their summer camps.  She decided it might be fun; it had been a year since she’d been to dance and apparently she was missing it.  I looked over the age-appropriate options and asked if she’d rather go to the morning or afternoon class; after much thought, morning was her final verdict.  I then told my daughter about the theme:  by choosing the morning session, “American Girl” was the topic, which meant that all the girls could bring their dolls and take their dance lessons together.  Ever since that moment July 9th couldn’t get here fast enough for her.

I really do think the camp was a sweet idea, but I have to admit that “American Girl” dolls bother me.  There’s something disconcerting–to say the least–about dolls that come with more possessions than many people in the world own.  (One of my favorite “Arthur” episodes on PBS is all about “World Girl” dolls, and one of the characters is surprised to learn that her favorite doll is no longer being made.  “She’s from Tibet,” explains the saleslady.  “It’s a Buddhist country….it didn’t generate enough accessories.”)  Clothes, bedroom sets, pets…..That doesn’t even get into the prices, of both the dolls and all their “stuff.”  And, of course, there’s always more; now there’s a “girl of the year” each year, with her own interests and “stuff.”  And I haven’t even talked about the books.

So while I was excited to see how excited my daughter was, I admit I was a little concerned about how the actual week would go over.  Would there be a lot of they all have the real thing and I don’t?  They had a different doll every day and I only had one?  They had matching outfits for each day of the week and I didn’t? 

Nope.  We just finished day three, and I’m so pleased with how it’s gone.  She came home the first day telling me “who” each of her new friends had, without bitterness or complaint; not only that, but she wasn’t the only girl without “a real one.”  Each day she tells me about a new friend she’s made.  I’ve heard a total of one whole comment about a girl who dressed to match her doll, and it was stated in eagerness, not in jealousy.  Four of them huddled around an American Girl catalog this morning, before class started, and I caught a bit of her part of the conversation:  “I don’t have many clothes to match my doll.  But we do have matching ‘Kit’ pajamas!”  Way to focus on the positive, kiddo.

I wish I could bottle her attitude; keep it for a time in the future when she gets caught up in what others have and she doesn’t.  So far, she seems to have been gifted with an amazingly grateful heart.  I hope that doesn’t change too much.

Piles of Ponies

July 10, 2012

My daughter pulled out her tub of “My Little Ponies” from its cubby the other day.  She dug for awhile, and dug some more; picking out an item here and there.  Soon she was digging with enthusiasm, then frustration, and finally she looked at me sheepishly for permission:  “Can I just dump this?”

“Of course!”

So the box threw up ponies and pony accessories all over the carpet…a crazy pile, a jumbled mass of pink and purple plastic, fake hair, and “furniture.”

It was interesting to watch her deal with the enormous mess.  “Do you wanna see my favorite pony?” she asked.

“Sure!”

She shifted the pile around a bit, and finally pulled out a pegasus, carefully, and showed her to me.  Gently, she set it aside, and searched the pile for the matching crown.  That, too, was pulled out carefully and set apart.  Then she returned to the pile, much less enthusiastically.  Picking up a pony, looking at it, throwing it down again.  Shoving the pile around, pushing things back and forth, picking up another piece and chucking it down again.  The favorite pony was treated with care….the rest, apparently, was just a pile of junk.  Too much, too many, too messy…the whole of it was just overwhelming.

It’s easy for me to look at my kids’ toys and notice the “overwhelming.”  We have so many ponies, legos, doll clothes, markers and colored pencils ….the list goes on and on of the things that I should probably weed through with my children; the things that they truly do play with, but are currently swimming in to the point of drowning.  Then I take a step back and remind myself that I need to set an example in love:  what things am I “swimming in” that need to be discarded or passed on?  What things do I use, yet have too much of?  “Paper” tops the list.  Even though I do my best to stay on top of the ongoing, incoming stream of paper that enters this house, it consistently overpowers me at some point.  Books should probably make the list, too; although I do my best to cull books regularly, and our shelves do have space, I know without a doubt there are more I could let go.

Time to take the plank out of my own eye, so I can help them with the speck in theirs…..

A break from summer

July 6, 2012

Usually, at some point in July or August, all the news in our area turns to the weather:  Record-breaking heat!  Summer scorcher!  Another day of high temps!  And I roll my eyes, every year, and think of course it’s hot; it’s the end of July, for crying out loud!  How is this news!?

This year it’s different….this year it started in June.  It was 99 degrees on June 24th, and it hasn’t particularly let up at all.  (106 degrees on June 28th!)  Honestly, once you cross about 93, it’s all the same to me.  The poor azaleas I planted in our front bed this spring are barely hanging on; it’s just too hot and dry for anything to be happy.  In spite of all the giant shade trees we have in our yard (so different from our last house, perched on a hill, surrounded by baby trees and baking in the sun), it’s still hot; at some point everyday the a/c kicks on and just doesn’t kick off.  We’ve had all the upstairs blinds closed, and the insulated curtains pulled, to keep in the cool; I’ve been very stingy with the blinds and curtains downstairs, too.  It’s making me crazy; I feel like we’re living in a cave.  So I decided it was time for a break.

