Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mitten Strings: Stretching

It's been awhile since I did a chapter on Mitten Strings. This chapter isn't about exercise. It is about trying things that maybe we haven't done before, or that we don't think that we can do.

She relates a story about how she was interested in music as a child, and in 2nd grade, a music teacher came in to find a new crop of students. She said "He went from desk to desk, asking each of us to stand up, in turn, and sing the scale. Those who could carry the tune of do-re-mi would be sent home with notes inviting them to begin violin lessons. He stood at my desk, head down, nodding slowly back and forth as I imagined myself as Julie Andrews, singing with a purity and sweetness that would surely prove me worthy of the violin. "No, no, no," he murmured sadly, moving on to the next desk and to Karen Talarico, who, it turned out could sing on key. And that was that.

How easily children are stopped in their tracks - by a teacher's criticism, another child's taunts, a parent's offhand remark, a friend's thoughtless comment. By the end of my own ninth year, i had been pegged as a bookworm who couldn't sing. So I read stacks of books, kept my mouth shut in public, and stopped moving my body."

But then, when she is a mother, she finds that she needs to stretch. She says "I suddenly found myself forced out of my well-worn identity and back onto the learning curve. My children needed lullabies and, and later, someone to play catch with. A few months ago, Henry decided he wanted to try Rollerblading and he wanted me to go with him. 'Mom,' he said firmly, 'you're almost forty years old! Of course you can do it! I'm trying it and I'm only nine!' He had a point."

I wasn't pigeon holed as a bookworm, although I was one, and I was musically inclined. However, I let the fact that I was VERY average in every extracurricular activity really wear me down. I desperately wanted to be very good, or even the BEST, in at least one thing. Dancing, softball, piano, swimming, volleyball, clarinet, running. Anything. But I never was. And so by high school, I gave it all up except running. I was still pretty average at running, but I loved running, and running was an escape for me during those years. I was also terrible at art. Not just bad. Really terrible. So as soon as I didn't have to do it, I didn't. For years, I didn't do any arts, or any crafts because I figured it was just something that I "couldn't" do.

The author says "Our kids are out there on the front lines all the time, confronting new challenges as they figure out how to make their way in the world. Meanwhile we parents tend to setting into our ruts, doing what we know best: work, commute, eat dinner, go to bed, then get up and do it all over again. We keep everyone feed and on schedule, but how inspiring is that? And is it really the way any of us want to live, stuck in the comfort zone? Watching my sons struggle to master new skills - from shoe tying to dribbling to writing in cursive - I am inspired to push my own boundaries out a bit, to risk a little in order to reap a lot."

My children are inspiring to me. They keep trying when, if I had been them, I would have given up. They take joy in learning new things instead of looking at it as just another opportunity to fail.

She closes the chapter with the following story. "So last night, I performed in my very first concert - for an appreciative audience of two, my husband and my six year old son. 'This is Mom's first time playing music for anyone,' Henry explained by way of introduction,' and she's a little nervous. But I know she'll do fine."

Our children have faith that we can do things, if we will only try. And they are so wise.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Not that it is exciting to most people . . . .

but I'm happy to be doing laundry again.

Well, technically, I was doing have been the last couple of months, but the dryer was mostly broken, and LOUD (did I mention LOUD??? It was, in case I didn't mention it.) So I would let the laundry back up because I didn't want to listen to it, and deal with clothes that weren't dry after 90 minutes, etc. The loudness probably could have been fixed by a repair person, as well as the other things, but it wasn't a great dryer to start with, and it was almost 8 years old.

So, we made a purchase. A new washer AND dryer.

It is the LG 2050. We have our laundry area in a hallway between two bedrooms, so we stacked them so that we could have an area on the side for folding and storing laundry baskets, etc. Plus, we weren't going to purchase the pedestals, so this way, only the washer is low.

It's been two days. So far, I'm a fan. It even plays a little song at the end of the cycle to tell you it is finished. MUCH better than an annoying buzz.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Getting Back on the Grocery Wagon . . .

I live in Illinois, and there is currently nothing in season right now. In my ideal world, I would have preserved enough to be able to get through the winter, but I'm not there yet. So what am I doing?

From the Health Food store, I purchase apples, carrots, and lettuce. These foods have the highest pesticide load and so I purchase them organic. My health food store buys as local as possible, so I feel that is better than by organic at the Grocery Store. I also purchase local, organic milk, butter, cheese and eggs. I check the prices of the local meat, and occassionally purchase some. I would like to purchase more local, organic meat, but it is just too cost prohibitive.

Then I shop for the bulk of my other food items at Aldi's. As much as possible, I try and buy "whole" foods there and cook from scratch. (I do offer lunch and snacks for the daycare/preschool/homeschool children and do use some packaged food with them.)

Finally, I buy my "brand" grocery items at Kroger. I went through a period where I was watching the grocery flyers and if another grocery store had some of my "brand" items on sale, then I would get those at a different store, and others at Kroger, and sometimes some at Target, etc. It just got to be too much. I do use manufacturer coupons for these items when I have them, and Kroger sends me coupons for these items too. (There is probably only 15 brand items that are just HAVE TO items - Angel Soft toilet paper topping the list.) So it really just wasn't worth my time driving all around to get the best price.

I do eat the beans and tomato sauce that we canned at least once a week too.

Shopping like this, I can usually spend just over $350 a month for our family of five, plus lunch for 9 during the week. I generally buy from the Health Food store once a week, and Aldi and Kroger once a month.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

Well, it was a cooler/wetter summer than usual, followed by a cooler/wetter autumn than usual, especially in December. (We live in Illinois, so we are used to some rain, but nothing like we've had for the last 6 months.) The children were so tired of rain, and were hoping that when it officially became winter on the 21st, that the snow would finally come. Well, it didn't come on the 21st, or the 22nd, or the 23 or 24th either. Christmas morning, there was still no snow. And then near the end of our present opening, there it was. Big fluffy flakes of snow. The kids ran to the window and shouted that it was a Christmas miracle!! A few days later, it snowed again. And then it got cold. Really, really cold for DAYS. When it finally got to around 10 degrees F, I started sending the kids back out to play. They all got new gloves/mittens for Christmas, and new long underwear, and JellyBean got a new coat and new snowpants.

Here are some pictures of the kids a couple weekends ago playing out in the snow.

Jellybean burying herself in the snow

Flower and a neighbor playing in the snow

The Snowy Simple Kids

Friday, January 15, 2010

Lessons Learned On The Journey Of Life

I was recently reading this article (Ensign, December 2000 - yes, I'm aware that it was a 9 year old issue, and no, it isn't a magazine that I still have at my house) by Joseph B. Wirthlin (who, just as an small aside, that I actually met. Anyway . . .)

He begins this article talking about a time around Christmas time, during his church mission in Germany, when he was discouraged. He decided to walk to Oberndorf, a little village in the Bavarian Alps. The beauty of that village was the inspiration for Joseph Mohr when he wrote "Silent Night." During that night, he talked with someone about his hopes and dreams for the future. They talked about goals. And it was that night, he resolved that he would not waste time, and he would serve the Lord. Sixty years have passed since that Christmas Eve and much happened in those years, but he never regretted making those resolutions, because it filled his life with adventures, spiritual experiences, and joy.

He says he knows that many people may be feeling discouraged or lost right now, or may wonder if his or her life will be a happy one. He goes on to quote Aristotle who suggested that everyone who lives has the same objective: To Be Happy. He said that after 80 years, he has some ideas on what it takes to be happy. He said that there are 5 things, that if a person takes these things seriously, and applies them to his or her life, that it will bring happiness, success, fulfillment, and eternal blessings.

1. Have Faith In Heavenly Father.
2. Set Righteous Goals.
3. Work to Accomplish Your Goals.
4. Magnify Your Service.
5. Enjoy The Journey.

The fifth point was the one that I enjoyed the most, and probably the one that I need the most reminding of to apply in my own life.

He said "So many of us are waiting to be happy. 'If only I could graduate, if only I could afford a car, if only I could get married . . . ' For too many, happiness is just over the horizon, never reachable . . . It is a terrible thing to always be waiting for tomorrow, always excusing our todays because we are sure that only in the future will we possess the things that will fulfill us. Don't wait for tomorrow. Don't wait for the right job, the right house, the right salary, the right dress size. Be happy today. Be happy now."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Resource Management: Tracking Your Money

Down To Earth has a post today about managing your money. It is really good post, and my goal for the year is to basically do what she says in her post - which is: track your money, see what you could give up, make a budget, divide your expenses by 12, label Ziploc bags with your main categories, and put the cash into those items for the amount budgeted for that month.