Every summer (admittedly, usually a little later in the summer) I get on the library’s website and put holds on nothing but snow and winter books for the kids.  There comes a point, in the middle of the 100 degree days, where you just want to remember that it isn’t always going to be like this.  The kids are at great ages:  I can check out good picture books and they’ll still enjoy them; in another couple of years my son is going to think this is a ridiculous idea.  Right now, though, we can all snuggle in together on the sofa in the afternoon, with the blinds closed, in the cool dark, and read books about snow…snow days….winter winds.  And look at beautiful, soothing, snowy illustrations.  And know that it’s not going to be 100 degrees forever….and I know that I won’t be snuggling and reading with my little ones forever, either; so I plan on enjoying it while I can.  Even in spite of the summer heat.

I’ve been reading too much lately.  That’s not true, I guess; I don’t think that’s possible.  I’ve been reading too many “simplifying” books recently.  That is true.  There comes a point where you get past good information and great ideas and run, full tilt, and fall off the cliff into a great morass of guilt.  The most recent book I read (which shall remain nameless, since I’m complaining about it) seemed to focus, extensively, on how horrible we Americans are in our consumption; especially compared to the majority of the world.  Which I already know, and hear repeatedly, and get tired of hearing repeatedly, and which frustrates me beyond belief.  Because what can I do about 312 million other people?  Besides feel guilty, I mean.

I can’t do anything about Americans’ excesses.  I know it’s out there, constant excess and consumption and a desire for more; it’s everywhere, and thanks to the creation of the automobile and the interstate system, we’re all doomed…. (Sorry.  Headed for the cliff again.)

I can’t do anything about Americans’ excesses….but I can do something about my family’s.  Here, in this house, this is where I have some modicum of control and can actually do something, and even though it’s unbelievably small, it’s what I can do.  In little babysteps, because it overwhelms me to try to do anymore.

So…babysteps:

We’ve given up drinking pop at home.  (I do still drink it in restaurants…. I love fountain Coke!!)  Do a bit of research on the environmental costs of the creation of soda pop (besides the obvious health costs) and you might give it up, too.

Started making bread, until our bread machine appeared to break.  There was a bit of (more guilt-washed) Do we buy a new bread machine?  I’ll never make bread from scratch on a regular basis…but how can we justify buying a new machine?  Then I fixed the machine myself (yeah, I’m kind of proud of that moment) and I’m back to making bread.  Probably not always, but often.  (Dear Sara Lee:  I’m so glad to see your new bread has no high fructose corn syrup.  Unfortunately I prefer my six-ingredient list to your paragraph.  I’m afraid I won’t be seeing as much of you as I used to…..sorry.)

Quit buying granola bars and cereal bars and started making our own.  (This goes back to the paragraph-long ingredient lists, and my attempt to rid our house of high-fructose corn syrup.)  Our family loves my peanut butter bars; I always have to make a double batch.

Just bought a cheese slicer today (we had an old broken one that we never used) and plan on not buying anymore presliced, individually packaged cheese.  (Gasp!  No more cheese sticks!)  We’ll see how that goes…..

Do I even need to mention recycling?  We’re crazy blessed to have curbside recycling where we live, but I used to store our recyclables and haul them to the center myself.  So glad I don’t have to do that anymore.

Little bit by little bit.  I’ll add to my list as things become habit….it’s a start, at least; even if I never counteract the 312 million other Americans out there.

Deal with it

July 3, 2012

As I was weeding through piles of papers this morning, I was struck by my train of thought:  Why does this always happen?  How do I get on top of stuff, only to let it bog me down again?  How on earth can I keep up this time?  How do women who work outside the home do it–I’m home constantly and I’m still buried by junk!  How many times will I go through this pile again?

Aha!!  I caught myself, and realized exactly what the problem was.  It was suddenly so clear I felt kind of silly for not seeing it before.  While I do battle the incoming stream of papers and “stuff” that enters this home, 90% of the problem was me:  I was forever putting things aside to deal with later.

I’ll put this here for now.

I don’t have time right now.

I’ll take care of that after _______.

There’s no point in doing “xnow, I’ll do it when I do “y and save some time. (ha.)

I’ll stack these up and take care of them later.

Oh, the list goes on and on…..but it’s all the same.  Procrastination.

The Flylady website designates each Wednesday as “Anti-Procrastination Day,” challenging you to tackle something you’ve been putting off.  I decided this morning (a kid-free surprise) was my Anti-Procrastination morning, and got to work.  (Kid-free mornings are quite hard to come by in the summer.)  The “office” cabinets in my kitchen I am no longer embarrassed to open in front of people, and the laundry room closet was dealt with before it got out of hand.  (I guess that’s progress, right?  To work on it before things are actually falling on my head?)  The most important part:  papers are actually in the recycling bin, and trash is actually bagged and in the garage, ready to be dumped in our cart.  These are, officially, Things I Will Never Have To Weed Through Again.  Thank goodness.

I wonder what else I could get to before the kids get home?