But my goal for February is just to track my money. I wish I could find something like SparkPeople, but for money, where I could track my money, but I could also post about it, and have people respond and encourage me, and read people's blogs about their money journey, but for now, I'm just going to track it in Excel, although I'll have a small notebook in my purse for recording purchases. I will record EVERY purchase.

Rhonda says this about tracking your expenses:

"Most people know what they earn but very few can tell you, with accuracy, how much they spend each week. To work that out for yourself, you need to track your money. This is a real eye-opener. Get yourself a little notebook and pencil and take it with you every time you go out. EVERY TIME you spend something, write it and the price down in your notebook. If you buy an apple, groceries, a cup of coffee, a magazine - whatever, write it down. If you cheat on this, you're cheating yourself so please be accurate so you gain a genuine understanding of where your money is
going. You'll have a bit of an idea after a week, after a month your spending patterns will start to emerge. Who knew that having a cup of coffee five days a week would cost you about $750 a year. That's an extra mortgage payment. Tracking your money will clearly show you that all those tiny amounts add up to a lot of wasted chances to be debt-free. I'm not saying that you give up all your pleasures, but there are sacrifices to be made, you decide what you will sacrifice. And always keep in mind your long term goals - to be debt-free, to be able to work if and when you feel like it, to travel, to help your children, or whatever your goals are."

I always think I am so frugal, but the truth is that I probably buy at least 4 Diet Pepsi's a week. That is $6 a week, $24 a month, and almost $300 a year. Not a mortgage payment, but it is more than enough to pay for the car registration fees and home owner association fees that come due every year at the end of December. I'd love to be able to have money saved up to just be able to pay it instead of doing what I usually do, which is get all annoyed that I have to pay these things on top of Christmas gifts and other holiday expenses. Now, I'm not certain that I could ACTUALLY cut out Diet Pepsi completely, but maybe cut it in half to start out with? And then down to one a week? And then none? Maybe.

Or by tracking I may find another expense that would be slightly less painful to give up. I'll let you know what I find out . . .

Monday, January 11, 2010

My Simple Goals for 2010

I got this list from Down To Earth, and some of these things I'm already doing, but as usual, there are many things that I can do better. I feel like I'm kind of stopped and started this sort of stuff for the past couple years, and now I feel like I'm ready to just jump in and really start living a Simple Life.
  • Thinking about what kind of life you want to live.

I have thought and thought about this, and I think I have figured out what a Simple Life means for our family.

  • Controlling your spending with the aim of be debt-free

I tend to think that I am better at this than I ACTUALLY am. We don't use credit cards, we just paid off both of our cars, I buy mostly used. But I rationalize buying a lot of little things that we probably don't NEED. My goal is to only shop once a week.

  • Learning how to look after yourself and your family, reskilling

Again, some good on this item, and some things that I could improve on. I know how to sew, clean, cook, crochet, teach, and some gardening. I could improve my gardening skills. I want to learn how to knit. (And I finally am! Signed up for a class and everything!) I need to learn more about doing home repairs. And I also need to be o.k. with the idea of not going back to work in a career outside of the home. Sometimes when I think about being a mother and homemaker and at least for know, a preschool teacher/daycare provider, it doesn't necessarily seem like the best use of my education and job skills. But really, when it is all said and done, taking care of my family is the most important.

  • Shopping in a different way

I think I do fairly good with this. Or at least I know how to do this fairly well. When I am making a conscious effort to live a more simple life, I try to not shop often, and when I do, I try to buy clothes and non-edible items used. I shop for as many items as I can at Aldi's. I buy as much non-packaged food as possible, and cook simple meals from scratch. My goal is to shop like this at least 75% of the time.

  • Eating healthy, local food

This one I know how, I just don't as often as I should. Healthy, local food also tends to be more expensive. There is also about 3 months out of the year that there are no local fruit and vegetables that are available. Also, healthy food also takes more time, and sometimes I eat non-healthy food because it is more convenient. Also, sometimes I eat non-healthy food because I love chocolate and Diet Pepsi. But another one of my big overall goals for 2010 is to try and eat and be fit for Life. That means that most of the time, eating is to provide fuel for myself and my family. I can provide fuel that tastes good to me, but I need to look at food in a different way. My goal will be to eat more healthy, local food in season, with as much as I can that is produced by myself, and to only eat food during the winter that was grown and then preserved by me, with the exception of meat. But meat will be as much as I can afford, local and healthy.

  • Growing some of your own food

I made a good start with this one last year. I grew broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, onions, basil, oregano, parsley, cilantro, zucchini, and green beans. I'll probably grow the same things this summer, but more tomatoes and beans. At our house, we really enjoy green beans, and pasta with tomato sauce, so I know that we will eat these things.

  • Disposing of disposables

I don't generally use disposable items for my family (with the exception of toilet paper), but I use paper towels for preschool, and so I also usually end up using paper towels for napkins with dinner. I do have many crocheted dish cloths though, and I do use them often. I could probably go without disposables, and I'm going to try and cut down this year.

  • Green cleaning

Some good, some things I drop off on now and again. I don't use any chemical household products for my linoleum/wood floors, mirrors and surfaces, toilets, etc. However, I do use store bought dishwasher soap, and I sometimes use store bought laundry soap. My goal is do all green cleaning except for the dishwasher.

  • Using your time wisely

A toughie for me sometimes, but I'm doing better. My goal is to limit my time "connected" - either the radio, TV, phone or computer to one hour a day, and to use a "To do" list more.

  • Cutting back and making do

Sometimes things like this item make me feel sort of resentful because I feel like I've had to cut back and make do over the past few years, but now I'm trying to CHOSE to do it. It helps me feel differently about it. To me, it also means cutting back on outside commitments, and doing more things at home.

  • Looking after what you own

I do fairly well with this. My kids, not so much, although it isn't because I haven't said things about it/yelled at them about it. I think we need to sit down and calmly talk about it and decide what I expect and what they can do to help, etc. Again, it would be helpful if I knew more about home repairs so that I could fix some things when they break, or at least know when it is time to call in a professional.

  • Making home your center and connecting with your family and community

I do o.k. with this. I mean, I homeschool, so I see my children most of the time during the day, and we take them to outside activities, etc. But because I AM with my children during the day, sometimes I feel like I need to escape from them in the evenings. Sometimes by actually leaving the house, but also just by not being by them. And sometimes I don't do it because I feel the need to clean the house or prepare materials for preschool or whatever. Some of that time away from my family is necessary and o.k., but I need to find a better balance. I also need to bring more of a sense of community within our own home. Too often, we do activities outside of our home or meet with other people at other places besides our own home.

  • Changing your definition of success

For me, this item sort of goes back to the learning to how to look after yourself/family. For me, until a few years ago, I didn't really look at homemaking as job that I could enjoy, improve on, find interesting, a way to learn new skills, etc. I just looked at it as something that had to be done. And it was something that I had to do more of once I was no longer working full-time. And until recently, it was something that I was doing until the kids got older and I could go back to work full-time. But now, doing what I am doing here at home - the homemaking and the teaching and caring of children, and doing it well - that is success to me now.

  • Becoming independent - setting yourself free

It is something that I'm working towards. That's all I can do right now, and for the foreseeable future. But I live in the city in mid-size city in Midwest US, and I have 3 youngish (10, 8, and 5 years old) to take care of, so there are certain limits to my situation. But I can always strive to be more independent and self-reliant.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Simple Family - 2009 in Review

January 2009 - Jelly Bean's Party
Her birthday is in December, but
we celebrated in January with a
fun bowling party!

February 2009 - We tried to stay warm.
Lots of baking done.

March 2009 - A visit down to Springfield, Illinois.
This picture taken at President Lincoln's Tomb

April 2009 - Easter Sunday

May 2009 - Camping with friends
That is Super stretching in the yellow shirt,
our orange tent on the right.

June 2009 - Chicago Trip
We went to Shedd Aquarium, Buckingham
Fountain and Millennium Park as part of
Jelly Bean's Girl Scout Field Trip

July 2009 - Gardening
Jelly Bean holding one of the zucchinis
August 2009 - Super hitting the ball.
We kept busy this summer going to
Swim Team, Pre-Ball, and
Wee Ball practices.

September 2009 - Harvesting
We grew tomatoes, beans, onions,
broccoli, cauliflower, herbs, and zucchini.

October 2009 - One of the Fall Festivals

November 2009 - Thanksgiving
in Chicago with Family

December 2009 - Christmas
We were lucky to have lots of family visit us
in December - relatives from
of both Mr. Simple and my side.
This is Grandpa and Grandma N - my parents.
and the Simple kids.